I found this story when I was perusing newpaperarchive.com with my surname and town names. I wasn't looking for one particular person, but I was trying to see if there were any stories about WILKINSONs in Maine, New Hampshire or Massachusetts. Wow, I found this story about a cousin who does not appear in any birth record, so I didn't know he existed. As you read about Ivory Wilkinson, you'll be surprised, too!
From The Biographical Directory of the Railway Officials of America, edited by E. H. Talbott and H. R. Hobart, Chicago: The Railway Age Publishing Co, 1885.
T. W. Peirce was a wealthy railroad tycoon in the 1800s. Thomas Wentworth Peirce (16 August 1818 – 1885), was the second son of the eleven children of Andrew Pierce, the first mayor of Dover, New Hampshire. He made his money investing in the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway. Peirce drove the Silver Spike uniting the second transcontinental railway between his railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad in Val Verde County, Texas. His ancestor was John Peirce of Watertown, Massachusetts, and he was a cousin to the only US President from New Hampshire, Franklin Peirce. His lineage was John, Anthony, Benjamin, Benjamin, Benjamin, Andrew, Andrew Peirce his father. Thomas Peirce’s mother was Betsey Wentworth, daughter of Thomas Wentworth and Mary Roberts.
As a millionaire he donated school s and churches, both in New England and out west in Galveston. He was a summer resident of Topsfield, Massachusetts. His summer estate had over 700 acres. A railroad spur was brought up to the house with a private car for his last years when he was in ill health. He had two wives, Mary Curtis of Boston, and Cornelia Cook of Galveston. He died in 1885 at the Sanitarium at Clifton Springs, New York and was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston. His estate was valued at $8 million and his more than 700,000 acres of Texas land were sold by his executors.
The settlement of Thomas Wentworth Peirce’s will was national news. The news was especially interesting when an unknown man entered a lawsuit at Salem District court contesting the will. Ivory Wilkinson Moulton Peirce of Lynn, Massachusetts was a shoemaker born in Sanford, Maine. He claimed that Thomas Peirce was his father, and that his mother, Julia Ann Wilkinson, would testify for him in court.
As a young man, Ivory Peirce left Maine. As Ivory W. M. Peirce he enlisted in the Civil War in the Massachusetts Infantry, 2nd Regiment, Company F on 25 August 1861 and mustered out on 28 May 1865. In his 1863 marriage record in Lynn, Massachusetts, Ivory Pierce, age 24, is listed as a “gentleman”, and gives his father’s name as Thomas Pierce. On his daughter’s birth record in 1878 his occupation is listed as “leather cutter”. In the 1880 census he was listed as as “works in shoe factory”. Apparently he either fibbed about being a “gentleman” or lost his fortune. Can you believe what you see on a marriage or birth record? Do you take into consideration the truthfulness of the person reporting the information to the town clerk?
During the trial, several people testified about his family, including Ivory himself. Their testimony listed lots of family members I didn’t know about, entire branches of new relatives! Most of the names and dates listed matched up with public records. I’ve had fun comparing the testimony in the newspapers of 1885 to the Maine vital records to build new branches of my family tree.
In the end, I never found a marriage or divorce record between Julia Wilkinson and the millionaire Thomas W. Peirce, and neither did the judge in 1885. The case was thrown out being that “illegitimate” meant he could not inherit, which was more important back then than now. A child found to be born out of wedlock today could still inherit, but that was not the case in 1885. Even DNA would not have helped Ivory Wilkinson Moulton Peirce in those days.
To be continued tomorrow, when I’ll show some of the testimony that reads like a soap opera! And once I had Ivory Wilkinson Moulton Pierce's name, I found his story in over three dozen newspaper stories, from over a dozen states coast to coast.
For more information:
Peirce Genealogy, by Frederick Clifton Perice, 1880.
John Mason Hart, "PEIRCE, THOMAS WENTWORTH," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpe17), accessed July 31, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo