Monday, June 30, 2014

What an 1848 letter between two 16 year old cousins taught me about my family

Ann Marie Holt's gravestone
at the Oahu Cemetery, Honolulu, Hawaii
The following letter, written in Dorchester, a village outside of Boston, to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1848 was written by Ann Marie Holt.  She was my first cousin five generations removed. Ann Marie wrote to her first cousin, John Owen Dominis.  She was about sixteen years old, and John was the same age.

Cousin John had gone to Hawaii when he was about five years old with his mother, to meet up his father, a sea captain who had made Honolulu his new residence.  Captain John Dominis was lost at sea in 1846, about two years before this letter was written. The Captain had built his Boston wife a fine home out of local wood and from parts shipped from Boston to Honolulu. He was going to China to buy furnishings for the new house when his ship was lost.  Auntie Mary (Jones) Dominis (1803-1889) decided to stay in Honolulu, and at about this time John was starting out on his own in business.  The fine home, known as “Washington Place”, mentioned in the letter, is still standing in Honolulu and serves as the Hawaiian Governor’s residence.

Auntie Mary had six sisters. One was my 4th great grandmother, Catherine Plummer (Jones) Younger (1799 – 1828) who was already dead by the time this letter was written.  Ann Marie’s mother was another sister, Ann Marie Stanwood (Jones) Holt (1811 – 1832), who had also died young in Boston.  Ann Marie’s father, Captain Robert William Holt, was also a sea captain who made many trips to Hawaii.  He had remarried to a native Polynesian woman in 1835 and his second wife and children were living in Honolulu.  When Ann Marie and her sister, Elizabeth (1830 – 1865), were a bit older, they traveled to Hawaii to reunite with their father. Unfortunately, Anne Marie, the author of this letter, died on 15 May 1851, at Washington Place, soon after disembarking at Honolulu. 

This letter is especially poignant to me because I knew that these two teenaged cousins, long separated by two oceans, would meet again in a few years under tragic circumstances.  Ann Marie must have arrived in Honolulu very ill, and died in cousin John’s own home soon after.

I am also imagining how difficult it was for family members to be separated in 1848.  How long did it take for a letter to get from Boston to Hawaii?  You can guess in the last paragraph that the family must have located a ship bound for Hawaii, and rushed to get letters on board before it sailed.

The “Aunt Agnes” mentioned in this letter is a fourth Jones sister from Boston.  All the sisters grew up in Boston’s North End, the daughter of Owen Jones, a mariner.  Agnes (Jones) Hart (1816 – 1890) was the youngest daughter.  She must have taken in her Holt nieces while they continued their education in Massachusetts, waiting for the day to join their father in Hawaii.  The “Aunt Lee” mentioned in this letter is the fifth daughter, Laura Williams (Jones) Lee (1890 – 1887).  The only sisters not mentioned in this letter were my 4th great grandmother, Catherine, already deceased, and the eldest daughter, Sarah Dargue (Jones) Snelling (1794 – 1875), whose husband Enoch Howes Snelling was a Boston glazier who provided the doors and windows for “the handsomest [house] on the Island”, Washington Place.

This letter was found in the Hawaii State Archives.  John Owen Dominis (1832 – 1891), the teenaged boy who was the recipient of this letter, grew up to marry Lydia Kamekeha Paki, who became Queen Lili’uokalani.  Thank goodness he saved this letter, and that his private papers were preserved by his wife and passed on to the Hawaii State Archives.  Finding this letter, and others like it, have helped me to piece together the story of the Jones sisters of Boston.  None of the sisters had their births or marriages recorded in city or state vital records.  Finding their kinship and family relationships has come together from these letters, family documents, oral history, church and official death records.

Source: Hawaii State Archives, Queen Lili’uokalani Collections, M-93, Box 11, Folder 104, Letter from A. M. Holt to John Owen Dominis, dated 13 August 1848.

                                                  Dorchester Aug. 13th 1848

Dear Cousin
                I found looking over my letters the other day
that I am in debt to you for two.  I thought that I must
do my best to pay you by writing to you this opportunity.
I am at Aunt Agnes’ visiting.  They have a very pleasant
place near Granite Bridge the house is old fashioned
but very good the fireplaces about two yards long wide
and a yard and a half long the panes of glass in the
windows about as large as a sheet of note paper.
I suppose that you have almost set up business for your-
self.  How do you like your house I should like to see it
very much as I understand it is the handsomest on
the Island.  Sarah Ann is in Boston visiting I suppose
she will write to you this opportunity we miss her
and the children very much she has two very pretty
little girls  I know that you long to see them.
Aunt Lee has left Charter St. at last and gone to
Bridgewater to live they have quite a farm I believe
keep cows hens &c.  Uncle William and Aunt Agnes send
love to your mother and she will write if she has
time but she has such a family that if the vessel
sails tomorrow she will not be able to.  Do you
ride as much as ever?  Write every opportunity
and believe me yours suffice
A.      M. H.

A.M.Holt, Dorchester
Aug. 13/48

John O. Dominis

For more information on the Jones sisters, see this blog post (my very first blog post in 2009!)

For more information on Ann Marie Holt and her grave in Honolulu, Hawaii

The URL for this post is

Copyright © 2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

No comments:

Post a Comment