Monday, July 7, 2014

Grandfatherly advice in an 1843 letter signed “Your affectionate Grandpapa”. But wait! That’s not his grandfather!

John Owen Dominis
as an adult

The following letter to my first cousin several generations removed, John O. Dominis of Honolulu, Hawaii, was written in 1842 by the Rev. Andrew Yates in Schenectady.  He mentions his children, Austin and Mary.  He also mentions that John lived in his home during “those tender years of childhood”.  At the time of this letter, cousin John was about ten years old.   Rev. Yates quotes scripture, and asks John about his studies, and he hints that he would enjoy continued correspondence.  He signed the letter “Your affectionate Grandpapa”.  I knew that I hadn't found a YATES in our family tree, so....

Who was Rev. Yates, and who was John O. Dominis? 

John O. Dominis was born in Chinttenango, New York on 10 March 1832.  At age five he went with his mother to Honolulu, to join his father, Capt. John Dominis.   His mother was Mary Lambert Jones (1803 – 1889) born in Boston, sister of my 4th great grandmother Catherine Plummer (Jones) Younger (1799 – 1828).  Auntie Mary Dominis and cousin John were living with Rev. Yates and his family while Capt. Dominis was at sea.  He is described as “a family member”, but I have not discovered the kinship.  While on this voyage to Hawaii, Mary left her two daughters (John’s sisters) with the Yates family to continue their education.

While their parents were in Hawaii, the daughters Mary Elizabeth and Frances Ann went to school, planning to join their family in Hawaii someday.  However in 1838, 13 year old Mary Elizabeth died.  And on 13 January 1842 13 year old Frances Ann also died.  They were buried in the Yates family plot in Schenectady. 

I found a “Mrs. Dominis and son” arriving in Boston aboard the barque Bhering,  listed in the newspaper Temperance Advocate, 1 April 1843, under the shipping news.  I don’t know how long the voyage from Hawaii to Boston took that year.  I don’t know if they received word that their second daughter had passed away and then they rushed to get back home to Boston and Schenectady.  Even letters took months and months to get from the East Coast of the United States to Hawaii in those days.  They stayed with the Yates family, and with family in Boston before returning to Hawaii.  In 1846 Capt. John Dominis was lost at sea, leaving Mary a widow and John an orphan.  Auntie Mary Dominis never left Hawaii again.

Mary was the daughter of Owen Jones and Elizabeth Lambert of Boston.  Owen was born in Wales, and came to Boston as a child with his father, also Owen Jones, who was the Boston customs agent for the King of England before the American Revolutionary War.  Elizabeth Lambert’s parents and birthplace are unknown, although she was married to Owen Jones on 11 May 1793 at the 2nd Baptist Church in Boston. 

 Mary Lambert Jones’s husband, the Captain John Dominis was from Trieste, now in the country of Slovenia.  His parents would have been from Trieste, but as of now I have not discovered their names.

And what about Rev. Andrew Yates?  He was obviously not John’s Grandpapa (his true grandfather would be either Owen Jones or someone with the surname LAMBERT, although he was a very kind man who was like a grandparent.

Andrew Yates was born 17 January 1773 in Schenectady, the son of Colonel Christopher Yates and Jannetje Bradt. He married twice, first to Mary Austin and second to Hannah A. Hooker.   The Reverend Dr. Andrew Yates graduated from Yale in 1793,  was a minister of the Reformed Dutch Church and a professor at Union College.  He died on 14 October 1844.  He had three sons with his first wife (Christopher, John Austin, and Andrew John), and three children with his second wife (Mary Austin, Christopher, James, Christopher, Helen, Joseph and Ann Eliza.) 

The Yates family goes back quite a ways in New York history.  I searched the Yates genealogies for any Lamberts or Jones connections, but I didn’t find any.  Perhaps John’s kinship to Rev. Yates came from one of his two wives?

Wife #1 was Mary Austin.  Daughter of David Austin and Mary Mix.  She was born 25 August 1776 in New Haven, Connecticut and died 8 October 1798.  She married Andrew Yates on 8 October 1797 in New Haven.  Both her parents were born in New Haven. I’ve searched the Austin family for a connection to Jones, Lambert or to Boston, but have not found any kinships.

Wife #2 was Hannah A. Hooker, daughter of James Hooker and Mary Chaffee, born 4 September 1785 in Windsor, Connecticut.  She married Rev. Andrew Yates on 11 June 1810.  She died in Schenectady on 20 October 1859, nearly fifteen years after her husband’s death. Again, I found no kinship with the Jones or Lambert families in Boston.

I don’t know how Auntie Mary Dominis from Boston knew Rev. Andrew Yates, but all her children were born in Schenectady and she lived at his home before removing to Hawaii.  Her husband was a sea captain, and he knew other sea captains in the Albany area.  This was a big shipping and whaling port at this time period.  It is a mystery to me.

Finding this letter was very poignant to me because I knew that Auntie Mary had lived with the Yates, and that her daughters were buried in the Yates family plot.  This letter mentions that Reverend Yates had been waiting for a letter from John or Mary telling him that their ship had returned safely to Hawaii.  I found the newspaper account of their arrival in the United States in 1843, but not their return.  The Reverend’s interest in John’s education is sweet, especially since I knew he was a Yale graduate and a professor.

I have not found any other letters from any of the Yates family members to the Dominis family members in the Hawaii State archives.  This must be the only surviving letter. John O. Dominis’s papers fill several file folder boxes, but there is nothing at all there from Mary. 

Perhaps someday I will find the kinship between these families?  Maybe there is no kinship, just a great friendship?  Will this remain a mystery lost to history?

Hawaii State Archives, Queen Lili'uokalani Collections, M-93, Box 11, Folder 104,
Letter from Rev. Andrew Yates to John O. Dominis 2 November 1843
Transcription of the letter

                                                Schenectady 2nd Nov. AD 1843
My Dear John,
                                So I address my children in writing to them,
My Dear Austin, My Dear Mary & the same address I use in writing
to you because you have resided in my family during those tender years
of childhood which call into exercise parental affections toward the young
in those who have care over them. I feel a deep interest in your wel-
fare, especially in your education as that is closely connected with
your welfare, because it trains you up for well doing. Altho in
the course of this world, men that conduct well do not al-
ways fare well in the wealth, and honors, and other ??? of
the world, yet generally, most commonly, they do fare the best
in these things of the present life.  So God says, in his word I Timothy
4th chapter & 8th verse. Godliness in that verse means a continual desire
and endeavor to do the will of God and that in doing well in the high-
est sense.  He that wishes and tries to do God’s will in doing well in
the best and surest way.  And tho he may not fare the better for his
well doing in this wicked world; though he may, like the apostles of
our Lord be persecuted and abused for it by wicked men, yet like
them he will farewell because he knows that he is serving
God in what he does and will enjoy a peace and happiness be-
yond all that wicked men can have or know.  When two of these
apostles were cruelly abused for a good deed and cast into the inner
prison, into the dungeon and their feet fastened in the stocks, they en-
joyed more happiness than their persectutors. They prayed and sang praises
Praises unto God, while their persecutors were full of wrath, and
the next morning they were glad to let the apostles out
of their prison and go off; because they had beaten and put
them in prison contrary to the Law and were themselves
liable to be called to account and to be punished for their
conduct.  The apostles were not unhappy when they were
cast into prison for they felt happy in praying & singing prai-
ses to God while they were in the dungeon with their feet fasten-
ed in the stocks, and they felt more happy when they were set
at liberty, that they might go on in doing good.  If we love
(read this account in Acts 16th chapter from the 16th verse to the end)
God and are doing good according to his word, we shall fare
Well, enjoying God’s presence and care always. A good edu-
cation consists in being instructed according to the word
of God, which is the Bible.  If you receive such an education
it will ?? all you for welldoing everywhere.  It is un-
derstanding what God requires us to do according to the
Bible, loving to do so, and always trying to do so which
will keep us in the way of welldoing.
                For a considerable time I have been very anxious to
hear from your parents and yourself and began to think
we were no more to hear of you except by some public
newspaper or thro’ some other person in correspond-
ence with your father.  It was a great relief to me when
your letter was received.  Your pleasant passage and safe
Safe arrival at Oahu stated in your letter was very grate-
ful news- You had not yet undertaken to go to school
when you wrote.  By this time I trust you have begun your
course no doubt and have made some progress, being nearly
seven months since the date of your letter.  The house you have
provided for you by your Father will be useful to your health
while you study, if it do not take up your time and attention
too much.  Use it for amusing exercise and do not let it
call off your mind from your study.  You may write to me
as often as you please and tell me what you study and how
fast you get along in your education.  If I live to receive
your letters, I will endeavor to answer them with ??
??? that will be profitable, provided you remem
ber them and take the advice I give.
                I will have ?? for your parents a small concern of business
I found the mistake respecting the 19.25 which Capt. Pearce had
paid to me as he supposed.  He had sent it Mrrs. Farnham & Co. and
stated to me in a letter I received that he had sent it.  My duty was
to have drawn for the money on Farnham.  I have not done is and
have ??? it from them.
                Give my affectionate regards to your Father & Mother and
for yourself be assured that I feel deeply interested in your
welfare.  I pray you may be pr??? and grow up to be a very
??? & happy man.
                                                Your affectionate Grandpapa
                                                And. Yates
Master John O. Dominis
Master John O. Dominis
Sandwich Islands
(upside down)
Andrew Yates, Schenectady
                Nov. 2/43

For more information:

Austin Family genealogy 

The Descendants pf Rev. Thomas Hooker of Hartford, Connecticut, by Edward Hooker and Margaret Huntington Hooker, 1909, page 17 and 169 (available online at 

An article on the Dominis family from the Schenectady Gazette, August 27, 1932, title and page unknown    
Schenectady County, New York: Its History to the Close of the Nineteenth Century, by Austin A. Yates, pp 270 -277

History of Saratoga County, New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, 1878

The URL for this post is   

Copyright © 2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I think this is a great example of "fictive kinship," a relationship so close as to be family or nearly so. There are several such relationships in my own experience. Our daughters are friends with two unmarried sisters who have no one else. My husband and I are almost surrogate parents to them, though they actually are nearly as old as we are. The sisters regard our older daughter, especially, as "their sister from another mother," as one of them put it in a Facebook post just this week. In my family there have been other such close relationships as to be considered as good as family I think the first paragraph reveals a lot. Yates opens the letter with "My dear John" and states that it is in this wise that he addresses his own children. He also states that John Dominis "resided in my family during those tender years of childhood which call into exercise parental affections toward the young in those who have care over them." Certainly Yates felt this quasi-parental (or, possibly because of his age, grandparental) affection towards the lad. The youngster may even have addressed Yates as "grandpapa" when he was living in the home, much in the same way that in the Southern U.S., children often address close family friends as "aunt" or "uncle" when no biological or genealogical relationship exists.

    1. Yes, I agree, Karen, but I still wonder what drove Mary to live with the Yates family while her husband was at sea for so many years. Instead of going home to family Boston, she chose to live with the Yates in Schenectady. Perhaps they were distant cousins? I know that I had older, distant cousins I called "Auntie" or "Uncle" or "Nana" when I was a child.