Monday, February 21, 2011

Amanuensis Monday: Letter from My Great Aunt Cleo, 1990

The author, Cleo Proctor Cavanaugh
In my possession I have an eighteen page letter written in 1990 by my maternal grandfather's sister, Cleo Proctor Cavanaugh (1905-1995). This letter has assisted me in solving many genealogical puzzles. My research has shown some of its content to be incorrect, but it has always provided hints and a starting place for my research. For that, I am very grateful to Aunt Cleo. I cannot transcribe the long letter all in one post, but I will make a start here [with my comments]:

Our grandfather Ephraim Proctor was born in Kentucky, Feb. 20, 1822 on his father's plantation. Ephraim's father owned slaves, but the slaves were freed before the Civil War. I understood however they never left the plantation having no place to go and also because they were well treated. [I sure wish I knew if this was true.]

Our Uncle Charley Proctor told us he remembered seeing his Great Grandmother Jane who was married to Dr. Martin Gillett [I have found wives Lura and Hannah], our Great Great Grandfather who was born before the American Revolution [actually 1776] . Uncle Charley was five years old at the time [born in 1851]. It was through Dr. Martin that we inherited our one-sixteenth French. [Dr. Gillett was not 100% French, but from a Colonial family whose origin could be traced to France many generations prior.]  It could have been here too that we inherited the thalassemia, a blood cell deficiency...Since it is a Mediterranean linked trait, it could have come from there. I would like to say here the body pretty much compensates for the thalassemia. [Cleo and her siblings were carriers of a rare form of dominantly-inherited beta thalassemia.] It's because of being born with it. Doctors have told me this and from things I've observed I believe this is true. However, if both parents have the trait, their children cannot live well or long. [25% chance]

Ephraim Proctor came to Equality, Illinois from Kentucky as a young man and started a livery stable business with buggies to taxi people around. He also had heavy wagons for hauling goods.
In Sept. 1875 someone came to his door after hours and wanted to be taken out in the country and as he couldn't get a hold of any of his men (no phones) he took them himself. It was a stormy evening and on the return trip, his buggy [got stuck] in a swollen creek. He was soaked and became very chilled and so caught pneumonia and died at age fifty-three Sept. 17, 1875 and is buried in Equality, Ill.
Ephraim Proctor and Mary Ann Hewitt were married Feb. 20, 1850. They had eight children, five of them living to adulthood.
Charles Campbell Proctor born April 9, 1951
William Ephraim Proctor born Dec 16, 1852
John Martin Proctor born July 29, 1855
George F. Proctor born Sept 20, 1859
Mary and Sallie Proctor born Jan 13, 1862
Martin Hewitt Proctor born Sept 17, 1864
Daniel Hewitt Proctor born Sept 17, 1866

Mary Ann Hewitt was born Sept. 21, 1827. Her ancestors came over on the Mayflower [true]. This is true because her brother my great uncle [William Martin Hewitt] had his ancestors traced and his daughter Zori Staples was a member of the DAR. [I think she means the Mayflower Society.] Great Uncle Hewitt was at our house many times and my Aunt Sallie took me to their beautiful home on Cascade Av, in the Mt. Baker area in Seattle. He had built and owned the first street railways in Minneapolis, Minnesota and operated them for many years. Uncle Charley and our dad both ran street cars there for him when they were young. Uncle Hewitt was a millionaire which meant something in those days. They had two children, Sylvester [actually Lawrence Scott] and Zori. Their family moved to Los Angeles where Uncle Hewitt died [William Hewitt died in Seattle on May 27, 1918].
Aune Proctor and I visited Zori in the largest department store in Los Angeles at the time. It was Robertson's. She was an interpreter for foreigners who came to sell their goods. She was highly educated and spoke many languages. [According to her descendants, some of this may be incorrect.] I wish now that I had gotten her papers on the ancestors. She had one son Ned Staples who died of TB at twenty-one years. He was married to his nurse first before he died. [Edwin "Ned" Staples died in 1923 at 28 years of age. He and his wife/nurse Dorothy Hope had a daughter together.] Sylvester never married [Lawrence married Josephine Ben Hoyen on March 18, 1907. They were divorced by 1910].

Mary Ann Proctor Hewitt died Dec 4, 1892, two months after being burned in a bonfire. She was burning rubbish her sons had gathered together in the backyard. The children [26-42 years old] had all gone to Sidney, Iowa on a Saturday afternoon to have some fun. They told her that they would burn the rubbish when they returned. She didn't wait and started the fire. The long full skirts worn in those days were a hazard around fire. She suffered terribly after being burned all up the back. Her daughter Sallie took care of her. Of course if antibiotics were in use at the time she probably would have lived. She is buried near Sidney, Iowa where the family had moved when our dad Daniel Hewitt Proctor was sixteen years old.

To be continued next Monday...

Benny and Cleo Cavanaugh


  1. Interesting. do you know Ephraim's father's name? at least you could see if he still owned slaves in 1860. And if there were free African American's enumerated nearby before 1870.

  2. Hi Kristin,
    Yes, he was John Proctor, son of Nicholas Proctor III. Unfortunately, John died in 1845, so that was well before the Civil War. Since Ephraim and his mother Mary moved to Illinois c.1840s and I have been unable to locate the "Proctor Plantation" in Kentucky, I don't know where to look for verification of what Cleo wrote in regard to the slaves. I tried to have a local genealogist look into it, but she disappeared on me. Any ideas?
    Thanks for reading and commenting!