history-genealogy site

This is a site where I will discuss my family genealogy research and related history. When a blog deals with a particular family group, I will try to include it in the title so uninterested people can skip it without skimming it. It is my hope to get feedback on research methods, family members and historical context from other historians, genealogists, and researchers. (c) Barbara L. de Mare 2006, 2007

Location: Englewood, New Jersey, United States

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What happened to MATHEW CHAPEL?

Family Tradition:

Since I was a child I have heard that my third great grandfather Mathew Smith Chapel must have died young because his wife Susan (Wilcox) Chapel lived in Brooklyn with her son Richard Smith Chapel from Richard’s majority until Susan’s death. Mathew and Susan had married and had their children while residing in Sandisfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Sandisfield is located in the eastern foothills of the Berkshire Mountains and is bounded on the south by the Connecticut border. The west side of the township is not far from the New York border.

Richard Smith Chapel was the first owner of the home at 81 First Place, Brooklyn, New York, where his son William Lincoln Chapel and his granddaughter (who is also my grandmother) Ivy Howe Chapel were both born. Susan resided there until her death on 10 Feb 1868.[1], [2] Mathew was not known to have ever lived in Brooklyn.

My grandmother’s younger brother, William Lincoln Chapel, Jr., generally known as Uncle Bill, made a perfunctory stab at family research in the 1950s and 1960s and concluded that his great-grandfather Mathew Chapel had indeed died young. He based this conclusion on the fact that Mathew’s wife Susan appears in the 1840 Hartford, Connecticut, census, with her two children but without Mathew[3], thus perpetuating the myth. The purported causal connections between the assumptions upon which the myth is based and the alleged facts are both poor conjectures.


Further study of the 1840 census would have revealed that Mathew was indeed listed therein.[4] He was right across the mountains in Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York. The 1840 and 1850 censuses[5] further reveal that by then Mathew had a new wife, Catherine, and two daughters, Mary and Agnes. By 1850, however, Mathew was once again missing from his family group. Did he have wanderlust, suffer from mental illness, or was he thrown out by both women?

At the same time that Mathew was in Kinderhook with Catherine, Jacob Eacker, Jr., the father of Mathew’s future daughter-in-law Amanda, was residing in Big Flats, New York, having left his wife and ten children behind in the Mohawk Valley. Jacob waited until after the 1851 death of his wife Gertrude Herkimer before marrying his paramour. Mathew could not have waited until after Susan’s death to marry Catherine, as Catherine predeceased Susan by many years. We don’t know if Mathew was ever divorced from Susan or if he ever formally married Catherine, legally or otherwise. Catherine’s death on 22 Aug 1853 is recorded in the cemetery records for Columbia County, New York, wherein she is named as the wife of Mathew S. Chapel.[6] She was buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in the Village of Valatie, Town of Kinderhook, New York. I have been unable to find any marriage or divorce record for Mathew S. Chapel, or any birth record for his daughters with Catherine. The daughters, Mary[7] and Agnes, were born in about 1827 and 1833 respectively.[8]

The fact that divorce was uncommon in nineteenth century America does not mean that couples married and lived happily ever after. It is simply indicative of the facts that life spans were shorter and that divorces were more difficult to obtain. Mathew, like Jacob, might have simply crossed the mountains and commenced a new life. Although permission had to be granted by the town fathers to move into a new town, a job was really all that was required. There were no background checks. The purpose of the law was to try to keep out paupers for whose care the village would become responsible. Ironically, the county poorhouse is where we find Mathew in the 1860 census.[9]

In early nineteenth century America, an abandoned wife could leave town and resume life as a widow. She would then be supported by her children. By the time Susan moved to Hartford, probably prior to 1838 when she was dismissed from the Sandisfield Church,[10] her oldest child Richard was about 20 years of age and capable of performing the tasks expected of the head of a household. He was destined to become very wealthy and support his mother as a Brooklyn socialite for the rest of her life. This was her status in life in the 1860 Brooklyn census.[11]

In 1840 Hartford was a bustling commercial town where a hard-working young man could embark upon the road to riches. The city directories show that Richard did just that. His addresses and employments became increasingly less modest, [12] until 27 October 1845 when he left town for Brooklyn, New York, carrying a Letter of Introduction signed by many Hartford businessmen.[13] According to one obituary, "he amassed a fortune shipping merchandise to the West before the country was covered with railways."

Kinderhook, where we found Mathew in 1840, although physically a small Dutch village, was the home of Martin Van Buren, then serving as President of the United States of America. The President’s house was located on the south side of the village, near the Val Alen Homestead, alleged to be the home of Katrina Van Tassel of Ichabod Crane fame. Before fame came to it, the Van Alen Homestead would be the birthplace of my grandfather Louis Washburn Fish, who grew up to marry Ivy Howe Chapel, a great-granddaughter of Mathew.

Ghent in Columbia County, New York, was the home of the county poorhouse, or “county farm” as it was often called. The county farm was established as a result of the 1824 New York State laws establishing the poor house system. It housed the mentally ill persons in the county as well as the paupers. We have no way of knowing which was the reason for Mathew’s residence there, or how long the residence lasted. I have carefully searched the inmate list for the 1850 census, and do not find his name. Neither have I located him in any census after 1860.

My study of the Columbia County burial records also revealed the 1828 burial of a Sarah Chapel in Stuyvesant in north-west Columbia County. This Sarah Chapel is said to have been 72 years old at the time of her death.[14] Upon visiting the cemetery where she is buried, and touring the area in general, I discovered that it is very close to Kinderhook where Mathew lived. Mathew’s mother Sarah was born 14 Sep 1758 according to both the Vital Records of Sandisfield[15], Massachusetts, and Mayflower Society records.[16], [17] The couple of years difference in age could be accounted for by the failure of Mathew to know exactly when his mother was born when he buried her. She is not located in Columbia County in any census returns. She is located in the census returns for Sandisfield, Massachusetts for every year through 1820. Her husband Richard Crignon Chapel died there on 27 Feb 1825 and was buried with his first wife in the Roberts Road Cemetery in the Town of Sandisfield.[18] It would be natural for Sarah upon the death of her husband to move across the mountains to reside with her son and his young family. In those days widows seldom lived alone.


1. Most likely the Mathew S. Chapel residing in Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York, in 1840 is the same Mathew S. Chapel who was the husband of Susan (Wilcox) Chapel and the father of Richard Smith Chapel.

2. Mathew S. Chapel had a wife or paramour in Columbia County named Catherine with whom he bore two daughters, Mary and Agnes.

3. Mathew was not living with Catherine and her daughters in 1850. His whereabouts in 1850 are unknown.

4. Catherine died 22 August 1853 and is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Village of Valatie, Town of Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York

5. No further information regarding the daughters of Mathew and Catherine, i.e. Agnes and Mary, is known.

6. Mathew S. Chapel resided in the County Poorhouse in 1860.

7. Mathew most likely died a pauper some time after 1860. Neither his date of death nor his burial place are known.

8. A Sarah Chapel died in Columbia County, in or near the Town of Kinderhook, in 1828 at the purported age of 72 years.

9. Mathew’s mother Sarah (Smith) Chapel was born in 1758 in Sandisfield, Massachusetts.

10. Mathew’s father, Sarah’s husband, Richard Crignon Chapel, died 27 Feb 1825 in Sandisfield and is buried there with his first wife.

11. Susan (Wilcox) Chapel died in Brooklyn, New York, on 10 Feb 1968 and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.

712 Before her death, Susan resided with her wealthy son Richard Smith Chapel and his family in a huge brownstone in an exclusive area of Brooklyn.

Rather than solving the puzzle, each new piece of information found only evokes more questions. Some of the questions raised from my research into Mathew Smith Chapel and still unanswered are as follows:

Unanwered and/or Unproven Issues:

1. Is the Mathew S. Chapel in Columbia County in the 1840 and 1860 census returns the same Mathew S. Chapel who was my 3G grandfather?

2. When did Susan move from Sandisfield to Hartford?

3. Did she live any place after leaving Sandisfield and before arriving in Hartford?

4. Did Susan join a church in Hartford, and if so was it Congregationalist or Baptist? Although she belonged to the Congregational Church in Sandisfield, her family frequently attended the Baptist Church in Colebrook, Connecticut, and the Chapels remain Baptists until this day.

5. Where was Mathew in 1820 and 1830. I have not located him in the census returns for any of the tri-state area.

6. Assuming the answer to the first question is in the positive, then:

a. When and how did Mathew meet Catherine?

b. Were Mathew and Susan ever divorced? To date I have been unable to locate divorce records for New York, Massachusetts, or Connecticut.

c. Were Mathew and Catherine ever married?

d. Were Agnes and Mary baptized, and if so where?

e. What happened to Mary and Agnes after the death of their mother, and do they have heirs? If so, where are those heirs today?

f. When did Mathew S. Smith die?

g. Where is he buried?

h. What are the circumstances that led to his residence in the county farm?

i. Is the Sarah Chapel buried in Stuyvesant Mathew’s mother Sarah (Smith) Chapel?

[1] Susan Chapel tombstone, Lot 18104, Section 173, Green-Wood Cemetery, 500 25th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11232, transcribed by Barbara Louise (Ferry) de Mare and Elizabeth Ellen Ferry on 7/15/2001.

[2] Susan Chapel death notice, "New York Times,” February 11, 1868, p. 5, online database ProQuest Historical Newspapers, New York Times (1857-Current file), accessed through http://www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org/ at http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?RQT=301&Userid=REFURL&Passwd=REFURL&cfc=1.

[3] William L. Chapel, Jr., Ancestors of Winifred Barrett & William Lincoln Chapel, Jr., (compiled April 1971), 26.

[4] Matthew S. Chapel household, 1840 United States Census, Columbia County, New York, population schedule, Township of Kinderhook, Ancestry.com copy of National Archives microfilm Series 704, Roll 277, Page 79, Image 157.

[5] Catherine Chapel entry, 1850 United States Census, Columbia County, New York, population schedule, Township of Kinderhook, Ancestry.com copy of National Archives microfilm Series 432, Roll 492, Page 358.

[6] Columbia County Historical Society, Cemetery Book #6 (copied 1934-1935 by Louise Hardenbrook) p. 7

[7] Mathew must have liked the name Mary. His second child with Susan, born between 1820 and 1825, was also named Mary.

[8] See 1840 and 1850 census returns for Kinderhook, Columbia County, referenced above.

[9] Mathew S. Chapel entry, 1860 United States Census, Columbia County, New York, population schedule, Township of Ghent, County poorhouse residents, Ancestry.com copy of National Archives microfilm Series 653, Page 749 (printed), Page 11 (handwritten).

[10] Rollin H. Cooke, transcriber, Records of Sandisfield Massachusetts Congregational Church, (Pittsfield, Mass: 1901), 272, 309, 320.

[11] Richard S. Chapel household, 1860 United States census, Kings County, New York, population schedule, 6th Ward, 2nd District, Dwelling 57, Family 63, Ancestry.com copy of National Archives microfilm Roll: M653_766, Page 664 (stamped), Image 227; Page 10 (handwritten).

[12] Sharon Y. Steinberg, Assistant Research Librarian, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford City Directories, (e-mail letter to Barbara (Ferry) de Mare dated 26 August 2002).

[13] Original at Connecticut Historical Society

[14] Rickard, Index to People Buried in Columbia County, New York, a Sarah Chapel was buried in Stuyvesant, Columbia County, New York, in 1828, 72 years of age.

[15] Capt. Elizur Yale Smith, compiler, Vital Records of Sandisfield, Massachusetts, to the Year 1850, (Tuttle Publishing Co., Rutland, Vermont, 1936), 54.

[16]John D. Austin, Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, Volume Six, Third Edition, Stephen Hopkins, (Plymouth Mass: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2001), 238..

[17] Robert M. Sherman, Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, Volume 2, Chilton, More, Rogers, (Plymouth, Massachusetts: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1978), 232.

[18] Rollin H. Cooke, transcriber, Records of Sandisfield Massachusetts Congregational Church, (Pittsfield, Mass: 1901), p. 337, Deaths in Sandisfield, commencing Jan 1st, 1823: 1825, Feb 21 "Richard Chapel aged 74."


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