Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Three Times a Bride: Orpha POLLEY

Orpha POLLEY (POLLY or POLLAY) was born 31 Aug 1804 in Cayuga County, New York, to parents we are still trying to prove. She died 23 Mar 1858 in Oakfield, Genesee County, New York and is possibly buried in Chili, Monroe County, New York. She married (first) Charles Boss VALLETTE on 21 May 1821 in Locke, Cayuga County, New York. He was born 9 Oct 1799 in Stockbridge, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and died there 10 Jun 1835. She married (second) Norman TULLAR in about 1839 or 1840, probably in Genesee County. He died sometime between 1840 and 1846. She married (third) Josiah HOWELL on 29 Jan 1846 in Batavia, Genesee County. He died aged 59 years on 27 Aug 1847 and is buried in Chili, Monroe County, New York.

Orpha apparently had relatives in the Cayuga area, her Uncle Warren and his wife Susannah (Vallette) Rowley. The exact relationship between Warren Rowley and Orpha is unknown. While she was living with them in 1821 her Aunt Susannah’s nephew, Charles Boss Vallette, came to visit. Orpha and Charles married in Locke that spring. They attended the First Congregational Church of Locke, of which her Uncle Warren was a founding member. Charles’ exact occupation is unknown, but it seems may have been involved with fancy weaving like Orpha’s brothers and half-brothers. Charles’ brother William may have also been a weaver, advertising his talents in a Berkshire County newspaper. Regardless of his profession, Charles seems to have needed to travel for work. While Charles was away Orpha continued to live in Locke, possibly with her aunt and uncle. A letter he wrote to her in 1830 finds him back home with his parents in Stockbridge. He mentions a coverlet that they sold at a premium of four dollars. He seems to have been concerned about the neighborhood in Locke and was considering moving his family. He said, “…I want you to write to me when you get this. I want to know something about the people in Locke, you say that it is seems as though the Devil was let loose among the neighbors. I think if Locke has got to be such a place, we had best not stay there. You tell of husbands whipping wives and wives whipping husbands, this sounds like our Irish neighbors here. Tell our friends if they are in this quarrel not to let the sun go down on their wrath.”

Charles and Orpha welcomed their first daughter, Maria Elizabeth, into their home on 8 Jan 1826 and then a son, James Madison, on 9 Aug 1832. As they were expecting their third child, Charles’ health began to fail, and he moved his little family to his native home of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to live with his parents. Some of the family felt Charles was lazy rather than sick. Contrary to their opinions, he died on 10 Jun 1835, only 35 years old. Orpha was only 30. Their youngest daughter, Sarah, was only 9 months old at the time of her father’s death, having been born in Stockbridge on 27 Oct 1834. It was reported that Charles’ Aunt Sarah Smith, who seemed to believe that Charles was truly ill, insisted on a post-mortem exam. The exam revealed that he had died of “valvular ossification of the Heart.” How were Orpha and her children cared for then? The family reports that there was a feeling at the time that a woman without means could not be responsible for the care of her own children. Under-aged children were often “farmed out” or apprenticed out through the Guardianship courts after the death of a father, especially if a financial provision had not been made for them. Orpha’s granddaughter relates, “…So Maria was bound out to Mrs. Sexton she was to have a good common school education and her clothes and board and when she was 18 years old was to recieve [sic] a good outfit & $100 which she was cheeted [sic] out of. James Madison was given to Charles’ sister Mrs. Phebe Manchester when they went west but must have stayed with his grandfather’s family and his mother untill [sic] then, for he was 7 years old when he came to Wheaton Ills. and he was with his mother and Sarah in Locke after she went back there.” Orpha lost the opportunity to care for Maria (age 9), but kept James (age 3) and the baby Sarah.
Charles’ parents and a number of his siblings moved out west to Cook County, Illinois, sometime around June 1838. Family letters to Orpha survive from this time, revealing a continuing and tender relationship between Orpha and her in-laws. “Father [Vallette] wishes me to send his best wishes to you and yours. I sometimes think that he has more regard for you than for his own children,” Orpha’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Vallette, says playfully, “He feels grateful to you for your great kindness and attention to him and our family … Your lot may have been hard in former days…but look forward to better things to come.” It seems that by the time of the first letter in June 1838, Orpha’s children James and Sarah are still living with her, now in Byron, Genesee County. By September of 1839 little James has moved to live with the Vallettes in Illinois. They wrote to her to tell how he was doing and to congratulate and advise Orpha on her engagement to be married. She is addressed as “Mrs. Norman Tuller” by July 1840. The end of the letter is directly addressed to Norman Tuller, and from it we conclude that this is at least his second marriage as he is answered about his daughter living in Wisconsin. Orpha and Norman welcome a baby boy into their marriage, and named him Elbridge G. Tuller (or Tullar). He was born 4 Aug 1841, but died just after his sixth birthday on 30 Jan 1848. To complicate Orpha’s life even further, she had been widowed again before 1846. This time, she was merely 42.
Orpha married the third time a widower, Josiah Howell, in January 1846. Orpha’s “hard lot” doesn’t seem to have diminished though. Josiah died on the 27th of Aug 1847 and is buried in the North Chili Rural Cemetery. They had no children together. According to Orpha’s granddaughter, “Mr. Howell’s youngest son was not of age and Orpha stayed at the Howell home for about a year she recieved [sic] an annuity from the Howell estate of $100 per year. After leaving the Howell place she and Sarah moved to Cary (now Oakfield) Gen[esee] Co. N.Y. where she bought a home.”
On 4 July 1850 Orpha’s youngest daughter, Sarah, married James Kennicutt Whitman, and they came to live with her in the home she owned in Oakfield. Orpha was 46 years old at the time of Sarah’s marriage. To provide herself an income, Orpha ran a “student’s club” out of her home, providing shelter and cooking meals for the students attending the local Cary Seminary. The Seminary attracted students from all over the nation, and even boasted some international children of royal houses. Sarah is said to have been a student at the Cary Seminary, and her husband James certainly attended in 1847. James, who is trained as a mason, was also a common school teacher, perhaps even at the Cary Seminary.
Orpha’s health began to fail and she suffered paralysis, perhaps from a stroke, in the fall of 1856. She had to walk with a cane thereafter. Perhaps she needed money for medical bills, or perhaps she wanted to secure her property for her daughter’s family because in December 1856 she deeded her home and property to her new son-in-law, James K. Whitman. Orpha continued to live in the home with Sarah and James, and enjoyed welcoming four of their seven children into the home: Celia (b. 1851), James Adolphus (b. 1854), Frances Jesse (b. 1856), and Alvirus (b. May 1858, d. Jul 1858). Orpha finally succumbed to cancer and died at home on 23 Mar 1858 at the young age of 53. She is said to have been buried in Chili, New York. Orpha suffered and lost more loves in her life than most. She kept close to her family, through letters and by keeping as near to her children as possible. She was respected for her kindness to family, and remembered fondly by her granddaughter and namesake, Celia Orpha Whitman. Perhaps the counsel of her sister-in-law reflected Orpha’s own life motto. Elizabeth Vallette said, “I presume none of us will find substantial happiness in this world…[but] May peace and prosperity reside in your domestic circle, which we have every reason will be the case, as it is the reward of the virtuous.” Whether Orpha's life was virtuous or not, I don't know, I just know that she and her tumultous life have always facinated me.


  1. Correction: Orpha died before the birth of Alvirus in 1858. Sorry! -Rebecca

  2. Hi Rebecca - I've nominated you for the "Kreativ Blogger Award." You can pick up your award here.