A story told

Images of Caroline Jennings (Dexter) (Paul) Chandler courtesy of Julia Lee Lavaroni.

We all have them. Yes, images of individuals from long ago staring back at us as we work our way through the branches of our family tree. I don’t know about you, but I often hope I might compel my research right past their telling faces; after all “they” are just another set of vital records to record – right? However it rarely works that way for any of us - if it did, we’d probably drop our genealogical oaths and get back to some solid and familiar stamp collecting. No, in our usual practice of gathering up any one of those timeless faces, we find faces that somehow look back “to” us, asking us to have their stories told.

This happened to me last spring while researching the life of my great-great-great-great-uncle, Samuel Norton Sprague.[1] It was through “Uncle Sam” that I encountered Miss Carrie Dexter, his step-daughter. I admit it – I was immediately drawn to her, wondering who this beautiful young lady was from long ago. What was her story? What was it she might want me to know – if she could tell?

Born into a fairly prosperous Rhode Island family in 1863,[2] Carrie, along with her parents Obadiah and Caroline Dexter, sailed around the Cape west to Northern California.[3] In 1871, Dr. Dexter passed away, leaving Mrs. Dexter, Carrie, and her siblings to travel northward into California’s Gold Country.[4] Here Carrie’s mother met and married my uncle, Samuel Norton Sprague.[5] Life could not have been easy for Carrie and her mother. As near as I can surmise, my “Uncle Sam” was a bit of ne’er do well and no doubt very difficult to live with. (Uncle Sam was always moving onto his next big opportunity, one which never ‘panned’ out, i.e. life in the Gold Country…). Perhaps because of this, Carrie, only thirteen years old at the time, and her age “mis-stated” as “16,” married her first husband, Cornelius Jacob Paul, a 27-year-old seaman from The Netherlands.[6] Carrie married Mr. Paul barely six months after her widowed mother had married Mr. Sprague.[7]

Cornelius and Carrie Paul

While my twenty-first century mind can’t accept the reasons for such a young marriage, it’s likely that Carrie’s mother, the new Mrs. Sam Sprague, needed to get Carrie out of the house and away from my testy Uncle Sam. The newlyweds, Carrie and Cornelius Paul, made their home in San Francisco. I like to think that Carrie and Cornelius were comforted by the births of their two children, though later events leave Carrie’s life and a sense of her happiness murky at best.[8] Whatever was happening in the household of Carrie and Cornelius, the marriage didn’t last. By 1888, it is possible that Carrie may have become pregnant again, and perhaps not with the sea-faring Mr. Paul’s child. Soon afterwards, Cornelius and Carrie were no longer a couple. Cornelius is deceased by January of 1890, and their children placed as orphans by 1894.[9]

Soon enough Carrie was all too involved in clandestine meetings with “a doctor”...

The possibility of a third child born to Carrie raises questions about a baby girl named Beulah born in May of 1888.[10] While the circumstances surrounding Beulah’s birth are unclear, her birth was followed by Carrie’s almost immediate marriage to Beulah’s father, Francis Stevens Chandler, that June.[11] A music publisher, Beulah is Chandler’s probable fifth child – likely conceived while Mr. Chandler sojourned in San Francisco.[12] Francis Chandler was a widower twenty years Carrie’s senior, with his family and children living in Chicago. And while the dynamics of Carrie Chandler’s new household aren’t clear, it is certain that Carrie and Mr. Chandler, probably along with little Beulah, returned to Chicago. There, in Chicago, Carrie’s world must have unraveled. Soon enough Carrie was all too involved in clandestine meetings with “a doctor” – one that would bring about fatal consequences.

It is recorded (in statements made to the authorities) that her husband Mr. Chandler had previously said of his wife that she was (simply) “unwell.”[13] On 21 November 1890, at the age of 27, Carrie Chandler died. [14]

The original entrance to Laurel Hill Cemetery, courtesy of FindAgrave.com contributor Athanatos.

Irrespective of imminent scandal for Chandler, Carrie’s body was sent home to San Francisco where she was laid to rest. Yet even in death Carrie’s young life would not to know peace. Her remains were moved, along with 35,000 or so others, from her final resting place at Laurel Hill – a necropolis on the bay razed in the name of “progress.”[15]

A sensitive and difficult subject, the reasons and choices behind the cause of Carrie’s death are still debated and discussed to this day. For Carrie and for Francis, too many of life’s pressures can make anyone of us choose a path that we may not have otherwise wished. Somehow, and without judgments of any kind, I think that’s what Carrie has been trying to tell me. Carrie, wherever you are, I hope you are finally happy, perhaps listening to music through an open window looking out on the shrouded mists of San Francisco Bay. Carrie’s life was cut way too short. I have to believe, regardless of any of our own particular beliefs, that this is all she has ever wanted any of us who might “meet” her along the way to know.


[1] Jeffery Allen Record, “Mayflower Diaspora: Elias Sprague of Coventry, Connecticut: Descendants of Stephen Hopkins,” Mayflower Descendant 65 [2017]: 2.

[2] William A. Warden and Robert L. Dexter, Genealogy of the Dexter Family in America… (Worcester, Mass., 1905), 286.

[3] Obituary for Carrie’s mother, “Infirmities of Age Claim Pioneer Woman,San Francisco Call, 7 November 1913, for statement of alleged passage: “Mrs. Caroline J. Dexter, aged 73, who came to this state via the Horn…”

[4] Dr. Obadiah Davis Dexter died 12 August 1871 – see FindAGrave.com memorial no.170705828, photo by Kurt.

[5] Carrie’s mother, Caroline Jennings (Chaffee) Dexter, married Samuel Norton Sprague at Newcastle, California 16 December 1876 (Placer Weekly Argus [Auburn, California], 23 December 1876).

[6] California, County Marriages, 1850-1952, familysearch.org, index shows Carrie’s age as 16. Her actual year of birth as 1863 is taken from funeral home records, census records, and Genealogy of the Dexter Family in America.

[7] Caroline Jennings “Carrie” Dexter of Penryn, California, married Cornelius Jacob Paul on 22 July 1877 (Placer Weekly Argus, 12 January 1878).

[8] Carrie’s children were son Eben Paul, born in August 1880, and daughter Maud Paul, born in March 1883.

[9] Obituary for Cornelius Paul, Daily Alta California, 22 January 1890; San Francisco Call,  re: notices regarding orphaned children, Eben Paul  (24 January 1894) and  Maude Paul (27 July 1893), courtesy of Dana Nelson.

[10] Beulah F. Chandler (1888–1906) is buried at Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, near her father Francis Stevens Chandler (1843–1894). See FindAGrave memorial nos. 182009811 and 17423510.

[11] California, County Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1849–1980, Ancestry.com, Santa Clara County, marriages, Chandler, Francis Stevens, to Paul, Carrie Jennings, 25 June 1888.

[12] The Daily Inter-Ocean (1879–1902), 25 November 1890, for the occupation of Francis Chandler.

[13] Ibid., for a thorough account of the death of Mrs. Caroline Chandler; she “came to her death as a result of a criminal operation.”

[14] Kremple and Halstead Undertakers, S.F., Register of Deaths, Etc. (1890). Carrie’s cause of death was listed as resulting from an “abortion” – images from familysearch.org.

[15] Laurel Hill Cemetery, San Francisco (defunct) where 35,000 were buried and later moved.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.View all posts by Jeff Record