One of the many benefits of pursuing genealogy is the chance to meet long-lost family members. In addition to the possibility of finding old photographs, documents, and family stories through them, the acquaintance itself can be a blessing. This past month, Oregon became the final state in “the lower forty-eight” that my fifth cousin once removed visited, and I was excited to host him and his wife for a couple of days.
My husband and I first met Cousin Dick last September when he led a tower climb at Washington National Cathedral. Once the climb was over, Dick pointed out a few details in the cathedral connected to our shared family legacy on Nantucket, and I was able to give him a Richard Mitchell & Co. flag, which I’d recreated from old paintings. You see, Dick is the sixth man in a row to be named Richard Mitchell, so it only seemed right that he should be able to fly the old “house flag.” In days of yore, each whaling ship flew a flag identifying the house (company) it belonged to, as well as a unique flag identifying the ship by name.
Massachusetts to California
It’s probably not surprising that Dick’s genealogist great-aunt identified him decades ago
as the future keeper of their family’s history; after all, his name embodies it! Following the 1846 Great Fire on Nantucket, Richard Mitchell (1791–1868) built a brick spermaceti candle factory, which now comprises part of the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum. Within a couple of years, gold was discovered in California, and the next Richard Mitchell (1817–1888) headed out West, as did an enormous number of other men from Nantucket.
Richard Mitchell Jr. left Boston on 9 December 1848, aboard the bark John W. Coffin. It is not unlikely that he was part of the crew, since he later became a sea captain. The master of this voyage, however, was his brother-in-law Charles Cary Morton; another brother-in-law, Andrew Jackson Morton, made the journey to San Francisco with them.
They arrived 28 July 1849, and obviously met up with my great-great-great-grandfather at some point. When James F. Athearn tried to sell the ship Japan, an ad in the 5 March 1850 issue of the Daily Alta California directed would-be purchasers: “Apply to James Athearn, or A. J. Morton and R. Mitchell, jr.”
No doubt they also crossed paths with another of Richard Mitchell’s brothers-in-law, Edward Hussey Morton. Edward made his way to California as captain of the schooner Exact, and retained part ownership when it took the first white settlers to Seattle in 1851.
Folgers, Mitchells, and Athearns
Another owner of the Exact was George Howland Folger, also an intimate member of
Richard Mitchell’s family. George H. Folger had married Richard Jr.’s older sister—Susan Lincoln Mitchell—in 1838, and together they had four children. Sadly, Susan died in 1844 shortly after the birth of twin sons. The following year, George married his late wife’s younger sister, Mary Ann Mitchell, and they had six children together.
George H. and Mary Ann (Mitchell) Folger were also close family to my great-great-great-grandparents . . . quite literally, since they appear adjacent to James F. and Lydia (Starbuck) Athearn in the 1850 federal and 1855 Massachusetts censuses. More details about George—including my family’s debt of gratitude to him—were shared in a previous post: vitabrevis.americanancestors.org/2017/11/have-family-around-him/.
George H. Folger ties us to a terrible tragedy
The timing of Cousin Dick’s visit to Oregon is a bit ironic, and here’s why: George H. Folger ties us to a terrible tragedy that unfolded fifty years ago this month. While George stayed in Massachusetts, three of his Folger first cousins caught Gold Fever and headed to California; the youngest was named James Athearn Folger. He made his fortune, not in gold, but in coffee. Abigail Folger, James’s great-granddaughter, was staying at a friend’s house on 8 August 1969, when followers of Charles Manson killed everyone in it. Sadly, Abigail was in the wrong place at the wrong time . . . the victim of an evil “family.”
 Dick’s great-great-great-grandfather was not even the first in the family to be named Richard Mitchell; Richard Mitchell (1791–1868) was a son of Paul Mitchell . . . who was a son, grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson of men named Richard Mitchell.
 One of the twins was named Richard Mitchell Folger, after his maternal grandfather (and uncle).
 Believe it or not, this guy was not closely related to me, but was instead named for my ancestor.
About Pamela Athearn Filbert
Pamela Athearn Filbert was born in Berkeley, California, but considers herself a “native Oregonian born in exile,” since her maternal great-great-grandparents arrived via the Oregon Trail, and she herself moved to Oregon well before her second birthday. She met her husband (an actual native Oregonian whose parents lived two blocks from hers in Berkeley) in London, England. She holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon, and has worked as a newsletter and book editor in New York City and Salem, Oregon; she was most recently the college and career program coordinator at her local high school.View all posts by Pamela Athearn Filbert →