We are fortunate to have so many newspapers available for researching our ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Early in my genealogy pursuits, finding obituaries was my main focus while cranking through endless reels of microfilm at the Boston Public Library. I would often see an article of interest, or occasionally by chance catch a surname as I slowly inched my way through the microfilm. This tedious process seemed endless until I struck genealogy pay dirt, making all the cranking of the microfilm reader worthwhile. One day while scrolling newspapers for ancestors in Newburyport, Essex, Massachusetts I caught the name of my third great grandfather Henry Poor (1769-1853).
What I knew about Henry then was he was a cabinetmaker and a housewright. He moved his family from Newburyport to northern Maine, to New Brunswick, Canada, then back again to Newburyport, ultimately settling in what is now the Bay Village in Boston in the 1820s. What I found back in 1983 in the Newburyport Impartial Herald, dated February 3, 1797, added an occupation that we as a family never knew before: he was a merchant. The following is his advertisement:
Notice is hereby given that the co-partnership of Knight and Poor is dissolved by mutual agreement; – All persons having any demands against said firm are requested to call upon Henry Poor, likewise those who are indebted are desired to call and make payment. Benjamin Knight . The advertisement directly below it appears to be a going out of business sale arranged by my ancestor. Henry Poor, Has For Sale, At his store in Water street, New-England and West-India Rum, Gin, Brandy, Wine, Cod and Scale Fish, Coarse and Fine Sale, Molasses, Coffee, Sugar, Tea, Chocolate and a variety of other articles Cheap for Cash. Newburyport, Jan. 13 .
This intrigued me and I set it aside, hoping that I would stumble across other newspaper mentions of this partnership and store. Fast forward to 2016, I decided to explore American Ancestors’ in-house access to Early American Newspapers, Series 1, 1690-1876. (Note: This is an external database accessible to American Ancestors members online ). I decided at lunch one day to dig a little further into the story of the store my ancestor was co-owner of. I simplified my search to focus within Newburyport newspapers to a range of 1790-1799, and included the surnames Knight, Poor and the word “store”. In a moment I had the following article from the Newburyport Impartial Herald, May 21, 1796:
To Be Sold by Knight, At the New Brick Store, (Head of Mr. Anthony Davenport’s Wharf) Wholesale and Retail. English and West-India Goods, and Country Produce of all kings. Coarse and fine Salt – A quantity best Clear and Merchantable Boards; Clapboards and Shingles, and a variety other Articles, Cheap for Cash. This advertisement ran weekly and changed slightly on May 31, 1796, to include A quantity of Cod and Scale Fish – Ranging Timber – 4d. 6d. 8d. 10d. and 20d. Nails. 6 by 8, 7 by 9, and 8 by 10 Window Glass – Powder and Shot, &c. &c. On June 21, 1796, a version of this advertisement was the last which ran in the Newburyport Impartial Herald for the Knight & Poor store. The article which I stumbled upon in 1987 had additional reprintings of the same advertisement until February 28, 1797. I would imagine that the short-lived Knight & Poor store closed permanently, and my ancestor sold the remainder of their goods. His partner in business, Benjamin Knight, was born at Newbury, Mass., 16 April 1766, a son of Bezaleel and Jemima (Bishop) Knight. Benjamin later lived within the Shaker Community in Enfield, New Hampshire and died there 7 August 1859, age 93 years. It is unknown what caused the breakup of the business, or even if my ancestor Henry Poor ever stayed in contact with him after 1797.
How wonderful it would be to see their account book for this store, which is no doubt lost to history. The building where the Knight & Poor store was located intrigued me. From the newspaper I had clues that this brick building was on Water Street located at Andrew Davenport’s Wharf. Once I determined where Davenport’s wharf was today, I used Google Streetview maps to scan the region. I determined that there was a building located at 65 Water Street in Newburyport at the head of what was Davenport’s Wharf that met the description. Contacting Newburyport architectural historians Jesse H. “Skip” and Margaret P. “Marge” Motes they confirmed this in fact was the “New Brick Store”. In turn I was able to supply information about Henry Poor and Benjamin Knight. In the summer of 2016, I visited the building which is the home of the Newburyport Art Association. I was able to tour from the attic to the basement of this grand old building. Being able to stand in my third great-grandfathers 1790’s era store I cannot explain. But I am sure many readers have had similar experiences in ancestral properties. Fast forward to 2022, I have learned that a bronze plaque with the inscription: 1796 / New Brick Store / Benjamin Knight and Henry Poor / Shop Keepers / Head of Davenport’s Wharf will be placed at the old Knight & Poor store later this year. I look forward to representing Henry’s family that day.
I hope you take the opportunity to look beyond obituaries for your ancestors in the newspapers. You never know what details you may discover to add richness and depth to your family story. American Ancestors members can search databases of early American newspapers, among other helpful resources, at our website.