The Amanda M. Mowry Spoon Mystery Solved

The Amanda M. Mowry Spoon Mystery Solved

By Roy Cornell Gutfinski--2001

Handed down to me from my mother and grandmother is a tablespoon or dessert spoon with makers mark "H.L. Webster & Co." and engraved on the handle "Amanda M. Mowry." The style is a "fiddleback" handle spoon. Silversmith sources indicate that the firm of Henry L. Webster operated in Providence, Rhode Island from during the period 1831-1842. It later merged with the Gorham firm.

What I did not know was the identity of Amanda M. Mowry. My grandmother, Mabelle Cornelia (Crookes) Cornell, always said the old silver once belonged to her maternal grandmother, Cornelia Frances (Dexter) Jencks, who was born about 1827 and died in 1868. I had never heard anything about Amanda M. Mowry although the Mowry surname is an early and common one in Rhode Island.

My search for Amanda M. Mowry involved gravestone inscriptions, Revolutionary War pension records, probated will records, census records, and many hours of research. From this research I have come to some conclusions and a likely reason for the spoon in question coming into my possession.

Actually, I found several Amanda Mowrys who lived in Rhode Island during the period when this spoon was made. Only one turned out to have a family connection with my ancestors.

I searched the 1850 U.S. Census for the towns of Cumberland, Smithfield, and Cranston, Rhode Island. I found an interesting household living in Cumberland in 1850. The household consisted of Nancy Whipple, widow, age given as 65, Amanda Mowry, age given as 39, and Harriet Cook, age given as 35.

In the old Ballou Cemetery at Ashton, Rhode Island (part of Cumberland) are three adjacent gravestones of similar style in what I call the Whipple Lot. They are of slate and, although they span a period of 43 years, are quite similar in appearance and format of inscription. The first, in order of death, is inscribed: "In Memory of ANNA WHIPPLE wife of Joseph Whipple. She died Nov. 25, 1825 in the 51st year of her age." The second: "In Memory of JOSEPH WHIPPLE who died March 11, 1848 in the 77th year of his age." The third: In memory of NANCY WHIPPLE, Wife of Joseph Whipple, who died Sept. 3, 1868 aged 85 years, 2 mo. & 2 days."

We know from genealogical research that Joseph and Anna (Mathewson) Whipple were the parents of Mary Ann Whipple, born 1799 and died 1840, who married Stephen Dexter. Stephen and Mary Ann (Whipple) Dexter were the parents of Cornelia Frances Dexter who married Nathan Dexter Jencks. Cornelia and Nathan were my great great grandparents.

According to the gravestones, Anna Whipple died in 1825 and at some point, Joseph Whipple remarried to a Nancy (?). I was unable to find a record of a Joseph Whipple marrying anyone named Nancy. One clue I was able to find was in the Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary and Military Services(1840). In 1840 in Cumberland, Rhode Island, pensioner Amaziah Weatherhead, age 82, was residing with head of family Joseph Whipple. Another clue was that the graves of Amaziah Weatherhead (died 27 Sept 1843) and his wife, Abigail Weatherhead (died 20 Jan 1817) are near the Whipple graves.

It appeared that there might be a family connection with the Weatherheads. In searching through published abstracts of wills from Cumberland, Rhode Island, I found that Waitstill Brown of Cumberland, wife of John Brown, in a will dated 31 October 1808 and proved 27 February 1809, mentions the following (among others): "Sister, Abigail Weatherhead. Niece Nancy Weatherhead. Manda Mowry, under 18 and unmarried daughter of Nancy Weatherhead." Things started to fall into place. It looked like Joseph Whipple might have married Nancy, the daughter of Amaziah and Abigail Weatherhead. I soon found another will that began to clarify the picture some more. Another published abstract of a will from Cumberland, Rhode Island is that of Aseneth Cook, widow of Cumberland, who, in a will dated 15 December 1821 and proved 7 January 1822, mentions, in addition to her five sons and some grandchildren, "Harriet Cook under 18 daughter of Nancy Weatherman." The name Weatherman appears to be in error as this is not a known RI surname. There is no doubt it is Weatherhead.

This finding brought sense to the 1850 Census record of Cumberland showing Nancy Whipple, Amanda Mowry, and Harriet Cook living together in a household. It appears that Nancy Weatherhead had two daughters (apparently out of wedlock) prior to her marriage to our Joseph Whipple as his second wife. The part that does not fit quite right is the age of Amanda in the 1850 Census. In Waitstill Brown's will of 31 October 1808, she clearly indicates that her niece Nancy Weatherhead had a daughter Manda Mowry at that time. This would mean that, even if Manda (Amanda) was a baby in 1808, she would have to be at least 42 years old at the time of the 1850 Census. Her age was given in the Census as 39. Possibly a little female vanity. If her mother Nancy's gravestone inscription is correct, and it is quite explicit that her age at death is 85 years, 2 months, and 2 days, Nancy would have been born on July 1, 1783. Thus in the 1850 census she would 66 or 67 since the Census was taken around June and July. Her age is given in the Census as 65.

I found the following entries from the RI Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project:
"COOK HARRIET 1814c - 1 JAN 1862 CU009"
"MOWRY AMANDA M (MISS) 1805c - 22 OCT 1850 CU009"
(CU009 is the designation for the Old Ballou Cemetery at Ashton.)

It looks like Amanda never married. Her death came only a few months after the completion of the 1850 Census. As a result of her mother Nancy's marriage to Joseph Whipple she became a step sister to Joseph's daughter, Mary Ann (Whipple) Dexter. Since Mary Ann died in 1840 and Amanda Mowry was still living in 1850, it is not likely the spoon was given to Mary Ann. More likely it was given to Mary Ann's daughter Cornelia or Cornelia's daughter Freelove Dexter Jencks after the death of Amanda M. Mowry in 1850.

Dear Amanda we did not know you but you may rest knowing you are not forgotten. Requiescat in pace!

Roy Cornell Gutfinski
Gardiner, Maine

(Visit Amanda's page in the Whipple Database.