A History of Myron Newell Ayres and his Family.  Also being the story of Dana Knowlton of Petersham, Mass. (1791-1865).

Myron Ayres was born at Petersham, Massachusetts, on April 28, 1866. His name at birth was Myron Edson Newell. His birth parents were Andrew and Louisa (Briggs) Newell; both died of consumption just a few years after he was born. In 1870 he was adopted by George and Maria (Spooner) Ayres of Petersham.

Determining who his birth parents were was no easy task. I had been told by my mother that 'Grampa' Ayres had been adopted, and she was of the impression that he may have been born in England. I’m not sure how much of the history is known by the rest of the family, but it is an interesting story.

When I first became interested in family history, I wrote to the Petersham town clerk seeking information about the identity of Myron’s parents. In a couple of weeks, I received a letter on Petersham Historical Society letterhead from a lady with the elegant Yankee name of Delight Haines. The town clerk had forwarded my letter to her. She didn’t have a lot of information. Yes, he had been adopted, and she provided me with the docket numbers for his adoption papers that were filed through the Worcester County courts.

Adoption records are very confidential, and there are very strict guidelines for access. When I called the Clerk of Probate at the courthouse in Worcester, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she was rude, but she made it very clear that no access to adoption documents would be allowed without a judge’s order. This holds true even for someone who passed away almost 50 years ago.

I wrote a letter to long-time Westboroite, family friend and lawyer Jim Tashjian explaining the situation. He sent a prompt reply along with an affidavit that I had to sign and have notarized, and said he would get the judge’s order. A few weeks later, I had copies of the original documents, and these provided a wealth of information.

I found out about Andrew and Louisa and their parents. All four parents -- Ezekiel and Anna Newell; Sylvannus and Lucinda Briggs -- and an uncle, Asa Newell, signed the petition attesting that it was Louisa’s dying wish that George and Maria be allowed to adopt Myron. The petition was drawn up by John Mudge of Petersham. He was not a lawyer, but does seem to have been a leading citizen of Petersham. I discovered just recently that during the Civil War Mr. Mudge was captain of the 53rd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, composed of many Petersham men. From other readings of Petersham history (a very interesting place with a colorful history, not the least of which that it was the home of John Shays of Shays Rebellion fame), it seems that he operated a store in Petersham. But, I digress . . .

Andrew Newell

Myron’s father, Andrew Newell, was born at New Salem, Mass. about 1840. No official birth record has been found; the year of birth is projected from the information on his death record. Andrew died of consumption at Providence, Rhode Island, on April 14, 1869. His death record states that he lived at 14 Winter Street, and his occupation was "bonnet bleacher". Why he was in Providence, and whether Louisa and Myron were living there with him is not known at this time. From the adoption papers, it appears that Andrew had a brother, Emerson, who lived in Providence and had expressed a desire to adopt Myron as well.

Andrew’s parents were Ezekiel and Anna (Rice) Newell. Ezekiel was born about 1797, and died sometime after 1870. Anna was alive in 1870 as well, but it is not known when or where she was born. Andrew also had a brother, Asa, who was born April 16, 1826 at New Salem, and died at Athol on August 2, 1905. His death record gives Carpenter as his occupation. (Curiously enough, I actually obtained the information on Asa from a woman I met via the Internet, who was born in Athol and whose maiden name was Newell. She now lives in New Mexico. It turns out that our Newells are not related, but she had retrieved Asa’s record in her own search for her roots.)

Louisa Briggs

Louisa was born about 1844, probably at Athol. She died of consumption in Petersham in October of 1870. She was the daughter of Sylvannus and Lucinda Briggs. She was the second child of at least five who are present at Athol in the 1850 federal census. Sylvannus was born about 1812 at Greenfield, and Lucinda was born about 1820. It may be that Lucinda’s maiden name was Edson, and this was the source of Myron’s middle name at birth. There were Edsons living in both Greenwich (now under the Quabbin) and Barre in 1820, but if they are related to Lucinda is still speculation at this point.

The adoption papers make it clear that Louisa had been living with George and Maria Ayres at the time of her death. This was confirmed by the 1870 federal census for Petersham, which lists Louisa and Myron in George’s household. George’s parents Issac and Charlotte (Foster) were also living in the household.

What was Louisa doing there? The 1870 census reported occupation, and hers was given as "Domestic Servant". It could very well be that she was there in that capacity. She may have returned to Petersham from Providence after the death of Andrew, and needed a way to support herself and her young son. It must have been evident certainly at the time of the census that she was dying, and it could be that George and Maria took her in to care for her with the hope that they might have an opportunity to adopt Myron.

George Ayres was a farmer, but in reading the Petersham history, I discovered that he also had a saw mill. From the Athol history, I found that Louisa’s father, Sylvannus Briggs, had a farm, but also that he had a workshop where he manufactured wooden blinds. I suspect that Sylvannus may have acquired some of his materials from George’s mill, and they knew each other through a business relationship. This is strictly speculation, of course. George Ayres had brothers and sisters and one of them may have married into the Briggs family or something. Further research may reveal such a connection.

Myron married Carrie Estelle Knowlton of Petersham on May 16, 1890. It certainly would be interesting to know something more about the years before their marriage. How did they get to know each other? Were they neighbors? Was it at school?

‘Gramma’ Ayres, too, had an interesting story. I actually have spent much more time researching her side of the family, and here’s what I’ve learned.

Carrie Estelle Knowlton

Carrie was born on November 5, 1870, at Orange. Her parents were Nathan C. and Mary (Cook) Knowlton. According to Ms. Haines of the Petersham Historical Society, Nathan "left" the family, and Carrie and her brothers Charles and Harry were brought up by Nathan’s sister, Maria Knowlton. Nathan does seem to have disappeared sometime before 1880, but the children certainly did stay with their mother, and Mary ended up living at the farm in Westboro with Myron and Carrie in her later years until her death in 1927.  Further evidence that Nathan was a bad actor turned up in Dana’s will, which I looked up at the Worcester County courthouse.  Dana left the farm and all the household good to Maria.  He left Nathan $5 (yes, five dollars!).

The Knowlton Family

Nathan was born about 1837 at Petersham, the youngest child of Dana and Penelope (Cheney) Knowlton. He had an older sister, Maria, who never married. There is some evidence that there was another sister, Ann Elizabeth, who died in the 1840’s sometime at the age of 16. I will get back to Nathan after telling some of the story about his ancestry.

Dana Knowlton

Dana and Penelope first came to Petersham in 1828, purchasing a farm of 90 acres from a John Brooks. They had been living in Orange prior to this. The search for information about the origins of Dana has been an interesting one, and there is still no certain path to his ancestors. In fact, it is a very long story that I will not get into at this point, but will provide the facts as I know them, and some speculation as well.

Dana was born in Wardsboro, Vermont, on April 2, 1791. There is no record of this, however, and those facts have been pieced together from various other sources. There is no firm record as well of who his parents were. A death record in Petersham for Dana, who died on December 31, 1865, gives William Knowlton as his father. However, the Knowlton family in New England has been well documented by genealogists, and it seems as though his father could not have been William, but Asa Knowlton. Dana’s grandfather was probably William Knowlton.

This Knowlton line is part of a family that has been in North America since 1630 or so, all descendants of two brothers who settled in Ipswich. Our branch stems from Shrewsbury, and can be documented back to about 1740. Anyway, Asa was actually born in Templeton in 1767, but went with his parents to Shrewsbury sometime soon after that. He married a woman named Olive Waite, who was born in Shrewsbury in 1771. Together, they were among the first settlers of Wardsboro, which is in southern Vermont in Windham County, near Newfane. Asa died sometime before 1800, however. The 1800 census gives Olive as the head of the household, and it is documented that at some point she returned to Massachusetts, settled in Templeton and eventually remarried. But again, whether Asa and Olive were Dana’s parents is not known for sure. He is not documented as one of their children -- none of whom are well documented, by the way -- and the reasons why that may be the case are very arcane and a full explanation would be out of the scope of this report, and if anyone is really interested in all the bits and pieces I will be happy to provide them. This is a story I am still actively pursuing and expect to have more information in the future.

So, nothing else of Dana’s early life is known for sure. The next documented date that he shows up is in 1823 at Milford, Mass., when he marries Penelope Cheney.  Cheney is another old Yankee family, and well documented in their own genealogy as well as a history of Milford. Some of Penelope’s family removed from Milford and settled in Orange, so I suspect that this can explain how Dana and Penelope met, for I suspect that Dana was living at Orange when they married in 1823. Some Cheneys from Milford also went to the area of Vermont near Wardsboro, so it could be these two families had a considerable history together.

To be continued . . .