Thursday, March 17, 2016

ABRAHAM BIRT 1844-1893

[Ancestral Link: Louis Abraham Stagge, son of Elizabeth Birt (Stagge), daughter of Abraham Birt.]

Family History of Abraham Birt and Catherine Norris by Florence Cragun Leishman, grand-daughter                         
Abraham Birt, my grandfather, was born 21 December 1844 in the beautiful little village of Painswick, Gloucester County, England, the son of Peter Birt and Harriot Ireland Birt.

In the 1840s growing urban demand increased scientific knowledge, and better methods of producing glass jars and tin receptacles permitted the introduction of canned foods, and by the 1960s fresh fruits, fish and vegetables were being canned in considerable quantities. Gail Borden in America had just patented "condensed milk" and dried milk was first made in England in 1855. Together with submarine cable to America successfully laid in 1866, the telegraph made it possible to get news transmitted with unheard of rapidity which gave a stimulus to newspapers, which were likewise aided by mechanical steam presses and cheaper paper.

Photography was a new industry, although the first crude photograph had been made in 1822, it was a Frenchman who rendered the process practicable. There was also a very rapid progress of industry between 1830 and 1850, but even more revolutionary than the rapid progress of industry were the startling improvements in transportation. The impact of industry, science and cheap transportation on English agriculture worked first in one direction, then in the other. By the new techniques of the 18th century, British farming had been changed over into a large scale profit making enterprise.

In spite of all this progress, Abraham had very little or no education. Coming from a very poor family he was put to work at a very early age. He was farmed out to help land owners with their "farming," and when still a young man was employed as a "gardener" at the Palace of Gloucester. Gloucester City being only six miles from Painswick, it is not known whether or not be walked to and from his labor, or whether he moved to the vicinity of Gloucester City.

The following account is given of how the little village of Painswick derived it's name: Wicke, a Saxon word for "villa" was built in a forest cleared by a band of Saxon pirates who came across the North Sea from Germany and swarmed westward through England, killing looting and burning. With the coming of Christianity they built a church on the site where they had formerly sacrificed to Thor the god of thunder, and to all the warrior gods of the Nordic Mists from which they came. Pain Fitzjohn who had been born in England since the conquest was one of the several able officers of King Henry I. As the King's sheriff he also collected the royal revenues so necessary to the law. Twice a year Pain rode with the revenue collected to Winchester of Westminster Hall where the coin was carefully counted. In later years Pain built a small castle on what is now Castle Hale, and our "Wicke" thus became known as Pain's Wicke or Painswick.

However it was in Gloucester City that Abraham met Catherine Norris, a young women four years his senior. He fell in love with her and they were married 30 May 1868. Catherine was born 20 January 1840 in the beautiful village of Gloucester City, Gloucester, England. She was the second child and eldest daughter of a family of eight children born to Jacob Norris and Caroline Holbrow. She spent her childhood and early adulthood in Gloucester City. Catherine also came from a very poor family. They were very poorly educated but good religious people who taught their children to be honest, thrifty and hard working individuals. Catherine had no schooling other than what her parents taught her. She was a shy, quiet, retiring girl who took life very seriously. She was also highly emotional, keeping her thoughts and troubles to herself but brooding about them.

Abraham and Catherine became the parents of six children. Charles Thomas born 5 June 1870. Elizabeth born 22 May 1872. William born 26 January 1875 died 1880. Minnie Agnes born 1 August 1876. Francis Frank born 19 September 1881. Kate born 30 July 1884.

The missionaries visited the Abraham Birt family, where they were received kindly, and the family became very interested in their gospel message. However they were not baptized until after they came to Utah. Abraham, Catherine and their three youngest children, Minnie, Frank and Kate were baptized 20 March 1893 at North Ogden, Weber County, Utah, by John W. Rex.

In the year 1880, Catherine gave consent for their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, who was eight years of age, to come to the United States with a friend and neighbor, Alice Brazer. Alice also brought with her a niece, who probably was a friend and playmate to Elizabeth. After arriving in the United States and traveling to Utah, Alice met and married John Knowles, a widower. Alice raised her niece and Elizabeth along with John Knowles' children until they were old enough to marry.

When Charles, the eldest son was eleven years of age, grandmother's brother, Thomas Norris, who had been in Utah for some time, wrote asking Catherine to send Charles to him, explaining that he could use him in his work, and sending the money for his transportation. Charles sailed from England with a Mormon missionary who had preached the gospel to the Birt family.

On August 4, 1892, Abraham and Catherine left England with their three youngest children. The family was very sick on their way over with the exception of Kate. She made her family, as well as the other passengers, as comfortable as possible by bringing them their meals and water as well as entertaining them with recitations and singing. On arriving in New York, the family came directly to Utah, settling in North Ogden.

Shortly after arriving they settled in a little home owned by Alfred Barrett, who employed Abraham as a farmer. Abraham loved the soil, his work and new found home, but the happiness lasted for only a short while. On 9 August 1893, less than a year after his arrival he saddled his horse to go to the pasture for cows. Before he had gone very far something frightened his horse, and he was thrown to the ground, his foot catching in the stirrups he was dragged to his death. Cause of death was listed as "concussion." He is buried in the North Ogden Cemetery.

Grandfather's death was such an emotional upset to Catherine, she went about in a state of shock and depression. she would sit for hours on her front porch staring and rocking, and sometimes singing the songs that were sung at Abraham's funeral. She was dazed; her children being too young to understand didn't know how to manage and care for their mother. On consulting relatives and friends, and their family doctor they were advised to have their mother taken to the mental hospital in Provo. She was there for just a short while until she was released and reunited again with her family. She never did get completely over the deep sorrow of the loss of her husband. She grieved until the time of her death.

I recall very little of my grandmother, but I do remember her as a dear, kind, loving little lady who I adored. She was always able to supply us with a sweet of some kind, or a penny with which to buy something. She and Uncle Frank, who never married, lived close to us in Pleasant View, and whenever my sister LaVon and I felt the need of candy or cookies, we would carefully cross the road to go visit her.

Grandmother kept house for Uncle Frank until he felt it was too much work for her, then she moved to Ogden to live with her daughter Minnie, who had been widowed very young. She cared for Aunt Minnie's children while she worked to make a living for them. In September 1911 Catherine became very ill, passing away 12 September 1911 in Ogden, Utah, age 71 years. Her death was listed as "general debility."  She was buried in the North Ogden Cemetery beside her Abraham. Her family and friends mourned her death, but rejoiced that at least she had joined her beloved husband. Grandmother Birt was loving, thoughtful mother who always felt a deep concern for her children as well as her grandchildren's welfare.

Compiled 1 July 1972 by: Florence Cragun Leishman, granddaughter.
Found on (contributed by Millie Kaye Beck 30 May 2017)

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