Roughly 10 years ago, unexpected and uninvited was an email asking me for information regarding my family and me. It was from a Don Blankman in Florida. He claimed to be trying to trace his roots. Well, all the members of my family going back to my grandparents were accounted for. He wasn’t one of them. What would you have done? Me? I called him on the telephone. What a revelation.
Whoops, that’s my story and doesn’t belong here – other than to explain that Don Blankman was a retired banker turned serious genealogist, and I’ve been hooked on the subject ever since. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been writing about Phyllis Harrison, who, if you recall, can trace her family’s lineage at least to the 1700s. I find that fascinating. The other reason, of course, is Phyllis herself.
If you recall from last week’s EP, Phyllis, on her own, merits our attention. For example, after graduating from Syracuse University and a short-lived marriage, her aging parents wanted her to be closer to family. Dutiful, but far from dumb, daughter that she was, Phyllis settled in Albany, earned her Master’s from Russell Sage College, got her spurs working in mortgage finance and took a giant step in her impressive career as a financial advisor, currently with AFLAC. (You know, the duck.)
For example, her experience and expertise in mortgage loan management and sales prompted Phyllis to write a book that looks at every nook and cranny of the mortgage industry. It includes disturbing details of abuses foisted on the public by subprime lenders. If you’ll forgive the drama here, because her book is frighteningly factual and threatening to the guilty, Phyllis was advised by her attorney to use a nom de plume (pen name to mere mortals like me) when the book was published. She did. More than that, I can’t tell you.
Now, let’s get back to the 1600s. Ever hear of the Abenaki Indians? Neither had I, that is until I met Phyllis. Apparently, they were around before the 1600s. And they could be trouble. In 1637, two years after settling in Massachusetts after leaving England, a Harrison relative, Mary Neff, and her friend, Hannah Dustin, were kidnapped by the Abenakis. Here comes the good part. Mary and Hannah escaped. How? They not only killed their captors, they also scalped them. Honest.
In the 1820s, unlike the Hatfields and McCoys, the family let bygones be bygones and celebrated the marriage of a son to an Abenaki woman. Her name was Catherine Cross.
Life After The Abenaki Indians
Probably, the first American-born Harrison was William Harrison, son of John Harrison, who gave up England for America in 1853. And to put the cork in the bottle, William marries the granddaughter of the Abenaki woman, Catherine Cross. How about them apples?
The distaff side of Phyllis’s antecedents had their moments, too. “I found a record of an ancestor’s watch being stolen by someone who wanted to sell it to help finance the Revolutionary War,” said Phyllis. “By the 1820s, their descendants, James and Hannah Bird were raising a family in Port Washington. They are buried in the “Old Free Church Cemetery” on Harbor Road.
Sea Captain William Bird, Henry and Hannah’s son, was Phyllis’s great, great grandfather. With his wife, Mary Ellen, and another couple in the 1840s, founded the Methodist Church in Port Washington. When their oldest son drowned at sea, his widow, Mary Ann, married Alan Baxter. Some years later, she had a house built for her son (and Captain William’s), John J. Bird. Locals it the “Bird House.” Today, it is the Baxter Estates Village Hall.
“William and Mary Ellen’s youngest son,” Phyllis said, “was Timothy Jackson Bird. His is a legacy that will be long remembered in Port Washington.” Why, you ask? Easy answer. Captain Tim, the last of his last family’s sea captains, was one of the founders of the Atlantic Hook Ladder Company and its second chief.
It is the unanimous opinion of the me, myself, and I that Phyllis Harrison has a lot to be proud of – including herself.
Howard Blankman has lived 55 years in Port and is the recipient of three lifetime achievement awards. Blankman has successfully pursued a multifaceted career encompassing business, government, television and the theater.