The Stories of a Young Girl and Her Big Brother

I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was a warm summer day in 1960. My great uncle, Frank Carson, was at our house to visit his sister, Marcella Smalley, my grandmother.
We sat on chairs on the lawn of our new home (new to us, it was built in 1874) in East Greenwich. In addition to Frank, Marcella, my mother and me, two other Carson sisters joined us. One was probably Theresa, a favorite aunt. I adored Theresa.
Frank Carson, about 1879.
Ellen “Nellie” Gilroe Carson
                                                         To me, Uncle Frank was a legend. He was a adventurer. In fact, he was the first traveler in our family that I ever met. With the name of Carson, I knew  that he (and I) must be related to the famous scout, Kit Carson. And the stories Uncle Frank told this ten-year-old boy have stayed with me ever since. n 1885, when Frank was five years old, his family moved to a beautiful mill village, Altmonte, on the Mississippi River (not the famous one), just a few miles southwest from Ottawa, Ontario.
The Carson family in Almonte, about 1891, with Uncle Frank in the upper left.
Their father, Frank, was hired as the boss finisher (overseer) of the finishing department at Rosamond Woolen Company. He had been recruited to come to Almonte from Harrisville, Rhode Island. His father, Patrick, was from County Roscommon, and his mother, Mary Kelty, was born into a tight-knit County Sligo community in northern Vermont.
Likewise, the Harrisville in which Frank grew up had a strong Roscommon/Sligo presence, including his cousins Quinn from Roscommon.When Frank Sr. died in 1910, ten years after leaving Almonte, an obituary ran in the local Almonte newspaper describing him as “one of the most expert finishers of his time.”
In Almonte, the family lived near the mill, on Coleman Island. Directly across from their home, on the other side of the river, was a hill with caves.The caves were home to traveling hobos, as well as Native Americans.
Along with the hobos, Uncle Frank and his brothers, Everett and Henry, crisscrossed Canada, hopping the trains as they came through town. Oh, I wanted to be like Frank. And my traveling ways, I have tried to be just that.
The hill across from Coleman Island, where hobos and Indians lived in the caves.
Marcella was born on Coleman Island in 1893. For the rest of her life, she told of her love of Almonte.
It is easy to see why. The town is built on hills, and waterfalls dot the landscape. The public buildings speak to a pride that the mill owners had for their village.
As a child, running along the river, playing by the waterfalls, in the shadow of handsome granite buildings, it must of been heaven. In the winter, there was plenty of snow for sledding and building snowmen. One can imagine, Marcella and her sisters, May, Abby and Theresa, playing in the snow for hours, and then returning home to a plate of Nellie’s just-baked cookies as they sat in front of the fire. I like to think that the oatmeal and molasses cookies that Nellie baked for her children were just like the ones that Marcella baked for me and my sister Barbara when we were little, and then later on for our younger brother, Tom.
People in search of food always knew to come to Nellie’s backdoor. There is an ancient body of Irish laws, known as Brehons Law, that requirement that whomever comes to your door must be fed.
Marcella’s mother embraced the essence of that ancient code and turned no one away, but always found something for them to eat. Not infrequently, the visitors were Native Americans, living at the edge of existence. Conditions for them were not unlike those of their brethren here in the states.There was another Irish tradition carried out among at least one of the Carsons, and that was the belief in banshees. Years later, Nellie’s daughter Marcella told me that Nellie used to see the banshees cross the bridge near their house in Harrisville. Marcella continued with the belief in ghosts, as did her daughter, my mother.Perhaps these beliefs and customs persisted because of the remoteness of their home in Roscommon, or perhaps it lasted longer because Nellie came to America in the second generation of Irish after the famine years. Whatever the cause, that pre-Christian tendency still lives on in some family members.
Frank and his brothers may have been adventurers as young men, but in their early teens, they were expected to go to work in the mill. That was the reality. The girls followed suit as soon as they were of age. In the 1901 Canadian census, Everett (age 18), Henry (age 15), May (age 12) and Abbie (age 10) were all factory employees. Before doing so, however, it appeared that all of the children attended school, and may have studied French. In the 1901 census, all of the children, except for Frank, who had returned to Rhode Island with his father, and the youngest, Theresa, were listed as being able to speak French.
In 1900, Frank Sr. took a job in Rhode Island. Son, Frank, came with him. A year later the rest of the family joined them.
Almonte became a memory for my Grandmother. And her memory is with me today.
Gail and I finally made our trip to Almonte last week. And we were well received. in preparation, I sent an email inquiry. In return, several people reached out to me, researching census records, land records, church records, company records, to see what they could find. I was overwhelmed with the response that I received.
Marcella would be very happy, and not a bit surprised, that the family is still well received in Almonte.
Everett Carson, Marcella Carson Smalley, Theresa Carson Osterman, Marcella’s son, Bob, in 1915

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