I love looking through old newspapers and books, and finding articles and images that are long since in the public domain (i.e. out of copyright and usable). The long-forgotten stories can then be augmented with supplementary research. Old related images can be found and enhanced, to further illustrate the story.
Here is a fascinating old newspaper article from 1910, about Mr and Mrs James Wilkinson, resident in Oregon, who were celebrating 50 years married (a golden wedding anniversary).
They originally hailed from near Portglenone, and went to the church on the Townhill Road. They got married in Ahoghill in late August 1860, before leaving a few years later for America.
It’s wonderful to read their reminiscences of what day to day rural life was like back then, in the first half of the 1800s, in the North of Ireland. They recall, for example, during the school year, every morning each boy and girl walking off to school with a chunk of peat (turf), or a stick of wood in each hand, to burn in the school room fireplace and keep the place warm. One of my cousins (from near Kilrea) also tells me that his parents recounted similar stories from rural school houses.
The Wilkinsons also remember the long Sundays spent at the church in Portglenone, and the preaching by the Reverend Knox. He would preach all morning and then, after a one hour break, to rest his jaw, would preach all afternoon too.
Portglenone Couple’s Golden Wedding Anniversary in America, August 1860
About two hundred guests assembled at the parlors of the Congregational Church in Oregon city on Tuesday evening to be present at the golden wedding of Mr. and Mrs. James Wilkinson, highly respected people who have resided in this city for forty-three years.
The church was beautifully decorated with gold-band lilies, golden glow, marigolds and trailing clematis.
The happy pair marched into the auditorium at eight o’clock to the strain of Lohengrin’s wedding march, which was played by Mrs. V. Harris.
In the lead were Elizabeth and Eleanor Wiggins, granddaughters, who acted as flower bearers. The formal golden ring ceremony was performed by the Reverend Proctor.
Mrs. W. B. Wiggins, of Portland, daughter Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson, sang “Oh, Promise Me.”
A glowing description of the lives of the re-wedded couple was read by Mrs. Eva Emery Dye which was followed by short talks by Reverend D. B. Gray and Reverend E. S. Bollinger, who were each former pastors of the Congregational Church here.
A vocal solo, “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” E. T. Avison, followed.
A Fitting Celebration
Congratulations were showered upon Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson, and on behalf of the members of the church and friends, Reverend Proctor presented them with a golden bread tray, with the inscription as follows:
“Presented to Mr. and Mrs. James Wilkinson by the First Congregational Church of Oregon City, in honor of their 50th anniversary of their wedding, 1860—1910, August 30”
The bride wore a beautiful gray silk messeline, and the groom was dressed in the conventional black.
Tables were set in the church parlors, and were all beautifully decorated, the bride’s table being profusely festooned with white satin ribbons and clematis, with a bride’s bouquet of asters adorning the centre of the table. A delicious luncheon was served and the Misses Marion Money, Louise Walker and Louise Huntley assisted the ladies in serving.
Among the guests present were: Reverend E. S. Bollinger and wife, Reverend D. B. Gray and wife, Mr and Mrs. Broughton, of Portland, Mr. and Mrs. Spooner of Jennings Lodge, and Mr. and Mrs. George Clark, of Lents, and a Mr. Wilkinson, of The Dales, a brother of James Wilkinson.
Interesting Reminiscences of the Old Home in Ireland
In Antrim, in the northeast corner county of Ireland, in the province of Ulster, seventy years ago (in 1840) was born James Wilkinson, on a farm near the village of Portglenone. In that same house, his father James Wilkinson was born, the family having come there at some unknown time from England.
Entirely around that little farm was a row of hedge-thorn, with white blossoms in spring, and red with berries in the autumn.
The house itself was made of stone, the black basaltic rock of that wild rocky coast, remarkable for the Giant’s Causeway and other promontories of bold and rugged beauty.
On this ancestral farm there was orchard apples, and there were horses and cattle and ducks and chickens; oats and flax and potatoes grew there, and a spring in the hillside supplied the house with water.
Seven children played in this old household, William, James, Robert, Margaret, John, Eliza and Jane, who gathered each morning in the kitchen with its stone fireplace, and each evening in the parlor where another fireplace glowed and the old eight-day clock stood reaching the ceiling.
The big family Bible lay on the mantel, and the “Ballymena Observer,” the big newspaper of that part of the country, published in Ballymena, where our friends, the Caulfields came from.
Great fun had the children in the summer time when the whole family went to the peat bogs at old Mt. Corneball, father, mother, grandfather, and grandmother, and all the children, camped up there, cutting and drying peat to be hauled home early in the fall in the big high-boxed, two-wheeled cart with old Blennie, the English draught-horse.
And when school days began every morning each boy and girl marched off to school with a chunk of peat, like a stick of wood in each hand, to keep the school room warm. In all directions came other boys and girls, all bringing their contributions of peat.
James Wilkinson had already learned to read and write under his mother’s instruction at home, until at seven or eight years of age, he started with the rest of the class, to study arithmetic under Master White, with horn spectacles astride his nose and switch in his hand, which he used to put bad boys in the “Black Hole,” the big fireplace for punishment in the summer time, and set another boy on guard; but never is it recorded that James Wilkinson ever had to undergo imprisonment in the Black Hole.
All Day Preaching at the Townhill Road Church
Every Sunday morning the whole family started out to the stone Presbyterian Church at Portglenone, heated also with a fireplace where Reverend Knox preached and prayed for fifty years.
Over the smooth bevelled roads, three good Irish miles, it was to this church at Portglenone where Mister Knox preached all day, all the forenoon, then let them out for an hour’s recess, and then preached all the afternoon.
No wonder James Wilkinson was thus early grounded in the doctrines of the bible, and has been a deacon in this church for 40 years.
No dinner had they, on a Sunday, until they came back over the road that sometimes seemed a little long at night. Mr Knox was ordained in that church and preached there all his life and was buried there. He married the father and mother, and baptised all their children, and his life was written into the history of every man and woman that ever lived in Portglenone.
At fourteen, James Wilkinson left school to weave fine linen at home, where his father, one of the skilled hand-loom weavers of his day and generation, kept three looms going in the big loom room, at the back of the kitchen, heated from the same fireplace.
Flax was raised on the farm, and gathered and sold, from whence it went to the mills in England and Scotland, and was made into linen yarn. Then it was brought back again and woven into honest linen, for which the whole Belfast country is famous to this day. He worked at this until he was twenty.
Sometime in those days James Wilkinson met Jane Killough, a pretty girl, blue-eyed, with rosy cheeks, and shining curly black hair, the daughter of John Killough, a prosperous farmer in a neighbouring township.
Jane was also born on the farm of her ancestors, ten miles from the Irish channel, and went to school in just such a stone school-house, and to church in the same sort of stone church.
When James asked John Killough for his daughter, the excited old man flew up: “Ye want the bird, hae ye any cage?” James thought he had and a very unwilling consent was given, for the briskest dairymaid in the country was little Jane Killough. She milked the cows and made butter, to say nothing of the best bread and cake in Antrim county.
At last, on the 30th day of August, 1860, they were married at Ahoghill, a small town where they went to purchase the license. In a suit of brown and a silk stovepipe hat, James Wilkinson marched to church the next Sunday morning with his bride on his arm, in her wedding dress of blue merino, with three flounces on it, made all by herself after three or four months of careful needlework by hand.
With a bonnet full of flowers, in her light coloured summer paisley, very proudly James Wilkinson walked up the aisle with the dainty white silk-gloved fingers of his bride on his arm, and received the congratulations of his friends.
For two or three years young Mr and Mrs Wilkinson lived in one of the tenement houses on his father’s farm and worked at the weaver’s trade.
Every day in those times, the ‘Ballymena Observer’ was full of news of the great American war. All the weavers of County Antrim favoured the South, for was that not where their cotton came from?
And now that this was bringing dull times to the British Isles, and fewer and fewer shiploads of cotton were piling up their bales at Belfast and Londonderry, many a weaver began to think of coming to America himself.
Passage to the New World, a Land of Promise
The more that James Wilkinson and his young wife read of America the more they, too, thought that it was the land of promise, and so one day they took passage on a swift sailer out to the Irish Channel, and for forty-five days tossed on the Atlantic Ocean, landing in New York in May, 1863, in the very midst of a terrible war time.
The very first sight of the shores of America charmed them, the beauty of Sandy Hook, and the country on each side, and up the Hudson river on a steamer to Albany, all delighted them, with the signs of prosperity and wealth.
After working in the warehouse of the Boston and Albany Railroad Company for one year, they moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where Mr Wilkinson engaged in his trade of weaving.
Three busy years passed there when glowing letters began appearing in the New York Herald. Senator Schuyler Colfax, on a Congressional junket up the Williametts Valley, told of the land of wheat and apples, and of a ney woolen mill at Oregon City.
That settled the question, and travelling again by water, Mr and Mrs Wilkinson came from New York by way of Panama to Oregon.
At San Francisco, they saw advertisements for weavers at Oregon City, and on the 14th day of April, 1867, they landed within gunshot of where they have lived ever since – for 43 years.
Mr Wilkinson went to work at once in the woolen mills, where for years he stood at the loom making the handsome blankets, fine merinos and heavy cloths that long ago gave Oregon City a reputation for honest goods.
Mr Wilkinson entered at once into the activities of the town and united with the congregational church, where he now has been a deacon for more than forty years.
For fifteen years he was superintendent of the Sunday school, and for many years taught the Bible class.
During all these forty years, Mrs Wilkinson has baked the bread and brewed the wine for communion service, and for four times ten years Mrs Wilkinson’s garden has blossomed for this church.
Never Ever Missed a Church Service or Prayer Meeting
The Deacon says that he has never to his knowledge missed a single communion. He has never missed a prayer meeting or a church service of any sort, unless duty compelled his absence.
All their children have been baptised in this church and brought up here, and for many a year the Deacon’s daughter, Mollie, or now Mrs Wiggins, was the sweet soloist of the choir.
Deacon Wilkinson’s pocket book has been open to every call of the church, and whenever a dollar was wanted, it was ready, and none have been more faithful in calling upon the sick and distressed.
Twenty years ago when Main Street was improved, and the Ladies Aid Society needed help, in paying their quota, Deacon Wilkinson joined them, and to this day pays his regular monthly dues, the only man that is a member.
It is not known how much he has contributed to the church, but first and last it must amount to several thousand dollars.
In all these years he has never had any trouble with his neighbours, and he wants every man to know that he has always done the square thing.
Against his will, three times Deacon Wilkinson was elected to the council and served his town to the best of his ability, never missing a meeting. For forty years he has been a subscriber to the Oregon City enterprise.
Eight children have been born to Deacon and Mrs Wilkinson, four of whom are now living, Mrs. Margaret Richardson, who lives in Portland; Mrs. Martha Blakesley, of Centralia, Washington; Mrs. Mollie Wiggins, of Portland; and Georgia, at home. There are altogether five grand-children.
While Deacon Wilkinson has always been an active Christian, he has never been a sectarian, and some of his closest friends have been Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and Episcopalians, as well as Presbyterians and Congregationalists, in short, by simply following the precepts of the Divine Master he has won the respect, confidence and affection of all, and so, in celebrating to-day their Golden Wadding, we, the friends and neighbours gathered here, voice the sentiment of the entire community when we wish them continued happy and prosperous years, and that we may yet gather here to celebrate their Diamond Anniversary.
Of Mrs Wilkinson, it can be truly said that she fulfills Solomon’s description of a good wife. “She looketh well in the ways of her house-hold, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” Her children arise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praiseth her.”
And of the Deacon, our friend and brother, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way. Length of days, long life and peace, shall be added unto thee.”
Based on a Ballymena Observer article,
Friday 30th September 1910
Wilkinson Family, Supplementary Information
James Wilkinson daughter, Margaret, died less than a year after the above church service.
The regional newspaper, the Oregonian, on August 28, 1911, said:
Mrs Richardson Dead
Two Operations Fail to Safe Life of Woman
Parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Wilkinson, Came to Oregon City From Ireland in ’60’s
OREGON CITY, Or., Aug. 28 – Margaret W. Richardson, eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Wilkinson, of this city, died at the St. Vincent’s Hospital, Portland, this morning at 5 o’clock.
Mrs. Richardson went to the hospital eight weeks ago to undergo surgical treatment. Two operations were performed. The first eight weeks ago and another one week ago. Mrs. Richardson was unable to recover from the shock of the last operation.
Margaret Wilkinson was born in December 1861, in Ballymena, Ireland, and when her parents sailed for America, was left with her grandparents until the new home was ready.
In 1873, at the age of 12 years of age, she was brought to her parents, who had settled in Oregon City. Here Margaret grew up, attended the public schools, joined the Congregational Church and married William Richardson.
She is survived by one daughter, Ethel Richardson, of San Francisco; three sisters, Mrs. E.L. Blakeslee, of Centralia, Wash., and Mrs. W.B. Wiggins, of Portland and Georgia Wilkinson and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Wilkinson, of Oregon City.
The funeral will be conducted by Rev. L.S. Bollinger at 1.30PM Monday, at the Congregational Church, Oregon City. The pallbearers are to be E.G. Caufield, William Howell, Leonard Charman, George Broughton, Soloman Walker and Lincoln Blanchard. Burial will be in the Oregon City Cemetery.
After his 50th wedding anniversary, in 1910, James Wilkinson lived another 13 years. He was 82 years old when he died on 7th May 1923. A photo of his gravestone, and those of his family, can be seen here.
The local newspaper, the Oregonian, on 8th May 1923, recorded his death as follows.
James Wilkinson Dies
The local newspaper recorded his death as follows:
Oregon City Resident Church Deacon for 53 Years
Oregon City, Oregon, May 7th, 1923 – James Wilkinson, prominent pioneer resident of Oregon City, died at the family home here this morning. He fell during the flood of the first week of January.
Mr. Wilkinson for several terms was councilman. He served as deacon of the Congregational Church here for 53 years. He was born in Antrim, the north-east corner county of Ireland, 82 years ago, December 14.
Mr. Wilkinson is survived by his daughters, Mrs. Martha Blakeslee of this city, Mrs. William B. Wiggins of Portland, Miss Georgia Wilkinson of this city; a brother, William Wilkinson who resides near The Dalles.
Funeral services will be held at the family residence Wednesday morning at 10.30 o’clock.