Tuesday, June 28, 2011



I’m not a very disciplined writer, one look at my work desk will tell you that, and sometimes when I post an intention to write next about a stated subject, other more pressing stories intrude.

          Right now the past seems hell bent on taking over my computer, my fingers and my mind.  My Quaker families have been tracked, their journey from way back to now revealed and told, but along the way I came across some unforgettable and compelling side stories.  Stories that insist on being told.

          They all touch in one way or another on the Quakers from my past, small vignettes that are nevertheless part of the bigger picture.

          So for now, I’ll leave you with a brief preview of more up to date stories about my beloved Stradbroke Island...

Just one of Straddie's precious little residents...
They will be stories about some of the women and men who live and work here, and one will be about a young woman called Romaine from France whose dedicated work researching the koala colonies of Stradbroke Island has shown some surprising and encouraging results.

Her story and that of the tiny, furry little bundle in the photograph will feature very soon...I promise!

My next story though will be about the three young women from Virginia who published an underground newspaper for Union troops during the American Civil War. Like my Quakers they too are distant kin.

Next:  Lida, Lizzie and Sarah – the Dutton connection.

Robyn Mortimer ©2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011



1874:  A child is born, a son to Laura and John Brown of Indian Creek.  This boy has a proud past, he springs from a long line of Quaker forebears though in truth this pacifist link was left behind together with the Civil War when his grandfather Dennis fought with the 23rd Indiana Volunteers.

But somewhere in the years to come there will be a catalyst, a reason, a cause that will tear the boy/man apart from his mother and sister, send him to live in a land far away,  and will cause him to deny his father for ever more.

That child was Bertie Everett Brown, my grandfather who I knew and loved as Charles Nelson Brown Parker. But this boy, despite his pacifist heritage, most definitely, was not a Quaker.



Just as the old saying ‘all roads lead to Rome’ is appropriate for ancient history, right now all my Indiana past takes me back to Indian Creek, that early settlement bordering the Tippecanoe River in what we now call Pulaski County. 

When this area around the reaches of the Tippecanoe River was first opened in the early 1830’s it brought settlers from Ohio and beyond. Some, but not all were Quakers. By 1839 the lush countryside had attracted sufficient families to warrant the establishing of a county and accordingly a board of commissioners and representatives was elected to office.

By the 1870’s, where this chapter in the life of my Brown ancestors begins the State of Indiana, nestling below the southernmost of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan, has become densely populated with numerous counties formed.

 The Browns however have remained in the general area of the Tippecanoe venturing not much further  from Winamac than the towns of  Logansport and Peru.


Back at the beginning many of those successful Indian Creek office bearers were either already kin to the Browns or would become so in the fullness of time.  One such family was that of Peter and Lavinia Demoss.

The origin of the DeMoss family has been traced back to 1669 to Count Louis Dumas who was born in de Montaigne, France but died in the Netherlands.  This Dumas was only one of a rich pageant of Barons, Counts and Chevaliers de France stretching back as far as the 1500’s, to the time of the infamous Catherine de Medici, consort Queen of France, when the family name was signed as Damas.

A French village

The Demoss family is just as large and extended as our Browns, but where our family started in England as Quakers, the Demoss, or Dumas line were French Huguenots, the name given to French Protestants in the 16th Century during the Wars of Religion. 

Both Quakers and Huguenots suffered for their beliefs; the Huguenots though were originally Catholic in origin who sought reformation of the Church of Rome and were banished to countries that gave them shelter.  They were also known as Protestant Calvinists.

Events came to a head when the French Sun King, Louis 14th took the throne, banning the singing of psalms in private dwellings and forbidding communities from collecting tithes to support Protestant ministers.

Then he barred Protestants from holding public office or serving as judges, advocates, or even as physicians and midwives.  Some of these oppressed Huguenots fled to the low countries to the north of France, the Netherlands and Belgium, others to England and Russia, and some, including the brothers Charles and Louis Dumas sought a new life in the relatively unknown wilds of north America. 

In time the Dumas family name was contracted to Demoss and in 1853 a great great-grand daughter, Charlotte Demoss married a man called Edward Welch.  She would die soon after her daughter Laura is born, and will be buried as a Demoss.

Her younger sister Hester will marry the widower and rear the child as her own.  But as you will see, the taint of tragedy will follow Laura throughout her life: The year now is 1873, Laura is about to marry John W. Brown and her first child will be my grandfather, Bertie Everett Brown.



When Dennis Brown marched off to war he left behind his wife Hannah and his sons Mercer, John and Levi to run the farm.  John William was six months short of his 17th birthday and perhaps he was the bookish one of the family because for the next few years he taught school at the Indian Creek school house his uncle William had helped build. By 1873 John has courted and married Laura Welch, the child left motherless in 1856. 

Indian Creek, Tippecanoe, Logansport, Winamac, Peru and Monterey and numerous towns in and around, all featured in the lives and times of the Browns and the Demosses and the families their children married into.  Nearly all these people lived on farms and perhaps for a short while so too did John and Laura.

With intermingling of families and religions I find now that Laura has been raised in the Seventh Day Adventist beliefs of her father while many of the Browns are now scattered amongst Methodist and Baptist ministries.

By the time young Bertie is six years old, he and his sister Leota, and an unnamed one month old infant, are living with their parents in the town of Winamac and their father John is a fire insurance salesman.

For Laura, the marriage hasn’t been a happy one.  For a start in between Bertie and Leota there has been an infant death,  and then in 1880 the unnamed baby listed on that census dies as well.

With no chatty Quaker Meeting records providing the depth and scope I had become dependent  on while researching the comings and goings of the family with earlier Mercer’s, Richard’s and even with Dennis Brown, I relied now more and more on the ten year Census records.  At least with these I could follow their movements, note any deaths or marriages. Any diversions from the norm.

But my luck ran out with John W. Brown and Laura:   the 1890 Census for Indiana was destroyed in a fire, and so too were any clues that might have explained the broken marriage, John’s jail term and Bertie’s separation from the family.

In 1890 Grandfather was 16 years old, a teenager and according to a letter written by a cousin, still living at home in Peru three years later in the summer of 1893.

At some time between 1893 and 1899 the lives of Bertie, his sister Leota, Laura his mother and John W. Brown his father are forever changed.  Unless someone has left an undiscovered record of events or a relation in America steps forward I have no way of knowing exactly what happened.

(If someone does know please leave your contact email on the comments page.)

All I can do is dance around the known facts, paint a picture of the times and try not to judge any one too harshly.  I started delving in Peru, it’s the town where both Laura and her daughter lived and would eventually die in.



ChasBert, which is a fitting name for my Grandfather, a past and present dual identity for a man concealing his past, had an affinity with gambling and an inventive mind when it came to scams and selling himself.

I’m sure when he met and married my Grandmother Maggie in the small Fiji town of Levuka he was no novice in the art of deception, in fact I imagine he had been existing on his wits for at least seven years prior to his 1900 marriage.

But I doubt my Gran knew anything about all that when she said ‘I do.’

It’s hard to imagine a small-town 19 year old with such an aptitude for deceit.  That was his age in the summer of 1893 when he admitted having met, at his home in Peru, a very small new born cousin Harriet Low, visiting with her mother from New Jersey. 

 I know this from a letter Harriet wrote in 1963 advising the Australian family of their aunt Leota’s death.

Actually it was cousin Harriet’s letter that burst the bubble hiding Grandfather’s big lie and set me off on this marathon search through the past.

So I asked myself, where and how did Grandfather ChasBert learn to live off his wits, acquire an ability to charm the punters from their hard earned cash,  adopt the name Charles Nelson Brown Parker?

In my Ancestor series I’ve covered his life, a rollercoaster ride for Maggie as ChasBert dragged her first around New Zealand and later through Australia, acquiring seven children along the way.

Right now though this final Quaker story is primarily about ChasBert’s father, John William Brown, husband, father, one time school teacher, insurance salesman and prison inmate.

I firmly believe Grandfather’s past and his resulting future was irretrievably caught up with that of his father.  Something happened in those missing years between 1890 and 1900, something the family closed ranks on and were careful to leave no evidence for future generations to find.

Perhaps father and son were already at loggerheads by that summer of 1893, the family already split with John living in Winamac and Laura and the children making their home in Peru.



At one stage while writing the ‘Ancestor’* series about my errant Grandfather I reached the point where I first uncovered the years in New Zealand and his showbiz past.  As bit by bit newspaper interviews and performance critiques came to light, I recalled my mother’s hazy memories of playing on a trapeze with children from a circus, friends of the family.  I thought her age put the circus in Australia in the mid 1920’s, which probably was about the right time.

But then I found evidence of ChasBert much earlier In New Zealand, touring the same towns as the visiting Fitzgerald’s Circus; often either appearing with them or using one of their performers to provide a novelty boost to his own punch ball vaudeville act. 

There was a definite if slight connection with show business even before he came to the attention of the Australian entrepreneur Harry Rickards and now I wondered if as a teenager he may have had dreams of running away to join a circus.

As I soon found out he wouldn’t have had far to run; as far back as the early 1800’s Peru was known as the Circus town of America, the town where circus folk spent their winter months.

So I started researching the circus days of Peru and came across two startling coincidences, one was the name Fitzgerald and the other was Major Taylor, a young black cyclist champion who toured New Zealand and Australia in the early 1900’s and was managed briefly by Grandfather.

The young Major Taylor and Grandfather at the time he managed his appearances in New Zealand
In 1896 the young cyclist known professionally as Major Taylor because of the military uniform he wore for his trick riding, started racing on the American professional circuit at the age of 18.  Born in rural Indiana at the same time as Grandfather he quickly outclassed his white opponents winning a major bike race in Indianapolis. But his fame brought racial threats and taunts and he was banned from racing in America.  He then toured Europe before arriving in New Zealand and later competing in Australia.

Of course none of this helped explain ChasBert’s departure from Peru, but it did provide another link to his childhood days.

The same search through circus archives highlighted the name Fitzgerald and a tenuous link to the circus folk of Peru and in particular to the Hagenbeck Wallace Circus and the years 1890 to 1900.

These Circus photos of Peru are part of Indiana’s State Collection of Historic Photographs.

Before Ben Wallace bought out his partner and took over the circus, he owned a livery stable in Peru and ran a farm nearby. Over the years the Circus toured throughout America and eventually Wallace created permanent winter quarters for the animals on his farm back in Peru.  The farm had plenty of water and room to house and grow fodder for the circus collection of wild cats, horses and elephants. 

But the popular Circus also attracted a fringe element  of undesirables.  Scam artists, card sharps and pickpockets that floated along with the great railroad caravans as they road the rails through small provincial towns of the west, often leaving behind a wake of petty crime.

This must have seemed a glamorous and addictive lifestyle to a teenager.  Bert, as he was then, was a decidedly  athletic boy, almost a fitness freak and handy with his fists.  A trait that would lead him into trouble in coming years and resurrect itself later in his own son, young Charlie, resulting in the boy’s tragic death years later in Australia.

ChasBert as a young man: His sailor son  young Charlie seated left: A portly ChasBert with sons Bill, Bob and Bert.



The later years of the 1800’s saw the world thrust into depression, money was short, jobs were hard to come by. Laura had already turned to dress making and John was probably finding it hard to sell insurance. 

Those missing years between the two Indiana Census collections have helped hide a multitude of sins.  The breakdown of a marriage, promises made and broken, a son lost forever. 

The Brown’s disintegration couldn’t have happened overnight, it must have taken years to fester and develop.  The end result though could be seen in three official documents of the time, three people miles and oceans apart leaving witness of their heartache and anger in individual ways.

Laura, in Peru, will describe herself in the 1900 American Federal Census as a widow, while her husband, in the 1900 census taken at the Michigan State Prison  on the banks of Michigan Lake will state he is divorced.

At that same time across the Pacific, a world away in Fiji, in a ceremony that joins my Grandmother and my Grandfather in marriage, ChasBert will write on his wedding certificate that his father is deceased.

Three differing and individual perspectives on a family torn apart. 

I can understand Laura claiming her husband was dead, she and her daughter were left virtually destitute forced to take in lodgers to help pay the rent.  But for a son to disown his father so completely one would imagine the man had done something so bad, so obscene, something even he simply could not condone.

Apart from murder, the only reason I can come up with is either bigamy, callous desertion or assault.

Murder would have made headlines and left a trail of clues, there are none.  But bigamy and desertion were commonplace even back then and failure to pay maintenance might have landed a man in a prison for a while.  I avoided the thought of assault though I did wonder where ChasBert’s sometimes violent inclination to fisticuffs came from.  Inherited perhaps, or did it start with self defence.


It took me a while to realise the 1900 Census record I was looking at was actually a prisoners roll call.

I had found ChasBert’s father, not in a cemetery where I expected his deceased father to be, but incarcerated in Indiana’s State Prison in Michigan City on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Suddenly my family’s history had taken a dramatic turn. 

What on earth could he have done to warrant a stretch in one of America’s most secure prisons.  Mind you the penal institution wasn’t always like that.  Just after it was opened in the mid 1800’s seven men managed to escape over the walls. Their freedom didn’t last long though, they were all eventually recaptured.

Prisoners having a lunch break during building of original jail.

I wonder could the mass escape have been made possible because prisoners themselves were used to build the jail in the first place.

With no records available I have no idea just how long he spent behind bars, however by the 1910 census he is free aged 59 and renting a room back in Logansport.  He is back to working as an insurance agent and now states he is a widower with no children.  In truth Laura will be alive for the next nine years.



While his father was incarcerated in the Michigan City Prison ChasBert was roaming the Pacific but not apparently as Bert Brown:  By what means and when I’ve covered to the best of my knowledge in the ‘Ancestor’ series.

Grandfather had been full of tall stories, at least that’s what his grandchildren thought as some of the more unlikely tales filtered down through their parents memories.

Over a period of years as I delved deeper into his life I began to realise there was a great deal of truth behind those flights of fancy.  Sailing the South Pacific, adventures in Fiji, meetings with people of note.

What I couldn’t find was any evidence of service in the American Army, Navy or Marines.  Hardly surprising though, the Navy itself admits many of the young men in those years between 1890 and 1900 either enlisted under assumed names or their own official records were incomplete.

So ChasBert’s tales of the Spanish American war may have been true.  There were several theatres of war at that time,  the Mexican conflicts and island wars in the Pacific.  America then was every bit as busy in world affairs as it is now.

But there again his combat claims, like his boxing may have been something of a Walter Mitty  experience, exploits borrowed from others.

The biggest problem I had was trying to fit all his claimed endeavours into a relatively small timeframe.  Especially the stories he told New Zealand reporters about his prowess with a gun during the Samoan conflict.

Then I began fitting together his father, John’s last years before his official death  in 1924:  The Census records for 1910 and 1920...and suddenly I had a whole new slant on at least one part of his life.



Electric rail service between Logansport and Indianapolis. Original with the Indiana Historical Society.
When John was released from jail some time before 1910 he moved into a rooming house in Winamac.  At the same time his wife Laura and daughter Leota were living in Peru in rented rooms on West Third Street no more than hour or two away.

Both Mother and Daughter by now are making a living as dressmakers, though in later years Leota like her cousin Harriet will be working in the drapery department of a local store.

Laura however won’t live to see another census; by 1919 she has passed away; but someone has paid for a handsome marker on her grave in the Mt Hope Cemetery in Peru.

 Forty four years later  her daughter Leota will join her, their grave stones side by side.   A lonely and chilling way to be remembered.

At the same time these remnants of his family live out their solitary lives in Indiana,  Grandfather is facing his own problems in Australia. His showbiz life has been left behind along with his trim, athletic figure.  

But now he pushes his sons into the boxing ring, roaming the Australian countryside with tent shows and scams, keeping one step ahead of creditors and his own flamboyant and notorious past.

His wife, my gentle and unbelievably tolerant Grandmother Maggie travels with him.  They keep in touch with Leota, the American sister Maggie will never meet.

In her letters to Maggie, Leota refers to her brother as Bert.  None of their correspondence has survived the years except for one, a postcard dated 1923. However I know they began writing to each other in 1905 because in Cousin Harriet Low’s letter she says ‘Leota never threw any of the Australian letters and cards away, a huge collection dating back to 1905.’

I wonder was that the year ChasBert revealed his true identity to Maggie?  If it was then his confession coincided with a particularly precarious and rocky time in their marriage.  Again a part of their story you can read about in the Ancestor series chapters 6 to 16.

In 1924, just a year after Leota sent this postcard to her brother’s family in Australia, their father, John William Brown was dead.  I doubt Leota mourned  her father’s  passing though perhaps there was regret for the many lost and tortured years the family had spent apart.



I have to believe John knew about his wife’s death in 1919, their families were large and spread throughout the county. But I doubt he knew anything at all about his son Bert or of his whereabouts.  This was a secret known only to Leota and one she faithfully kept until her father’s death.


At the end there were only three brothers left, John and the two youngest boys born after their father Dennis returned home from the Civil War in 1865, Charlie Dennis Brown and Van Burton Brown.

The year now is 1920: John has moved from Logansport to Winamac where I found him just a year after his wife had died,  living in a boarding house next door to a  Demoss cousin  in Main Street, Franklin.

Elizabeth Demoss was the same age as John and the widow of Virgil Demoss a cousin to both Laura and her stepmother Hester.  Virgil’s father was Eli, an original pioneer of the Indian Creek settlement with his brother Peter. The two families were first related by a Brown aunt’s marriage to a Demoss in the formative years of Pulaski County.

I did warn you the Demoss family was every bit as tangled as the Browns.

When John Brown dies intestate in 1924 his  younger brother Charles Dennis Brown is living nearby on the family farm in Star City, just a few clicks south along the Michigan Road.  Charlie organises the funeral and administrates his brother’s estate.  There wasn’t a great deal to show for his life, just $350 which Charles attempts to disperse to his brother’s children.

On the Application for letters of Administration their names and addresses are given as Leota Brown aged 40, daughter residing Peru Indiana:  Bert E. Brown aged 47, son, address unknown.

Leota has kept his whereabouts and identity hidden even from her uncle.

Curiously though it will be Charles Dennis Brown’s own death in 1936 that will provide the answers to two puzzling parts of my ChasBert’s life and provide a fitting closure to the story of Grandfather’s Quaker past.



Corporal Van Burton Brown, the last born son of Dennis and Hannah Brown was a career soldier.  Born in 1868 in Indian Creek, Pulaski County he saw service with American Military and Naval Forces in Cuba at the Santa Cristina Barracks and later in the Philippines at Fort William McKinley in Rizal.

If he saw service in the Philippines then it is highly probable he also saw action in the Samoa conflict which you might remember my Grandfather ChasBert has claimed in newspaper interviews as his own.

Van’s given name had filtered down from his Mother’s family, from Hannah Burton’s brother. For a number of years Hannah and Dennis lived adjacent to Hannah’s brother Van Burton and his young family.  And not far away would have lived John and Laura Brown and their children Bertie and Leota.

In fact there was only a five year age difference between my Grandfather ChasBert and his uncle, Van Burton Brown.

A big enough age difference to engender a great deal of hero worship of the older lad by the younger one.

It seemed I had found the source at least of Grandfather’s assumed experiences and escapades in the American armed forces.



I must confess I hadn’t really taken much notice of John Brown’s younger brothers, the ones born after the Civil War, but now while researching John W. I began delving through freshly available records.

Charles Dennis Brown married Sibbie Small and looked after his aging father Dennis in his closing years taking over the property in Star City. When Charles died, without leaving a will but with one thousand dollars in the bank and property worth three hundred dollars, it was left to the last surviving brother, Van Burton Brown to locate his brothers heirs.

Charles Brown’s Will and entitlement list shows only too well the evidence of a large family going their separate way.  With Van as the sole surviving sibling, the list of heirs, all nephews and niece’s reads...

Edna Carey Lembka,                                 niece living in California.

John Carey                                                  nephew living in Los Angeles

Edwin D. Brown                                          nephew living in Illinois

Milo Brown                                                  nephew living unknown

William R. Brown                                       nephew living Chicago

May Brown                                                 niece living Chicago

Pluma Brown                                              niece living Indiana

Leota Brown                                               niece living in Peru

And last  of all...

Bert Brown alias Charles Brown Parker   nephew living in Australia

Not a great deal of money  to share by today’s standards but a welcome windfall in the depression years of the 1930’s.

For nearly forty years Leota had kept her brother’s whereabouts and identity secret, but now with both her parents dead there was no need to remain silent.

 At last my grandfather of the double identity, Charles Brown Parker, or maybe that should be Bert Brown, has been restored to his family.


If you would like to know more about the life and times of my Grandparents Maggie and ChasBert, I suggest you go back to the January 2011 ‘Ancestor’ series number six, to ‘Maggie and the man from Indiana’ where their love affair begins and continues through numerous chapters.

Robyn Mortimer ©2011

Next:  Back to the Present – Stradbroke Island and more of its inhabitants.