Edith Charlotte Lawton was a direct descendant of William White, signer of the original Mayflower Compact, and was proud of her heritage. She was an officer in the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and gave “Lawton” as a middle name to her eldest daughter and to Robert Lawton Speik–who may have been named after her great-great-grandfather Robert Lawton (1754-1836), a soldier in the Revolutionary War, or his father, also named Robert Lawton, who served in the war councils for the French and Indian War in 1757 and 1761, and was elected Deputy by the General Assembly in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1781.
For a historian, it’s always interesting to research a descendant of Mayflower passengers and Revolutionary War soldiers because those individuals’ records have been carefully preserved as part of our nation’s history. This makes it much easier to unearth their stories! But before we get to her father’s line, here are a few words about her mother’s.
Edith’s Mother: Madeleine Sophy Cleaver (1857-1892)
Edith’s Mayflower-descended father, Charles Tillinghast Lawton, like Edith herself, married a child of immigrants. But Mr. Lawton’s wife, Madeleine Cleaver, enjoyed a fairly privileged childhood. Madeleine’s mother was connected to European nobility and her father to London’s wealthy merchant class. Like most immigrants of that era, they came to America in search of opportunity–but the Cleavers were not fleeing poverty; they were looking to expand their already-established soapmaking business.
Madeleine Cleaver was born in 1857 in Cleaverville, Illinois–now a part of Chicago proper, but, at the time, well outside the city. Her great-grandfather, Samuel Cleaver, founded the first soapmaking company in London–now Yardley of London–in 1770, and the family had stayed in the soapmaking business ever since. Madeleine’s father William Cleaver, and her uncle Charles Cleaver, came over from England and arrived in a settlement called “Chicago” in 1833.
Chicago did not become a city until 1837. In 1833 it was more of a trading post, newly booming due to the construction of a canal joining Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The brothers purchased a large tract of land south of the city along an existing Indian trail (which has since become Cottage Grove Avenue) with easy access to the lake and its excellent soap-shipping possibilities. Over the next two decades, “Cleaverville” took shape. A large soapmaking factory was built, roads were planned and laid out, and houses for factory workers, shops and churches quickly followed. Cleaverville was a company town. Its existence was by and for the Cleaver soap works. William Cleaver, Madeleine’s father, ran the general store connected to the factory and acted as Postmaster of Cleaverville; Charles Cleaver seems to have run the factory and been the prime “mover and shaker” behind the town itself. It was Charles, they say, who came up with the brilliant idea of paying Illinois Central Railroad $3,800 a year to provide train service to his community, thereby transforming Cleaverville into one of Chicago’s first commuter suburbs (Charles Cleaver and the Cottage in the Grove, 2005).
William, on the other hand, was the more adventurous brother. He even participated in the 1849 California gold rush, and used to regale his children with tales of his exploits, including narrow escapes from death at the hands of Indians or starvation in the Sierras (Cleaver History by Madeleine’s brother, Arthur von Wedel Cleaver).
The Gold Miner and the Governess
By the time Madeleine was born, her father’s days of derring-do had largely come to an end. He returned from his gold rush exploits via New York, to his first wife, Mary Whiteley. Sadly, she died in childbirth in 1855, leaving him with three young children and a baby. (The baby, unfortunately, also did not live long.) In those days, a man in such a situation wants a wife. William found one in his brother’s highly-accomplished Swiss governess, Sophia Charlotte Zimmermann.
Sophie was the daughter of Karl Friedrich von Wedel Zimmermann, a professor of linguistics at Basel College. (By the end of his career, he was reportedly President of the College; a position that his son, also a professor of linguistics, took after he died.) He brought Sophie along on a tour of America in 1854 to visit cousins in St. Louis, and while visiting Chicago she accepted a position in Charles Cleaver’s home in Cleaverville, Oakwood Hall, to teach languages to his children. Like her brother and father, she was a brilliant linguist, fluent in English, French, German and Italian, and at the age of 27 she may have felt that her chances of marriage were small.
William and Sophie wed in Chicago on October 3, 1856. He was forty and she was twenty-nine. Madeleine was born the following August, and they went on to have six children together. Whether it began as a love match or a marriage of convenience is not known, but the marriage surely was a success, and by the end of their lives they were so attached that when Sophie died in 1896, it was said that William lost interest in life. He followed her in death within a matter of months. They had been married over forty years.
The details of Madeleine’s early life have been lost to time, but indications are that the Cleavers were a close-knit family and that she and her sister Lizzie, born only a year after her, were very close. In October of 1880 Madeleine married Charles Tillinghurst Lawton, a salesman from upstate New York. Since his family lived in Balliston Spa, Saratoga, I wonder if she met him while the Cleavers vacationed there? Saratoga was a popular summer destination for the well-heeled of that day. This is pure speculation at this time, however, for I have unearthed no records to indicate how they met.
A Life Cut Short
The young couple made their home at 4731 Kenwood Avenue, within walking distance of Cleaverville. At that time, the neighborhood was new; now Kenwood Avenue retains much of the charm of the late Victorian age but the Lawton home is no longer standing. The tree-lined street still boasts many large, three and four-story “Queen Anne” style houses, so it is safe to assume that the Lawtons lived in such a house, probably with servants’ quarters above the main living area.
Madeleine had three children that we know of: Emily, born 1882; Edith, born 1884; and Bradley, born 1892. If she had other children, they did not survive. She suffered, unfortunately, from Bright’s disease–what we would call nephritis today. Her beloved sister Lizzie died from childbirth complications in 1891 and Madeleine did not long survive her. Whether Madeleine’s pregnancy caused or was complicated by her kidney issues I do not know, but she died approximately six weeks after giving birth to Bradley. She was only 34 years old.
What a tragedy this must have been for the family–particularly her unfortunate parents, who were still grieving the loss of their daughter Lizzie when they lost their daughter Madeleine, and for her husband and young daughters.
Edith’s life, of course, is detailed elsewhere in this blog.
Bradley Lawton (1892-1971) was only six weeks old when his mother died, but his father and older sisters made a secure home for him. He grew up to become a teacher at Manzanita Hall in Palo Alto, California (a boys’ prep school affiliated with Stanford), a fighter pilot in World War I, and eventually worked for the Minnesota State Board of Education. He married Thelma Gilroy and had a daughter, Marilyn Lawton.
You can read the story of his life and war service, plus view some very interesting photographs, in Marian Spelberg-McQueen’s The Men of the Second Oxford Detachment).
Emily Lawton (1882-1945), like her sister Edith, completed college and became a teacher. Unlike her sister, she remained single all her days. If there was a thwarted romance in Emily’s life to account for the fact that such a pretty woman never married, the details have been lost to time. However, in both the 1920 census and the 1930 census she has a male housemate by the name of Edward Roy Martin, a Chicago police sergeant. When Emily moved from Illinois to southern California, it appears that he did too; he died in San Bernardino. According to research by Janice Buchanan, Emily purchased a niche in a columbarium at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, but she did not use it; Edward Roy Martin was interred there on 9 April 1942. She is buried in the Speik plot in San Gabriel Cemetery with fellow unmarried schoolteacher Matilda Speik. Tilly was her sister’s sister-in-law and no relation to Emily at all. Interesting.
Ah, but this page is supposed to be about Edith’s forebears–not her siblings! So let’s move on to Edith’s father.
Charles Tillinghast Lawton (1856-1941)
Edith’s father was born in Ballston Spa, New York, on March 18, 1856 to George Henry Lawton, Sr., a wholesale grocer, and Emily Crapo Lawton, who were both 32 years old. Charles was the sixth of seven children, and as the youngest of six boys may have suffered the usual torments of having five older brothers! He certainly acquired a dry sense of humor that can be glimpsed in his later letters to daughter Edith. When he was three, his only sister, Elizabeth Emily Lawton was born.
Ballston Spa was a tourist destination, a pretty village in upstate New York that boasted several natural mineral springs–and until Saratoga Springs burst onto the scene and eclipsed it in the 1830s, it was the foremost “watering place” in the country. Elegant hotels attracted the rich and famous, and New York society flocked to Ballston Spa in the summer. Although Saratoga, whose waters were bottled and widely sold–thus spreading its fame–eventually became the bigger “draw,” Ballston retained its beauty and continued to attract a quieter, more middle-class crowd. Additionally, the village expanded its economy beyond tourism and built paper mills along the Kayaderosseras River, taking advantage of the surrounding forests.
It seems that Charles may have been born at his grandparents’ house. An 1856 map of Saratoga County landowners shows at least three properties that belonged to “W. Crapo,” Emily Crapo Lawton’s father. Like many women, Emily probably wanted her mother’s presence when she gave birth.
In census records, the Lawtons reside in Albany, and by the age of 35 George Lawton had an estate worth $20,000 (over $600,000 in 2019 dollars) and two live-in Irish servants. He was the proprietor of Lawton & Taylor, wholesale grocers, at 17 State Street. The family lived at 209 State Street. Neither building has survived, unfortunately.
We are fortunate, however, to have interesting portraits of Charles Tillinghast Lawton even from his childhood in the 1860s:
And at least one from when he was a teenager. The image on the left may have been taken on the occasion of his graduation from high school. A notation on the photograph to the right indicates that it was taken on their honeymoon. He was a tall and distinguished-looking man, with a receding hairline that made him appear older than his 24 years. The Lawtons set up their home near Madeleine’s family in Cleaverville (Chicago), and Charles began a career selling fine cutlery. He needed to spend quite a bit of time traveling in the course of his business, so Madeleine was probably glad to have her own family nearby.
Madeleine died of Bright’s disease in 1892 within a month of son Bradley’s birth, leaving Charles a widower at age 36. He did not remarry, however, until sometime between 1910 and 1920, after his children were grown. Betty Maud Johnson was 27 years younger than Charles, but it seems they did not have children together. He may have met her while traveling; indications are that she was an Ohio girl. They made their home first in Cleveland and later in Lansing, Michigan, where Betty–interestingly–worked as a juvenile probation officer.
It’s fortunate that Charles was a seasoned traveler. With son Bradley in Missouri, daughter Emily still in Chicago, Edith all the way out in Southern California, and his own home in Ohio or Michigan, he must have spent a lot of time on the road just to visit family! Bradley had only one daughter, Marilyn Lawton, and Emily never married, so it was Edith who supplied most of his grandchildren–including his only grandson.
During the 1930s, as he entered his seventies, he stopped traveling and settled down in Lansing as the proprietor of a cutlery store. After retirement, he and Betty moved to Mason in Ingram County, Michigan, where he lived to the ripe old age (at that time) of 85 before succumbing to “cardiac insufficiency.”
These wonderful portraits of him with daughter Edith and grandson Bobby were taken in Pasadena early in 1929.