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It is a family tradition that a Goodell either talks or writes.” —Ethel Goodell Clark, my 4th cousin once removed, in her history, My Goodell Family in America.

I’m embarking on my next writing project, to story the 1500 letters my dad and two siblings wrote during WWII that were saved by the recipients, collaged with memories they and my grandmother wrote of their lives on a farm in Michigan. At least that is my intention; I’ve yet to figure out how.

I was sure I had seen a book a non-family member wrote that included a section, at least, about the history of the farm and the family who lived there. (Really dry, I recall thinking. It may have been when I first thought about having a go at it myself.) I thought I saw it in a file drawer in the basement storage room disaster area some time ago. I finally went looking for it this week, not that I really need any more material.

I knew there was a (large) drawer full of family history stuff. I did not know the extent of it. I didn’t find the book, but oh my oh my! I dragged half of it upstairs to my father’s desk by the electric fireplace where I now spend any time I don’t have to be doing something else. (It’s blessedly rainy this week, plus I’ve been nursing that torn trapezius muscle, storied here—which is much better, BTW—so I can put off all that needs to be done outside.)

The first thing I looked at contained the quote at the beginning of this post. She sure got that right.

My paternal grandmother was Ella Louisa Lucretia Goodell Staebler. Our ancestors came to America 385 years ago this month. It seems like a good time to see what they had to say over the 13 generations from them to me.


On April 30th, 1634, Robert and Catherine Kilham Goodell and their three small children set sail from Ipswich, England on the ship Elizabeth and landed at Salem, Massachusetts. They were on the first ship of English emigrates to come to America, seeking freedom from the religious persecution of King James I and subsequent political persecution of King Charles I.

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Subsequent generations participated in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and World War II, (interestingly, I’ve not found anything about WWI), farmed the land, crossed the country by wagon train, founded and settled towns, were leaders in their communities, lingered at the edge of the Salem Witch Trials, lived the Great Depression, and raised families. And they wrote about it. They wrote letters and newspaper stories, memoirs and family histories, and passed on oral narratives. And the saving didn’t start with my parents’ generation!

Here are a few juicy bits. Of course there is more to all of these stories, but the point is that I come from a family of storytellers, and savers, and people who cared to learn the stories of their forebears and pass them on. Not all of these stories are of those in my direct line (e.g. those who crossed the country by covered wagon and settled not twenty miles from where my parents set down roots in 1946, and less than ten from where I now live), but they are family.

(Note: There are a Joel (Goodell) Baker and a Joel Goodell; two Phebes and a Phoebe, and two Jotham Goodells, along with Jothan. I haven’t completely straightened all of it out yet.)


Robert Goodell, 1675

In the beginning of December (1675) Giles Corey unreasonably beat Jacob [Robert’s son] with a stick of about an inch in diameter nearly a hundred blows…About ten days later, Corey went to the house of Zachariah Goodell and told him that his brother, Jacob, had a fall. He was afraid he had broken an arm…Jacob was then thirty-four years of age and up to that time, he had been lusty. Now Jacob went very ravel and stooping and was very pale and his eyes sunken…Jacob died a few days later and an inquest was held. They made the following report: ‘we find several wrongs he hath in his body as upon his left arm and upon right thigh a great bruise which is very much solid and upon the veins of his back in color differing from the other parts of his body we caused an incision to be made much bruised and run with a jelly and the skin broke upon the outside of each buttock.’ For this Corey was fined. Later, as the time of the witchcraft trials, Giles Corey was found guilty of ‘stomping’ Jacob to death and himself was ‘pressed’ to death as the penalty.” (Ethel Goodell Clark)

And this, after Robert had sold some of his land to Giles Corey! But what ho? It seems “there is a different slant on this story” says Robert Goodell, a 20th century descendant of the first Robert, and a retired M.D., as reported by a Leland Goodell.

It seems Jacob was very troublesome to his family, indicating that he was probably ill. He kept running away from home and Robert had to make long trips to bring him back. It was in desperation that he was apprenticed to Giles Corey. It is not surprising that he and Corey (who was noted for his bad disposition) had a fight. After the fight, Mrs. Corey put Jacob in an ox cart and took him home. An autopsy showed that Jacob’s heart was not normal and for that reason Corey was acquitted.

However, an internet search collaborates the first story, that Giles Corey was found guilty—not acquitted—and fined. And later put to death for witchcraft. Corey, of course, was not my family, but even Henry Wadsworth Longfellow included the Goodells in his play about the Trials (taking poetic license, perhaps, and saying it was Robert, not his son, who was murdered).

Look! Look! It is the ghost of Robert Goodell
Whom fifteen years ago this man did murder
By stamping on his body! In his shroud
He comes here to bear witness to the crime!

Back to the internet story:

Seventeen years later, when Martha Corey was arrested for witchcraft, Giles testified against his wife and then recanted. Perjury! Leading to further suspicion of witchcraft. He was convicted for ‘standing mute,’ thereby refusing trial. In the entire history of the United States, Giles Corey is the only person ever to be ‘pressed to death’ by order of a court. It took two days to slowly crush him to death by placing weights on his body. Infamously, his last words were, ‘More weight.’ His wife, Martha, was later convicted and hanged.

Next up in Part 2, jumping a century and a half forward: My great-great grandmother in the wilds of Michigan and horrific letters from the front lines of the Civil War.

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