My Family of Storytellers for 385 Years in America: Part 3

Someday I will transcribe Joel Brigham (Goodell) Baker’s letters from the Civil War; they are truly amazing. For now, we start with why his last name is Baker, instead of Goodell. 


Jotham and Annie Goodell; July 5, 1881

While Jotham and Annie were still in Canada, Jonas Baker and his wife, Phebe Goodell Baker, came from New York State to visit. Phebe was the sister who cared for Jotham during his childhood [after their mother died when he was seven months old]. Phebe and Jonas had no children and begged Jotham and Annie to give them their four year old son, Joel Brigham. Jotham felt he owed his sister a debt and only by giving up one of his children could this debt be paid…. From that time on he was known as Joel Brigham Baker. In 1881, before her death, Annie made a formal legalized statement of these facts. —From Ethel Goodell’s “My Goodells in America.”

Anna Glenning Goodell in said County and Territory being duly sworn says that she is the mother of Joel Brigham Baker deceased. While a resident of [?] when Joel was but four (4) years old Jonas Baker and his wife Phebe [Goodell] visited us and insisted on adopting Joel as their Son and [?] to make him their heir we reluctantly consented and from that time he took their name and became a member of their family.  —Signed Anna Glenning Goodell

Subscribed to and sworn to this the 5th day of July 1881. —W.M. (?) Goodell, Justice of the Peace

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Cpt. Joel (Goodell) Baker, Civil War

Army Potomac
May 19th, 1864

My dear Wife:
…Such mangled as I saw on the field were awful. One boy had his right cheek torn off, leaving the teeth all exposed. Arms and legs were lying around and everything else looks awful…

12 miles from Richmond
May 31, 1864

Dear Wife:
All well, fighting every day. Nobody killed in my Co. yet.

Prospect Hill, 11 miles from Richmond
June 1, 1864

My dear Wife:
We have been long quite still for a few days and are getting rested and I am as well as ever but somewhat thin as I must have lost at least 30 pounds since leaving Baltimore.

Cold Harbor Battlefield
June 5, 1864

Dearest Wife:
Oh how sad I am today. Day before yesterday our regiment was ordered to charge the rebel fortifications before us. They were very strong with many large cannons so placed as to rake us in every direction and manned with thousands of rebels with muskets. Our lines were about 100 rods [550 yards] from the rebel lines. (A man not six feet from me is just shot so you see under what circumstances I am writing.) The ground over which we were to charge was undulating…On we rushed down into the ravine…[?] of canister which mowed down men by dozens. The muskets also opened upon us but in the face of this terrible storm of lead and iron the men still unhurt pushed steadily on but dropping with fearful rapidity. The company seemed to melt away. Lt. Nichols was near me. I saw him seize his left arm and cry out with pain.… On I pushed with the little handful of men left. A moment more and alone I stood…. A moment I paused – – looking back the ground was covered with my poor boys lying down. I ran along the line and shouted for them to get up and press on. Only one boy answered my call. ‘Captain, I can’t. I’m wounded.’ O God, what an awful moment. All alone. Where could my men be. Dead or wounded? or had they quailed before the storm and laid down to escape the bullets? A moment longer I spent to look…. Then I turned and ran back into the ravine where I was out of danger…. I was the target for hundreds of rifles and the bullets flying around my head seemed like a sworm [sic] of angry bees. But not a scratch did I receive except that several holes are in my pants and coat.

…Don’t publish my letters.

God keep you all
Your husband, Joel

And to his sister. Interestingly, we know from the letter to this sister with an undisclosed name and his mention of a “brother William’s death” and his shock to hear of “Emeline’s death,” that he apparently kept in touch with them after his adoption, or perhaps reconnected. According to the genealogy records, William and Emeline were sisters of Joel Brigham (Goodell) Baker, children of Jotham and Annie. The rest of the family had crossed the country to Lyndon, Washington Territory, saving them, I suppose, from conscription into the Union army. But, they were busy fighting the Indians.

November 13th, 1864
Near Petersburg, Va

My Dear Sister:

…Whilst I have been in great danger all summer many, very many, have been killed around me, and more have received painful wounds. I have escaped unharmed, but my dear friends who lived in less danger have been taken away. Indeed I have great cause to be thankful for that kind watchful care Providence has bestowed upon me. But is there less evidence of the dealings of Providence in those occurrences which cause us grief and mourning than in those which afford cause for rejoicing? I believe not….

I am your Affectionate Brother
Joel B. Baker

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And now fast forward to WWII. Why is there nothing about WWI?

In the drawer was also another file of stuff from my father’s service in WWII. Reading the requisition lists, the lists of what he was sending home, the certificate of embarkation to go home on the S.S. Frostburg Victory more than 70 years ago, I was suddenly in his head, in my mother’s head; waiting, waiting, and finally it was over and he was home.

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There was one more letter from my aunt to him, as well. As I have read these 1500 letters, especially the few between the siblings, I hear their personalities clearly. And their love for their family.

In her letter, I believe the “I’m about to do my part” was code for her hospital unit was about to move, getting around the censor, hoping he would understand, I imagine. As non-combatants, they both moved from country to country, keeping behind current action as the Germans were pushed out. She from Africa to Italy and now about to go to France. He from England and at some point to France. I wonder if the ham and eggs was simply humor or something more.


Lt. Helen Staebler Martin Kranish

September 1st, 1944

Dear George,

Received your letter of the 18th yesterday. As to your first question about a meeting = I’m about to do my part. How about you doing yours? I have the ham – you get the eggs! … Yes, I’m sure that we have the finest parents and the best family in the world to go back to. Was there ever a mother more faithful about writing…than our mother? I doubt it…. I feel so sorry for the people in our unit who say that they would just as soon stay over here – that they have nothing to go back to.

Sincerely, Helen

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From Ella (my grandmother) at age 83. Written to her daughter Helen and husband Carl. After her stroke in 1975, she couldn’t do anything but write. Between the stroke and her nearly lost vision, her handwriting—never very good—was nearly impossible to read. But my aunt kept her 12 page letters…and now I have them. This one is from an earlier time, because I could read it.

March 19, 1964

Dear Helen & Carl

…Well, I made it by 8:30. Up, bath, fixed my hair, had breakfast and done some repair work on the chicken house window so the dog can’t paw at the glass. He gets so wild at being tied up all the time.
     …I don’t know as there is much to relate today except it’s nice weather but cold. Did have a nice blizzard again on Tues. but didn’t last long. Don says he thinks maybe the frost is all out of the ground. Ice went out of the lakes just over nite and a day of wind. The ice fisherman will be unhappy….

Love, Mom

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From my father to his mother on the first anniversary of his father’s death.

October 25, 1952

Dearest Mother –

It doesn’t seem possible that a year could fly by so quickly. Perhaps to you it hasn’t seemed so short.. But if it has seemed long, Mom, it is the longest one you’ll ever experience. Perhaps tonight you find it hard to forget the agony of lonesomeness. But being you, I have not the slightest doubt that you’ll find it easier & easier to remember the good times & happiness & to go on making your life full & useful. I pray that when I’m as old as you are I will have lived & been living as worthwhile a life as you.…

Love,
George

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There was also a letter from my mother to my father on the occasion of his mother’s funeral. She was not able to go due to illness.

9/18/1977

Dearest George,

It was so hard to say good-bye to you this morning. It was one of the most – if not the most – frustrating moments I’ve experienced since that early foggy morning at Jefferson Barracks —- wanting you to know how very much I care, how much I want to be by your side, yet for your sake not wanting to break down.
…I also feel very frustrated and “left out” because I can’t be there to honor “Mom.” She was a great woman in many ways. She meant a lot to me (especially during those long months and years you were away), in spite of some things I’ve said which I could not adequately express to you, and for which I’m sorry I tried….

Always, Stellajoe


And finally, from my sister who was living in Ann Arbor when my grandmother (Goodell) Staebler lay dying, writing to my mother.

September 7, 1977

Dear Mother,

…It’s quite an experience to see all 6 of the “kids” in one place, caring about Grandma and supporting each other. I watched 4 of them arrive and go into Grandma’s room: First myself, at midnight, then Daddy came and sat beside her holding her hand and talking gently to her, and Melvyn bending down and saying cheerfully, ‘Hi, Mom.’ A little later Lloyd was there, sitting with his head bowed down on the bed. And the next day Helen came, walked straight into the bedroom, and Grandma was weeping in her arms as Helen said over and over ‘I’m here, Mama, I’m here now.’ Donald stood in the background or sat in the next room but always came running when he was needed… And Ruth was always there—hasn’t had much sleep. All in all, it’s quite a thrill to watch them.

I love you – Jo Ann

My family Goodell. I miss them. There is a hole in my heart that their absence has hollowed out and only the memory of them can occupy. And now I am it, with my sisters and cousins and our children and their children, and legions of family out there in the world whom we will never know; writing down the story, adding to the story, and saving and passing on all the words—with maybe a little more organization.

Thank you for taking this wordy journey through time with me. What can I say: I come from a wordy family.

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6 thoughts on “My Family of Storytellers for 385 Years in America: Part 3

  1. And the legacy will go on, I hope. The huge photograph of the Michigan Legislature which includes Representative Solon Goodell, our grandmother Ella’s father sits in my home, waiting for a patron. My son, Michael had asked for it to hang proudly in his office. Unfortunately he passed away 6 weeks after Donald at the age of 46. Now there is no attorney’s office to hang it in. Mike was so proud to be a Goodell and a Staebler and to be, as far as we know, the only attorney in the family.

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    1. I’m so sad that (huge) photograph isn’t hanging in Michael’s office. It would have been a perfect landing place for it, even if Solon was a died in the wool conservative. Don’t send it to me. Hugs to you, dear Cousin.

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  2. I can’t help but think of all the loving eyes looking down upon you tonight. Not just for sharing the story.  Not just for writing the story. But for being the soft pulse at the very heart of it. Thank you for sharing this very intimate portrait ♡

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  3. Thank you, what a treasure to share with your readers. Your sister’s letter is a perfect bookend to the many generations whose lives you’ve recounted. How fortunate to be a Staebler! Cathy

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    1. I am fortunate. And fortunate to be a Goodell! I am only a 3rd generation Staebler. They came from Germany, and until my father’s generation were not well educated. These Goodells (I am 13th generation, I think), wow, they had complete command of the English language and were clearly educated. Thank you for reading.

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