Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Web of History & Genealogy

A blogger friend, Lorraine sent me a gift recently.
She does eBay and had a "dog" she couldn't sell(haven't we all had those?!)......a printing block of the WALLER family crest.
I had mentioned to her that I have WALLER as a surname in my family lines so she sent it to me after listing it umpteen times to no avail.
Wasn't that sweet of her? 8-)

I know it doesn't look like much now but it's a tool, not the final product I can pull from this. 8-)

Some day I'll get around to getting a roller and ink and printing that Crest up onto some good archival paper stock and frame it.

Until then let's wander down my Waller family line and see whom we happen upon, ok?
Let's turn this into a history lesson of some persons seldom talked about in US history.

My WALLER line can be traced back to Buckinghamshire England.
The most distant Waller ancestor is Thomas born there in 1610.  There is some conflicting data that Thomas married Anne Keate in Virginia but this may be another Thomas Waller or they just got it wrong since they married in England.

We do know that his son John Thomas or Thomas John Waller came to Virginia and died in New Kent Virginia Colony in 1688.
Thomas John and his wife Elizabeth had 4 sons-James, Nelson, Spence, Zachariah, and 1 daughter, Susannah.
Susannah Waller, born in 1680, lost her father at age 8.
She is my 7th X Great Grandmother(thus Thomas John and Elizabeth are my 8th x GGs).
Susannah's grandson, my 5x Great Grandfather, is a notable character in Virginia religious history which I'll detail in a later post.

But let's look at a 1st cousin of Susannah and me, Mary Elizabeth WALLER, the daughter of a brother of Susannah's father, Thomas John.  This brother never left England but his daughter, Mary E., born in 1674 in Newport  Pagnell, Buckinghamshire England, did.
Mary married Edward Herndon in the Virginia Colony around 1698.

Edward Herndon's father, William Herndon came to Virginia around 1673, establishing the HERNDON line in the New World.
Mary Elizabeth and Edward Herndon's children would be my 2nd cousins.
Among them was their son, Edward, born in 1702 in Spotsylvania, VA.

Edward Jr.'s son, Joseph, born in 1737, would be my 3rd cousin.
Joseph's son, Dabney, born in 1783, would be my 4th cousin.
Dabney's son, William Lewis, born in 1813, would be my 5th cousin.

William Lewis Herndon was born in Fredericksburg Virginia, he entered the US Naval Academy in 1828 and was commissioned a lieutenant in 1841.  He was stationed at the US Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office in Washington, D.C.  He was given command of the brig "SS Iris" during the Mexican-American War and was said to have served with distinction.

Probably owing to nepotism(his boss was also his cousin AND brother in-law), William was selected to lead the first scientific expedition sanctioned by the US government to explore the Amazon River Valley in South America.
He spent 1851-1852 in the jungles of South America along the Amazon.
Upon returning to Washington D.C. he spent 3 years writing up his report as a book called, "Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon".
And yes, you can buy it on Amazon dotcom today HERE. *said with high irony*

But there is more.......

In 1855 he was given command of the steamer "SS George Law".
It was originally named after George Law, a NYC financier and investor in Railroad and Steamship lines.

                                 George Law

Shortly after taking command the ship was renamed the "SS Central America".  This vessel was used commercially to haul goods and people from the Isthmus(of today's Panama)to the port of New York.  It had successfully made this 2 week journey 43 times up to mid-1857. 

This ship is also known as the "Ship of Gold" because of the fate that befell it in 1857.

In 3 September of 1857 Capt. William Lewis Herndon left the port of Aspinwall(known today as Colon)in what then was a territory of Columbia(now Panama) with a crew of 101 and 477 passengers bound for the port of New York, USA.

After a stop in Havana Cuba, they headed north and 6 days later off the coast of the Carolinas they ran into a Category 2 hurricane.  After 2 days the boiler was dying, the sails were shreds and they were taking on water at a high rate and a distress signal was sent out.  The next day two ships were spotted and 153 passengers, mostly women and children, were rescued.  A Norwegian ship later picked up 50 survivors in the waters and 3 people in a lifeboat were found later as well.
425 crew members and male passengers drowned.
William Lewis Herndon after trying to put as many people into lifeboats as he could, went down with his ship.

He was hailed a hero posthumously and a monument was erected to him at the Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland.

Incidentally the Herndon obelisk is part of a Naval Academy tradition.
Each year at graduation, the freshman class at Annapolis climbs the greased-up monument as part of the end of "Plebe Year".

Ironically, I was part of a radio broadcast Eater Choral Concert while in college between the Midshipmen's Chorus and my Women's College Chorus at the Naval Academy in the Chapel.  The Herndon monument is right across from the Chapel.  I had no clue back then that I walked right by my 5th cousin's memorial. ;-)

Two US Navy ships were named USS Herndon in Capt. Herndon's honor over the years.
The town of Herndon, Virginia, founded in 1879, was also given that name in his honor.

The sinking of the SS Central America on September 12, 1857, to that point in history, was the largest loss of human life in commercial US shipping.

     Portrayal of the Wreck of the SS Central America

Not only that, but the ship had been carrying 30,000 pounds of Gold, recently prospected in California in the Gold Rush and minted into $20 Gold Eagle coins in San Francisco. (Moving goods from California by water, south then overland across the Isthmus of Panama(Columbian territory then), then back into the Atlantic Ocean was safer and quicker in that era than entirely overland within the continental US.)

It is said that the SS Central America was carrying approx. 1/3 of the California gold that had been mined and minted to that point in time.

The loss of approx. 2 Million $ of gold(today's value ranges to $150 Million)added to the cause of the Panic of 1857 in which banks failed(due to bad investments and a lack of gold and a run on the banks by customers)and the country was thrown into an Economic Depression for the following 3 years.

In 1986 Tommy Thompson, renowned deep sea treasure hunter, and his group of investors found the wreck of the SS Central American and much of it's golden contents.  After being tied up in various litigations over a dozen years on who should get the booty, the issue was settled, the treasure has been displayed and some of it has been reminted into commemorative coins for collectors.....albeit some very wealthy collectors. 8-)
There was a book written about the recovery expedition and the film rights have been purchased so look for this story to come to a big screen near you someday.

More about my Waller related cousins next time.....




  1. Cousin AND brother-in-law? Your family tree is kind of cozy... ;P

    1. Well I haven't figured out how they are cousins because there are so many people they could be related in that way through!
      But Herndon's sister married his boss.

      My family tree is turning more and more from a TREE with branches to a vast MACRAME. lolz

    2. This was so fun to read! I'm related to the Herndon line throught Elizabeth Herndon, daughter of Edward and Mary (Waller) Herndon. Elizabeth married Major Lea. The Lea connection is how I am related. My many greats grandma was Carrie Lea. I love the stories and photo's I find on my extended family!!! Thanks!

  2. Wow! "Isthmus" was used twice! You don't see that word every day. lol Seriously, I'm glad you like the crest. The rubbing was the best I could do to bring up the image which contains symbols that all have meaning. It's a great piece and I'm truly shocked it didn't sell. I hope you get to print it out one day. It would look great framed.


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