Tuesday, March 17, 2015


 A "Cordwainer" is a shoemaker who makes fine, soft leather shoes and other luxury footwear articles.  The word is derived from "cordwain", or "cordovan", the leather product produced in Cordoba, Spain.  The term "cordwainer" (also "Conviser" was used as early as 1100 in England.

     I found this definition through Google since I was unsure of its full meaning.  The difference between a shoemaker, as I remembered from my childhood, and a Cordwainer is vastly different.  Whenever we needed new heels on our shoes, or shoes worn, but needing to last for the school year,or taps on our dancing shoes,  we walked down to Mondello's, the cobbler.  Mr. Mondello, an old man, even then,  was in business with his son.  I loved the smell of leather, glue and grease for the machines.  When we picked up the shoes a few days later,(or maybe a week!)  they were always polished and spiffy.   Today, I suspect this is a lost art.  Now, old Mr. Mondello who emigrated from Sicily, may indeed have been capable of creating shoes from fine leather, but he was more practical and needed to provide for his large Italian family. Today, in our throw-away society, we seldom think about repairing our shoes; we just get a new pair. I think we do have one 'shoemaker - cobbler' in Portland.

      I have learned that Francis Smith was a "Cordwainer" according to a Probate Notice published upon his death, in which he is named such.  After searching further, I may have found the establishment where he was actually employed in 1825.  

     However, recovering Francis Smith's history has been a challenging task, leading to many questions and partial answers.  Most of what I've learned has come from a biography of his son, Joseph F. Smith contained in the book, "History of Laclede, Camden, Dallas, Webster, Wright,Texas,Pulaski, Phelps and Dent Counties, Missouri: from the Earliest times to the Present": (Google eBook)

   I will include the entire biography not only because it contains specific information regarding our Francis, but because his son, Joseph was, in his own right, a remarkable man who contributed to the fabric of our nation.
Joseph F. Smith Portrait, Mayor of  Lebanon, Missouri

     According to the biographical information, we learn that Joseph was one of six children born to Francis and Martha Mitchell Smith.  Francis was born c. 1791 in New Market, Rockingham County, New Hampshire and his wife, Martha, was born about the same time in Kittery, Maine.  I searched through early records of both of these areas, but was unable to find any information about their respective lineages.  

     It has been even more difficult to determine where the couple married and when they came to live in Portland, Maine.  Census records from 1830 and 1840 do indicate they resided in the Portland area.  More problematic is the determination of where, in fact, the children were born.  I'll return to this later!

    The biography describes Francis's occupation as a 'shoemaker' and a cutter employed  for many years by a large establishment. While the biography does not use the term "Cordwainer", the inclusion here of the Probate Notice after his death does.  I am also sharing the advertisement from The Portland  Weekly Advertiser of the business to which his son may have referred.

Death Notice
I learned that later, Peter Lunt, an attorney, and son of Joseph Lunt would handle the legalities
included in the requirements of probating the estate of Francis Smith.

      According to Joseph, his father, Francis was a veteran of the War of 1812.  Another problem!  While I found records on Fold3 for a Francis Smith, they were inconclusive.  Two were Militia rolls of  units called-up for service in Wiscasset and the Mid-coast region of the state.  I searched through New Hampshire militia records, as well as records from surrounding townships; even rolls of Marines named Francis Smith, but none were definitive.  I'm hoping that someone reading this post might lend some insight and direction.  We have, I believe an obligation to our veterans to honor their service, no matter how long ago.  This has been an important part of our work to recover the Grand Trunk Cemetery.  It continues to be a goal!

     Joseph Smith's biography indicates he was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and moved to Portland with his family, probably sometime after the War of 1812, and that he spent his early years here where he was educated.  One other child's name is mentioned, a brother Samuel who lived, as an adult, in Kansas.   Searching through a number of genealogical resources, I did come across these records on "Family Search.com".  However, they do compound the dilemma of 'when the Smith's came to Portland' ? and 'where the children were born'?  You will note the names and birth dates:

Record with names of Milton Smith's wife, Martha Blake and his son Frederick.

A City Directory indicates Milton followed in his father's footsteps, and was himself a 'shoemaker.'

     The information I was able to gather about Milton Smith also shows that he self-reports having been born in New Hampshire.  The City Directory for 1844, contains some other mysteries:  Who was Amos Smith, the hack driver?  Why did Martha Smith and her daughter, Martha live at Amos Smith's residence?  How was he connected or related to the widow and her daughter?

     I'll include the Federal Census records here from 1830 and 1840.  In the 1840 record, it seemed clear that only two children resided with the couple. I believe them to be Milton and his sister Martha. By that time, Samuel and Joseph had moved away.  There are no records for Rufus or Mary F. Smith.  Perhaps they were no longer living?

     I 'd like to share the Ancestry material about Joseph F. Smith that readers might find as interesting.  I also want to share other tid -bits I found about Francis Smith, including an article demonstrating his political leanings at a crucial time in American history.  I found it fascinating; hope you do as well.

There are a number of photos attached, including an extensive obituary.

 I was surprised and excited to find as much as I did regarding Francis Smith.  When I set out, I had no idea where it would lead.  I will continue with this piece at a later date.  We are expecting the birth of a new Grandson any day, so I will need to put any further pieces on hold for now

Finally, in an endeavor to get a photograph of what remains of Francis Smith's headstone, I managed to trek across the soccer field on that lovely 50 degree day in two feet of snow.  Those of you who have access to my Facebook page know the whole story.  For now, I'll just share the photos with the snow as backdrop.