He was your husband’s father, Newell Blair, but also your uncle! I know first cousins often married one hundred years ago, still it’s a bit daunting to think that your family tree simply does not fork.
For some reason, I’m enamored with Newell. Maybe it’s the name – I find it so exotic. Throughout this summer as I worked on my family’s genealogy, I always returned to him with a million questions.
What was he like? Was he tall, dashing with a hint of dare-devil within? There’s no one left who would know. I guess it’s up to me to use the information I gleaned from familysearch.org and my over-active imagination…
And so, here we go…
It was a hot day, August 31, 1872, and one that started out unremarkable for Newell Blair.
He rose early, long before daybreak, as the other men in the work camp did, and ate a simple breakfast of coffee and bread seated around an outdoor fire. A quick glance at a star-studded sky told him the sun would be relentless and brutal as he worked laying the railroad through Bolton, Vermont.
Bolton. Just a scrap of a town and proud of it. He grinned and took a sip of pungent, terrible coffee. The Irish had claimed it for their own, at least while they worked here and didn’t they leave their mark where ever they went. He ran a hand through black hair that sorely needed washing. There was a river nearby, one with three pools connected by small waterfalls the locals used to bathe and find relief from the heat. They called it the “buckets.” Maybe it was time to clean his clothes and wash his hair…
He watched with curious blue eyes as the foreman approached. Colin O’Reilly was a bear of a man, beefy and strong with a heart just as big. He’d taken care of the work crew. He made sure of their safety as best as he could. It was Colin that pulled the bodies of the men that’d died recently when the blast brought down more rock than planned. It was Colin that let the women know they were now widows.
Newell offered him coffee.
He took the mug with a rueful grin. “And sure, what’s another cup of this poison? Gut rot, that’s what this stuff will give ya.”
“The tea you drink, Colin- that my friend, is stronger stuff.”
“Maybe, but this witches brew will put you in an early grave.”
Both chuckled and then fell quiet. A bird chirped, testing the dawn. Soon another joined in and a soft orange glow lit the horizon. More men began to shuffle from their crude tents and make their way to the fire to grab a last-minute breakfast before the hard, dangerous work would begin.
“This isn’t a social visit, now is it Colin.”
Newell had been in camp for the better part of the summer. He’d taken notice of the patterns, seen who the foreman befriended and who he did not. Though of Scottish descent, Newell was still from Canada and didn’t fit in with the Irish who barely spoke English. Not that his was much better. French was his language. This Gaelic he heard around camp baffled the imagination and damn the way these men could drink….
“Now, you know me well enough Blair. Know that I take care of my team. And I see in your eye a gleam that’s both honest and true, so I wanted to let you know there’s a man coming from Burlington this morn. He brings a record book and offers the chance for you to sign on to the grand US of America. He’s offering you citizenship, if you like.”
Newell stared into the fire. Citizenship? Give up his Canada-France? He took a bite of stale bread. Was this what he sought when he left home?
Colin finished his coffee in one large swallow and wiped his mouth with a filthy sleeve. “You should know, I plan to take the oath and join the others. My children will be Americans. I’ll not be going home when these tracks are finished.” He looked at the mountains that surrounded them. “There’s work here and land to own. A place to build churches and the like. You should give it some serious thought, my Scottish-French friend. An opportunity such as this doesn’t come along that often.”
Newell watched Colin stand and move off. This was a cautious man, but ambitious and if an Irish could give up rights to his homeland, perhaps he could, too. Hadn’t his own father fought in the Civil War? Hadn’t Louis Blair become naturalized just three years ago?
A dog began to bark announcing a visitor to camp. The man from the Burlington office had arrived.
A day that began as ordinary would end with my great, great-grandfather becoming a US citizen.
Newell Blair would call Vermont his home.