[Note: This is the second in a series of posts based on a family history and a memoir written by my mother, Betts Lamplugh. (For Part I, go here.) This installment is taken mostly from her “Dobson-Knighton Family History,” supplemented with some material from the first section of the memoir, whimsically titled “Slub of Slife.”]
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Josiah Dobson, my great-grandfather, was born on December 5, 1834, in Halton, England, the son of Thomas and Mary Dobson. He emigrated to the United States about 1859, settling near Philadelphia. At the opening of the Civil War, his ardent military spirit prompted him to enlist, on July 1, 1861. He became a member of Company G, 7th Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteers, the famous “Pennsylvania Bucktails,” so-called because of the buck tail worn on their campaign hats. The Bucktails saw action at Bull Run, Antietam, the Wilderness Campaign, the Seven Days fighting, and Gettysburg, and they were present at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. In all, they had an active part in thirty-seven engagements, and Josiah Dobson saw his share of the fighting.
Josiah was promoted to sergeant for meritorious service, and when his initial enlistment expired, in 1862, he volunteered to serve for the remainder of the war. Josiah was relieved from combat duty in 1863 because of a disease contracted in the service and was assigned to the Hospital Corps. He received an honorable discharge in July 1865. After the end of the war, Josiah made his home in Philadelphia and then in Wilmington, Delaware. In May 1869, he married Mattie Dean, and they had nine children. The second oldest, George Thomas Dobson, who became my grandfather, was born October 12, 1872, in Stanton, Delaware.
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George Dobson had very little schooling as a child and went to work at about age ten, in Newark, Delaware. There was not much industry in Newark at that time, and I don’t know where he worked. He served in the Spanish-American War, enlisting on May 7, 1898, and serving in Company L, First Delaware Regiment. George was mustered out on November 16, 1898. After the war, he served in the Delaware National Guard’s Company E, 1st Infantry Regiment, from May 4, 1903, until he was discharged on July 25, 1906.
On his discharge form, George Dobson was listed as a papermaker. I remember that he worked at Curtis Paper Company [in Newark] when I was very young, and I assume he remained there until around 1940. George married Reba Murray on September 20, 1901, and they had one child, Gertrude Isabelle Dobson (called Isabelle), who was born on May 15, 1904. Things didn’t go well in the marriage, and the Dobsons were divorced on March 4, 1912. Reba Murray Dobson left Newark and later married Will Austin, with whom she had three children, Lillian, Dorothy, and David.
George Dobson married Anna Ring around 1919. Anna had a son, Roger, by a first marriage, and Dobson legally adopted him shortly after marrying Anna. The new Dobson family bought a house at 50 Choate Street in Newark in 1923. Evidently, young Gertrude Isabelle did not get along very well with her stepmother. She met Isaac Livesey Knighton, known as “Ike,” around 1918, when he moved to Newark to work for his cousin’s husband, William Delaplane Dean, a plumber. Mr. Dean’s wife’s mother and Ike’s mother were sisters.
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Ike had been born on February 22, 1898, in Frankford, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb. His mother, Jemima Lydia Gallagher Knighton, died when he was about two years old, and he was raised mostly by an aunt, Emma Livesey. His father, William H. Knighton, married a woman with two sons, George and Wilbur Frost.
Ike worked for Mr. Dean for a while, then went to work in the American Stores market (later called Acme Markets), which at that time was located on Main Street in Newark in the vicinity of where the National 5 & 10 is now located. Ike and Isabelle were married in Old Swede’s Church in Wilmington on September 26, 1920. They went to Wilmington from Newark on the B & O train to be married, but they had difficulties getting back to Newark, because the train they took on their return trip did not stop there, so they wound up in Elkton, Maryland.
Ike and Isabelle lived in Philadelphia for a while, where Dad was interim manager of an American Stores market, at 58th and Chester Avenue, until a new manager came to take over, at which point he was transferred to Milton, Delaware, a place he had difficulty locating initially. While Ike worked for American Stores, the Knightons lived in several small towns in lower Delaware. My sister Gertrude (“Gertie”) was born on September 16, 1921, in Lewes, Delaware; I was born on January 8, 1923, also in Lewes; and Anna Margaret (“Peg”) was born June 28, 1924, in Milton, Delaware.
Dad always said he quit American Stores Company because they wanted to transfer him out of Delaware, and he didn’t want to go. When we moved back to the Newark area, Dad worked for Mom’s uncle, Jacob Zimmerman, who was married to George Dobson’s sister, Elizabeth (affectionately known as “Aunt Lizzie”). Mr. Zimmerman had a tavern in Wilmington, and I think Dad worked for him for a short time.
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My earliest recollections are the things that happened when I was about six years old, and we were living in Wilmington, Delaware. I can remember my Mom and Dad speaking of having lived in “Hamilton Park,” which is in New Castle, Delaware, but I have no memory of that place. My brother George was born in New Castle on July 9, 1926.
We later lived at #1 New Street in Wilmington—an old row house located behind the huge brick Seeburg & Blackwell Building, which is on Vandever Avenue. Fraim’s Dairy was located near us at one end of the street. This was certainly not “Nob Hill,” but this was about 1930, and times were tough for everyone [during the Great Depression]. Guess we were lucky to have a place to live, under the circumstances.
During this time, Dad was driving a “near-beer” truck [during Prohibition] for a man named Guy Bell. Dad enjoyed driving the truck and always had stories to tell after each trip. He did have to go to Baltimore and Washington, and he used to say in later years that he hated Washington because of the way the streets were arranged. It seemed it was easy to get lost in that city.
One time, Dad brought home a little brown and white fox terrier which he named Trixie. The dog had been left at a gas station, and the owner couldn’t keep it, so Dad brought it home. (We had Trixie for about a year or so, and, when we were moving to Philadelphia, Granddad Dobson took Trixie to his home in Newark, Delaware.)
My Mom worked in the kitchen at the Memorial Hospital in Wilmington, located across Brandywine Creek, and we used to walk through the park to meet her in nice weather. On Sunday we used to play in Brandywine Park and look at the animals. We always enjoyed that park. Gertie and I attended George Gray School on Vandever Avenue. Guess life was not really exciting in those days—only thing I can remember clearly is playing on the sidewalk at the dairy and watching bottles moving along on a belt—sounds like fun to you, doesn’t it?
Our house was one of six or eight row houses—small rooms about the size of the one in this house [50 Choate St., Newark, Delaware], though they may have been smaller. I remember that all of us children slept in the same room—only two bedrooms upstairs. We used to get into trouble once in a while for not going to sleep once we were in bed. Dad was a patient man, to a point, and we quickly learned at what point we should be quiet or suffer the consequences. Good thing he was not a mean Dad—guess we learned respect early in life.
End of Part II
Next: Part III: A Depression Era Childhood
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject: