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Thomas Huddleston "uncontrollably violent and dangerous"

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

As a genealogist and wife of an ex-gravedigger I have spent a fair amount of time in cemeteries and graveyards. I have become quite adept at spotting a gravestone with more than the usual amount of writing on it! That is how I spotted the headstone of Thomas Roderick Huddleston in Louth cemetery. Sadly, the stone is in two parts.

In memory of Thomas Roderick Huddleston, born 31st March 1831, died 14 February 1919. Lately attorney-at-law St Paul and Minneapolis and Captain in 7th Minnesota Regiment, Civil War between North & South America, 1861 to 1865. Son of Gent Huddleston, Solicitor, Lincoln, England. He rests in peace. Also of Eliza, wife of the above, died 26th February 1941, aged 93 years.

A lot of lovely information and how fascinating to find someone who served in the American Civil War buried in a cemetery in a small town in Lincolnshire.

Thomas, son of Gent and Sophia Huddleston was baptised on 23 April 1832 at St Swithins church in Lincoln. His birthdate is recorded on the baptism record as 31 March 1832.[1]

In 1851 Thomas was living with his parents on Clasketgate in Lincoln. His father Gent was Clerk to the County Court.[2]

Huddleston family on 1851 census

Thomas decided to emigrate to the United States. He arrived in New York on SS Siddons on 21 August 1851, he gave his age as 19 and said he was a solicitor.[3] According to a later newspaper report his father gave him £20 to start his new life and that is all he had with him when he arrived.[4]

In 1855, he appeared on the State Census boarding in Buffalo, New York. He was still working as a lawyer.

On 2 December 1856, Thomas married Julia Dunbar at Buffalo. The marriage was reported in Lincolnshire newspapers.[5]

Marriage announcements (1857) Lincolnshire Chronicle 9 January

On 30 April 1859, their first child Minnie Dunbar Huddleston was baptised at the North Presbyterian Church in Amherst, New York.[6]

In 1860, Thomas was living at High Forest, Olmsted, Minnesota with his wife Julia, 3-year-old daughter Minnie and a son Gent who was only a month old. The census recorded the value of estate owned as $4000 and a personal estate of $500.[7]

On 12 April 1861 the Civil War began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter. On 9 August 1862 Thomas enlisted as a private in the Minnesota Infantry. He was quickly promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He served in Company F, Captain John Kennedy’s company of 7th Regiment of the Minnesota Infantry. He enlisted for a period of 3 years.[8] He was therefore present at the Battle of Wood Lake between the Union soldiers and the Dakota tribe. Following the battle, in the absence of the Captain John Kennedy and as 1st Lieutenant, Thomas oversaw the hanging of 39 of the Dakota prisoners. This was the largest mass executions in the history of America.

At the appointed hour the irons were taken off the prisoners and they were marched out of the guard house…Thirty-eight marched out between lines of soldiers, walked directly to the gallows and ascended the scaffold. There the ropes were placed about their necks. The signal was given by beating a bass drum three times, and at the last tap William Duley, who had served as a scout under General Sibley and whose family had been murdered by the Indians during the war, cut the rope as it stretched across the block at the foot of the pole and the scaffold fell with its occupants. From the time the Indians left the guard house until they dropped, they kept up a war song, nearly every one joining in it. [9]

Thomas had to resign his commission due to his wife’s illness. The Muster Out document of the Company confirms that he left the regiment on 7 January 1863.[10] Julia died on 23 January and was buried with her father at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, Erie County, New York.[11]

On the 1870 census Thomas was living alone with his two children: Minnie and Gent.[12] On 17 August 1870 Thomas married Helen M Harmon at Buffalo, New York.[13] Grover Cleveland was best man at the wedding.[14] Grover and Thomas remained close friends for many years.

Thomas and Helen lived in Buffalo for a short time, later moving to St Paul where their house 254 Exchange Street was built. Sadly the house has been lost but some of the remaining houses show the splendour of the street.

Some of the remaining houses on the 200 block of Exchange Street. Minnesota Historical Society

Rumours swirled around polite society that the marriage was not a happy one. One day in 1879, while Thomas was away hunting, Helen left the family home with her children and moved into The Clarendon hotel. When Thomas returned home to an empty house he was served with divorce papers.[15]

In her divorce papers Helen describes several violent episodes. These assaults took place both in private and in the presence of other family members who sometimes had to intervene to prevent further violence. He was very jealous and regularly accused her of adultery. She describes how “when he is at home he is almost continually uncontrollably violent and dangerous.” She described herself as being in fear of her life. In the newspaper report of proceedings, Thomas professed himself bewildered by what had happened.[16]

In her statement, Helen describes how she was in love with him when they married and did not doubt that he returned her affection. However, over time the “cruelty and inhumanity of the defendant to her gradually destroyed her confidence in, and respect for, him, and she was at last compelled to regard the defendant only with fear and dread.”

His housekeeper gave a statement describing how the young children were frightened of him. His daughter Mamie said to him “Please papa, don’t ever hurt my mamma again.” At times his little son Harman would say he wanted to eat in the kitchen because his pa was so cross. His other daughter Mary would say “Every papa in town is good but ours.”[17]

The divorce case was front page news for several weeks with every details reported. Eventually though the divorce was granted in Helen’s favour; she received financial support and the house on Exchange Street. Later she returned to Buffalo where she remarried.

In 1884, Thomas applied to be the District Attorney of Minnesota but was persuaded to withdraw his application by Grover Cleveland who was concerned about accusations of favouritism given the closeness of their families.

Thomas and Helen’s eldest daughter Mary moved into the White House. The president, Grover Cleveland, married Frances Folsom on 2 June 1886 in the White House. Frances and Mary were first cousins and had become friends at school. Frances invited Mary to live at the White House as part of the executive family.[18]

In 1886 Thomas was returning from a visit to the UK onboard the SS Oregon when it collided with an unidentified schooner. Passenger accounts of what ensued, including that of Thomas, was that stokers and men from below overran some of the lifeboats while others looted the cabins. Thomas claimed to have lost a gold watch and some money.[19]

Artwork portraying the Oregon sinking following a collision with an unknown American vessel believed to be the schooner Charles H Morse.

Considering the scandal that had surrounded his divorce and what had been revealed about his behaviour it was perhaps not surprising that Thomas sought a new bride somewhere far away from Saint Paul. In early 1887, Thomas was back in England where on 9 February he married Eliza Rainforth in Lincoln as reported in the Lincolnshire Chronicle.[20]

Marriage announcement (1887) Lincolnshire Chronicle 11 February

On 2 March 1887 Thomas arrived in New York with Eliza onboard SS Gallia. A less eventful journey this time.

Thomas appears on a Veteran’s schedule in 1890. The address he gave was 2016 Garfield Avenue, Minneapolis. He recorded a bronchial difficulty under disability and said that he had lost his papers in a shipwreck. He was back in England at some point that year as his arrival is recorded in New York on SS Gallia on 4 October.

Thomas and Eliza travelled to England together, arriving in Liverpool on 9 September 1896 on SS Etruria. The St Paul newspaper reported that he was planning to stay in England for at least a year but possibly permanently. It turned out to be a permanent move.

In 1901 Thomas and Eliza were living in Sutton on Sea in Lincolnshire.[21] In 1911 the census shows that Thomas and Eliza had two properties: Athelstan Lodge in Sutton on Sea and High Holme in Louth. [22]

Thomas died on 14 February 1913. In 1939 Eliza was living at 1 High Holme Road in Louth.[23] She died on 26 February 1941 and left her estate to her brother Henry Slack Rainforth.[24]

A newspaper report on his 78th birthday concludes with a nice round up of Thomas's children:

Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser 02 April 1910

The Huddlestons of Lincoln claimed descent from King Athelstan (925-940). Perhaps that is a blog for another day!



[1] Baptisms (PR) England. Lincoln, Lincolnshire. 23 April 1832. Huddleston, Thomas. Collection: Lincolnshire Baptisms. accessed 8 September 2020. [2] Census records. England. Lincoln, Lincolnshire. 30 March 1851. Huddleston, Gent [Head]. Class: HO107; Piece: 2105; Folio: 367; Page: 24. accessed 8 September 2020. [3] Passenger List. United States. New York. SS Siddons. Arrival date: 21 August 1851. HUDDLESTON, Thomas R. Year: 1851; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Line: 5; List Number: 1196. Collection: New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957. accessed 8 September 2020 [4] Boston Guardian (1910) An Eventful Life. Boston Guardian. 9 April. p4a. British Newspaper Archive. accessed 8 September 2020 [5] Marriage announcements (1857) Lincolnshire Chronicle 9 January HUDDLESTON, Thomas and DUNBAR, Julia. p5c. British Newspaper Archive. accessed 8 September 2020 [6] Baptisms (PR) United States. Amherst, New York. 30 April 1859. HUDDLESTON, Minnie Dunbar. U.S. Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970. accessed 9 September 2020 [7] Census records. United States. High Forest, Olmsted. HUDDLESTON, Thomas R. Year: 1860; Census Place: High Forest, Olmsted, Minnesota; Page: 673; Family History Library Film: 803572. accessed 9 September 2020 [8] United States Army records. Muster-in Roll. 7th Regiment Minnesota Infantry. 3 October 1862. HUDDLESTON, Thomas R. Collection: Minnesota, Civil War Records 1861-1865. accessed 8 September 2020. [9] Collins, Loren Warren (1919) The Story of a Minnesotan. p48. : accessed 8 September 2020. [10] United States Army records. Muster-out Roll. 7th Regiment Minnesota Infantry. 28 February 1865. HUDDLESTON, Thomas R. Collection: Minnesota, Civil War Records 1861-1865. accessed 8 September 2020. [11] Findagrave. 23 January 1863. HUDDLESTON, Julia M. : accessed 8 September 2020. [12] Census records. United States. Hastings, Minnesota. 26 July 1870. HUDDLESTON, Thomas. Year: 1870; Census Place: Hastings Ward 3, Dakota, Minnesota; Roll: T132_2; Page: 248; Family History Library Film: 830422: accessed 14 September 2020 [13] Sunday Globe (1879) Huddlestonian Homily. Sunday Globe. 14 December. p1c. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. : accessed 8 September 2020. [14] Daily Globe (1886) A Minnesota Girl. Daily Globe. 24 December. p1b. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. < : accessed 8 September 2020. [15] Sunday Globe (1879) Huddleston’s Harrow. St Paul Daily Globe. 29 October. p1a. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. < accessed 9 September 2020 [16] Sunday Globe (1879) Huddleston’s Harrow. St Paul Daily Globe. 29 October. p1a. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. < accessed 9 September 2020 [17] Daily Globe (1879) Huddleston Redivivus. Daily Globe. 24 December. p1a. Daily globe. [volume] (St. Paul, Minn.), 23 Dec. 1879. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. accessed 9 September 2020 [18] Daily Globe (1886) A Minnesota Girl. Daily Globe. 24 December. p1b. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. < : accessed 8 September 2020. [19] Edinburgh Evening News (1886) [20] Marriage announcement (1887) Lincolnshire Chronicle 11 February HUDDLESTON, Thomas and RAINFORTH, Eliza. p5f. British Newspaper Archive. accessed 8 September 2020 [21] Census records. England. Sutton on Sea Lincolnshire. 31 March 1901. HUDDLESTON, Thomas. Class: RG13; Piece: 3080; Folio: 47; Page: 9. accessed 11 September 2020 [22] Census records. England. Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire. 2 April 1911. HUDDLESTON, Thomas. Class: RG14; Piece: 19876. accessed 11 September 2020 [23] 1939 National Register. The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/6442E. : accessed 11 September 2020 [24] Testamentary Records. HUDDLESTON, Eliza. 30 June 1941. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. accessed 11 September 2020

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