Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dorothy (Dolly) Edwards Learned 1879-1977

My paternal grandmother, Dolly Edwards Learned, grew up in Lewes, Delaware.  Her father, William S. Edwards was a 5th generation pilot of Delaware Bay and River.  Her mother, Clara Burton, was the daughter of Cornelius T. Burton and granddaughter of John Burton, another pilot of the Bay and River.  Dolly's mother died from injuries sustained when a can of coal oil exploded, leaving three young children, Catherine, 8, William, Jr., 5 and Dolly, 1 1/2.  Her father remarried Hannah White in 1882.  While researching the 1880 census, my grandmother, 3 months old, is listed as Hannah.  I can only assume that her name change to Dorothy happened when her father married a Hannah.  There is no birth certificate for her created at the time of birth.  There is a delayed one created when she applied for a passport in 1939 with her mother's brother attesting to the information about her birth.

I am surprised at the lack of genealogical material about the early pilots on the Bay & River.  Some of them lived in Cape May, some in Lewes and others chose to live in Philadelphia.  Apparently it was quite a cutthroat profession in the early days, each pilot trying to out run his competition to be the pilot on an incoming vessel.  Eventually, they had to join together mostly because of the privateers and pirates that found that area of the Atlantic very rich pickings.  I have found a few stories, mostly about the War of 1812 and the bombardment of Lewes.  I would love to find a diary written by the wife of one of these pilots. 

I did not grow up close to my grandparents.  I only saw them every 2 or 3 years.  By the time I began to get interested in genealogy, it was too late to ask her anything and we lived 1300 miles apart.  My father, William Edwards Learned, was an only child so the hope of finding a diary or letters about her childhood is not good.   I do remember she was small, had beautiful gray hair and wore it piled on her head, wore a corset, and smelled good.