At its core, this is a story about coincidences – and whether there truly is such a thing! Let’s see if we can keep track of them all.
Leonard Gardiner Watson was the youngest child of Rev. Elisha Watson and his wife Harriet Husted Watson. (That makes him my great-great grand uncle – brother of my great-great grandfather.)
After Rev. Watson’s death in 1879, and the marriages of all her older children, Harriet’s household included only her two youngest, Leonard and his next-older sister Emma. Shortly after Emma’s marriage in 1882, the whole lot of them – Emma, her husband Lincoln Reynolds, Leonard, AND Harriet all moved off to Cresco, in Howard County, Iowa. Harriet went back home first, to tend her ailing mother in 1883, eventually marrying Orrin T. Husted, a first cousin, in 1887. Lincoln & Emma and their four children returned to New York about 1892.
But Leonard stayed on. You see, there was this girl…
Leonard met Elizabeth, known as Lizzie, and they were married on February 13, 1890. Lizzie’s maiden name was Watson – [There’s Coincidence #1!] – though the families were not related. Lizzie’s father James Watson emigrated from Ayrshire, Scotland in 1850.
Leonard and Lizzie had two daughters – Emma and Kate – and all was lovely until the summer of 1899, and the eerie Coincidence #2.
Yes, it’s a terrible, sad story. But the odd part is that Leonard’s eldest brother, George, had himself been struck by lightning in Saratoga Springs some 30 years earlier. But George survived.
So, Leonard’s girls grew up without their father. Lizzie eked out a living as a dressmaker, and managed to send both her daughters to college. Emma married Raymond Collis in 1917; Kate became a teacher and remained single until she married hometown boy Lynn Kellow at age 46.
Immediately after their wedding, Emma and Raymond Collis moved off to East Orange, New Jersey, where Raymond had a job as an engineer with Western Electric. It’s a definitely a coincidence (#3) that Emma’s cousin Orin Elisha Watson (son of the John C. Watson who received the 1899 telegram announcing Leonard’s death) also lived in East Orange and worked at the same company as her husband; it’s less of one that she knew he was there and actively tracked him down. Orin & Helen became fast friends and a longtime bridge foursome with Emma & Raymond.
Back to Leonard, I’m convinced there’s no coincidence involved in the story concerning his birth. He was born September 29, 1864 in Amsterdam, New York, where his father had been posted to the local Methodist church. A few months earlier (June 17, 1864), another boy had been born in Amsterdam – the son of the Leonard Gardiners – he a successful merchant and inventor, and clearly a very good friend of Rev. Watson’s. The boys’ names were Elisha Watson Gardiner and Leonard Gardiner Watson.
But at the bottom of this whole story is a sneaking suspicion – a nagging one, even – that the Watsons and the Gardiners were kin. Two very, very old surnames in Rhode Island history, each well known to have left Rhode Island for the wilds of upstate New York, and each showing a distinct tendency to name their boys Elisha.
But so far – bupkis.
We’ll see. I’ve got a hunch, and I’ve seen weirder ones pay off!