King Palmer

The Palmer tribe, descended from Lydia Smith and ?Robert Palmer, were principally horse dealers and can be found traversing the south and south-west of England before, in several cases, emigrating to the United States. It was Noah Palmer who first led me to America, claiming in the 1861 census in Bridgwater, Somerset, that his two daughters had been born in the United States.

Did Noah really go to America and return? Certainly, by the 1880 census he is there, at Colusa City, California, working as a stock dealer, with Britannia, Nathaniel, Nellie, Charles, Sibera, Sarah, Cassea (?Keziah) and Samson. Of these children Cassie/Cassea was to marry a distant cousin, Leonard Stanley, son of William Stanley and Phoebe Broadway, on 22nd January 1891, and Sarah’s marriage, ‘daughter of Noah and Britannia Palmer,’ was to a Thomas Wells, son of Robert and Amelia just six months previously, on 18th July 1890.

Certainly, too, the Palmer tribe, who made Oakland, California, their base, left their mark and the Mountain View Cemetery is testimony to their enduring presence, as well as the rather colourful, sometimes inaccurate, newspapers reports of their lives and deaths, their wealth and their tragedies.

‘Samson Palmer, killed by Dick Woodruff, in Minn., Oct 25 1885, aged 45 years.’ These words are carved on the tombstone that marks the grave of Samson Palmer, and his death was a tragedy for the entire tribe, for Dick Woodruff was the son-in-law of Samson’s brother, Hameline. Susan Palmer, daughter of Hameline, had married Richard Woodruff in Sacramento, California on 4th July 1881. Four years later, as a consequence of a fight, Susan’s husband killed Samson Palmer ‘in a fit of temper,’ according to the 1906 article in the Oakland Tribune – in which they named Dick Woodruff as Samson’s nephew.

Hameline Palmer, horse dealer, and his wife Odessa (formerly a Boswell), can be found in the 1880 census at San Jose, California, with daughters Susan, aged about 19, Isabella, about 17, and Georgiana, aged 7, together with sons Charles, aged 12 and Nelson, about 11 years old. Hameline’s eldest daughter, Patience, was already married to Abraham Boswell and travelling separately.

Just a couple of months later Odessa was dead, another victim of violence, subsequent newspaper reports claiming she had been shot ‘by some renegade Gypsy from beyond the Mississippi River.’ She was buried as ‘Dessie,’ the wife of Hameline, on June 8 1880, aged 43, at Mountain View Cemetery. Her brother-in-law, Samson, was laid to rest there in 1885 and, three years later, Charles, Hameline and Odessa’s son, was also buried in the family plot. On 14th February 1888 Charles Palmer had committed suicide; he was just 21 years of age.

The Oakland Tribune of March of 1888 carried details of Charles’ funeral, informing their readers that ‘Yesterday the young Gypsy, son of Hameline, sovereign of the coast nomads, was interred at Mountain View Cemetery . . . the rector of St. John’s Church officiated at the undertaker’s funeral parlour and went with the cortege to the grave, but did not read the burial service, as his church withholds the right from suicide.’ Charles had been baptised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 28th October 1866 and had been married about four months at the time of his suicide.

Hameline himself died in February 1894, and was buried in the family plot with great pomp, reported in local newspapers as the death of the Gypsy sovereign, King Palmer. His daughter Patience was to live only a little longer, for her death, at Sacramento on 16th September, took place in the same year; she was 35 years of age and, according to newspaper reports, left a husband and six children. Abraham Boswell, Patience’s husband, is recorded in the 1900 census as a widower, with son Mush, born in Portland, Oregon, in 1881, Edward, aged 16, Margarita, 14, Ruby, aged 10. The couple also had a daughter in 1880 and an Isabella, born in Oakland on 15th June 1890.

Another daughter of Hameline’s, Georgina/Georgiana, is also buried in the family cemetery, together with her husband, Elijah Wharton; like her sister Patience she had six children, they were born between 1889 and 1899 and recorded as Connie, Semmie (?Lemmie), Celia, Archie, Frederick and Dewey Wharton. Georgina was more fortunate than her brother and sister, however, and lived into relative old age, dying in 1933. There is also a grave for Nelson, Hameline’s son, born about 1869 and buried in 1925, it is marked quite simply, ‘Beloved Brother.’

Samson Palmer’s death left his wife, Ada, a widow with four children. In the 1880 census he was recorded at Oakland with Ada, his aged mother, Lydia Smith Palmer, daughters Magnolia and Alice, and sons (H)Ameline and Nattie (?Nathaniel). Ada was to remarry, to a Thomas Lee, and Nattie’s union (as Newty!), son of Samson and Ada, with a Lottie Smith, daughter of William Smith and Spice (?Spizannie) took place at Milwaukie in Wisconsin on 11th July 1898.

Abraham Boswell, widower of Patience Palmer, was the son of Josiah, himself the son of Edward and Matilda Boswell, and of Honor, daughter of Abraham and Unity Boswell. They had married in 1854 at Barnstaple, in Devon. They, too, are in California in census returns, and in the 1870 census Josiah is described as a horse dealer, and is with sons Abraham, born in New York and aged about 14, John, about 9, William, aged 8, Walter, born in California in February 1865, Sarah, born in the same location in January 1867. In addition there are two women with the family, Eliza Boswell, ‘aged 67’ and Delia Boswell. ‘aged 80.’ These women are Josiah’s sisters, although not nearly as old as they clearly felt, for Delia was baptised in 1808, so was about 62, and Eliza, baptised in 1813, was a mere 57!

It appears to be the case that Honor Boswell became, following Odessa Boswell and her daughter, Patience, the Queen of the tribe in that area, according to a newspaper report of 1901. Why? Was Honor a sibling of Odessa’s? I have not found any baptism for Odessa, but the name is extremely unusual, and can be found in the extended family of Abraham and Unity Boswell, from which Honor descends.

Seven years after the death of Hameline and Patience, Walter Boswell, son of Josiah and Honor, fell ill and died. He was 35 years of age and for the tribe it was a time of great mourning, especially for his aged parents, indeed his mother died that same year. Josiah was to live on another four years, dying at his camp on 2nd April 1905, ‘aged more than 80 years.’ Josiah and Honor’s son, Abraham, the widower of Patience, was to outlive his parents and brother Walter, dying on 28th February 1825, in his late sixties.

It is worth adding that, although there were suggestions in some newspaper reports at the time of Walter’s death that Honor had been a Palmer before her marriage, and was another daughter of King Hameline Palmer, age alone (she claimed to have been born between 1825 and 1830 in various records), precludes this, even if we did not know her antecedents.