My great-grandmother Delia Bacon was born in Burlington, Vermont on 17 Oct 1885. She was the daughter of Jean Gregoire “John” Bacon (1850-1936) and Cordelia Olivier (1850-1918). Her parents were, as their names suggest, French Canadians.
Delia’s father, Jean Gregoire Bâcon, came to the US about 1872, emigrating from Joliette, Québec to Burlington,Vermont. The Bâcon family had been in Québec since 1645 when Gilles Bâcon arrived on the shores of North America from Caen, Normandie, France. He was a Jesuit missionary, and one of the first settlers of Québec. His daughter Marie Madeline Bâcon was one of the nuns in charge of l’Hôpital Général, which oversaw care for the poor and infirm under the auspices of the church.
So for more than 200 years, the Bacon family lived in Joliette/Berthier/Berthierville. They were farmers, and they had a lot of kids. It wasn’t uncommon for my Québéquois ancestors to have eight, ten, twelve or more children. When a wife would die in childbirth, the men would remarry and continue on having kids. Families grew up in large, multi-generational homes. Almost all of them were illiterate. Over and over in the church records, after births, marriages, burials, one finds the notation “…qui ont déclaré ne savoir signer”… “who stated that they did not know how to sign [their names]”. Jean Gregoire was one of the only Bacons to sign his name after such documents. He was one of 12 children in his family.
Cordelia Olivier had a very similar background. Her ancestors were also farmers from Berthier/Joliette, Québec with wonderfully French names like DesRosiers, LaFerrière, Tellier, Bérard, and DuCharme. Her great-great grandfather, Captain Louis Olivier dit LaVictoire (1720-1785), was born in Paris, France and came to Québec sometime in the early 1740s. He was a merchant and a captain of militia whose first wife had died after giving birth. He remarried and had more children, including Cordelia’s great-grandfather François Olivier dit LaVictoire (1760-1844).
Cordelia and Jean Gregoire Bacon were married in Québec 4 Sept 1871, and hopped over the border to Burlington, Vermont about 1872. Jean worked as a wheelwright in a wagon factory. They had five children there: Alexander Moses, Oliva (who went by “Eva”), two children who died in infancy, and finally Delia Rosanna Bacon who was born on October 17, 1885.
Delia grew up in Burlington, and attended the Cathedral High School there, graduating about 1903.
[Photo from “Burlington: Volume II” by Mary An DiSpirito”]
After graduation, Delia continued to live with her parents in the family home at 24 Cedar Street in Burlington. She worked from 1906 to 1908 as a bookkeeper for Raine & Burt, a grocery store at 28 Church street.
This photo shows Church Street in 1907, when Delia was working there. The grocery store where she worked was about half-way up the block on the right. [Photo from freexpressionow.com]
The next year, in 1909, Delia went to work as a bookkeeper for William McBride, the husband of my great-aunt Anna Thomas. William owned a grocery store in Winooski, Vermont, that he had taken over from his father who opened the store in 1886. William McBride’s brother-in-law Fred Thomas was working at the store as early as 1903, and even after he quit, he likely still came in to see his sister regularly. Fred almost certainly met Delia for the first time in that store sometime between 1909 and 1911.
A young woman named Marie Laramay lived with the Bacons, and is seen in the 1910 census with them. She was about five years older than Delia, but the girls still became fast friends. Marie eventually moved to about 20 miles north to Milton, VT. The local newspapers mentioned Delia and her sister Olive visiting Marie Laramay in Milton on many occasions. In one such article from 1912, the paper mentions Delia’s boyfriend “Fred Thomas”, as well as her cousin Delia Perreault:
[Genealogical side-note: Delia Perreault was the daughter of Delia Bacon’s cousin Cordelia Olivier (b 1867), who has the same name as Delia Bacon’s mother (Cordelia Olivier, b 1850). The younger Cordelia was the child of her mother’s brother, Octave Olivier… very confusing!]
About two years later, Marie Laramay was getting married to her fiancée, Henry Vincent. She asked Delia to be her maid of honor, and the couple were married 3 Sept 1914 in a beautiful ceremony described in the local paper. “The maid of honor, Miss Delia Bacon, of Burlington, wore pink crepe-de-chine with a black velvet hat and carried a shower bouquet of sweet peas”.
The bride and groom posed for photographs with various wedding party members in a convertible car. It is believed that this photo shows Marie Laramay in white, Henry Vincent in the back seat, and Delia behind the wheel in the slightly darker dress:
About a year later it was Fred and Delia’s turn to be married. The Thomas family was Episcopalian, but the marriage was a catholic ceremony (Delia’s family were Catholic) and it took place in Burlington, Vermont. Delia’s address was given as “26 Cedar Street” in Burlington (her family home), and in the wedding announcement it was said the couple was going to “be at home” there after their honeymoon trip to Montréal. So, at least briefly, the newly-married couple lived with Delia’s parents.
The newlyweds eventually moved to 67 Park Street in Burlington, and their first child, a daughter named Grace Eleanor, was born on 12 Dec 1916.
Fred’s WWI Draft Registration card from June, 1917 describes him as tall, slender, with brown eyes and black hair, and working as a salesman for “Swift and Company” (a restaurant supply distributer).
Around this same time a photo was taken of Delia. She’s standing in what looks to be a back yard. She’s wearing a white dress and holding a 10-month-old Grace in her arms. She’s beautiful, young, and healthy.
A son followed for the Thomases. My grandfather Frederick Clifford Thomas Jr. was born 18 Jun 1918 in Burlington, VT.
Unfortunately, the new family would have less than two months of relative happiness to enjoy before the unthinkable happened.
About the 13th of October, Delia started having symptoms of the dreaded Spanish Flu pandemic which had been sweeping across the country. She was cared for at home for almost a week, but she grew weaker as the days went on. A petite woman, she just didn’t seem strong enough to fight off the sickness. Eventually she began to cough and fluid collected in her lungs. She died at 4:00pm in her home at 67 Park Street on 20 Oct 1918. The cause was “lobar pneumonia” which followed (as it often did) from her weakened state as a result of the Spanish Influenza infection. Her husband Fred was so ill with the flu himself that he would later be unable to attend his own wife’s funeral.
Delia’s mother, Cordelia Olivier, also living in Burlington, died from the same pneumonia caused by the same influenza only four days after her daughter’s death. Cordelia and Delia were both buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Burlington. Between 20 and 50 million people were killed in the pandemic between 1918 and 1920.
Unable to emotionally or logistically care for two young children following the death of his wife, Fred made the decision to give the children away to family members who could better, in his mind, care for them. Fred Jr. went to live with Delia’s sister Olive “Eva” Bacon and her husband James Halloran. They had lost a son that January when he was accidentally smothered at two days of age. They were grateful to have the chance to raise Fred, who was less than two months old. They were living in the family home on Cedar Street in Burlington, so it was very close. In the 1920 census Fred is listed as living with Eva and Jim.
Grace went to live with “Aunt Anna”, Fred’s sister Anna Thomas, and her husband William McBride, who owned the store where Delia had been employed.
For a time, Fred Sr. also lived with the McBrides. The 1920 census shows this odd arrangement; William and Anna McBride are living with their daughter Agnes, and Fred Sr. is living in the same home with his daughter Grace.
At the time, the McBrides had a large, beautiful, corner home in Burlington at 61 East Allen Street, and there was a servant to help with things around the house.
Fred Jr., on the other hand, was living with the Halloran family in the Bacon family home at 24 Cedar Street. James Halloran was a weaver in a wool mill, a laborer. William McBride was a business owner. There was likely quite a difference in terms of the type of upbringing.
About four years later, on 29 Sept 1922, Fred Sr. got remarried to Irene Fogg (1893-1980), the daughter of a bedding manufacturer from New York. With someone to be at home and take care of children while he worked, Fred came around to collect his children from the families where they’d been living for almost four years. I’ll let my father, Fred Thomas III, tell the story:
Yeah. When he — when his wife died — my grandfather took his two children — there was my Aunt Grace and my father. And he put them in foster homes, sort of, with relatives. And Aunt Grace went to live with — it would be my grandfather’s sister. I always thought Aunt Anna was the oldest, but I see that she was the second oldest. And, anyway, Grace went to live with Aunt Anna and Uncle Bill. And my father went with his mother’s sister and her husband. They all lived in either Burlington or Winooski.
So anyway, when my father was about three years old, my grandfather remarried. He married Irene. And soon after they were married he went around to recollect his children and bring them home again. He first went to the sister — sister-in-law — that had my father and of course she didn’t want to give him up. She’d had this baby for three years, you know? But she deferred to his wishes and gave him up. There was a picture in the family collection of pictures of my father taken when he was about 3 or 4 years old, and on the back it says, “Taken the day he was… [chokes up]… the day he was taken away.” I always wondered, “What does this mean anyway?” Well, it was written by my aunt when she gave up this baby to my grandfather. So then he went to get Aunt Grace. But he hadn’t counted on Aunt Anna! [laughs] So he goes to collect Grace and Aunt Anna says, “Grace has been living with us for three years and she’s going to continue to live here!”. [laughs] And she wouldn’t back down. So Grace lived there, with Aunt Anna and Uncle Bill, until she got married.
Unfortunately things weren’t so rosy for my grandfather. His father and Irene started their own family; Charles Fogg Thomas was born in 1924 and his brother Horace Thomas was born in 1926. Different family members recalled that Irene made no effort to hide her preference for Charles over his brother and half-siblings. My grandfather, for his part, spoke of feeling like an afterthought in the household. He started spending a great deal of his time with his uncle Erwin [Robert Erwin Thomas (1887-1965)], a former farmer who had become a paint salesman in nearby Essex Junction, Vermont. Eventually my grandfather came to think of Erwin almost as a father to him. They were very close. His real father only came around rarely after my grandfather was an adult. His children and Grace’s children would only see Fred Sr. on holidays and a few other times during the year. They regarded him as distant and aloof, for the most part.
Many members of the family remain convinced that my grandfather, Fred Jr., never got over the wounds left by his childhood. He never knew his mother, and his father first abandoned him, then treated him like a second-class citizen, preferring his new family with his second wife, Irene. It led to an emotional turmoil that could come out unexpectedly when my grandfather was raising his own children, but also an empathy for children he knew in similar situations.
Fred C. Thomas Sr. became a museum security guard in his later years. Family legend has it that he had a mistress on the side with whom he somehow managed to spend every Christmas Eve. He was a complicated and enigmatic figure for most of the family members who knew him. He passed away on 15 Jan 1976. He was 86 years old.