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The Baxters

Agnes Baxter Farrington's parents were Jesse and Sarah Alice Baxter. This is what I know about them.


Jesse Baxter with daughters Florrie and Agnes,
about 1910

Jesse Baxter was born in 1873. He was the son and grandson of boatmen, captains of barges that carried freight on the canals that connect Liverpool and Manchester, through the coal country of Leigh and Wigan. Canal freight was not only a job but also a lifestyle; the whole family lived on the barge, and for much of the 1800s it was common for children to take up the lifestyle and marry children of other canal families. That was the case for Jesse's parents, both of whom were raised on barges.

Birth registration for Jesse Baxter in Astley Green (map)

The 1881 Census shows David and Catherine Marlowe Baxter, Jesse's parents, living on the barge Winnifred with their seven children. By the next census in 1891, Catherine was a widower living with those seven children on Trafalgar Street, near St. Joseph's church in Leigh. David had died, possibly of bronchitis while an inmate of the Barton upon Irwell Poor House in 1887. Eighteen-year-old Jesse and his older brother were working as coal miners, and the two oldest daughters were cotton weavers.

Sarah Alice

Sarah Alice Baxter, around 1910

Living just down the road from the Baxters in 1891 was the Lomas family, including Jesse's future wife Sarah Alice, born in 1875.

Sarah Alice's family was a little complicated. Her parents Samuel Lomas and Betty Coop were step-siblings; their parents had married in 1869, when the future couple were teenagers. Betty Coop gave birth to Sarah Alice out-of-wedlock in 1875, then married Samuel a year later, when she was pregnant with their first child.

The birth registration of Sarah Alice Coop in 1875

Sarah Alice was raised in the Lomas household, but still used the last name Coop on her marriage registration. I don't know if that's significant, nor who her father was.

Marriage Registration of Jesse Baxter and Sarah Alice Coop

On May 2, 1896, Jesse and Sarah Alice were married in St. Joseph's Church, the same place their American granddaughter would be married about 60 years later. Sarah Alice signed her name, but Jesse just left a mark, indicating he wasn't literate. Growing up on a canal boat must have made it difficult to attend school.

The witnesses at the wedding were James Lomas, Sarah Alice's younger brother, and Mary Ellen Douglas, his future wife. During the wedding Sarah Alice's mother Betty must have been about 8 months pregnant with her last child. Out with the old, in with the new.

The Married Life

The new couple lived nearby in Dukinfeld Street (map). Jesse was a hewer, one of the coal miners who actually loosens material in the mine. They had Mary Florence in 1898, then Agnes in 1901, James in 1903, Margaret in 1905, and Lucy in 1907. Their final child George was born in 1910 but died the next year.

The Baxter household in the 1911 Census

In 1911 the family had moved across the road, back to Trafalgar Street. Sarah Alice's parents still lived there, and Jesse's mother was now living on Trafalgar Street with her second husband. They must have made use of their in-laws for daycare, because despite all the young children in the family, Sarah Alice was working as a weaver in a cotton mill. Young Florrie, just 13, was also working in a cotton mill.

World War I

Jesse Baxter enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps on March 8th, 1915, just a few days shy of his 42nd birthday. The Army only accepted volunteers between 18 and 38 years old, so Jesse lied about his age. His enlistment papers record his age as 35 years, 279 days, which means he must have given them a birthday of June 2, 1879. His actual birthday was March 22, 1873, so for some reason he even changed the month and day.

Part of Jesse Baxter's Royal Army discharge paperwork

It's not clear why Jesse Baxter enlisted. It may have simply been a form of employment. It may also have been an ordinary sense of duty; Jesse's youngest brother John Henry Baxter, also a married father, had been serving in the Army since 1914. That brother would ultimately be killed in Flanders in 1917.

It appears that Jesse Baxter was initially posted to Cosham (map), near Portsmouth, on April 14, 1915, and in any case he started his service in England. On September 27, 1915 he was transferred to what later became the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, and served overseas for a little over a year.

His discharge papers note that in March of 1916 he applied to the surgeon in Egypt for treatment of painful varix, i.e. varicose veins. They note that the condition originated before his enlistment, but was aggravated by active service. The doctor prescribed an elastic stocking. He visited the physician again in April, and was recommended rest.

In October 1916, Baxter was sent back to England. He again visited a physician, this time in Cambridge, who advised an operation. He declined the operation due to the illness of his wife. Another entry notes that this refusal was considered "not unreasonable". Later records describe his condition:
Marked varicosities of right leg, below knee, especially on posterior aspect. No ulcerations. Skin in good condition. Does not wear elastic, because of pain.
On November 14, 1916, Baxter's record has the following notation:
Tranferred to Class "W" Army Reserve. To remain in Class "W" Army Reserve so long as it is necessary to retain him in employment in Astley Colliery, Clifton and Kearsley, Lancs.

Death registration for Sarah Alice Baxter, February 9, 1917

Baxter returned home to his seriously ill wife. Sarah Alice Baxter died on February 9th, 1917 of cervical cancer, complicated by cachexia, i.e. wasting due to her chronic illness. She was 41.

Jesse Baxter was discharged from the Army as physically unfit for active service on October 3rd, 1917. All these records are available because they were part of Jesse Baxter's Chelsea Pension papers. He lists three dependent children: James, Maggie and Lucy. I don't know what the age cutoff was, but James was 14 and included, and Agnes was 16 and excluded, as was her older sister Florrie. They were presumably already working in cotton mills. Jesse appealed to the board in December 1917 for additional funds for Lucy, who suffered from an unknown but serious condition.

Moving On

On January 1st, 1921 Jesse Baxter married Isabella Grayson, whose husband had also died a few years earlier. In April they were living together in Atherton, just a few doors down from the Children's Receiving Home in which 12-year-old Lucy was a patient. Florrie had married boy-next-door John Loughlin, and had taken over the family home on Trafalgar Street. Agnes and Margaret lived with them, and James was nowhere to be found.

Agnes, Florrie and Margaret
Probably in the 1950s

In 1923 Agnes left for the United States (more about her emigration). Margaret married Frank Lee in 1925, and that same year James married the wonderfully named Edith Ellen Josephine Onion.

Margaret, Agnes, and (presumably) Frank Lee

Lucy died in 1926, at the age of 18. Her death registration doesn't appear to be retrievable from the General Records Office, so I don't know anything about her ailments. The only details I know are that in the 1911 Census, in a column meant to record disabilities, the 3-year-old Lucy is described as having "fits". And of course she was in a care facility in 1921.

By this time, Jesse and Isabella had moved to Hemsworth, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. In 1939 he was described as a "blind pensioner".  Jesse Baxter died in early 1953, just short of 80 years old.


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