Halsey Family, A Vintage Vignette

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Halsey Family
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
December 6, 2008

When I was a child, I recall my mother using a rub board to wash clothes on our farm. I even learned to use the device for our family laundry before we obtained a more modern washing machine with “wringer-type” (button-crushing) rollers in the 1950s. Yet, washing machines apparently have been around much longer than I expected. In his book “A Dream Come True” Volume 1 (1970), James Record stated that in 1832 in Huntsville, John Halsey was advertising “the Revolving Steam Washer”. John Halsey was a carriage maker born in 1781 in Virginia per the censuses of 1850 and 1860. His son Samuel per the 1860 census became a merchant in the town of Madison, but John’s son William Irby (also shown as initial “J.”) Halsey was listed as a Huntsville portrait painter in 1850 and an artist in 1860. William was born in 1819 in Madison County, and he married Martha Ann, daughter of Thomas Cain, in 1840.

William and Martha had nine children listed in their household in 1860, including William L. Halsey, who was born in 1854 and married Laura Lanier of Madison area ancestry. The younger William and his brother Charles in 1884 became stockholders in the Nashville & North Alabama Railroad. In 1886 they became stockholders in the Monte Sano Hotel. The brothers also founded in January of 1879 the Halsey Wholesale Grocery Company, operated in Huntsville for over one hundred years. The Halsey’s Huntsville store is on Jefferson Street, but the firm’s main office is now located in Madison on Lanier Road near the post office and Will Halsey Way. The Huntsville store was the site of a tragic double slaying in 1909, but that is best left to history. The Madison connection has included not only intermarriage with the Cain and Lanier families but also with the Nance, Lowry, Dedman, Blizzard, Dillard, and Acklen families.

The Halsey Family Genealogy Forum and other internet web pages state that the first mentions of the name were as Lords of the Manor of Tanesley in Cornwall, England, in 1189. Henry VIII in 1545 bestowed 5,000 acres upon William Halsey. On that estate in 1591 was born Thomas Halsey, who in 1636 came to America. Thomas was an original patentee and founder of Southampton on Long Island, New York. Thomas Halsey’s wife was killed by Indians from Massachusetts who raided the Long Island settlement in 1649. Internet postings state that Thomas was the ancestor of all Halseys in America, including Admiral William Frederick (“Bull”) Halsey, who commanded the Pacific Fleet during World War II.

Other famous persons who are shown in Ancestry.com’s files as being related to the Halsey line include Wernher von Braun, Sam Walton, Frank Lloyd Wright, Judy Garland, Raymond Massey, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Aldous Huxley, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens), and Francis Lightfoot Lee. Additionally, the Halsey line is connected per Ancestry.com data to notorious outlaws Sam Bass, John Wesley Hardin, and Frank James. Of course, it was Frank James who was tried in court at Huntsville for robbing a payroll train at Florence, Alabama. It is not known whether the Halsey family members living in Huntsville at the time were even aware of any relationship to the famous outlaw, much less whether or not they attended the trial. For those who may not know, Frank was acquitted because the witnesses all developed severe amnesia and couldn’t clearly identify the perpetrator. However, the Halsey family had several more prominent connections, with relationships now known to U. S. Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Gerald Ford. They also connected to Angelica Van Buren, daughter-in-law of President Martin Van Buren. Angelica hosted White House social events in place of the President’s wife, who passed away in 1819 before he was in office (1837-1841). Additionally, the connections include Bess Truman, Rosalynn Carter, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as noted explorer John C. Fremont and the inventor of television, Philo T. Farnsworth. Altogether, the Halsey family has well served not only Madison County, but also the nation and the world in general.

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