James Albert BARBER, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for service in the Civil War, appears in every census in his lifetime except for two years. Both are a mystery! The first is easily solved the second is not. Here's the story...
On all of the papers where he had to write his own date of birth, James lists the year consistently as 1840. However, his gravestones [plot view] all read 1841. [monument], [marble vet], [granite vet] As we turn to the 1840 census for his father, Matthew Stillman Barber's household, we find no entry for a male under 5, so at least he was not born by 1 June 1840 (census date for that year). His sister, Sarah, who was born in 1838 is recorded as female under 5. Who the two other boys are is still a mystery!
The RI Vital Records, New Series, 8:50, list his birth as 17 July 1840, which is also incorrect as the date is listed on his death record as 11 July 1840 but the numeral 1 is often misinterpreted as a 7. [The Generations Network and Vital Record of RI]
He is listed as a child in 1850 as 10 years old. In 1860, he is still living with his father, his step-mother and their children. James's mother, Phebe Eliza HALL, died in 1842 and I doubt that James even remembered her at all. His step-mother, Rhoda Ann BABCOCK raised him, and paid for the Barber plot at River Bend Cemetery in Westerly, Rhode Island. It is her children with his father, that James was friendly with and lived with after his wife died. He was not living with any of his sons.
James's life prior to his Civil War service was one of a farmer's son who loved boats and the sea. He built a boat after the Civil War and went out in it well after the age of 65 even when the fishing was no longer an option. His obituary even reads that people called him "Capt. Jim". This clipping probably from the Westerly Sun, lists him as serving as captain of the Watch Hill life saving station [Watch Hill Lighthouse History] and he lived on the sloop, called the "Triumph", which was anchored in Thompson's Cove. Turns out that Thompson Cove is right next to River Bend Cemetery and the Westerly Yacht Club and within walking distance to East Ave. where James lived "off and on". [Google Map] I remember driving by here and admiring the boats.
These years on his boat must be when he is listed as being a border with James N. Thompson in the Westerly City Directories. It could be that he was taking a turn working at the Lighthouse when he should have been listed in the 1910 census. Of course, this is unproven. In 1910, James N. Thompson lives on Watch Hill Road in the Watch Hill section of Westerly nearby to the lighthouse. [My digital story of Watch Hill] The 1910 census lists many families living in Watch Hill on Watch Hill Road. One is listed as keeper of the lighthouse and his name is Thomas J. MURPHY. I am disappointed not to have found James in this page by page list even as a misspelled name.
The 1900 census (13 June 1900) lists him as living in Avondale, a village in Westerly, alone, in a house he owns. He is 59, widowed, and lists his occupation as boatman. The next family lists the head of household (Charles Rood) as working in the life saving station, and the family previously as surname Thompson. That man was married into the Barber family and was scandalously divorced.
The Westerly directories for 1900 and 1901 list James as a boarder with his step-mother, Mrs. [Rhoda] Matthew Barber. In 1906 and 1909, the Westerly City Directory lists him as a boarder with James N. Thompson. But, he is nowhere to be found in 1911, is listed as a member of the GAR in 1913 and in 1917 has reappeared as living on East Av. perhaps with step-brother Isaac G. Barber (he was a confectioner). It is possible that I must look at every page of Westerly in the 1910 census. That's a job!
The mystery continues with finding James A. Barber in 1910...