The Martha Letters

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Have you wondered, "Who was Martha Lenora Haley?"

Martha is my (and many others)  Paternal Great Grandmother.... Mother of Louis (born Lewis) Alphonso Cahoon.... Wife of our elusive Great Grandfather, Alphonso* Francis Cahoon whose first name could possibly be found under these and other spellings: Alphonzo.... Alphonze... Alfonse... Alfonzo.... Alfonso....

Martha was born on the 06th of June, 1873, in Plympton, Plymouth, Massachusetts, daughter of shoemaker and Civil War Veteran and POW, William Barrett Haley, (whose middle name is his mother's maiden name... Barrett) and his second wife, Bessie J. (Harrison) Fletcher...

Both of Martha's parents had married more than once.  Her father's first wife, Elizabeth Melinda Strange, died of diptheria and Bessie's first husband, Matthew Fletcher, died at sea, according to Martha's letter below.

There has been some confusion, regarding Martha's mother, Betsey-Bessie because she was born of George and Rosella (sic) (Shaw) Harrison but she only used her true parents names in her third marriage. Other references reflected, first her foster parents surname of Coville and then her first married name, of Fletcher. This and other significant family information is reported in Martha Lenora Haley's 1953 Letter.

What has been believed to be a copy of the original 1953 letter was presented to me by my brother, Michael Patrick Cahoon, upon noting on this site that I had earlier requested a copy thereof. Thank you Michael, for sharing.

Due to the discovery of other examples of Martha's handwriting, we may all have been duped, regarding the authenticity of the 1953 letter, because the handwriting does not match.  In fairness, there may not have been any intentional 'fraud' as much as there may have been a mix-up, wherein the 'original' had been handcopied by another family member and somehow that copy made the rounds as the 'original'. Another possibility is that due to advanced age, Martha may have dictated that 1953 letter to someone else who had transcribed it for her. Either way, though it may not be her actual handwriting, the information within has for the most part been validated as genuine and sheds light upon a rather confusing background and points the way to unravelling that confusion.

THANKS TO A WONDERFUL "NEW" Haley-COUSIN, named WENDY HAWKSLEY, we now have many details of Martha's family, traced back to Dublin, Ireland on her Paternal Grandfather's side, Edward Marshall Haley, and on her Maternal side, we have the "Mayflower Descendency" information, that Martha mentioned in the letter of 1953, plus several other connections that Martha may not have realized existed.   Plus much more! :)

Martha died in Sandwich, Barnstable, Massachusetts, on the 30th of April, in 1961 at the age of almost 89.  This fact kind of blows me away, because it means our fathers surely could have been in touch with her over the years, but to my knowledge, my father never even mentioned her and that gives raise to the question, did his brothers?.... and if not, then does anyone know why not?

While digging around on the internet, trying to find references for our ancestors, I discovered seven more letters, written by Martha, plus another written to her, that were archived at Radcliff College, if you can believe that!  :)

Thankfully, I was able to procure photocopies of the microfilmed "historical papers," which were written in 1930 and 1931, and I have dubbed them,  "The Martha Letters".... heehee

You can imagine my surprise when I came across the reference to them!  I would be happy to send jpg images of the photocopies, to anyone who would like to have them.  Just email me and it shall be done... :)

It turns out that we are granted this treat of opportunity, to look backwards in time, through the tiny windows of Martha's letters, due to the personage of she, to whom the letters had been addressed.  In this case, Martha was a long term, perhaps near life-long, contact, with a very special and remarkable woman of the times, who was only seventeen years older than Martha:  Elizabeth Glendower Evans (1856-1937).

I encourage everyone to read more about her at :

Martha's writing style was simplistic and often did not include periods or capitalization.  A few portions of the photocopied letters were very difficult to make out, but I do believe I have read and transcribed her letters correctly.  

You may view the pages here, email us to request that the images be emailed to you, or you may contact the Schlesinger Library to request photocopies.  

I confess that while delighted to have discovered these treasures, I was somewhat disappointed that Martha seemed to have an aversion to using the names of her immediate family, in correspondence.... heehee  While I had hoped to learn so much more, and specifically the spelling used by Martha for her husband, that was not to be the case. 

However, much is actually revealed within Martha's Letters... including her own nickname, "Mattie".   More significant, however, is that her letters did point the way towards discovering a whole new world of cousins.... :)  

While her ancestors are not mentioned, at all, in these particular seven letters, Martha mentions that Louis did have at least one sibling, a sister!

Along with mentioning her daughter, we are made aware that she has a son-in-law, his occupation and the presence of a grandson! 

Martha's clues, added to the reasonable guess that her daughter might be the Francis Ruth Cahoon that I came across, in my research, proved to be all that Wendy needed, to fuel her appetite to dig deeper!  Thanks to Wendy, we now have information on that "new" family branch and hope at some point to broaden our original discoveries.

So thank you, Martha, and thank you, Wendy!

In case anyone is wondering or interested, I will make available all the Haley and other information, but for this page, I am primarily introducing Martha, for the sake of sharing her Letters.... there is much more to be discussed and discovered, about Martha's Life, and I hope to be able to do that in the future.

Until then, I hope that you enjoy Martha's Letters... and recognize, that though they appear to be vague and short, there truly is a lot to be seen, by the seekers.... ~ Colleen Cahoon


Martha Haley Cahoon letters to Ms. Evans … seven letters to Ms. Evans and one from Ms. Evans… the letters indicate that Ms. Evans routinely sent packages to Martha… as well as correspondence … some were difficult to read… they are on microfilm at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, Harvard University!


 These are truly Family Historical Documents: 

 Letter to family, from Martha:

Buzzards Bay, May 1st 1953

I Martha L. Cahoon - born 1873 Martha Lenora Haley- am recording some of the Family History, As when I am gone, I know of no one in the Family who possesses this knowledge, and think it may be of some interest to some of the family.

On my Mother's side we trace the family back to the historic Mayflower.  Dr. Samuel Fuller being our ancestor.  In the State House in Boston is, I think, the Family Tree of the Shaw's, thro which we trace back to Samuel Fuller.

The Shaws at one time residents of Livermore Falls, Maine moved to Newport, Rhode Island, from there to Fall River, Massachusetts.

Rosella Shaw, of that city, married George Henry Harrison of Sandwich, Massachusetts, afterward incorporated into the Town of Bourne. (end of page one)

They builded a house on the now called "Head of Bay Road, which at present time (1953) is called the "Weeks Home."  There were born, George Harrison Jr.- a medal of honor man in the Civil War and a member of the old Kearsage (?) Association.   He had no descendants.  (Also born was) Leonard Harrison, who was lost at sea, and my mother, Betsy Filena Harrison.

Rosella Shaw Harrison died when my Mother, Betsy, was three weeks old.   Grandfather (George H. Harrison) married again, but I am not going into that branch of the family.   Betsy Covill (Martha's mother) as she was called, as she was brought up by a family by the name of Coville, married a man by the name of Fletcher, who was lost at sea.   She had one son by that marriage, Charles Howard Fletcher, who was brought up by Betsy's Foster sister, Nancy Covill, who married a Long.   He later took the name of Long- legally.

Later Betsy Harrison married William Barrett Haley.   She had three living children: June 6, 1873- Martha Lenora Haley; May 12, 1876 - Cora May and Ray(?) who (Ray?) died young.

William Haley died in 1883 in Plympton, Mass where the children were born.  He was a Civil War veteran and died at the age of 42, of wounds and hardships suffered in the Civil War.   He was in both Libby and Andersonville Prisons and his discharge papers read at ending of War.

In July 18, 1891 Martha L. Haley married Alfonso Francis Cahoon, who was born in the town of Bourne, then called Sandwich, in 1859.   I think they had two children, one son and one daughter. Louis A Cahoon born Sept 21, 1892 and Ruth Frances Cahoon, born Feb 2, 1898.  ( I, Colleen Cahoon, find this particular paragraph odd... as the letter was written by Martha, as far as I know, yet at this point it seems to be the remark of someone other than Martha... surely she knew how many children she had?)William Barrett Haley was the son of Edward (?) [Marshall] Haley and Clarissa (Barrett) Haley.   Edward Haley came from Ireland, but was a Protestant.   He was at College in Dublin and came from the North of Ireland.  He had an allowance and upon receiving one allowance came to USA and lost all intercourse with his family.   From here I think you can get all other information you might like, if ever.

Betsy married again and had one son.   She married Charles Howard Noyes from N.H. and is buried in Derry, N.H. have lost track of that family.

The Barretts are an old family of Mass. Edward and Clarissa Haley had 12 children -6 Boys - 6 Girls.  Four boys went into the Civil War.   2 were killed, 2 came home wounded and my father, William B. died early on account of the War.

(signed) Martha Lenora Haley.

Letter 1 of 7:

St. Johnsbury, Vt.,

17-Oct.-(19) 30


Dear Mrs. Evans,


            I have been thinking of writing you for a long time, but we were having things rather hard, and waited ‘til things were a little better.  My husband and I have moved into the town of St. Johnsbury and left my Son and his family on the farm. He is doing very well, three boys and two girls, all rosy and healthy.  And I feel repaid for my sacrifice,  when I look at them in their own home and doing well. It will be about two more years before he will be out of debt. 


This year has been quite bad here, as it has everywhere. And my husband got ill and I brought him here and to crown all, I sprained my knee and the old thing is a long time getting well. But I get around now, but it still pains somewhat.  Things are very dull here but hope for better things in the spring. 


We are on a small farm within a mile of the village, so my husband can have medical attention, without it costing so much.  I have got a bit of chickens, trying to fat them for thanksgiving but grains is something, well.  Life seems to be a continuous struggle, but I guess I would not have it any different.  I am thinking of taking some children to board next Summer if I am able. Just now I am sewing some.


We have had the most beautiful Fall here, it has been glorious.  That is one thing we have here that does not cost anything ..pure air and sunshine and the glorious things of nature.  I would like to be able to take some of the city born children up here for the summer. Perhaps a way maybe opened.  I hope things will be easier for everyone soon.  Life is hard at best for poor people and in times like these, well, you know. 


I hope you are feeling fine and keeping interest in life.  I think of you so often.  When we moved down here I lost your address and must guess at this all I can remember is (can’t make out but might be 12 & something ) Place.  That was imprinted on my memory as a little girl and I remember staying there a few days and wishing some day I would have a home like that, but my husband was never very successful and I have had to work hard but have had some happy times too. 


It is raining a little here today and the leaves have nearly all fallen from the trees and I expect we shall have winter here soon.  Fall is a problem here our winters are long.  The Fairbanks Scales are made here and for a hundred years the shop has not closed but this winter they are working a 4 day week and half of the men stay out one week in four.  Still that is better than no work.  But people with large families feel it mos.   What a long letter I have written, we will blame the rainy day.


With sincere good wishes,

Your little friend,

Mattie Haley Cahoon,


Danville Rd., Rt. 3,

St. Johnsbury, VT.





Letter 2 of 7:


St. Johnsbury, VT. RD3

30 October, (19) 30


Dear Mrs. Evans,


Was very glad to receive your letter and to know that it pleased you to know that the good you tried to do at that time was not wholly lost.  As I grow older I understand better what those memories mean to me. 


You gave me my Just Ideals and I think gave me the desire to want the best things for my children and my grandchildren.  And I am feeling well repaid when I look at them.  But I remember all the things you said.  Sometimes you used to talk over the Rev. Phillip Brook sermons and the things you told me stayed with me to be used later on in life and I expect it has been so with others.


Probably good things have been, which you will never know about but it must be a wonderful feeling to have tried to help so many.  When you used to go to Europe and bring me presents, I used to feel that there was someone who cared enough about my good, to do that and it helped, many, many, times.


Yes, I received the things you mentioned in your letter and I think I could use your dress with a few alterations.  My boys ages are – 7 - 12 (looks like a two written over a 10 ) - 13  (this would be Jim, Eddie, and Louie Jr.) and two small girls, 3 and 4 (which would be Elizabeth Ann… aka “Betty-Ann" and the eldest, Jessie Louise, aka “Weecie” …) And my husband used the mans suit you sent, it did very nicely for him.


It has been a wonderful summer here,  I thought of you in Chatham, it is so beautiful there too.  We had some real winter here, snow and cold, but it did not last and now the weather is fine again.


Goodby now, with very best wishes,

Your grateful friend,


Martha Haley Cahoon




Letter 3 of 7:


St. Johnsbury, VT Route 3

28 November (19) 30


Dear Mrs. Evans,


            I received your package and thank you very much, I could use them all.  We are having wonderful weather here now.  Hope you are enjoying the same in Brookline.  Have been very busy the past two weeks as I have my Son’s 4 year old girl with me. 


She had an operation, a cyst on the glands under the chin.  I can’t remember the medical term for it, but she suffered a great deal.  I had her here before the operation, took her to the hospital and stayed with her until all was over.  Went in everyday for three days, then took her home and went back every other day, for treatment with her, as expenses mount so, in a hospital . 


We had a very fine Doctor and she got well nicely.  She had a drain in but was very brave about it.  Her name is Louize and she is a very pretty blue eyed and golden haired girl.  It kept me quite busy in addition to other things.


I always fill my letters to you with my worries, we are building over the henhouses here, hoping to succeed with some fowl next spring.  I had some late chicks this year, sold all but 40 and expect to sell 30 more before Christmas.  They do nicely here if we feed them some butter milk or sour skim milk.  They dress so yellow and plump.


I hope you are feeling very well this Fall.   Do you go to Chatham every Summer?  Am wishing I will be able to make a visit, to the Cape, next summer, but am not sure that it will be possible.


Your loving friend,

Martha H. Cahoon





Letter 4 of 7:


St. Johnsbury, VT

19 December (19) 30


Dear Mrs. Evans,


            I received your package of a pair of gloves and it filled the bill.  I am getting around nicel now and I needed just those warm gloves.  What a cold winter up here, 22 “ below 0 “; a bad winter here, lots of suffering.


The Fairbanks Scales Co. that has built this town and never closed its doors for one hundred years is working on a scale of about 32 hours a week and closing now for two weeks.


No organized charities here, as in large cities but they are beginning to organize now.  The cold is the main thing to contend with.


My Son makes a four mile drive twice a day, in a sleigh.  He carries the school children at Victory.  I tell him they should all be clothed in fur, like a bear.  So many people here begging to work on farms for their board.  Do you think business will be better soon? 


I sold my hens as corn was so high and eggs so low here.  No profit in them this year, but shall try again.  Work started on the roads here but the early freezing put a stop to digging in some places. 


I would like to have a big place to take children and make them comfortable and happy and educate them.  Perhaps if I keep it in my thoughts it will materialize.


Wishing you a blessed Christmas full of happy memories,







Letter 5 of 7:


St. Johnsbury, VT

     12 June (19) 31 

Dear Mrs. Evans,


I received your packages; what a beautiful velvet suite.  I hate to cut-into it.  Thank you for remembering me.  My times are hard here. 


Mrs. Evans, I want to ask you to lend me 125.00 if you will please.  I will give you a note for 90 days and pay you the interest.  It is not a big sum but I need it desperately just now.


I have a payment to make on this place the 20th  and need that amount to make it.  You see I bought a farm and put my Son and family of five children on it.  And he is getting by with hard work and going without, all but the bare necessities. 


My husband could not live up there, it was too high.  He is seventy years old ( So this means he was born about 1860 or 1861… other evidence suggests 1858... a very young boy at the time of the Civil War…. ) and he has been good to me.  I want to keep him with me as long as I can.  I came down to St. J. and made a down payment on a place here.  Good land, in a good location, cement road, near town.  My husband is a for-market gardener and has a good garden started, which is about all he can do.


I took my daughter (first I had heard of Grandfather having siblings… ) and her husband and son in with me, with he agreeing to make the payments on the place.  He is a Steam Shovell operator and has always had plenty of work.  But he has not worked since last December, except two weeks this spring.  Now he has a new job on a new road here in Vermont.  Will start about the 22 of this month and will last into Dec. next.


I have been out nursing this winter past and am going to work at a summer place near a lake here.  Shall go sometime this month but just now I need that money so badly.  The bank will carry the rest for a while, if I can pay in this amount.  Will you please loan it to me and will you let me know soon.


I am anxious,


Mattie Haley Cahoon


Letter 6 of 7:


St. Johnsbury, VT

18 June (19) 31


Dear Mrs. Evans,


I got your letter and check and I can’t tell you how relieved I felt, I was almost sick with dred(?).  Mrs. Evans, I shall repay you back.  These things can’t last forever.


I so loved the letter you wrote me.  Just to know that some one realizes what a fight I have had.  But even you, don’t know half of it.  But I have given my children a childhood they can look back to with ?????? and now my grandchildren.  Really, I am rich in that.  I have never had so little of the material things of life, as now, and yet, my life has never been so full. 


I am expecting to go to work about next week for the season here, which ends around the first week in Sept.  I expected to have gone sooner but the building was delayed.  Can you think of anything I could do this winter, to earn money?  This paper and ink are awful, but they are all I had and you will understand.


With loving affection,

I am truly yours,

Martha Haley Cahoon




Letter 7 of 7:


St. Johnsbury, VT

26 September (19) 31


Dear Mrs. Evans,


Please forgive me for not answering your letter sooner, about the socks and pants.  I was away, working, and found the letter on my return home.  Have been out, nursing. 


My husband had to go back to Cape Cod.  The altitude is too high here and I am going to try him on the cape this winter and expect to go back there this winter, if I can get some work there and I think I can.  This is a time to try ones. I think I can’t make another step forward, but I put my foot forward and somehow find solid ground under it.


Have got two boys in the Academy here, one more to go next year, one more boy in the grades and two girls to come in later.  Oh they look so well and are such clean lads; no cigarettes, street –corners, or blood and thunder movies for them.  They help on the farm out of school hours and for recreation – go fishing, mountain climbing, and Boy Scout meetings.  I am so thankful about them.  I think they will get on now.  I must look after my husband now.  I am so glad that I am well and can do it. 


I hope to repay you some money before Dec. if I get located right.  My husband is in Buzzards Bay and I expect to go there Oct. 5 or soon after that.  I hope you had a good summer at Chatham and that you are well.  I know how wide spread your interests are but please write me sometimes.


Very Affectionately,

Mattie Haley Cahoon






7 Wellington Terrace,

Brookline, Mass.

Oct. 17, 1931


Mrs. Martha Haley Calhoon, (Mattie Clearly wrote Cahoon… oh well)

Buzzards Bay,



Dear Mattie,


            It sounds wise to me that you and your husband should go back to the Cape this winter.  No one at Chatham last summer seemed to be hard-up.  Of course, the winter will be different, but there were no signs last summer of the blight that seems to have struck the rest of the world.


Your account of your family, of your 3 boys and 2 girls, who are coming along sounds fine.  Are they all your children, or are some of them grandchildren?




Notes from Colleen.....

Elizabeth died about six years after the photocopied return-letter above was written… it is my belief that they did maintain continued correspondence, for as long as Ms. Evans was up to writing, which may have been to the end.  I am certain that Martha grieved her passing. 


Martha mentioned visiting Ms. Evans when she was a child and having stayed there for a couple of days… I wish I knew the story about that; it does have the sense of having been, an occasion of hard times as well… and we know that her father, William, was listed as a widower, when he died, so it is very possible that Martha and her sibling, Cora (More about her later) were most likely orphaned at the ages of nine (Martha) and six (Cora)...:( 





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