Monday, June 6, 2016

My 64 ~ Researching My 4th Great Grandparents : Richard Norris and Jane

My fourth great grandfather, Richard Norris, was born in England sometime around 1820. In the fall of 1836, he married Jane, who was born in Scotland.

He apparently had an early military career in the British army, which may have required him to travel to such places as Gibraltar and Barbados. Two of their first children died and were buried abroad.

In the early 1840's, the Norris family arrived in the United States, and by 1850, Richard and Jane were living in Aroostook County, Maine, in Letter D Plantation, with 5 children. Three more children were born in the next five years. In March of 1855, Richard became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

As tensions leading to the Civil War were heating up, Richard organized a local militia in Aroostook County in May of 1861. However, he was arrested for desertion and put in jail in August, supposedly for not moving out with his company. He went so far as to write a letter to Maine Governor Washburn's wife Mary, petitioning her for his release. I have transcribed it below:

He eventually was released, and enlisted on October 24, 1861, in Co. A, Me 7th Infantry. He was, however, given a disability discharge one year later, having been found unfit for duty for 60 days.

Following the War, Richard returned to his wife and family in Fort Fairfield. It is apparent, however, that his homelife was less than happy. 

In divorce papers filed in 1883, Jane attested to abandonment, physical abuse, and extra-marital affairs:

"In a plea of libel for divorce wherein showeth Jane Norris of Fort Fairfield aforesaid, that she was lawfully married to Richard Norris aforesaid, in the fall of the year eighteen hundred and thirty six, in the City of Dublin, Ireland; that she has lived, always observant of her marriage vows, in the marriage relation with said Norris, since said marriage, in different places and countries, and for more than twenty years, ending in June 1874, she so lived with said Norris, in said Fort Fairfield; that of said marriage were born eleven children, seven of whom are now living, all being of age and all married but one; that on or about June 10th 1874, said Richard Norris, without cause from your libellant, or intent upon her part to procure divorce, did willfully desert and abandon your said libellant, and has never since then contributed to her support, nor lived with her as her husband; that since said desertion, said Norris has returned three times, at intervals of  from three to five years, remaining but a short period at each time; that he came back the last time about September 1882, and has since that time treated your libellant with great cruelty and abuse; that on the 4th day of February last past, he assaulted your said libellant with force and arms, and struck her in the face and breast to her great injury; that at other times he has assaulted and beaten her; that your libellant believes and has good reason to believe that said Norris committed adultery with a Mary Ellsworth,  prior to his desertion of her in 1874; also with one Annie Weaver just previous to his deserting her as aforesaid; your libellant also believes and has good reason to believe that said Norris since his desertion of her in 1874 has committed adultery with a woman whose name is not known to your libellant, living in New York City, where said Norris has made it his home for most of the time since 1874; that said Norris, since his last return, has continually  interfered with her property and has habitually threatened your libellant that he will take her life, and so speaks, acts and threatens her, that she is afraid of her life, and is put in constant and continual dread.  Wherefore inasmuch as it is reasonable and proper conducive to domestic harmony, consistent with the peace and morality of society, and in accordance with the statute in such cases made and provided, your libellant prays that a divorce from the bonds of matrimony now subsisting between her and the said Richard Norris may be decreed.

Fort Fairfield.  February 10th 1883
Witness Nicholas Fessenden                Jane X Norris (her mark)"

The divorce was granted on February 27, 1883. Jane lived another 8 years, died on October 4, 1891, and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Fort Fairfield.

Richard's ties to New York remained after the divorce. He passed away on May 12, 1893, in the Soldiers and Sailors Home, in Bath, New York. He is buried in Bath National Cemetery there.


1870 US Census, population schedule, Maine, Aroostook; digital image, ( Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed  6 June 2016), memorial page for Richard Norris (unknown-1893), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1038200, citing Bath National Cemetery, Bath, Steuben County, New York.

Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed  6 June 2016), memorial page for Jane Norris (unknown-1891), Find A Grave Memorial no. 26228046, citing Riverside Cemetery, Fort Fairfield, Aroostook County, Maine.

Maine. Aroostook County. Supreme Judicial Court, divorce file (February 1883), Jane Norris v. Richard Norris. Vol. 14, Page 345. Maine, Divorce Records, 1798–1891. Augusta, Maine: Maine State Archives.

The National Cemetery Administration; Bath National Cemetery, Burial Ledger No 1, Jun 25, 1879-1921.

"United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 September 2015), Richard Norris, Aroostook county, part of, Aroostook, Maine, United States; citing family 59, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

"United States Census, 1860", database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 6 June 2016), Richard Norris, 1860.

United States, New England Petitions for Naturalization Index, 1791-1906," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 September 2015), Richard Norris, 1855; citing Maine, NARA microfilm publication M1299 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 97; FHL microfilm 1,429,767.


  1. I'm loving your well-researched series, even when the stories are tough to hear. I'll never understand what possesses a man to beat a woman.

  2. That is so sad -- and after she bore him 11 children.