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HENRY D. THOREAU.
BIRTH AND FAMILY.
THERE died in a city of Maine, on the river Penobscot, late in the year 1881, the last member of a family which had been planted in New England a little more than a hundred years before, by a young tradesman from the English island of Jersey, and had here produced one of the most characteristic American and New English men of genius whom the world has yet seen. This lady, Miss Maria Thoreau, was the last child of John Thoreau, the son of Philip Thoreau and his wife, Marie le Galais, who, a hundred years ago, lived in the parish of St. Helier, in Jersey. This John Thoreau was born in that parish, and baptized there in the Anglican church, in April, 1754; he emigrated to New England about 1773, and in 1781 married in Boston Miss Jane Burns, the daughter of a Scotchman of some estate in the neighborhood of Stirling Castle, who had emigrated earlier to Massachusetts, and had here married Sarah Orrok, the daughter of David Orrok, a Massachusetts Quaker. Jane (Burns) Thoreau, the granddaughter of David Orrok, and the grandmother of Henry David Thoreau, died in Boston, in 1796, at the age of forty-two. Her husband, John Thoreau, Sr., removed from Boston to Concord, in 1800, lived in a house on the village square, and died there in 1801. His mother, Marie le Galais, outlived him a few weeks, dying at St. Helier, in 1801. Maria Thoreau, granddaughter and namesake of Marie le Galais, died in December, 1881, in Bangor, Maine.
From the recollections of this “aunt Maria,” who outlived all her American relatives by the name of Thoreau, Henry Thoreau derived what information he possessed concerning his Jersey ancestors. In his journal for April 21, 1855, he makes this entry:
“ Aunt Maria has put into my hands to-day for safe-keeping three letters from Peter Thoreau
(her uncle), directed to · Miss Elizabeth Thoreau, Concord, near Boston, and dated at Jersey, respectively, July 1, 1801, April 22, 1804, and April 11, 1806; also a Vue de la ville de St. Helier,' accompanying the first letter. The first is in answer to one from my aunt Elizabeth, announcing the death of her father (my grandfather). He states that his mother (Marie (le Galais) Thoreau) died June 26, 1801, the day before he received aunt Elizabeth's letter, though not till after he had heard from another source of the death of his brother, which was not communicated to his mother. She was in the seventyninth year of her age,' he says, ' and retained her memory to the last. She lived with my two sisters, who took the greatest care of her.' He says that he had written to my grandfather about his oldest brother (who died about a year before), but had got no answer,- had written that he left his children, two sons and a daughter, in . a good way: “The eldest son and daughter are both married and have children ; the youngest is about eighteen. I am still a widower. Of four children I have but two left, — Betsey and Peter; James and Nancy are both at rest.' He adds that he sends a view of our native town.'
“ The second of these letters is sent by the hand of Captain John Harvey, of Boston, then at Guernsey. On the 4th of February, 1804, he had sent auut Elizabeth a copy of the last letter he had written (which was in answer to her second), since he feared she had not received it. He says that they are still at war with the French; that they received the day before a letter from her “uncle and aunt Le Cappelain of London ;' complains of not receiving letters, and says, “Your aunts, Betsey and Peter join with me,' etc. According to the third letter (April 11, 1806), he had received by Capt. Tonzel an answer to that he sent by Capt. Harvey, and will forward this by the former, who is going via Newfoundland to Boston. “He expects to go there every year; several vessels from Jersey go there every year.' His nephew had told him, some time before, that he met a gentleman from Boston, who told him he saw the sign • Thoreau and Hayse’ there, and he therefore thinks the children must have kept up the name of the firm. • Your cousin John is a lieutenant in the British service; he has already been in a campaign on the Continent; he is very fond of it.' Aunt Maria thinks the correspondence ceased at Peter's death, because he was the one who wrote English.”.