This database contains the diary of James Maggs written between 1818 and 1876. James Maggs was, among other things, a respected schoolmaster in the town of Southwold. He was interested in maritime events and lived in the coastal town of Southwold in Suffolk County for much of his life.
Hubs' ancestors lived in Southwold and this diary was an amazing find. In it I found many references to the Martin family, Boniwell family and Markham family - all of whom were in hubs' lineage. One entry in particular proved fascinating (albeit dreadful)
Hubs' 5th great-grandfather was James Martin (ca 1781-1842), owner of the Red Lion Inn in Southwold. A search of his name brought up several references including a first-hand account of his death in 1842. James died while firing a cannon to celebrate the Prince of Wales' birthday. This was a yearly event and townspeople gathered for the fun and excitement of hearing the town cannons firing their salutes. But this year the cannon firing had tragic consequences for poor James.
On Nov. 9, 1842 on occasion of Prince of Wales' birthday and election of mayor, "our guns (cannons) were fired [and] one of the Preventive officers, James Martin, was, as is supposed owing to ye N.E. cannon not being carefully sponged, killed upon the spot - deceased was in the act of ramming her charge"
When firing a cannon the following steps had to be taken:
1. Powder bags were placed down the front of the barrel
2. A cannon ball wasn inserted in the barrel and a ramrod used to push it all to the back or bottom.
3. A fuse was placed in a small hole drilled in the top back of the cannon that led to where the powder bags sat.
4. Aim the cannon, light the fuse and the cannon ball would shoot out
If a cannon was being fired repeatedly the inside of the barrel had to be swabbed out between each shot to remove any burning coals. Apparently James, or an assistant, didn't take the time to do this properly and the cannon exploded when he rammed the powder bag into the barrel.
For genealogists this is the kind of detail we long for. But often we lose sight of the tragedy itself and how it must have affected others. Imagine the shock of the crowd. Little children playing, perhaps eating sweet treats on this special day when suddenly someone is blown to pieces before their eyes. It must have been horrifying.
But we genealogists become somewhat desensitized to the horrors and the tragedies and simply add the notations and sources to our genealogy programs to share with other family members. Poor James. I wish we knew more about him other than this gory death. But I admit that hubs and I could hardly wait to share James' fate with the rest of the family.
It seems that the gorier the details, the happier we genealogists are. What are your thoughts? And how can we ensure that we retain our humanity by caring about each ancestor as a real once-living person and not just a name and date in our database.