Family Friday: Multiple Marriages

My family’s history has been a huge influence on the things I write. Each Friday, I take a look at some of the research that’s inspired my stories.

Last Friday, I wrote about the first of four myths I constructed for myself while conducting research on my family’s history. Here’s the second:

Myth 2: Joseph F. Clark’s Multiple Marriages Broke Apart the Family Unit

In the wake his father’s death at sea, Joseph P. Clark seemed to create for himself what appeared to me to be the ideal Victorian family. His was a two-parent household located in Pleasant Lake, one of the up-and-coming sections of town. His neighbors were prominent citizens mentioned in text after text I came across. Yes, this family endured the loss of three children to disease, but it seemed to me that they came out of it together, the way families were “supposed to.”

Joseph P. Clark’s son, Joseph F. Clark, who married three times over the course of his life, seemed to me to be the impetus of the family’s downfall. The Clarks were among the earliest settlers of Plymouth, owned property in Boston, and had helped found the town of Harwich. In my mind, they were respectable citizens. Joseph F. Clark seemed to break from that tradition.

He divorced his first wife, a legal act seemingly unprecedented in Clark family history. She took their two children off to Boston and the first records I found indicated he did nothing to stop her. Then, he married two more times. During his years as a mariner, he once had his license revoked for colliding with another ship. To my mind, he was tarnishing the great and storied family name.

When it counted, other records, found much later in my search, indicate that Joseph F. Clark was there for his family. In 1905, Joseph F. and his two boys were present at the funeral of his mother, Caroline. The Orleans Record reported, on March 22, “Mr. Joseph Clark and sons of Mattapoisett” were present. The 1920 United States Census, as well as the death certificate of his father, indicates that Joseph F. took his turn as a caregiver as well.

A letter written by one of Joseph F. Clark’s granddaughters, Marcella Clark Fox, addressed to her nephew Paul Maloney in the summer of 1996, puts his first divorce into perspective. Marcella writes simply that, “The marriage didn’t take…” Nothing, it seems, was quite as tragic as I had imagined.

Next week, I tackle the myth of another man of multiple marriages, my great-grandfather Charles Clark.