Friday, June 15, 2012

The Bell Family of Dover-Foxcroft

The Bell surname is common to England, Ireland, and Scotland.  It is of uncertain origin, but it is believed to have stemmed from the profession of a bell ringer.

My Bell ancestors came from Scotland originally.  My fifth great grandfather, John Bell born 1746, according to legend, was married to an Elizabeth from the House of Württemberg in Germany, when it was part of the Holy Roman Empire, and before Württemberg became its own state.  I have yet to find any confirming paperwork for this connection, however.  I've also heard that John and Elizabeth were Scotch-Irish, living in Northern Ireland, before they migrated to Nova Scotia.  John was reputed to have been a "Loyalist" during the American Revolution.  For his service to the King in the War, John received a land patent, but his children failed to locate and claim it.

Ten of his reported eleven children were:  Robert (a Methodist minister who was murdered), Jane, Henry, Alexander, Catherine, Mary, John,  David, Betsey, and Margaret.  Not totally sure of the birth order, but it's clear that Henry and Jane were born a year or so apart.

It's long been a brick wall for the Bell family and its researchers to determine exactly where the Bells came from.  Was John born in Scotland, or was he born in a Scotch-Irish settlement in Northern Ireland?  How did he meet the obviously German Elizabeth Wurttemberg?  When did they come to Nova Scotia?  Where in Nova Scotia?  Too many questions to answer...although some sources point to Canso (in Guysborough County).

I've done some digging into the Family History Library's collection of Northern Ireland, and it appears that there were many Bell families living in County Down (which is Northern Ireland's closest county in proximity to Scotland).  To that end, there were also about a dozen men named John Bell fathering children during the 1780s to early 1800s.  None of them appear to be with a wife named Elizabeth.  However, there was a John & Bella in County Down who had a Catherine (which is one of the names of the children of research) on 30 Jan 1786 in Downpatrick.  I can find no other children of this couple, however.  If I can just locate one or two more children of John & Bella with names that match the children's names above, we might have a close enough match.  There is a Jane Bell, born in Downpatrick, born to a John & Jane.

According to one family legend, John & Elizabeth lived in "Petelwerse, Nova Scotia".  Since no such town exists (or existed), it's possible that this was a misprint of what is now known as Bliss Island, New Brunswick (then unofficially called Pentelowe Island).

The above information comes from the family bible of Annie Bell-Saltonstall (1870-1943), who was a 4th generation descendant of John Bell.

Interestingly, much of what was found in Annie's bible matches the research provided to me by George Holland (descendant of Jane Bell and Daniel Holland like myself), and also Patti Manson C. (descendant of Henry Bell & Prudence Leach).

I've dug deeper into the possible whereabouts of the Bells' potential homestead in Nova Scotia on another blog post, found here.

I had long heard that my Bell ancestors were somehow related to Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, born in 1847.  I did a study of this family lineage, and am very doubtful of this connection.  If any Bell family researchers out there reading this post would care to comment, I'd be interested to learn if they've heard, or proven, the same connection.  I had heard this from my great grandmother, Lorena Holland Murch-Fuller, who had told this to anyone who would listen, up until her death in 1990.  My pet theory is that Gram heard of one of the many men named Alexander Bell in our direct family, and made the connection herself (or repeated someone else's assertion of same).

What I do know is that among their 11 children, Jane and Henry Bell were siblings born in Nova Scotia to John & Elizabeth Bell, and moved to Jay Maine somewhere around 1810...and eventually settled in Dover Maine, among other towns.

Jane Bell-Holland

Jane was my 4th great grandmother.  In 1808, she married sea captain Daniel Frederick Holland of Prussia (his name was believed to have been originally spelled Hollien).  According to some family trees, this marriage occurred in Canso, Nova Scotia.  If so, this would give us an indication of the general location of the Canadian settlement of the Scottish Bells.  According to other legends, Daniel's mother was also from the House of Württemberg.  This could be a carryover error, or it could establish a true link between these German and Scottish families.

In 1810, Daniel and Jane's first child, Daniel Jr., was born in Monmouth Maine.  In 1812, their second child, Marie Württemberg Holland, was born in Jay Maine, just 20 miles north of Monmouth.  Their next five children were born in Jay (including my 3rd great grandfather, Civil War Patriot John Christopher Holland).  Around 1825, the family moved 50 miles east of Jay, to Plymouth, Maine, and had their four remaining children, making 11 kids total.

The Holland children migrated to Hampden, for the most part.  Jane was living with her son, Daniel Jr., in Hampden for the 1850 Census (Jane was likely widowed at this point, and Daniel had yet to marry his wife, Mary Finson).  Jane's daughter Margaret Holland had moved to Dover, Maine in 1844, and married her first cousin, Alexander Bell (son to Jane's brother Henry).  Jane, at 66 years of age, was living with Margaret and Alexander's family in Dover for the 1860 Census, and that's the last record I can find of Jane.  I don't know when she died, or where she is buried, but it's possible her grave is at the Pine Grove Cemetery in Dover-Foxcroft, the final resting place of many of the Bells of Dover, although the online cemetery listing doesn't show her, it could be she's unmarked.  I paid a visit to the Hampden Town Hall, and viewed burial records for all their cemeteries.  Jane's two eldest sons, Daniel and John, are buried at the town's Riverview Cemetery, but there is no mention of Jane there either.

Henry Bell

Farmer Henry Bell married Prudence Leach, and moved to Dover, where they had four children:  (i) Mary E. Bell, who married James Robinson, Manoah Harriman, and John Ames (six kids total), (ii) Henry P. Bell, who married Emeline Witham, had eight children and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, (iii) Alexander Bell, a farmer who married his first cousin Margaret Holland, and had three children, and (iv) Joel Paine Bell, who married twice, had three children, and eventually moved to Cheboygan, Michigan in his later years, where died at 77 of gangrene, just a couple months after his son George had passed.

One of the children of Alexander Bell and Margaret Holland, James Madison Bell, has some interest to me.  He married Sylvia Bean Burrill, who descended from the Scottish MacBean clan of New Hampshire, and the English colonial Burrill family, both of which I also descend from independently, in addition to the Bell and Holland families of Scotland and Germany written about in this and other posts.

James & Sylvia had eight children, including two sets of twins, born in succession.  The elder pair of twins (Ai & Ami) were sent to live with their grandparents, Alexander and Margaret.

Henry's descendants are numerous, and many generations later, Bells still call Dover home.

Here are some photos of a few of Henry's descendants kindly offered by Sallie Fleet, a descendant of Henry's son Joel:




Below are some gravestone photos from Pine Grove Cemetery (aka Branns Mills Cemetery), the Dover-Foxcroft cemetery of the Bells and other related families, courtesy of Patti Manson C., a descendant of Henry Bell, via Find a Grave:


  1. hello. My grandmother, Annie Bell Saltonstall was the daughter of George Bell, and her grandfather was Joel. I have a little bit more information from her diary if you are interested.
    Sallie Brayton Saltonstall (Fleet)

    1. My great garland mother was Mary Bell. She married Tom Learned in 1885 in Boston mass. I saw a grave marker with the name Harry C Bell. My fathers name was Harry Cambell Learned. He always said Cambell was another family name. I have the marriage certificate if interested for Mary Bell.

  2. Would love to hear any information on the Bell Family from Dover, Maine. My ggreat uncle was Joel, my ggreat grandfather was his brother Alexander. Have been researching the Bell family for thirty years and never stop learning about them. My email is Have a great day, Lorna Bell Young Fanjoy