8 - Peter H. Pelkey (Pierre H. Pelletier) (1855 - 1937)

Parents: Henri Pelletier - Marie (Reine) Chagnon

Born: 26 Feb 1855 - Verchères, QC, Canada
Died: 20 Aug 1937 - Fitchburg, MA

Married: 25 Jun 1876 - West Boylston, MA
Spouse: Cordelia Roireau-dit-Laliberté (1858 -1931)
John Napoleon Pelkie (1879 - 1946)
Mary L. Pelkey (1881 - 1950)
Edmund Joseph Pelkey (1883 - 1959)
Emery J. Pelkey (1889 - 1918)
Blanche Orina Pelkey (1895 - 1981)

Back: Unknown - Cordelia Pelkey - Peter Pelkey
Front: Kermit Madden (Peter's grandson)
Photo, circa 1920's, courtesy of David A. Nims

Notes: From David A. Nims:

Pierre Pelletier was born on 26 Feb 1855 in Vercheres, Quebec. My trip to National Archives in Waltham, MA on March 21, 1996, located naturalization papers for Peter H. Pelkey (Pierre Pelletier), which verified his birth date as February 26, 1855 in "lower Canada." Those proceedings also indicate that he arrived at St. Albans, VT in October of 1861 as a six-year-old, showing that his parents must have moved to this country from Vercheres at that time. I have not had an opportunity to search for those parents in West Boylston. I have copies of Pierre's birth certificate and the marriage extract of his parents, both documents from Verchères, obtained from National Archives in Montreal. Family notes indicate his birth as February 27, 1855, in Vercheres. He died on 20 Aug 1937 in Fitchburg, MA. He was buried in St. Cecelia's Cemetery, Leominster, MA. Research shows a number of occasions when French-Canadians left Canada to enter the United States. A meeting I attended at ACGS in Manchester highlighted some of the main periods. First, nearly 2,000 Canadians fought in the American Revolution. Much of the War of 1812 was fought along the US-Canadian border, in northern New York and New England. 1835 saw families leaving to escape prosecution following the revolt of the French in Ontario against the English Crown. In the 1850's, numbers of Irish and French-Canadians came to work under the English mill owners, leaving behind those long hours spent farming with no pay. French-Canadians were desirable workers, for they would work without complaint, at any job, for virtually any money offered. They might earn $10 a week in wages, while paying only $3 or $4 a week for room and board, and worked in Burlington, Woonsocket, Holyoke, Chicopee, Lowell, Manchester, and Franklin, among other mill communities. Later, the Civil War found Americans willing to pay a bonus to those willing to join the army in their place. Young French-Canadians came in droves to receive the cash, and following discharge stayed here rather than returning to the barter system on farms in rural Canada.

But why West Boylston as the first known American town for a French-Canadian named Peter Pelkey (born: Pierre Pelletier)? Actually this was a fairly active community in the 1870's and 1880's, with a population of about 3,000 and at least 6-7 prominent mills along the Quinapoxet, Stillwater and Nashua rivers in that town. Warfield's, L.M. Haris, West Boylston Manufacturing, Holbrook's Mill and Clarendon Mills were all going cotton mills, sometimes employing up to 375 workers in some of the mills, with 35 tenement dwellings as accommodations for the Irish and French Canadians who flocked there. Outside of cotton manufacturing, West Boylston also had Cowee's Grist Mill and Howe, Morton and Lovell, makers of boots and shoes. I have been unable to find which of those may have been the place of employment for factory operative Peter Pelkey, newly married as a 21-year-old in 1876. The 1880 federal census shows this young family as follows: Peter H. Pelkie, 25, white, male, married, a worker in a cotton mill; wife, Cordelia Pelkie, white, female, 22, married, keeps house; son, John N. Pelkie, white, male, born in Massachusetts; and Joseph D. Pelkie, B (I don't know whether this means brother, or only boarder which is what I expect is the case.) Joseph is listed as white, male, 21, single, born in Canada, and a worker in a cotton mill. I did learn that many of these mills ceased operating for the most part between 1895 and 1905 with the building of the Wachusett Reservoir in West Boylston, flooding the area where many of the mills had stood.

The trail of Peter and Cordelia then moved to Peterborough, NH, where they lived at the time of daughter Mary's marriage to John J. Madden of Peterborough, perhaps arriving shortly after the birth of Blanche in 1895. That move is verified by the federal census of 1900, which lists Peter, Cordelia, and four children: Napoleon, Mary L., Edmund and Emery. For some reason Blanche is not listed in that census, though Cordelia is shown as the mother of five children, all living. Peter is listed as a loom fixer at that time in the local mills. Peter and Cordelia apparently removed to Leominster, MA around 1908, for Leominster street directories list Pierre Peltier in 1908, employed at FAWC Co., and living at 114 Sixth Street in Leominster. Poll tax records from Peterborough town reports show Peter paying taxes through 1906. I could not find any listing for 1907, and in 1908 Peter does not appear in the tax list, nor do the Maddens. In 1909, Peter and his son Emerie were both employed at SC Co. (Sterling Comb), and residing at 114 Sixth. The directories allowed me to follow Peter and Emerie from 1909 until 1917, at which time Emerie "removes to Indian Orchard", a part of the Springfield, MA area. 1911 showed the family at 158 Spruce St., and from 1912 through 1915 at 166 Third St 1916 and 1917 show the family at 179 Pleasant St., the address given in 1918 at the time of Emerie's induction into the Army.

Thus, Pierre and Cordelia Peltier stayed in Leominster from 1908 until 1928, living during the later years at 258 Water St. (through 1924), and then at 15 Fifth St. until removing to Fitchburg in 1928. Fitchburg residences for Peter and Cordelia included 137 Blossom St., 26 South St., and 88 Pleasant St. at the time of Peter H. Pelkey's death as a widower at the age of 82 yrs., 5 mos., 28 days. Fitchburg, MA. death certificate lists his occupation as “at home, retired 10 years.” Cause of death is shown as chronic interstitial nephritis; uremia; arteriosclerosis; hypostatic pneumonia; myocarditis.

He was married to Cordelia ROIREAU-dit-LALIBERTE on 25 Jun 1876 in West Boylston, MA. Cordelia ROIREAU-dit-LALIBERTE was born on 22 Aug 1858 in St-Simon, Quebec. She died on 9 Jul 1931 in Burbank Hospital, Fitchburg, MA. She was buried in St Cecilia's Cemetery, Leominster, MA. She was buried under the name of Cordelia Pelletier (LaLiberte), though her husband used the name of Peter Pelkey. Cordelia was 74 yrs., 11 mos., 6 days at the time of her death. Cause: “meningitis, septic, purulent otitis media, untreated for three months.” The medical terminology indicates an untreated middle ear infection apparently led to a fatal inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. Residence then was 137 Blossom Street, Fitchburg, MA. Occupation shown as “housewife, last worked July, 1931, total time 55 years.” Place of birth listed on the death certificate is shown as Warton, Canada, while family records list St. Simon de Bagot, Quebec, Canada. Children of Pierre Pelletier and Cordelia ROIREAU-dit-LALIBERTE were:

1 - John Napoleon PELKIE (1879 - 1946).

2 - Mary L PELKEY (1881 - 1950).

3 - Edmund Joseph PELKEY (1883 -1959).

4 - Emery J. PELKEY (1889 - 1918): He died on 28 Sep 1918 in Meuse-Argonne, France. He was born on 7 Jul 1889 in West Boylston, MA. He was buried in Romagnes-sous, Montfaucon dans le Meuse, France.Other than the birth certificate forwarded by the West Boylston town clerk, I find no mention of Emery until 1900 when he is shown in the Peterborough, NH federal census as a 1 1-year-old "at school." In 1909 he is found as a resident of Leominster, MA, employed at SC Co., a manufacturer of combs. Emerie Peltier (as it is spelled in the Leominster street directories) is shown as living with his father until 1917.

Emery Pelkey enlisted in the U.S. Army on May 26, 1918, and was processed at Camp Upton, NY. He was killed in action on September 28, 1918, less than two months before the Armistice. His remains were buried in Meuse-Argonne, France, Row 35, Block H, Grave # 8. He served in Co. K, 314th Inf. 79th. Birthplace listed as West Boylston, MA in 1889. He was a past member of Post #15 1, American Legion, Leominster. A memorial tree and marker for WWI veterans is in Carter Park, Leominster, opposite St. Leo's Church on Main St There is an American Legion marker on the family lot, #7, St. Cecelia's Cemetery, Leominster, MA. The bulk of this information came from the Veterans' Agent in Leominster, where a large scroll carries the name of Emery L Pelkey along with all of the others from Leominster killed in World War I, and the inscription, “Their Work Done, They Rest.”

5 - Blanche Orina PELKEY.