The Cook

From left to right. Back Row; Pauline Bonnett, Florence Bonnett and Claude Bonnett. Front Row Harry Bonnett, Bessie Barney Bonnett, Verna Bonnett, and Mary Guyette Barney Douglas. Picture taken about 1913.

In the right-hand upper corner of New York State, you will find Lake Champlain. Most people would be surprised at the vast history of this lake. It has been the site of significant battles going back to the French and Indian Wars. Conflict also continued in the American Revolutionary War. However the War of 1812 saw perhaps the most momentous battle fought on and around this lake, this battle is known as the Battle of Plattsburgh. The British invaded from Canada in the North with 10,000 troops and 16 Warships. To meet them on Lake Champlain and its western shore the Americans had 14 warships and 4000 troops which was a mixture of regular soldiers and local militia. The Battle resulted in a major victory for the Americans. This was the last military engagement that was to take place on Lake Champlain. What followed was years of peaceful growth and commerce in which steamships were to play a significant part. This is when and where a part of the life story of Mary Guyette Barney Douglas, my 2nd Great Grandmother was to take place.

In the late 1800s and well into the 1900s great steamboats plowed the waters of Lake Champlain. While many were used to transport commercial goods, many also transported people. This was a popular way to travel from Lake George and the length of Lake Champlain. The steamships had private cabins and of course, dining rooms. Meals were cooked and severed onboard. One of these cooks was Mary Guyette. Steamships were to be a very popular way to travel until the railroads, and good roadways were to bring an end to this era.

Mary Guyette was born in 1864 to Civil War Veteran Peter and her mother, Elizabeth Thorndike Guyette. The first record I have of her working was at age 16 as a servant in the Stearns household in Waterbury, Vermont. She married Solomon M Barney in 1886 who was 47 years older than she and a hotel owner in Jericho, Vermont. They were to divorce in 1892. She married once more in 1895 to Edward Douglas. This marriage was to end after a few short years in 1898 when Edward died on the family’s kitchen table while the doctor was attempting to treat him for a ruptured appendix.

Divorce was big news in 1892. News article from The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont) Dec. 19, 1892.
The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont) Jan. 2, 1891

Mary, by this time, was working as a cook both on the steamships and on land. One of the places Mary worked at was The Crystal, which was located on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont. Here they offered what is known as Table Board. That is when a person purchases his or her meals weekly but is separate from lodging. A quick check on my inflation counter shows that the four dollars spent in 1891 would be about 112.00 dollars today. Not too bad for three meals a day for a week cooked to order.

Chateaugay (Side wheeler) Repository Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Ticonderoga (Side wheeler) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

My 2nd Great Grandmother Mary was to work on two Lake Champlain steamers the Chateaugay and the Ticonderoga. I know that she was working on the Chateaugay in 1892, but I do not have a starting date for the Ticonderoga. I do know that she worked long hours on these steamers. Growing up, I heard stories from my Grandmother Pauline Bonnett and my Great Uncle Harry about how early she would leave and would not get back sometimes until the next morning. They lived with her as did all her grandchildren pictured above since their mother Bessie, Mary’s only child had major issues that she was dealing with. One story I heard several times from my Great Uncle Harry was how she would spank him after she had been gone for a day or so at work. She would tell him this is for what he thought he “got away with.” While this could be just a story, it does point to the fact that she ran a strict household.

All this for .75 cents. Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “DINNER [held by] STEAMER CHATEAUGAY [at] “ABOARD SS CHATEAUGAY, [LAKE CHAMPLAIN, {NY}];” (SS;)” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 1, 2019.

One other story I often heard from my grandmother, all my aunts, and uncles and even my mother was what a wonderful cook she was. I was told she could make a mouth-watering meal out of almost nothing. The proof to me is that she was able to prepare meals like the one on the above menu. Also, when I was given a tour of the Ticonderoga a few years ago, I was surprised how small the kitchen was. The stove is smaller than what can be found in many homes today.  The skill was passed down to her grandchildren as I can attest to. My grandmother was one of the best cooks I ever enjoyed a meal from. She was to be a cook at a large nursery and child daycare center in her later years.

Steamer Ship Ticonderoga at rest. Moore Family Picture 2004

The Ticonderoga now sits on dry ground at the Museum, at Shelburne, Vermont. People can walk the decks and perhaps for a moment or two find themselves somewhere in the past when even short journeys could be an adventure. In many ways, this story many years ago is one of the reasons (I also had more than a few on my father’s side) I got into family history. For years in my grandmother’s kitchen was a platter from the Ticonderoga. It was this plate and the stories that came with it but mostly the questions that the adults would and would not answer that set me on a course to know the rest of the story as the saying goes.  

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38 Responses to The Cook

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I visited the Steamer Ship Ticonderoga in 2012 and the Shelburne Museum.

  2. Sandi McGinnis says:

    Wonderful well documented family history!

  3. Very interesting. Great photo of your family.

  4. Peter Klopp says:

    I like the way you connect your family history with historical events. Very interesting!

  5. Jim McKeever says:

    Fascinating, Charles! The newspaper item on the divorce hearing is amazing. (I’d skip the boiled ox tongue for dinner, though).

  6. KerryCan says:

    How cool is it that you can go visit the Ticonderoga and walk in Mary’s footsteps? That steamer is an amazing ship and Mary sounds like quite a woman! It’s good that she divorced the old guy, I think. 😉

  7. Amy says:

    Wonderful stories, Charles. I’ve been to Lake Champlain, but only from the Vermont side. It’s quite beautiful.

    So did you inherit these cooking skills? And can you believe someone ate all those courses of food and for only 75 cents??

    • chmjr2 says:

      75 cents is a good deal. They ate well on those old boats. And yes I know my way around a kitchen and I say I am a fair to good cook. My grandmother always had me cook the mashed potatoes at large family meals. This may seem like a small thing but it really was very big. No one else cooked in her kitchen.

  8. Eilene Lyon says:

    What a fascinating tale! You’ve found such incredible supporting artifacts – including an entire ship! How cool is that?

  9. Totally enjoyed this posting 🙂 loved the photo’s and mini history lesson too. Nothing better than memories and stories grandma’s cooking! Sharon

    • chmjr2 says:

      About the history lesson I had 900 words written about it until I said to my self hey this is a genealogy blog not a history one. Thanks for reading and your comments.

  10. heatherrojo says:

    Great post! We visit the Shelburne Museum almost every summer!

  11. Averyl says:

    I went to UVM and had a room overlooking Lake Champlain one year!

  12. Luanne says:

    What a life she led! When I first saw the photo I wondered where the husband/father was, but your story certainly explains that. And that menu sounds good enough to eat :).

    • chmjr2 says:

      Yes she and her daughter Bessie had tough but interesting lives. I would take everything on that menu except the Ox tongue.

      • Luanne says:

        Now that you mention it, yes, I could do without although I’ll bet my mom would eat it. I remember her getting ox tongue from her cousin when I was a kid.

  13. Very well presented. And to think it all started with a plate and some family stories. Has any one any of Mary’s recipes? If so, they can be added to this and attached to her profile on the family tree.

  14. myrnataylor says:

    I received a notice from WordPress that you are now following my new blog. Thank you so much! I am new at this and barely know what I am doing so any follower is nice, but a fellow blogger is even better, and particularly someone who is also writing about family and regional history. I have just finished reading several of your articles and and enjoyed each of them. Since the old book that is behind my stories and my blog was for the most part written in Herkimer County, New York, and since I know little about New York State history except what I have found researching, it will be fun to learn from you.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Don’t you wonder what made her enter that marriage in the first place? Thanks for the lovely photos. We have driven through there on the way to Quebec from Connecticut.

  16. chattykerry says:

    That is utterly fascinating. Both to find your ancestor with so much interesting information about her. It was unusual to have a divorce go in the favor of the woman back in those days – he must have been a bad ‘un! Great post!

  17. chattykerry says:

    My great grandmother was described as having cold black eyes with a temperament to match…

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