Mystery Postcard: Who was John Randolph Watson?

Over Memorial Day weekend of 2015, I received an e-mail from Carl Gainsborough containing the the two scanned images above. As you can see, the never mailed postcard is of a tavern in Standish Corner, and the rear shows the name and address of the sender. Carl called it a mystery... and that is about all it took to get me interested in the card and the people named.

The first thing that caught my eye was the address, which Carl took for 329 North 32nd Street. John R. Watson's lower case "d" does resemble a "2", and the actual address was 329 North 3rd Street. I used the address to determine when the postcard had been signed. John R. Watson appeared at that address in the 1910 Census, and in City Directories from 1913 through late 1918. The census of 1920, which was taken in January, shows that he had moved to 300 Cooper Street. That frames the date as being any time between the spring of 1912 and late summer of 1918.

With the "when" established, it was time to move on the "who". Who were John R. Watson and Miss Barbara Martz? To date I have not nailed down who Miss Martz was with any certainty. In the case of John R. Watson, I have found quite a bit, and it is a fascinating story taking us into an earlier and quite different time in America. 

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John Randolph Watson was born in Standish, Maine on May 29, 1836. He was the third of four children born to Stephen C. Watson and his wife, the former Lucy Paine, coming after older brothers Samuel S. Watson and Charles Watson, and before sister Phoebe Watson. The family was living in Limington Maine when the Census was taken in 1850. Stephen C. Watson was working as a window sash and blind maker, while older brothers Samuel, 21, and Charles, 19, were, according to the Census, were working as laborers. They more likely were working as apprentices of some sort. Samuel Watson became a goldsmith and traveled extensively through the United States, In 1854 he married Mary P. Ingalls of Tremont, Illinois. Charles Watson moved to Camden, New Jersey. He met and married Amanda Archer in 1856, and by 1859 had opened a grocery in Camden's North Ward. Amanda Archer's younger brother, Benjamin F. Archer, became one of Camden's leading businessmen in the 1800s, as a principal and after 1881 president of the Camden Gas Lighting Company. Benjamin Archer's wife was Catherine Starr, daughter of Jesse W. Starr, who owned the Camden Iron Works foundry, and uncle, John F. Starr, served in Congress and was for many years president of the First Camden National Bank for over 30 years.

Samuel S. Watson settled down in Indianola, Iowa in the mid-1850s. His parents and younger brother came to live with him there, sadly his wife Mary passed away there in 1856. John R. Watson worked in Indianola in the late 1850s as a teacher and as a "daguerrian artist", that is to say, as a photographer.

What John Watson did between 1859 and 1864 is not known. He came to Montana in 1864, one of the first settlers, with a small stock of groceries, and opened up the first store in what was to become the state capital, Helena. Samuel Watson married again and by 1866 had moved his family and mother to Montana. They to settled in Helena. Samuel Watson's wife Louisa gave birth to a son, Stephen, around 1866. Another son, Leander, was born in 1869.

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1868 Helena City Directory - Helena, Montana

In Camden, Charles Watson appears also to have done quite well, as did his brother-in-law Benjamin F. Archer. A marriage was arranged between Benjamin Archer's sister-in-law Sarah Starr and his younger brother John R. Watson. He traveled east and the two were wed in December of 1868. The couple then returned to Helena, where they were blessed with a son, Jesse Starr Watson, in March of 1870.

The 1870 Census shows the Samuel and John Watson, their mother, wives and children living in Helena. Samuel Watson had taken a post as an Internal Revenue collector, while John R. Watson continued in the grocery business. Sadly the family would go through a very tragic period in July if 1870. Young Jesse Watson died on July 7, his mother on July 8, and Leander Watson died on July 11.

John R. Watson never remarried. He remained in Helena as late as 1894, where he was a prominent figure in business circles and dabbled in politics. He retired from business around hat time, although he had interests in Helena as late as 1899. When gold was discovered in the Klondike region of Alaska, the pioneer spirit returned to him, and although past 60 years of age, he headed north, leaving for Dawson in January of 1898, and arriving on June 1, with plans to stay throughout the winter into the following year. Trouble with his vision forced a return to Helena in August for an eye operation. He gave a long statement describing conditions in the Klondike, which was published in the Helena Independent newspaper on August 28, 1898.

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Helena Independent
August 28, 1898





For reasons that are not particularly clear at this time, John R. Watson left Montana and went to live with his brother Charles. He arrived at the family home, 223 Cooper Street at some point after June 6, 1900 when the Census was taken. John R. Watson first appears in Camden City Directories in 1901 at 223 Cooper Street and is last listed at that address in 1908.

Charles Watson, one of the best-known businessmen in Camden and one of its wealthiest citizens, died as a result of complications of a stroke in Camden on March 30, 1904, leaving a daughter, Emma, and his wife, the former Hannah Wilson. His first wife, Amanda Archer Starr had died in November of 1873.

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Philadelphia Inquirer
March 31, 1904
Cooper Street - Camden Gaslight Company - Central Trust - First Baptist Church

The 1910 Census and Camden City Directories from 1913 through late 1918 show John R. Watson living at 329 North 3rd Street. By the time the Census was taken in January of 1920 he was rooming at 300 Cooper Street. John R. Watson does not appear in City Directories from 1920 forward, and given his age, 83 at the time of the 1920 Census, it is probable that he passed away not long afterwards. 

John R. Watson did not lose his appetite for adventure and travel after arriving in Camden. He applied for passports in 1907, 1908, 1910, and 1911.... even when he was past 70, he remained the Wonder Lust Traveler.