The Goodspeeds and Cheevers of Old Wharf Road

When I was young, my family would usually spend a Memorial Day weekend opening our Prospect Hill cottage for the season. As we left for home and followed Old Wharf Road to Route 6, my mother — who had spent part of her childhood there — would ask my father to pull over so she could clip a bunch of lilacs from a cellar hole alongside the road. She explained to us that there “used to be a house here.”

The old cellar hole with lilacs on Old Wharf Road.

The old cellar hole with lilacs on Old Wharf Road.


Today, that cellar hole is less evident, but it’s still there, and the lilacs were blooming again last spring! I remembered this location when I began my South Wellfleet research, seeing the name “Goodspeed” on the 1858 Walling Map, on Old Wharf Road. When I cited it for Chet Lay on the Prospect Hill Development Map, he confirmed that this had been the Goodspeed property.

With not much more information, I’ve explored the Goodspeed family using public land records, census documents, and Massachusetts Vital Records of births, marriages and deaths, along with newspaper accounts. There’s no diary to fill in the drama of these lives, but there’s enough information from extant records to reconstruct a 19th century life.

As I’ve written previously, the Wiley farm was nearby the Old Wharf Road cellar hole where Mrs. Goodspeed’s home was noted on the 1858 map. On the 1910 map, which also includes property-owners’ names, the same location is labeled “Cheever,” which I’ll soon explain. The South Wharf, built in 1831, was nearby, along with the Barker homestead where Isaiah Barker, who’d married an Arey widow, was a cooper, making the barrels for the fish brought into the wharf.

Lydia Wiley was the second child of David and Ruth (Arey) Wiley. Lydia married Ezra Goodspeed, a mariner, who came from a long line of Goodspeeds, one of the founding families of Barnstable. Lydia and Ezra married in April 1817, when Lydia was 17 years old and Ezra was 24.

Ezra Goodspeed served in the War of 1812 as a Private in Captain Crocker’s Company of the Massachusetts Militia. He served a total of five days between January 28 and October 5, 1814, and saw action in the Battle of Falmouth. That designation led me to research that battle – which occurred on January 28, 1814, when the British ship HMS Nimrod shelled the town of Falmouth for 24 hours in an attempt to force the town to give up their cannons. After evacuating the women and children, the town fought back, a point of pride in Falmouth even today. The stand-off is still noted and celebrated, and the cannonballs from that day can still be seen embedded in the walls of a local restaurant named Nimrod.

Ezra and Lydia must have settled in Barnstable for a while because their first three children were born there: Joseph in 1818, Temperance in 1821, and Samuel Arey Goodspeed in 1824. Their four other children were born in Wellfleet: Alvin in 1827, Ezra Jr. in 1828, Merinda in 1833, and Lydia in 1835. They may have settled in South Wellfleet because the South Wharf was operating so close to Lydia’s home, and economic opportunities were available.

The house on the road to the wharf (named “Old Wharf” long after the wharf closed down) may date from that time. It was not unusual for a father to transfer some land to a daughter when she married. It may be that Ruth Arey received land from her father when she married David Wiley, and Lydia also received land from her father. In 1833, Ezra Goodspeed mortgaged his “dwelling house and three acres” to neighbors Solomon and Reuben Arey for the sum of $508 — perhaps to buy a boat or some other need for funds.

On August 9, 1835, a few months before his youngest child, Lydia, was born, Ezra Goodspeed drowned during a storm “while attempting to land on the back of the Cape”, as his death record indicates. (A man named Sylvanus Jones also died that day, although two other mariners were saved.) Lydia Goodspeed became a widow at age 35. Unlike many widows of the nineteenth century, she never remarried, and so is referred to as “Widow Lydia Goodspeed” in various records. Her mother, Ruth Arey Wiley, did remarry in 1822 to widower and neighbor Major John Witherell. Wellfleet records show multiple marriages for many of the town’s residents.

One wonders how Lydia managed. Her husband had recently mortgaged their property. Perhaps because her mother was nearby — Major Witherell’s property was just to the north of the Barkers — or because she had a 17-year-old son, she managed to support herself and her children. The Wellfleet Benevolent Society did not begin until 1836. When I searched for a possible widow’s pension for her husband’s War of 1812 service, I found that when she was widowed, Lydia was not eligible, since she and Ezra married after his service. Nevertheless, by 1871, a new law included her, and there is evidence that she did receive a pension much later in her life.

Lydia Goodspeed on lower right side, from the Goodspeed family history

Lydia Goodspeed on lower right side, from the Goodspeed family history

In 1839, the Town of Wellfleet declared the road to the South Wharf a “town road” and, in so doing, paid Lydia Goodspeed $8 to compensate her for a small piece of her land taken for the road.

Lydia’s eldest son, Joseph, married Content Atwood, a girl from the South Wellfleet neighborhood, in 1843. Their first child, John, was born six months later — an event that in an earlier time would have meant a severe fine by the town congregation. Their second child died of cholera infantum at nine months.

Lydia’s second son, Samuel Arey Goodspeed, lived a long life, first settling in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then Rhode Island as a fish dealer, one of the many mariners who saw the fishing heyday ending, and settling off the Cape. Samuel served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

The third son, Alvin Goodspeed, remained in Wellfleet and married Meltiah Young in 1849, and then a second wife, Eusebia Doane, in 1882. Both women grew up in the South Wellfleet neighborhood. Alvin is buried in the South Wellfleet cemetery close to his first wife.

Lydia’s fourth son, Ezra Jr., had a turbulent life that ended early. He married Maria Smith of Wellfleet in 1852. In 1857, she died of consumption. Their four-year-old son, Winslow, died in August 1859 “while his uncle was tending him.” The news account of Winslow’s drowning was fairly stark:

On Friday last the son of Ezra Goodspeed age 4 years was left in a boat on the beach while the uncle went on board of a vessel. Fifteen minutes afterwards, the uncle saw the boy on the flats with his life extinct. There were three inches of water where he was drowned.

In 1869, Ezra Jr. was killed on board his vessel “on his way from New Orleans to Boston while jibing the main sail off the Delaware breakwater.” He had remarried by this time, and was quite well-off, leaving an estate of nearly $12,000, including property in Bridgewater, Massachusetts where he lived. He and his wife had a son, Ellery, who died while still a child.

Lydia Goodspeed’s daughters, Temperance, Merinda, and Lydia, married also. Merinda married, but then soon died, at age 20, “of childbirth fever.” Lydia, the youngest, married a Wellfleet man, Jesse Wiley, in 1853, and was living in the home of her sister Temperance and brother-in-law John Cheever in 1855. Sometime after 1860, Lydia and Jesse left Wellfleet, as many did at the time — and I found them next in Salem, Massachusetts, where Jesse was operating an “oyster saloon.” Shortly after 1880, Jesse died, and the widowed Lydia stayed in Salem until dying in 1897. Of interest: her daughter Sophronia married a member of the Arey family in Salem.

Temperance Goodspeed remained in South Wellfleet. In 1846, she married John Cheever, a mariner from Newburyport, Massachusetts, who grew up with seven siblings. There were many Cheevers in Essex County, Massachusetts, including the famous author, John Cheever. Our Wellfleet John Cheever had previously married another Wellfleet woman, Susannah Daniels. They married late in 1843, and, by June 1844, Susannah died of consumption. She is buried in the Duck Creek Cemetery, her grave inscribed with a typical 19th century gravestone:

 Here lies my body with the throng

Who from this earthly world have gone

My spirit freed from earthly care

Of heaven’s bless’d share a glorious heir

John and Temperance Cheever are living in the home of the neighboring Isaiah Barkers in the 1850 census — the Barkers gave their third son the middle name “Cheever” so the two families must have been close. In 1855, John and Temperance have their own household, and a 2-year-old daughter. John and Temperance had a first child, John, who died when he was 4 days old. A second son, Ezra Newel, born in 1851 is not listed in the 1855 State census, an indication that he died at a young age. Their third child, a girl named Maltime, was born in 1853 and appears in the 1855 census, but not after that, so she may have died very young also. A fourth child, Chester Greenwood Cheever, was born in 1860 and managed to grow up.

John Cheever was a mariner through most of his working life, and in later censuses is listed as a “laborer.” In the 1870 and 1880 censuses, Lydia Goodspeed is living with the Cheevers. Chester, their son, is occupied as a mariner in 1880.

John Cheever is mentioned fondly in the Charles F. Cole memory piece I’ve quoted often. Thanks to Mr. Cole we have a description of John, and a sense of his personality. John fished with Mr. Cole’s father, and was very fat and clumsy, according to the older Mr. Cole. The locals would say that if he fell overboard, he wouldn’t sink because he was very fat.

John Cheever was the janitor of the South Wellfleet Congregational Church where, at Christmas, a tree was placed near the pulpit. Mr. Cole remembers:

John Cheever always acted as Santa Claus, and he would give a rhyme as he distributed the presents, as ‘Here is something round, for Mrs. Betsy Bround. It weighs more than a pound.’ Another gift, for a new un-named baby, ‘ Here’s for the baby without a name, that belongs to Alvin and Elisa Paine.’

Cole describes a funny moment involving John, who usually dozed during the Sunday sermon. One cold winter day, when a visiting preacher used the words “These doors must be opened” John jumped up, thinking he’d been ordered, and opened all the doors, letting in the cold wind!

John Cheever also used his rhyming skill in making a grocery order for Mr. Paine, who was running the South Wellfleet General Store:

Dear Mr. Paine: Please send to me

                One-half pound of your best tea,

                One pound of rice, two loaves of bread,               

                Monroe’s tobacco also a head,

And if your team should come along.

                Please leave me a bag of corn.

                Take my eggs if I’m not there.

                Yours Truly, John Cheever, Esq.


Mr. Paine and Mr. Cheever served as jurors in Barnstable in 1884, according to a news post. By the 1880s, there are further news posts about Chester visiting his parents, and Lydia Goodspeed coming to town with her daughter Alice to visit her mother. In 1883, the local teacher, Mary Smith of Dover, New Hampshire, was boarding at the Cheever house.

Lydia Wiley Goodspeed died in 1884 after fracturing her hip, living to age 84, quite an accomplishment in the 19th century. Her daughter, Temperance Cheever, died in 1885 of pneumonia at age 68. John Cheever died in 1887 at age 69 of “gangrene of the foot.”

There’s no record of what happened to their home on what became “Old Wharf Road.” Chester may have sold the structure, leaving the cellar hole we have today. Perhaps the house is still standing somewhere else in Wellfleet today.

Chester married in Boston in 1890 — the marriage record names a Lizzie Hall, a waitress, as his wife. He is listed as a bookbinder. Much later, in 1914, I located his death record. He was divorced and in Highland Park, Michigan, where Henry Ford’s automobile plant was located. I like the idea that Chester had moved into a 20th century industry, from mariner to “steel tester.”

So many stories of 19th century South Wellfleet lives from just one cellar hole.


For evidence of the Goodspeed pension

History of the Goodspeed Family, Volume 1, W.A. Goodspeed 1874 (on Google Books)

U.S. Federal Census collection at

New England Historical and Genealogical Society, online publication of Mass. Vital Statistics

David Kew’s Cape Cod history site:

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspaper account online at







Family history researcher living in New York City.
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