“Sister of the Packard men”: The unusual story of Alaska Packard Davidson

Portrait picture of Alaska, presumably in 1922, via Wikimedia, which posted this public domain image

Recently, in going through some documents made searchable and digitized by the Library of Congress, I came across one Alaska Packard Davidson, who is described on her Wikipedia page as “an American law enforcement officer who is best known for being the first female special agent in the FBI.” At age 54, she joined the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) in October 11, 1922 as a special investigator, with a starting salary of $7 a day, which went up to $11 a day when traveling, first working at the New York office (where she went for training), then at the Washington office. [1] Although the BOI, the FBI’s precursor, wanted to hire women for cases related to combating intersex sex trafficking, she was considered “refined” so she wasn’t put on such cases, meaning the BOI considered her of “limited use” in prosecuting such crimes, partially due to her limited schooling. [2] Instead, she was involved in a case against an agent who sold classified DOJ information to criminals, for example. [3] After the resignation of her former boss, William J. Burns, who was caught up in the Teapot Dome Scandal, she was forced out by J. Edgar Hoover, who had become the Bureau’s acting director in 1924. He asked her to resign after the special agent leading the Washington field office, E.R. Bohner, said he had “no particular work for a woman agent.” She resigned on June 10 of the same year, even though there was no indication her work was unsatisificatory. Before that point, she still was able to transmit information to the BOI on the Fourth International Congress of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a women’s peace activist group, in May 1924, under the name of A.P.  Davidson, informing the agency, including Hoover, about their activities, because they claimed that Jane Addams was committing “treason” (a lie). [4] Following her, and with the resignation of other agents in the 1920s (Jessie B. Duckstein and Lenore Houston), the BOI, then FBI, had no female agents for 43 years, between 1929 and 1972! There is more to her life than her brief stint in the BOI, crossing some ethical boundaries by spying on WILPF by telling the BOI about its activities. Despite this, the agency still celebrates (also see here) her, despite the problematic history, as I just described, and role of Hoover in her ouster from the BOI.

Here’s what we do know. Alaska “Al”, likely named after the then-territory of the same name, was born in Ohio, on March 1, 1868 to Warren Packard and Mary Elizabeth,  with her two brothers, James Ward and William Doud, who both founded the Packard auto company. She was first listed in the 1870 census as a 2-year-old girl, with James and William in the house, as was her 1-year-old sister Carlotta, and the household headed by Warren, a hardware merchant, and his wife, Mary. [5] In 1880, she was living with her parents, siblings (William, James, and Carlotta) in Chautauqua, New York. Why she was there has not been determined at this time. She had another sister, named Cornelia Olive.

Via “Ohio Marriages, 1800-1958”, database, FamilySearch, 25 March 2020, Alaska Packard in entry for Ephraim B. McCrum, 1893, Marriage Record Vol. 10: 1890-1895, Trumbell County, Ohio page 348, image number 214 of 638. This was also confirmed by a 1897 newspaper clipping which called her “Mrs. E. B. McCrum.”

Al had been in public school for three years and did not have a college, or university education. Cindee Mines notes on the Trumbell County Historical Society (TCHS) website that she grew up as the daughter of a wealthy territory, living in a huge mansion “on High Street at Mahoning Avenue in the mid 1870’s,” and that while there is no evidence she had any higher education, she was a “well-known equestrian, winning awards at county fairs in her teenage years,” even put in charge of the “New York and Ohio plant” for Packard Electric in 1890. Beyond that, she married two times. In 1893, she married a man named Ephraim Banks McCrum Jr.,  a close friend of her father, in Trumbell County, Ohio, as shown above. She had a daughter named Esther in 1894. [6] In 1900, the federal census showed her as married and with one child, while also confirming she had been married for seven years. [7] By then, however, she had, according to the aforementioned TCHS biography, had divorced Ephraim, with Esther living in a Columbus hospital known as the “Institution for Feeble-Minded Youth”. The same census showed her living with her widowed mother, Mary, brothers W.D. and William, and sisters, Carlotta and Cornelia. Esther sadly died in 1902 at the age of 8, of pneumonia, although TCHS said it was tuberculosis. [8]

At some point before 1910, she married a man named James B. Davidson, who was well-known to the Packard family. She is shown in the 1910 census as his wife, living in O’Hara Township, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, with two boarders: a 32-year-old man named Fred Osterley and an 18-year-old woman named Jessie Osterley. [9] A land record the previous year noted Al and James Ward Packard owning a tract of land named Lakewood in Chautauqua, New York. [10] The THCS biography says she purchased over 100 acres in Accotink, Virginia, which is near Mount Vernon, an unincorporated area in Fairfax County, living there with horses and a dog.

By 1920, she was living in Mount Vernon, Fairfax, Virginia, with James and a 16-year-old servant, from Maryland, named James Cot. [11]  In 1925 she joined a petition to the New York Supreme Court for an appraisal transfer tax. Then came the letters between herself and Carrie Chapman Catt in 1927. On May 26, Carrie told her about a story from Harriet Taylor Upton about a story, assuming it was a man who came to her with a list of suffragettes compiled by the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), thanks to information from Ms. Mary Kilberth (a leading anti-suffragist) and Robert Eichelberger, the husband of famed suffragist Bessie R. Lucas Eichelberger. She says the list is from the Secret Service, but I think she means the BOI. She then said that she was writing an open letter to the D.A.R., because the first individual was part of it, saying that this material is fodder to anti-suffragists. She then added:

In view of the fact that you no longer are connected with the Department [The Bureau of Investigation], I think you might allow me to make this statement. In the event the government should make inquiry, which it is not likely to do, as to who this person was and I was driven in a corner, I might have to give your name. I do not think you would need to apologize and I believe that your name would not be asked for. I would certainly not give it unless I was driven to it and, indeed, I would agree not to give it until I had again consulted you, letting you know what the condition is under which the pressure has been made.

On May 30, Al responded, saying that she would be fine to use her name, forgetting most of the women on “Miss Kilbreth’s list” and said that Kilberth accused Catt “accused you of something…in connection with your South American trip and she couldn’t say enough against Mrs. Upton.” The final letter in this file is Carrie’s reply on June 25. She first apologizes for not acknowledging the letter more promptly, and said two people will be sent to her, stated her intention to write about this incident, and concluded by saying “it is a pity that the anti-suffragists are such poor sports that they cannot overcome their disapproval of us.” What I take from this whole exchange is that Al was a suffragist, which really isn’t much of a surprise, and that the BOI had compiled a list of suffragists, for who knows what end.

But that’s not the whole story. In a May 27, 1927 letter to Harriet Taylor Upton, she says the D.A.R. is lifting up an anti-suffragist member, and even noted that she pushed for more women to be appointed within the government, including Al herself. She proceeded to give a brief description of her, which gives details about her life:

When I went to Washington in the Republican [Party] Headquarters, I tried not to get places for anybody in government. I did a great deal towards the appointment of women to key positions, but not regular government positions. I made one exception and that was the daughter of a citizen of Warren whom I had known for years. She is the sister of the Packard men who made the Packard machine. She had married rather unfortunately and was living in a little town down in Virginia. She had experience in office work, is splendid at managing people and I asked Harry Daughterty, the Attorney General, if he could find a place for her. She expected just a small place of a thousand dollars or so, and would drive back and forth from her plantation, which is  a part of the Washington estate. We were surprised to have him appoint her to the Secret Service Commission [BOI?] and she worked under [William J.] Burns, the great secret service man. She got $2300.00 a year salary and she did a corking [splendid] job. It was just the kind of a job she could do. They finally took in another woman who proved to be a discredit to women and to the department and everything else. Now in the beginning when Mrs. Davidson began her work in this department, she would come to me asking about the loyalty of this person and that person and in the course of the time she was there, I learned that Miss Kilbreth of the Patriot was stuffing the Attorney General’s office with all of the lies possible. Now one day Mrs. Davidson came in with a list of names and among them were our people. I have forgotten now just who was on the list, but it was our own folks and they were just about as much traitors to the government as we are now. I therefore told Mrs. Davidson that that whole thing was just made up, and she said she had about concluded that this was true for she has always been devoted to me, and Miss Kilbreth told her awful things about me. She thought if things were no truer about other people than they were about me, there was nothing to it. I had forgotten that I ever reported this to you. I had forgotten that she threw the list in the waste basket. Of course I did not write that it was a woman who gave me the information, because I did not want anyone to know then that the secret service through personal friendship were consulting me. And you must have taken it that it was a man because all people employed were men…I do not know whether Mrs. Davidson would have any objection to your using her name or saying that it was a woman from the Attorney General’s office or not. If you want me to I can write to her, or if you want to you can write direct to her, telling her what you want it for. She is out of the thing entirely now and never will get back because Mr. Daugherty is no longer there and because I am no longer there. Her address is Mrs. James Davidson, Acotink, Va.

Carrie then goes onto say that she might sever her membership with the D.A.R. I would like to know if the D.A.R. was filled with suffragists at the time, or if Carrie was boasting. After all, Susan B. Anthony, Emily Parmely Collins, Carrie Chase Davis, and Alice Paul were recorded as members of the D.A.R. Al also showed good judgment by throwing away the list of suffragists in the waste basket. Someone needs to make a film or animation of this. It would be great! There are other Packards mentioned in the papers, like a “Mrs. Packard” in Springfield, Massachusetts who is the vice-chairman for a “Mrs. Ben Hooper.” [14] Also, considering that Carrie was, at the time, in a relationship with Mary “Molly” Garrett Hay, after her second husband, George Catt died in 1905, is it possible she was attracted to Al? Is that why she said that Al “married rather unfortunately”? I mean, I don’t think we can rule that out, although this could also be a stretch too far, as she may have been saying that Al’s marriage with James was an unhealthy one. In any case, Al was still married to James at the time, so such a relationship would have been unlikely. Even so, it appears that Carrie recommended Al for the job, at least if this letter is to be believed.

Al Packard as a teen, via the Classic Cars Journal

Three years later, in 1930, Al was widowed and still living in Mount Vernon, at a house worth about $4,000. [15] And yes, she lived alone, had a radio and no occupation listed, which is not a shock for someone 62 years old. Although she was alone, we don’t know whether she had close friends or family members which kept her company, although it is possible. She was described as widowed because James had died in May 1929. According to the TCHS biography, she continued living on the farm until her death.

She died four years later, on July 16, 1934, in Alexandria, Virginia, at the age of 66 of various causes. [16] She lived on in many realms. She was mentioned in the episode “Waxing Gibbous” of the eighth season of Archer, a mature animation, which was described by The A.V. Club as an obscure reference, and praised by Vulture. In chapter two of Gloria H. Giroux’s Crucifixion Thorn: Volume Two of the Arizona Trilogy, a character is inspired by Al, while others chattered on Twitter about renaming the FBI building after her,  As some of her ancestors put it, she lived an “unusual life.” She definitely did, without a doubt! There are many avenues and chances to branch out with this article, for someone who is my sixth cousin three times removed, to other topics and I hope you all enjoyed this post.


[1] Theoharis, Athan G. (1999). The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 321–322. ISBN 9780897749916; Mullenbach, Cheryl (2016). Women in Blue: 16 Brave Officers, Forensics Experts, Police Chiefs, and More. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613734254; Vines, Lynn. “The First Female Agents,” The Investigator, p 77-78

[2] Delgado, Miguel A. (February 4, 2017). “Alaska Packard, la primera agente del FBI despedida por ser mujer”. El Español (in Spanish). Retrieved January 16, 2021; Theoharis, Athan G. (1999). The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 321–322. ISBN 9780897749916.

[3] Mullenbach, Cheryl (2016). Women in Blue: 16 Brave Officers, Forensics Experts, Police Chiefs, and More. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613734254. Her testimony before a House select committee in that case in May 1924 is shown on pages 2492 to 2495 of [Investigation of Hon. Henry Daughtery Formerly Attorney General of the United States] Hearings Before the Select Committee on the Investigation of the Attorney General, United States Congress, Senate Sixty-Eighth Congress First Session Persuant to S. Res 157 Directing a Committee to Investigate the Failure of the Attorney General to Prosecute or Defend Certain Criminal and Civil Actions Wherein the Government is Interested: May 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, and 22, 1924 [Part 9] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1924).

[4] Davidson, A.P. “Re – Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom: Report of Fourth International Congress,” File 237, May 7, 1924, within “Jane Addams Part 1 of 4,” FBI, The Vault, Pages 2-9; Davidson, A.P. “Re – Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom: Report of Fourth International Congress,” File 4237, May 5, 1924, within “Jane Addams Part 3 of 4,” FBI, The Vault, Pages 18-25; Davidson, A.P. “Re – Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom: Report of Fourth International Congress,” May 5, 1924, within “Jane Addams Part 3 of 4,” FBI, The Vault, Pages 26-39; Davidson, A.P. “Re – Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom: Report of Fourth International Congress,” May 5, 1924, within “Jane Addams Part 3 of 4,” FBI, The Vault, Pages 40-46, continued in “Jane Addams Part 4 of 4,” FBI, The Vault, pages 1-6. Parts of her report may also be on pages 1-29 of “Jane Addams Part 2 of 4.” Her reports didn’t matter, as Meredith Dovan wrote, on page 18 of her thesis, “FBI Investigations into the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left” that “Hoover fired both women [Alaska and Jessie B. Duckstein] during a round of cuts after he became acting director of the FBI in May 1924.”

[5] “United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch, James W Packard in household of Warren Packard, Ohio, United States; citing p. 21, family 5, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 552,771; “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch, 13 November 2020, Alaska Packard in household of Warren Packard, Chautauqua, New York, United States; citing enumeration district ED 39, sheet 30B, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), FHL microfilm 1,254,815.

[6] “Ohio, County Births, 1841-2003“, database with images, FamilySearch, 1 January 2021), Alacha Packard in entry for Esther McCrum, Birth registers 1883-1896 vol 3., page 184, image 183 of 289.

[7] “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch, William Packard in household of Mary Packard, Warren Township Warren city Ward 1, Trumbull, Ohio, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 120, sheet 13A, family 297, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,325.

[8] “Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch, 14 December 2020, Alaska P. Mc Crum in entry for Esther Mc Crum, 20 Apr 1902; citing Death, Columbus, Franklin, Ohio, United States, source ID v 3 p 240, County courthouses, Ohio; FHL microfilm 2,026,910.

[9] “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch, accessed 16 January 2021, Alaska Davidson in household of James B Davidson, O’Hara Township, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 185, sheet 10A, family 212, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1296; FHL microfilm 1,375,309.

[10] “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975“, database with images, FamilySearch, 27 December 2020, Alaska P Davidson in entry for James Ward Packard, 1910, Grantees 1902-1910 vol A-Z, image 564 of 811, page 592. The liber is noted as 388 and the page as 477, but this volume appears to not be digitized as of yet.

[11] “United States Census, 1920“, database with images, FamilySearch,  accessed 4 January 2021, Alaska Davidson in household of J B Davidson, Mount Vernon, Fairfax, Virginia, United States, citing enumeration district (ED) ED 36, sheet 7B, family 130, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1886; FHL microfilm 1,821,886.

[12] Catt, Carrie Chapman. Carrie Chapman Catt Papers: General Correspondence, Circa 1890 to 1947; Davidson, Alaska P. – 1947, 1890. Manuscript/Mixed Material, pages 1-3, Letters on May 26, 1927, May 30, 1927, and June 25, 1927.

[13] Catt, Carrie Chapman. Carrie Chapman Catt Papers: General Correspondence, Circa 1890 to 1947; Upton, Harriet Taylor. – 1947, 1890. Manuscript/Mixed Material, pages 3-4.

[14] Catt, Carrie Chapman. Carrie Chapman Catt Papers: General Correspondence, Circa 1890 to 1947; Hooper, Mrs. Ben; 1927 to 1929. – 1929, 1927. Manuscript/Mixed Material, pages 18, 21, and 24.

[15] “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch, accessed 16 January 2021, Alaska P Davidson, Mount Vemon, Fairfax, Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 18, sheet 18B, line 53, family 404, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 2442; FHL microfilm 2,342,176.

[16] “Virginia, Death Certificates, 1912-1987,” database with images, FamilySearch, 16 August 2019), Alaska Packard Davidson, 16 Jul 1934; from “Virginia, Marriage Records, 1700-1850,” database and images, Ancestry, 2012; citing Alexandria, , Virginia, United States, entry #15826, Virginia Department of Health, Richmond.

Was John H. Packard really one of the best surgeons in West Philly?

Warning: This article has a graphic description of medical injury. I know its brief, but I would rather put this notice here than not, just to let people know before they read this article in its entireity.  [1]

Recently, I was going through documents recently transcribed by Library of Congress volunteers. On one of the pages, a soldier writes to William Oland Bourns, a reformer, poet, editor, and clergyman who edited a periodical titled The Soldier’s Friend. He had a contest from 1865-1866, as noted by LOC, where soldiers and sailors of the Union Army who lost their “right arms by disability or amputation” during the war in the past five years were “invited to submit samples of their penmanship using their left hands.” Anyway, the soldier writes, on one of the pages of his August 1865 letter that he was, in late July 1862, taken by a steamer from Richmond to a West Philadelphia hospital where a man named John H. Packard cared for him. [2]

He called Packard “one of the best surgeons there,” with five pieces of his bone sawed out (yikes!), along with shattered bones removed. He was not discharged from the hospital until February 1863, at which time “Dr. Packard was very proud of the operation [and] he had my photograph taken showing the arm.” Its not every day where a surgeon takes a photograph of the patient they did surgery on. The soldier’s name is later revealed to be Martin V.B. Keller and he lived in Lancester County, Pennsylvania.

Now what about this Packard fellow? I found a man of the same description in the as listed as living in the eighth ward of Philadelphia. The 1870 census lists him as 30-year-old man living there with his wife Elizabeth, and children: 11-year-old Bessie, 10-year-old Charles, eight-year-old Frederick, five-year-old John, and one-year-old Francis. [3] The 1860 census is more substantial, [4] showing the same children and wife, but also three Irish servants 47-year-old Mary Hassan, 25-year-old Ellen McBride, and 22-year-old Bridget Welsh. More than this, it lists him as a physician!

The same is the case with a 1880 census, which calls him a physician too. [5] More than that, this record, on FamilySearch, linked to the page of a man named John Hooker Packard, who would be our man! Here is a screenshot of his profile:

Going through this profile, I found an 1850 census which shows that he is the son of Frederick Adolpus Packard, a president of something, the name of which I can’t make out, and Elizabeth Dwight Hooker. [6] They are living in the Spruce Ward of Philly at the time and he is listed as a doctor! Beyond this, we know from various passport applications he made in the late 1890s and early 1900s that he was born in August 15, 1832 in Pennsylvania, as he asserted over and over. [7] In those documents, he often called himself a physician. While in  1901, he calls himself a “private citizen” in the passport application, in another the following he called himself a physician. He would die of heart disease in May 1907 in Atlantic City, Atlantic County, New Jersey.

But that’s not all. According to FamilySearch, John Hooker Packard is my “4th cousin five times removed.” What does that mean? Well, his father, Frederick Adolphus Packard, was the son of Reverend Asa Packard. Asa, was, in turn, the son of Jacob Packard. Jacob, was the son of Solomon, and Solomon was the son of Zaccheus and Sarah, who I’ve written about on this blog before. This may be a bit confusing, as it was to me, so perhaps a chart of the connections would help a little more:

Before I finished doing research, I decided to do a general search for his name… and what came up? A 1863 book he wrote titled A Manual Of Minor Surgery (later adopted by the U.S. Army), which the Amazon description called a “scarce antiquarian book is a facsimile reprint…[which is] culturally important.” Dr. Michael Echols  & Dr. Doug Arbittier called him one of the “most prominent American surgeons of the last part of the 19th Century and a pioneer of modern American surgery,” noting that he served as “acting assistant surgeon in two Union Army hospitals during the Civil War,” with the latter proving Martin V.B. Keller’s account as accurate. I was amazed to see an article in Anesthesiology journal in November 2001 on him by Ray J. Defalque, M.D.; Bernard Panning, M.D.; Amos J. Wright, M.L.S. In the article, they called him “an eminent Philadelphia surgeon” and how he switched from using chloroform to ether in 1864, contributing to use of anesthesia, while calling him “a pioneer of modern American surgery.” Even so, they noted that in 1896, a finger of his became infected during one of his surgeries, leading him to develop septicemia, causing him to retire, and he “died from cardiorenal failure in Atlantic City in 1907.” What I loved most of all about the article was not the content, but the fact that we got a photograph of him!

Some searches online find his writings in the digital collection of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the Library of Congress, SNAC, and Harvard Library. Onward! I’m planning to write another post in the future which explores the lives of the three Irish servants, but this article is just a starting point before I get to that article. The answer to the question at the beginning of this article is “possibly,” although I’m not sure anyone ever said he was the “best.”


[1] This is a content warning rather than a trigger warnings, which apply to “sexual violence, oppressive language, gunshots, and representations of self-harm,” along with other topics.

[2] Bourne, Wm. Oland. Wm. Oland Bourne Papers: Left-hand Penmanship contest; Soldier and sailor contributions; Series I $1,000 in prizes, awarded in; Entries 211-220. 1866. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/resource/mss13375.00404/?q=packard&sp=26

[3] “United States Census, 1870″, database with images, FamilySearch, 19 March 2020, John H Packard, 1870; line number 38, NARA M593, GS film number 000552920, digital folder number 004278863, image number 312, indexing project batch number N0163-6, record number 12037. Children are shown on next page.

[4]  “United States Census, 1860“, database with images, FamilySearch, 11 November 2020, John H Packard, 1860; page 6, household ID 27, NARA M653, affiliate film number 1158, GS film number 805158, digital folder number 005171158, image number 10, indexing project batch number N01813-6, record number 218.

[5] “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch, 13 November 2020, John H. Packard, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, British Colonial America; citing enumeration district ED 129, sheet 206C, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), FHL microfilm 1,255,170.

[6] “United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch, 24 December 2020, John Packard in household of Fredrick Packard, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing family 746, line 47, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), FHL microfilm 444781.

[7] “United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, FamilySearch, 16 March 2018), John H Packard, 1893; citing Passport Application, Pennsylvania, United States, record number 2675, Passport Applications, 1795-1905., 408, NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); “United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, FamilySearch, 16 March 2018), John H Packard, 1897; citing Passport Application, Pennsylvania, United States, record number 5934, Passport Applications, 1795-1905., 491, NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); “United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, FamilySearch, 16 March 2018), John H Packard, 1901; citing Passport Application, Pennsylvania, United States, source certificate #45202, Passport Applications, 1795-1905., Roll 583, NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); “United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, FamilySearch, : 16 March 2018), John H Packard, 1902; citing Passport Application, Pennsylvania, United States, source certificate #56681, Passport Applications, 1795-1905., Roll 600, NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

More than Zachariah Packard’s property: the story of America, Peter, and Ann

Back in May, I wrote about how my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grand uncle, Zachariah Packard was a slaveowner in Massachusetts in the 1770s. In this article, I aim to tell the story of the three enslaved people, Ann, America, and Peter listed in his last will and testament building upon what I have written on this post in the past. While it is hard to trace enslaved people before 1870, I do my best to tell their stories to the best extent possible.

In 1771, Zachariah (whose name was also spelled Zechariah) had one dwelling house, 5 acres of pasture for 6 cows, “6 tilled acres, 4 acres of upland mowed land, 3.8. acres of fresh meadow, while producing 71 bushels of grain, 2 tons of hay from his upland mowed land, and 8 tons of hay from his fresh meadow land.” He also had “1 horse, 4 oxen, 6 goats & sheep, and 3 swine, along with one servant “for life”” (an enslaved person), “with his real estate worth 14 pounds, and owned “18.8. acres compared to Barnabas’s 18.” While the record does not outline who this enslaved person was, his inventory, outlined the same year gives more detail: it notes that he bequeathed a “servant boy” named Peter to his sons Nathaniel and Nathan, a “servant boy” named America to his daughter Abigail, and a “servant maid” named Ann to his wife Abigail, only to be set free after she died. [1] Here is what he says, exactly in his will about them, just to be clear:

I give and bequeath to my wife Abigail the improvement of my servant maid Ann (who is a servant for life) during the life of my said wife…I give and bequeath to my sons…Nathaniel and Nathan my servant boy named Peter (who is a servant for life)…I give and bequeath to my said daughter Abigail my servant boy named America, who is a servant for life…my will is that my said servant maid Ann (after the decease of my said wife) should be set at liberty with regard to service, and that my heirs, executors & administrators should not exercise any authority over her or control her in any way whatsoever, she having proved herself a very faithful servant & merited her freedom

This executed on November 2, 1772 with his death.

His inventory, on December 17, 1772, we find is how his son, Nathan, valued Peter as the highest (over 33 pounds), America as second-highest (33 pounds), and Ann as the lowest (9 pounds). [2] You could say that this “proves” that Ann was the oldest, Peter was second oldest, and America was the youngest.

One record on April 23, 1774 puts that all into question, outlining payments from Zachariah’s estate. [3] It lists an amount of 25 pounds, 5 shillings given to “America Peirce,” saying he was “hired”? owned? by the “said Zachariah Packard.”

This raises a number of questions. Who was “Peirce” (or Pierce)? And, what happened after 1774? What was the fate of America, Peter, and Ann?

We know that on March 4, 1774, Nathaniel Packard, Nathan Packard, Edward Poivers?, James Howard, Nathaniel Perkins, Benjamin Cantril?,  and Josiah Williams petitioned the court to appoint a guardian for Zachariah’s wife, Abigail. [4] They argued she was “insane or superannuated,” saying it made her incapable of improving the small estate bequeathed to her by Zachariah. The judge, Daniel Cushing, and several selectmen of Bridgewater (Shepard Frisk, Ephraim Carey, and Simeon Cary) agreed with this sentiment, and a guardian was appointed. It seems that Nathaniel became her guardian, although his 1794 will does not mention any enslaved people, as I noted in my previous post because slavery was phased out in Massachusetts after 1781, resulting in Peter, Ann, and America vanishing from the records, from what I could tell at the time. As the Museum of African American History puts it on their online timeline, slavery was abolished in Massachusetts in 1783.

We know, also, as I noted there, that there is an “America Pierce” and “Peter Pierce” living in Bridgewater, Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1790, who could be the same as as those mentioned in this article. [5]

But, looking at the entries for America Peirce and Ann Freeman, this is thrown into question, as is this record which seems to prove the marriage. I was unable to find any records here, although we know that those whom were freed after 1783, like America, Peter, and Ann had a tough time, as they paid taxes and were treated equally by the legal system, but they couldn’t serve on juries, attend public schools (by tradition and custom), and had a harder time finding work than they did as enslaved people. As such, domestic service was often seen as viable, along with “common labor” and those professions associated with the sea, although fear of being kidnapped or forced to return to slavery elsewhere in the U.S. was a bar “to working on the waterfront or at sea.” As the Massachusetts Historical Society added, “freed slaves in Massachusetts continued in an inferior social position, legally free but with fewer civil rights than whites.” Even so, finding records for them is hard to do.

So, I throw it out to all of you. What places should I look next for records to complete this story? Because the list of records by FamilySearch is clearly inadequate.


Matthew Stowell has made some great comments on here, inspiring me to do some more research onto this going forward! A wonderful series to say the least!


[1] Will of Zachariah Packard, Apr. 17, 1771, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, 1663-1967, p. 200-201, images 130-131 of 627. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

[2] Inventory of Zachariah Packard, December 17, 1772, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, p. 622, image 298 of 697. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

[3] Payments from Zachariah Packard’s estate to subscribers, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, p. 623, image 299 of 627. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

[4] Petition for guardian for Abigail Packard and Response, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, p. 603, image 289 of 627. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

[5] “United States Census, 1790,” database with images, FamilySearch, America Pierce, Bridgewater, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States; citing p. 75, NARA microfilm publication M637, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 4; FHL microfilm 568,144. Note how they are NOT considered White here.

This means she did not die in 1758 as her Find A Grave entry, cited in the previous footnote, asserts. He gives his grandchildren, the children of his son Elijah, named Abigail, Benjamin, Elijah, and Mary four shillings a piece. John Washburn, Josiah Edson, Jr., and William Hooper are witnesses. They note in a letter in Nov. 1772 that Nathaniel is executor of the estate, with further accounts. His estate is not settled until June 6, 1774 as noted by other documents.

Inventory of Zachariah Packard, Dec. 17, 1772, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, 1663-1967, p. 621-622, image 298 of 627. Courtesy of Family Search.

The UK’s National Archives are ‘packed with Packards’

Back in May 2018, I covered records of the Packard name in the UK’s National Archives. It shows that the earliest mention of the name as “Packard” was in 1367. It also indicates that Packards were concentrated in, with dates of residence indicated by the records in parentheses:

Map is courtesy of familypedia. Used myenglandtravel as a guide to names of counties so they could be labeled correctly

This is worth pointing out as it shows where the Packards are concentrated, in the eastern part of England, specifically the counties of Suffolk (most common), Norfolk, and Essex,  all of which consist an area known as “East Anglia”:

This fits with where Samuel Packard and his family were born, although records of them in Suffolk is a bit thin, unfortunately,  including claims of the “Red House”  he was apparently born in. In fact, in one of my  earliest articles, I covered an article saying that Samuel was baptized September 17, 1612 in Stonham Aspal, Suffolk, England, and part of existing family legend, even promoted by the Stonham Apsal Village. There  is evidence that Samuel’s father, George, was born and lived in Suffolk as well. [1] This was also covered by Dale Cook in his page on the “Samuel Packard family” while another genealogist, Margaret Odrowaz Sypniewski, wrote that on her page, titled “The Packard Family” (which has been archived here):

They [the Packards] Came from Stonham Aspal, Suffolk County, England; to Bridgewater, Plymouth County, Massachusetts on the Diligent. The Diligent sailed from Ipswich, England; in June, and arrived in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts on August 10, 1638…The surname Packard is French. It means the descendant of Bacard (combat, strong).(Source: New Dictionary of American Family Names by Elsdon C. Smith. New York: Gramercy Publishing Company, 1988). The name Packard appears in English records as early as the beginning of the fourteenth century. The name was well established in East Anglia long before Samuel’s birth…in early Norman records I found Ralph, Engeram, Richard, Peter, Geoffrey, and Walter Picard in Normandy from 1180-1196. Then we find a Robert Pichard in England circa 1198; and a John Pikert circa 1274. How and if these early Picards/Pikerts relate to later generations is not known. However, I found my own lineage in the parish records for Woolpit, Suffolk County, England…How these two Georges relate, to each other, is unsure, but most current scholars place the second George as father to Samuel Packard who immigrated to Massachusetts. Since they also note them as the elder and younger Earls Stonham, and the fact that they married only one year apart, tells us that Ann Garrard was NOT his first wife. In 1080, Suffolk was a county predominantly of villages and freeman, rather than manors and feudal vassals. Its population was fairly evenly distributed. None of the seven principal towns, which included Ipswich, Bury St. Edmunds, and Dunwich, had over 3000 residents.

While this does seem to generally fit with what  I have said here, what about the claim that Picard was French and turned into Packard?  I already have argued on here that it is wrong to call Samuel Packard a Huguenot. After all, with some saying that the name “Pykarde” is  a deviation from Packard or Packarde, there are over 60 results for the surname from 1200 to 1699 in the records of the National Archives of the UK. The same name “Picard” appears multiple times in the same records:

13th  century

14th century:

Not known:

  • various dates: “Feoffment by Gervase le Cordewaner, citizen of London, to John, the prior, and the canons, of Holy Trinity, London, of 16s. quit rent which Henry de Birchangre, tanner, used to pay him for the whole tenement he held of him in the suburb of London, without Crepelgate, in the parish of St. Giles, in ‘Everardeswellestrat’ within the bar, between land of Geoffrey Chipere and of Reginald Hopheldere, which land was formerly Henry Myttehere’s; consideration, 11 marks in gersum. Witnesses: Nicholas Bat, then mayor, John de Norhamton, Richard Picard, sheriffs, Stephen Bukerel, alderman of the ward, Lawrence de Frowyk, Nicholas son of Joceus, aldermen, Philip, rector of the church of St. Giles, and others (named). London.”
  • various dates: “conveyed property in 1250 to John Picard (to settle on the heirs of his daughter’s marriage to Felicia’s son)”
  • undated: “Grantor: PICARD, John and Basilia, his wife Grantee HUREL, Alexander, citizen of Chester Grant of lands in Newbold, Chester, paying 4d p.a. to Philip, clerk” (a second time)

There are other records that can be looked at later on this topic. When they say “norman records” I don’t know what they are referring to specifically. I have found no record in the National Archives records of “a Robert Pichard in England circa 1198” or a “John Pikert circa 1274.”Even so, their assessment that “how and if these early Picards/Pikerts relate to later generations is not known” is accurate. There is even a Packard Avenue in Ipswich. To solve these issues, there will need to be more in-person research at the Suffolk Records Office or elsewhere. Until next time!


[1] Others on genealogy pages, geni.com (with Robert Glen Packard citing various sources), connectedbloodlines, WMGS Members’ Genealogy, and Scott White, made similar arguments.

The story of Packardsville, MA

Newspaper clipping from the Brandon Times in Brandon Wisconsin on page 2 of the paper’s January 4, 1883 edition that mentions Packardsville, MA. This same article was also printed in the National Tribune of Washington, D.C. on December 28, 1882, along with other newspapers in Kansas, Wilmington, DE, and Lancaster, PA

In the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), run by the USGS, there are a number of places with “Packard” in the name. One of those is Packardsville, Massachusetts, still listed on a Wikipedia page of “list of villages in Massachusetts” but not citing any sources. The GNIS entry on this place says it is “0.8 mi SE of Knights Corner and 3.2 mi SSE of Pelham; Town of Pelham.” [1] There is evidence certain Packards lived there. There was some talk about this on the message boards of Ancestry, with some mentioning the existence of the town of Packardsville, with one user, named Debbe, writing that “the documentation shows Samuel Packard born 1794, Packardsville, Mass. died 1826 at Enfield, Mass. was in the war of 1812.” Another user on a related forum writes that they are “looking for any information on Theodore L. Gold” whom they state “resided in Packardville, MA or Palmer, MA during late 1800’s.” Apart from this, other users note that: Freelove Packard, who married Cyrus Clark Miner of Leyden, Massachusetts, lived in Packardsville, that two people (George Myron Gamwell and Charlotte Adelia Hanks) married there. This raises the question of whether the defunct Packardsville Cemetery in Enfield, Massachusetts is connected? As such, there needs to be some further investigation.

In 1788, the southern district of Packardsville was annexed by Pelham. By the early 19th century, Packardsville had developed into a “craft village.” [2] By the 1830s, a man with the last name of Packard and Thurston were making carriages within the village, a business that continued into the 1840s, generating thousands of dollars, until the firm left and moved to Belchertown. By the 1860s, there was apparently a congregational Church in the village. By 1874, Packardsville was still within the town of Pelham with one church, while sitting nearby the Jabish River and adjacent to Belchertown. It was, at the time, manufacturing village. Eleven years later, there were two villages listed as “Packardsville” in Massachusetts, one in Pelham and another in Pittsfield. By 1906, Packardsville was still as village within Pelham. A later survey ten years later said that Cadwell Creek goes through Packardsville. And, in 1932, any further burials in the Packardsville Cemetery by the Packardsville Church in Enfield, MA was prohibited. In the years that followed, before WWII, the Quabin Reservoir was constructed which flooded part of Packardsville, including a Baptist Church which was founded in 1831 (with the church building constructed in 1835). Undoubtedly this led to displacement of some individuals within the village, itself.

But how did it get its name? Well, page 11 of Carlene Riccelli’s “Place-Names of Pelham, Massachusetts Above and Below* Water” has the answer to that, noting that there was even a Packardsville Road that led into the town:

Named for Joel Packard sho[wed up] in the year 1840 [and] built a wagon manufacturing shop with a Mr. Thruston at the south end of town. Since that time the hamlet was call ed Packardsville .

Otherwise, there really wasn’t much else I could find about Packardsville, even from the Pelham Historical Society as of yet. If you have any stories about this village, hamlet, or whatever you want to call it, I’d love to hear them.


[1] They cite a source for this information: U.S. Geological Survey. Geographic Names Phase I data compilation (1976-1981). 31-Dec-1981. Primarily from U.S. Geological Survey 1:24,000-scale topographic maps (or 1:25K, Puerto Rico 1:20K) and from U.S. Board on Geographic Names files. In some instances, from 1:62,500 scale or 1:250,000 scale maps. There was also a Packardsville, Missouri as well, apparently.

[2] Massachusetts Historical Commission, “MHC Reconnaissance Survey Town Report PELHAM,” October 1982, pp 1, 2, 5, 8, 9;  Elias Nason, A Gazetteer of the State of Massachusetts (B. B. Russell, 1874), p 402; Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, Census of Massachusetts: 1885, Volume 1, Part 1 (Wright & Potter Print. Company, state printers, 1887), p 24, 32, 35; Public Documents of Massachusetts: Being the Annual Reports of Various Public Officers and Institutions …, Volume 11 (State Printers, 1906), p 231; Charles Henry Pierce and Henry Jennings Dean, Surface Waters of Massachusetts, Issues 413-415 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1916), p 318. There was also a mention of a merchant, Jacob Gould, in Packardsville, likely in the 19th century.