Part One: Family Traditions: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan
My grandmother’s house, the childhood home of my father, has been in the family for several generations. It holds countless memories and stories, and the story of its origin looms large in family lore. My grandmother is a McClellan from Hanson, Mass., but the introduction of the family surname to Hanson was surrounded in a century-old scandal. Built in 1903 for my great-grandmother Imogene Lillian (Everson) McClellan, the house was intended to be a fresh start for Imogene and her three children. Her husband, Nova Scotian-born (with Scottish roots) George Roderic McClellan, had abandoned the family several years previously, and by 1903 Imogene determined to file for divorce in absentia. She sold their house on Main Street in Hanson and built a new one on Phillips Street.
The story goes that one day during the 1890s, George said he was taking the train to Boston to purchase a rug for their house, and he never returned. Imogene hired a private investigator who reported a lead that George may have gone to Denver, but the trail ran cold and no further details could be determined. George was an itinerant bricklayer who had been hired by Imogene’s father, Barnabas Everson, one of the wealthiest men in Hanson, to help build a tall brick chimney for Everson’s sawmill. There he met Barnabas’ daughter Imogene, and they married in 1872. They had four children: George Cameron, born the following year who died young, Lillian, born 1876 who never married, Roderic Cameron b. 1882 and Sherman Barnabas b. 1886 who married the Ramsdell sisters Edith and Bessie, respectively. But sometime after Sherman’s birth, the McClellan marriage crumbled, and when Imogene built her new house in 1903, it was on land inherited from her recently deceased father Barnabas Everson, and thus stood in the shadow of the brick chimney that George McClellan had built years ago.
And that was that, so far as the memories of George McClellan lingered in family stories. A bit of Scottish pride from the surname itself, but mysteries surrounding the man who introduced it to the family. Many stories are preserved about Imogene, a tiny woman with a big legacy, but George always remained a question mark in the eyes of her grandchildren.
Over the past decade I have been trying to unravel the story of George McClellan, his origins, his time in Hanson, and his disappearance. The digitization of records from Canada to New England to Denver have been vital in this research process, and over the years I have pieced together incredible details about his life. It’s a tale filled with broken dreams of striking-it-rich turned to literal smoke, small and large family drama, and public scandals of political corruption involving bribery, gambling and prostitution leading to a tragic and deadly race riot. There were many twists in the process of uncovering the complicated life of George Roderic McClellan and his family left behind in Hanson – as well as discovering that following his disappearance, he went on to have a second family, entirely unknown to his first.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?