Who was Caroline Etta Chase a/k/a Henrietta Foss

Bill Cobbett

When I started at the Marblehead High School my grandmother Emma Woodfin Foss Smith told me to behave myself because Mr. William Cobbett, the high school teacher was my cousin ( my 3rd cousin 4 times removed, I found out later.)  At that time I didn’t know half the town was related to me and of course I never thought to ask how he was related.  So I tried to behave myself. I had Mr. Cobbett for my homeroom teacher and I made quite an appearance on the first day of school.  I had my new bass weejuns on, a lovely (?) jumper that I had made (green, brown and rust colors) and into the classroom I went, flat on my face.  Those weejuns were slippery before you scuffed them up.

So how did Mr. Cobbett become my cousin? My great grandparents William Lackey Foss and Nancy Stacey Goodwin had 14 children.  When I first started my genealogy work I found and listed them all, when they were born, married and died and that was that, I thought.  I found no Cobbett’s there. Henrietta Foss (the first) was born in 1853 and died in 1855, she obviously never married.   Henrietta Foss (the second) was born in 1858 and that was all I could find on her.  She was a year old when her father died and 6 years old when her mother died, what happened to her and her siblings? Her mother Nancy Stacey Goodwin Foss did remarry in 1873 to Joseph Pratt Powers. 

There was a Henrietta Foss born to William and Nancy in the Marblehead Vital Records, so we know she was born. She did not appear in the 1870 census with her mother and siblings although her sister Kate did, however we know that Kate died in 1867 at the age of 3 months.  Depending on who gave the information to the census taker they may have given an incorrect name and I believe this 2 year old was Henrietta.  Poor Henrietta did not show up in the 1880 census either.  By now she would have been 12.  Her brother Clinton, age 15 at the time, was living with his sister Mehitible and her husband Michael Phillips, but where was Henrietta?

 In this timeframe it was not unusual for families to “farm out” their children if they were unable to care for them and their parents had died.  Family stories said that Henrietta Foss was “taken in” by Charles and Caroline Chase and she does appear in the 1880 census with this family with the name Caroline Etta Chase, age 12. Perhaps the “Etta” was for Henrietta.   I have found no formal adoption papers for her so perhaps they just took her in and started calling her Caroline Chase.  Her marriage certificate indicates she was the daughter of Charles and Caroline Chase but there is no birth record for her under a Chase.  

I was researching at the Marblehead Historical Society in Marblehead and came across some Foss genealogy. A woman in Saugus had researched this line so I got in touch with her.  She was the granddaughter of Henrietta Foss!! She told me that Henrietta a.k.a Caroline Chase was well into adult hood before she knew she was actually a Foss. One day her sister Lizzie Foss Perkins knocked on her door and said “Hi, I am your sister” and told her the story of the family.  It seems that Lizzie was also “farmed out” and lived with the Perkins family who later became her in-laws.  

So everyone but poor Henrietta knew that Caroline Etta Chase was really Henrietta Foss, including my grandmother and Bill Cobbett.

 George Frank Cobbett was born 1865 in Woburn, MA and married Henrietta Foss a/k/a Caroline Etta chase in 1886. They had 3 children and lived in Lynn.

            Harry Leroy Cobbett 1886 – 1930

            William Putnam Cobbett 1888 – 1965

            Ruth Evelyn Cobbett 1904 – 1999.



Foss, Henrietta  George Frank Cobbett 50th ann
Henrietta Foss and George Frank Cobbett
Foss, clinton
Henrietta’s Brother Clinton.  Similar features

It was William Cobbett who married Barbara Abigail O’Donnell and they had a son William Kenneth Cobbett, born in 1933 and  died in 2012 who was a great Marblehead High School Science teacher. 

This is not the only puzzle on this Foss line. Another mystery remains in this Foss family of where did Henrietta’s brother, Charles come from?  There is no birth record of him; he just appears in the 1855 and 1860 census as being Charles Foss, son of William Foss and Nancy Stacey Goodwin Foss.  Maybe it was an oversight and he was not reported at the time of his birth or was in “taken in” by the Foss family? His marriage and death records indicate he was the son of William and Nancy, but perhaps he never knew!

 I have a feeling Henrietta and the entire Foss clan may not be Foss’s at all and may have had a  name change back in the 1700’s.  I have found no connection between my Foss line and the two New England lines in NH or Maine.  Will the real Foss family please step forward!

P.S.  This type of blog is also known as “cousin bait”  so if you know any Foss, Cobbett or Chase families please pass along.  Maybe I will be able to solve the Foss mystery.