Who was Nellie Canterbury?


In Sep 1863 my great great grandmother was not quite 17, and married a man who was 32.  From the wedding he took her from Massachusetts to California.  The rest is family history.

In Dec 1863 my great great grandmother, Ellen, received a letter from a friend, Nellie Canterbury (http://www.mestephil.org/letters/ellen-maria-goff.html).  Nellie was quite surprised and a little upset that she heard Ellen was now married and in California.  Upset as Ellen did not tell her before leaving.  Nellie declared that Ellen was the first of all the girls to be married, and pondered when she would.

This got me to thinking beyond the usual genealogical research.  Who was this Nellie?  And what ever happened to her.  Thankfully, in this day of modern technology I was able to profile Nellie in about an hour.  The results were somewhat interesting.

Nellie M. Canterbury was the daughter of Nathan and Ellen Canterbury of Chicopee, Massachusetts.  Nellie was born about 1850, so when she wrote the letter to my ancestor she was about 13 years old.  She was in Ware at the time of the letters.  Ware was the home town of Ellen, but in 1863 she was in Palmer as a school teacher living with her Uncle Abel and Aunt Sarah Calkins.

Nellie did not have to wait too long to answer her pondering of her own marriage.  On 23 Dec 1874 she was married to Elliott E. Furney.  Furney was the son of Russell and Julia Furney.  he was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but at the time of the marriage he was a mechanical engineer living in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts.

Furney was an inventor as well.  On 23 Apr 1889 (they were now living in St. Louis) he was awarded patent no. 402,075 for the automatically closing faucet - a device I have always despised as I can never get my hand under the faucet fast enough.  This patent was assigned to Nellie and I supposed that was to protect him from an employer claiming assignment.  The invention is pervasive enough in our society I suppose they made a good income of of it.  But this was not the most curious of his inventions. 

In 1914 he was awarded the patent for an improved flying machine as illustrated above.  The “improvement” was to include mechanics so the wings of the machine could imitate the flapping of wings of “flying creatures”.  From the absence of this type of airplane in commercial use, I will guess an opinion neither he nor Nellie ever made any money from it.  It little mattered as he had other, more practical patents, before he died in Jun 1914.

The Furney’s lived in Massachusetts after their marriage, later living in St. Louis.  In St Louis, Furney pursued a medical education at the Missouri Medical College in 1875. He practiced for many years in St. Louis before they retired to St. Petersburg, Florida after 1910.

Furney even wrote a science fiction novel in 1891 entitled, “Culture, A Modern Method”.  It can be ordered from Amazon.com for $24 today, but is a free download at Google Books.

Nellie subsequently lived in St. Petersburg, Florida until 1936, perhaps with  a good retirement from all the patents and Elliott’s medical practice.  Elliott and Nellie had no children, so no descendants exist - little to no research has been conducted on them.  This article is the most comprehensive I know of.  I did not find where they are buried.  I would like to see their final memorial.

I know of no letters still existing from Nellie to my great great grandmother after 1863.  But she did not need to have to worry about her future, she had a good one.

The brief research I did for this article consisted of record images at Ancestry.com for the  census records, Furney’s medical death notice, and the Florida Death Index for Nellie’s death; New England Historic and Genealogical Society for the image of their marriage records; Google patents to search on Furney’s patents; Amazon.com and Google books for Furney’s novel.

© Ken Piper 2016