Coincidences in History

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Hi, thank you for checking out our new blog, Folsom Unveiled. My name is Kaitlyn Scott and I’m Folsom Historical Society’s historian. Each week I will be highlighting a different topic related to Folsom’s history that not everyone knows about by diving deeper into a place, event, person or piece in our collection.

In 1833, wealthy American Eliza Jumal met and married an older man named Aaron Burr. It soon became clear that Burr was in the marriage for Eliza’s money and she proceeded to divorce him, hiring Alexander Hamilton Jr. as her lawyer. If you know your history, or your popular Broadway, you might recognize some of these names. Aaron Burr was the 3rd vice president of the United States and famously killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Alexander Hamilton Jr. was obviously the son of the man Burr killed.

Coincidences like this are common throughout history, as a famous (albeit annoying) song once said, “it’s a small world after all”. As small as Folsom is, it is not immune to these types of coincidences and I would like to share one with you that I came across recently. I must admit that it made my week, few things are more exciting to me than making connections between people in the past.

I was researching for an upcoming exhibit last week and came across a newspaper article about the murder of a man named Josiah A. Shaff. Intrigued, I dug deeper.

The Shaff Family

He was born in 1827 in Oswega, New York and married Fanny E. Moore on February 27th, 1847 in Wisconsin. Together they had 6 children, Buena Vista (A+ for creativity), Orrin (sometimes Oren), Ida, Kate, John and Ella. The family lived in both Folsom and Mormon Island where Josiah worked as a tailor. In 1867, he was jailed for abusing and threatening to kill his wife. Fanny filed for divorce and cited extreme cruelty and intemperance. Before the divorce was finalized, Josiah was shot by a person or persons unknown and died several days later from his wounds. There are more details to this case, but you will have to learn more about it during the exhibit I am researching for, plus this blog is about coincidences, not murder.

J.L. Knight

Ed and Ida Hart

As I dug deeper, I realized that Ida Shaff had two married names that I recognized. The first was Knight and the second was Hart, both families in the Folsom area. Ida married John Laughlin Knight in 1871, she was 18 and he was 38. They had two children together, Flora Knight who died at birth and Sadie Laughlin Knight. John L. Knight died in 1878 (sadly, a month prior to the birth of their daughter Sadie) and later that year she remarried to Edward T. Hart and together they had children Albert Edward, Claud Hugo, Ina Belle, Edna Emma and Ella.

L: Albert Hart, R: Sadie Knight

Sadie Knight

Sadie Knight married George Ellis and they had two children, George Knight and Ella Ida. George abandoned the family in 1907 and a divorce was granted in 1908. Sadie later remarried to Ingval Andrew Johnson. Thank you for bearing with me through the lineage so we could make it here to the end that was completely unexpected for me. Ella Ida Ellis was a name very familiar to me already.

Ella Ellis

Ella lived in Folsom and worked as a bookkeeper at the Palace Meat Market on Sutter Street and as a bookkeeper for W.M. Rumsey, she later became the first female insurance agent in California and opened her own insurance office on Riley Street. Most importantly to me, Ella donated many of the photos in our collection, especially the older images of the Folsom Prison (her father worked there). She was also heavily involved at the Folsom Historical Society in its early days.

When I first read that article about the murder of Josiah Shaff, I never expected it to lead all the way to Ella Ellis, his great-granddaughter. Connections like this is what makes history and research so exciting! Even when its on a much smaller scale than Aaron Burr.