Personal Essay: The Dodge family

From Maine to Canada to Texas and beyind
Sat, 09/09/2017 - 8:00am
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Ed. note: The essay was submitted to The Block Island Times by Bonnie Dodge of Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

Long-time residents of Block Island recognize the name Trustrum Dodge (also seen as Tristram) as one of the earliest settlers and one whose name appears on Settler’s Rock in Cow Cove.

Trustrum was first used as a surname in Devon, England, before 1066, and is referenced in 13th-century English estate records. At some point, families took it as a given name. According to the Dodgefamily.org website, there are, today, over 17,000 Dodges descended from the Block Island Trustrum Dodge. I wonder if any other Dodge families know of men in their family tree who also carried this unusual given name? In my family we have two: my great-grandfather and a first cousin once removed. One man stayed in Iowa; the other grew up in California. 

Being an avid amateur genealogist, I had a dream of visiting the home of this pioneer Block Island settler, my seven-times great-grandfather, and seeing the Island he and his family called home. That dream came to fruition this past August when my husband and I traveled from our home in Iowa and visited for five days. 

Born in England around 1607, Trustrum Dodge, Sr. began fishing the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, where his name is recorded in Ferryland, Newfoundland, Canada, in 1648. He and his wife, Ann, immigrated to Massachusetts in the 1650s. Trustrum was a well-respected fisherman there, and when the Block Island patent was written in 1661, the patent holders selected Trustrum to accompany them to the settlement to teach the Block Islanders how to fish. He was the first in a long line of Dodge fishermen and sea captains on Block Island. He was made a Freeman in 1663, and became a Sergeant in the militia. Four sons who had remained in England — John, Israel, Trustrum Jr., and William — joined the family on Block Island in 1667. Trustrum, Sr. died on the island in 1683, and his tombstone stands in the Island Cemetery. A monument indicating the location of his property stands on Corn Neck Road, near the Beachead Restaurant. What a thrill it was for me to view the curvature of the island from that vantage point, looking much as it did back in Trustrum’s lifetime.

Many Islanders today have a Dodge in their lineage; I met some of them on the August House and Garden Tour, along with Littlefields and Motts, two other names in my family tree. In my direct line, my great-grandfather was also named Trustrum. His parents, John and Phebe Dodge, were both born on Block Island in the late 1700s. In fact, John was Phebe’s second cousin; her maiden name was also Dodge! Their four oldest children were born on the Island in the early 1800s, and around 1821, the family moved to eastern Canada, probably to take advantage of free land offered by the Canadian government. It was there in 1822 that my great-grandfather was born. Records in Canada and northern Vermont are scarce, and despite hiring two professional genealogists, I have been unable to locate records to track the family but it is known that Phebe and her four oldest children returned to Block Island by 1840 and all are buried in the Island Cemetery. Trustrum, however, remained behind and his obituary states he was raised in Vermont. Why? We don’t know what happened to his father, John, or where he died. We do know there was a “merging” of Dodges during this time when a different Phebe, Phebe Jennings, married a Jacob Dodge in Canada in 1818. They went on to have four other children, and my Trustrum was raised with them. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding the family as the boys were known to call each other “brother” — either they used the term affectionately or they had a parent in common. We’ll never know.

My great-grandfather and his relatives moved to Wisconsin in 1848. Eventually Trustrum moved on to Illinois, where he met and married Adaline Harvey in 1851. They lived in both Iowa and Minnesota, eventually settling in Clayton Co., Iowa, where he farmed.  In 1876 he made a momentous decision to travel with his family by wagon to Texas; by now the family included 10 children, including my grandfather, the youngest. They lasted nine years before returning to Iowa for good. The story goes that Trustrum said the land was no good for farming and “the well water had grease in it.” Too bad they couldn’t have stuck it out long enough to discover an oil field surrounding their property! 

While in Texas, two of the Dodge daughters married two brothers by the name of Hall, Frank and Charles. Together, the two couples traveled by wagon to Yolo County, California, in 1884. They settled in the town of Winters and were later joined by another Dodge sister and her husband. It is the family of Frank and Caroline Dodge Hall that resurrected the name of Trustrum, naming their oldest son Trustrum Martin Hall in 1889. He went by the name “T. M.” In fact, when I connected with his now 80-plus year-old daughter in my genealogy research, she had no knowledge of the Block Island Dodges or where the name Trustrum had come from. That’s what makes genealogy research fun — uncovering stories, solving mysteries, making connections.

I’m so glad I had an opportunity to visit the beautiful home of my illustrious ancestor, “crossing the bridge” from my time to his.

Bonnie Dodge, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, graduated from Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, Iowa, with a degree in music and taught private flute and piano lessons for many years. Since retirement she has been an avid genealogist and volunteers with the local History Center and Genealogy Library.