To begin the journey of exploring your heritage you need a starting point. For Alan Dawe who started this webpage, the Dawe Family Trust, and its associated collection of family heirlooms, it was his great grandfather Peter Dawe.
Peter Dawe was born on October 20, 1862 in the Town of Redruth, Cornwall, England. His parents were John Dawe Jr. and Agatha Shepard Dawe. We assumed that at the end of their lives they were shopkeepers. Specifically, they were believed to be”Fruiter’s” – providers of fruit and vegetables to the people of Redruth. That said, recent information from a 1881 English census gives us pause. Both father, mother and their first child Catharine were living with his Agatha’s widowed mother. John was 21 and had listed his occupation as a miner
By the 1881 census both he and Agatha had passed away and his eldest son John was the head of the Dawe household. Peter, who was 18, his brother Sam, and most of his sisters lived under the roof of John’s and his wife. John listed his occupations as “Fruiter and Grocer.”
So how did the family fortune in status and wealth improve so much during those 30 years? What is to account for the seemingly unusual jump in upward social mobility? We are not sure. Perhaps they were both industrious and successful in their fruiter and grocer enterprises. In the England of that period it was difficult for a working class mining family to transform itself to middle class shopkeepers. We’re not sure we’ll be able to properly research this from America, but if we visit Redruth, we’re going to check local records and hopefully find some answers.
Peter’s occupation in 1881 was listed as a painter’s apprentice. In the 19th century a boy would start learning his trade at a very young age, say 12 or 13. We don’t know at what age Peter was when he started, but by the time he immigrated to America he was an expert painter and paper hanger.
Peter Dawe left Redruth, England in 1884 to sail for New York City. There is no record of where in the city he lived, but he worked as a painter for just over a year before returning to England. Why did he go back? We’re not sure, but his elder brother John died in 1885 and Peter, as the second son, would have inherited the family business.
In 1886, at the age of 24, Peter Dawe returned and immigrated permanently to the United States, settling in Bridgeport, Connecticut. When he landed, he had the funds to buy and open a paint store. He also set himself up as a paint contractor.
In 1887 he opened a paint store on East Main St. in Bridgeport, Ct. In 1888, he married a girl named Minnie and started a family. He had one Son, John Shepard, and three daughters. He married Minnie Thomas on June 4, 1888, and started a family. His brother Samuel immigrated in 1889 and joined Peter in the paint business as a partner. They worked and prospered together until 1904 when a falling out set them apart. The partnership was dissolved. Peter retained the Dawe Bros. store and Sam moved a few blocks away to a building he owned and opened his own paint and wallpaper store, competing with his older brother.
In 1910, at the age of 46, Peter made a dramatic career change by purchasing an Opera House and converted it to one of the first dedicated theaters in Bridgeport for showing silent movies.
So how did Peter get involved with his first “Flicker Palace?” We can only speculate as there is no family archive to tap and no living family member from that era who is still alive to ask. Hopefully some more digging will shed light on this. Below is a sign from the movie theater he ran.
Alan Robert Dawe
Alan Robert Dawe was a beloved family member and friend. He was a veteran, an avid reader and bibliophile, a retired cross-country trucker, a photographer, a traveler, and a patriot. He was an armchair philosopher and joyful contrarian who enjoyed a robust debate. He loved a good find and saving a buck. He was curious about the world and its history. He was a unique spirit who took an interest in his family, where it came from, and where it was going next. He was a longtime resident of Earlville, NY.
Alan created the Dawe Family Trust and this accompanying website to create an archive of Dawe family genealogical data, photos, and heirlooms. Alan passed away in Bali, Indonesia while on a round-the-world trip in 2014.