Mary Ellen Babcock is pleased that just over six years after his death, her late husband’s first book is finally seeing the light of day.
“I feel like it’s a great accomplishment,” Mary Ellen said over the phone from her home in Virginia. “It feels like a memorial to my husband.”
“Bay Roberts East: An American’s Heritage” might seem like a surprising book title to come from Phillip H. Babcock Sr., an accountant who was born in Massachusetts, grew up in North Carolina and went on to enjoy a lengthy career working in Washington D.C. for the Smithsonian Institute. But Babcock was always aware of his family’s roots in Newfoundland and Labrador. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that he and Mary Ellen decided to visit Bay Roberts.
“He had always wondered about his family background, and the relatives that were still here (in America) didn’t seem to know a whole lot,” Mary Ellen explained. “So, we decided one summer to just drive.”
The Babcocks loved their first weeklong visit and kept coming back to Bay Roberts for longer visits each summer. Eventually, the couple purchased a house on Water Street near Mad Rock.
“We just settled in and it was like our second home,” she said.
Philip’s great-grandparents, Robert (also known locally as “Preacher Bob”) and Patience Badcock are both buried in the Anglican cemetery in Bay Roberts. Their son, and Phillip’s grandfather, William Henry Badcock, moved to Boston for work and married a Newfoundlander, Sarah Jane Hudson from Adam’s Cove, who he happened to meet in the U.S. It was in Boston that William changed his surname to Babcock.
After coming to Bay Roberts, Phillip was able to find some of his distant cousins.
“When we went up there, Phillip had no intention of writing a book, but he never saw a stranger,” Mary Ellen recalled. “My husband, he could talk to anybody, and he had a marvelous memory. He could remember anything you told him. He just started talking to people – older people in particular.”
The book is a collection of a variety of stories that look back into the history of Bay Roberts, through speaking with some of those distant relatives and others he happened to meet in the community. His writing also makes use of old newspaper articles, shipping lists, church minutes, burial records and other materials.
“It’s not your typical genealogy or typical history (book),” Mary Ellen said, noting the book is broken down into chapters with headings that include “Beginnings,” “Religion,” Families” and other subjects, including humour and mysteries. She took all of the original pictures that appear in it.
The book was not in a finished state when Phillip died in April 2013 at the age of 77. It took a couple of years for Mary Ellen to decide she wanted to see it through to the end. She knew her husband had discussed getting his friend in Bay Roberts, writer and editor Burton K. Janes, to help edit the book. Janes agreed to see it through to completion once Mary Ellen contacted him.
“He put so much work into it,” she said of her late husband. “He really loved Newfoundland.”
“Bay Roberts East: An American’s Heritage” can be purchased in Bay Roberts at the Madrock Café and Visitor Information Centre or by contacting Burton K. Janes at firstname.lastname@example.org.