Joseph Rakestraw: A Colorful Claim (52 Ancestors #41)

Long have I heard stories about George Washington having commissioned a weathervane from Joseph Rakestraw, my seventh great-grandfather.  If true, this would be a pretty cool addition to the family history.  But how do I prove or disprove it?

I began by looking for information on George Washington’s weathervane and any mention of a Joseph Rakestraw.  As it happens, Washington wrote a letter to a Joseph Rakestraw of Philadelphia on July 20, 1787, requesting that a weathervane be crafted.  This weathervane was to have the shape of a bird with an olive branch in its mouth.1  A weathervane of that description can be found on the cupola at Mount Vernon today.

Cupola and weathervane at Mount Vernon. Courtesy of MountVernon.org.

Cupola and weathervane at Mount Vernon. Courtesy of MountVernon.org.

Now, I have been researching Rakestraws for a long time.  In 1787, there were about five or six Joseph Rakestraws in and around Philadelphia.  Most likely all related somehow, but still, how do I know which one fashioned the weathervane?

As I continued my research, I found that the Joseph Rakestraw to whom Washington had written was not a metalworker, he was a carpenter.2,3  This narrowed it down some.  I know at least two Josephs were carpenters and one was a printer.  I am unsure about the others.  Of the two I know to be carpenters, one had moved out of Philadelphia in 1786, leaving only one that I know for sure was a carpenter.4,5  This one is the one I believe was my seventh great-grandfather.

The Joseph Rakestraw who produced the weathervane was a member of the Carpenters’ Company.  Indeed, he was president of the Company, which is probably why Washington wrote to him.  Joseph was born circa 1735 and Carpenter’s Hall records state that he died of yellow fever in 1794.6,7  The man I believe to be my seventh great-grandfather was born circa 1735 and died in 1794 at the age of 62.  He was buried on the 10th day of the 5th month in 1794.8  He was a Quaker.  Quaker records show that he was married to Rachel Ogilby (or Ogilbey) and had children:  Justinian, Elizabeth, Hannah, and Joseph.9,10

Joseph Rakestraw, who was married to Rachel Ogilby and died in 1794, was the man whom Washington commissioned to create a weathervane for Mount Vernon.  I believe this to be the same Joseph Rakestraw who is my seventh great-grandfather, but I am still trying to prove that his son Joseph and my sixth great-grandfather Joseph, who married Rebecca Gilbert, are the same person.


Sources

  1. The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008.  Accessed 07 October 2015.
  2. Manca, Joseph. George Washington’s Eye: Landscape, Architecture, and Design at Mount Vernon. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins UP, 2012. Print.
  3. Greenberg, Allan C. George Washington, Architect. London: Andreas Papadakis, 1999. Print.
  4. Walton, William. A Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, Who Were Taken by the Indians in the Spring of 1780. Third Edition. Philadelphia: Printed by John Richards, 1848. pp. 222-223.
  5. Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.  Haverford College; Haverford, Pennsylvania; Minutes, 1768-1789; Collection: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Minutes.
  6. Moss, Roger W. “Rakestraw, Joseph (c. 1735 – D. 1794).” Philadelphia Architects and Buildings. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
  7. Karsch, Carl G. “The Yellow Fever Connection.” Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, 4 July 1995. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.
  8. Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.  Haverford College; Haverford, Pennsylvania; Births and Deaths, 1754-1806; Collection: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Minutes.
  9. Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.  Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Women’s Minutes, 1744-1765; Collection: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Minutes; Call Number: MR-Ph 561.
  10. Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.  Haverford College; Haverford, Pennsylvania; Minutes, 1768-1789; Collection: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Minutes.