Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stoney Batter Update

It didn't take long for a few good pieces of information to come in relating to the mystery of the origin of the name "Stoney Batter Road", introduced in the last post. Neither of them come anywhere near conclusively answering the question, but both give (or potentially give) us a bit more information. Interestingly, each addresses a slightly different aspect of the riddle.

The first item, forwarded to me by Donna Peters, is the birth certificate seen here. It belongs to George Lilburn Gray, born April 15, 1888. The certificate itself, however, wasn't issued until 1941. What's relevant to us right now is that in the mother and father's residence field, and in the place of birth, is listed "Stoney Batter, near Stanton". So not only do we have a verified pre-war mention of the name Stoney Batter, it seems to be used as a place name, not a road name.

If this interpretation is correct, then we can indeed throw out the "lumpy cake mix" theory for the origin of the name. It would appear from this that the road took its name from a place, not a concrete mixture type. This might add credence to the idea that "Mermaid-Stoney Batter" was the original name, the road running from one to the other. But what was Stoney Batter?

In my mind, there are two possibilities. One is that the area around the road was once known as Stoney Batter, giving the road its name much in that same way that Little Baltimore Road was named. Another possibility is that Stoney Batter was the name of a specific farm, perhaps the one on which the Grays lived. Unfortunately, due to the destruction of the 1890 Census, I don't know exactly where they resided. Although it looks like the father, Chandler Gray, was originally from MCH, the family moved around a lot. The 1880 Census finds them in Elkton, MD, while by 1900 they were in Wilmington. Chandler had different occupations listed different years, but in 1880 he was shown as a worker in a cotton mill. That at least opens the possibility that he moved back to work at the Spring Grove Woolen Mill, at the bottom of Stoney Batter Road.

Of course, present in this whole discussion is the added bit of uncertainty posed by this particular document. Because it was written in 1941 about an 1888 event, it's not clear whether Stoney Batter was a 19th Century or a 20th Century term. I have to admit the possibility that if it were a newer term, then George's brother John, who seems to have provided the information, might have just given "Stoney Batter" because that was the name of the road that the family lived on at the time.

While this whole discussion is fascinating (well, to me at least), it doesn't address the question of where the name Stoney Batter actually came from. Along this line, Hugh Horning just sent me a couple of links that just might provide the answer. In the original post, I kind of off-handedly mentioned that there are several other Stoney Batters elsewhere in the world. Hugh sent this link that has to do with one in particular -- the Stoneybatter neighborhood in Dublin, Ireland. This Stoneybatter is in the northern part of the city, and was once a separate area before being swallowed up by the encroaching city.

The area's name derives from the ancient road that runs through it, originally called Bothar-na-gCloch, which meant "Road of Stones" in Gaelic. In time that was changed to Stoney-Bothar (Stoney Road), then corrupted later to Stoneybatter. From what I can tell, the neighborhood today has plenty of pubs, as it supposedly did in the past. In fact the Irish phrase "To go on the batter", meaning to go on a drinking binge, is thought to have originated there. This makes it either accidentally or intentionally fitting that our road ran up the hill to a tavern, the Mermaid. We know that there is a lot of Irish influence in MCH, whether native Irish or transplanted Scots-Irish. Certainly the possibility exists that someone was familiar with this road or area in Dublin, and used the name here as a "wee bit o' the old country". Hopefully, someday we'll know for sure.

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