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  • Writer's picturePatty Vitale

James Luke, 1796-1885

James Luke was my 4th-great-grandfather, and for quite a while I had a very hard time finding any info on him. I knew that he was born in England and immigrated to the US, and that he’s buried in Cambridge Cemetery, but that’s about all I knew.

Then last month published a new database – “New England, Select United Methodist Church Records, 1787-1922” – and the floodgates opened. It turns out that the Luke family was very active in the Harvard Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Cambridge, and this bit of info got me focused back on the Luke family, with great success.

I was able to find James Luke’s “Alien Registration,” in which he declares his intention to become a US citizen. Here’s the document, with a transcription:

1826 Alien Registration of James Luke

Dated October 1826, the document reads:

“I, James Luke, being an alien & free white person was born at Birmingham in the County of Warwick & Island of Great Britain. I am thirty one years of age & owe allegiance to his Majesty George 4th, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland. I migrated from Great Britain on the eleventh day of May in the year 1816 & arrived in the United States to wit, at Boston in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the tenth day of July of the same year & now reside in Cambridge in the County of Middlesex & Commonwealth aforesaid, which is the place of my intended settlement. And being desirous to become a citizen of the United States & to naturalize I request that registry of this report may be made pursuant to the laws of the United States in such case provided.”

Not only does this document confirm his year and place of birth, but it gave me his immigration date and port of arrival. Gold! But my next discovery was just as exciting. Searching through a database of old newspapers on I found an 1882 article from the Boston Journal, written about his 86th birthday celebration. The article reads as follows:

Boston Journal, 12 March 1882, page 3

“An Aged Methodist and His Church

“The figures 1796-1882 displayed upon the walls of the vestry of Harvard Street Methodist Episcopal Church, Cambridgeport, told to a goodly company of the relatives and friends of Mr. James Luke, Saturday evening last, the period of his lengthened life whose birthday anniversary was Sunday. Some twelve or more months ago it occurred to members of Dr. H.O. Marcy’s bible class to give more than their wonted observance to his birthday – he having then taken rooms on Boylston Street in this city, near to his present residence – and a pleasant reception was tendered him on the occasion in the above-named vestry. Doubtless its remembrance led some who were active in promoting that reception to devise and bring about the Saturday evening tribute to the highly revered gentleman we have named. Some 200 persons were convened, and at 7:30 o’clock the company was called to order by President Warren of Boston University, and prayer was offered by Rev. W.E. Huntington of Tremont Street M.E. pulpit, formerly of Harvard Street. Staging and addresses followed until nearly 9 o’clock, when coffee and cake were served. Mayor Houghton presented Mr. Luke, in behalf of the company, a magnificent basket of flowers, upon the handle of which was traced '86 years,' accompanying the gift with a happily conceived speech, to which the guest replied in befitting words. Mr. Samuel Ward had prepared an outline of the rise of Harvard street society, from which it appears that Mr. Luke, whose connection was first with the early Methodists of the North End in this city, while residing at East Cambridge and under the ministry of Rev. George Pickering, in 1833-4, was appointed leader of a class in Old Cambridge, to which is traced the formation of Harvard street society. Rev. L.P. Frost of Waltham supplied its pulpit in the beginning, and had been invited to be present to give some account of those times, which he did, much to the interest of the hour. Dr. Marcy, Professor Miles and Rev. A. Noon of Cottage street also spoke, making especial mention of their acquaintance begun at Wilbraham (as was Dr. Warren’s) with Mr. Luke, where he resided a number of years and builded two of its best dwellings – the Principal’s house and his own – enjoying the respect and confidence of the entire community. Having withdrawn from active business Mr. Luke returned to the vicinity of his children and identified himself with Harvard street some years since. Some months since he parted the society of his wife upon earth, yet waiting, in possession of his faculties, his time to 'join the triumphant host' above.”

What a tribute! And it was a goldmine for me. In census records, I had found a James Luke living in Wilbraham but thought it couldn’t be him, knowing that he lived in Boston & Cambridge. This article confirms that it was, indeed, him.

James Luke and his wife Sarah had four children, Elijah, James, Jr., William (my great-great-great-grandfather) and Susan. Sadly, his wife Sarah died at age 47 when the children ranged in age from 3 to 14. James married his second wife, Maria, a year later, and she died in 1879 at age 77. James lived to be 89 years old, passing away in 1885. James is buried in Cambridge Cemetery with both Sarah and Maria, as well as number of other members of the Luke family, including my great-great-great-grandfather, William Luke. Many members of the Luke family are also buried right across the street from Cambridge Cemetery in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

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