Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Chapter 50 - Our Johnson Ancestors

First Generation: John Johnson and his wife Mary Heath: John Johnson, my 10th great grandfather, was born in England around the year 1590. Unfortunately we were unable to uncover the exact year and location of his birth nor the names of his parents although it is apparent from the numerous articles found online that there has been no lack of effort on the part of family historians over the years to uncover these facts. Many family historians believe that he was born in County Kent, England to John and Hannah Throckmorton Johnson, however there have been no baptismal records uncovered that would substantiate this belief. In reality, the fact that he married my 10th great grandmother, Mary Heath, on 21 September 1613 in Ware, County Hertfordshire, England located about 30 miles north of London, plus the fact that all ten of his children were born in or near the Village of Ware, would strongly suggest that John Johnson may have been born somewhere in County Hertfordshire.

St Mary the Virgin Church, Ware, Hertfordshire, England
We know very little about John Johnson's life in England. What we do know is that between 1613, the year that he married, and 1630, the year that he emigrated to America, he and his growing family lived somewhere between Ware and Great Amwell in Hertfordshire. Both of these ancient villages are less than two miles apart and sit on the banks of the River Lea which flows southward down to the River Thames and London. We also know that of the ten children born to John and Mary only six survived to adulthood including my 9th great grandfather, Isaac Johnson,who was born in 1616. We have no way of knowing at what point in his life in England that John Johnson became a Puritan and a member of the group of English Protestants who both regarded the Reformation of the Church of England as incomplete but also openly sought to simplify and regulate the forms of worship. The major problem they believed was that the Church of England continued to operate in the same manner as the Roman Catholic Church which years earlier under the reign of King Henry VIII, had been thrown out of England. Unlike the Pilgrims however, who were so opposed to the Church of England that they moved to Holland, the Puritans and John Johnson continued to attend the local church services but openly they did their best to advocate changes.  One of the early Pilgrims in this area who moved to Holland and then later to Plymouth Colony was a man named Richard Warren, my 10th great grandfather, who married his wife Elizabeth Walker, my great grandmother, in 1610 in Great Amwell. It is very possible considering the small population in this area at the time, that the Walker family and John Johnson and his future wife Mary Health and her family may have known one another. 

Another interesting individual during this time period was my 9th great grandfather, the Rev Charles Chauncy, who was the Vicar of the St Mary the Virgin Church in Ware between the years 1627 and 1633. This is the same church where John Johnson and Mary Health were married and where their children were baptized and where in a few cases some of their young children were buried. They undoubtedly were very familiar with Rev Chauncy and unquestionably when Mary Heath Johnson died at the young age of 35 in the year 1629, the Rev Charles Chauncy must have overseen her funeral service.  What is interesting here is that Rev Charles Chauncy was then and later a Puritan who openly advocated changes to the Church of England, a fact which eventually led to his being fired by the church in 1633 and subsequently arrested and thrown in jail in 1634. In 1638 Charles Chauncy emigrated to America where he later became the second President of Harvard. The point of all of this is that we should not be surprised that our great grandfather John Johnson soon took on the beliefs of the many other Puritans who were living in the Hertfordshire area during this time period. In one of the historical records that we read it was noted that Hertfordshire "was a hotbed of Puritanism in the early 17th century."  We have to believe that our great grandfather soon became an outspoken advocate of change with respect to the Church of England and that eventually he became a strong supporter of leaving England when the opportunity arose to form a new colony in America.

King Charles 1 assumed control of the British crown upon the death of his father, King James, in March of 1625.  Charles had already displayed his disfavor of the Puritans and his recent marriage to a Roman Catholic French Princess was a clear reflection that he was not about to let the Puritans gain greater strength in England in both church affairs as well as in politics. At the time of his coronation the English Parliament was composed largely of Puritans and while King Charles' initial battle with Parliament was over an issue of money and the funding of a war against the Spanish, his temporary dismissal of Parliament in 1626 followed in March of 1629 by his complete dissolving of Parliament, left the Puritans largely in agreement that they too like the Pilgrims before them, had no choice but to leave England. King Charles undoubtedly agreed.

Great Grandpa Gov Thomas Dudley
In March of 1629 a group of prominent Puritans were granted a Royal Charter by King Charles 1 to form a colony in Massachusetts. The group named the Massachusetts Bay Company went on to elect John Winthrop as their new governor of the colony and Thomas Dudley as the Deputy Governor. For the record we need to mention that John Winthrop is my 1st cousin, 13x removed. His grandfather Adam Winthrop was my 13th great grandfather and his first cousin, Anne Winthrop, who arrived in America in 1631, is my 11th great grandmother. Even more interesting is that Deputy Governor Thomas Dudley (and later Governor) is my 11th great grandfather.

What role that John Johnson played in the organization of the Massachusetts Bay Company is unknown but unquestionably he was part of the large group of Puritan settlers who departed England in April and May of 1630 on a fleet of eleven ships now known as the Winthrop Fleet. It is estimated that between 700 and 1,000 new settlers were onboard these ships including men, woman, children, and servants. On one of the websites describing the settlers on the Winthrop Fleet, it described the background of the typical settler.  These descriptions undoubtedly give us a good profile of our great grandfather John Johnson. The typical settler it reads, left England for spiritual reasons and not economic reasons, they were for the most part financially well-off, they travelled in a family group with children, there were an equal number of men and women, they were generally all highly literate, they were mostly middle class as opposed to rich or poor, and only around 17% of the travelers were servants.  We know that John Johnson traveled with his six surviving children who ranged in age from 3 to 16 years old including my great grandfather Isaac Johnson who was then 15 years old. We believe that the list of passengers who traveled with the Winthrop Fleet, a list that included the name John Johnson, is a calculated list based solely on the names of the early Massachusetts Bay settlers, and not on a passenger list prepared at the time of their departure. Included in this list is the name of John Johnson's second wife Margery. If she did travel with John and his children then they must have married sometime between his first wife's death in May of 1629 and the departure of the fleet in April of 1630. While this is very much possible, the reality we believe is that she arrived in Massachusetts at a later date and they met and married sometime in or just before 1633. Not that it really matters but obviously John badly needed a mother for his children and Margery surely filled the role.

Many of the writings also list John Johnson as a passenger on the ship Arbella which was not only the lead ship that departed on 29 March 1630 but was also the ship on which Governor John Winthrop travelled as well as a few of the other highly prominent organizers of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Again, we believe that there is no factual basis to believe that he was on this ship and as reported in other documents many of the early Puritan leaders were distributed among the seven lead ships that primarily carried passengers as opposed to livestock and supplies. On whatever ship the Johnson family travelled, the voyage was long and hard especially for the young children who spent the majority of their time below deck in the small, crowded, and very dirty cabins. There were of course, no warm showers or bathrooms onboard and considering
that beer was used as a substitute for water which quickly spoiled on the long voyage, it is surprising that more young children did not die. Although, who knows, maybe beer helped comfort them during their long and miserable and boring days at sea. In reality, it was not the voyage that was the greatest curse upon the Puritans, for as Great Grandfather Thomas Dudley reported in a letter written about six months after their landing in Massachusetts, over two hundred of the original passengers had died after their arrival. Life in the new world was not easy.

John Johnson and his family arrived in the New World sometime in June of 1630. Their ship landed in the recently settled community of Salem although the Johnson family and others soon relocated to a new community later named Roxbury that was located about three miles south of Boston. In 1630, Boston was located out on a peninsula in the Boston Harbor and Roxbury was constructed on the mainland at the foot of the narrow section of land leading out into Boston.(Note that now because of the all of the dirt dumped into the Boston Harbor over the years, Boston has been greatly enlarged and Roxbury has been absorbed into the City of Boston.)  It was here in Roxbury that many of the early prominent and wealthier settlers located who had emigrated to America in 1630 with the Winthrop Fleet. It is not hard to imagine why 20% of the original emigrants on the Winthrop Fleet died during the winter of 1630/31 considering how difficult it must have been for a large number of families to all build homes/shelters before the onset of the awful winter approached. Fortunately all of the Johnson family survived this first winter and we are certain that all of them participated in the construction of their new home.

Eliot Burying Ground
John Johnson soon became a prominent citizen in Roxbury and in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As early as July of 1630 he served on a Coroner's jury which must have been a time consuming role considering the frequency of deaths. In October of the same year he applied to be a Freeman which he was granted in May of 1631. In October of 1630 he was appointed a Constable. John was considered by 1631 as one of the "first comers" in the founding of the first church in Roxbury and his name is mentioned frequently in the book "History of the First Church in Roxbury" by Walter Eliot Thwing published in 1908. Both he and his son Isaac Johnson, my 9th great grandfather, are listed as early donors and founders of the first public school in Roxbury. We read with interest that the Johnson home and a tavern he owned and managed was located on a main street in Roxbury and that the tavern was occasionally used as the site of public meetings (not surprisingly). His home site today is actually in Boston located at the corner of Washington Street and Ball Street.  In 1642, he was appointed as the Surveyor General of the Arms and Ammunition responsible for the care and storage of all of the guns and ammunition of the Colony. Apparently he was responsible for the distribution of the arms when the colony was threatened. Unfortunately in 1645, his home caught fire and shortly thereafter the gunpowder exploded completely destroyed his home. We are certain at that point, that John Johnson's name became well known to everyone living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was also noted in one of the historical writings about the destruction of his home, that his home was also the storage location of many of the local public records, all of which were obviously lost. John Johnson is known to be a court deputy for a period of 20 years, in 1632 he was chosen as the Roxbury delegate to help advise the Governor, and he frequently served as his town's Town Clerk.  Throughout his life John Johnson's primary role was that of a farmer although by the time of his death much of the land he owned was granted to him because of his numerous public services. Governor John Winthrop wrote when describing John's services that "He was an industrious man and faithful at any assignment given to him." 

John Johnson's second wife Margery died in June of 1655. As was very common during this period of history, John married for a third time in October of 1656 to a widow woman named Grace Negus but their marriage lasted less than a year as John himself died on 19 September 1659.  He is buried in the old Burying Ground in Boston (formerly Roxbury) at the corner of Washington and Eustis Streets not far from his original home site. Also buried in this same cemetery is John's second wife Margery.  The exact location of their burials within the cemetery is unknown. We believe that one of the greatest pieces of evidences of John Johnson's stature in his community is the fact that when Governor Thomas Dudley wrote his final will in 1653 he named his friend John Johnson as one of the executors of his estate. Thomas Dudley is my ancestor on my father's side of my family and John Johnson is my ancestor on my mother's side of my family. What a small world.

Second Generation: Isaac Johnson and his wife Elizabeth Porter: My 9th great grandfather, Isaac Johnson, is perhaps best known for his military activities that ultimately resulted in his death in 1675, but we will discuss that in subsequent paragraphs. As we previously stated, Isaac came over to America at the age of 15 with his parents and brothers and sisters in 1630. Unfortunately, we know very little about the early life of Isaac as many of the early Roxbury records were lost in the fire that destroyed his parent's home in 1645. What we do know is that when he turned twenty on 4 March 1635 he was made a Freeman in Roxbury and a few years later on 20 January 1737 he married my 9th great grandmother, Elizabeth Porter, who was at the time 20-years old. Elizabeth was raised in Ware, England and we have to wonder if she might have known Isaac in England before he departed for America although at the time of his departure she would have been only 13 years old. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, both of her parents had died young and she was living with her brother Edward Porter and his family in England when they elected to sail to America and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. Isaac and Elizabeth were married less than a year after her arrival. They were to have around twelve children during their lifetimes including my 8th great grandfather, Isaac Johnson (Jr) who was born in 1644.

It is not entirely clear what Isaac did for a living although he was undoubtedly a farmer on land that he received from his father when he married Elizabeth. The other records that we read, outlined his military service. He was first appointed as a captain of the Roxbury Militia in 1635 when he was only twenty which shows that his contemporaries must have respected him. He later became a member of the colony's Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company beginning in 1645, then appointed a Lieutenant in 1666 and in 1667 he was elevated to the position of Captain.  As we will describe, it was unfortunately his position as a military leader that eventually led to his death.

I clearly remember when I was young being taught American History in school. The history lessons always seemed to portray the American Indian as the evil enemy of the new British and European immigrants beginning with the colonization of Jamestown in 1607 and followed by the colonization of New York (New Amsterdam) and Massachusetts in the 1620s. The evilness of the Indians was also well displayed in many of the early motion pictures. What was ignored was that peaceful Indians helped the early Plymouth Colony settlers survive and that in the spring of 1621 the Pilgrims shared a "Thanksgiving" dinner with the Indians to celebrate their survival. Such celebrations were quickly a thing of the past. Isaac Johnson's almost continuous military service in the early years of New England was the result of the need to control the local Indians whose land was being absorbed by the colonists on almost a daily basis. One has to love the myth story about Dutchman Peter Minuit purchasing Manhattan Island from the Indians in 1626 for $24 worth of trade goods. If this even did occur we feel confident that the Indians had no idea that they were selling their land. These were the types of fables and trickery that have been passed along through the generations to help explain how the new settlers were able to gradually move westward (often killing the evil Indians as they absorbed their land.)  One other observation worth mentioning is that many of the Indians were killed by diseases such as smallpox which were obviously introduced into America by the thousands of new immigrants.

The first major Indian revolt in New England is known as the King Philip's War which took place between 1675 and 1676. King Philip was actually the English name given to the Indian chief known as Metacomet or Metacom who assumed control over the Wampanoag Indian tribe in 1662. At first Metacom tried to accommodate the colonial leaders by surrendering armaments and ammunition and agreeing to follow English laws. But then with the colonists constantly asking for more, this finally led to an open bloody uprising with the Indians' hopelessly attempting to drive out the ever growing English settlers. One of the ironies of this short war was that Metacom's father, Massasoit, was one of the Indian chief's who first helped the Pilgrim settlers and he may very well have attended the first Thanksgiving. Before we continue, it should be mentioned that there is strong evidence to suggest that Metacom was my 8th great grandfather and his father my 9th great grandfather. A brief description of Metacom and his relationship to our family can be found in Chapter 36 of this family history blog.

King Philip's War 1675-1676
The war actually began in June of 1675 when three Wampanoag warriors were executed in Plymouth for an alleged murder. Throughout the summer and fall, the coalition of Indian tribes held together under the leadership of Metacom attacked various villages in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Ironically, the battle in which our grandfather Isaac Johnson fought and died, The Great Swamp Fight, which took place on the 15th day of December 1675, did not involve Metacom nor the coalition of tribes under his loose command. Typically perhaps of the English, they were worried that another Indian tribe, the Narragansett tribe, might join with the Metacom forces so that elected to attack this otherwise neutral tribe. The Narragansett Indians were located in present day Rhode Island and because of their neutrality and perhaps because Metacom hoped that they might soon join up with his forces, Metacom had purposely not attacked any of the English villages in Rhode Island. The battle which took place on a freezing cold winter day has been described as "one of the most brutal and lopsided military encounters in all of New England's history" and we are certain that our Isaac Johnson would agree. Around 70 of the 1,000 or so English troops were killed but in contrast around 97 Indian warriors were killed plus between 300 to 1,000 Indian woman, children, and elders were, for all intensive purposes, murdered in the ongoing enthusiasm. The Indian homes were burned and their food supplies destroyed. Fortunately for the Narragansett Indians, many of them were able to escape in the surrounding frozen swamps and were soon to join up alongside the forces of Metacom. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately for the Indians, the war was soon over following subsequent loses and the ultimate death of Chief Metacom on August 12, 1676.

The death of Isaac Johnson during attack at Great Swamp Fight
Not surprisingly, many of my distant ancestors fought in the King Philip's War and at the Great Swamp Fight. The commanding officer at the Great Swamp Fight, General Josiah Winslow, was my 1st cousin x11 removed. Second in command, Captain Benjamin Church, was my 9th great uncle. The commander of the Massachusetts Regiment, Major Samuel Appleton, was my 9th great grandfather. The commander of the Plymouth Regiment, Major William Bradford, Jr. was also my 9th great grandfather and the commander of the Connecticut Regiment, Major Robert Treat, was the brother-in-law of my 10th great uncle. The leader of the 4th Company of the Connecticut Regiment, Captain Nathaniel Seely, was my 9th great uncle. Captain Isaac Johnson, the subject of this story and my 9th great grandfather, was the head of the 4th Company of the Massachusetts Regiment.  Unfortunately as we have previously mentioned, Isaac Johnson was killed at the Great Swamp Fight. Apparently, the major access to the entrance to the Indian Fort was down a large log that crossed over a swamp area and it is written than Isaac was killed as he led his troops down the log. The sketch above is said to show Captain Isaac Johnson leading the attack towards the fort.

Isaac Johnson was 60 years old when he was unexpectedly killed. The location of his burial is not known for certain although it is believed that the dead bodies were carried around 10 miles north near to what is today the village of Wickford, Rhode Island where they were buried in a mass gravesite, now a National Historic Landmark in what is now called Smith's Castle. It must have been an awful day for Elizabeth Johnson and her children when they learned of their Isaac's death and his burial at an unmarked gravesite many miles away. Isaac's son, my 8th great grandfather, Isaac Johnson (Jr), was thirty years old when his father was killed.  Undoubtedly both he and his entire family would have hated the Indians and blamed them for the unnecessary death of their father. Elizabeth Porter Johnson outlived her husband by eight years finally dying on 13 August 1683.

Third Generation: Isaac Johnson (Jr) and his wife Mary Harris: My 8th great grandfather, the fourth child of his parents Isaac and Elizabeth, was born in Roxbury on the 7th day of January in the year 1644. While there are some conflicting historical records as to where and when Isaac married his wife, Mary Harris, it is generally accepted that they married in Middletown, Connecticut on 26 December 1669 shortly after he had moved there.  Mary Harris was born in Rowley, Massachusetts in 1651 only a year before her parents and my 9th great grandparents, Daniel and Mary Weld Harris, moved to Middletown in 1652. Middletown had only been settled two years earlier in 1650 and its location on the Connecticut River made it a popular spot for new settlers considering that it's location quickly made it a busy sailing port. During the 18th century, Middletown became the largest and most prosperous settlement in Connecticut.  Fortunately for Isaac and Mary and their three young children alive at the time of the King Philip's War and the nearby Great Swamp Fight, the local Wanqunk Indian tribe in their area had remained neutral or at least under the control of the local colonists and thus the small village of Middletown had escaped being attacked. We could not find any records showing that Isaac Johnson (Jr) participated in the King Philip's War although it is hard to imagine that he did not in some manner especially considering that his father-in-law, Daniel Harris, was made a lieutenant in the militia in 1661 and later commissioned a captain.  

Isaac Johnson's gravestone (1644-1720)
As best we could determine, Isaac Johnson (Jr) did not play an active role in his community at least not to the extent as had his father and grandfather.  He was primarily a farmer and based on the amount of land that he owned as mentioned in his last will and testament, he apparently was a large and fairly successful farmer. Mary and Isaac had in total around nine children who survived to adulthood including their oldest son and my 7th great grandfather, Isaac Johnson (3rd) who was born on 19 December 1670. Isaac died at the age of 75 on 3 February 1720 and he was buried in the Riverside Cemetery in Middletown. My great grandmother Mary died almost ten years after the death of her husband and she is buried in Old Farm Hill Cemetery also in Middletown.

Isaac Johnson's gravestone (1670-1744)
Fourth Generation: Isaac Johnson (3rd) (1670-1744) married my 7th great grandmother, Margaret Miller (1676-1764), in Middletown on the 12th day of September in 1695 and together they had twelve children including my 6th great grandfather Isaac Johnson (4th) who was born in 1703. Isaac and Margaret lived their entire lives in Middletown most likely seeing the population more than double in size over this period. Here again, Isaac Johnson's life was not remarkable although he was a successful farmer based on what he left his family in his last will and testament. He died at the age of 73 in the year 1744. Margaret outlived her husband by 20 years. They are both buried in the Old Farm Hill Cemetery in Middletown.

Perhaps more interesting than the life of Isaac and Margaret is the life of Margaret's father, Thomas Miller, and his marriage to Margaret's mother, Sarah Nettleton, both of whom are my 8th great grandparents. Thomas Miller was born in England around 1609 and it was here that he married his first wife Isabel around 1630. Shortly thereafter they immigrated to America and soon settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts where they had several children before eventually moving to Middletown around the year 1652. Thomas is credited with building the first grist mill in Middletown in the year 1655 and at that point he was probably a respected citizen. Thomas Miller would probably have been a forgotten figure in American history were it not for what he did in late 1665. Apparently his wife Isabel may have been sick for she died in mid-May 1666, but that fact does not excuse then 56-year old Thomas from getting their family's young 22-year old maid, Sarah Nettleton, pregnant who shortly before Isabel's death, gave birth to Thomas' son who was born on 6 May 1666.  In this period of history such an action was severely punishable and while he quickly married his young maid after his wife died, Thomas was thrown in prison and threatened with a whipping as was his new wife. Fortunately, Thomas was later released from prison and perhaps because of his position in the community and the fact that he had quickly married my 8th great grandmother, no further punishments followed his brief prison stay. Thomas and Sarah Nettleton Miller went on to have a total of eight children including their sixth child and my great grandmother, Margaret Miller, who was born in 1676 when her father was 66 years old and her mother only 34 years old. Great Grandpa Thomas died at the age of 70 years old in August of 1680 (perhaps with a smile on his face.) His youngest daughter, Mehitable Miller, was born seven months following her father's death. My great grandmother Sarah not unexpected, soon remarried and then outlived her first husband by 48 years.  

Fifth Generation: Isaac Johnson (4th) (1703-1786)  and his wife Thankful Cowles (1700-1785): Twenty-three year old Isaac Johnson (4th) married 26 year old Thankful Cowles in Middletown, Connecticut on 26 October 1726. Thankful, my 6th great grandmother, was born and grew up in Farmington, Connecticut located about 20 miles north of Middletown. It is unclear how and when she met her future husband although the families must have gotten to know each other fairly well as Thankful's younger brother Timothy Cowles (1704-1733) only four years later married Isaac's younger sister, Content Johnson (1709-1733) in Middletown. Isaac and Thankful over the next 16 years were to have eight children including my 5th great grandfather, Asa Johnson, who was born in Middletown in 1735. As with most of the rural communities during this historical period, at least 80% of the families were farmers and despite the fact that many of these farmers owned a few slaves even in Middletown, Connecticut in the early 1700s, the large number of children in the typical family provided the needed labor to run the farm. Children as young as ten years old were typically put to work.  The consequence of course, of these large families was that as the children grew older and married, available farm land became in short supply, and families began to move westward in search of new and inexpensive farmlands. This was the case with all of our early ancestors including the Isaac and Thankful Johnson family who in 1747 left the Middletown area and moved westward, finally settling in the new community of Canaan, located in the northwest corner of Connecticut, a distance of a little over 50 miles from Middletown. Their decision to move to Canaan may have been influenced by Thankful's younger brother, Benjamin Cowles (1713-1802), having moved to Canaan a few years earlier around 1742. We know that Benjamin and his sister Thankful must have been close, as Benjamin and his wife Hannah Boardman (1715-1756) named their first daughter Thankful Cowles (1737- ?) after his sister. One thing needs to be mentioned at this point is that Benjamin and Hannah Boardman are also my 6th great grandparents. As it turned out their daughter Thankful Cowles married her first cousin, Asa Johnson, son of Isaac and Thankful Johnson and both are therefore my 5th great grandparents.

Thankful Cowles Johnson (1700-1785)
Isaac Johnson was around 52 years old at the start of the French and Indian War which began in the year 1755. Since only those male individuals 45 years old and younger were mandated to join the militia it would seem unlikely that Isaac participated in this war. That is not to say however, that he was not involved and perhaps the wages paid for the militia service might have encouraged him to enlist.  We mention this because we found the Isaac Johnson name mentioned a number of times in the rolls of the Connecticut militia men engaged during the French and Indian War. It should be noted however, that his name was fairly common so it may not have been our Isaac Johnson plus he had a son named Isaac Johnson who was 22 years old at the start of the fighting and he would likely have been involved. Fortunately, perhaps, whether our great grandfather was engaged or not in the French and Indian War which took place between 1755 and 1762, none of the fighting took place in Connecticut. That said, historical records still note that as many as 16,000 Connecticut troops were enlisted during the war and that almost 1,500 Connecticut troops died in battle, or from disease, or other causes during the war years.  Most of the actions of the Connecticut troops involved efforts to expel the French troops from various forts on or south of Lake Champlain.  The largest battles during the war however, took place further west in what is today Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the Great Lakes region. In many cases the British were under the command of a young man named George Washington. In the end, the French and their Indian supporters were greatly outnumbered and ultimately the French were forced out of America including what is today the country of Canada. According to one of the websites online, the French and Indian troops numbered around 14,000 as compared to the English troops including the local militias which numbered around 50,000. Both sides are believed to have lost around 11,000 soldiers including those killed, wounded, or captured. If our Isaac Johnson was involved, he was likely part of the militia troops send up to the "Relief of Fort William Henry" that had been captured by the French in early August of 1757. Fort William Henry was located at the southern end of Lake George about 120 miles north of Isaac Johnson's home in Canaan. An Isaac Johnson is listed in a militia under the command of a Captain Uriah Stevens who just happened to be from Isaac's hometown of Canaan. Their service at the fort was only a matter of a few days as the French and their Indian allies had already captured and burned to the ground Fort William Henry. Following the surrender of the fort by the British, the Indians had killed many of the surrendered British troops. This notorious atrocity committed by the Indians following the battle was portrayed in James Fenimore Cooper's famous novel, The Last of the Mohicans, first published in 1826 and later made into movies including the well known 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans. One of the side effects of the French and Indian War was that it left the America Colony and the British deeply in debt. The British government in an effort to pay down the debt introduced heavy tariffs on sugar, coffee, wine, and other imported commodities from the American colonies followed in 1765 by the notorious Stamp Act. The American strong opposition to these taxes and tariffs eventually led to the American Revolution and the British loss over the control of America with the exception of Canada. Isaac Johnson died in 1886, three years following the official end of the American War for Independence. Thankful Cowles Johnson, his wife and my great grandmother, died a year before her husband at the age of 85 in 1785.

Sixth Generation: Asa Johnson (1735-1791) and his wife Thankful Cowles (1737- ?): Asa and Thankful married in Canaan on the 28th day of April in the year 1757.  As cousins they had probably known each for almost a decade before they married. Asa was only 21; his new wife was only 20 years old when they married. As we previously mentioned, Thankful Cowles was named after Asa's mother. They were to have six children together during their long marriage including their last child, a daughter named Anna Johnson, my 4th great grandmother, who was born in 1775.  Asa Johnson was his parents third son and considering the condition of the country at the time of his father's death in 1786 shortly following the close of the Revolutionary War, he probably did not inherit much. Furthermore, since their marriage occurred during the French and Indian War, he and his new wife were probably not richly gifted at their wedding by either of their families. What is known about Asa and his wife and their only daughter at that point, Hannah, is that in 1762 they moved to Williamstown in the northwest corner of Massachusetts about 65 miles north of Canaan. Why they moved there is anyone's guess particularly since they had no known relatives in the area and Asa Johnson is not known to have had employment in the Williamstown area.  The history of Asa Johnson in his few years in Williamstown is told in the book "Origins in Williamstown" written by Arthur Latham Perry in 1894. Apparently while in Williamstown, Asa spent much of his time buying and selling property and most of the time losing money in his many trades.  By 1770 it is reported in the book that Asa had sold all of his property including "his dwelling-house and out-buildings" and moved north again to Rutland, Vermont, a distance of around 70 miles. In 1770, the Johnson family was among the original founding families in Rutland. The following paragraph which further describes my ancestor Asa Johnson and his family is copied from Chapter 22 of this blog which describes our Revolutionary War ancestors, one of whom was obviously Asa Johnson.

Fort Rutland, Vermont, constructed 1775
"Asa Johnson moved his wife and three children to Rutland, Vermont from Massachusetts in the summer of 1770. He was 35 years old. The small farming community of Rutland had been settled in 1767 only a few years before the arrival of the Johnson family. Asa's wife, Thankful Cowles Johnson, had in fact been pregnant when they moved to Rutland and their fourth child, a daughter named Chloe Johnson, was born only a few months after their arrival. Chloe was the third child and the first female child born in Rutland. Only one payroll record with Asa Johnson's name exists in the federal archives, however it confirms that Asa Johnson can be claimed as a Revolutionary War Patriot. This payroll record covers the time period of October 21st through October 30th of 1781 when Asa served as a private at Castleton, Vermont in Capt Nathaniel Blanchard's Company of Militia in Col Thomas Lee's regiment. Asa's son Benjamin, age 23, is also listed as having served during this time period.  Castleton is located about nine miles west of Rutland. While it is likely that Asa Johnson served more than these few days in October of 1781, there is no evidence to suggest that he was involved in the capture of nearby Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775 with Nathan Hale and the Green Mountain Boys, or involved in any of the other activities of the Green Mountain Boys such as the ill-fated attempt to invade Canada. It is very possible however, that Asa Johnson fought at the only battle that took place in Vermont during the war, the Battle of Hubbardton, that occurred on July 7, 1777. Nearby Rutland where Asa Johnson lived was the headquarters of the "Republic of Vermont" during a part of the Revolutionary War and it is probable that Asa was involved in the construction and then later in guard duties at the local forts including Fort Rutland constructed in 1775 and Fort Ranger near Rutland constructed in 1778. A sketch of Fort Rutland as it appeared during the Revolutionary War is shown above. Asa Johnson died at the relatively young age of 55 in January of 1791. We could not find the date of the death of his wife Thankful."  

Subsequent Generations: Anna Johnson, the youngest daughter of Asa and Thankful Johnson was born in Rutland, Vermont in 1775. She married Elijah Starkweather in Rutland around 1807 and sometime before 1830 they moved to Cayuga County, New York in New York's Finger Lakes region where four more generations of our family were born. The following is a listing if this line of my family ancestors down to the present time:

Anna Johnson (1775- ?) married Elijah Starkweather ( 1756-1847)
Adaline Starkweather (1818-1849) married John J. Yawger (1817-1895)
Elsie Ann Yawger (1844-1918) married David S. Coapman ( 1844-1910)
Marian E. Coapman (1867-1895) married Eugene Hutchinson Ferree (1866-1952)
Florence Adaline Ferree (1891-1938) married Douglas Ross Patterson (1888-1979)
Marian Coapman Patterson (1916-1973) married Charles Asbury Baker (1916-2000)
Charles Asbury Baker Jr (1942-  )
Anne Rappleye Baker (1943-  )
Joan Patterson Baker (1950-  )

Until the next chapter . . . .



Saturday, March 11, 2017

Chapter 49 - My Wyckoff Ancestors

Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye
Our Great, Great Grandfather
It was not until fairly recently that I discovered that I was a direct descendent of the first man in our country with the family surname of Wyckoff. What is really fascinating is that my ancestor's surname was not "Wyckoff" when he walked off the ship into the Dutch Colony in America known as the New Netherlands at the young age of only 13 in April of 1637. His full name at the time was Pieter Claesen. The Claesen name per Dutch tradition was taken from the given name of his father whose first name most likely would have been "Claes." When the British took over the Dutch colony in 1664 and renamed the colony New York, they had difficulty with all of the constantly changing Dutch names so they demanded that the Dutch families take fixed surnames by which they could more easily be identified. By 1687, the names of Pieter Claesen and his six sons appear in the public records with their newly adapted surname of Wyckoff.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph it was not until fairly recently did I discovered that I was a descendant of this first Wyckoff immigrant to America. In my early studies of my ancestral tree I learned that my 2nd great grandfather was named Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye (see photo above.). His daughter, Helen Ely Rappleye, married Asbury Harpending Baker and they are both my great grandparents. Anyway, despite hours of research I could not figure out how and why Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye received the middle name of Wyckoff as clearly none of his recent ancestors carried that name in any of their lines. It was not until later did I discover that young Joshua was actually named after his mother's older step-brother, whose full-name was Joshua Wyckoff (1767-1841). Our Joshua's mother was Mary "Polly" Covert and she was the daughter by her mother's second marriage to a man named Abraham Covert. Mary's mother, AriAnn Coshun, was married first to Abraham Wyckoff who had died early at the age of only 32. The reason that Joshua's mother, Mary Covert, decided to name him after her step-brother who was ten years her senior, is purely speculative but I have to wonder if she may have had a "crush" on her older step-brother. In any case, Mary's husband, Peter Rappleye, accepted the name. It is highly doubtful that Peter Rappleye, my 3rd great grandfather, was aware that he himself was a descendant of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, who just happened to be his great, great, great grandfather. With all of this intermingling of families in our ancestry, it is now time we believe to write a story about our 8th great grandfather, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff.

Map of Germany and Holland in 1678
Norden in East Friesland located just east of United Provinces (Holland)
There are many theories about the origins of our Pieter Claesen. His birth location is alternately given as Sweden, Germany, or Holland and the names of his parents are often provided, and in at least one instance, it is written that his father even accompanied him to America. We believe however, that most historians would now agree that the names of his parents are unknown and the fact that he came to America as an indentured servant would make it highly unlikely despite his young age, that his father would have accompanied him on the voyage. The fact that Pieter's voyage to America most likely departed from the Netherlands, would strongly suggest that he was born and lived in the Netherlands. Some family historians however, write that he may have been born in Norden in East Frisia (East Friesland on map above) area in present day Germany near its northwestern border with Holland. If Pieter Claesen was from Norden as some suggest, it is hard to imagine how he travelled the almost 200 miles by land between Norden and the City of Amsterdam in Holland where he is known to have boarded the ship Rensselaerswyck in 1636 that was headed to America. In any case, we really do not know the names of his parents nor the exact location of his birth. Apparently, before he boarded the ship, young Pieter Claesen was sold as an indentured servant by either his father or perhaps if his parents had died, by an uncle or other relative. An "indentured servant" is someone who agrees to work for nothing or for a minimal cost for a defined period of time in exchange for the cost of the passage (usually) to America and then once they arrive, the cost of food, clothing, and shelter will be provided at no cost to the new indentured servant. What is really surprising is that despite his very young age, his position as an indentured servant was to take place in the far away continent of America. If his parents were still alive, sending him to America was like sending him away forever. This would not be something I would expect from my 9th great grandparents therefore we must assume that they had both died very young. It is of course, remotely possible that young Pieter Claesen made the decision to be an indentured servant on his own without anyone else's knowledge or permission although this possibility would seem to be highly unlikely.

Fort Orange
The first Dutch explorer in America was actually an Englishman hired by the Dutch by the name of Henry Hudson who in 1609 sailed up the Hudson River which obviously today bears his name. As we all remember from our grade school history classes, Henry Hudson was looking for the "Northwest Passage" which he obviously did not find up the Hudson River. Around 1614, the Dutch having learned about the huge fur trading opportunities available in this newly discovered area, sent up the river a group of fur traders who then constructed a small fortified trading post and warehouse near the present day city of Albany. The small structure named Fort Nassau was later abandoned in 1618 after its constant destruction each spring due to flooding. It had obviously been built to close to the river. The Dutch however, were not yet ready to give up, so in 1624 they again sent up another group of men (and a few women) who constructed another larger fortification that was later named Fort Orange. Most of these early settlers who had helped to construct the fortification returned back down the Hudson River in 1628 to the new colony down on Manhattan Island by the name of New Amsterdam. Among these early settlers were a man and his wife by the names of Joris Jansen Rapalje and Catalyntje Trico, my 8th great grandparents. Their story is told in Chapter 1 in this blog. Several dozen or so traders remained behind at the new fortification to continue the very profitable fur trading operations with the local Indians. This very remote area up the Hudson River was very soon to expand.

What we know about young Pieter Claesen is that he was one of a number of men and women who were indentured at least indirectly, to a wealthy Dutchman by the name of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. Van Rensselaer, recognizing the huge potential of owning land along the Hudson River, acquired in 1629 from the local Algonquin Indians, a huge tract of land on both sides of the Hudson River in and around the recently constructed Fort Orange. The land purchased eventually consisted of around 700,000 acres. It would seem that hundreds of indentured servants were needed to help farm the land and thus create farm products along with the fur for the Van Rensselaer organization to sell back in Europe. It is well known that Kiliaen Van Rensselaer who was one of the founders and directors of the Dutch West India Company, was the progenitor of the fabulously wealthy and powerful Van Rensselaer family in America who were dominant in America for the next several hundred years following the founding of the so named Manor of Rensselaerswyck. A portion of the land originally controlled by the Van Rensselaer family bears today the name Rensselaer County which is located just east of the City of Albany, New York. Pieter is believed to have sailed on the Dutch ship Rensselaerswyck along with around 37 other indentured servants who, once they arrived and departed the ship at Fort Orange (now Albany), were assigned to various farmers working the huge Van Rensselaer estate. The trip on the ship Rensselaerswyck to America must truly have been an awful experience for everyone onboard. The voyage is said to have taken almost seven months during the mostly cold and windy winter months of 1636/1637 and it is not hard to image that our great grandfather and the other passengers were delighted to finally arrive in early March in New Amsterdam. As it turned out they had to moor their ship in New Amsterdam for several weeks waiting for the ice in the Hudson River to thaw before finally sailing up the Hudson River about 150 miles to their final destination at Fort Orange. They at last disembarked from their ship on the 7th day of April in the year 1637.

Map of Hudson River 1656
Shows Fort Orange and Rensselaerswyck
Pieter Claesen upon arrival in Fort Orange was contracted almost immediately as an indentured farm hand to a local tenant farmer by the name of Symon Walichsz who was a lease-holder under the landowner, Van Rensselaer. Here Pieter worked for a period of around six years at which time he had completed his obligations and then using money he had received at the end of his indentureship, he too leased some land and took on the role himself as a tenant farmer. A few years later around 1645, Pieter Claesen then around 20 years old met and married a young 18-year old girl by the name of Grietje Van Ness, my 8th great grandmother. Grietje had arrived in America from Holland with her parents in 1641. The marriage for young Pieter proved for him to be a great financial benefit for his new father-in-law was not only a "Principal" farmer within the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, one to whom all tenant farmers like Pieter were to follow, but his new in-laws were also fairly wealthy, educated, and both came from prominent families back in Holland. We find it somewhat surprising that Grietje's family would have allowed her marriage to a poor uneducated farmer like Pieter who had just recently completed his obligation as an indentured farm hand. There has been some speculation that the Van Ness family might have known Pieter's family back in Holland or East Frisia but that would seem highly unlikely. More likely is the fact that Pieter Claesen while uneducated, may have been very bright, well spoken, and seemly eager to play a prominent role in this new community all of which were very important features in this new land where young unmarried men from wealthy and prominent families were few and far between. There is also this speculation proposed by an old family genealogist that certainly might explain why young Grietje Van Ness may have demanded to her parents that she be wed to young Pieter Claesen. He writes describing Pieter: "a man of over six feet tall and large in proportion, that he had blue eye, and tawny yellow hair, high and prominent cheek-bones, a broad face and a firm square chin."  Describes the men in our family perfectly.

Pieter and Grietje Claesen lived in a community known as Beverwyck located just north of Fort Orange on the Hudson River along with Grietje's parents, Cornelius Hendrickse Van Nes (1589-1684) and Mayken van den Burchgraeff (1602-1664), who lived nearby. Unfortunately in the year 1648 both Cornelius and his now son-in-law Pieter got into an argument and a subsequent and prolonged lawsuit with a man named Van Slichtenhorst who just happened to be the "Autocratic Director" of the Rensselaerswyck Colony. Not surprisingly considering his position, Van Slichtenhorst prevailed in the lawsuit which probably was the primary reason that our Pieter Claesen and his wife and by then two children abruptly left the Fort Orange area in June of 1649 and moved south down to the New Amsterdam area. In contrast, his father-in-law Cornelius and his family elected not to leave which in the end worked to their benefit, for in 1652 Van Slichtenhorst was arrested for defying the authority of Director Peter Stuyvesant and he was subsequently sent back to Holland. Cornelius Hendrickse Van Nes, my 9th great grandfather, then went on to become very active in the local government and to achieve a general financial success. In 1650 the family moved to a new home in Greenbush located southeast of Fort Orange (now Albany) where he opened a large and financially successful brewery.

Old Brooklyn
While it is clear that Pieter and Grietje Claesen moved to the village of New Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in 1649, what is not clear is what Pieter did for a living during the next few years to cover the cost of housing and food for his rapidly growing family. Surviving church records show that in 1650 and 1653 two more children were born into the family. It is entirely possible of course, that Grietje's parents helped them out financially during this period. One thing that we learned during our research, is that Dutch parents during this time period, unlike their English counterparts, shared their wealth fairly equally with all of their children, both male and female. In contrast, the English parents generally favored their oldest son at the time of their death, and he typically inherited the bulk of their wealth. It is often reported by historians that in 1655, Pieter was hired by then Governor Peter Stuyvesant to supervise a farm on land that was probably owned by the Dutch West India Company. Apparently the farm which in part was a cattle ranch was to be used primarily to grow tobacco which had become very popular back in Europe and undoubtedly its sale was a good source of income for the Dutch West India Company. The farm was located out on Long Island in a townsand then known as Nieuw Amersfoort and later renamed by the British as Flatlands. The location today is in the southeastern section of the City of Brooklyn (see the map above.)

Wyckoff House Museum

It was not until after 1645 that any serious settlement in the Dutch controlled western end of Long Island was considered. The land prior to that time was still occupied by the native American Indians although their population had gradually been decreasing what with the influx of the Europeans and their "purchasing" of the Indian lands plus the awful diseases such as measles and smallpox that were carried in by the Europeans to which the Indians had no immunities. Their population decreases were inevitable although they still greatly outnumbered the Europeans. What really drove the Indians to submission in this area however, was a two year war with the new Dutch colonists known as Kieft's War which took place between 1643 and 1645. The war resulted in the death (or perhaps massacre) of over 1,000 Indians. Fortunately what followed was a period of relative peace. Not surprisingly after the war the Dutch soon moved along with our ancestors, into the fertile lands of the future City of Brooklyn. The general consensus seems to be that Pieter and Grietje were granted as a tenant in 1652 the use of a farmhouse on Dutch West India Company land and therefore they never actually owned the house in which they lived for so many years. The fact that the Claesen family, later referred to as the Wyckoff family, continued to live in this same farmhouse for a total of eight generations up until 1902 would suggest that the house and the land surrounding the house was purchased at some point by Pieter. Historical records however, show that the house was not owned by the Wyckoff family until it was purchased by Pieter's grandson in February of 1737. The old Wyckoff House said to have been originally built in 1635 still exists today as a museum although it has changed considerable since it was first occupied by Pieter and his family. The photo above shows the Wyckoff house as it stands today. According to the Wyckoff House Museum website, Pieter and Grietje actually first occupied the house in 1652 and they describe it as follows: "The house they occupied was a simple one room structure with a packed earth floor and unglazed windows, with doors and both ends and a large jambless (open) hearth." The description was clearly not describing the home of a wealthy owner. Anyway, Pieter and Grietje Claesen continued to live at this home for the remainder of their lives. They were to have a total of eleven children including their fourth child, a daughter named Mayken who was born on 19th day of October in 1653. If indeed the Claesen family moved into their new home in Flatlands in 1652 as stated by the museum's website, then Mayken Claesen, my 7th great grandmother, would have been their first child born in this still surviving Wyckoff House. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff's old home was named New York City's first historic landmark back in 1965.

We were pleased to read this following sentence in one of the many biographies found online described the life of my 8th great grandfather, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff: "Peter Claesen prospered and became one of the most influential citizens of the little frontier settlement." While it would be easy to accept this statement as one of fact, the subsequent descriptions of his life do not really lend credence to this statement. Pieter is credited with being a local judge, like a justice of the peace, and he is credited with being "influential" in the establishment of the nearby Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church. There are also references in some of his biographies that he served on three occasions between the years 1653 and 1663 as a town Magistrate and in 1664, just prior to the English takeover, he was a representative at a convention. None of these functions however, would seem to place him in our opinion in the category of "one of the most influential citizens."  And if Pieter "prospered" as a farmer it may have been due in large part to wealth that he received from his in-laws during his lifetime and even more so upon the death of his in-laws. While the details are not entirely clear, one interesting thing about the Van Nes family is that Grietje's mother had been left a sizable estate by her mother at the time of her death. In 1635, Grietje's mother, Mayken, prepared her Will leaving everything directly to her children and not to her husband, Cornelis. He had agreed with her decision probably because he was also wealthy. Mayken died in 1664 therein leaving Pieter Claesen and his wife Grietje with land and money. In 1664, Pieter and Grietje were 39 and 37 years old respectively and at this point we would then have to agree with the statement that "Pieter Claesen prospered. . ." We may sound like we are trying to downplay the life of my great grandfather. This is not really our motive. It would seem however, that most historical biographies on the life of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff have a tendency to exaggerate his wealth and status. It should be enough to simply state that our grandfather lived a good life and raised a great family and he was undoubtedly highly respected in his community. This is a remarkable fact considering that he arrived in America at a very young age as an indentured servant without parents or siblings.

When Pieter Claesen arrived in New Amsterdam in 1637 the western end of Long Island claimed by the Dutch was mostly wooded and unoccupied except by some local Indians. By the time that the Claesen family moved to their farm home in 1652 in New Amersfoot or Flatlands, the Indians were mostly gone or at least peaceful and the Dutch population of the area including Manhattan Island had grown to around 1,000. The future Brooklyn area however, was still scarcely populated by this time with no more than 250 people living in the Flatlands area and it consisted mostly of large farmlands still primarily owned by the Dutch West India Company and a few other wealthy landowners. In the year 1665, the Dutch lost control of New Amsterdam and western Long Island to the British who renamed the area New York.  In 1687, Pieter Claesen and his five sons signed an Oath of Allegiance to the British and shortly thereafter the family adapted the surname of Wyckoff.  By the time of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff's death in 1694 the population of New Amsterdam/New York had grown to almost 7,000 and the whole area had changed enormously in appearance. Many roads, homes, businesses had been built, including taverns, plus churches, schools, and other public buildings. For a man like Pieter who had come to America as a young teenager, the changes must have been truly overwhelming. When Pieter died in 1694, Pieter and Grietje had had eleven children, ten of whom survived to adulthood, had married, and given Pieter and Grietje around 60 grandchildren and even a few great grandchildren. Most of their children and grandchildren still lived in the Brooklyn area prior to Pieter's and Grietje's death and considering the enormous size of their family, they must have had a few massive family get-togethers. Wow! Obviously considering the small size of their family home, the family get-togethers must have been held outdoors only during the warm summer months. We are not surprised considering the size of the Wyckoff family that there are thousands of Wyckoff descendants alive today. The burial sites of Pieter and Grietje Claesen Wyckoff are unknown although it is assumed that they are both buried on the site of the Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church.

Unfortunately we know very little about the daughter of Pieter and Grietje Claesen Wyckoff and my 7th great grandmother, Mayken Wyckoff.  She was apparently baptized on the 19th day of October in 1653 at the Reformed Dutch Church in New Amsterdam and one of the three witnesses listed on her baptismal record was none other than Judith Stuyvesant, wife of the then Director General or Governor of New Amsterdam, Pieter (Peter) Stuyvesant. Obviously our Pieter Claesen was already making a name for himself. If indeed the Wyckoff family was in 1653 living at their home out on Long Island, then apparently there were no churches yet built in the new community of Nieuw Amersfoort (Flatlands) and they had no choice if they wanted to get their daughter baptized but to return to Manhattan Island for the service. Perhaps it was this inconvenience that contributed to Pieter's helping to establish in the following year the congregation of the Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church located near his home. We have no idea when Mayken met her future husband, Willem Willemsen, who in 1657 had immigrated along with his parents and siblings to America from Holland. There is an old story that is often repeated that claims that Willem and his mother were actually born in Bermuda and that the family had left there and not from Holland to emigrate to New Amsterdam. Considering that Bermuda was controlled and occupied entirely by the British at the time, it would seem highly unlikely that a family who were obviously Dutch would have been living there and then left to travel northward to the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam. Willem's father's name was Willem Gerritsen and the mother has simply been identified as "Mary" or sometimes "Maria," and they are of course, my 8th great grandparents. From what we could determine, Willem the son was born around 1652 which would have made him around five years old when he moved to America. If his parents located in Nieuw Amersfoort after their arrival, it is possible that Willem and his future wife Mayken had known each other as children. The fact that Mayken's younger brother, Marten Wyckoff, who was ten years younger than his sister, married the sister of William Willemsen, a girl named Hannah Willemsen, might certainly suggest that their families were close.

Mayken Wyckoff and Willem Willemsen were married around 1678 probably at the recently constructed Dutch Reformed Church in Flatlands. While surviving tax records show that Willem owned land in Flatlands in 1676 and as late as 1683, land that he may have inherited at the time of his father's death in 1662, we know that by 1680 the family had moved to Gravesend, Long Island located just south of Flatlands (again see map above.) Their first child, a son named Nicholas, my 6th great grandfather, was born in Gravesend in 1680. Furthermore, a 1683 tax record shows the Willemsen family owning land in Gravesend. There really are very few historical records about either of my 7th great grandparents. We know that they spent their entire lives after their marriage living in Gravesend and they both died less than a year apart, Mayken in December of 1721 and Willem in February of 1722. Willem's half-brother, Samuel Gerritsen (common mother) writes about the death of his brother: "In the year of our Lord 1722 the 2nd of February my brother William Willemsen fell asleep in the Lord on a Friday evening about 7 o'clock and was buried on a Tuesday after aged about 70 years." The few records that we have found show that Willem Willemsen was appointed as a town assessor in 1694 and a constable in 1698 and that their family were members of the local Dutch Reformed Church in Gravesend. One of the family historians states probably accurately, that Willem "owned considerable land and (cattle) stock" which would suggest that Willem's primary occupation was that of a farmer. From what we have read, conditions for farming in western Long Island were excellent during this period in history and once the English took control over the area from the Dutch in 1664, trading must have increased dramatically thus contributing greatly to Pieter's and Willem's wealth. One thing not mentioned in any of the stories about my great grandfathers living on Long Island during this period of history was whether or not they owned slaves. Slaves were first introduced to New Amsterdam by the Dutch West India Company back as early as 1626. It would seem highly likely that both Pieter Claesen Wyckoff and his son-in-law Willem Willemens were major slave owners particularly since the vast number of farms and the shortage of indentured servants and hired farmhands made owning slaves almost mandatory. It has been estimated that 15% of the population of this area during this time period were slaves and that by 1703, 42% of households in New Amsterdam owned slaves. Obviously slavery was not unique just to our southern states. It seems kind of stupid today when referring to a present day American whose ancestors may have arrived in America from Africa in the mid-1600s, over 300 years ago, as an "African-American." Just as stupid we suppose as referring to yours truly as a Dutch-American or an English-American or anything other than just an "American." Truly goofy. Anyway,

Willem Willemen's Last Will and Testament backs up somewhat our assumption of his wealth when Willem writes in his will that he had sold prior to his death all of his lands to his oldest son Nicholas for the sum of 600 pounds. He goes on to state that when he dies, Nicholas must share equally with his four brothers and three sisters, the value of the land given to him by his father, each sibling to receive a 1/8 share of the land value. Willem's will verifies two things about his life. First that he was fairly wealthy as 600 pounds was quite a sum of money at the time of his death in 1722, and secondly that as a Dutchman, he shared his estate equally with all of his children and not just with his eldest son Nicholas. Good man our great grandpa.

My relationship with my Claesen/Wyckoff and Willemsen ancestors is as follows:

Nicholas Willemsen (1680-1779) m Lucretia van Voorhees (1696-1733)
Willem Willemsen (1720-1787) m Geetje Hegeman (1722-?)
Sarah Willemsen (1748-1813) m Jeremiah Rapelyea (1742-1827)
Peter Rappleye (1776-1858) m Mary Covert (1777-1870)
Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye (1814-1888) m Jane Taft Campbell (1819-1891)
Helena Ely Rappleye (1860-1944) m Asbury Harpending Baker (1860-1933)
Charles Schenck Baker (1885-1952) m Helen Mary Spaulding (1887-1937)
Charles Asbury Baker (1916-2000) m Marian Coapman Patterson (1916-1973)
Charles Asbury Baker Jr (1942-?) m Kathleen Therese Mahar (1948-?)

And so ends another chapter of our ancestral blog.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Chapter 48 - My Churchill Ancestors

Our first Churchill ancestor to arrive in America was a man named Josiah Churchill, my 9th great grandfather, who is believed to have landed in Boston in the year 1635. There has been over the years no shortage of facts as to Josiah's origins in England including where he was born, the names of his parents, and even the exact year of his birth. As far as we could determine however, there is a total lack of evidence to support any of these supposed "facts."  Solely based it would seem on the date of his marriage to Elizabeth Foote in 1638 and her 1616 birth year, it is speculated that Josiah was born between 1611 and 1615. The exact year of his birth however, is really unknown. There is further speculation that Josiah was a brother of John Churchill who immigrated to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1643. John is known to have lived in County Dorsetshire, England and to have been the son of John and Sarah May Churchill. If John Churchill was indeed the brother of our ancestor Josiah Churchill, we then know Josiah's birth location and the names of his parents. Unfortunately, recent DNA testing of John's and Josiah's descendants shows that they were not brothers and were at best only distantly related. Thus it is very unlikely that Josiah was born in Dorsetshire and his parents were not John and Sarah Churchill. One other conjecture that has no real basis in fact is that Josiah (and possibly John as well) was the son of a man named Joseph Churchill who was a shipping merchant in London and who was responsible for shipping supplies to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The speculation expands to suggest that Josiah Churchill was a sailor on one of his father's ships delivering goods to Boston and they he elected to remain in America. Here again this is just pure speculation. Since all these 'facts" are reported in numerous historical writings and many family trees, it took us quite a few hours of study to determine that all of this data was pure fiction. The basic fact is that all we really know about the history of our ancestor Josiah Churchill is that he was born somewhere in England to unknown parents and that he sailed to America sometime before his marriage in 1638.

Josiah Churchill's name does not actually appear in historical records until the birth of his first child with his new wife, Elizabeth Foote, daughter of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Deming Foote, on the 24th of March in 1639 in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Realistically, this would suggest that Josiah Churchill arrived in Wethersfield at the latest in early 1638 and possibly earlier. Wethersfield was first founded back in 1634 by a Puritan group of ten men, the "Ten Adventurers,", three of whom were my great grandfathers, Nathaniel Foote (Josiah's father-in-law), Robert Seeley, and John Strickland. Wethersfield is considered to be the second settlement founded in Connecticut following Windsor Colony established less than one year earlier. Hartford was established shortly following Wethersfield in 1635. One early advantage that Wethersfield had over the other two early communities was that while all three were on the Connecticut River, Wethersfield was further south and thus had better access down the rather shallow river to the Long Island Sound.
It is not at all surprising considering the huge influx of English immigrants into "New England" in the 1630s, that problems would soon arise between the Native American Indians and the new immigrants. The nearby Dutch colonists to the south had actually been doing a fairly decent job integrating with the Native Americans not only because they were not to any great extent moving into and occupying Indian lands but also because they were doing a good job working with the Indians through issues like fur and wampum trading which greatly benefited both parties. The Indians would provide the valuable furs and the Dutch would provide needed items for the tribes such as knives, pots and pans, and so forth. Along with the Hudson River valley, the Connecticut River valley was a particularly valuable area for the Indians as a source of furs and other items to trade with the Dutch. The Pequot Indian tribe was one of the most active of the Indian tribes trading with the Dutch in this area. Unfortunately for both parties, the influx of the British New Englanders into the Connecticut River valley beginning in 1633 caused a major consternation since the British were primarily interested in creating new settlements and occupying what had been the Indian lands. Without going into a lot of detail about the onset of the Pequot War, what is important in our story is that on the 23rd day of April in 1637 a large group of mostly Pequot Tribal Indians attacked the small English settlement of Wethersfield and killed six men and three women, a number of cows and horses, and as they departed they took with them two young captive girls. The attack obviously infuriated the English settlers, and on May 1st they declared war against the Pequots and raised a force of around 90 local men, 18 of whom were residents of Wethersfield and the rest from nearby Hartford and Windsor. This force combined with some Indians from other tribes, attacked on May 26th, a large Pequot Indian settlement near what is today Mystic, Connecticut (about 50 miles southeast of Wethersfield). Here they slaughtered around 400 Pequot men, women, and children, effectively killing most of the Indians who were present in the village at the time. Unfortunately for the English anyway, the warrior Pequot Indians were away from the village at the time of the slaughter, however over the coming months these Pequot warriors were soon hunted down and mostly killed, effectively destroying the entire Pequot Indian tribe. While it is very possible that Josiah was not present at the massacre at Mystic, soon after around 150 men from the Plymouth area joined the Connecticut forces to hunt down the remaining Pequot Indians and Josiah might very well have been in this group. At this point in any case, the English had for the most part assumed total control over the lands along the Connecticut River. This does not mean by any means that all of the other local Indian tribes in New England were destroyed as future Indian wars were later to take place.

What is not known as we previously mentioned, is whether or not our great grandfather Josiah Churchill participated in the Pequot War although most family historians assume that he did. Josiah's name does not appear in an old listing of Wethersfield men who were with the force that attacked the village at "Mistick Fort" although the listing is not necessarily totally accurate and it was admittedly incomplete. What we do believe is that he did participate in some portion of the war against the Pequots and that following the "war" in late 1637, he settled in Wethersfield where he was granted land, and where he soon met his future wife and my 9th great grandmother, Elizabeth Foote.

John Deming's Home in  Wethersfield built in 1667
Elizabeth Foote was around 18 years old when she arrived in the new settlement of Wethersfield in the year 1634 with her parents and her five brothers and sisters all of whom had been born in the small village of Shalford in County Essex, England located northeast of London. Elizabeth's father, Nathaniel Foote had grown up in Shalford and as a young 15-year old boy in the year 1608 following his father's death, he had been apprenticed to learn the trade of a "free burgess" or grocer and wholesale merchant. When he completed his apprenticeship in the year 1616, he married Elizabeth's mother, Elizabeth Deming, and together beginning with young Elizabeth Foote who was born in 1616, they had six children before they decided in the year 1633 to emigrate to America. Their youngest child was only around one when they departed. It is not really clear how then 41-year old Nathaniel Foote had accumulated the necessary wealth to transport his entire family to America and as we learn later, to then become one of the wealthiest landowners in Wethersfield. We just have to assume that some inheritance and a great grocery business which he undoubtedly sold, all worked to the family's benefit. Also traveling with the Foote family was Elizabeth Deming Foote's brother, John Deming and it is entirely possible that Nathaniel also covered the cost of his travel. John Deming, my 10th great uncle, actually traveled with the Foote family in 1634 when they moved to Wethersfield. He later became and is credited with being one of the "fathers of Connecticut," but that is another story that must be told by one of his many great, great grandsons. See the photo of John Deming's home in Wethersfield above.

100 mile trek to Connecticut
The first historical records in existence of Nathaniel Foote in America are when he took the oath of Freeman in Watertown in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in September of 1633 and when he was granted land. The reason that the Foote family and many other families abruptly left Watertown in 1634 is not entirely clear although it was probably a result of a theological dispute with the local Puritan Church leaders, a very common issue in the early Massachusetts Bay settlements, as well as the constant need for more common land to raise their farm animals and grow crops. These departing "First Adventurers" consisting of ten men, many with their families including the Footes, followed an old Indian trail for around two weeks to their final destination on the Connecticut River, a total distance of around 100 miles. Here they founded a village that was soon to be named Wethersfield (in 1637).  The Nathaniel Foote family was to become one of the leading families in this early little Connecticut Colony. Nathaniel became a town magistrate, he served as a Deputy to the General Assembly between 1641 and 1644, he served as a juror on several occasions, and soon became a leading landowner in Wethersfield owning over 400 acres of land. By the time of his early death in 1644 he had become one of the most highly respected individuals in his town of Wethersfield.

Nathaniel Foote Memorial in Wethersfield
At the time of Nathaniel Foote's death in 1644, my 10th great grandmother, Elizabeth, was only 49 years old. Two of her then seven children were married but four of her children were still under the age of twenty. Her youngest child, the only one born in America, was only ten. It is not surprising therefore that Elizabeth soon remarried in 1646 to a man named Thomas Welles from nearby Hartford. The marriage of Elizabeth Deming Foote and Thomas Welles is really a fascinating occurrence in our family's history.  For one thing, Thomas Welles and his first wife Alice Tomes Welles are my 10th great grandparents through my mother's side of our family. On the other hand, Nathaniel and Elizabeth Foote are also my 10th great grandparents but on an entirely different line but also on my mother's side of our family. While Elizabeth Foote and Thomas Welles did not have any children as they were both in their fifties when they married, the fact that both individuals were my great grandparents in different lines is truly remarkable.  Incidentally, the story of the life of Thomas Welles is covered in Chapter 29 of this blog and is worth reading.  Thomas Welles was truly a remarkable person in that he was the only man in Connecticut's history to hold all four top offices: governor, deputy governor, treasurer, and secretary. He was both governor and deputy governor after his marriage to Elizabeth.  Elizabeth was also highly respected in her community considering that she was the executor of Nathaniel's will which for a female was highly unusual in the 1600s, and she was also rather strong willed. One of the conditions of her marriage to her second husband was that Thomas Welles had to move from his home in Hartford, along with his children, down to Wethersfield and move into Elizabeth's home. He did so and considering that he went on in later years to be governor of Connecticut proved that his move did him no harm. Elizabeth Foote Welles out lived her second husband finally dying at the age of 88 in 1683.

Map of early Wethersfield
We found it interesting upon reviewing the Last Will and Testament of Nathaniel Foote that he failed to mention in his Will his oldest daughter, Elizabeth Foote, who only six years earlier in 1638  had married Josiah Churchill and that he also failed to mention his other daughter, Mary Foote, who only two years earlier had also married. These omissions suggest that both daughters had received gifts at the time of their marriages and that Nathaniel had assumed that his daughters were being well cared for by their new husbands. In the case of Elizabeth Foote Churchill, history would show that he was correct in that my 9th great grandfather Josiah Churchill was a good provider, a good husband, and a good father.  It does not appear in the historical records that Josiah ever achieved the wealth of his father-in-law nor for that matter, the wealth of his mother-in-law's second husband, Thomas Welles, however it does seem that he did quite well. Josiah Churchill's first home ownership was on a 12-1/2 acre parcel in Wethersfield adjacent on the west to the "Great Meadow," which in the 1600s was a very fertile and mostly treeless area (thanks to the local Indians who originally cleared the land) and probably ideally suited for growing crops and pasturing animals. Unfortunately, it was also land subject to frequent flooding from the adjacent Connecticut River (See sketch of early Wethersfield above which shows the locations of the homes of both Josiah Churchill and his father-in-law Nathaniel Foote.)  Josiah by the time of his death in 1686 at the age of 75 had accumulated two-hundred and ten acres of land and two home lots. Some family historians note that since he frequently traded land during his lifetime he might be considered to have been in the real estate business had such a business actually formally existed in the 1600s. While my great grandfather may have made good money by buying and selling land, his primary efforts to maintain his and family's lifestyle were undoubtedly spent in farming like most others in the New England area in this era.

Poor Mary Johnson of Wethersfield
Not unexpectedly my great grandfather Josiah Churchill also did public service in his community. I was reading the other day that the average net worth of a United States congressman today is just over $1,000,000. This is unbelievable. Unlike public servants however, in the 1630s, a present-day congressman now is paid a considerable amount of money annually plus who knows what else they each earn in private deals. In contrast, public servants during Josiah's lifespan most likely did not receive compensation and the men who served had their own wealth and other sources of income during their public service. This observation may explain in part why Josiah's level of public service was below in terms of responsibility that of Nathaniel Foote and Thomas Welles. Nevertheless, Josiah Churchill stayed active during his lifetime in his community. Over a period of time between 1643 and 1675 he served as a town constable, a town surveyor, and on numerous occasions he served in the court as a juror. He may have even served as a juror during Wethersfield's notorious witch trial in 1648 which took place four decades before the well known Salem witch trials. Poor Mary Johnson of Wethersfield was found guilty of being a witch and she was hanged. During the period of Josiah Churchill's life the population in the Wethersfield area grew dramatically from around 150 to 200 to almost 1,000. Fortunately for the village and the Churchill family only two more witches were convicted and hanged (in 1651) in Wethersfield prior to Josiah's later death in 1686 and hopefully he also did not serve on the jury of this second witch trial. Certainly never would one of my ancestors do such a horrible thing as convicting a neighbor of being a witch.

Josiah and Elizabeth Foote Churchill were to have eight children born between the years 1639 and 1657 including my 8th great grandfather and their 5th child and first son, Joseph Churchill, who was born in 1649. By the time of Josiah's death in 1686, son Joseph was then 36 years old and married with four children. Fortunately for Joseph, his father's generosity during his father's lifetime resulted in Joseph and his family living in a home in Wethersfield owned and previously occupied by his father. As was the custom at the time of a father's death, Joseph as the oldest son received the largest benefits from his father's Will including the home where he was currently living plus an additional 66 acres. Joseph was also to benefit financially when his mother died 14 years later in the year 1700. There is speculation that both Josiah and Elizabeth Churchill are buried in the Newington Cemetery, Newington being a small community just west of Wethersfield. Apparently in 1659, the Churchills had moved to a new home located near or in the present day village of Newington, which suggests that they would have been buried at the nearby Newington Cemetery. Unfortunately, if this was the case, no records or gravestones still exist to support this speculation.

Their son, Joseph Churchill, at the age of 25, married in Wethersfield on 13 May 1674, a young girl named Mary whose surname has unfortunately been lost in history. (There is no shortage of guesses as to her surname however.) Together my 8th grandparents were to have eight children including my 7th great grandfather, Samuel Churchill, their 5th child and 2nd son, who was born on the 27th day of April in 1688.  It is interesting that as we researched the life of Joseph Churchill we could not help but note that his life was very similar to his father's life except for his early death in 1699 at the young age of only 49. For example, Joseph was only 30 years old when in 1679 he took on the roll like his father before him, of Town Surveyor. Over the coming years he served as a town assessor, constable, and shortly before his death in 1697, he was elected as a "Selectman," a leadership position he held until his early death in 1699.

In most of the narratives about the life of Joseph, they refer to him as "Sergeant" Joseph Churchill implying in most cases that he was a member of the local "Trainband" or the local militia. Typically during this period of history, all young boys beginning at the age of 16 were required to join their local trainband where they were instructed in the art of war and the use of firearms. This did not mean that the boys or the men as they grew older were ever actually sent into battle as a group. It only gave them a somewhat incomplete training of what they might face if they were every placed in a military unit. It would seem that Joseph Churchill must have advanced to a leadership role in this local militia. What we found interesting however, is despite the title of "Sergeant" there was no discussion of Joseph ever going into combat despite the fact that the King Philip's War was fought between June of 1675 and April of 1678 and some Connecticut men were definitely engaged in this war. Joseph was 26-years old at the onset of the King Philip's War and while most of the battles did not take place near Wethersfield, in December of 1675 a fierce battle occurred called the Great Swamp Fight near the present day city of South Kingston, Rhode Island (located about 75 miles southeast of Wethersfield). As a man with the rank of Sergeant it would seem likely that he may have participated. It is known that Connecticut forces were present at this "slaughter" where it is estimated that around 600 local Narragansett Indians were slain during the battle as compared to only 70 men of the English militia. There is however, no record of Joseph Churchill being at the Great Swamp Fight nor any other battle for that matter. In January of 1675 when the Indian killings were taking place, Joseph and Mary Churchill's first child, a daughter named Mary, was only nine months old and perhaps carrying for the welfare of his wife and child was more important to our young great grandfather Joseph then going out and slaughtering some Indians (including men, woman, AND children.)  Unfortunately, we have identified several of our other ancestors who were present at the Great Swamp Fight including my 9th Great Grandfather, Samuel Appleton (1625-1696). His story will have to be another chapter. Here again the King Philip's War ended with the Indians sorely losing and the white men "immigrants" frantically and rapidly gobbling up the now freed-up Indian lands. It is extremely hard for us to be proud of this history.

Joseph's and Mary's son, Samuel Churchill, my 7th great grandfather, was only 10 years old when his father died, although he was 50 years old when his mother died. Mary, his mother, lived to the age of 91. Since she had outlived her oldest son Nathaniel whose home she had probably been living, it is entirely possible that she eventually moved in with her son Samuel and his wife Martha Boardman. Samuel Churchill was 29 years old when he married Martha Boardman in June of 1717.  It would seem unlikely that he was aware of how much had changed in the Village of Wethersfield since his great grandparents had arrived in the area in 1635 over 80 years earlier. The countryside in 1635 was mostly covered with a dense forest. The only cleared land had been the Great Meadow area alongside the Connecticut River that had been cleared by the Wangunk Indians decades earlier. By the time of Samuel's marriage, the Indians were mostly gone from the area or they had been integrated into the population. By 1717, the population in Wethersfield had grown to almost 2,000 and families were gradually moving westward away from the river area. At first there were only a dozen or so primitively constructed wooden homes separated by acres of farm land but as time passed the quality and number of homes gradually increased as did the construction of common buildings such as churches, schools, meeting houses, and structures offering services like blacksmith shops, warehouses, and the like. The forest areas were gradually disappearing and the wood for new homes in some cases had to be hauled in from areas further west. Whereas in the early days Wethersfield was somewhat isolated from the Massachusetts Bay area, by the early 1700s shipping up and down the Connecticut River had greatly expanded allowing the transportation to and from the area of everything from farm food products, livestock, household goods, to even new residents. At the time of the first settlement, the residents were composed entirely of deeply religious Puritans, but as years passed while religion was still of great importance, the tie to the Puritan teachings had greatly diminished.  We find that Samuel Churchill's life had evolved as had his community.  Samuel's occupation was that of a blacksmith and while he undoubtedly was involved in some farming, his livelihood and support of his family was not dependent on the farm. In 1712, prior to his marriage, Samuel, then only 24 years old, had acquired fifty-two acres of land in what later became the parish of Newington located just to the west of Wethersfield. Most likely Samuel delayed building a home and moving to his new property until after his marriage. The Town of Newington was not actually established until 1871 although in 1721 the area was granted the name "Newington" which apparently means, new town in the meadow. His motive for moving was probably based on the lower cost of property outside of the greatly expanded Wethersfield and by the availability of larger parcels of land. Considering the rapid growth of the area it was probably an excellent purchase.

Gravestone Samuel Churchill 1688-1767
Samuel Churchill like his forbearers, engaged himself in public affairs within his community. His name appears frequently in the records of Newington both in the local town records as well as in the local business and school records. Here again like his father, Samuel is often referred to by his local militia title, that of Ensign Samuel Churchill, a title that he was given in 1746.  There is no evidence however, that he ever engaged in any military actions although there was no shortage of wars taking place during his lifetime including the Queen Anne's War (1702-1713) which included some engagements with the French and Indians in New England. Samuel and Martha Boardman were married in 1717 and together they had six children, all sons, including their fourth son named Jesse Churchill, my 6th great grandfather, who was born on 31 August 1726. Samuel lived his entire life in Newington finally dying at the age of 79 in the year 1767.  My great grandmother Martha Boardman Churchill outlived her husband by thirteen years finally dying at the age of 84 in the year 1780. They are both buried in the Newington Parish Cemetery and as shown in the above photograph, their gravestones have survived.  We could not find during our research any copies of the Wills of either Samuel or Martha although we have to believe that they left all of their sons financially in good shape.

Samuel's and Martha's son, Jesse Churchill, was 24 years old when he married on the 8th day of November in 1750 my 19 year old and 6th great grandmother, Jerusha Gaylord, and over the next thirteen years they had seven children including their first born child and my 5th great grandmother, Martha Churchill, who was born in 1751. Unfortunately Jerusha Gaylord Churchill died unexpectedly when she was only 38 years old leaving Jesse with young children ages 6 to 18 to care for. Her early death was not an uncommon occurrence during this period of history what with the hard life of frequent childbirths and constant work. Not unexpectedly, Jesse remarried soon after his wife's death to a widow woman by the name of Sarah Boardman Cade who had lost her husband after only a year of marriage. Jesse and his new wife Sarah went on to have three children together. Jesse Churchill and his family which now consisted of nine children lived in Newington, Connecticut until early 1775, at which time Jesse made the decision along with six of his friends including his older brother Samuel and his new son-in-law, Benajah Boardman (Martha's new husband), to move away from Newington and up into Vermont.

Hubbardton, Western Vermont
Southeast of Fort Ticonderoga 
Jesse Churchill's motives for moving his family in 1775 over 180 miles north from their home in Wethersfield up to a remote area in Vermont called Hubbardton are highly speculative. One motive of course, is that the land in Vermont was cheap and thousands of acres were available. They all agreed that such a location would be ideal in the future especially for their children who as they grew up and married would be able to find new land readily available. Another reason to leave the Wethersfield area may very well have been the proximity of the war with the British that was currently taking place in the Boston area. The British Army's "Siege of Boston" had begun in April of 1775 following the recent battles of Lexington and Concord. Their move to Vermont might very well have been an attempt to get away from any effects of the conflict that would certainly rapidly advance into Connecticut if the British army was successful. Jesse was around 49 years old at the time and some of his family historians state that because he was just too old to fight, the move to Vermont was not motivated by the war and the possibility of his involvement. Yet Jesse at the time was only five years older than George Washington and his old age as an excuse was a myth and had they not moved he might very well have been engaged in the fighting. We strongly believe that his deeply religious nature and his desire to keep his children away from any possibility of seeing death and destruction was the motive for his trying to avoid the war. His friends undoubtedly agreed. In truth there were thousands of American men who avoided serving in either the militia or the regular army during the American Revolution therefore Jesse was not alone. Support for the war was at the best, mixed. It is reported that "for many years" Jesse Churchill was a Deacon in the First Church of Christ, Wethersfield which certainly speaks to his religious nature. Another motive for avoiding the war was the fact that by 1775 Jesse's family consisted of nine children the youngest being only six. His oldest daughter, Martha Churchill, my 5th great grandmother, had recently married and she followed her father to Vermont along with her new husband.

First Church of  Christ  in Wethersfield, Built 1761-1764
Deacon Jesse Church
In 1775, Hubbardton, Vermont was a wilderness area of tree covered rolling hills and numerous picturesque lakes and no dwellers. The traveling group of seven families might very well have followed the Connecticut River north for much of their two or three week trip before heading northwest over to the Hubbardton area located not far from what is today the New York State border. Hubbardston is also located around 30 miles southeast of what was then Fort Ticonderoga that had been constructed around 20 years earlier. It is highly likely that the families had followed the lead of a guide who was familiar with the area.  Once there and the land was divided per their grants with the original owners, they began clearing and then building their primitive log homes obviously primitive as a result of their not having the tools nor the building skills that would have been readily available in their former town. For the next two years in Hubbardton everything went well as the farms and the families grew. Jesse and Sarah had another child as did we believe his daughter Martha, my 5th great grandmother, and her husband. Martha's child we believe died early and the birth was never recorded. The move to Hubbardton would have been the perfect move except for what happened on 5 July, 1777.

Monument at the site of the Battle of Hubbardton 
As we all know the Revolutionary War did not end in Boston in 1775. In May of 1775 the nearby Fort Ticonderoga under the control of British forces was attacked and captured by the Green Mountain Boys under the leadership of Ethan Allen. Control of the fort by the Americans was short lived for only two years later on the 5th of July in 1777 the British forces recaptured the fort. The American forces consisting of around 1,200 men were forced to retreat from the fort and they headed in the direction of Hubbardton. They were quickly followed by an equally sized force of British Troops. Fortunately the families living in Hubbartdon, including Jesse Churchill's family, were warned in advance of the oncoming British troops and they quickly vacated their homes. What soon followed on the 7th of July 1777, was the Battle of Hubbardton, the only Revolutionary War battle fought in the future state of Vermont.  While some of the families later returned to their homes in Hubbardton, Jesse Churchill unexpectedly elected to return to Wethersfield and abandon his new home in Hubbardton. What happened to Jesse and Sarah following their return is mostly unknown. Sarah died a year later in 1778. She was only 38. Jesse again remarried shortly following the death of his second wife although here again his marriage ended only six years later with the death of his third wife in 1794.  Jesse Churchill died twelve years later at the then advanced age of 79 years old in 1806. He is buried in the Wethersfield Village Cemetery. Where my 6th great grandmother is buried is unknown.

Old Constitution House, Birthplace of "Vermont Republic"
Jesse Churchill was present when state constitution was signed.
One final note about Jesse Churchill is worth reporting in that it tells us a lot about the respect that others in his community must have had for him. On the 4th of June in 1777 about a month before the Battle of Hubbardton and before Jesse with his family returned to Connecticut, Jesse was part of a large group of men meeting in the village of Windsor located about 65 miles east of Hubbardton. He was probably selected by his friends in Hubbardton to represent their community at this meeting of the "General Constitutional Convention". This meeting has some historical significance because it was here that the future State of Vermont was first given the name "Vermont". Quite understandably, the Town of Windsor now refers to itself as the "Birthplace of Vermont."

Unlike Jesse Churchill, his daughter Martha and her husband Benajah Boardman did not leave Hubbardton with the approach of the British army and their German and Indian allies in early July in 1777. In fact Benajah joined forces with the Americans and as best we can determined he was engaged with the Green Mountain Boys in the Battle of Hubbardton that took place on 7 July 1777. There is a story which may or may not be true, that when Benajah left to join up with the American military, Martha was left alone in their house along with her young child along with Benajah's child by his first wife who had died shortly after giving birth in 1773. When the British army approached their house she is said to have hidden under a "feather bed on the floor" along with the two young children but they were quickly discovered when the British entered and searched the house.  She was apparently released, however the British retained their home and used it as a temporary hospital for wounded soldiers following the battle. The British and their allies are reported to have had 49 to 60 men killed during the battle and between 141 to 168 men wounded.

Apparently my 5th great grandfather, Benajah Boardman, was not at home during much of the Revolutionary War as he had apparently signed up with the Green Mountain Boys under the leadership of Col. Ira Allen after the battle in Hubbardton and by 1781 military records have him listed as a sergeant. Ira Allen was the brother of Ethan Allen. We note that despite being married in late 1774, Benajah and Martha did not give birth to their second child until a son was born in early 1780 which perhaps suggests that Benajah was not home much of the time during his engagement in the Revolutionary War. In any case, between 1780 and 1788 they had five children including my 4th great grandmother Rebecca Meekins Boardman who was born on 10 June 1783. Without spending a lot of time describing the life of Benajah and Martha Churchill Boardman, it will have to sufficient simply to note that in 1788 they left their home in Vermont and moved with their family to Newtown, New York (Elmira) and then several years later in 1791 they moved to Ovid, New York located between Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake in Central New York State.  Here Benajah Churchill became a large landowner, a successful businessman including being an owner of both a grist mill as well as a public inn, and for awhile a town supervisor in the Town of Fayette.  Three more children were born following their move into New York State. Benajah and Martha both died in early 1813 apparently as a result of an epidemic fever that was introduced into their area by soldiers returning from the War of 1812. Fortunately at the time of their death their youngest child was 20 years old.

The following is my family line to the Churchill family:

Martha Churchill (1751-1813) and Benajah Boardman (1749-1813)
Rebecca Meekins Boardman (1783-1805) and William Burnham Hall (1774-1842)
Elizabeth Boardman Hall (1801-1877) and Mosley Hutchinson (1795-1861)
Mary Rebecca Hutchinson (1825-1901) and David Dewees Ferree (1826-1869)
Eugene Hutchinson Ferree (1866-1952) and Marian E. Coapman (1867-1895)
Florence Adaline Ferree (1891-1938) and Douglas Ross Patterson (1888-1979)
Marian Coapman Patterson (1916-1973) and Charles Asbury Baker (1916-2000)
Charles Asbury Baker Jr (1942- ?) and Kathleen Therese Mahar (1948- ?)

The temporary end of the story of another one of our great ancestral trees.