Monday, January 29, 2007

Chapter 12 - Wisner, Sly, and Maxwell Families

Our Elmira Ancestors

The picture on the left is my great (x4) grandfather, Thomas Maxwell. He was born in Athens, Pennsylvania on February 16, 1792. At the age of four, Thomas moved with his parents to Newtown, New York where he was to spend the remainder of his life. This chapter tells the story of Thomas Maxwell and some of our other ancestors many of whom were among the earliest pioneers in the wilderness area that was to become the City of Elmira, New York.

Prior to the 1780s, this part of the country was nothing more than forest and a few Indian villages that were located along the flat banks of the Tioga River. The land was fertile and excellent for farming and the resident Indians were extensive farmers. As of yet the white settlers had not moved into the area although they were gradually populating the lands not far to the south in Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River. The Tioga River (later renamed the Chemung River) flowed south into the Susquehanna River. The northwardly migration of the white settlers into Indian Territory did not go unnoticed by the Indians.

These Indians were primarily Seneca Indians recognized at the time as one of the fiercest of the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation. Their lands included most of Western New York from Lake Ontario to the north, Seneca Lake to the east, Lake Erie to the west and most of the land in Northeastern Pennsylvania that had not already been confiscated by the new white settlers. The Indians understandably hated the Americans. When war finally broke out in 1777 between the Americans and the British, most of the tribes of the Iroquois Confederations who previously had taken a position of neutrality, agreed to join forces with the British against the Americans. This decision ultimately proved disastrous for the tribes.

Beginning in early 1778, maraudering bands of Indians starting attacking settlements in the Mohawk and Susquehanna River Valleys, burning villages and killing and scalping settlers. By mid-year the Indians had joined forces with Loyalist and Tories under the command of British Colonel John Butler and they intensified their attacks beginning first in early July 1778 with the “Wyoming Massacre” in Pennsylvania where over 300 settlers were killed. This was followed again in November 1778 when Butler and his Indian allies murdered 50 settlers at the Cherry Valley Massacre. [The Wyoming Massacre is described in Chapter 8 of our family’s history.]

General George Washington realized that something needed to be done to stop these attacks. He also realized that the fertile lands occupied by the nations of the Iroquois Confederation in New York were the breadbasket of the British Army. Fortunately for the Continental Army, the British troops in the summer of 1779 were not active in the Northeast having chosen at that time to concentrate their military efforts in the south. This afforded General Washington the opportunity to divert a large portion of his northern troops to a campaign whose purpose was to drive the Indians from their lands. Because General John Sullivan was given the command by Washington of the largest body of soldiers (around 3,000), this offensive became known as the Sullivan Expedition.

In the late summer of 1779, General Sullivan marched his troops north along the Susquehanna River. In Athens, Pennsylvania where the Susquehanna River meets the Tioga River (Chemung River) Sullivan’s troops joined with General Clinton’s smaller army. The two combined armies of around 5,000 men then proceeded northwest along the Chemung until they reached an Indian village which was later to be called “New Town,” near the present City of Elmira. There on August 29, 1779, the Sullivan-Clinton army engaged in battle an army of Indians and Loyalist troops under the command of Col. John Butler. The battle lasted only a few hours and there were few casualties on both sides. In the end however, the Indians and the Loyalist forces turned and fled. Despite the fact that the Battle of Newtown was not a major battle in the Revolutionary War, it was nevertheless significant for it affectively ended the power of the Iroquois Confederation. After the battle Sullivan’s forces marched north and like General Sherman’s famous “March to the Sea” during the Civil War, Sullivan implemented a policy of the total destruction of the Indian villages and their fields, orchards, and granaries. The Battle of Newtown is still recognized each year in the City of Elmira with a reenactment held in August at the Newtown Battlefield State Park.

Once the area was cleared of Indians it was opened for settlement. This chapter in our family’s history covers three branches of our family that took advantage of the fertile and inexpensive land available in the area of Elmira, New York. These are the ancestors of my Grandmother Helen Spaulding Baker, who was born in Elmira. The first branch is the Wisner family. Clara Wisner married Henry Clinton Spaulding who is a subject of Chapter 4 in our family’s history. The second branch is the Sly family. One of the Sly’s daughters married the son of Henry Clinton Spaulding. The third branch is the Maxwell family. Thomas Maxwell’s daughter married a Sly. My father’s father’s side of the family were Harpendings, covered in Chapter 9, and Rappleyes, covered in Chapter 1.

Elmira Branch #1- The Wisner Family:

Hendrick Wisner (1698-1767) m. Mary Shaw
John Wisner (1718-1778) m. Anna Jayne
Henry Wisner (1742-1812) m. Susannah Goldsmith
John Wisner (1771-1811) m. Elizabeth Bertholf
Henry Wisner (1801-1862) m Maria Smith
Clara A Wisner (1822-1906) m. Henry Clinton Spaulding (1812-1902)

Hendrick Wisner, my great (x7) grandfather, was born in Switzerland in 1698. He immigrated with his parents, Johannes Wisner and Elizabeth Dumbaugh, in the year 1714 when Hendrick was 16. Hendrick met and married his wife Mary Shaw, reported to be from a New England family, in 1719 after he arrived in New York and after he had moved to Warwick, in Orange County, New York. Here their first son was born. Orange County is located in the Hudson River Valley, northwest of New York City. Mary and Hendrick had three children before her death in 1725 at the age of 26. Their first son John, our great (x5) grandfather, was born in 1718. Their second son Henry, one of our great uncles, was a New York delegate to the Continental Congress who approved the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, at least for our family’s pride, Henry had to leave before the formal signing of the Declaration on July 4th. Hendrick and his parents are said to be the first settlers in Orange County. It is also reported by one source that Hendrick Wisner was an “extensive landowner.” He died in the year 1767.

John Wisner, my great (x6) grandfather, was born in 1718. In the year 1740 he married Anna Jayne and together they had seven children all of whom were born between the years 1742 and 1755. We know little of John’s early life although it is likely that he was a prominent farmer probably as a result of inheritances from his father. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1776, John, at age 58, was appointed a Captain in a regiment of the Orange County Militia. In September of that year, the regiment he commanded participated in a brief skirmish against the British on Montresor’s Island, part of New York’s Long Island. General Washington’s army was at this early state of the war battling to prevent the British from capturing New York City. Apparently John’s efforts on Long Island were not appreciated for he was court martialed in October of 1776. It is not clear what happened to John as a result of the court martial, however he was later killed in battle in December 1778.

John and Anna’s oldest son Henry, our great (x5) grandfather, was born on July 11, 1742 in Orange County. Henry Wisner married Susannah Goldsmith on January 1, 1764 in Orange County and together they had eleven children born between the years 1765 and 1784. Henry like his father John, enlisted in the army as a Captain on September 22, 1775 before the actual start of the Revolutionary War. He was 33 when he enlisted. He was promoted to a major in February of 1776 and in 1778 he was further promoted to a lieutenant colonel. As a result of his service in the war and probably in lieu of pay, Henry in the mid-1780s was issued 400 acres of land on the south side of the Chemung River in Newtown, NY (Elmira), one of several military lots granted to soldiers of the Revolution. Whether or not Henry ever lived on his land holdings in Elmira we do not know, but we do know that between 1788 and the early 1790’s both Henry and his son, Jeffrey acquired thousands of acres of land in the Elmira area including 4,000 acres in Big Flats, which he later subdivided and resold. This land he purchased for only 1 shilling and 6 pence per acre, well below the resale value. It appears that Henry had become a land speculator in the red hot Elmira real estate market and it no doubt made him a wealthy man.

It is interesting to compare the father and the son’s success in the military. Both men enlisted in the army at the rank of Captain. No doubt John due to his position in the community, his wealth, and his ability to raise a regiment, was made captain because he had sponsored the regiment. Henry, his son, although helped by his father’s position, was a born-leader and he advanced rapidly. Wealth and buying military rank did not automatically mean that one was a good military leader. John apparently was a failure as a commander whereas his young son was successful. As we learned in Chapter 5 about the Crimean War, the British custom of appointing officers from the ranks of nobility and wealth often led to failure in battle due to incompetent leadership. History reminds us that this problem continued to plague our own military leadership as late as the American Civil War. Henry died in 1812 at his home in Orange County. His wife Susannah died in 1841 at the age of 98. Between 1776 and 1782, Henry Wisner was a member of the New York State Legislature representing Duchess, Orange, and Ulster Counties.

John Wisner, our great (x4) grandfather, was born on January 13, 1771 in Orange County, New York, the fifth child of Henry and Susannah. He married Elizabeth Bertholf on May 16, 1790 and together they had eight children all of whom were born in Orange County. We know almost nothing about John and Elizabeth other than John was reported to be a farmer. He died in 1811 at the age of 40. Elizabeth died in 1843 outliving her husband by 32 years.

John Wisner’s sixth child was our great (x3) grandfather, Henry Wisner who was born at his parent’s home in Orange County on June 13, 1801. Henry married Maria Smith around 1821 and together they had four children, all of whom were born in Orange County. In 1834, Henry and his family moved to Elmira, New York. We assume that Henry moved to occupy land in Elmira that he had inherited from his grandfather and to seek the greater opportunities offered in this new rapidly growing community. In the 1850 US Census in Elmira, we learned that Henry and Maria were living next door to Henry Clinton Spaulding, my great (x3) grandfather, and his wife and Henry’s daughter, Clara Wisner. Henry Wisner’s real estate in the census was valued at $4,000, a large sum in 1850. We also learned from our history of the Spauldings in Chapter 4, that Henry Spaulding, their son-in-law was a prosperous lumberman. While Henry Wisner is listed as a farmer in the census, I think that it is safe to conclude that he was a well-to-do farmer. Henry and Maria are both buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York within a few feet of the graves of my Grandfather and Grandmother Baker.

Elmira Branch #2 – The Sly Family:

John Michael Sly (? -abt.1777) m. Unknown
Michael Sly (? -abt.1808)) m. Catherine (? –abt 1793)
John Sly (1764-1856) m. Mary Hammond (1774-1859)
Mathew McReynolds Sly (1815-1876) m. Susan Maxwell (1823-1848)
Mary Catherine Sly (1844-1917) m. Charles Henry Spaulding (1841-1875)

There is very little historical information available about John Michael Sly, our great (x6) grandfather. We know that his will was probated in Easton, Pennsylvania and that he had lived in Smithfield Township north of Easton in the present county of Monroe. His will was probated in 1777 which is likely the year he died. Smithfield Township lies along the Delaware River which today serves as the state border between Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey. John Michael had at least three children, one of whom was our ancestor Michael Sly who was executor of his father’s will. Michael Sly’s children were all christened in the Smithfield Dutch Reformed Church leading to the speculation that the Slys were of Dutch or German ancestry. We know that many of the early settlers in northeastern Pennsylvania in the area of Wyoming County (Wilkes Barre, PA) had migrated from Connecticut and were mostly of Anglo-Saxon heritage. It is more likely however, that the Slys were not of English descent and their family had moved west from New Jersey or New York City where in the early 1700s the population was largely Dutch and German. It is suggested by one source that the name Sly may have been alternatively spelled Schley, Schleigh, Slye, Slie, Sligh, or Schlei all of which suggest a German or Dutch heritage. According to John Michael’s will he was a man of modest means. We do not know the name of his wife and it is entirely possible that she died at an early age.

Michael Sly, our great (x5) grandfather, was born in Smithfield Township, Pennsylvania around the year 1745. He married a girl named Catherine whose last name we do not know, in the year 1766 and together they had ten children including their first born child, our great (x4) grandfather, John Sly. All of Michael and Catherine’s children were born in Smithfield. On September 29, 1777, Michael enlisted in the County Militia. We could find no record that he participated in any of the battles in the American Revolution. After the war in 1788, Michael and his oldest son John traveled overland on horseback to explore the lands along the Chemung River near the present day city of Elmira. They had heard stories of the Indian-free, rich fertile farming land that was being made available for purchase at a low cost. When they arrived the stories proved to be accurate and they purchased 600 acres of land on the flat south bank of the Chemung River near the Village of New Town. In 1788, they were among the first settlers to arrive in the area. Michael then returned to Smithfield to bring the rest of his family back to their new home.

Most historians record that John Sly, our great (x4) grandfather, actually purchased the land and not his father. This does seem to make sense since John Sly owned the land when he died in 1856. On the other hand, one source reports that John’s brothers sold their portions of their inherited property back to John. This could not be confirmed. Oddly enough, I was unable to find any evidence that any of the Slys had purchased land as early as 1788. Whether John had the money to purchase the land in 1788 is doubtful. It is worth noting however, that in a listing of taxpayers in Newtown in 1794 the names John Sly, Michael Sly, and Adam Sly (Michael’s brother) all appeared. This would seem to imply that they each owned separate parcels purchased some time after 1788.

John Sly was only 24 years old when he arrived in New Town. In the historical records of Chemung County it is written that he arrived with his fifteen year old bride, Miss Polly Hammond. Their arrival is described as follows: “The bridal trip of this couple was accomplished on horseback, and on one horse at that. Mr. Sly bought 600 acres on the flats in Southport, opposite Elmira, for ten shillings an acre. From it he cut the timber and put up a log house for himself and his young wife.” Mary “Polly” Hammond, our great (x4) grandmother, was the daughter of Lebbeus Hammond and Lucy Tubbs. Their story is covered in Chapter 8 of our family’s history. We wrote in Chapter 8 that Lebbeus Hammond and his family relocated from Wyoming County to New Town in 1787, one year earlier than John Sly’s arrival. If this is true, the romantic notion of John and Polly arriving together on horseback in 1788 may be a fabrication. On the other hand, if the Hammond family actually arrived in 1788, it is possible that John Sly and his father had passed through Wyoming County on their trip west, John had fallen in love and married Polly, and together the Slys and the Hammonds traveled north to find new land in New York. This scenario is supported by land purchase records that show Lebbeus Hammond purchasing numerous parcels in late 1788. Is it possible that Lebbeus actually purchased the land and gave some of it to his new son-in-law as a wedding gift? Now that is a romantic notion.
In any case, John and Polly had thirteen children together, their youngest child being born when Polly was only 16. Our great (x3) grandfather, Mathew McReynolds Sly, their last child, was born in 1814. In 1795, John began construction of a new and much larger home for his family. The home was located at the intersection of Maple Avenue and Sly Street near the Madison Avenue Bridge at the present address of 300 Maple Avenue in Elmira. The house remained in the Sly family until 1952. In 1961, the old family homestead was torn down to make room for a new gas station. The Sly family home at 300 Maple Avenue was still standing when my father was born in 1916 at his parent’s home up the street at 826 Maple Avenue.

John Sly was to farm his land for his entire life. It apparently was a successful endeavor for it was reported that he was a wealthy man, very pious and generous to the poor. He was a member of the First Baptist Church in Elmira and one of the founding stockholders of the Chemung Canal Bank of Elmira. John died at his home on August 27, 1856. Polly survived her husband by only three years. They are buried together in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira near the graves of their children, the Spaulding family, and the graves of my grandparents.

There is one last historical note about John Sly that I hesitate to mention. John is listed by the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR file 4381) as having been a 2nd Lieutenant in the Pennsylvania Militia during the Revolution. If this is accurate and John enlisted with his father in 1777, he would have been only 13 years old. While that may have been possible in 1777 (and who am I to question the SAR), it is unrealistic to believe that he would have been a thirteen year old 2nd lieutenant. There are no references that he ever fired a gun in battle.

John Sly’s son, Mathew McReynolds Sly, our great (x3) grandfather was born on December 30, 1815 in his parents home on Maple Avenue in Southport (Newtown). He married Susan Maxwell who was born on December 15, 1842. Together they had two children including Mary Catherine Sly, our great (x2) grandmother, who was born on March 17, 1844. Susan died on October 4, 1848 at the age of 25 after giving birth to her second child and son, James Sly. In the 1860 US Census, Mathew is listed as living with his second wife, his 16 year old daughter, Mary Catherine, and his three servants and two laborers. The census indicated that Mathew was a farmer with real estate valued at $50,000. One source indicates that he was a co-owner of a stage coach line operating out of Elmira. Mathew died on November 15, 1876 at the age of 61 at his home at 300 Maple Avenue, the home that his father had built for his family in 1795. Mathew and Susan are both buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira. Their daughter Mary Catherine Sly married Charles Henry Spaulding on October 15, 1862. Charles Henry’s sisters were good friends of Samuel Clemens and his wife as we discovered in Chapter 4 of our family’s history.

Elmira Branch #3 – The Maxwell Family

Alexander Maxwell m. Jane McBrantney
Guy Maxwell (1770-1814) m. Neeltje Eleanor Vansteenberg (1770-1824)
Thomas Maxwell (1762-1864) m. Maria Purdy (1801-1846)
Susan Maxwell (1823-1848) m. Mathew McReynolds Sly

We know very little about Alexander Maxwell and his wife Jane McBrantney, my great (x6) grandparents. We know that they were both Scottish and that he was from Caerlaverock, Scotland and she was “an accomplished woman connected with the clan McPherson.” When I did a Google search to locate Caerlaverock, Scotland I found a reference to a Sir Eustace Maxwell of Caerlaverock who had fought along side William Wallace (Mel Gibson’s “Brave Heart”), Scotland’s great hero in their fight for independence from the English in the 1300’s. Is it possible that we are related to Sir Eustace? The adjacent photograph of Caerlaverock Castle, the old Maxwell homestead, is located near Dunfries, Scotland. Anyway, I believe that Alexander and Jane were married in late 1769. In June of 1770 they departed from Glasgow on a ship bound for America. Unfortunately, the ship was driven ashore during a storm and wreaked on Irish soil in the County Down. While stranded in Ireland their first son, Guy Maxwell, my great (x5) grandfather, was born on July 19, 1770. The family eventually made it to America in 1772 and settled in a community near Martinsburg, Virginia.

When Guy Maxwell was eighteen years old he met a Colonel Hollenback who was visiting his old home in Martinsburg. Colonel Hollenback was a Revolutionary War veteran turned entrepreneur who was opening stores in the settlements along the Susquehanna River. The Colonel took a liking to young Guy and hired him to run one of his new stores in Tioga Point (Athens), Pennsylvania. Guy relocated to Tioga Point in the year 1788. Apparently, he was highly competent for in 1791 he opened his own mercantile business and in the same year he was not only appointed to the position of Justice of the Peace, he also received a license to operate a tavern. Also in 1791, Guy married my great (x5) grandmother, Neeltje (“Nellie”) Eleanor van Steenberg. Nellie was of Dutch ancestry. Her great, great grandfather had emigrated from Holland in the 1640’s and the family had settled in the Kingston, New York area along the Hudson River. After the Revolutionary War, Nellie moved with her parents to Tioga Point. Guy and Nellie were to have six children including our great (x4) grandfather, Thomas Maxwell, who was born in Tioga Point (Athens) on February 16, 1792.

In August of 1796, the Maxwell family relocated to Newtown, New York, where they acquired land and built a home on the south side of the Chemung River, near the home of John Sly and his family. Guy engaged in a mercantile business in his new community. In 1798 he was appointed the principal Tioga (Chemung) County tax assessor in charge of internal revenue, a position that did not last long, as tax collection was “exceedingly obnoxious to the people of the county” and the position and tax collection was discontinued. In 1800, Guy was appointed sheriff of Tioga County, a position that he held for four years. Before Guy Maxwell died on February 14, 1814 at the age of only forty-three he was considered to be “a man of considerable property” owning at one point more than one-half of the property in the business part of the city. Nellie outlived her husband by only ten years.

Guy and Nellie’s son Thomas Maxwell married his second wife, Maria Purdy, our great (x4) grandmother, in 1819 when he was twenty-seven and she was just eighteen. Thomas’ first wife had died very young possibly due to complications at child birth when their daughter was born in 1818. Together Thomas and Maria were to have nine children including their third child, our great (x3) grandmother, Susan C. Maxwell who was born in 1823.

Thomas Maxwell whose picture appears at the beginning of this chapter has one of the best resumes of all of our ancestors that I have researched. During the War of 1812 he was appointed quartermaster of a Cavalry regiment. From 1819 to 1892 he was Clerk of Tioga County. In 1828 he was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives and served in the Twenty-first US Congress during Andrew Jackson’s first term as President. In 1834 he was appointed as Postmaster of Elmira. Between 1834 and 1836 Thomas was Editor of the Elmira Gazette. He was at one time, about 1841, vice-president of the New York and Erie Railroad Company. In 1845 he moved his family to Geneva, New York where he was admitted as an attorney, and was appointed deputy clerk of the New York State Supreme Court. Thomas Maxwell died in 1867 after being struck by a train of railroad cars on his way home. It was hardly a fitting end for such an illustrious career. In a Chemung County history article it is written: “The latter years of his life were spent in advocating the pension claims of soldiers [Revolutionary and 1812 war soldiers]. In many ways he was one of the foremost men of his county [Chemung], and his character and disposition were such as to draw closely to him those with whom he came in contact.” Thomas and Maria are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Thomas and Maria’s daughter Susan married Mathew McReynolds Sly on December 15, 1842.

This chapter has covered three families all of whom were ancestors of my Grandmother Baker, Helen Spaulding. Clara A. Wisner was my Grandmother’s great grandmother on her father’s father’s side. Susan Maxwell was my Grandmother’s great grandmother on her father’s mother’s side. Mary Catherine Sly was my grandmother’s grandmother on her father’s side.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Chapter 11 - Our Scandinavian Ancestors

In the spring of 2004, Kathy and I departed from Florida in our motor home. Our plan was to attend my college reunion in early June in Ithaca, New York, visit my sister and her family in Boston, spend three or four weeks in Canada’s Maritime Provinces, and then return home to Florida by late summer. After several stops on the way north to visit historical sites such as Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, we finally arrived at our first long term campsite where we planned to stay at least two weeks. It was here at the K.O.A. Campground where we met Carol Knox and her husband. Kathy and I shared a few drinks with the Knox’s who had parked their RV next to ours and it was during our initial conversation with them that I mentioned to Carol that I was interested in my family’s genealogy. As it turned out, Carol was an avid genealogist and claimed to have collected over 12,000 names in her family tree. She was very interested in where I stood collecting information so I shared with her some of our family’s names. That night after we parted company, she must have stayed up late, for the next morning she delivered pages and pages of information printed from genealogical websites regarding my family’s ancestors. There were so many new names that it took me several weeks just to enter the names into the family tree stored on my computer. One of the lineages she discovered traced our family roots back to Alfonso I, the first King of Portugal. Alfonso had chased the Moors out of Lisbon way back in the 11th century.

Quite by coincidence, in the spring of 2005, Kathy and I took a transatlantic cruise that disembarked in Lisbon, Portugal, the ancestral home of our relative, Alfonso I. We took this opportunity to visit Alfonso’s much restored castle and the church where he was crowned. Our many photographs on the trip included several pictures of a large statue of Alfonso. Kathy humorously remarked that she could see the family resemblance when she studied Alfonso’s face. It had always been my intention that one of the chapters in our family’s history had to cover the subject of Alfonso’s great deeds. It was not until I had completed ten chapters and entered them into our website,, that I finally found the time to begin my research on this side of our family.

Fortunately for today’s genealogist there is a vast amount of free information available on the internet. Anyone interested in learning about their ancestors can join organizations such as where genealogical information is accumulated and made available to its members. These same websites offer at a modest cost access to historical records such as immigration records, cemetery listings, ship passenger lists, birth certificates, and well as the multitude of other typical sources of data that used to take months to gather through the mail or by visiting genealogical and historical societies. Naturally and especially when viewing family trees prepared by other amateur genealogists, one has to be careful not to accept everything at face value without also doing independent research to find collaborating evidence. I offer these two examples illustrating how easy it is to be misled. Last year, I became convinced that I was a direct descendent of William Shakespeare simply because I found a family tree on that claimed that our ancestor, a John Hall, was also William Shakespeare’s son-in-law. They both had the same name and they both lived around the same period of time. Of course, Shakespeare’s son-in-law would have had to have immigrated to America to be our John Hall. John Hall, the son-in-law, actually died while still living in England. I learned later that Shakespeare had no descendents below his grandchildren.

The other example of the pitfalls of assuming the accuracy of someone else’s research occurred when I accepted as fact that I was a direct descendent of Afonso I. I am in fact unrelated to Afonso. While one of Afonso’s granddaughters married Valdemar II, King of Denmark, his son who is our ancestor was born in 1211, one year before Valdemar’s arranged marriage to Afonso’s granddaughter. The son was actually born by one of Valdemar’s lovers, the widow of a wealthy Danish nobleman. While the son was born a bastard this was not an uncommon occurrence in the 13th century. Valdemar recognized his son, his nobility, and his right of inheritance in everything but the Danish throne. The bastard son was named Knut Valdemarson and he was my great (x20) grandfather. But our family’s history begins at a much earlier date.

This family story begins in the year 1719 with the marriage of Jeronimus Rapelje and Aeltje van Arsdalen which for clarity purposes we shall label as Generation 1. The story will end with the birth of King Gorm in the year 880. This we will label as Generation 24. Each of the intermediate generations will be labeled with their appropriate numbers.

On September 19, 1719, 22-year old Jeronimus Rapelje, our great (x6) grandfather, married 27-year old Aeltje van Arsdalen. Jeronimus was the great grandson of Joris Rapelje and Catalyntje Jeronymus Trico, the young couple who had immigrated to America in 1623 and who are the subject of the first chapter in our Family History. Jeronimus was also the grandfather of Jeremiah Rappleye who moved with his family to New York’s Finger Lakes Region in 1797 and who is also a subject in Chapter 1. Jeronimus and Aeltje were married in the Dutch Reformed Church in Flatlands, New York, an area that is now part of Brooklyn. It was a farming community in the early 1700s occupied in large part by families of Dutch heritage. They were both born in Flatlands as were their fathers and mothers before them. Perhaps as a result of the scarcity of farm land in Flatlands due to population growth, sometime after their marriage the couple moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey. Jeronimus is reported to have been one of the earliest settlers in New Brunswick. Both he and his wife lived there for the remainder of their lives. He died in 1775 and is buried in New Brunswick. Aeltje followed her husband and died in the year 1784.

We have been able to trace Aeltje’s ancestors back twenty-three generations to the 10th century. Her great grandfather was born in Sweden and emigrated from Amsterdam, Holland in 1637. Her great grandfather’s ancestors included nine generations of Swedes and before them another twelve generations of Danes, many of whom were of royal blood and some of whom were Viking Kings. The remainder of this chapter will cover their history.

Claes Cornelissen van Schouwen
, the great grandfather of Aeltje, and our great (x9) grandfather was born on April 3, 1597 on the Island of Oland located four miles off the southeast coast of Sweden. At least six generations of our family preceding Claes Cornelissen were born, lived, worked their entire lives, and are buried on this island that is only 1,342 square kilometers in area. As would be expected, the principle industry of the island is related to the sea. Our ancestors were fisherman, sea captains, and merchant traders. Everything revolved around the islands excellent location in the Baltic Sea and its proximity to their trading partners in Denmark, Finland, Russia, and mainland Europe. The story of Claes Cornelissen is an interesting one.

Claes was a sea captain and merchant-trader. At one point he owned two vessels and four warehouses, one located on the Island of Oland, one in Schouwen in the Netherlands, one in Germany, and one in Denmark. He lived part of his life on the Island of Schouwen in the Netherlands and as was the Dutch custom, his Dutch surname name, van Schouwen, was taken from the location of his home. He married a Dutch women, Margaret van der Goes, on November 9, 1623 and shortly thereafter returned with his new wife to Oland to live near his relatives. In 1630, Claes joined the Swedish military and he served as a soldier in the 30-Years War, a war considered by historians as one of the great conflicts of early modern history. The war consisted of a series of declared and undeclared wars which raged through the years 1618 through 1648. Sweden’s role in the war encompassed only the years 1630 through 1634. The background of the war is complex although at least in part it was a religious war between the Catholics of Austria and Spain, and the Lutherans and Calvinists of Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, and Sweden. Control of the sea ports on the Baltic Sea was another very important secondary motivation for going to war.

Unfortunately for our Claes, he was badly wounded in the head and captured at the Battle of Mitten in Poland in 1631. After suffering terrible hardships during his imprisonment, he miraculously escaped his capturers in 1633, and after an heroic adventure he found his way home. When he returned home he learned the sad news that when the war was at its height in 1631, his wife had died. Furthermore, his business was in ruins and he was forced to sell what was left of his vessels and warehouses. On October 1, 1636, Claes with his son Pieter, departed from Amsterdam on the ship “Rensselaerwyck” headed for America. They arrived in New Amsterdam on March 8, 1637. Claes remained in Manhattan working as a contractor for the rest of his life. He died in 1674. He remarried in New York and had four more children, including our great (x8) grandmother, Pieterje Claussen van Schouwen who was born in 1640. Pieterje married Simon Jansen van Arsdalen, Aeltje’s grandfather, who was born in Belgium. They both lived and died in Flatlands, New York as did their children.

As might be expected, there is not a lot of information available about Claes’ ancestors that lived on the Island of Oland other than their names and birth and death dates and the few family stories covered below. For continuity purposes I am listing their names, starting with Claes’ parents:

Part 2 (Years 1447 to 1599)
Cornelius Petersson (1560-1599) m. Johanna van der Goes ( ?-1592)
Peter Eriksson (1527-1589) . Matilda van Houden (1531-1591)
Erik Erikson (1490-Abt. 1550) m. Anna Olosdotter (Abt 1499-Abt 1542)
Erik Knutson (Abt 1469-Abt 1491) m. Cajsa Brita Gregorsdotter (Abt 1473-Abt 1500)
Knut Simonson (1443-Abt. 1531) m Barbro Knus (1447-1469).

It took me quite some time researching our Swedish ancestors before I caught on to their names. For example, I could not understand why Claes Cornelissen’s father’s surname was not also Cornelissen. Then it became quite obvious. His father’s first name became Claes’ last name with the addition of “son” or “sen”, thereby identifying him by name as the son of Cornelius. With that knowledge, it becomes quite easy to predict that Knut Simonson’s father had a first name of Simon. In the same vain, the daughter’s surname was derived from the father’s first name with the addition of “sdotter” which probably means in Swedish, daughter of. This different way of naming the offspring must have played havoc on English speaking immigration officers in our country’s early history. For that reason, it is not surprising that Pieter, Claes’s son, whose last name would have been Claessen, changed his surname once he arrived in America to Wyckoff to help distinguish him from all of the other Claessens in New Amsterdam. Apparently Claes was a common first name as was Pieter. Thereafter, all of Pieter’s children and descendents carried the surname of Wyckoff. I mention this because one of my ancestors, the son of our clock builder, was named Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye, the Wyckoff name coming from an earlier family member and the original Pieter Wyckoff.

While we do not know much about Claes’ immediate ancestors we do know that Claes’ father, Cornelius Petersson, our great (x10) grandfather, was himself a merchant-trader on the Island of Oland and he owned and captained a ship named the “Calmarsund.” We also know that because he owned his own ship he was pulled into another military conflict this time involving Duke Charles, the future King of Sweden and King Sigismund of Poland. Apparently King Sigismund, a Catholic, had a claim to the throne of Sweden despite the fact that Sweden was predominately a Protestant nation and Duke Charles was a champion of the new Lutheranism. In 1598, Sigismund returned to Sweden to claim his throne and in southern Sweden near Kalmar, the coastal city near the Island of Oland, home of Cornelius Peterson, a battle ensued in which the forces of Duke Charles defeated the forces of King Sigismund. King Sigismund lost his claim to the throne of Sweden and in 1604, Duke Charles became King Charles IX of Sweden.

We do not know for certain the role that Cornelius Petersson played in this conflict although it seems clear that he must have supported King Sigismund since Duke Charles had Cornelius tried for treason in 1599. He was found guilty of treason but was later pardoned. There is no definitive record of what happened to Cornelius after his trial although he did end up dead in February of 1601. This leads to the speculation that he may have been murdered or died while in prison. He was in his early 40s when he died. His son Claes was only five years old.

Unfortunately, war was an all to common occurrence in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1563, war broke out between Sweden and Denmark with off and on again fighting persisting for seven years until a treaty was signed in 1670. The war is named by historians, the Baltic Seven Years War. Our great (x11) grandfather, Peter Ericksson (1527-1589), sea captain of the ship “Calmarne Bancken” sailing with his two older brothers, Nils and Hans, was to play a role in the war. For Nils and Hans it was to be a life ending role.

In 1397, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway agree to a union between their three counties to act as one state under one common monarchy. Each country in the “confederation” was to retain its own laws and its own governing elites. Unity was to exist in terms of foreign policy, and national security. The agreement is called by historians the Kalmar Union, named after the Swedish city near the Island of Oland where the agreement was signed. Even considering the occasional difficulties that arose during the period of the confederacy, the Union worked fairly well for over 100 years. Unfortunately, with the change of monarchy in Denmark in the later years of the union, Sweden grew very discontent with the leadership in Denmark, and finally in 1523, Sweden elected its own king, King Gustav I Vasa, which effectively ended the Kalmar Union. Over the next 40 years, Gustav fortified Sweden and developed Sweden’s first standing army. Gustav I is considered today by most Swedes as the “father of modern Sweden.” Unfortunately, when Gustav died in 1560, he was succeeded by his eldest son Erik XIV, who was mentally unbalanced and much too adventuresome, which resulted in alienating many of his nobles, squandering the treasury’s surplus, and starting a war with Denmark in 1563.

The war that followed involved numerous land and sea battles beginning on May 30, 1563 when the Swedish navy fired on Danish ships off the coast of Sweden. A two day sea battle ensued resulting in a Danish defeat followed shortly by a formal declaration of war by Sweden against Denmark. Our great (x11) grandfather, Peter Eriksson and his two brothers were a part of the navy engaged in this first naval battle. We do not know the details of their involvement other than they may not have performed up to expectations, for shortly after the battle all three were tried for cowardice [not a family trait, I hope]. Fortunately, all three were acquitted of this charge. Unfortunately, Peter’s brother Hans was also found guilty of freeing prisoners and he was subsequently executed. Nils, Peter’s other brother, was found guilty of treason and he too was executed. It was a cruel world back in 1564. Peter on the other hand was set free and he continued to serve as a sea captain for the remainder of the war fighting in a number of sea battles during which he apparently acquitted himself well. Peter died in 1589 and he is buried on the Island of Oland, the home of his parents, his wife, his children, and many of his ancestors.

Knut Simonson
was our earliest ancestors to be born on the Island of Oland. We do not know whether his father, Simon Kristoferson Strale, our great (x15) grandfather, was born or lived any of his life on Oland or in Kalmar, Sweden. All we do know about Simon was that he was born around 1410 and he married a rather wealthy woman of noble heritage from Aspenas, Sweden. Her name was Elin Ivarsdotter and at least four generations of her ancestors lived in or around Aspenas, Sweden. I have spent a great deal of time researching the whereabouts of Aspenas without a great deal of success. The best that I can determine is that Aspenas was the medieval name of an area in Ostergotland, a province in southeast Sweden located about 100 miles north of the coastal city of Kalmar. Aspenas was most likely the name given to the castle and the estate of the nobleman who owned the property. One source in my research reported that one of our ancestors was the “Lord of Aspenas.” It is clear from my research however, that at least five generations of our family were wealthy nobles from the Aspenas area. They include:

Part 3 (Years 1230 to 1490)
Simon Kristoferson Strale (? – abt.1410) m. Elin Ivarsdotter (1404-abt.1490)
Ivar Knutson (father of Elin) (bef. 1347 – aft.1404) m. Elin Larsdotter
Knut Jonsson (abt.1270 – 1347) m. Katrina Bengtsdotter (? – 1350)
Jon Filipsson (abt.1212 – 1280) m. Ingeborg Svantepolksdotter (abt.1250 – 1340)
Svantepolk Knutson (1230 – 1310) m. Bengta Folkunge (? – 1280)

Svantepolk Knutson
, our great (x19) grandfather, was the son of the son of Valdemar II, one of the Denmark’s early medieval kings. Valdemar will be the subject of this story in a subsequent paragraph. Svantepolk was born in Estonia in 1230, a province in present day Poland. His father was the Duke of Revalia in Estonia. Land and titles were granted to his father in Estonia by his grandfather, Valdmar II. Perhaps as a result of an arrangement, Svantepolk moved to Sweden and married Bengta Folkunge sometime around 1250. Bengta was the grand daughter of King Sverker II, the late King of Sweden. Her older sister was the wife of Eric XI, the then current King of Sweden. Svantepolk already wealthy from his inheritances gained even greater wealth with his marriage to Bengta. His position of being the brother-in-law of the King further enhanced his position as a high lord of Swedish nobility.

Svantepolk Knutson is a notable name in Swedish history. He became the Justiciar of Ostrogothia which meant that he was a senator, judge, and close adviser to the King. One source refers to him as the “Lord of Skarsholm” which is an area in Ostergotland, near the estates of 13th century Swedish royalty. Above all, Svantepolk was a remarkable and wealthy feudal lord in Sweden during his lifetime.

Svantepolk’s daughter, Ingeborg Svantepolksdotter, our great (x18) grandmother, was very young when she married Jon Filipsson, who was over 30 years her senior. Undoubtedly the marriage was arranged which was the custom of the time. Jon was a wealthy nobleman who carried the title of “Lord of Aspenas” and obviously he must have been considered a suitable husband for Svantepolk’s young daughter. It was probably not Jon’s first marriage considering that he was in his fifties when they married. Their marriage lasted for less than ten years for in the year 1280, Jon was murdered. Ingeborg, only thirty when he husband died, lived another 60 years. I can not help but speculate that Jon’s father-in-law, Svantepolk, may have reconsidered his choice of Jon as a husband for his daughter, and may have had the marriage ended by ordering Jon’s murder. Those were cruel years in the 13th century.

Knut Jonssan
, our great (x17) grandfather, was the son of Jon and Ingeborg and only 10 years old when his father was murdered. Knut was born with all of the advantages. He had wealth and he had power. His wife, Katrina Bengtsdotter, was the daughter of a Justiciar and a cousin of the Folkunge kings. Knut went on to become the Lord High Justiciar of Sweden under King Magnus IV, King of Sweden and Norway. This position was the second highest position in the land under the King. Knut died at the age of 77 in the year 1347, only 3 years before the “Black Death” spread into Sweden.

The bubonic plague is thought to have begun in Asia in the year 1334. The exact cause of death and how the disease was spread is still a subject of some debate although the general consensus seems to be that death was caused by a bacteria carried by rat fleas. Humans were affected when bitten by the diseased fleas. The plague spread rapidly reaching Europe in 1348 and finally reaching Sweden by late 1349. It is estimated that between one-third and two-thirds of the European population died between 1348 and 1350. It is believed that over 200,000 Swedes died in the year 1350. The disease caused major skin damage that resulted in the body being covered with dark blotches hence the plague being referred to as the “Black Plague” or “Black Death”. Most victims died within four to seven days after infection. Europe was overwhelmed by the onslaught.

Knut Jonsson’s wife, Katrina Bengtsdotter, our great (x17) grandmother, died in Sweden in the year 1350. There is no record of how she died, however considering that one-third or more of the population of Sweden died in the year 1350, it is easy to speculate and even to conclude that Katrina died from this dreaded disease. We are fortunate that her son, Ivar Knutson, who could not have been more than 10 years old in 1350, survived or was not afflicted by the disease. Her son’s survival is fortunate for he is our great (x16) grandfather.

All of Svantepolk Knutson’s ancestors were born in Denmark. All of them at least as far as our family story goes, were nobility and in a few cases, even royalty. These ancestors include:

Part 3 (Years 1096 to 1260)
Knut Valdemarsen (1211-1260) m. Hedvig ? (1215 - ?)
Valdemar II (1170-1241) x Helena Guttormsdotter (1172 - ?) never married
Valdemar I (1131-1182) m. Sophie (of Polotzk) (abt.1140-1198)
Canute (or Knud) Lavard (abt.1096-1130) m Ingeborg Haraldsdotter

Canute Lavard
, our great (x23) grandfather, was the second and the only legitimate son of King Erik I of Denmark. When King Erik died in 1103, Canute was too young to be elected to the throne and he was sent to live with a magnate family in Zealand, Denmark. When he came of age in 1115, King Niels of Denmark made Canute an Earl of South Jutland, in the south of Denmark. For the next dozen or so years, Canute worked hard to bring peace to the lands that he governed including spending many years fighting against Viking pirates. He successfully restored peace to the area while at the same time encouraging and aiding Christian missionary activities in southern Jutland. Apparently his success infuriated King Niels, his uncle, who soon began to regard Canute as his rival. In the year 1130, two of Canute’s cousins murdered him while he was on a hunting trip. It seems that in these medieval times, murder was an accepted practice for resolving disputes. Canute may have had the last laugh at least from an historical perspective, for in 1170 he was formally canonized as a martyr for justice by Pope Alexander III. Saint Canute is today venerated as a saint in Denmark. He and his wife Ingeborg had four children, one of whom married the King of Norway, and one of whom was to be a King of Denmark.

Valdemar I, our great (x22) grandfather, was only a few months old when his father was murdered. He was raised by a noble Danish family. When he was only 23 he was elevated to the position of Co-king of Denmark. There were three kings in total each ruling a different area in Denmark. In 1157, one of the kings was murdered and the other king killed in battle. This resulted in Valdemar I become the sole ruler of Denmark. King Valdemar I spent the remainder of his life in constant battle repealing invaders and warring with others to gain control over important lands along the Baltic. In the process he united Denmark and re-built the country. Valdemar, also know today as Valdemar “the Great” had four children with his wife Sophie. One daughter married the future King Erik X of Sweden, two daughters became nuns, and two sons became future kings of Denmark including our great (x21) grandfather, King Valdmar II of Denmark. Valdemar I was 51 years old when he died in 1182. His son, Valdemar II, was only eight when his father died.

Valdemar II
was the second son of King Valdemar I. His older brother, Canute VI, ruled Denmark until 1202, at which time, Valdemar II, then 32, succeeded him on the throne. Canute VI had died childless. Valdemar II, also known as Valdemar “the Conqueror”, is counted today among the greatest of the medieval Danish kings. Commencing in the 1210s he began to expand Danish influence in a crusade against the remaining pagan tribes on the opposite shores of the Baltic Sea. He successfully gained control over most of the lands in northern Germany and Estonia. Unfortunately in 1223 he was captured in battle and not released by his capturers in 1226 under the condition that he relinguish most of his conquests in north Germany. In 1227, he attempted to regain control of his lost territories but his armies were disastrously defeated. Valdemar spent the remainder of his life codifying Danish law which he completed by the time of his death in 1241.

Valdemar II had one son by his first wife. When she died, he remarried Berengaria, the daughter of King Sancho I of Portugal and granddaughter of Afonso I. Together they had three sons and a daughter. Two of his sons were destined to become future kings of Denmark. Valdemar’s son by his first wife predeceased Valdemar. Our family is not directly related to any of Valdemar’s children by his two wives. Fortunately, before Valdemar’s arranged marriage to his second wife was consummated he had an affair with Helena Guttormsdotter, a woman of Swedish noble birth and the widow of an important Danish nobleman. In 1211, she bore Valdemar a son, our great (x20) grandfather, Knut Valdemarsen.

In 1219, Valdemar II granted his son, Knut Valdemarsen, lands in Estonia (Poland) and Knut became the Duke of Revelia, and later the Duke of Blekinge and of Laaland. These were lands on mainland Europe on the Baltic Sea that had been conquered by his father. Knut married Hedwig (von Pommerellen), daughter of a Duke in Pomerania, the land immediately west of Estonia. Together they had two sons, including our great (x19) grandfather, Svantepolk Knutson, born in 1230, who is covered earlier in this chapter. Svantepolk is the last of our ancestors to live in Denmark or on lands controlled by Denmark. In 1250 he moved his home to Sweden

The six oldest generations of this family tree include the following individuals:

Part 4 (Years 880 to1103)
Erik Sweynsson (1070-1103) m. Boedil Thurgotsdotter
Sweyn Estridsen (1018-1076) m. Gunhild Svandsdoter (abt.1033- ?)
Ulf Thorgilsson (993-1027) m. Estrid Margarete Sweynsdotter (abt.997- ?)
Sweyn “Forkbeard” (960-abt.1014)
Harald “Bluetooth” Blatand (910-985) m. Gyrithe Olfsdotter (abt.905- ?)
Gorm (abt.880-abt.958) m. Thyre Dunebod

People who became known as Vikings inhabited much of Denmark for several hundred years from the 8th to the 11th century. During the Viking period, Denmark was a great power that was based in the Jutland Peninsular in southern Denmark, and on the Island of Zealand, and the southern part of what is now Sweden. They were famous not only for their raiding and trading but also for their complicated and well developed social structure. Gorm “the Old”, our great (x28) grandfather, is considered to be the last of the great pagan Viking kings. Following the lead of his father who ruled a small portion of eastern Denmark, King Gorm by the mid-10th century had gained control over the entire of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula.

Gorm’s son, Harald “Bluetooth”, our great (x27) grandfather, took over the throne as King Harald I of Denmark in the year 940 and by 980 he had fully established a totally united Denmark and secured control over much of Norway. At the height of his power in the mid-960s, Harald was baptized into Christianity and preceded to converts the Dames to his new religion. Harald I Bluetooth died in battle in the year 986 which was a fitting ending for a man who had spent most of his life as a warrior. Harald and his wife Gyrithe Olafsdotter had at least two children. Their daughter Thyria married Olof Bjornsson, the son of the King of Sweden. Harald’s oldest son, Sweyn, became king of Denmark when his father died.

Sweyn I “Forkbeard
”, our great (x26) grandfather, continued his father’s conquests by gaining control of all of Norway, and shortly before his death, conquering England in 1013. Despite his obvious success in forming a Danish North Sea empire, historical information on Sweyn is conflicting. We know that he spent almost twenty years mostly away from Denmark, fighting in Norway and in England before his eventual conquest of England in 1013. His coronation as King of England took place on Christmas day in 1013, and his death occurred shortly thereafter on February 3, 1014. He ruled England unopposed for only five weeks. Despite his short reign, his ancestors have claim to being descendants of a former King of England.

One of Sweyn’s sons became King of Denmark called Canute the Great. After his death, Canute was canonized a saint. Sweyne’s daughter, Estrid Margarete Sweynsdotter, our great (x25) grandmother, married Ulf Thorgilsson, the son of a prominent Swedish family. Ulf became a Jarl (Earl) under Canute the Great, his brother-in-law, and the number two man in Denmark under the king. Apparently there was a misunderstanding between Ulf and Canute over Ulf’s behavior in Canute’s absence with respect to the control of Denmark for it is said that on Christmas day in the year 1026, Canute ordered the murder of his brother-in-law. I have lost count of the number of our great grandfathers murdered in these medieval times and while murder was clearly an effective means of controlling relatives, it is still best that this behavior today is considered totally unacceptable.
GENERATION 20: Twelve years after the 1035 death of King Canute the Great and demise of two other short lived kings, Sweyn II, our great (x24) grandfather, was elected King of Denmark in 1047. Sweyn II (Ulfsson) was the nephew of Canute the Great and the son of Estrid Margaret Sweynsdotter and Ulf Thorgilsson. He was 29 years old when he became king and he died as king at the age of 58 in 1076 after reigning for 29 years, a long time to be in charge in this period of history. Sweyn’s claim to the throne of Denmark however did not go unchallenged for King Harald of Norway refused to relinguish what he believed were his valid claims to the throne after the death of King Canute. A long war ensued that was eventually won by Sweyn in 1064. In 1066, King Harald invaded England but he was defeated by an English army under Harold Godwinson. Godwinson then turned his attention to another invading army under Duke William of Normandy, and this time his English army was defeated at the Battle of Hastings leaving William the Conqueror in control of England.

Sweyn I is often considered to be Denmark’s first medieval king. He was to found a dynasty that sat on the Danish throne until 1448. Sweyn built a strong foundation for royal power through cooperation with the church. Notwithstanding his strong alliance with the church, Sweyn was married only once to a girl to whom he was distantly related. The pope ordered that he dissolve the marriage union which he did. For the rest of his life Sweyn remained unmarried although that did not prevent him from taking one mistress after another. History records that he fathered no less than nineteen children including Erik “Always Good” Syeynsson who was born in 1070. Sweyn II was 52 years old when our great (x23) grandfather was born.

Erik I, “Always Good” or often translated as “Good Hearted” or “Evergood”, was King of Denmark between the years 1095 and 1103. During his short reign Erik was a popular king appealing to the “common people”. It was said that he liked to party and he lived a rather dissipated life. Both he and his wife died in the year 1103 while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands following the First Crusade. His son, the future Saint Canute Lavard was only seven years old when his parents died.

This ends the story of our Scandinavian ancestors. It is a long chapter and probably and unavoidable somewhat difficult to follow. I invested more than fifty hours researching this side of our family plus the time that I spent writing the chapter. Hopefully, my efforts will be enjoyed by future generations. I would encourage other members of our family to do additional research on our Scandinavian ancestry. I have no doubt that the internet and libraries in the future will yield substantially more information on our past than I was able to gather when this chapter was completed in January of 2007.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Chapter 10 - My Mother

Marian Coapman Patterson
When my mother died in 1973 my oldest son was only four. His younger brother was just two. That was thirty-four years ago and I doubt that either one of them has any memory of their grandmother. For some reason the grandmothers in our family have died young. My grandmother Baker died in 1937 at the age of only 50. Grandmother Patterson died in 1938 at the still young age of 47. I never met either one of them. I was not born until 1942 and I would have been for both of them, their first grandchild. There has to be something really sad about having missed the maternal guidance of a grandmother. Unquestionably our two sons missed something important in this regard. My mother was so full of love and strength. She never forgot the important dates or to say the right thing at the right time. She understood the importance of the family whether it was a simple thing like insisting that we eat dinner together each night or as exciting as elaborately decorating the house for Christmas each year and showering us all with gifts. Grandmothers should never die young.

My mother was born in Lockport, New York on August 21, 1916, the first child of Douglas Ross Patterson (1888-1979) and Florence Ferree Patterson (1891-1938). The Patterson’s eventually had four other children, Eugene, Florence, Anne, and Joan. Life in the Patterson family in the 20s and 30s must have been something like a Hollywood movie of America’s happiest family. Summers were spent at their grandfather’s “Camp” on Crane Lake near Parry Sound, Ontario. Their grandfather, Eugene H. Ferree (1866-1952) was a prosperous businessman in Lockport, New York. He owned and managed a successful leather goods factory that manufactured wallets. We were told as children that the E.H. Ferree Co. was financially successful even during the great depression in the 1930s, because inexpensive leather wallets were “always in demand.” It seems that great-grandfather Ferree made enough money to be able to purchase in the early 1920s a large two-story log home on 100 acres in Canada, located a two days drive north of Lockport, and be able to take off from his business for the summer with his son-in-law, daughter, and his grandchildren. The Camp was large enough that the children, including my mother, were allowed, starting in the late 1920s to bring a friend with them for the summer.
Douglas Ross Patterson, my mother’s father, was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on September 1, 1888. In 1913, at the age of 25 he moved to Lockport, New York to accept the position of the first Physical Director of the Lockport YMCA. As a young man in Nova Scotia he was an avid sportsman. He claimed numerous metals and cups attesting to his championships in single skull rowing, swimming, running, and ice skating, and he was a champion high diver. He was captain of the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey league team and the champion baseball and basketball teams. In October 1915, Douglas married my mother’s mother, Florence Ferree, and two years later in 1917 he joined his father-in-law’s leather factory. [According to his draft registration that he signed on June 5, 1917, he indicated that he was employed by the E.H. Ferree Co.] He soon became its Vice President and Treasurer. His abilities as a salesman and manager spurned the rapid growth of the company during the 1920s and the following three decades. The success of the company allowed the family to live in relative comfort. From 1915 to 1929, the Pattersons lived in a large home on Park Place, arguably Lockport’s most fashionable street at the time. In late 1929, the family moved to Burt, New York into a large brick country home on the Lockport-Olcott Road. Two weeks after the family moved into their new home, the family held a house warming party inviting 400 guests. The local newspaper reporting on the affair referred to the “beautiful estate” of Mr. & Mrs. Douglas R. Patterson.
The family, including my mother, lived a charmed life in the 1930s. Her high school years (1929-1933) were filled with social events, parties, dances, sporting events, and school plays. The scrapbook that she kept during that period of her life was filled with invitations, brochures, score cards, and lists of the boys and girls that attended the many social functions. Even the local newspaper reported on the functions. On April 11, 1931 the Lockport newspaper reported that “Miss Marian Patterson, lovely in flowered taffeta, having a white background and floral design of the pastel shades” was well-dressed for her debutant party. In September of 1932, the Buffalo Courier reported that “The beautiful estate of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas R. Patterson of Burt, was the charming setting chosen last night for a dancing party given for their daughter, Miss Marian Patterson. . . .The young hostess received with her parents in the reception hall, and was charming in a gown of blue suede lace.” The Patterson family held many other functions at their Burt home during this period including a very popular annual strawberry festival to raise funds to send boy scouts to summer camp. Douglas Patterson was very involved in community affairs and was without question a highly respected member of his community. In all, the early1930s must have been a wonderful period for this young teenage girl.

Mother graduated from Lockport High School in June of 1933. She had applied and was accepted to Cornell University’s School of Home Economics. She moved to Ithaca, New York in the fall of 1933 and in early 1934 she joined the “Tri-Delta” sorority house, considered at the time to be a leading sorority for young ladies who enjoy an active social life. It was probably sometime in 1936 that she met a young Cornell architectural student, our father, Charles A. Baker (1916-2000).
On the surface, Dad did not seem like the type of man that would attract Mother. His high school scrap book was filled with items displaying his academic achievements. There were no invitations to parties. There was nothing to indicate he enjoyed an active social life or participated in sports. He wore glasses and looked studious. A “nerd” in today's vernacular. On the other hand, he must have been popular in high school as he was elected President of his Senior Class at Northside High School in Corning, New York, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook, he was the baseball manager, he had one of the leads in the senior play, and he graduated at the top of his senior class. Furthermore, I know from many years of personal observation, that Dad had a great sense of humor and an adventurous spirit. I suspect that mother was attracted to Dad’s qualities almost immediately.

By 1937, Mother and Dad were together almost constantly. In the summer of 1937 they spent time at the Patterson/Ferree cottage on Crane Lake and at Dad’s father’s cottage on Keuka Lake near Penn Yan, New York. There are photographs taken by Dad of “Pat” in the summer of 1937 at the Patterson home in Burt, New York. There are photographs of Dad and Mother together taken at Cornell parties in early 1938. They were together enjoying life. Mother graduated from Cornell in 1937. Dad graduated one year later from the five-year architectural program, in June of 1938. They finally married in the Christ Episcopal Church in Lockport, New York on April 29, 1939.

Their honeymoon was adventurous, even by today’s standards. They departed Lockport following the wedding in their 1937 Oldsmobile sedan headed for New York City and the 1939 Worlds Fair. After visiting the fair, they traveled to Washington, DC, then Virginia Beach, Colonial Williamsburg, and finally they slowed down in a small cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

From 1939 until March of 1943, Mom and Dad lived in an apartment at 647 Kenmore Avenue in Buffalo, New York. Dad worked a series of short term architectural/drafting jobs during this period, the longest job lasting only seven months. Nevertheless, the young couple found some time to relax and in July of 1940 they vacationed in the Adirondacks and Quebec, Canada. On May 30, 1942, I was born in Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, and their lives changed. In March of 1943, Dad started work at Bell Aircraft in Niagara Falls, New York and the small family moved to their first home, albeit a rented home, on Bollier Avenue in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls, near the Bell Aircraft plant. On November 28, 1943, their daughter Anne was born and their lives again changed. Dad worked at Bell Aircraft until September of 1945. By then the war had ended as did his job with the aircraft company.

I have almost no memories of that early period. I have a faint memory of driving with my mother to pickup Dad at the aircraft plant. We would park in their huge parking lot with hundreds of other cars and wait for Dad to walk out to the car. It is funny that I remember that. I was only two. Mother must have been proud of her two young children. We have a small collection of professional photographs of Anne and I taken between 1944 and 1946. In these photos we were always well dressed, groomed, and carefully posed. Only a caring mother would have gone to the effort of have these photographs taken, especially considering my father’s small salary.

In 1946, our family moved to a new home at 4332 Lewiston Road in Niagara Falls, New York. Dad was self employed as an architect at the time. My understanding is that Dad paid for the house in cash using part of an inheritance that he received from his Uncle “Rap” who died having no children. Dad also use to say that he paid for the house using some profits from a wise stock market investment based on a tip from my great grandfather Ferree. Either way, with a small income from a small architectural practice my parents were able to pay for their first home without having the worries of a mortgage.

We lived on Lewiston Road from 1946 until 1956. My sister, Joan, was born in 1950 and I remember her being brought home from the hospital. I was a big guy of eight at the time. I have fond memories of my mother and father during these years. Christmas mornings were particularly memorable. As children we were blind folded and lead done the stairs to the Christmas tree that had been decorated and surrounded with gifts after we had gone to bed the night before. The blind folds were removed and memories were created. Mother did most of the work preparing for Christmas including all of the Christmas shopping. I have memories of our Thanksgiving dinners shared with the Cochrane family every year. Anne Patterson Cochrane was mother’s sister. Mother would spend hours in the kitchen when it was her time to prepare dinner. I have memories of our summers spent at the cottages at Crane Lake, at Keuka Lake, and at Sugar Loaf Farm on Lake Erie (near Port Colburn, Ontario.) I have proud memories of Halloween and dressing up in my Indian costume handmade by my mother. I have memories of my Christmas stocking filled with toys. My mother must have spent weeks knitting each of us a Christmas stocking. I have a memory of my mother coming into my room when I was very sick and holding on to me. I have memories of watching my mother work for hours sewing name tags in my clothes before sending me off to summer camp. I have fond memories of my mother’s meatloaf, her goulosh, and her Christmas breakfasts.

In 1956, my parents purchased a new home on Mountain View Drive in Lewiston Heights, New York. The purchase was a big gamble on their part as the house built around 1920 was in terrible shape. The old galvanized water pipes had frozen and broke during the previous winter. The electrical system was old and the heating system was non functional. The location of the property however, was magnificent with its breathtaking views of Canada, the Niagara River, and Lake Ontario, 20 miles away on the horizon. The backyard was overgrown at the time with cherry and apple trees and other unattended plantings. A railroad track ran in front of the property just below the hill. It was fun in those early years watching or hearing the train pass by each day. For almost the next twenty years my parents worked tirelessly upgrading and expanding our home and landscaping. Mother was responsible for the decorating and father was responsible for the remodeling. They hired a landscape architect to prepare a completely new landscape design for their 1-1/4 acre property. Together, over the years they landscaped the entire yard. Dad used to tell us that it was “Mother’s Garden” as she did the lion’s share of the work. It was her hobby and her passion.

In 1947, Dad joined the construction firm of Wright & Kremers, Inc. In the 1950s he was Vice President and co-owner of the firm. In the mid-1960s he was elected President. The income from his position allowed the family to enjoy a good life that included joining the local country club, entertaining, traveling, and expanding their home. In 1956, my mother, concerned that my education at the local junior high school was not adequate, insisted that I be sent to a private boys boarding school in St Catherines, Ontario. Mother paid for my schooling. She made sure however, that every Sunday I was picked up at school and brought home for a family visit and a good meal. I was away from home except for the summers from 1956 through 1960 at high school, and then from 1960 through 1964 at college. After graduation, I moved away from our Lewiston home. My mother during the entire period that I was away from home never stopped being a mother. In my freshman year at college, she insisted that I mail my dirty clothes home each week. She would wash, iron, and fold the clothes and mail them back. If I had not been so lazy and stopped mailing my dirty clothes home, she probably would have washed my clothes through my entire college years. After graduation, Mother insisted that I come home every Sundays for cocktails and dinner. This invitation continued after my marriage and the birth of our two sons. My new family was welcomed at the Lewiston home every weekend, and every Christmas. Mother never gave up being a perfect hostess and a loving mother.

In 1970, Mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and immediately underwent an operation to remove one of her diseased lungs. Mother often admitted that she started smoking with her friends when she was only 16 years old. It was the accepted norm at the time. Everyone smoked. I was always aware that my mother smoked although I never judged the smoking as a negative especially when I was younger. Even in grade school, when my parents sat in the audience in the gymnasium and I was on stage for some reason or another, I recognized my mother’s (smoking) cough in the audience. She always coughed. It was a part of her that we accepted without judgment. The lung cancer changed all of that. Over the next two years mother’s health gradually worsened. She had several more operations to remove other organs that had become ravaged by cancer. At your last Christmas, she appeared emotionally strong but she was too weak to do much other than sit and watch. Finally, in February of 1973 she was again hospitalized. The cancer had spread to her esophagus and she was having trouble breathing. At my last visit to her bedside she was too weak to acknowledge my presence. Oxygen tubes were trying to help her breath, but they did not seem to help much. In the late evening my father called to tell me that he was going to the hospital. They had called and mother was dying. He called again one hour later. Mother had passed away. She was only 56 years old. Her suffering had ended.

Mother’s remains were cremated. A funeral service was held at St Peter’s Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls and the church was full. Following the service, relatives and close friends were invited back to the house for cocktails. Mother would have liked to have been there. She was missed.

As I write these final words, it still saddens me that my two sons have no recollection of their grandmother. They missed her love and attention. They missed a wonderful person. Maybe my brief recollections of her life will help in a small way to bring my mother, their grandmother, back into their lives. I hope so.

Chapter 9 - The Harpending/Baker Family

The Dundee Family Connection

A six mile drive from our cottage on Seneca Lake is the historic old Village of Dundee, New York. Dundee is by no means a beautifully restored village like so many towns in New England. For the most part, it has not been restored and it has not changed much in the past 100 years. Fortunately the village although showing some wear for its age, has retained its character and its charm. The main street consists of a half block of two and three story commercial buildings plus a gas station, a drug store, a library, a funeral parlor complete with an outdoor display of head stones, a bank, a supermarket, two churches, the area school, and a number of partially restored Victorian homes.

There is only one signal light in Dundee located at the intersection of Main Street and Seneca Street. Traveling east down Seneca Street we pass a liquor store and a Laundromat on the right. On the left, we pass the Dollar General store, the old Baptist Church, the Dundee Area Historical Society (in an old school building), the Starkey Town Hall (in an old church building complete with an old cemetery in the rear), and again, many mostly old Victorian homes in need of restoration.

Dundee is located approximately midway between two of New York State’s Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake to the east and Keuka Lake to the west. Between the lakes and surrounding Dundee are beautiful rolling farmlands, and acres of magnificent vineyards. The land is rural and unspoiled except for the occasional farmhouse and barn, and many cornfields and cow pastures. Not withstanding the beauty of the area and the excellent climate and soil conditions necessary to support farming, it is not immediately clear why the Town of Dundee developed where it did. There was no railroad passing through the area nor was the town located in the center of a bustling farming community, at least not in the early 1800s. What did happen is that in 1807, Isaac Stark constructed a sawmill on Big Stream Creek located just south of the future village. The sawmill was conveniently located at the midpoint between the Town of Watkins at the south end of Seneca Lake and the Town of Penn Yan at the north end of Keuka Lake and the fast moving stream and the abundance of trees in the area made this location ideal. Five generations of my family lived and are buried in the Village of Dundee.

Gerrit Hargerinck, my great (x9) grandfather, was the first member of the Harpending family to immigrate to America. He sailed from Amsterdam in the Netherlands with his two sons ages 9 and 15 on the ship “Hope” and after eight weeks at sea they finally landed in New Amsterdam (New York) in June of 1662. There is little available information about Gerrit and his two sons, one of whom was Johannes Hargerinck (1642-1722), other than they both resided in New York City for their entire lives. We have been able to learn more about Johannes’s son, John Harpending, my great (x7) grandfather. John was a large landowner in New York and a pioneer tanner and shoemaker and we know that he donated in 1723 a large section of land in south Manhattan to the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, that they still own today. As a result of the valuable location of the land, a substantial annual rental income is still earned every year by the Collegiate Corporation. We have also learned that in March of 1716 John married Leah Cossart. Her grandfather, Jacques Cossart, arrived in New Amsterdam in October of 1662 shortly following Gerrit Hargerink’s June arrival in the same year.

Hendrick Harpending, son of John and Leah and my great (x6) grandfather, was born around 1720 probably in New York although he may have been born in Sommerset County, New Jersey where his parents had moved sometime after 1719. Hendrick married Mary Coons (of German ancestry) on January 12, 1742 in Bound Brook, New Jersey. We know that Hendrick continued with his father’s trade of tanner and shoemaker and we also know that his home in Bound Brook was later turned into a tavern that was owned and operated by his son, Peter Harpending. A New Jersey historical marker is erected on the site of the tavern. Hendrick died in 1793. Peter Harpending, my great (x5) grandfather, was born in Sommerset County, New Jersey in 1754 (his gravestone incorrectly, I believe, lists his birthdate as 1744. In the 1830 US Census Peter was listed as being between 70 and 80 years old which means he could not have been 96 in 1840 when he died as indicated on his gravestone. Furthermore, the age of his children, the age of his wife, and his age when he fought in the Revolution all tend to indicate that he was born around 1854 rather than in 1844.) History records that Peter Harpending fought in the Battle of Monmouth during the American Revolutionary War. His gravestone in the Harpending Cemetery on Seneca Street in Dundee, informs us that Peter fought as a Corporal in the 1st Regiment of the New Jersey Militia.

When I first learned that Peter Harpending had fought at the Battle of Monmouth I was not particularly impressed. I was proud of course, to be related to another Revolutionary War veteran, but I assumed that the Battle of Monmouth was just another skirmish in a war of many skirmishes. After a little research however, I learned that was not the case. The Battle of Monmouth was fought on land that is now part of Freehold, New Jersey, and was an engagement between 13,000 American troops (2,000 of which were New Jersey militia) under the command of General George Washington, and 10,000 highly trained British Regulars. It was the first direct confrontation of the war where American forces faced off with the British, and as it turned out, it proved to be the largest single day battle fought in the American Revolution. The day long battle was fought on Sunday, June 6, 1778 in 100 degree temperatures. Thirty-seven Americans were recorded that day as dying of heat stroke on the battlefield including the husband of the legendary “Molly Pitcher.” I remember reading as a child of the heroics of Molly (Pitcher) Hayes who as a camp follower and wife of a gunner in the 1st Pennsylvania Artillery, delivered water in a pitcher to the gunners during the long and hot afternoon battle. When her husband collapsed she joined his gun crew and fought bravely alongside the men. Not only were her heroics recognized by General Washington on the day of the battle, her heroics have ever since made her one of the legendary figures of the American Revolution. It is unlikely that Peter Harpending ever met Molly Pitcher, but he did fight under the same conditions and he was part of the American troops that proved for the first time that they could successfully battle the British on their open terms. While the battle proved to be a draw it no doubt instilled the British with a new respect for their enemy. Corporal Peter Harpending was only 24 years old when he fought at Monmouth. Peter married Anna Compton sometime in the early 1770s. Together they gave birth to five children, three of whom died in infancy. Samuel Harpending, our great (x4) grandfather was born in 1778. His mother, Anna, died in February 1780, shortly following the birth of Samuel’s younger brother, Peter, Jr.

Samuel Harpending’s arrival to Dundee in 1811 was described by his great grandson, Asbury Baker, in his book “Memories” as follows: My great grandfather arrived to Dundee “accompanied by his wife, who rode on top of the load of furniture, which was piled onto a hay rigging and drawn by oxen. Uncle Sam, as he was called, walking by the side of the oxen and driving them.” It must have been quite a sight. There upon arrival, the family constructed a log home on the banks of Big Stream joining the other five or six families living in the area. Samuel’s original trade was that of a hatter. The hats he made from furs purchased from local Indians or from animals that he had hunted along Big Stream. Samuel’s mother had died when Samuel was only two and his father unable to care for his two young sons had sent Samuel and his brother off to live with his grandfather. His grandfather bound Samuel to a hatter in Germantown, NJ to learn the trade. When Samuel completed his indentureship in 1795, he returned home, and later married Hannah Cozad on December 6, 1806 in Sommerset County, NJ. Together in the spring of 1807 they moved to Genoa, NY located just west of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes. Four years later they relocated to Dundee. Sometime during the mid 1820s, Samuel opened a tavern in the rapidly growing settlement then know as “Harpending’s Corners” (the name was changed to Dundee in 1834). The town now consisted of “about thirty buildings scattered along four principal streets. It had a dreary and desolate appearance with rough and uneven streets filed with piles of lumber, shingles and staves and profusely decorated with stumps.” When it rained the streets and walks were mostly mud. Notwithstanding the town’s appearance, business at the tavern must have been successful thereby allowing Samuel the financial capital necessary to expand his business. In 1830, he constructed the Harpending House, Dundee’s first hotel. It was located at the intersection of Waters and Seneca Streets. Uncle Sam by this point was a leading figure in Dundee and financially well-off. He was described in the “History of Yates County, NY” published in 1892 as follows:

“The original proprietor, “Uncle Sam”, as he was familiarly called, was a character in his way. Large and burly of figure, the ideal of a country landlord, clear headed and shrewd in business affairs, kind and generous of heart withal, through tempestuous of temper.”

It was also reported that he loved to argue and he loved to hunt and fish.

Samuel Harpending was a generous man. In 1832, he donated the land and a large sum of money towards the construction of the Baptist Church on Dundee’s Seneca Street. Again in 1833 he donated land and money toward the construction of the “Free Church” (later to be sold to the Catholic Church) on Main Street in Dundee. Also in 1833 he donated land and money for the construction of the Methodist Church on Main Street in Dundee. Samuel was also to serve as Dundee’s first postmaster and he continued to own and managed the financially successful Harpending House (Hotel). He also was during his lifetime, one of the largest landowners in Dundee. It is no wonder that there is a large portrait of Samuel Harpending hanging on the wall in the Dundee Area Historical Society. The history of Dundee and the history of Samuel Harpending are intertwined.

Together my great (x4) grandmother Hannah Cozad (of English descent) and my great (x4) grandfather, Samuel Harpending, bore eight children, including my great (x3) grandfather, Asbury Harpending who was born on April 1, 1814. Samuel died in 1852 and Hannah died in 1880 at the age of 90. They are both buried in the Harpending family cemetery behind the Starkey Town Hall on Seneca Street in Dundee.

Asbury Harpending, nicknamed “Berry” by his father, was the oldest son of Samuel and Hannah. It is said that as a young man he spent many hours with his father hunting and fishing in the woods and streams around Dundee. His grandson, Asbury Baker in his book “ Memories” noted that “He [Asbury Harpending] was looked upon by his brothers and others as the most courageous and self reliant member of the family. His independence of character often led to unpleasant contact with his father. Apparently, like his father Samuel, he enjoyed a good debate. On January 22, 1840, Asbury married Mary Sayre, reported to be the “handsomest girl in Yates County.” Together they had three children, Hannah Elizabeth, my great, great grandmother, and two twin boys, Henry and William. Asbury was fairly prosperous during his short life. He owned and operated in Dundee a livery stable and a farm. In 1853 at the age of only 39, he died suddenly from a heart attack. It was thought to have been the result of over-exertion in a fight over a game of cards. Apparently, his hot temper inherited from his father, in the end, got the best of him. Asbury’s wife Mary outlived him by 24 years. They are buried side by side in the Harpending Family Cemetery.

By the time that Hannah Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Harpending was born on September 19, 1842, the small Village of Dundee had grown considerable from the time of her grandparents arrival in 1811. The population was approaching 1,000 and there were more than ten businesses operating on Main and Union Streets. There were mercantile businesses selling food, clothes, and other household supplies, drugstores, a store selling animal feed and farming supplies, a blacksmith shop, a hardware store, and a store that sold carriages and other livery supplies. There were now two hotels in town, a post office, and a regular stagecoach service. In the year following Lizzie’s birth, Dundee published its first newspaper, the Dundee Record. It was true that the streets were still not paved in 1842 and farm animals occasionally ran wild on the streets. Nevertheless, growth was continuous and new homes and businesses were being added each year. In 1848, the Village of Dundee voted to incorporate and by 1850 the village board finally directed that all sidewalks must be built of plank, brick, or flat stone. Gravel was no longer acceptable and the gravel roads were being replaced with wooden planks. It was the time of great change and the community was full of optimism.

Lizzie’s future husband, Charles Schenck Baker (my great, great grandfather) was born in Burdette, NY on December 27, 1836. Burdette was a small farming community located about five miles north of the Village of Watkins on the east side of Seneca Lake. His father, Elijah Baker, my great (x3) grandfather, ran a general mercantile business in Burdette where Charles worked when he was not attending school. At the young age of fifteen, Charles went to Elmira, New York to commence the study of law by apprenticing at a local law office. He was admitted to the practice of law at the age of twenty-one. According to Asbury Baker’s book “Memories”, Charles, his father, was approached in 1856 by some of the citizens of Dundee and they encouraged him to open a law practice in the village. He accepted their invitation and moved to Dundee in early 1857. He was just twenty-one years old. Shortly after arriving in Dundee he began courting the beautiful young Lizzie Harpending. She was one of the most popular girls in town and her family were prominent and prosperous citizens of Dundee. Notwithstanding his status as a newcomer, he finally beat out her other suitors and they were married in Dundee on December 27, 1859. It was his 23rd birthday. Lizzie was just 17.

After their marriage, Charles and Lizzie moved in with the family in a house on Seneca Street directly across the street from the Baptist Church and ten months later their son Asbury was born on October 23, 1860. Between 1859 and 1861, Dundee went through a series of disastrous fires that destroyed large portions of the commercial and residential buildings in the town. The first fire in 1859 destroyed most of the commercial buildings on the east side of Main Street between Hollister and Seneca Streets. The second fire in November of 1860 started on the west side of Main Street and ran north up to the intersection at Union Street. The “Big Fire” commenced around 1:00 AM on Saturday morning, March 1, 1861. A gale was blowing at the time and the fire spread quickly in every direction. Soon more than forty buildings were simultaneous burning including the Harpending House at the intersection of Main and Seneca, and the family home of Charles, Lizzie, and their newborn son, Asbury. There was no time to waste to make their escape. Asbury was carried away from the burning house while still in his crib. The crib blankets actually caught fire during the escape and had to be slapped out as the family rushed from their home. It was dark and cold, but fortunately they were incredibly lucky and all of the family escaped with their lives. The town survived the fires and was quickly rebuilt. The Harpending family however, moved out of Dundee to a farm house on the state road, two and one-half miles south of Dundee. There they remained until 1867.

In 1867, Elijah Baker, Charles’ father, and George Baker, Charles’ brother, urged Charles and his family to join them in New York City where the two of them were engaged in a produce business. The family moved and Charles joined a law firm in New York. Financially things went well as his law business prospered, however during their stay in New York, Charles loaned a lot of money to his father and brother. Unfortunately, their produce business was unsuccessful and the loans could not be repaid. In 1869, Charles and his family returned to Dundee.

From 1869 until 1884, Charles continued to practice law in Dundee. In 1872, Charles led a group of citizens intent on encouraging the railroad to build a track through Dundee. They were successful and by 1878 the Fall Brook Railroad was completed and Dundee had railroad service. Charles was to be the attorney for the Syracuse, Geneva and Corning Railroad for the remainder of his life. In 1884, Charles and his wife moved to Penn Yan where he continued to practice law. At the time of his death in 1891, he was serving in his second term as the District Attorney for Yates County.

On March 27, 1891, Charles died of pneumonia at his home in Penn Yan. Less than 40 hours earlier, Hannah Elizabeth, his wife, also died of this same dreaded disease in the room next to his. They were both transported in a special train car donated by the Syracuse, Geneva and Corning Railroad from the station in Penn Yan to Dundee, where they were buried together in the Harpending Family Cemetery. Five hundred mourners attended their funeral. A passage from his Obituary in the newspaper read as follows:

“He was a splendid man socially. He will be missed at the bar, in the house and the church. He never lost himself in anger – no provocation seemed great enough for him to yield his self-possession, and if he had an enemy we are yet to find him. No man of all our acquaintances would be more missed then he.”

My great grandfather, Asbury Harpending Baker, was born in Dundee on October 23, 1860, one year before his life was saved from the Big Fire of 1861. When the family returned to Dundee from New York, Asbury was only nine years old. He attended the local school until he reached the age of 15 at which time he was sent to school in the village of Farmer Market (now called Interlaken) near the western shores of Cayuga Lake. While in Farmer Market he met his future bride-to-be, Helen Ely Rappleye, the daughter of Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye and Jane Taft Campbell. As a frame of reference, I remind you that Joshua’s father, Peter Rappleye, built the grandfather clock that sits in our living room in our Florida home. The Rappleye Family History is the subject of Chapter 1.

Asbury returned to Dundee after completing school in 1877. Here he worked odd jobs for around a year, finally accepting a position in the summer of 1878 as a typesetter with the local newspaper, “The Dundee Observer”. In 1879, using money borrowed from his mother and his uncle, he invested in the newspaper, formed a partnership with the owner, and operated the newspaper under the firm name Vreeland and Baker until he sold out to his partner in 1881. Being encouraged by his new business venture, he married Helen Rappleye on December 31, 1879. The marriage took place at the log home of his new in-laws in Farmer Market. They were both only 19 years old when they married.

After selling his share of the Dundee Observer, Asbury was determined to take up the study of medicine. He apprenticed with a local Dundee doctor for about one year and then attended the Buffalo Medical College from 1882 to 1885. He returned to Dundee after graduation and opened a practice of general medicine. On November 20, 1885, the last of my relatives to live in Dundee, his son and my grandfather, Charles Schenck Baker, was born in the Harpending House. The Harpending House had been reconstructed following the Big Fire of 1861.

After one year of struggling to make money as a doctor in Dundee, Asbury decided to call it quits. He accepted a position as a doctor in Antrim, Pennsylvania working for the Fall Brook Coal Company. The family spent seven years in Antrim. In 1893, the family moved again, this time to Elmira, New York. In 1898, He joined the staff of Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital. After some additional post graduate work, Dr. Baker commenced to perform surgery. He remained at the hospital until his retirement sometime around 1921. On June 11, 1933 he died. Shortly following his death, the hospital staff wrote a letter to my great grandmother that included these words:

“His gentlemanly behavior and exemplary professional attitude towards his conferees were outstanding traits. His care of his patients was characterized always by rare devotion and conscientious concern for their best interests. The Staff, deeply appreciative of his sterling qualities as a man and physician, and of his long-time association with the hospital, realizes the loss sustained.”

It was a most worthy tribute. In 2006 we noted that Dr. Asbury Baker’s photograph along with other members of the early hospital staff, hangs in the lobby of the Ogden Memorial Hospital as a tribute to and a pictorial history of the hospital.

My great grandmother Helen Baker, died on October 15, 1944, eleven years after her husband’s death. I was two years old when she died. My great grandfather and grandmother were the last of our family to be buried in the Harpending Family Cemetery.

In all, five generations of my family are buried in Dundee. My wife, Kathleen, believes that our recent purchase of a cottage on Seneca Lake, close to Dundee, is pure providence. Perhaps she is right.