In the spring of 2007 I knew very little about my ancestor Henry Sayre other than he was my great-great-great-great grandfather and his daughter, Mary Sayre, had married Asbury Harpending in Dundee, New York. Asbury and Mary are my great (x3) grandparents on my father’s side of our family. I knew roughly the date of Henry’s death and that was all. My goal was to try and find where he was buried so that hopefully I would learn his birth and death dates and with that information perhaps learn more about our common ancestors. To begin the search I assumed that he was probably buried somewhere in the Town of Starkey in Yates County, New York since his daughter was married in this area. In the early 1800s young women and men did not look far from their home for spouses. Fortunately, Yates County has an excellent website that lists all of the cemeteries in the county and many of the names and dates on the gravestones. It was an easy search and I quickly found Henry’s name listed as buried in the Harpending Cemetery in Dundee. I have been to this cemetery many times over the past several years since five generations of my family are buried there including Henry’s daughter Mary and her husband. Despite many visits, I had never seen a gravestone in this cemetery with the name “Henry Sayre”. Kathy and I immediately drove to the cemetery and after a fifteen minute search we found a broken, almost illegible stone marked “Henry Sayre, born July 10, 1788, died October 23, 1860”. We had found him. Armed with these dates we returned home and entered this new information about Henry Sayre into our family tree on Ancestry.com. Their extensive database immediately recognized our Henry and opened up information on a whole new branch of our family tree. Here is our story of The Sayre Family.
It is believed that the earliest Sayre ancestors originated in Gaul (old France) and their descendents eventually migrated to Normandy (northern France) and then into England by the 1200s. Genealogists have found a Thomas Sayre who was born around 1474 and lived in the Town of Podington in the small County of Bedfordshire in southeastern England about 40 miles northwest of the City of London. He is the first of the known Sayres. Three more generations of Sayers following Thomas have been discovered each having lived in Bedfordshire before Thomas’ great, great grandson also named Thomas Sayre was born in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England on Wednesday, July 20, 1597. The younger Thomas’ father, Francis Sayre (1565-1645), his grandfather, William Sayre (1535-1580), and his great grandfather, William Sayre (1514-1564), and of course his namesake, his great, great grandfather, Thomas all had lived within a few miles of one another in the small rural County of Bedfordshire. There is no record of the occupations of Thomas’ forebearers. There is a family tradition however, that Thomas (1597-1671) was employed by the English mint as an assessor. This is significant if true, because it means that Thomas was not a poor immigrant or an indentured servant when he departed for America as were many of the early immigrants to the Virginia Colony starting in 1607, to the Plymouth Colony in 1620, and to New Holland in 1624. Thomas married Margaret Aldrich in Leighton Buzzard in 1625 and together they bore four children in England before they emigrated to America in 1637.
For the most part, the early English attempts to colonize America were poorly planned, poorly financed, and poorly executed. The first major attempt at settlement organized by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584 was doomed from the start. First in order to convince people to participate in the new settlement he exaggerated the quality of the climate, downplayed the risks, and talked up the gold and silver that was to be found. Then after convincing 114 mostly men to participate in the new colony, they were dropped off in the wilderness of Roanoke, Virginia without the adequate skills and supplies to survive, and then left without support for five years. When a ship finally returned to Roanoke in 1590, no one could be found. It is no wonder that this first English colonization attempt is referred to by historians as the “Lost Colony of Roanoke.”
The second major attempt at colonization at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 almost ended with the same fate as the Lost Colony. The Jamestown colony was set up initially by London merchants as a joint-stock company. It was structured as one would a business. They send their employees to the new world at the company’s expense and the employees in return for their free passage would send back the gold they found and whatever other resources they could harvest from the land. The investors also fully expected that a route to the riches of the Far East would be discovered that would make them all wealthy. The “employees” were almost entirely unskilled young men who had agreed to hire on as seven year indentured servants. Their lack of experience, the winter conditions, the lack of supplies, the Indians, the insects, wasted efforts looking for gold, not enough women, and disease and starvation almost wiped out this second colony. Fortunately had it not been for the incredibly strong leadership on the part of John Smith and the arrival of new supplies just as they were preparing to call it quits, this second colony would have also failed. It was also fortunate that shortly after their decision not to return to England it was discovered that growing and selling tobacco was an immensely profitable export, and slaves were a lot less expensive to employ than indentured servants. Jamestown is a part of our country’s heritage but it was hardly a pretty beginning.
Unquestionable, the third major attempt to establish an English colony in America, the landing at Plymouth Colony in 1620, was at least in the eyes of American school children, the most romantic of the colonizations, what with the funny clothes, the friendly and sharing Indians, and the first Thanksgiving. The truth is the flaws in the first two attempts were again repeated in this third but ultimately successful attempt to form a colony. Their lack of planning, their lack of financing, and the lack of men with the necessary survivor skills almost doomed our most famous early colony, (and to think I am descended from some of the original Pilgrims.) The Pilgrims were called “Separatists” in their native England because they believed that the English Church was too closely modeled after the Roman Catholic Church and the Church was too closely allied with the English government. They believed that the church and the state should be separate, hence they were called Separatists. This was a rather radical idea at the time although we all know that this radical idea and the influence of the Puritans in America ultimately influenced the framing of our Constitution. It was true that the British government was not tolerant of groups that advocated other forms of worship, and the Separatists fearing for their lives emigrated in secret out of England for a new home in Holland. After living for a dozen years in exile in Holland, the Pilgrims fearing that they were losing their identity (their children were becoming Dutch) made the decision to relocate their group to America. They were unfortunately horribly underfinanced, so they like the Jamestown Colony, formed a joint-stock company with non-Separatists to raise the funds necessary to emigrate. In doing so they agreed that others not in their religious community would travel with them on their trip to the New World. A little know fact is that of the original 104 settlers on the Mayflower, only slightly more than half were “Pilgrims.” Planning was not their strong suit as they departed on the Mayflower in the fall of 1620 and arrived at Plymouth at the onset of an unusually severe New England winter without adequate food and supplies. Furthermore, they were chartered to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River (New York), not in Massachusetts. Plymouth as it turned out was a poor location to form a colony as the Bay of Plymouth was too shallow for large passenger ships and no major inland river entered the bay that would have permitted easy access for the colonists to the interior. With few supplies and almost no food and lack of shelter, only half the Plymouth colonists survived this first winter. Nevertheless with the assistance of the local Indians the diminished colony survived and in the spring they finished building their shelters and planting their crops. In the summer of 1621, the first “Thanksgiving” [not a term used by the Pilgrims] was held and things were looking up. Approximately one week after this famous gathering with the Indians, a second ship of sixty new settlers arrived. They brought with them almost no supplies or food. The colony was not ready to feed another sixty people and they were forced to spend another winter starving and dying. Their religious faith, their willingness to work hard under awful conditions, the strength of their leadership, and the accommodations of the local Indians resulted in the eventual survival of the Colony. The Colony received little help from England and the original investors eventually baled out on the colony. Notwithstanding, the small group survived.
By the year 1629 there were estimated to be no more than 500 English settlers in New England (most of them at the Plymouth Colony) and no more than 2,500 to 3,000 in all of America with the principal concentration of settlers at the Jamestown Colony. In the year 1630 the third major attempt to establish a colony in America began. The founders of this new colony named the Massachusetts Bay Colony who were chartered to occupy the land in the Boston area, were Puritans who like the Pilgrims before them were being persecuted for both their political activities and their religious practices. Unlike the Pilgrims however, who had escaped to Holland in 1607 to avoid being arrested, the Puritans were being encouraged by King Charles I to leave England. No doubt he wanted to get rid of the trouble makers. Furthermore, the Puritans were generally better organized, better educated, and wealthier than the Pilgrims and the early settlers at Jamestown. While they faced similar hardships in their first few years, the flood of new skilled, educated, and wealthier immigrants over the next ten years resulted in a hugely successful new colony. This period of time in American history between 1630 and 1640 is referred to by historians as the period of the “Great Migration”. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 immigrants arrived during this ten year span. After 1640, migration to America and especially New England slowed down to a trickle. There were two main reasons for this slow down. First, King Charles I changed his mind about allowing the mass exodus of Puritans out of England and secondly, King Charles I was subsequently beheaded by the new Puritan government in England under Oliver Cromwell. With the Puritans in control in England the reasons for leaving the country were greatly diminished.
This Great Migration period is very important to individuals studying the genealogy of a family especially to those of us, our family in particular, who can trace ancestors back to pre-revolutionary times in New England. Since immigration slowed down considerably in New England after 1640, most of the population growth was a result of natural reproduction. That means that if you can trace an ancestor back to say 1760 who lived in Connecticut, it is very likely that that individual had an ancestor who had immigrated to American between the years 1630 and 1640. For our family this is particularly significant since we have traced dozens of individuals to this time period, including the Sayre Family who are the subject of this chapter in our family’s history.
The exact year of the arrival of the Sayres in America has not yet been determined. It is believed that the first son of Thomas and Margaret Sayre born in America, Job Sayre (my great (x8) grandfather) was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1637. This would establish the latest year of their arrival and it is possible that they arrived as early as 1636. The first mention of Thomas Sayre, my great (x9) grandfather, in the colonial records of Lynn appeared in 1638 wherein the surrounding lands were divided and Thomas and his brother Job were recorded as being granted sixty areas of land each. Lynn was originally founded by settlers from nearby Salem who were looking in the year 1629 for new lands. Lynn was located on the Atlantic coast about eleven miles north of the future City of Boston. The original settlers in Lynn including the Sayre family, and most of the other early settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were Puritans.
In 1639, Thomas and his family, and his brother and about fifteen other families received a royal grant to form a new colony on Long Island on land the English crown claimed was a part of the charter granted to Connecticut. Thomas and his brother and six others were part of an advance party that was to select the location of their new settlement. They purchased a sloop which they expected to use initially to explore Long Island and then later use to transport their families and their goods to the new settlement. The advance party including Thomas and Job first set up camp near a Dutch settlement not far from the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam on the north shore at the western end of Long Island. Their arrival on land claimed by the Dutch was not well received and many in the original party including Job Sayre were arrested and interviewed and then ordered by the Dutch to “depart forthwith from our territory, and never return to it . . .” They did so immediately and subsequently in June 1640 they selected a new location for their settlement on the eastern end of Long Island which they were to name Southampton. This was to be the first English settlement on Long Island. Thomas Sayre is credited with being one of the founders of Southampton which today is a well known summer colony and resort considered by many as a playground for the rich residents of New York City. It is simply referred to today as the “Hamptons.” Too bad that our Grandpa Thomas did not save us an acre of land on which we could build a simple $5M cottage. In any case, in the early 1640s between thirty and forty families from Lynn, Massachusetts resettled in Southampton.
Thomas Sayre was to remain for the rest of his life until his death in 1670 a prominent citizen of Southampton. In 1648, he built a home in the center of the new village which was to remain in the Sayre family until 1892. In 1912 when the home was finally demolished, it was considered to be the oldest English home on Long Island and possibly the oldest home still standing intact in the United States. The home was occupied by British officers during the American Revolution. The photograph to the left of the text was taken of the Sayre home just prior to its demolition. Thomas’ son, Job Sayre, my great (x8) grandfather was to inherit his father’s home and much of his lands.
Job Sayre, my great (x8) grandfather, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1637. He married Sarah (last name lost in history) in Southampton on June 18, 1670. Together they had six children, four boys and two girls, including his first born son and namesake, Job Jr., born on August 25, 1672. Like his father before him he was to be a prominent citizen in Southampton serving various terms over a period of years as a surveyor, Constable, Commissioner, and Trustee within the community. Prior to his death on April 1, 1694 he donated land to the village of Southampton for use as a thoroughfare in the community. There still exists today in the City of Southampton a street named Job’s Lane located in the heart of the City’s upscale shopping neighborhood. Another fine investment lost to the family.
Job Jr., my great (x7) grandfather, was no doubt born in his grandfather’s and now his father’s home in 1672. At the age of 25 years old in 1697, Job married Susannah Howell age 17, the great granddaughter of Edward Howell. Edward Howell was also one of the original founders of Southampton along with Thomas and Job Sayre. It was however, Edward Howell, my great (x10) grandfather, who received from King Charles I of England the original land grant of 500 acres at Lynn, Massachusetts and it was Edward Howell who was the recognized leader and the primary motivator behind starting the new settlement on Long Island. He was also by far the wealthiest of the original proprietors. In England, Edward had been a part of landed gentry and his family had a coat of arms (see photo). Some scholars have traced the Howell family back many generations to the 900s in Wales. In early 1639, Edward sold his family’s ancestral estate which had been purchased by his grandfather in 1536 during the reign of King Henry VIII and at the age of 55 with his family he sailed for America. In 1640, when Edward and Thomas relocated to Southampton, Edward was 56, Thomas was only 43. Edward was prominent in Southampton and later in Hartford, Connecticut until his death in 1655.
Susannah Howell and Job Sayre were to live their entire lives in Southampton. Together they had eight children including their fifth child, our great (x6) grandfather, James Sayre, who was born on January 3, 1720. Job died on March 26, 1755 in Southampton. It is unclear exactly when and why James Sayre relocated to Goshen, New York, a community in Orange County in the Hudson River Valley about 70 miles north of New York City. James married Susannah Seeley in Goshen in 1748. Susannah had moved to Goshen from her birth home in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1744 with her parents and siblings. She was eighteen when she married James; James was twenty-eight. James had probably moved to Goshen sometime before he met and married Susannah. It is thought that he may have inherited land in Goshen from his older brother who had died at a young age.
The Seeley family has an interesting position in our family’s history. The family can be traced back to one Obadiah Seeley who was born in England around 1614 and emigrated to America sometime in the early 1630s. Some historians believe that Obadiah Seeley is related to a Robert Seeley who immigrated in 1630 on one of the first ships in the Great Migration. Robert is noted in colonial history as having been second-in-command in the war against the Pequot Indians in 1637. Whether or not these two men were related is a matter of some dispute. What is a more interesting anecdote in the Seeley history and the Baker Family Tree is the following: Susannah Seeley married James Sayre and their great granddaughter Mary Sayre married Asbury Harpending. Mary and Asbury’s daughter, Elizabeth, was the mother of my great grandfather, Asbury Baker. We also discovered while researching the family history that Susannah Seeley’s brother Nathaniel Seeley married Jemina Collins and their great granddaughter, Jane Taft Campbell, married Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye. Joshua and Jane’s daughter, Helen Rappleye, married my great grandfather, Asbury Baker. This is a little confusing but the bottom line is that my great grandparents shared common ancestors beginning with Ebenezer Seeley (1695-1767), the father of both Susannah and Nathaniel Seeley.
James and Susannah were to have nine children including my great (x5) grandfather, Job Sayre who was born February 28, 1758. After James died in 1790, Susannah moved to Newtown (now Southport), near Elmira, New York and later in 1792, she moved to Horseheads, NY. Her move was no doubt motivated by her need to be closer to her brother and his family who had moved to the Elmira area from Goshen some time earlier. With a few exceptions including our great grandfather Job Sayre, most of Susannah’s children moved with their mother to Elmira. Susannah died on September 26, 1807. We located her brother Nathaniel’s grave (as previously noted, he is also one of our great grandfathers) in the Fitzsimmons Cemetery in Southport and we also found her two sons graves in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Horseheads. We could not locate her grave in Chemung County and it is possible that her remains were removed back to Blooming Grove to be placed along side her husband James.
Job Sayre, the son of James and Susannah, was only seventeen years old in October of 1775 when he first enlisted in the military under Captain Thomas Moffat of Blooming Grove. The Battle of Bunker Hill had been fought against the British army less than four months earlier and no doubt Job was an excited teenager anxious to defend his country. After enlisting he remained in the military for only two months mostly marching from up and down the Hudson Valley before he was discharged in December of 1775. It is interesting however, that during part of his first enlistment he served under a Captain John Wisner of Warwick, who as you may recall was my great (x7) grandfather. John later died fighting in the American Revolution. His story is covered in one of the previous chapters of our family’s history. Job re-enlisted in the American army in February, 1776. This time their company marched down the Hudson to New York to join with General George Washington’s forces who were preparing to defend Long Island and New York City against a British invasion. After skirmishing with the British on Long Island and around New York City in July and August of 1776, Washington finally retreated north of the City on August 30 to avoid a pending defeat. The British hoping to outflank the Continental Army chased the Americans northward. A number of small skirmishes occurred in the pursuing weeks until finally on October 28, 1776 the two forces engaged in a major battle, named by historians as the Battle of White Plains. In Job’s Sayre’s application for a pension filed on May 27, 1833, he reported to the Pension Office in Washington, DC that he had been present at the battle at White Plains and he was “one of five ordered to the management of a field piece . . “ The American forces were ultimately forced to retreat leaving behind over 600 casualties equally split between the two armies. After marching north for a month, Job was again discharged in December, 1776. In the spring of 1777, Job Sayre once again re-enlisted on the condition that he must make himself available to serve at all times when his services were required. He was called up for duty on three more occasions extending through early January 1779. Fortunately, our Job was not to again engage in a battle. He held the rank of Corporal when he was discharged for the final time.
On January 4, 1779 Job Sayre married Hannah Tuthill. Together they were to have eight children including our great (x4) grandfather, Henry Sayre, their fifth child, who was born on July 19, 1788. Job and Hannah were to live out their lives on a farm located about three miles south of Blooming Grove, NY. He remained active in his community serving as a Trustee of the Presbyterian Church of Blooming Grove, and as Assessor, Overseer of Highways, and Overseer of the Poor in Blooming Grove from 1797 to 1816. Hannah died on December 15, 1818 at the age of 59. Job outlived her by 37 years dying at the age of 87 on November 18, 1845. They are both buried in Blooming Grove.
We began our story of the Sayre family with the photograph of Kathy standing over Henry Sayre’s gravestone in Dundee, New York. Henry, his second wife, Elizabeth Wheeler, and their daughter Mary are buried in the small Harpending Cemetery in Dundee that is the resting place of many of my ancestors including my great grandfather Asbury H. Baker, his wife Helen Rappleye, his father Charles S. Baker, Charles’ wife, Elizabeth Harpending, her parents, her grandfather, and even her great grandfather, Peter Harpending, who himself had fought in the American Revolution. Their stories are the subject of another chapter.
Henry Sayre was 24 years in the year 1812 when he served as a Captain in the New York State Militia during the War of 1812. There is no record as to whether or not he saw combat, however for his service he received land grants and his widow was later to receive a pension. His first wife whom he had married in Blooming Grove around 1811, died in 1814 after giving birth to two children, one in 1811 and one in 1813. Perhaps motivated by the land grant that he had received for his service in the war, Henry moved to Benton in Yates County, NY around 1817. We know that Henry’s brother Job had previously moved to Benton for his brother had a son born in Benton in 1817. A normally reliable source lists the date of Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth Wheeler as October 23, 1819. This date if accurate is disturbing since that we know that Henry and Elizabeth’s first child, Mary Sayre, our great (x3) grandmother, was born on March 4, 1818, more than a year earlier than the suspect marriage date. In any case, and we do not believe the 1819 marriage date is accurate, Elizabeth Wheeling was only 18 in 1818 when Mary was born, Henry was 30.
Elizabeth’s grandfather, George Wheeler, and her grandmother, Catherine Lyon (my great (x6) grandparents, were married in their hometown in Dutchess County, New York in 1766. In 1791 George with his entire family including Elizabeth’s father, Nathan who had been born in 1777, moved to Benton in Yates County, New York. In 1791, they would have be one of the earliest of the pioneer families in Benton and in Yates County. At this early day, George purchased hundreds of acres of land which embraced the northwest corner of Milo Township, as well as a large section of the present day Village of Penn Yan plus the land running north of Penn Yan to the village of Benton Center. Some of the land he purchased for a cost of only 50 cents per acre. When George died in 1824 (see photo of George's grave), his extensive landholdings were inherited by his surviving children, including Nathan, Elizabeth’s father. When Henry and Elizabeth married in 1818 in Benton, their first home was no doubt on land owned or given to them by her grandfather or her father.
Henry and Elizabeth were to have six children. Mary and her brother Job were both born in Benton. Their third child, Nathan Wheeler Sayre, named after his grandfather, was born in Penn Yan. Their son, William Henry Sayre, was born in 1826 in Dundee, New York. We assume from the location and date of William Henry’s birth that the Sayre family had moved to Dundee sometime prior to 1826 although information reviewed at the Dundee Area Historical Society indicated that the family moved to their farm house out at Sayre’s Corners around 1835 (see photograph of their home as it appears today). It is possible that the family lived in Dundee prior to moving out to their farm. Sayre’s Corners is the informal name given to the intersection of Preemption Road and Crawford Road located about three miles south of Dundee. Their homestead is on the northeast corner of the intersection. The Sayres were to remain on the family farm until Henry’s death at which time the house passed to his oldest son. An interesting aspect of history and American culture is often revealed by reviewing old census records. The Sayre family household at the Sayre’s Corner homestead in 1860 consisted of 71 year old Henry and his 61 year old wife Elizabeth, plus two of their sons both in their 30s, two of Henry’s spinster sisters ages 65 and 74, Henry’s grandson, William Henry Harpending, age 12, (William Henry’s father, Asbury Harpending, wife of Mary Sayre, died when William Henry was only six), and a 25 year old Mary Sayre whom I have not identified, although she was obviously another relative. I can not help but make the observation that in the 1800s families very much depended on one another for support. This is in contrast somewhat with our society today where we possibly may be overly dependant on the government to take care of us. With that political observation I end this chapter and encourage our family to read the previous chapter on the history of the Harpending/Baker families.
Henry and Elizabeth’s daughter, Mary Sayre, married Asbury Harpending in 1840. Their story is told in another chapter in our family’s history.