Saturday, August 30, 2014

Henry Adams - "Founder of New England"

Family Lineage: 1 Henry Adams, 2 Mary Adams, 3 Jonathan Fairbanks Sr., 4 Jonathan Fairbanks, Jr., 5 Joshua Fairbanks, 6 John Fairbanks, 7 Theophilus Fairbanks, 8 Elizabeth Fairbanks, 9 Sarah Elizabeth Lane, 10 Estella Elizabeth Foss, 11 Harold Hayward, 12 Judith Ann Hayward

1583 – 1646

Henry Adams was born in Barton St. David, Somersetshire, England, the youngest of 4 children of John Adams (no – not that John Adams – he came into the family a few generations later). The Adams had deep roots in their homeland as farmers (who grew the barley) and "maltsters" (who processed it into ale, bread products, cereal, etc.).

What finally convinced Henry and his wife, Edith Squire Adams, to leave family and friends behind in 1638 and sail over 3,000 miles to America with all but one of their children?  Did they even begin to suspect the danger of - first - traveling on a flimsy ship in a raging sea and then - after reaching land - re-building their lives in an unknown, unsettled and dangerous wilderness? 

The decision itself must have been even more devastating because what they did know was that they probably would never again see those they had left behind. After all, their only means of communication at that time would have been through letters entrusted to the captain of a ship which hopefully would reach their destination sometime in the next 6 months (no telephone, Skype or Facebook for them!)
Documented family history reveals that Henry and his wife had probably become Puritans in the early 1600s, which is when Puritanism was rapidly growing throughout the country. This trend continued despite civil and ecclesiastical prosecutions to enforce conformity to the established church.  Soon, in response to the ever-expanding  restrictions being put into place against their method of worship, a number of organizations were created to help these Puritans travel to a new world where they might live free from the persecutions of the established church. 

Between 1629 and 1640, about 25,000 Puritans had become the founders of what is now known as "New England".  In fact, some of Henry's friends and even his wife's sister had already made the arduous trip, and they must have fervently prayed that their loved ones had arrived safelyand were waiting for them. 

This was probably the prime motivator for Henry to decide in 1638 that  it was time to leave home.  It just wasn't safe anymore!  And it is likely that they joined the Massachusetts Bay Company which had secured a charter for a colony in Massachusetts.  It was a good decision. The family survived the long journey and, in 1639, Henry was granted 40 acres of land by the town of Boston on which to settle.

However, even after their safe arrival and settlement, there were also unforeseen tragedies. In 1675, their eldest son, Lt. Henry Adams, Jr., was killed by Indians while standing  in his doorway during the “King Philip's War” (one of the little known French-Indian wars), and most of the town of Medfield was destroyed. Ironically, his wife, Elizabeth, was not at home at the time because she was very ill and being treated on the second floor of a minister/physician's home. During the battle, a gun in the hands of a captain commanding a garrison stationed on the first floor of the doctor's house was accidentally discharged.  The ball passed through the floor boards, the bed and into Elizabeth, resulting in her death the next day (Medfield Vital Records, page 189; “History of Medfield,” page 85). 

Eventually Henry became known as “The Founder of New England”.  That could be because of the extraordinary number of grandchildren (89) born to the children of Henry and Edith after their arrival in America.

President John Quincy Adams
These grandchildren - and their grandchildren - also took a prominent place in America's history. They were President John Adams, his brother, Samuel (a rabblerouser if there ever was one who became Governor of Massachusetts after the Revolution), and their children which included President John Quincy Adams. 
John Adams, 2nd President of U.S.

 Many years later, Henry's gg grandson, the second President of the United States, John Adams, commissioned a monument to be  erected extolling Henry Adams' virtues of “piety, humility, simplicity, prudence patience, temperance, frugality, industry and perseverance”.  That monument, as shown above, is still standing.

Henry and his large family seemed to prefer settling near the coast in Braintree Massachusetts, which is now known as Quincy. His biographers do not associate him with the more radical and religious Puritans, nor with the liberal and outlawed Pilgrims, but rather see him and other followers of Rev. John White as adventurers, seeking a new world where the boundaries of a class society could be overcome. (N. E. History and Genealogy Register, Vol. VII., p. 35(1853).")

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thomas Kimball - birth in England, death by Indian.

1633 – 1676

Family lineage: 1 Thomas Kimball, 2 Joseph Kimball, 3 Peter Kimbral, 4 Peter Kimbrell, Jr.,  
5 Buchner Mansfield Kimbrell, 6 Mary Polly Kimbrell, 7 Thomas L. Johnson, 8 Lula Jane Johnson, 
 9 Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr., 10 Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr.

Thomas Kimball, born in Rattlesden, England in 1633, was only a year old when he was brought to America on the sailing ship “Elizabeth” by his parents, six siblings, a grandmother and an uncle.  After landing in Boston Harbor, the family settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts where they started re-building their lives in their new land. 

By the age of 20, the baby who had traveled across the sea in the arms of his mother left the safety and stability of the family home to settle - for awhile at least - in Hampton, New Hampshire.  He obviously was well prepared for his independence since he was a wheelwright like his father and owned mill property on the Oyster river.  

Five years after leaving Massachusetts, Thomas returned home to marry his 21 year old sweetheart, Mary Smith.  Shortly after their marriage, the young couple packed up their wedding gifts and left for New Hampshire where Thomas had  built a home.

Once settled, Thomas prospered.  He became a mechanic and town constable, purchased over 400 acres of land, and possessed a large amount of personal property.  Because of his reputation for honesty, his home became one of the legal places for posting and publishing any order or other business of public concern to the whole town.

But this peaceful life ended abruptly in 1676. Until then, the area had experienced occasional problems with Indian raids that especially harassed folks living on the outskirts of town. The Indians would make rapid sallies by using the Merrimack River to get where they wanted to go and then escape without having to run through the forests.

On the night of May 2, 1676, three well known "converted" (half civilized) Indians, Peter, Andrew and Symon, had planned to rob some people in town.  But by the time they landed their canoes, it was too late at night to make it into the center of town without being detected.  So they changed their plans and attacked the Kimballs who  lived on the outskirts instead.

During the raid, 43 year old Thomas, now the father of 7, fought hard to protect his family but was killed by Symon. His wife and five of their younger children were taken captive and carried forty miles into the wilderness.  According to Mary, she and her baby, John, were threatened with being burned at the stake several times.

As the word of the murder and kidnapping of the Kimball family spread, family and friends grieved for Thomas, who had died too young while trying to save his family. They also prayed for the safety of Mary and Joanna (age unknown), Thomas (11), Joseph (14), Priscilla (3) and John (1), while fearing that their loved ones  might never be seen again. 

Their prayers were answered!  Miraculously, Chief Wanalancet of the Penacook Indians interceded and ordered that the family be freed without ransom.  On June 13, 1676, forty-one days after their capture, Mary and her children returned home and started to rebuild their lives without husband and father.

Once settled in, Mary addressed a petition to the Governor of Massachusetts and the town council, asking that she be protected from Symon, the Indian, who seems to have been the leader of the trio and had threatened to kill her and her children if she ever returned to her home. 

Since these Indians were well known in the community, it wasn't long before they were seized and confined in jail.  However, before any disciplinary action could be taken against them, they managed to escape, and continued to pillage and murder anyone in their path. Unfortunately, there is no record of where they went or did after their escape. (The not-so-nice side of me would like to think that their fate was the same as those they dealt out to their victims.) 
10 years later, when Mary's children were mostly grown and she was experiencing an "empty nest", Thomas' brothers, Benjamin and Richard, moved Mary's aging parents from Massachusetts into her home, and publicly committed to providing  food, clothing and necessities for the elder Smiths.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

William Wakefield - a Revolutionary soldier and free spirit

1 William Wakefield, 2 John Utley Wakefield, 3Sarah Jane Wakefield, 4Sarah Ann Nelson,
5Melvin Edward Foss, 6Estella Elizabeth Foss, 7Harold Victor Hayward, 8Judith Ann Hayward

1733 – 1815
For several generations the Wakefield family was made up of mariners who bought and sailed ships along the coast of America starting in the mid-1600's. 

Evidently 13 year old William was not interested in making the family business his life's work.  So in 1746, he left the sea to fight in “King George's War” (aka “The War of Austrian Succession”) under the command of Captain Thomas Cheney (if you had never heard of this war, you are not alone – it took up very few pages in history books). 

Fortress Louisbourg
The troops were mainly composed of undisciplined New England militia which - despite their lack of discipline - wrested away possession of Fortress Louisbourg, located on the tip of Nova Scotia, from veteran French troops. They had little time to enjoy their success, however, before Captain Cheney was ordered to march his 60 troopers to Northfield, Vermont, where Indians had been lurking and settlers had been murdered a short time before.

It is obvious that William was never worried about being too young to fight battles - or even to marry.  As mentioned above, he became a soldier when 13 and married Mary Holmes at age 14. They were only married a short time before Mary died and there were no children born during the marriage.  However, by age 18, he was married again – this time to Dorcas Hayward, with whom he had his first nine children. After Dorcas' death in 1776, William married a woman whose name is unknown but with whom he had 3 more children, one of whom (John) was my ancestor (actually I would have preferred that John's mother was Dorcas Hayward because of the possibility of interesting family connections between my father's birth and adoptive families). 

One of William's close friends was Steward Kee, whose legend was described in an earlier post. Their families had close ties beginning before the Revolution and lasting until well after the war ended when some of their children intermarried.

Like Steward, William (now 42 years old) responded to the Lexington call to arms. However, since he was living in New Hampshire at the time war broke out, the battle he fought was quite different than the one fought by his friend at Breeds Hill. 

William enlisted in the Third New Hampshire Regiment and served under Captain Josiah Crosby.  On June 17, 1775, while the battle was intensifying on Breed's Hill, Captain Crosby's company took station on the Charlestown Peninsula. Their job was to snipe at the British marines advancing on the redoubt where the bulk of the American forces were deployed and trapped. Historians state that the New Hampshire men “maintained their ground with firmness and intrepidity, and successfully resisted every attempt to turn their flank”, thereby saving their fellow Americans who were retreating from the redoubt after being cut off.”  (Compiled and edited by Isaac W. Hammond, A.M., "The State of New Hampshire Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War 1775 to May 1777."

Their actions resulted in the decisive defeat of the right wing of the British Army under Major General William Howe. Sadly, the Americans ran out of ammunition quickly and could only pull back to Bunker Hill to watch the final phase of the battle play out.  Their actions upset the British so much that their ships in the Charles River loaded their cannon with hot grapeshot and burned Charlestown while the Americans could only look on in dismay.

William remained with the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment under the command of Captain Crosby even  after it was rolled into the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment and put under the command of Major General John Sullivan's Brigade.  This brigade was sent to Canada via New York City and Albany. The objective was to gain military control of the British Province of Quebec and convince the French-speaking Canadians to join the Revolution on the side of the 13 Colonies.  

However, shortly after arriving in Canada, the regiment suffered a smallpox epidemic.  Evidently the British had greater immunity to this dread disease than the Americans because of more exposure to the disease at home and the availability of inoculations which had just been developed.  According to General Benedict Arnold, some 1,200 of the approximately 3,200 Continentals stationed in the Montreal area were unfit for duty since most of them were infected with smallpox. By November, what remained of the Regiment was not much more than a corps of invalids. The brigade could only make it as far as Montreal before having to return to Fort Ticonderoga, where those who still had their health and desire joined General George Washington and continued the fight.
Ft Ticonderoga - 1775
We next find William and his large family living in New Lebanon, NH in 1780, where he signed a petition protesting "the illegal proceedings of the town of Lebanon which voted to pay no regard to the authority of the State of New Hampshire, and refused to give the State the authority to raise men for the defense of the United States. . . and in a high handed manner frequently stopped travelers on the main highway, robbing them of their property . . . and blocked the public highway by felling trees across
the path so as to render it impassable."  (The Granite Monthly: A New Hampshire Magazine, Volume 11, "The Vermont Controversy")

Obviously the stand William took against the leadership of New Lebanon did not make him the most popular man in town.  So it's no surprise to find the Wakefield family living in Brookfield, Vermont five years later, where he was elected selectman at the first town meeting he attended.

After reading his history, you probably could anticipate at least one more move was in the works.  In 1789 the Wakefields re-settled in  Brompton, Quebec, Canada where William bought land and attained consider­able prominence - so much so that the locale where the family lived was officially named "Wakefield Hill".  

Family historians believe that the Kees family had joined them in Canada.  However, as hostilities increased toward the Americans with the start of the War of 1812, both families felt it prudent to leave Canada and move back to the United States. 

William died in 1815 at age 77 in Vermont.  His service to his country was documented by both the Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Friday, August 8, 2014

John Seilheimer - a sailor/solder who died on Lake Erie

(Family Lineage: Son of 1 Johann Nicholas Seilheimer; 2 Johann Conrad Seilheimer;
 3 Elizabeth Seilheimer;  4 John William Custer; 5 Corda Belle Custer; 6 William Frederick Franklin; 
 7 Edna Bethel Franklin; 8 Judith Ann Hayward)

 About 1793 – 1813

John was the fourth son of the Revolutionary War soldier, Johann Nicholas Seilhamer, a German immigrant, who was featured in an earlier post.  As noted in the title above, the spelling of that last name has changed fairly often - perhaps because no one knew for sure how to spell it.
He was a "saddler" by trade, living in his family home in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania until May of 1813, when he and his brother, Jacob (also unmarried), enlisted in the Pennsylvania Militia and were assigned to Captain George Record's artillery company on the Niagara frontier.

Meanwhile, in  Erie, Pennsylvania, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry was overseeing the building of war ships and fitting them out to overcome the British threat on Lake Erie.  Although facing many adverse conditions, including lack of men and materials, Perry and his crews successfully completed the building of six vessels in July, 1813.  Their numbers increased when several ships from Buffalo, New York arrived.   
But as the finishing touches were being put on the “USS Niagara” brig, Commodore Perry realized that while there were enough men to sail the ship, there were not enough marines to man the guns and cannons.  So he put out the word that unmarried, experienced artillery volunteers were needed.  In response to this call for help,  John Seilhamer, who was single and trained in artillery warfare, left Captain Record's company and volunteered to serve on the ship which had just been completed. His brother, Jacob, remained in Captain Record's company until the war was over.

Two months later, on September 10, 1813, the “Battle of Lake Erie” began with young Commodore Perry aboard his flagship, the USS Lawrence.  However, early in the battle, the Lawrence and her crew became the main target of the British ships and took most of the enemy's fire. As a result, the ship was severely damaged; its captain, James Lawrence, was mortally wounded, and over 80% of the crew were killed or wounded. 

In an attempt to turn defeat into victory, Perry, carrying his battle flag emblazoned with Captain Lawence's dying words, “Don't Give Up the Ship”, dropped into one of the last surviving row boats which had been towed behind the Lawrence with a hole just above the water line.  Despite the damage to the little boat, he and the crew  managed to make it to the lightly damaged brig, the Niagara, where  he met with Captain Elliot (who had inexplicably stayed out of battle range while Lawrence was getting blown to pieces) and took over command of the ship. 

Before long, the breeze “freshened” and Perry was able to sail his new flagship - with its battle flag raised - right into the line of battle.  Fortunately for the Americans, the British had taken heavy casualties from the Lawrence' fire, so the broadsides from the  Niagara compelled their surrender within 15 minutes of Perry's transfer onto the ship.  

During those 15 minutes, Perry achieved the ultimate goal of any naval battle – to “cross the T” (i.e. to pass the broadsides of your ship between two facing enemy ships' sterns or bows, so as to minimize their ability to fire at you - while you rake broadsides at the two ships from either side of your own ship).

Tragically,  many men on the Niagara were killed during that battle, including John Seilheimer.  The story of his death, as related by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin, who had been born next door to the Seilheimer home in Bellefonte, Pennsylania, stated:  "John was struck by a spent shell that completely disemboweled him and fell at his feet.  He bravely stooped, picked it up and threw it into the Lake before it had time to explode. He then fell to the deck dead."
Young Commodore Perry
Immediately following his victory at the Battle of Lake Erie, Perry penned the famous words, “We have met the enemy and they are ours. . .” in his report to General William Henry Harrison.  Perry was the first person in history to defeat an entire British squadron and successfully bring back every enemy ship (two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop) to his base as a prize of war. At age 28, Perry was hailed as a national hero because of his victory on Lake Erie.

John Seilheimer was also honored by the State of Pennsylvania for his gallant actions aboard Niagara.  A medal was presented to his grieving family with the inscription: “To John Sylhamer in testimony of his patriotism and bravery in the naval action on Lake Erie, September 10, 1813.” 
( Database: Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania: containing genealogical records of representative families).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Custer family - kidnapped!


Trying to track down the lineage of a particular Custer can be daunting – if not impossible. For instance, my great great grandfather, John William "Billy" Custer, was heard to claim the (in)famous General George Armstrong Custer as a cousin.  It is documented that Billy and George shared at least two common ancestors: Arnold Kuster, who lived and died in Germany, and his son, Paulus, who migrated to America in the late 1600s.  After that, however, it becomes more difficult to connect the General's line to ours but I'm always hopeful. Following the Revolution, a number of Custer families, including ours, left Pennsylvania, lived for awhile in Virginia, and eventually settled in Southern Indiana.

This particular legend was sent to me by a Custer second cousin who recently traveled to Indiana with genealogy on her mind and a camera handy. While there, she visited cemeteries and the local historical society where – among other interesting stories which will likely be featured in future posts - she found a couple of paragraphs describing a kidnapping by marauding Indians back in the 1700s. 

Unfortunately the bones of that story were too bare to allow me to build a story that would hold together with the telling. That is until I ran across a wonderful website ( packed with Custer lore, which gave more details of the kidnapping that had intrigued me so.  I have to admit to some minor editing on the story in the hope it will make it easier to read.  Any extraneous comments which weren't in the original story are italicized.
Reuel Custer, the story teller
Transcription of Article written by Reuel Custer, 
Madison (IN) Courier, April 15, 1913: 
 "I was born on the old Reuel Custer farm, eight miles north of Madison Indiana, on March 7, 1835.  My great grandfather, William Custer, was born and lived in the Shenandoah Valley, Va.  His family consisted of six children: three sons and three daughters. His father had 24 sons (YIKES!), and it is thought that General Custer was descended from one of them.
It was during one of these periods of time that my great grandmother (name unknown), returning home from a neighbor's, was captured by a band of roving Indians from the North.  She was carried by her savage captors into the wilds of Canada. They were so near her cabin as they carried her away that she could hear her baby crying in his cradle.  She was held captive for a long time by the Indians (one account said that she had 3 sons and 3 daughters while in captivity), and was finally sold to a French doctor, who gave her her freedom after twenty years in captivity. Soon after gaining her freedom, she, with others, began their journey back to their homes in the colonies.

My great grandfather, on his return home from the wars nearly a year after she had been captured by the Indians, made every effort to find his missing wife without success for twenty long years.  Finally, after learning from some fur traders of a number of English prisoners, men and women, who had been bought and released by the French, he was determined to visit Canada in search of her, hoping to at least find some clue as to her whereabouts.

He had been gone but a few days when his wife returned home. She found the baby boy she had last seen sleeping peacefully in his cradle as she ran to her neighbors on a hasty errand, and whose cries she had heard as she was being carried away by the Indians.  He was now a man twenty years old.

The day after she returned home, my great grandmother again started for the Northern wilds in search of her husband, taking up the trail and following it through forests and across unbridged streams. On the fourth day of her quest, while passing through a settlement, she happened to notice a funeral on a knoll, some distance from the roadside. She went over to make inquiry about her husband. To her question, 'Who are you burying?' the answer was, 'a stranger, a William Custer from Va.'

It was thus that her search ended after twenty years of anxious waiting.  Heartsick and well nigh hopeless, she was at last alone in a strange land, permitted to look for a moment upon the face of her dead husband before they buried him out of her sight.  In a nameless grave in that north land still rests the remains of my great grandfather, William Custer, a soldier of Va.
My great grandmother returned to her home in the Shenandoah Valley, Va. where she lived for awhile, later removing to Kentucky to the home of her eldest son, my grandfather, Arnold Custer, who had left Va. in the company of Daniel Boone, to explore that 'dark and bloody ground', as it afterward came to be known. Daniel Boone’s wife and my grandmother were cousins. They were Schulls.”

Again, my thanks to Ryan Wadleigh who has composed a wonderful blog about his (and some of my) families.  You might want to check it out.