Saturday, May 30, 2015

Stephen Bartram - a Revolutionary soldier (maybe)

Family lineage: 1 Stephen Bartram, 2 James Bartram, 3 Lewis Bartram, 4 Emarine Bartram,
5 Queen Dickerson, 6 Edna Franklin, 7 Judith Hayward

1751 - 1821

Meet Stephen Bartram, the “Father of the Bartrams in America”, at least according to the southern branch of the family.  Everything written about him reveals a strong, but admittedly mysterious man who continues to frustrate the efforts of family researchers to document some of his most intriguing stories! 

Granted, there are plenty of records available about his property transactions and his efforts to either make a claim against debtors or protect himself from their claims.  None of this tells us much except  that he knew how to use the court system.  Actually, the only hints indicating who Stephen (aka Stevie) really was as a person came through family stories passed orally from generation to generation or those that were written in fraying family Bibles. 

The Seemingly true facts are:
  • He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1751 and moved to Dublin, Ireland when young;
  • In 1773, while still in Ireland, 22 year old Stevie met and married an Irish lass,  Elizabeth (aka Betty) Swearingen or Swangran (the American version of the name).
  • Stevie and his bride sailed to America sometime in 1775 or 1776 and their first child, John, wasn't born until 1784. 
  •  Betty was an excellent marks-woman, known for having shot a raven on the wing and often wearing a bright red hunting shirt. 
  • The family moved often after the Revolutionary War ended, reportedly because of frequent Indian attacks.   
  • After giving birth to 3 boys and at least one daughter, Betty died in the early 1790s. 

  • Sometime after Betty's death, Stephen married Jane Peery and they soon started moving north and west, until finally settling in unsettled land which contained abundant wild game, plenty of water and virgin timber but is now the bustling city of Huntington, WV.

Unproven stories integrated into the oral histories:

  • Stephen was a Protestant preacher in Roman Catholic dominated Ireland, whose message was not well received, leading the Bartrams to decide to look for a more receptive audience in America.

  • In order to pay their passage to America, it makes sense that they would have contracted with a sea captain to sell their services to a wealthy settler who would pay their fares and usually receive 7 years of labor in return. (About half of the white immigrants to the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries were indentured. Some men worked in the fields while the women helped the farm wives; and others were apprenticed to craftsmen. Both the master and the servants were legally obligated to meet set terms, which were enforced by local American courts. Runaways were sought out, punished and returned to their owners.)

  • An undocumented story consistently passed from generation to generation was that Stephen fought in the Revolution as a member of General Washington's staff at Valley Forge for 7 years, 2 months. There are several obvious problems with this story,the major one being that the war only lasted 6 years, 6 months (a big difference!). 

    But there's always a chance that he actually served in the war if:

    • he was indentured for 7 years and worked the first 8 months or so on the plantation until voluntarily (or involuntarily) taking his master's place as a soldier (a not uncommon practice). 

      If that was the case, it could explain why Stephen Bartram's name was not shown on the military roster. Instead, it would have been his master who received credit for the time in service.

      It's also possible that Elizabeth remained in indentured servitude in Virginia until after the war ended, which finally freed her to head north toward Valley Forge to find Stephen.  
    • Lending some credence to the above suggestion is that there were no children born to the Bartrams until 11 years after their marriage. Perhaps that was because there was no privacy on the ship during the long voyage America. Or it's possible that they were indentured to different masters so weren't living together when war broke out and he was sent north to fulfill his master's obligation.

On September 20, 1820, Stephen wrote his will, which listed his “loving wife”, Jane, sons John, David and James, and a married daughter, Polly, giving special attention to Jane and a girl named Betsy, whose relationship to the couple has never been defined.  Stevie described her in the will as a “delars child” (a term that has puzzled historians, but some believe it meant that she was "slow" and unable to live on her own.)  It is interesting that although she was mentioned often in the will, she was never included in family histories, and one can't help but wonder if she was one of those "embarrassing" family secrets who Stephen refused to ignore. (See Cabell County West Virginia Will Book 1, pg 2). 

Stevie died at age 70 in 1821 – eight months after writing his will -  and Jane Peery Bartram died a few years later.

In 2010, an article entitled “Who is Buried Beneath this Grand Old Tree??" described a special meeting held by the Wayne County Genealogical and Historical Society on the Fort Gay High School football field, the purpose of which was to identify, honor and protect the graves of those buried under a giant hackberry tree before the land was torn up in order to build a new elementary school. Years earlier, the headstones had been removed by either vandals or the nearby railroad, but testing verified that there are at least two – and probably 5 – people buried there. Stevie Bartram's grave was one of them. The others were members of the Wellman family. During the meeting, the decision was made to enclose the area around the graves with a fence but leave the maintenance of the site to the families and general public.
For more detailed information on the Bartrams, refer to“Bartram Branches – Genealogy of the Families of West Virginia, Connecticut and Pennsylvania ,written by Violet W. Bartram and D. Kent Bartram, Jr and .published by Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore in 1984. This is an amazing book – all 699 pages of it. Among the oral history contributors was my grandmother, Queen Rebecca Dickerson Franklin, a woman who lived for 107 very full years and who appeared in 3 previous Legends of the Family posts.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

William Smoot - Bringing boat building to a new level in America

1596 – 1670

1 William Smoot, 2 Thomas Smoot, 3 Elizabeth Barton Smoot, 4 John Jacob Philpott, 5 Charles Philpott,  6 David Philpott,  7 Enos Philpott,  8 Rebecca Philpott,  9 Lula Jane Johnson,  10 Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr, 11 Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr.

Even though the life of William Smoot and his role in the early years of our country has  been researched throughout the centuries, there are still questions about the man, such as: the year of his birth (1596 or 1597), where he was born (Scotland or England), the correct spelling of his last name (Smoot, Smaut, Smute, etc.) and the name of his first wife (who had at least one child before dying in England). We do know that his roots were planted in the seafaring Dutch "House of Smoot" before they spread their branches into Scotland and England.

What is also known is the road he had to travel in order to eventually attain recognition and honors in his chosen profession.  He lived in a time when there were no trade schools and the only way for a young man to learn a trade was to serve as an unpaid servant and errand boy for an expert craftsman and whose parents had signed a contract in which they gave up control of their son.  In return,  the apprentice received food, clothing and training in the chosen trade from the ground up, so that - after a number of years - he would be able to earn a living as an expert himself.  

Apprenticeship was the accepted educational system for transferring the knowledge and experience gained by one generation of tradesmen to the next, and was not a new concept. 4,000 year old records found in Egypt, Greece and Rome reveal that trade skills had been passed on in this fashion even then; and it was only after the students had finally achieved the status of craft workers that they became respected members of society. 

Coming from the family he did, it's no surprise that young William Smoot became an apprentice in the boat building industry.  During those formative years, he was taught the intricacies of design and construction of strong, sea-worthy boats, and was probably in his 20s before he could qualify for membership in the Boatwright Guild as a certified  professional boatwright.

By 1633,  this 37 year old man  had earned a reputation for quality workmanship and received an offer to work for 50 days in Virginia for Colonel Thomas Burbage, an officer in the local militia.  He readily accepted the proposal, especially since a terrible king, Charles I,  had just been crowned and life in England was tumultuous at best. The contract with Colonel Burbage might not have been of long duration, but it definitely was life-changing for William, who never lived or worked in England again. 

As a side note, 20 years later, Colonel Burbage sued William in a Maryland court, claiming he had not fulfilled the requirements of the 1633 contract.  William, who was now 56 years old and well known for his expert craftsmanship, defended himself, stating that he had discharged all conditions of the contract. He must have been convincing! The case was dismissed and he was awarded 150 pounds of tobacco for his trouble and expense in having to travel 40 miles to appear in court!
Shortly after completing his contract with the Colonel, William had married a widow, Grace Wood, who had come to America with her late husband and daughter.  But he couldn't consider his family complete until he could bring all of his children to his side. It took nine years to fulfill that dream, during which time he and Grace lived in Hampton (now Elizabeth County City), Virginia, where he continued to build his reputation as a top-tier boat designer and builder.

Finally, in 1642, he had earned enough money to achieve his goal. The timing was good because settlers and laborers were badly needed to work on rapidly growing plantations.  In response to this need, a “head rights”program was instituted which promised that anyone paying the fares of immigrants would be granted a specific acreage per head.  It was a good deal for William, who paid the fares for 8 travelers  (who were probably his family and servants) and was granted 400 acres in York County, Virginia, where he built his home and continued to pursue his trade.

It must have been a surprise for new immigrants, who thought they had left violence behind, to discover that life in Virginia wasn't all that peaceful either.  Only the enemy was different.  A bloody war broke out when a large population of Pamunky and Chickahominy Indians took exception to being moved out of the land which had been theirs for more than 12,000 years.  As a result, in 1644, they banded together to fight the pesky intruders. Tribe

Finally, after two years of violence and destruction,  the Indian tribes admitted that these “white men” were tough fighters and weren't going to slink away.  As a result, a peace treaty was signed in 1646, setting aside land for Virginia's Indians in the Pamunkey Neck area of present-day King William County. The treaty remained in effect until the Indians, recovering their swagger in 1677, made new demands, and another, more generous, treaty was signed,

Another note of interest: Thanks to his participation in those early Indian wars, all of his proven male descendants who maintain the position today of “gentlemen" are eligible for membership in the Society of Colonial Wars in America. 
Shortly before that first treaty was finalized in 1646 -  and perhaps because of his experiences during those wars - a disenchanted William decided that he didn't want to live in Virginia anymore. So he transferred his 400 acre estate to his neighbor, Ashwell Batten, in payment of a debt, and left for Maryland in the hope of finding a more peaceful setting to pursue his career and raise his family. 

Lord Baltimore
One of his first duties upon arriving in Maryland was to pledge his allegiance to Lord Baltimore.  In return for his pledge of loyalty, he was  awarded 300 acres of land on the Potomac River (good property but not exactly where he wanted to be). 

Wicomico River today
He finally found the perfect location to ply his trade on the 24 mile long Wicomico River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay on the eastern shore of Maryland. Later that year, he made arrangements to transport his wife, children and a maid from Virginia where they had been biding their time.

Josiah Fendal
It may have been his personality - or just the times - but even after settling in Wicomico, he found himself embroiled in conflict when, in 1655, he openly supported - and tried to rescue by force - Josias Fendal, the former Governor of the Province (Annapolis today) and his secretary, who had been jailed after instigating an attack on the Puritan settlers in the area. This had come about because,
surprisingly, those very Puritans who had been victims themselves of religious persecution, supported the Old World theory that religion needed to be uniform throughout the territory, and were even willing to impose capital punishment on anyone who insisted on worshiping in their own way., a lifelong member of the Church of England, was also in trouble with the Puritans because of his religious beliefs, which made the cause more personal for him).

The result for all this religious animosity became known as the “Battle of the Severn” and was the first battle ever fought  between American soldiers on American soil; as well as the first time  "dum-dum" bullets were ever used. Even after the fighting was over, William  almost lost his life when he and  twelve others were arraigned and sentenced to death for:
“mutinously, seditiously and at the instigation of the Devil . . . assembled at the house of Josias Fendal and attempted by force to rescue Josias Fendall and his secretary.”. 
Lucky for him, only four of the leaders were actually executed, while  the rest were saved after 200 members of the Puritan community presented a strong defense for the prisoners, saying that a judgment of guilty of treason would make their Puritan community just as guilty because the same accusations had been wrongly made against them in Virginia. The War Council responded to this argument, reversed the sentences and the prisoners were released.

William continued to design and construct many of the early vessels used in the inter-colonial trade between Maryland and Virginia and he was often called upon to appraise various vessels.  His wife, Grace, died on January 14, 1666 and he died a couple of years later. It's amazing that, despite having bought and sold many large tracts of land during his years in America, he seems to have died intestate, leaving his heirs having to fight/work it out.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Jonas Nilsson and Gertrude Svensdotter - Settlers of New Sweden in America

1 Jonas Nilsson, 2 Judith Jonasdotter Nilsson, 3 Johann “Jonas” Yocum4 John Yocum, 5 Mary Yocum, 6 Margaret Bell, 7 Isaiah Custer, 8 John William Custer, 9 Corda Bell Custer, 10 William Frederick Franklin, 11 Edna Bethel Franklin, 12 Judith Ann Hayward 

Children taking American history classes today learn, of course, about the Revolutionary War and, to some extent, what led up to it.  But their lessons might lack details about  the brave people who left their friends and family behind in order to build a new future in a new land many years before the defining Revolutionary War began.  

These brave souls didn't have the benefit of fancy printed brochures, Facebook or TV to give them a "heads up" on what to expect once they reached America.  And they couldn't have begun to picture the primitive living conditions they would experience on these  fragile ships which were either paralyzed because of lack of wind or were thrown around while being buffeted by heavy seas.

Some of these early travelers did know that their future would hold years of slavery after  having been convicted of crimes and transported across the vast sea as punishment. Or, lacking financial resources at home, passengers often sold themselves into indentured servitude in the hope that their masters would treat them kindly and they would eventually be able to earn their freedom.  

Complicating matters even further was that this lush land was already populated by tribes of Indians who not only had a completely different culture and language than their own, but weren't always thrilled – with good reason – to share the land on which they had lived for countless generations with these odd looking, sometimes aggressive strangers. 

After coming face to face with these and other perceived realities, it's amazing that the travelers didn't “come to their senses” and jump on the next ship heading home!

Flag of England
Our family history has been enriched by some of those early settlers who (luckily for us)  survived the journey and the hard years that followed.  One was Henry Adams (great great grandfather of John and Samuel Adams and featured in an earlier post), who sailed from England and settled in Massachusetts in 1638 (only140 years after Christopher Columbus had made his discovery).
Flag of Sweden
Around the same time, shiploads of Swedes were sailing into the Delaware Bay where they became the first white men to claim southeast Pennsylvania. One of these men was Jonas (Joen) Nilsson, a former tailor, who had been born in Skaraborg, Sweden in 1620 and was said to have been over six and a half feet tall. 

As a restless teen, Jonas soon tired of the career that had been chosen for him and enlisted at age 17 in the Royal Swedish Army - a decision that was to change his life forever.  It isn't known whether he continued as a tailor for the Army, but what is known is that  a few years later, he was assigned to support and protect Johan Bjornsson Printz, who had been granted a charter by King Gustavus Adolfus (aka the "Lion of the North"), and given the title of "Governor of New Sweden".  As such, he was tasked with recruiting future settlers, transporting them and establishing a viable Protestant settlement in “New Sweden".  

It was while Printz was organizing his fourth expedition that Jonas Nilsson came on the scene.  No one knew at the time that this would be Prinz' final expedition because, after the death of his sponsor, King Adolfus, who had been killed in battle, his successor, Queen Christina, was much too young and immature to oppose the wishes of Sweden's powerful ruling party.  It wasn't long before interest in this ambitious project had waned, financial support was withdrawn and there was a strong push to withdraw completely from the project.  

Fortunately for us, there are still readable records which describe this last expedition which left Sweden on August 16, 1642. There is no way of knowing which of the two ships, Fama (Fawn) or Svanaten (Swan), became Jona's home during the trip, but we do know that the journey was neither swift nor easy!! 

Soon after setting sail, the ships' navigators had become concerned that the ships might get stuck on the sand banks around Newfoundland, so they altered course and sailed south along the coast of Portugal before finally crossing the Atlantic (which was called the "Spanish Sea" at that time). After passing south of the Canary Islands they arrived in Antigua - just in time to celebrate Christmas.  

But this, of course, was not expected to be their final destination so, after the Holidays, they continued their journey north (not a good time to travel on the Atlantic!). During that last leg of their journey, they experienced such heavy rain and snow that one of the ships became severely damaged. Finally, despite their condition, both ships managed to make it to Fort Christina  on February 15, 1643 – six long months after the journey had begun. This fort in the Delaware Bay had been built just a few years before and was located near what is now Wilmington, Delaware.

Governor Johann Printz

Documents of that time reported that Governor Prinz was a very large man (at least 6 feet tall and thought to have weighed over 400 pounds). In fact, the Native Americans called him "Big Tub." He was hotheaded and sometimes pompous. But on the positive side, he had a lot of energy and a talent for getting things done. After dropping anchor in the Christina River during  his first expedition, he had explored the territory, built forts, assigned land to settlers for farming, established trade relations with the Native Americans, the English, and the Dutch, and strongly upheld Swedish claims to the land; and he built on those successes during his next 3 expeditions,.  

Ft. Elfsborg
While serving in the Royal Swedish Army and stationed with the Swedish garrison in Fort Elfsborg, Jonas threw his energies into building a fort in a very swampy area near the mouth of Salem Creek in New Jersey, which soon was  nicknamed "Fort Mosquito".  The atmosphere was definitely not "people friendly"!  In fact, one commander even wrote the following to a friend:  "From the continued stinging and sucking of the mosquitoes, the people were so swollen, that it appeared as if they had been affected with some horrible disease."  Fort Mosquito was finally abandoned.

Three years later, Governor Printz was ordered to return to Sweden and, without his strong hand or the support of the Swedish ruling body, New Sweden remained  independent for only one year before it was incorporated into the Dutch "New Netherlands" and then taken over by the English in 1664. And Jonas?  He might have begun his life as a tailor, but it is obvious that he had developed additional skills over the years, and although remaining  loyal to the overbearing Governor, his loyalty did not extend to accompanying Printz back to his homeland after the recall.  

Armegott Printz
Despite that decision, however, Jonas continued to have close ties to  the Governor's family, even serving as a protector and business adviser to the Governor's daughter, Armegott Printz.  Armegott was described as a "blonde giantess, haughty, domineering, willful and quarrelsome" (obviously her father's daughter!), who later married her father's successor.  Over the years she became the best known woman in New Sweden and was responsible for managing her father's extensive holdings in New Sweden.

It had to have been a heart breaking time for this Swedish tailor/soldier when everything he had worked for seemed to fall apart with the downfall of Governor Printz.  But after all those years of assuming leadership roles in America, he was able to set a new direction for himself by first applying for a discharge from the army and then becoming  a "freeman" (which meant he could own land and even become a member of the governing body which made and enforced laws, as well as passing judgment in civil and criminal matters).

About that same time, he married 17 year old Gertrude Svensdotter, who had been only 2 years old when she was brought to New Sweden aboard the ship Kalmar Nyckel by her father, Sven Gunnarsson. Sven had been convicted of committing a minor crime, and had been "relocated" to the colonies to serve out his sentence. Finally, after earning his freedom, he was one of 22 signers of a petition of grievances against Governor Printz, which served to strengthen the case for recalling the governor.

Prototype of a Swedish cabin in the 1600s
Jonas did eventually return to Sweden to collect back wages due him from the Swedish Royal Army. After two years of getting caught up with his family and friends in Sweden, he returned to Gertrude and the baby who had been born shortly after he'd left. They now had enough funds to build their home in what is now West Philadelphia, (interestingly, there is a story saying that they lived in a cave for some time before their home was built).

He built his wealth by trading for furs with the Minquas Indians, while running a storehouse and trading post from his home. They were an interesting couple who were not known for keeping their opinions to themselves. For instance, after Gertrude honestly and openly criticized defamatory remarks made by the English against the Swedes, she became the subject of a court notice at least once. Jonas also had his day in court when he testified how he'd had to bury two servants of Peter Alrichs, a neighbor who had been murdered by Indians.

Gloria Dei Old Swedes Church

 As adults, Jonas and Gertrude's seven sons originally carried the surname “Jonasson” in the Swedish tradition for several years until eventually Americanizing it to Jones. Their four daughters, however, kept Jonasdotter in their names. Jonas died in Kingsessing (the Southwest section of Philadelphia) in October 1693, and Gertrude died a couple of years later. They were buried at Old Swedes (Gloria Dei) Church in Philadelphia, which is still standing and now a national historic treasure.