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.