Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Investigating a Family Legend

A while ago I had noticed that my daughter-in-law’s grandfather had the middle name of Merril/Merrill. In looking back farther, as expected, I confirmed that his middle name was the maiden name of one his ancestors – in his case his maternal grandmother, Frances Merrill. Since the Merrill name is in my family tree as well, the mother of my maternal grandfather being Annie Merrill, I suspected that there was a family connection. Further research confirmed that my daughter-in-law was also my 8th cousin.

Upon relaying this to her, she informed me that it would not be a blood relationship since there was an adoption in that part of her family tree. I initially just took her at her word. This past week I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Florida with my son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. While there, I noticed on their book shelf a ½” notebook containing a lot of genealogical material that had been produced by her grandparents back in 1995. Included in that notebook was a two-page write-up about the “adoption” of Frances, who was reported to have been rescued from an Indian village and adopted by the Merrill family. In asking about it, my daughter-in-law also informed me that two family members had recently taken a DNA test and their results showed no Native American blood in them. So perhaps the adoption story was incorrect?

Below I have reproduced the two-page write-up about Frances and following it my investigation into the facts behind it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few words concerning Frances F. Benton, wife of Dennis G. Benton, Sr.

Away back in the times of History when the white man was coming into the part of the “New World” now called Pennsylvania, there was a tribe of Indians that was called by some “The Penn Indians.” They were of the “Sac Tribe.”

In time these Indians were bought out of Pennsylvania and moved to the Mississippi, or what was called the West at that time. Then a more Whites came to the New World, they finally caught up with these Indian again and were having trouble with them.

This tribe was finally surrounded and real war broke out. They fought until they thought every Indian was dead. The Captain of the Whites called “attention” and gave the order that if you hear a groan out of any Indian to go and finish him off for they did not want even one to escape.

While standing at attention someone heard a little girl or baby crying. They followed the sound of the voice and found a little girl and her brother under a syrup vat or scalding vat used in butchering. They Captain came and started to draw his sword to kill these two children. But a man by the name of Mr. Merrill grabbed the Captain’s arm and would not let the Captain kill the children. “I have been married for 20 years and have no children. I want them and if you will let me have them and give me leave of absence long enough to take them to my wife, I will return to you and serve you as long as you need me.”

The captain granted Mr. Merrill his leave of absence and he took the children to his wife and then returned as per his promise.

After the war was over and the soldiers had returned to their homes, the cholera broke out and both Mr. and Mrs. Merrill died of cholera and these two Indian children were then adopted by an elderly couple by the name of Rachold.

They lived happily together until in their old age both Mr. and Mrs. Rachold passed away. Nobody seemed to want these Indian children who were big enough at this time to get work and everyone seemed to want to get rid of them.

About this time in History, new land was being opened up for homesteads in what was called Kansas. There were several families making up a train of wagons that were going to travel through together to Kansas and all take homesteads in this new land. So the people in general in the vicinity made up an agreement or purse and sent these children with this caravan and told them “when you get to Kansas, turn this boy and girl loose and let them go to the rest of the Indians and live with them.”

While on their way to Kansas, this caravan was overtaken by real winter weather and they pulled into a town in the state of Iowa and made camp for the winter. While there this Indian girl (maiden) met a young man, fell in love with him and married him. Later in life this couple with their children also went to Kansas to homestead. The brother of this maiden (wife of Dennis G. Benton) went along with them to Kansas. They homesteaded and built a house and set up a saddle post office for the community – Carmi, Kansas.

(Note by Harriet E. Walton: Charlie Benton was born in dugout while they were building the soddie. Harriet E. Benton Walton was born in the Post Office and lived in it until 7 years old. Her Mother died when she was 16 years old.)

The brother of this Indian girl obtained work on a farm helping with the farm. They also had another farm hand, at this place, who did not like Indians. But this Indian was a good worker and this farmer would not fire the Indian. There came a time one day when the farmer and his wife had to make a trip into town and would not be back in time to fix dinner for them. So they told the men, “When noon time comes, one of you take care of both teams while the other one gets the dinner. They drew straws to see who would get dinner and it fell to the Indian to get the meal. This he did and went to call the while man for dinner, but could not find him. But he saw the cattle all coming to the barnyard for a drink. He also notices that the corral wires had been clipped, and that all the cattle could walk right out into the standing grain fields and sorghum crops. The Indian tried to patch the fence but there was nothing to patch it with. So the Indian got in the gap and tried to keep the cattle from getting out of the corral. But there was a bad fighting bull in the herd and taking things in hand, charged the Indian and gored him to death.

When the farmer and wife arrived home, this is what they found. The Indian dead where the bull had killed him, and all the stock out in the growing grain. The white man was gone, both teams tangled in their harness – not having been fed at noon.

Now back to this Mr. and Mrs. Dennis G. Benton family, fighting their way through hardships of early pioneer life. They succeed in bringing up a family of seven children who grew to marriageable age and married.

This was written by Fred. B. Willard (grandson of the Bentons) from memory.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Indian War – The tribe described in the first few paragraphs is the Sac/Sauk tribe (*1). This tribe was involved in the Black Hawk War and the types of incidents mentioned such as killing of the Native Americas by the Europeans really did happen that way (*2). It should be noted that this war took place in April-August of 1832. Following that war, the Native Americans had been pushed back all the way to western Iowa.

Merrill Involvement in the War – The “Mr. Merrill” mentioned in the legend is Lloyd Merrill (1804-1854). But there are a few problems with the legend as recounted. First, in 1832, while he was about the right age to be a soldier in that war (he would have been about 28), Lloyd was still living in NY (as evidenced by his having children born in NY in both 1830 and 1833). Secondly, there is no record of his ever having performed any military service.

Frances being an Indian Maiden – Frances was born in Ohio in 1840, eight years after the Black Hawk War took place. Also, the mention that Lloyd wanted to take the young children because he and his wife had been married for 20 years and had no children is false. In the 1840 census Lloyd is recorded as having four children – one boy 15-19, one girl 10-14, and two girls 5-9. In the 1850 census, when names of family members are recorded we can see that the boy is Hadger (born 1826), the older girl is Orello (born 1830), one of the younger girls is Lucilia (born 1833), one has apparently died, and the family has been supplemented with Frances (born in 1840 after the census was taken earlier that year). There is no record of a “brother” about the same age as Frances.

Rachold Family – Both Lloyd Merrill and his wife passed away in the cholera epidemic of 1854 when Frances was a young teen. I could not locate any family by the name Rachold or anything like it living in Ohio in the 1850 census, although it’s possible that the name of the family is enough different that I could not locate them. But Frances married in 1856, just two years later, so she would not have lived with them long, if at all. And since she was already “old enough to work” when her parents died, this element of the story is also a bit suspect, although it may be true.

Meeting Dennis Benton – While there is no issue with whom Frances married, the story about going west on a wagon train and meeting him in Iowa is unlikely. Frances and Dennis married in Erie County, Ohio, the same county where she was born and lived with her parents until their untimely passing. She and Dennis did move to Iowa early in their marriage (their first child was born there in 1858), but meeting in Iowa and then making the long trek back to Ohio (where they were both from), only to almost immediately return to Iowa, would not have been practical. It is far more likely that they met and married in Ohio, then moved to Iowa a short time thereafter.

Frances’ Brother – As noted above, there is no record of another brother in the Merrill family. There is a younger brother living with Dennis and Frances in the 1860 census, but the younger brother is Hiram Benson, a younger brother of Dennis, not of Frances. Thus, the story of the Indian brother, the white man, and the cattle is also quite unlikely or at least is not a story about Hiram. Hiram served in the Civil War in 1862 and was a casualty of that war.

Final Years – The remainder of the story, about Dennis and Frances living in Iowa but eventually moving to Kansas is correct. Based on census records and other data, it appears that they had a total of fifteen children but several of them died young: Loyd Burr (1858-1862), Laura Annette (1860-1904), Edward J. (1862-1876), Albert Henry (1866-1944), unnamed son (1869-1869), Clara Aretta (1869-1869), Fannie L (1872-1938), Esther Lucelia (1872-1872), Fredrick W (1873-1874), unnamed daughter (1875-1875), Flora Evaline (1876-1926), Dennis Goddard Jr (1878-1970), Charles Watson (1879-1952), Harriet Estella (1882-1976), and Minnie Ruth (1885-1918). The years from 1869 to 1875 must have been very hard ones with five of six children born in that period dying at birth or shortly thereafter. Frances died in 1898 and Dennis a few years later in 1903.

Where did the Legend come from?

The author of the above paper was Fredrick Burl Willard (1893-1982) who was a son of Laura Annette [Benton] Willard. Frances died when Fred was only 5, Dennis when he was 10, and his mother when he was 11. So as he recorded this story “from memory” late in his life it had been nearly 8 decades since he had heard the various aspects of it.

There is certainly no doubt that Dennis and Frances lived a hard life on the prairies of Iowa and Kansas. But it appears that Fredrick blurred several things together in his memory from when he may have heard them until they were recorded from that memory so many decades later. The story of the Black Hawk War and the result of the Native Americans being pushed out of eastern Iowa would have been an exciting one for a young boy to hear. And it is quite likely that he heard stories of the wagon trains of people who moved west from places like Ohio to Iowa and Kansas. Kansas had become open to settlement in 1854, just a few years before Dennis and Frances met (in Ohio), so it’s easy to see how those facts became mingled in Fred’s young mind.

Thus, while it appears that the “Indian maiden” story is only a legend, the real story is just as interesting and I have enjoyed the work of researching it. The bottom is that my cousin relationship to my daughter-in-law is in fact a blood relationship and the science behind the DNA that did not detect any Native American blood in the family can be confirmed.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Immigrant Soldiers

There has been a lot of news recently about immigrants in the US. Since this weekend is Memorial Day, I thought I’d write about some individuals in my family tree who were recent immigrants but loved this country so much when given the opportunity they volunteered to serve in the military for their new country. I’d like to focus on four such individuals.

Robert Stuart Coulter

Robert is the great*4 grandfather of my daughter-in-law. He came to America from Ireland in 1764 at the age of only 4 with his father and they settled initially in South Carolina. Just 12 years later, at the tender age of 16, Robert enlisted with the South Carolina troops during the Revolutionary War. He fought with them at the battles of King’s Mountain and Eutaw Springs.

Following the war, Robert continued to move westward into the new country of the United States – first to Tennessee, then to Illinois. He was among the first residents of Illinois as he was there before Illinois was admitted as a state in 1818. Thus, Robert is both a patriot and a pioneer.

John Russell

John was not an immigrant himself, having been born here in 1756. But his father, Robert Russell, had only immigrated a few years earlier around 1750 from Scotland. Both John and Robert were illiterate farmers in the Hudson River Valley in NY. John married in 1774 when he was only 18 and he and his wife had their first child, my great*4 grandfather, Caleb Russell, the following year.

John certainly could have decided that his place was with his wife and new son rather than serving in the military. Nonetheless, as the hostilities between the Americans and the British increased, he enlisted with the NY Volunteers in May 1776. He served in various locations along the Hudson River for about 18 months, not returning home to live with his wife until October 1777. His next child was born just 10 months after his service ended.

It was likely not that unusual that John sided with the Americans. After all, in Scotland the British were generally the landlords and the native Highlanders were dependent on them. So when the potato famine began in the mid-1840s, in order to avoid starvation many of the Scots had to emigrate to other countries – thus the reason why Robert Russell had to leave his native Scotland for America. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Potato_Famine).

The Kowalski Brothers

My wife’s great*2 grandmother, Wilhelmina Lupke was born in Prussia in 1828. She and her first husband, Matias Czenkus, had four children, including my wife’s great-grandfather, Adolph Cincush. Mathias died in 1858 and the following year she married Michael Kowalski. Michael and Wilhelmina had a daughter in 1860, and shortly thereafter they made the decision to migrate from Prussia to the United States. Their destination was Wisconsin, where Michael’s younger brother, Frederick, had migrated in 1858 (when he was only 18).

About the same time as Michael and Wilhelmina (who was heavily pregnant at the time) were making their preparations for leaving Prussia, Frederick was enlisting in the Union Army. Frederick enlisted on August 24, 1862 in the Wisconsin 27th Regiment. The Union Army at that time had a policy of allowing “substitutes” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enrollment_Act). Under this policy, someone who was required to enlist could pay someone to take their place for a fee of $300 (the equivalent of $5000 today). Individuals of foreign descent were prime candidates for being substitutes. Thus, Frederick had a financial incentive to join the Union Army.

Michael and Wilhelmina arrived in NY on October 16, 1862, having had another child a few days before arriving. They immediately left via train from NY – first going to Chicago, then to Wisconsin. They settled down there for a few years – with their by now 6 children – but then Michael also took the opportunity to be a substitute and he enlisted in the 1st Wisconsin Volunteers in November of 1864.

When the war ended, Michael was released from his service first on July 19, 1865, and Frederick a month later on August 22, 1865, having served for 3 years. They both remained in Wisconsin for a few more years, where Michael and Wilhelmina had one more child in 1867. Then both brothers moved from Wisconsin to Charlevoix County, MI where they bought adjoining farms. Frederick finally married in 1870 – to his brother’s step-daughter, Amelia who was only 10 years his junior. He and Amelia had 10 children over the next 3 decades.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Celebration of an Honest Man

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is quoted as saying, “Suppose you were a member of Congress. And suppose you were an idiot. But I repeat myself.” Abraham Lincoln had a slightly different take and is reported to have said, “Politics, as a trade, finds most and leaves nearly all dishonest.”

And we certainly have a lot of dishonesty in the political arena these days. It is not limited to one political party, even though the following two examples are both Democrats. I saw recently that Bernie Sanders claims he is for the common man, but he himself had an income in excess of $1,000,000 this past year. And Elizabeth Warren says the same but she has a history, before she entered Congress, of working on behalf of some very large corporations.

Thus, it is always enjoyable to me when I get to deal with someone who is an honest and trusting individual. One example from just this afternoon was when I picked up one of our vehicles from our local mechanic, Ron Detwiler.

We had originally scheduled the van for some work last month because we had learned that one of the back springs was broken – even though the vehicle was still drivable. But before we took it in, we had another problem with it that was more critical when one of the cylinders began misfiring. He corrected that problem and asked that we drive it for a while to ensure that the problem was truly fixed and then he would take care of the other problem later. He gave us no bill at the time.

In the meantime, he checked on the pricing for the new springs (you have to replace both at the same time) and so we scheduled the rest of the work for today. At the end of the day we went to pick it up (he only lives about two miles from us). The van was done, it had a new inspection sticker, and was ready to go.

When I pulled out my wallet, he said, “We just finished the work a short while ago and I don’t have the bill ready yet. I’ll call you tomorrow with the total and you can stop by to pay me.”

How neat is that? I trust him to do the work in an honest fashion and to charge me appropriately, and he trusts me to pay him later!

All our relationships should be like this. It used to be common that a man’s word was his honor and a handshake would seal a deal. But now what used to be common unfortunately no longer is. That makes it so refreshing when Ron and I can have that trusting relationship. Would that other things in life were the same!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Battle of New Haven

Recently in my reading I ran across the following: “Evelyn [Pierpont] the son of James, like a true patriot, espoused the cause of the Colonies and as Lieutenant commanded a field piece at Beacon Hill, at the time of the British invasion of New Haven.” Because of my Pierpont connections, I decided to do some further research about what this referred to.

There is a book (*1) which contains a lot of detail about this. Some of the portions of this book include:

Although New Haven, as a seaport town, did not obtain the strategic importance of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston during the Revolutionary War, it did participate in the action and eventually fell victim to the ravages and spoliation of war.

New Haven had not been attacked during the early phase of the war, but on July 5, 1779, when the town was planning to celebrate the third anniversary of independence, the British launched a full invasion. (New Haven was celebrating the anniversary a day after the actual declaration of independence so as not to break the Sabbath.) As 48 vessels under the command of Sir George Collier containing about 3,000 British, Hessian, and Tory soldiers sailed up the Sound and anchored off West Haven in the early hours of the morning, a cannon sounded the first alarm.

About 1,500 troops … came ashore at West Haven, and another contingent of troops … came ashore at East Haven. [The former] landed with little resistance, … giving [the latter] time to land near Lighthouse Point and capture Black Rock Fort and Beacon Hill.

Another book (*2) gives some further details:

Our artillery at the bridge (Allingtown), was well served by Captain Phineas Bradley, and prevented the enemy passing the causeway and so into town that way.

[On the East Haven side], he was molested by the fort on Black Rock, three miles from town, under the command of Lieut. Bishop, and by a field piece under the command of the gallant Lieut. Pierpont. The fort was at length evacuated and the enemy reached Beacon Hill in the afternoon.

The British lost about 72 men during the various skirmishes and the colonists numbered their lost and wounded at about 40. However, the British decided not to burn the town as there were still many Tories living there and they did not want to destroy the houses of their friends.

A third source (*3) gave some further details on the unit which had been called to defend New Haven. It noted that:

[T]he artillery, increased to ninety men, was under Capt. Phineas Bradley, and was divided between the town, East and West Haven, their stations being the townplat, the fort and West Bridge.
Finally, a fourth source (*4) contains a list of the officers and men of what was known as Captain Bradley’s Company of Matrosses (Artillery). The top three officers in this military unit were Captain Phineas Bradley, 1st Lieutenant Daniel Bishop, and 2nd Lieutenant Evelyn Pierpont.

Imagine that this small band of only 90 men trying to hold off an invasion force of 3000! While the odds were definitely stacked against them, they battled valiantly and managed to kill more of the British than they lost themselves. Truly, they believed in what they were fighting for.

Naturally, also of interest to me are the relationship of these men to myself. Beside the obvious connection to a Pierpont, there are other names in the roster that also appear in my family tree and who were residents of colonial New Haven.

Phineas Bradley (1745-1797) is my 3rd cousin, seven times removed. His mother was Martha Sherman, and our common ancestor is John Sherman.

Daniel Bishop (1746-1813) is not a direct relation, but he is the great*5 uncle of my Aunt Babs [Barbara Bishop] Pierpont.

Evelyn Pierpont (1755-1810) is my first cousin, seven times removed. His grandfather was the Rev. James Pierpont of New Haven. He was given the name Evelyn as that was a common Pierpont family name from England at the time.

There are several other names among the non-officers of this company who are part of my family tree, including the below. But I do not have sufficient time to do the investigation to determine if/how these men are related to me.

Barnes: Levi
Bradley: Isaac, Elihu, Enos
Gillet: Benjamin
Hotchkiss: Amos, Jonah
Hemingway: Abraham, Jared
Hickox: Darius
Luddington: Jesse, Samuel, Isaac, Elam
Merriman: Marcus, James
Molthrop: Elihu, David, Reuman
Pardee: Moses, Levi, Abijah, Joseph, Levit, Chandler, John
Trowbridge: David, Samuel
Tuttle: Josiah


*1 – New Haven: From Puritanism to the Age of Terrorism, Michael Sletcher, 2004 (available on Amazon.com)
*2 – An Outline History of New Haven, Henry Howe, 1884
*3 – The Connecticut Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly, Volume 4, 1898
*4 – The Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution, 1775-1783, Henry P. Johnston

Cousins, Cousins, Everywhere

Most people grow up knowing their first cousins, and some also know their second cousins. But since very few of us have the opportunity of knowing our great-great-grandparents or the siblings of our great-grandparents, we have little chance of knowing third cousins or beyond. Sometimes we might meet them at a family reunion, but even there we might not be able to state exactly how they are related to us.

It’s only recently, with the ready availability to do online research through such tools as ancestry.com or the Internet, that we can document our relationships to these more distant cousins. And the even more recent availability of DNA analysis helps us to find those distant cousins, although we still sometimes struggle to find out exactly how we are related to the individuals which are identified through our common DNA.

One of the advantages that I have is that I have is that most of my ancestors have been in this country, and in particular in New England, since the 1600s, and that I have been able to document most of them. As I noted in a recent post (*1), I have identified over 1000 direct ancestors who came in those early days. That represents roughly 5% of all the individuals who came to New England during that period of time. So, if I find that someone else has family connections back to colonial New England then there is a good chance that one of their family lines will overlap with mine and there is a distant cousin relationship. In particular, since my family lines are concentrated in Connecticut, if someone has an ancestral line back into colonial Connecticut, I can be pretty certain that I can find such a connection. Here are a couple of examples of those connections.

A Close Friend in PA – I’ve known Bob for over 40 years. We go to the same church, sang in the choir together, sang in a men’s quartet for a number of years, and for the past several years have been in a small men’s group that meets every other week for breakfast. A few years ago, he said to me that he didn’t know much about his ancestors, not even knowing where his grandfather was born. Besides finding out that his grandfather was born in Wales, I checked out the other branches of his family line. I noted to him:

“A couple of your ancestor lines went back into Connecticut, so I decided to see if they might intersect with the extensive family tree I have there. … Your great*3 grandmother was Amy Lewis (1785-1855). Her mother was Mary Terrill. Mary’s grandfather (your great*6 grandfather) was Daniel Terrill (1688-1750). But Daniel is also my great*7 grandfather, making you my 7th cousin, once removed.”

There were also two other lines which intersected with my family tree, so Bob was also my 8th cousin, once removed, and my 10th cousin, once removed.

Another Church Member – About a year ago I was talking to an elderly member of our church, Mary Jane, about genealogy. While her roots are in the Pennsylvania German community (and mine are not), she said that her husband (who was deceased) came to PA from Staten Island and that she believed that before that they were from New England. His last name was Cole. But he was born in 1931 and so would be found in the 1940 census. With only that to go on, I was able to trace back his Cole line not only to Connecticut, but to find a connection in my hometown of Wolcott, CT. As I noted to her in a subsequent email:

“David’s 4th cousin (twice removed) was Francis Cole (1869-1936). He married a woman by the name of Martha Upson who is my 4th cousin (4 times removed) and they lived in my hometown of Wolcott, CT. Francis and Martha’s great-granddaughter [Patty Atwood] lived only a few miles from me and was in the same grade as my sister.”

A co-worker – One of my co-workers for many years, Ron, is retired and we are both part of a group of retirees which meets for lunch once a month. He had noticed my interest in genealogy and said that he was also interested. His ancestor, Jasper Crane, was the founder of the first church in Newark, NJ. But I also knew that the people who founded that city had come from New Haven, CT, first, and had started Newark to be a “better theocracy”. With that in mind, I looked to see if there were any connections in New Haven, where many of my ancestors first settled. Here is what I wrote to him:

“Just confirmed at least one way that we are cousins. Your ancestor Jasper Crane who was in New Haven before he went to Newark is my great*10 grandfather. His daughter, Phoebe, married a Canfield who through a long line of Canfields, eventually married a Northrop. My paternal grandmother’s mother was Caroline Northrop. So, you are my 11th cousin.”

A Landmark House – Just north of where we live is a house that sits on top of a hill right off the NE Extension of the PA Turnpike in Palmerton. Recently there was an article posted on the website of a local TV station about this house and its owner (*2). It said:

“PALMERTON, Pa. - People driving to Palmerton will probably notice a house on a hill. It is called Marshall's Hill, after General Elisha Marshall. Elisha Marshall's father was Chauncey Marshall, a Connecticut Yankee entrepreneur. His mother was Mary Hotchkiss Ward Marshall.”

I’ve seen that house myself every time I am driving south on I-476 and wondered about it. I noticed that the man who built it had roots in Connecticut and I thought that the name of his mother had some familiarity to me. I was able to do some quick research on her ancestral line and then to document a few minutes later about the connection to me. Here is what I posted:

“When I saw that Elisha Marshall’s parents were from Connecticut, I did some quick checking. I have found that Elisha is my 5th cousin (several times removed). His mother was Mary Hotchkiss Ward and her mother was Abigail Wilcox. His great*4 grandfather was William Wilcoxson and William is also my great*10 grandfather.”


The above examples are all connections to people here in eastern PA where I now live. But I was surprised to discover a connection even farther afield – and one that I would totally not have expected. Our son went to college at Taylor University in Indiana. There he met a girl that first summer whom he dated and then married after graduation a few years later. When I began doing genealogy research a few years after that, after building out my own tree and my wife’s tree, I decided to build out her family tree as well.

I was surprised when I found that her maternal grandfather’s middle name was Merrill – a name that was from his grandmother’s maiden name. The Merrill name that also appears in my family tree. Her ancestor was born in Ohio, but in tracing that family line back, I quickly found it came from a family line in Connecticut. There, a few generations earlier, it merged with my own Merrill family line. My son had married my eighth cousin!


There is nothing particularly special about my family tree all these connections. The farther back we can trace our family lines, the more our family tree spreads out and the greater the possibility that all of us our connected in some fashion. It’s only because my ancestral lines have been in New England for so long and because records there are relatively good that I have been able to fill out most of my family lines back for 10 generations or so.

But still, it’s exciting to me when I am able to document the above types of connections. And that’s just part of what makes genealogy so interesting. Who would have thought when I started doing this that I could call some of my church friends, co-workers, and even my daughter-in-law by the appellation “cousin”! Such fun!


Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Gilbert Stuart Portrait of George Washington

I’ve known about the portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart since I was fairly young. But what I didn’t know was that my [Pierpont] relations had a significant connection to it.

Recently, I acquired a reprint of the 1913 book Pierrepont Genealogies from Norman Times to 1913 by R. Burnham Moffat. One of the chapters in this book is about this portrait. The below is from that chapter and relates this connection.

Note there are some errors in spelling from the original.

The following memorandum concerning this famous picture was written in 1849 by Mrs. Hezekiah Beers Pierrepont (then 66 years of age) at the request of her family. Mrs. Pierrepont—Anna Maria Constable—was a daughter of William K. Constable and Anna White, of Philadelphia, and was a woman of wonderful charm and intelligence, and of wide social experience. The portrait has descended in the family from generation to generation, and is now the property of Robert Low Pierrepont, Esq., of Columbia Heights, Brooklyn. It is the original of many well known engravings, measures 8 feet by 5 feet, and represents Washington attired in civilian clothes, standing before an arm-chair, a dress-sword resting loosely in his left hand, and his right arm extended with open palm across a table.

The memorandum seems to the writer to be of sufficient interest to the family at large to warrant its reproduction here.

My mother, who was a daughter of Townsend White, a merchant of Philadelphia, was an intimate friend of Miss Dandridge before she became Mrs. Custis; and when the young widow married General Washington, the friendly intercourse was kept up between them.

I remember, when a very little child, seeing Washington at our house in New York, during the sitting of Congress there. I was early taught to love and venerate him. Gouverneur Morris and Robert Morris, the great financier in our revolutionary struggle, were partners in my father's extensive mercantile firm, and each had, in our house in Great Dock Street (now Pearl Street) his sleeping apartments, appropriated to him when he came to New York.

General Hamilton was a valued friend of my father and his legal counsel, and Aaron Burr, who was then in high standing, was also intimate. I well remember all four dining at my father's country seat at Bloomingdale in 1796, and parts of the brilliant conversation I can still recollect; and I can recall the animated countenance and polished manners of my gifted father.

After our return from England in 1795, my father went to Philadelphia and, at the request of his mother, engaged Gilbert Stuart to take his likeness for his family. Gilbert Stuart was at the time of my father's visit (1796) painting a full length portrait of Washington for Mr. Bingham, who presented it to the Marquis of Lansdown. My father was so much pleased with it that he engaged Stuart to paint one for him at the same time, as the General was giving him sittings. Stuart, who was well acquainted with my father, promised that both pictures should be worked upon alternately, so that both should be originals. Mr. Trott, the artist who painted a miniature of my father (which I have), told me that Stuart had only sketched the hand of the General, and that he held his own hand for him to paint from. Mr. Daniel McCormick, who lived in Wall Street and died there in 1834, aged 94, was a friend of Stuart's, and being under obligations to my father used his influence to induce Stuart to bestow very particular care and attention upon the picture which was considered more highly finished, in its details, than was usual for Stuart. My father went twice from New York to Philadelphia in his chariot and four, taking Mr. McCormick with him, to watch the progress of the painting and, to encourage the procrastinating artist. They had invited him to many dinner parties among friends and, by great perseverance, obtained their wishes. Before the picture was sent to New York, Stuart painted a half length from it, which my father presented to his friend General Hamilton. (See Note A at the end of this chapter.)

A large party of friends assembled at our house in Broadway, which stood where the Astor House now stands, our neighbors being Colonel Burr, Walter Rutherfurd (grandfather of Mrs. Peter Augustus Jay), and Richard Harison the eminent lawyer and partner of General Hamilton, to see the picture. "Gentlemen," said my father, "there is the man;" and they responded, "The man himself." Daniel McCormick said he had seen Stuart purchase the Turkey Carpet on which the General stood, and that it was a fac-simile. (See Note E at the end of this chapter.)

While my father was in Europe, the Broadway house was rented to Edward Livingston, and Mr. Livingston's sister, the widow of General 'Montgomery, resided with him. She requested my mother to leave the picture with them to ornament the room until it was convenient to have it removed.

After the death of my father in 1803, the Broadway house was sold to John Jacob Astor. The picture was bequeathed to my brother, William Constable, who then resided at Schenectady. He was only seventeen years old at the time, and I asked him to let the picture be placed in the drawing-room of our house on Brooklyn Heights.

Years after, in 1812, when my brother wanted money he told me he was going to sell the picture, and was negotiating with the Washington Society in New York. He did not value it and estimate it as I did, and I persuaded my husband to offer the price he asked for it, $600 (See Note B.) Stuart had been paid $500 for it (See Note C), and the frame cost $100. My brother transferred it to me, to my great relief. As the frame had become shabby a new one was bought, and was so arranged that in case of fire the canvas could be easily slipped out of the case and saved.

Some years later, in 1826, my husband thinking this picture should belong to the country and not to a private individual, and wanting money himself, wrote to the patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer, who was a member of the Library Committee, offering the picture to Congress. His offer was not accepted; and Stuart, who at the time was in Washington, was asked to paint a new one. He declined because he was asked, to paint at a fixed price. Our picture, to my exceeding joy, was retained. (See Note D.)

When General Lafayette visited America in 1824, he came to Brooklyn to call on my mother who was then staying at my house. He was accompanied by his and our old friend, Colonel Nicholas Fish. General Lafayette regarded the picture with great seriousness for a long time, and then said with much feeling, "Yes, that is my noble friend indeed."

Colonel Fish, who had been an aide to General Washington, gave us anecdotes of the war at the time when our house was Washington's headquarters at the battle of Long Island, and pointed out the room in which orders were given by General Washington to cross the ferry and retreat to New York. General Lafayette paid very great and marked attention to my mother, and spoke of my father as a dear friend and "companion in arms." The visit was one of exceeding interest and great excitement to me. I had only that morning returned with my son Henry Evelyn from a visit to my son William, at Pierrepont Manor. We had endured much fatigue from heat, etc., but all was forgotten when we were greeted by the cheerful voices of our dear children with the news: "General Lafayette will be here in a few moments."

In 1837 a French artist and engraver, named Lozier, brought an introduction from Paris to my husband, and requested permission to copy the head of Washington from our picture. Permission was given him, and he afterwards went to Boston to see Stuart's original head in the Athenaeum. He told us ours was infinitely the best that he would engrave it, and give it the credit in his engraving. He did engrave it in 1839, but gave the credit to the picture at Boston, because the Boston picture, being better known, would give more repute to his copy.

My husband died in 1838, and in 1841, at the request of the Mayor of Hudson, I permitted an artist by the name of Prime, to copy a half-length of our picture for the Common Council room of that City.

In 1845 Mr. Frothingham, who had been a pupil of Stuart's, asked that he might be permitted to make a copy, and I consented. For three months he painted in a room in my house, where I had the picture placed for his convenience. His copy I thought a pretty good one, though he made several alterations,—among others of the Turkey carpet. This struck me forcibly, as he made his of brilliant colours, while I had heard Mr. McCormick say "Stuart has made an exact copy of the original real Turkey."

Mr. Frothingham afterwards made a copy of his copy, in which he made further alterations. That copy was bought by the corporation of the City of Brooklyn, while Mr. Frothingham's copy of my portrait was purchased by 'Mr. A. A. Low, of Brooklyn, and presented to Salem, the city of his nativity.

Extract from Mrs. Pierrepont's diary of March 28, 1834:

"Mrs. General Hamilton called. She remembered the portrait of Washington was an original of Stuart's and that my father got Stuart to copy a half-length for General Hamilton."

Extract from letter of Hez. B. Pierrepont to William Constable, of Constableville, Lewis County, New York:

"Brooklyn, 20th Nov. 1812.
"If the Washington Society do not take the picture, I will keep it at six hundred dollars, your offer, but not for the ornament, as so expensive an article would ill become the present state of my purse, but as a speculation, persuaded that the name and remembrance of Washington will never be less venerated, and that his likeness will not lessen in value."

Note C.
 Copy of Gilbert Stuart's bill:


Nov. To one portrait of said W. Constable Dr.                                              $100.

July To one-do-of the late President of the United States at full length,             500.
        One-do-half length,                                                                                 250.
Dr. $850. Dols.

Philadelphia 13th July 1797. Rec'd of Richard Soderstrom, Esq., through the hands of John Vaughan Esq., the above sum in full of all demands against them and the above mentioned Wm. Constable, Esq.
Dimensions given us by Mr. Stuart.
5 feet and 8 feet.
3-4 4-3
P.S. The price of Mr. Constable's portrait had been agreed upon and was inserted by his agent in the bill. But Mr. Stuart fixed himself the price of the full length and half length, and wrote the prices himself in the bill.

Copy of letter from H. B. Pierrepont to Hon. Stephen Van Rensselaer, M. C.:

Brooklyn Heights, 10 March 1826.
My dear Sir:—
Observing your motion for the procuring of a portrait of Washington, by an American artist, to be placed in the capital, it occurred to me as opportune to remind you of the fellow portrait by Stuart to that presented by Mr. Bingham to the Marquis of Lansdown[e], painted at the same time for Mr. Constable, the history of which, Mr. McCormick tells me, you are well acquainted with, having seen both at Philadelphia while under the hands of Stuart.
I consider the Capitol the proper place for it. Should the committee to whom the subject may be referred be of that opinion, it shall be at the service of the nation at a reasonable consideration.
May I ask of you the favor of making this communication to the proper source, a.nd to suggest, if you please, your knowledge of the portraits at the time of their completion, and of the estimation in which they were held, as the most happy resemblances to the then living venerable original, that had been made.
With great regard, I remain,
Yours, &c.,
                                                                        HEZ. B. PIERREPONT.

Copy of letter from Hon. Stephen Van Rensselaer to H. B. Pierrepont:

House of Representatives,
March 21st, 1826.
Dear Sir:
I submitted your letter to the committee and I am now authorized to say that the committee have determined to employ Stuart to paint the picture. I stated the merits of your picture to the committee. They think yours may have faded.
Yours sincerely,

Memorandum by Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, son of Hezekiah Beers Pierrepont, March 19, 1832:

Called on Mr. McCormick at his house in Wall Street and had some conversation with him about father's portrait of Washington.
Mr. McCormick said he was very intimate with Mr. Stuart the artist. He met him one day carrying a Turkey rug and asked him what he was going to do with it. Stuart said it was for his studio. As he had the reputation of being careless in the expenditure of his money, he said to him: "Why you extravagant dog, why did you not buy a kidderminster for your studio, it would have answered as well?" Stuart replied, "McCormick, some day you will say I have done right."
Mr. Constable drove Mr. McCormick to Philadelphia to see the portrait when it was reported finished. While McCormick was looking at it, Stuart nudged him with his elbow and said, "Well, McCormick, what do you say of my carpet?" "You have done right," McCormick answered.
From this joke with his friend Mr. Stuart had taken great pains to copy the Turkey rug accurately, and it harmonized admirably with the accessories of the picture.
Mr. McCormick also said that Mrs. Washington, having called at Mr. Stuart's room, exclaimed on seeing this picture: "That is a true likeness."

A later memorandum by Henry Evelyn Pierrepont:

My father was thirty-one years old when Washington died. He remembered his appearance perfectly, as did also my mother and many friends of their own age, who also considered Stuart's portrait a correct and perfect likeness.
In the Spring of 1853 the American Art Union had, in aid of the New York Gallery of Fine Arts, an exhibition of all the portraits of Washington by various artists that could be collected; and my mother consented to have her picture in the exhibition.

Extract from diary of Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, June 13, 1853:

Went to the Washington Exhibition, met there the President of the Art Union, Mr. Cozzens, who introduced me to Dr. Lewis Marshall of Kentucky, a brother of Chief Justice 'Marshall, whom he was taking to view the portraits in order to obtain his opinion of their merits. Dr. Marshall was a large and venerable man, walking with a hickory staff as tall as himself, which he held by its upper part, as Abraham is represented. He said he had known my grand-father, William K. Constable.
Mr. Cozzens asked him to examine the various portraits of Washington in the gallery and give his opinion of them.
He said Pine's portrait did not resemble Washington when he knew him; that Wurtmuller's made him look like a Frenchman; that Leitzie's three portraits had eyes too light, and did not look at all like him. He passed the water-color likeness by Robertson, and the crayon portrait likeness by Sharpless, without making any remark about them.
He came at last to my mother's portrait by Stuart, and said, with emphasis, "That is prodigiously like him. It is the best portrait of him I have ever seen. He said he remembered Washington very distinctly indeed from 1796 to 1798, and that his father was a neighbor, schoolmate and friend of Washington's. His father had seven sons and eight daughters, all of whom had married. The sons were all six feet two inches, except himself, and he was five feet eleven and one-quarter inches. He said he was between twenty-five and twenty-six years old when he knew Washington, and that his memory of his appearance was distinct.
I told him I would value his opinion of my mother's picture, and asked him whether he would give me his opinion in writing. He said he would with pleasure, if I would write him a note, which I did; and I called upon him at the Astor House where he was staying and received the following letter:


Dear Sir:
In reply to your polite note I state to you that, in my opinion, the full length painting by Stuart, shown me as the portrait of Gen'l Washington, now the property of your respected ancestor, is the best representation of him I have ever seen. I saw him often and remember him with great vividness.
Yours, etc.,
14th June, 1853. Lewis MARSHALL.

The report that was extensively circulated by Rembrandt Peale, that the mouth of Stuart's Washington was distorted by false teeth when painted, is of doubtful accuracy.
Washington's lower lip did project. He was what is termed slightly "whapple-jawed." This is represented in Caracche's bust, which is considered as representing his mouth more correctly than Houdon's. Some years later, as is proved by Washington's letter to the dentist Greenwood, Washington had a set of bad false teeth which he sent back to Greenwood to alter. In his letter to Greenwood, dated December 12, 1798, he writes: "The principal thing you will have to attend to in the alteration you are about to make, is to let the upper bar fall back from the lower one, whether the teeth are quite straight or inclining a little in or a little rounding outwards. . . . You will perceive, moreover, that when the edges of the upper and lower teeth are put together, the upper falls back into the mouth. . . ,"
It is said that the difficulty which artists experience in copying Stuart's portraits arises from the fact that Stuart painted without outline, giving form by light and shade and color.
An engraving rarely represents a portrait fairly, as the engraver first makes a hand copy of the portrait and then makes the engraving from his drawing.
Mrs. Pierrepont desired to have an engraving made of her portrait of Washington, and employed the engraver Mr. Hall to make it. He made a drawing with care dividing up the portrait into squares, like a map; but when the outline was made, it showed little resemblance. After color was added it was more like; but the engraved copy was a misrepresentation of the portrait and, unfortunately, being inserted in Henry Tuckerman's history of the portraits of Washington, and also in Irving's quarto edition of the Life of Washington, has given a wrong impression of the original.