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Friday, November 30, 2012

A Dollar and an Ax: The Davis Family, Pioneers in Elgin County

House of Andrus Davis, brother of William Davis and Pioneer in Orwell, Ontario. 

It hasn't been easy finding information about the Davis family of Elgin County.  I have very few vital records for them, Davis is a common name, and from census records it's hard to tell who is related and in what way.  In a previous post I talked about how I tried to connect the dots on this group of people using secondary records and family names.  Sims History of Elgin County, Volume II by Hugh Joffree Sims (published by The Aylmer Express Limited, 1986) fortunately gives us some information about this elusive family.

Here's what Sims has to say about William Davis, one of the pioneers of Elgin County:

Orwell (Temperanceville--Catfish Corners):

"Catfish Corners [an early name for Orwell] was just a stake in the earth when Deacon William Davis and his wife settled there after a lengthy journey from his home on Schohario, New York, in 1809.  In this locality he obtained a large tract of land from the Crown and established the first gristmillIt was a stump mill made out of a hollowed out buttonwood stump. This type of mill was in use by many early settlers throughout Elgin County;  it was replaced by the hand-mill or quern, which was made of field stones. The daily output of a stump mill was twenty bushels.  William Davis was followed by his brothers Andrus, Daniel, Simeon, and Joel, and his sisters Hannah, Polly and the one that became Mrs. Brown in 1811.  Deacon Davis lived on his farm until his death in 1865 at the age of seventy-nine.  During his lifetime he helped clear a road through the woods to the site of St. Thomas and on eastward to Aylmer.  He became a deacon in his church and organized the first Baptist church in the township and built the first school near Orwell.  When Davis first arrived here in 1809, all he had to his name was $1.00 and an axe.  At his death he left behind nine hundred acres of cleared land in Yarmouth and Malahide Townships.  He served in the War of 1812.  David F. Davis, his son, was born in Orwell in 1822.  He married Mary Birdsall, and became a magistrate.  He lived on the homestead until he moved to Aylmer.  

Deacon Davis married twice.  His first wife was Miss Leek [Temperance Leek--they married in the United States] and by this marriage he had five children:  Richard, Hempstead, Warren, Septimus, and Mathatible (sic).  By his second marriage to Mary Sibley he had eight children:  Betsy Jane, Temperance, David F., Joel M., Adoniram J., Ursula, John, and Edwin E.  Edwin moved to Dakota in 1881 and became part of the history of the Old West.  The son of Warren Davis, William Andrew, sought his livelihood in Dakota where he died in 1908 at fifty-eight.  His brother, George P. Davis, ended his days as a farmer in Watertown, Dakota....Joel Davis settled on four hundred acres east of Sparta around the year 1837.  Joel Davis farmed for a short time, but hearing of the great tracts of land that were available in Illinois, he left and got 1,000 acres there.  He then returned to Sparta to complete the closing of his estate.  He fell ill at Fingal and died suddenly at twenty-seven years of age.  His body was conveyed to Aylmer and buried.  One of Joel Davis's sisters married John Brown who, along with William Andrew Davis, had the first saw and gristmill on Catfish Creek at Orwell in 1817...The old Andrus Davis house was a large frame house with four fireplaces and a huge hall on the upper floor which served as a ballroom on many occasions.  The old Simeon Davis hotel that was located east of Roger's Corners was of similar architecture. The old house was built in 1830..."

A stump mill was a hollowed-out stump with an oversized pestle to grind grain
by hand.  It was hard work.  I can't believe William got 20 bushels a day from this!

Quern or hand mill to grind wheat and other grains.

This is great stuff--now I know which people were William's siblings and which ones were his children.  I also know where he came from, and that he fought in the War of 1812.  I find that interesting, considering that he had just immigrated from the United States a few years earlier.  Doug and I both feel that the comment about the dollar and the ax is probably rhetorical--he brought his wife and some children along with him, so I'm imagining they had clothes, blankets, kitchen ware, and perhaps a horse and wagon or cart.  However, the point that he arrived with very little and built a great deal is well taken.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Mrs. William Rutherford Receives On Wednesdays

No telephones, no e-mail--how did ladies manage their social lives during the 1800s?  Anyone who's ever read Jane Austen can tell you--it's all about the "at home" or receiving day and the visiting card.  There was a whole etiquette around women visiting each other at home, which in urban settings involved a social directory such as Dau's Society Blue Book.  Published biannually for many urban centres in Canada and the United States, the primary job of the Dau's Society Blue Book or other social registers was to indicate the "at home" day for the local ladies of a certain class.  Here is the Montreal Blue Book entry for Mrs. William Rutherford Jr. and Mrs. William Rutherford Sr. for the year 1898:

Dau's Society Blue Book for Montreal, Rutherford Listings.

The entry reads:
"Rutherford, Mr. and Mrs. Wm., 61 Rosemount Avenue, Wednesday.
Rutherford, Mr. and Mrs. Wm., 35 Staynor Avenue, Westmount, Wednesday." 

My husband, who is familiar with the etiquette for this period, was able to explain the system to me.  First of all, the listings are by subscription, which means that families must pay to have their name entered.  Although husband and wife are both named in the listings, it would be the wife who would receive at home on the listed day.  Children would only be included in the directory if they were of age, or if the young ladies of the house had "come out" to society.  These were adult, not family, social calls. 

The visits made during someone's receiving day were supposed to be brief, about fifteen minutes long, especially if one was visiting an acquaintance rather than a close friend.  Receiving days were not about extended conversation--a long visit, if desired,  could be arranged on another day.  They were more about establishing and maintaining social ties. Since visitors would be introduced to each other,  the system also allowed women to extend their social circle.

During these visits, ladies would leave their visiting or calling card.  Visiting cards would usually have the person's own receiving day inscribed along with their name.  This allowed women to keep track of who had visited, since not returning a visit would be considered impolite.

The convention of the receiving day was restricted to ladies of the leisure class.  As you can see,  the title page for the Blue Book emphasizes that it is for "elite" families:

Dau's Society Blue Book Title Page, 1898 ed.

Also, the preface defends itself from possible criticisms around the inclusion of "names which may seem unneccesary":
Dau's Society Blue Book for Montreal, Preface.

While the bulk of a social directory consisted of individual listings, at the back there would normally be a section devoted to club membership within the city.  Masculine as well as feminine clubs were listed equally. For example, the 1905-6 Montreal Dau's Blue Book tells us that A.H. Scott, another ancestor,  was a member of the Montreal City Club. 

The convention of receiving days began to fall out of favour during and after World War I, so the Wm. Rutherfords were among the last generation to use social registers and "at home" days to anchor their social lives.  The Blue Book really fills a gap--it's nice to have some material evidence of how the females in our family line lived.  Now, at least, we know what they were doing on Wednesdays!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"There Stand the Redcoats and They Are Ours:" The Battle of Bennington and the Harmon Family

The Battle of Bennington took place on August 16, 1777 and was a decisive Colonial victory during the American Revolutionary War.  Our ancestors the  Harmons lived in Bennington during the Revolutionary War and Daniel Harmon Sr. (the father of Daniel Williams Harmon), along with some of his brothers, fought as part of the Vermont militia in this historic battle.  Daniel was 30 years old at the time, and was a Sargent in Captain Elijah Dewey's regiment. Later on he was promoted to Captain himself.

During protracted military invasions, feeding your troops becomes a major issue.  It was becoming  British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne's issue as he was leading his troops toward Albany from Quebec.  Having already engaged in a few battles, Burgoyne's troops were low on supplies, and Burgoyne heard reports that there was a major stash of  food, horses and cattle to be found in the Bennington supply depot, with only a few men standing in defense.  He sent in two units comprising of  British soldiers, Colonial Loyalists,  German mercenaries,and Natives,  as well as two cannons, for what he thought would be a simple raid.  These units were under Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum and Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich von Breymann. (Actually, Baum's unit went in first, sized up the situation, and sent back a message asking for reinforcements,  at which point von Breymann's unit was sent in).

What Burgoyne, Baum and von Breymann didn't initially know was that the Republic of Vermont had taken note of the advancing British army and had appealed to New Hampshire for assistance in defending themselves.  John Stark, an experienced military leader from both the French and Indian Wars and from previous Revolutionary War action (notably at Bunker Hill) immediately brought in the New Hampshire militia, amounting to about 1,500 men.   Baum had marched the first British unit to a point about five miles northwest of Bennington, realized that the depot was more than lightly guarded,  and then stopped to send for the second unit before advancing further. It was apparently also bucketing rain, which had bad implications for his cannon and firearms.
Brigadier General John Stark

Brigadier General Stark, however, wasn't inclined to wait.  Knowing he had the enemy outnumbered, he went out to initiate the attack.  He sent troops to the right and left of Baum's, essentially hemming him in, and then led the attack from the front.  Famously, he roused his troops before the initial attack with some version of the words "There stand the redcoats and they are ours, or tonight, Molly Stark sleeps a widow!", "We'll beat them before night or Molly Stark's a widow!";  or, "There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories.  They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!".  My own favourite version is "Now, my men, yonder are the Hessians!  Tonight, the American flag flies over yonder hill, or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!"  It sounds very dramatic to me, almost literary.  But as my historian husband points out, there was no such thing as America yet, so perhaps this version is unlikely.

 Fighting began at 3 o'clock;  two hours later,  Baum's British unit was routed and the few panic-stricken survivors were trying--mostly unsuccessfully--to flee into the woods.  Just then, von Breymann and the second British unit appeared, which would have been very bad news for the battle-weary Colonials except that Colonel Seth Warner and the famous Green Mountain Boys (Vermont militia) arrived just a bit later to reinforce the American side.

A reproduction of the flag of the Green Mountain Boys.  The
thirteen stars represent thirteen states.  This flag was flown during the latter
half of the Battle of Bennington.

Uniform of the Green Mountain Boys, 1776.
The battle was a disaster for the British.  Two  hundred of their soldiers were killed, and seven hundred captured, leaving Burgoyne with 15% fewer men with which to attack Albany and none of the needed supplies.  The Colonials, meanwhile, had only lost 30 men (another 40 suffered wounds). The Colonials were also able to pick up some military-grade weaponry from the battlefield (the website GeneralAtomic:  Thrilling Incidents in American History says that they captured 1,000 muskets, 900 swords, 4 brass field-pieces, and 4 baggage-wagons). Colonel Baum was wounded, captured, and died of his wounds the next day in Bennington.  Von Breymann was wounded as well, but not captured.  This victory raised the spirits of the defending Colonials immensely, significantly bumping up the number of militia volunteers for future encounters.  For the rest of his life,  John Stark was known as "the Hero of Bennington", and Burgoyne would later report to his superiors that "Wherever the King's forces point, militia to the amount of three or four thousand assemble in twenty-four hours."

Bennington Flag

Uniform of the German Dragoons, who fought on the British side in the Battle of Bennington.

Historic postcard showing the house in Bennington where Colonel Baum
died of his wounds the day after battle.

What would this battle have been like to fight?  I imagine it must have been terrifying.  For one thing, partly because Stark chose to attack on all sides almost simultaneously, most of the battle consisted of close combat, which was unusual in 18th-century warfare. Michael Stephenson, in his book Patriot Battles:  How the War of Independence Was Fought, quotes a Hessian officer who survived the battle as saying "the bayonet, the butt of the rifle, the sabre, the pike, were in full play, and men fell, as they rarely fall in modern warfare, under the direct blows of their enemies."  (p.299).  General Stark described the noise and confusion of the battle as "one continuous clap of thunder."   All of the participants must have been aware that their lives could end painfully at any moment.   I think it's likely that these hours were some of the worst of Daniel Harmon's life.  

One question I have found difficult to answer definitively is whether Harmon and his kin were in the battle from the beginning, or whether they belonged to the Green Mountain Boys that joined the battle half-way through.  Since they were living in Vermont at the time of the battle, I think it's probable that they were part of the Vermont militia, not the New Hampshire militia.  However, Harmon could have been one of the men guarding the deport from the beginning. 

The Battle of Bennington had an impact on the direction of the Revolutionary War, and it is remembered vividly as part of Vermont and New Hampshire history.  Vermont celebrates the battle each year with a state holiday on August 16th.  The Bennington Battlefield (which is actually just inside the borders of modern New York state) is a National Historic Landmark.   Vermont  built a monument to the battle in 1889 on the site of the former Bennington supply depot.  New Hampshire has the Molly Stark House in Dunbarton, New Hampshire (Molly nursed wounded soldiers in her home after the Bennington battle).  Not to be outdone, Vermont has the Molly Stark State Park and the Molly Stark trail. There are symposiums and historical reenactments.  I even saw a slightly weird historical battle reenactment on youtube in which children played all the roles.  Watching a ten-year-old say "..or Molly Stark sleeps a widow" is strange. 

Bennington Battle Monument Plaque, Bennington, Vermont.

The Bennington Battle Monument Itself.  Its size can be gauged from the statue in front.

Statue of General John Stark, at the base of the Monument.

Statue of Seth Warner in front of the Monument.  He led the Green Mountain Boys into the battle.

Entrance to Molly Stark State Park

Bas-relief of the Battle of Bennington, in the Bennington Battleground Historic Site in New York.

Historic Plaque in the Bennington Battleground Historic Site.

There is one more link between the Battle of Bennington and the Harmon family.  Daniel Harmon and his wife Lucretia (Dewey) Harmon ran an inn in Bennington, which is where General Stark stopped for breakfast on his way to the battleground.  Lucretia may have cooked him breakfast herself!

The Inn was built by the Harmons and run by them from about 1773 to 1794.  The book Memorials of a Century by Isaac Jennings says that "The tavern was the most pretentious [that used to be a compliment] building of the town in early times.  The doors were handsome and substantial...for those days, moldings were in several rooms and the winding staircase was beyond the ordinary."   Harmon was described in this book as "a tall man with solid shoulders, dark eyes and jet black hair." 

The Harmon Inn, long after its glory days.  A historic plaque marks the spot today. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Is This Arthur H. Scott?

These photographs in the McCord Museum collection are entitled "A.H. Scott, Montreal, QC, 1891".  They were taken by Wm. Notman and Son, photographers.  Are they of Arthur H. Scott?  The timing is just the slightest bit off--in 1891 Arthur is, according to the census, living in his parent's home in Toronto, and working as a Tea Broker there.  Arthur married Minnie Davis in April of 1892 and they move to Montreal by March of 1893, when their first child Howard Elliot Scott was born.   Still, the dates are so close--I'll put the portraits out there in case anyone recognizes him.

This one's reaching even further afield--it's entitled "Mrs.Scott in her Wedding Dress, 1891", again taken by Wm. Notman and Sons.  I'm not so sure this is Minnie Davis--why would she get a wedding portrait taken in Montreal?  Arthur and Minnie married in Aylmer, Ontario, where she grew up.  However, the year matches the portrait of A.H. Davis--perhaps she got her gown made in Montreal?