Hoss Flesh and Cow Tails

A Note to My Readers:  Researchers find information in so many sources to fill in a biography…censuses, wills, land purchases and birth, marriage and death records.  Sometimes there are personal documents and memorabilia such as letters and family bibles to provide a detail or two.  Nine times out of ten these types of records give us timeline events and relationships, but few and far between give us the slice of life stuff.  Of course that leaves most of us tingling with curiosity and with little or no way to touch that personality.   But…controversy shows up in newspaper articles like the village gossip inviting you to sit a spell and listen to a yarn or two.  

And so it is with Lewis Purdy, Jr. (1840-1923)

Goodness me. I long had the gist that Lewis Purdy, Jr., the half-brother of my maternal 2nd great grandfather, Samuel D. Purdy (1818 – 1898) of Enfield, NY was a bit of a character with a life of highs and lows, but today’s research tells me that ‘bit of a character’  isn’t exactly an apt description.

Samuel’s mother, Rachel died in 1839 when he was a young man and his father, Lewis, Sr (1791- 1875). remarried a much younger woman named Sarah J. and had several more children.

Lewis, Jr. was born in 1840 so Lewis, Sr. had wasted no time. Sarah died in 1863 and left behind several daughters who as young girls were farmed out to various families in Tompkins county working as house help.  Lewis, Jr. was off to fight in the Civil War with the 109th Regiment that year. When he returned and mustered out in 1865, he married Miss Olive Sholes of Newfield on February 5th in Enfield. Probably under the watchful eye of  his staid and respectable brother, Samuel.  Olive and Lewis initially lived with her parents in Newfield. The Sholes were neighbors of Lewis, Sr. and his third wife, Esther Eddy Purdy.

Lewis and Olive went off on their own buying a farm at Van Etten (Swartwood Station) in Chemung county, New York.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Immediately Olive gave birth to daughter Fannie in 1866 and in 1870, son Freddie was born. Death came to the Purdy household in 1873 and both children perished. In 1882 Olive gave birth to daughter, Murtie, but she, too perished, dying at the age of 7 years old. All three children are buried in Trumbull Corners in Newfield.

Life goes on as they say and Lewis seems to have followed a dark and angry path.  He was in conflict with his neighbors…far beyond verbal, many set-tos turning to violence.  In 1888 after another angry dispute, Lewis suffered a “body execution” upon being sued by Lewis Smith and so his brother, Samuel had to travel to the jail to retrieve him.  In one 1893 fray, Lewis sued a Mr. Thompson for false representation of ‘hoss flesh’.

But it was the bitter feud between James R. McKay that festered and boiled over and by 1910 the duo were in Chemung court after 70 year old Lewis was assaulted by Mr. McKay.  He was dragged to the ground from a wagon by Mr. McKay, his clothes torn and two teeth broken and one loosened causing Lewis to purchase false teeth.  Before you want to dig up Mr. McKay and yell at him, the court testimony states that

Mr. Purdy is a man of violent temper, of a quarrelsome nature and given to brawling and fighting; that prior to April 1 the defendant was forced to eject Mr. Purdy from the defendant’s hotel in Van Etten and on April 1 was forced to remonstrate with Mr. Purdy because the man was using profane language in the presence of a woman with whom the defendant was conversing.

While I did not find the conclusion of the court case, I did find that the quarreling men were not done with one another.  No, sirree.

Ithaca NY Daily News 1911 Lewis Purdys Cow Loses TailIn 1911 they were back in court when Lewis sued James McKay…oh, I can hardly type this without shaking my head….because Lewis’  Holstein lost her tail to the jaws of Mr. McKay’s dogs.    The saga went on for six weeks, calling 23 witnesses and finally going to the jury.

Lewis lived to be 83 years old passing away in 1923 at the Old Soldier’s Home.  He had been widowed since 1916 when patient Olive went to her peaceful reward.

Lewis and Olive Sholes Purdy Monument

The Purdys are buried in the family plot in Trumbull Corners with their three children – a quiet and bucolic spot where matters of  ‘hoss flesh’ and cow tails are of no consequence.




Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher



The Eye of the Beholder

Our mail carrier KNOWS I love her arrival. At the sound of the truck making its way down the street…I am out to the mailbox like I have been shot out of a cannon. Not all of the time. But, when I am awaiting a book or article regarding my genealogy research, it is akin to Christmas at my house.

“What is it today, Deb?”, Barb says leaning out of the USPS vehicle. It is spring at last and I am not bundled up and she happily has her window open to catch a warm April breeze. And me? I am content to open the envelope right then and there…not risking frost bite…and oblige her curiosity (and mine).

I found three different collectible objects on eBay last month and ordered all three. Coming from three different sources, they were mailed separately thus spreading out the anticipation and joy. All of the items directly relate to my central New York ancestors and have antiquity.

Order of Sons of St. George, General Gordon Lodge, Auburn, New York.  Circa 1896

Order of Sons of St. George, General Gordon Lodge, Auburn, New York. Circa 1896

First, my paternal 2nd great grandfather’s portrait (circa 1896) with his fellow members of the Order of the Sons of St. George; General Gordon Lodge, Auburn, NY. The seller was from the Binghamton area. I was over the moon.

Yesterday’s mail brought the Victorian Trading Card from his son’s Auburn, NY business, “Coy and Penird… from around the late 1880′s. The seller was in the Sacramento, California area. WOW!  How things do ‘travel’!

I opened this envelope to show my mail carrier my latest treasure and inwardly laughed when I saw her polite and puzzled expression that clearly said,

” Just a piece of cheap paper advertising “Coy & Penird” All * Kinds * Of * Rags”.

Coy & Penird; Victorian Trading Card.  Circa late 1880's.

Coy & Penird; Victorian Trading Card. Circa late 1880′s.

But, we genealogists and historians have seen that look before…

Stereopticon Slide.  Taughannock Falls.

Stereopticon Slide. Taughannock Falls.

The third item is a stereopticon slide of Taughannock Falls (Ithaca, NY) and in lovely condition. My 5th great grandfather built a log cabin there in 1790 and the falls are a great part of my family history. I can’t wait to have it arrive. Perhaps Barb will find this item a bit more charming. Or confirm that I am collector of odd bits.

What can I say…





Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher


An Englishman in a Complicated American Life

A Note to My Readers: In furthering my knowledge of my paternal 2nd great grandfather, David Penird (1830-1901), a London born Englishman who migrated to the United States around 1850 and settled in Cayuga County, New York, I began to look at where he spent a good deal of his energy and time. I started with the task of writing a biographical profile with the facts. First I had to embrace the fact that over the decades, what eventually became the surname Penird was morphed many times from Pennard to Penard to Peniard and countless odd transcriptions and at last settling on Penird.

Upon his arrival in America, David immediately married 16 year old Elizabeth White of Auburn and soon after the couple had twin girls, Lucy Jennie and Mary Elizabeth. Elizabeth died in 1852 leaving David with the infant girls who had not yet celebrated their first birthday. On May 21, 1854, David married Martha D. Colwell of Summerhill in Union Springs and the pair took up Lucy Jennie and their own infant daughter, Ida Mae and moved to Cherry Valley, Illinois in 1856, leaving little Mary Elizabeth with her maternal grandmother in Auburn.

During their attempt at farming in Illinois two more children were born to the Penirds –sons John and George. While it is unclear what the circumstances were, a legal notice in the January 1st, 1861 issue of the Rock River (Illinois) Democrat reported the proceedings of the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors.

ROCKFORD, Dec. 3d, 1860.
Resolved. That Geo W. Miller be allowed the sum of Forty Dollars, for care of Lucy Penird, and for sending said Lucy Penird to her friends in Auburn New York, and the Clerk of this Board is hereby directed to draw an order on the Treasurer for the amount.
Resolved. That Burnap & Harvey, attorneys be allowed the sum of twenty-five dollars for their services in the case of U. D. Meacham, States Attorney, against David Penird, and the Clerk of this Board is hereby directed to draw an order on the Treasurer for the amount.

Lucy Jennie was sent to live with her mother’s sister, Olive White Arnold who had migrated to Wisconsin where Lucy continued to live, marry Horatio Theodore Harroun and raise six children. Between the time Mary Elizabeth was 14 and living with her grandmother in Auburn in 1865 until her marriage to William C. Heard on January 19, 1880 at the age of 29 in Bayonne, New Jersey I lost track of Mary Elizabeth.
It is clear, however, that the twin Penird girls – however far flung – and their half-siblings kept contact and indeed were named as heirs in their half-brother, George’s 1927 will.

By the spring of 1861, the Penirds were back in Summerhill, where Martha gave birth in May to my great grandfather, William J. Penird. David enlisted to fight in Mr. Lincoln’s War on November 16, 1861, mustering in with the newly formed 75th regiment out of Cayuga County. When his first duty was completed, he re-enlisted on January 24, 1864, collecting a bounty of $300 and was again in the throes of battle bivouacked in Florida and Louisiana, fighting at the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads and mustering out in Savannah, Georgia on August 21, 1865. He mustered out with the rank of Sergeant having lost all of his teeth as a result of continuous vomiting brought on by typhoid fever. He had suffered the travails of typhoid alongside his son’s father-in-law, Samuel French, a Summerhill farmer, who died of the disease in the hospital at Camp Dwight in Louisiana.

1875 Summerhill Map

1875 Summerhill Map

Returning home, David found his pious and competent wife Martha had become a good farmer owning several acres in Summerhill and living on her farm along Lick Road. By the late 1870’s he was itching for adventure and good fortune, so he scooped up my teenage great grandfather, William, and headed for Deadwood City in the Dakota Territories. They are both enumerated in the 1880 Federal census living in Deadwood as laborers next to Dr. F. W. Wilson and the barber shop run by E. R. Sims. As I read into the history of Deadwood, I came to understand that former Civil War soldiers banded together and headed to Deadwood to seek their fortune after the devastating effects of the war on the economy. By December of 1880, William was back in Summerhill when he married his Summerhill sweetheart, my great grandmother, Emogene Lillian Case.

The aging David settled in Auburn with Martha though she kept control of the farm in Summerhill for decades. David had learned about resources…scrap material to be exact…in his duties as supply sergeant in the old 75th and in the mineral mining community of Deadwood and began to build what is indelicately called ‘the junk business’. His eldest son, John had managed the Summerhill farm and as a family story told by his descendants relates, he was told to stay away from the mills and the shops in Auburn as they were hotbeds of tuberculosis. It did not save him as luck would have it. He died of the disease contracted in the plagued community of Summerhill in 1888 at the age of 31 just four years after his older sister, Ida. She, too, was lost to ‘consumption’ in Summerhill when she was 29.

Auburn became the center of the family’s activities as the scrap business boomed.  David’s remaining sons, George W.Auburn Weekly Auburnian May 1893 Coy and Penird New Address and William J. both became involved with their father’s enterprise. In the year 1888 after his older brother John’s death, George became the head of the business first partnering with Nehemiah Coy to form the company of Coy and Penird with offices in Ithaca and Auburn.  As George matured into his role and became politically active in Auburn as Third Ward Supervisor,  David gradually found other avenues for his remaining energy.  The Grand Army of the Republic and The Order of the Sons of St. George and a brief fling at local politics.

Though I never found evidence of David becoming a naturalized citizen, I did find him involved on the periphery of the Independent Labor Party in 1891. But the majority of his time was devoted to his brothers-in-arms and his fellow English ex-pats. He is found marching in parades and dining at banquets, organizing the 11th annual reunion of the ‘Old 75th” in 1891 in Auburn. More marching and dining and conventions and fund-raising for the General Gordon Lodge, No. 211 of the Order of the sons of St. George and serving as one of its Trustees in his 60’s. He continued to be an ‘agent’ and ‘peddler’ for Coy and Penird until finally the family set up residence and shop at 21 – 23 Perrine Street where George had built a large warehouse and arranged to have the railroad run a side track. Over the decades David had been listed as living in various locations…Martha in others.  In his man’s world of the time, he favored their company and the social events, but Martha kept to her sewing circles and managing her Summerhill property.  David is buried alongside Martha in Groton Rural Cemetery, but the pair seemed to live very different and individual lives after he returned from his service in the Civil War.

The Order of the Sons of St. George

Order of the Sons of St. George.  David Penird is seated, far left

Order of the Sons of St. George. David Penird is seated, far left

I had all manner of records about David’s involvement in the Grand Army of the Republic, but not the Order of the Sons of St. George. Could this very English affiliation tell me more about David other than the doings of his family and business activities?

Oh yes, indeed, what was already complicated, sometimes uncomfortable and oddball became colorful, if not downright boisterous.

I found that the Order’s motto was (and is) “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”, an Anglo-Norman phrase that translates “Evil unto him who thinks evil of it” or “Shame upon him who thinks evil of it”. Historians attribute the phrase to the Most Noble Order of the Garter established in 1348 and its founder, King Edward III of England. The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest order of chivalry and is dedicated to St. George, England’s patron saint. It is the world’s oldest national order of knighthood in continuous existence.

The Order of Sons of St. George was first established as a cultural and benevolent society in 1871 by English emigrants living in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Some of the literature hints at some violence between the English born mine owners and officials in the area perpetrated by the secret society of the Irish Catholic group the “Molly McGuires” and thus the Order’s formation as protection.

As time moved on, the Order of the Sons of St. George evolved into an ethnic fraternal society to benefit Englishmen, their sons and grandsons, living in the United States. Sick and death benefits were offered to all members and the social activities such as dances, picnics and dinners were part of lodge activities. Membership was limited to first, second and third generation Englishmen. A separate organization…an auxiliary for females…was called the Daughters of St. George.

In its prime over 600 lodges existed in North America with a membership of 45, 000, but as insurance companies took over the benefit market, the need for membership in a benevolent society for financial security became less of a necessity.  As the migration from England diminished and the generations became absorbed into American life and culture, the desire to belong to a heritage society was lost on them. Though few, lodges still exist today in the U.S. and in fact, in England as well and celebrate the history and observe the traditions of the Order.

My paternal great great grandfather was a trustee in the General Gordon Lodge, Order of the Sons of St. George in Auburn, New York and if there was an event, he was there. In the 1900 Auburn Directory (Lamey), the lodges are listed.

Sons of St George, (Gen Gordon Lodge)–Organized June 21, 1886. Meetings held at St George’s Hall, over 8 Genesee St, first and third Wednesday evenings of each month. Headley Tutton, W P; Charles Spencer, Sec’y; James Williamson, Treas.
Daughters of St George, (Red Rose Lodge No. 112)–Organized March 10, 1897. Meets alternate Wednesday evenings at American Hall, over 145 Genesee St. Mrs. Georgia Kober, W P; May Sandham, W V P; Mrs Elizabeth Kerslake, Sec’y; Mrs Ada Williams, Treas.

General Gordon Lodge, No. 211

From its inception in June 21, 1886, Auburn’s General Gordon Lodge, held scores of events to raise money for the benefit of its members. According to Lodge Comptroller, Ernest Hunt, in a speech given in 1913, Auburn’s lodge was formed out of compassion for the plight of a fellow Englishman.

When a young Englishman, who had not friends or relatives in this country, came to Auburn and succeeded in finding employment as an engineer at Stalker’s mill, a position for which he had no training and as a result a boiler exploded, wrecking the building and killing him, it became necessary for the city of Auburn to arrange for his burial. After some time it became known or rumored that he had not been given proper burial, but that the coffin provided was not long enough for the body and consequently the undertaker had crowded the corpse into its receptacle. This aroused much indignation among the Englishmen, with the result that a meeting was called and arrangements made for a proper burial. From this incident originated the lodge of the Sons of St. George with membership of 350 members.

Headquartered at St. George’s Hall on Water Street, the organization held gatherings there that were strictly for men only. In 1891 the Lodge celebrated the anniversary of General Gordon’s birthday by giving an old English dinner. David was one of its organizers.

All formality was laid aside. The company was decidedly ‘stag’. So happily and smoothly did each event succeed the other that there was scarcely time to think of the absent fairs sex although toasts to their health were drank and their praises echoed in the songs and speeches of the evening. The spacious lodge room was turned into a banquet hall. The tables, heavily laden with all that goes to make up and old English dinner, greeted the merry party as they filed into the hall and took their seats at the table. There were over eighty in all, including the members of the order and their guests. Mrs. C. C. Lynch served as substantial and wholesome a dinner as any Englishman could desire. She was the recipient of compliments from all sides for her Old English plumb pudding with brandy sauce which was disposed of with relish. The rest of the menu was in keeping with the occasion. The dinner was served from 8 to 11 o’clock when the feast of reason followed. George Salvage filled most acceptably the position of toast master. The toasts were drank with a hearty cheer and the sparkling wine which flowed freely brought with it good cheer, witty speeches and merry songs. The first toast of the evening was to Queen Victoria of England and President Harrison of the United States.

The party broke up in the early hour of the morning with the best of good fellowship after singing several old English songs. All agreed that the anniversary of ’91, was one of the most enjoyable events in the history of the organization.

When David died on August 12, 1901, the Lodge gathered at his Perrine Street home to honor their brother and see him off to ‘the higher plain’. I imagine there were speeches and toasts…many speeches and many toasts ‘which flowed freely’ bringing with it good cheer, witty speeches and merry songs in the manner of all of their gatherings when he walked among them.

Author’s Note: I knew so little about my father’s mother, Sarah Leonie Penird Martin Merithew Palmer. She died before I was five and I have but one memory of her in her little brick house on Ross Place…and her curio cabinet full of knickknacks and memorabilia. While the adults talked, I pressed my nose to the glass examining the riot of things that belonged to her. She who knew so much about David Penird…she who belonged to the ladies auxiliary of the Sons of Union Volunteers. She who went to England just before World War II broke out to explore her grandfather’s English roots and who had to sail abruptly back in 1937 on the S. S. Aquitania to avoid “the unsettled conditions in Europe”.

The genealogist’s lament.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher



The Transcriber and The Descendant, The Fight With The Technician and The Romantic

A Note to My Readers:   Transcribing takes patience and focus and a dispassionate mood.   On occasion I put my scientific mind in charge and take on the task.   And then sometimes the technician and the romantic collide and it is a thing of great joy and revelation.   Today I tackled an old monograph and sorted through some old images.

One of my favorite stories comes from “The Falls of Taughannock: Containing A Complete Description of this the HIGHEST FALL in the State of New York” compiled by Lewis Halsey and printed in 1844.  Among lovely passages of prose and poetry dedicated to Taughannock Falls, it provides a rare glimpse into pioneer life as told by George Weyburn, the brother of  my maternal 3rd great grandmother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll.


The following simple yet graphic account of a fight with a bear in the ravine of Taughannock was contributed by Mr. George Weyburn  to the “New York State Historical Collections,” published by John M. Barber and Henry Howe in 1844.
It is amusing to note what importance this old veteran gives to the least incident of the great “conflict,” which he describes with as much zeal and earnestness as if he were discoursing concerning a Waterloo, upon the issue of which the destinies of the world were depending.
His enumeration of the numbers, positions, and the arms of the combatants is worthy of a careful chro-


nicler, and he is unable to conceal his joy when, after recommencing “the conflict,” his friends are at length left “masters of the field.”
“One Sunday evening in October, about forty-seven years ago, as my father, Mr. Samuel Weyburn , was returning from feeding his horse on the north side of the creek, near where the distillery now stands, his dog started up a bear and her two cubs.  They followed their course up the hill on the south side of the creek until near the summit, a few rods above the mill-site fall, where the cubs took to a tree.  My father ran to the house, and, having obtained his gun, pursued.  Being directed by the barking of the dog, he passed about twenty rods beyond the tree in which the cubs were, and there he found the bear with her back against a tree, standing on the brink of a gulf, defending herself from the attacks of the dog.
“He fired, and, as it was afterward found, broke one of her fore-legs.  The animal retreated into the gulf, and was seen no more that night.
“In the mean time my mother , brother , and myself, who had followed in the pursuit, came to the three in which the cubs had retreated, who, being frightened at the report of the gun and the sound of


our voices, began to cry ‘mam! mam!’ in the most affecting tones, strongly resembling the human voice.
“My mother having called my father, he shot the cubs and returned home.  The next morning, my father thinking that he had either killed or severely wounded the animal, for the want of a better weapon, (having expended his only charge of powder the evening previous,) took a pitchfork, and proceeded in quest of the enemy, accompanied by myself and brother.
“I was armed with a small ax; but my brother, not being equipped for war, was allowed to accompany us bare-handed.
“Thus accoutered and followed by our dog, we proceeded to within about forty rods of the great fall, when my father, apprised of the nearness of the enemy by the barking of the dog, ran and left us in the rear.
“We soon came in sight of the bear and dog, who were passing from the left wall of the precipice across the basin to the right, and ascended almost to the perpendicular rock, a distance of eighty or one hundred feet.
“My father, climbing up lower down, was en-


abled to intercept her passage in consequence of her broken limb.
“Here the action again commenced by his giving her three thrusts with the fork.  The first and second were near the heart, the third struck her should-blade, when she turned upon him, and he met her with a thrust in her face, putting out one of her eyes with one prong and tearing her tongue with the other.  She then rushed toward him, his feet gave way, and as he fell she caught him by the clothes near his breast.
“At this juncture he seized her and threw her below him.  This he repeated two or three times in their descent toward the bottom of the ravine, during which she bit him in both his legs and in his arms.  At the bottom, in the creek, lay a stone whose front was not unlink the front of a common cooking-stove, the water reaching to the top.  Near this, four or five feet distant, stood a rock on the bank.  Into this snug notch it was his good luck to throw his antagonist, with her feet and claws toward the rock in the stream.  In this situation he succeeded in holding her, with his back to hers and braced between the rocks.  With his left hand he


held her by the back, and with his right held her by the neck, until I came up.
I struck her with all my might on the back with the ax.  At this my father sprang from her and seized his fork.  The bear turned toward us with a shake and a snort.  I gave her a severe blow.  She fell, but, recovering herself, endeavored to retreat.  We recommenced the conflict, and ere long the life-less corpse of the animal proclaimed us masters of the field.
The victory was dearly bought.  The blood was running in streams from my father’s hands, and from his limbs into his shoes.
On examination, he found that she had bitten him in each limb, inflicting four ugly wounds at each bite, besides a slit in his wrist, supposed to have been done by one of her claws.


Taughannock Falls, View from Halsey's Hotel at Sunrise

Taughannock Falls, View from Halsey’s Hotel at Sunrise.  Albumen Print.  Repository: New York Public Library

Of note is the fact that one of biggest advertisers in the monograph was the Taughannock House which was located just opposite the falls.  Its proprietor was one J. S. Halsey.   No doubt the Halseys were not only promoting history, but this was a clever advertising piece to encourage patrons.  The ad describes the accommodations with particular romance.

This favorite Hotel, having been this season enlarged, refitted, and refurnished, is now open for the accommodation of visitors.
All than can make a hotel attractive and interesting to tourists or pleasure-parties may here be found.

The Taughannock House is situated just opposite the Falls, two and one half miles from the village of Trumansburgh, and ten miles from Ithaca.

Cayuga Lake boats, touching four times per day at the landing near the Falls, connect with the New-York Central and the New-York and Erie Railroads.  A carriage will be in readiness at the landing to convey visitors to the hotel.

The far-famed Cayuga offers ample accommodation to the sportsman for fishing and boating.

Park at Taughannock Hotel.  Albumen Print.  Repository: New York Public Library

Park at Taughannock Hotel. Albumen Print. Repository: New York Public Library

Being off from the line of direct communications with Atlantic cities, near the banks of the beautiful Cayuga, surrounded by a pure, clear, and bracing atmosphere, it presents peculiar inducements to travelers in search of healthful summer residence.

Particular attention will be give to orders for rooms during the summer.

J. S. HALSEY, Trumansburgh, New-York.

I visit Taughannock every summer…drawn to it with some kind of primitive urge I suppose.  In my younger days I marveled at it as a geophysical wonder…my ‘pre-genealogy’ days if you will.   After discovering the little publication a few years ago, I hike the 3/4 mile trail to the cataract pondering the tale of the fight with the bear all the while trying to calculate the location of the battle between my 4th great grandfather and the great bear.  And so it goes with transcribing the passage, the technician is in a fierce struggle with the romantic…carefully and perfectly typing the words while my imagination plucks at my sleeve urging me to join the tale.

The Author at Taughannock Falls Overlook

The Author at Taughannock Falls Overlook

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher


Christoffel “Kit” Davis, Esopus Pioneer

Quite by accident (don’t you love when that happens?) I found  a 1914  publication online with the story of my paternal 8th great grandfather, Christoffel “Kit” Davis…”The Esopus Pioneer”.  The first paragraph sets up the tale of Kit Davis.

Olde_Ulster_an_Historical_and_Genealogical Magazine Vol 10 Kit Davids bio_Page_01 Header CropEarly in the settlement of Fort Orange (Albany)there drifted into the colony of van Rensselaer an Englishman who seems to have been the first white man who thridded the woods and explored the lowlands about ‘the Esopus.’ The story of his life, the picturesqueness of his character, his influence with the Indians, his conformity to their customs and usages, his hatred of restraints of civilization and his enjoyment of the life primitive among the men of the woods, his dislike of obedience to the ordinances and rules civilized communities felt compelled to lay down reveal a pioneer character whom it would have delighted the heart of Bret Harte to delineate.

Kit Davis was a rugged individualist and used his fists as much as his words when confronted with too much ‘civilization’ as told in the Minutes of the court of Rensselaerswyck.  On one occasion he was called  before the authorities charged with telling the local tribe that Petrus Stuyvesant was coming to the Esopus “to break the necks of all the savages there which caused the Indians to commit a great deal of mischief”.   He succeeded in clearing himself, but he left an unfavorable impression with the authorities.   Records in Albany contain several incidents in which he was in conflict with other settlers including “striking Rijck Rutgersz on the head, for beating his servant,  wounding Jan Dircksz, from Bremen”.   The Dutch Records of Kingston (1658-1684) translated and published in 1912 for the New York State Historical Association shows a lively community engaged in not only the usual land deals and transactions, but reveals the contentious nature of the individuals who settled along the Hudson.  No doubt Peter Stuyvesant earned every guilder managing such a feisty group and dynamic point in history.

In many records Kit Davis’ surname was spelled “Davits” and  “Davids” as influenced by the Dutch language of the settlers along the Hudson River valley.    A trader and an interpreter between the settlers and the Esopus tribe, he made his home on the “Strand” as that part of Kingston was known in 1658. Over a period of time he had acquired small and separate parcels of land about the Rondout Creek and it grew to be referred to as either the Esopus or “Kit Davietsen’s river”.  Kit’s second wife was Maria Meertens, my 8th great grandmother. Together they had eight children.  Their daughter, Deborah and her husband, Pieter von Bommel are my 7th great grandparents.  During this time he and Maria were driven from their homestead as it was burned to the ground during hostilities with the Esopus tribe.  Kit was on record as the negotiator during the “Second Esopus War” arranging the return of the white women and children held in captivity. In addition he was a messenger to the Mohawks who also acted as mediators in the hostage exchanges.

His exchanges with regard to Peter Stuyvesant and his role as a frontier messenger and negotiator are really intriguing.

Stuyvesant replied that Kit was just arrived in Manhattan. He said he would send him but spoke slightingly of him except as a messenger. On the 19th of August Kit arrived at the Esopus, having paddled from Manhattan in a canoe. He brought with him a letter from Stuyvesant. He also brought some personal information. He had slept one night on his voyage with the Indians in their wigwam; that some Esopus Indians were with them who had four Christian captives with them; that one of them, a woman captive, had told Davis that forty Esopus savages had been spying about the stockade of the Esopus; that the Indians were getting supplies of liquor from the sloops trading along the river and he, Davis, warned the settlers from exposing themselves away from the fortifications.

In an 1861 publication “The Documentary History of the State of New York, Vol. IV” the accounts of “The Second Esopus War” make it very clear how perilous the times had become.  A stockade was built at the direction of Peter Stuyvesant;  nevertheless there were raids on the settlers ending in murder.  Homesteads were burned and hostages taken.  Esopus Indians were rounded up and sold into slavery.

Esopus Creek

Esopus Creek

Old Kit wasn’t above selling liquor to the local tribesmen and ‘tattling’ according to a complaining letter to Peter Stuyvesant. Despite Kit’s shenanigans, he was also considered a genial fellow among his fellow outdoorsman and was a great sportsman. He was noted for taking long journeys on the Hudson in his canoe.   I lived in the Kingston area for a period of time back in the 1980′s…though I had no clue at the time that I was living in the land of my settler ancestors.   It is a majestic and mysterious environment with the land rising high above the Hudson River and waterways like Esopus Creek meandering through the verdant Catskill foothills.   No one knows where Kit is buried, but it doesn’t take much imagination to think his spirit is in the mists that haunt the Esopus.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher


The Bones of Old John Cary

A Note to My Readers:   John Cary. “The Plymouth Pilgrim” as he was referred to in a monograph, is my maternal 8th great grandfather.   There is a great deal of written material available for this ancestor authored and published by descendants.  As is critical for the wise historian and genealogist, corroborating these published works with independent research of records is in order.  Thankfully this ancestor has a solid footprint in history and the challenge will be to keep it all straight.  How many of us scrounge for the littlest detail and celebrate tidbits as major victories?  But not for old John Cary.   The word ‘bountiful’ comes to mind.

According to John Cary descendant Samuel F. Cary in “Cary Memorials”:

The writer has had access to a manuscript more than one hundred years old, and written by a grandson of John, which says that John Cary, when a youth, was sent by his father to France to perfect his education, and that while absent his father died.  He compromised by receiving one hundred pounds as his portion and immediately sailed for America.

John Cary migrated to the New World in 1634 where he first joined Plymouth Colony.

“Tradition says that he was the first Latin School teacher in Plymouth Colony, and that he taught Elder Brewster the Hebrew,”  writes descendant Seth F. Cary in his monograph, “The Plymouth Pilgrim”.   He moved to Duxbury New Plantation where he was allotted ten acres of land.  In June of 1644 John married Elizabeth Godfrey, daughter of  Francis and Elizabeth Godfrey.  The couple went on to have 12 children – six sons and six daughters.  Their son Joseph (1663 -1722) is my seventh great grandfather.

Sachem's Rock

Sachem’s Rock

In 1649 John and a few other individuals purchased of Ousamequin, afterwards known as Massasoit, chief of the Pockanocket Indians, a tract of land about fourteen miles square.  The tract was called “Satucket” and the deed was purchased by Miles Standish, Samuel Nash and Constant Southworth as trustees on behalf of John Cary and fifty-six other settlers in exchange for seven coats, nine hatchets, eight hoes, 20 knives, four moose skins and ten and a half yards of cotton.  Although there were fifty-six individuals who owned shares only John and a handful of others settled there.   The purchase was said to have been signed on a small rocky hill called “Sachem’s Rock.”   The original document is preserved by the Old Bridgewater Historical Society.

On June 3, 1656 the General Court incorporated Duxbury New Plantation as Bridgewater.   Plymouth Colony Records, volume 3, page 99 for June 3, 1656, have the following entry:

The Cunstables of the seueral Townes’  Bridgewater  John Carew.

From the time of its incorporation in 1656 until his death in 1681, John was the Town Clerk and his detailed records of the formal activities of Bridgewater also account for the births of his children.

The History of Plymouth says that, “John Cary was a man of superior education, and had great influence in the Colony and as an officer in the Church.”  His death record reads as follows:  “John Cary Seniour inhabytant of the town of Bridgewater deceased the last day of october in the yeare of our lord 1681.”

“The Cary Family in America” authored by Henry Grosvernor Cary and published by Seth Cooley Cary in 1907 reveals

John Cary Cenotaph in Ashmont cemetery

John Cary Cenotaph near Ashmont Cemetery in Bridgewater, MA

The grave of John Cary cannot be located.  The oldest cemetery in town is that adjoining his former house-lot, but was not opened until 1683, two years after his death.  The first cemetery had no monuments of inscribed gravestones, nothing but large, flat field-stones to mark the head of the grave.  After the new cemetery was opened this one was neglected, the stones fell down and in the course of years were covered with earth, and for several generations the location was lost.  Mr. Howard (Fred E. Howard who owned the property), stated to the author that when he was a young man, his father, while working on his farm, found cavities in the earth into which the feet of the oxen sank while ploughing, and also found them when setting fence-posts; and on examination they discovered that there was a long lost graveyard, and that it extended under the road which had been laid out leading past Mr. Howard’s residence.  No attempt was made to removed the bones, but the rude gravestones were taken up and placed in the wall.  Mr. Howard has erected a granite obelisk by the roadside with these two inscriptions:


So old John Cary rests on Mr. Howard’s farm or under Howard street.

Not far from the Old Burying Ground in Bridgewater , a cenotaph was installed by the descendants of ‘old John Cary’ commemorating the Plymouth Pilgrim who was one of the original settlers of Bridgewater.    An ironic situation for John Cary, the town clerk, who noted so much detail of its early civics and citizenry so that historians could revel in his words.   In the hoopla of life and the verve of progress the next generation lost the bones of their pioneers, but they couldn’t lose the spirit of John Cary and his descendants.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher


Written in Ink. Not Stone.

Confirmation with a bit of mystery…isn’t that always the way?

Analyzing evidence is an art as much as it is a science.  Not every thing is a slam dunk because we are always dealing with information provided by human beings.  Information with bias or best guess affected by faulty memory.  And then there is the challenge of reading unfamiliar handwriting.  Graphologists nod here!

I just received two death certificates from New York State in today’s mail….for my paternal 3rd great grandparents, Jonathan Bowker (1798-1891) and his wife Emeline Powers Bowker (1806-1888) of Lansing, Tompkins County, NY.  Through past research I pretty much proved my Bowker and Powers lineage, but since the Bowkers died after New York State began to require death certificates, I thought it worth spending the $22 each to secure an official document.    Names.  Check.  Dates.  Check.  Places…almost check.    And parents…Check with a mystery.

Jonathan’s father, John Bowker (1771-1855),  was purported to be born in Ulster County, New York, but his son’s death certificate states his father’s birthplace was “Mass”.   Both make sense as John’s father and mother (Silas Bowker and Esther Hobbs) were from Massachusetts and migrated to Ulster County where Silas was a scout in the Revolutionary War.   So…this is one of those toss of the coin at this point.

As for Emeline’s death certificate…everything checks out with my research evidence.  Except I cannot read the handwriting that states her mother’s first name.  My research shows that her mother was Ruth Roberts, second wife of Jacob Powers.  And everything points to it.  Jacob’s first wife, Rhoba Tabor, bore him ten children, but she died in 1804 and is buried in Sharon, Connecticut.  He then married Ruth and fathered at least five children with her…including Emeline. Emeline Powers Bowker DC Crop

But! (isn’t there ALWAYS a ‘but’) Emeline’s death certificate isn’t clear and it even looks like it says “Phebe” which I know isn’t right…could it say Rhoba?  Ruth?…it just doesn’t look like it.  Not even close and I am pretty good at this.  I take into account that my 2nd great grandmother, Sarah D. Bowker Case Johnson, cared for them in their elder years in her home and so I assume she would know these family details.  But then…could Phebe be Ruth’s real name and she chose Ruth as her ‘familiar’ name?  After all, the Powers were Palatine immigrants to the Hudson Valley who were originally Pauer.  Her grandfather was Joest Power with no “s” and he was often called Justus in Dutchess County records.  Or could the good doctor have interviewed Sarah and in the midst of the bureaucratic necessity of paperwork forgotten and guessed a name to get the chore done and over?

As line number 10 reminds us…

I hereby report this Death, and certify that the foregoing statements are true according to the best of my knowledge.  (signed by George Beckwith, M.D.)

Oh my…a genealogist’s challenge….but then we love a challenge, don’t we???

To keep my sense of humor and stay on track, I bow to Mark Twain.

The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher