A Man Named Gideon

Notes to My Readers:  Several years ago when I began the earnest job of researching my family history, I had a small assortment of  family memorabilia and my mother’s recollections from which to draw.  One of my most treasured possessions is the black and white 18″ x 10″ panoramic photo of the 1929 Reunion of the Tyler Kindred of America which was held at Owasco Lake just outside of Auburn, New York.  My mother had kept it rolled up like a scroll and stuffed in various boxes as long as I can remember…curators, historians and archivists will gasp here.  But like the Tylers…the photograph was tougher than its environment and survived with nary a tear, crack or crease.  When my mother passed this family treasure to me, I decided that it should leave the confines of a box and indeed should be on display.  That meant it would be unfurled for the first time in at least 50 years.   Today it is mounted in a proper frame with proper archival material surrounding it though I wonder if a mere 25 years later if freed  from this controlled environment, it might snap back to its scroll state.

For most of my life I have stared into the two hundred or so faces…young and old…gathered in front of the Owasco Lake Pavilion with the Tyler Kindred of America banner held aloft.  I was haunted with the tantalizing bit of my mother’s claim that somewhere in that photo are my  grandmother’s two aunts… Ida and Jennie Curry Sinsabaugh, daughters of Deborah Jane yler Curry and sister of my great grandmother, Kate Curry Curtis.

Eventually I would know Kate as the great great granddaughter of Gideon Tyler and find myself in the midst an expansive family with such a strong pride in their heritage that they called themselves the Tyler Kindred of America.  Tyler genealogy books were published.  Elections were held.  Poems and songs were written and sung including the Tyler hymn.  Great speeches and presentations of family history were made.  Elders spoke of their youthful days and the pioneers that were their parents and grandparents.  Travelling from all over America, they celebrated their legacy at the reunions and at the end of the festivities the Tyler Kindred would raise their voices in the “Tyler yell”.

Tyler Genealogists-Then and Now

1929 Tyler Kindred of America 10th annual reunion

“The Tyler genealogy: the descendants of the Branford, Connecticut line of Roger Tyler, Volume III” by Willard I. Tyler Brigham and Calvin Cedric Tyler  continues the work “The Tyler genealogy : the descendants of Job Tyler, of Andover, Massachusetts, 1619-1700, volumes 1 and 2” by family member and genealogist, Willard Irving Tyler Brigham. Willard made the family history publications his mission.  Though he was educated as a lawyer, he became an actor and toured in a Shakespearean troupe for over five years. When his physical ailments forced his return to his Michigan law practice, he organized the Tyler Kindred of America in 1896 and began the work of compiling and publishing the genealogy.  His failing health halted the work in 1901.  In fact, it was said that the disorder that finally ended his life “was contracted among the damp stone buildings in London while searching for Tyler origins.”   Willard Brigham and Cornelius Tyler, Fay Webster Tyler and Rollin U. Tyler were faithful attendees at the annual gatherings…giving speeches and gathering family information.  Descendants and researchers owe these tireless Tylers a great deal of thanks.  And a rousing Tyler yell.

In 2007 I was introduced to the rich ancestral information gathered and published by my Tyler relatives in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.   Kathy McCarthy generously offered her contact information to the Cayuga County USGenWeb site as a long time Tyler researcher.  Reaching out to her for help was one of the first and best steps I took as a genealogical researcher.   Kathy helped me find my 2nd great grandmother,  Deborah Jane Tyler Curry’s parents, Alanson (Lonson) and Betsey by simply introducing me to the published genealogy books.  In that moment I was launched on an amazing journey of discovery of my Tyler heritage.  Kathy and Bernie Corcoran who coordinates the Cayuga County site, I owe you both a Tyler yell.

Though I grew up in Auburn, New York, I never knew that I was a direct descendant of one of the pioneer settlers of the Auburn area.  Like most children my early American history lessons consisted of the Pilgrims…quaintly scheduled around Thanksgiving and usually featuring the tale of  Priscilla Alden and Miles Standish and their love story.  Then a baffling leap to the American Revolution and George Washington with a stingy, chauvinistic nod to Betsey Ross.   Of course there was Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bad actor, John Wilkes Booth.  Dates and Names.  Over the years, a new teacher might add their own tale of interest to the mix…maybe Custer or Wild Bill Hickok…and there was always Ben Franklin…his kite and key.  This time-honored, but incomplete manner of teaching history had the effect of separating me and my classmates from the teeming stream of human history and our sense of belonging to it.  History was not local or personal.   It was about distant and grand people doing distant and grand things.  Nothing exciting or interesting happened here.  It was just home.  It was not until I began to research my heritage that I realized how ill served I was by the well-meaning educators of my youth…some of them with the same forebears as mine.  Ironically, some of them were members of the Tyler Kindred of America…folks who were instilled with the enthusiasm to know and appreciate their pioneer heritage.

So in the tradition of past Tyler historians, Willard, Cyrus, Fay and Rollin…my kinfolk…I share this story of a Man Named Gideon.

A Man named Gideon

Gideon Tyler was born in Sharon, Litchfield, Connecticut on July 6, 1743.  He was the only child of Gideon Tyler and Deborah Fuller and is my 5th great grandfather.  When Gideon was only two years old, his father, Gideon, died leaving his wife, Deborah, a widow at the age of twenty.

Gideon Tyler (1717-1745) Monument in old Sharon CT Burying Ground

Deborah was the daughter of Benjamin and Content Fuller and the direct descendant of Mayflower Pilgrims, Samuel Fuller and his wife, Jane Lathrop.  Good pioneer stock as my mother was fond of saying.  Deborah did what any sensible young widow with a toddler and a good farm would do.  She promptly married a 31 year old widower with two small children, James Warren,  who was a respected farmer and a lieutenant in the local militia.  James became Gideon’s legal guardian and he and Deborah raised young Gideon together on their Sharon, Connecticut farm which was situated among the many Tyler family farms belonging to Gideon’s uncles and aunts.

It was there Gideon met and married 16 year old Phebe Elliott and began his own large family.   Over twenty years, Gideon and Phebe produced twelve children-all but three surviving to adulthood and of the remaining children all relocated to Aurelius with their parents in 1795.  In 1791 Gideon had quitclaimed his share of the Connecticut family farm to his step uncle, Nehemiah Warren and in 1793 with his sons bought several hundred acres from land speculators in what was then the “Military Township” of Aurelius and what is now Sennett, New York.

Westward Along The Mohawk

The family made the long and difficult journey from Sharon, Connecticut to Aurelius in 1795.  As described in “History of Cayuga County”  by Elliott G. Storke, “The routes over which the early settlers came to Cayuga County, and by which their families and their household and other goods were transported, were circuitous, rude and toilsome in the extreme.”  Gideon’s family would have traversed the Hudson River to Albany and then made a difficult land trek of sixteen miles to Schenectady.  Once they arrived at Schenectady, they travelled the gentle Mohawk River via flat boat for fifty-six miles arriving at Little Falls, New York.  This was a breathtaking change from the placid Mohawk as it meant passing through a rocky gorge, carrying canoes and light boats while the heavier boats measuring about 30 feet long were drawn by oxen.

After the short, but difficult journey or portage through Little Falls, the Tylers would have moved on to German Flats were they once again struggled through the shallows.  After they made it through German Flats, the Mohawk River returned to more navigable waters and provided a serene voyage for the next fifteen miles to Utica.  Upon reaching Fort Stanwyck-now Rome, New York- the travelers would repeat the portage process in order to reach the small stream named Wood Creek which was thirty miles long and flowed into Oneida Lake.  From Oneida Lake they would continue along the Oswego and Seneca Rivers to the outlet of Cayuga Lake.  This entire journey called the summer route…from Schenectady to Cayuga Lake…took from fifteen to twenty days.  Improvements were quickly made by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company by constructing locks at Little Falls and removing other obstructions in the Mohawk and connecting the river to Wood Creek by a canal.  This precursor to the Erie Canal system shortened the trip by half and doubled the value of the contiguous lands of New York State.

The Pioneers of The Military Tract and The Farm Called Tyler Springs

The Tylers had left behind the familiar lands of a more civilized and cultivated Connecticut, pushed through the grueling overland and waterway journey into the heartland of New York State.  Finally as they set foot on land at the northernmost end of Cayuga Lake, the land they saw stretching out before them would be the edge of Montezuma Swamp…heavily wooded, mosquito ridden and seemingly endless marsh.  Heaven knows what was in their hearts as the wagons travelled the last fifteen miles of their journey.  They were in the Finger Lakes which were formed by glacier activity over 100 million years ago…rich, alluvial soil…abundant waterways…and the promise of a rough, pioneer existence.   Crude log cabins replaced the more civilized Connecticut farms and communities.  The early Tylers and their fellow settlers would establish a thriving settlement with schools and churches.

The last child born to Gideon and Phebe was a son, Gideon who died at the age of eight in 1796.  His was the first burial in what later became the historic North Street Cemetery.

In the autumn of 1887 documents dated September, 1810 were discovered by Reverend William H. Hubbard, minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Auburn, New York, which included “a long strip of paper on which the names of the subscribers for the purchase of the North street burying ground were inscribed“.  The agreement promises to pay the trustees of the First Congregational society of the village of Auburn (Robert Dill, Moses Gilbert, Noah Olmstead, Silas Hawley and Henry Amerman) and lists  the original 70  subscribers to North Street Cemetery and their promisory sums.  “The purpose of the funds were to purchase  and fence one and half acres of land for a burying ground.”  Among the subscribers were Gideon, his sons, Amos, Warren, Elliott and Solomon (Salmon) Tyler.  Gideon and his wife,  Phebe,  and his sons Amos, Elliott, Nathaniel and William are buried in North Street Cemetery.   His son, William, is my 4th great grandfather.

Gideon Tyler Tombstone (1743-1829) (left) in North St Cemetery

It wasn’t long after their arrival before Gideon and his sons provided a critical working center for the other pioneer families in the area.   Tyler Springs,  as the family farm was called,  featured fast running springs and a rough grain mill.  His son, Nathaniel’s 1873 Auburn Weekly News obituary cites “the neighbors came from miles around, to pound their corn on a stump log dug out for the purpose, before mills or wheat were thought of.”

As evidenced by many newspaper articles and historical records, the Gideon Tyler family played a significant role in the history of the area.  Many of the Tylers ran inns along the busy Genesee Trail over the generations; one of the last was called the Sennett Inn which was owned and run by one of Gideon and Phebe’s grandsons,  Loron Tyler,  until his death in 1894.  The Sennett Township building was built on the foundation of the old inn.  Gideon’s son, Nathaniel and his son, Amos-a known character, was the proprietor of the Tyler Inn which was built on the original Sennett family farm until Amos’ death in 1897.  Gideon’s grandson, Jason Martin Doty ran the old American Hotel in Auburn, New York.

Most were farmers that served as Constables and Supervisors of the Poor and as the generations passed many became tradesmen…carpenters, railroad engineers-there was a doctor or two and one great grand uncle…with the great name of William Henry Harrison Tyler, designed and built many of the grand old wood frame houses that line East Genesee Street in Auburn.  Many of the Tyler women were teachers and principals of schools…landmark events in their time.  Among the farmers and tradesmen were Civil War veterans and an official or two….James Elliott Tyler, former warden of Auburn Prison and Republican Mayor of Auburn, New York and his father, Salmon Tyler who was a founder of the First Congregational Church, a Justice of the Peace and eventually became a trustee for the Cayuga Association of Universalists.

And, of course, they organized and attended Tyler reunions.

Gideon’s Granddaughters

Tylers from all over the country attended the reunions to rekindle family relationships and celebrate their kinsmanship.  The sons and daughters of Gideon wrote songs and poems to be performed in front of their kindred among the purple and gold flowers and decorations that were their Tyler colors.   After my years of researching my family, spending time with them vicariously through documents and despite the gap in years, I look at the old 1929 photo with a different heart.  While I still scan the faces…is Kate Curry Curtis recognizable?  Would I finally have a picture of her? ….I look more carefully at each of the faces and wonder.  Are you Gideon, the railroad engineer?  Are you Marietta, the young school teacher?  Are you George Loron Tyler, the innkeeper from Waterloo?

Deborah Jane Tyler Curry in Ithaca circa 1900 in her Eighties

Among the many Tyler kindred is my maternal 2nd great grandmother, Deborah Jane Tyler Curry who was born the year her great grandfather, Gideon died.  She was the wife of Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran, Francis J. Curry.  She died in 1918 at the age of 90.  My mother and I are her namesake and she was the bridge generation that took me to her pioneer great grandfather, Gideon Tyler,  and our Cayuga County Tyler family members and the role they played in settling my hometown of Auburn, NY including the lands along Cayuga Lake.  I am proud of each of those individuals…farmers, innkeepers, soldiers, carpenters, railroad engineers and after spending time with their history, I feel the Tyler spirit and have the urge to give them ALL a rousing Tyler yell.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved

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