Sunday, July 5, 2015

Roswell Towsley and His Plow

Farming was probably the most important occupation of early Scipio residents, as it continues to be today. Farming sustained the family, and brought income with which to continue to improve their lives. This is nowhere as evident as when looking at the patents granted in Cayuga County in her earlier years. Other occupations became necessary to assist with farming, and inventions to make things work better and more efficiently for all this industry were sought after.

The following is extracted from the booklet titled “From The Inventors and Inventions of Cayuga County” as read before the Cayuga County Historical Society at Auburn, NY, on September 21, 1880 by Cyrenus Wheeler:

From 1790-1836, 474 patents were granted in Cayuga County. Many you may not recognize as they are not items in use today: 10 for plows, 8 for threshing machines, 5 for stave sawing and joining, 2 for spinning wheels, 3 for washing machines, and one each for a churn, harrow, millstone, mortising machine, hand rake, potash, pump raising water, saddle, bedstead, fanning mill, fence wire, knife sharpener, furnace, shears, cordage, manufacturing harness, and, last but not least, manufacturing brandy from domestic articles.

The earliest patent was granted on January 11, 1812 to Roswell Towsley of Scipio for a plow. Due to a fire at the Patent Office in 1836, which destroyed their records, no one knows the exact nature of Towsley’s invention but it does precede that of Jethro Wood.

Towsley was a blacksmith by trade, and came to Scipio to live near the present day town of Aurora in 1806. He had previously lived in Manlius, of Onondaga County. An enterprising man, Towsley also ran a tannery, shoe shop and furnace.

In 1817, Towsley built the first steam flouring mill west of the Hudson River at Aurora. 

Unfortunately, the mill was in operation only about one year when Towsley became deranged. He was sent to the “Lunatic Asylum” in New York City, where he died a lonely and broken man in 1820.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cornelia Hancock, Quaker and Civil War Nurse

I have just finished reading "Letters of a Civil War Nurse" by Cornelia Hancock, 1863-1865. Cornelia was a single Quaker woman born in 1840 near Salem, NJ. She was turned down for nursing by Dorothea Dix who thought she was too young and attractive to nurse effectively. Nothing daunted, Cornelia simply hopped on the train to Gettysburg and served as a nurse until the close of the Civil War.
Her account of battles and particularly the aftermaths as she nursed the sick, wounded, and dying soldiers, often in temporary shelter  and often short of supplies and food is forthright and factual in nature. She mentions many soldiers, nurses and doctors by name throughout, as she writes to her family. A clear picture of camp politics emerges and Hancock's positive outlook is seen to wear down as the war nears its bittersweet end.

Imagine my surprise to find that the book mentions a Scipio soldier on page 139.

I have recently been reviewing the roster of the 111th NY Volunteers, particularly the Scipio men.  Quaker Allen Hoxie enlisted July 20, 1862, at Scipio, to serve three years; he was mustered in to Company I as sergeant August 20, 1862; the official roster shows he was killed in action on June 16, 1864, at Petersburg, PA. Cornelia Hancock was at that time stationed at City Point, VA. City Point, at the juncture of the James and Appomattox Rivers, was headquarters to the Union Army during the siege of Petersburg.
On page 139 of the book, Hancock has a short paragraph which reads:
"I am well. Miss Willetts is better, I hear. Allan Hoxie was shot with 5 bullets - is dead."

Hoxie's family received the sorrowful news from George Peckham, a fellow soldier in the 111th. George survived the war, and was buried with his wife  in Indian Mound Cemetery in Moravia, NY. His cousins Job, William and Fred Peckham, all Quakers, also served in the Civil War. Job and William are buried in the Friends Cemetery in Ledyard, NY while Fred and his family are buried in the King Ferry Cemetery.
All felt strongly that the Civil War was just in nature, believing so strongly in abolitionism that it overrode their belief in non-violence.

Friday, July 3, 2015

152 years ago today, the third bloody day of the battle of Gettysburg was being fought. Please take time today to think about all those who died and those who suffered in battle and at home.  This defining battle raged on for 3 days, often of hand-to-hand combat by our ancestors. The Civil War Trust estimates over 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, missing in action or captured during this horrific battle.

The 111th NY Volunteers, recruited primarily from Cayuga and Wayne Counties, showed great valor in their post at Gettysburg while taking heavy losses. Two officers and 59 enlisted men were confirmed dead; of the men who were wounded 24 died while 145 enlistees recovered, along with 8 officers. Another 10 enlisted men were listed as missing after the battle.

The 44th NY Volunteers, or Ellsworth’s Avengers, saw fierce fighting during Gettysburg and the Civil War in general. Colonel Elmer Ellsworth was reputed to be the first casualty of the Civil War, and the 44th was raised in Albany as a memorial unit composed of men from each town. Each unmarried and temperate man who applied for consideration also had to provide $20 (about $500 in today's dollars) for the privilege of joining the unit. 
The 44th participated in and acquitted themselves well at many battles during the course of the Civil War, although they often saw heavy losses. Their monument at Little Round Top in Gettsyburg is a final testament to their bravery on the field. 
One local soldier of the 44th was James Benton Hitchcock, who became a member of the Selah Cornwell GAR Post out of Scipio NY after the war, and served as a Town Justice in Scipio for over 20 years. His name appears as Quartermaster Sergeant on the monument at Gettysburg, on Little Round Top. 

At the battle of Malvern Hill, 99 of the 225 soldiers of the 44th engaged in battle were killed or wounded. James Hitchcock was seriously wounded at the Malvern Hill battle, taking one minie ball in his left thigh while another broke his leg just below the knee. Despite these injuries, James managed to carry the unit flag to his commanding officer, after 4 other color bearers had already been killed in action. James earned a commendation and promotion for his valiant efforts. The colors were an important rallying point and guide star for the unit, as well as serving the field commanders by allowing them to see at any given time where their troops stood on the field of battle.

I can only imagine the fortitude and bravery of this man, who had immigrated to America as a teenager with his family and just eleven years later became a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. 

Here is a photo of the monument at Little Round Top, Gettysburg, battlefield for the 44th NY as well as a photo of James taken at the time of the Civil War.

Friday, June 19, 2015

1847 Births in Scipio

I hope you took a moment to read the previous post about the births in Scipio during calendar year 1847. Not all towns are fortunate enough to have these records.
There were some comments and clarifications, so take a look at those as well. Here is a scan of the 2 pages from the town books; one page is about the infant, the other page gives the names of the parents.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Civil War Nurses Van Wie and Willet

Many brave and selfless women served in the Civil War; some followed a troop and cooked or did laundry, making the lives of the soldiers more bearable. Some served alongside the soldiers, suffering the same types of  marching conditions and exposure to harm for their country as the men. Others became nurses and provided care and comfort during the midst of battlefields and makeshift hospitals. I recently learned of two more nurses from central New York and will share these interesting newspaper articles.

Van Wie - The Auburn Citizen of Friday, May 26, 1922 -
Mrs. Catherine L. Van Wie, 86, who has been a Civil War Nurse and was personally decorated by President Lincoln and who was assisted by Auburn NY organizations for two days, after wandering from her home in Port Byron, was taken to her home yesterday afternoon. Supervisor Willis L. Miller of Port Byron stated that the balance of her life will be spent in comfort and that her tales of being driven from home were pure imagination.

Willet - newspaper name and date unknown but circa 1915 -
Known in both Cayuga and Onondaga counties. Older residents of Cayuga and Onondaga Counties will be pained to learn of the death of Georgiana Willet which occurred recently at her home in Beverly, NY. The deceased was born of Quaker parentage, in the town of Skaneateles 73 years ago. Her father, George Willets, was one of the most prominent men in Onondaga county and was well known for his public spirit and was an ardent abolitionist. He was a close friend of such noted men as Horace Greeley, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and many others.

1847 Births in Scipio

Scipio is fortunate. Their Clerks recorded and preserved birth records earlier than mandated, and often an elusive ancestor appears that has been otherwise difficult to find. Now if only the maiden names of the mothers had also been recorded! Nevertheless, this is a welcome resource for family researchers.

Here are all the births recorded for Scipio during the year ending December 31, 1847, in the order they were placed in the book. Most are legible, but as always errors may be made.
A child was not always named at the time of birth, but it is also possible the "not named" below were deceased at or soon after birth.

April 20: Eugene M. Gale born to Aaron and Mary Gale.
March 6: Frank Tallman born to Gideon and Deborah Tallman
April 23: Caroline A. Bishop born to Volney and Sarah Bishop
March 8: Caroline M. Akin born to Ira and Elinoar (sic) Akin
July 20: Elijah A. Lawrence born to William and Matild (sic) Lawrence
February 1: Louis Wheat born to Hiram and Martha Wheat
June 30: Mark Trim born to Benjamin and Nancy Trim
August 1: Abraham Sawyer born to Henry and Edira Sawyer
September 12: Charles E. Hudson born to William and (blank) Hudson
October 23: "not named" born to Edward and Harriett M. Akin
June 29: Leora Parker born to Franklin and Ordelia Parker
August 26: Mortimer Vanarsdale born to Peter and Mary Ann Vanarsdale
November 22: Ellen Sherwood born to Ormond O. and Laura Sherwood
March 18: Herman E. Ames born to Chester and Elmira Ames
July 30: Elijah A. Lawrence born to Wm and Matilda Lawrence
August 25: "not named" born to John and Ruth Pickins
November 25: John Denton born to Samuel and Mary Ann Denton
May 26: Mary Allwood born to Nathaniel and Margaretta A. Allwood
December 24: Bridgett Grimes born to John and Mary Grimes
February 27: Charles B. Tracy born to Uriah and Amy Tracy
March 31: John T. Backus born to John C. and Sarah J. Backus
October 12: "not named" born to Harvey and Emily Reynolds
July 21: Georgiannia Luther born to Alvin and Rosannah Luther

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Civil War Nurse Lydia Weager Stewart

I did some exploring at and found obituaries for some Civil War nurses from our area. One such nurse was Mrs. Lydia Stewart. GAR Post #37 was named for her husband Charles H. Stewart, a Colonel in Company G of the 19th NY Volunteers. In 2005, I was able to obtain scanned copies of the charter for this Auburn NY Post from the NY Archives in Albany, which listed 61 members by name. This and other GAR Post information can be found at

MRS. LYDIA A. W. STEWART, CIVIL WAR NURSE, DIES - Aged Auburn Woman Passes Away After a Lingering Illness—Funeral to Be H e l d Tomorrow. SPECIAL t o THE POST-STANDARD. — AUBURN. May 21. —Mrs. Lydia Anne Weager Stewart, 84, widow of Colonel Charles H. Stewart, died at her home, No. 4 John Street, today after a lingering illness. Mrs. Stewart served during the Civil War as a nurse, while her husband, for whom the Charles H. Stewart G. A. R. Post was named, was gaining renown on the battle line. She is survived by one son, Charles C. Stewart of New Haven, Conn., and a sister, Miss Jane Conger of San Gabriel, Cal. The funeral will be held at the house Sunday at 3 o'clock. Rev. Charles Gorman Richards, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church officiating. The Women’s Relief Corps, of which Mrs. Stewart was a member, and other G. A. R. organizations will attend in a body and take part in the burial services at Fort Hill Cemetery. Syracuse Post Standard Saturday, May 22, 1915.

A second obituary provides a bit more detail:


Shock Fatal to Widow of Army Officer living here nearly 70 years.
Following an apopleptic stroke suffered Saturday from which she never regained consciousness, Mrs. Lydia A. Stewart, 84, widow of the late Colonel Charles H. Stewart, died early this morning at her home, No. 4 John Street. For nearly 70 years Mrs. Stewart had resided in Auburn.
The deceased, although a remarkably active woman all her life, had been in failing health for the past eight months. Hers was a life of action such as few women have experienced.
For some time during the Civil War she braved the dangers and hardships of the battlefield as a nurse, fighting against the yellow fever which at times broke out in the army of the North. She worked side by side with her husband, the late Colonel Stewart, who passed away in May 1874 when all Auburn went into mourning.
Both the Charles H. Stewart Post, No. 37, G. A. R., and the C. H. Stewart Relief Corps, No. 11. were named after Mrs. Stewart's illustrious husband.
The deceased was a member of the Eastern Star Lodge here. She was born in Amsterdam, N. Y., January 22, 1831, and removed to this city when a girl. She was active in church work as well as taking part in the activities of the Relief Corps.
Her maiden name was Lydia A. Weager.
Mrs. Stewart is survived by one son, Charles C. Stewart of New Haven, Conn., and one sister, Mrs. Jane Conger of San Gabriel, Calif.
Funeral services will be held from the family home, No. 4 John Street, Sunday afternoon at 3 o'clock, the -Rev. Charles Gorman Richards, D. D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church officiating. Burial will be made in Fort Hill Cemetery.