28 February 2012

Ancestry Part 1: Lizzie and the General

Last week, one of my distant relatives sent around an email to everyone in the family whose address he had.  He was trying to get all the information together, clumped up in a color-coded Word document.  It was a good idea, and I was interested to see so many generations assembled on the pages, but I couldn't help but think that there had to be a better way.

I'd been vaguely investigating my genealogy for some time - I guess most people eventually become curious about their origins as they build an identity.  I'd even tried assembling a big family tree with a free program, merrily plugging in aunts and cousins for a good month.  But the research hit a dead end, and I let it go... until that email reminded me.  I cracked open some databases.

The Ellis Island lists are useful, as is the Mormon-powered FamilySearch.com.  But the real goods come from Ancestry.com's thick stacks of information.  Their business model appears simple: find, purchase, and digitize all the copies of old records available.  It makes for a powerful tool - but an expensive one, at $15-35 a month.  I got the free two-week trial, and happily plowed into my wife's family.  More than most families, they knew their roots.  In fact, Lizzie already knew she was related to someone famous: General Jacob Bayley (1726-1815), an important figure of the Revolutionary War.  It seemed like a good place to start, so I saw what I could find about the man.  I found a lot.

According to Hollis Bailey's very helpful 1899 tome Bailey Genealogy, Jacob Bayley (or Bailey - they weren't as fussy then) was born in Newbury, MA.  He married to one Prudence Noyes when he was nineteen, and had just begun to make a life for himself in New Hampshire at the outbreak of the French and Indian War.  A patriot, he raised a company of militia and commanded it as a captain in the doomed defense of Fort William Henry, the demise of which can be seen in the movie The Last of the Mohicans.  He was one of the lucky ones who escaped the woodland massacre to reach Fort Edward, where he was promoted to a colonel.  Two years later, he led his men in the 1759 taking of Fort Ticonderoga.

At the conclusion of the war, Jacob occupied himself with professional leadership as a civilian.  He and a comrade, John Hazen (whose brother, Moses Hazen, had fought with Jacob at the head of the 2nd Canadian) obtained charters for two new towns.  In New Hampshire, to the east of the Connecticut River, Hazen founded the town of Haverhill - Jacob's name comes second on the list of initial stakeholders.  Across the river, Jacob Bayley founded the town of Newbury, in Vermont.  The two communities were very close, and according to A History of the Town of Haverhill by William Whitcher, they had only a single town hall between them for more than twenty-five years.  They banded together to hire a preacher for a couple of months in their first year.

Again, war erupted just as Jacob was making a home for himself, parceling out land to new residents.  New York enlisted him to command their militia as a brigadier-general, and almost immediately afterward General George Washington of the Continental Army appointed Jacob Bayley as commissary-general for the whole north.  Forty-year-old Jacob was in charge of supplying all the northern divisions with whatever he could find for their blistered feet and empty powder-horns.  He grew a network of contacts to try to scrounge up provisions, most notably the Saint-Francois-du-Lac tribe of the Abenaki.*  In this capacity, he is remembered for being particularly harsh with British loyalists.  Jacob also joined with Hazen once more to build a planned supply road from Vermont to Quebec.  Known as the Bayley-Hazen Road, it was never completed thanks to impending British attack, but was extended from the new town of Newbury to northern Vermont's Hazen's Notch.

Throughout the war, Bayley commanded several groups of militiamen from Cumberland and Gloucester Counties, New York, but received neither pay nor materiel for them or himself.  To arm and pay his men, he was eventually forced to mortgage his farm.  As he says in a proud letter to the New York Provincial Congress:

I am continually employed in the service, but have no pay and am willing as long as I can live without begging.
The only money Bayley could hope to make change hands would be the five hundred guineas being offered for him by the British - an amount worth roughly as much as a million dollars today.**  At one point, Bayley narrowly escaped a trap laid in his house by some British soldiers under a Captain Pritchard.  He escaped capture only thanks to the timely warning of one Colonel Johnson, recently paroled from a British jail, who caught wind of the trap.  Walking near Bayley as the former plowed a field, Johnson visibly let fall a piece of paper with a message on it: "The Philistines be upon thee, Samson."  Bayley escaped unharmed to Haverhill, but lost his estate.

I should mention here that Lizzie's family has long had a legend about how their ancestor was betrayed by Ethan Allen, another important revolutionary.  As the story goes, Allen instructed Bayley to go one way, then marched and fought a battle without him, robbing him of glory.

Bayley and Allen had been involved in conflicts before the Revolutionary War.  Jacob had some initial trouble obtaining admittance to New Hampshire with his new town, and for a time petitioned the Governor of New York for consideration.  We can read in the Account of the Thirteenth Gathering of the Bailey-Bayley Family Association about how in his trip to the Governor, he encountered Ethan Allen and held him in "unfavorable opinion" for being an "avowed disbeliever of the Bible."  Even worse, Ethan Allen and his "Green Mountain Boys" were engaged in a campaign of intimidation and destruction over a local land dispute.  Bayley was unimpressed.  Their brittle relationship would not improve.

Thanks to the aforementioned difficulty in obtaining a charter, at this time Newbury and the surrounding towns were part of the state of New York.  However, the lands on which these towns had been established was nominally still a part of New Hampshire.  Naturally, this had caused a great deal of conflict, and partway through the war, the result was the formation of the new Vermont Republic from the disputed "Grants."  A council of twelve men was established to govern the new state until a governor and such could be chosen: among these men were Jacob and Allen.  The two men were forced into further contact as two of the first governors of Vermont, and continued when they were both appointed to the Governer's Council in the new constituted Vermont Republic.  Their respective factions clashed repeatedly in the new Assembly, as well; Allen's "Bennington Party" was in the majority and browbeat the "College Party" continually.  Bayley strongly opposed Allen's attempts to make a separate peace for the Vermont Republic with Canada. Bayley wrote to the president of the New Hampshire Assembly:

I understand General Allen has made peace for Vermont till that time but as we do not own that state we shall be their only butt. If the United States and you in particular do not take notice of such treasonable conduct we had better let this cause drop. If you had the jurisdiction of the whole Grants which I am sure you could if you only desire it the country would be safe; but if you split at the river you keep all in confusion . . . while the matter hangs in suspense the enemy may take possession, then where is your state?  For my part I am determined to fight for New Hampshire and the United States as long as I am alive and have one copper in my hand, but if our exertions are not greater and more effectual, another year will end the dispute and not in our favor.
Despite this continued conflict and obvious dislike, the old family legend seems to be apocryphal.  Allen and Jacob Bayley were both in the field during many battles, as well as some minor skirmishes, but Allen does not appear to have ever bamboozled Jacob in the manner mentioned.  There does not appear to have been opportunity.

What is absolutely certain, though, is that Ethan Allen was hungry for glory, self-promoting, and shameless in his efforts to manipulate others.  To sway opinion his way and against Bayley among early revolutionaries, for example, Allen repeatedly would confiscate land from loyalists and disburse it to important figures, such as John Adams.  Further, under his control the Green Mountain Boys behaved less like soldiers and more like thugs - a situation mended when they voted Allen out of command shortly before his capture by the British in Montreal (an ordeal about which Allen would write a popular book glorifying himself).  In comparison with the staid and dutiful Jacob Bayley, Allen looks rather less the hero, and the legend circulated in Lizzie's family remains credible if unverified.

General Jacob Bayley died in 1815, an impoverished man, after years spent serving his country quietly and ceaselessly.  He left a brilliant legacy and eleven children.  He founded two towns, won battles, birthed a new state, and guided it in its first years.  He wrote no diary for publication, sought no awards, and demanded no honors.  He simply did his duty, from the time he was nineteen until he was an old man.  He is an amazing man to have as a ancestor, and I am glad I can confirm my wife's descent from a revolutionary hero.  There is documentary evidence at every step, and there is no doubt.

As exciting as it was to discover about General Bayley, however, the other story I have found about my wife's ancestors is perhaps even more intriguing.  More to come.


*As we will see in later installments, Bailey relations with the natives has not always been so friendly.
**Money conversion doesn't really work so neatly, particularly not over such time and between currencies (this was before dollars even existed!)  But, roughly speaking, the purchasing power of five hundred 1777 guineas (fixed at worth at 21 shillings at the time) is equivalent to the purchasing power of a million dollars today.  It serves to put some perspective on what would otherwise be a meaningless number.

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