My Ancestors: Highlights

Except for one line, all of my father’s ancestors that I can document can be traced back to the northern colonies and end up in Rock Island/Davenport area. My mother’s ancestors, except for one line, all trace back to the southern colonies, mostly South Carolina, and in one case, 12th century Scotland, and end up in Falls County, Texas. And the two non-colonial lines come more recently from Prussia and Germany. This post is a preview of some of the highlights of my family’s history.

My Father’s Ancestors

My father’s ancestors include early Quakers in Massachusetts in the 1600s (Gifford), pioneers in Virginia and Kentucky (Renfros), a possible personal guard to George Washington (Roundy), an imminent German biologist (Bonorden) and others fleeing the Revolution of 1848 in Prussia (Döllinger and Meyer). They primarily lived in the north, except for the Renfros, who migrated north from Virginia and Kentucky in the early 19thcentury. Their descendants eventually settled in Rock Island/Davenport.

Despite decades of genealogy research, my father was unable to find the father of his great grandfather,Edmond J. Gifford. It was only after my father’s death that a fellow genealogist took up the challenge that I had posted and found Edmond’s father in two days. With that I could then trace the Gifford line back to the “first” Gifford, who was born in England and arrived in the American Colonies around 1643. Most Giffords in America can trace their lines back to this William Gifford, who had many children himself. So that’s not a very big deal.

Edmond’s grandfather, William Gifford, was born in 1741 and served in the Revolutionary War, enlisting in Rhode Island in 1776 and joining Washington’s army at the Battle of White Plains. In his pension application he describes his service in a somewhat lighthearted manner. He traipsed along with Washington down through New Jersey to the Delaware River, after which time his enlistment ended. Then he signed up for three more, serving as substitutes for draftees who paid him for his service. On one campaign his unit was ordered to clean a house that had been used by the army as a small pox hospital.“I remember they gave it a thorough cleaning for they set fire to it and burnt it down”.

William’s son, Hicks Gifford, took his family west to land he purchased on the Embarrass River in 1839 in Coles County, Illinois. However, except for a daughter, his entire family disappeared from the records after the 1840 census. Hicks’ son, Edmond J. Gifford, after serving in the Civil War, was a successful businessman in Petosky, Michigan. He ended his days as a watchman on the Northern Pacific Railroad bridge over the Missouri River in Bismarck, North Dakota. His son Edmond H. Gifford would build railroads, as would his son, Porter William Gifford.

Legend has it that the farm of William and Elizabeth Rentfro was located next to that of the Washington family across the Rappahonock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Young George Washington and young William Rentfro, the 6th child of William and Elizabeth, played together as children; fishing and hunting over the fields. Both wanted to become land surveyors and learned the trade from William’s older brother, James. Young George was trained by James Renfro Sr. to be a surveyor at Ferry Farm along the Rapphannock River. However, this is probably fantasy. But there is documentary evidence that James was a surveyor with Daniel Boone in 1783.

James Renfro Jr. took his pregnant wife Margaret Jackson and fourteen children from Lincoln County, Kentucky to Madison County, Illinois, a short distance from Downing’s station, a fort erected for the protection of the settlers against the Indians. Then James died, leaving poor Margaret with fifteen children. Their granddaughter would marry Edmond J. Gifford in Rock Island, Illinois.

The Roundy family has been extensively research all the way back to Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600s. According to his widow’s application for a widow’s pension, Uriah Roundy was a member of General Washington’s “Life Guards” and he fought in some of the battles that William Gifford and William Reuben Briant fought in. Uriah’s son Shadrach was instrumental in the establishment of the Mormon Church.

Another of Uriah’s sons, Daniel Roundy married Ruth Beard, the daughter of another Revolutionary veteran, in 1821. They were first cousins. Daniel served in the war of 1812. Although the lawyer for her application was a former pension examiner himself, her application was rejected numerous times for various reasons. She died in 1894, at the age of 94. 

Daniel and Ruth’s son Porter Wallace Roundy was born in Spafford, New York in 1829, about 90 miles from Utica, where Edmond J. Gifford was born in 1830. Porter’s daughter Nettie May would marry Edmond’s son Edward in Scot, Iowa, in a double wedding with Edward’s brother William. Like Edmond, Porter enlisted at Lincoln’s first call for volunteers and reenlisted as a hospital orderly on March 30, 1864 into the 37thInfantry Regiment Wisconsin in which his brother Daniel Curtis Roundy served as Regiment Surgeon at City Point, Virginia, near Petersburg, where he was a witness to the siege.

Like his grandfather, Hermann Friedrich Bonorden served as a military surgeon in Prussia but was also a renown medical researcher. Hermann Friedrich studied and published articles on several diseases, including syphilis. His scientific work won him a professorship at the Friedrich Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. He was so highly respected that he is considered one of the most outstanding physicians of all times in all countries. 

Two years after arriving in America from Prussia, Hermann’s son, Herman Frederich Bonorden, was drafted for three years as a bugler in Company E, 2ndIowa Cavalry. But war did not suit Herman. On May 10, 1862, Herman was put on “extra duty clerk in Q.M. Dpt.” This lead to a career as a Pension Examiner after the war. Herman settled in Davenport, Iowa after the war and married Emma Auguste Döllinger, who had also come to America from Prussia with her family, including her brother, Herman Gustav Döllinger, who kept a detailed diary of the many battles he fought in during the American Civil war.

Thus, my father’s grandparents have converged in Iowa.

My Mother’s Ancestors

My mother was ninety-nine proof Southern stock. Except for the Buttes, who are relatively recent arrivals from Germany, all her other ancestors trace back to the southern colonies, mostly South Carolina. Her ancestors include tavern owners, missionaries and ministers, murderers and law professors, witnesses to the intimidation tactics of the early Klan and large land owners who used enslaved people to work their fields. And, of course, Revolutionary War and a couple of Civil War veterans, but this time on the side of the Confederacy. Although the details of many of her female lines are lost to history, others have left colorful stories. And somehow their descendants end up in, or near, Falls County, Texas. Here is a brief account of a few of them.

The son of a German immigrant, George Charles Felix Butte, after accumulating a number of post graduate degrees, ran for governor of Texas on what some called the “Klan Party”. He heard the news of this on his return from Europe. His opponent, “Ma” Ferguson, charged that, failing to find anybody on land, the “Republican – Ku Klux” crowd had “finally jumped on one poor ignorant professor away out in the middle of the ocean and thrust upon the poor devil for the Republican – Ku Klux nomination for Governor.” Ah, Texas politics.

Meanwhile, George’s brother, Charles Felix Butte, bludgeoned his wife to death, but agreed to give her one last wish to “kiss me goodbye-I’m dying”. Although George was Dean of the Law School at the University of Texas by this time, he did not come to his brother’s defense, perhaps because there was none.

George Butte’s wife, Bertha Woodfin Lattimore descended from Davis Stockton, who, with his friend, Michael Woods, set out into the wilderness west of Charlottesville, Virginia in about 1740 to the lands they had obtained from King George. When they had to part company to travel in different directions, Davis literally marked the occasion by carving his initials, D.S., into a tree. The tree became known as the D.S. Tree and was used as a landmark for decades. It even appears in orders from the Goochland County Court for building roads.

Bertha’s grandfather, Samuel Stockton Lattimore, was born in 1811 and married Francis Ann Compere, the daughter of Lee Compere, one of the most eminent and controversial Baptist missionaries. As a member of the Baptist Mission Society, he served as a missionary among the enslaved people in the British colony of Jamaica. Lee and his wife continued their missionary work with the Creek Indians in Alabama, but then became embroiled in the struggles between white and Creek slave owners and the issue of Indian removal. However, when a request was made for funds to support Lee in his old age, the response was feeble, possibly due to his opposition to slavery.

Samuel Stockton Lattimore joined his father-in-law as a Baptist minister, traveling throughout the antebellum South. A favorite of the Choctaw, Samuel was accused of imbibing. But before anything could be done to help or sanction him, S.S. Lattimore “fell dead in the pulpit”. 

Samuel Stockton Lattimore’s son, Rev. John Lee Lattimore, enlisted as a private in the confederate army and was promoted to 2ndSargent of Company B, 37thMississippi Infantry Regiment which was in Vicksburg during the siege by Union forces. The men served continuously in the trenches, exposed to the scorching midsummer sun and often to chilling nights. 

After the surrender of Vicksburg Rev. John Lee Lattimore came home after being exchanged, and was “subjected to scrubbings and hair cutting, all his clothing burned, before he was allowed to come into the house” by his wife, Catherine Obedience Woodfin. Catherine’s roots can be traced back to 12thcentury Scotland. Her great great grandmother, Catherine Kaidyee Blaikley, was an eminant midwife in colonial Williamsburg.

Katherine Obedience Jones married William Hawthorn Kirkpatrick in South Carolina. Her great grandfather Benjamin Jones was a member of the Long Cane Settlement when it was attacked by Cherokees on February 1, 1760. The details of the Long Cane Massacre were recounted by another survivor, Patrick Calhoun, father of the future Congressman and secessionist, John C Calhoun. Benjamin’s son, Adam Crain Jones, was a representative in the South Caroline legislature when the vote to consider the constitution was only 76 “ayes” and 75 “nayes”, which means that the Constitution came close to not even being considered. 

Before the Civil War broke out, William Hawthorn Kirkpatrick took his family from South Carolina to Texas. It was so rainy and wet that the family, with six children and six “Negros” and six mules, was trapped in Arkansas for two years before they could continue the trip to Texas. We know quite a bit about this trip because William’s son Addison wrote a book about it.

William’s son James Richard Kirkpatrick married Elizabeth Eller King in Texas. He was 35, she 17. There are heartbreaking letters between Lizzie and her brother Wilson in which he expressed his fear of never again seeing his “dear sister”. He wished the War of the Rebellion to end so he could come home. There are also a number of equally heartbreaking, if a little comical, letters from Lizzie’s father, Jefferson David King, who asked for money to come to Texas. He wrote wondering “what kind of a place is Texas ant there no money there”.

William Reuben Briant, born in 1741 married Sarah Tolleson 1762 in South Carolina. The Tollesons operated a tavern at Buzzards Roost. The tavern was the place to go for food, voting, getting liquored up, catching the stage coach, cock fighting, horse racing, and boxing. And Sarah’s father Major John Tolleson made sure people could get there, and pay for the pleasure, by improving the roads, naming them after himself and charging tolls to use them.

William Reuben Briant served in the Revolutionary War. According to the pension application submitted by his wife, William served with General Washington’s army at Pennsylvania and was part of the effort to “cross the Delaware River”, but his unit, as well as others did not make it to Trenton. That makes three ancestors who served at the same time and place, including William Gifford and Uriah Roundy.

Many years later two of William Reuben Briant’s twelve children, William and Reuben, testified before the U.S. Congress Joint Select Committee to Inquire Into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary Statesin 1871 about their experience with and observation of the original Ku Klux Klan. The Committee declared the Ku Klux Klan to be a terrorist organization. 

Another son, Joab Bryant and his wife, Mary Stewart, managed to sit out the War of the Rebellion and had twelve children instead. One of them, John Wesley Bryant, took his wife, Sarah Ann Lively, a first cousin, to Texas to raise eleven children. As with the Kirkpatricks and the Lattimores, there was not much left of South Carolina and other confederate states. Sherman drove a wide swath of destruction from Atlanta to Savannah and up through Columbus, South Carolina, which was entirely destroyed. And Texas promised fortunes to be made.

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