Thoughts from the Porch

The Cider House, Part 2

The sills and joists have arrived! One sill is 26 feet long and you’ll see it magically lifted about 8 feet and slipped into place on the back of the structure. But first they need to be shaped and hewn so they can replace missing or rotted timbers.

Joists and Sills

Virginia has been acquiring axes just for this purpose. She even has two “Gifford” axes. One is stamped “Iohn A Gifford” and the other is stamped “I A Gifford Troy”.

A Slight Diversion

I was very excited and immediately started looking for the family connection. I found no iron works in Troy, NY, but I did find one in nearby Hudson run by an Elihu Gifford. He was also the father of Sanford Robinson Gifford, the Hudson Valley Artist. The iron works passed down to Elihu’s sons and grandsons and eventually became the Gifford Wood Company. But there was no John Gifford involved.

The only iron works connected to a John Gifford was in Lynn, Massachusetts in the 1600s. The Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England, founded by John Winthrop the Younger and several other colonial entrepreneurs, was established in 1645. John Gifford became managing agent of the works in Lynn in 1650 and had frequent clashes with the company, which was sold in 1658.

But the demise of the Lynn iron works at the end of the 17th century resulted in the disbursement of the skilled iron workers throughout New England. On a side note, the Lynn iron works have been restored and can be toured at the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site. I don’t know what happened to this John Gifford.  But Virginia found the will of a John Gifford who died in 1788 in Little Compton, RI. The significance of this John Gifford is that he specifically mentions his “blacksmith tools” in his will. 

But this doesn’t get us to Troy. Then Michael found that there was another Troy, not in Ancient Greece but in Massachusetts, not far from Little Compton, RI. For thirty years, from 1804 to 1834,“Troy” was the name of what was previously and subsequently Fall River. Not only that, but the Fall River Iron Works were established by Richard Borden and Bradford Durfee in 1821. So now I have another iron works in Troy, but only from 1821 to 1834. This narrows the date of the axes.

If Iohn A. Gifford worked in this iron works then we have our maker of the axes. Unfortunately, or fortunately,  the early Giffords were prolific so there were many John Giffords but little information about them. So this must remain a mystery for now. However, before I return to the cider house, I just want to mention one last thing. Remember Richard Borden, the co-founder of the Fall River Iron Works?  In 1892, Borden’s grandson was murdered, along with his wife, apparently by his daughter, Lizzie, with an axe.

Back to the Cider House

Before the timbers can be lifted into place, they must first be shaped. Here Virginia is creating a flat surface on the log by chopping off the sections between the cuts that Michael made with a chain saw. Then she uses a hewing ax to smooth the flat surface. Behind her you can see the ruin of an early stone structure that she and Michael plan to rebuild.

Here is the 26 foot sill that will be replaced today. Bonus discovery: Alexander Higgins carved his initials around 1860 when he placed a new support beam under the rotting sill. This support beam has now rotted as well and will be removed.

Virginia and Michael maneuvered the new sill down to the back of the cider house and into place below the old one. I think they must have had some gremlins helping when I wasn’t looking. Then Michael and Virginia cut the old sill and support timber to free the rotted section.

Finally the magic happens. By some sorcery that I do not comprehend they gently tug on these chains and the sill and timber float to the ground.

Removing cider house timbers

After settling these on blocks the process is reversed and the new sill floats into place.

Raising the new sill

Here you can also see the wide opening on the lower level that made such a long sill necessary. Alexander Higgins went to great “lengths” to preserve this opening by lifting that huge timber into place below the rotting sill. He could have just put vertical supports under it.  But this large span was itself necessary to allow room for a horse driven cider mil on the lower level. 

Horse-driven apple press and duck

There was fine tuning needed on the upper level to get the various timbers in alignment. Now it’s safety pinned together while they move on to the knee wall. 

And they did all this without disturbing the bats. 

Cuteness Overload

For about a month the lambs are so cute it’s hard to get anything done. We spent a ridiculous amount of time with them and have pictures to show for it.

Dubble Stuff

It’s a good thing we did because they could find trouble everywhere. Here they got themselves between the coop and the fence just as I was about to close the gap.

Curiosity is not just for cats

Because she was bottle fed, Edith has no fear.

And Stirling associates us with food because he got to nurse only when we had his mother in a headlock.

Stirling likes to jump in my lap. Ivy gets very jealous.

We let Edith stay in the jug with Priss and Dubble Stuff. Somehow they knew the towels were for sleeping on.

Slumber party

There is a weird relationship between Ivy and the lambs.

Before weaning them we set up a creep feeder so they could get used to eating grain.

The cutest little butts

Here they are, almost sheep.

Life with Chickens

When we first bought our new place last summer there was no fencing or accommodations for our Dominique and Orpington chickens; just a field, a wood shed and large pole barn.

So among the first ten things we had to do was convert the wood shed into a chicken coop and build a run. For this Virginia had lots of help.

Now this is what I see every morning. Every. Morning.

Then it’s time for watermelon and cucumber.

Of course, once we get those finished it’s time to get more chickens – Americanas this time.

But one chicken is still not happy with the chicken palace. Phyllis prefers the hay bucket.

Smudge prefers my lap.

Then in the heat of the summer they get their shade where they they can

The base of this pine tree has the best soil for dirt baths.

Now we have Cochins, Blue Marins and “olive eggers”, oh my. Virginia never saw a chick she didn’t like.

We have moved the older Cochins from the cages in the garage to their own apartment in the run. The younger ones will join them soon. Ivy is keeping guard.

Fortunately, the egg business is doing well. Almost covers the farm assessment requirement.

The Cider House, Part 1

This is not a wreck. This is what remains of an old distillery operated by Alexander Higgins, who owned the farm from 1856 until his death in 1905.

The Cider House

When we first bought the farm there was a family of turkey vultures living in it. The baby finally grew up and left. Now the dogs keep them away.

A previous resident

We have two clues to the age of the cider house. One is the 1877 Hunterdon County map where the distillery appears at its current location next to the house.

Hunterdon County 1873 Beers, Comstock & Cline

The other clue is a “date door” (there’s no date stone) inscribed “AHMSWERER 1867” which I have made every effort to interpret as “Alexander H Higgins” to no avail. However the structure appears to have been cobbled together from other older ones so there may not be a definitive date.

“Ahmswerer 1867”

I’ll leave the technical description to Michael Cuba who is helping Virginia restore the cider house. I’ll just give you my impressions.  Here they have removed the floor boards to allow for adding supports for some of the joists. You can also see the scaffolding that takes the weight off sills that will be repaired or replaced.

Here you can see the support added to joists

This sill had extensive water damage from the door above it. Part of it has been replaced. The completion of this requires some delicate hand work.

Repaired sill

Virginia is doing the handwork to make pegs to pound into holes to hold the whole Jenga tower together. She’s also making shavings for kindling.

Making pegs

With all the pieces in place Virginia uses a leather mallet to pound the pegs into place. Michael supervises.

Pounding pegs

This giant sill is being held up by this rigging until it can be replaced. This sill provides a very wide span in the lower level. Such a large open area may have been needed for a press if it was driven by a horse or steer walking in a circle. We just don’t know.

Damaged and supported sill

This stone wall at the back of that large area in the lower level had collapsed eons ago and Virginia has partially rebuilt it. It will eventually go up to support the sill above it when that timber is replaced.

Repair of collapsed wall

Virginia dug a trench outside the rebuilt wall to divert the rainwater. You can see the support taking the weight off of the damaged sill.

Drainage trench

Virginia is placing more stones and lime mortar on the wall. She has also rebuilt the section of wall behind her to restore support to the repaired sill.

Rebuilding collapsed wall

Here Virginia has rebuilt an entire corner of the foundation. 

Restored foundation corner

This rigging takes the weight off that corner of the foundation so it could be rebuilt.

More rigging

There is still a lot of stone work to do to repair the lower level stone foundation. Virginia does all of these repair with lime mortar to prevent further damage to the stones.

Up next: The new sills and joists arrive. Somehow Michael and Virginia will move them around to the other side of the cider house and lift them into place. I think I’ll find some place else to be that day.

Off to the Races

Once everyone got acquainted, they were eager to prove their mettle. First they practiced on the mountain outside their shed. Stirling immediately tried to assert his dominance. Nougat was having none of it. Then Nougat, Toffee and Pepper played Merry-Go-Round.

Someone must have told them they were bunnies. They romped like this for days.

Then they were ready to head for the big field. We had had a wash out from the heavy rain and I had put some dams across it to prevent more erosion. This made a great steeplechase course. The lambies enjoyed it immensely.

Eventually, that was all they wanted to do; that, and eat grass.

Meanwhile, Edith was being bottle fed and becoming a real pet. She’s a few days old here and I’m determined to teach her her name.

And she learned her name really well.

Venturing out of the Barn

As the lambs ventured out of the barn, I tried to get videos but Pepper was so shy that Sterling got the starring role. Since we had to put his mother in a headlock to get her to stand to let him nurse, he quickly started associating us with good feelings. Here he is meeting Lizzie, the flock matriarch.

Stirling Meets Lizzie

Ella can’t decide how she feels about Stirling. She won’t let him nurse but she clearly dotes on him.

Ella is Uncertain

Finally, Stirling meets Pepper.

Stirling Meets Pepper

In desperation, Stirling will nurse on anything and becomes quite a pet.

Stirling Becomes a Pet

Pretty soon, Pepper and Stirling were joined by this little Mini Me, Dubble Stuff.

Dubble Stuff

Adventures in Genealogy Myth-Making

Now that I have traced Edmond J. Gifford’s lineage back to Quakers of Massachusetts and the pilgrims of the Mayflower, it’s time to explore some other lines in my family tree. Recall that Edmond J. Gifford married Nancy Ann Renfro in Rock Island, Illinois in 1858. Her ancestry is very interesting but a bit tricky to follow. First of all, they couldn’t agree on the spelling, using Rentfrow, Rentfroe, Rentfro and those variations without the “t”. And, as one of my father’s correspondents wrote, “[u]forntunately, the Renfros had large families, and tended to name the children without much originality.” To make things worse, Renfros tended to marry cousins as a rule, rather than an exception.

You Don’t Always Get What You Want

My Renfros hail from Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois. But they, and other American Renfros, do not descend from Scottish royalty. It is generally asserted among amateur Renfro genealogists that American Renfros are direct descendants of “Baron James Renfrew” of Scotland, an illegitimate son of King James V. Beginning in 1404, the title of Baron of Renfrew was bestowed on the heir-apparent to the Scottish crown. There was a James Stuart, not Renfrew, who was an illegitimate son of King James V of Scotland. Being illegitimate, he was ineligible to inherit the throne and so never was Baron of Renfrew. Instead, his half sister Mary Queen of Scots became queen. He was a fascinating man and worth reading about, but his children were Stuarts, not Renfrews, and even if he changed his name to Renfrew, he only had daughters anyway. That’s it. No connection American Renfros.

So instead we will start with William Rentfro, who was born in 1702 in James City County, Virginia. James City County was first settled at Jamestown in 1607 and is one of only six original “shires” still in existence in Virginia. It includes Williamsburg and is too rich in history to go into much detail here. 

We are interested in one of the many William Rentfros who had a son who was one of the many James Renfros. One of them made a bit of a splash in Kentucky, the Virginia county and the future state, though only one person seems to remember why. To get to what and why, let’s first look at some history of colonial place names and boundaries.

Before the Revolutionary War, each of the 13 colonies claimed quite a bit of territory in the “frontier” east of the Mississippi River. The Colony of Virginia included what became the states of Kentucky and West Virginia. These territorial claims were ceded to the new Federal government partly in return for the assumption of the states’ Revolutionary War debts. 

In 1776, the new state of Virginia created Kentucky County, which looked a lot like the State of Kentucky today, which become a state until 1792. Then four years later, this county was broken up into three new counties, one of which was Lincoln County, named for Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, a military commander in the Revolutionary War. Too early for old Abe. However, Abe Lincoln was born only two and half hours away (by car).

It was here that our story of the Renfros begins. William Rentfro married Elizabeth Cheney in 1726 in Botetourt County, Virginia and they had ten children, including James. The Cheneys had been extensive land owners in Virginia, but little else is known about them. In a “History of the Renfros”, by Delores S. Willey, we are told that the “Rentfros” were important people in Virginia, owning land and serving as “Mayor, Officers in the Militia, Superintendent of Elections”, surveyors, sheriff’s and magistrates. Willey goes on:

The Baird family ancestry tradition tells us that the farm of William and Elizabeth Rentfro was located next to that of the Washington family. That young George Washington and young William Rentfro, the 6th child of William and Elizabeth, played together as children; fishing and hunting over the farms. Both wanted to become land surveyors and learned the trade from William’s older brother, James.

“William Renfro, 1734-1830: Some descendants, relatives, and allied families,” by Josie and Delila Baird, 1973.

The Washington farm mentioned here is “Ferry Farm” (its modern name) where young George grew up. It is across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia and about forty miles south of Mount Vernon. If this is true, then theRenfros would have lived near the Washingtons along the Rappahonnack River during George’s childhood between 1738, when Augustin Washington acquired the farm there, and 1751 when George surveyed land with Lord Fairfax.

The map below was made between 1736 and 1746. The Washington farm was next to the Ball farm that belonged to Martha Ball Washington’s family. There are no Renfros on the map and there is no other documentation for this claim, either.

A map of the Northern Neck in Virginia : according to an actual survey begun in the year MDCCXXXVI, and ended in the year MDCCXLVI


A map of the Northern Neck in Virginia : according to an actual survey begun in the year MDCCXXXVI, and ended in the year MDCCXLVI

However, James Renfro would have been a good surveying instructor. Later in life, James’ skill as a surveyor was officially acknowledged:

JAMES THOMPSON appointed Surveyor, Jan 1782. JAMES RENFRO was appointed deputy Surveyor Feb. 1783, and DANIEL BOONE Aug. 19, 1783. From 1780 to 1787 Surveyors were in great demand because of the immense amount of bodies of land taken up. These were among the first surveyors.

History of KY, Lewis Collins (typescript) Court Order Books, Lincoln Co.

James made good use of his surveying skills by moving further west into Lincoln County which was still part of Virginia. History books would have you believe that the only way for James to get to Lincoln County from James City County was along the Wilderness Trail blazed by Daniel Boone from 1769-71 through the Appalachian Mountains. West of the Cumberland Gap, the trail became the Wilderness Road. Whether James was a part of Boone’s expedition is not known because no records seem to exist concerning the other members of the party. 

However, there is strong evidence that a number of pioneers had created settlements in the future state of Kentucky long before Boone blazed the famous trail. James Renfro’s marriage to Lydia Harris in 1761 and the birth of his son James Renfro, Jr. in 1768 both took place in Kentucky County. These events predate Boone’s expedition. Although there is some controversy about who and when and where the trail was blazed, it happened because of the demand of settlers to move into rich land that had already been discovered and settled by a number of earlier pioneers. 

Unfortunately, I know very little about Lydia, James’ wife, except that she died young, at age forty. She bore James seven children and died in 1780, three years after the last one was born. They spent their nineteen years together in Lincoln County.

However, I found a typescript document in my father’s Renfro file containing excerpts from “Renfro Valley: Then and Now” written by John Lair in 1959 and printed in “History of Renfro Valley”. The excerpts focus on the role of James Renfro in this history. The description of the terrain and roads are illustrated in the map below, which I was amazed to find somewhere. Lair tells us:

The original Renfro Valley settlement had it’s beginnings in Feb. of 1791, with the building of the first cabin on Renfro creek. Although the cabin was built, and lived in for many years, by John and Lulu Renfro, neither the creek nor the valley were named for them. Old land grants to James Renfro, show, in 1788 the stream as a boundary line, and is written in as Renfroes Creek. Little is known of James Renfro, beyond the fact he was a busy speculator in Kentucky land for some years following the Revolutionary War.… Local folklore has it that this James was struck by lightning and killed, while searching for Swifts silver mine, this mine is a well known legend in Renfro Valley, Kentucky.

John Renfro, probably secured his land from James, what relationship, we do not know. John had come into Ky. through the Cumberland Gap with a large group of settlers, he dropped out of the party to visit relatives there at that time.… [In] 1790, John Renfro set out with a man named Lavender, they followed a well marked trail to the Hazel Patch, and there the trail forked, one path leading up Roundstone Creek, and on towards the Boonesboro settlement, crossing the mouth of Renfro Creek, at what was later known as Langsfords Station. The other fork was the old Wilderness Road, which crossed Rockcastle River and went towards The Crab Orchard, passing by the big cave at the head of Little Renfro. At the forks of the trail, they were on land belonging to James Renfro, and from time to time crossed other tracts of his, regardless of which route they took. To have followed Boones path toward Boonesboro would have made easier traveling, once they had cut through the dead brush hell. This route was less traveled and less likely of Indian attacks, but was more thinly settled, and they would find themselves without a nearby station if they should be set upon by savages. To choose the Wilderness Road meant they must travel through the Rockcastle Hills, a stretch of country, where in even that day, when all of Kentucky was a wilderness, was known as The Wilderness. The Wilderness was the most dread part of the whole journey, to and from the settlements in the interior. Less then 14 miles from where they stood, was Stephen Langfords Tavern or Station, which is present day Mt Vernon, Ky. and not more then 2 mi. from the head of Little Renfro. Between Langfords station and the Crab Orchard, the road was patrolled by Col. Wm. Whitley. Farther along, they came to other James Renfro holdings, lying along the Wilderness road, and extending to the big cave, following down the stream, they came to the site of an ancient encampment and battle ground of the Shawnee Indians, from which the creek got it’s first name, soon they came to a larger Renfro Creek stream, they followed it and in the early afternoon of a late summers day, they came to a place where the valley opened out to it’s greatest width–here they settled and this is present day Renfro Valley, Kentucky.

This fork in the road is clearly visible on the map. Apparently, James Renfro owned land all along and between these roads.  At the fork in the Wilderness Road, John Renfro stood on James’ land and no matter which fork he took he would cross more tracts of James’ land. 

After the American Revolution, an act of Congress established the Land Office. Under the act, a person could purchase as much vacant land as desired for £40 for each one hundred acres. The treasurer issued a receipt, this was presented to the state auditor, who then issued a certificate. The certificate could be taken to the register of the Land Office to get a warrant authorizing any surveyor to “lay off” the amount of land specified on the warrant. You can even see digital copies of the original land patent (under British rule) or grants (under United States jurisdiction) and transfer documents. For example, below is the survey, page 3, for survey no. 6342 signed by James Renfro and James Thompson. It includes a small diagram of the tract of land. However, locating this tract of land is not as easy at it was in Illinois (see Hicks Gifford). There, the tracts were clearly labeled portions of clearly identified sections which were identified by townships and ranges. In Virginia, as in the other colonial settlements, this is not the case. Instead, parcels were, and still are, defined by meets and bounds. 

For example, the survey above says “Beginning at A an elm and ash in the line of Rentfros Survey thence South …”. I can’t make out the rest. On the little map on the document, “A an Elm & Ash” mark the beginning. Then one follows the directions and distances that make up the meets and bounds to identify the property. By following a chain of title through successive deeds one would find new surveys identifying neighboring properties. This is a complicated process and requires a visit the the county court house to dig through the deed books I’m too old for this so I gave up trying to locate James’ holdings this way. So I did a map search.

I was very confused by Lair’s description of following the Little Renfro until it meets the larger Renfro Creek. That’s because there’s a lake in the way. Then I realized why this lake isn’t mentioned in Lair’s account. IT WASN’T THERE THEN. Here’s Renfro Valley today, most of it now under water in a lake created by a dam under I 75. This reminds me of a movie, something about a lost brother.

Renfro Valley


Little Renfro Creek empties into the lake from the south and Renfro Creek comes in from the north and now trickles down from the dam along Hwy 25 and then off to the right. There is a tiny town of Renfro Valley just below the dam. But there is no longer a valley in Renfro Valley. 

But that’s not the end of the story. John Lair wasn’t just any old Kentucky hillbilly. He was a great Kentucky hillbilly. He was the founder of Renfro Valley Entertainment Center.

This is the real deal. I won’t try to write his biography here. It really has nothing to do with us except for Lair’s decision to keep the Renfro name alive in that part of the country. Just one more in a long line of Renfro myths. James lived to a very old age of 73 and died in Renfro Valley. His grave is probably under water.

James Renfro Jr. and Margaret Jackson

One of James’ sons, James Jr., was born in 1768 in Lincoln County, Virginia and moved on from Kentucky with his family to Illinois. His most remarkable recorded accomplishment is having 15 or so children. Well, they were actually his wife Margaret’s great accomplishments. None died in infancy and most lived a full life. What records we have indicate that they were all born in Lincoln County, Kentucky between the years 1782 and 1814. In 1810 James moved with his wife and many of his children to Madison County, Illinois. In my father’s files there is the following:

The family spent the winter of 1810-11 in Ridge Prairie, three miles south of Troy, a short distance from Downing’s station, a fort erected for the protection of the settlers against the Indians….

There is an account of this area of Illinois during this time. 

In 1810 there was a regular line of forts…. It was the business of those rangers to be always on the march and occasionally visit all those forts and see that everything was right. Most of the time they were kept on the frontier watching for Indian signs and whenever they discovered any signs of Indians they followed up. If they could overtake them, the rangers invariably chastised them and sometimes wholly exterminated small bands.

This is a small, sadly common commentary on Indian affairs during the settlement of the West. 

However, to say that James and Margaret lived in Madison County doesn’t tell us much. When the county was initially established in 1812 it took up the northern three quarters of the state. Then the county boundaries seemed to change annually. In the “History of Madison County”, James and his sons, especially Jesse, are described as prominent citizens in the early years of Madison County. In 1813, James was chosen as a member of a commission 

To fix the permanent seat of justice of Madison county,… to meet on the first Monday in February, 1813, — they shall proceed to designate a convenient place for fixing a county seat for the erection or procurement of convenient buildings for the use of the county….

The book also describes how James brought his family, including sons Jesse and James III, to Madison County: 

Jesse Renfro … is one of the oldest residents of the southern part of the County. James Renfro [III] removed with the family to Illinois in 1810. In the spring of 1811 his father [James, Jr.] settled in township three, range eight, and died in 1814 while on a visit to Kentucky. 

This narrows things down some. We know about townships and ranges and sections. James and Margaret settled in the area that became Collinsville. However, James Jr died shortly thereafter.

In addition to this information, my father received a letter from Eva Renfro dated 1981 in which she describes a land purchase in 1818 by James Renfro of Sec 24 T3N R8W. Since this is 2 years after James Jr’s death, this land must have been purchased by his 27 year old son James III (more of that original naming). This became the family homestead where four generations of Renfros lived. Eva, the letter writer, was the last Renfro to live on the land and the last of her line. 

The town of Collinsville sprouted nearby. This is Collinsville in 1873 “Maps of Madison County” showing Renfro land in Section 24 on the right edge two thirds of the way down. The J. J. Renfro is James’ son Joseph. Some of the original purchase had been sold.

Here is a drawing of the house, the home of James’ son Joseph J. from the same book.

After James, Jr died in 1816, his widow, Margaret, had to sue for custody of her youngest children, the “orphans of James Renfro”. Not only did women have no rights to property, they did not even have rights to their own children. Among the fifteen children of Margaret and James Jr. was their youngest son, Absalom Foley Renfro. Absalom was an infant when James Jr. and Margaret moved the family from the wilderness of Kentucky to the Great Plains of Illinois. Since James Jr. died so soon after arriving in Madison County, it is reasonable that his widow Margaret and the younger children lived with one of the older children. But before 1850, only heads of households are listed in the census. Then, in 1825, Margaret married Jesse Conway in Edwardsville, but he died in 1840. Then we lose sight of Margaret. Therefore, we don’t know where Absalom and his mother lived after his father died. But Absalom would eventually make a move that would bring the Renfros in contact with the Giffords.

Absalom Foley Renfro and Elizabeth Cormack

Once Absalom was fifteen he was probably apprenticed out, probably to a cabinet maker. In 1830, he married Elizabeth Cormack in Madison County, Illinois. Absalom was then a cabinet maker on his own. But when histories of Madison County were written, Absalom was overshadowed by his older brothers, Jesse and James, who were Baptist ministers and, thus, very well known. But Absalom and Elizabeth followed the family tradition if having a large family, thirteen children, one dying in infancy. By 1850 they had all moved to Rock Island, Illinois, a very interesting place.

Since we have come to Illinois in the mid 1800s, we have come to the impact of the Black Hawk War, which took place in 1832. It was at the future site of the town of Rock Island that Black Hawk broke the treaty of 1804 (remember, this is written by the victors, not the vanquished) by crossing the Mississippi from Iowa back into Illinois after agreeing to cede it. 

But it was the creation of Rock Island County in 1831 that provoked this return of Black Hawk to Illinois because the new county included one of the last remaining Indian villages. These two versions of wrongdoing lead to the Black Hawk War. Although it lasted only three months, it put Rock Island county in the national news. Paradoxically, white settlement increased dramatically. The town expanded from the exploding trade along the Mississippi River in the 1840s. Then came the first “iron horse” in the 1850s and the railroad’s choice of Rock Island as the site for the first bridge across the Mississippi River.

The route of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad (what’s that song?) was chosen because the Mississippi River was easiest to cross at Rock Island, where there was literally a large rock island in the middle of the river. This map, and the illustration above, shows the first railroad bridge crossing from the town of Rock Island in Illinois to the island of Rock Island and then across to Davenport, Iowa. The Rock Island line ran from Chicago to the Pacific, running through Rock Island City. It also ran from Chicago to New Orleans.

Undoubtedly, the booming economy of Rock Island was a draw for a cabinet maker like Absalom Renfro and his wife Elizabeth and their dozen hungry mouths to feed. A growing settlement meant new businesses and homes which required new furniture. This is where their second child, Nancy Ann, was born and raised and met and married A. J. Warren, who worked as a sawyer, in 1851. Shortly thereafter Absalom died, leaving Elizabeth to care for their youngest children. In 1860, she was living with the three youngest, James (again), Laura and George. One of Granddaddy’s correspondents says that Elizabeth ran a boarding house at Beaver Street near Rock River in Rock Island. 

Undoubtedly, the booming economy of Rock Island was a draw for a cabinet maker like Absalom Renfro and his wife Elizabeth and their dozen hungry mouths to feed. A growing settlement meant new businesses and homes which required new furniture. This is where their second child, Nancy Ann, was born and raised and met and married A. J. Warren, who worked as a sawyer, in 1851. Shortly thereafter Absalom died, leaving Elizabeth to care for their youngest children. In 1860, she was living with the three youngest, James (again), Laura and George. One of Granddaddy’s correspondents says that Elizabeth ran a boarding house at Beaver Street near Rock River in Rock Island. 

Meanwhile, Warren and Nancy and their infant daughter Lila moved to Bloomington, Muscatine County, Iowa in 1856 and also took in boarders. One of those boarders was E. J. Gifford, who was also a sawyer. As you know, this coincidence is critical to our story. Also in the household were A.J.’s mother, Nancy Warren, Nancy Ann’s little sister, Mary, 13 and brother Innes, 8. Here is the 1856 Iowa Census:

As you can see, both Warren and Gifford were sawyers. I have never met a sawyer or known what one was so I looked it up. Before there were electric saws and machines that could pre-cut wood to different lengths, anyone wanting to build a house, furniture, fencing, barrows or wagons, say, needed to obtain wood custom cut. Unless there was a sawmill nearby, the only way to get wood was to go to a sawyer. 

As I recounted earlier, the living conditions in Bloomington resulted in Nancy divorcing A. J. Warren and marrying Edmond J. Gifford. Their son, Edward H. Gifford would marry Netty May Roundy. We turn to the Roundys next.

Of Absalom’s and Elizabeth’s twelve adult children, 5 died in 1919, including Nancy Ann, and a sixth died in 1918. I couldn’t get any details on any of the causes of these deaths and there were no obvious disasters, except for one, the influenza pandemic, something we have all learned a great deal about recently. It began in the Fall of 1918 and spread throughout the world. Ports and railroad hubs were particularly vulnerable because the disease spread quickly among mobile populations. Rock Island was both a Mississippi River port and was located on a heavily traveled railroad. It is estimated that 675,000 Americans died of the flu from 1918-19. Nancy Ann, at 86, was the eldest of the five siblings that died during the year of the influenza and the elderly and young were most vulnerable to it.

Nancy Ann Renfro

And this brings us to the end of our story of the Renfros. They were not descended from Scottish royalty, may not have been friends with young George Washington, and lost the valley named after them. 

2020 Lambing Season

Well, it has been very eventful Spring. Although we were quarantined on our little farm, we were very busy. Lambs were coming from all directions and in a variety of awkward presentations. The first arrived in the night completely unexpected. When I first saw it I thought it was one of the cats.

This is Black Pepper on the left. The cat is on the right.

The next arrival came with some advance warning, which was a good thing for this first time mother because she needed some assistance. Virginia took her maiden voyage into the birth canal in search front legs. The result was Stirling Silver.

Stirling Silver

But Ella was not done causing trouble. She refused to stand to let Stirling nurse, so he came to associate us with feeding time. Now he’s a pet.

When Annie went into labor we thought we would have an easy time since she is experienced and an excellent mother. We waited patiently. Then we waited some more. Then we got nervous. Finally, Virginia suited up again, found a nose and foot and another foot further back. But she couldn’t bring it forward.

Then she realized that the leg belonged to a second lamb that was also coming through the birth canal. So everybody had to go back in, get sorted out and then come out one at a time. We named them Nougat and Toffee.

Nougat and Toffee

With this much trouble we decided we were cursed. We watched Priss closely as she is a first timer and a little nervous. Fortunately, it was daytime again. Unfortunately, she proved to have a very narrow birth canal. After watching her straining for far too long and getting nothing but a nose, we decided it was time for Virginia to go in once again and look for feet. This was made difficult by the narrow birth canal and Priss’ screaming. I was so nervous my innards were in sympathy turmoil. Once she found them and pulled them forward the rest went smoothly.

We sat back exhausted and relieved, and watched the lamb trying to get up and nurse. Then we saw something emerging from Priss that didn’t look like a lamb or a placenta. Priss laid down and strained and groaned and the thing got larger and darker. With another ferocious push, the blob shot out and laid there. Then it wiggled and we could see something pale in the murkiness. It was a lamb, thank god. Priss turned out to be an excellent mother but the first lamb did not make it through the night.

Priss and Dubble Stuff

The next morning we found Savanna had given birth to twins during the night and everyone looked great. But then we noticed that one of the lambs was not nursing and Savanna wasn’t making it easy for her. She even butted her away. She only let the ram lamb nurse. As we tried to encourage sharing we realized that both her teats were blocked, but she still wouldn’t let the ewe lamb nurse even after cleaning and unblocking them.

The little ewe lamb was getting weak and still wasn’t interested in nursing. We put her with Priss to see if Priss would accept her as a replacement. Although Priss cleaned her, the lamb would not try to nurse. We thought about milking Priss, but she was too nervous. So we got the colostrum replacement, but the lamb was not interested in it. So Virginia sat with her and explained the importance of milk and coaxed her and cajoled her and persisted and she finally latched on and sucked.

From then on, we bottle fed Edith and put Ella in a strangle hold to stand for Stirling every four to six hours.

Edith and her pet, Virginia
Edith and her other pet

Things were then quiet for a few weeks. We had suspected that we had a happy surprise coming from when the ram got out in January. And we weren’t disappointed. Fortunately, Chewie was like a pro. Everything went smoothly. Chewie had a “Mini Me”.

Evelyn and Chewie

It’s getting close to weaning time. We’ve set up a creep feeder and they all know how to use it.

Puritans, Pilgrims and Quakers

I have speculated, with good reason, that my great-great-grandfather, Edmund J. Gifford, was the son of Hicks and Nancy (Jones) Gifford. If I am correct, then I descend from both Quakers and Pilgrims through Hick’s ancestors. Hicks’ g-g-g-grandfather, William Gifford, was a Quaker and the first Gifford to land in America. Most American Giffords are descended from him. 

Although the descendants of the Pilgrims married Quakers eventually, they didn’t always get along, to put it mildly. Both the Puritans and the Pilgrims persecuted the Quakers, from whom I get my antiauthoritarian sympathies. They all sailed from England in the early 1600s to found the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies, some of them on the Mayflower. There, because they were the only Europeans around, they intermarried, and to populate the colonies with more Europeans, they had large families. Therefore, if you are descended from one of these families, you are probably descended from several. 

The Mayflower had only about 100 passengers and half of them died in the first year. Not wanting to intermarry with the natives, the Plymouth settlers had to marry each other, even as they moved out of Plymouth into Dartmouth to the west. Then their descendants married the descendants of other early families. So anyone with one Mayflower ancestor probably has two or three. I am descended from three Mayflower families, the Whites, Warrens and Cookes. These are all ancestors of Hannah White, who was a great grandmother of Hicks Gifford

Pilgrims, Puritans and Quakers

Pilgrims, Puritans and Quakers are all Protestant faiths that began in England in reaction to the excesses of the Church of England, which itself arose out of Henry XIII’s desire for divorces which were denied by the Vatican. Protestantism itself began with Martin Luther’s initial challenge to the authority of the Roman Catholic Papacy and his successor John Calvin. The Calvinism then splintered into the Puritans and the Pilgrims. The Puritans accepted ecclesiastic authority of the Protestant Church of England but desired to “purify” it from within of its Catholic trappings and corruption. The Pilgrims, on the other hand, sought to create an entirely separate Christian Church as an alternative to both the King’s Church of England and the Catholic Church. The Quakers, such as George Fox, who had no leaders, priests, or ministers, thought everyone ought to decide for himself or herself how to worship God, and they should worship directly, not through another person. All three groups would find themselves hounded by the Church of England and crossing the Atlantic to find refuge.

Plymouth Colony, 1620 – 1691

Mayflower and other pilgrims, with a lower case “p”, were early English “planters” who did not sail blindly and boldly into the New World but were funded by private investor groups and even endorsed by European monarchies. Explorers had been treading the soil and waters of the North American continent extensively for nearly 120 years by the time of the arrival of the Mayflower, oftentimes crossing paths within days of one another. These were purely commercial enterprises. However, expanding the British Empire with permanent English settlements on the mainland of America was not even seriously considered until the growing Protestant movement of England began to erode the influence of its monarchs. It was only then that King Charles I, frustrated by political and social conflicts, realized the advantage of exporting the source of his country’s upheaval. The pilgrims would, in turn, export to England the fruits of their labor as repayment for their newfound religious freedom.

So the Puritans and Pilgrims began arriving in Massachusetts in the early 1600’s with the aid of investors bearing Royal land charters and land patents. These charters were intended as legally binding contracts agreed upon by the investor group, the King, and the “Planters”, which dictated the financial terms, the geographical boundaries of their particular proposed settlement and established ground rules of governance. In 1620, pilgrims, led by William Bradford, tried to sail to Virginia but found themselves instead stranded by weather off the shores of Cape Cod, where the original patent and its trade agreements would no longer apply. So they illegally drafted a social contract, “The Mayflower Compact,” that would later be referred to as the beginning of Democracy in America. This was the beginning of Plymouth Plantation.

Further north, in 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Company settled the Boston Bay area as a corporation for religious freedom for Puritans. With political, legal and financial supporters still in England, the corporation quickly and masterfully organized and began defying their King with new laws, agencies and trade arrangements, so that by the 1650’s the Massachusetts Bay Colony had become a successful self-governing entity.

However, life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was far more restricted than in Plymouth. Foreseeing the need for labor and specialized craft and trade skills for the building of their new homes in America, the Puritans and their investors had permitted passage aboard their ships for other people in exchange for essential skills needed to secure the success of their ventures. Those who had the means to invest hard-earned currency in such very high risk ventures were led to believe that they were purchasing entitlements that they may not have enjoyed in England. But, upon their arrival in 1630, only the most pious of Puritan men were admitted as  Free Men. A candidate was required to renounce all prior Church affiliations and swear an “oath of fidelity” towards God, the Puritan Philosophy, and most significantly, to the governing authority of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

So, when the Quakers began arriving, they were not well received by the Puritans. The Quakers believed that to make such an oath was contrary to Jesus’ message, but also, obligated them to other responsibilities both known and unforeseen that would require them to answer to an authority other than that of God; so, they simply and respectfully declined and were happy to continue laboring in service to what they perceived as God’s Glory. By 1657, the courts of Massachusetts Bay Colony had implemented a series of harsh laws against those who had become members of “The Religious Society of Friends”, or held sympathies towards them. 

The Quakers found the Pilgrims to be only slightly more agreeable neighbors and so tended to congregate at the base of the Cape in Sandwich. Among the these Pilgrims and Quakers were many of my ancestors. The Pilgrim families of the Whites, Warrens and Cookes came from England on the Mayflower. The Quakers William Gifford and Stephen Wing came shortly afterward to Sandwich. Then there were others that I cannot find much information on, but who were in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies from the earliest days: Bassets, Cadmans, Hathaways and Churches. Many were Pilgrims or Quakers, none were Puritans, as far as I can determine.

The Whites, Warrens and Cooks of the Mayflower

William White and his wife Susanna arrived on the Mayflower in 1620 with their son Resolved; Susanna gave birth to their son Peregrine while the Mayflower was still anchored off the top of Cape Cod waiting for the Pilgrims to discover a place to build their colony.  Peregrin was the first “Englishman” born in America. William died the first winter and Susanna remarried Edward Winslow a few months later, the first marriage to occur at Plymouth.

“Mayflower on her Arrival in Plymouth Harbor,” oil painting, William Formsby H.alsall

Winslow was one of the more prominent men in the colony.  He was on many of the early explorations of Cape Cod, and led a number of expeditions to meet and trade with the Indians.  He wrote several first-hand accounts of these early years. In Plymouth, he held a number of political offices, as was routinely elected an assistant to Governor William Bradford; Winslow himself was elected governor of Plymouth on three occasions: 1632/3, 1635/6, and 1644.

Peregrine married Sarah Basset and they lived out their lives in the town of Marshfield.  He formally joined the Marshfield Church late in life, on 22 May 1696 at the age of 78.  His death on 20 July 1704 prompted an obituary in the Boston Newsletter–the only known newspaper obituary for anyone directly associated with the Mayflower’s voyage.

Marshfield, July, 22 Capt. Peregrine White of this Town, Aged Eighty three years, and Eight Months; died the 20th Instant.  He was vigorous and of a comly Aspect to the last; Was the Son of Mr. William White and Susanna his Wife; born on board the Mayflower, Capt. Jones Commander, in Cape Cod Harbour, November, 1620.  Was the First Englishman born in New-England.  Altho’ he was in the former part of his Life extravagant; yet was much Reform’d in his last years; and died hopefully.

Peregine’s son Sylvanus was born in Marshfield in 1667. He married Deborah Church, a granddaughter of Richard Warren, a Mayflower passenger. Their son, William White, married Elizabeth Cadman, great granddaughter of Francis Cooke, another Mayflower passenger. Elizabeth was a native of Dartmouth where their daughter Hannah was born in 1711.

Richard Warren’s English origins and ancestry have been the subject of much speculation, and countless different ancestries have been published for him, without a shred of evidence to support them.  Very little is known about Richard Warren’s life in America.  He came alone on the Mayflower in 1620, leaving behind his wife and five daughters.  They came to him on the ship Anne in 1623, and Richard and Elizabeth subsequently had sons Nathaniel and Joseph at Plymouth.  He received his acres in the Division of Land in 1623, and his family shared in the 1627 Division of Cattle.  But he died a year later in 1628.  The only record of his death is found in Nathaniel Morton’s 1669 book New England’s Memorial, in which he writes: “This year [1628] died Mr. Richard Warren, who was an useful instrument and during his life bare a deep share in the difficulties and troubles of the first settlement of the Plantation of New Plymouth.”

All of Richard Warren’s children survived to adulthood, married, and had large families: making Richard Warren one of the Mayflower passengers with the most descendants. His daughter, Sarah, married John Cooke, another Mayflower passenger. We actually know something about his origins.

John Cooke’s father, Francis Cooke, was born about 1583, probably in England. He married Hester le Mahieu on 20 July 1603 in Leiden, Holland. She was a French Walloon whose parents had initially fled to Canterbury, England; she left for Leiden sometime before 1603. What brought Francis to Holland in the first place is unknown: religious persecution of Protestants in England did not really begin until after King James took power in 1604. Francis, and his oldest son John, came on the Mayflower to Plymouth in 1620. He left behind his wife Hester and his other children Jane, Jacob, Elizabeth and Hester. After the Colony was founded and better established, he sent for his wife and children, and they came to Plymouth in 1623 onboard the ship Anne with the wife and children of Richard Warren.

Francis lived out his life in Plymouth. Although he kept a fairly low profile, he was on a number of minor committees such as the committee to lay out the highways, and received some minor appointments by the Court to survey land. He lived to be about 80 years old, dying in 1663; his wife Hester survived him by at least three years and perhaps longer. In 1634, their son John married Sarah Warren, daughter of Richard and Elizabeth Warren. They had traveled together on the Anne eleven years previous. 

In 1707, John and Sarah Cooke’s great granddaughter, Elizabeth Cadman, a native of Dartmouth, married William White, a son of Sylvanus White. The Whites settled in Dartmouth, where their daughter, Hannah, married William Taber. It was in Dartmouth, later Westport, that the Whites met the Giffords. Hannah and William Taber’s daughter married Recompense Gifford, son of Stephen Gifford. He was the son of Robert Gifford and Sarah Wing, who were Quakers of Sandwich. 

Handy House, Westport, Massachusetts
The home of William and Elizabeth Cadman White

The Quaker Giffords and Wings of Sandwich

Robert Gifford’s and Sarah Wing’s fathers, William Gifford and Stephen Wing, were two of the earliest Quakers in America. In their efforts to flee from persecution by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, they migrated south to Plymouth Colony only to be persecuted by the Pilgrims. 

Magistrates in both Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies were alarmed by Quaker teachings that individuals could receive direct personal revelations from God. To protect orthodox Puritanism, the courts passed a series of laws forbidding residents from housing Quakers. Quakers themselves were threatened with whipping, arrest, imprisonment, banishment, or death. In 1657, Quakers in Sandwich established the first Friends’ Meeting in the New World. The monthly meeting of the Society of Friends at Sandwich, Mass., remains the oldest continuous meeting in America. In 1658, Plymouth Court ordered that any boat carrying Quakers to Sandwich be seized to prevent the religious heretics from landing.

Quaker Meeting House, Sandwich, Massachusetts

Despite William Gifford’s importance as a Quaker and family founder, nothing is known about his origins, although that has not stopped anyone from making things up. We do know that William Gifford arrived in New England sometime after 1643, as he does not appear among those able to bear arms in that year. The first record of him is in the list of debts due on the inventory of Joseph Holiway of Sandwich dated 4 December 1647: “dew from Willi Gifford” 3s. 4d. On 4 June 1650 he served on the Grand Enquest. The original deed for the Sandwich plantation was executed by Governor William Bradford 22 May 1651. It ordered that William Gifford, among others, have the power to call a town meeting.

We also know that William Gifford of Sandwich as a Quaker suffered persecution for his faith. “Little Compton Families” says “It is supposed that he was the William Gifford who in 1647 or earlier was ordered by the court at Stanford to be whipped and banished.” On 1 June 1658, he was one of a dozen men who “all of Sandwich were summoned, appeared to give a reason for their refusing to take the Oath of Fidelitie to this government and unto the State of England, which again being tendered them in open court, they refused, saying they held it unlawful to take any oath at all.” On March 1, 1658/1659 George Barlow, Marshall for Sandwich, Barnstable and Yarmouth, complained against William Gifford and Edward Perry in an action of defamation, asking damages of £100, in saying he took a false oath. The defendants were ordered to pay 50s and make their acknowledgement publicly, or else be fined £5 plus costs. As Quakers, they could not accept the verdict, and at the 2 October court William Gifford and 11 other Friends were fined £5 for refusing to take the Oath of Fidelitie. 

On 6 October, 1659, he seems to be especially persecuted. “William Gifford, being complained by Marshall Barlow, for affronting him in the highway near a bridge, over which he should have driven some cattle of the country, yet forasmuch as William Gifford affirmed that he was not directly in his way, but in an old path leading to his house, the Court suspends their judgment for the present, until the place be viewed, and so the matter be made more evident.”

One odd historical note is made in 1660. “William Gifford, for taking his wife without orderly marriage, forasmuch as there were many circumstances in the action that did alleviate the fault, is only fined fifty shillings, the Court abating the fine in the extent of it respecting the premises.”

This wife is the unnamed second wife who is the mother of our ancestor, Robert. Puritans believed that the marriage contract and ceremony was not religious but a civil matter. Because the Quakers refused to recognize the state, their religious marriage unions were not recognized by the state.

At the June 1660 court Gifford was again summoned to take the oath, again refused, and was again fined £5. In October 1660, for persisting in his refusal and for attending Quaker meeting, he was fined £57 — an enormous sum for those times. 

On 8 April 1665 William Gifford was one of the signers of the Monmouth (NJ) Patent, but there is no evidence he actually settled there; his sons Christopher and Hannaniah did, however. In a deed by his son Christopher, William was described as a tailor. There is a marker on the bike path near Allaire for the Gifford Plantation.

According to William M. Emery, in his book Honorable Peleg Tallman, 1764-1841: his ancestors and descendants “on 10 November 1670, William Gifford bought from mistress Sarah Warren of Plymouth, widow of Richard Warren, one half her share in the land at Dartmouth, Mass., which by deed of May 7, 1683, he gave equally to his sons Christopher and Robert, who therein settled.” His son Robert, our ancestor, had married Sarah Wing three years previous. Sarah was also the child of a prominent Quaker in Sandwich.

Sarah Wing’s father, Stephen Wing, arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1632 at the age of 11 with his widowed mother Deborah Wing, his grandfather, Rev. Stephen Bachiler and his brothers Daniel and John. Ironically, Stephen’s father was the Rev. John Winge, a clergyman of the Church of England. He and Deborah fled England for The Hague to escape the English persecution of the disenfranchised poor in a period of political and religious turmoil. Meanwhile, back in England, Sarah’s father, Rev. Stephen Bachiler, a political maverick who helped spawn the Puritan Revolution in England, formed the Company of Husbandmen to found a new colony in the Americas. It is possible that Rev. John Winge planned to join this expedition before his death. in March of 1632, Rev. Stephen Bachiler and his daughter Deborah Bachiler Wing, her four sons, John, Daniel, Stephen and Matthew, boarded the old wine ship, the William & Francis, and arrived at Massachusetts Bay Colony on June 5, 1632. 

However, in the midst of the persecutions of 1637 in Massachusetts Bay Colony, Deborah Wing and her sons, Daniel, Stephen, John and Matthew, travelled south from Saugus to the base of the Cape Cod peninsula to help found the new town of Sandwich in the more religiously tolerant Plymouth Colony. When Stephen started a home of his own, it was on property in Spring Hill, East Sandwich. The resulting Wing “Fort House” is now a museum.

Stephen Wing appears frequently in the official records. He took the Oath of Fidelity in 1657 but in the following year he was called into court to answer charges of “tumultuous carriage at a Quaker meeting”. In 1658 Stephen and eight other Quakers were denied the “Privileges of townsmen” and “had no power to act in town meeting until better evidence appears of their legal admittance.” due to their failure to be included in the Sandwich congregation (as church membership was a legal requirement for privileges in a many New England towns). The special quaker hunting marshal, George Barlow, reported Stephen to the Plymouth authorities in 1659 for refusing to assist him on three separate occasions in his harassment of Sandwich’s Quakers, resulting in a total of one pound in fines for that year. Stephen was on a committee in 1663 that offered support for Thomas Ewer, another Sandwich Quaker, when he was fined 18 pounds for cutting timber on Town lands. Stephen went on to be sworn to serve on a Grand Inquest in 1664 and 1671 and to serve as a Surveyor of Highways and Town Clerk between 1669 and 1674. In 1681 he and two others were empowered on the town’s behalf to make sale of a whale that was cast up on the shore.

Wing “Fort House”, Sandwich, Massachusetts

Stephen Wing’s daughter, Sarah, was born in Sandwich in 1658. Two years prior to that, William Gifford’s son, Robert, was born in Sandwich. Robert Gifford and Sarah Wing married in Sandwich in about 1680. When William gave Robert the land in Dartmouth that he had purchased from Sarah Warren, the couple moved there, where their son Stephen was born in 1687. Thus, the Gifford/Wing branch ends up in Dartmouth where Robert and Sarah (Wing) Gifford’s grandson, Recompense, marries William and Hannah (White) Taber’s daughter Susanna Taber. And the families are joined! 

Unfortunately, there’s a glitch. All the references I’ve found to William Gifford’s purchase in 1670 of the Dartmouth land from Sarah Warren, widow of Richard Warren, cite the quote I give from Emery’s book. That shouldn’t be a problem, but Emery provides no source for his information. That shouldn’t be a problem, either. But Richard Warren’s wife’s name was Elizabeth, not Sarah. However, this could be a simple error on Mr. Emery’s part, because Richard had a daughter named Sarah, who married John Cooke. But Sarah wasn’t widowed until 1698, 28 years after the purchase.

Emery goes on to describe Robert’s land as 300 acres on the east side of the “Acoaxet River”. This river is now the West Branch of the Westport River. The Westport history site says that Robert Gifford’s land was east of the Noquochoke River, “to about where Pine Hill Road is now.” The Noquochoke River is the East Branch of the Westport River. Maybe Emery meant the Noquochoke River, not the Acoaxet River.

One early native of Westport was Paul Cuffee, the son of an African father and a Wampanoag mother born in 1759. He was a Quaker sea captain, patriot, abolitionist. Cuffee provided a detailed description of early land holdings around Westport. “On the east side of the river, south side of the road was a small tract allotted to Robert Gifford which extended from the river along Old County Road to Pine Hill Road being triangular in shape. … In the 1712 appointments at the Head, Christopher and Robert Gifford received nearly four hundred acres. One track lay on the north side of the road and extended north to the Forge Road and from the river eastward along Old County Road about a mile to the brook.”  You can see these roads on the map above.

I went searching for pictures of early Gifford homes in Westport. The Westport Historical Society, lists 95 historical houses named after a Gifford. The oldest one is the Gifford-Almy house, built in 1735. 

Handy House, Home of William and Elizabeth Cadman White

The oldest house built by one of our ancestors is the Handy House. Known as the Cadman-White-Handy House (and commonly referred to as the Handy House), the 32-acre property is located at 202 Hix Bridge Road, at the intersection with Drift Road. As I described above, the house was built by George Cadman in 1710 for his daughter Elizabeth, probably on the occasion of her marriage to William White. It became the home of the White’s various descendants, and eventually the residence of Westport physicians Dr. Eli Handy (1764-1812) and Dr. James Handy (1792-1868).

William Gifford in Revolutionary War

Going on the assumption that Hicks Gifford is the father of my g-g-grandfather, Edmund J. Gifford, I will now sally forth through this portal and hope I am not fired upon. This William Gifford, a g-g-grandson of William Gifford of Sandwich, was the father of Hicks Gifford. Although William is not my only Revolutionary War ancestor, his is the only first hand account that I have found. William Gifford testified before Judge Bayliss in 1832 concerning his service in the Revolutionary War for the purposes of obtaining a pension. I have transcribed this below. Other documents include witnesses as to his identity and service and requests for the transfer of his payments to Ohio, where he moved in 1838 to live with his son, William B. Gifford. Interestingly, several of the witnesses’ testimonies were in front of this son, William B. Gifford, a Justice of the Peace. From his “signature” we can see that he was illiterate.

I patched together a synopsis of the battles he fought in. Most of them took place in New Jersey. Although he doesn’t mention all of them, these are the battles that Lippitt’s Rhode Island State Troops fought in from the Fall of 1776 to January 1776. William re-enlisted three more times and served until he married in 1780.

I had to do a bit of searching to understand William’s silence on the Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River to surprise the Hessians at Trenton. Lippitt’s Rhode Island State Troops were under the command of Lt. Col. Cadwallader. Three Colonial forces were to cross that night, Washington’s, Ewing’s and Cadwallader’s.

A little background first. In his deposition, William Gifford claims to have served with Col Lippitt during the first of his four enlistments. At the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, Christopher Lippitt was chosen Lieutenant Colonel of the Rhode Island regiment and of the minutemen, which defended the Rhode Island ports from British warships. In the fall of 1776 his regiment joined the Continental Army on George Washington’s orders and went to Harlem Heights, New York. This is where Washington’s army had retreated to after the route at Long Island and the silent crossing of the East River to escape the overwhelming British forces. Lippitt commanded a regiment at the Battle of White Plains. 

New Jersey in the Revolutionary War

The Battle of White Plains was fought on October 28, 1776. British General William Howe landed troops in Westchester County, intending to cut off Washington’s escape route and end the war. Alerted to this move, Washington retreated further, establishing a position in the village of White Plains. Howe’s troops drove Washington’s troops from their position and Washington ordered a retreat further north. 

Because of the defeats New York, Washington and his troops were forced to cross the Hudson River and retreat to New Brunswick and then continue on towards Princeton. The British, however, were in close pursuit. Needing a quick escape, Washington ordered all boats within a 75 mile stretch of the Delaware River to be procured in preparation for the retreat over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. This was the first of four “crossings of the Delaware” that would take place over a few days. After all, Washington had to cross the Delaware into Pennsylvania before he could cross back into New Jersey for the Battle of Trenton.

After crossing the river into Pennsylvania, the boats and a 25 mile stretch of the river were guarded so that the British could not follow. Morale in the army was low. Desertions were high and re-enlistments nonexistent. The troops were so poorly provisioned that some did not have shoes and left a trail of blood in the snow.

To compound Washington’s problems, the enlistments of the majority of the militias (including Rhode Island) under his command were due to expire at the end of December and the troops return to their homes. Washington had to do something and quickly. To save his army, Washington devised a plan to cross back over the Delaware River into New Jersey and attack the Hessians, who were fighting for the British, garrisoned at Trenton.

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Washington’s plan was to cross the Delaware at three points with a force commanded by Lt. Col. Cadwallader with a Rhode Island regiment, including Lippitt’s, some Pennsylvanians, Delaware militia and two guns, a second force under Brigadier Ewing of militia and the third commanded by himself which would cross the river above Trenton and attack the Hessian garrison in the town. This second crossing is “The Crossing of the Delaware”. And as you can see by the painting, George was on his horse. They also had to take guns and dry powder and more horses on the boats. 

At around 11:00 pm a windy storm began with snow, sleet and rain. The river was icy and the crossing proved dangerous. Two detachments were unable to cross the river.  After successfully crossing his light forces, Cadwallader discovered that river ice prevented crossing his artillery. He then returned the rest of of his column to the Pennsylvania side, including Lippett’s Rhode Islanders. This we know from the diary of Sgt. John Smith. General Ewing was also unable to cross that night. This left Washington and the 2,400 men under his command alone to land on the opposite bank of the river. After reaching the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, these troops marched 9 miles south to Trenton. 

The adverse weather had lead the Hessians to believe that they would be able to spend Christmas day leisurely feasting and getting drunk, which they did. The Hessians had so lowered their guard, thinking they were safe from the American army, that they did not even post a dawn sentry. The Hessian commander Colonel Rahl had been ordered to construct defense works around the town but had not troubled to do so. On the night before the attack Rahl was at dinner when he was brought information that the Americans were approaching. He ignored the message which was found in his pocket after his death.

After their Christmas feast, they slept soundly, while the crossing took place in the early hours of the morning of the 26th. Startled out of their slumber, they were quickly overpowered at daybreak, too hungover and surprised to mount a defense. Washington’s forces caught them off guard and, before the Hessians could resist, they were taken prisoner. 

The Battle of Trenton significantly boosted the Continental Army’s flagging morale, and inspired re-enlistments. Despite the battle’s small numbers, the American victory inspired rebels in the colonies. With the success of the revolution in doubt a week earlier, the army had seemed on the verge of collapse. Appealing to their patriotism and offering a $10 bounty, Washington succeeded in convincing most of those whose enlistments would expire on the 31st to remain for another six weeks.

Then, on the night of January 2, 1777, Washington evacuated his position, circled around General Cornwallis’ army, and went to attack the British garrison at Princeton. Some of the Continental troops were overrun and Washington sent some militia to help them. The militia, on seeing the flight of the troops, also began to flee. Washington rode up with reinforcements and rallied the fleeing militia. He then led the attack on the British troops, driving them back to Trenton.

In Princeton itself, Continentals forced British troops who had taken refuge there to surrender, ending the battle. After the battle, Washington moved his army to Morristown, and the British, with their third defeat in 10 days, evacuated southern New Jersey. With the victory in the Battle of Princeton, morale again rose in the ranks and more men began to enlist in the army. The battle was the last major action of Washington’s winter New Jersey campaign. Washington’s Army was saved to fight again the next Spring.

William Gifford’s testimony for his pension is frustratingly terse, which may be due to his age or to his reluctance to speak of battle. However, I like his description of the method used for thoroughly cleaning a house that had served as a small pox hospital. And he has a habit of falling in company with men of dubious character. My comments, corrections and guesses are in [brackets]. 

State of Massachusetts

County of Bristol } s.s.

On this 30th day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty two, personally appeared in open court before Hedijah Bayliss, Judge of the Court of Probate for the County of Bristol, now sitting, at Dighton in said County of Bristol. William Gifford of Westport in the County of Bristol and State of Massachusetts, aged seventy seven years in November last, who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain[?] fit of the act of Congress passed June 7, 1832.

[I en]tered the service of the United States under the[?] named Officers and served as herein stated.

Firstly That early in the year seventeen hundred and seventy six I enlisted in the service of the United States, at New Port, for one year, I think it was in the month of March, cannot for a certainty tell the day – That I enlisted into a company of soldiers or troops – (they were then called Rhode Island State troops) under the command of Capt. John [Carr]the Lieutenant’s name was Thomas [Noyes] the ensign’s name was [Brenton Bliss] and the Regiment Commanded by Colonel Christopher [Lippitt] the firstp lace that I remember of being stationed after enlistment was at Currentins [Coddington?] Cove or [Coasters?] Harbour, and after staying a while at [Coasters?] Harbour, we were marched to the Island of Conanicut, and after remaining a while at that place, we marched to a place called Kings Bridge in the State of New York, and after remaining a time at Kings Bridge, we was marched to the White Plains, and was at the White Plains at the time of the battle fought there between the Americans and British, after the battle as aforesaid we was marched to a place called Pitts Kill [Peekskill], and there crossed the river, and marched to Princeton and after remaining there a while we was marched back to Pitts Kill and there discharged

I have no recollection of receiving a written discharge, if I did have one it soon got lost. On being discharged as aforesaid I returned home to Tiverton in the State of Rhode Island, being the Town in which I was born and the Town in which I lived until after the Peace Seventeen Hundred and Eighty Three. Some time Since the peace I Moved into Westport in the County of Bristol and State of Massachusetts, and have lived in Westport ever since. I have no record of my age, but one of my sisters keeps a family record, on which my name & birth is recorded, & in frequent conversations with her upon the subject enables me to say I was born in November 1754.

And the said William further declares, that soon after his return from the West, at White Plains & Pitts Kill, he again enlisted into the Army of the United States. (he cannot recollect the day or month but it was early in the year Seventeen Hundred and Seventy Seven thinks it was April) he enlisted at Howlands Ferry in the Town of Tiverton aforesaid into the Company of Captain ChristopherManchester, into what was called fifteen months Service, thinks he was enlisted for fifteen months, in Colonel [Archibald Crary’s] Regiment, after my enlistment as aforesaid we was Quartered at Howland’s Ferry, from the[re] marched to Bristol in the State of Rhode Island, and remaining at Bristol for some time, Capt. Manchester Company in which I belonged was ordered to Popersquash, we went to Popersquash and after remaining there for some time, the small pox broke out among some of the troops and those who were taken sick with the Smallpox was put into an old house on the Island for a Hospital, and after the troops had recovered from the Small pox some of our Company was ordered to go & clean the house, and I remember they gave it a thorough cleaning for they set fire to it and burnt it down 

some time after this I was taken sick, and the sickness increased to such a degree that I was void of common reason, and as I was afterwards informed was carried home, and before I recovered of my sickness as aforesaid the term for which I had enlisted expired and therefore I had no discharge from Capt. Manchester

according to the best evidence I have I was not able to be in the Service again until the Spring of Seventeen Hundred and Seventy nine, when I left home and went to Killingsly in Connecticut I think this was in March 1779 – there I fell in Company with a man, who was drafted to go into the service. (I cannot now recollect the name of the man) but he hired me to take his place, I did take his place and went to New London as a substitute, was rec’d and Served six months, was stationed down below the Town of New London during the Six months aforesaid on the Farm belonging to John D. Sharon. 

After this term of six months had expired and before I engaged in any other business and in the fall of the year Seventeen Hundred and Seventy Nine a man came to me (his name I cannot recollect) and hired me to take his place in the service for three months I agreed with him, took his place as a substitute and went to old Stafford in Connecticut was rec’d as a substitute and served my three months during which time I was stationed at a House belonging to a man by the name of Curtis 

after this last ment’d term of three months had expired I left the Service of the United States – went to Lime in Connecticut and in the month of April 1780 – was married – I cannot recollect the names of any of the Officers that I was under while a substitute in the two last mentioned terms of service and I know of no person now living whose testimony I can procure, who can testify to the two last mentioned Services.

The said William hereby relinquishes every Claim whatever to a pension or anuity except the present and declares that his name is not on the pension Rolls of the agency of any State. 

His

William X Gifford

mark

Sworn to [???] the day of year aforesaid – 

N. Bayliss, Judge of Probate

Williams testimony is followed by a certificate of the Pension, summary of service, record of pension payments, a request to transfer pension payments from Massachusetts to Ohio, a sworn statement by son William as to the identity of his father William, a letter describing “old gentleman Gifford” as “nearly blind and entirely attenuated”, another pension agent attesting to the fact that Wm Gifford is a pensioner, Thomas Wilcox’s testimony of William Gifford’s service, William Cook’s testimony, William the father attesting to William the son, who is a Justice of the Peace in Ohio, that he is who he says he is, and finally, clerk Pearson swears that Judge Ira Johnson is in fact a Justice of the Peace. With all of that settled, William Gifford received his pension.