Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The French Family Story

Luther French filed for a homestead in April, 1870 on land that became part of Sutton. he was born in
1818 in Painesville, Ohio and migrated to Sutton with stops in Wisconsin and Iowa

Luther French was the first homesteader of land now within the town of Sutton. Those who know nothing else about Sutton’s past know that Luther French was the Town Founder. So, who was he? Where did this guy come from?

The fellow was born on March 7th, 1818 in Painesville, Ohio in Geauga County.

As this article is about the French Family we’re delving into genealogical research. Our first digression is the location of Luther French’s birth. But… check your Ohio map. Painesville is not in Geauga County but is in Lake County. Check the history of Lake County; it was created in 1840 out of part of Geauga County. Check again. An early candidate for the county seat of Geauga County was the town of Champion which was renamed Painesville in 1832.

Technically, Luther French was born in 1818 in a place then called Champion, Geauga County but that place is now Painesville, Lake County. This is a common issue. Place names have changed. And furthermore, what is a “Geauga?” Turns out it’s a Seneca Indian name for “raccoon.”

We’ve digressed, but that’s how undisciplined genealogy research works, and it’s more fun that way.

Luther’s father was William French (1781-1862), Otsego, New York to Leroy, Wisconsin. His mother was Phoebe Morris (1768 – 1831), Tyler, Virginia to Geauga County Ohio. Luther’s paternal grandparents were another William (1744-1838), Westerly, Rhode Island to Geauga County, Ohio and Elizabeth Avery (1754-1813), Montville, Connecticut to Otsego, New York. Luther’s paternal great, grandparents were yet another William French (1720-1761), Londonderry, New Hampshire to Ohio and Prudence Gavitt (1720-1753) who was born and died in Rhode Island.

We’re back three generations from Luther and in the Colonial era. His fourth French ancestor was Michael French, born in 1660 in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Several published family trees list Michael’s death in Line Township, Webster County, Nebraska in 1719. I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting that ain’t true. His son William was born in July, 1720 in New Hampshire, a better guess for Michael’s demise.

The next four French ancestors were Thomas, Thomas, Thomas and Jacob. Their wives were Mary Adams, Mary Scudamore, Susan Riddlesdale and Susan Warren – opportunities for confusion.

A good genealogy goal is find immigrants. The French immigrants were the first Thomas and his
The four Littlefield women were daughters of Elisha and Lydia Littlefield.
Left to right, Amanda Jane LeCount, Eliza Ann Johnson, Polly Emiline
FRENCH and Frances Agusta Wheeler.
wife Susan Riddlesdale, both born in the little town of Assington near Sudbury in Suffolk County, England. Assington was mentioned in the Domesday Book, William the Conqueror’s Great Survey in 1086 (it’s an old town). They died in Ipswich, north of Salem, Massachusetts. The second Thomas and his wife Mary Scudamore were also immigrants, he from Assington and Mary from Gloucester in the west of England.

We’ve just followed the French line. Other branches of Luther French’s paternal lines include the additional surnames of Avery, Bill, Deacon, Wilcox, Ransford, Mason, Lechmere, Kemp, MacCoone, Bush, Sunderland, Raymond, Smith, Waite and Lester, each line with stories and an immigrant. William Adams came from the town of Wem in Shropshire, Philip Gavitt from the Isle of Jersey, John MacCoone from Aberdeenshire in Scotland, Ransford probably from Northampton and Philip Bill from London. There are others with less certain origins but it appears that all of Luther French’s paternal lines stem from the Colonial period.

The story of Luther French’s mother’s lines is sketchy. Phoebe married William French about 1806 at the age of 38. She was the widow of Zachariah Swearingen and had two daughters, Nancy about 14 and Mary age 13. Phoebe’s maiden name was Morris, the daughter of James and Mary Morris.

William and Phoebe probably had six children: Susanna, Moses, Robert, Lucy Ann, John Calvin and our Luther. No information is available about Susanna and Moses but it appears Robert, Lucy Ann (Jones) and John Calvin French all had large families.

Our guy Luther French married Polly Emiline Littlefield in 1848. She was born in Readsboro, Vermont in 1826 to Elisha Littlefield and Lydia Parson. The men in Polly’s Littlefield line were Asa, Edmund, Nathaniel, Edmund and Anthony. They were all New Englanders back to the immigrant Anthony who came from Titchfield in Hampshire, England to Wells in York County, Maine. (Personal note: I have Littlefield ancestors from Wells, Maine, but the Maine woods were filled with Littlefields, still is.)

This state historical marker in the Sutton
City Park commemorates the French
dugout on the east bank of School Creek.
Other surnames in the Polly Littlefield family tree include Stark, Parsons, Battle, Caswell, Briggs, Spear, Kink, Woodson, Mott, Shooter, Felkin, Sanderson, Hall, Ferris, Woodson and Lewis, each with a tale to tell. Polly’s immigrant ancestors hailed from London, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Dorset and other English locales.

One of Polly’s ancestral lines leads to Dr. John Woodson who was born in 1586 in Dorset, England. His researchers claim he arrived in Virginia on April 19, 1619 on the ship GEORGE. The settlement was the Flowerdew Plantation, also called the Fleur De Hundred about 30 miles upriver from Jamestown. This is before the Mayflower.

Let’s declare victory on the French/Littlefield ancestors. Though I have documentation to support much of this research, a portion of it has relied on the work of others posted in family trees on ancestry.com. More time and effort is needed to confirm each piece of information. That is, I could be wrong. You’re welcome to dig in.

Luther and Polly were married in the Town of LeRoy in Dodge County, Wisconsin. Towns “Back East” are like our townships. The Town of Leroy is 37 square miles and contains the unincorporated communities (towns?) of Farmersville and LeRoy.

The French family included four kids in the 1860 census: Louisa (Harriet Louisa) age 10, Emma age 8, Laura was 5 and Luther (Arthur Luther) was 4 years old. Luther’s father William, age 80 was living with the family as was his second wife Lois Louisa (Fuller.) A young mystery French named Martin (age 27) was also in the household – where did he came from?

Five more children were born to Luther and Emiline: Ernest in 1861, James (1863), William (1865),
Harriet Louisa French was the first child of Luther and Polly
French. She was born in Wisconsin, married Commodore
Decatur Holliday and lived our her life in Long Island, Kansas
Edward (1866) and Lenora in 1867. The family had moved to Iowa City, Iowa before Lenora was born. Polly French died in 1867 as did the infant Lenora. Did Polly die in childbirth? It’s not clear, but possible. Childbirth was a hazardous event for mothers in much of our past.

We remember the story of the French family’s move to Clay County. After Polly died, Luther left the kids in Iowa, came west and filed for his homestead on School Creek in March, 1870. Polly’s brother Elisha Alvin Littlefield was on a farm not far away, likely attracting him to this area. The children waited for some time before deciding to follow their father. The two older girls, Harriet and Emma chose to stay in Iowa so sixteen-year old Laura collected her five brothers and joined Luther in his dugout in what is now Sutton City Park.
That’s the ancestral lines. What about the descendants of Luther and Polly French?

Harriet Louise married Decatur Holliday in Crete in 1870. That’s Commodore Holliday, a distinguished looking fellow. The Commodore and Harriet had ten children settling in Long Island, Kansas just south of Alma, Nebraska.

Emma married Alfred Wilcox in 1871. They had seven little Wilcoxes and lived in Sherman County northwest of Grand Island. Mr. Wilcox died in 1905. Emma married Oscar Fouts in 1918 in Oregon where she lived the rest of her life. Her children dispersed – Missouri, Oregon, Washington and central Nebraska.

Laura married William Corey in Sutton. He was the son of A. A. Corey, an early Sutton businessman. They had five children and stayed in Nebraska. Laura died in Lincoln in 1928.

Arthur Luther French married Barbara (last name unknown), had three children and went to Sheridan, Wyoming. Ernest French married Eliza Shuler, had one son and also went to Sheridan. James did not marry and died in North Dakota in 1949.

William French and his wife Anna had three children and died in Caldwell, Kansas in 1948.

Edward French established the long-term Sutton branch of the French family marrying Dora Alice Smith in 1895. They had three: Marie Ethel married Charles Burns, Robert married Mary Wells and Ruby married William Gayle McLaughlin. Edward and Dora have many of their extended family still in the area – show of hands.

You’ve followed some of the genealogy research for the French family. Visualize an “Hourglass Chart” which has Luther and Polly in the middle and a fan above them representing their ancestors and another fan below identifying descendants. Everyone has ancestors. Many have descendants. It’s where we fit into a family story.

This article first appeared in the August, 2014 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this local Sutton publication contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or at neighborhoodlife@yahoo.com
Luther French lived out his later life in Fillmore
County just east of Sutton and died on January 23,
1896. He is buried in the Sutton Cemetery. 

Sutton's 65th Anniversary Celebration

The Sutton Register issue of October 5th, 1939 had this article about the town's 65th anniversary celebration

Sutton residents at 1939 celebration from 1870's

Residents in Sutton from the 1870's who attended the 65th anniversary celebration in 1939 were asked to register with the year of their arrival. Did you know anyone on this list?

My answer: Yes, my grandparents, Fred and Cecilia Johnson, him in '75 at age 5; she arrived in '78 as an Aspegren, age of 6.

Mrs. Oscar Swanson was Betsy whose story appears here in an earlier post.

1939 Window Displays at Sutton's 65th Birthday Party

Sutton residents held a 1939 celebration on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the town. They marked the town's start at incorporation in 1874. There could be a case made for saying the town started in 1870, 1871 (my favorite), 1873 or 1874.

This article appeared in the September 28, 1939 issue of The Sutton Register describing the window displays of historic items during the celebration. The article also provides another snapshots of operating businesses in 1939.

The Register reporter missed some of the window displays and an addendum appeared in the next week's paper:

These items had survived many years by 1939. Wonder how many are still in Sutton or could be found today?

Special Recognition for Certain 1939 County Rural Teachers

This notice appeared in The Sutton Register on September 28, 1939 listing 23 rural Clay County teachers who earned special recognition that year for the criteria listed.

Has it really been Five Years?

We began writing articles for Jarod Griess’ Sutton Life Magazine in August, 2009. This posting is based on the article written for the July, 2014 issue of that magazine, the fifth anniversary of this series and, I guess our 60th effort. Has it really been five years?

Do you still have every one of those magazine articles? I doubt it; neither do I. A few issues seem to have drifted away. But the majority of those magazine articles, or at least a version of them became posts on this blog and remain readily available.

Check the “Labels” section on the right of the page for the “Sutton Life Magazine” entry for the collection in roughly reverse chronological order.

This photo of Army PFC Jack Wayne Schroder illustrated
our May, 2013 article in Sutton Life Magazine about the
selective service draft. The 20-year old Clay Center soldier
was killed in Vietnam in 1967.
And in full disclosure, there really aren't 60 different articles; three of them grew to become two-part articles in multiple issues.

The articles in our series seemed to group themselves into categories:

1.      Tales of the early days of Sutton
2.      Biographical stories of noteworthy individuals
3.      Odd topics difficult to categorize, and
4.      Articles with some philosophical bent about studying or thinking about the past

The first articles in the series appropriately looked at the early settlement of our town. We called it a small town with a big story. It has proven to be a big enough story to keep the series going for five years. Our second article examined the reasons why a town would develop here, at that time and in that manner. The plains 125 miles west of the Missouri River were ripe for development with recent statehood, security provided by the recently freed up U.S. Army, approaching rails, railroad land and homesteads, etc.

While the railroad was a critical factor in the town’s beginning, it was not a smooth start. Sutton’s “war” with the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad was worth an early article all by itself.

The August and September, 2010 articles were especially fun as we researched and guessed the origins of the names of the streets and avenues of Sutton. Were many curious enough to even wonder about that? Don’t know, but once we started looking at the topic, it was impossible to stop. There are still three avenues to the east of town which we still don’t have definitive answers for. It’s still open for your suggestions.

We had an article on “Sutton Firsts” in April, 2011, stories of early immigration by Germans and Swedes, explanations of the workings of railroad land sales and homesteading and the stories of early settlers.
Our article about Satch generated feedback from many who
remembered this venerable icon of Sutton for decades and
appreciation from those too young to have known the man.
We are proud of this article and the reaction.   
The stories of the settlers fit into our set of biographical articles. F. M. Brown, homesteader and publisher of The Sutton Register warranted a two part article as did developer I. N. Clark. We did an article in May, 2010 on the Gray family, builders of the two houses which today host our museum.

The April 2012 article dealt briefly with some of the more obscure characters with Sutton connections. William Mehlhaf acted on his dream to search for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine; Walter Wellman, likely the first Sutton newspaperman at age 14 later pushed the envelope on hot air balloon travel trying to be first to the North Pole and to start a trans-Atlantic mail and passenger service; Herbert Johnson became a nationally-known cartoonist for the Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentleman magazines in the ‘30’s and Sutton joined the first UFO frenzy in 1947 with sightings by Henry Fuehrer, Henry Trautman and Doc Ochsner.

Our real “hoot” is finding little tidbits of our community history that has faded away and become lost such as the mention in a faded newspaper that in the late 1880’s Sutton merchant William “Billy” Gold moved his business to Lincoln starting Gold & Co. on “O” Street.

We were able to tell the stories of three more obscure, but interesting pioneers, coincidently, all women who left the tiniest of tracks for us. Nellie Stevens was the first Grafton school teacher and later operated a millinery shop in Sutton with her friend Alida Curtiss. Alida later memorialized their story in a novel called “Mother Wanted a Son.” Fiction can sometimes tell as much about our history as researched documentation.

Our article and posting about Dr. Madeleine
Leininger remains the most visited post on
the blog. It first appeared in the November
2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine.
Minnie Rowe, Sutton Class of ’86, 1886 that is, wrote children’s stories under the name of Little Nebraska Annie and became a temperance leader. Betsy Swanson emigrated from Sweden to Saronville via Salt Lake City and Council Bluffs, not the usual path to our community.

Probably our best biographies, so far, are of Ted Wenzlaff and Madeleine Leininger. Col. Wenzlaff made connections between our town and world and national events bringing those events into a focus we would not appreciate without that local connection. Dr. Leininger kept her Sutton ties while creating an entirely new profession within the world of nursing by traveling and studying around the world, writing dozens of professional papers expanding the nursing field and leading prestigious academic and professional organizations. The Leininger article from November, 2012 has been the most visited blog posting since it first appeared.

And we tracked down Edward W. Woodruff for the June, 2011 issue. His name appears high on a north-side building along with the date “1881.” He came from “back east” likely Illinois, stopped in Sutton to build that building, serve as councilman and mayor then moved onto a public service job in Washington, D.C. before living in Oregon and retiring in Pasadena. Some live their whole lives in one place, others, not so much.

Among our “miscellaneous” topics, those hard to categorize was a piece about the Clark’s donation of four city blocks for the city park and how one of the Mrs. Clarks took ten years to give in and give up her prized trees.

There were articles about the nature of Sutton in 1923 and in 1940. We’ll have to do a couple of more of those sometime soon on other years. A favorite was the story in February, 2013 of the 1922 championship Sutton High basketball team.

We expanded beyond Sutton to tell about the 1st Nebraska Infantry in the Civil War and a Januaary, 2013 pitch for examining local history while traveling. That one was no small feat: working Key West into a Sutton, Nebraska history article and I even think it worked.

Another story beyond Sutton was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy but even that story had its Sutton connection with the photo of the escort of the cassion with horses originally purchased by Sutton’s Col. Wenzlaff for the Arlington Cemetery funeral detail.

Several of the articles fit into the fourth category which talked about how we study or look at history.
Our story about the Sutton chapter of the  Royal Highlanders
lodge around 1900 came as a big surprise to many.
Just last February we discussed “What do we know and how do we know it” looking at the challenge of locating and evaluating evidence and documentation that is reliable and appears correct in describing past events. Just one month prior our topic was about observing change over time to interpret the history of a place or a facet of society.

An early article described using the census to interpret the facts about people to learn the history of a place.

Did we have a specific objective about telling the story of our Sutton community when we started this endeavor five years ago? I don’t recall one. We’ve evolved into producing a series of articles which rotates through types of topics as the months roll by. We try to live up to the objective of the Sutton Historical Society to “collect and preserve the artifacts and information about the Sutton community,” in this case it is the information that we are collecting and preserving by presenting it in these articles.

We preserve what we have found by posting most of our articles on the blog referenced at the beginning of this article. We thank Jarod Griess and the staff of the Sutton Life Magazine for the opportunity to present the various stories of the history of our community in their magazine each month.

And we hope that you enjoy being reminded of stories from Sutton’s past and that you would consider joining us in telling these stories. --- The Sutton Historical Society.

The basis of this article first appeared in the July, 2014 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For further information about this publication contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or neighborhoodlife@yahoo.com
Sutton's Colonel Ted Wenzlaff was the cavalry officer who acquired several of the horses in President Kennedy's cassion
for the Arlington Cemetery funeral detail. It's one of those Sutton connections we should try to remember.