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. 


mentummike said...

This is a fabulous article. Luther and Polly Emiline were my 3rd great-grandparents, and as it so happens, Harriett Louisa French Holliday was my great-great-grandmother.

The author did a great job on the genealogical information; many trees have Luther biologically attached to his step-mother, Louisa (Lois) Fuller, who did live with Luther along with his father who was 80 years old at the time. The evidence is slim, but careful examination by several researchers has borne all this out.

And, of course, there were at least three "Luther Frenches" alive about the same time, which is a typical frustration for genealogists and potential cause for viral mistakes among trees.

L. Cook said...

This was an amazing article, if I've managed to do my research correctly... Luther and Polly are my 4th great-grandparents! Harriet Louisa French Holliday was my grandma's great grandma :)

Anonymous said...

Great article! My great-great grandfather, Robert French, was Luther French's brother. Robert was about ten years than Luther.

I think I can shed some light on where Martin French came from. From my research, I think that he is the son of Louisa Fuller (William's 2nd wife) by her first husband whose name I don't know. William must have adopted him.

Also, the French line in the story is correct back to where Michael shows up. For a long time I had that lineage in my family tree too. I received an awesome document from one of my contacts on Ancestry.com and it shows that it was William French (yes, another one!) that came to America, not Michael. And he came from Ireland, not England. I recently had my DNA done and I DO have some Irish in me. The link to the information is:


I will certainly stop here next time in Nebraska doing family history research!