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Nathan of Hamilton

(Previous page: Nathan introduction)

Hamilton is a mostly rural town in Madison County, near the geographic center of New York State. (For those unfamiliar with this use of the term, in New York and New England a town is a geographic division of a county, not a population center; it may contain hamlets and villages. Any place that is not within the boundaries of a city is within a town.) The village of Hamilton is the home of Colgate University. Poolville lies southeast of Hamilton village; the crossroads of Hamilton Center are a mile or so to its northeast and the tiny settlement of South Hamilton a couple of miles to its east. Further east is the Town of Brookfield; north of Hamilton is the Town of Madison; and to the south is Chenango County, from which Madison County was split off in 1809.

Let’s start with what is known about Nathan HOLMES of Hamilton.

Unfortunately not much is really known. Madison County seems to suffer from a dearth of records. The only candidates for contemporary records of Nathan in or near Hamilton that I know of are the following:

  • 1810 US census population schedule for Hamilton
  • 1820 US census population schedule for Paris, Oneida County, New York
  • 1830 US census population schedule for Hamilton
  • Book with Nathan’s signature
  • Gravestone of Grace HOLMES

From these we learn rather little. Let’s consider them one at a time.

The 1810 census — like all the US censuses through 1840 — listed no names other than that of the head of each household. To make matters worse, in 1810 the person who compiled the census for Madison County, New York recorded only first initials and last names of the heads of household (an act of laziness that surely earns a place in the first circle of genealogists’ Hell). In Hamilton, there was a household headed by “N. HOLMES” as follows:

  • 2 males under 10
  • 1 male 10-16
  • 1 male 16-26
  • 1 male 26-45
  • 1 female under 10
  • 2 females 10-16
  • 1 female 26-45

As we will see later, there is reason to believe this “N. HOLMES” was Nathan HOLMES.

In 1820 there is a Nathan HOLMES as head of household in Paris, Oneida County, New York (20 miles or so from Hamilton), in the over 45 age bracket. The only other member of the household is a female over 45. These could be the same Nathan and his wife, but it raises the question: Where did the children go? And another question: Where was Nathan in 1830 and 1840? There is no Nathan HOLMES in the right age bracket as head of household anywhere in New York in those years. There may be some useful information in the 1830 population schedule for Hamilton, but it’s unclear; this will be discussed in a later section.

A fourth “record” of Nathan is a novel now in my possession, published in the 1830s, that has the name “Nathan HOLMES” written in pencil on the title page.

Signature of Nathan Holmes on title page of book

Signature of Nathan Holmes on title page of book

This tells us nothing of significance — except that, since the novel has been in my family, it suggests a family connection between my line and (someone named) Nathan. (Unfortunately I know nothing of the history of the book. It and another old book were among my father’s possessions when he died, and my mother did not know where he got them — in fact, until we noticed the Holmes signatures in them, she thought he might have picked them up at a garage sale. The other book, also dating from about the 1830s, had the name and address of my great grandfather’s sister written in pencil on the inside back cover: “Nancy M. HOLMES, Hamilton New York”. These certainly were not garage sale finds, and I suspect they had been in the possession of my aunt until late in her life, at which point somehow my father got them.)

A gravestone at Poolville Rural Cemetery, in the village of Poolville in the town of Hamilton, reads “In Memory of Grace wife of Nathan Holmes Died Jan 30 1840 [ae] 69 Years”. (Tuttle, in [Tuttle1] and [Tuttle2], transcribes the husband’s name as “Needham HOLMES”, but this is an error as can be (barely!) seen in this photo.)

Gravestone of Grace Holmes at Poolville Cemetery

Gravestone of Grace Holmes at Poolville Cemetery

Of course the implied birthdate (ca. 1770) for Grace is consistent with that of the wife in the 1810 N. HOLMES census entry.

A Nathan HOLMES later lived in Farmersville, Cattaraugus County, New York, about 150 miles west of Hamilton. We will see below reasons to believe this was the same man. I know of two contemporary records of Nathan of Farmersville:

  • Gravestone of Nathan HOLMES
  • 1850 US census mortality schedule for Farmersville

A gravestone in Farmersville has the name Nathan HOLMES and a death date of 1 March, but the year is unreadable.

Nathan Holmes gravestone

Nathan Holmes gravestone

A 1985 genealogy of the descendants of Peter HOLMES of Farmersville by Hermia Hallauer Gordon ([Gordon]) , who examined the stone when it was readable, says the year was 1850, and Nathan was 83. Confirming this is the mortality schedule from the 1850 US census for Farmersville, according to which Nathan HOLMES, a farmer born in Connecticut, died in February at age 83. Again, this leads to a birthdate in the proper age range to match N. HOLMES in the 1810 census.

To get any further we must supplement these records with a (much) later story, given by Gordon. This genealogy identifies Peter HOLMES (who is buried next to Nathan) as a son of Nathan and contains a brief account of Nathan and his family, attributed to Gordon’s mother, Zoe Hallauer. If only as a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of family legends as genealogical sources, I quote this account in its entirety — but with a warning first to take the following with a grain of salt, as indicated by my comments afterward:

“John Holmes lived during the reign of King Charles II of England. They came to America about 1622 on the second crossing of the Mayflower ship from Holland where they had lived for several years because of the political upheaval in England. John Holmes became Captain of the Colony, two years after Miles Standish.

“John Holmes’s family were wealthy, lived in Boston, had the first embossed wallpaper from China. The Holmeses were owners of ships.

“Nathan Holmes, 1767-March 1850, a descendant of John Holmes, had three sons, Jabez, Peter and Henry. Peter, our ancestor, and Nathan are buried in Farmersville, Cattaraugus County, New York. Nathan, it is said, was taken prisoner by the British in the War of 1812, and put on a ship for England. Before it could reach England, the boat was captured by Americans, possibly John Paul Jones, and returned to America.

“Nathan moved his family from Boston down along the Connecticut River to Hartford, Conn. It is believed that Peter was born in Hartford. They later migrated to New York State with their oxen and carts, loaded with beautiful furniture, a grandfather’s clock, plants, seeds, etc. Some rode horseback. The family settled in Hamilton, Madison Co., N.Y. where, it is said, the sons attended college.

“It is said that Nathan’s son Jabez with sons Jackson and Chauncy, and Henry, who had 2 daughters, Hannah who married a Smith and another daughter who married Eggleston. [sentence incomplete in original] They had one daughter, Lydia. The two sons and families migrated to California.

[The above garbled sentence was rewritten on another page as follows: “It is said that Nathan’s son Jabez had two sons — Jackson and Chauncy. Also that Nathan’s son Henry had two daughters, Hannah, who married a Smith, and the other married an Eggleston. She had a daughter — Lydia. (not confirmed.)”]

“Peter’s family moved on to Wyoming, New York, and finally to Farmersville, New York.

“The government was trying to settle the west, but was in need of money. After the War of 1812 the Holmeses were sold several thousand acres of land for a large sum of money by the government in Madison County and Cattaraugus County. Later they found the land to be worth only 8 dollars an acre.

“Peter Holmes’s family arrived in Cattaraugus Co. about 1820-25. Others that came with the Holmeses were Richard Tozer, Peter and Cornelius Ten Broeck, the Robbins, Peets, and Caleb Cooley.

“Nathan stayed in Hamilton, Madison County. Many years later when he was old, and lost his eyesight, Peter went back to Hamilton and brought his father to Farmersville to stay with them. He was buried in Farmersville Cemetery in 1850. Part of his gravestone was still showing in 1980 beside that of Peter and Rachel.

“Peter Holmes married Rachel Stowell (from Vermont) born 1800. They had seven children… Peter was a maker of woodenware tools, and a farmer.

“The Holmeses were members of the Farmersville Community Church. Several Holmes families are still members of that church. They helped to build the new church in 1983, across from the old church. “

As important as this account is, it is (as Gordon acknowledges) not supported by any known contemporary documentation, and it is manifestly incorrect or at least questionable on several points:

  • Charles II reigned from 1660–1685 — several decades after John is claimed to have arrived in America. Was Charles I what was meant? He reigned 1625–1649. The monarch at the time of the founding of Plymouth was James I.
  • The Mayflower never made a second crossing. That is, the Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims in 1620 never did. There were other ships of the same name, some of which did bring settlers to New England in later years. However, in the early 1620s the only ships that brought passengers to Plymouth were:

    There was no one with the name John HOLMES, or any similar name, among the passengers on these ships.

  • Miles Standish was hired by the Pilgrims as a military advisor. He served the colony in the areas of colonial defense and Indian relations, and from 1625–1627 as their representative in England. I’m not sure what “Captain of the Colony” means. The leader of the colony was the Governor. The first Governor of Plymouth was John Carver; after his death in April 1621, William Bradford became Governor and served in that office for 31 of the next 36 years.
  • There were two British colonies in what is now the State of Massachusetts: Plymouth and Massachusetts. Plymouth was founded by what we now call the Pilgrims; they were members of a religious faction known as the Separatists, because they wanted to split away from the Church of England and form a new church. Massachusetts was founded by Puritans who wanted to reform the Church of England from within. If the statement that John’s family lived in Boston is true, they must have moved from one colony to the other.
  • Jabez HOLMES of Hamilton, Madison, New York served at Sackett’s Harbor in the war of 1812, but there seem to be no records of any Nathan HOLMES from New York also serving in that war.
  • The Connecticut River does not flow through, or anywhere near, Boston.
  • The Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution, the forerunner of Colgate University, opened in 1820; until 1839, it trained students for the ministry only. None of the probable sons of Nathan is known to have been a minister.

On the other hand, as we will see, there does appear to be some factual basis for much of this family legend (as it appears to be) although it has become garbled in the retelling. This presents me with a dilemma: To what extent can I make an argument based on some of the “facts” presented in this story while simultaneously dismissing other “facts” as probable errors? There’s great potential for intellectual dishonesty here, choosing the parts of Gordon’s story that support my argument and disregarding the parts that don’t. Still, where Gordon’s narrative is all I have to go on, it would be silly to disregard the whole thing because some of it is wrong. I believe I’ve been reasonably careful in using this story to guide my hypotheses, but it admittedly is a tricky question.

(Next page: Nathan’s family)

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