I am researching my Bierce/Bearse ancestors in Cornwall, Litchfield Co., Connecticut, and Plymouth Co., Massachusetts. I would be interested to hear from anyone with connections to these people.
DR. COLUMBUS BIERCE (1791-1844)
One of my 4xgr-grandfathers was Dr. Columbus Bierce, who was born in Cornwall, CT on 8 March 1791, as he noted in his own Family Bible. This is also, apparently, recorded in the Vital Records of Cornwall, according to the President of the Cornwall Historical Society in 1985, who checked them for my family.
Family lore as recorded by his granddaughter says that Columbus went to Ohio as a young man and taught for a while before training as a doctor at the New York City Medical College from which he graduated in 1816. He then returned to Ohio, where he married Mary Curtis on 17 November of that year at Belpre, Washington Co. (Family Bible 1) and they settled in Athens, Athens Co. OH.
FAMILY OF WILLIAM BIERCE AND ABIGAIL BELL
Columbus was the oldest son in a large family, and his parents were William Bierce and Abigail Bell (Family Bible 1 / Cornwall Vital Records). The marriage of this couple on 17 January 1787 is recorded both in a transcript of family records from their own Family Bible (yes, there were two Bibles!) and in the records of the Cornwall Congregational Church. In all, William and Abigail had seven children that I am aware of, all of their births recorded in both Family Bibles:
Lucretia, b. 30 July 1787
Hannah Bell, b. 2 March 1789
Columbus, b. 8 March 1791
William Whiting, b. 25 December 1793
Lucinda, b. 20 December 1796
Marcus Aurelius, b. 16 August 1799
Lucius Verus, b. 4 August 1801.
All of the children were apparently born at Cornwall - it is given as the birthplace of Lucius in the biographical notes in his book "Historical Reminiscences of Summit County" (published Akron, Ohio, 1854), and Edward Comfort Starr lists all of the children of William and Abigail, except for Columbus, in his "A History of Cornwall, Connecticut" (published New Haven, 1926).
Abigail Bell Bierce died at Cornwall on 25 September 1815, (Family Bible 2 transcript) and William followed his son Columbus to Ohio, settling in Nelson, Portage Co. (LV Bierce notes).
By this time William's daughters Lucretia and Hannah had married, Lucretia on 10 August 1807 and Hannah on 26 December 1811 (both in Family Bible 2 transcript). Lucretia's husband was Solomon J. Payne, and Hannah's was Jeremiah Fuller, according to the "History of Portage Co., Ohio" (published Chicago, 1885). FamilySearch Ancestral File says that the marriages took place in Cornwall, but I have no other evidence for this as yet. The Paynes and Fullers went to Ohio at about the same time as William Bierce, according to the Portage County History, so perhaps they went in a family convoy.
William's unmarried daughter Lucinda almost certainly accompanied him, as she married December 1817 (Family Bible 2 transcript) or 6 January 1818 at Nelson to Dr. Hezekiah P. Hopkins (correspondence with her 3xgr-granddaughter).
William's youngest son, Lucius, also went to Ohio with his father, and almost immediately began his studies at Ohio University in Athens. On graduating he took up a law career, mostly practising in the South, but later returned to Ohio. He was a well-known General in the Civil War. (LV Bierce notes). He married twice: (1) Frances E. Peck, 23 November 1836 (2) Sophronia Ladd, 1 January 1840 (both in Family Bible)
It is not clear whether William's other two sons, Marcus Aurelius and William Whiting, went with the rest of the family to Ohio. Family Bible entries for their marriages show no places, only dates, but FamilySearch Ancestral File gives Cornwall for the marriages.
William Whiting Bierce married twice: (1) Lucinda M. Culver, 19 February 1818 (2) Harriet Hind(s)man, 1 September 1824.
Marcus Aurelius Bierce married Laura Sherwood on 22 February 1822. They had 13 children, whose names all began with "A", amongst whom was the writer Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce.
Both Marcus and William Whiting appear to have been in Ohio by the early/mid-1820s when births of children are recorded there, according to FamilySearch Ancestral File.
WILLIAM BIERCE (1753-1835)
Although William Bierce spent much of his life in Cornwall, before migrating to Ohio, he was not a Connecticut native. He was born on 26 March 1753, at Halifax, Plymouth Co., Massachusetts. ("Vital Records of Halifax to 1850", published by New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, p.39 [p.316 or original VR] / Family Bible 2 transcript - this just shows "Plymouth, Mass." as the birthplace). He probably came to Cornwall at about 10 years of age, as his brother James was born in Halifax in 1760, (Vital Records) but the birth of his brother Hezekiah in 1765 is not recorded there (and FamilySearch Ancestral File gives Hezekiah's birthplace as Cornwall). It therefore seems likely that this branch of the Bierce family came to Connecticut from Massachusetts in the early 1760s.
In April 1775, at the outbreak of the War of Independence, William enlisted in Col. Heman Swift's Regiment of Connecticut Troops (LV Bierce notes) and was sent to Ticonderoga, where he was stationed on 20 August 1775 when he engraved his powder horn with his name, the date, his age and birthdate. This horn passed into the family of his son Lucius, who says that William fought at the battles of Monmouth, White Plains, and Fort George, and that he wintered at Valley Forge. During this time he "clothed himself from home, and laid up his pay and the amount allowed him for clothing, so that at the close of the war he had a pile of worthless continental bills. The only use they ever were to him was to quiet the little ones; and the whole compensation for standing target for British Soldiers seven years, was given to the children to play with..." (LV Bierce notes). The Connecticut Archives Index to the Revolutionary War shows that he served as a Sergeant of the Connecticut Line 1781-82, a tradition also recorded in the Family Bibles. He was discharged in November 1783 and returned to Cornwall.
As noted above, he married Abigail Bell in 1787 and they raised their children in Cornwall. Starr says that he was in the Ecclesiastical Society from 1782 to 1800, and that he was Collector in 1793.
On 6 May 1805 William was granted 100 acres of land in Guernsey Co., Ohio, as compensation for his war service. The grant was signed by Thomas Jefferson, and the certificate later passed to the family of his son Lucius. A facsimile, and details of the grant, can be seen at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov the Government Land Office website.
As noted above, his wife died in 1815 and in 1816 he moved with several of his children to Ohio, where he lived the rest of his life.
On 18 March 1818 he was granted a pension for his war service under an act of Congress, but this was discontinued on 1 May 1820 by another act. He petitioned for its continuance on 20 February 1821, but withdrew the petition on 28 February. (US Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1873 - Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, volume 14, pages 248, 249, 286, available online at http://lcweb2.loc.gov )
William Bierce died at Nelson, Portage Co., Ohio, on 18 January 1835, aged 81. (Family Bible 2 transcript / Tombstone as reported by his gr-grandson, W.J. Fuller of Oberlin, Ohio, in a letter to the "Leader", an Ohio newspaper, date of publication unknown).
FAMILY OF HEZEKIAH BEARSE/BIERCE AND DEBORAH STURTEVANT
William was the oldest in a large family, and his parents were Hezekiah Bearse and Deborah Sturtevant (Family Bible 2 transcript / Halifax Vital Records). The marriage of this couple took place on 23 July 1752 at Halifax, Plymouth Co., Massachusetts, as noted in the Vital Records (p.34, published version / p.310 original). Their intention to marry had been "lawfully published" on 10 May (Vital Records p.58 / p.341)
The births of four children are recorded to Hezekiah and Deborah (also spelled Deborough) in the Halifax Vital Records (p.39 / p.316):
William Bearce, b. 26 March 1753
Fear Bearce, b. 1 March 1755
Ruth, b. 1 February 1757
James Bearce, b. 5 March 1760
No further births of children of Hezekiah and Deborah are recorded in Halifax, so they presumably left there in the early 1760s. They are known to have had other children, however, as the transcript of William Bierce's Family Bible lists Hezekiah's sons:
William Bierce, born at Plymouth, Mass., Mar. 26, 1753
James, born March 5, 1760
Hezekiah Jr born April 26, 1765
Philo born Sept 12, 1769
Zenas born May 30, 1776
Clearly there are significant gaps between the birth years of the boys, and the Family Bible does not list the two known daughters of Hezekiah (Fear and Ruth) born at Halifax, so it is reasonable to assume that there were some younger girls in the family too. FamilySearch Ancestral File shows daughters Patty Martha, born 1772, and Deborah, born 1774, both at Cornwall, and there may have been others, perhaps born about 1763 and 1770 to fill in the gaps.
It is possible that Fear and Ruth Bearce did not accompany their parents to Connecticut, but were perhaps left behind in Halifax with relatives - it was not uncommon to leave younger children behind temporarily until pioneering parents had established a home in a new location. The possibility that this happened to Fear and Ruth is strengthened by the apparent fact that they both seem to have married in Halifax - FamilySearch Ancestral File shows that Fear married Isaiah Bierce there in 1776, and that Ruth married Charles Sturtevant there on 13 August 1777. Both husbands were presumably distant cousins of the girls.
I know little about the lives of the other children of Hezekiah and Deborah - William Bierce's Family Bible gives no more information about them. FamilySearch Ancestral File shows the following:
- nothing else known
- m. Ann Brewster, 1790, Cornwall
- d. 26 April 1865, Cornwall
- m. Lucy Carter, 1792/8, Cornwall
- detailed information given on descendants
- d. 25 Jun 1823, Cornwall
Patty Martha (Note: "Patty" is often a nickname for Martha)
- m. Nathaniel Judd, 1793, Cornwall
- d. 1848, Ravenna, Portage Co., Ohio
- m. Whiting Rouse, 3 May 1795, Cornwall
- d. October 1865, Ravenna, Portage Co., Ohio
- d. 1806, Cornwall
HEZEKIAH BEARSE/BIERCE (1730?- about 1790)
Information about Hezekiah Bearse is relatively sparse.
The transcript of his son William's Family Bible states that he was born at "Halifax May 25 1730", and that his father's name was James. No record of such a birth is to be found in the published Halifax, Mass. Vital Records but, as Hezekiah's marriage and the births of some of his children are listed there, his association with the place is clear.
A James Bearse was living in Halifax from at least the late 1730s, when the births of three children (Asa, 1736; Consider, 1738; Rebecca, 1742) are recorded there in the Vital Records, according to Thurber H. Bierce and Lisle Cottrell, in "Ancestors in the United States of Byron H. Bierce ..." [published in 1962]). Bierce & Cottrell conclude that land transfer deeds and probate records relating to James Bearse of Halifax identify him as the same man who was living in Plympton, Plymouth Co., Mass. when the births of his sons Austin (1714), James jr. (1717)and Mial (1719/20) were recorded there in the Vital Records. The gap between the two sets of children suggest that James snr. of Plympton and his wife Abia(h) Ford (who were married in Plympton on 23 September 1713) lived somewhere else in the 1720s and early 1730s before settling in Halifax. James snr. died at Halifax sometime between 24 August 1761, when he deeded property to his son Asa, and 5 September 1763, when administration was granted on his estate to his son Austin.
It seems very probable that Hezekiah Bearse/Bierce, was part of this family, born in 1730 during the period when James snr. and Abiah were "in transit" between Plympton and Halifax. As his childhood memories would mostly have been of Halifax if the family settled there in the mid-1730s, his son William may have assumed that this was where Hezekiah was born, and therefore he recorded it this way in his Bible.
Further, Starr in his "History of Cornwall, Connecticut" (quoting another historian, "Stone", title of work unknown), states that Hezekiah was believed to be the younger brother of James Bearse, an early settler of Cornwall who was father of Captain Joseph Bearse/Bierce.
Bierce & Cottrell identify this James as the son born at Plympton in 1717 to James Bearse snr. of Plympton and Halifax. They state that James jr. is first recorded in Cornwall in a deed of 10 January 1753, having relocated with his family from Pembroke, Mass., to where he had moved from Halifax in 1741, and where his sons Joseph (1742) and Obadiah (1748) were baptized.
That Hezekiah should pack up his young family and follow his probable older brother, James jr., to Connecticut seems entirely feasible, especially as he seems to have made the move around the time his probable father, James snr. of Plympton and Halifax, died, in the early 1760s.
It should be noted here that Bierce & Cottrell state that the Hezekiah who married Deborah Sturtevant and went to Cornwall was in fact a son of Shubael Bearse, who was the older brother of James snr. This would make Hezekiah of Cornwall a first cousin of James Bearse/Bierce jr. of Cornwall, not his brother. Shubael's son Hezekiah was born at Plympton, Plymouth Co., Mass., on 6 April 1720 (Plympton Vital Records), however, not on 25 May 1730 as specifically stated in the transcript of Hezekiah's son's Family Bible. It seems likely that the Family Bible is an accurate record of Hezekiah's birth, which discounts the possibility of him being Shubael's son, but the FamilySearch Ancestral File also gives Shubael as Hezekiah's father, as does Robert Hunter Sturtevant in his "Descendants of Samuel Sturtevant" (published Waco, Texas, 1986). None of these sources following this line provide additional supporting evidence for this statement, however, and it must be supposed that they lighted on Shubael's son Hezekiah as the most likely candidate for the Cornwall settler in the absence of any other birth record to the contrary. I conclude that the balance of probability, in the light of the Family Bible entry and the circumstantial evidence outlined above regarding James snr. of Plympton and Halifax, is that Hezekiah was not Shubael's son.
It should also be noted that the transcript of the William Bierce Bible says that James the father of Hezekiah came from England and settled in "NS". Descendants have supposed this to mean Nova Scotia, but no trace of the family has so far been found in Nova Scotia, and it seems possible that this is the result of a misunderstanding by William or a later transcriber of the Bible entries who perhaps took "Halifax" to be the place in Nova Scotia, rather than the place in Massachusetts with which there are definite links as outlined above. Furthermore, the existence of an extensive network of Bearses in Massachusetts, and in the Plymouth Co. area in particular, makes it likely that Hezekiah was part of this family. Nevertheless, until absolute evidence is found to the contrary, the possibility of the English origin raised in the Family Bible should not be completely discounted.
LIFE IN CORNWALL, CT
As suggested above, it seems likely that Hezekiah Bearse, his wife Deborah Sturtevant, and at least some of their children relocated from Massachusetts to Cornwall, CT about 1763. Little else has been discovered of him in Cornwall, besides the birth of his children.
DAR Lineage Books, vols. 45,p.305; 49,p.400; 133,p.116 suggest that in 1776, during the Revolutionary War, he served as a private in Colonel Waterbury's (5th) Regiment of the Connecticut Militia, was in the Canadian campaign, and was taken prisoner at "The Cedars". Ed. H. Johnston, in "Connnecticut in the Revolution" (published Hartford CT, 1889) p.69, says that he was in the 7th Company (presumably of the above Regiment) from May 9 to December 11, 1775, although it should be noted that, if this is he, as his son Zenas was born on 30 May 1776 he was probably at home for at least some time in the late summer of 1775! He would have been about 45-46 years old during these terms of service.
In the first Federal Census, taken in 1790, a Hezekiah Bierce is recorded in Cornwall as head of a household consisting of 3 males aged 16+ (perhaps himself and sons Hezekiah, aged 25, and Philo, aged 23); 1 male aged under 16 (perhaps son Zenos, aged 14); and 5 females (perhaps his wife, daughters Patty Martha and Deborah, both as yet unmarried, and two unknown females, possibly servants or other female relatives).
It is not known when he died, or where he is buried. The "Register of Revolutionary Soldiers and Patriots buried in Litchfield County", compiled by Joyce Mackenzie Cropsey lists him, p.18, as dying probably in 1790, buried in "Cornwall cemetery unknown".
His wife Deborah died on 24 July 1798, according to this Register, and to Starr's "History of Cornwall", p.434.
This is most of the research material that I have gathered on my Bearse/Bierce ancestors in Connecticut, although I have a little more on various cousins and more distant relatives. I have also collected material on the Bearses in Massachusetts, but until a definite link can be found between Hezekiah, and James of Plympton and Halifax, it seems prudent not to include it in "my" genealogy.
Please get in touch, and let me have your comments on my various conjectures! I would be especially pleased to hear from any descendants of William Bierce and Abigail Bell, or anyone who could throw light on Hezekiah's origins.
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