A New York Lawton Family

by: Leo Lawton

The War for Independence was over! The colonists had broken from what they considered the oppressive rule of England. It was a time for healing among those who had argued the merits of complete separation versus remaining within England’s protective umbrella. New York State was deeply in debt from the costs of waging war. It was decided to sell the confiscated lands of British sympathizers at public auction as a means of paying off those war debts.

In the year of 1789 Oliver and Ann Lawton left the relative comfort and safety of family and friends in Rhode Island, and headed for the newly opening lands that New York offered. They bought a parcel of this land within what was known as the “Royal Grant.” Here they settled to raise their family on their modest farm outside the small village of Fairfield. Their farm was located between the two branches of Canada Creek.

Their son Benjamin, born in Rhode Island in 1770 was now a man at 19 years old, and immediately struck out on his own. He was probably the Lawton1 who built a small cabin near his parents, and lived there one year before he moved on. He married about this time and by 1820 his wife Mary and he had produced no less than twelve children all while living in the Fairfield area. Between then and 1830 he, like his parents before him, got the urge to try a newer and hopefully better life somewhere else, as the 1830 census lists him as living in Antwerp, Jefferson County, some ninety miles to the north of his former home. I believe he lived on what is now known as the California Road a few miles from Antwerp village. Their eighth child and fourth son, born in 1807, was named Benjamin after his father.

Benjamin jr. is listed on the New York State census of 1825 in Antwerp, which might mean that his parents andsiblings were also there, but that is speculation. Probably in 1829 Benjamin married a local girl named Betsy, the daughter of John and Olive Chase both natives of Maine who had settled in the township of Antwerp. Benjamin and Betsy had eight children. The first was Lysander, born in 1830, while the second was Joseph born in 1833, the same year his grandfather Benjamin died while on a snowshoeing trip through the fields. (A family tale says that he was found hanging head down on a steep slope, caught in some brush by his snowshoes.) Joseph is the great grandfather of the writer, but we shall bypass him to concentrate on Lysander’s family.

Lysander was living with his parents at age twenty, but on the New York State census of 1855 was living next door with his wife the former Lucina Fanning. They probably married in the early months of 1854 as their first child was born in July 1855. During March of 1860 Lysander and Lucina’s only son, promptly named Benjamin after his grandfather, was born. During this same year Lysander and Lucina apparently bought 70 acres of land from his parents. Lysander died, by his own hand, in 1868, three years after the birth of their fifth child. Lucina and the children remained on the farm. The eldest daughter Betsy, named after her grandmother, married Orson Smith when she was 17 in 1872. The second oldest, Lydia, married John Robinson about 1877. Augusta, the third daughter, married William Comstock in 1878. In May of 1879 the farm was sold at public auction to settle the debts of Lysander nearly eleven years after his death. Lucina, Benjamin, and the youngest daughter, Ella, moved to the Township of Philadelphia, only a few miles from their former home. Ella turned 22 in 1887, and married William Keyes early that year. Benjamin married May Markham Tyler on August 14, 1889.

A little more than a year later, almost as if she had finally completed the raising of her children, and felt free to rest, Lucina died of natural causes November 10, 1890, five days after the birth of Archie, Benjamin and Mary’s first-born. About one month after their eleventh wedding anniversary, on September 13, 1900, with three boys, three girls, and a seventh child on the way, they bought a farm on the Orebed Road. At that point this road divides the Townships of Philadelphia and Theresa, and the farm was on the Theresa side of the road.

I have been told that long before the coming of the white man, when only the Mohawk Indians of the Iroquois Confederacytribes roamed this country, the area including the farm was used by them as a way station. On the property is a large rock hollowed out by continuous use over the centuries as a pestle for the grinding of grain.

Benjamin and Mary had the following twelve children. #1 Archie born in 1890, never married, accidentally burnedto death in 1946. #2 Lucy Belle born in 1892, married Earl Springer, had a daughter Louella in 1917. Lucy Belledied the following year. Louella married Edward Wills, had two sons, Doug and Ronnie, and a daughter Judy. #3 Joseph Lysander born in 1893, married Louise Bacon, and they had ten children. #4 Lydia was born in 1894, married Harry Hunt, and they had two children, Morris and Stanley. #5 Cora born in 1897 married Clark Baker, and they had a daughter Ernestine that married Raymond Williams. Ernestine had no siblings or children. #6 John Benjamin, always known as J Benny, was born in 1898, never married, and died accidentally in 1957. #7 Ruby was born in 1900, married William Hall, had ten children, and died in 1966. #8 Leon, born in 1903, was known as Jomp, never married, died in 1975. #9 Lewis, known as Lew, was born in 1906, never married, and died in 1978. #10 Luella born in 1908, married Kenneth Barton, had three children and died in 1978. #11 Marion was born in 1910, married Claude Kilborn, had two children, and died in 1994. #12 Katherine, always called Kitty, was born in 1912, never married, and died in 1996. Of the five boys, Joseph was the only one ever to leave the nest. The remaining four, lived their entire lives on the home farm. Lew was the last to live in the home, and since he died in 1978 the old house has stood empty and desolate, on a 100-yard long driveway. As of 2005, the windowless decrepit house has deteriorated to the point it cannot stand too much longer. Kitty told the writer in 1995 she had been paying the taxes for a number of years. Since her death I do not know its fate.