A Vignette of an American Family

By: Leo Lawton

June 22, 2010

Philo Lawton was born in 1818. The first documentation of his life that I have located is the 1850 United States Census report. At that time he was listed as 30 years old, but it is not unusual for error in census reports, as information was often given by children, friends, landlords, etc. Although without doubt they gave data to the best of their ability, it was not always as accurate as one might hope for. At that time Philo was single, living in Remsen, Oneida County, New York, and was earning a living as a laborer working for a carpenter. This suggests he may be a descendant of some part of the Lawton family of Herkimer County, only a few miles distant.

The next census, in 1860, Philo had worked his way northward to Lyme Township, located in Jefferson County, New York. He yet earned his living as a laborer, but his personal status has changed with the acquisition of a wife, named Catharine, and three daughters. Philo was now listed as having attained the ripe old age of 42, in keeping with a birth year of 1818. This is the last time Philo appears in United States Census reports.

However, in 1870, one can locate Catharine yet living in Lyme, but now only the youngest daughter, Mary, and a son, Silas, lived with her. Mary is listed as 14, but she is really 12, while Silas is 8, assuming a birth year of 1861 or ‘62. This would appear to mean that Philo faded from the picture, not to appear again, about that time, or right at the beginning of the Civil War. What happened to the older two daughters though? Sarah, at age 16, could be located in the Township of Pamelia in the County Poorhouse, listed as a pauper. Her younger sister, Evangeline, at age 13, was working as a domestic servant in the household of the Martin Wait family over in Rodman, a few miles from home. None of the family could read nor write.

Time slid by, and soon another census report was due. In 1880, I have yet to locate the three girls, but Catharine and Silas still resided in Lyme, with the 18-year-old Silas working as a laborer to support himself and his mother.

In 1890 there was a special census of all living veterans of the Civil war. Philo didn’t make the list, but Catharine did, as his widow, confirming that Philo did join the Army, and as Catharine has been awarded a pension, Philo must have died. Catharine died between then and 1900 at the time of the next Federal Census, but Silas remained in Lyme with his wife Laura, and three children, Claude, Earl, and Myrtle. 1910, 1920, 1930, all came and went with Silas and Laura remaining in the Lyme area. Now another 80 years has passed with family descendants remaining in Jefferson County, New York.