The Stewart Story, and I’m Sticking To it
Well, I believe I have solved a mystery I had been laboring on for over a year, and even if no one is the slightest bit interested I have to get it out. The mystery I’ve been moaning and mooning about (here, here, here and here) was that though I knew quite a bit about hundreds of my relatives going back for many centuries, nothing was known of my father’s patrilineal line further back than around 1800. That drove me crazy! It’s too recent! And unfortunately many of the records from the area in question (Tennessee) were destroyed in subsequent fires. So there may never be the definite “proof”, in the form of physical records. But I believe I have finally solved it via clues: geography, family names, historical movements, and so forth. At any rate, I have solved it to my own satisfaction. It is logical enough for me to believe (even if it starts out on a rather fabulous note, with founding characters who strike one as almost semi-mythological. But the facts are attested all over the place.)
Amazingly enough, since half of my family are New England Yankees and the other half are Southern farmers of one kind or another, the story of my branch of the Stewarts in America seems to start in New York City. Originally from Scotland (possible Perth), Dr. John Stewart (1667-1704) wound up in New York by the 1680s. Where he married a granddaughter of the first Italian American. I wrote about Pietro Cesare Alberti a little bit here. A scion of a Venetian banking family (his mother was a Medici), he was in New Netherland (as it was called before the British took it over) before 1642, where he married Judeth Jan Menjie, a daughter of Dutch colonists. The two eventually settled in Brooklyn! (or as it was known back then, Breukelen). (The exclamation point is because I have lived in Brooklyn myself for over 20 years). The pair were killed by Indians in 1655.
At any rate, Dr. John Stewart married Elizabeth Alberti (whose mother was a Scudder. I can’t help wondering if they’re related to John Scudder, from whom P.T. Barnum bought the American Museum. How many Scudders could there be?). John and Elizabeth moved to a large plot of land in Hempstead, Long Island in 1691. This was a working farm, although John Stewart also earned additional income as a cooper and as a surgeon, hence his title. (Being a “surgeon” was not as fancy as it is today. No formal education was required. It was mostly about things like lancing boils, cutting off corns, and…sawing off the occasional limb.) Still it appears to have brought in enough income that John could forever be buying up big parcels of farmland, and so could his children. From Nassau County, he moved to what is now Jamaica, Queens in 1694 (again, not the “city”). Then he moved to Monmouth, New Jersey in 1697. There he was elected High Sheriff, a position he held until 1702. Then he moved the whole family (which was getting quite large by now) to Sussex County, Delaware, where he died in 1704.
My (7th) great grandfather David Stewart (1689-1717) was John and Elizabeth’s middle child. Not much is known of him. He appears to have been a carpenter and not much of a world-mover compared with both his father and his son Samuel (below). He died at the young age of 28. But not before leaving these items to his family in his will:
Item his wearing apparel 4 pounds 6 shillings 6 pence
Item. 2 dear skins 7 shillings
Item One old black hood 7 shillings
Item four knifes and a fork 2 shillings 6 pence
Item four long tooth combs & a parcel of needles 1 shilling 9 pence
Item 2 Testaments and three primers 7 shillings
Item a tobacco box, snuff box & a buckle 1 shilling 6 pence
Item a bonett 5 shillings
Item 5 pictures 2 shillings 2 pence
Item a Sword 2 shillings 6 pence
Item a Bed, bed cloaths & bedstead 4 pounds 10 shillings
Item a chest 7 shillings 6 pence
Item an old trunk, a dozen spools & four bottles 8 shillings
Item a grindstone 8 shillings
Item a horse bridle & saddle 5 pounds
Item a two year old mare 1 pound 15 shillings
Item a Tract of land 100 acres more or less 20 pounds--------------------- With the improvements
TOTAL 38 POUNDS 12 SHILLINGS 6 PENCE
Thankfully, the portion of our story which takes place in Delaware is relatively small.
David’s son Samuel Stewart (1711-1768) is a crucial piece of the story. He’s the one who brought the family South, in a couple of large leaps. First, they moved to Augusta County, Virginia around the 1730s. He obtained large land grants in Rowan County, North Carolina in 1757. In 1766 he sold his Virginia lands to one David Copeland, so he moved to North Carolina at some prior to that. Old Samuel died in 1768.
Then, circa 1779-1780 (16 years prior to statehood) the by now enormous extended family of Stewarts (including my 5th great grandfather Joseph Stewart) went over the hills to live in the eastern part of what would become Tennessee. As I wrote in this post, this generation of my family seems to have been heavily involved in the religious movement known as the Second Great Awakening, in founding a series of the first Baptist churches in the area, and finally pioneering the area that would become Overton County, Tennessee. (For more context, there’s this post I wrote about my family’s role in pioneering the whole region here).
By now, I believe we have transitioned from those huge farms of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina to small subsistence backwoods farms, with some cotton on the side as a cash crop. For reasons I have outlined here, I believe Joseph’s son John served in the Creek War portion of the War of 1812, which would have taken him to the southern part of the state and on into Alabama. (Fayetteville, where the family lived for many generations was a mustering point.) While he was still living in Overton County shortly before he died, he is known to have bought and worked land in Bledsoe County, which is not so far from Fayetteville, Lincoln County, where William Campbell Stewart and Mary Hannah Hale (my [3rd] great grandparents) appear around the 1830s. I have a little dope on them, gleaned from public records, just enough information to be both intriguing and illuminating. Campbell was an illiterate farmer, among the reasons so little can be gleaned about him. There are no letters or family Bibles or the like, just a handful of census records, deeds, and so forth. They had about 50 acres, and 6 kids, with an age spread of about 20 years from oldest to youngest. There’s a possibility that he’s the same William Stewart who served with the Tennessee Volunteers in the Seminole War in 1818 and in the Cherokee Wars (removal, is more like it) of 1836-1839, which mustered at Ross’s Landing, not far from his farm. Sounds pretty hardscrabble, and pretty fierce. I have taken enormous liberties in linking Campbell to John (there is no hard proof, but I’ve outlined all my reasons for doing so in this blogpost and its addendum. )
As I wrote here, my great-great-grandfather James Calvin Stewart (1836-1888) was just the right age to serve in the Civil War, but he didn’t, I believe because he had a new baby at the time (and the Union retook Tennessee quite early, making it fairly easy I would imagine to duck service if you really wanted to.) But as we wrote here, his older brother William Carrol Stewart did serve in the Confederate army and was wounded at Gettysburg.
As we wrote here, James Calvin died at the relatively young age of 52, orphaning my 13 year old great grandfather who was raised with his mother’s family, a tribe of wild back-country moonshiners named the Patricks. Virgil (1875-1938), my great grandfather, managed to become a fairly substantial man in Huntsville. Many of his kids went on to lead happy normal middle-class lives, all living independent of farms.. But as we wrote here, my grandfather Ezra (1906-1976) was a black sheep. He lost a good job at the Alabama Power Company (discharged for drinking) and he and his family became the “poor relations”, tenant farming in the backwoods during the worst days of the Depression.
Then, my grandfather, who’d never seen an ocean, enlisted in the navy during World War Two. He was stationed in Rhode Island….where he remained. It was kind of an unusual journey, kind of like climbing back into the womb. As I study the family tree, most of the movement, when there is any, is west, to places like Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. My grandfather was swimming upstream. But at any rate, because of it, I was born a Yankee, only 150 miles East of Dr. John Stewart’s farm.