Category Archives: family

Benjamin Merrill and the Battle You Never Heard Of.

Benjamin Merrill

1731-1771

When I first heard the Battle of Alamance, I thought of France and WWI.  Alamance Creek actually runs through North Carolina. In the book, Captain Merrill and the Merrill Family of North Carolina , I learned about an important  Revolutionary War battle that preceded the battle of Concord and Lexington (April, 1775) by four years. Boston, site of the Boston Massacre in 1771, is thought to be the fuse that lit the fire under colonists to finally break from the British. But the same sort of harassment occurred in North Carolina around the same time, and concluded with an actual battle that later dropped from history books.

Why have we forgotten the Battle of Alamance the site of the first American blood spilled in the War of Independence? In the aftermath of the American Revolution, people numbered that battle among the important events in winning freedom. After the Civil War, Northerners tended to erase the South from history books, and their participation in the Civil War ( with a few exceptions like the Battle of New Orleans) disappeared. Not only did the winners write the history of the Civil War—they went farther back and rewrote the history of the Revolution as well. Today, the story is told differently, and I will meld the two versions as I tell the story.

BENJAMIN MERRIL, FARMER, SOLDIER

Benjamin Merrill was born in New Jersey. We share common 8 times great-grandparents—Richard and Penelope Stout. His mother, Penelope Stout (Jr.),  married into the French Huguenot Merrill family. According to a book called A Merrill Memorial, Penelope’s son Benjamin moved to North Carolina to an area called “Jersey Settlement” because a group of people from New Jersey, including his brother William, moved there. The move would have occurred about 1750, because his second son Andrew’s birth is recorded in North Carolina.

Benjamin was a farmer and a gun maker. He became the deacon of the Jersey Settlement Baptist Church, and a Captain in the militia.

Living in western North Carolina meant he was a frontiersman and fought battles with indigenous people still populating the area. The Jersey Settlement had more in common with neighboring Tennessee than with Eastern North Carolina with its elite plantation owners and businessmen. The local government operated on wild west principles—Sheriffs and Judges representing the English Crown, running rough-shod over the rights of the farmers.

According to a DAR application, Benjamin had a son named John born in 1750 in New Jersey. According to some sources, he married in 1753, which would have been after he moved to North Carolina, but I have not researched further to try to locate documentation. (John later lived in Georgia and in Monroe County, Mississippi.) According to most other sources, Benjamin had a total of 7 sons, including: John, Andrew (b. 1757 in North Carolina and continued to live there), Charles (b. 1761, later lived in S. Carolina), Elijah/Eli (b. circa 1763), William, (b. circa 1763), Jonathan (b. 1765), Samuel/Azariah (b. ?) and two daughters: Penelope (b. 1759), Nancy/Anna (b. 1760) .Some accounts list Samuel as the oldest son. In fact the information about his children is sketchy, and I have not rigorously  researched them. A tax record in 1757 also lists a Negro girl, Phyllis.

Apparently, Benjamin Merrill, tended toward independent thought early on. In 1756, he defied an order for “going out against a man who committed misdemeanors.” However, in 1759, he was among militia sent out on an alarm to aid a man attacked by Indians.

THE REGULATORS

Farmers in North Carolina, frustrated by corruption and excessive taxes and fees, formed an organization called The Regulators. This was in April 1767. They objected to local enforcement of English law rather than to the King’s rule. The same ambivalence shows up in documents about colonists in the north during this period. They wanted to be good British citizens. But they wanted fair treatment. They shied away from the idea of breaking with England.

An example of the abuse they suffered: By law a marriage license cost $1, but local officials charged $15. (Note, accounts I read said dollars, but I assume it was actually English pounds.) At first the Regulators tried by peaceful petition and argument to get more equitable treatment.

‘FIRE AND BE DAMNED“

However, making no headway, the Regulators turned to refusal to pay taxes, disruption of court proceedings, threats against officials, and vandalism. The ranking King’s officer, Governor Tryon, finally called together the militia to march against the Regulators after giving warning to the dissidents. Their reply–”Fire and be damned.”

May 14, 1771, Tryon’s 1000 militiamen were heading toward the Alamance Creek, about five miles away, where a ragtag, ill-armed and poorly-organized group of about 2000 dissidents assembled. A man representing the Regulators approached Tryon to talk, but as he turned away, the Governor shot him in the back.

Apparently some of the militia were sympathetic with the Regulators, because when the Governor ordered them to fire, some hesitated. He commanded the troops, “Fire on them, or fire on me.”

Tryon’s militia easily won the May 16 Battle of Alamance (also called the Battle of the Regulators). The King’s militia lost nine soldiers and had 61 wounded. The losses on the Regulator’s side is unknown.

The victorious Governor issued a proclamation that those who would swear allegiance and pay their taxes would be forgiven, except Captain Merrill and five others. The Governor declared them outlaws who would be hanged, drawn and quartered. Tryon took 15 prisoners, including Benjamin Merrill, who was not actually present on May 16. All but 6 escaped execution.

CAPTAIN MERRILL’S ROLE IN THE BATTLE

About May 12, Captain Merrill was heading toward Alamance with his company of 300-400 men, when he encountered General H. Waddell, who commanded a component of the King’s forces. Merrill took the General’s men prisoner and General Waddell fled to Salisbury.

Merrill and his men proceeded toward Alamance, but when they were within a day’s march, they heard the battle and a scout informed them of the Governor’s victory. Merrill released his troops and returned to his home in Ronan County. The Governor’s men arrested Merrill in short order, and took him to Tryon’s camp on June 6, 1771. The captors put Merrill in chains and dragged him through the countryside to Hillsborough where on June 19, 1771, a judge proclaimed the official sentence.

(Warning: The following contains explicit language that can be quite unsettling.)

The Judge’s sentence concluded:

“I must now close my afflicting Duty, by pronouncing upon you the awful sentence of the law; which is that you, Benjamin Merrill, be carried to the place whence you came, you be drawn from thence to the place of execution, where you are to be hanged by the neck; that you be cut down while yet alive, that your bowels be taken out and burnt before your face, that your head be cut off, your Body divided in Four Quarters and this be it his Majesty’s Disposal and the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

When allowed final remarks on the gallows, Merrill asked for mercy for his widow and ten children and that they be allowed to keep some of his property. The Governor later signed an order fulfilling that wish. Then Merrill, professing some doubts about having rebelled against the King, and professing his own faith in God, went to his death singing a Psalm.

THOUGHTS ON ALAMANCE

It is interesting to note that Merrill’s final statement refers to ten children, but the Governor’s order refers to eight children, and a later document refers to nine children.

As for the Regulators, one account I read speculated that had Merrill reached Alamance in time, the result could have been much different. That writer believed that Merrill was a better military leader than any of the men involved at Alamance. He certainly seemed to have no trouble subduing the branch of the King’s militia led by Waddell.

Although the Battle of Alamance did not prove to be the beginning of the Revolution, coming five years before the Revolution started in earnest in Massachusetts, it certainly illustrates the long simmering resentment of English government in the colonies. The Regulators were using the same arguments later used in Philadelphia by the crafters of the Declaration of Independence. And their struggle had tangible results in North Carolina. Of the 47 sections of the state constitution that was adopted in 1776, ¼ of them—thirteen sections— were reforms sought by the Regulators.

While I have written extensively about my New England ancestors in the American Revolution, this July 4th, I want to turn my attention to the North Carolinians who were the first to fight the British in actual battle, and to my relative, Benjamin Merrill, who became a martyr for the cause five years before the Declaration of Independence.

cruise ship

Elisha Stout’s Traveling Daughters

One final contribution to women’s history month, as I look at the travels of four sisters, the traveling daughters of an adventurous man.

Elisha Pinkney Stout’s daughters, my 4th cousin, 3x removed, caught my eye because Ancestry showed me the passport of Edna Pinkney Stout. I thought I would write about Edna, but it turns out her sisters had stories to tell, also.

I have related the story of Elisha, as part of the story of his father Obadiah, a pioneer in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio. Elisha, born in Ohio, traveled West and played a role in founding both Omaha and Denver, as well as seeking gold on Pike’s Peak. In his later life, he returned to Cincinnati where he became rich and successful.

The four traveling daughters, Mecia, Edna, Blanche and Florence, had one brother, William Kirk Stout, called by his middle name– his mother’s maiden name. He died young. I know that three of them had adequate means to live well, attended by servants and free to cruise the world. I know less about the fourth.

When I thought I had unearthed all the surprises I could about Edna and her sister, I found the best story of all. So I definitely have to include Elisha’s grand daughter, Margaret Moore, but I will save her for a separate article.

To put these women in perspective with my closer relatives. The sisters fall in the same generation as my great-grandmother, Hattie Stout. That means that Elisha’s grand daughter, Margaret Moore Hvenor (1891-1968) fell close to my grandmother, Vera Stout Anderson‘s age (1881-1964).

Margaret “Mecia” Stout Stearns

Present day Google Street View of 320 Reilly Road where Mecia Stout Stearns and her family lived.

Edna’s older sister Margaret “Mecia” Stout Stearns (1861-1931) married and lived next door to her father’s estate in the village of Wyoming all of her life with her husband and three children. Wyoming, a northern suburb of Cincinnati presently houses about 8500 people. The Stearns family always list their address as 320 Reilly Road/Avenue and Elisha’s address continued as 420 Reilly Road/Avenue. This stability of address led me to the faulty assumption that Mecia was a stay-at-home. Her husband, William S. Stearns belonged to a family that owned a cotton mill, and Mecia and William’s household always include two or three servants.

Her traveling may have been delayed, but when she was 62, she and her husband began taking cruises every year. Although his passport lists his wife and children, I did not see their children’s names on any of the ship’s manifests, so they may not have gone along.

  • 1922: In March, they returned from Alexandria Egypt
  • 1923: They returned from Yokohama Japan. Since Edna returned on the same ship, it is possible they both were on the same lengthy cruise of the Far East. (See Edna)
  • 1924: In March, they arrived back from Bermuda
  • 1925: In September, they arrived from Southampton, England
  • 1926: In March, they arrived in New York from Southampton again.
  • 1927: in April, they arrived in New York after two months on a cruise that departed from New York and circled back.
  • 1928: in September, they arrived in New York from Southampton, England.

Mecia surprised me one more time, when I learned that she died in 1931, not in Cincinnati, but while vacationing in Atlantic City. Traveler to the end.

Edna Pinkney Stout

The second of the traveling daughters, Edna Pinckney Stout ( 1862-1957) never married. For a time, I assumed that she was mentally or physically handicapped, since according to census reports, she lived with her parents until she was in her 50s.

Other than being listed as a postmistress at the Stout Post office–not far from Cincinnati–in 1899, census reports list no occupation for Edna. She lived with both her parents on their elaborate estate in Wyoming Village, until her mother died in 1909. Her younger sister, Florence, lived there until she married at the age of 32 in 1904. But Edna stayed on after their mother died. In the 1910 census, she is the only one still living with her father on the family estate.

Edna Leaves Ohio

Father Elisha died in 1913 in Los Angeles, where he was living with his youngest daughter Florence Stout Baker in Los Angeles. I learned that Edna was also in Los Angeles. In probate papers after Florence’s death in 1914, Florence’s husband listed Florence’s siblings. Edna Stout, living in the Hotel Pepper in Los Angeles.

Perhaps Edna had traveled to Los Angeles to help care for her father or for her sister when they were in a final illness. Edna must have returned to Ohio soon after her sister died because by 1920, she is back in Hamilton County, Ohio, living with her sister Mecia Stout Stearns and her husband. This part of her life is traditional. The unmarried sister, who lives with parents until they die, and then lives with various siblings.

In 1922, her brother-in-law, William Stearns helped her get a passport. Apparently, Edna prepared to leave on an extensive tour of the East early in 1923. Her November 1922 passport application shows she planned to visit Madeira (?), Gibraltar, Algiers, Egypt, India, Ceylon, ________Settlements, Dutch East Indies, _________ , Indonesia, Indo-China, Hong Kong, Macau, China and Japan. Even as an organized tour, or cruise, this itinerary exceeds the first-time travel of an ordinary sixty-year-old woman in the 1920s. She returned to New York, in May, 1923, making this a trip around the world. However, she may not have been traveling alone.

The Stearns returned on the same ship from Japan to New York. However, since I do not have ship’s manifests that show either Edna or her sister and brother-in-law leaving on this tour, I cannot say for sure if they all took the extensive far Eastern tour.

If Edna traveled in the next seven years, I do not have a ship’s manifest to prove where she went. But in 1930, she apparently went on another cruise. In April, the census caught her living in a boarding house/hotel in Los Angeles. She left the port of Wilmington, California (Los Angeles Port) in May, 1930, and arrived in Honolulu seven days later. Her return trip in August, 1930, brought her back to Los Angeles. I rather doubt that she was lying on a beach in Hawaii for two and a half months. Perhaps this cruise took her to some exotic Pacific locations.

Although I did not find her father Elisha’s will, I know from the information in the probate of the estate of her sister Florence, that although unmarried and unemployed, Edna had no money worries. Her father’s estate, reported to be about $80,500 (which would be worth $1, 046,500 today), had been divided three ways–Edna, her sister Florence, and her sister Mecia. (The only son in the family, William “Kirk” Stout, had died in 1890 at the age of 14.)

Blanche Stout Moore

Blanche (1865-1937) provides a different story. In 1890, at the age of 24, she married Edward E. Moore, a cotton merchant, and moved to New York. Like Mecia’s family, this family always had multiple servants. Their residence changed from Hackensack, New Jersey to finally living in the tony Scarsdale area of New York.

But the thing that puzzles me–why did Florence’s husband say his father-in-law’s estate was divided between three daughters. When Elisha died, there were four daughters. So why was the estate not divided in four? Was Blanche shunned by the family for some reason? He knew Edna, whom he listed by name, but Mecia and Blanch were “two other sisters, who live, he believes in Ohio.” He got it right for Mecia, but not for Blanch.

Edna, who lived with both her other sisters, never lived with Blanche, her husband and children which also tends to make me think Blanche separated from the family.

In 1893, Edward Moore applied for a passport–one of those that included the wife, Blanche. (See section on Passports below).

Although we do not get a photograph, Blanche’s husband is described as 6′ tall. He has a high forehead, black eyes, a prominent nose, large mouth, long chin, black hair and dark skin.

16 Apr, 1910, Blanche sailed from London to New York without any other family members.

16 Sept, 1914, Blanche arrived from visiting England again. This time she was accompanied by her daughter Margaret and son Kirk and also Emma B. Moore and Perry E. Moore. (It is a good guess that these are a sister-in-law and nephew.)

Blanche’s travel seems modest, however, taking her daughter Margaret abroad apparently had an effect. (See separate article).

Florence Stout Baker

Florence Stout Baker (1872-1914), the youngest daughter, lived with her parents until she married at the ripe old age of 32. Then she and her husband, Henry A. Baker, a pharmacist, moved to Los Angeles.

I am speculating that not long after her mother died, Edna’s father sold the Cincinnati estate. He then moved to Los Angeles with Florence Stout Baker and her husband. But I cannot locate a records for Florence and her husband that will tell me when Florence moved to L. A. In fact every detail about Florence’s life after her marriage eludes me.

I thought she was not a traveler, until I found her probate record. I have not found any trace of Florence on ship’s manifests, and very little other information about her or her husband. However, like her sister Mecia, she did not die at home. Her probate papers and death certificate show that she died in Hammond Louisiana, north of New Orleans. Why Hammond? Who knows?

Passports

I learned a lot about passports while gathering information about the adventurous daughters. Did you know that in the mid-19th century, women traveling with their husbands did not have their own passport? The husband’s passport lists his name, hers, and if they are along–the children. A woman traveling alone, however, might have a passport listing herself and any children traveling with her.

Notice I said “might”, that’s because–surprise number two–laws did not require U. S. Citizens to have a passport until June 1941. Two exceptions–if they traveled abroad during the Civil War or during World War I, they must carry a passport.

In the mid 19th century, men made 95% of trips abroad. However, by the late 19th century, women comprised 40% of passport applicants. I got all this information about passports from the very helpful National Archives site in their section on Passport Applications.

I hope this article on the traveling Stout sisters may encourage someone else to seek out ship’s manifests and passports to track the travels of the traveling daughters in their family tree.

Emily Dickinson–Hello Cousin!

Daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson from Wiki Media, in the public domain.

I cannot think of a more exciting announcement to make during the month of Women. As the title indicates–I can now call poet Emily Dickinson, cousin.

The Belle of Amherst and Black Cake

Of course I had known the poetry of this premier American Poet since I started reading. But my close attraction with Emily really developed when I played the role of Emily in the one-woman play, Belle of Amherst at the Invisible Theater in Tucson, Arizona. Emily’s opening lines of that play:

This is my introduction. Black cake. My own special recipe.

(After some digressions and introducing herself, she proceeds to share her recipe.)

“Black Cake: two pounds of flour, two pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, nineteen eggs, five pounds of raisins, one and a half pounds of currants, one and a half pounds of citron, one half pint of brandy–I never use Father’s best–one half pint of molasses, two nutmegs, five teaspoons of cloves, mace, and cinnamon, and–oh, yes, two teaspoons of soda, and one and a half teaspoons of salt.”

“Just beat the butter and sugar together, add the nineteen eggs one at a time–now this is very important–without beating. Then beat the mixture again adding the brandy alternately with the flour, soda, spices, and salt that you’ve sifted together. Then the molasses. Now, take your five pounds of raisins, and three pounds of currants and citron, and gently sprinkle in all eight pounds–slowly now–as you stir. Bake it for three hours if you use cake pans. If you use a milk pan, as I do, you’d better leave it in the oven six or seven hours.”

Now does that remind you of anyone? Someone who loves to cook and share recipes? Although she gained fame posthumously as a poet, during her lifetime, she was well known around Amherst for her skill at baking.

Emily Dickinson Black Cake
Emily Dickinson Black Cake

You can see my modernized version of Emily’s Black Cake here. In fact, Emily’s recipe intrigued me from the first time I read the play. And while I was rehearsing, I experimented with baking the cake. Then I made some to be sold during intermissions at my performance of Belle of Amherst. I have also made her ginger bread and her coconut cake. All delicious.

My Connection to Emily Dickinson

You don’t work so long on the development of a one-woman show without feeling very close to the subject, and I certainly felt close to Emily. As I’m sure you know, she was born, lived and died in Amherst, Massachusetts, where her family had been leaders in the community and the college of Amherst. When I did that play so many years ago, I never dreamed that I had more than just the connection that comes with acting.

A few years ago, as I was tracing my great-great-etc-grandparents from New England, I came across 6th great-grandmother Elizabeth Dickinson Belding. She came from Amherst. Surely she must have been related to Emily Dickinson and her family.

The Dickinson Family seemed to be bewilderingly large and spread out over New England, and I was at that time pursuing another line of ancestors, so I set aside the notion that I might be related to Emily. But I did not forget.

Today I looked for a family tree for Emily and compared her ancestors to the ancestors of my (much earlier) 6th great-grandmother, Elizabeth Dickinson Belding and her father (my 7th great-grandfather). II only had to go back one more generation to find my connection to Emily. Here is what I found, starting with our MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor), Nathaniel Dickinson– my 8th great-grandfather, and Emily’s 5th great -grandfather.

My Tree

  • Nathaniel Dickinson 1601-1676
  • Hezekiah Dickinson 1646-1707
  • Elizabeth Dickinson Belding 1693-1797
  • Samuel Belding 1719-1793
  • Martha Belding Bassett 1756-1842
  • William Bassett 1779-1833
  • Mary Bassett Morgan 1810-1890
  • Harriette Morgan Stout 1842-1928
  • Vera Stout Anderson 1881-1964
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser 1906-2003
  • Vera Marie Badertscher

Emily Dickinson Tree

  • Nathaniel DIckinson 1601-1676
  • Samuel Dickinson 1638-1711
  • Ebenezer Dickinson 1690-?
  • Nathan Dickinson SR 1712-1796
  • Nathan Dickison Jr. 1735-1825
  • Samuel Dickinson 1775-1838
  • Edward DIckinson 1803-1874
  • Emily Dickinson 1830-1886

You will notice that my line comes down through the women in the tree, starting with Elizabeth Dickinson, the daughter of Hezekiah Dickinson. The only exception is William Bassett (1779-1833). Emily’s line, on the other hand, follows the male Dickinson line all the way. My 7th great-grandfather is the brother of her 4th great grandfather, Samuel DIckinson (1638-1711). Samuel is my 8x great uncle.

Emily’s family started in North America in Connecticut, but for four generations before Emily, they had lived in Amherst, Massachusetts.

How appropriate that my bookworm great-great grandmother turns out to be the same generation as Emily DIckinson! And had Emily, instead of being a recluse, had been married and had children, her great-great grandchildren would be in my generation.

The conclusion? Emily Dickinson is my 6th cousin, 3 times removed. Don’t get confused by the “removed”. The three times removed simply means that once you find our MRCA you look at how many generations difference there are between that person in my line and in her line. In this case it is 8x great grandfather and 5x great grandfather–so, 3x removed.

Emily Dickinson Has a Poem For It

How better to end this little tribute to my new-found cousin than with one of her poems. This one is used as the foreword to the printed Belle of Amherst.

Me--come! My dazzled face
In such a shining place!
Me--hear! My foreign Ear
The sounds of Welcome--there!

The Saints forget
Our bashful feet--

My Holiday, shall be
That They--remember me--
My Paradise--the fame
That They--pronounce my name--

Emily Dickinson