"Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go"

Our little village of Greenhills was founded on April 1, 1938. Coincidentally, that was also the day--seventy years later--of Stephen's and my first house payment here in our new home: April Fool's Day, indeed. Our village was the second in what turned out to be just three quasi-Utopian experimental "Green Towns" built under the direction of Rexford G. Tugwell--there's a name!-- who guided the Resettlement Administration, an offshoot of FDR's New Deal and WPA. And although we are not "Pioneers," the nickname for original residents and the current middle school's sports teams, it got me thinking about pioneers, and town founders, and how they relate to my family's history. (I also must add that I enjoy the word "founder," as it relates to "find." Can one found a city or just find it, and how do you find it if it is not already there? But I digress; that is a musing for another, linguistic blog....)

Besides having some Mayflower ancestry (ladida! and about whom more at a later date; someone remind me closer to--perhaps?--Thanksgiving) on my father's side, there are a number of other pioneers:

Thomas Steele (1683 - 22 Feb 1748) and Martha Morrison (1686 - 22 Oct 1759), maternal seventh great-grandparents, arrived from Aghadowey Parish, Northern Ireland in one of five ships full of other Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, and were among the sixteen families who founded the town of Nutfield (present day Londonderry), Rockingham, New Hampshire in 1719.

Capt Samuel Cherry (15 May 1756 - 27 Oct 1825), a maternal fifth great-grandfather, helped settle New Haven, Oswego, New York in 1810, and was appointed one of the first four justices of the town after its formation in 1813.

Isaac Burnett (1780 - 1860), a paternal fourth great-grandfather, was one of the founders of Newport, Penobscot, Maine in 1814, and served as one of the first school agents, for District 5.

Which is all very historico-glamorous, but perhaps not that exciting. After all, we still see new cities being formed, although I cannot imagine that in the future anyone will find much to boast about if their ancestors were early residents of [insert your local soul-less suburb here]. But what about founding a whole state? Which leads me to the particular subject of this post: Stephen Addison Davenport, another paternal fourth great-grandfather, who sports a name nearly as posh as that of the aforementioned Mr Tugwell.

The Davenports are first recorded in America in 1640, when Thomas Davenport (abt 1615 - 1685, paternal tenth great-grandfather) appeared in the Dorchester (present-day Boston), Massachusetts church records. Successive generations of Davenports lived and farmed throughout New England, each son moving away from his birthplace.

Eliphalet Davenport (1750 - 1835, paternal sixth great-grandfather) fought in the Revolutionary War, enlisting as a Connecticut State Trooper under (then) Capt Israel Putnam (a distant connection on my maternal side) in 1775. According to his Pension records, he served variously as a guard, teamster, and even as personal waiter to Col Thomas Brown, until his discharge in 1779.

His grandson, Stephen Addison Davenport, was born in 1806. He farmed and began raising his family in Madison, New York. In 1841, he moved to the recently-formed Wisconsin Territory and bought a farm near Brighton, in Kenosha County. The move may have come about as a suggestion from his wife, Alma Holmes Doty. She was a descendant of those Mayflower folks to whom I referred earlier, and who seemed to have come from a higher social echelon than the simple Davenport farm-folks; one of her cousins was the Territory's second Governor, James Duane Doty. It is possible that James Doty may have exerted his influence, because Stephen Davenport was elected to serve in the Second Constitutional Convention, representing Racine. Sixty-nine men were picked for this convention, as "men of high standing in their respective Communities" according to Halford Erickson, Commissioner of Labor and Industrial Statistics, in his Blue Book of the State of Wisconsin, 1903. [One wonders what he would make of all the recent goings-on in Wisconsin....] Stephen Addison Davenport was one of the signers of the State Constitution, adopted 1 February 1848 and ratified by popular vote the following month.

One might think that Stephen Davenport, having recently turned forty, fathered six children, and being one of the founders of the thirtieth state admitted to the union, might have taken a well-deserved rest; one would be mistaken. Apparently, the adventurous Davenport gene would not allow this, and Stephen Davenport decided to strike out for even-newer territory: California, and its gold rush. Unfortunately, he was a year too late.

On 30 April 1850, the Salem Company was formed, electing a Capt Noble as their head. It was a group of about two-hundred men, who would travel to California to seek their fortunes. Stephen Addison Davenport was appointed one of Capt Noble's assistants. Among other things, the Company passed a resolution, "excluding Ardent Spirits as a beverage" and disallowing gambling and card playing. The sober group intended to depart from Iowa on 6 May.

Remarkably, there are a number of extant letters from Stephen Davenport to his wife and children, whom he left in the care of a sixteen year old farmhand, Austin Geer. They give a fascinating view into the times.

From Kanesville (now Council Bluffs, the historic starting point of the Mormon Trail), Iowa, 4 May 1850:

 "...now as far as Iowa is concerned it is not a fine nor pleasant nor delightful Country.... There is in this place at this time and in the settlement about 10000 inhabitants and 99 one-hundreths of them are Mormons they are living in mizerable huts as a general thing. Corn is worth 2 dollars per bushel.... [T]he rush of Emigration is Enormous...at this place probably from 5 to 8 thousand people... at St Joe there is said to be 3 times as many as there is here if so great God what the rush must be....Now send the children to school this summer if convenient all except enough to keep you company. Do not be loansum....   [W]e lodge in our waggons nights and bake our own pancakes and keep ourselves as clean as we can but if you or any other person could see the crowd that is here and the situation that we are in, you would then and there see how necessary it is for a man to have a woman.... [G]ood day until I have a chance to wright you from the Eldorado or gold diggings."

And again from Kanesville, 8 May:

 "...tomorrow is the Day we are set to Depart from the White Settlement but I am doubtful whither we get away before the Middle of the week.... Take good care of the pigs there in the pen, yours lovingly S A Davenport"

There are crowds, delays, high prices, and Stephen Davenport continues to suffer from an unknown illness.

From Fort Laramie, Wyoming, 1 June:

 "...dry and cold weather. Grass has but just started our horses have seen hard times. There are a few Soldiers Stationed at this place. The fort and about it is neat and clean. Soldiers neatly dressed and they are in a Romantic place you may Depend. Now in Reguard to myself and my health I am well and Compared with when I last wrote you still I have an occasional pain in my Side and Breast but I do not feel alarmed about it.... I have not seen a white man or woman Except the Emigrants for 590 miles and Do not Expect to See another for 1100 miles more. But I must say to you that I see all kinds of folks and from Every State in the union and they all appear friendly.... Now I want you to Make and Eat you and the children A first rate pie plant pie for me for O God how I long for one and after Eating feed the pigs that I may have Some pork when I get holme next winter.... Now I had the pleasure of Seeing the peak of Laramie that is the fore taste of the Rocky mountains it is now Covered with Snow and ice. This is the most Romantic Country in the world. I believe it is well worth Seeing. We have seen plenty of Buffalo have seen them in Droves."

Fort Laramie, c 1845, by A J Miller

From the North Fork of the American River, Placer County, California, 23 September 1850:

"Dear Wife and Children you must Excuse me for not Writing oftener than what I have, But permit me in the most humble manner to Say to you that our convenience for Writing is not as nice as when we are at holme.... Our Journey across the Plains was Some what A tedious one. We Run Short or porvisions when about a hundred miles from our Journeys End and to that Degree that we were obliged to put our Selves on rations.... This was a hard stent for me after living to Be 43 years old and always having Anough.... We Came through Safe and Sound with our team. All the horses lived through. Old Polly I sold for 85 Dollars, old Nancy I traded to the Indians for A pony and Sold the pony for 80 dollars this made 165 Dollars for my horses, our waggon we throwed away and paid 10 Dollars for another.... I have not lost one Single Day, And have made about 7 Dollars per Day Since.... We arrived here in the mines the 1 Day of August we was from 75 days Coming through the Bluffs.... [We] have been Building a Dam for across the river for purpose of working the bed of the river but have not yet worked it. Digging and washing gold is A hard Business.... I Can only Say that I Shall Come [home] as Soon as I have Money enough to pay my Debts and to get there with. I want you to guide and Direct the Steps of our Children and Say to them that I never lay myself Down on my rather Miserable Bed without thinking of all of you.... For three Months... I lay on the ground without any Shelter over me but my two blankets And was pretty Comfortable too at that. Sleep was never sweeter....We have of late had two quite Rainy Days. This they say is an unheard of thing.... Now I have got a Small but Merry pretty Speciman of pure native gold that I am going to Send to you in this sheet that you may see the nature of the Weed in its natural State this may not look as nice to you as it does to me...."

Stephen writes of the disappointment of the company as to what they expected, finding too many men and not enough gold. His health takes another turn as well.

10 October:

"Dearest and only thought of Woman, I have now Set Down after supper and A hard Days work to inform you that I am yet Alive and well and in as prosperous circumstances as I could expect to be.... Provisions are going up higher But we have got our flour and meat and Butter the latter at one Dolllar per lb. Wouldnt you like to get that for yours.... I suppose you and the girls are knitting your fingers off this fall and Just Save A pare for me mine have got holes in them.... Diging gold is A lottery and Damnd Bewitching. Doo not Believe Anything Else let whom will tell it... for this is A hard way to get Rich and A worse one for Comfort or happiness. All the wealth of the Californias would not induce me to Come on the trip again. All though and for all of the Assertions that I have here made I am not Sorry that I have Come. I have now Seen for myself and know for myself and if I am fortunate enough to get holme Alive and well and once more Enjoy out little family I Shall Be as Rich as I Desire.... Kiss little Willie for me and the younger ones the old ones are to Big to kiss But I doo not forget them. If Austin is there tell him to Be a good Boy."

Stephen Addison Davenport died the following month, from an unknown cause, without ever returning home. The Kenosha Democrat of 19 June 1852 reported that on 11 May, his estate was settled, some of the Davenport farmland being sold off to repay his debts.

Stephen Addison Davenport was born 20 November, 1806, probably in Pennsylvania. He married Alma Holmes Doty (9 Oct 1814 - 10 Aug 1879) in August 1835 in Madison, New York, her birthplace. Shortly after the birth of their third daughter in 1840, the family moved to a farm near Brighton, in the recently organized Wisconsin Territory (the farm stayed in the family until 1952). Three additional children followed, the last in 1849. The following year, Stephen Davenport went west with the Salem Company (to which he was appointed an Assistant) to make his fortune in the California Gold Rush. He died in Placer County, California, November 1850, but is erroneously shown in the 1850 United States Federal Census as still residing in Brighton, Kenosha, Wisconsin in September.

1 Stephen Addison Davenport married Alma Holmes Doty.

2 Henrietta Davenport (Jan 1836 - May 1904) married Charles Swarts (12 Feb 1835 - 8 Jun 1909), son of John Swarts and Mary McDonald, in Wisconsin, in 1859.

3 Ella Swarts (1862 - Apr 1899) was born and lived her entire life in Minnesota. She married Charles A Burnett (Feb 1856 - 17 Jan 1930), son of Nathaniel S Burnett and Rachel Elizabeth Squire, in Scott County, Minnesota, September 1879.

4 Alfred Nathaniel Burnett (19 Aug 1883 - 31 Jul 1959) married Jennie Arleta Eaton (14 Mar 1891 - 15 Apr 1979), daughter of Dor Henry Eaton and Anna B A Miller, in Minnesota, in 1909.

5  Leroy Stanley Burnett (31 Aug 1910 - 11 May 1980) married Hazel Lucille Erickson (6 Sep 1910 - 6 May 2002), daughter of Erick Albert Erickson and Johanna Maria Svard, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 21 June 1933.

6. [Living] Burnett married Beverly Alane Brown (8 Aug 1934 - 7 Mar 2010), daughter of Dana Earl Brown and Myrna Margaret Severin, in Long Beach, California, on 4 March 1961.

7  Your humble blogger.


  1. It's pretty mind-boggling to be able to trace relatives back so far and no so much detail about them. I imagine in the future they will all just pull up our facebook feeds and get to know far more about us that they would ever want to know.

    I find it unsurprising that a member of our family would have founded a town called Nutfield.

  2. I can only imagine our descendants' (well, grand-nieces and -nephews, more likely) responses to Facebook postings; I often find them hard to believe myself! Which brings up the other alternative... that there is a huge data crash, and that all of the 21st century is lost. Not that that's a bad thing. You have also anticipated the theme of next week's post: the amazing amount of information available online, like photos of my cousin's underwear, to cite just one example.

  3. Ha! Indeed. There is a staggering amount of information online now. I once saw a graph of how it has increased and the spike in the last couple of years is unbelievable and truly seems unsustainable. And it is all being archived and recorded. Take a look at http://www.archive.org/web/web.php and trip yourself for a few hours.

    It all does make me wonder if it will make research easier or harder to sort through in the future. Some day, my underwear will be a needle in a haystack of underwear. Hell, it already is.

  4. Fascinating reading! Thank you so much for posting this information. S.A. Davenport was married to the sister of my 3rd maternal great-grandfather, Linas Doty. He was also living in Kenosha, Wisconsin in the early 1850's. Alma, along with the children still at home relocated to Green County, WI, and were living with Linas and his family there in 1860. I knew that Stephen Davenport had died in 1850, I had found the same probate notice that you have posted above, but had no idea that he had died in the gold fields. Coincidentally, my family and I lived for nine years in the very area near the North Fork of the American River in Placer County CA that you describe. We actually lived between the North Fork and the Middle Fork. I wonder where S.A.D. was buried. I know that to be wild and rugged country, even today.

  5. Beesknees: Our common ancestors, then, would be Stephen S Doty and Polly Holmes, my fifth-great and your fourth-great grandparents. Apparently that makes us fifth cousins, once removed! I was excited to read you used to live in SAD's old home. I, too, often wonder where he is buried; searching for his burial/cemetery records is on my long list of genealogical to-dos! I looked at your blog, and it is charming. We seem to have many interests in common. My father's side of the family all live in Washington state, so I am very familiar with it. Whereabouts are you? I will look through my Davenport papaers and see if I can find anything else about Linas and his descendants to share with you. Robert

  6. Hello, Cousin Robert. I'm Teri, by the way... Pleased to meet you. Yes, my fourth-great grands were Stephen S. Doty and Polly Holmes. I have their headstone photos somewhere, will have to see if I can find them if you are interested.

    I've been researching since about 1996 when my father passed. My mother passed less than a year later and she is the Doty connection. She never knew she was a Mayflower descendant.

    We are presently retired in southern Oregon after living all over the country from CA, to Idaho, to Alaska and most recently the south coast of Georgia with a few others scattered in between. My husband spent many years as a federal agent and we call ourselves lucky to have lived in so many varied places.

    I let my imagination go when I read about SAD mining on the North Fork. We left in the late 90's, but there is still a lot of mining going on in that area, administered by BLM on federal lands. Miners would live on their claims, out in the middle of nowhere and as you can imagine,there was a fair amount of backwoods justice, even in the late 90's. There still is from what our friends in the area tell us.

    Again, thanks so much for posting such interesting information.