43. Battlers and Babies

We leave the fortunes of Deacon Daniel's line for later chapters and turn to sons of Barnard McNitt of Palmer: the Captain's brothers.  Little can be added to what has been said of James.  Adam, one of the twins born in 1744, eludes us entirely and may have died in childhood.  Of John and Andrew, Barnard's youngest sons, we are soon to learn.

As we know, William and his wife Elisabeth Thomson went to Nova Scotia as colonists in 1761 and settled at Onslow.  The Nova Scotians have a later chapter reserved for them.  James saw considerable service in several enlistments in the French and Indian War, and appeared later at Salem to take part as a soldier in the Revolution.

David, who married Martha Patrick at Rutland, removed in the period of the late 1760s to a part of the township of Charlemont south of the Deerfield River in Hampshire County, then called No-Town because of confusion in land grants.  The residents of No-Town, cut off from local government by the river, petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts on December 11, 1778, asking that their district be set up as a new township.  David McNitt was one of the petitioners.  The General Court acceded on April 14, 1779, and No-Town became the township of Buckland.

That is the last we hear of David.  The 1790 census discovered the widowed Martha living in Buckland with four males under sixteen, sons no doubt, and four females, whom we may take for daughters.  A descendant, Mrs. W. B. Caldwell of Pearisburg, Virginia, wrote in 1949 that two of David's sons were Barnard, born in 1760, who enlisted from Buckland for service in the 10th Massachusetts regiment in January 1781, and Adam, born in 1763, who enlisted from Shelburne in the same month, at the age of seventeen, for service in the Continental Army.  The Massachusetts records list another, Barnabas, who enlisted from the adjoining township of Ashfield.  The History of Buckland by Kendrick and Kellogg is unsure of Barnabas, confusing him with young Barnard, but we may regard him as another grandson of old Barnard.

Young Adam McNitt took a war bride before going away in 1781 for two years; she was Margaret Clark of Ashfield, and only fourteen.  When the war was over they began a family, and these were their children, according to the records of Mrs. Caldwell, supplemented by those in The History of Buckland:

1. James, whose marriage intentions with Roba Jones were published November 27, 1805.  2. David, b. January 3, 1789, marriage intentions with

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Jemima Ellis published October 18, 1814; Jemima bore six daughters and two sons.  3. Adam.  4. Ezra, b. 1802. 5. Sarah, or Sally, marriage intentions with Leonard Pike of Whitingham, Vermont, published November 22, 1806, bore three children and died young.  6. Patty, m. Asa Farnsworth, bore fourteen children and died at forty.  7. Susan, m. Reuben Bates and had four children.  8. Mary, m. Elijah Scofield, bore five children, d. at Hartfield, Chautauqua County, New York.  9. Prudence, b. July 12,1807, m. 1st Marvin Davis, m. 2d Emulus Davis, one son, one daughter.  10. Harriet, b. 1812, m. Joseph Totman, seven sons, four daughters.  11. Naba, m. Calvin Hitchcock, five children.  12. Alvina, b. 1813, m. Norman Ladd.

A fascinating aspect of this recital of life in the invigorating Berkshire Hills is that we have accounted for fifty-two grandchildren for Adam and Margaret McNitt, without being able to include the children of James, Adam, Ezra, and Alvina, who may have augmented the total of grandchildren to nearly seventy.

Adam and Margaret McNitt remained in Massachusetts until 1812, when they removed to Stockton in Chautauqua County, New York.  Some of their children followed them to the new community.  Margaret died there in 1817 at the age of fifty, which may or may not seem too young for a tired mother and grandmother of nearly eighty persons.

Three years later Adam married a widow, Mercy Searles of Ellery, New York.  He was still hale at fifty-seven -- he lived to be eighty-five -- but there is no account of any more children or grandchildren.  He was living in Granville, Licking County, Ohio, in 1832, and he died in Berkshire Township, Delaware County, on June 24, 1848.  His widow Mercy applied for a pension subsequently, got it, and according to the Bureau of Pensions was still living in 1855, seventy-two years after Adam finished his service in the Continental Army at the end of the Revolution.

The first of Adam's sons was James, and it was either he or a son of the same name who became the subject of a story dug up by WPA workers in the depression years of the 1930s.  Considerable historical research of a regional character was assigned in those days to persons on relief who were physically unsuited to manual toil.  The story was told to Charles H. Hendrickson of Medford, Massachusetts, with the design of humbling his pride in relationship to the clan of McNaught, including McNutts and McNitts.  This is the story:

James McNitt and his family once shared a house with a widow who was receiving poor relief from the town.  The selectmen suspected he was thus receiving indirect public aid, and sent a messenger to advise James that a vacant house had been found for him, and to direct him to move his family there without loss of time.  James moved.  Some time

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later he reported that he had just harvested the best crops in the community, and that his eldest daughter was about to marry a substantial young man.

Mr. Hendrickson, undisturbed by the tale and the taunts, quipped: "Well, James did better than some WPA workers seem able to do."

The Buckland history reports that Fanny R., daughter of James and Roby McKnight, married George H. Innis on July 17, 1873.  Whether this is the James McNitt family of the story cannot be said, but the item reminds me to say that the surname McNitt appeared often as McNight in Buckland, and eventually as McKnight.  Schuyler W. McKnight, born at Whitingham, Vermont, and long a selectman and assessor at Buckland, died at fifty-three in January 1879.  His son Clifton L. McKnight, for many years town clerk and treasurer and member of the school committee at Buckland, left at death in 1927 the sum of $5,000 to establish a scholarship fund to help in the education of worthy boys and girls.  The interest from the fund was maintaining two girls in schools in Springfield and Northampton when the Buckland history was written in 1934.  Clifton McKnight never married.

As we take our last look at Buckland we discover in the town history one of those peculiar little items that perhaps could not originate anywhere else than in early New England.  In 1798 Robert McNitt deeded a tract of about twenty-five acres, said to be part of Wyman's Grant.  Later investigation indicated this tract, which to this day is called the "Rob Lot," was an overlooked, unsurveyed strip lying between two grants.  No one ever has been able to discover who deeded the "Rob Lot" to Robert McNitt.  It was a bit of no-man's land in No-Town.  Nor is it possible to discover a Robert McNitt among the kin of Barnard McNitt in Buckland.  Who was he?  Another of David's sons?  How came he by the land he sold in 1798?

JOHN McNITT we remember as the son who referred so reverently to his deceased father in the deed by which he conveyed the Palmer homestead to his brother Andrew in 1776.  John married Mary Fuller at Palmer in 1773, but she was soon lost to view.  In those days young wives often died in their first childbirth, and Mary may have lost a baby and her own life thus.  The records at Rowe show that John subsequently married Patty Wilson in that town, and that the following children were born to them:

Mary, b. March 16, 1777, d. September 21, 1778; Sally, b. May 8. 1779; James, b.  November 29, 1781; Bebe, b. June 16, 1784, d. January 16, 1787;

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John Wilson, b. March 30, 1787; Polly, b. July 24,1789; Patty, b. February 13, 1792; Noah, b. October 28, 1797.

The first of these children to marry was Sally, who was not yet eighteen when notice of an intention of marriage was entered with the town clerk on April 23, 1797.  Her bridegroom was Dorastus Waite of nearby Whitingham, Vermont.  Doubtless Patty was happy when her daughter Sally married, but a mother who would name a June baby girl "Bebe" must have been heartbroken when she died within three years.

John McNitt undoubtedly was a responsible family man, for in addition to his own flock he took in at least one nephew, Samuel, when his brother Andrew the Minute Man was killed late in 1778.  We heard last of Andrew on June 15 of that year, when he deeded the last seventeen and a half acres of his late father's possessions to Seth Adams.  According to Archie McNett of Columbia Crossroads, Pennsylvania, one of his descendants, Andrew was murdered by a helper named Steele while driving a herd of cattle through the mountains.  His family was broken up, and his widow Chloe married again.

Two other sons of Andrew -- Eli and Andrew 2nd -- probably stayed with or near their uncle John.  A record of persons married in Rowe by the Rev. Preserved Smith includes the name of Samuel, who was only twenty when he took Hannah Foster as his bride on September 22, 1797.  Before removing from Rowe, Samuel and Hannah had a daughter Arenda, born January 27, 1795.  Samuel's brother Eli and Lydia Bassett were married in Rowe on September 27, 1796, when Eli was twenty-one.  Lydia was not long for this world; she lost an infant at or soon after its birth in 1797, and that is the last we know of her.  A later chapter will show Eli marrying again in 1802.

After these early marriages and deaths, we find John McNitt and all his kin at Rowe, removing together in 1798 to Cambridge, Washington County, New York, where they remained -- most of them -- for five years within fifteen miles or so of John's brother, Captain Alexander McNitt of Salem.  Then in 1803 John removed to Champion in Jefferson County, which borders on the eastern end of Lake Ontario; there he took up 150 acres of land which he worked with the aid of his eldest son James.  He helped organize a Presbyterian congregation at Champion, and doubtless was a useful citizen until his death on April 13, 1835, within twelve days of his eighty-sixth birthday.  Patty, born July 9, 1758, died February 17, 1848 in her ninetieth year; no doubt every bit as good a citizen as her worthy John.

Of the children of John and Patty McNitt, born at Murrayfield, information is supplied by R. A. Oakes' Genealogical and Family History of the County of Jefferson, New York, published in 1905, thus:

1. Sally m. Dorastus Waite and lived in Champion.  2. James went in middle age to Eden, Erie County and lived to be ninety-five.  3. John Wilson became an agent for the Holland Land Co. at Somerset, Niagara County, and prospered.  We shall return to him.  4. Polly m. Oliver Wright of Clayton.  5. Patty m. Alvin Wright; they became pioneers in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  6. Noah was a man of mettle, recorded as a Minute Man at the time of the battle of Sackett's Harbor in the War of 1812.  His first farm of 112 acres was on Stone Wall Street, Champion; in 1864 he bought a farm of 311 acres.  Noah was a Democrat until 1856, when he helped organize the Republican party in his county.  He died March 26, 1866, a few weeks less than seventy-two years old.

After Noah McNitt's death his sons Frederick H. and Egbert McNitt became joint owners of the farm, where they operated a cheese factory for thirty-one years.  Frederick's children: [SEE NOTE 1]

1. Estella, b. March 1, 1881 , teacher in Champion.  2. Fred, b. December 10, 1882.  3. Gertrude, b. October 9, 1884.  4. Elizabeth, deceased.  5. Ellen, b. August 30, 1891.  6. Leda, b. October 8, 1895.  7.  Charles, b. January 20, 1902.

John Wilson McNitt, as intimated above, was a prosperous land agent in Somerset, Niagara County.  Within a few miles of him lived the large and lively family of my great-grandfather, Benjamin McNitt, to be viewed in another chapter.  John may have invited Benjamin to Niagara County and sold him land, knowing they were second cousins.  After John Wilson McNitt died on March 13, 1851, his estate was administered by his widow Catherine and his son John, and an inventory of his personal goods was filed in the surrogate's office at Lockport.

Inventories are revealing: they lay bare a family's manner of living and attitudes toward life, interests in politics, religion, and education, and tastes in home furnishing.  The long inventory of John Wilson McNitt's personal estate includes these items: a spinning wheel, melodeon, accordion, candle moulds, candle stands, snuffers, a cherry bureau, several feather beds, a black walnut table, a sofa and accompanying stool, two carpet bags, thirty-eight plates and much other china, silverware, bed curtains for tester beds, three pairs of crimson window curtains, many other curtains, and carpets in all rooms, including halls and stairways.

John also left five portraits, four miniatures, and eight other pictures.  Books included two Bibles, a Confession of Faith, Barnes' Notes on the

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Bible, Family Pictures from the Bible, The Sons of Temperance Offering, The Moral Probe, Mission of Enquiry to the Jews, and Bingham's Sandwich Islands.  Perhaps it would be unfair to Catherine to attribute the selection of all these books to John; she may have had an interest in gathering and reading them.

But it was John, no doubt, who cherished the Convention Journal of 1846, the Red Book of the Convention of 1846, and Transactions of the N. Y. Agricultural Society, 1849.  Probably he attended the conventions.  Textbooks included Olmstead's Philosophy, Class Book of Nature, Watts' On the Mind, Boyd's Rhetoric, Rhetorical Reader, Historical Reader, Thompson's Higher Arithmetic, and Science of Government.  These texts may have been studied by the younger John.

Continuing our shameless examination of the contents of this bereaved home, we find that John owned and wore, among other things, a silk hat, a Leghorn hat, an overcoat, one frock coat, a silk vest, one pair of broadcloth pants, one pair of satinet pants, and a gold watch and chain.

SAMUEL McNITT, eldest son of the Minute Man, who lived with his uncle John at Murrayfield until he married, probably never was content to live very far away from him.  When the War of 1812 broke out Samuel was a militia Captain living somewhere near Champion, and some of the things he did are related in Hough's History of Jefferson County, New York.

Brigadier General Jacob Brown, in command of the forces defending the Sackett's Harbor area, sent Captain Forsyth and ninety-five men on September 20, 1812, on a secret expedition to Gananoqui, a Canadian port twenty miles below Kingston, to capture prisoners and ammunition.  Captain Samuel McNitt volunteered to accompany the expedition, and did.  The exploit was successful, and a larger force of 110 men was driven off.  General Brown in reporting to the Governor of New York said all were "deserving the highest praise for their cool, intrepid valor and good conduct."

But this was a mere skirmish compared with what was to follow: the battle of Sackett's Harbor.  In retaliation for various raids, the British General Sir George Prevost on the evening of May 27,1813, embarked 1,200 men on the Wolfe, the Royal George, and Earl of Moira, and three schooners and forty barges.  He was out to teach the Yanks a lesson.

When the small armada made its surprise appearance off Sackett's Harbor the following morning, General Brown was hastily summoned from his plough, for like Cincinnatus this soldier also was a farmer

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between battles.  General Brown naturally leaped on a horse and summoned his militia to join the 300 regulars under his command.  The British delayed their assault until the morning of the 29th, which was a mercy, because the farmer soldiers needed all the time, and more.  The defenders numbered 1,000 men, including the regulars.

Under cover of gunfire from the ships, British soldiers and their Indian allies pushed for shore in thirty-three large boats.  The noise was terrific to unaccustomed ears, and when detached parties of the enemy set fire to large buildings and stores, the billowing smoke disconcerted the nervous militiamen.  The British and the yelling red men made a secure landing, and advanced with confidence while their muskets rattled -- if muskets did rattle.  In any event they rattled the militiamen, who ran under the hot fire.

All ran but one company of 100 men, commanded by Captain Samuel McNitt and Lieutenant Mayo, which had been stationed behind fallen trees in a thicket to flank the attackers on the left.  Captain McNitt's men fired with such effect that the advancing British soldiers began to fall.  Those still on their feet began to waver.  The 300 American regulars, who never had been daunted, began pressing a counter-attack.  The militiamen, recovering from their scare, rejoined the battle and fought valiantly.

General Sir George Prevost concluded the Yanks could wait until some other time for the rest of their lesson, withdrew his men to the ships, and sailed away to fight again another day.  Each side lost about 150 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners.

Captain Samuel found himself regarded as a hero for keeping his company steady and checking the British advance until the regulars could get into telling action.  Something should be done for him, everyone agreed; he deserved a permanent public job.  And that is how Samuel McNitt became lighthouse keeper at Sackett's Harbor.

Twenty years later, on July 5, 1833, Samuel applied for a pension.  He was then sixty-one and still lightkeeper.  In his application he became reminiscent: he told the story of his adoption by his uncle John, and of the war stories his uncle had told that doubtless had made John a hero in his eyes, and stirred him to emulation.  Because he told the Pension Bureau all this, it became possible for the story to get into this book.

We must not forget Andrew McNitt or McNett 2nd, Samuel's youngest brother.  In 1801 young Andrew went prospecting in northern Pennsylvania with his brother Eli, and when they encountered the mountains and streams of the Lycoming Valley Eli was pleased and wished to stay.  But Andrew thought it would be hard to make a living there and

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returned to Jefferson County.  What Eli did will make another chapter; he stayed.

Almost nothing is known of Andrew 2nd except what was written in 1828 in a letter sent Eli and his wife Perthena by Annie Holmes, a daughter of Chloe, the Minute Man's widow, by her second marriage following the murder of her first husband.  Annie wrote that the now aged Chloe couldn't work because of her trembling; her hands trembled so much she could hardly feed herself.  She hadn't heard from Samuel or Andrew lately, but thought Andrew was living near Cazenovia.  His wife looked like death when last observed.

As to Andrew: "I do not know what he is about but I hope he is following some more useful and honorable employment than he has in times past."  This characterization of Andrew has burned the hearts of his family ever since.  Was Andrew a black sheep?  Or was Annie the half-sister a cat, and a very sour puss at that?  Her letter is kept by Ruth McNett, one of Eli's descendants.

One of the Sackett's Harbor McNetts was the father of Colonel A. J. McNett, whose life story is told in the History of Allegany County, New York, published in 1879.  The Colonel did not tell the historian the names of his parents, nor did he say whether his own first name was Andrew or Alexander, or whatever.

Colonel McNett was living in Belmont, New York, in a spacious house with piazzas all around it (as illustrated in a line engraving in the county history) when interviewed about his career.  A. J. was born in Henderson, Jefferson County, February 3, 1822.  After public school, he spent four years at Union Academy in Belleville with the plan of entering the junior class in Union College in 1843.  Health failing, he didn't make it, so he entered the law office of Augustus Ford at Sackett's Harbor and in the autumn of 1847 was admitted to the bar.  On December 7 he married Abby Clark of Belleville, and removed immediately to Buffalo to begin practice in partnership with Hiram Benton.  He served two years as Alderman and one term as City Attorney, and represented his district in the Legislature in the winter of 1858.  In 1859 he removed to Belmont and began practicing law in Allegany County.

In September 1861 he raised a company of volunteers and entered service as a Captain in the 93d New York Infantry, serving with that rank through the Peninsular campaign and with the Army of the Potomac until late in 1863.  Then he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 141st Infantry, serving in the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the 20th Army Corps of the Army of the Cumberland until the close of the war.  He was commissioned Colonel on August 12, 1864.

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He was wounded three times in the Atlanta campaign, and lost his right arm in consequence of the last injury.  He was brevetted Brigadier General of Volunteers for distinguished service in battle.  On July 28, 1866, he was appointed Captain in the regular army, and served from the autumn of 1866 until March 1869 on the staff of General Emery, and afterwards on the staff of General Canby, as Acting Judge Advocate General of the Department of Washington.  Next he was stationed at Petersburg, Virginia, as military commissioner of seven counties, including the city.  Later he was transferred to Suffolk in command of three divisions of the State, and as Mayor of Suffolk.  While in active service he was brevetted Major, Lieutenant Colonel, and Colonel.  In December 1870 he retired from service with the rank of Colonel in the regular army.

A farmer when interviewed for the county history, he owned candidly that he was a lawyer by profession, a soldier by inclination, and a farmer from necessity.  This great-grandson of Barnard McNitt always was trying, and didn't do badly.

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Notes added by William H. McNitt

August 13, 1999

1.  The Saga is wrong, the children listed here are actually grandchildren and their surname was Sage. See the Oakes history.  Return to chapter text.

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