45. Benjamin's Generation

When Daniel McNitt of Salem drew his will in 1823 he left bequests to two sons, Benjamin and Alexander, and three daughters: Sally McLachrey, Betsey Whipple, and Polly Thompson.  Had John Moodie, the jack-of-all-trades who did the writing for six shillings, given him better advice Daniel might have enumerated the sons for whom he had previously provided, for the benefit of the record.

James, eldest son, inherited the farm and probably had the responsibility of paying the cash bequests to the heirs who were named.  Three other sons were not mentioned; they were Daniel, Elijah, and Stephen.  The three had been buying land in Cayuga County only a few years before, and the natural conclusion must be that their father gave them their inheritances in cash at the time they most needed help.  Benjamin presumably bought his first farm unaided.  Alexander, given a legacy, had according to the family account "moved west."  Where, we have no present idea. [SEE NOTE 1]

Benjamin, Daniel, Elijah, and Stephen settled in Brutus Township, Cayuga County, within a few miles of Port Byron, a little place about eight miles north of Auburn, the county seat.  Benjamin, my great-grandfather, was first of the four to buy a home, He began with sixty acres, bought on January 13, 1812 when he was twenty-seven, from Benjamin Whitmore.  He paid $220, and Elijah witnessed the signing of the deed.  On January 18, 1816, Elijah bought 200 acres from John Davenport of Stamford, Connecticut (possibly an investor in frontier lands) for $800.  A little more than a year later, on April 18, 1817, Elijah and his wife Esther (Whitmore) deeded half of this land to Stephen McNitt; consideration $400.

Daniel McNitt 2nd bought fifty-six and a quarter acres on March 4, 1819, from James Hamilton for $225.  Four days later, Daniel and his wife Jane (Moore) deeded this tract to Robert Andrews for $560.  Four years later Daniel bought fifty acres from Samuel Moore for $650; the deed was executed only a few days before Deacon Daniel drew his will.

Elijah McNitt (born 1788) died intestate in April 1828. [SEE NOTE 2]   His brother Stephen filed on July 25 a petition asking for the appointment of Thomas Dole of Brutus as guardian for four minor children: Sidney, aged sixteen; Harriet, thirteen; Ira, eleven, and Horace, six.  Five years later when Sidney reached his majority he began appearing in real estate transactions as a seller.

Horace, born in 1821, married Sarah Ellen Whitney of an old Long

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Island family; they removed in 1845 to Muskegon County, Michigan, and then to Sparta in Kent County where the children were born: Adeline, Henry Clay (March 19, 1849), Albert Clarence, Sarah Ellen, and Horace Elwyn.  Between 1860 and 1865 the family moved to LaClede, Fayette County, Illinois; then in 1877 Horace returned to Michigan, finally settling in Haring Township, Wexford County, where he took over a store already established by his son Henry Clay, with the Haring postoffice.  There Horace remained until his death on August 18, 1891; his widow lived until February 28,1904.

Henry Clay McNitt returned from Illinois to Michigan in 1871, worked in stores in Trent and Bailey about four years, and then became proprietor of a store in Bailey with Dan Gallantine as partner.  In 1880 he removed to Wexford County and opened stores in Haring, Round Lake, and Jennings; then another in Cadillac.  Meanwhile he engaged in lumbering enterprises.  Hard times came and he retired in 1892 to operate the old farm in Haring Township; he was a member of the school board and the county Board of Supervisors, and served two terms in the Michigan Legislature, active as a member of the Roads Committee.  His wife was Carrie Belle Anderson, whom he married March 17, 1886.  They had three sons: Clyde, H. Earl, and Clarence.  Clyde, born January 27, 1887, was a teacher for several years and then returned to the old farm, which he operates with his youngest brother Clarence.  The former married Esther Wirick on December 31, 1924; Clarence, born September 3, 1901, married Maybert Edwards in February 1929. There are no children in either family.  Henry Clay McNitt at his death on January 15, 1925, was president and a director of the Michigan Mutual Windstorm Insurance Company of Hastings, Michigan.

H. Earl McNitt, second son of Henry Clay, was born December 25, 1888, and was a farmer in younger years.  He married Bertha Johnson on October 29, 1912. He served on the local school board and the county Board of Supervisors, and in 1925 was elected to the House of Representatives of the Michigan Legislature, where he served twelve years.

During his series of six terms -- when he was for six years chairman of the Roads and Bridges Committee -- he sponsored two bills of particular importance that are still regarded as milestones.  The first of these he introduced in April 1929.  It provided for a State-owned and State operated police radio system, and authorized purchase of equipment for one or more broadcasting stations and the necessary car receiving sets.  It provided further that Michigan cities could buy radio equipment for intercommunication with the State Police system from the State Police at cost.  The bill passed both houses of the Legislature in the month it

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was introduced, was signed by Governor Fred W. Green, and became effective as law on August 28.

According to Charles M. Ziegler, now State Highway Commissioner, the McNitt State Police Radio Act was the first measure of the kind to be adopted by any Legislature in the country.  Mr. Ziegler was Deputy State Highway Commissioner at the time, and his friend Earl McNitt consulted frequently with him in drafting another bill that became the McNitt Highway Act of 1931.  A change of administration two years later caused Mr. Ziegler to resign, but in the interval he probably had a great deal to do with the application of the new law.  He was elected State Highway Commissioner in 1943 and has held the post since.

The Highway Act of 1931 was of marked importance in the development of the excellent highway system of Michigan.  It provided that the Road Commissioners of the eighty-three counties should gradually relieve the officers of 1,226 townships of the development of 68,000 miles of road formerly under their jurisdiction.  It centralized control of all secondary roads under county authority, and made possible greater improvements through a more equable distribution of highway funds.  Quite usually the township road officers had been inexperienced, while the County Road Commissioners had command of machinery and engineering skill.

Earl McNitt was a member of the Mackinac Bridge Commission appointed by Governor Frank Murphy to study the feasibility of building a long bridge over the Straits of Mackinac.  The war halted these studies, which have since been resumed.

Early in 1933 all the banks in Michigan were closed for a short period by order of the Governor.  One of these was the Cadillac State Bank, in which were deposited funds of the Grange Mutual Fire Insurance Company, of which Earl McNitt had been secretary since 1927.  The company was the largest depositor.  To safeguard the interests of all, a Depositors Corporation was organized in 1934 and Earl McNitt was elected president.  He did some very hard work for the corporation; when he finished operations in 1944 every depositor had 100 cents on the dollar and three percent interest on his deposit for as long as it had been impounded.

At the time of his death on October 26, 1944, Earl McNitt was chairman of the rationing board and head of the Office of Civilian Defense in Cadillac, a member of the State Tire Rationing Board, and a member of the board of trustees of the First Congregational Church.  After his death, the directors of the Grange Mutual Fire Insurance Company elected his widow, Mrs. Bertha McNitt, to succeed him as secretary.

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A son and a daughter were born to Earl and Bertha McNitt.  Helen Cornelia, born March 1, 1916, has been a teacher of commercial subjects.  On August 29, 1942 she married George Arthur Hyry, a teacher of social science at Kalamazoo.  He interrupted this work in 1949 for a course at the State Teachers Training College at Ypsilanti, where he is now a member of the faculty.

Harry Earl, born February 19, 1921, had attended college two years when he was inducted into the Army in August 1942.  He was in service three years, two of them overseas; he became a staff sergeant, and received five battle stars for actions in Europe in which he participated.  He married Mary Lucille Vrancic February 18, 1950, and is in the insurance business with his mother.

It must be evident that in reporting so many individual lives in capsule biographies and brief notices, something short of justice win be meted those whose performances have been substantial rather than showy.  Examples are Henry Clay McNitt and his son Earl, who won deep respect.  We may be quite sure there was drama in the fight to save the bank at Cadillac, not only for the benefit of its largest depositor, but also for the sake of scores of plain, hardworking people whose anxiety Earl McNitt took satisfaction in relieving.  Men who build their communities and serve on boards and in Legislatures often do not make the history books, but they are the steel and concrete of the national structure, hidden behind glossy marbles and terra cotta tiles and glass bricks.

In turning back to the young men centered around Port Byron in Cayuga County -- and this interior village was called a port because it was beside the Erie Canal -- we may give a moment's heed to one of their neighbors.  In Port Byron in the 1820s there lived a young man who did odd jobs: repairing machines and doing carpenter work and the like for a dollar a day.  His name was Brigham Young, and so quiet was he that no McNitt dreamed he ever would become one of the militant heads of the Mormon Church, and the husband and father of many, many persons.

Stephen McNitt, who bought 100 acres from his brother Elijah in 1817, married Nancy Goff.  Their son Joseph, born in 1823, married Lydia Sanders in 1848, and lived in the township of Cato, across the Seneca River to the north.  Joseph and all his brothers changed their surname to McNett.  Next in Stephen's family was Alonzo (1826-1912), who married Lucinda Petty in 1852.  They had a daughter, Josephine, who married Charles Ferguson.  Alonzo and Lucinda had no son; they adopted William Adelbert, son of their friends John and Lydia Lurch.

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Other children of Stephen and Nancy McNitt were William, Candace, Mary, and Anson.  That practically completes the direct male line of Stephen McNitt; no available records prove his sons William and Anson married.

Stephen's son Alonzo was a Union soldier in the Civil War, and strikingly enough was recorded in the 1870 census by the original family name of McNaught.  Alonzo's adopted son, William Adelbert (Lurch), married Mary Elston in 1887.  Three sons are living: Fred McNett, born in 1889, farmer in Cato Township, who married Emma Dickerson, a teacher, in 1915; Anson, born in 1892, who married Vera Chaffee and lives in Mexico, Oswego County; Howard, born in 1893, who married Marion Clarke and lives also at Mexico.  A daughter Agnes died young.  None of the three sons of William Adelbert, adopted by Alonzo and Lucinda McNett, has a son of his own.

Daniel McNitt, the Deacon's namesake, married Jane Moore; their children included John, Samuel, William, and Daniel, and several daughters, one of whom was Polly.  This family removed to Ohio, and several eventually settled at Ravenna, Muskegon County, Michigan.  John, eldest of the sons, born about 1827, had a family of eleven children, including four sons: Samuel, Daniel, William, and John, Jr. [SEE NOTE 3]  The latter removed to Washington, D. C. and spent many years in the Postoffice Department.  His sons John and Arnold McNitt took medical degrees and are practicing physicians in Washington.

The second son of Daniel and Jane McNitt was Samuel, who married his cousin Cordelia and lived for many years on a farm at Trent, Michigan, twenty miles east of the city of Muskegon.  He spent his later years at Ravenna and lived to be nearly 100.  He had one son, Charles, who lived in an adjoining house at Trent with his wife Ida.  They had one daughter, Vera, who married Charles Ives.

Benjamin McNitt, eldest of the four young men from Salem who bought farms around Port Byron, married Rebecca Worden.  She was a great-grandmother of whom I like to think as a woman of character and mental and physical energy.  A nephew of hers was the Lieutenant Worden who commanded the single-turreted Monitor -- the "Yankee cheesebox on a raft" -- in the famous engagement with the Confederate ironclad Merrimac in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in 1862.  This was the battle that revolutionized naval construction and warfare.  Students of history will recall that when the baffled Merrimac withdrew from the encounter, the final- blast from one of her guns seriously injured the eyes of Lieutenant Worden, who was directing the Monitor from a small pilot-house on the bare deck.

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Benjamin and Rebecca McNitt had sixteen children, all of whom lived to maturity but two: little Joseph, and a baby whose name has been lost.  The others were Sylvester, Sylvanus, Peter, Elijah, Andrew, Hiram, Pardon, Franklin, Cinderella, Margaret (sometimes called Margot), Jane, Mary, Cordelia, and Emily.

Cordelia has been accounted for: she married her cousin Samuel and lived with him across the street from my childhood home at Trent.  She and her sisters Emily and Margaret left their home in Niagara County, New York, in 1853 to visit their brother Sylvester at Hartford, Michigan, and perhaps to do a little prospecting for beaus.  The three found their men.  Margaret married John Warren, a widower, and Emily married his son Benjamin.  Of the other sisters -- Cinderella, Jane, and Mary -- we have no records.

Benjamin McNitt, head of this large family, was a man very much like his father Daniel: sergeant in the Revolution, buyer of lands forfeited by Tories, and responsible citizen.  If Benjamin cherished the traditions of Presbyterianism, as he evidently did, he was the last in his line to do so for a while; a long period of indifference was to follow.  This may be partly explained by an incident involving his son Elijah, to be narrated in the next chapter.

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Notes added by William H. McNitt

August 14, 1999

1. Alexander moved in 1803 to Virgil Township, Cortland County, New York (see chapter 41 which concerns him, although the author of the Saga incorrectly identifies him as Alexander McNitt, Jr.).  By the time of his father's death he was living in Mexico, Oswego County, New York.  In 1838, he moved to Northville, La Salle County, Illinois, and spent the rest of his life there. Return to chapter text.

2. The guardianship papers were were filed in the Cayuga County Surrogate Court on July 25, 1828, but Elijah died in April 1823.  I have had the original Surrogate Court record checked twice to verify the 1823 date.  Return to chapter text.

3. Daniel McNitt, Jr. married Jane Moores, daughter of Samuel Moores and Margaret Vandike. The Saga lists sons named John and Daniel, but they were actually one individual named Daniel John McNitt (he was known as John).  John was not the oldest son.  That was Joseph (b. 1815) who is not mentioned in the book. John was the third son and sixth child in this family. He was born in 1828.  His brother Samuel, who is described in the Saga as the second son, was actually the fourth son and youngest child of Daniel and Jane. Return to chapter text.


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