Reunion 2004, Ken Whitney, Josiah Whitney

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Miscellaneous > Whitney Family Reunion, 2004 > Reunion 2004, Ken Whitney, Josiah Whitney

My Elusive Josiah Whitney
by Kenneth L. Whitney
27 June 2004

The Problem

The problem can be defined as a correction to the Whitney genealogy published by Frederick Clifton Pierce about the descendants of John and Eleanor Whitney of Watertown, Massachusetts. Pierce placed Josiah Whitney into the family as #618 on page 120 of his work. I believe that this family was misplaced by Pierce for the following reasons.

#1587 seen in the above record is said to be Josiah's son Josiah, who Pierce claims married Elizabeth Harding. Following forward to #1587 on page 229, we see Josiah with exactly the same ancestry lineage mentioned as supposedly his father, #618, had. One could say that Pierce forgot to place Josiah, Sr. in the stated lineage, but that lineage could not be supported by primary or secondary records.

#618 says that Josiah was the son of Nathaniel, # 207 on page 62 of Pierce's work. The children ascribed to Nathaniel #207 demonstrates Pierce's misunderstanding of this family. Some of those children are his, and some are those of his brother Nathan (#206, Naham). #207 Nathaniel married Hannah, not Molly, Day. Their children were all born in Biddeford, Maine, as contained in the vital records. Here it can be seen that Nathaniel's son Josiah was baptized in Biddeford 7 June 1752, along with the births of all of his siblings. The families of Nathaniel and his brother Nathan are corroborated by Hugh McLellen in the History of Gorham, Maine, pg 827. From McLellan's work, we see that Josiah, son of Nathaniel married Elizabeth Harding in Gorham in 1775.

It is the #1587 lineage of Josiah Whitney, born in Biddeford and lived and married in Gorham, which is correct as Pierce stated it. The #618 lineage of Josiah must then be restated in order to place the family in the correct place. It is this Josiah who married in Brookline, MA and lived in Gaspe, Lower Canada, Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, and probably Salmon River, New Brunswick. How could Pierce misplace Josiah and family? It is based on his misunderstanding of the family of Nathaniel and Hannah (Day) Whitney, and began earlier with his incomplete knowledge of Nathaniel's father and mother, Nathaniel and Sarah (Ford) Whitney of York, Maine and their family.

The Proposed Solution

The solution to this problem involves finding the appropriate place for Josiah's family within the Whitney family. The proposed solution is fully supported by primary and secondary sources of information.

F. C. Pierce's erroneous placement of this family begins with his incomplete understanding of the family of Nathaniel and Sarah (Ford) Whitney of York and Gorham, Maine. Pierce enumerates the family of Nathaniel as #66 on page 37 of his work. Special attention should be paid to the land purchases in York, Maine described therein. In 1708, Nathaniel buys the Sunken Marsh property from Johnson and Mary Harmon. In November of 1715, Nathaniel and Sarah sell this property to Joseph Harris and John Stagpole. In 1717, Nathaniel purchases 20 acres from John Racklift and a small orchard near Rogers' Cave in York. This passage does not explain where the family was from November 1715 to 1717. Their whereabouts can be determined from the Vital Records of Sherborn, MA, the home of Nathaniel's father, Benjamin. Here is found the birth a son, John, to Nathaniel and Sarah Whitney on Nov. 27, 1716.

Pierce does not list John as a son for #66 Nathaniel and Sarah (Ford) Whitney. However, he is listed in this family by Hugh McLellan in his History of Gorham, Maine. This family is found on page 827 of that work. McLellan tells us that John Whitney was a physician, and married Margaret Coffin and Hepshibah Adams. It was Pierce's lack of knowledge of a son John in the Nathaniel and Sarah (Ford) Whitney family that allowed him to misplace Josiah and family among the Whitneys.

It is my contention that Josiah in #618 of Pierce's work should be placed as the son of Dr. John Whitney. This would make his ancestry Josiah, John, Nathaniel, Benjamin, John. This replaces the second Nathaniel in Pierce's work with John. This proposal is supported by both primary and secondary sources. The Vital Records of Eastham, MA, on Cape Cod, contain the first marriage of Dr. John Whitney and Jerusha Knowles on Feb 20, 1739 in Eastham. They also contain a record of the births of their first three children; John, Josiah, and Seth. Josiah was born in Eastham, MA Nov. 7, 1741. The NEHGR, Volume 79, page 382, "The Knowles Family of Eastham, MA" contains the fact that Jerusha Whitney had died after the birth of a fourth son, Nathaniel. Hugh McLellan probably does not include Jerusha Knowles among Dr. John Whitney's wives because she predeceased his appearance in Maine. The NEHGR article also states that Dr. John Whitney left his minor children John and Nathaniel in the care of Josiah Sears, husband of Jerusha's sister, Azubah (Knowles) Sears. This may seem to imply that Dr. John Whitney took his sons Seth and Josiah with him. I will speculate later on Josiah's whereabouts between the death of his mother and his marriage to Hannah. As to Dr. John Whitney, he married second Margaret Coffin on Nantucket Island. Note that Dr. John was living in Boston at the time of the marriage.

Dr. John and wife Margaret had one child, Sarah, born at Sherbourn, Nantucket Island before they removed to York, Maine. There they had two more children, Margaret and John Coffin Whitney. They are documented in the York Vital Records. There is no record of the death of Margaret (Coffin) Whitney, but the births of two children to him and his third wife, Hephzibah Adams, are found there.

Josiah Whitney next appears in the Vital Records of Boston, MA, where his marriage to Hannah Turner is recorded Jan. 24, 1771 in Brookline. Nothing has yet been found about their residence from 1771 to 1779. I am in possession of a photocopy of a land grant petition for 700 acres signed by Josiah July 2, 1790. It states that he has been on the land for which he petitions since he first landed there in 1779, and has made many improvements on the land. He testifies that he has eight children, four of which were born in the province. Therefore, Josiah and Hannah had four children born outside the province. The names of the first four children and their places of birth are still being investigated. It might be noted that the land for which he petitions lies amongst a number of Coffin families. This leads to the conjecture that Josiah may have spent time between the death of his mother and his marriage among his stepmother's Coffin family.

Josiah next appears in records in land grant petitions on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. He lived in a town called Ship Harbour (now called Port Hawkesbury). It was on the Gut of Canso and the Bay of St. George's. I have a town map of Port Hawkesbury showing the land plots for both Josiah and his son Eliab Turner Whitney.

In 1802, Josiah petitioned Despard for title to land he has purchased after his removal from Gaspe to the Bay of St. George's on the Gut of Canso. He has 3 grown sons and daughters. The request was denied. In 1809, Josiah again petitions to Nepean to lease Lot 15 adjoining the town of Ship Harbour. He has lived on the lot for 7 years. He is married and has eight children. The petition was complied with. In 1813, Josiah petitions Swayne for a land grant. He testifies that he was born in Boston, has lived in Cape Breton for eleven years. He is married and has one son. He has received from the Crown 130 acres of land at the Gut of Canso. He asks 200 acres at Cape North. Petition is complied with.

In 1818, Josiah wrote a letter to a Mr. Ward, asking him to present his case to the Governor. He has occupied the land, spent money on it, and has built two houses. If he cannot have the land, he asks that the money he paid in be returned to him. He is 77 years old, and his wife almost as old. In 1819, Josiah petitions Ainslee: he "ignorantly and innocently" sold his land and can obtain no more. He asks to have certain money refunded. He is 77 years old, a Loyalist who has endured great hardships, and during the American War lived among the Indians, eating their food and clothed like them in skins. No result is recorded.

Josiah's son Eliab Turner Whitney also petitioned for land grants at Cape Breton. In 1812 he petitioned Nepean. He was 21 years old, was bon in Gaspe, Quebec, has resided at the Gut of Canso the past nine years. He has a wife and one child. He asks for 300 acres of back land "in the rear of the town, adjoining Josiah Whitney's". In 1815 he petitions Fitzherbert. He says he is a native of Canada, has lived in Cape Breton fourteen years. He is married and has two children. He asks for a lot on the Gut of Canso. It was recommended. In 1818 he petitions Ainslee. He is 28 years old, married, was born at Gaspe in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and has lived at Cape Breton for 14 years. He has previously petitioned, but had not chosen a particular site. He now asks for a lot on the Gut of Canso, and for Lot 3 in the Town of Hawksbury on which he has built a house. The petition was recommended.

Josiah and his son Eliab can be found in the 1818 Census of Cape Breton Island living in Ship Harbor, Gut of Canso. Josiah can be found among the 1813 records of the Cape Breton Militia.

Remaining Problems

I have become "stuck" in relation to several points about this puzzle. Where were Josiah and Hannah living in the years between their marriage in 1771 and their arrival in Lower Canada in 1779? Who were their first four children, and where and when were they born? Who are Hannah's parents, and when and where was she born? Where did F.C. Pierce get the names of their children?

ADDENDUM (03/03/2010), a conjecture as followup to the last question above:

I have come to the conclusion that, although F.C. Pierce may have placed Josiah incorrectly in the Whitney family, the information which he provides about the family, although incomplete, is probably accurate. There are a few notable exceptions in regard to accuracy, but I believe the information provided is of sound provenance. I came to this conclusion after asking the question “Where did Pierce obtain the information he presents about this family?” The reply was based upon Pierce’s method of collection of Whitney data. Although Pierce did some investigation of primary sources about the Whitneys, most of his data collection was done by writing to Whitney family members. He would ask for the genealogical data about themselves, their descendants, and their ancestors. It makes sense then, that Pierce received his information through a descendant of Josiah who lived with him at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. And, it also made sense that the person providing the data would be one who provided the most up-to-date information about their own family just before the publication of Pierce’s work. In this case, following this logic led to two brothers who were sons of Eliab Turner Whitney: Williams and Alpheus Whitney. Williams Whitney lived in Bath, Maine, and Alpheus Whitney lived in Brooklyn, New York when Pierce contacted them. Both brothers provided complete information about themselves, their wives, and their children. And, in both cases, their street addresses where they live were also included. It is obvious to me that their street addresses were included because Pierce wrote to both men for information. No other member of the family has as complete information. I am guessing that Pierce wrote to one brother, who wrote back with his family information, along with the advice to contact the other brother who possessed the family book of genealogical information.

I am guessing that there was a book of family genealogical information, started sometime while the family lived in Nova Scotia. The names of all of Josiah’s children appeared in the book. But only two of the children remained with the family in Nova Scotia: Eliab in Port Hawkesbury and John in the vicinity of Chester, where his daughters were baptized at the Anglican Church. Because they were present on Cape Breton, information was written in the book about them and their descendants. The other children, who were not at Cape Breton were lost to the family, and therefore were only mentioned by name.

Pierce’s information states that Josiah died at Salmon River, New Brunswick in 1810. We know from the above mentioned records that the date is incorrect. He was in the militia in 1813, and the census of 1818. It is possible that he removed to Salmon River after 1818, when he lost his land, as described in the petition above. Perhaps his death date in the family records was misinterpreted, or was recorded incorrectly. Since his son John had removed to the Salmon River area, and was living with his daughter Isabella Glenn and her family in the 1861 census, Josiah may have joined them, and died there. In his 1818 petition, Josiah says he is 77 years old, and his wife is almost as old. The Pierce information says that Hannah died in 1807 at Cape Breton. It is possible that Josiah remarried, and his second wife is the one he refers to in his 1818 petition. I can provide no evidence of that, however.

Copyright © 2004, 2006, Kenneth L. Whitney, and the Whitney Research Group