Petersburgh, NY, looking northeast (prior to overpass construction
of about 1931 - Rt. 22 south of town in lower right corner)
from DJB archives)
The assembling of the Church
Genealogy of Petersburgh, N.Y. has been a diligent long-term extended
effort on the part of many family members who have contributed oral
and written records of the family's relationships. But the bulk of the
initial tedious research and field trips to cemeteries and depositories
of vital statistics was accomplished by several ladies in particular,
who have now passed: Marion Church Powers, Esther Church Bierwirth,
Eudella Weeden O'dell, and Estella Grogan Shaw. Beginning in the
1960's, in an attempt to establish Revolutionary roots to obtain admission
into the D.A.R., (which was indeed established through the
Revolutionary war record of Lemuel Stewart and entitles all female
Church descendants from the
Lemuel Stewart connection to join that organization) these ladies
provided the foundations for the genealogy's present (though incomplete)
form as shown in the Family Tree through the descendants of Nathaniel
Today, however, the research continues on with the next
generations, now scattered across the nation but united through the
internet in their efforts to produce the most accurate genealogies possible
of the pioneering Petersburgh and Grafton families. Carlton Church
in NY has provided his research of the Church Family line back to
its New England roots and the descendant line of John Church, Peter
Church's brother. Gloria Jones Parker has provided
exhaustive investigation into the early Petersburgh families, (and whose
records have provided the basis for large portions of our main genealogy),
Tom Jones in Virginia has provided the very complete Jones/Church
genealogy, Roger Steward in Iowa has produced a voluminous work
on the descendants of Lt. William Steward, and the late Eve Grogan in Hawaii
worked on the Grogan family tree. The author of this
website continues writing on the historical background and settings of the 18th
century emigrations from New England toward the West. Of late, Laurie Stevens - Schoewe contributes her intensive research into Church and Moon families with photos, old newspaper articles, letters, and conversation through the Church-Moon Family of Petersburgh NY Facebook page.
Click to view Family Trees
Church Home Page
of Petersburgh History
Settlement in Rensselaer County
Genealogical and Historical Links
THE CHURCH FAMILY: 18th CENTURY
BEGINNINGS IN RENSSELAER COUNTY, N.Y.
by Daniel J. Bornt
One can only wonder why sometime around 1780 the 49-year-old John Church
and his wife Hannah chose to leave their settled existence in the bustling
seaport village of Stonington, Connecticut, and make an arduous overland
journey with their four children to carve a new
home out of the mountainous wildnerness of eastern New York State.
Was there that great a lack of opportunity for Church
in the busy and growing communities of the New England colonies? The
War of Independence was coming to a close in this year of 1780. The
surrender of the British to General Washington and his French allies,
led by the boy general Marquis de Lafayette, would bring peace and a
return to normalcy in the war-torn land and give the colonists the independence
that they so desired.
Soon, hopefully, the industrious Yankee merchants would resume their
prosperous trading ventures from their bases at the various New England
seaports, across the Atlantic in the merchant fleets to the mother countries.
Fortunes had been made in the famous pre-war triangle of trade: furs,
lumber, and tobacco to England in barter for staples and manufactured
goods; on to the West Indies to pick up slaves and rum; and then the
final leg back to the colonies with the holds of the square-riggers
brimming with profits.
And, by now, the Church
name was well-known throughout the New England countryside. Richard
Church, the family patriarch who landed on the New World's shores from
his native England in 1632, had built the first church edifice in Plymouth,
Mass. Soon after, another Richard Church, perhaps a cousin or distant
relative, co-founded the new city of Hartford, Connecticut. Captain
Benjamin Church, son of Richard of Plymouth, commanded the Massachusetts
militia in its defeat of the Indian tribes under "King Philip"
freeing the territory of the Indian terror and opening up the country
for further expansion. John's own great-grandfather Garret Church had
been a prominent and noteworthy citizen of Watertown, Mass.
But the desire to push on westward and settle the virgin lands was strong
in the young nation; and no doubt the Van
Rensselaer family of Dutch patroons in the Hudson River valley of
upstate New York were aware of that urge. Settlers were needed to fill
the empty tracts of their vast manorial grant, who as tenant farmers
could provide a steady income from the working of the land.
More than likely the patroons, like Stephen Van Rensselaer with his
huge holdings on the east side of the Hudson River to the Massachusetts
state line, at war's end printed up handbills advertising the opportunities
awaiting the emigrant to their properties. Handbills like that spread
hand to hand from land to sea up and down the Atlantic seaboard.
And the war had been costly. Not only in ravaged countrysides and lost
and interrupted and displaced lives, but in the massive debt that saddled
Congress and the states in financing the war.
It could be that John Church was bankrupt at the war's end.
The records of Stonington, CT* tell of militia captain Nathan Palmer
and Nathaniel Miner ordered in 1777 to seize or buy at legal price 30,000
pounds of cheese for the Connecticut troops. Palmer commandeered 11,618
pounds of cheese from a Stonington borough firm, Church & Hakes,
at 6 pence per pound. We can only speculate whether this storehouse
was ever paid for this requisition, or whether it was John Church who
was a partner in the firm. But it is telling that his grandson John
married an Amy Hakes. And the 1876
map of Petersburgh shows a Hakes farm within a couple miles of the
original Church holdings. (Look for the S.H. Hakes farm just below
the "D" in the pink school district of "Dist. No. 7."
See the Church farms located in the northwest of yellow "Dist.
In any event, the Churches left their ancestral home by the coast to
establish the rudest of farms in the Taconic Mountain range of the northern
Appalachians. To a penniless family, or to anyone, it must have sounded
like a good deal that Van Rensselaer was offering: Choose your parcel,
farm it free for seven years, and then come back and negotiate a permanent
lease. Here, at the nascent community of Petersburgh,
the rich, tillable alluvial soil of the Hoosic River valley on the eastern
edge of the Van Rensselaer tracts could easily produce a bountiful crop
of maize and wheat. However, those fertile and farmable sections were
Instead, John and his family, accompanied by their fellow villagers
from Stonington, the Scottish clan of Eliphalet Stewart, would have
to choose their lands in the timber above the narrow valley atop the
Rensselaer Plateau and alongside its steep hollows.
There, at elevations over the 1000 foot line, the frosts come early,
and spring comes late - and the thin topsoil that barely covers the
granite caprock, along with the boulders and rocks left by the long
past retreated glaciers, makes farming a more difficult enterprise.
Here the Church and Stewart families set about to clearing the virgin
forest for cabins and pasture and planting ground. And here, for the
next two centuries, they were destined to intertwine with other pioneering
families of the hills and valley - the Jones, O'dells, Babcocks, Weedons,
Moons and others - their descendants becoming an integral part of the
Petersburgh community for generations to come.
-DJB, 7/10/1999 Revised 7/9/2002
copyright 2002 by Daniel J. Bornt
(unlimited reprinting granted)
*The Stonington Chronology:
Pg. 42 / 1777 / Mar. 20 / Nathl.. MINER and Capt. Nathan PALMER ordered
buy or seize at legal price 30,000 lbs. of cheese for Conn. troops.
commandeered 11,618 lbs. from Borough firm, CHURCH & HAKES, at 6d