The Church/Stewart Family "Indian"
By Daniel J. Bornt
Speculation about reputed Native-American ancestry as becoming part of the Church and Stewart bloodlines sometime during the families' beginnings in the Petersburgh/Little Hoosac environs have long been a topic for discussion at family gatherings.
Physical characteristics have played a part in the speculation, which purported to indicate lineage from a mythical Native-American woman who had married one of the sons of the early Church and Stewart settlers.
Eunice, the wife of Nathaniel Church, along with others has been suggested as a likely candidate. And the possibility exists that there may been more than one woman who was of total or partial Native-American roots.
However, the main center of focus has to be the legend of Lemuel Steward's association with a Native-American maiden before he left in 1782 to marry Rebecca Rose in Connecticut.
From Roger Steward's Descendants of William Steward of North Stonington, Connecticut we have this excerpt:
Frank Church('s)...mother was Fidelia M. Glines, and his grandmother was Patience Ann Stewart, who lived to be 103 years, daughter of John Steward, who lived nearly 85 years. Given that Patience's grandfather Lemuel Steward moved his family from Petersburgh, NY to Grafton, NY in 1796, while his first born, John Steward, did not make that move until about 1805, it may be that John Steward was raised by his grandparents, Eliphalet Steward and Elizabeth (Church?) or at least remained very close to them. This tradition could easily have first been handed down to Frank Church.
Family legend holds that John Stewart (1780-1865) was the first-born son of Lemuel Stewart and an "Indian" maiden prior to Lemuel Stewart's marriage to Rebecca Rose in Preston, CT in 1782. Supposedly upon Rebecca's arrival in Grafton as Lemuel's new bride she was handed the young child. This anecdote by Esther Church Bierwirth, daughter of Frank Church, and told to the author of this website personally, has a strong possibilty of a factual origin. John Stewart's daughter Patience Ann Stewart may have related the tale to her great-granddaughter Esther herself. Esther remembered attending Patience Ann's 100th birthday party in 1916 when she was eleven years old, and Patience Ann lived three years after that.
We shouldn't easily dismiss handed-down family legends and stories, in an era where television, radio, or phonographs were non-existent and long evenings in isolated mountainous surroundings were filled by reading and the telling of family tales and happenings. And given Frank's keen intellect (Thomas Paine's "The Age of Reason" graced his bookshelf and was a work that he studied), and Esther's accurate remembrance of family relationships we can relatively assume that this relationship is factual. It could also provide a basis for Roger Steward's suppostion above that John Steward may have been raised by his grandparents Eliphalet and Elizabeth Steward: Being a half-Indian child, it could be that he was never completely accepted by his new step-mother Rebecca Rose Stewart.
But the actual facts surrounding the child's birth and the fate of his mother "Eunice" appear to be lost in the mists of time. However, on September 26, 2000, presentations at the North Stonington (CT) Historical Society (see reprint below) attempted to clarify some of the confusion surrounding the different women who shared the name of "Eunice." - DJB 6/5/2003
Church Family of Petersburgh, NY featuring descendants of Frank and Myrtle