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Migration of One Matteson Branch

The why of the migration of my branch of the Matteson family will never be known, fully. Economics, family dynamics, a wanderlust, or just a chance for a better life, may all have played a role. We only have a few facts based on census and some other very limited records. What follows is an account of who was where, when, and what the world was like at that time. It is based solely on material available on the internet, so by nature is limited. All of the lineage information comes from the Mattesons in the USA website1, so I will not cite references for each entry.

Discrepancies in dates are inevitable and trying to reconcile them is always an interesting task and sometimes not possible. Generally, the discrepancies between dates and between dates and likely events is noted and the reader is left to decide what is true.

The motivation for this essay came from wondering how my Matteson’s got from New England to western New York. Looking briefly at my line:

Henry Matteson IProbably was born in Denmark or Ireland. Arrived Portsmouth, RI, (1666), died, East Greenwich, RI (1690)
Henry Matteson IIBorn, East Greenwich, RI (1670), died, West Greenwich, RI (1752)
Hezekiah MattesonBorn, East Greenwich, RI (1714), West Greenwich, RI (1752), died, Voluntown, CT (1762)
Jeremiah MattesonBorn, West Greenwich, RI (1743), died, Shaftsbury, VT (1800)
Solomon MattesonBorn, West Greenwich, RI (1766), died, Shaftsbury, VT (1791)
Silas MattesonBorn, Shaftsbury, VT (1793), Ontario, NY (1819), Hanover, NY (1820), died, Arkwright, NY (1840-1864)
James MattesonBorn, Arkwright, NY (1831) Hanover, NY, died, (after 1880) Villenova, NY
Albert MattisonBorn, Villenova, NY (1865), died, Villenova, NY (1920)
Flora Mattison PalmerBorn, Villenova, NY (1886), died Silver Creek, NY (1939)

It is generally acknowledged that Henry I led the migration to the New World. There is some dispute about whether he came from Ireland or Denmark. For a young man of neither the merchant or noble class, conditions were not good in either country. The seventeenth century was a time of war and poor harvests in Denmark. Since most of the population was engaged in farming, it meant that they had little income. Bonded labor was common and following the protestant reformation, the crown took over all church land. In 1660 when the land was returned to private ownership, most went to the noble class or other large landowners2.

There was probably little opportunity for a nineteen year old and a real risk of being forced to serve in the military. Since he engaged in farming soon after he arrived in this country, it is probably safe to assume that his family farmed in Denmark.

Portsmouth, RI was only twenty-eight years old when Henry arrived there. Relatively soon after arriving, he seems to have gone to Prudence Island. If you consult a map, you wonder why he made that move. The island is out in Narragansett bay and must have been very desolate in 1666-1667. Perhaps, its excellent farmland was attractive to Henry. There is no record that he purchased land there and the fact that he left after just a few years suggests that he was probably working for someone else. There are some other reports that he may have been hired to guard native Indians being held on the Island.

Marge Matteson in an email exchange offered the observation that Henry may have been a Quaker. That leads to some additional interesting speculation. The beginning of the Quaker faith is generally given as 1652 in England. The first translation of a Quaker tract into Norwegian and Danish is given as 1674. That would mean that Henry acquired his Quaker faith somewhere along the way after leaving Denmark. It was probably not the faith of his parents or childhood.

East Greenwich, RI was founded in 1667 though settlers had been occupying the land before that time. In May, 1667, the General Assembly of the Colony of Rhode Island, meeting in Newport:

Ordered that a certain tract of land in some convenient place in the Narragansett country, shall be laid forth into one hundred acre shares, with the house lots, for the accommodation of so many of the inhabitants of this Colony as stand in need of land, and the General Assembly shall judge fit to be supplied3.

The assembly granted the tract of land to a number of individuals for their service during the King Phillip war, but Henry is not listed among the grantees. Interestingly, Clement and John Weaver are among those named by the legislature. The Weaver’s and Mattesons have many connections so that citation may be of interest to those pursuing the relationships between the two families.

Henry probably made the journey from Prudence Island to East Greenwich by boat as a single man. There is some data to suggest that he fought in the King Phillip war so may have been able to lay claim to a parcel of land in the new town. See also the section above acknowledging his service as a guard. There is no record of his marriage to Hannah Parsons but it is generally assumed to have been around 1670. He and Hannah seemed to settle into life in East Greenwich and son Henry II was born there in 1670.

Henry II was born in 1670 in East Greenwich, RI and married Judea Weaver there in 1693. In 1741 West Greenwich was formed out of East Greenwich and it would appear that some of the Matteson clan found themselves in West Greenwich. All of Henry and Judea’s children seem to have been born in East Greenwich but when he died in 1752, Henry was living in West Greenwich. He may have moved or the town lines moved around him. Like his parents before him, Henry II and Judea seemed content to stay in one place and raise their family.

Their fifth son (according to the Matteson descendants list), Hezekiah was born in East Greenwich, RI in 1714. He lived in East or West Greenwich until just a few years before his death in Voluntown, CT in 1762. There are other connections to Voluntown from within the family, but the most likely scenario is that one of his children moved there and he followed to be near them in his old age.

1743 saw the birth of Jeremiah in West Greenwich, RI. Jeremiah will eventually move his family to Shaftsbury Vt, but a divergence is necessary to lay some of the groundwork for that move.

Samuel, (Hezekiah, HenryI), granduncle of Jeremiah, was born in West Greenwich in 1725. That is the location reported on the Matteson website, but it is problematic since West Greenwich wasn’t founded until 1741. In any event, Samuel was married in East Greenwich in 1750 and if you look solely at the data on the Matteson origins list, moves his family to Shaftsbury, VT.some time between 1750 and 1753. We date the move by the birth of his son Peter in 1753 in Shaftsbury, VT. The Matteson genealogy4 notes that his wife Clarissa was born in Shaftsbury in 1730. These dates all may be problematic, since, as is noted below, Shaftsbury did not come into existence until 30 years later. The more likely scenario is that she was born in Rhode Island where they were married and then they made the trek shortly after the marriage.

Zerobabel, (another granduncle of Jeremiah) fourth known son of Hezekiah (Henry I) was born in North Kingstown, RI in 17275. The Matteson genealogy reports that he was married to Mehitable Dwinning in Bennington, VT about 1752.

Early migration into the area eventually known as Vermont was along the Connecticut river. The first settlement was Fort Dummer near what was eventually to become Brattleboro. The area remained a frontier until the end of the French and Indian wars in 1760. Indian raids were a regular event until that time.

Assumed to be an extension of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth, the Royal Governor began to make regular land grants in the area. One of the first was in 1749 for an area that was named Bennington. Few additional grants were made until the end of the French and Indian wars and then Wentworth vigorously granted land for settlement in the new area. Some of that zeal may have been motivated by the fact that a portion of each settlement was to be owned by the Royal Governor, as well as his friends and family.

In any event, in 1761 Wentworth granted sixty-three new townships, one of which was Shaftsbury. The ownership of the area of Vermont was in some dispute and in 1765, Lt. Governor Colden of New York made a grant of 10,000 acres of James Lapier, a portion of which lay in Shaftsbury township6.

Settlement began almost immediately and Elwell lists the settlers in 1766 and, among them is Zerubabel [Sp] Matteson. He also lists a Thomas Matteson among those who came before 17717.

With these observations before us, we can sketch out a possible scenario. The first Matteson in the area was probably Zerubabel. The name is spelled differently, but given the complexity of the name and the likelihood that many people were illiterate, we can assume that it is our ancestor. Since he was married in Bennington in 1752 we can use that as an approximate date of his arrival. Zerobabel was born in 1727 so was in his early twenties when he moved into the new frontier almost immediately after it was opened. The French and Indian wars were still in progress, so it was not an entirely safe area.

Deacon Thomas (Francis, Henry I) was among those early settlers and Thompson writes that he was the town clerk of Shaftsbury for forty years8. The Matteson genenealogy9 notes that Thomas was born in 1742 in Rhode Island, married in 1766 also in Rhode Island, and moved to Shaftsbury in 1766. On the other hand the genealogy also reports that his first son was born in Rhode Island in 1767, while the next child, daughter Lucy, was born in 1769 in Shaftsbury. In any event Thomas was another of the Matteson clan to make the move to Shaftsbury early in that town’s history.

Samuel and his new bride may have been the next Mattesons to migrate west, probably between 1764 and 1771. The Matteson Genealogy reports that Samuel’s son Peleg (b. in 1764 in Shaftsbury, VT) married his cousin, Patience Matteson, (b. 1759, North Bennington, VT) daughter of Zerobabel Matteson in Shaftsbury. The year is not reported. They may have been there in 1766 and not recorded or came after the record was made.

Jeremiah (Hezekiah, Henry II, Henry I) was born in West Greenwich, RI in 1743. He and Ruth Sweet were married in West Greenwich in 1763. All of their children including my ancestor Solomon, were born in West Greenwich, RI, the last, Jeremiah Jr., in 1779. The record indicates that Jeremiah’s son Solomon married Rosannah Matteson in Shaftsbury in 1791 and the family turns up in the 1800 census, living in Shaftsbury. The 1790 census lists a Jeremiah Mathewson living in West Greenwich, RI and there is no comparable entry for the family in the 1790 census of Shaftsbury. The best bet, then, is that the move took place after the 1790 census was taken in West Greenwich.

Maps showing the roads in the period 1750-1760 have not been located but we can assume a few things. First, the early roads followed the trails used by the Indians, frequently following rivers and streams. Secondly, once a path was laid down, it was used over and over and eventually became a road. Therefore, maps of the 1790's, which are available, probably show the routes in use earlier. That being the case, we can make some educated guesses at the routes the families may have taken as they made their way from Rhode Island to Vermont. Many of today’s roads and highways seem to follow the same general routes as those early pioneer trails. The description which follows will note some of those similarities.

For the earliest settlers, they were not roads but merely paths. It is unlikely that the settlers in the period 1750-1760, when the first wave migrated, could have traversed the route with a wagon. All of their belongings were probably packed on horses for the journey. Jeremiah had several sons in their teens when he probably moved, so he might have been able to use a wagon. He was also moving a well established household, while Solomon, twenty-five or so, years earlier was newly married. Nearly thirty more years of migration may have made the path wider and passable by wagon.

The families probably traveled north on what is now close to the route of I-95 to Providence. There, they may have connected to the Providence road which led west through Connecticut. It generally follows the path of US-6 through Windham to Hartford. There, the trail turned north and followed the Connecticut river into Massachusetts. Connecticut state route 159 most closely approximates the route of the early trail.

Another possibility was to continue north from Providence to Attleborough, where the trail went in a diagonal direction across the corner of Connecticut and into Massachusetts, joining the trail west at Mendon. An un-numbered Mass. state route may trace that track. At Mendon, the road, such as it was, headed west through Uxbridge, Sturbridge, and Brimfield, crossing the Connecticut river south of Springfield, MA. Today, state route 16 from Mendon to Webster probably follows some of that same route. Old maps show a trail from Webster, going north of Dudley, connecting to what is now state route 131 to Sturbridge not represented by any modern day road.. US-20 probably follows the old trail from Sturbridge to Springfield.

After arriving at the Connecticut river crossing south of Springfield, two routes stand out as the most likely prospects for travel north. One traversed the bottom of the state and then went north along the line with New York, while the other went diagonally across the state after North Hampton. The southern route had more towns along the way, while the other route was probably shorter and spent less time in the more mountainous regions.

The terminus of the souuthern route was almost directly across the river from the end of the eastern trail. It moved through Southwick, Granville, Sandisfield and Marlborough where it turned north to (Great) Barrington. State route 57 probably follows the route of this old trail.

The trail moved north out of (Great) Barrington for a few miles before turning west into New York state. State route 41 and then I-90 probably parallels this portion of the trail.

The old trail moved into New York state and went north setting the path for what is today probably New York state route 22. The trail turned back into Massachusetts near Hancock and continued north to Williamstown. Massachusetts state route 43 seems to follow the best guess about the old trail. With the end in sight, the trail went to Bennington (US-7) and, then, to Shaftsbury (US-7A).

If the family chose to go the northern route through Massachusetts, they would turn north at the Connecticut river. There were routes on both sides and they could have chosen either. The path started its diagonal journey across Massachusetts at North Hampton. It went through Haydenville, Goshen, Cummington to Windsor. Massachusetts state route 9 probably reflects this portion of the trail. At Windsor, the trail turned due north through Savoy, Adams, N. Adams and into Williamstown where it joined the trail north. State routes 8A, 116, and 8 probably follow this section of the original trail.

It was probably a journey of more than two hundred miles. They might make twenty miles on a really good day, but were probably lucky to average 15 miles per day for the trip. The road between West Greenwich, RI and Springfield, MA, went through more towns meaning more opportunities for food and rest. The southern route through Massachusetts went through more towns than the northern route.

The Mattesons were a part of a migration from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York that poured into the area in the late 1700's and early 1800's. So many came from Rhode Island, that an area of Shaftsbury become known as Little Rhode Island or “Little Rhodie.” Crockett provides a somewhat romantic, but nevertheless, probably accurate description of their motivation: Beyond the perils and privations of the present they saw the vision of future years of plenty and prosperity, and they were content to toil and even to suffer, if only their dreams might come true10. The first Mattesons in Shaftsbury were among the pioneer settlers. Timber was plentiful and the soil good for farming. Eventually iron ore would be mined here and marble quarried and sent to other parts of the Northeast11. Later families were undoubtedly welcomed to the growing community of Mattesons in Shaftsbury.

The word about the quality of the farmland the other resources probably attracted Jeremiah. East Greenwich may have been feeling crowded and as the second oldest son, he may have felt the need to go off on his own. The record does not report any more children born to Jeremiah while in Shaftsbury. He died there in 1808 and his wife Ruth in 1831.

Solomon was a teenager during the move and twenty-four when he married his second cousin, Rosannah Matteson (Silas, James, Henry II, Henry I) in 1791. The record does not indicate that her father made the journey so she must have come west to Shaftsbury with other family members.

The family settled into life in Shaftsbury and remained there for the rest of their lives, Solomon dying in 1845 and Rosannah in 1849. Their son Silas (my ancestor) was born in Shaftsbury, VT in 1793.

Many of the extended family members migrated into New York. As you look through the charts, you see many references to Oswego, Hoosick, and other border towns.

During the year 1791 when Solomon married Rosannah, Robert Morris purchased 3,000,000,000 acres of land in western New York. In 1793 he sold his interests to a group of merchants in Holland who formed the Holland Land Co. In 1798 Joseph Ellicott began to survey the purchase laying out tracts for settlement. The first sales were in 1801 and the company sold the land on credit, eventually accepting grain and other farm products as payment12.

The lure of good farmland purchasable under reasonable conditions must have been terribly attractive. The 1800 census of Genesee county does not show any Mattesons or other variations of the name. Genesee included all of the land now in Niagra and Chautauqua counties. In 1804, the township of Chautauqua was created in Genesee county. In the 1810 census, Chautauqua residents were counted in Niagra County. Chautauqua was created as a separate county in 1811.

A number of Matteson with variations appears in the 1810 census for the area. Among those listed are a Duty Matterson [sic], Abraham, Daniel, Ephefrass, George, Job, and Oliver Mattison. Duty could be Solomon’s brother. A search of Henry I descendants did not reveal any other males named Duty whose age would be close to the one listed in the census. Duty Matteson also appears in the 1800 census for Frankfort, Herkimer, NY. No listing could be found for him in 1790. The Job listed could be another Henry II descendant (Job, Henry, Jr., John I, Henry II, Henry I). Those were the only descendants that seemed to fit the scenario. The other Mattesons are undoubtedly from the family, but I could not link them up in the ancestor list.

The Milliman family was also well established in western New York in the early 1800's. There were two Milliman households listed in the 1810 census for Genesee county. One, the household for Bryant Milliman has a female in the household who would be the right age for Ann. It would appear that Silas came west some time between 1810 and 1819, as a single man and met and married Ann after arriving in western New York. A “Selas Matterson” appears in the 1820 census living in Hanover in Ontario county. The composition of the household would fit that of a newly married man and the ages all fit.

For those early settlers in New York, the journey west would not have been quite as arduous as the one their ancestors made into Vermont. Those who left from Shaftsbury intending to travel directly to western New York would have first made the journey to Albany. He probably followed a route close to present day Vermont state route 7 from Bennington to Albany.

The trails across New York followed ancient Indian pathways. By the early 1800's these were in constant use, supporting the military and the western migration. The primary road west from Albany began as the Mohawk Turnpike, originally known as the Iroquois Trail. It went from Albany to Utica and by the time Silas and the earlier settlers made the journey, a clearly defined wagon road. New York state routes 5 and 5S follow the route of the old Mohawk Turnpike.

At Utica, Silas would have turned west on the Great Genesee Road. Like other routes, the Great Genesee Road followed earlier Indian trails. Beginning in 1794, the New York Legislature passed a number of laws calling for improvements to the rudimentary road from Utica west. By 1797, a decent (for the day) turnpike was established from Albany to Canandaigua. Present day New York state route 5 follows the path of the old trail and is still known as the Great Genesee Road. From Canandaigua to Buffalo, US-20 seems to follow the old trail route. At Buffalo, Silas would have turned south on the Lake Trail or Lake Shore Path for the final stage of the journey into Chautauqua county.

By the 1840 census, Silas is settled in Arkwright where he remains for the rest of his life dying there in 1864. His son, James is born in either Hanover or Arkwright in 1831. James and Persis Weaver are married in 1849 and the family moves to Hanover (1860 census) then settles in Villenova (1870, 1880 census) where he and Persis remain for the rest of their lives.

Albert was born in born in 1865 in Villenova, marries Eva Strong in 1882 also in Villenova where they live for most of their lives. In the 1880 census, the Matteson and Strong households are two entries apart. If you are a romantic, you believe that Albert fell in love with the little girl down the road. The 1920 census has them living in Hanover where Albert is a day laborer. Flora Delphine Mattison, the daughter of Albert and Eva was born in 1886 in Villenova. She was married to Frank Palmer (b. 1879; d. 1959) in Villenova. They lived together in Silver Creek, NY until her death in 1939.

They must have finally found what they were looking for. Eternally farmers, the search for better land and more opportunity led them to the frontiers of their day. Then, for this branch, at least, the frontier held no allure and the stability of a good farm and family was enough.

I welcome any comments, corrections, criticisms, etc.

By Al Palmer

End Notes:

1. http://matteson.us/henrydesc.shtml
2. Henriksen, Ingrid. “An Economic History of Denmark.” University of Copenhagen http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/henriksen.denmark
3. Greene, D.H., History of the town of East Greenwich and adjacent territory, from 1677 to 1877. Reid, Providence, 1877, pg. 2.
4. http://matteson.us/henrydesc.shtml
5. Ibid
6. Crockett, Walter Hill, Vermont, the Green Mountain State Vol 1, The Century History Co., New York, 1921
7. Elwell, Levi Henry, “The Gravestone Records of Shaftsbury Bennington County, Vermont. Copied and verified 1908-10.” Amherst, Massachusetts, 1911.
8. Thompson, Zadock, “History of Vermont : natural, civil, and statistical” Z. Thompson, Burlington, 1853, Pgs. 159-160.
9. http://matteson.us/henrydesc.shtml
10. Crockett, Walter Hill, Vermont, the Green Mountain State Vol 1, The Century History Co., New York, 1921.
11. Thompson, Zadock, “History of Vermont : natural, civil, and statistical” Z. Thompson, Burlington, 1853, Pgs. 159-160.
12. Silsby, Robert W. The Holland Land Company in Western NY. Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, vol 8, 1961.

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