Carefree Highway

Sibbill and Thompson Maxwell and their wandering descendants

Historical Marker in Milford, New Hampshire

I hadn’t planned on writing about my Maxwell ancestors so soon after the Nester vs. Wanderer post, but I’m listening to Spotify and Gordon Lightfoot is beckoning me to tell their tales. I think it must be the “wanderlust or trying to get free” thing preventing me from moving to any other topic out there.

These two people are probably the ones in my tree with whom I feel super connected more than most. As I mentioned earlier, this Maxwell line is the one that I researched almost entirely on my own. It’s not that I don’t feel connected to the others (I do), but my journey with them has been incredibly personal and rewarding.

I’m going to start with Sibbill, because there isn’t a whole lot of information to share on my 6th great grandmother. Born Sibbill Wyman on 29 Aug 1735 in Billerica, Massachusetts, to Thomas Wyman and Rachel Crosby, she was the youngest of three children. I truly don’t know much more about her than that. However, Massachusetts has very good town and church records for the time, and through those records, I was quickly able to trace her roots. Her paternal grandmother, Prudence Putnam, was the fourth daughter of Thomas Putnam and Ann Holyoke. The same Putnams who were accusers in the Salem Witch Trials.

Thompson Maxwell was born on 11 September 1742 in Bedford, Massachusetts, to Hugh Maxwell and Sara Corbett. Hugh was an immigrant from Northern Ireland (one of the Scots Irish Maxwells), and Sara was born in Scotland. Thompson was their youngest of seven children: five boys and two girls. His father died after being thrown from a horse in 1759 and his mother died 10 years later.

He said he was very influenced by his siblings and when two of his brothers and brother-in-law signed up for militia duty, he decided to join sign up as a volunteer in the French and Indian War at the age of 15 (1757). I believe his experiences fighting in the French and Indian War provided the seed for any future wanderlust on his part. He left home for New York, Canada and Michigan, and his experiences were published in an a manuscript in The Essex Collection in 1865. The article is an interview with Thompson, entitled “The Narrative of Major Thompson Maxwell”. It starts with a letter from the author, Mr. E. F. Miller, describing his interview conducted years earlier and providing the transcription taken from the interview notes.

The one eerie thing I read in this narrative is that Thompson Maxwell’s travels during this conflict took him to Grand Portage, which he describes geographically as on the northwest corner of Lake Superior what was then called the French Canada Territory. Grand Portage is about 35 miles from where my mother grew up in Minnesota. So very far from Bedford, Massachusetts, geographically and 7 generations away from my mother.

Anyway, he remained in military service for six years, until October 1763:

“We lay at Detroit without interruption until the end of the war and were discharged sometime in October. Thus ended my six years service. I returned home and thought I deserved a wife, so I got one and a good one, whose name was Sibbel Wyman. We settled in Milford, then Amherst, NH. I was in my 22nd year. She was 27. We lived happily together for 38 years, 4 months and 11 days, when she died leaving me with 5 children, four sons and a daughter. I lived in Amherst until 1777 and followed teaming to and from Boston. In 1773, I went with my team to Boston with a load of stores to the poor of the town, which at that time was shut up. I had loaded my team at John Hancock’s warehouse, and was about to return when J. Hancock requested me to drive my team up into his yard, and ordered his servants to take care of it. He requested me to be on Long Wharf at 2 pm and informed me what was to be done. I went accordingly, and joined the band under our Capt. Hughs. We mounted the ships and made tea in a trice. This done, I took my team and went home as an honest man should.”

He never ever really left the military and fought in numerous wars and conflicts (Bunker Hill, Lexington and the War of 1812) until he was a very old man. In 1812, he would have been 70; his grandson also served in that war in New York, a boon that I wouldn’t realize until I went looking for him. His oldest son, Hugh, is my 5th great grandfather; he, too, was not a young man in 1812 and died in Canandaigua in 1813. Without a will.

Through my genealogy research, I discovered that Thompson’s brother, Benjamin, was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, serving in the 5th company of the 5th Hampshire County regiment in Massachusetts. His oldest brother, Hugh, also served in the Revolutionary War and went on to be a noteworthy surveyor of the Preemption Line and who died at sea in 1799. Hugh kept field notes of his time as a surveyor, and his manuscript has been transcribed and published; the original manuscript is apparently still in the possession of his descendants. I have read it, and it’s quite the experience.

Back to the interview. My 6th great grandfather detailed his life through those years of war. He continued:

“In 1800, party spirit having risen very high in Massachusetts, I moved with my family [I believe it was with his wife and son, James] to the State of Ohio, on the Big Miami, County of Butler. I remained there quietly and followed farming. In 1802 my first wife died. In 1807, July 6th, I married again to a Mrs. Little, widow of Capt. Little of the Revolution. In May, 1812, Gen’l Hull sent for me to pilot his army through to Detroit. I joined him at Dayton, Ohio, on the 1st day of June–Piloted the army through to Detroit–was made prisoner there–lost my faithful mare, saddle and bridle and remained with the wounded and sick about a month. I then returned home down the lake to Cleaveland and thence by land got to my family October 2nd. Soon after, a mob rose up to attack me. [A mob attacking a 70 year old man?]”

He then described how he had gone to Cincinnati and his wife was visiting her son and his family when his house was burned down. All that was left was his sword, which he had carried safe with him since the Battle of Bunker Hill. By the time he got home, he had received word that his wife had died. When he was 74, he was taken prisoner at Fort Erie. He entered into a conversation with one of his captors, who recalled that his father and uncle had told him that they had served with him [Maxwell] in the Revolutionary War. When Thompson confirmed that he knew both men, he was instantly placed into a private home and given food and clothing before being released.

In the end, Thompson Maxwell moved to the Detroit area and married a third and final time to a woman only known as Eleanor, in 1823. He indicated that he traveled on horseback at least once to visit family in New York and Massachusetts around this time. It’s probable that he met his great grandson (my third great grandfather, who was 5 years old) on that trip. In his later years, he apparently had lost everything and applied for a war pension for his service in the Revolutionary War. His plea was emotional on my end: he described giving his life to his country and not being able to afford food or clothing. He died 24 October 1832 at the age of 90. He’s buried at the Wallaceville Historical Cemetery, Eleanor’s family cemetery, in Dearborn Heights. The Colonial Dames placed and commemorated a burial marker for the plot thought to be his grave. I haven’t visited it yet.

I began researching Thompson Maxwell and his descendants about two years ago with the intention of applying for a supplemental DAR application. Although the information I researched was fairly straightforward, I had to meet genealogy proof standards. My problem started when linking Thompson’s son, Hugh, to his grandson, Erastus. It was a problem because Hugh died suddenly in 1813 without a will. I was still a novice in this genealogy game, became dejected, until I received good advice. I have some really good people in my genealogy group; it finally clicked when my DAR registrar urged me to look for probate and land records for answers. I also lamented how I lost four years of physical time in New York when Victoria went to college there, and wondered how on earth I was going to look through those records in New York from my sofa in Colorado. Fortunately, Family Search resolved that challenge; with some help from a knowledgeable genealogist in Canandaigua, she was able to help me piece together the probate and land records to New York law, establishing Erastus to his father that way. I was so excited, I yelled out a whoop in the library, until I realized…

…that my REAL problem was linking Erastus to his son, William. William was born in 1818 in Albany, New York, and died in 1891 in Osceola, Wisconsin. He actually had a death certificate, but it didn’t name his parents. His obituary was merely a death notice: “William W. Maxwell died yesterday of pneumonia.” Not helpful. His brother, James, died in 1910, and his death notice read, “Full obituary to be printed in the next issue”. Yeah, that never happened either. I found out that newspapers often did that to encourage families to pay for a full blown obituary. If they didn’t pay, it didn’t get published.

It took a trip to western Wisconsin last October to find one cemetery land deed to tie William indirectly but not inconsequentially to his father and brother (whose death certificate DID name his father). Earlier in this post, I referred to Erastus’ service in the War of 1812 as a boon. It was a boon because he, too, died intestate, about 1873. Then I found his pension application, which spelled out specifics, to include his wife’s maiden name and their marriage date and place (Attica, New York). It really was a boon, because without it, I have no other information that provides direct proof of her or their marriage. I don’t think he ever got that pension because the letters abruptly ceased in 1872. If you think that the government didn’t give its citizens trouble back then, think again. Erastus Maxwell made his case to his government for more than two years. I think he died before it was resolved. Which may have been the goal of people in Washington all along?

In another post, I will devote some time to William Maxwell, his wife, Julia, and daughter, Lavinia. If I feel any real, solid direct connection to a specific Maxwell ancestor, it would be William–who is my 3rd great grandfather. Touching his tombstone made me cry. I think Val was really worried about me.

During my trips to Buckland, Massachusetts, and Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin, I met some beyond wonderful people who really helped me tie this family together. I want to give them the credit that is due them. When I visited Buckland, it was the 3rd of July, and almost everything was closed to prepare for the 4th. I stumbled into their library and told the librarian why I was there. She took me back to a room that contained a very old book that turned out to be the first written record of town history. It was handwritten in colonial script and contained the names of the 16 founding members of the First Congregational Church of Buckland. Two of those names were Thompson and Sibbill Maxwell. She gave me the name and phone number for the town historian, who also edits the newsletter for the Congregational church, and we’ve become friends. One of these days, I’m going to meet her in person.

The folks in Wisconsin put up with me for MONTHS without complaining about me (at least to my face!). One of them is with a local genealogy society; her husband is a distant cousin on my Hale side, and it turned out that she is related to my Maxwell clan through marriage. These women took time out of their personal lives to head to court houses and libraries to help me look for information. In the end, my trip there last fall bore the biggest payoff in a land document that created a cemetery and trustees between my Maxwell family members.

This trip with them has been so incredibly rewarding. I feel like I know each of them personally. It doesn’t hurt that Sibbill and Thompson’s only daughter was named Betsey. I’ve had distant family members tell me that the Maxwell men they know or have known share common traits: tall, lanky, sandy hair and gray eyes. If I close my eyes tightly, I can conjure up an image for each of them. If that weren’t enough, I named my adopted shelter dog Thompson Maxwell and my adopted shelter Siamese cat Sibbill. I hope my ancestors are not insulted and see this as my ultimate tip of the hat for a heartfelt and fun journey with them.

In the end, I decided I didn’t want to use Thompson Maxwell for my supplemental. At least yet. I decided to give him to my sister for her application into the DAR. She graduated from the Naval Academy and enjoys military history. I decided to let her go in under our most decorated ancestor. I consider it a labor of love to her and Thompson and Sibbill Maxwell. In the end, it’s always been about love and family.

Author: Betsey K.

Mother of two daughters, two Siamese cats and a 3 legged dog. Genealogy hack. Research nut. Search engine proficient. Daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece and ex-wife. And a person who strives for balance and peace.

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