Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wendal Davis Willis: Patriot, Farmer, and My 3rd Great-Grandfather

Pension Application
Wendal Willis was born on the 24th of March 1794 in Bridgewater, Plymouth, Massachusetts. His parents were Zebulon and Susanna Bartlett. At the tender age of 17, he signed up to fight the Brits during the War of 1812. He was a private in Captain Swift's Co., 1st Regiment, Massachusetts Militia according to the War of 1812 Pension Application Files. The war began on June 18, 1812 and officially ended on February 18, 1815. Our brave young soldier didn't waste any time as a bachelor when his military service ended; he married Sarah "Sally" Gibbs on March 18, 1815 in Sandwich, Barnstable, Massachusetts. Their first child, named for his father, was born in 1816, followed by a daughter, Susan, in 1833, and sons Samuel in 1834 and Russell in 1838. According to the information referenced below, I am missing a few children.

There are many records besides the census, and sometimes the most exciting revelations can be found online just by searching a place name. I located a book titled "1895 Landmark Book, Oswego County, NY" and a chapter about the town of Constantia. To my surprise, my family was mentioned:
"Wendell Willis came to the town in January, 1837, had eleven children, and died here about 1877; his widow's death occurred June 1, 1883."

By August of 1850, Grandpa had become a successful landowner and ran a busy, successful farming operation in Constantia. The Non-Population Schedule, or Census, describes the farm in detail: 149 acres, combined cash value of $1915, numbers of horses, milk cows, cattle, sheep, and swine, and produce including wheat, corn, oats, pounds of wool, Irish potatoes, butter, cheese (100 pounds!), and hay.

Location of Constantia

New York took a state census between the federal counts and the Willis family showed up in the 1855, 1865, and 1875 records. These records give interesting details. They lived in a framed house valued at $500 (the 2nd most expensive residence of the 19 nearby farms in 1855). The couple were alone by 1860 as their children had moved on. In 1870, daughter Susan and her small child Ida were living with mom and dad when the worth of their real and personal estate had grown to $3150. Son Samuel, his wife Margaret, and their four young children lived two doors away.

Five years later, the Willis farmers remained near each other in Constantia where Grandpa and Grandma could enjoy watching their grandchildren grow up. The population in this small village had risen to 3,483 souls from only 1,193 in 1830. The number of persons residing here decreased slowly and would not reach 3000 for one hundred years - in 1970.

Wendal Davis Willis died in 1876 at age 82. He was a hard-working man and a credit to those who follow. May God be with you, Grandpa.

Constantia Center Cemetery

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