Augustus Wildey's Ancestors
Thomas Wildey (1718-1776)
American Revolution War Hero
Every time you look at a one dollar bill, you might want to think about how our ancestor, Thomas Wildey, gave his life to save George Washington from capture by the British Army, during the Battle of White Plains, on October 28, 1776.
The history of the Wildey family in America goes back to the 1650's.
Thomas Wildey's great grandfather, Richard Wildey, was born in Europe in 1635, probably in England. He immigrated to Massachusetts in the 1650's, moving later to New Netherland, (which eventually became New York, New Jersey and Delaware). He married a woman named Edee; there are no records of her last name. They had seven children, Richard, Thomas(1663-1716), William, John, Benjamin, Rebecca, and Ann.
The early generations of Wildeys in Flushing, Queens County, NY were Quakers or had affiliations with Quakers. Richard Wildey resided alongside the Dutch for years before the English took control of New Amsterdam, and renamed it New York, in 1766. Dutch customs continued after English control. Richard Wildey was elected a "Schepen" (Magistrate) in the 1770's.
It is believed Richard Wildey was from England as all the Wildey children in Colonial times have "Norman" names (Richard, James, Edward, Thomas, William, John, and so on).
Richard's son, Thomas, born in 1663, grew up and married Elizabeth Griffen, and they had seven children, Edward, Richard(1689-?),Thomas, Obadiah, Isaiah,
Elizabeth and Phebe.
Richard Wildey was born in the New York area, grew up and married Patience Tatum. They had two children that we know of, Thomas and Elizabeth.
Thomas Wildey was born in 1718, in Flushing, New York. He grew up and married Sarah Griffin, the daughter of a nearby farmer, around 1738. A year later, their first child, Nancy, was born. In 1741, the family moved from Flushing to White Plains, New York, where they farmed land on Old Mamaroneck Rd, in White Plains. Griffin Wildey, the great grandfather of Augustus Wildey, was born in 1743. In 1748, they left their White Plains land and moved with their five children to a 260 acre farm on Phillipsburg Manor, near Tarrytown, Westchester County, New York.
In 1752, tragedy struck when Sarah died at the age of 32, leaving Thomas, a 34 year old widower with five children, ranging in age from 1 to 13.
In 1753, French troops from Canada marched south to seize and fortify the Ohio Valley, which started the French and Indian War. In early 1754, Col. George WASHINGTON was directed by Gov. DINWIDDIE of Virginia to recruit 200 men in Frederick and Augusta Counties, Virginia for service against the French and Indians who were seriously threatening the frontiers of Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.
In 1755, Thomas Wildey's daughter, Nancy Ann Wildey, 16, married James Hammond, 28. There was recruiting by the province of New York for militia soldiers, so his daughter's marriage gave Thomas the opportunity to leave the five children with Nancy in order that he could join the militia. In August of 1755, Thomas joined Capt Corsa's militia unit of Westchester County. The war would drag on until 1763.
At the end of the war, Thomas Wildey, 46, returned to Phillipsburg, and married his wife's sister, Judith Griffin, 25. They would have five children together, living on their 260 acre Westchester County farm.
Their peaceful life came to an end in 1774, when the First Continental Congress met and petitioned Great Britain for relief from the heavy taxes that were imposed to help pay for the French and Indian War.
March 23, 1775 - Passions heat up as Patrick Henry addressed the Virginia House of Burgesses and decreed, “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.”
April 18, 1775 - Paul Revere and William Dawes rode through the night, warning patriots that the British were coming to Concord to destroy arms. The next day, during armed resistance, 8 Minutemen were killed at Lexington and the British took 273 casualties on their return from Concord, starting the American Revolution.
June 15, 1775 - The Continental Congress appointed George Washington commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. A small professional army was to be supported by volunteer local militias.
Most of the citizens of Westchester County, New York, just north of Manhattan Island, decided to side with the rebellion, and raised a local militia. Thomas Wildey, farmer, father of ten, 57 years old, volunteered along with his sons, sons-in-law and neighbors.
January 10, 1776 - Thomas Paine, an English writer, published his pamphlet “Common Sense,” touting the ability and right of America to create a democratic and free nation.
July 4, 1776 - The Declaration of Independence was approved in the Second Continental Congress. held in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 22, 1776 - Nathan Hale, a member of the Continental Army, was sent on an intelligence gathering mission behind enemy lines on Long Island. Disguised as a Dutch teacher, he was caught and executed by the British for spying. In a speech before he was hung, he said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
August and September, 1776 - In response to the Declaration of Independence, the British Army, with red-coated uniforms, modern weapons and discipline, under General Howe, attacked New York City and routed the ragtag American Army. 44-year-old General Washington and his troops retreated north into Westchester County. General Howe sent British troops to circle ahead of Washington trying to capture him. The American retreat went as far as White Plains, where the Americans tried to establish a line of defense in the early days of October, 1776.
It was at this point, that local Westchester County militias, including Phillipsburg and Tarrytown, received the call to help the retreating Continental Army. Thomas Wildey, and his son, Joseph, joined the call to arms. Knowing the danger that lay ahead, Thomas wrote his will on October 7, 1776:
"Will of Thomas Wildey, Phillipsburg. Farmer. Wife Jude. Leaves to son Griffin all my wearing apparel extra for his birth right. Leaves his farm to son Joseph. To son Jacob £100. Legacies to children Caleb, Thomas, John, Sarah, Elizabeth Combes, Cornelia and Nancy Hammond. Makes his sons in law George Combes and Col. James Hammond executors. Oct. 7, 1776. Proved July 25, 1778."
Armed with only their farm rifles and without uniforms, the local volunteers left their nearby homes to join the Continental army. In the meantime, the mighty British Army was marching north to overwhelm the smaller Continental forces.
On the right of the White Plains American line of defense was a hill called Chatterton's Hill which commanded the field of battle. Initially all local militia were sent to the hill to defend it, while the Continental professional forces drew back to a defensive line. Thomas Wildey took his oldest son, Joseph, a father of two young children, along with him. (The facts here are similar to the Mel Gibson movie' "The Patriot". In that movie the main character, Mel Gibson, is a veteran of the French and Indian Wars, having seen so much bloodshed, he didn't want to get involved in the Revolution. His wife had passed away and he was in love with her sister. His son died at the hands of the British and he then joined the revolt.)
According to surviving British officer journals, at 10 AM on the morning of October 28, 1776, the militia on Chatterton's hill started raining down fire on the approaching British army. Howe split his army and sent several units to focus on the hill. Washington, seeing this, sent several of his professional regiments to the hill to help the militia units. Howe's army used cannons and crack Hessian troops to blast the hill. Early in the afternoon of the 28th, hundreds of Americans lay dead or wounded on the hill, including Thomas and Joseph Wildey. However, their actions had the desired effect, as it caused a pause in the British Army's advance, and allowed Washington to retreat to better defensive positions.
Recollections of the Battle of White Plains at Chatterton's Hill, from Chernow's "Washington", "One Connecticut soldier recalled how a cannonball first took the head of Smith, a stout heavy man, and dashed it open, then it took off Chilson's arm, which was amputated...it then took Taylor across the bowels, it then struck Sergeant Garret of our company on the hip and took off the point of the hip bone...What a sight that was to see within a distance of six rods those men with their legs and arms and guns and packs all in a heap".
The next day, heavy rain poured down on the battlefield, and all action ceased. On the following day, Howe decided to move his army back to New York where he would have an easier time eliminating whatever American units had been left behind. Washington's army retreated into the safety of Pennsylvania.
After so many defeats during 1776, Washington wanted to end the year 1776 on a positive note. Seeing an opportunity for a victory to boost the nation's morale, he decided to cross the Delaware River and surprised Rall's troops. It came to be called the Battle of Trenton.
Because the river was icy and the weather severe, the crossing proved dangerous. Two detachments were unable to cross the river, leaving Washington and the 2,400 men under his command alone in the assault. The army marched 9 miles (14 km) south to Trenton. The Hessians had lowered their guard, thinking they were safe from the American army, and did not post a dawn sentry. After having a Christmas feast, they fell asleep. Washington's forces caught them off guard and, before the Hessians could resist, they were taken prisoner. Almost two thirds of the 1,500-man garrison was captured. With the success of the revolution in doubt a week earlier, the army had seemed on the verge of collapse. The dramatic victory inspired soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits to the ranks.
Washington Crossing the Delaware - December 26, 1776
It was Thomas and Joseph Wildey's sacrifice on Chatterton Hill saving Washington's army that helped make the victory at Trenton possible. Thomas Wildey gave his life, wife, ten children, his large farm for an American cause that had barely started.
The war would drag on for six more years, but Thomas would never know who won the war. He'd never know that 11 years later, the U.S. Constitution would be written and approved. And, he'd never know that the General he helped save on October 28, 1776, would become the first President of the States 13 years later on August 30, 1789.
When American patriots died, their widows and children were left in dire straits. Those days, there were no widows pensions. Women had very few rights. There were very few choices for the women and children left behind. Thomas Wildey's widow, Judith Griffin Wildey, was left with five children, ages 1 to 11. The lease on the 262 acre farm was supposed to go to Thomas' son Joseph, but he died with his father. In the confusion of wartime, Judith had few choices and she took the one most widows took, which is finding another marriage. Her second husband was Mikel Mekeel. Her final resting place is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York, close to the battlefield where Thomas Wildey died. She is buried as "Judith, wife of Mikel MeKeel, died in 1795, 56 years old".
Joseph Wildey's widow, "Ally" (Adaline Aeltje Martling), was 20 years old when Joseph was killed in battle. Some family legends say that in 1778, at the age of 22, she married a "Thomas Paine", possibly a relative of Thomas Paine, the writer. She would live until 1850, 94 years old at the time of her passing.
After the English seized New York from the Dutch in 1664, they established Manors (plantations) throughout New York. These land grants were given by the King of England to encourage the bearer of these grants to populate and colonize the empty land quickly, in order to compete with the French & Spanish colonial populations that were expanding. They did so with indentured servants and/or tenant farmers, much like what was going on in England for hundreds of years.
Thomas Wildey never owned the land he farmed. His farm was a part of a 90,000 acre land grant owned by Frederick Phillipse. Thomas paid rent to the Phillipse family. In his will, he left the farm to his son, Joseph; what he was actually leaving was his "lease" on the land. However, his son Joseph died with him on Chatterton's Hill, so the lease on the land was left in doubt during the war.
Frederick Phillipse was a British Loyalist, who eventually fled to England during the war, where he died. After the war, the new American government formed "Committees of Confiscation" to confiscate the large tracts of land belonging to English loyalists. The 90,000 acres of the Phillipse plantation was seized and auctioned off to new American citizens. John Hammand and George Combs, sons-in-law of Thomas Wildey, purchased the 260 acres that had been farmed by Thomas to keep it in the family. Thus, much needed revenue was raised for the new government by these auctions, and in addition, a new opportunity for land ownership was started in the new country for everyday citizens.
The concept of every citizen having the right to own property would have seemed impossible in Thomas Wildey's day. His sacrifice for the new country started something new and great; the idea that everyone can "own a piece of the rock".
Augustus Wildey's ancestors and descendents:
Richard Wildey (1635-1690) born in Europe, married Edee ?(?-1688) Children: Richard, Thomas, William, John, Benjamin, Rebecca, and Ann.
Thomas Wildey(1663-1716) married Elizabeth Griffin(?-?).
Children: Edward, Richard, Thomas, Obadiah, Isaiah, Elizabeth and Phoebe.
Richard Wildey(1689-?) married Patience Tatum(?-?).
Children: Thomas, Elizabeth.
Thomas Wildey(1718-1776) first marriage to Sarah Griffin(1720-1765).
Children: Nancy, Griffin, Jacob, Joseph and Elizabeth
Thomas Wildey(1718-1776) second marriage to Judith Griffin(1739-1795).
Children: Caleb, Mary, Thomas, Sarah, John and Cornelia.
Griffin Wildey(1743-1817) married Ann Bishop(1746-1822).
Children: Joseph, Thomas, Rebecca, James, Jacob, John, Joshua,
Elizabeth, Sara, Bishop, Nancy, Samuel, Gershom, Eli(1784-?),
Susan, Stephen and Griffin.
Eli Wildey(1784-?) married Anna Fenton(1782- ).
Children: Griffin, David, Stephen, Edward(1812-1880) and Alexander.
Edward Wildey(1812-1880) married Nancy A. ?(1816-1861).
Augustus Wildey(1835-1931) married Mary Jane Roberts(1834-1906).
Children: Sarah and Ossie Della (Odie).
Ossie Della (Odie) Wildey (1877-1958) married Abraham Lincoln "Linc" Jessee (1868-1938)
Children: Benjamin Harrison (Harry), Clarence, Edyth, Helen, Doris, Glenn, Margaret, Robert, Beth, Dean
Harry Jessee(1894-1950) married Gladys McDannald (1892-1967).
Children: Paulyne, Warren, Harold, Keith, Rexene (my mother).
Douglas Southall Freeman's biography of George Washington, Volume Four, chapters 8 and 9 has some detail about the Battle of White Plains and the value of Chatterton's Hill to Washington's army.
Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington, chapter 22, has recollections by militia soldiers of the bloody combat on Chatterton's Hill.