Stephen, the son of Phebe and Barry Chase, began life 11 April 1779 in Frederickstown, Dutchess, New York. The area is now in Putman County where the towns of Kent and Carmel are located. It was a rural region with many beautiful lakes and rocky mountain ranges. Orryanna, daughter of David Rowe and Mary Thomas, was also born in Dutchess County, about twenty-five miles further north. She was born on 1 June 1784 at Sharon, near the town of Amenia. It was an agricultural area settled by families of poor to modest means.
By 1790, the Barry Chase and David Rowe families had both taken up new land at Providence, Saratoga, New York. The area was originally part of Balls Town and Galway in Albany County. Stephen and Orryanna married 12 May 1799, probably in Providence. For a short time they moved to Manlius in Onondaga County where Orryanna's father was living, then moved back to Providence. Orryanna gave birth to their first child, Daniel, in Manlius and two other children, Silas and Asenath, in Providence.
Families of that time were often moving west in search of new opportunities. Stephen and Orryanna made their way to western New York where the new county of Jefferson had been created. They were among the earliest settlers of Ellisburg and stayed there for fifteen years. Seven of their twelve children were born in Ellisburg, located near the mouth of Sandy Creek and Lake Ontario.
When the United States declared war on England in 1812, Jefferson County became the scene of active military and naval operations. Sackets Harbor, an important shipbuilding center, became the headquarters for the army and navy on the northern frontier. Many volunteers were recruited to defend the area against British and Canadian forces. Stephen Chase became a private in the 11th Regiment, 715th Infantry. For his service in the War of 1812, he was later awarded a land grant in the newly opened military tract in Illinois. A document signed by President James Monroe in 1817 granted him 160 acres in what was then Pike County.
Stephen, Orryanna and eight children began a difficult and remarkable 2000-mile boat journey to the Illinois frontier on 10 September 1820. Their daughter Asenath, who had recently married David Wallace, remained in Jefferson County. According to son Eli, the family entered the water at the mouth of Sandy Creek and crossed Lake Ontario to the Niagra River. They entered Lake Erie, crossed into Lake Chautauqua and entered the Allegheny River at the town of Warren in Pennsylvania. The journey took them many miles down the Allegheny to Pittsburgh and then down the Ohio River to Cincinnati where they spent the winter. Baby Stephen, who had been but a few weeks old when they left Ellisburg, died at Cincinnati and was buried there.
In the spring of 1821, the family resumed their travel down the Ohio until it met the Mississippi. From there, they went up the Mississippi and into the Illinois River. When they reached the mouth of Crooked Creek, the family suffered another loss. Daughter Harriet, not yet three-years-old, died and had to be buried at the mouth of the creek. The family continued to the mouth of the Spoon River and traveled up to a bluff area, the sight of large Indian mounds. There, not far from their final destination, fourteen-year-old Sophia died and was laid to rest on the bluffs overlooking the Spoon River. The long river journey had cost them three children.
The Military Tract of Illinois included all of the land in the west central part of the state between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Over three million acres were set aside as bounty lands for volunteer soldiers in the War of 1812. When Stephen Chase arrived to claim his 160 acres, he joined about twenty others who had come to the same immediate area for the same reason. Together they formed the settlement of Lewistown, which is now located in Fulton County. It was frontier wilderness area, covered with large trees and wigwams of friendly Indians. The family had to build a log house and then clear land, fence it and plant crops. It was plentiful country, abundantly filled with deer, game, fish, wild fruit and wild potatoes.
More settlers began to arrive and in 1823 the county of Fulton was formed from Pike. Stephen served as a judge in the first election held at Lewistown and was appointed by the Legislature to help select the location for the county seat. Stephen and Orryanna resided in Fulton County for ten years, during which time there were changes in the family. Two more children, Hiram and Mary Mariah, were born. Three of the children married (Orpha to Elijah Henry, Silas to Patsy Harris, and Orryanna to Ferdinand Van Dyke). Stephen and Orryanna were also converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and decided to make a move to Missouri where many members of the church were gathering. Leaving Orpha and Silas in Illinois, they set out on another difficult journey.
The Chases arrived in Jackson County, Missouri in the spring of 1832 and built a house in the Whitmer Settlement (located in present-day Kansas City). Shortly after, Stephen was ordained an Elder, serving under Bishop Edward Partridge. Many of the citizens of Missouri did not welcome the arrival of the Mormons and began to threaten their safety. Anti-Mormon violence in Jackson County began with an attack on the Whitmer Settlement on 31 October 1833. A mob tore off roofs and partially demolished ten houses, including that of Stephen Chase. Some of the men were beaten and women and children were pelted with rocks during the night of terror. Within a few weeks, most of the Whitmer settlers were driven out of the county. Many fled across the Missouri River into Clay County.
Stephen Chase took his family across the river into Clay County and set up emergency quarters for the winter. Other families joined them and the Chase Branch of the Church was established with Stephen directing the spiritual activities. In 1834, the refugees in Clay County petitioned the president of the United States for protection and for the return of their lands in Jackson County. Among the one hundred and fourteen signatures were those of Stephen Chase and his sons Eli and Darwin. When it became apparent that the Mormons would not regain their lands, citizens of Clay County asked them to move on to avoid conflict.
The legislature had just created a new county of Caldwell in an unsettled part of Missouri. The Church was able to obtain land there and established the city of Far West in 1836. A list of names of Far West residents on 25 March 1838 includes Stephen and Orryanna Chase and their children Eli, Darwin, Hiram and Mary. Stephen was ordained as president of the Far West Elder's Quorum on 6 October 1838. By then, Far West had a population of about 5,000 with another 5,000 throughtout the county. Local Missourians feared the growing population and the influence it might have on slave issues and Indian relations. Members of the church were harassed and persecuted.
In order to protect families, homes and land, a Caldwell County Militia was formed. Ensign Stephen Chase and Sergeant Eli Chase were both listed in Captain Seymour Brunson's company. Conflicts eventually led to the Battle of Crooked River, a skirmish between the militias of Caldwell and Ray Counties. Two of Stephen's sons were involved in the battle in which four men died and a dozen were wounded. Eli was shot in the leg. His younger brother, twenty-two year-old-Darwin, was one of five men arrested and charged with murder for a death in the battle. He was released after spending five months in the dungeon of Richmond Jail. Shortly after that, Governor Boggs issued an Extermination Order and the Mormons were forced to abandon their homes and land and flee to Illinois.
In 1839, the refugees appealed to the federal government for compensation for their losses in Missouri. Over 600 individual affadavits were filed. Stephen Chase filed a sworn statement 5 May 1839 in Adams County, Illinois, asking for $1500 in damages for loss of home, land, crops, animals, furniture and tools. Later, a 50-foot scroll petition was prepared and presented to Congress with over 3,000 signatures, including those of Stephen and Orryanna Chase. None of the appeals were successful.
Many members of the church gathered at Commerce, Illinois, on the Mississippi River where they planned to create a city of peace. A conference was held there on 6 October 1839 for the purpose of organizing the people. After a stake and high council had been appointed for the new city of Nauvoo, it was voted to establish the Zarahemla Stake on the west side of the river in Iowa Territory. Edler John Smith was appointed President and Stephen Chase was appointed to the High Council along with eleven others. He later became a member of the Nauvoo 4th Ward. Records show that Stephen owned Lot 1 in Block 121 of Nauvoo. He also leased eight acres of farm land in Hancock County in partnership with Jeremiah Mackley. In addition to his farming and church work, Stephen served as a 1st Lieutenant in the Nauvoo Legion.
After a two-year mission to Canada and New York, Eli returned to Nauvoo bringing a new wife and child to join the family. Having lost most of their possessions in Missouri, life was a struggle in Nauvoo. But the family was blessed by the building of the temple and all of the family members were able to participate in ordinances there. In just a few years the Mormons had turned swamp land into one of the largest and most productive cities in Illinois. Hard work and sacrifice had provided a refuge, but it did not last. People from surrounding areas feared that the Mormons would soon dominate the county, even the state. They were suspicious of the friendly relations with local Indians and resented the solidarity of the group. Conflicts escalated until leader Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in 1844.
Hoping to escape persecution and find peace in the Rocky Mountains, the Latter-day Saints began moving out of Nauvoo. The Stephen Chase family joined the exodus in March of 1846 and made their way across Iowa, arriving at Council Bluffs on June 17. Shortly after their arrival, the call went out for 500 volunteers to go to California, aiding the army in the war with Mexico. Hiram Chase, age twenty-three, joined the Mormon Battalion and was able to send some of his pay back to help support the family. The Chase family did not stay at Council Bluffs that winter. Many settlements were spread down the Missouri River. From a description given by Eli, it appears that they went south into what is now Fremont County, Iowa (probably near Plum Hollow or present-day Thurman). Stephen did not make it through that difficult winter. He died 11 February 1847 at the age of 68. Eli described the burial site of his father in detail: On Indian land about 40 miles from Council Point, 6 miles north of the [old] Missouri line, about 12 miles above Hunsaker's ferry on the Nishnabotna River, on the Ridge Road about one-half mile north of a stream called Camp Branch, 210 feet northwest of the boiling spring.
In the spring of 1847, Orryanna, now 63 years old, had no choice but to move on. In the company of her children, Eli, Darwin, and Mary, she moved closer to Council Bluffs. As William Sperry was leaving to go west, he gave his cabin at Highland Grove to Orryanna. The Chases stayed there for two more years, planting crops and preparing for the trip west. They were finally ready by June of 1849.
After a difficult journey, the extended Chase family (a group of eight), reached the Great Salt Lake on 25 August 1849. Orryanna's son, Hiram, was still in California. Two months later, Darwin was called to go to California with the James Flake company. She was left in the care of Eli, but within a year and a half, Eli died prematurely from consumption. The women were left on their own. In 1851, Mary Mariah married Henry Packard who had served with Hiram in the Mormon Battalion. When the census was finally taken that summer, Orryanna at age 67 was living in Salt Lake with Mary and Henry. From there, the picture fades. So far, no record of her death has been found. Several different dates have surfaced, but none have been verified. It is hoped that future research may bring suitable closure to the life of one who sacrificed so much for her family and religion.
See history of Eli Chase and Olive Hills
See history of Lieutenant Darwin Chase
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