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THE PLIGHT of MARY "Polly" (nee MILLS) STITES-WOODRUFF

by
Audrey (MILLS/LEHMANN-CREAGER/SHIELDS) HANCOCK
1995
Revised: March 2006
Revised: 12 September 2017

MARY "Polly" MILLS, daughter of William (I) and Amy [--?--] MILLS of Westfield Township., Essex County (now Union County), New Jersey, was probably born between 1760-1770 in or near Westfield Township (possibly in Mountainside), Essex County (now Union County), New Jersey where the family resided during the Revolutionary War.
(Reference: Westfield, NJ History: MILLS FAMILY)

Nothing is known of her early years of life except that she had six siblings, namely Jeremiah, William (II), Samuel, Elizabeth “Betsey”, Nancy, Amy, & Hannah.  It appears that as Mary "Polly" entered marriageable age, she was smitten with Benjamin Stites II [aka Major Benjamin Stites (II)] whose family was of the area and attended the same Scotch PlainsBaptist Church in Scotch Plains, Union County, New Jersey.  

(Major) Benjamin Stites II, son of Capt. Benjamin Stites I and his second wife, Elizabeth, was born about 1750 in Scotch Plains, Essex County (now Union County), New Jersey according to some family records. His gravestone memorial in Hamilton County, Ohio reads born "1734," but his father is said to have been born in 1724, so dates are inconsistent. (Major) Benjamin Stites II had married 22 September 1768 in New Jersey to (#1) Rachel Muchmore. (Source: 15 Apr 1994: Letter to ASH from Thomas W. Ward of Cincinnati, OH gives Rachel's maiden name as Muchmore. ) In another record her sister was given as Anna Mills (maiden? or married? name). Likely he was a young man at the time of his first marriage. Benjamin II and Rachel Stites, nee Muchmore, had children, namely: John, Benjamin III, Phebe, Richard, & Rachel Stites. From family records of Benjamin II and Rachel Stites, nee Muchmore we learn that they went to the Ten Mile Country, on Ten Mile Creek (now in Morgan Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania), but then to Washington County, Pennsylvania about 1769.  Here their five children were born. His occupation was given as a tax collector for Morgan Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania in 1784 (then Washington County, Pennsylvania).

It is said that sometime between 1784-1786, Benjamin separated from his wife, (#1) Rachel Stites, nee Muchmore, left his family, then perhaps returned temporarily to New Jersey...and taken a second wife between 1785-1787. Mary "Polly" Mills apparently entered unknowingly into the bigamistic/illegal marriage with Benjamin Stites II sometime before 1787. These records hint of marital problems & discord between Benjamin II and wife, (#1) Rachel. His separation is confimed by this record in Washington County, Pennsylvania. [Was this separation signed before or after his marriage to Mary?]


14 April 1786
Washington County, Pennsylvania

Under the seal of signatures of the parties, Benjamin Stites and Rachel Stites, his wife, signed an agreement of separation. An affidavit was presented to prove that Rachel Stites was guilty of adultery.

Perhaps Benjamin Stites II & Mary "Polly" Mills were married between 1785-1787 at the Scotch Plains Baptist Church in Scotch Plains, Union County, New Jersey where both families were communicant members. Or, perhaps they may have been married by Rev. John Gano (Ganeaux), whose own son, John Gano, is said by researchers to have come to Columbia (Hamilton County, Ohio) in 1788 with Major Benjamin Stites II. Or, perhaps they were married by a Justice of the Peace or another official. Mary apparently entered into the marriage in good faith not knowing she was entering into an illegal marriage with (Major) Benjamin Stites II. It is given in a New Jersey newspaper accounting by Mrs. Mary "Polly" (Mills) Stites that her husband, Benjamin Stites II, presented her with forged divorce papers from Virginia. Mary likely did not learn that the divorce papers were a forgery until she reached Pennsylvania. [Note: Marriage records for Benjamin & Mary have not been found by this researcher. ash]

The following accounting in the record book of the Goshen Baptist Church, Green County, Pennsylvania indicates Benjamin Stites II was cut in 1792 from the rolls of fellowship due to his bigamistic marriage. [Note: Greene County and Washington County, Pennsylvania are located in the south-western corner of Pennsylvania on the border with West Virginia.]


“December 29, 1792
Met at Muddy Creek Benjamin Stites formerly a member of this church has married while still having a wife, cut off from fellowship.”
Goshen Baptist Church Records, Whitely Twp., Greene County, Penna

This marriage of Benjamin Stites (II) and Mary “Polly” Mills is confirmed in the story from The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families. Mary (Mills) Stites accompanied her assumed husband from New Jersey in June of 1788, arriving at Redstone, Pennsylvania in July 1788. From there they went on separate boats down the Ohio River into Kentucky arriving there during the same month (July 1788). They lived at or near Washington Township, Kentucky for a time and in November went into "the Miami" river valley arriving at Columbia of the Northwest Territory, now Ohio. [Note: Historical records indicate Maj. Benj. Stites founded the town, Columbia, at the mouth of the Little Miami River and North Bend, Ohio near the mouth of the Great Miami River.] He landed there 28 Nov 1788 with his wife and son, Benjamin Stites III, according to historical data. His wife at this time would have been Mary (Mills) Stites. His son would have been Benjamin III (aka Jr.), son of Major Benjamin Stites (II) and his first wife, Rachel Stites, nee Muchmore. It is here at Columbia that it is said Benjamin (II) & Mary's son, John Gano Stites, was the first white baby born in November or December 1788. [Note: Some researchers say he was born in December 1789 and/or in Kentucky, but U.S. Federal Census of 1850, Spencer County, Indiana enumerates John Gano Stites as being 62 yrs. and born in Ohio.]

According to Family Records or Genealogies of the First Settlers of Passaic Valley (and vicinity) above Chatham by John Littell, 1852, page 409, we read: "The wife of Benjamin Stites, Jun. was said to be the first white woman that ever landed in Cincinnati." From this we might assume that the wife they are referring to is Mary “Polly” (Mills) Stites, since Benjamin had left Rachel and his first family at Redstone, Pennsylvania.

Mary evidently discovered the bigamy of her husband, Benjamin (II), and by 5 April 1790 she had left Benjamin to return to the home of her parents in Westfield, Essex County (now Union County), New Jersey with her son, John Gano Stites. The rift and animosity between Benjamin (II) & Mary is evidenced by the following newspaper articles.


New Jersey Journal of Elizabethtown, New Jersey
4 August 1790
Extracted in Notices from New Jersey Newspapers 1781-1790, Records of New Jersey,
Vol. I, page 294
by
Thomas B. Wilson
"Benjamin Stites, at Columbia, Hamilton County, in the Northwestern Territory, adv. under date of 5 April 1790 that his wife Mary has departed his house and forewarns the public from trusting on his account."

Benjamin (II) makes notice that he will no longer be responsible for any debts for Mary. In response, Mary writes her rebuttal and in the process tells the story of her woes.


New Jersey Journal of Elizabethtown, New Jersey
8 September 1790
Extracted in Notices from New Jersey Newspapers 1781-1790, Records of New Jersey,
Vol. I, pages 295-296
by
Thomas B. Wilson
"Mary Stites, Westfield, in a lengthy letter to the Editor tells of the baseness of her husband who has advertised that she departed his house on the Miami. Before her marriage he had seduced a young girl who he deserted leaving her to provide for his child. He was known, although improperly, as Major Stites. He was previously married and had a number of children at Redstone, but he produced a bill of divorcement from the State of Virginia. On our way to the Ohio country when we were at Fort Pitt he put me on board a boat to go down the Ohio while he took passage on another, for the sole purpose of having the company of another woman, and after difficulties and dangers innumerable, I arrived at the Miami. When on the Miami, his former wife set upon him for the injustice he had done her at which time it was found that his bill of divorce was a forgery. She, the writer, then took her child, only one year old, to return to her parents which he permitted not from a principle of obliging her, but from the great probability of her being killed by the Indians thus sparing him the necessity of forging another bill of divorce. In the event she arrived safely at Fort Pitt and came from there to her parents. Some months since Mr. Stites called to see her and among other things presented her with a nutmeg which nearly poisoned herself and her mother..."

To contradict, Mary’s story, Benjamin Stites (II) sends the following information to the editor.


New Jersey Journal of Elizabethtown, New Jersey
22 September 1790
Extracted in Notices from New Jersey Newspapers 1781-1790, Records of New Jersey,
Vol. I, pages 296-297
by
Thomas B. Wilson
"Benjamin Stites [residence not stated] in a letter to the Editor writes that the piece in issue of the 8th instant signed Mary Stites may lead the public, if nothing should be said to the contrary, to entertain a very contemptible opinion of his character. He requests the Editor to print the following depositions."

"Mr. Joseph Halsey jun. in a deposition taken 15 September 1790 before Jedidiah Swan, J.P., of Essex County, stated that he travelled with Mr. Benjamin Stites and his wife from New Jersey to Redstone in June 1788 and that he saw no unkind treatment of Mrs. Stites. As Mr. Stites was unavoidably detained there to procure provision, she chose to continue with the company she had travelled with from New Jersey together with Benjamin Stites' brother Hezekiah who had their prepared boats for going down the river. When Benjamin Stites' business was accomplished, he went down the river in another boat with his brother Elijah and his wife, who was the only woman on board. After they both had arrived at Kentucky, he, the deponent, was frequently at their house and saw not the least disrespect shown Mrs. Stites by her husband..."

"Captain Joseph Meeker of Springfield, Essex Co, NJ in a deposition taken 16 September 1790 before Jeremiah Ballard, J.P. of Essex County, stated that in the summer of 1788 that he resided in the township of Washington in Kentucky and that Mrs. Mary Stites arrived there with a party from New Jersey in July of that year and Major Benjamin Stites soon after. He lived a near neighbor to them until December following when the party moved down to Miami, and he, the deponent, in a few days joined them and lived there until the June following. He was on friendly terms with Mr. and Mrs. Stites, being at their house nearly every day, and they appeared to live happily together. The family of Mr. Stites was well and plentifully provided for and no family there appeared to live better..."

"Joel Williams in a deposition taken 20 September 1790 before Isaac Woodruff Esq., one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Essex County, stated that in July 1788 he was at Redstone old fort preparing boats to go down the river in company with Hezekiah Stites at which time Mr. Benjamin Stites and his wife arrived. As Mr. Stites was busily employed in getting flour and other necessary articles, his wife chose to go with the deponent and Hezekiah Stites. He was at Limestone when Mr. Benjamin Stites arrived, and, being frequently at Mr. Stites' house, he never saw anything but friendly conduct between him and his wife, Mary..."

"William Sayrs, "of the Farms", Essex County, in a deposition taken 20 September 1790 before Robert Wade, J.P. of said County, stated that in July 1788 he resided in the settlement of Redstone when Benjamin and Mary Stites arrived there. Mrs. Stites went down the river in company with Hezekiah Stites while Benjamin remained to thresh his grain, in which this deponent helped him. When Benjamin had got his flour ready and his business done, this deponent went down the river with him along with Benjamin's brother Elijah Stites whose wife was the only woman on board..."

"Mr. John R. Mills (residence not stated) in a deposition taken 21 September 1790 in the Borough of Elizabeth before Jeremiah Ballard one of the Justices of said Borough, stated that he travelled the greater part of the way to Redstone with Benjamin and Mary Stites and went down the Ohio River in the same boat with Mary Stites...He spent several months in the neighbourhood of the Stites' at Miami, on one occasion residing four days with them, and found that Mr. Stites treated his wife with kindness and civility..."
[Note: John R. Mills was likely John Reading Mills, a distant cousin of the Mills family of Westfield, NJ. It is given that John R. Mills was a surveyor with the Stites's Expedition into the Ohio Valley...(known at that time as part of the Northwest Territory). ash]

Sometime after her return home to New Jersey, Mary "Polly" (Mills) Stites gave birth to a daughter, Mary R. Stites. Mary R. Stites' birthdate in Ohio court records is given as October 1791. However, if the above newspaper account of 5 April 1790 stating that Mary had left Benjamin is true, then it becomes apparent that Mary was possibly with child when she left Benjamin in Ohio to return to New Jersey. This would then lead to the conclusion that possibly Mary R. Stites was born in October 1790 instead of 1791 as given in some records, unless there was some attempt at a reconciliation.

By 15 December 1797 when Mary "Polly" was named one of the two executors of her mother’s [Amy (???) Mills] will, Mary had married a Mr. Woodruff. Her two Stites children were named as legatees along with other descendants.


NJ Colonial Documents, First Series--Vol. XXXVIII: : Calendar of Wills, Vol. IX 1796-1800, Edited & Indexed by Elmer T. HUTCHINSON, Corresponding Secretary, NJ Historical Society, Scott Printing Co., Printers, Jersey City, NJ, 1944, p. 254: Lib 38, p. 230; File 9526--9529G

" 1797, Dec 15. Mills, Amy, of Essex Co., widow of William Mills. Granddaughter, Polly Stites [daughter of daughter Polly Woodruff], 1/3 of estate; should she die under 18 without issue, the same to her brother, John Stites. Grandsons, Johnathan Baker [son of daughter Amy Baker], Samuel Frazee [son of daughter Hannah Frazee], James Marsh [son of daughter Nancy Marsh, dec'd] and Aaron Roll [son of daughter Betsey Roll] the other 2/3 of estate divided between them. Daughters, Amy Baker, Hannah Frazee, Betsey Roll and Polly Woodruff wearing apparel. Executors--daughter, Polly Woodruff and Deacon Andrew Hetfield. Witnesses--Anthony Badgley, Jr. and Abigail Badgley. Proved May 20, 1799. "

Nothing more has been learned concerning Mary "Polly" (Mills) Stites-Woodruff, nor the name of her Woodruff husband. Her daughter, Mary Polly Stites (1791-????) married 1824 to Phillip Price (1785-1825) and she died in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio. Her son, John Gano Stites (1788-1853) , married (1) Martha Cory and (2) Lucinda Harrington. He is given by family researchers as being the father of eight children.





See also: Chuck Carey: Polly's Daughter & the Clockmaker




Written: 1996
Revised: 11 December 2006
Revised: 09 June 2017
11 September 2017






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