MARY "Polly" MILLS, daughter of William (I) and Amy [--?--] MILLS of Westfield Township., Essex County (now Union County), New Jersey, was probably born ca 1770 in or near Westfield Township (now  possibly in Mountainside), Essex County (now Union County), New Jersey where the family resided during the Revolutionary War.
Nothing is known of her early years of life except that she had six siblings. It appears that as Mary entered marriageable age, she was taken with Benjamin Stites II [aka Capt. and Maj. Benjamin Stites (II)] whose family was of the area and attended the same Baptist Church in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Mary apparently entered unknowingly into a bigamistic/illegal marriage with (Capt./Maj.) Benjamin Stites.
(Capt./Maj.) Benjamin Stites II, son of Benjamin Stites, was born ca 1750 in Scotch Plains, Essex County (now Union County), New Jersey according to some records. His gravestone reads born "1734," but his father is said to have been born in 1724, so dates are inconsistent. (Capt./Maj.) Benjamin Stites II had married 22 September 1768 in New Jersey to #1 Rachel (maiden name unknown), whose sister was an Anna Mills (probably her sister's married name). Benjamin and Rachel had children, namely: John, Benjamin III, Phebe, Richard, & Rachel. From family records of Benjamin and Rachel Stites we learn that they went to the Ten Mile Country, on Ten Mile Creek (now in Morgan Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania), but then in Washington County, Pennsylvania about 1769. Here their five children were born. His occupation was given as a tax collector for Morgan Twp., Greene County, Pennsylvania in 1784 (then Washington County, Pennsylvania).
However, sometime in 1784 or before, Benjamin must have left his family and returned to New Jersey...and taken a second wife by 1785. This is confimed by the following accounting and the record book of the Goshen Baptist Church, Green County, Pennsylvania. These records hint of marital problems between Benjamin and Rachel, and by 1791 Benjamin declares that a second wife had left him. Greene County, Pennsylvania and Washington County, Pennsylvania are located in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania on the border with West Virginia.
From The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneers on pp. 459-460 we read the following:
From this above record, it appears that about 1784 or before Benjamin left Rachel and returned to New Jersey. Here he bigamously and illegally married Mary "Polly" Mills, daughter of William I & Amy [--?--] Mills of Westfield Township, New Jersey, who then left him. [No marriage records are found.]
In 1786 Benjamin Stites must have returned to Rachel at Redstone, Pennsylvania (now Brownsville, Washington County, Pennsylvania) on the Ten Mile River. At this time (14 April 1786) he evidently secured an agreement of separation from Rachel.
In the summer of 1786, Stites happened to be at Washington, just back from Limestone, now Maysville, where he headed a party of Kentuckians in pursuit of some Indians who had stolen some horses. They followed for some days; the latter escaped, but Stites gained by it a view of the rich valleys of the Great and Little Miami as far up as the site of Xenia.
(Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. I, 1888, p. 738: Hamilton County)
It is said that it was during this time period that Benjamin found the rich, fertile soil of southwest Ohio in what was known as the Ohio Valley. He appears so impressed with its potential that he hurried to New Jersey to spread the word, and then went to New York. In New York, he tried to influence the Continental Congress in land speculation in Ohio. Here he drew the attention of John Cleves Symmes of Trenton, New Jersey, a Revolutionary War veteran and an influential member of Congress from New Jersey. "This result was the formation of a company of twenty-four gentlemen of the State, similar to that of the Ohio Company, as proprietors of the proposed purchase. Among these were General Jonathan Dayton, Elias Boudinot, and Dr. Witherspoon, Symmes and Stites." (Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. I, 1888, p. 738: Hamilton County) Henry Howe refers to Benjamin Stites as "a trader from New Jersey" in his book.
Symmes, in August of the next year, 1787, "petitioned Congress for a grant of the land, but before the bargain was closed he made arrangements with Stites to sell him 10,000 acres of the best land." (Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. I, 1888, p. 738: Hamilton County) Judge Symmes bought one million acres of land between the Great and Little Miami Rivers. In 1788 John Cleves Symmes was appointed a judge for the Northwest Territory. He had sold about 10,000 acres near the Little Miami to Benjamin Stites. Symmes’ dreams of amassing a fortune led him to advertise these Ohio lands, but eventually died penniless in his harried chase for wealth and ambition due to sloppy surveying and record keeping.
In September of 1788, Stites, Symmes, Denman, Patterson, Filson, Ludlow that included a large party of about 60 men left Limestone for a preliminary exploration of the Miami Purchase. They decided to create a settlement and began surveying what was to be.
Benjamin Stites led a party of 18 or 20 settlers in November 1788 to a tract owned by Matthias Denman (from Springfield, New Jersey) across the mouth of Kentucky’s Licking River, thus establishing the first settlement, Columbia, in the Northwest Territory on the 18th of November 1788, which predated Cincinnati (previously Losantiville, the 2nd settlement) by one month. Denman had purchased his tract in the winter of 1787-1788 from John Cleves Symmes. The hamlet of Columbia was located below the mouth of the Little Miami River.
Another list is presented in this accounting: "It will be appropriate here to give a complete list of the names of the first settlers of Columbia: James H. Bailey, Zephu Ball, Jonas Ball, James Bowman, Edward Baxton, W. Coleman, Benjamin Davis, David Davis, Owen Davis, Samuel Davis, Francis Dunlevy, Hugh Dunn, Isaac Ferris, John Ferris, James Flinn, Gabriel Foster, Luke Foster. John S. Gano, Wm. Newell, John Phillips, Jonathan Pitman, Benj. F. Rudolph, James Seward, William Goforth, Daniel Griffin, Joseph Grose, John Hardin, Cornelius Hurley, David Jennings, Henry Jennings, Levi Jennings, Ezekiel Larned, John McCullough, John Manning, James Matthews, Aaron Mercer, Elijah Mills, Ichabod B. Miller, Patrick Moore, Wm. Moore, John Morris, Benjamin Stites, Thomas C. Wade, John Web, Mr. Wickersham, Daniel Griffin." (Source: Venable LL.D., W. H., History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County: A Historical and Descriptive Sketch, Chapter V, p. 55)
Another list names these as early settlers: "Among those early settlers were Col. Spencer, Major Gano, Judge Goforth, Francis Dunlavy, Major Kibbey, Rev. John Smith, Judge Foster, Columbus Brown, Mr. Hubbell, Capt. Flinn, Jacob White and John Riley."
(Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. I, 1888, p. 738: Hamilton County)
"In 1787, Major Benjamin Stites purchased the land that would become Indian Hill for 66 cents an acre. The first white settlers arrived in 1795."
In 1789, Ft. Washington was established at Losantiville (later Cincinnati in 1790).
Benjamin eventually returned to Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1791 to file the separation agreement with Rachel obtained in 1786, and to proclaim that Mary had left him in 1791.
August Term 1791|
Wm. Goforth, Judge; Wm. Wells, Judge; Wm. McMillan, Judge
"Benjamin Stites, Esq. presented to court an agreement of separation between him & his wife, Rachel Stites, dated 14 Apr 1786, Washington County, Pennsylvania under the seal of signature of the parties fully set out on record and also an affadavit of John Corbly & Wm. Crawford to prove said Rachel Stites guilty of the act of adultery which were both by orders of court: The affadavit is dated Washington County, PA, 30th Sep 1785 and at the same time said Stites obtained leave of court to have recorded evidence that his second wife, Mary Stites, voluntarily left his bed & board. Benjamin Stites, Jr., was the witness sworn in court."
(Source: 1997, Beverly Sidenstick, 95 Casa del Sol, Winter Haven, FL 33881)
It is said in a New Jersey newspaper accounting that Benjamin Stites presented Mary Mills with forged divorce papers from Virginia. Mary (Mills) Stites apparently did not learn the divorce papers were a forgery until later. Since the Mills family was of the Baptist faith and attended the Scotch Plains Baptist Church in Scotch Plains near Westfield, New Jersey, it is believed that Mary did marry Benjamin Stites in good faith, believing her marriage to be legal. They may have been married by Rev. John Gano, whose own son, John Gano (Jr.), is said by researchers to have come to Columbia in 1788 with Benjamin Stites. John Gano is not listed among the names of those landing in 1788 at Columbia in Hamilton County, Ohio. Possibly John Gano landed with Benjamin Stites in Kentucky. This bigamistic marriage of Benjamin Stites and Mary Mills is confirmed in the story above from The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families. Mary (Mills) Stites accompanied her assumed husband, Benjamin, 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. His landing group in November of 1788 is said to have included his wife and son, Benjamin III (s/o Benjamin & #1 Rachel). (His wife at that time period would have been probably been a very pregnant Mary "Polly" (Mills) Stites. It is here at Columbia that it is said Benjamin's and Mary's son, John Gano Stites, was the first white baby born in Nov or Dec 1788. (Some researchers say he was born in Dec 1789 and/or in KY., but U.S. Federal Census of 1850, Spencer Co., IN enumerates John Gano Stites as being 62 yrs. and born Ohio.) According to Family Records or Genealogies of the First Settlers of Passaic Valley (and vicinity) above Chatham by John Littell, 1852, p. 409: "The wife of Benjamin Stites, Jun. was said to be the first white woman that ever landed in Cincinnati."
In regard to the Columbia colony, we read in the The Reporter published by the Allen Co., Ohio Historical Society, Memorial Hall, Lima, Ohio, July 1953: "The little colony was made up largely of New Jersey people; many were Essex Co. [New Jersey] born; the men, energetic and enterprising, had fought together at Monmouth, Trenton and Yorktown; and a half dozen families were Baptist. Eight bore the name of Stites, Major Benjamin, his wife and three children,- Jonathan, Hezekiah and Elijah. Thus the group had ties at birth, religion, and military service, a uniting factor which may have been responsible for the early establishment of a church. On Jan. 20th, 1790 a Baptist Church was constituted at Columbia, - The first church in the Northwest Territory, - and on that day, Elijah and Roda Stites joined with ten others in chartering the first organization for Christian workship."
Mary (Mills) Stites evidently discovered the bigamy of her believed husband, Benjamin Stites, and by 5 April 1790 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 and Mary is evidenced by the following newspaper articles.
"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."
Mary in return retaliates with her own letter sent to the newspaper.
"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..."
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.
Sometime after her return home it appears that Mary "Polly" (Mills)
Stites returned home.
(Capt.) Benjamin Stites II then apparently also married bigamously in Hamilton County, Ohio to #3 Hannah Waring on 14 August 1792 by Robert Morris. He and Hannah had the following children: Anne Watson Stites born Oct 1792; William Stites born June 1797; and Nathaniel Warren Stites born 18 Apr 1799. Mrs. Hannah Stites was married 13 Nov 1811 Daniel C. Carter by Edward Meeks according to the Western Spy newspaper dated 23 Nov 1811 as per Marjorie Byrnside Burress, Early Rosters of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, Ohio, 1984, p. 177.
Rachel, Benjamin's first wife, left the Ten Mile Creek area in 1796 and went to Deerfield, Hamilton County, Ohio (now in Warren County, Ohio). Benjamin sued her for divorce, and she countered in March of 1796. A divorce between Benjamin Stites and his first wife, Rachel, was not legally filed until "the third Tuesday of March 1796 in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio" being registered and finalized in 1798. A notice of divorce of Benjamin Stites from Rachel Stites appeared in the Freeman's Journal on 17 Jun 1796 and 8 Oct 1796 according to Marjorie Byrnside Burress, Early Rosters of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, Ohio, 1984, p. 201.
Mary "Polly" (Mills)
Stites had evidently remarried by 15 December 1797 to [--?--] Woodruff, for she was called "Polly Woodruff" in the will of her mother, Amy [--?--] Mills, widow of William Mills (I). She may have gone with her WOODRUFF husband to Warren County, Ohio where her children were later residing, but that is not known. Further information concerning Mary "Polly" (Mills) Stites Woodruff is not known at this time. The illegimate children of (Capt.) Benjamin Mills II and his bigamistic relationship to Mary "Polly" (Mills) Stites: 1. John Gano Stites and 2. Mary R. Stites.
John Gano Stites married 16 Oct 1808 in Springfield, New Jersey to #1 Martha Cory (30 Jul 1786 NJ-1 Aug 1830 OH). After Martha's death, John Gano Stites married 12 June 1831 in Ohio to #2 Lucinda Harington who was born 20 Apr 1806 in Virginia. John Gano Stites died June 1853 in either Ohio or Indiana.
John was mentioned as an alternative legatee in the will (dated 15 December 1797) of his maternal grandmother, Amy [--?--] Mills, widow of William Mills (I), of Essex County, New Jersey in the event of the death of his sister, "Polly Stites" before age 18.
Children of John Gano & Martha (Cory) Stites:
Benjamin Stites died intestate 30 Aug 1804 in Columbia, Hamilton County, Ohio. Benjamin Stites, Jr. (III), James Miranda, and Ephraim Kibbey were appointed administrators of his estate. The children of his first marriage with Rachel [--?--] Stites became the only legal heirs. The family of (Capt.) Benjamin Stites (II) and Rachel were:
(1) John Stites
(2) Benjamin Stites III
(3) Phebe Stites
(4) Richard Stites
(5) Rachel Stites
Rachel [--?--] Stites married 14 Apr 1805 in Lebanon, Warren County, Ohio to Joseph Ward.
There has been widespread genealogical fallacy concerning the second wife of Benjamin Stites. She was Mary "Polly" Mills, dau/o William Mills & Amy [--?--]. She later married a Mr. Woodruff.
She has in D.A.R. records been called "Mary Price." This is NOT true. Mary Price was Mary R. (Stites) Price, dau/o (Capt.) Benjamin Stites from his bigamist marriage with Mary "Polly" (Mills)
Some genealogists have confused the STITES records. There is some speculation that the first wife of (Capt.) Benjamin Stites II was even Rachel Mills, but this has not been proven, and other researchers call her Rachel Walden.
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