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WISER NEWSLETTER

Volume 4 Issue 3                                                            March 1999


Research Findings

B

 

enjamin Wiser was a “member of Captain Luther Richardson’s Company raised for the defence of the frontiers on and adjacent to Connecticut River whereof Timothy Bedel Esqr is Colonel”.

Benjamin’s pay began April 6, 1778 and he served for 11 months and 25 days.  He was paid 6 2/3 dollars per month for a total of 23 pounds, 10 shillings and some change.

I recently read a book called, “The American Revolution in Indian Country”, Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities, by Colin G. Calloway, Cambridge University Press, 1995.     

There was a chapter entitled, “Odanak: Abenaki ambiguity in the North” which was of the most interest to our family.

Before the American Revolution, the Abenaki (also called the Saint Francis) Indians lived throughout northern New England (present states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) and southern Quebec.  Odanak, or Saint Francis, was a Abenaki community on the Saint Lawrence River just south of the present Trois-Rivieres (Three Rivers).

“During the French and Indian wars, Sokokis, Cowasucks, Pennacooks, and other Abenaki peoples driven from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine migrated to the northern reaches of their homelands and took refuge in the mission village.  Odanak became a center of Abenaki resistance to English expansion in the eighteenth century and earned the enduring enmity of New England settlers.  In 1759, Robert Roger’s New Hampshire rangers burned the village and claimed to have destroyed it, but the community survived, revived, and adjusted to the new military and political dominance of the British.”

The ambiguity came as a result of the Abenakis not knowing which side they should support during the American Revolution.

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Odanak occupied a key strategic location on the Saint Lawrence River.  This placed the community “in a tug-of-war between the British in Quebec and the Americans in northern New England, both of whom regarded them with suspicion.  The people of Odanak lacked consensus about what course to pursue in the Revolution, and Abenakis served in small-scale operations on both sides during the war.  But beneath the surface confusion and ambivalence, all Abenakis at all times shared the goal of preserving their community and keeping the war at arm’s length.”

In September 1776, General Philip Schuyler ordered Colonel Timothy Bedel to take measures to bring into the settlements on the upper Connecticut Indian families who had left Canada and were living the woods.

British troops occupied Odanak, treated the inhabitants “extremely ill” and pressured them to take up arms.

In June 1777, Bedel reported to Schuyler from Haverhill, New Hampshire, that “the Indians who come here are very Peaceable and I am satisfied there is no danger of them Joining the British Troops.”  By September as many as forty-five Abenaki families were reported to be in the region around Lake Memphremagog [near present day Newport, Vermont], with the intention of settling on the upper Connecticut.

Also from “The American Revolution in Indian Country”, on page 71 it states, “Bedel dispatched runners to the Abenakis, offering them assistance on their journey and supplies on their arrival.  Most of them probably remained in the remote areas around Memphre-magog and  tried to keep out of the conflict; but some warriors, many with their families, accepted Bedel’s offer, settled around Haverhill at the great meadows of the lower Coos, and enlisted as scouts.  Less than twenty years after Roger’s Rangers burned Odanak, Abenakis and New Hampshire rangers were serving together on the upper Connecticut...

By the winter of 1777-8 the Abenakis who had relocated on the upper Connecticut were in dire straits, and Timothy Bedel sent letter after letter to his superiors requesting clothing for his naked Indians.  In May 1778 a “committee from the Micmac and Saint Francois Indians” visited Bedel at Haverhill, asking what was to be done for them...

The next month, Bedel sent Schuyler a list of twenty Saint Francis Indians in his service.  Five of the warriors had their families with them and there were fourteen children in the group.”

It is interesting to note that Benjamin Wiser was serving under Colonel Bedel at this time.

Whether Benjamin had some type of family relationship with the Abenaki is unknown, but if he were a Nipmuc Indian, as we believe, he could have been assisting Bedel in his scouting efforts of the Abenakis and British.

There were also Germans involved with Odanak.  From page 74, “The German troops stationed at the French Canadian village across the river may have kept rebel sympathizers in awe, and they certainly produced tensions with that community, but they exerted no control over the Abenakis...In October 1778, Traversy brought word to the Americans that the fifty Hessians sent to guard Odanak had been deemed unreliable and replace by forty British regulars, and that only four Indians at Odanak were against the Americans.” 

It is important to note that by October 1778, Benjamin had been in the service of Colonel Bedel for more that six months.

The chapter further states, “In January 1779, according to Bedel, Indians from Canada were coming south with news every day.  Nevertheless, all was not well that winter with the Abenakis who had resettled on the Connecticut.  Bedel reported that he had “upwards of 30 Families of Indians” at Haverhill who were almost naked.”

After the war, many Abenakis remained in parts of Vermont and New Hampshire.  However, with the continued expansion of the New England settlement, their dispossession continued. 

“In New Hampshire, Timothy Bedel at one point recommended that land be set aside for the friendly Indians around Coos who had served in the American cause, but that did not stop his son from acquiring a huge swath of Abenaki territory in northern New Hampshire in 1798 in defiance of federal law.”

It is also interesting to note, that 1798 is about the time, Benjamin Wiser and all of his family, except Benjamin Jr., removed to Cazenovia, New York.  Maybe by that time, Benjamin had realized that he would not receive land for his service in the Revolution and decided to remove to areas where future prospects for his family appeared brighter.

Over the next twenty years in New York, Benjamin’s family was finally able to successfully integrate into American society.  Over the next couple of generations, they would be able to acquire land and participate in the American Western expansion.

 

 
Obituary

Ruby Downing, 80; Derry, New Hampshire-Ruby E. Downing, 80, of 36 Mill Road, Derry, died Saturday, Feb. 20, at her home following a brief illness.  She was born in Woodsville on June 26, 1918, a daughter of the late, Alex and Ellen (Bixby) Page.  She was a resident of Derry since 1965, formerly living in Groton, Vt., for many years.  She enjoyed cooking and working in her flower garden.  She is survived by her husband, Carroll Downing [Charles, Viola Ford, Sarah Wiser, Benjamin Jr., Benjamin], of Derry; three sons, Richard Downing of Virginia, Kenneth Frost, of Epping and Bernard Frost of Derry; four daughters,  Jeanette Rivers of Raymond, Kathleen Evans of Florida, Roberta Frost of Dalton and Marjorie Downing of Norwich, Vt; seven grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren; three great-great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.  She was predeceased by her son, Bradley Frost, who died October 1998.  There are no calling hours.  A spring graveside service will be held at the Groton Cemetery in Groton, Vt.  Peabody Funeral Home, 15 Birch St., Derry, made the arrangements.

POSTSCRIPT

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Ron Wiser                                     6 Baton Rouge                   Roswell, NM  88201

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