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The Reverend George Hartwell Spierin & Son - New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida

Sometime in the 1600s when the Sperings came to Limerick from London and changed their name to Spierin, they befriended another British family named Hartwell. For several hundred years afterwards, the surname Hartwell was used as a first name in Spierin families to memorialize the connection.

Luke Spierin, a Limerick plantation owner who died around 1728 had four sons. The eldest was named Hartwell. Luke's brother Matthew had a daughter who married the Reverend Barry Hartwell. Hartwell was a name unique to Limerick Spierins and as a marker it has served researchers well.

George Hartwell Spierin was born in 1758 in Ireland. Historically, there is more on him than any other person we have researched but he still remains mysterious. When he arrived in New York Harbor in January 1788 he is well documented from then on but besides his birth year, all that is known of him in Ireland is that he graduated Trinity College in Dublin in 1787 with a Master of Arts degree. However, having contacted Trinity, they searched for him in the alumni directory unsuccessfully. He was also married in Ireland because his eldest son was born 1 month after his arrival in America in February 1788. That son was George Heartwell Spierin. He was born George Hartwell but changed it to Heartwell as he is later described as a Poet of great talent with a flair for melodrama.

George Sr. settled in Perth Amboy New Jersey in 1788 and was the first Episcopal minister EVER ordained in the state of New Jersey. Bishop Provost ordained him in St. Peter's church and the chalice used was called the Queen Anne chalice. It was a gift to the church from the Queen of England when Perth Amboy was under British rule. The church was utterly destroyed and rebuilt after the American Revolution ended but somehow the chalice survived. After his ordination, George delivered communion from the Queen Anne Chalice.

The author of the article about his ordination describes Perth Amboy as free from the wave of Puritanism sweeping the young nation which was a good thing for George who is described as quite an excellent dancer and Puritans saw dancing as the devils work. His wife is alluded to as not having the same circle of friends and may actually be suffering from depression. Her name was Margaret but her last name is unknown. She was buried in a church wall in Georgetown, S.C.

The odd thing about Perth Amboy is that it was a backwards sort of place to end up. It was a third rate seaport 60 miles south of Manhattan. He becomes pastor of St. Peter's that same year and also opens a preparatory school for boys to teach them Latin and Greek. George was apparently fluent in both, and also was a lawyer and a scientist.

He is one of the keynote speakers at NJ's first Episcopal Convention in 1788 and is scheduled to be the opening speaker for the 2nd convention but he doesn't show up. He instead gives up his pastorship and moves to Newburgh, New York becoming pastor of Christ Church for 100 pounds per year. He again opens a "Glebe House" school for boys under something called the "German Patent". In 1789 he gives a rousing sermon that is apparently still preserved in the U.S. Library of Congress.

He has a falling out with the congregation about his salary. This letter is preserved also. He departs to Virginia in 1793 and becomes pastor of St. Asaph's church in Alexandria where he give a famous eulogy after the death of America's first president George Washington. This is also preserved in the Library of Congress. Again adverts are found for students to attend a Latin and Greek school for boys but St. Asaphs is dying. It is losing parishioners to nearby St. Margarets.

George again pulls up stakes and departs for Georgetown/Charleston South Carolina about 1796. This will be the most ill-fated and tragic move of his life. Along the way he has fathered 2 more children Eliza Armstrong Spierin and James Armstrong Spierin.

Now in 1796, a fellow named John Davis writes a book about his travels in America. Davis stops in Charleston and stays with the Reverend. He writes in his book that George Jr. is a child prodigy. He can read Homer and Cicero at the age of 9 years old. George Heartwell, the 9 y/o is quoted in the book as saying to Davis "please read to me cousin." So it is suspected that George Sr. and Mr. Davis were cousins. Moreover, Davis paints us a picture of a father hopelessly devoted to the promise of his eldest son!

George Heartwell Jr. was completely self-taught by his father until he began studying law at the age of 16 in 1804. He is described as a tall fair melancholy boy who would rather speak with adults or sit under a tree with a book than play sports with his peers. He writes an extraordinary amount of poems and essays beginning at 11 years old but burns a large number of them in a fit of melancholy possibly as a result of his sister Eliza dying of yellow fever in 1803. The Reverend's wife Margaret appears to die of some sickness also at the same time - probably yellow fever. There was a yellow fever epidemic every summer in Charleston from 1790 through 1820.

George Heartwell Jr. writes a poem about his sister which is later published in 1805 in a collection of poems and essays by him. In the poem he describes the exact burial place of his sister as under a willow tree by a large rock where the waves crash upon her tombstone on Sullivan Island which is across the bay from the city of Charleston.

George Sr. puts an advert in the Charleston papers again trying to start a boys school but ends up farming Indigo. We know this because he joined what amounted to a giant ponzi scheme for Irish immigrants called the Winyaw Indigo Society. In the blistering humid summer heat of Charleston, many Irish immigrants turned to Indigo harvesting hoping to profit from the popular plant derived dye in mosquito filled warehouses. Many, many died each summer.

In 1804 George Heartwell Jr. the melancholy young poet died of yellow fever also undoubtedly working with his father harvesting indigo. Young George and family must have been very popular as half of Charleston turned out for the funeral.
His widower father in the meanwhile had remarried to a lady named Mary Elizabeth Tucker and had had a daughter Eleanor. Overcome with grief at the death of his eldest son, George Sr. died the same year of yellow fever but more likely a broken heart.

This left only his son James and his new wife and daughter. James died of T.B. at age 11. Had not Eleanor survived to adulthood (dying at 43), this branch of Spierins would have disappeared completely.

While the name Spierin is gone, so far Eleanor's descendants have survived in Florida into the twentieth century and possibly beyond. Eleanor married J.J. Alexander and had several children including Spierin Alexander whose descendants thrived under different names.

One last mystery - The Reverend is listed as being buried in St. Phillips Church in Charleston S.C. but after contacting St. Phillip's they claim no such person is buried there although a cemetery record does exist for him and his son James!

We are actively tracking this family now!

Bob Spearing

June 2011

 

 





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Last update: April 2011

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