Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Col. James Faulkner: A Well Respected Man About Town (52 Ancestors #25)

To learn about James, I had to start at the end. His birth and early life shrouded in mystery, as if he had sprung, fully grown, from the earth in rural Michigan in 1834. I banged my head against that brick wall for years. Until one day, a chink of mortar fell, and then another ...... Here is the life of James Faulkner, as I have come to know it.

James Faulkner was the third son, and sixth child of a family of eight, born to Samuel Faulkner and Elinor, his wife. Reportedly born July 2nd 1779, early life is hazy. The Faulkner's farmed in Wallkill, Orange County New York. James' father Samuel was a nose to the ground sort. Working hard and keeping to himself.

James grew up in the shadow of his war hero uncle, Captain William Faulkner, and long-time militia-man grandfather, also William Faulkner. They may have been influential in James' decision to join the military.  In 1806 he joined the 5th Regiment, Orange County New York, as an Ensign. He made Captain by 1809, 1st Major by 1815, and finally Colonel in 1816.

James fought in the War of 1812. The details remain sketchy as I write this.

In 1814 he was a Justice of the Peace, in 1815 a land surveyor, and a member of New York state assembly from Orange County, 1816-17.

In 1807 James purchased the farm he resided on from his parents for one hundred dollars.

James married Martha McBride of Wallkill about 1808. 11 children were born to them. Their first born was a son, Nelson, followed shortly by daughter Caroline.  After the war, Mary Jane and Fannie joined the family. Between 1818 and 1831 six more children were born to the couple. Four girls; Nancy Martha, Antoinette, Henretta and one other, and two boys; Anson and Harrison. The young daughter with no name died sometime between 1821 and 1829.

James' father Samuel died in 1811. His mother Elinor in 1826.

At this point I need to address the slaves in the household. I was saddened and disappointed to discover my family had a part in it. Even as common as it was for the times. James' father never had slaves. I do not believe his grandfather did either. It wasn't until 1820 do 4 slaves show up in the James Faulkner household. James' uncle William, his father's brother, the one I suspect had a significant influence on James and his life choices, did have many slaves. Was he an influence on this decision? We'll never know. Happily, by 1830 there is only one free colored male in the household, and by 1840 - none.

In the Fall of 1833 James decided to move his large family to the wilderness of the Michigan Territory. It's quite possible the migration was made by way of the Erie Canal, recently completed. James supported Governor Clinton, to some opposition by his constituents, in the grand undertaking.

"During the first half of the 19th century, innovations in transportation made traveling faster, easier, and cheaper. The steamboat was the first to impact travel to Detroit. Before the steamboat, travel between Buffalo, New York, and Detroit took a month. In April 1818, the first steamboat on the Great Lakes, named the Walk-in-the-Water, made the trip in 44 hours and 10 minutes.

When the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, travel to Detroit was made even easier. The Canal connected the Hudson River with Lake Erie, making it possible to travel completely by water from the Atlantic states to Detroit. Moving from New York to Michigan became affordable and easy, because it was cheaper and faster to travel by water than by wagon."  ~Detroit Historical Society

It is recorded that upon arrival in the wilderness of Michigan, James erected a log cabin, and by the following year the first frame dwelling. James opened the first hotel in Grass Lake soon after. He purchased 480 acres of land in what was know as the "Toledo Strip", adjacent to land purchased by his son eldest Nelson.
About 1835 the couple welcomed their final child, a daughter named Iantha. 

I can't even begin to imagine what life would have been like in the wilderness. With 10 children, four under the age of 10, and one infant. Or how James' wife Martha coped with it all. Or how he kept his family fed and clothed. There are just so many things we take for granted in this modern world, things that are of no concern to us, that were literal life or death matters to these Pioneer people.

James was well liked in the new community of Grass Lake. His children grew, as did the town he was now a part of. He traveled back to Wallkill on occasion. There are land records that record James and his brothers selling the family farmland. The last parcel was sold sometime around 1840, about the same time James' other brothers left the area.  

In 1841 James and Martha witnessed the marriage of their daughter Frances Ann "Fannie" to Joseph Watkins. A grandson followed soon after. 

A happy time, no doubt, but it was to be short lived.

Sunday morning, April 20th, 1845 Fannie Faulkner Watkins passed away. She was 29. She left behind a grief stricken husband, a tiny son and mourning family. This was the second child lost to James and his wife. Son Harrison was employed with the railroad at the time, and would become involved in a scandal that would take him to the lead mines of Galena, Illinois in flight. Later that same year, around Christmas, James lost his beloved wife Martha. 

Now a widower, James continued to make his home with six of his children, the youngest having just turned ten, and his older brother David. A tight-knit family, they would remain under the same roof for most of the rest of James' life. 

In 1856 Harrison returned to Grass Lake to marry Jennie Whitford. The couple moved shortly thereafter to Minnesota. Harrison and his wife would give James 3 grandsons. 1861 brought the marriage of daughter Henrietta to Charles Cassidy, a prominent businessman of the area. They would give James two granddaughters. Not to be left out, Nancy Martha found her way to the alter in 1862 when she wed the widower John Soper, 20 years her senior. No children were born to this couple. The remainder of James and Martha's children never married, and continued living together the rest of their adult lives.

April 19th, 1869 Colonel James Faulkner died. He received a glowing obituary in the Jackson Daily Citizen:

 "Col. Faulkner was a citizen of Orange Co. N.Y., previous to his residence here. In the War of 1812 he was in command of a regiment stationed on Staten Island. Afterward he was an officer of the State Militia. He was elected to the Legislature for several terms, and supported the measures of Gov. Clinton, particularly for the construction of the Erie canal. This course gave offense to his constituents, but later years justified its wisdom and value. In 1833 Col. Faulkner removed to Michigan, at that time and for four years afterward a territory. He located at Grass Lake, then a wilderness. For a number of years he pursued a retired life, though not indifferent to the events of the time.  When the late national conflict came upon the country, though past 80 years of age, he comprehended the issues and committed himself upon the side of freedom. His life covers almost the whole period of our history as a nation - extending to within three years of the Declaration of Independence. Col. Faulkner was a man of more than common physical and mental vigor. He was self reliant, independent, cheerful and deliberate. His parents were members of the Presb. Church O. S. His ancestors were from Scotland. For a number of years past he was a constant reader of the Bible, and gave evidence that he had found comfort and peace. The present generation are deeply indebted to these men on the past. We inherit the valuable fruitage of their wisdom, toil and self sacrifice."

James is buried in Grass Lake Cemetery with his wife Martha, daughter Fannie and brother David.

Read The Series Here

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