Strange as it might seem, I probably know more about the ancestors of some of my ancestors than they knew themselves—in some cases, a lot more. For example, did great-great-grandmother Delilah Champlin Porter ever hear about Anne and Susannah Hutchinson, who were, respectively, massacred and captured by Indians? During her childhood in Harpersfield, Delaware County, New York, did she know that her parents were seventh American- generation Champlins whose line stretched back to the days of the Puritans in New England?
you say your name was Champlin?
In the fall of 2003 I made a trip, almost a kind of pilgrimage, to Delilah’s childhood world in eastern New York state. I was looking for her grandparents and for records to clarify whether or not she was adopted. What I found was one set of grandparents and a fellow Champlin “cousin” who descended from an uncle of Delilah’s father. The uncle’s name? Jeffrey Washington Champlin.
The grandparents I found lived and died on the east side of the Hudson River in Dutchess County in a town called Rhinebeck. The ones I have yet to find are somewhere in the Catskill mountains two counties to the west. The ironic thing is, I married a man from that part of the Hudson Valley, and I can’t count how many times I’ve been there over the past 45 years. I didn’t know about my Champlin ancestors until September of 2000—and to think they were right there nearby the whole time!
My “guide” on this tour was the pages of information I had from Bob Champlin, super Champlin historian, and I consulted them constantly. They contained information I had read more than once, but it all took on new dimensions when I was in the settings where the people actually lived and died. In addition, I had a chart that I had created from Bob’s information, an effort to show how three lines of descendants from the 1600s immigrant Jeffrey Champlin converged in a little girl named Delilah.
up in wartime
Rhode Island had the distinction of being “first in war and last in peace.” The colony was the first to renounce allegiance to King George III but the last to ratify the Constitution fourteen years later. Rhode Island contributed many men and played an important part in the War. One of the War’s most famous generals, Washington’s second-in-command Nathanael Greene, was a Rhode Islander.
So these two Champlin ancestors spent their childhoods in the middle of
a war. Neighbors and relatives undoubtedly went off to fight, and some may
have lost their lives. Both families had more children during the war, one
of the mothers giving birth to four little sisters before the conflict was
over. During the boys’ teen years, the fledgling country was governed
under the loose Articles of Confederation. The boys were sixteen the year
the Constitutional Convention convened to draw up a stronger central
government. Rhode Islanders, always strong on self-government, were deeply
skeptical of that idea and rejected at least eleven attempts to convene a
convention to ratify the Constitution. When it was finally ratified, the
vote was a tight 34-32. It is intriguing to speculate on the discussions
and arguments that must have flourished among the citizens during
Jeffery's and Stephen's teen years.
By the time Rhode Island became the 13th state, the Champlin boys were nineteen and launching into adulthood. Neither would marry until their mid-twenties, and both would marry women several years younger and still in their teens. They were married within a year of each other during George Washington’s second term as president.
Family Comes Alive
Delilah’s maternal grandfather was one of many Jeffrey Champlins. In his case, he was Jeffrey Hazard Champlin because his mother was Hannah Hazard. The history of the Hazard family interlaced with the Champlins time and again from the earliest days of the New England colonies.
We aren’t sure when Jeffrey Hazard moved from Rhode Island to Dutchess County, New York. His father, Thomas, is said to have moved there sometime after 1878, which would have been before the end of the War when Jeffrey was still a youngster. Some records claim that Jeffrey’s twins, George and Ellis, were born in Rhode Island, which would mean he was still there in 1802. Other records say they were born in Rhinebeck, New York, where they family settled and lived out their days. That suggests he could have moved to New York many years earlier.
GIRLS NAMED DELIGHT
When Jeffrey and Prudence’s first baby was a boy, they named him Hazard. He would father nine children and live to the age of 72. When Hazard was 2½, a baby sister was born. I like to think it was her mother who gave her the name Delight in honor of her lost sister—not Jeffrey naming his daughter after his first wife. Three and a half years later, in November 1802, twins George and Allis joined the family. A brother John was born in 1808.
We have the following account from Bob Champlin about Jeffrey:
Jeffrey became a wealthy man
in Rhinebeck and was made a Trustee of the Rhinebeck Methodist Church on
June 2, 1829…. In the late 1700s, [he] built an estate referred to over
the years first as the “Old Homestead” and later as “The Maples.”
The property was located along the Old Post Road north of the village and
consisted of 135-150 acres plus the mansion. Jeffrey sold it to a Mr.
Upton who in turn sold it to Henry Welcher, who sold it to John van
Wagner, who sold it to John Woods, who sold it to John Wilbour Champlin
(son of Jeffrey). The property then passed from Champlin hands for good
when John sold it to Mr. Griffen Hoffman. He sold the land to a Mr.
Ingalls, who later sold it back to him. Hoffman then sold the property to
William Astor whose son, legendary financier John Jacob Astor, once wrote
that as a small boy growing up in Rhinebeck, he had often fantasized being
wealthy enough to be able to own this building—and he eventually did.
This gives us an idea of the childhood of the five children growing up in the town of Rhinebeck on the east side of the Hudson River. When they reached adulthood Hazard married Mary Ann Plass, and George married Susan Underwood. Both Delight and Allis married men whose last names were Champlin. John married someone named Jane Van Allen, but that is all the information we have about him, other than his buying the family estate back at one point.
Delight and Joseph Champlin had seven children in eleven or twelve years. All were girls except one. They named #6 Delight. Two months after the seventh child was born, Delight the mother died (Oct. 1832). As far as we know, Joseph never remarried. At least the fact that he was buried in the Champlin plot with Delight’s parents and brothers seems to indicate that. Not remarrying would have been unusual in those days when very young children were involved.
So who cared for and raised those six little girls and brother Johnny? By that time, Ellis was married, but she had three little ones of her own and lived in the next county. With travel as it was in those days, she could not have been stopping over to lend a hand, as we do nowadays, or to take a couple of sisters home with her for a week. Joseph himself was fourth in a family of ten, but they were all born in Rhode Island and died in other locations—i.e., apparently none but Joseph lived in Rhinebeck. It would seem that some, if not all, of the task of mothering Delight’s children may have fallen to Grandmother Prudence, even though she was 52 the year that Delight died.
ALL THE LITTLE BROTHERS
Five of that generation of Champlins lived to see the 20th century, one living until 1917. Two of Delight’s children, who were nine and five when their mother died, lived to the impressive age of 81. They were the exceptions. All but one of George and Susan’s children were dead by the time of the Civil War, at least five of them before their mother. Ellis’s oldest son, though he attained the rank of general, would die a sad and lingering death as a result of being wounded in the war.
But the saddest story of all is about the three youngest sons of Hazard and Mary Ann. Fortunately for Jeffrey and Prudence, they were gone before it happened, though Jeffrey had died only five months before. In September 1851, Ambrose was 6½, William almost 3, and baby Hazard just 13 months old. On September 12, Hazard died. The next day Ambrose died, and the day after that William, undoubtedly from an epidemic. They are buried in the Champlin plot just behind their grandparents.
Though Ellis moved even further west during the 1830s and all the way to Michigan in the 1850s, Hazard and George apparently lived out their lives in Rhinebeck, except that George, who outlived Susan by 25 years, may have spent his later years with his only surviving child, John Francis.
A TOWN CALLED BLENHEIM
We don’t know as much about this set of Delilah’s grandparents as the others, but we do know some (again with thanks to Bob Champlin for much of it). Stephen was born in Rhode Island January 31, 1771. His Stephen name came from his paternal grandfather, who died six months after Stephen’s birth. Stephen grew up the eldest son with five brothers and three or four sisters. (The brother just younger was the Jeffrey Washington mentioned earlier.)
Like Jeffrey Hazard, Stephen grew up during the war for independence. He did not marry until late in 1795, and then his bride was 18-year-old Prudence Clarke. She was born in 1777 and had at least one brother several years younger. In January 1798 a son was born to Stephen and Prudence and they named him—what else?—Jeffrey Clarke Champlin. Two and a half years later, brother Nicholas Northrup was born.
Before another child was born to them, Stephen and Prudence became part of a sizable family migration. What became of Stephen’s father, another Jeffrey Champlin, is not clear. Some records say he died in South Kingstown in 1797. Others are convinced he abandoned his family and went west. Whatever, according to Bob Champlin, in 1805 Stephen’s mother, the former Mary Gardiner, set out by covered wagon with five of her six sons and their families. They traveled to Schoharie County in the mountains of eastern New York and settled in a place called Blenheim Hill. What took them to that particular place we can only guess.
Five more sons were born to Stephen and Prudence, though we don’t have details about their lives like we do for the family of Jeffrey Hazard and Prudence in Rhinebeck. As far as we can tell, the town of Blenheim, or Blenheim Hill, was small and isolated in the mountains. Apparently the rent wars that raged in nearby Delaware County—a conflict between landed gentry and farmers—also touched Blenheim. The largest town in the area was Jefferson. Both towns continue today.
Jeffrey Clarke grew up to marry Ellis, or Allis, of the Rhinebeck Champlins. How he met her we do not know. Since their fathers were Champlin “cousins,” and if they grew up in the same town, it is possible that some interaction between the two families continued after they were all in New York.
We don’t have a wedding date for Jeffrey and Ellis. We do know that their first child was born in Kingston, Ulster County, July 1, 1827, so they were likely married in the last half of 1826. They named him Stephen Gardiner Champlin, for his paternal grandfather in Blenheim. Grandfather Stephen was 56 years old at the time and would live another 18 years. I wonder if he shared with his namesake grandson tales about growing up during the Revolution. I wonder how much opportunity he had to do that since, though they lived in the same mountains, they never lived in the same county. The grandfather died 15 years before the outbreak of the Civil War, so he never knew about either his namesake’s honor and his suffering during that conflict.
The 1850 census for Delaware County, NY, shows Stephen and Prudence with three children living at home—Mary, 21, John Wayne, 19, and Delilah, 9. That would make Mary born in 1829, John in 1831, and Delilah in 1841. John Wayne was also born in Kingston, so it is likely that Mary was, too. Apparently when her sister Delight died in 1832 leaving seven children under eleven, Ellis already had children ages 5, 3, and 1.
Sometime between the births of John Wayne and Delilah, Jeffrey and Ellis decided to move from Kingston in Ulster County back towards the area where he grew up. They settled in the next county west of Schoharie, Delaware County, and there Delilah was born.
Bob Champlin reports information that Jeffrey and Ellis had six children. So far, we have no information on the other two. If they were born between John and Delilah (1831 and 1839), they may have already been diseased at the time of the 1850 census. An article published about Delilah’s husband many years after her death referred to her as adopted, but we have not been able to confirm or deny that report.
Before Delilah’s parents migrated once again, this time to far-away Michigan in the early 1850s, three of her four grandparents died (in ’45, ’48, and ’51). How many memories she had of them is hard to tell, given the distances and primitive transportation. The fourth, her Grandmother Prudence in Blenheim, lived another dozen years before dying at age eighty-six in the midst of the Civil War. I wonder who she lived with all those years. I wonder if word ever reached her in those mountains that granddaughter Delilah had buried three of her first four babies. And did she hear that her husband’s namesake grandson had attained the rank of general in that War and then sustained a wound that would end up fatal?
There is a Champlin Cemetery, "a tiny one in the woods on Blenheim Hill on
the side of a back road," and we thought that's where they might be, but a
search by Bob Champlin showed up close to a dozen Champlins but not Stephen
Gardiner or Prudence.