Rhode Island Bissells

Corrected Genealogy for Pvt. Samuel Bissell
of Hartwick, New York

submitted 1986-1987 by Roger Bissell

Following is the text of two "Open Letters" written in the mid-1980s to descendants of Pvt. Samuel Bissell (1755-1830) of Hartwick, Otsego Co., New York. It untangles confusions and corrects errors made on his genealogy by Katherine Cox Gottschalk and Fannie T. Brown and others. The corrected listings for Pvt. Samuel's family and others may be seen by clicking on this link for the Revised Rhode Island Bissell Genealogy.



by Roger Bissell, April 1986

Dear Folks:

After nearly eight years of deep puzzlement about Samuel's children and grandchildren, I have finally stumbled across the key that unlocks the mystery. A statement made by Samuel on June 22, 1820 to the Otsego County court proves that the listing of children and grandchildren by Jones/Gottschalk [i.e., Gottschalk/Brown] is wrong.

This statement was found in Samuel's pension file at the National Archives. Next to it on the microfilm was the pension file for Lieutenant Samuel Bissell of Exeter, Rhode Island. It's apparent that he -- not Samuel of Hartwick (he was a private) -- is the ancestor that Helen Bissell Pettis should have listed on her D.A.R. application. This would imply that the Samuel born 1799 was not the son or grandson of Samuel of Hartwick, but probably the son of Lieutenant Samuel's oldest son Jonathan.

Taking these two things into account, we can finally identify correctly all the heirs mentioned in Samuel of Hartwick's probate announcement in the Daily Albany Argos, which Mr. Simonson so kindly sent us several years ago.

Correcting the Error in Jones/Gottschalk

As you recall, the Rhode Island appendix in E. P. Jones' book shows Mary, John, Stephen, and Sarah -- omits Dr. Samuel -- then lists Silas and another John. Also, it lists the first John as having married Betsy Vaughn, having died in 1819/20, and having had Ruth b. 1814, Elizabeth b. 1817, and John b. 1819.

We have already verified, from Exeter, RI vital records, that the first four children are correct. And thanks to The Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania (Rhamanthus Stocker) and Samuel's probate announcement in the Albany Daily Argos in 1832 (which lists all twelve of Dr. Samuel's children as being heirs of Samuel of Hartwick), we know that Dr. Samuel was definitely one of the children of Samuel of Hartwick. (Dr. Samuel was supposedly born in Newport, RI, not Exeter, which may explain his omission by Charles H. Bissell, who wrote the Bissell family genealogy for the first edition of Stiles' Ancient Windsor, which is one of the sources Jones/Gottschalk relied on.)

But what about Silas and John? We know from the will of Samuel's widow, Betsy, and from the census of 1850, that she and Samuel had two children: Elizabeth b. about 1817, m. John Chase; and John b. about 1819, m. Ann Grosfant. So that seems to explain John. But what about Silas? Was the abbreviation "Eliz." misread as "Silas"? Perhaps, but there was a Silas listed as one of Samuel's heirs in his probate announcement, so we can't toss him away completely.

Also, isn't it unlikely that both Samuel and Betsy and John and Betsy would have daughters Elizabeth Bissell b. 1817 and sons John Bissell b. 1819? The coincidence alone is almost too much, and the confusion it would cause the family makes it almost unthinkable that they would do this. Plus, there's no evidence for two such pairs of children, other than the fact that Jones/Gottschalk says that John and Betsy had one.

The puzzle is solved by the 1820 statement. Samuel says eight children were living with him. First he names the three Bowen children from his wife Betsy's first marriage: Lois age 17, Harry age 13, and Olive age 10. He then lists Silas age 13, John age 11, Ruth age 6, Elizabeth age 3, and John age 1; and he says: "Three of these are my grandchildren, and I have to provide for them, and one is a cripple."

This is very revealing! First of all, Silas and John must be Samuel's grandsons, not his sons, because they were born about 1807 and 1809, when his first wife, Sarah, was about 50 years old and had had no children for 20 years! That leaves two children -- who must be Elizabeth and John -- and one more grandchild, who must therefore be Ruth. (Samuel's will does in fact say that Ruth is his granddaughter.)

So, why does Jones/Gottschalk not have it this way? Apparently when Catherine Gottschalk read the pension files in Washington, D.C., she assumed that the two oldest Bissell children living with Samuel (Silas and John) had to be his children, and the three youngest (Ruth, Elizabeth, and John) had to be his grandchildren. It's actually the reverse! The older three (Silas, John, and Ruth) are his grandchildren, and the younger two (Elizabeth and John) his children! Despite the error, Silas, John, and Ruth are the children of John and Betsy (Vaughn) Bissell, because none of Samuel's other sons had died as of 1820, so their children would not need to be cared for by Samuel.

Now that we have established that Silas, John, and Ruth are the children of John and Betsy (Vaughn) Bissell, what about the Samuel b. 1799, who is also claimed as being their son?

Who was Samuel Bissell (1799-1849)?

D.A.R. application #117100 by Helen Bissell Pettis claims that Samuel Bissell (1799-1849) was the son of John Bissell (1781-1850) who married Betsy Vaughn. There are three reasons why this information is not likely to be correct:

1. Jones/Gottschalk says that John died 1819/20, and common sense says he died 1819 at the latest, because Samuel and Betsy named their youngest son (b. 1819) John. This implies that Samuel and Sarah's son John (b. 1781) had died -- otherwise, Samuel would have had two sons named John living at the same time!

2. John was not mentioned in Samuel's 1832 will and probate announcement, while his children (Silas and Ruth) were. This, too, would imply that John was deceased.

3. John would have been only seventeen at the time of his marriage to Betsy Vaughn about 1798. Also, he does not appear as the head of a family in either 1800 or 1810 censuses.

Since the D.A.R. application seems to be drastically wrong about John's date of death, it may well have confused him with another John who is the real father of Samuel (1799-1849). Since there was a John in the 1830, 1840, and 1850 censuses of Coventry, RI, and there was a Samuel in the 1830 census of Exeter, RI and the 1840 census of North Providence, RI, but not the 1850 census, it's possible these were the actual people referred to by the D.A.R. application -- especially since John G. Bissell, the son of Samuel (1799-1849) was born in Rhode Island, not New York.

The John Bissell in Coventry, RI could well be the Jonathan who is the son of Lieutenant Samuel Bissell of RI who died in 1825. One of Lt. Samuel's daughters, Sarah, married William Tripp, and this marriage was erroneously recorded by Mrs. Pettis on her D.A.R. application, claiming Sarah Bissell Tripp to have been the daughter of Private Samuel Bissell of Hartwick. (His daughter was Sarah Bissell Carr.)

For these reasons, I believe that Samuel (1799-1849) and his descendants are of Lt. Samuel's line, not the line from Samuel of Hartwick.

But what of the Ringling Circus bareback rider from Otsego County, who was referred to as "Samuel, Jr."?

Who was "Samuel Bissell, Jr."?

So far as we know, Dr. Samuel Bissell (1789-1829) was never referred to as "Samuel, Jr.," although he certainly could have been. There was, however, a Samuel Bissell (1842-1924) who was a bareback rider with the Ringling Circus and who was called "Samuel, Jr." (This is why some of us in the past have doubted whether Dr. Samuel was the son of Samuel of Hartwick.)

Who was Samuel (1842-1924) called "Junior," and whose son was he?

Well, it's common knowledge that "Junior"is sometimes applied to nephews or grandsons, as well as sons. And the 1850 census shows us that Samuel's and Betsy's son John (b. 1819), who married Ann Grosfant, had a son age 8 (b. about 1842), whose full name was Samuel Chase Bissell.

Obviously, Samuel Chase Bissell is the circus rider, the one called "Samuel, Jr."; and equally clearly, he was so referred to in honor of his grandfather, Samuel of Hartwick. (After all, if Samuel and Betsy could name their son b. 1819 "John" after Samuel and Sarah's son John b. 1781 had just died, it's certainly reasonable for John b. 1819 to call his son b. 1842 "Samuel, Jr.," after the original son of Samuel of Hartwick, Dr. Samuel, had died in 1829!)

This should dispel all of the confusion about the various Samuels and Johns. Now we can identify the rest of Samuel's grandchildren and who their parents were by referring to the 1832 probate announcement.

Sorting out Samuel's Grandchildren

A statement by Isaac Burch (executor) and Betsy Bissell (executrix) that they intended to have Samuel's will proved before the Otsego County Surrogate Court on Sept. 25, 1832, contained a long list of his legal heirs. The list, as published in the Albany Daily Argos, on July 17, 1832, reads as follows:

Isaac Carr and Sally his wife, Rensselaer Bissell, Sally Doud, Silas Bissell, Chester Jacobs, John Stephens and Betsey his wife, Thomas Jacobs of the county of Otsego, Leonard Jacobs of the county of Chautauque, Daniel Jacobs residing in the state of Missouri, Christopher Bissell of the county of Seneca, Samuel Brimmer and Susan his wife of the county of Schoharie, and Comfort Chase as guardian for Betsey Bissll, John Bissell, Ruth Bissell, George W. Bissell, Julia Ann Bissell, Mary Ann Jacobs, Sally Maria Jacobs, Miranda Jacobs, Amanda Jacobs, Hannah D. Jacobs and Elizur Bissell, of the county of Otsego, Enoch Bissell of the county of Chenango, Sarah Ann Bissell of the county of Yates and state of New York; and Samuel A. Bissell, Sally Maria Bissell, Hannah M. Bissell, Eliza Ann Bissell, Harriet L. Bissell, Isaac T. Bissell, Fidelia E. Bissell, Lydia A. Bissell, Mary A. Bissell, Jane A. Bissell, Rosena C. Bissell, Catherine V. Bissell of the county of Susquehanna in the state of Pennsylvania, heirs at law of the said Samuel Bissell.

In sorting out this list of heirs (for whom we must thank Mr. Soren Simonson), we have to make five basic assumptions:

1. Samuel's children, if living, would be listed in the statement, but their children would not be.

2. If one of Samuel's children was deceased, their children would be listed.

3. If one of Samuel's known grandchildren was listed, their parent was deceased.

4. Samuel may have had living brothers or sisters at the time of his decease.

5. All of the persons listed as under the guardianship of Comfort Chase were minors, and all those listed before Comfort Chase's name were adults (i.e., persons born 1811 or earlier).

Now, what conclusions can we draw from the list, using these assumptions?

1. We can confidently assign the twelve minor Bissell children in Susquehanna County, PA to Dr. Samuel. (He died in 1829, and the same twelve children are named as his in Weston's History of Brooklyn [PA].)

2. The nine Jacobs children (four of which were adults) all belong to Mary/Polly Bissell Jacobs. (She died in 1824.)

3. Sarah/Sally Bissell Carr (Mrs. Isaac) was still living (she died in 1875), so she was listed and her children weren't.

4. Silas and Ruth Bissell were listed, which means that John (b. 1781) was already deceased. (As we said earlier, we believe he died in 1819.) Also, John's son John (b. 1809) was probably the one referred to as a "cripple" and was probably deceased, as he was not mentioned. (He would have been listed as an adult, being 23 in 1832, were he still alive.)

5. Betsy and John Bissell are the minor children of Samuel by his second ife and widow, Betsy ([Ward] Bowen) Bissell.

At this point, we have one son, Stephen (b. 1783), still unaccounted for, and the following unidentified: Rensselaer Bissell, Sally Doud, John and Betsy Stephens, Christopher Bissell, Samuel and Susan Brimmer (adults), and George W., Julia Ann, Elizur, Enoch, and Sarah Ann Bissell (minors).

The various censuses (1810, 1820, and 1830) show Stephen with a total of six sons and four daughters. The probate list accounts for all of them except for one son and two daughters. The son probably died, but it's a virtual certainty that the two daughters are among the three females yet unidentified in the probate list: Sally Doud, Betsy Stephens, and Susan Brimmer.

Sally Doud is probably Samuel's sister. Since Sally is a nickname for Sarah, Sally Doud could not be Stephen's daughter; he already has the minor female, Sarah Ann, attributed to him. For the same reason, she cannot be Dr. Samuel's or Mary/Polly's daughter either. Nor can she be Sarah/Sally's daughter, since Sarah Bissell Carr was still living, so her children wouldn't be listed. Nor, so far as we know, could she have been the daughter of John (b. 1781), since his only daughter was Ruth. Samuel did have a sister about his age named Sarah. She was born in 1754 and would have been 78 years old at Samuel's death. It's likely that she married someone named Doud and was a widow by the time Samuel died.

Susan Brimmer is probably Stephen's oldest daughter, the one shown as being age 10-15 in the 1820 census. Betsy Stephens was probably Stephen's second oldest daughter, the one shown as being age 0-10 in the 1820 census. (Since Susan lived in another county, as did Enoch her brother, while Betsy living in Otsego County, we assume that Susan was the oldest. It could well be the other way around.)

Similarly, we think that Sarah Ann was the third daughter, born about 1820-1825, since she was living in Yates County in 1832; and Julia Ann was probably the youngest daughter, born 1825-1830, since she was living in Otsego County (closer to "home").

As for Stephen's sons: Christopher Pierce is the oldest (b. about 1803), Rensselaer was second (b. about 1810, Elizar was probably third (b. about 1813), Enoch was probably fourth (b. about 1815?), and George was either fifth or sixth (b. before 1820).

This completes the full accounting of Samuel's legal heirs as listed in the 1832 probate announcement. For the complete list of Samuel's children, showing their dates and order of birth (where known), see the Revised Rhode Island Bissell Genealogy.



by Roger Bissell, April 1987

Dear folks:

In my first Open Letter of April 1986, I attempted to identify all the children and grandchildren of Private Samuel Bissell of Rhode Island and Hartwick, Otsego County, New York. To do so, I had to correct errors made on D.A.R. applications and by Rhode Island Bissell genealogists in E. P. Jones' book on The Genealogy of the Descendants of John Bissell. These corrections were only possible because of data unearthed at the Federal Archives and the Los Angeles Public Library by myself and Mr. Soren Simonson -- data which allowed us to sort out the 39 (out of at least 48 total) of Private Samuel's grandchildren that had been born by the time of his death in 1832.

With one exception, I still stand by my identification of Private Samuel's legal heirs as found in the section of the Open Letter entitled, "Sorting out Samuel's Grandchildren." That exception is Sally Doud. Whoever she was, she may well not have been Private Samuel's sister, Sarah (=Sally). As Soren Simonson pointed out:

1. It was not customary to list a sibling as one's heir unless other siblings were listed also (and Private Samuel's brother, David, was still living in Exeter, Rhode Island in 1832).

2. It is unlikely that Sarah (Private Samuel's sister) -- who was listed by her maiden name in their father Samuel Bissell's will in 1813 when she was age 59 -- would have married for the first time between age 59 and age 78 (which she was at the time of Private Samuel's death).

So, if indeed Sally Doud was not Private Samuel's sister, it seems reasonable to assume that she was an unidentified daughter-in-law or granddaughter. But who?

I also stand by the conclusion reached in the section "Who was 'Samuel Bissell, Jr.'?" -- namely, that he was the son of Private Samuel's second son named John, b. 1819 [just after the first one named John died]. He was named Samuel Chase Bissell in honor of his grandfather, Private Samuel Bissell, and his uncle, Dr. John Chase; and he was called "Junior" since Private Samuel's son, Dr. Samuel Bissell, had died some years earlier, leaving open the title for a worthy nephew or grandson, which Samuel Chase Bissell undoubtedly must have been!

The sections "Correcting the Error in Jones/Gottschalk" and "Who was Samuel Bissell (1799-1849)?" are also basically correct, except for one important thing: Private Samuel's son, John Bissell (1781-1819) did not marry Betsy Vaughn! (We do not yet know whom he did marry.)

Both Jones/Gottschalk and the D.A.R. applicants agreed in their claim that Pvt. Samuel's son did marry Betsy Vaughn, despite their other errors and disagreements about his children. So, I concentrated on the disagreements, thinking that was all there was to resolving the confusion. Was I wrong!

Census and L.D.S. cemetery records prove that the John Bissell who married Betsy Vaughn lived in Coventry, Rhode Island, was born in 1768 in North Kingstown, and died a widower in 1850 (just after the census). He and his wife are buried in Washington, Rhode Island, as is their daughter, Eliza, widow of Gideon Vaughn (no doubt, a cousin).

Therefore, the John Bissell who married Betsy Vaughn could not have been Private Samuel's son, John, who lived 1781-1819. Instead, it appears all but certain that he was the half-brother of Private Samuel. Jones/Gottschalk lists a John Bissell born to Private Samuel's father, Samuel Bissell (1730-1813) and his second wife, Mary Frazier, whom he married in 1766, just two years before the John Bissell in question was born. This in turn implies that Silas, Ruth, and John were not the children, but the half-great-niece and half-great-nephews (if there are such things!) of the John Bissell who married Betsy Vaughn.

On the other hand, it is quite likely that the ancestor of the D.A.R. applicants, Samuel Bissell (1799-1849), was the son of John and Betsy (Vaughn) Bissell, and not the son of Lieutenant Samuel Bissell's son, Jonathan (b. 1782/3). Cemetery and funeral home records show that Cyra Bissell (1801-1889) was the son of John and Betsy Bissell, was born in Coventry, Rhode Island, and died in Providence; census records have him living in Providence in 1850 and 1860. Samuel (1799-1849) was in the 1840 census of North Providence, and L.D.S. filmed vital records show him as having died in Providence in 1849.

This data all supports the D.A.R. applicants' claim that Samuel (1799-1849) was indeed the son of John and Betsy (Vaughn) Bissell. Unfortunately, it seems that the D.A.R. applicants could not have been descended from Lieutenant Samuel Bissell (nor from Private Samuel Bissell) and thus were not really eligible for D.A.R. membership. They are of neither Lieutenant Samuel's line (as I erroneously proposed), nor of Private Samuel's line (as they erroneously proposed), but of Private Samuel's half-brother John's line.

Coming finally to the introduction of the first Open Letter, it's clear now that Lieutenant Samuel Bissell of Exeter, Rhode Island was a big "red herring," as we investigators sometimes say:

1. The D.A.R. applicants first claimed descent from Lieutenant Samuel Bissell and listed his daughter Saray as having married John Tripp. When the D.A.R. application screening process "corrected" their claim to descent from Private Samuel Bissell, they left Sarah's marriage to John Tripp unchallenged. Since Private Samuel's daughter Sarah married Isaac Carr, Jr., my natural assumption was that the applicants actually knew Sarah Bissell Tripp to be their ancestor John's sister. My mistake!

2. Lieutenant Samuel's son Jonathan would only have been 16 years old at the time of the birth of Samuel (1791-1849) -- even younger than Private Samuel's son John (b. 1781) -- and we don't even know that Jonathan survived to adulthood or married or had children. That should have been a tip-off that I was being overly generous in giving the benefit of the doubt to the D.A.R. applicants that they had true descent from a Revolutionary War veteran. My mistake, again!

Please forgive me my hastiness, and please try to focus on the benefits of all our research and communication. When we all work together, THE TRUTH WILL OUT!

For the correct family listings of Pvt. Samuel Bissell of Hartwick, New York, Lieutenant Samuel Bissell of Exeter, Rhode Island, and John Bissell of Coventry, Rhode Island, see the Revised Rhode Island Bissell Genealogy.


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