Puritans, Quakers, and Tories: The Tangled Web of My Dayton Genealogy
Most Daytons in America are descendants of Ralph Dayton, a Puritan who moved his family from southeastern England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1639. The two sons he brought with him eventually married and had, between them, at least ten sons. This progenitor Dayton tribe migrated south to the new Haven Colony and soon crossed the Long Island Sound. Daytons were among the first settlers on both coasts of eastern Long Island. During the Colonial era, some Daytons migrated back to Connecticut and Massachusetts, others settled in Rhode Island and New Jersey. From all points of the Colonial compass, Daytons also joined pioneers streaming north and westward along major river valleys: the Susquehanna, Delaware, Hudson, Mohawk, and Champlain. In the early 1800s, the Saint Lawrence River, Erie Canal, and Great Lakes gave these agrarian pilgrims easier access to greener pastures in the Northwest Territory acquired from France. Daytons were among the white settlers who pushed relentlessly into the forest, marsh, and prairie ecologies long inhabited by Native Americans in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Today there are at least 28 places in the United States named Dayton, in 25 states. Wisconsin has three; Illinois, two.
The website of the Daughters of the American Revolution lists 27 Dayton men alleged by at least one ancestor to have served in state militias or the Continental Army during the protracted war between Great Britain and insurgents in 13 of its North American colonies. Some of these men were generally unremarkable citizens answering the call of duty, however brief or humble; a few were illustrious Patriots, most notably Elias Dayton and his son Jonathan from New Jersey. But Daytons were also numbered among those who remained loyal to Great Britain, or who, trying to remain noncombatants, were deemed to be enemies of liberty and justice or all. Canadian records list several Daytons as United Empire Loyalists who fled to Canada during or after the conflict. Daytons were also among the tens of thousands who, in the decades before the War of 1812, flooded into the mostly flat and fertile but heavily forested land north of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. These so-called “Late Loyalists” had to affirm allegiance to the Crown and pay some trivial fees; in exchange, they received at least 200 acres of land, lower taxes than in the states, a frontier society not threatened by Native Americans, and a benignly authoritarian government that mainly left them alone. My first American progenitor William Dayton was born in 1813 in the province of British North America then called Upper Canada. It was renamed Canada West in 1853, and in 1867 became Ontario.
I found it easy to trace my paternal line back five generations, starting with my father, Merritt William Dayton (1924–2020), who was the son of Claude Harrison Dayton (1888–1965). I don’t recall being told anything about Grampa Dayton’s father, but Ancestry.com showed me family trees compiled by a cousin and more distant relatives. I learned that my great grandfather was William Benjamin Dayton (1859–1917), and that he was born near Momence, Illinois, lived most of his life there, and died in Cortlandville, New York, a township on the southeastern fringe of the Finger Lakes Region, where my father was born. William B. was the oldest son of Andrew Dayton (1835–1892), who was the second-oldest son of William Dayton (1813–1848). William’s oldest son was named Reuben. William, Reuben, and Andrew became pioneering farmers in what was Iroquois County when William arrived in 1839 and later became Kankakee County. In my attempt to trace my paternal line back as far as possible, William Dayton is what genealogists call a “brick wall.”
No Dayton family tree publicly available online identifies this William Dayton’s father or mother or even where exactly he was born. My guess is that he was born in or near Burford Township, Ontario, in the Grand River region between London to the west and Hamilton to the east, at the lower tip of Lake Ontario. William Dayton and his bride Elizabeth Hess identified themselves as being from Burford when they registered their marriage in London in 1832. It’s likely they were referring to Burford Township, an area of about 111 square miles with a population then of about 1,300. They could have been referring to the village of Burford, the largest community in the township with a population of about 150. Records on Ancestry.com inform me that William and Elizabeth had three sons; two were born in Woodstock, Oxford County (now Brock County), just west of Burford Township. Their other son was born in Paris, a mill town located at a fork in the Grand River, near the northeast corner of Burford Township.
On a Canadian government website, I found a digitally scanned copy of an early map of Burford Township. It shows the plots of land as originally surveyed and who owned them at some point between 1798 and about 1850. The map was used to record the succession of landholders during that time: With overwriting, sometimes with an early form of whiteout, the record is a palimpsest that’s hard to read. However, among the names that can be read are Benajah and Abiah, Reuben Dayton, and Asa Dayton. Abiah was the daughter of Abraham Dayton, a Quaker from New Milford, Connecticut, by way of western New York state. Reuben was Abraham’s nephew, and I have concluded that Reuben may be my fourth great grandfather. My circumstantial evidence for that conjecture has significant gaps. Asa Dayton may also be my fourth great grandfather, though the evidence I have found so far makes that possibility less likely.
Burford histories mention Abraham Dayton as either the first white man to settle in Burford village, or as one of the first three. And they usually explain that he came to Upper Canada seeking land on behalf of a religious cult from western New York. Lieutenant Governor Simcoe, so the story goes, assumed that Abraham and those he represented were ordinary Quakers. Having a high opinion of Quakers generally, Simcoe granted Abraham provisional ownership of an expansive area of wilderness in Oxford County reserved for a township to be called Burford, after a village in West Oxfordshire, England. An early Burford history remarks on the township’s good fortune that Abraham Dayton’s community decided not to come to Canada after all. They were disciples of Jemima Wilkinson, a preacher who said Jemima had died and that her soul remained in heaven. The body she formerly inhabited had been reanimated by God’s spirit and made a new perfected being, neither male nor female. Formally, the prophet was known as the Public Universal Friend.
From 1782 to about 1792, Abraham Dayton and his wife Abigail Cogswell were devout followers of the Universal Friend. Records show that Abigail was sometimes among the coterie of women who were the Friend’s most trusted acolytes. Abraham was also a dutiful and trusted servant, recruited to be among the vanguard who established the society’s communitarian settlement near Penn Yan, New York, from 1788 to 1790. He and his brother Nathan were instrumental in building the settlement’s first grist mill. Why Abraham decided to abandon the Friend’s settlement near Penn Yan is uncertain. One history of the Universal Friends states that Abraham was among the followers who left the community because they wanted to escape the strife and uncertainty caused by legal disputes with land speculators and infighting within the community. Other accounts, chiefly those originating in Canada, say that Jemima Wilkinson sent Abraham to Upper Canada seeking land for the Friend’s settlement, as a backup plan in case the situation in New York became intolerable.
In any event, Abraham and Abigail were among the first families to build log cabins in the area of Burford Township that became its largest community, possibly as early as 1793. Their only child, Abiah, along with her husband Benajah Mallory, joined them by 1795 when their first child was born there. The Mallorys brought others with them from New York, and soon about two dozen settlers were helping to fell trees, build cabins, and plant crops. In his fiftieth year, Abraham fell ill and was mostly bedridden for about two years before his death in 1797. His son-in-law had already become the de facto leader of the community. Benajah Mallory soon represented Burford Township in the legislature and earned a reputation as a maverick and gadfly. He was also a wheeler-dealer whose net worth quickly rose and even more quickly fell. He lost several lawsuits over deals that went bad. When war broke out with the United States in 1812, he remained loyal for first year and even represented the government in trying to talk First Nations tribes into joining the fight. But in late 1813, Benajah Mallory defected to the Americans. He joined a unit of Canadian volunteers that conducted raids across the Niagara frontier and commanded the unit in several significant battles against British-led forces. In retaliation, the locals in Burford burned down the cabin that Abraham Dayton had built and that Benajah and Abiah had inherited. The government eventually repossessed all their property.
Abiah Mallory’s cousin Reuben Dayton may have suffered some fallout from the anger about Benajah’s treachery. Back in 1799, Abraham Dayton’s widow Abigail had married Colonel Joel Stone and moved to his homestead in the Thousand Islands region on the Saint Lawrence River. Colonel Stone, a United Empire Loyalist from a New Milford Quaker family, was a close friend of Abraham’s brother Nathan. Joel sponsored Nathan’s move to Elizabethtown, Upper Canada, around 1794. Nathan’s second son Reuben settled in Burford around the same time as his cousin Abiah, or perhaps a couple years later after Abraham died. In any case, Reuben’s name appears on that early Burford map and a history of the township lists him as having been granted that land in 1802. Reuben is also recorded in the same book as a private in the Burford militia in 1800 and as the quartermaster of the militia in 1807. I’ve found no other documentation of his deeds and whereabouts until the birth of his daughter Eliza in 1822. She was born in a village about 14 miles west of the Burford.
The available records about Reuben’s life, considered along with the obvious gaps in them, suggest that he may be my fourth great grandfather. He married Nancy Richmond in either 1828 or 1833. Her family’s genealogy says 1833 and that she had six children with Reuben. However, Nancy’s 1892 newspaper obituary states that she had 12 children. Genealogies on Ancestry.com have identified 11 of those children. If Eliza really was her first child, born in 1822, Nancy would have been 14 when she gave birth. Reuben would have been 44. I suspect Reuben was a widower when he married Nancy and already had two children by his first wife. Nancy’s obituary says four of her children were boys, but I have records for only three. The obit also notes that Nancy outlived all but three children, but only two of the 11 identified on Ancestry.com died before Nancy. My third great grandfather, William Dayton, died in Momence Township, Illinois, in 1848. His first child was born in Woodstock, Oxford County, in 1833, and he named that child Reuben. The elder Reuben Dayton’s second or third child — the one born after Eliza — was also born in Woodstock.
All of the above leads me to believe that William Dayton may have been Reuben’s first-born son. Tracing Reuben’s line back to Ralph Dayton has been done and dusted. Reuben was the son of Nathan, who was the son of Abraham F. Dayton Sr., a farmer and miller who was the first person buried in Northfield Cemetery, adjacent to the land he farmed in New Milford, Connecticut, from about 1740 to 1780. From Abraham Sr. of Milford, it’s a mere three fathers back — Caleb, Abraham, and Samuel — to the first American Dayton, Ralph of Ashford, Kent. If only I had proof that William Dayton was Reuben’s son! “Dear Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr., I would greatly appreciate it if the Finding Your Roots team could look into identifying my fourth great grandfather.” I am ready to place my bet now that the mystery surrounding William Dayton’s origins is more likely rooted in political upheaval and social discontent than in sexual scandal. Two such upheavals played significant roles in Canada’s political history. William Dayton was born during the first — the War of 1812 — and took his family to America shortly after the second — the Canadian Rebellions of 1837 to 1838.
In trying to solve the mystery of who could be William Dayton’s father, I was initially tempted to consider the year of his birth as an important clue: 1813. That was the year Americans started winning some battles in President Monroe’s contemptible attempt to liberate Canada from British rule. I think that the Asa Dayton on that early map of land holders in Burford Township was the Asa Dayton Sr. who died as a soldier in the U.S. Army on November 26, 1812. My William Dayton of Burford could have been the grandson of that Asa Dayton. Ample documentation exists to prove that an Asa Dayton fled to Canada during the Revolutionary War and there met and married Sarah Bowman, the daughter of Jacob Bowman, a United Empire Loyalist. In 1797, this Asa Dayton claimed in a land-petition affidavit that he had fought with a Loyalist militia on Long Island during the Revolution. Since he was born in 1765, his claim was at least a possibility. The British authorities did not accept it, however, because he could not provide corroborating evidence. If they had accepted his claim, Asa would have been entitled to 200 acres for each of his half dozen children; his petition acknowledged that he had already been granted 200 acres for himself. I think he is the same Asa Dayton who owned 200 acres in Burford Township. His attempt to acquire additional land was not entirely in vain. His wife’s petition for 200 acres was granted because her father Jacob was a well-known veteran of Butler’s Rangers, a band of American Tories who waged a guerilla war against the Patriots all over the northwestern frontier.
Asa may have been motivated to petition for additional “family lands” in 1797 because a local oligarch had usurped Asa’s grant of 200 acres in Burford Township. Under “Asa Dayton” written in the rectangle for Concession 10, Lot 6 on that Burford map, is “to R. Hamilton.” The Honorable Robert Hamilton was an upper crust absentee-landlord who was a member of the Land Board who took possession of thousands of acres of Burford Township land. It’s possible that Asa simply sold his land to Hamilton or lost ownership because he failed to meet the terms of his grant — by not clearing the land and turning it into a productive farm. In any case, I suspect that Asa soured on life as one of the King’s subjects committed to homesteading in Burford. He and Sarah may have separated after the Executive Council of Upper Canada dismissed his land petition in 1797. Or maybe they simply established two households.
Asa Dayton next appears in the historical record as a farmer in what is now Monroe County, New York — the Rochester area. Sarah Bowman, during the same period, owned land in Humberstone, Upper Canada, inland from a port town on Lake Erie just west of the Niagara River. Sarah may have chosen to live near her father and brothers in Humberstone rather than stay with Asa full time. He appears in one historical account as owning the first inn in what is now Brighton, New York, a town on the southern outskirts of Rochester. Asa continued to work his farm and paid special taxes to New York state that were levied on all farmers to pay off the state’s war debts.
Records are relatively easy to find online for Asa Dayton and Sarah Bowman, as well as for their two daughters and two of their three sons. Hardly any records exist for their first-born child, whose name was William Dayton. All I’ve found for him are a Canadian baptismal record and two U.S. Army records. This William Dayton was born and baptized in 1792 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, then called Newark, Upper Canada. His brother, Asa Dayton Jr. was born there four years later. Both brothers both fought in the War of 1812 as soldiers in the United States Army, alongside their father Asa Sr. In July 2012, all three Dayton men enlisted in the 23rd Infantry Regiment mustered in New York state. Asa Jr. was a drummer boy, 16 years old. William, 20, and Asa Sr., 47, were Privates in the same company of foot soldiers, and both died on the Niagara frontier. Asa Sr. died in late November and William less than a month later. Little fighting occurred during that period along the Niagara River, but many American soldiers died from malnutrition and disease that swept through the miserable tent camps the regular Army had to endure while most of the state militiamen went home to their families. The U.S. Army recorded Asa’s and William’s enlistments and their deaths but not where they were buried, probably because their corpses were thrown into unmarked mass graves whose locations are not memorialized by the U.S. National Park Service. Should you think my speculation here is overly cynical, here is Alan Taylor in The Civil War of 1812 describing the conditions in the Army camps on the Niagara frontier during November and December of 1812:
Malnutrition, exposure, and wretched sanitation produced rampant
sickness. Afflicted by colds, dysentery, measles, pleurisy, and pneumo-
nia, many soldiers were finished off by a typhoid fever. They died so fast
that coffin makers and grave diggers could not keep up, so dogs feasted
at shallow, sandy graves.
While I think it’s likely that my third great grandfather was Reuben Dayton’s son by a first wife missing from the records, I have to consider that he could also have been the grandson of Asa Dayton Sr., an early landowner in Burford Township along with Reuben Dayton. What if Asa Sr.’s 19- or 20-year-old son William got a woman pregnant before or just after he joined the U.S. Army in July 1812 and that woman gave the child, born after William died, the name of her dead lover?
To whom would that unwed mother have turned for help in caring for the child? Surely, her dead mate’s mother, Sarah Bowman, would have been a likely source of help. Sarah belonged to a well-known family of Canadian Patriots who were active in the Niagara peninsula in the years leading up to the war. And Sarah Bowman, who presumably would have lived with her husband Asa Sr. in Burford Township for a time, would have known his kin who also lived there, Reuben Dayton. She would have known or easily learned that Reuben was still unmarried and working a farm there on his own. What better solution for the fatherless child than to be sent to live with a distant relative, a bachelor farmer, in a community that didn’t know his parents were never married and were only told that his father, William Dayton Sr., had died during the war?
This tangled web of proven relationships and circumstantial conjecture is complicated, I realize. To sum it up in simpler terms, here’s bloodline chart that depicts the two theories I’ve outlined about the identify of my fourth great grandfather. Either or neither may be correct. Time, I hope, will tell. I’m betting on the second scenario, which could explain why my third great grandfather William — a given name not found in Reuben Dayton’s family — named his first-born son Reuben.