Jefferson County, NY Pioneers



and the


This is a departure from our usual treatment of Jefferson County Pioneers.

The story begins in Amesbury, MA, with Lt. Thomas Wells, who was born in Amesbury but who became a proprietor of New Chester, N.H., now called Hill, N.H. Lt. Wells was married more than once, but with his wife, Hannah Ingalls, he produced a large family. One of his sons, Thomas Wells, was born 19 January 1741 and married a lady whose name was Ruth, probably Ruth Ingalls. This Thomas settled on Lot 64, 4th Division in that part of New Chester, in 1774, where he died 29 July 1831 at 90 years, 6 months 10 days.

Thomas and Ruth had at least six children, the oldest being William Wells, born 30 June 1768. The Wells families were strong supporters of the American cause during the Revolutionary War, but young William was a loyal supporter of the British side and left New Hampshire in 1787 at age 19, with friend Hugh Murray, to seek his fortune in Canada. (Hugh Murray is probably the author of An historical and descriptive account of British America in 3 volumes in which he describes the Canadian lumber business in great detail.) The United Empire Loyalist list for Kingston, Canada, shows William Wells had joined the British before the Treaty of Separation and was a declared shipwright with a stamped book. William's loyalty to the British Crown was rewarded with a land grant, as a settler.

A shipwright was a person who built or worked on ships and it is unknown where young William learned that trade, but his family in New Hampshire was engaged in the production of felling trees and making lumber at their mills. His grandfather bought a mill in 1743 in New Hampshire where the lumber trade was highly profitable. It seems reasonable to believe that William learned the lumber business at a very young age.

Once William had cleared his land, granted by the British Crown, and which was located close to Mallorytown, Leeds County, Canada, he made a quick trip to New Hampshire, where he married Sarah Clough on 14 February 1799. Sarah was born 29 October 1775 and was the daughter of Benjamin Clough of Salem MA. Thad Leavitt, who wrote extensively about the History of Leeds and Grenville, CA, must have interviewed children of this couple, as he provided the following information:

After the marriage in New Hampshire, William "...returned immediately to Canada, he commenced active operations in the lumber business, and in a few years became one of the leading lumbermen in the country. For a few years he confined his business operations to the banks of the St. Lawrence, the Bay of Quinte, and the Thousand Isles, Wells Island, one of the largest being called after him. He also leased Grindstone Island for a term of 99 years, with the right of renewal from the St. Regis Indians." Leavitt contines, "He (William Wells) had it (Grindstone Island) surveyed and laid out in farms, cleared the land, built houses, and settled tenants on the farms, at a moderate rent."

In addition to his lumber interests, William Wells served in various public offices in Canada. He was active in the war of 1812 and in February 1813 was taken prisoner in his own house, by Forsyth's Riflemen and Dragoons, who had crossed the ice in the night and took him by surprise. William was carried as a prisoner to Ogdensburgh, NY and shortly after released on parole, not to serve until exchanged, which was not effected until May 11, 1814.

William became saddened by the death of a dear friend and near neighbor to whom he was attached, so much so that he sold his land at Mallorytown and purchased from Israel Tompkins in 1816, a large farm on the bank of the St. Lawrence River in the Township of Augusta where he settled and remained for the rest of his life.

In 1823 Grindstone Island, Wells Island and others were claimed by the St. Regis Indians, who were part of the Mohawks. The Indians had leased the islands, through their agent, to residents of Upper Canada for the purpose of removing timber. After the survey was made of the boundary between the United States and Canada in 1823, the islands southerly of the boundary were claimed by the State of New York. It was then that difficulties arose with the Canadian timber harvesters that escalated in the event called "The War of Grindstone Island". The lumbermen had cut a large quantity of pine timber from Grindstone Island and had prepared it for rafting down the river to mills. New York State claimed ownership of the logs. The lumbermen refused to relinquish the logs. Franklin B. Hough, in his History of Jefferson Co, 1854, stated "Finding it probable that any attempt to serve legal papers upon the parties alleged to be trespassers would be resisted, a detachment of militia from Lyme, under Captain S. Green, was called out. The timber had been mostly passed over into British waters, and after some firing, the party in charge of the timber dispersed. One of the militia men was accidentally killed by his own gun." The incident was eventually resolved in arbitration.

Just as Grindstone Island was becoming valuable to William Wells, it was ceded to the United States and William lost all of his outlay and improvements without receiving any remuneration. Lumber was becoming scarce on the St. Lawrence so William moved his business to the Rideau River and from there to Bonnechere, an Ottawa tributary. Because he was the first lumberman on that river, he was obliged to go to the expense of building dams and removing obstructions in order to get his lumber to market. William Wells continued in the lumber business until 1832 when he finally retired. William died 10 October 1842 and wife Sarah died 15 May 1860; both are buried in the Old Blue Church burial grounds in Canada.

The children of William and Sarah (Clough) Wells:

Ruth - born 17 Feb 1800 married George Longley of Maitland

Sally - born 16 June 1801 married George Malloch

Horace Clough - born 31 October 1802 married L. Blasdell

Maria - born 7 October 1804

William Benjamin - born 3 October 1809 married Mary Hogan

Isaac Brock - born 30 July 1812 married Elizabeth Reade

Thomas Proctor - born 5 Feb 1816 died same year

Frances Adeline - born 17 August 1817

William Wells had an uncle, Peter Wells, who was born 20 January 1762 in Sandown, N.H., and died 12 June 1817 in Mannsville, Jefferson Co., NY. Peter was married to Lois Rowell on 10 March 1801, daughter of Thomas Rowell. Lois died in 1867 at 88 years 6 months and is buried in the Maplewood Cemetery at Ellisburg, NY. A son, Thomas R. Wells, is also buried there; he died 5 July 1886 at 75 years, 6 months, 3 days. Peter's grave has not been located.



Descendants list Peter Wells as a Revolutionary War soldier, who served as a waiter from 1775-1781, returned to Hill, NH and then lived at Brockville (Elizabethtown) CA between 1804 and 1811.

William Wells also had an uncle, Reuben Wells, b 24 Aug 1749 who was in the Revolutionary War, according to the History of the Town of Bristol, Grafton Co., NH.

Uncle, Henry Wells, born 24 March 1743, perished in a snowstorm in 1776.

Sources: History of the Town of Bristol, Grafton Co., NH, History of Old Chester NY 1719-1869, cemetery records, vital records Amesbury MA, New Hampshire, Canada, Jefferson Co., NY.; Thad Leavitt- History of Leeds and Grenville; Hist. Of Jefferson Co. in the State of NY from the Earliest Period to the Present Time- F. B. Hough (1854) probate record of Thomas Wells; Blue Church burial records; History of New Chester, NH

NEW INFORMATION added August 12, 2015:

This indenture made the 4th of July 1853 between Billa Flint of Belleville, Hastings Co., Canada, Dudley Rowlee of Morristown in St. Lawrence Co., NY and Phebe Rowlee, wife of Dudley Rowell, said Billa Flint and Phebe Rowelee only surviving children and heirs at law of the late Billa Flint (SR.) deceased of Brockville, merchant, of the first part and Sarah Wells of Augusta Township in Grenville, Canada, widow, named as the said devise of the second part.

Whereas the late William Wells deceased of Augusta in and by his last will and testament dated 22 August 1842, did devise and bequeath as follows:

"First I will and direct that all my just debts shall be paid; Second, I give and bequeath unto Billa Flint of Brockville, merchant, all the landed estate I now own and possess at the Village of French Creek in Jefferson Co. and all I own and possess in the City of Cleveland in the State of Ohio or in other parts of the United States to him, his heirs and assigns forever upon the following Trust viz that he dispose of the said landed estate when and in what manner he may think fit and proper and apply the proceeds of said sales to the liquidation and settlement of whatever encumbrances there may be at my decease on my farm on which I now reside in Augusta aforesaid, consisting of Lot number 24 in the first concession of said Augusta and the eastern portion of Lot number 25 in said first concession of said Township of Augusta. I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife, Sarah Wells, all my other estate both real and personal which I now possess or which I may possess to her, her heirs and assigns forever. I hereby authorized and empower her to fulfill all the obligations in which I am bound to give deeds grant acquittances and do everything which I might or could do. I hereby appoint my said beloved wife, Sarah Wells, my son, William Benjamin Wells and my son Isaac Brock Wells, as executors of this my last will and testament..."

And whereas a portion of the property so devised in trust as aforesaid to the said Billa Flint has been sold and the proceeds applied as by the will directed and the trusts of the said devise have been fully carried out and completed and whereas it is the wish of the said Billa Flint and Phebe Rowlee as heirs of the said Billa Flint deceased to release and relinquish all further interest in the lands unsold and to convey the same to said Sarah Wells as residing devisee of her said late husband and whereas the property hereinafter described is the whole of the said trust property with the exception of what has been sold as aforesaid. Now this consideration of the sum of five pounds...the said Billa Flint, Dudley Rowlee and Phebe Rowlee had granted bargained and quit claimed...unto the said Sarah Wells...all the estate right title interest...that the said Billa Flint, Dudley Rowell and Phebe Rowlee ..all and singular all that certain lot of land in the Village of Cornelia (French Creek/Clayton) of Orleans Co., Jefferson...of said village by lot number 18 containing one quarter of an acre more or less which said lot number 8 ..also another piece of land in said village...described ..that certain other village lot Lot No. 17 containing one quarter of an acre...deeded to William Wells the 12th day of February 1827..together with all houses, out houses, woods and the said Sarah Wells ../s/ Billa Flint, Dudley Rowell, Phebe Rowlee and delivered in person of J. B. Wells. On 4 July 1853, Billa Flint and Dudley Rowell and Phebe, his wife acknowledged their signatures. Recorded 8 November 1855.

The Clayton property referred to above, was sold to William Wells by Elisha Camp and Vincent LeRay, in separate transactions in 1827. In his will, William Wells left properties in trust with Billa Flint Sr., a merchant and land baron of Canada with ties to St. Lawrence County, where he resided some of the time. Billa Flint Sr's first wife was Phoebe Wells and his second wife was Sally Beach. Children of Billa Sr. and Phoebe Wells were Billa Flint, Jr., who was also a merchant in Belleville, Canada, and Phebe Rowley, wife of Dudley Rowley. In Billa Flint Sr's will, he named his wife, Sally Beach, and the children they had together: Samuel Flint, Horatio Gates Flint, Sally Gates Flint and Josephine Flint, but he also named Billa Flint, Jr., and Phebe Rowley and her husband, Dudley Rowley, who were children by his first wife. So, Billa Jr. and Phebe Rowley were in error when they stated they were his only surviving children.

This information about the Pioneer William Wells family was contributed by volunteer Marilyn Sapienza. Marilyn tells us that "I do not have specifics on where the will was filed as it was in a Jefferson Co. deed; I expect it was in Canada, however."

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