Pioneer Families of Grand Traverse County, Michigan



Ebenezer Fillmore (1815-1895) and Harriet Bessey (1815-1896)

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Ebenezer Fillmore (1815-1895) and Harriet Bessey Fillmore (1815-1896)

The Fillmore Family Bible Record

Ebenezer Fillmore was born on 16 June 1815. Census records state that Ebenezer was born in New York state, however the exact location of his birth has not been determined.

The identity of Ebenezer's parents is unknown. Printed Fillmore genealogies do not include Ebenezer Fillmore. The 1880 census lists his parents as having both been born in New York state. A possible candidate is a John Fillmore who was living in Trousberg, Steuben County, New York in 1820. The 1820 census lists three individuals in this household, John Fillmore aged 16 to 26, a woman aged 16 to 26, and a male aged 1 to 10. The child may have been Ebenezer. Another possible relative was an Asahabel Fillmore who was "received in full in (the) Canisteo Methodist Church" in 1830 in Steuben County. Apparently Asahabel Fillmore was a minister in the church.

Ebenezer was married 10 August 1836 in Jasper, Steuben County, New York by the Reverand Dodson to Harriet Bessey. Harriet was born 10 August 1815. Census records indicate she was born in New York State. Her father was Philip Bessey II(sometimes spelled Bessie). His birthplace is listed as New York state. His wife Susanah was born in Rhode Island according to the 1880 census listing for daughter Harriet.

The township of Jasper in Steuben County was formed from portions of Canisteo and Trousberg townships. The township is very hilly with summits of up to 2000 feet high. Several streams run through the township, each cutting a deep and narrow ravine. The area was first settled in 1807 and grew rapidly following the War of 1812. Steuben County is in south-central New York.

The earliest record found for Ebenezer and Harriet is the 1840 Federal Census where they were counted in Genesee township, Potter County, Pennsylvania. This township is right on the border between Pennsylvania and New York. The census lists one male aged 20-30 (Ebenezer), one female aged 20-30 (Harriet), one male aged under five (Eliphalet), and one female aged under five (Phebe). By 1840 two children had been born to Ebenezer and Harriet according to the Fillmore family bible, Eliphalet on 12 June 1837, apparently in New York state, and Phebe Ann, born 29 September 1839. Her birthplace is listed in the 1900 and 1910 census as Pennsylvania while the 1850, 1870, and 1880 census records list her birthplace as New York state. Ebenezer reported that he voted for William Henry Harrison in the 1840 presidential election.

Next door to the Fillmores in 1840 was the family of John Sharp. This individual was almost certainly a relative of Harriet Fillmore. Family tradition has been that her name was Harriet Bessie Sharp. This was not supported in any records. Her children's death certificate's state her maiden name was Bessie, as does a county history account of her son Emmet (with one exception, son Eliphalet's death certificate lists his mother's maiden name as Manley). John Sharp probably married Harriet's sister. His daughter Amy Ann Sharp married Charles Tilton. In Harriet's civil war pension application Amy Ann testified that she had lived near the Fillmore's for much of her life, following them to Michigan. Surprisingly, Charles and Amy Ann Tilton were living next door to Francis and Chloe Ransom in 1860 in Branch County, Michigan. The Fillmores became related to the Ransoms through two marriages.

Attempts to trace the Fillmore family in New York and Pennsylvania through property records has been unsuccessful to date. Ebenezer Fillmore never purchased or sold land in either Steuben County, New York or in Potter County, Pennsylvania. No Fillmores or Besseys were located in probate records for these counties either.

In 1850 the Fillmores were living in Jasper township, Steuben County, New York according to the Federal Census. Ebenezer's was listed as a farmer. Four additional children had been born in New York: Susanah on 24 September 1841, William on 13 September 1844, Johnathon on 9 September 1846, and Emmet M on 2 January 1849. Ebenezer was listed in the account book of general store owner Joseph Marsh in Steuben County on 18 April 1850 along with John Sharp. Other account books by the same grocer list other possible family members Robert Sharp and Charles Schanck. Daughter Edna Helen joined the family on born 14 June 1851. On 2 June 1853 son William died, probably in Steuben County.

The Fillmores moved from Steuben County sometime after 14 September 1857, when their son Edwin was born, and before 11 August 1859, when son Wilson M was born. Edna would later recall traveling down the Erie Canal on their way to Michigan.

The 1860 census taker found the Fillmores in Rome township, Lenawee County, Michigan. Ebenezer was working as a farmer. The Fillmores' last child, Benjamin Franklin, was born 20 February 1861.

In the 1860s the Civil War was raging along the East Coast and Ebenezer enlisted 9 May 1863 at Rome, Lenawee County in the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, lying about his age to get into the army (he said he was 35 when he was actually 48). He was mustered into the army on 3 June 1863. During the war Ebenezer served as a cook. Family stories suggest that Ebenezer was not a particularly dependable provider during the war years, apparently giving most of his pay to other soldiers to keep them from starving. Meanwhile, at home, Harriet supported the family by spinning and weaving cloth. She also supervised the family's movement to Franklin township, Lenawee County. Family tradition is that the family may have had health problems due to malaria or some sort of disease associated with swamps.

During the war Ebenezer traveled to Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. In Tallahoma, Tennessee he was forced to sleep on the ground, which he would later blame for his subsequent ill health. At the end of the war Ebenezer was serving in Washington, D.C. He was mustered out at Jackson, Michigan on 22 September 1865. He returned home in poor health. At about this time he was visited by his son-in-law Ira Chase. Ira was also the brother of daughter Phebe's husband, Benjamin H Durga. Ira convinced Ebenezer to move north to the largely-wooded northern Michigan. Daughter Phebe's in-laws, the Durgas, also had moved or eventually moved to northern Michigan. The Grand Traverse Herald published a brief history of Long Lake in 1885: Early in February of '62 E. Fillmore, who was then living in Whitewater town, brought Mr. Chase out to his land, which he entered. The snow was then near three feet deep, and they had to cut their own road through the forest from section 11. When they arrived to erect his cabin, they cut a place for it and built a rude one, camping out for a while. They worked away until they got it erected, when they went back to Whitewater for a few days. It is uncertain if the E. Fillmore refers to Ebenezer or his son Eliphalet.

The move north at that time, which began on 1 May 1866, must have been quite difficult. Edna would remember fording streams in a Conestoga wagon and being greeted by someone who may have been an uncle at Long Lake. The identity of these relatives is uncertain, however it is possible that it was either Jonathan and Philinda Bessey Schanck Charles and Amy Ann Sharp Tilton.

The entire clan moved including the families of son Eliphalet (who had married Clarrisa Worden) and daughter Phebe. When the Fillmores arrived at Long Lake, Grand Traverse County in June, Ebenezer was so sick that he could not help in the building of his log cabin. This cabin was built above Long Lake and survived until 1948.

The following year saw the death of son Wilson on the 5th of July, killed by a falling tree. In 1870 Ebenezer's personal wealth was listed at $400 while his farm was worth $1000. He was again listed as a farmer. Sons Johnathon, Emmett, Edwin, and Benjamin were still at home. Johnathon was working as a farmer, Emmett as a day laborer, and the younger boys were attending school. Harriet was keeping house. Ebenezer was also working as a lumberman In 1876 he and son Emmet "cut cordwood and slept in the open with nothing but brush thrown across some poles to keep the snow off them. They buried their provisions in the ground to keep them from freezing" (Gordon 1922:916).

In 1880, Ebenezer was counted twice by the census taker, the first with his family and the second time working in a lumber camp in Blair township, probably as a cook. By 1880 the older two boys had married. At the time of the census a niece named Charity Schanck, aged 34, was living with the Fillmores along with an eight year old granddaughter Harriet C Fillmore (daughter of Jonathon). Charity was the daughter of Jonathon and Philinda Bessey Schanck. Philinda was Harriet's sister. The Schancks had lived near the Fillmores in New York. The Schancks moved to Michigan sometime between 1865 and 1870. Jonathan Schanck died in 1873. Philinda died in 1877 and the Fillmores took in Charity Schanck.

The Grand Traverse Herald reported on 26 August 1880: On last Saturday week upwards of 35 relatives and friends of Mrs. E. Fillmore met at her residence to celebrate her 65th anniversary. A bountiful table was spread, and all partook of the good things thereon. On 7 October 1880 the paper noted: Mrs. E. Fillmore went to look for eggs. the other morning, and found one which was somewhat remarkable in size. She took it to the house and on breaking it found that there were three yolks in it.

Ebenezer worked in the lumber woods as a cook and as a driver. On 16 December 1880 the Grand Traverse Herald reported: Mr. E. Fillmore slipped and fell while driving a yoke cattle and one of them trod on him, injuring one of his legs severely.

The 1880s were tragic years for the Fillmores. In June 1883 a scarlet fever epidemic carried away four of the children of Emmet Fillmore and his wife Harriet (Hatty) E. Chase Fillmore. Mattie (aged four) died on 3 June, William (aged nine) died the following day, Delia (aged six) and Joseph (aged two) died on 11 June 1883.

Shortly afterwards, on 10 August, the youngest son of Ebenezer and Harriet, Frank, drowned in Long Lake. Family tradition states that Harriet slept on Frank's grave for two weeks to keep the body snatchers away. Later Ebenezer's Civil War pension application noted that "I had my youngest son killed he was my support when he went all hopes went with him." Emmet and Hattys' family suffered another loss on 13 December 1883 when their one day old son Emmet died.

The string of losses continued into 1884 with the death of Edwin Fillmore. Edwin had married Chloe Matilda Ransom, a cousin of his sister Edna's husband Elijah Leland Ransom, on 13 December 1882. On 29 August 1884, at the home of Chloe's parents in Branch County, Michigan, Edwin died of consumption, leaving a one-year-old daughter, Fidelia.

The prior year the Fillmores attempted to divest themselves of their niece, Charity Schanck. Charity had been living with since at least 1880 and probably ever since her mother died in 1877. When Charity was six years old she suffered from a severe attack of typhoid fever. As a result, or at the same time, she developed epilepsy. Charity suffered epileptic attacks that lasted an hour, requiring restraint. These attacks, as well as the fact that she had no income, apparently made the Fillmore's tired of having Charity at their house. She was packed off to an asylum in Kalamazoo.

In September of 1887, Ebenezer Fillmore swore a statement for a Probate Court hearing to determine whether Charity was indeed insane. Ebenezer said "she is in indigent circumstances that she is not my property...and as far as (he) knows does not expect any legacy..." The hearing to establish Charity's mental state was held at the new courthouse in Traverse City. Ebenezer and Harriet attended, as did two physicians, the prosecuting attorney, the Supervisor of Long Lake township, the Probate Judge, and Charity.

The doctors testified that Charity was in general good health. She was described as quite emaciated, quite excitable, and irritable. She was also moody and despondent, often "sitting in her chair, thinking, as she says." The doctors did not believe she was insane. The verdict of the court was that "she be moved to some more suitable and comfortable home believing that she may be benefitted by better, more comfortable, and milder treatment." Charity died in late 1884. Her story does not reflect well on the Fillmores, however this was in a time when there was no Social Security or welfare. The Fillmores had never been rich, and were probably looked ahead to a not-so-bright future.

A comment in the Grand Traverse Herald led a letter writer to send a note to the paper: ED. HERALD- Miss Charity Schanck, who died a few days since, has been an invalid for a number of years. After the death of her father and mother her brothers, in settlement of their father's estate, deeded to Mrs. Ebenezer Fillmore (their aunt on the mother's side) the se 1/4 of the sw 1/4 of section 9 of this town, which is the residence of Mrs. E. Fillmore and family, and is the most desirable portion of the Schanck property. And to pay for this property Mrs. E. Fillmore agreed to take care of Charity as long as she lived. The friends of the Schanck family (and they have many in this locality) think your correspondent, D. W. S., is not justified is calling :Charity Schanck a pauper that E. Fillmore has had the charge of for a number of years past.

In 1884, the Fillmores entered early cabbages, a quarter bushel of table tomatoes, a quarter bushel of onions from black seed, field pumpkins for stock, and early beets for table use in the Grand Traverse county fair. A newspaper account written in 1885 noted that Ebenezer, who was known as Eben, had sold his team of oxen to Mr. Kingdon for $135 and intended to invest in a team of horses. Ebenezer may have used the team to draw lumber for Mr. W. Whinnery to Simmonds mill in January 1889 (although this also could have been Eliphalet or Emmett).

In 1886 Ebenezer applied for a Civil War pension through the Detroit Agency. To receive a pension Ebenezer had to prove that his disability was a result of illness that occurred during the Civil War. The testimony of Emmet Fillmore, Edna Fillmore Ransom, and Ira Chase were used to prove that the rheumatism in his back, hips, legs, and feet was a result of sleeping on the ground during the war. The rheumatism was so bad that he had to dig potatoes while kneeling. Apparently, beginning about 1885, this rheumatism had prevented Ebenezer from doing any physical labor. Eventually, in 1888, he began to receive $24 a month.

Ebenezer is described on his pension application as being five feet ten inches tall, with light complexion and light hair along with blue eyes.

Ebenezer died 14 February 1895 at Long Lake at the home of daughter Susanah. According to the family doctor (Charles Kneeland) the cause of death was cardiac dropsy and pneumonia. Dr. Kneeland also noted that Ebenezer had suffered from chronic rheumatism that had been so severe that he was basically an invalid for his last few years. His obituary was published 15 February 1895, probably in the Traverse Bay.


Ebeneezer Fillmore Died at Long Lake Yesterday

Another old pioneer, Ebeneezer Fillmore, well known in the Grand Traverse region, passed away yesterday , at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Jones, at Long Lake, where he lived for many years. Deceased was 79 years of age, a war veteran and a consistent member of the Methodist church. A wife and six children are left to mourn his loss.

Mr. Fillmore had been closely identified with the development of this region and has seen the splendid growth of the country he helped develop.

The sons are, Eliphat, of Garfield; Emmet of Long Lake and Johnathan, who is located in a western state. The daughters are, Mrs. E. L. Ransom and Mrs. B. H. Durga of Traverse City, and Mrs. Jones of Long Lake. The funeral services will be held tomorrow at Long Lake.

After Ebenezer's death Harriet had to go through the application process in order to get Ebenezer's Civil War pension. She received $12 a month.

Harriet's last few years appear to have been filled with ill health. In September of 1895, Harriet Fillmore was declared an insane person. The Probate Court of Grand Traverse County noted that "(She) is mentally incompetent to do and perform ordinary business transactions of life and because she will squandor said pension and property and will then loose the proper benefit from the use of it...having lost her mind and memory." Evan J. East was named her legal guardian. Harriet did not have long to live and died 19 March 1896 at Long Lake. The Grand Traverse Herald reported: Mrs. Harriet Filmore, an old settler and highly esteemed resident of Long Lake, died to-day at the advanced age of 80. Funeral services will be held to-morrow at the Long Lake church. Both she and Ebenezer are buried at Linwood Cemetery, across from their home site.

A single photograph of Ebenezer and Harriet has been found. It dates to between 1880 and 1890. Ebenezer was wearing a Grand Army of the Republic Medal pinned to his jacket. The suit jacket was buttoned at the top button, it appears that it would have been too tight if the lower buttons were fastened. His jacket, vest, and pants appear to have been a dark, coarse fabric (probably wool). His shoes are typical of the 1880s. Ebenezer has a partial beard and has a full head of hair parted to the right.

Harriet has her hair pulled back in a tight bun. Her dark dress has lace at the collar and a row of at least ten jet buttons running down the front. She holds a book in her left hand.

Children of Ebenezer and Harriet Bessie Fillmore

i. Eliphalet Fillmore born 12 June 1837 in New York.

ii. Phebe Ann Fillmore born 29 September 1839 in Pennsylvania, probably in Potter County where the Fillmores were living in 1840.

iii. Susanah Fillmore was born 24 September 1941 in New York.

iv. William Fillmore was born on 13 September 1844. He died 2 June 1863. The family appears to have moved shortly after his death.

v. Johnathon S(chanck?) Fillmore was born on 9 September 1846 in Steuben County, New York.

vi. Emmet M Fillmore was born 2 January 1849 in Steuben County, New York.

vii. Edna Helen Fillmore was born on 14 June 1851 in Steuben County, New York.

viii. Edwin O Fillmore was born 14 September 1857 in New York.

ix. Wilson M Fillmore was born 11 August 1859 in Michigan. He died 5 July 1867 at Long Lake, Grand Traverse County, Michigan after being struck by a falling tree.

x. Benjamin Franklin (Frank) Fillmore was born 20 February 1861 in Michigan. During his short life he attended school and worked on his father's farm. He appears to have been a smart young man, always scoring near the top of his class. Like many other others, he liked to fish in Long Lake: Frank Fillmore set his fish-hook and line on our lake a few days since and on going to it found an extraordinary large fish on it. It was of the pickerel species. He was sick from lung fever in December 1880, but recovered.

Frank drowned on 10 August 1883 in Long Lake, Grand Traverse County, Michigan. He is buried in Linwood Cemetery with a tombstone reading:

"We loved him

We missed him

We wanted him to stay

But God sent his Angels

And took him away"

An account of his death appeared in the 16 August 1883 edition of the Grand Traverse Herald:

Long Lake

...A fatal accident occurred to one of our friends on last Friday, at four o'clock p.m.. Frank, and his brother Emmett Fillmore, were doing some repair work on the flume of Elijah Ransom's grist mill, when the center gates and timbers gave way and let a volume of 7 1/2 feet of water down upon them. A post 10 1/2 feet long and 10 inches square struck Frank on the right shoulder, breaking it, and dashed his head against the farther end of the flume, bruising it in a terrible manner, causing death, it is supposed, instantly, although his body was not taken out of the water for some 45 minutes after the first bursting through of the water, on account of the timber and trash covering him, and his body could not be seen until the water was all let off. Had it not been for the heroic efforts of E. Ransom, Emmet would also have drowned, as his foot was caught under one of the gates, and held his body firmly under the water, until life was pretty well extinct, but Mr. Ransom succeeded at the last moment, in drawing the body out, leaving his boot still fast. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. John Cook, at the friends' church yesterday, after which the body was buried in the cemetery close by. We desire to say a few words in memory of our beloved brother. He was in every sense of the term a true gentleman, being all his life a very moral boy, never known to participate in anything unbecoming a gentleman of the highest order. Was a dutiful son, a studious pupil, an affectionate associate, and last of all a warm-hearted christian, being converted last winter. He also gave his name to the officers of Rising Star lodge, of the I.O.Grand Traverse, and would have been initiated into membership on last Saturday night, had he lived. This order assisted in the funeral ceremonies. As he was the stay and support of his aged parents, their loss will be very great.

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