Abraham Wightman (1711-1800)

Abraham Wightman

 

Abraham Wightman, Sr. was born May 15, 1711 in Groton, New London Co., CT colony1, and died February 3, 1800 in Bozrah, New London Co., CT1. He was the son of Valentine Wightman and Susannah Holmes. He married Susannah Stark April 19, 1737 in Lebanon, New London Co., CT, daughter of John Stark and Martha Walworth. She was born ca. 1715 in Groton, New London Co., CT colony1, and died 1813 in Colchester, New London Co., CT1.

Abraham, third son of Rev. Valentine and Susannah Wightman, was born and raised in Groton, Connecticut. Abraham's mother died when Abraham was only about 16 years old. Shortly thereafter, Valentine remarried Joanna (Avery?) and so Abraham completed his adolescence with a step-mother and a baby sister in the house. Abraham, no doubt, grew up working on his father's farm lands. Abraham's father, Rev. Valentine, the successful Groton Baptist preacher, purchased a large tract of land in what was then Norwich from John Stark (Abraham's eventual father-in-law) on July 2, 1722. In his will, he bequeathed this land to his sons Abraham and Daniel. Abraham received this land on November 6, 1744, and probably began farming it soon afterward. Prior to that time, he was farming land he purchased from his brother Daniel, presumably also in Norwich. In 1786, the southwestern portion of Norwich, which included the Wightman property, was incorporated into the new community of Bozrah, CT.

Abraham certainly knew Susannah Stark as a child. They were of similar age, and she grew up in nearby Norwich and Lebanon (in nearby Windham County). Susannah's family belonged to the First Baptist Church of Groton, where Abraham also certainly attended throughout his youth, given that his father was the minister. Abraham married Susannah when he was in his mid-twenties. It is likely that Abraham and Susannah continued to associate themselves with the Groton Baptist Church-- Norwich did not establish its own Baptist church until after 1790.

Abraham's young adulthood coincided with King George's War (1743-48). There is no record that he served in this conflict, and since most of it was conducted on the frontier and northern portions of the colonies, he was unlikely to have been influenced much by it.

When Abraham was in his 40's, before the dawn of the American Revolution in the late 1750's, he probably had dealings with a young apprentice merchant named Benedict Arnold in Norwich. Abraham's brother Daniel (also a direct ancestor of George Ransom's), who owned the farm next to Abraham's, was a leading citizen of Norwich and married Catherine Westcott, a distant cousin of Arnold's, making the possible association more likely. At the very least, Benedict's father of the same name was well known to Abraham. Benedict Arnold IV, father of Gen. Benedict Arnold, the traitor, was Abraham's contemporary and a self-made merchant and leading citizen of Norwich. Tragically, Benedict IV succumbed to alcoholism in the early 1750's, leading to public humiliation, financial ruin, and an untimely death.

In his later years, Abraham lived to see the great American Revolutionary War (1775-1780), and the birth of the United States (1789). While he was in his sixties by the time the British marched on Lexington and Concord, at least three of his sons served in the Connecticut militia. It is likely that Abraham, Sara and their children read Thomas Paine's Common Sense sometime in early 1776 (it was widely read in the colonies, especially in New England). Whether they needed additional motivation to convert them to the cause of American independence we will never know. But for many Americans, Paine's famous pamphlet provided the clear and motivating arguments of revolution. Like most Americans, Abraham would follow the events of the next few years closely. In 1781, the war would hit home when General Benedict Arnold, Abraham's onetime neighbor, raided New London and Groton in traitorous service for the British.

Shortly after the completion of the Revolutionary War, Abraham purchased land in Herkimer Co., NY. He did not move there himself, but rather was investing and prospecting, as most did at this time. About the same time and not incidentally I'm sure, all five of his sons and his daughter Amey moved to New York State, mostly to Herkimer County.

The 1790 US census (the first census of the United States) identified Abraham living in New London Co. (surname was spelled "Whitman"; township unnamed, but certainly Bozrah). He was the only male in the household and there were two women living there also (one is certainly his wife Susannah). Nearby farms were home to a John and Valentine Wightman. These were probably nephews of Abraham; Valentine might be Abraham's brother Daniel's son. Abraham's son John, as well as George Ransom's ancestor Abraham Jr., had relocated to New York State by this time. It is worth noting that slaveholding was not uncommon in late 18th century New England. Indeed, several of Abraham's neighbors held a slave or two (not dozens as was common in the South). Neither Abraham, nor any of the Wightman's recorded in the New London Co. 1790 census owned any slaves.

Abraham lived to the remarkably venerable age of 89. He was alive, albeit quite advanced in age, when George Washington became the first President of the US, governing from New York City. He lived the duration of Washington's term and almost all of President John Adam's troubled term.

Susannah Stark may have been born in nearby Norwich, rather than Groton. Her birth year is also a point of some debate, with some sources claiming a birth year of ca. 1709. However, this same source also places her death date as "after 1761" and according to Mary Ross Whitman's research, Susannah was still living at the time of her husband's death. I have followed Whitman's dates and those provided by Stark family researchers. Susannah was a descendant of the early Connecticut Scottish settler, Aaron Stark. His unusual story, and that of the early Stark family in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania is recounted in Clovis La Fleur's work.

After Abraham's death in 1800, Susannah lived in Colchester, CT with her oldest daughter, Martha (Wightman) Randall and her husband Sylvester Randall, living to the truly incredible age of about 97.

Children of Abraham Wightman and Susannah Stark are:

Sources

1. Mary Ross Whitman, George Wightman of Quidnessett, RI and Descendants, (1939, Chicago: Edwards Brothers).

2. Frederic W. Bailey, Early Connecticut Marriages, (1896-1906, New Haven, CT).

 

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