Siberia Ott's Story

Siberia Ott's Story


During the quest for a unified Ott family that was thought necessary to lay claim to the Martin Ott fortune, Dr. Oliver H. Ott (1825-1891) of Branchville, South Carolina, corresponded with Siberia Ott, a descendant of the Ott family of New York State who had brought his family to Aiken, South Carolina, shortly after the Civil War. It is not clear which man contacted the other first, but the date of the following letter, 1880, strongly suggests that the interest in family history stemmed from Martin Ott's death in 1879.

Siberia Ott's letter is interesting not only for the light that it throws on the origin of the "unified Ott" stories, but also as an example of how family legends get started and, more importantly, become garbled over time. The text of this letter comes to us from the notes of Eleanore Ott, photocopies of which may be found in the Calhoun County Museum in St. Matthews, South Carolina.

Aiken, So. Carolina
August 23, 1880

Dr. O. H. Ott

Dear Sir:

With this you find an extract from the Register of my branch of the Ott family, and to explain it more fully would say that the tradition handed down to me through my Grandfather and his wife, Cornelius Ott and Mary, was that one of the petit nobility of Germany -- "Barnt. Hylor" of Mechlenbergh, Germany -- came to N. York somewhere about 1750 and brought with him a large colony of his people and among them the "Ott family". They all remained in New York City about a year, and then most of them came South of New York. While in New York, Aaron Ott married the daughter of Barn't Hylor and they moved up the Hudson River to the Town of Fishkill. They had three children -- two daughters and one son (Cornelius) and this son was my Grandfather -- the others of the Ott family came south of N. York -- some in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

And through the U. S. Consuls in Germany, the records could be reached at Mechlenbergh and there the connecting links of the family be obtained -- of when Barn't. Hylor's family left there and thus of the Ott family.


Siberia Ott

Aaron Ott came from Switzerland to New York, married Margaret Hylor (daughter of Barnt. Hylor) of Mechlenbergh, Germany in New York City. They settled in Fishkill, Dutchess County, New York. He was drowned from a sloop in the Hudson River in June 1761. She died in Wilton, Saratoga County, N. Y.

Children of Aaron and Margaret Ott

Sarah - married Gilbert Thew, settled in Peru, Clinton Co., N.Y.
Mary - married Abraham Bryce, settled in Saratoga County, N.Y.
Cornelius - born March 2, 1761, married Mary Smith about 1789. (She was born Feb. 26, 1766.) They had children - Margaret, James C., Eliza, Smith, Pamelia, Abram, Hylor, Stevens, and Laura Ann.

James C. Ott was born Jan. 16, 1793. He married Catherine Crandall, Oct. 13, 1816, in Union Villiage [sic], Washington County, New York. Their children were Eliza, Oran, Siberia, Mary Margaret Hylor, Laura Ann, Friend Jas. and Norman.

Note that Siberia Ott does not speak of immigrating brothers, just of an Ott "family", most of whom moved "south of N. York". To his South Carolina correspondents, however, this is what they wanted to hear: that the Otts, or at least the New York ones, intermarried with a noble and presumably wealthy German family; that a connection with Martin Ott's estate was therefore plausible; and that the South Carolina Otts may have derived from members of the same family who came "south of N. York".

Now here is the form that the story took a generation later. How Dr. Oliver H. Ott transmitted the story to his son, Dr. John Phillip Ott (1854-1934) of Columbus, South Carolina, is not known; but this is how the younger Dr. Ott recounted it to Captain (later Brigadier General) Edward Stanley Ott, of Hammond, Louisiana. This letter, undated but probably written in the 1920s, again comes from the notes of Eleanore Ott:

History of the Ott Family

The record shows that about the year 1735, a Colony came over to this country, under the charge of a German nobleman named Burt Tyler, from the Valley of the upper Rhine in Switzerland, and landed in New York. Among these were the Ott brothers, viz: Jacob Ott, Jasper Ott, Peter Ott, and Melchior Ott.

One of the brothers remained in New York State and married the daughter of the Nobleman. Another brother moved to Pennsylvania and the other two came to South Carolina. Later, one of the brothers in South Carolina migrated to Louisiana or Eufola [sic], Alabama.

The German nobleman, whom Siberia Ott called "Barnt." (for Baronet) Hylor, has now taken on the decidedly non-Teutonic-sounding name of Bert Tyler. The Ott family that he brought with him to New York has acquired some names, and a specification that there were four brothers. Siberia's Aaron Ott, the only name that he gave from the immigrant family, has disappeared altogether. The four brothers, Jacob, Jasper, Peter, and Melchior, are all names that appear in the Orangeburgh records. Siberia's year of "about 1750" has become 1735, the year that Melchior Ott received a land grant in Orangeburgh. And how one of the brothers managed to migrate from Switzerland to New York in 1735, then to South Carolina, then to Louisiana by 1813 or Alabama by 1825, is not made clear.

What is clear, however, is that Siberia Ott's account of a vague story pertaining to the New York Otts became transformed, in the space of a generation, into a fanciful, detailed, South Carolina-specific myth, sanctioned with the introductory statement: "The record shows..."

For those interested, Dr. John Phillip Ott's letter to Captain Edward S. Ott continues as follows:

Jacob Ott II remained in South Carolina, located at a place called Cow Castle about 20 miles southeast of Orangeburg Court House, where he obtained a very large body of land by grant from King Charles. This was before the Revolutionary War in which Jacob Ott was Captain and served with General Marion. It is reported that Jacob Ott II (whom we will call Senior) was murdered by the Tories.

We find from the census that Jacob Ott, Sr., had only one son, Jacob, Jr., and one daughter, named Margaret. It is shown also that he had one sister, Margaret Ott, who married a Mr. Miller and located at Apaska, Fla.

Jacob Ott II, who was my great-grandfather, remained in possession of the property at Cow Castle -- died and is buried on the old home cemetery there. Jacob Ott II, my great-grandfather, and Abraham Ott, my grandfather, are both buried in the old home cemetery, which is now the town cemetery of the little inland town of Bowman. S. C., Orangeburg County. You will see that we cannot find the name of two of the sons and one daughter of Jacob Ott, Jr.

Now I take from your letter that Jacob Ott who was the grandfather of your uncle (Walter Tate Ott) must have been the brother of Abraham Ott, and that your grandfather, Charles Ott, was his son.

We find as suggested in your letter the names of Jacob and Margaret and also that the date 1735 and the country Switzerland and the upper valley of the Rhine, from which they came, tally with your information and would indicate a possibility of the direct connection of both the South Carolina families.

Some time about 1882 a young gentleman, J. W. Billings, moved from Eufola, Alabama, to Bamberg, S. C., and told me of the family of James Ott who had a daughter named Lizzie whom he knew in Eufola. Possibly this might be some of your family or you might know of them.

I have a son, T. O. Ott, living in Columbus, Georgia, salesmanager for the Continental Cotton Gin Co.

Yours very truly,

(Signed) J. P. Ott M. D.


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Siberia Page revision 1.04, last updated on 26 June 2004.

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