Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What’s In A Name: Styles Brook of Keene

 

styles brook book cover

By John Sasso

Recently, author and Keene resident Lorraine Duvall released her latest book, Where the Styles Brook Waters Flow: The Place I Call Home. Her book is a collection of stories which were told to her by her neighbors about life along the Styles Brook Valley, along with her own personal recollections. The waters of Styles Brook flow westward for about seven miles from The Glen, a hamlet tucked between the Jay and Hurricane Mountains, into the East Branch of the Ausable River. The brook is fed by smaller brooks and ponds on these mountains, such as O’Connell Brook, Madden Brook, and Merriam Swamp.

There has been speculation as to how Styles Brook got its name, whether it was from an unnamed settler of Jay or from metal parts called stiles which secured onto rocks the sluiceways used to drive logs down steep slopes. While conducting research on nearby Hurricane Mountain, I came across what I contend is the likely origin of the name of the brook. I made the discovery while examining the field book of Enoch F. Henry’s 1807 survey of the Essex Tract, a large, irregularly shape tract of land which spans across the towns of Keene, Elizabethtown, Jay, and Lewis. By order of the State Surveyor General, Simeon De Witt, Henry surveyed this tract into square or rectangular lots, about 170 acres each. In some of the old surveyor field books, the surveyor describes not only the lots and the course of the surveyed lines, but also the names of people settled upon them. These names usually shed light on the name-origin of land features. I discovered the name-origin of Hamlin Mountain in Wilmington by examining John Richards’s field book of his 1815 survey of the Jay Tract. It is through a similar list in Henrys field book that I came across Styles Brook’s likely namesake.

In Henrys numerical list of the lots and their settlers, I saw an entry for Silas Stiles. Silas had 200 acres of land in Lot 130 of the tract. Turning to a map of land patents, townships, and lots for the Adirondacks I obtained from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Lot 130 was a rectangular tract where Styles Brook and Jay Mountain Roads cross (in the west side of the Town of Jay, abutting the east line of the Town of Keene). Styles Brook also happens to cross Lot 130. If Stiles was the true spelling of his name – and only he would know that – then, not surprisingly, Stiles was corrupted to Styles.

Who was Silas Stiles? According to the genealogical text The Stiles Family in America, Silas was born on November 1, 1761 in Pittsfield, Mass. to Zebediah and Experience Wells Stiles. Like his father, Stiles was in service of the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, which is well-documented by Charles Towne on the genealogy website, GenArchives, as well as depositions from the younger Stiles and fellow veterans in 1832 and 1834 regarding his pension application.

Historic signature

A portion of Enoch F. Henry’s field book showing an entry for Lot 130, on which Silas Stiles is recorded as settled on. (Source: New York State Archives, Field Book 30, Subdivision A). Photo provided by John Sasso.

On June 7, 1832, the US Congress passed the Pension Act (formerly titled An Act supplementary to the act for the relief of certain surviving officers and soldiers of the Revolution), which gave full pay for life to officers and enlisted men who had served for at least two years and partial pay for those who served from six months to two years. The act excluded those who were occasionally employed with the army upon civil contracts, such as clerks to commissaries and to store-keepers, &.c, teamsters, boatmen, &.c.

More than 80,000 of Americas first veterans and their widows would apply under the 1832 Pension Act, including Silas Stiles. When Stiles applied for pension on September 26 of that year, he was a resident of Keene, as per his first deposition at the Essex County Courthouse in Elizabethtown. He also stated he was sixty-eight years old, two years younger than what he would have been if he were born on November 1, 1761. To Stiless recollection, he volunteered in June 1779 to serve three months as a private with a militia mustered in Pittsfield, at the consent of his father. Since the minimum age for enlistment was sixteen at the time of the Revolution, this implies Stiles may have been fifteen at the time. Coupled with his age at the time of this deposition, he must have been born between 1763 and 1764.

The Pittsfield militia was commanded by Capt. Ambrose Hill, under Col. Miles Powells Berkshire County regiment. Capt. Hills company marched from Pittsfield for 110 miles to New Haven, Conn., where they were stationed to help guard the town from British incursions. Before their arrival, the British engaged in the burning of stores and other recklessness before being driven back. After his three months of service, Stiles was dismissed without pay and returned to his home in Pittsfield. During his travel back home, he was taken in sick and had to borrow twenty dollars from a friend to defray the cost of his care.

In May or June 1781, he enlisted as a teamster for nine months with the French Army which was encamped in Hartford, Conn. During the Revolution, teamsters drove horse- and ox-drawn wagons, and delivered guns, cannon, food, and other essential supplies to officers and their troops. Stiles and twenty other enlistees along with the French marched to White Plains, NY where Gen. George Washington was encamped. After a six-to-eight-week stay, the French Army, under the command of Gen. Washington, went on to Yorktown, Va., crossing the Hudson River at Kings Ferry, and passing through Princeton, NJ, Philadelphia, and Baltimore before their arrival near the end of September.

Stiles claimed that during his time in Yorktown, he performed his duties as a common soldier, standing sentry with his fellow teamsters to guard the teams and baggage belonging to the French Army, for a monthly pay of eight dollars. During the Battle of Yorktown, the decisive engagement of the Revolution which began on September 28, 1781, Stiles was tasked with drawing cannon and ammunition to the French fortifications. While drawing the first cannon uphill, a cannon ball struck the chain that joined eight yokes of cattle to two other yokes behind them, separating it and causing the gun to roll to the bottom of the hill.

Stiles said he was discharged in January 1782, with his papers signed by Wadsworth and Carter. Unfortunately, he could not produce any documents proving he was in the service of the Continental line. His discharge papers were lost in a fire when his house in Benson, Rutland County, Vt burned down around 1800. Depositions from Joseph Stores of Jay and Nathan Jones of Keene, both veterans who were in Gen. Washingtons army when stationed at White Plains, confirmed the veracity of Stiless claims. Furthermore, the court deemed the two men to be credible witnesses.

On May 27, 1833, the War Department rejected Stiless application for pension, on the grounds that the 1832 Pension Law required at least six months of military service in the Continental line, and Stiles was a teamster for this time in 1781.

On January 22, 1834, Thomas Goodrich and Asahel Stiles, both residents of Benson, Vt and veterans of the Revolution, gave depositions stating they were well-acquainted with Stiles during the war. The seventy-seven-year-old Goodrich claimed he knew Stiles ever since Stiles enlisted in Pittsfield in 1778.

Furthermore, the two men marched together to Yorktown, where they fought in battle. After the Battle of Yorktown, he and Stiles marched to Williamsburg, Va, where they were discharged around January 1, 1782 or 1783 (as best he could recall). The seventy-three-year-old Asahel gave a deposition that was similar in content, including the incorrect recollection of the year the Battle of Yorktown took place: 1781.

Veterans who were acquainted with Stiles during the Revolution were not the only ones who gave depositions. Nathan Ward of Keene and Joseph Bruce of Jay, both neighbors of Stiles, gave depositions on April 10, 1834, attesting to his honest character. On the same day, Stiles gave a second deposition, this time saying he enlisted in the Continental service on July 1, 1782 in a company under the command of Capt. Gillet, led by Col. Wadsworth. The other information in his deposition is like that in his first.

In a final attempt to secure a pension from the War Department, Stiles gave a third deposition on May 27, 1834. This time, he believed he was incorrect in his second deposition, such that he confirmed he performed his duties in 1781, not 1782, and these were performed with the Continental service and not the French (as he claimed in his first deposition). Apart from these corrections, he added that after the surrender of British Gen. Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Stiless company marched to James Island, SC, where they remained for four or five weeks guarding the teams which were kept on the island. The company then marched to Williamsburg, where they remained stationed until January 1, 1782, when he was discharged and returned home to Pittsfield.

Unfortunately, Stiless second attempt to secure a pension from the government he believed he rightly earned through the service to his country failed. On September 16, 1834, the War Department once again rejected his application.

While his somewhat-inconsistent depositions may make Silas Stiles come across as someone attempting to change their story just to get a government pension, it should be kept in mind that this elderly fellow, like many veterans of the Revolution still living in 1832, surely suffered failing memories due to age. We see how veterans Thomas Goodrich and Asahel Stiles were off by a year regarding their service in Yorktown. Stiless effort to secure approval for a pension was further hampered by missing discharge papers and lack of proof of service, which further encouraged the War Department to reject his application. In the age of poorly kept, handwritten records, such was the fate that many veterans of the Revolution suffered.

As to where Stiles lived in the northeast, his depositions tell us that he lived in Pittsfield for about four years following the end of the Revolution, then moved to Benson around 1787. He is listed as a resident of Benson in the 1790 and 1800 censuses. He remained in Benson for fourteen years until relocating to the Town of Jay in Essex County around 1801, where he lived for fourteen or fifteen years before settling in Keene in 1815 (he is recorded as a resident of Jay in 1810 and 1820 censuses, then a resident of Keene in 1830 census). His last deposition notes he was a resident of Keene, and since they are the last known record we have of him, Stiles likely died sometime between 1830 and 1840. He may be interred in a cemetery in Jay or Keene, but no record of his grave has been found. The Stiles Family in America makes no mention of his wife, concluding his biography with: This Stiles is said to have had a son Eleazer, and a daughter Maria, and the family removed to the West.

References:

Stiles, Henry Reed. The Stiles Family in America. Jersey City, N.J.: Doan & Pilson, 1895, pp. 230-232.

Town, Charles. Towne / Bowditch Family History. GenArchives. https://www.genarchives.com/Towne-Bowditch/g0/p19.htm#i566 (Accessed November 18, 2023)

Silas Stiles pension file, No. R10185, Microfilm Publication M804, Roll 2294. Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (NARA microfilm publication M804, 2,670 rolls). Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Mayo, Robert. The Pension Laws of the United States, Including Sundry Resolutions of Congress, from 1776 to 1833. Washington, D.C.: The Globe Office, 1833, pp. 53-58.

Revolutionary War Veteran and Widow Pensions. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/revolutionary-war-veteran-and-widow-pensions.htm (Accessed November 18, 2023)

Photo at top: Courtesy of Lorraine Duvall.

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John Sasso is an avid hiker and bushwhacker of the Adirondacks and self-taught Adirondack historian. Outside of his day-job, John manages a Facebook group "History and Legends of the Adirondacks." John has also helped build and maintain trails with the ADK and Adirondack Forty-Sixers, participated in the Trailhead Steward Program, and maintained the fire tower and trail to Mount Adams.




3 Responses

  1. Lorraine Duvall says:

    Thanks John for delving into the history. of the naming of Styles Brook. This is great.

  2. Amy Godine says:

    I enjoyed this enormously. Had no idea Americans served with the French Army during the Revolution. And a number of them, too. Seems like Mr. Stiles of Styles Brook got a very raw deal. Thanks to John Sasso for his deep dig here, and to Lorraine Duvall for the lovely history that occasioned it, and also to Anne Diggory for that arresting painting on the cover.

    • Anne Diggory says:

      Amazing history sleuthing John. And thanks for the mention of my cover painting Amy. Lorraine introduced me to some great painting locations along Styles Brook, five so far. Two are in the Spring Street Gallery show.

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