Early Deans of Athens County Ohio
(with special focus on Silas Dean)

(Updated May 18, 2011)

 

Early Deans in Athens County

      The following is the basic information that I presented to the Senior Beat History Group  that meets monthly at Obleness Hospital in Athens, OH. The date of this report was December 11, 2008. I have edited it  somewhat to make it more amenable to broader interests.   The topics covered:

        1- Very  brief history of early Deans in America

         2 - Appearance of  Silas Dean in Ames township in Athens county, one of the township's first 33 residents(Note: This township was 10 times larger in early Athens county than it is currently). He was one of the first three County Commissioners. 

         3 - Appearance of out ancestors, Nathan III at age 55 with wife Mary Thayer, 9 adult children and a grandson.

         4 - Speculation on the kinship between these early Dean families.

 

Background: My interest is family geneology and history was first expressed in a chapter on the early Deans of the area that I contributed to Unto These Hills, a bicential project of the Amesville community in 1976.

 

Early Deans in America 

     The earliest Dean in colonial America was Stephen Dean and his wife. They arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower. Since he and his wife had two daughters there was no continuation of the Dean name in his descendants.

     Next were John and Walter Dean from southern England, specifically Taunton, near the port of Bristol. They and their wives arrived in 1636 on the Speedwell and settled in Dorchester Heights, immediately south of  Boston. Soon they and their fellow travelers purchased land from the pilgrims at Plymouth  and named the town they established Taunton and the county, Bristol. These were the names of the regions in southern England from which they and their traveling companions came. Many current and nearly all New England Deans can trace their origins to one of these two Dean brothers. A rich historical Dean library exists at the Lost Colony Museum in current Taunton, MA.

     Five generations of our ancestors lived in Bristol County until Nathan III and family of 12 traveled to Athens County in 1815. Sometime prior to the American Revolution our Dean ancestors in Massachusetts moved to adjoining Norton, also in Bristol County.

     Many of John and Walter's descendants spread into various New England states in the Colonial period. The ancestors of Silas Dean, one of the topics of this report,  cannot be traced back beyond his immediate family for reasons to be explained.  This first Athens County Dean's parents lived in western Massachusetts near Pittsfield in Berkshire County and later in Eastern New York at Stockbridge.  A relationship to John or Walter is speculated but to date unsubstantiated. The evidence weakens with time.

 

Earliest Athens County Dean - Silas 

     This early Dean has frequently been confuses by local historians with Silas Deane, the aid to Benjamin Franklin when he served in France during the revolution. This Silas lived in an earlier time, 1737-1789. The Ames Silas was one of the 33 early residents of Ames township recorded in 1803. He was 35 at the time and had a short life dying seven years later.  Silas was born in either Massachusetts or New York in 1767. He was not old enough during the revolution to have participated.  He was a most interesting and intriguing person coming from a very unusual upbringing.

     His father, John,  was a lieutenant in the New York militia serving under Robert Montgomery during the invastion of Canada. He was killed on New Year's eve (1775) in the Battle for Quebec.  Upon his father's death his mother, Lavinia Higby Dean, opened a boarding house in Stockbridge, MA. An early boarder,  Lt. John Fisk, earned her affection and they expressed the desire to marry. However, the pastor of her Congregational Church in Stockbridge, Rev Stephen West, opposed it on the grounds that John Fisk was a profoundly immoral man.  Through court proceedings Rev West was able to remove Lavinia's children from her and place them with her family. The exception was Silas; he was adopted by General John Fellows of Pittsfield. General Fellows had earlier adopted Silas' mother when she was orphaned at age 14. Silas was 11 at the time of his adoption and only 16 at the end of the revolution. Silas' younger siblings were adopted and raised by Lavinia's  Higby relatives in New York state.

         Silas next appears in Waterford, OH in 1796 at age 22 purchasing land from George Wilson and John Dodge (I suspect that these were land speculators still living in New England) and later in Ames township in 1803 at age 35. He remained unmarried and died in 1810. He had several civic appointments between 1803 and 1807 among them: one of the first 3 county commissioners and grand juror. He acquired over 2 square miles including all of current Ames township  (1300 acres of land) and was selling it to newly arriving residents. His was the largest early property tax bill in Ames township, over $5. However;  all his activities ceased in 1807 when judge Ephraim Cutler ruled he was insane and appointed him guardians: Silas Bingham, Ezra Green, and John Brown. Care of the insane at the time was to permit them to live somewhere under frequent surveilance. Silas lived his remaining years on his farm raising pigs. All his possessions at the time of his death, other than land, were listed on 1.5 pages.

        Subsequent disposition of his land was complicated. It was equally divided among his mother and younger siblings living in New York. A good deal of correspondence exists between husband Reuben Moore of eldest sister, Electa, over the matter. Title to his remaining land was deeded to brother Stephen Dean and heirs of Silas Dean. In the process of the settlement two persons of interest acquired some of the land, Nathan Dean IV around 1820 and Claudius Fisk, Silas' half brother. It appears that Nathan ultimately acquired some of Silas property, Fisk's land and a large plot from a McCune family. 

       In his letters settling Silas' estate Reuben Moore indicates that his wife was incapable of involvement as she has hysterics and that elder brother, Stephen, was  unstable. Youngest sister Lydia was deceased.

      For those familiar with early Ames township, one of Silas'  largest sales was to Sylvanus Ames, husband of Nabby Lee Ames, namesake of the local DAR chapter.

      I have also pursued the genealogy and revolutionary war record of General John Fellows of Pittsfield, Berkshire Counthy, MA in an attempt to find records that might explain how his ward, Silas, acquired enough money at his young age, early 20s, to make the extensive purchases of land that he did in Ames township located at the time in Washington county

 

Arrival of Our Family Ancestors

     In 1815 Nathan Dean III, my greatgreatgreatgreat grandfather left Norton, MA via wagons with his adult family of 9 children and a grandchild, Nathan William, my greatgreatgrandfather. The sons were all skilled craftsmen in trades such as brickmaking, carpentry, and stone masonry. The Walker History of Athens County credits these sons with importing the skill of heading nails. The sons starting with the eldest were: Nathan IV, William, Gulliver, John, Luvead, and Leonard. The daughters were: Mary Thayer (died at age 6), Sally (Buzzard), Mary Emily (Brown) and Fanny (Courtney).  Their married names appear in parentheses. There are no records on the elder Nathan Dean (III) after arrival. He was 55 years of age at the time. There is much recorded history of the sons, particularly, Nathan IV, William T., Gulliver, and John.

     Nathan (IV) Jr. or Col. Dean as he was more frequently called acquired some of the Silas Dean acreage cited earlier. He was elected a Colonel at an early muster. He was an entrepreneur of some sort renting out land for the buildings and businesses that became the first township center, Mudsock (http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~deanr/mucsock.htm). Located in the village were the first cemetery (current Amesville/Mudsock cemetery), general store, church, and millinery.  Since he was a brickmaker it stands to reason that he was active in the production of the bricks for the early Presbyterian Church established there. He sold for a dollar sufficient land for its site. This church was created in 1829 and later established in Amesville 10 years later after the demise of Mudsock. He was postmaster for a few years. All his activites terminated with his sudden death in 1830.  It is unclear what transpired, but it is clear that he dictated his will and was unable to sign the final copy prior to expiring.  Note that the church made from his bricks collapsed within 25 years. The village site is currently owned by Sean Dean and Chris and Joanna Sidote.

     Gulliver also resided in Ames township. He married Mary Cutler, daughter of Ephraim Cutler and granddaughter of Manasseh Cutler, of Northwest Territory and Ohio Company fame.  They lived near Ephraim's Ames farm - now Green Edge Organic Farm.  (Note Ephraim's moved to Warren Township after 6 years to provide for better care of his ailing wife Leah, but retained his Ames farm - now Kickwheel Acres 3 miles north of Amesville on SR 329). Gulliver and Mary were very active in the establishment of the Ames Methodist Society and held services in their home. Gulliver did the stone work in the construction of the current Amesville church.  They were well known for their charitable work in the area.

     John and William took up residence in Athens.  They were owners of a brick yard between Dean Avenue (now the portion of  West Washington street after it turn northward at the middle school toward the Westend Tavern) and the Hocking River. They manufactured and sold the the new Ohio University the bricks used in the construction of Cutler Hall and later Wilson and McGuffy Halls.  It is interesting to note that these three buildings remain standing after over 200 years compared to the 25 year existance of the church of their eldest brother, Nathan.  However, note that there have been two major renovations to restore a failing Cutler Hall.  President Baker at one time during his early tenure stated that the building must be torn down or restored. Gulliver was also involved in some of the brick making activity of the time.

    William T. lived in Athens Township; his name is on record of the seller of bricks used in the building of what is now Cutler Hall, the earliest Ohio University building still standing; an earlier academy was removed many years ago.  William was the father-in-law of Hiram Armitage who married daughter Harriet. There home built in 1820 still stands in The Plains area on Armitage Road - currently the Good Earth Farm.  William is believed to be the home's builder.

     Luvead and Leonard have no recorded histories.

     The three surviving Dean daughters married and their married names appear in parentheses above.

     Nathan William Dean, our greatgreatgrandfather and grandson making the trip to Ohio, was born in Norton, MA.  At the time of his father's untimely death he was in his early teens. He his mother were unable to sustain Mudsock and apparently it soon ceased to exist; Amesville succeeded it at the recognized seat of Ames township.  As an adult he became a stock raiser.  He built the current Dean/Sargentti/Smalling home half mile west of Amesville, adjoining Mudsock/Amesville Cemetery.  He was also the final librarian of the Coonskin library, entering the final notes to its record  book. This book is on display at the Coonskin Library Museum in Amesville.

     Nathan Edgar Dean, our greatgrandfather, was a stockraiser and entrepreneur of sorts. He was best known as an auctioneer who cried many sales in the area. He also raised livestock and poultry which he sold.  Apparently, he had an affection for new technology.  My favorite story of him is his use of his Edison Phonograph, the cylinder-type.  He is said to have acquire the first in the area and would share his music by playing it into his telephone to all who would request it via the local telephone operator.

 

Finale

      The Dean's have had an early and substantial role in early Ames and Athens Townships. I have worked to determine if a relationship exists between Silas and our known ancestors.  At first I thought it surely existed because of the passage of real estate from one to the other, but that is not so. There are intervening owners and a recorded court dispute between Nathan Jr. and heirs of Silas to dispute a land sale  that  reputes that line of reasoning. The remaining rationale is the early presence of both families in the New England area. However, I cannot really resolve a relationship until I can determine the linage of Lt. John Dean, Silas' father. I am unable to get beyond his marriage to Lavina Higby, land ownership and church membership in Stockbridge, MA and death as a soldier.

      On a similar theme, Phyllis, my wife is also a Dean descendant. Her mother was a Dean from the Western Kentucky area.  Her ancestory can be traced to a John Dean, killed during the revolution at Kings Mountain in 1780.  He is one of several John Deans living in eastern Tennesse/western North Carolina at the time, one of which can be easily traced to Massachusetts.  So, in both cases determination of my ancestry to "Deans of Interest" is  blocked in both cases by the undetermined linage of two John Deans both killed in the American Revolution.

     I have placed this history of Silas Dean in a more public location to share with all who might be interested in the 'saga of Silas Dean' but, of more immediate personal interest to facilitate my search for his father genealogy.  Send any potentially relevant information of the subject to me at deanr@ohio.edu.

 
Posted on May 18, 2011 by R. Dean