Affixed to one of the marble endpapers of my copy of Barber's Connecticut Historical Collections (1838 edition) is the obituary of Esther Ingersoll Olmsted (1760-1847), my 5th great grandmother. She died in St. Louis Missouri at 86 years of age, and the obituary reached one of her grandsons in Philadelphia (Anthony Isaacs Olmsted) who pasted it in a book of Connecticut history: a logical choice, for the family had its origins there. The book with its obituary, along with a considerable Olmsted family archive, passed next to a brother (Henry Morse Olmsted), then to a great-nephew (General Edward Olmsted), then to his sister (Margaret Olmsted Ogden), then her daughter (Margaret Ogden), and now to me (a great-nephew). It is remarkable to think that the peregrinations of this scrap of family history span 8 generations, with 160 years between me and an old woman who passed away in St. Louis.
She was born August 10th, 1760, the daughter of Reverend Jonathan Ingersoll and Dorcas Moss. The Ingersolls came to Ridgefield, Connecticut from the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. One day as I was passing through Ridgefield, I stopped on a whim and wandered through its oldest cemetery, where I came upon the tombstones of Reverend Ingersoll and his wife. Johnathan Ingersoll was prominent in his community, serving as a Chaplain with colonial troops during the French and Indian War. Though we New Englanders tend to overlook this about our history, he was also a slave owner. Among the town records that survive from 1777 is the manumission of Reverend Ingersoll's twenty-year old slave "Cyphax".
In January 1779, Esther Ingersoll married Ebenezer Olmsted, whose family were original proprietors of Ridgefield and before that of Norwalk. In 1836, at 78 years of age, she filed a claim for a widow's pension based on his years of service from Connecticut in the Revolution. It is a remarkable document and a transcript is in our family archive.
Ebenezer Olmsted's service in the Revolution was an especially arduous and active one, so forgive me as I pause to provide a brief summary. As Sergeant and company clerk in Captain Mead's Company of Col. Waterbury's 5th Connecticut Regiment, he marched to newly captured Fort Ticonderoga and took part in Montgomery's invasion of Canada. The 5th was conspicuous in the attack and siege of St. Jean's Fort and the successful capture of Montreal. He was discharged when the regiment disbanded that December, but soon reenlisted as Ensign in Captain Gamaliel Northrop's Company of Col. G. S. Silliman's Regiment of Connecticut militia. Carrying a regimental flag, he fought throughout the New York Campaign of 1776, including the bitter battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights and White Plains that left the British firmly in control of the lower Hudson and New York itself. He next transferred to the 5th Connecticut Continentals (2nd organization) on January 1, 1777 as a Lieutenant under Col. Philip Burr Bradley. He fought on his home ground during the British raid on Ridgefield in April, 1777. He was wounded during the battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777 and resigned his commission as the army arrived at Valley Forge feeling that he had been passed over for a Captaincy.
According to the Esther Ingersoll Olmsted's deposition, he remained with the army in 1778 and 1779, serving in the forage department, and came over to Ridgefield from camp in nearby Redding to marry her on January 17th, 1779. This claim was not supported by the documents available in the State Comptroller's office, and even the date of their marriage has caused significant genealogical confusion, with some account's stating that their firstborn son and my ancestor Moss Olmsted was born on January 3, 1778, and others in 1780. Evidence suggests the blame lies either in a clerical error mistaking a "9" for a "7" or the common practice of calculating a child's year of birth by counting backward from its supposed age (there is also the possibility that the respectable Reverend's daughter had a child out of wedlock). In any case, my gr-great Uncle Ned successfully got into the Society of the Cincinnati based on the nearly three years of confirmed service of his Revolutionary ancestor, and that was no mean feat for either of them!
Between 1780 and 1801 when her husband Ebenezer died, Esther Ingersoll Olmsted had at least 12 children, none of whom remained in Ridgefield. The diaspora of this family is quite remarkable. Moss Olmsted (1778-1829) went out one day with his brother Russell to cut wood, then slipped away as his brother rested and ran away to sea. Russell soon emigrated to Canada and served in the local militia during the War of 1812. Another brother Edward was a midshipman in the American navy during the same conflict, and Moss was imprisoned by the British in the infamous Dartmoor Prison. Ira Olmsted, as readers of Walking the Berkshires already know, had a circus and died in England. Others went south (Benjamin), to New Orleans (Maria Bennett) to Illinois (Henry), to Maine (Harriet Shaw), and one - Francis "Fanny" (Olmsted) Eustace - to St. Louis.
And at this point in my tale there are several remarkable occurrences. The first is a connection made in the 1890s between Henry Morse Olmsted (son of Moss Olmsted) and his Canadian cousin Moss Ingersoll Olmsted, the son of Russell Olmsted. Henry was at this time the genealogist in our family, who upon discovering he had 1st cousins in Canada sent them a copy of the photograph at left and some questions about family history. The letters he received are in my files, and it was there that I learned about Ira's circus. I also learned the following extraordinary detail about Esther Ingersoll Olmsted and the lengths she was prepared to go to stay connected to her far-flung family:
"Moss [Ingersoll Olmsted] remembers his grandmother paid them a visit when he was about 2 yrs old - 1832. Walking from Stoney Creek where the stage stopped a distance of two miles up what is called 'The Mountain' - the same ridge that makes Niagara Falls - to their place. She must have traveled all the way by stage as there were no railways in Canada then and perhaps not in the States. Think of that for a woman of 72!"
After I joined the Olmste(a)d Family Association in 2005, I was contacted by another member who is a descendant of Moss Ingersoll Olmsted, and thus a century later we make the cross-border connection once again.
Esther Ingersoll Olmsted was living in Philadelphia in 1836 when she filed her widow's claim, although her son Moss died in 1829 and I do not know which other of her children supported her. She moved to St. Louis with her daughter Fanny and her husband the Reverend Thomas Eustace to help care for their children. Again through the marvel of modern technology I have rediscovered a distant family connection who sheds additional light on the last years of our common ancestor. A reader of this blog who lives in Missouri turns out to be a descendant of Fanny and Thomas Eustace's daughter Harriet. She is my 5th cousin, (once removed) and kindly provided me with photocopies of these two portraits of Reverend Eustace and Fanny Olmsted Eustace that are still in the possession of one of their descendants.
It was a comfort to her to learn that the family in Philadelphia had known the fate of Esther Ingersoll Olmsted in far St. Louis and preserved her memory in the obituary handed down within the book on Connecticut history. The last years in St. Louis were very hard on the family. My distant cousin provides obituaries for the Eustaces from the St. Louis Missouri Republican:
"October 29, 1845 - Mrs. Eustace, who was severely injured by the explosion of a lamp a few days since, died on Sunday last. She was the wife of Thomas Eustace and there are many friends who will lament this sad bereavement."
" June 26, 1848 - Died yesterday, after a painful attack of Cholera Mortar, Rev. Thomas Eustace in the 48th year of age."
Esther Ingersoll Olmsted composed her will on her deathbed on January 10, 1847 "being weak of body, but of sound disposing mind" and died four days later. She left one dollar to each of her children then living (Moss and Russell, at least, having predeceased her), and assigned the rest of her estate to her son-in-law Rev. Eustace, establishing a trust for her two youngest grandchildren and providing for a suitable monument for her daughter Fanny.
I am very grateful to my newfound cousin for providing me with a copy of this last will and testament, which rounds out extraordinary life and journey of the fore-mother of our respective branches of the Olmsted family tree. Esther Ingersoll Olmsted's commitment to family is abundantly evident in the documents we are fortunate to have of her life, and her obituary rightly notes:
"The tidings of her departure will convey a pang to the heart of many a beloved relative and friend, and to a numerous and respectable train of direct descendants in various portions of the country."