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I have been lucky enough to spend time at the National Archives in Washington DC over the past months. I have no known direct ancestors who fought in the War of 1812 or Civil War, but wanted to familiarize myself with the record sets, so I selected a friend’s ancestor, General Sylvester Mathews (her 3rd g-grandfather).
Sylvester Mathews/Matthews (born about 1793) is first found in 1814, in the wilderness which later became Buffalo, Erie, New York (then a population of about 500). It is unlikely he was native; in the 1790’s there were just a few families there, none named Mathews.
In the summer of 1795, the Duke de la Rouchefoucault Liancourt passed through “Lake Erie,” which was the name he understood was given to the “collection of houses” of white people he found to be near the Seneca village, which to him was “Buffalo Town.” He wrote: “We at length arrived at the post on Lake Erie, which is a small collection of four or five houses, built about a quarter of a mile from the lake.”
As part of the Holland Purchase, Dutch investors procured the area which became Buffalo, from the Seneca Indians, and began selling lots in 1801. Their representatives dubbed the settlement New Amsterdam, but the name did not stick. It was first called Lake Erie, then Buffalo Creek, then Buffalo.
It is unknown if Sylvester emigrated alone or with family members or friends to Buffalo. There are no Mathews found in the area in 1800 or 1810. In those census years only head of household was listed, so it is possible that he or his family were in the area, but residing with others.
At the breaking out of the War of 1812, Sylvester resided in the Hamlet of Black Rock (today part of Buffalo), a mile wide strip of land along the Niagara River that the state of New York purchased from the Indians in 1802. Adjacent to the river, village streets were laid out. A black rock ledge (now gone) protruded 200 feet into the river, forming a naturally protected harbor downstream.
In 1820, Sylvester was the only Mathews enumerated in Buffalo and the surrounding communities.
In later years there are a number of Mathews who appear in the area, but their relation, if any, is unknown. Sylvester is the only Mathews who was an original land purchaser from the Holland Land Company.
Battle of Chippawa and Early Struggles in Buffalo
John Haddock wrote an account of his arrival, with family and $18, at Buffalo, from Bath, New Hampshire, in 1811. For a short time John made a living as a chair maker, then established a small grocery and bake shop in the village. Haddock was likely a neighbor, friend and/or business associate of Sylvester, also a baker, who in June 1919, married John’s daughter, Miss Louisa Haddock.
Buffalo Harbor 1810
Although Haddock made a comfortable living, he and the community were in constant fear of the British and Indians. In 1812 John claims to have made 6-8 coffins a day, due to savage killings and epidemics.
On 30 December 1813, the enemy, who were “scalping and killing everyone in their path”, crossed the Niagara River and advanced into Buffalo. Haddock, his wife and six children (including Sylvester’s future wife) fled on foot twenty minutes before their home was pilfered and burned. They walked fifteen miles, in the cold, on the beach of the lake, with many of their neighbors (although not named, young Sylvester may have been part of this group). John was barefoot, having given his shoes to his wife. They slept on the floor at a strangers and used their only salvaged possessions, two blankets, for warmth.
A few days later John, and another young lad, returned to view the ruined town (and dig up cash buried in the cellar). The fires had not yet burnt out; dead soldiers and inhabitants lay all over town. He returned to his family, they walked further, put up a log house with a good fire and had plenty of pork, potatoes and Indian Johnny Cakes. His three year old child was carried off and he did not see her for three weeks [he does not say by whom – Indians?].
The Haddocks returned to Buffalo a few months later, in April 1814. John writes of the Battle of Chippawa and having to again relocate his family, 80 miles outside of the village (this time, salvaging some possessions). After being away from him for five months, in January 1815, the family was again together. He mentions that he was lucky to get a position of baking for the Army, which gives him “tolerable good support” and he is “able to live in pretty good style”. He says there are 3,000 troops in town who he expects will protect them through the winter.
By 1817 John has amassed a fortune – a well furnished house and lot worth $5,000; a decent store valued at $1,500; two 5-acre lots in the village worth $3,000; a 100 acre farm eight miles from Buffalo where he produces wheat, hay and potatoes and keeps three cows and two horses. In addition, he expects $4,000 of the government, as retribution.
He died in 1818.
Letters – CLICK to enlarge the image.
During the War of 1812, Sylvester was also involved at the Battle of Chippawa (5 July 1814), as part of the New York Militia. He was likely a baker working with his future father-in-law Haddock.
Historical newspaper accounts claim: “Sylvester frequently volunteered his services to repel the enemy. He was attached to the Commissary Department, and distributed provisions to the army shut up in Fort Erie during the siege. The premises which he occupied were frequently penetrated by the shot and shells from the enemy’s batteries”.
Of this American victory over British forces, historian Henry Adams wrote:
The battle of Chippewa was the only occasion during the war when equal bodies of regular troops met face to face, in extended lines on an open plain in broad daylight, without advantage of position; and never again after that combat was an army of American regulars beaten by British troops. Small as the affair was, and unimportant in military results, it gave to the United States Army a character and pride it had never before possessed.
After the war, in 1816, Sylvester was appointed fireman in the village of Buffalo (likely not a full time position, but a volunteer role when the need arose).
His 1818 marriage to Louisa Haddock was announced in the paper.
In August 1820, Sylvester was listed as head of household, in Buffalo, with five others, two are under the age of ten – he had been married just a year, so perhaps one was his child [note that the first child I have located was not born until 1821]. Since his father-in-law, John Haddock died two years prior, it is possible that some of his wife’s relatives or others were residing with the Mathews:
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 26 thru 44: 1
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25: 2
Number of Persons – Engaged in Manufactures: 1
Free White Persons – Under 16: 3
Free White Persons – Over 25: 1
Total Free White Persons: 6
Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 6
Some time prior to 1824, Sylvester’s wife died leaving him with young children. Online unsourced trees claim she died 9 Jun 1823.
In September 1824, Sylvester remarried to Eliza B. Wadsworth. She was born about 1802, daughter of Henry Wadsworth and Elizabeth (Betsy) Bidwell of Hartford, Connecticut. Her parents were deceased and she may have been residing in nearby Canandaigua, New York, where they married at the First Congregational Church. In 1820 a John Wadsworth resided there, with six others in his home. Historical accounts say that Eliza’s brother Richard settled in Buffalo and a Richard is listed as a fireman in 1824 town records. Eliza hailed from a prominent family. Her grandfather, Jonathan Wadsworth was mortally wounded at the Battle of Saratoga on 19 September 1777 during the Revolutionary War, while commanding a company at the battle of Bemis Heights, and her 3rd-g-grandfather, William Wadsworth, was one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut
The Erie Canal
Black Rock was the rival of Buffalo for the terminus of the Erie Canal, but Buffalo, with its larger harbor capacity and greater distance from the shores of Canada, won the competition.
The win was not without struggle. In 1823, the citizens of Buffalo enticed a steamship builder to select Buffalo over Black Rock by offering cheaper timber and promising to pay $150 daily penalty for each day the harbor was obstructed. In the spring of 1823, an ice obstruction necessitated removal to avoid penalties. The citizens stepped up and donated what they could to aid this effort, Sylvester’s donation being $25 of bread (further evidence that he worked as a baker).
Finally on the 9 August 1823, Sylvester saw canal excavations actually begun within the village boundaries. For fifteen years the villagers had been waiting for this canal which was to bring them wealth an increased commerce. For six or eight years they had longed for the canal, had fought for it, had despaired of ever getting it. But now there was no longer cause for doubt. Johnson’s “History of Erie County” has a paragraph regarding the event:
“On the 9th of August, 1823, work on the grand canal was begun in Erie county. Ground was broken near the Commercial street bridge, in Buffalo. There was of course a celebration, including procession, speech-making, etc. The assembled crowd were so interested in the great work that they did not content themselves with the formal removal of a few spadefuls, but fell in procession behind the contractor’s ploughs, and followed them for half a mile, with music playing and cannon firing. ‘Then,’ says the account, ‘they partook of a beverage furnished by the contractor,’ and afterwards dispersed with vociferous cheers.”
In 1823 and 1824, Sylvester was paid for supplying bread and provisions to the Indians.
In 1824, three young men, murdered a townsmen, John Love. In 1825, they were sentence to be hung. The event drew a large number of people from Western New York and Canada. The military was called out to keep order. Colonial Sylvester commanded a troop of horse.
Sylvester purchased from the Holland Land Company: Lot # 28 on 5 October 1825 which he sold in 1830. He purchased a larger lot on Buffalo Creek, # 84, on 20 January 1830.
In June 1830, Sylvester was listed as head of household, in Buffalo, and was residing with fourteen others:
Home in 1830 (City, County, State): Buffalo, Erie, New York
Free White Persons – Males – Under 5: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 14: 2
Free White Persons – Males – 15 thru 19: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 20 thru 29: 2
Free White Persons – Males – 30 thru 39: 2
Free White Persons – Females – Under 5: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 5 thru 9: 2
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 14: 2
Free White Persons – Females – 15 thru 19: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 20 thru 29: 1
Free White Persons – Under 20: 10
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 5
Total Free White Persons: 15
Total – All Persons (Free White, Slaves, Free Colored): 15
The home was a low, white, wooden building. When Sylvester sold it later in the 1830’s, Kremlin Hall (pictured) was built in its place.
The Buffalo History Museum holds an Inspection return of the field and staff of the 17th Regiment of Cavalry, 4th Brigade, commanded by Col. Sylvester Mathews, 22 Sept 1829 (catalog here); this was likely a town militia unit.
The 1830 town records name Sylvester as a Lieutenant Colonel in the fourth brigade.
By 1834, he was a Brigadier General of Cavalry, first Division, 4th Brigade.
In 1833 and 1834, Sylvester served as Alderman of Ward 5 (the governing executive or legislative body of a town).
In 1836, he was a Street Commissioner.
Sylvester was thought of as “one of the prominent citizens of Buffalo”.
Also in 1836 he was elected as a director of the Bank of Buffalo.
In 1838 he was named as a trustee at the Lockport Bank in the village of Lockport, New York.
In 1838, Benjamin Rathbun was accused (and later acquitted) of forging a check In the name of Sylvester Mathews. Unfortunately we do not know the details of their relationship (if any).
Independence Day 1830
A newspaper recounts the festivities and tells us that marshal of the day was Colonel, afterward General, Sylvester Mathews,
The enthusiasm of our people for their country and flag can usually be measured by the beat of the natlonul pulse. A typical celebration of the day Is that of 1830 in Buffalo. N. Y., which Is described afsome length in the Buffalo Journal. That newspaper says: “The return of our national jubilee was celebrated In this village with more than ordinary splendour and the day was duly honoured, ‘not In the breach but the observance.'” The procession formed at the Eagle—a famous tavern located on Main street between Court and Eagle streets—and consisted of veterans of the Revolution citizens and strangers, escorted by the Washington and Frontier guard and the cadets of the Western Literary and Scientific academy, “the whole enlivened by muslck from the Buffalo band.” The oration: was pronounced by Sheldon Smith, Esq., at the Baptist church and religious services were conducted by Rev. Mr. Shelton of St. Paul’s. From the church the procession marched to the Buffalo House in Seneca street and there an “excellent dinner was partaken of.” Dr. “Powell was landlord of the house at that time and the papers recorded as something worthy of special mention that there were no liquors on the table. But the good lesson this statement was Intended to convey loses Its moral In the very next line of the ( narrative : “After the cloth was removed wine was served with the toasts, which were drank with the utmost regularity.” It Is hardly necessary to draw on the Imagination to any extent to picture the . final state of many In that noble company of 100 who drank the wine “with the utmost regularity.” But that was before the days of temperance societies and adulterated liquors. The marshal of the day was Colonel, afterward The enthusiasm of our people for their country and flag can usually be measured by the beat of the natlonul pulse. A typical celebration of the day Is that of 1830 in Buffalo. N. Y., which Is described afsome length in the Buffalo Journal. That newspaper says: “The return of our national jubilee was celebrated In this village with more than ordinary splendour and the day was duly honoured, ‘not In the breach but the observance.'” The procession formed at the Eagle—a famous tavern located on Main street between Court and Eagle streets—and consisted of veterans of the Revolution citizens and strangers, escorted by the Washington and Frontier guard and the cadets of the Western Literary and Scientific academy, “the whole enlivened by muslck from the Buffalo band.” The oration: was pronounced by Sheldon Smith, Esq., at the Baptist church and religious services were conducted by Rev. Mr. Shelton of St. Paul’s. From the church the procession marched to the Buffalo House in Seneca street and there an “excellent dinner was partaken of.” Dr. “Powell was landlord of the house at that time and the papers recorded as something worthy of special mention that there were no liquors on the table. But the good lesson this statement was Intended to convey loses Its moral In the very next line of the ( narrative : “After the cloth was removed wine was served with the toasts, which were drank with the utmost regularity.” It Is hardly necessary to draw on the Imagination to any extent to picture the . final state of many In that noble company of 100 who drank the wine “with the utmost regularity.” But that was before the days of temperance societies and adulterated liquors. The marshal of the day was Colonel, afterward General, Sylvester Mathews, a veteran of the war of 1812 a hero of the Battle of Chippewa. Apart from these proceedings was discourse by Rev. Mr. Eaton of the Presbyterian church on civil and religious’ liberty. The festivities closed according to time honored custom with a ball in the evening. a veteran of the war of 1812 a hero of the Battle of Chippewa. Apart from these proceedings was discourse by Rev. Mr. Eaton of the Presbyterian church on civil and religious’ liberty. The festivities closed according to time honored custom with a ball in the evening.
Mathews and Wilcox Cemetery
Sylvester Mathews and Birdseye Wilcox, about 1836, purchased twelve acres of land for $36,000, on farm lot No. 30, next to the the five acres which the city had purchased in 1832 for the Potter’s Field. Some accounts claim that the city was negotiating to purchase the land and they intervened.
This twelve acre field was improved, and burial lots sold to individuals: the land was more desirable than that on the corner of Delaware and North streets as there was a considerable attention paid to decorations and monuments; the cemetery remained open in their names until 1854, when Birdseye sold it for $5.000 to The Buffalo Cemetery Association (Mathews, deceased was not named in the sale and his widow likely received nothing).
In the early 1900’s the grounds, on the southeast corner of North and Best, were converted for building of the 65th Regiment Armory and human remains were removed to Lakeside cemetery.
It appears that he may have been part owner of Mathews & Simmons, a Baking Company. Although we can not be sure the Mathews named was Sylvester, given that he lists his occupation as a baker with an office on 294 Main (the bakery seemed to be at 290 Main), it is likely him. Other than city directories, no records have been located mentioning the business. A Kinyon Mathews b. 1807 who had previously resided in Auburn, New York, seems to be involved with the business and is perhaps a relative.
In 1840, Sylvester resided in ward 5 in Buffalo and had 10 other people in his household. Note that Sylvester would have been about 48 years old and there is no “tic mark” in that category. This may be an enumerator error as there are no other residents in the county that could be Sylvester.
Home in 1840 (City, County, State): Buffalo Ward 5, Erie, New York
Free White Persons – Males – Under 5: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 14: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 15 thru 19: 2
Free White Persons – Males – 20 thru 29: 2
Free White Persons – Females – Under 5: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 5 thru 9: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 15 thru 19: 2
Free White Persons – Females – 30 thru 39: 1
Free White Persons – Under 20: 8
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 3
Total Free White Persons: 11
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 11
In the June 1841 Buffalo City directory, Sylvester is listed on Frank at the corner of Niagra.
Sylvester died on 10 August 1842, age 49 or 50, from heart disease.
He is buried at Lakeside Memorial Park Cemetery, Hamburg, Erie, New York – Plot: Section B-1 [he was likely buried at the Mathews & Wilcox Cemetery and later moved here].
Sylvester did not leave a will. His widow Eliza filed in probate court fourteen years later, in 1856, after being cited for Sylvester’s unpaid taxes from 1837, in the amount of $7.86, now with interest $18.31.
Eliza, who was residing in Buffalo, claimed that the estate [which she had been living on for fourteen years] was valued at less than twenty dollars.
She named Sylvester’s descendants as: a daughter, Cordelia dead with two children under age 21 , Mathew and William of Houlton, Maine; daughter Louisa the widow of George Townsend of Buffalo; a son Eugene of Cambridge, Massachusetts; daughter Eliza, wife of Jesse Stone living in Columbus, Ohio and Josephine of Buffalo.
Eliza never remarried, she is listed at the same home in 1848 and in the 1850 and 1855 censuses in Buffalo with her daughters Eliza and Josephine.
In 1860 she is listed in the home of her married daughter Eliza, in Columbus, Ohio. She died 24 Nov 1863 in Columbus, age 61.
Sylvester had a at least 11 children, possibly more. Those known were:
Children with Louisa Bliss Haddock (but raised by his second wife, Eliza; Louisa died when they were babies)
Cordelia “Delia” C. Mathews
1821 – 1850
Cordelia was named in Sylvester’s probate as his daughter. She married William Holman Cary, son of William Holman Cary and Catherine Hascall. They had two sons, both named in Sylvester’s probate: Sylvester Mathew Cary and William Holman Cary. Cordelia died of consumption in Houlton, Maine, April 1850, at the age of 28.
Hannah was NOT named in Sylvester’s probate record. “Recollections of Buffalo in the 1830’s” published in 1891 claims that Sylvester’s “eldest” daughter married Augustus Q. Stebbins. In 1891, Cordelia was deceased and Augustus married a Hannah. She may have been his eldest living daughter. No other record has been located that that ties Hannah to the Mathews family. In many undocumented online trees, she is given a different maiden name. Therefore it is unclear if she was a daughter or if the entry in the book is an error.
Louisa Catherine Mathews
1824 – 1916
Louisa, who was named in Sylvester’s probate, married George Coit Townsend, son of Judge Charles Townsend and Jane Corning. Their known children included Charles born 1844; Louis born 1847, Edward Winslow born 1849; and George born 1852.
They also relocated to Columbus, Ohio where George died in 1852, Louisa married second Reverend Daniel Frederick Warren, Rector of St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church, New Jersey. She likely died in New Jersey.
Children with Eliza B. Wadsworth [of nine known children, only three lived to adulthood]
Sylvester’s wife Eliza was confirmed at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Buffalo, in 1831 and subsequently had her children baptized at the same church.
Morris Sylvester Mathews #1
1825-26, died age 14 months
Eugene Henry Mathews (my friend’s 2nd g-grandfather)
1833 – 1889
Eugene, who was named in Sylvester’s probate, was baptized with siblings Eliza, Josephine and Morris in 1836.
He fought in the Civil War as a Union soldier. He was a private in Company A, Regiment 47, Massachusetts Infantry.
Eugene married Lizzie Frazier, daughter of Alexander and Mary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 12 Jan 1868.
- They had four known children:
Harrison Eugene Mathews 1869 – 1875
Edward/Frederick William Mathews 1872 – 1907
Franklin Eugene Mathews 1875 – 1941 (my friend’s g-grandfather; father of Frederick D. Mathews)
Flossie Paine Mathews 1878 – 1902
He worked as a printer.
Eugene died on Christmas Day 1889 of tyfoid fever/spinal meningitis, age 60.
His wife filed for a widow’s Civil War pension. She received $8 a month until she died in 1917.
Eliza Maria Mathews
1832 – 1891
Eliza, who was named in Sylvester’s probate, is listed in the 1848 city directory as a tailoress.
She married Jesse Rice Stone, son of John Stone and Lora Parish. He was a merchant. He made a good living. In 1860, the family included two servants. They relocated to Columbus, Ohio where she died 29 Jul 1891, age 59. She is buried at Greenlawn Cemetery. The couple had no known children.
1834 – 1911
Josephine, who was named in Sylvester’s probate, never married. She is found in the 1850 and 1855 censuses living, with her mother, in Buffalo. The pair moved to Columbus, Ohio by 1860 and resided with or near her sister Eliza’s family. She died there in 1911 of Grippe, age 76.
1835 – 1835 – Baptized March 1835, age 3 months; buried age 7 months.
Morris Sylvester Mathews #2
1835 – 1841
It was common for parents to give a subsequent child the same name as a deceased child.
Many of Sylvester’s children died at a young age. Most tragic was the death of 5 1/2 year old Morris. One evening, Morris rose from his bed to get a drink of water. He placed a board over the cistern to reach the bucket of water; the board gave way and Morris drowned.
unbaptized child Mathews
1837 – 1837
Baptized in 1839, age 1; not named in Sylvester’s probate and not included with Eliza in the 1850 census, so likely died before 1850.
Baptized in 1842, age 4 months; not named in Sylvester’s probate and not included with Eliza in the 1850 census, so likely died before 1850.