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Mahlon Norris Gilbert: Bishop Coadjutor of Minnesota 1886-1900.

By Francis Leseure Palmer
with an Introduction by Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Presiding Bishop of the American Church.

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1912.
London: Mowbray, 1912.

Chapter I. Home and Ancestry

IN NEW YORK STATE, fifty miles westward from Albany, lies a large rural county, which bears the musical name of Otsego. The Susquehanna River runs near its southwestern border, and its western boundary is the Unadilla River, which flows nearly due south and joins the Susquehanna. Railways follow these rivers, but to this day no railway, not even an electric line, has traversed the main part of the county. It remains fair, prosperous, and secluded, an unusual community. In the southwestern part of this retired region, a pleasant stream called Butternuts Creek flows to unite with the Unadilla; and here, between hills which rise at times to a height of three or four hundred feet above the creek, lies "the old Butternuts Valley" to which Bishop Tuttle refers affectionately in his Introduction. A writer of local history thus explains the name:

Before the War of the Revolution, when tracts of land upon the frontier of New York were sold by the English governors as "patents," there were three butternut trees, growing from one stump, which marked the corner of Hillington, Wells, and Otego patents. Hence the old name of the town, Butternuts, from which the smaller town, Morris, was formed. The three butternuts stood near where the three corners of the townships of Morris, Pittsfield, and New Lisbon now meet. [From History of Zion Church Parish, Morris, N.Y., by Katharine M. Sanderson.]

In this valley settlements were made as early as 1773, but the Indians were so aggressive that little progress could then be made. The Indian leader was the intrepid Mohawk chieftain Thayendanegea, commonly called Joseph Brant. According to the historian John Fiske, "this full-blood Mohawk" was "the most remarkable Indian known in history. . . . He was well-educated, a devout member of the Episcopal Church, and translated the Prayer Book and parts of the New Testament into the Mohawk language. The combination of missionary and war-chief in him was quite curious." [A History of the United States for Schools, p. 226.] Episcopacy of a somewhat militant type seems thus to have been almost indigenous in this region.

In 1778 two Connecticut Churchmen, Ichabod Palmer and Elnathan Noble, came to Butternuts, and we learn that from that time Prayer Book services were held regularly, usually at the home of Mr. Palmer. By 1793 there must have been some form of parish organization, for in the Journal of the Convention of the Diocese of New York for that year, Jacob Morris, Esquire, is recorded as a duly credited delegate. This worthy citizen, also known as General Morris, was son of Lewis Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; and it was in honor of this illustrious family that the name of the town was changed from Butternuts to Morris.

As the settlement grew, a house of worship became a necessity, and in 1801 a plain frame building was erected, to which was given the unusual name, Harmony Church. Here for several years there ministered the zealous and kindly pioneer, the Rev. Daniel Nash, who also went far and wide preaching the word. In the old records of the Diocesan Convention he is given the large title, "Rector of Otsego County."

It was in the days of "Father Nash" that Elijah Gilbert and Chauncey Todd, grandparents of Mahlon Norris Gilbert, came to the Butternuts Valley. Both the Gilberts and the Todds were of staunch Connecticut Churchmanship, and it was probably the desire to be near an Episcopal church that led both families to come to this part of the valley. (The story runs that the venerable and witty John Williams, for many years Bishop of Connecticut, was once asked to define the term, "a Connecticut Churchman." His ready reply was, "A Connecticut Churchman is one that will stand without hitching.")

Several families of the name of Gilbert came about this time to the valley. Some of them settled a few miles south in the town called Gilbertsville, but their relation to the Elijah Gilbert line, if any existed, has not been traced. Elijah Gilbert was born in 1775, came to the valley in 1817, and died in 1862. Of Elijah and of his son Norris, father of the Bishop, more will be said a little later.

Chauncey Todd was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1784, and when twenty-one he went "West" to "the unbroken wilderness of Central New York." After a few years he returned to his native state, and on September 13, 1812, he married Susan Hotchkiss. Their wedding journey was on horseback through the forests and occasional settlements to the village of Butternuts. In 1836 they moved a few miles farther west to New Berlin, in Chenango County. Their daughter, Lucy Todd, the eldest of eleven children, was the Bishop's mother. Her brother Russell Todd, an Episcopal clergyman, wrote a charming sketch of Chauncey and Susan Todd, which shows their sterling and simple character. When the father came in on a winter evening from the cooper shop, where he spent his spare time, to find his wife knitting or mending, the children who were reading or at play would expect to hear him ask their mother, "Susan, is there nothing the boys can do for you, no apples to pare for sauce, no pumpkins to be made ready for to-morrow's pies, or something else they can do for you?" "It was his uniform habit, every Sunday evening, to gather his children, old and young, about the home fireplace to teach and to hear them say the old Church catechism. . . . My mother's character was of the gentle type. Her life, as it seems to me now in this far away time, was like the running of a quiet stream through a peaceful meadow. ... I overheard from a group of ladies standing round the stove one winter's Sunday noon in old St. Andrew's Church, New Berlin, 'Mrs. Chauncey Todd bears the sweetest and most winning face of all the ladies who appear at church.' " Her son adds, "Her eyes were a soft brown, a pleasant smile about the mouth, her hair a light brown lightly touched with auburn." Some of these characteristics were transmitted to her grandson Mahlon.

It was an older brother of Chauncey, Jehiel Todd, that founded Toddtown, or Toddsville, as it now appears on the map, near Cooperstown (the home of James Fennimore Cooper), also in Otsego County. Persons of strong character were common in the Todd family. One of these was Jonah Todd, father of Jehiel and Chauncey. Jonah was born in 1751, and lived first at Northford and then at Woodbridge, both in New Haven County, Connecticut. He was a Tory during the Revolution, "because he held taking up arms against the mother country the same as lifting his hand against the mother church, the Church of England." Jonah was twice married, first to Lowly Harrison by whom he had seven children, and then to Abigail Cruttenden (born Heaton), by whom he had three, of whom Chauncey was the youngest.

We must not pause too long on the matter of ancestry, yet it was a matter in which Bishop Gilbert was deeply interested, and of which he had collected valuable data--unfortunately destroyed.

Jonah Todd's line can be traced to Stephen Todd of Wallingford (born 1702), who married Lydia Ives. Stephen was son of Deacon Samuel Todd (born 1672), a farmer of North Haven, and his wife Susannah Tuttle. Samuel was son of Samuel Todd (born 1645), and Mary Bradley. They lived near New Haven in what is now Whitneyville. This Samuel was son of Christopher Todd (born 1617), and Grace Middlebrook, both of whom came from Yorkshire, England, in 1639, during the great Puritan exodus, and settled first in Charlestown near Boston, but later joined the New Haven Colony. Here Christopher became a leading citizen, holding various offices in the colony. He owned a large farm, a bakery, and a grist mill at Whitneyville, and also a house in New Haven. He died in 1686.

The Todd line can be traced a little farther yet, for Christopher was son of William Todd (born 1593) and Katharine Ward, and this William was also son of William Todd who married Isabel Rogerson in 1592. His home was Pontefract (pronounced Pomfret and so spelled in this country), in the West Hiding of Yorkshire. The name Todd originally meant fox, as is borne out by the coat of arms to which Christopher Todd was duly entitled, as the records of Heraldry show." Something has been said of the excellent Tory, Jonah Todd. If there had been a "Society of the Sons of Staunch American Tories" the Bishop would have been duly qualified for membership. His patriotism, however, naturally led him to membership in "The Sons of the Revolution" and the "Society of Colonial Wars." He was third in descent from Ambrose Ward, who served in the American Revolution, and seventh in descent from Major Simon Willard, the Puritan leader of Concord, Massachusetts.

The following ancestral line is copied from page 171 of the "Register of Members and Ancestors of the Society of Colonial Wars, in the State of Minnesota, 1901."

Gilbert, Mahlon Norris (Society Number 75),
St. Paul, Minnesota. Born March 23, 1848, in Laurens, N. Y.
Married Frances Pierpont Carvill, May 20, 1880.

2 Norris Gilbert, 1811-1877.
Lucy Todd, 1813-1891.

3 Elijah Gilbert, 1775-1862.
Lois Ward, 1773-1856.

4 Ambrose Ward, 1747-1819.
Lois Meigs, 1750-1826.

5 Jonathan Meigs, 1765.

6 Capt. Jonathan Meigs, 1672-1739.
Hannah Willard, 1698-

7 Josiah Willard, -1674.
Hannah Hosmer.

8 Major Simon Willard, 1605-1676.
Mary Sharpe.

Simon Willard was born in England, in Horsmonden, County Kent, the son of Richard Willard and his second wife, Margery. In Johnson's Wonder Working Providence Simon is called a "Kentish soldier." With his wife Mary Sharpe, daughter of Henry Sharpe, he emigrated to New England in 1634, and became at once a leader among the Puritans. He was one of the founders of Concord, Massachusetts, where for nineteen years he was town clerk. As surveyor, commissioner, deputy, etc., he served the colony faithfully, but his most conspicuous service was military. In March 1637 he was commissioned Lieutenant Commander.

"A train-band captain eke was he."

For forty years he wore a military uniform, and in King Philip's War, though a man of seventy, he was for months almost constantly in the saddle. A contemporary record says, "He died in his bed in peace, though God had honored him with several signal victories over our enemies in war." His funeral was "an occasion of much pomp . . . and his death caused profound sorrow far and wide."

In the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral there was placed, a few years ago, a tablet commemorative of Major Willard. It bears the following inscription:

Born 1604, died 1676,
Exactly one hundred years before the Declaration of Independence.
A Kentish soldier, and an early pioneer
In the settlement of the British Colony
of New England, America, 1634.
He was made Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces
against the hostile Indian Tribes.
He was distinguished in the Military, Legislative,
and Political Service of the American Commonwealth
until his death, Aged 72.
Of Simon Willard's ancestors, one was Provost of
Canterbury, 1218, and another was Baron of Cinque Ports, 1377,
and his descendants to the present day have held
eminent positions in the United States.
Erected by
Sylvester D. Willard, M.R.C.S.
London, 1902.

Another military name in the ancestral line given above is that of Captain Jonathan Meigs. Of his son Jonathan (great-great-grandfather of the Bishop) a romantic story is told. For some time he had wooed a fair Quakeress of Middletown, but always her reply was, "Nay, Jonathan, I respect thee much, but I cannot marry thee." On his last visit, he had received the usual reply, and was slowly mounting his horse, when he heard the happiest words of his life, "Return Jonathan! Return Jonathan!" When they were married and had a son, the name chosen by the father was, "Return Jonathan." The son rendered distinguished service as Colonel in the Revolutionary War, and his son, also named Return Jonathan Meigs, was Governor of Ohio from 1810 to 1814. Others of the family have borne the same interesting name.

Thus the Bishop's ancestry abounds with strong characters, pioneers and leaders, God-fearing and conscientious, whether Puritan or Churchman. For such a descent he was deeply grateful, and he showed himself in every way worthy of his forbears.

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