By Christopher Elliott
(13 April 2017. Updated May 11, 2017 – Toronto, Ontario)
Historian David Curtis Skaggs coined the phrase “The Sixty Years’ War for the Great Lakes,” and to me the idea is a revelation. As an amateur genealogist, my Patriot and Loyalist family lines were locked in separate and parallel worlds. Skaggs’ model lets me see their stories as part of a common regional history, instead of competing national stories.
Thinking regionally has changed my self-perception, too. I grew up on the Scarborough Bluffs, where my bedroom window looked out over Lake Ontario. But the Lake wasn’t a source of work, or food, or even recreation for our family (fears about pollution in the 1980s were acute) so the Lakes existed for me as barriers and boundary markers, rather than substantial entities in themselves. Now I feel myself newly connected with them.
My plan is to explore this sense of connection through history, genealogy, and literature, and to share my discoveries. I have also begun miniature wargaming, which is both a great creative activity and connects me with a community deeply knowledgeable about history.
My paternal line, the Elliotts, were Scotch-Irish immigrants to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century who played active parts in The Sixty Years War. Notably:
- Benjamin Elliott (1752-1835) my 4X great-grandfather, was a delegate to Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Convention of 1776 and the Federal Convention of 1787. Among other roles, he was lieutenant of the Huntingdon County militia and a judge in the county court. He was an avid land speculator and Indian trader who acquired 4000 acres of Ohio, in May 1800, from US Military Survey land.
- Robert Elliott (1748-1794) Benjamin’s brother, was adjutant of the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment in the War of Independence, and later became a military supplier. As contractor to General “Mad Anthony” Wayne he was ambushed and killed by Indians while travelling between Fort Hamilton and Fort Washington in the Northwest Territory on October 6, 1794.
- Jesse Duncan Elliott (1782-1845) Robert’s son, a commodore in the US Navy, was present at the Battle of York in April, 1813, and (notoriously) Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s second-in-command at the Battle of Lake Erie in September that year.
The Cleavelands, a more distant family line who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th Century, were also active in these conflicts:
- Erastus Cleaveland (1771-1858) my 5X great-grandfather, lieutenant colonel commandant of Sackett’s Harbor and Oswego during the War of 1812. He was delegate to the House of Representatives from Madison County NY, and a county judge.
- Moses Cleaveland (1754-1806) third cousin to my 6X great-grandfather, captain in the sappers and miners companies of the Continental Army from August 1779; later general in the Connecticut militia and delegate to the Connecticut Legislature. He founded the city of Cleveland, Ohio.
- John Cleaveland (1722-1799) second cousin to my 7X great-grandfather, a Congregationalist minister and chaplain to Colonel Jonathan Bagley’s Massachusetts regiment. He served during the 1758 Battle of Ticonderoga, among other battles, and kept a diary that was preserved and published.
And my Loyalist relations:
- Robert Bessey (1755-1843) my 5X great-grandfather, served in Captain Bernard Frey’s Company of Butler’s Rangers in the American War of Independence before settling in Grantham Township, in modern Ontario.
- John McKay (1751-1839) my 5X great-grandfather, was in a New York Regiment before settling in Charlottenburgh Township, in modern Ontario.
- Timothy Ruggles (1711-1795) second cousin to my 6X great-grandfather, was a brigadier general in the French and Indian War. He commanded a Massachusetts regiment under General Abercrombie at the 1758 Battle of Ticonderoga. He was delegate to, and elected chairman of, the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 in New York, but remained a Loyalist in the War of Independence, and resettled at an advanced age, in Nova Scotia.