Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sarah Ann Wisner Camfield - Marriage, Children and Migration

Marriage, Children and Migration

Family lore is that Sarah Ann met her future husband, Michael Camfield, on the banks of the Erie Canal. In 1995 my cousin, Cecil Camfield, wrote a brief history of the Camfield family which included this:
The next I know Mike is driving horses on the Tow Boats on the Erie Canal. Sarah Wisner liked to sit on the Canal bank, where it ran through her father's farm, and met Mike, two years her junior. Can you imagine the furor in the Wisner family when Sarah announced she was marrying that Mike Camfield (his Master had Anglicized his name) who couldn't speak passable English. I don't know when they married, but when Fred (my father, Mike and Sarah's grandson) lived with them, 1887 - 1896, he learned a lot of German because Mike's English was so broken.
Based on the land records that I've found I'm not certain that this is entirely true. In the early 1830's land was sold and other acreage bought but in 1841 her father bought a large parcel of land in Clay, and the family moved there. The Erie Canal did not run through this parcel but it is possible that a feeder canal did. But no matter, I'm certain that there is some truth to the story and obviously Sarah Ann and Mike did meet as they were married on Christmas Eve, 1846.

What was there about Mike that captured Sarah Ann's heart? On the surface it appears that they had very little in common. She was literate, Mike was not. She came from a family of means, Mike had spent seven years as an indentured servant. When she married she was 29 years old. Was she worried about becoming an old maid? How I wish she had retold the story of their courtship in one of her letters!

I don't know if Mike continued to work on the canal after they married or if he switched to farming at that time. I don't know if they lived with Sarah Ann's family or if they set up housekeeping on their own. I do know that their first child, Joseph Harrison Camfield, was born 25 November 1847.

Family legend is that in 1849, William Wisner packed up his family and traveled by wagon to Lake County, Illinois. His son Anthony remained behind and was living (presumably) on the Wisner property in Clay, where he is found on the 1850 census. Sarah Ann and Michael remained behind also, and on the 1850 census are found in Salina, farming land that they did not own.

On 5 Aug 1853 a baby girl was born but the names of her parents remain a mystery. Our oral history is that a man brought the infant to Sarah Ann and Mike and asked them to look after her for which they were originally paid. At some point the payments stopped but the child was loved and Sarah and Mike raised her as their own. Nothing was ever said about her mother nor is it clear if the man was her father. I do not know if the name Sarah Ann was given to her at birth or by her adoptive parents but she was called Annie or Anna. Joseph and Anna were the only known children of Sarah Ann and Mike and in a time when large families were the norm I've often wondered why there were not more.

I loose track of the family for about 15 years; I've yet to find them on the 1860 census. Based on letters between Anna and her cousins, I believe that Sarah Ann and Mike moved their family to Avon, Lake County, Illinois by about 1865. Cecil Camfield's history places the family "near Waukegan" and further says that Mike worked in Chicago. My mother told me a wild story regarding Anna's birth that had her born in Chicago. While I've proven my mother's story wrong it is possible that the reference to Anna being born in Chicago is true and that they were in Lake County much earlier than I can find evidence of. I have found no record that Mike served during the Civil War but Sarah Ann's brother did go to war and died of disease 17 April 1865.

By 1870 they had again moved, this time to Buchanan, Berrien, Michigan. What took them to Buchanan? Another mystery that I do not know how to unlock. For reasons unknown they packed up and moved again about 1875 to Burr Oak, St. Joseph, Michigan. I believe they were either renting a farm or sharecropping. The farm they were living on was sold and on 21 March 1877 Sarah Ann wrote to Anna that they had to move. Not only did they loose their home but also the wheat that they had planted. They found another place in Burr Oak and their son, Joseph, his wife and two children lived with them briefly.

They did not stay in this home for very long either. By January 1880 they had rented a farm house in Noble, Branch, Michigan that was owned by Henry Bogardus, who Sarah Ann would have known from her early days in Manlius.

So while I know more or less where Sarah Ann was living while she was raising her children I know very little about what life was like in the family. Anna went to school and eventually became a teacher for a short time. Joseph however could barely write. I have to infer from the number of moves and the fact that they seemed to be sharecropping that life was difficult. Even difficult lives can be happy and I believe that Sarah Ann was happiest when she lived near family or friends so at least for some of these years I choose to believe that Sarah Ann knew some happiness.

This is the third in a series written for the 91st edition of the
Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to Women!

Sarah Ann Wisner Camfield Timeline
Sarah Ann Wisner, The Early Years
Sarah Ann Wisner Camfield, Marriage, Children and Migration
Sarah Ann Camfield, The Final Years

Also see:

Family of William Wisner
Badgley and Wisner Deed Abstracts, Onondaga, NY
Henry Bogardus, Shirt Tail Cousin

Thanks for the poster fM!

1 comment:

GrannyPam said...

The story of the baby being left in Sarah and Mike's care was interesting to me. My great-grandfather was born in 1846, and taken in by a childless couple in 1851. Other children from his birth family were kept by the mother who apparently divorced the father. Our families oral tradition gives us the names of the parents. I am in touch with a cousin from the mother's second family, and we are researching our way through New York, Massachusetts and Vermont trying to make sense of it all.

I think this type of informal adoption, children being taken in by families other than their own, was more common than we realize.