Friday, August 19, 2011

Wilderman Family (2) - Colonists & Pioneers

Part 2 - West, Into the Frontier
Find Part 1 of the story here . . .

Note, this post has been revised. The original 2-Part Wilderman Family series has been updated and more information has been added. The series has been expanded to 3 Parts with most of the new information found in Part 3.

In 1751 Jacob Wilderman and Johann Meyer left their small village in Baden, Germany and came to Colonial America. Among the 20 or so in their party were Johann's wife and four children, including daughter Elizabetha, who would later become Jacob's wife. They lived in Pennsylvania and Maryland. This was the home to many of the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers who came to the new world from the Rhine Valley in southern Germany. Jacob and Elizabetha's oldest son George grew up in this colonial environment and came of age right during the American Revolution.
Maryland about 1780; Baltimore and Ann Arundal Counties are in the upper center of the map.
George Wilderman was born sometime between 1750 and 1760, though the exact date has yet to be confirmed. The best guess at the marriage date of his parents is 1759 so most assume he was born in 1760. His place of birth is also uncertain but published texts list it as Washington County, Maryland. In about 1780, George married Patience Davis Dorsey. She was born about 1764 in Baltimore. George and Patience had 13 children over a 30 year period. The birthplaces of these children (born between 1781 and 1810) trace the families trek into the wilderness from Maryland to the Illinois Territory. There children were:
  • Elizabetha M. (b.1781) in Maryland; (d.1861) in Illinois. She married Peter Hill about 1800 and they went west with the Wilderman family (with their first three children). They settled in Saint Clair County, farmed and raised 10 children. Peter served in the War of 1812. Elizabeth is buried in the Old Hill Family Cemetery.
  • John (b.1782) in Maryland; (d.?) in parts unknown, possibly Ohio. John had acquired land in Pennsylvania but started out for Illinois with the rest of the family. He left the party in Petersburg, Ohio apparently as a result of a quarrel. It is unclear what became of him.
  • Francis (b.1784) in Maryland; (d.1864) in Illinois. He started west with the family but returned to Pennsylvania, apparently to marry his childhood sweetheart. It is unclear if that ever happened and eventually he went to Illinois alone. It is said he became a "drunkard" and ended up in the poorhouse.
  • Jacob (b.1786) in Maryland; (d.1850) in Illinois. He married Nancy Herron (or Herring) in 1818 in Saint Clair County or possibly in Pennsylvania. Jacob was still in Pennsylvania in 1810 (along with brother Francis who had returned). It might be that Jacob was the one who went back to marry but that is unclear. He did end up in Saint Clair County where he and Nancy farmed and raised 10 children. He served in the War of 1812 and Black Hawk War.
  • George (b.1788) in Maryland; (d.1866) in Illinois. He married Nancy Hill, the sister of Peter Hill, in 1808 in Saint Clair County. They farmed and raised nine children. George served in the War of 1812. George is buried in the Sptiznass-Wilderman Cemetery.
  • James (b.1790) in Maryland; (d.1847) in Illinois. He is discussed on Part 3 of this report.
  • Dorsey (or Dossey) (b.1792) in either Maryland or Pennsylvania; (d.1857) in Illinois. He married Phoebe Carr in 1812 in Saint Clair County. They farmed and raised nine children. Dorsey was the first to serve in the War of 1812 in an infantry company called into service in the summer of 1811. Dorsey and much of his family are buried in the Wilderman Cemetery.
  • Mileha (b.1793) in Maryland or Pennsylvania; (d.1856) in Illinois. She married Job Badgley in 1810 in Saint Clair County. They raised 10 children. Mileha is buried in the Badgely Cemetery.
  • Sarah (Sally) (b.1796) in Pennsylvania; (d.1880) in Illinois. She married Benjamin Phillips in 1816 in Saint Clair County. They farmed and raised 12 children.
  • Henry (b.1797) in Pennsylvania; (d.1825) in Illinois. He first married Ruth Tolen in 1820 and then Sarah Carr in 1823 in Saint Clair County. Henry and Sarah had at least two children. Henry is buried in the Higgins-Phillips Cemetery in the Town of Prairie Du Long.
  • Joseph (b.1798) in Pennsylvania; (d.1872) in Illinois. He married Mary Margaret Stuntz in 1824 in Saint Clair County. The farmed and raised 12 children. Joseph is buried in the Spitznass-Wilderman Cemetery.
  • William (b.1801) in Pennsylvania; (d.1866) in Illinois. He married Mary Carr in 1825 in Saint Clair County. They farmed and raised at 10 children. William is buried in the Spitznass-Wilderman Cemetery.
  • Levi (b.1810) in Illinois; (d.1850) in Illinois. Also a farmer, he first married Francis Lancaster in 1833. They had seven children. In 1846, he married Pamelia David and had two additional children.
George took the "Patriot's Oath of Fidelity" with his father in 1778, after which they both joined the revolution. After his father died, George inherited a 50 acres share of the farm at "Wells Manor." Later, he would buy the 50 acre portion which his brother John had inherited and also acquired another 77 acres. In 1793, his mother, Elizabetha, died. Sometime after that, George sold all of his land holdings in Maryland and the family moved west to Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

Patience Dorsey

George's wife, Patience is one of the great mysteries of the family. There were a number of Dorsey's in Maryland in colonial times and they are well documented but the lineage of Patience has not been proven. Although her parents are not known, there are some clues that seem to point in a certain direction. Edward Dorsey (b.1619?) came to America around 1639, first settling in Norfolk, Virginia and then moved to Ann Arundal County, Maryland in 1649. He had three sons, Joshua, Edward and John who were the progenitors of the Dorsey family in Maryland. By the time Patience Dorsey was born, there are at least nine families in Baltimore County alone.

At this time, the best guess is that Patience was the daughter of Francis Dorsey (b.1741) and Ann Davis. It has also been concluded that she must have been fairly young at the time of her marriage, probably around 16 (in order to bear children over a 29 year period). This would put her birth about 1764. The Francis Dorsey family lived in an area called "Soldiers Delight Hundred" which was where "Wells Manor." the childhood home of George Wilderman, was located. In the will of Francis Dorsey is the name Patience Davis. The will lists all of the children by first name only, so it seems that Patience Davis is Patience Davis Dorsey with her middle name being Davis after her mother's maiden name. There are other clues as well. One of Wilderman children was named Dorsey and one was named Francis; presumably taken from their mother's side of the family. It has also been noted that Jacob and George Wilderman took the oath of fidelity with members of both the Hill family (mentioned below) and the Dorsey family. The oath was probably administered by Judge Richard Davis who was the father of Anne Davis. One last bit of trivia; Francis Dorsey's brother, Larkin leased land from George Meyer, Jr. in Washington County. George Meyer Jr. was the son Johann Meyer and uncle of George Wilderman.

Francis Dorsey was the son of Francis Dorsey Sr. and Elizabeth Baker from Ann Arundal County. Francis Dorsey Sr. was the son of Edward Dorsey Jr. and Sarah Wyatt. He was born about 1640 in either England or America. Edward Dorsey Jr. was the son of Edward Dorsey Sr. (b.1619, d.1659) and Anne? both from England. Edward Dorsey Sr. came to America around 1639. His father was Thomas Dorsey Jr. (d.1643) of York. Thomas Dorsey Jr. was the son of Thomas Dorsey Sr. (d.1605) and Elizabeth, the daughter of Lord Conyers. Thomas Dorsey Sr. was the son of Sir Arthur Dorsey (b.1505 d.1561) of Brimham, York and Mary Carew. Sir Arthur was "Captain of the Isle of Jersey, Lieutenant of the Tower of London." Arthur Dorsey was the son of Sir Thomas Dorsey (b.1467, d.1537) and Dowsebella Tempest. Thomas was ordered executed and was be-headed by King Henry VIII at the time of the reformation. Of note, the Dorsey name was spelled Darcy in England.

Pennsylvania, First Stop West

It is possible that the Wilderman family first headed to Crawford County in far northwest Pennsylvania, near Lake Erie. A George, John and Jacob are all recorded as securing tracts of land which were sold or abandoned by 1797. It should be noted, however that Jacob was only about 10 years old in 1797 so it is unclear of this is the same family (it is also possible that Jacob's birth date is wrong). Also noted as landowners in Crawford County at the time was the William Hill family. William's son Peter would marry George's oldest daughter Elizabetha around 1800. If the Wilderman family was in Crawford County, it was a short stay as they, along with the Hill family were recorded in the 1800 United States census in Franklin Township, Fayette County. In the same census, son's Francis and Jacob where on their own and living next to each other in Redstone Township and working as laborers.

The rolling countryside in Fayette County, Pennsylvania
Photo courtesy of Jim Schaefer

Fayette County is in the Appalachian foothills in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Wilderman's move into the area was happening about the same time as western Pennsylvania was first being settled in significant numbers. The area was explored much earlier as there was an ancient Indian trail that passed through the county to points west. George Washington fought some of his first battles against the French along that trail in the 1750's. During the Revolution, British and Indian raids made it inhospitable to settlers and claims to the land by both Pennsylvania and Virginia presented jurisdictional difficulties. The county, itself, was formed in 1783. By 1790, there were over 10,000 people in the county and that more then doubled by 1800.

Pioneers travel by flat boat down the Ohio River.
Into the Wilderness

In about 1805, the Wilderman family, the Peter Hill family, at least some of Peter's sisters, the Rittenhouse family, the McGuire family and possibly some others headed west into, what was then called the Indiana Territory. They started out by flat boat on the Ohio River and probably went about as far as the Wabash River (present day Indiana/Illinois border). On there journey, they made an encampment, which they occupied for one season, harvesting a crop before continuing on. The last part of their journey was probably overland across present day southern Illinois to an area know as Turkey Hills.

One son, John, left the family after an apparent dispute and headed back toward Pennsylvania. He was never heard from again. Some assume he died somewhere in Ohio and others have theorized that he made it back to Fayette and settled there but that has not been proven. It has been noted that there where Wildermans living in Fayette in the 19th Century and they may be descendants of John. They could also be descendands of Francis or Jacob, who were both in Fayette in 1810.
Illinois in 1818
Turkey Hills was and name given, by the Indians, to a high piece of land a few miles east of the Mississippi River and not far from Saint Louis. Today, if is very close to the town of Freeburg, Illinois and a little east of Belleville in Saint Clair County. Originally all of the area of present day Illinois was claimed by the Colony of Virgina. After the formation of the United States, Virginia gave up the claim and turned the land over to the new federal government. Saint Clair was the first county in Illinois and, in fact, encompassed almost all of state when it was created in 1790. At that time, Illinois did not exist and it was a county of the newly formed Northwest Territory. In 1801 it became part of the Indiana Territory. In 1809 it became one of the two founding counties of the newly created Illinois Territory.
Nearby to the Turkey Hills area, the French created a mission and small settlement at Cahokia as early as 1696 and just across the river, Saint Louis was established in 1764. Thus the area was frequented by traders and trappers quite early. Still, it was not heavily settled prior to 1800. England claimed all of the land east of the Mississippi after the French and Indian war and the United States claimed the land after the Revolution. The French and Spanish would continue to rule over the lands west of the Mississippi, including Saint Louis, until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Today, Saint Clair is just another county in Illinois but still centered on its historic roots along the river just east of Saint Louis.
The first white American settler to Turkey Hill was William Scott, along with his children and son-in-law Franklin Jarvis. They arrived in 1797 and lived mostly in isolation and among the Indians for the first few years. By the time the Wilderman family and their party made it to Turkey Hills in 1807, many others were also arriving and settlement was taking hold. George Wilderman was listed as a squatter in the territory in December of 1807. In 1808, he was granted 320 acres of land at Turkey Hills. He would go on to operate a grist mill and large farm. All of the sons of George and Patience, except for John, would acquired land, marry (except Frank) and raise families in the Freeburg/Belleville area. The original homestead would become a place called Wilderman or Wilderman Station. It was never a real settlement but there was a railroad stop, by the same name, at that location and it still has that place-name identified with it today.

The next generation, the children of George Wilderman and Patience Dorsey would see western Illinois change from a rugged frontier to a settled territory and then the 21st state admitted to the Union. Their sixth child, James would marry the daughter of another pioneer, operate a large farm and raise a very large family on the Illinois Prairie. You can read about him in the next section of this report.

James Wilderman and the next generations is the subject of Part 3 of this report and can be found here


  1. Do you have any links to your source material regarding flat bottom boats on the Ohio? Respectfully, Christina

    1. Christina,

      Sorry for my late reply; my information on flat-bottom boats was just from Googling around.