We get genealogical inquiries from people all over the country in search of their long-lost Hillsdale ancestors. As Town Historians, we’re not supposed to do individual genealogical searches. It says so, right here, in the official Duties and Functions of New York State’s Local Government Historians.
But every now and then an inquiry comes in that connects to some larger historical issue — like mid-19th century westward migration — or hints at a tantalizing historical thread from early colonial times.
An email from Scott Norris of San Jose, California, was just such an inquiry: “One of my distant ancestors, Dr. Zachariah Standish (1763–1804), is mentioned … as surgeon of the Hillsdale regiment of militia. I am wondering it you could provide me with some historical context about this regiment.”
We found a brief mention of “Zachariah Standish, physician” on page 64 of Franklin Ellis’s History of Columbia County in reference to a probate matter. Because most of Hillsdale’s town records were destroyed by fire in 1849 we were not able to find documentary evidence of his having served in the (presumably peacetime) Hillsdale Militia after the war. But the name “Standish” was intriguing. We wondered — and asked Scott — if Zachariah was any relation to Myles Standish of Mayflower fame?
When the reply came, “Yes, Miles Standish is my 10th great-grandfather!” we knew we had to invite Scott to guest-blog this post. How many Americans can trace their direct ancestry to the Mayflower? What follows is the result of Scott’s diligent family tree tracing, a mission he began five years ago after finding an old packet of genealogical work started by his maternal grandfather, who did his research (without the aid of computers) by digging through numerous archives, church records, and by making trips to a local San Francisco Bay Area Family History Center. If you have any information about the Zachariah Standish/Hillsdale connection, you can contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s his story:
San Jose, California is in the heart of what is known as Silicon Valley, so-called because it is a major center for high technology, including manufacturers specializing in silicon-based circuit chips. I am certain that when Myles Standish, my 10th great-grandfather (10th gg), stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he never would have imagined that one of his 10th great-grandsons would end up living in a strange and distant land called “Silicon Valley.”
Myles Standish (born c. 1584) was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims as military adviser for Plymouth Colony. He accompanied them on the Mayflower journey and played a leading role in the administration and defense of Plymouth Colony.
The Plymouth Colony militia elected him as its first commander and continued to re-elect him to that position for the remainder of his life. Myles was also one of the founders of the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts.
My 9th gg, Alexander Standish was born to Myles in 1627 and died in 1702 in Duxbury, in what had by then become the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Alexander’s second marriage to Desire Doty produced my 8th gg, Thomas Standish, Sr. (1690-1774).
His son and my 7th gg, Thomas Jr., and his wife Martha had a son, Hadley Standish in February of 1759. In June of that same year Thomas Jr. was killed during the French and Indian War.
Hadley was my 6th gg and was a private in John Cushing’s regiment during the American Revolution. In 1780, Hadley married Abigail Gardner in Pembroke, Province of Massachusetts Bay. (Massachusetts didn’t officially became a part of the newly formed United States of America until 1788.) Sometime between 1787 and 1789, Hadley and Abigail moved their family to Vermont and by 1802 the family had moved to the town of Bristol, Ontario County, New York, where Hadley died in 1813.
Hadley’s cousin Dr. Zachariah Standish (1763-1804), himself a descendant of Myles’ son Alexander, also moved from the Massachusetts area to New York. He married Mary Scott (born May 24, 1778, probably in Spencertown, where her father was born). [Editor’s Note: Mary Scott’s maternal great-grandfather had the incomparable name “Thankful Parsons.”]
Zachariah was a surgeon in the Hillsdale regiment of militia. He held this post until 1797, about seven years before his death. Zachariah was buried (“with Masonic honors”) in Spencertown Cemetery, where his headstone is still somewhat legible.
Colonel Matthew Miles Standish, Sr., son of Zachariah and Mary, distinguished himself as an officer of the cavalry in the Battle of Plattsburgh, also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain, which ended the final invasion of the northern states of the United States during the War of 1812. He died at age 72 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Plattsburgh, Clinton County, New York.
His son, Matthew Miles Standish, Jr. (born in 1833), was in the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
My 5th gg, Thomas Standish, was born to Hadley and Abigail in 1782 while they still were living in Pembroke. He was a twin with his sister, Sarah. In 1805, Thomas married Martha Farnsworth and they had several children, including my 4th gg, William Farnsworth Standish. William would be the first of this ancestral line to move beyond the Northeast.
In 1850, William Farnsworth Standish was a farmer in the town of Alabama, Genesee County, New York with a wife and family. By 1870, the family had moved west to Quincy, Michigan. By 1880, the family moved even further west to the village of Evansville in Rock County, Wisconsin. William died in 1884 and is buried in Winooski Cemetery which is in, of all places, the town of Plymouth, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. William and his wife, Maria Hoskins, had several children, including my 3rd gg, William Morgan Standish.
William Morgan Standish was a farmer who enlisted in the Civil War on 15 August 1862 at the age of 32. Assigned to the Union’s Company F of the 27th Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry, William survived the war, mustering out in 1865 with an unknown disability. He died in 1867.
Sometime prior to 1853, William married Sarah McCormack. Among their children was my 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Bell Standish, born in 1858 in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
A decade or so after the Civil War, Laura Bell married Sanford D. Elliott. Sanford had been a young Civil War fifer in Company A of the 51st Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry. Laura and Sanford settled down to a life of farming and raised a family in Wisconsin. One of their children, Grant Elmer Elliott, born in 1875, was my great-grandfather.
Grant, who was also a farmer, married Lizzie Morris in 1897 in Racine, Wisconsin. By 1911, Grant and Lizzie had moved west to Minnesota, and by 1920 they had five children, including Lillian, my paternal grandmother
In 1930, Lillian was working as a practical nurse in St. Paul, Minnesota. By 1940, she was living in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan with her husband, Dr. Edgar Norris, and their three sons, including James, my father. When Edgar passed, Lillian moved back to Minnesota and my dad attended high school in Minneapolis where he met my mother.
Dad then attended Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, after which he returned to Minnesota and eventually applied to graduate business school. His first choice was Harvard, but he was not accepted; if he had been, I would have grown up in Massachusetts, back in the land of the Pilgrims and Myles Standish! He was accepted to Stanford, so we headed out west to the land soon to be known as Silicon Valley.
Myles Standish has been memorialized in books and with monuments. There is even a Massachusetts state forest named in his honor. I think he would probably be pleased with this recognition. I am not sure, however, what his reaction would be if he was told that more than 400 years after his birth, people would be able to Google him.
Scott Elliott Norris and his wife Cheryl, a paralegal, live in San Jose, California. Scott worked for many years in the market research field, most recently as a market and financial analyst at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California. He is a long-term (21 year) brain cancer survivor.
© 2020 Chris Atkins and Lauren Letellier