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Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Family Histories & Biographies


Contributed by Myrtice Gifford Forsythe

Site visitor Myrtice Gifford Forsythe has written and provided the family history below. William Gifford was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. He and his family settled in Erie County sometime between 1820 and 1830. William Gifford died in 1846, living with his son in Greenfield Township at the time. He is buried in the Hoag Cemetery in Harbor Creek Township, although the exact location of his grave is not known. Any questions or comments concerning this family history should be sent directly to Myrtice Gifford Forsythe.


I, Myrtice Gifford Forsythe, shall attempt to write a limited biography of “MY REVOLUTIONARY ANCESTOR, WILLIAM GIFFORD.” It is with much love for my deceased father, Harold Eugene Gifford, Feb. 2, 1910 - Sept. 30, 1993, that I have diligently attempted to find and keep alive his heritage. I had hoped that I could do this during his lifetime, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be. I now feel that I have found out a sufficient amount, though certainly not all, to attempt to write a limited biography of his 3rd and my 4th gr. Grandfather, William Gifford.

According to census and other records it is assumed that William probably was born in the year of 1758, in Dutchess Co., New York. [ED note: The SAR book, Revolutionary Patriots of Erie County, list birth as 1756 in Pawlet, VT]. He was the son of Gideon and Lois Jackson Gifford. According to the DAR records he was living in Pittstown, New York, when he enlisted in the Revolutionary War in Feb. 1776, in Cambridge, at that time Albany Co., New York. He served as a private under Captain Hix, of the lst New York Regiment, commanded by Col. Goose VanSchaick. From research I found Col. Goose VanSchaick was in Quebec, Canada from about Sept. 1875 into the early part of 1776.

According to DAR papers approved Feb. 1, 1940, for Thelma L. Alley (Gr. Gr. Gr. Granddaughter) William married Elizabeth ?, born approximately 1760 in Canada. Possibly this is when and where he met Elizabeth, while in the service of his country in Canada (not proven). He was discharged the first of January 1777 at Johnstown after serving ten months. He then re-enlisted for three years under Captain Cornelius Johnson of the 3rd New York Regiment, commanded by Col. Peter Gansevoort, it is recorded that he was then in the battle of Fort Stanwyx.

He probably enlisted the town of Johnstown, and was involved in many daring attacks against both the British and their Indian allies. Their accomplishments reminded me of the heroic and daring actions of elite forces in recent wars. William probably began service with the 3rd New York at Fort Anne that was located eleven miles south of Whitehall, New York, and thirty-six miles south of Fort Ticonderoga. General Schuyler, on March 4, 1777, ordered Gansevoort to leave Fort Anne for Fort Stanwix on March 15, 1777. Fort Stanwix, which the British constructed during the French and Indian War, had been abandoned years earlier. By mid 1776 the Americans began to refurbish it. The fort was situated at the head of the Mohawk Valley at what eventually became Rome, New York. The fort guarded an important foot-trail and a nearly continuous waterway, both that linked the Hudson River Valley with the Great Lakes. This natural waterway was interrupted by a mile long portage. Fort Stanwix was at the eastern end of the portage. Eventually the Erie Canal was to follow this natural waterway. Fort Stanwix was a frontier post and was never a desirable post to be stationed at from the viewpoint of the men defending it. Gansevoort's 750 men crowded into the fort intended for half that number. The men continued reconstruction of the fort, which had been renamed Fort Schuyler in honor of General Schuyler. The abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga barely a month earlier to British General John Burgoyne's 8,000-man army weighed heavily in Gansevoort's mind.

British Colonel Barry St. Leger, left Lachine, near Montreal, on June 23, 1777, with some 1,800 men, consisting of more than half Indians. Their goal was to cut off the strategic Mohawk Valley, and join General Burgoyne at Albany. Learning of the British advance toward the fort, on July 31, General Nicholas Herkimer mustered 900 men at Fort Dayton 50 miles to the east of Fort Schuyler in order to reinforce Gansevoort. Two days later, a detachment from St. Leger's army ambushed Herkimer's force at Oriskany and in a desperate, bloody battle, forced them to retreat after inflicting heavy casualties. Herkimer was wounded and died several days later.

On August 3, 1777, while the battle raged six miles away at Oriskany an advance party, consisting largely of Indians and Tories surrounded the fort. (The United States Flag is the third oldest of the National Standards of the world; older than the Union Jack of Britain or the Tricolor of France.The flag was first authorized by Congress June 14, 1777. This date is now observed as Flag Day throughout America. The flag was first flown from Fort Stanwix, on the site of the present city of Rome, New York, on August 3, 1777. It was first under fire for three days later in the Battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777.) Three days later, while most of St. Leger's men were still at Oriskany, 250 men under Lt. Col. Marinus Willett charged out of the front gate of Fort Schuyler and overwhelmed the weak force that surrounded it. Willett's men came upon British and Indian encampments, took some prisoners, and carried away kettles, clothing, muskets, spears, tomahawks, regimental colors, and important papers some of which belonged to St. Leger. After Willetts return to the fort, five flags taken from the enemy were hoisted on the flagstaff under the Continental flag to the cheers of the men. The next day St. Leger sent Colonel Butler into the fort with an offer for terms of surrender. Gansevoort gave him a searing reply. Apparently St. Leger had expected the fort to be abandoned like Ticonderoga. This was not to be the case.

Captain Bleeker and his men were assigned to the defense of the northeast bastion of the fort, which faced the main enemy artillery battery. Fortunately for the defenders, the British artillery lacked sufficient power to seriously threaten the fort. In fact, the Americans gathered up shot and unexploded shells and fired them back to their owners.

The siege ended when the British learned that a large Patriot army, led by General Benedict Arnold, was headed to Fort Schuyler to rescue the Americans. This news coupled with the death of several Indian chiefs at Oriskany, and loss of possessions during Willett's raid, prompted the Indians to desert. St. Leger lifted the siege on August 22 and withdrew to Canada. Arnold's force, accompanied by the 1st New York Regiment arrived on the evening of August 24, 1777. A total of thirteen American soldiers and civilians had been killed, and twenty-three wounded during the siege and the days leading up to it. Fortunately for all of us descendants, our forefather William was not one of these casualties.

An interesting and sad excerpt concerning this time period, when William was serving at this fort is as follows----29 July 1777, Gansevoort reports that two young girls were scalped and killed while picking berries outside Fort Stanwix.
Aug 4, Nicholas Herkimer gathers the Tryon County militia at Fort Dayton, and sets out to relieve Fort Stanwix.
6th Oriskany,"The bloodiest battle of the Revolution". A mixed force of regulars,Loyalists, and Indians ambush the Tryon County militia on its way to relieve Fort Stanwix. After hours of fighting,the militia withdraw,taking their mortally wounded leader Nicholas Herkimer with them.

Now returning to William's personal life, according to the birth date of his first child Benjamin (my 3rd great grandfather) born about 1778, I am assuming he married around 1776/77. Benjamin was born in Dutchess Co., New York according to the 1855 State census. I, myself believe that at this time William's father, Gideon was still alive and living there. Possibly Elizabeth stayed with his parents while he was in the service.

Moving forward, it is recorded that he was in several engagements under Gen. Sullivan against the Indians. In reaction to Indian massacres in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania and Cherry Valley, General John Sullivan in July 1779 began a punishing raid against the Indian strongholds of western New York with General James Clinton and Colonel Daniel Brodhead. Brigadier General James Clinton formed the northern wing of the Sullivan expedition. His force included the 2nd, 3rd (William's), 4th and 5th New York Regiments, and others from other states, and was to rendezvous with Sullivan's force later at Tioga. Immediately Clinton began collecting artillery, supplies and boats, and directing them to be taken to Fort Schuyler and kept there under heavy guard. By the third week of May, over two hundred bateaux (boats) had been acquired for transportation, and sufficient food had been stockpiled to last his force for three months. By June 17, Clinton's force of fifteen hundred men with some two hundred and twenty bateaux assembled at Canajoharie on the Mohawk River, and began the twenty mile portage southwest to the headwaters of the Susquehanna River at Otsego Lake. The heavy bateaux were each pulled by four horses in a long line. The portage was completed in thirteen days.

Finding the Susquehanna River too low to be navigated, Clinton had the lake's outlet dammed, and arranged the boats on the shores of the nearly dry river below Otsego Lake. At six o'clock in the evening of August 6th, after the level of the lake had risen three feet, charges of gunpowder set in the dam were exploded. By eight o'clock the next morning the flow had subsided to the point where it resembled a strong spring flood, and General James Clinton raised his right arm, and the firing of a heavy gun signaled to each boat to take to the river. Each boat was manned by three people and the remaining 600 men began the march down either side of the river. As this force came upon Indian or Tory houses or settlements, they burned the structures and destroyed all crops and fruit trees. On August 22 Clinton's force joined Sullivan's at Tioga on the Susquehanna River, a distance of one hundred fifty four miles in two weeks.

Just a few days later, on August 29, a force of British, Indians and Tories attempted to ambush the Americans at Newtown, but were detected. An intense battle followed with the opposition fleeing before the Americans. After Sullivan reached the Indian town of Genesee on September 14, he turned eastward to the north end of Seneca Lake, there he turned south. Here Sullivan detached Lieutenant Colonel Henry Dearborn, Lieutenant Colonel William Butler and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Gansevoort, commander of the 3rd New York Regiment (William's) to systematically destroy the Cayuga towns. Finally, Sullivan directed Gansevoort eastward to the Mohawk River at Fort Shuyler, where he was to descend the river, pausing at the Lower Mohawk Castle, Teantontalago, and arrest every male Mohawk and take them prisoner to Albany.

The 7,000 man Continental Army, including the New York Brigade, consisting of all the troops of the New York Line, excepting the 1st New York Regiment, encamped during the winter of 1779-1780 with George Washington at Morristown, New Jersey. The soldiers built log cabins, but these were not completed until the middle of February. Prior to that the soldiers were quartered in tents. These conditions occurred during a winter colder than any living person could recall. Baron von Steuben, said that in the winter of 1779, the New York Brigade at Morristown, New Jersey "exhibited the most shocking picture of misery I have ever seen, scarce a man having wherewithal to cover his nakedness, and a great number very bad with the itch." The men often went days without any food whatever.

Another excerpt on the conditions and life at Morristown, in which William’s regiment was a part of is as follows---- Each man had few possessions and these he carried with him. His musket -- by far the most popular weapon -- a cartouche or cartridge box. If he had neither, the infantryman carried a powder horn, hunting bag and bullet pouch. His knapsack or haversack held his extra clothing (if he was fortunate enough to have any), a blanket, a plate and spoon, perhaps a knife, fork and tumbler. Canteens were often shared with others and six to eight men shared cooking utensils. The army was continually plagued with shortages of food, clothing and equipment. Soldiers relied both on their home states and on the Continental Congress for these necessities. Poor organization, a shortage of wagoners, lack of forage for the horses, the devaluation of the Continental currency spoilage, and capture by the British all contributed to prevent these critical supplies from arriving at camp. An estimated 34,577 pounds of meat and 168 barrels of flour per day were needed to feed the army. Shortages were particularly acute in December and February. Foraging expeditions were sent into the surrounding countryside to round up cattle and other supplies. In February three public markets opened. Farmers were encourages to sell their produce. Fresh Pork, Fat Turkey, Goose, Rough skinned Potatoes, Turnips, Indian Meal, Sour-Crout, Leaf Tobacco, New Milk, Cyder, and Small Beer were included in the list of articles published in the Pennsylvania Packet and circulated in hand bills.

Entertainment at Valley Forge took many forms. The officers liked to play cricket (known also as wicket) and on at least one occasion were joined by His Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief. Several plays were staged including Joseph Addison's "Cato" which played to a packed audience. A common recreation was drinking, when spirits were available. And the soldiers liked to sing.

As the spring of 1880 approached, his three year term was up and William was discharged the 1st of April 1780 at Saratoga. William lost his right thumb in this war. On April 19 1783, eight years to the day from Lexington and Concord a cease fire agreement was signed.

William and Elizabeth's second child Joseph was born about 1782. There would be 7 more known sons and 2 daughters born to this couple. The order of birth after Joseph is thought to be Sylvenos between 1784 and 1790, Jabes 1789, Enos Peck 1791, William S. 1794, Remembrance 1795, Ebenezer F. 1797, James Murry 1798, John 1803, and Elizabeth 1805.

Piecing this together, and according to census of the children in later years, some were born in Vermont and some born in New York. My guess is probably Pittstown, New York, as it appears William's supposed brothers, all had migrated to this area , presumably from Dutchess Co. Gideon is believed to have died after 1789. William shows up on the 1790 Arlington, Vermont census, which is just over the Vermont line, a very few miles from Pittstown. There are 5 sons under 16 and no daughters. (It is this census and the 1800 census that makes me think there was another unknown son) The 1800 Vermont census is 3-3-2-1-0-----10010. This means there was 8 sons and 1 daughter. It is possible that one of these boys did not live. According to a document one of his sons died in the 1812 war. All of the known boys are now accounted for and lived past that era. Benjamin, in 1800, was not on that census as he was in Warren Co., New York with one child, my second gr. Grandfather Stephen born 1799 or 1800. John, his last male child was born after 1800. By 1810 William has moved his remaining family to Warren Co., New York. He has had another son and Daughter in this ten year period. John and Elizabeth. The 1810 census shows 1 2 2 0 1---1 2 2 0 1. It appears that others than his immediate family are living with him.

WILLIAM HAS AGAIN ENLISTED---This time in the 1812 war.
Records show that William was at the battle of Plattsburg in 1814. At this time it is unknown when he began this enlistment and when it ended, though it is stated he was in for a period of nine months. William is present at this time, in the month of Sept. of 1814, when from the north, about 10,000 British veterans advanced into the United States from Montreal. Only a weak American force stood between them and New York City, but on Sept. 11, 1814, American Capt. Thomas MACDONOUGH won the naval battle of Lake Champlain (Plattsburg Bay), destroying the British fleet. Fearing the possibility of a severed line of communications, the British army retreated into Canada. It is not known if it was during this battle or at a latter date that William was blinded. (information provided by Don Bailey) - William Gifford, was a blind veteran with a pension of $8.00 per month.

According to his grandson, Ansel Asa Hemenway Gifford, he was blinded during the war of 1812. (He had also fought in the War of the Revolution and that was what the pension was for.. but war of 1812 was also very possible) Ansel said that his duty during childhood was to "lead around" his blind grandfather. His explanation of the blindness was that it was customary, when loading their firing pieces, to bite the end from their cartridges. One exploded in William's face.

From Glen Falls, his home after the turn of the century (1800), William went sometime after 1820 to Erie County PA accompanied by his wife and daughter, and others. Several of his Sons were in this area. Benjamin, his oldest son (my 3rd gr. Grandfather ) settled in Ellery, Chautauqua Co., New York, just a few miles from where William was. His second son Joseph, was the only son that remained in Warren Co., New York.

I shall now attempt to transcribe his application for his pension---The wording is hard to read-------

State of New York
Warren Co.

On the thirtieth day of september 1820 peronally appeared in open court, being a court of Common Pleas in and for the said county---a Court of Record, which prceed according to the course of common law, with a jurisdiction unlimited in point of amount, keeping a record of their proceedings and which have the power of fine and imprisonment, William Gifford, aged sixty two years, resident in Luzerne, in said county who being first duly sworn, according to law, doth , on his oath, make the following declaration, in order to obtain the provision made by the acts of Congress of the 18th of March, 1818 and the 1st of May, 1820:-----That he, the said William Gifford, served in the Revolutionary War, as follows—three years and ten months in the company, commanded by Captain Cornelius Johnson, in the regiment commanded by Colonel Peter Gansevoort--------in the line of the state of New York 3rd Regiment, in the Continental establishment; that he continued to serve in said corps from sometime in the year 1776 until the spring of 1780, when he was discharged from the said service, at Saratoga in the state of New York, having served three years and ten months.

And further that he made applicataion for a pension in pusuance of the act of Congress of the 18th of March, 1818, the eleventh day of May 1818, and received a pension certificate Number 12917-------dated at the war office of the United States, the 27 day of July 1819--------and has received his pension, at the rate of Eight dollars per month, from the said 11th day of May 1818-------to the fourth day of March 1820.

And in pursuance of the act of the 1st May 1820, I do solemnly swear that I was a resident citizen of the United States, on the 18th day of March one thousand eight hundred and eighteen (unreadable) that time, by gift , sale, or in any manner, disposed of my property, or any part thereof, with intent thereby so to diminish it as to bring myself within the provisions of an act of Congress entitled “An act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States, in the Revolutionary War,” passed on the 18th day of March , one thousand eight hundred and eighteen; and that I have not, or has any person, in trust for me, any property or securities, contracts, or debts, due to me; nor have I any income other than what is contained in the schedule hereto annexed and by me subscribed.

Signed in his handwriting,

Signed by the one taking
The information (non-legible)

Inventory of all the property of William Gifford above named.

One axe-----------------------------------------$1.00
One hoe--------------------------------------------.50
3 iron kettles----------------------------------5.00
3 knives and forks--------------------------------.25
3 iron spoons--------------------------------------.25
3 tin basins------------------------------------- .38
1 tin pail--------------------------------------------.50
4 plates------------------------------------------.25
1 pair of andirons---------------------------------.87

Total------------------------------------------- $9.00

And further, he the said William Gifford has a wife aged 60 years (who has a long time been sick with dropsy:) to support. And one daughter Elizabeth Gifford and fifteen years, who is in good health.-----and is him self unable to labor, in consequence of a Palsy of the whole of his left side and has no means of substance except by (unreadable) or private charity and whose indigent curcumstances entitle him to a Pension under the act of Congress above mentioned ----and further that he is by occupation a farmer and unable to pursue his occupation.


AS SAID BEFORE-----It is after this that he shows up in the 1830 US Census, Greenfield, Pa.---William Gifford 1 male(70-80), 1 female (5-10), l female (15-20), l female (30-40), l female (60-70).

1840 US census---Harbor Creek, Pa. James M. Gifford (William in the household of his son) Listed as 86 years old . Rev. pensioner, blind and insane.

August 15, 1846-----William Gifford has died.

His obituary was in the Erie “OBSERVER” dated Saturday, Sept. 12, 1846. IT READS---------

Another Revolutionary Veteran Gone. Died at the residence of his son James M. Gifford of Greenfield Township on the 15th . William Gifford, in the 89th year of his age, one of the few remaining patriots of revolution. He was early called, in common with his countrymen, to endure the hardships and privations incident upon the struggle for liberty. He entered the army of revolution at the age of 17, was in some important battles, he was in the Indian campaign with Gen. Sullivan, and also served 9 months in the last war with England, and was in the battle of Plattsburgh. He has lived to a good old age, and been gathered to his fathers, without a struggle, rejoicing in the hope of a blessed immortality.

DAR records say:
That he is buried in Hoag Cemetery, Harbor Creek, Pa. There is no marker. (South of Harbor Creek) on Depot Road.

William's estate was administered by David Bly, his son-in-law. It is said that 4 of his sons and 2 daughters, came to live in Erie Co., Pa.







Physical appearance of William is unknown-----but it is assumed that his physical characteristics have endured through the generations, as there are so many descendants that carry the same look.

Description of uniform of William Gifford: My ancestor William Gifford enlisted Feb. 1776 at Cambridge, New York and served as Private under Capt. Benjamin Hix of lst NY Rgt. commanded by Col. Goose VanSchaick and was discharged in Jan. 1777 at Johnstown. He reinlisted after this.

Following is a description of the uniforms that were adopted at the time of his first enlistment.

This regiment, known also as the "Ulster Regiment," or "3rd Yorkers," was one of the four regiments raised by the Province of New York in the early summer of 1775, for the Continental service. These four New York regiments were brigaded under Brigadier General Montgomery and were with him in all his movements, ending in the assault of Quebec.

Each regiment had a different colored uniform coat, the distinctions in colors being as follows:

1st regt., Col. Alexander McDougall, blue, faced red. 2nd regt., Col. Goose Van Schaick, light brown, faced blue. 3rd regt., Col. James Clinton, gray, faced green. 4th regt., Col. James Holmes, dark brown, faced scarlet.

By the end of August, 1775, all the men were supplied with uniform coats, and although there was a shortage of arms, tents, and many articles of clothing, many of the men were completely equipped, as shown in the drawing, which may be described as follows:

Coarse cloth regimental coat of the colors given above, white linen cravats or stocks, waistcoats and breeches of Russia drilling, woolen home-knit stockings, low shoes, a felt hat with low crown and wide brim cocked up, knapsacks and haversacks of painted canvas, and wooden canteens.

General Montgomery was much pleased with their appearance, and is said to have remarked that they had "acquired the air of Regulars."

Many of the survivors of the Canadian Campaign of 1775-1776, both officers and men, served in different commands throughout the war.

Later these New York troops were provided with buckskin waistcoats and breeches, or overalls of wool, and woolen mittens and caps. Many also wore the rifle frock for service.

Their colors were of white, yellow, blue, and green silk.

[REFERENCES: Journal of the New York Provincial Congress, I, 59, 75, 385, 505, II, 37; New York in the Revolution (F. G. Mather, ed., 1900, p.70; Public Papers of George Clinton, IV, 120; Force's American Archives, 4th s., III, 447, 451. There is a photograph of the handsome flag of the regiment in Gherardi Davis's Regimental Colors in the War of the Revolution, plate VIL.]

Third New York Regiment, 1775 Continental Line

[SOURCE: Uniforms of the Armies in the War of the American Revolution, 1775-1783. Lt. Charles M. Lefferts. Limited Edition of 500. New York York Historical Society. New York, NY. 1926.]

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