Monday, October 6, 2008

The Brisbins of Saratoga County

On Saturday, my husband and I drove past a tiny, enclosed burial ground and stopped for a closer look. I took a few photos, then decided to try a quick Google search of the family name, Brisbin, later that evening.

The wealth of information that I discovered was amazing:
  • New York Gravestones provided an easy-to-read "translation" of inscriptions on the worn headstones.
  • The Town of Northumberland traced the family's history back to 1765, when 18-year-old James Brisbin arrived in upstate New York from his native Scotland. "He settled 1 1/2 miles westerly of Fort Miller, towards Bacon Hill a hamlet in Northumberland that became the hub of activity with the Hudson River nearby."

  • By 1789, a mature (and, presumably prosperous) Brisbin was elected an elder of the Reformed (Dutch) Church of Saratoga, according to the 1878 History of Saratoga County, New York, by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester.

  • A descendant of the Brisbins noted on her genealogy site that the family name probably "stems from the Scottish name, Brisbane" and adds,
    "There is speculation, as yet unconfirmed, that the Brisbins immigrating to New York were soldiers during the French and Indian war, which ended in 1763. They liked what they saw in the territory and decided to return with their families. Since our family appears on the records of Saratoga Co., NY for the first time about 1765, this seems to add credence to this theory. There is also some speculation that the Brisbin soldiers may have been part of Abercrombie's troop in the French and Indian War, which were known to have been in Saratoga County. From this point on, there are documented records on the Brisbin family, both in America and in Canada."
  • "The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne and The Expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger," by William L. Stone (Albany, NY, Joel Munsell, 1877) mentions the Brisbin property during the time of the American Revolution.
    "As a specimen, the farm of James Brisbin had sufficient wheat and cattle to have paid the purchase price, but it was all taken and consumed by Burgoyne's army without compensation, notwithstanding the fair promises made in his proclamation of July 10, before stated. We should except a single cow, which escaped from her captors, returned home and was afterwards secreted and saved. After the surrender, the farmers gradually returned to their rural homes, erected new log houses, and began again to till the soil. But little progress, however, was made, until the close of the war, as this valley lay in the track of the Indians and Tories, who had fled to Canada, and made repeated raids into this county."
  • A similar genealogy page, that of the McGregors, mentions two sons of James Brisbin.
    "The first settlement of what is now the town of Wilton, but then and long before known as Palmertown, was begun by two brothers, William and Samuel Brisbin, as early as the year 1764. These two brothers were the sons by his first wife of James Brisbin, who came over from the north of Ireland, and became the first settler of what is now the town of Northumberland, in the year 1765. The two brothers, William and Samuel Brisbin, made their first attempt at settlement on the south branch of the Snoek Kill, in what afterwards became the Laing neighborhood. One and perhaps both of them had been soldiers under Abercrombie and Amherst in the last French war, and the year after peace was concluded they began the early settlement of the old wilderness they had so often traversed while on the war-path. They made clearings, built a sawmill, and cut roads on to their lands. When the war of the Revolution came on they abandoned their little settlement."
    One of the McGregor daughters later married into the Brisbin family. [There were many "James Brisbins" in the family. The father of William and Samuel might be the father or uncle of the James Brisbin who died in 1835 and is buried in the family plot.]

  • Another local family was the Slocums. In "A Short History of the Slocums..." by Charles Elihu Slocum, we learn that Sarah Slocum married James Brisbin. These are the James, Jr. and his wife, Sally, who share a headstone and a final resting place. Other Slocums also intermarried with the Brisbins. When his father, Giles Slocum, died in 1814, James Slocum went to live with his maternal grandfather, James Brisbin, "near Schuylerville, Saratoga County, New York."

Every town and village has at least one cemetery within its boundaries. The educational possibilities are endless. Students might
  • research prominent local names
  • map an entire burying ground
  • undertake a cemetery restoration project under the guidance of adult professionals
  • place names copied from headstones on a timeline
  • write original stories or poems about the people buried in the cemetery
  • search for information about an individual, then present a scene from his/her life (in period garb)
  • recreate significant events from the history of their county or state, as seen through the eyes of actual residents
It is people that create history, and projects that emphasize human connections can be satisfying, enlightening...and fun!


Cloudscome said...

Great post! I really like this idea.

diane said...

Thanks! I had 5th graders write obituaries once: for cartoon characters, then for themselves (some of them had interesting ideas re. what their adult lives would be like!).

I like to think of the dead as gentle voices and benevolent spirits rather than the vindictive and violent specters portrayed in horror films.