“Sufferers’ Land Post #36 – The Wickham Family

While staying with her husband’s parents at their home in Sodus Point, New York, Lucy heard many stories about the Wickham family.

The first of Frederick’s family to come to America was Thomas Wickham, who arrived in Wethersfield, Connecticut around 1648. His son Samuel was a prominent citizen of Warwick, Rhode Island. Samuel was a military leader and a representative to the General Assembly for many years, serving as clerk of that body for three years. He was a relatively wealthy man, and a slave owner. An inventory of his goods taken about 1712 included a Negro woman as his property.

Samuel’s son Thomas followed his father’s example as a soldier, prominent member of the community and a slave owner. In his will, he left to his wife Hannah a Negro woman named Bess.

Samuel’s grandson was born in 1736 and named Thomas, like his father. In 1762, he married Elizabeth Wanton, whose father was the Royal Governor of Rhode Island.

Like his father-in-law, Thomas Wickham was a loyalist during the Revolution and in 1781 went to prison because of his sympathies for England. He gained his release from prison by paying 5,000 silver dollars. He didn’t leave America as many Loyalists did, but spent the remainder of his life petitioning for the return of his and his wife’s lands and fortunes. [1]

Thomas and Elizabeth named their sixth child William. He was born on July 7, 1778 in Newport, Rhode Island. In his youth, William lived with the stigma of being a member of a loyalist family.

When he was a small boy, William was playing one day with a friend on the edge of an enclosed field. Two men were talking on the other side of the fence. One of them pointed to William and said to his companion, “That little boy is the son of a notorious Tory!” The other man laughed, patted William’s head and said, “Poor little Tory. We’ll have to teach him better.” Then he shook William’s hand and departed. William later learned that that man was George Washington. [2]

William left home early, going to sea at the age thirteen. In 1798, he was in the U.S. Navy during the War with the French. He also served with Decatur on the Tripoli expedition. He sailed all over the world, rising quickly in rank and becoming Captain of a ship at the age of twenty-one.

Shortly after he became Captain, William sailed to Philadelphia with a cargo. While there, he visited the home of Frederick and Elizabeth Christian, a prominent family in the city, in company with Frederick and Elizabeth’s son. As the two men entered the house, they encountered the Christian’s daughter, Catherine. Catherine later remembered the scene to her granddaughter.

There was a young man in Philadelphia who was attentive to me, and while I could not say I loved him, I thought more of him than of any other young man I knew. One day he invited me to go horseback riding and I felt that day he was going to ask me to marry him, and I had made up my mind to accept him. Just as I was coming downstairs in my riding habit, my brother came in the house with a young man whom he introduced to me as Captain Wickham. I knew right then I was going to refuse the other young man that afternoon, and I did. Later your grandfather asked me and we have been lovers ever since.

When she heard this story, Lucy must have remembered first meeting Frederick in her garden in Norwalk.

William and Catherine were married on Thursday, March 24, 1803 in Christ Church in Philadelphia. William wanted to go back to sea, which was the only life he knew, but Catherine adamantly disagreed. He had an opportunity to go on an expedition to the Pacific Northwest on the Astor, but Catherine was so much against it that he turned down the offer. The ship sailed without him and never returned. It reached Oregon, but Native Americans killed the entire crew.

After this, William abandoned the sea and moved to New York City, where he went into the shipping business in partnership with his brother Thomas. However, this was not a good time for the shipping industry. The brothers had a string of bad luck that ended in financial disaster.

Their ships often sailed to the West Indies, and one was lost on a return voyage, weakening the business. In 1807, President Jefferson placed an embargo on American shipping out of U.S. ports. The Wickham brothers had a ship loaded and ready to sail. Because of their earlier loss, they were in a bad financial situation. Taking a chance, they decided to send the ship out anyway. Authorities caught the ship and confiscated it and its cargo, which ruined the brothers’ business.

William and Catherine moved to Sodus Point in upstate New York, then at the edge of the frontier. They built a cabin and went into the fishing business on Lake Ontario. The future looked promising, but unfortunately, William and Catherine had gone from the frying pan into the fire. The War of 1812 had just begun, and in 1813, a party of British soldiers raided Sodus Point and burned the town, leaving only one house standing. Ironically, William, whose father went to prison as a British loyalist, had his house, boats and nets burned by the British Army.

Before the British arrived, William and Catherine buried their silver in the woods. This included a tea set given to William’s ancestors John and William Wanton by Queen Anne for service to the crown during Queen Anne’s War – another irony. [3]

Lucy spent several months with her in-laws, and learned much about her husband’s family. Finally, with summer ending, she bid them farewell, and departed for home.

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

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Footnotes:

[1] The history of the Wickham family in America is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, pp. 28-32 and a letter dated July 18, 1943 from Mr. Brunell E. Stanfin to Miss Elanor Wickahm.

[2] This story is from undated notes about the Wickham family written by Harriott Wickham Barton

[3] The history of the Wickham family in America is from the Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes and Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, pp. 28-32

NOTE: For genealogies of Frederick Wickham’s family see the following pages on this site: Genealogy Wickham; Genealogy Wanton; Genealogy Winthrop; Genealogy Sutton, Dudley and Winthrop.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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