The Loyalists of Sheffield

Family history has changed the Fourth of July for me.

The grand holiday we call Independence Day has always been filled with the celebration of liberty. We put up the flag, planned festive physical activities and lit the night sky with fireworks every year as we contemplated the brave men and women of the revolutionary era.

But learning where our Westover family was and what they thought has brought sobering reality to our festive day. The Westover’s of the revolutionary era were conflicted.

Jonathan Westover, son of Jonas and Hannah Westover, and brother to Jonas Jr, was among the founding members of what was then the American Frontier in the 1720s. He settled and raised the orphaned youngest sons – John, Nathaniel and Jonah III – in the beautiful Berkshires in a place that would become known as Sheffield.

Sheffield, Massachusetts

The little town of Sheffield has about 3000 residents – not much more than during the times of the American Revolution.

John, Nathaniel and Jonah III would settle this fertile country and contribute to the new town in various ways.

Nathaniel was the oldest of these surviving siblings. He built his home on the road that led through Sheffield from Albany to Boston. It became a popular place, known as Nathaniel Westover’s Inn – a tavern.

From this base Nathaniel Westover served the town in various capacities, including town surveyor, constable, bark measurer, tythingman, surveyor of highways and member of both the school and bridge committees. He and his wife Mary Eno raised a family of 14 children.

Westover Bacon Potts Farm

The home built by Jonah Westover III in Sheffield.

Jonah III married Deborah Eno, who was sister to Nathaniel’s wife Mary. They had 9 children. Jonah is known now for building the home that still stands today that is known as the Westover Bacon Potts home in Sheffield. He was a farmer whose history is less known than the history of his brothers.

John, from whom our Westover line descends, is perhaps better remembered than most due to his position with the local branch of the Church of England in Sheffield.

Sheffield Church

This is a drawing of the church where John Westover served as clerk of the church.

He married Rachel Morton and they had 10 children. John’s position as clerk of the church tells us a lot about him. He was respected and well-known in Sheffield. And he was no doubt a loyalist.

Being a loyalist in Massachusetts in the mid-18th century was not an unusual thing.

In fact, the more you dig into the debates of the age the more one realizes that our grade-school learning of the American Revolution was very one-sided.

The sons of John and Rachel Westover teach us this lesson. These six sons were born between the years 1739 and 1753 – meaning they all came of age just as the American Revolution was beginning.

The records show most of them served at one time in local militias in support of the Colonies.

But the record also shows that several among them could hardly be called “patriots”, at least as they were so labeled at the time.

In May of 1775 at least three of these brothers were sought out by a committee in the little town of Sheffield – John Westover Jr (b. 1739), Job Westover (b. 1742) and their younger brother, Noah (b. 1751).

It was called the Committee of Observation for the Town of Sheffield.

The record states, “Complaint being made to this Committee that John Westover, Job Westover, and Noah Westover, had, in various instances, contravened the doings and Resolutions of the General and Provincial Congresses; and that the said John, Job, and Noah, were enemies of American liberty…”

How did things get to this point?

Sheffield is located about as far west and south of Boston as a place could possibly get in Massachusetts. But the events of Boston, of Concord and Lexington, were well known and debated in Sheffield.

In 1773 several prominent citizens in Sheffield drafted the Sheffield Declaration, also known as the Sheffield Resolves.

The first resolution of this document stated a now-familiar sentiment: “Mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property…”

On July 6, 1774, 60 delegates met at a convention in near-by Stockbridge and endorsed a “league and covenant” to boycott all British goods and merchants who sold them.

These resolutions were clear to communicate their loyalty to the sovereignty of the king, but firmly insisted that “the inhabitants of his Majesty’s colonies in America are justly entitled to all of the rights and liberties that the inhabitants of Great Britain are entitled to,” and pledged to face existing violations of these rights through economic action.

The growing appetite for revolutionary action spurred an upheaval in the local political structure in Pittsfield, where Tory leanings were found predominantly among the families of its earliest settlers and included some of its prominent leaders.

For logical reasons, those wealthy in land and property tended to fear the outcome of agitation against the crown more than did the majority of families at the time.

In fact, it was through the political orchestrations of one local attorney, Woodbridge Little, that local towns had passed a resolution chiding the illegal actions taken by parties involved in the Boston Tea Party.

Clearly the entire populace was conflicted and apparently the Westover sons of John and Rachel got caught up in it. The Committee wanted to deal with John, Job and Noah Westover.

The Committee said “John hath affirmed that the late Continental Congress, in their doings, were guilty of rebellion against the King.”

They complained that “Job hath affirmed that the Parliament of Great Britain had a right to tax the American; and that each of them had said many things disrespectful of the said Congress, and the Provincial Congresses.”

Curiously, the Committee never mentions Noah Westover again. Why? Well, they couldn’t find him. He had gone into hiding. But they were able to bring in John and Job to be questioned.

To both men was posed this question: If an engagement should unfortunately happen between the British and American Armies, which they would choose should prevail?

John Westover candidly admitted it was a difficult question and he could not give a direct answer to it.

Job was more forthcoming: “…he supposed the consequences of a victory on the side of the American Army would be more prejudicial to this Country than the contrary.”

After this, John “voluntarily and solemnly engaged, that at no time hereafter will he do any thing detrimental to the cause…”

Job remained silent.

The committee voted and declared John Westover’s declaration satisfactory.

But of Job they unanimously labeled him an “enemy of American liberty and that it is the duty of all those who wish well to the cause of freedom, from henceforth to break off all dealings with the said Job.”

John’s history documents his service to the Colonial cause serving both in 1776 and again in 1777 with Colonel John Ashley’s regiment. (Ashley was a local leader who was vociferous in the fight against England).

Job Westover served in a like fashion, with the same units.

Curiously, when it was over, John with his brother Moses headed north to Canada, where the king was bestowing land grants to loyalists. John’s children all resided in the Canada the rest of their lives and grew that branch of the family there.

But Job stayed in Sheffield, living until 1813. It was his son, Job Jr, who pioneered Missouri and raise a large branch of the family that still prospers there. Another son, Calvin, headed to Minnesota and raised a large family as well.

Grave of Job Westover of Sheffield

This is the headstone over the grave of Job Westover in a Sheffield cemetery.

Younger brother Noah also survived the war. In fact, in 1775 in the middle of it he got married. He too stayed in Massachusetts to raise a family and lived a long life, dying in 1834 in Hartford, Connecticut.

The youngest of the six sons of John and Rachel Westover was Amos, our grandfather. Though born in 1753 he was definitely of age during the Revolution. But no known records exist showing military service for Amos.

Like Noah, he married during the Revolution. But most of his children would be born in Sheffield until about 20 years later, when he tried to settle near his brothers who had moved to Canada. But Amos was clearly not possessed of the sentiments of any of his brothers.

Was Amos a patriot…or a loyalist? That fact is lost to history.

What is not lost is that the children of John and Rachel Westover survived the American Revolution. Whatever their feelings and political leanings were gave way to industrious lives that contributed to the building of not one but two nations.

Their children would live to thrive under the banner of liberty. That is still something to celebrate.

Shay's Rebellion

After the Revolution the conflict was not quite over in Sheffield. It was the site of Shay’s Rebellion, a famous skirmish led by a local farmer, Daniel Shay, to contest heavy taxes by the newly formed State of Massachusetts.

Mum Bett

“Mum Bett” was the first woman to be declared free from slavery under the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. That document joined the Declaration of Independence in declaring: “All men are born free and equal.”
In 1781, with mere months left in the American Revolution, Mum Bett decided to put those words to the test—in court. It couldn’t have been easy. Her owner, Colonel John Ashley, was a powerful judge in Sheffield, Massachusetts and the leader of the local militia, under whom the Westover boys served during the Revolution.

Westover Family Tree

Our Family Tree

I believe now will be a good time to introduce a significant new feature to our website, one that has been requested and worked on for some time. It is our family tree.

What many folks want is a visual. They want to be able to understand how they connect to all the individuals we talk about.

That’s actually a pretty tall order and one I have frankly tried to avoid for a long time. It’s so very complex.

Most places you go online – such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org – are really limited in showing information of the living. We get why that is. The issues of privacy are complex.

Complicating that is the fact that logging in and keeping a password for any site is just plain problematic for some folks (well, everyone).

What has been requested is a way to have a tree that shows the living and yet doesn’t require a login or password.

Well, we think we have found a way. You can access our family tree at this link.

Please understand that this is a work in progress and it will always be a work in progress. We’re also attempting to include all of our many branches. This is not just Westovers alone.

We are also very focused on grafting in the ancient branches of the family – or at least those we can find within the past 500 years.

That means we are in active pursuit of the Canadian Westover lines, the Michigan Westovers, the Missouri Westovers, etc. – and we want ALL of them on the tree.

We cannot do this alone.

We know there are a lot of skill levels to this and we’re wanting to connect and work with them all.

If you have resources, especially pertaining to connected branches of the family so far not represented on the tree, we’d love to converse and, if possible, get a GEDCOM file of your current data for those missing lines.

The tree presently has about 33,000 names and more than 13,000 family groups. And that’s nothing. There are literally MILLIONS of us.

The living are very important. The Edwin Westover Family Project is a good example. We just want to know how many living descendants Edwin has and who they are. We feel that if we can find them and list them we can better share his story (and thus OUR story).

But it doesn’t end with Edwin. In fact, we want as many living family members as we can find.

We do not need any private information for the living. We just want a photo and a name. That’s it.

Here is an example of a living individual – one of my daughters, Allie. This shows only basic information about her family and her connection to me and thus to all our ancestors.

In fact, our tree is set up to showcase both the ancestors and descendants of any individual. Explore the menus a little bit, you’ll see.

And that is our primary goal: to make it possible to see how we are all connected – whether you’re on a computer, a phone or a tablet.

As with any family tree, this project will take time and effort. It will get better with time and the effort it takes to fill it out.

While we really want GEDCOM files of all our many branches we desire more to get the stories, photos and journals of as many as possible. We will work with anyone to help get that information on the site. It may take a while to achieve it but we will achieve it.

My big fear in putting this feature out there is that we will get bombarded with comments like “It’s wrong! You have my information wrong! Stuff is missing! You mangled my grandma! Where’s Uncle LeRoy? This sucks!”

We KNOW some of this wrong. We know it is incomplete. Please just help us get it right.

To begin, please see this page about what the tree is or is not (if the info above doesn’t explain it enough for you).

Then see our use and contribution policy. It contains a form where you can submit information you may want added to the tree.

Then point your folks here and have them see how they connect. Invite them to contribute or suggest. The more involved we all get the better the tree becomes.

Finally, I want to once again caution you about the many resources found online related to family history.

Any resource online – Family Search, Ancestry, even Westover Family History – is only temporary. EVER. Don’t think it will be there forever and never think it is absolute. Someone’s always messing with it.

You need to be keeping your own separate records.

You need to gather and preserve information for your own children and grandchildren. You need to have a standalone organized library of information that you have put together featuring your own research blood, sweat and tears.

That’s a lot of work and so daunting. Some have issues using computers. Others just do not see the time required to do these things. Some just rely on others to get it done. Most just don’t know where or how to begin.

We get that. We have all been there.

Whatever your excuse, please get over it.

The only way is to just jump into the pool and to take the sting of the cold water. Every journey begins with a step. There are lots around to help you and that’s all we’re offering.

It can be done if that is your true desire.

Please also recognize there are a lot of ways to bring your own talents and knowledge to the table besides working the project of researching and recording names and dates.

You can help catalog pictures, for example. We need all kinds of help organizing and identifying people in pictures.

You can write histories – really, just memories of your experiences with family members and those things you can remember. It doesn’t have to be a thesis or school paper. Just talk.

You don’t even have to write them anymore. Even recording them into your phone and passing along that recording would do.

You can be a family history reviewer – where you read and submit corrections to written histories of the past.

You can simply video yourself telling stories to your grandchildren.

There are lots of ways of doing family history and they all can now come back to the tree. Everyone putting in stuff makes the tree stronger.

I’m excited for this feature and I’m terrified by it. I hope you will consider becoming a part of it.

Family Tree

Hearts, Souls and Bones

I was recently released from my calling as a Temple and Family History Consultant. I’m sad to lose the responsibility because I have enjoyed it a great deal. I’ve served in that capacity for more than six years and even though it is the type of calling that gets people running the other way from you in the halls of the church it’s been a lot of fun to see people grow when they begin their family history.

The journey of discovery is a fun one, I don’t care who you are. It’s great to see someone go from the frustrated beginnings of not knowing where to start or being overwhelmed by the technology to actually learning their family and where they come from.

It does take a while to capture the vision. But once you’re hooked, you never quite get over the excitement of what family history really is.

I’m an opinionated person. Nobody really appreciates that much and in the calling of being a family history consultant there is a lot of needed restraint when it comes to opinions.

But now that I’ve been relieved of that responsibility I’m going to give you some opinions based upon my experience in trying to help others.

~ The Main Thing ~

The first rule of Family History is one that I use for a lot of things: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

What’s the main thing?

You.

You are the main thing. And for many people that’s an absurd idea. After all, family history is the exploration of others, right?

But that exploration is really about you, at the end of the day. Like many things, losing yourself in family history is just another method of finding yourself. Most are really surprised by that after they have invested the time and work of family history.

But why is it such a singular thing when it involves thousands of people, at least in theory?

Because your family history is unique. You might share heritage with a sibling or a parent but your total family history is entirely unique.

When you marry you adopt a whole new line of family thanks to your spouse – one that will belong to your children. But theirs will one day be unique from yours.

In that respect, the family history of one is not the same of another. It’s like fingerprints. Nobody has the same family history.

That singular definition and pursuit of the same individualizes family history. And there are times when you will swear the lessons you continue to learn from it are individual as well.

You are the main thing. Nobody can do it for you. You have to tackle it alone. You have to make the effort alone. You have to leave it for others to discover somehow.

That makes it all a very daunting thing. It is work. It is time consuming. It can be expensive. It can feel like an insurmountable task, which it really is, and it will never be truly done.

So why do it?

We do it because of the heart, the souls and the bones. That’s the stuff that family history is made of. It’s a very personal thing.

~ The Bones ~

The bones of family history are found in cemeteries and in pedigree charts. They are the dry data of names, birth dates, places and relatives. They are what everyone thinks of when they think of family history.

Oh sure, family history is much more than the bones. But it’s where nearly all of us begin.

It’s necessary to get down to the details at this level. Frankly, it’s not my favorite thing, to be honest. Standing over a grave and getting a name and a date really does not tell me much beyond the fact that existence is proven.

But the bones are heartless and soulless. Meaningless, otherwise. If that’s family history to you it has to be the blandest of meals.

Real family history has more flavor. That’s the stuff of the heart.

~ The Heart ~

The heart of family history is found in the stories, the personalities, and the experiences of the person attached to the bones. It’s the fun stuff of family history.

Unfortunately, it is the hardest part to find, especially the further back you go.

YOU have the potential of being a heartless entity of family history if you don’t do something about the record you leave behind. That too is family history.

I have a grandfather who modestly wrote a one-page autobiography. He was a modest individual. But really if I had my way I’d like to lecture him about how it wasn’t enough. I’ve learned a lot more about him through the stories and experiences of others with him. It sure would be nice to get to know him through his own words and recollections.

That is worthy of your thought and consideration.

The heart, you see, is what we really all get the thrills from when it comes to family history. The heart is found in tragedies, tears and triumphs. It is born through the unchangeable stuff of gender, identity, roles and even in what some call “social constructs”.

You see, it doesn’t matter if they were famous. It does not matter even what they did for a living. Where they went, the houses they lived in and they stuff they did on a daily basis pales in importance to what they thought, how they treated others, and what their opinions were when they faced the stuff of life we all face.

That’s the heart.

That is what makes us appreciate the folks of the past that we have never met. And that is where the real work and the real payoff is in family history.

The heart is what leads us to the real blessing of the work: the soul.

~ The Soul ~

The soul is the spiritual side of family history. If you are a person of faith this is a concept that builds faith. If you are not a person of faith it is something you discover and may have trouble explaining.

Years ago, I met a man at Roots Tech who was not a person of faith. He was elderly and suffering from physical challenges that made attending Roots Tech problematic and that saw his decades-long hobby of family history one that pushed him in ever-more difficult directions. He openly asked my why he kept doing it, given all that he was dealing with.

I tried my best to explain that his ancestors, though long dead, were still alive. I tried to explain they were pushing him as much as he was pushing himself. I tried to explain that the work he had engaged in for years was one they appreciated and that someday when he crossed over to the other side he would recognize them and they him.

I did my best to explain the doctrine of “we without them cannot be made perfect and they without us cannot be made perfect”.

With tears in his eyes and a nodding head he agreed. He could not articulate what he was feeling. He did say that was the most profound and loving doctrine he had ever heard. But it helped to explain the power of the work and the influence upon his life for good.

Though unschooled in things spiritual he was not inexperienced. His family history work had exposed him to the souls of those he researched. He discovered that he loved them. How do you define love? Would you call it a thing of the soul?

The soul of the work of family history comes from connecting with those ancestors you research. Many reject that thought as crazy. Yet so many who might shy away from spiritual or “churchy” things cannot deny this is what happens to them the deeper they wade into the waters of family history. Love is the ultimate and unavoidable outcome.

If family history teaches things of the soul what does it teach us about the Divine within us?

What more can personalize the work than that?

When you discover the soul of others you discover the soul of yourself. The worth of souls is great in the sight of God. YOU – the main thing – are great in the sight of God. Your ancestors teach you this about yourself.

~ Bringing the Bones and the Heart to Discover the Soul ~

As I wrote when I first began this little website many years ago my goal was to leave my children and grandchildren a better record than I received.

I’m still working on that. I realize that not everything I share here applies to everyone. My family history is not exactly the same as anyone else’s, as noted above.

But the effort of sharing what I can find is put out there to help others help themselves. I’ve discovered a lot about myself in my efforts here to just share. I would not have discovered what has been so important to me if others had not done their best to share what they had.

So we will continue to evolve. I’ve shared in other parts of the website many times that we don’t really do the family tree thing here.

I have tried to steer as many people as I can to the efforts of the one-world family tree located at FamilySearch.

That’s still true.

I believe FamilySearch is one of the the most important projects in the world.

We all contribute to it. In my 20 years or so of working with FamilySearch it is amazing to see what it has become.

Yes, it’s frustrating that anyone can edit, add to and take away from the tree. That will never change.

But that capability is also it’s magic. The record only gets stronger and stronger as we move along.

So we don’t want to discourage its use. We will continue to link to it relentlessly and work to get you logged in there and using it.

But I also know there are many who are still so challenged with even the technology of a password that they will never go to FamilySearch and pay the price for learning how to use it.

I know there are people who need the visual of a tree or pedigree chart to understand the connections between people and generations.

So we’re soon to post up a family tree – free and available to all – right here on WFH. No login required either. Just click and it will be there.

Naturally, it will not be as complete as a family tree that any competent individual can build on their own. It certainly cannot have all the dynamics of what can be found on FamilySearch.

But it will be enough for those who cannot get to that level.

To it will be tied pictures, documents, histories, links, maps and the stuff of the heart and soul.

Oh, and the bones.

Utah War

The Chaotic 1850s in Utah

Our 19th century timeline series continues with Part 2 – Pioneering Utah.

The chronological perspective is the only way to really absorb all that the Westovers were dealing with in the 1850s. It was nothing short of chaotic from start to finish.

The decade began in somewhat of a scattered fashion. Edwin and family were in the Fort Union area, trying to make the farm go. They were endlessly challenged by grasshoppers and drought. Edwin’s work was supplemented by mandatory militia service, which in time would take him to dangerous new assignments.

Electa’s status is interesting. She shows up, without explanation, in the 1852 census in Sacramento, California. She’s back in Utah a few years later. So what happened? Why was she there? Following the path of her youngest son Oscar F. Westover is really the only way to unravel this mystery.

Charles was now married and raising a family but began the decade still in the employ of Erastus Snow. That would change mid-decade as he would take up his own place near Edwin.

In fact, there was a convergence of sorts with the Westovers, the Shumways, and the Findleys in Big Cottonwood just as the handcart companies arrived during the Mormon Reformation in 1856.

The handcart pioneers brought us new family members. In fact, the introduction of plural marriage brought forward new realities to pioneering and different aspects to family history for us to contemplate. The “lone and dreary world” has a lot of salacious thoughts about plural marriage but the records left behind paint an entirely different picture that needs to be pondered. The women of the Westover families were strong in ways most cannot imagine and what was accomplished during these years by them is nothing short of miraculous.

The efforts to be faithful, to embrace new levels of faith and to grow farms and families was all interrupted by the Utah War – an event that gets passed over in most family histories because, well, nobody died.

But it was a hugely disruptive event that displaced nearly everyone in drought-stricken Utah Territory – including the Westovers.

Once again, the destitute and poor – which was just about everyone – had all that they had worked for placed on the altar of faith.

Families were separated from their husbands and fathers. It was a tense and uncertain time that would lead to significant changes for the family ahead.

While the post of this decade is a long one it is rich in new details, records, and photos. It needs to be absorbed and held up against written histories of the larger events of the Mormon Reformation, plural marriage, the handcart companies, the famine of 1855-1856, the 10th anniversary celebration of the 1847 pioneers, and the Utah War.

We also need to acknowledge the written histories compiled by earlier generations of our families. Within them is the general story – and a lot of errors. Many of the new records we have now and showcase in this post correct those errors. Family records and memories are always going to contain errors and conflicts in information – but they remain necessary because they contain that which mere data of records can never tell: the story of the family. We need them and we appreciate them, imperfect as they may be. We know that in posts ahead we will rely on the stories of individuals passed down to give nuance and definition to our ancestors who sacrificed more than what the data of genealogy can provide.

In all, the 1850s show that nothing was really settled at all with our pioneering ancestors.

They kept moving, they kept adapting and they kept faithful in fighting the demons of the past while forging a future for the family. While taking nothing away from their experiences in just getting to Utah we cannot help but be humbled by all they passed through just to stay there.

Our next installment on the 1860s shows how all this continued.