Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes perseverance pays off. And if you can persevere long enough, you might manufacture your own luck. Below is the first in a series of posts about solving a genealogical whodunnit, a whodunnit that at least in part, helps resolve a vexing question about the identity of Elijah Staats’ father. The full proof argument is something that I’m still working to organize, write, and hopefully have published. This is just a small, but important part of the overall picture.
An odd sequence of documents supposedly executed by Elijah Staats between 2 Mar 1808 and 9 Jun 1809 set up a confusing scenario for researchers, including myself. A petition for partition filed in New Castle Couny, Delaware kicked off the sequence.1 It’s one of two documents that name a father for Elijah Staats, the other being a deed in 1800 which names a different man than the petition.2 Neither one is correct. And that’s where it gets tricky—identifying Elijah’s actual father while also dealing with the heavy burden of proof that two court documents are both incorrect and demonstrating why. The petition was particularly challenging to an alternate theory. If a man shows up in court and states the name of his father, it would be considered a pretty reliable source right? The dude presumably knows who his own father was, and here he states it plainly in a court document. Not so fast, though.
I say the sequence was odd because after exhaustive research, those transactions didn’t make sense for a number of reasons. There is no evidence that Elijah Staats ever left his Fayette County, Pennsylvania home and moved 300+ miles back to New Castle County, Delaware for a couple of months, then moved back again. That wouldn’t make sense for a single man, much less a man with a young family with more on the way. Elijah was in the 1808 Fayette County tax records, yet the petition dated 2 Mar 1808 claimed he was “of” Appoquinmink Hundred, New Castle, Delaware.3 Two months later, the deed resulting from the partition states that Elijah was “of Frate [sic] County, State of Pennsylvania.”4 So this guy, who was in the Fayette County tax lists that year, ran back to Delaware, executed a petition, was back in his home county (which he incorrectly named) two months later?
A second deed was executed by Elijah three months later on 10 Aug 1808, again listing Elijah as “of Fayette County.” This deed sold Elijah’s interest in property he inherited from his half-brother, Benjamin Harman. The deed contains a wonderful description of the blended Harman-Staats family:
“Abraham Harman…died intestate leaving three sons, namely John Harman, Abraham Harman, and Benjamin Harman, to whom the said land and premises descended according to the intestate laws of this state… and the said Benjamin Harman died intestate and without issue (his aforesaid brothers being also deceased) whereupon, the above described land descended to his two half brothers to wit, Richard Staats (who is since dead intestate and without issue) and Elijah Staats”5
Elijah’s step-brothers, John and Abraham Harman, are also deceased and without issue, which is how Benjamin’s interest became vested in his half-brother, Elijah.6 Both Elijah and Benjamin were sons of Sarah Richardson, therefore grandsons of John and Latitia Richardson.7 Benjamin was a son of Sarah and Abraham Harman. Both John and Abraham were children from Abraham’s previous marriage.8 Elijah and Richard(son) were sons of Sarah and…well, we’ll get there eventually. The deed sold Elijah’s interest to Lydia Smith. She’ll come back into play later, too.
Speaking of odd, the final document in the series is the probate file of Benjamin Harman. A document in the probate file states that Benjamin Harman had “died in Philadelphia about four years previous to his taking out Letters of Administration, which he did merely for the purpose of receiving the sum of Thirty Dollars which was due for Rent from Lydia Smith for about Eighteen Acres of Land in Appoquinimink Hundred…”9 This was the same land, and same Lydia Smith, from the deed a little less than a year earlier.
In all of these 1808-1809 documents, the thing that stood out most, though, was the fact that all of them were signed with a mark, not a signature. The clerk in both deeds and in the original estate file are marked with an “x” and Elijah’s name written in by the clerk. This doesn’t fit the pattern of other evidence left by Elijah. Over a 40 year span between 1798 and 1838, every.single.other.document Elijah executes is signed. He’s listed as a schoolmaster in the tax records for crying out loud.10 Not only are they signed, but his actual signature appears on a 1798 receipt11 and an 1814 land entry record. Why aren’t these three documents signed, too? Surely, he didn’t just forget to sign them. Maybe all the running back and forth across the length of Pennsylvania wore him out? (That’s sarcasm) And why doesn’t Elijah ever appear in court proving these deeds? Both deeds were proven by witnesses, not Elijah himself.12
But another pattern emerged. Although the second witness was different for the two deeds, Elisha Staats was a witness to both. My theory had long been that Elijah was never actually in New Castle doing all this business For many years, the only evidence I had to offer was showing that these documents didn’t fit the pattern, contained curious mistakes, and that there were some obvious logistical challenges involved in executing them. But I kept coming back to Elisha. Why was he so involved in those deeds? And what about the hand-written statements in Benjamin Harman’s estate file? If Elijah couldn’t sign his name, who wrote the document? Then, completely by accident while looking for something else, Elisha was elevated from “person of interest” to prime suspect.
The will of Richard Smith, whose widow was the Lydia Smith who purchased the Benjamin Harman interest from Elijah, left a will. The will was witnessed by none other than Elisha Staats.13 The same Elisha Staats that also witnessed the deed to Lydia. In addition to witness, Elisha was one of the men doing the inventory, and was owed money by the estate.14 And that signature as witness to the will? That looked really familiar.
NEXT: A look at the patterns and connections of both Elijah and Elisha
- New Castle County, Delaware, Orphan’s Court Docket Books, J:546, petition of Elijah Staats, 1 Mar 1808.
- New Castle County, Delaware, Deed Book, U2: 467, Elijah Staats to John Callahan, 7 Oct 1800.
- New Castle County, Delaware, Orphan’s Court Docket Books, J:546.
- New Castle County, Delaware, Deed Book, F3: 491, Elijah Staats to Isaac Matthews, May 1808.
- New Castle, Delaware, Deed Books, H3:227, Elijah Staats to Lydia Smith, 10 Aug 1808.
- New Castle, Delaware, RG 2454.001 NCC Probate Files, Richardson, Latitia (1791-1792); Delaware Public Archives microfilm # 357.
- A lot to footnote for this, and not really relevant, so….
- New Castle County, Delaware, Probate Files, RG 2454.001, probate file of Benjamin Harman (1809), Delaware Public Archives.
- See generally, Luzerne Twp, Fayette County tax records available on FamilySearch https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSVF-CSR2-3?mode=g&cat=201017.
- Recepit to Elijah Staats from Ephraim Cutler, 19 Mar 1798; Ephraim Cutler Family Collection; Marietta College Library Special Collections, Marietta..
- See NCC Deed Books F3:491 and H3:227 previously noted.
- Delaware, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1676-1971,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 Nov 2020), New Castle > Register of wills, Smith, Patrick-Smith, William, 1864-1867, probate file of Richard Smith (1801-1808), image 172; Original source: Delaware Public Archives, New Castle County, Delaware, Probate Files, RG 2454.001.