June 1995

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


Stories of the Wixson Family

Their Wixam Ancestors and Wixom Relatives

and their 1795 - 1797 "Old Homestead"


Sandra Brown

1791 was the year the "Bill of Rights" was adopted as the first ten amendments to the new Constitution. That was the year also that both Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" and Boswell's "Life of Johnson" were published. It was the year Michael Faraday and Samuel F. B. Morse were born. George Washington was president.

That same year, 1791, Solomon and Mary Wixson moved their family and all their possessions from Dutchess County, New York, to a new home in the wilderness of southeastern Ontario County along the west side of Little Lake between Crooked Lake and Seneca Lake. Solomon had found the site the year before, cleared some of the land, and built a log cabin for his family before he had returned to Dutchess County. The following year the family traveled by flatboat to Newtown, close to present Elmira, and then moved overland with oxen to Frederickstown.

Solomon was 40 years old; Mary was 26. They arrived with their seven boys all under the age of 12—what great prospects for accomplishments in the wilderness. Mary did produce help for herself after they arrived. Elizabeth was born 6 November 1793, die first white child to be born in the locality. Next came Mary (Polly), 19 November 1795, then Clara in 1796. A while later Elijah was born in 1800. Mary Randall Wixson bore 11 children in 21 years and lived on herself another 37 years. All of their children lived to adulthood. Solomon, Jr. who was the infant the year of the move lived until 1837, when he was 46 years old. The other children lived long lives.

The first winter they were in their new location Solomon learned that he could not get a clear title to the land they were on so he bought 200 acres from Ephraim Sanford who owned 2000 acres of timber

Stories Of The Wixson Family

(From page 1, column 2)

land in the area. For land with a good title Solomon paid two shillings an acre.

Between 1795 and 1797 Solomon and his sons built a framed house with white pine lumber from trees on their own place. Over the years the house has been altered. At one time it had 14 large rooms, all with beamed ceilings. The house is still sound and is occupied today.

The original Solomon owned the property from 1791 until his death April 11, 1813, when it passed to his son James and his wife Sarah Tompkins, and to his daughter Clara and her husband Orlando Comstock. In 1834 James and Clara deeded the property to their brother Elijah for a small sum. Elijah's will named his son Solomon R. Wixson as heir.

For many years descendants of Solomon and Mary Wixson held annual family gatherings at the homestead. In 1891, the centennial year of the settlement of the place, the reunion was a big affair. Edgar M. Wixson, the great-grandson of the original settler, was the family historian at the time.

Solomon R. Wixson possessed the property from February, 1879, until 1919 when his son Edgar Munson Wixson inherited the estate. In 1922 Edgar sold some lots along the lake, and finally in 1936 the house and most of the original tract went to the Dundee State Bank.

Since then the house and remaining land have passed through a series of owners until William and Sandra Brown purchased it in May 1986. Mr. Brown died several years ago, but Mrs. Brown and her son continue to operate a 60-cow dairy on the farm.

Another great-great-grandson of Joshua, the father of Edgar's greatgrandfather Solomon, became the principal chronicler of the history of the family. This was Justin Humboldt Wixom who was born in Mendota, Illinois, on August 5, 1863. He spent the last fifteen years of his life collecting family tales and tracing relationships. Justin H. Wixom died in 1934, but other relatives continued his project. In 1963 Ruth S. Widdison published the 683 page Wixom Family History, that connects 8967 descendants of Robert Wix-am, the original immigrant from England. Robert had three daughters and one son, Barnabus. He and his son Joshua spelled their name Wixam. Some of the family continued the use of Wixam, others chose Wixom, and others adopted different spellings such as Wixson and Wickson. The name in England was spelled Wyckham.

The Wixom Family History is full of fascinating stories about the descendants of Robert Wixam who had come to Massachusetts in 1630. His great-grandson Reuben "fought at Bunker Hill and was wounded there. He was not an enlisted soldier at the time, he simply hurried to the field, fell in line and commenced shooting, as many others did.'" Reuben's brother Barnabus went off to western New York from Dutchess County and was living in the Town of Chemung only a few miles from Newtown when their brother Solomon moved through with his family on their way to Little Lake in Frederickstown. Barnabus had 7 sons and 1 daughter all born in the wilderness of western New York. His oldest son, also named Barnabus, was born in 1776.

Son Barnabus married Hannah Jones about 1788. The census of 1810 shows that the family was living in Cayuga County, New York. In 1811 they moved to Kentucky and 2 years later to southern Ohio. "There the family continued to reside until the spring of 1827 when it was decided to move to Texas, then a part of Mexico. Mexico had recently secured her independence from Spain, and was offering inducements in the nature of land grants to Americans who would settle there." Barnabus decided to take advantage of the offer.

The easiest way to Texas was by flatboat down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The family built a large raft of logs with a house on top to protect them from the weather and from the arrows of hostile Indians, and set off with a good supply of provisions and their cows and pigs. All went well until they discovered that they had passed out the mouth of the Mississippi and were stuck on a sandbar in the Gulf of Mexico.

There they were stranded for three days before a vessel came in sight. The captain of die craft came on board the raft and offered to tow them to Galveston Bay, and he did just that, but they had to get ashore by themselves. That was on July 4, 1827. Later they discovered that their benefactor was Diaz, the famous Spanish, or Mexican, pirate.

They finally settled about 60 miles northwest of Galveston and in 1831 applied for a tract, and received a league of land, 4,428 acres. Barnabus's 28-year-old son, Asa, applied for and received a quarter league grant. The land agent wrote "Wickson," and that spelling has been retained by those family members remaining in Texas. Notwithstanding die land gift from the Mexican government the Wicksons fought for Texan independence.

A brother of this Barnabus, Reuben Hiram Wixom, was born in 1781. He married Clarissa Walker from Vermont in 1803 and lived until 1810 in the Township of Hector, then Seneca County, but now Schuyler County. They moved then to a place near Columbus, Ohio. "It was a wild district inhabited by wild animals and wild men. But that feature had its advantages for the newcomer, for his ability to cope with the wilderness was his main stock in trade. The abundance of game in the forest and his skill at hunting and trapping kept the family well supplied with food, game and furs. And, as the head of the household could make every article needed, the family lived in plenty. He made wheels for spinning flax and wool, looms for weaving cloth, and shoes and mocassins for the family. Later, after the district became more settled, and afterward in Illinois he made bedsteads, chairs, half-bushel measures and various other articles to sell to others. Several times in Ohio, and later at his home in Illinois at the outbreak of die war with Mexico, he made drums and sold them to military organizations. Family tradition says that one of those drums sounded on the field of Buena Vista.

"His wife too was equal to the demands of the times, and nobly did her part. She had been trained in die days of girlhood to spin bodi wool and flax, and to weave and make die clodies diat were needed for die family. They were soon able to produce their own wool and flax on dieir little farm in die clearing of die forest home.

"But die situation in Ohio had never been satisfactory. It was a timbered country and a hard task to cut the trees and clear die land for a farm, and die clayey and radier unproductive soil was hard to cultivate among die stumps.

"The traveling preachers, the 'circuit riders,' told Mr. Wixom of the broad prairies and rich soil of Illinois. He received like information from others, for the tide of emigration had set in, and was moving toward the Prairie State. The records in the office of the Recorder of Deeds at Columbus, Ohio, show that on August 18, 1827, Reuben H. Wixom and his wife Clarissa conveyed one hundred acres of land to Horton Howard in consideration of five hundred dollars.

"It was late in the fall of the year, however, before the move was undertaken by ox team transit. The family reached their destination, Springfield, Illinois, on Christmas Day, 1827. It was then only a small village, ten years before it became the capital of the state. Mr. Wixom bought ten acres of land, with a house on it, adjoining the town. There the family lived for the next two years cultivating the land and raising garden truck and feed for domestic animals.

"Mr. Wixom had received personal instruction in a system of medical practice from a Samuel Thompson, and was what was then called a 'steam doctor.' He soon built up a good practice, and as his wife was a skillful midwife, she became his assistant in the new venture. He seems to have been remarkably successful in curing the sick and built up a large practice. That crude system of treating the sick that has been the ridicule of physicians in later years may have had its chief virtue in avoiding the use of strong drugs, and it may be that the chills and agues of that day yielded readily to the roots and herbs that Dr. Wixom gave his patients. Good nursing probably counted for much, for we must not overlook the valuable assistance he often received from Clarissa as midwife and nurse. But his remarkable success as a doctor compelled him to quit the practice of medicine; he found that he could no longer stand the physical strain. He decided that there was but one way to quit the practice—he must move to a place beyond the calling distance of his acquaintances. That he did."

Reuben Hiram Wixom's son Solomon

became a Mormon at the time his family was in Illinois. He travelled on west with the Mormons, married five times, and had 20 children. Several of his children had large families. There are many Wixom descendants living in Utah and Idaho.

The sister of Barnabus and Reuben Hiram Wixom, and the only girl in that family, Dorcas Tabitha Wixom, married Joseph Earl in 1801. He was a Baptist preacher, but was also an all-around mechanic, cabinet maker, wheelwright, and shoemaker. Church officials sent him to a location in Canada north of Lake Erie in 1803. "There the family lived and prospered for ten years, and there five children were born to them, The pulpit and the shop were well patronized, and happiness and contentment prevailed in the family. But in the summer of 1812 war broke out between the United Suites and England, lasting until December, 1814. which brought Canada in hostile conflict with our country. A rumor came to Mr. Earl and several of his American neighbors that they would all be forced into the British Army and compelled to fight against their own country. That was in November 1813. Then those Americans got busy. They must leave Canada and get back to their native land. The journey must be made secretly and they must travel by night to avoid interference by Canadian officials.

"Complete plans were made and the route of travel decided on. One man made a journey over the proposed road and arranged for convenient and proper stopping places for members of the party to conceal themselves and rest during daylight and continue their journey by night. This scout returned to the settlement in Canada and reported all plans on the line of retreat were properly arranged. The trip must be made with sleds, and they must all wait for a snap of cold weather and a fall of snow to make the journey. Those devout Baptists must now lay low and trust in God for favorable weather...

"The ideal cold snap came in December, and the several families were

bundled into sleds, taking with them what few articles they could conveniently carry, left homes and possessions, and made off in the night... The third night they crossed Lake Erie on the ice, landing at a point near Erie, Pennsylvania." They went to their old home in New York and later moved to Ohio.

Now back to Solomon, son of Joshua, and brother of the older Barnabus, some of whose sons we have just traced. Solomon Wixson was the ninth and last child in his father Joshua's family. He had been born at Yarmouth, Massachusetts, 8 October, 1752, and had moved with his parents at a very young age to Dutchess County, New York. This Solomon who came with his wife Mary to the site along Little Lake had also been a soldier in the Revolutionary War, but not much else is known of his life before he moved his family west to the lake country.

The Wixson spelling of the family name began with Solomon; he may not have been able to write himself, so clerks spelled his name on documents from what they heard. His children continued to use this spelling, and it remains common in western New York and Michigan.

Solomon and Mary's oldest child, Joseph was born in 1779. He would have been 12 when the family came to Little Lake, and about 16 when the large house was built. Joseph married Deborah Townsend May 20, 1798, in Dutchess County; she was born 18 November, 1774, in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

Joseph and Deborah did go off to settle in Pickering Township, Ontario County, Canada at an early date. His brother Joshua followed with his wife Rachel in 1804 and they settled near Joseph. A family legend tells that Joshua went to Canada because he had carried in his wagon for several miles a passenger who was fleeing from debts. New York law at that time made any person aiding another to escape his debts liable for their payment. Joshua didn't have enough funds to make the payment, so

The Wixson Homestead

1795 - 1797

The larger photograph was taken recently by Don Rowland, Historian for the Town of Wayne. The inset photograph was given to Mrs. Brown by June Van Kampen of Union City, Michigan. She is a descendant of Elijah Wixson. The date is unknown. It shows the house with a central

gable and no dormers.

he too, had to leave. But many years later he came back with small sacks of gold coin secreted about different parts of his clothing. He paid the debts, and thereby cleared his name and his conscience. Joshua and his children and all but one of his 11 children settled in Sanilac County, Michigan. All but one of Joseph's 10 children also settled in the same area of Michigan. One old tinier wrote: "There were so many Wixsons in Sanilac County in the early days that a man could not kick a dog without offending some Wixson or a relative of that family."

The original settlers of the Wixson homestead, Solomon and his wife Mary, are buried in the Wixson cemetery that is across the road from the "Old Homestead" along County Route #97 in the town of Wayne. There are 18 identified Wixson gravesites in the cemetery along with about 15 other graves bearing different family names, usually those acquired when daughters married.

Many members of the Wixson family have made pilgrimages to see the "Old Homestead," and have been welcomed by Mrs. Sandra Brown who lives in the old house now. She keeps a guest log of all the family who come to see the site overlooking Waneta Lake. Visiting descendants keep in touch by letters with Mrs. Brown and send her old photographs of the homestead and its former inhabitants. One member of the family gave Mrs. Brown a copy of the Wixom Family History so she can know more about the homestead's "family."

Mrs. Brown loaned her book, pictures, and records to provide information for this account. The Wixson Cemetery was established about 1803 and contains approximately 44 burials. It was carefully measured and mapped, and the readable names and dates on markers were recorded by Don Rowland, historian for the Town of Wayne.

CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR