War of 1812: Two Saturdays in June, 123 years apart


By Debra J. Richardson

EDITOR’S NOTE: In collaboration with several local organizations, the Fillmore County Historical Society co-sponsored a War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration on Saturday, June 16, in the village of Lenora. This is the final installment of a six-part series on 13 War of 1812 veterans buried in nine local cemeteries.

Charles Williams

On a Saturday morning in June of 1889, Charles Williams reclined in a chair at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Levi Ober, in Chatfield. A half-year shy of his 100th birthday, he casually conversed with family members. Suddenly he requested assistance in rising to his feet. His loved ones grabbed hold to help him up but found that he was too feeble to stand. Even up to recent days he’d been able to walk about his room and take care of his personal needs. Now within seconds the old soldier slipped away. He had “gone to reap the reward,” as the Chatfield Democrat observed in his obituary, “of the faithful.”

Charles Williams was born in the town of London, Franklin County, Penn., on March 17, 1790. He was a volunteer in the War of 1812, serving his country with honor as a private in Captain Stonebreaker’s Company of Maryland Militia.

He and his wife, Elizabeth (Betsey) Coebert, were the parents of 14 children – eight boys and six girls. For a number of years the family lived in the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania, where Charles was employed at the iron works. In 1855, he removed to Illinois to locate in Carroll County where he became a successful farmer.

After the death of his wife in 1866, his advanced age made it necessary for him to dispose of his property and retire from active life. Three years later he arrived in Chatfield to permanently reside with his daughter in the Ober household. Along with comrades, Tyler Walker and Jarvis Billings, Charles appears on the War of 1812 Pensioners in Minnesota, published in 1883.

Son-in-law Levi Ober had settled in Chatfield in 1854. He established a wagon works and a blacksmith shop where he was one of Chatfield’s young pioneer businessmen. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Levi volunteered in the Second Minnesota Infantry where he was promoted to captain.

On the Minnesota Territorial census, the Levi Ober family is enumerated in Chatfield Township. Census records do not reveal that Charles and Elizabeth Williams were yet residing in Minnesota Territory. However, a ScripWarrant land grant for 160 acres in sections three and 10 of Chatfield Township was transferred from Charles Williams to James Nichols on June 1, 1859. This document seems to indicate that Charles had considered relocating along with the Ober family when his son-in-law initially pulled up stakes in Illinois. Plans appear to have changed course since the 1860 Federal Census shows Charles and his wife back in Carroll County.

Following Charles’ death on June 9, 1889, he was lamented as “a man of iron constitution and his powers of endurance were remarkable…a man who always was blest with good health excepting a serious illness caused by small pox…a very pious, grateful man, a conscientious and devoted member of the Dunkard faith.”

How I met your patriot grandfather

Charles Williams shares the family Ober monument at Chatfield Cemetery. His obituary pointed out that his posterity included grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Let’s fast forward to the present to one particular descendant: third-great-granddaughter, Carole Gunderson, a Fillmore County Historical Society board member, who recently visited the family gravesites for a photo op. I enjoyed the privilege of introducing Carole to her third-great-grandfather through my research of Fillmore County War of 1812 veterans.

One question I’m frequently asked is how I find the information about the dead people whose stories I tell. I feel strongly about acknowledging my research roots – therefore I’ve created a bibliography to share with readers.

As a historian, I am indebted to the recorders of local history: clerks, clergy, physicians, vital statistic registrars, undertakers, newspaper reporters, obituary writers, census enumerators, keepers and cataloguers of government records, compliers of county, community and church histories – and certainly the staff, volunteers and members of historical societies and organizations. I’m especially indebted to generations of unsung family genealogists, who remember, research and record to ensure that descendants not only know family history but understand it in the context – and against the backdrop of – the broader national and international scene.

The National Archives tops my research roots list for good reason. The War of 1812-era records, generated by the Adjutant General’s Office were compiled by the War Department and are archived in the General Reference Branch and the Military Reference Branch of the Textual Reference Division of NARA – the independent agency that oversees management of federal government records and historic collections.

On behalf of American genealogists I express my profound appreciation for these records and their availability to researchers. Bounty land warrant and pension records can be ordered to document soldiers presently without gravestones so that a government-issued stone may be obtained.

Bicentennial commemoration

On a Saturday afternoon in June of 2012, a drummer boy and fifer led the color guard through the old gateposts of Lenora Cemetery in Canton Township. With descendant Phillip Gray watching, Fillmore County Veterans Service Officer Jason Marqardt and Sen. Jeremy Miller (R) District 31 unveiled the military gravestone for Elias A. Gray, private in the 27th Regiment of New York Militia.

Following recognition for the other War of 1812 veteran buried at Lenora, Peter Benway – who will be receiving a government-issued gravestone at a later date – the commemoration moved to Lenora Church for a service officiated by the Rev. Mark Woodward.

All in attendance witnessed an historic afternoon filled with flags, fanfare and flourish. Events were filmed by Tim Hebrink of CCTV who is currently in production with footage that will be aired over the weekend of July 4. For those who couldn’t join us, please check out either the CCTV or Fillmore County History Center website for further information on the video project.

While this series of articles and the commemorative events are over, I invite readers to tour the history center to see the accompanying exhibit and of course to visit the cemeteries to pay respects to our War of 1812 veterans. While it may not be possible to visit all nine cemeteries, do make it a point to seek out at least one. Who knows, you may inadvertently meet the third-great-grandfather you never knew you had.

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