see also: WORLD CONNECT SITE

Ancestors of Loretta Haskins

Some Background for William Brey's mother - history of the Pool Tribe of Towanda PA

Anthony Vanderpool

Another version (Jan 2006)

Summary in story from Meissner 2002 Reunion

Pictures of the Brey farm in Wisconsin

 
 

Dr William Brey

Loretta Haskins, who married Adolph Meissner, was a daughter of Celesta Anna Brey and George Alburn Haskins. Celesta’s father was William Bray (later Brey), born 26 Aug 1819 in Towanda PA. Celesta's mother was Samantha Andrus, granddaughter of Revolutionary War veterans Joel Andrews and Seth Cole. Samantha's parents were Daniel Andrus (a veteran of the War of 1812) and Minerva Cole. But what about William Bray's parents?

William Bray’s father was a “red-haired Irishman” who married a part-Indian girl, probably Lovina Vanderpool (b 1788), daughter of Anthony Vanderpool (b 1754) and Elizabeth Johnson or Janssen.. She may have been a descendant of Sir William Johnson. William Bray had an older half-brother named Anthony Johnson, a common name in the part-Indian tribe that settled near Towanda PA, and younger half-siblings with last names Clark and Robinson.

See also history of the Pool Tribe of Towanda PA - which includes more information about Sir William Johnson, Molly Brant (sister of Mohawk chief Joseph Brant), and Anthony Vanderpool.

In April 2005 I received email from Don VANDERPOOL noting a likely connection between William BRAY and Lovina VANDERPOOL, which indicates that she was probably his mother and therefore my ggg-grandmother. (Her forename was also variously spelled Lavina, Elvina, Vina, Lovinia, etc.) Don VANDERPOOL "was struck by the similarity" between parts of his family data and mine.

Don's detective sense was alerted by an entry at the website
TRI-COUNTIES Genealogy & History site (by Joyce M. Tice): Chemung County NY, Bradford County PA, Tioga County PA = http://www.rootsweb.com/~srgp/jmtindex.htm listing a marriage on Jun 9 1822 at Monroe PA (near Towanda) between "Mrs Lavina JOHNSON of Asylum" and "Aaron CLARK." The two surnames match the list from William BREY's family Bible:

William Brey
Born Aug 21st 1819 Near Towanda Penn.
...
WIlliam Breys half sisters
Mary Ann Clark was born Jan 23 the 18,22 in Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth Clark was born Feb 23 the 18,23.

William Brey's half Brothers
Anthony Johnson was born November the 18,14.
John Robinson born March 6, the 18,28.

William was born at TOWANDA, and he had 4 siblings with surnames that included JOHNSON and CLARK:

Hot on the trail, Don located an 1830 census record for Asylum Twp listing Elvina CLARK with 5 children, all of whose ages and sex match the Bible entries: M 1810-1815; M 1815-1820; F 1820-1825; F 1820-1825; M 1825-1830.

The scenario is this: Lovina bore son Anthony 1814, then William in 1819; but she married Aaron CLARK giving her name as "Mrs JOHNSON" which probably indicates that she was previously married but not to William BRAY's father.

Our family tradition (probably quoted from William BRAY himself, who later spelled his surname BREY) states that William's father was a red-haired Irishman and his mother was one-quarter Indian. Don notes that Lovina was one-quarter Oneida Indian.

A book, "Pioneer and Patriot Families" quoted at http://www.rootsweb.com/~srgp/heverly/hevtoc.htm , describes Lovina's father Anthony Vanderpool and her mother Elizabeth Johnson:

Anthony Vanderpool, who led a rather romantic life, was a member of the family of New York Vanderpools, who had come from Netherlands and settled in the Mohawk Valley, west of Albany. He was born at Kinderhook in 1748. During the Revolutionary war he served a year in the regiment commanded by Colonel Wynkoop of the New York troops. Mr. Vanderpool had married Elizabeth Johnson, a woman with Oneida blood. This move was decidedly distasteful to the haughty and somewhat aristocratic Dutch family, and Anthony was accordingly cast off. He became a wanderer and finally drifted into Bradford County about 1790.

...

Anthony Vanderpool became acquainted with Elizabeth Johnson. It is said that he married her because she won his heart by befriending him in time of Indian hostilities; and also, that a pleasant face, though yellow, captivated him, and both becoming environed in love, matrimony was the natural result. This move was decidedly distasteful to the haughty and somewhat aristocratic Dutch family, and hence Anthony (called “Antony”) having gained the displeasure of the family was cast off. He came to Bradford County while the Indians were yet here. Mr. Vanderpool is described as a man well-built, about six feet high, with all the characteristics of a “Dutchman,” and some of the Indian, resulting from association. He was known as “King Pool” and was a man of no particular faults. Mrs. Vanderpool is remembered as a common-sized woman of dark yellow skin, pleasant countenance, slow of speech and fond of smoking. She was known as “Queen Pool,” and the old people do not hesitate in saying that she belonged to the Oneida tribe. The complexion of the children varied, some being lighter than others. They had the characteristics of both the Hollander and Indian. Their language, impure, was strongly of the Dutch accent; while their dispositions were akin to those of the Indian.

Anthony Vanderpool's parents, Anthony Sr (b 1717) and Jacomynite van Seyl, were immigrants from the Netherlands. Elizabeth's origins are less well known, but her mother is said to have been an Indian from the Oneida tribe of the Mohawk nation (making Elizabeth one-half and Lovina one-quarter Indian). Lorenzo Benjamin (at Pool Tribe of Towanda PA) suggests that "Anthony Vanderpool might have been married twice, with his second wife being an Indian girl. His documented wife was Elizabeth Janssen .... The reason I say this is the pronounced difference among Vanderpools in regard to skin color. Some have a totally fair complexion, while others are very dark. I am not alone in this assumption, as others have agreed with me."

Anthony grew up in the Mohawk Valley near Johnstown, the home of the British Supervisor of Indian Affairs, Sir William Johnson, who is said to have sired children with local Indian women. There is in fact a possibility that Anthony's Indian wife may have been a daughter of Sir William; however, it must be noted that Sir William had a legitimate daughter Elizabeth who is well documented (see Lois M. Huey and Bonnie Pulis, Molly Brant, A Legacy of Her Own, Old Fort Niagara Association, 1997, ISBN 0-941967-18-2) and who definitely did NOT marry Anthony Vanderpool.

Lovina's father Anthony Vanderpool "founded" the Pool clan. Her association with several different men is not inconsistent with stories of Pool clan "immorality". See history of the Pool Tribe of Towanda PA - which also includes more information about Sir William Johnson and Anthony Vanderpool.

No record has been found of Lovina's marriage to the fathers of Anthony Johnson, William Bray, or John Robinson.

Aaron Clark was "a pilot on the Susquehanna river" according to the marriage record cited above. Lovina's first Clark daughter (Mary Ann) was born several months before her marriage to Aaron, and Elizabeth was born eight months later. One might speculate a bit, as follows: Lovina met Aaron about 1821. When she found herself pregnant (with Mary Ann) he was away working on the river and did not return until after Mary Ann was born; she may have been pregnant again (with Elizabeth) at the time of her marriage. In 1828 Lovina had another son surnamed ROBINSON, but she is listed as Lovinia CLARK in the 1850 census, living at Durell at age 63 with her brother William Vanderpool and his wife.

One more thing:

The surname Bray is not very prevalent in or near Bradford County PA up to 1820, and in most cases where it appears, no consistent forename accompanies it.

However, there was a William Bray in New York between 1800 and 1820 — in 1800 at Marbletown, Ulster Co (a bit north of Poughkeepsie), in 1810 at Middletown, Delaware Co (farther south), and in 1820 at Troupsburg, Steuben Co (just north of the NY/PA border, about 80 miles W or NW from Towanda). These three could conceivably all be the same person, migrating slowly westward — and on his way from Middletown to Troupsburg he might have been near Towanda in 1818 and met Lovina.

Information previously posted on this web page is shown below. It is still substantially correct except for some details such as the names of Ellen, Ebenezer Clark, and George Robinson. The family left "Pool Town" but census records show them later on at Monroe, Terry, and Durell townships rather than in "uptown" Towanda.

Back to William Brey’s Family Bible: the oldest child listed there was named Anthony Johnson; in Towanda, this name shouts “Pool clan” and would have been a very unlikely name “uptown.”

Besides Anthony Johnson, William Bray’s mother had only one other child prior to the 1820 census, namely William himself who was born 21 Aug 1819. William’s father, the mysterious red-haired Irishman, must have been somewhere in the vicinity of Towanda in Dec 1818 or Jan 1819 (when William was conceived), but he does not appear in the 1820 census and he was out of the picture by the time Mary Ann Clark was born in 1822. Being William Bray’s father, his surname must have been Bray, but absolutely nothing more is known about him, not even his first name.

According to well documented historical records, William Johnson emigrated from Ireland in 1738 to develop land in the Mohawk Valley (in upper New York state) on behalf of his uncle, Peter Warren. Tremendously ambitious, he led settlers to his uncle’s land claim, established farms and a trading post, and proceeded to acquire property, influence, and political power. As a British major general in the French and Indian War, he defeated the French at the battle of Lake George. As a reward, he was made a baronet.

One element of Sir William Johnson’s success was his shrewd partnership with the Mohawk tribe of Iroquois Indians, which kept them on the British side in the wars against France (1754-1763), whereas most other Indian tribes sided with the French. The British government made him Superintendent of Indian Affairs for much of what is now New York, Pennsylvania, and southern Ontario. He gradually acquired more than 500,000 acres of land in the Mohawk and upper Susquehanna river valleys, which he ruled almost as a feudal lord. He founded Johnstown as the “capital” of his huge domain.

Sir William’s first wife, Catherine Weissenberg, bore him three children: his principal heir, (Sir) John Johnson, and two daughters named Ann and Mary. After Catherine died in 1759, Sir William married Molly Brant, daughter of an important Mohawk sachem and sister or half-sister of Joseph Brant who was later an important chief of the Mohawks. However, their marriage was never recognized according to British law. They probably had seven children, who were named Peter (apparently conceived before Catherine’s death), Magdalene, Margaret, George, Mary, Susanna, and Anne.

Besides his ten children by Catherine and Molly, Sir William recognized two boys, Brant and William, fathered with now-unknown Indian women prior to Molly’s first pregnancy. Few records were kept of relationships within the Indian colony in and around Johnstown, and it is possible that besides the twelve children who he formally recognized, Sir William may have fathered other part-Indian children.

Molly Brant provided considerable assistance in maintaining the Indians as British allies. Sir William and Molly were also Loyalists (British sympathizers) during the years leading up to the American Revolution. Although Sir William died in 1774 (and his son John succeeded him as Indian agent), Molly continued to influence the Mohawk tribe to remain loyal to the British cause throughout the war.

When the Americans occupied the Mohawk Valley in 1777, the Indians’ loyalty to the British cause resulted in their expulsion from Johnson’s domain. Molly and her children moved to Canada and lost most of the legacy promised by Sir William’s will, although British authorities in Canada compensated her in part.

A large contingent of these Indians and part-Indians migrated down the Susquehanna valley and settled along the river near what is now Towanda PA. They intermarried with other settlers from a variety of racial backgrounds, including negros and Dutch immigrants. Among the latter was Anthony Vanderpool (whose wife was not a daughter of Sir William, as sometimes stated), and residents of the settlement were ultimately known as the “Pool clan.” They were discouraged from associating with the townspeople of Towanda, and even today are treated as outcasts. To achieve any sort of success, a Pool child with any ambition still has to move away from the colony. See: the Pool Tribe of Towanda PA

Doris Klock searched the 1820 and later census records for the Towanda area, and found a woman named Ellen who matches the known facts fairly closely. The supposition is that Ellen “escaped” from the Pool clan  some time around 1820. The other three children listed in the Brey Family Bible are surnamed Clark and Robinson. Doris found later census records for “uptown” families headed by men named Ebenezer Clark and George Robinson, who could have been Ellen’s husbands and fathers of her children. (Ellen seems to have had another daughter named Jane [Robinson?] with whom she was living in 1870, but this daughter might have been born after William lost contact with his mother.) So, until further evidence appears, Ellen is nominated as William Bray’s “one-quarter Indian” mother. She very likely emerged from the “Pool clan,” and she would have had some non-Indian ancestors which might have included Anthony Vanderpool or even Sir William Johnson.

email message from Jessica Brey, August, 2003: Is there a layman’s way of telling me how Molly Brant and Sir William Johnson are connected to this line? I’ve been reading up on her and found Johnson’s Will leaving everything to her and their children, but can’t seem to understand how they connect with Ellen.
=
LPM reply:
= My best information came from “Molly Brant, A Legacy of Her Own,” by Lois M. Huey and Bonnie Pulis - Old Fort Niagara Association, 1997 (ISBN 0-941967-18-2). You might be able to find it in a library or on line.
= William Johnson had almost a “kingdom” in the Mohawk Valley in the mid 1700s — he was Indian agent, i.e., the representative of England when dealing with the Indians in what is now all of upper NY state, the northern part of PA, and parts of Canada. He was very understanding and friendly with the Indians and Molly Brant was his second wife (but their union was not recognized according to British law). He publicly acknowledged a couple of illegitimate children with other Indian mothers from his “colony” — and that fact has been interpreted both ways: (1) if he acknowledged those two, there MUST NOT HAVE BEEN any others or he would have acknowledged them too; or (2) if he acknowledged those two, he admits he was “that kind of a guy” so there MUST HAVE BEEN others.
= Anyway after Sir William died in 1774, and then the British lost the war a few years later, his land was confiscated by the Americans and the Indians did not get as good a deal from the Yankees as they had been getting from the British. (After all, Sir William and Molly had convinced them to fight on the British side.) So the Indians from the Mohawk Valley were scattered — some went with Molly to Canada, some went elsewhere.
= Some of them gradually migrated over the low range of hills that separates the Mohawk Valley in NY from the Susquehanna valley in PA, and a group of these ended up in Towanda PA and intermarried with Dutch settlers (including Anthony Vanderpool and his descendants) and with some darker skinned people (Africans or southern Europeans or both) and became the outcast “Pool tribe” who lived in a kinda swampy area along the Susquehanna River near Towanda, and some remnants still live there. They had about 40 years and at least one whole generation, from the breakup of Johnson’s colony after the Revolution (say, 1779 to the birth of William Brey in 1819), to travel maybe a hundred miles and get their “tribe” settled. Up to this point we are dealing with “HISTORY,” of sorts.
= But there is a lot of lost genealogical data and a lot of speculation about how William Brey might have been related to Sir William Johnson. Pretty clearly Molly Brant herself was not his ancestor, because her descendants are fairly well accounted for and they went to Canada rather than to PA. [Why would they go to PA anyway? Molly was a “symbol” of loyalty to Britain, and the Americans didn’t want to have much to do with her and her family after the Revolution.] But it’s not too wild to speculate that a significant number of the Pool’s had some trace of Sir William’s genes, especially if you lean toward the higher estimates of the number of half-Indian children he fathered, and those children would have migrated with the rest, and time-wise it’s WITHIN THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY Sir William MIGHT HAVE BEEN a grandparent of William’s mother.
= Why do we think William Brey came from the Pool tribe anyway? First of all, family tradition. In the 1930s my grandfather Adolph Frederick Meissner told us he heard (probably directly from his wife’s grandfather William Brey, who died when AFM was 33 and had been married to Loretta for 10 years) that “William Brey’s father was a red-haired Irishman and his mother was an Indian squaw” or sometimes he said she was one-quarter Indian. The Brey Family Bible (apparently in William’s handwriting — I have a photocopy) says William was born in Towanda PA, and it lists several of his brothers and sisters almost all of whom have different surnames. The only one older than William Brey is Anthony Johnson, and when my sister Doris went to Towanda on her “quest” she found out right away that people in town still recognize this name as a Pool tribe name. In Towanda even the genealogists and historians didn’t want to talk about the Pool clan, but one person at a library finally told her about Lasco’s pamphlet and she found out where he lived several miles away and went and talked to him.
= So Doris hunted around and looked up census records and found Ellen who had the same surname as some of William’s siblings in some of the census records, and the details of her life seemed to be more or less consistent with her having moved out of the Pool “swamp” and actually married (one at a time) the fathers of a couple of her multi-surnamed children.
= So nobody KNOWS anything, not even the first name of either the “mysterious Irishman” or the “Indian squaw.” It’s still a big mystery. But my sister was quite intrigued so she didn’t quit until she found a THEORY that seems to kinda fit what little we know.
= “The Irishman” was in Towanda in early 1819 (had to be if he was the father of William born later that year). His last name was presumably Bray because that’s how William spelled it until he later changed it to Brey. He might have had a very close, committed relationship with William’s mother for several years (or even married her, but nobody has located any evidence of this) — or on the other hand, he might have met her one evening in a bar and never saw her after the next morning when he left her pregnant — or anything in between. Anyway, she had other children whose surnames were NOT Bray: Anthony Johnson in 1814 before William, and others after William in 1822 etc, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone surnamed Bray in the 1820 census at Towanda, so if there was a commitment in 1819 when William was conceived it apparently didn’t last long after that.
= And there WAS this person named Ellen who appears in several Census records for Towanda, with surnames that match some of the children in the Family Bible, so IT’S POSSIBLE that Doris has “found” William’s mother. Or not. But maybe more reasonable than some of the UFO stories that some people like to believe in.
= I’m not sure this helps, but it’s about the best I can do.

 

(Summary by Loren Meissner, 2002)

Loretta's maternal grandfather, William Brey (originally Bray), wrote in his Family Bible his own name and those of his brothers and sisters: “Anthony Johnson, born 1814; William Bray, born 1819, Towanda PA; Mary Ann Clark, born 1822; Elizabeth Clark, born 1823; John Robinson, born 1828.” Armed with this scant evidence, along with the family tradition (probably originating from William himself) that “William’s father was a red-haired Irishman and his mother was one-quarter Indian,”  Doris Klock started searching for clues in and around Towanda PA. She found traces of a group of Indians and part-Indians who had migrated from the Mohawk Valley in New York to the Towanda area soon after the American Revolution. They were treated as outcasts, and even today many historians and genealogists in the Towanda area pretend they never existed.

The Red-Haired Irishman, the Indian Squaw, and Dr. William Bray --
Has the Mystery Been Solved?

By Doris Meissner Klock

Version 1

When I was a little girl, my Grandfather (Adolph Meissner) told me that my great-great-grandfather was Dr. William Brey, the son of a red-haired Irishman and an Indian squaw. (Another family story says that she was one-quarter Indian.) Grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and cousins have been intrigued by this story. Who were William Brey’s parents, this ruddy Irish fellow and this Indian maiden? Where did they come from?

Family historians, descendants of William Brey, are beginning to find a few of the answers. The story that is slowly emerging is a sad one — of American Indians at the mercy of the White Man; of half-breeds scorned both by Indians and by whites. Yet it is also a story of determination, and of the triumph of a human spirit — the story of William’s half-breed mother. We, her descendants, are testimony to her dreams.

The most important source of information is William Brey’s family Bible, which is now in the possession of Mrs. Perle Brey of Sparta, Wisconsin. The Bible does not give the names of William’s parents , but from the list of his half brothers and sisters — five children with four different surnames, born over a period of 14 years — we can already deduce something of the life of William Brey’s mother:

“Anthony Johnson, born 1814
William Bray, born 1819,Towanda PA
Mary Ann Clark, born 1822
Elizabeth Clark, born 1823
John Robinson, born 1828”

William was born in Towanda PA: that was a clue worth pursuing. I found the people of Towanda, even at the Historical Society, reluctant to talk about the half-breed tribe that has lived for many years on the outskirts of their town. But they didn’t mind directing me to a library in a town some miles away, where I found a pamphlet describing the history of the tribe. [The Pool Tribe of Bradford County, by George Lasco, 400 Main, Athens PA (1987)]

These people, although despised by town society, were themselves mostly descendants of two European aristocrats and of several high-born women from the Mohawk Indian tribe. The pamphlet confirms that among their Indian ancestors were some beautiful and intelligent women, as well as a chief of the Mohawks.

The story begins in 1735. Sir William Johnson, of the English gentry who had settled in Ireland, was sent by his uncle to develop lands along the Mohawk River in New York. There he made his home and established the town of Johnstown. He began trading with the Mohawk Indians and became influential and rich. Molly Brant, sister of Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, became his wife and bore him several children. He also brought to his estate many of the young Mohawk women, who bore him altogether more than 100 children. Johnson was firmly loyal to the English throne, which made him a thorn to the settlers of the valley in those times just before the American Revolution. He was rich, proud, antagonistic, and self-willed. Alas, he died in 1774 at the age of 66 (?).

His son and heir, Sir John Johnson, came to America, took over the estate, and expelled all of the Indians. They did not return to the tribe; instead, they set up their own camps on the rivers to the west and south.

A look at a map of New York reveals several river valleys that link the Mohawk river in New York with the Susquehanna farther south. Along these arteries the outcasts made their way to Towanda, Pennsylvania. Molly Brant’s beautiful daughter Elizabeth joined the others there, along with her children and her Dutch husband Anthony Vanderpool who had been forced to leave his aristocratic family when he married Elizabeth. Also joining the colony were various frontiersmen with their Indian wives and children. These became the “Pools,” a clan of half-breeds on the fringe of the town and of society.

A maid named Ellen was born into the clan a few years before 1800. We can never be sure, but she was likely the granddaughter of Sir William Johnson. (Intermarriage was common within the clan, and they kept few records. But most of the older tribe members were Sir William’s sons and daughters, so almost any child born into the tribe in those years would have been his grandchild.)

The first name on the list in the Brey family Bible is that of Anthony Johnson, born in 1814. This name gives important evidence as to who the mother was. Both Anthony and Johnson were names common among members of the tribe, and not likely to be used by any of the local people who despised them. In the 1820 census record for Towanda PA we find Ellen Johnson with a six-year-old son, an older daughter, and a younger son. Unfortunately, the children’s names are not given in the census record, but without contradicting the facts we can assume that the six year old was the Anthony of the Brey family Bible, that the baby was William, and that the daughter died (or for some other reason was forgotten) before the list in family Bible was recorded. On this assumption, Ellen was still part of the tribe when Anthony was born, and Anthony’s father was probably also a descendant of Sir William.

As to the first name of William’s father, I do not have a clue. The only sure facts are that his last name was Bray and that he came from Ireland. And, of course, that he had red hair — according to family tradition, at least. William later changed the spelling of his last name from Bray to Brey.

William’s mother and father apparently didn’t live together very long, and perhaps were never married. Ellen is not listed as Bray in the 1820 census, only a year after William’s birth. Only about three years after William’s birth, according to the family Bible, his mother had a daughter named Mary Ann Clark. Mary Ann’s father was probably Ebenezer Clark, the son of a local settler. She soon had another daughter, Elizabeth Clark, and in 1828 a son named John Robinson, whose father was probably George, an eccentric fellow. Since none of these are Pool clan names, she must have left the clan permanently after William was born. Census records seem to confirm that Ellen lived in the white community. She raised her children and sent them to school along with the white settlers.

William moved to Illinois as a young man, and married Samantha Andrus in 1842. He became a farmer, a Civil War veteran, a doctor (in the 1800s sense of the word), and an amateur poet. Seven of his 12 children grew to adulthood.

Samantha was a pioneer homemaker of excellence, and a great cook. She made straw hats, and spun her own yarn from the wool of the sheep on their farm. She kept the home, made the clothes, and raised the children, often in a log cabin. She was the queen around whom the family swarmed.

Be proud to be a descendant of the red-haired Irishman, and of the Indian squaw who had a dream for her children and who helped her son William move from a despised clan into the mainstream of American life.

Version 2

The Indian mother of a child with an Irish name like William Bray, born in a frontier town, is sure to be a source of some speculation. Who was William Bray’s mother - what was her name? Is she the Ellen Robinson in the1830 and 1840 census records from Towanda PA? Can we ever be sure? What is surprising is that we know as much about her as we do.

My grandfather told me that William’s father was a red-haired Irishman and that his mother was an Indian squaw. These facts have not been substantiated by birth and marriage certificates, which probably do not exist. But other records do exist, including the Brey family Bible and census records from Towanda, PA. In the 1830 census, William reported that his father was born in Ireland.

It appears that William’s mother was herself a half-breed, born in a colony of mixed blood whose members were unwelcome both in Indian society and in white society. From William’s records we learn of her children. From what we now know of her history, we see that she and her children managed, in the best way she knew, to break out of the stigma, the poverty, and the hopelessness of belonging to a half-breed settlement.

Part of the story we seek can be found in the history of the Mohawk River valley in New York, of the Susquehanna river valley of Pennsylvania, and — in particular — of the town of Towanda PA.

Before the American Revolution, the entire Mohawk valley was forested. It was inhabited by Indians who traveled on the rivers and hunted in the forests. The Mohawk tribe, part of the Iroquois nation, was led by Chief Joseph Brant.

Among the early white settlers in the Mohawk River valley was Sir William Johnson, a wealthy Irishman who was flamboyant, pushy, and indiscreet. He settled near present day Johnstown, New York (about 30 miles west of Albany), made friends with Chief Joseph Brant, and bought a large tract of forest land from him. Sir William married the Chief’s sister, Molly Brant, who bore him eight children. He also brought many other Indian women to his plantation where they lived and bore him sons and daughters.

Unfortunately for his large family, when Sir William died (in 1774), his son John came to America, took over the estate, and expelled all the Indian women and their children. Molly Brant’s children went to Canada, according to one source. She had a beautiful daughter, Elizabeth Johnson, who married Anthony Vanderpool, son of a Dutch immigrant family of some influence. They too were forced to leave his home settlement. The Mohawk women and their children moved southward, and Vanderpool with his family joined them. They became a large part of the clan that settled in Towanda PA.

Along the Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania is a region with high bluffs west of the river. The Sugar River joins at this point, about 15 miles south of the New York border. Nestled under the bluffs and climbing their lower slopes lies the town of Towanda. It was settled by early pioneers and traders, and was a stopover for men coming northward up the Susquehanna from Pennsylvania or westward from the Hudson River valley of New York. This area is still forested, with trails running from village to village and from farmstead to trading post. The trails are now paved roads and the settlement is not as sparse as in the days after the Revolution. But the area is still well off the beaten track, with kindly people busily and quietly going about their daily lives.

The remaining descendants of those early half-breeds still live in the lower end of Towanda, on the flats along the river near the fork. They are separated in culture and society from the rest of the city folk, who refer to them as the Pools when they mention them at all. (Even in the Historical Society library in Towanda, I was told that few Indians had ever lived in that area. I was gently referred to another library several miles away, where I found the story of the “Pools.” The name seems to be derived from Vanderpool. See The Pool Tribe of Bradford County, by George Lasco, 400 Main, Athens PA [1987])

Nowadays, any member of the clan with the least bit of ambition moves out and away from the settlement. Those who remain usually intermarry, and are considered shiftless and of lower morals and intelligence by the townspeople.

One granddaughter (probably) of Sir William was Ellen, born a few years before 1800. She lived in Towanda for many years, and her name (Ellen Robinson, by a later marriage) appears in several census lists beginning with 1820. Although this may be hard to prove, she is the most likely candidate for the role of William Brey’s mother. As a young girl, Ellen grew up with the clan, with the women and their children, and with some wilderness men who lived among them and had Indian wives. While she was with the clan, in 1814, she had a son named Anthony Johnson. Then, in 1818, Ellen’s life made a sudden change.

Although we know very few of the details, we can let imagination fill in. Up the Susquehanna River, on a raft poled by strong young men, came a young Irish adventurer with a long mane of red hair and a bushy red beard. He had fled Ireland and was on his way to find a new life in the young West that was opening up between the Atlantic coast land and the Mississippi river valley. His name was Bray. (The change to Brey came later.)

How did they meet? Perhaps Ellen was hanging around the trading post, hoping to attract a young stranger. Or she may have been washing clothes or picking berries along the river bank. Was she irresistibly beautiful, or did she only seem so to the Irishman - lonely and perhaps a bit overcome by drink? Did he go home with Ellen or she with him - or did they spend only one magic night together in the forest, along the river, or in a local rooming house? Were they swept off their feet with passion? Or did one or both sense an opportunity they had been waiting for?

So much for imagination. All we really know is that he was Irish and that his name was Bray. We don’t even know his first name. We don’t know how much time Ellen spent with him, but it was long enough for her to learn his name and to conceive a child, William.

Ellen never returned permanently to the clan. By 1820, she was living in the white community. Within the next three years she had two daughters named Mary Ann and Elizabeth Clark. Presumably the father of these two girls was Ebenezer Clark, a local family member who moved away after a few years. In 1828, Ellen bore a son named John Robinson, whose father was George Robinson, a strange character who lived on the fringe of the town. At the time of the 1830 census, George had a wife and a house full of children. Later, Ellen lived with a daughter named Mary Jane Robinson, and she may have had at least one more daughter by George.

I have found no actual proof that the Ellen Johnson (later Robinson) of the Towanda census records was actually the wife of the red-haired Irishman and the mother of William Brey. However, several of the names and dates in the 1820, 1830, and 1840 census records agree with those in the Brey family Bible. The Bible lists William Bray as one of 5 children: Anthony Johnson (b. 1814), William Bray (b. 1819, Towanda PA), Mary Ann Clark (b. 1822), Elizabeth Clark (b. 1823, d. 1844), and John Robinson (b. 1828). It may be noted that the names Anthony and Johnson were very common in the half-breed Pool clan and would probably not have been used by anyone else in the Towanda area.

I believe that William and all of his brothers and sisters went to local schools with the white settlers, but that they also learned some of the Indian ways of their mother: the use of herbs, the nearness of the spirit world, the love of nature, and — above all — to be proud and to make the most they could of themselves in life.

By 1840, William and his brothers had left Towanda. We know almost nothing further of the others. William later called himself a doctor. At some point, he changed the spelling of his name from Bray to Brey. In 1842, William married Samantha Andrus.

Edited 1993 by Loren P. Meissner; 2 Kerr Ave.; Kensington CA 94707

 

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