The Griffis Surname and the Family from Huntington, New York: Part Two

This second part of a four part story will provide a narrative of my discovery process of tracing the Griffis surname for the Griffis Family that originated from Huntington, Long Island back from William James Griffis, who fought in the Civil War, to William Griffis in Huntington, New York. For this part of the story, I am focused on tracing the existence of Griffis surname backwards from the mid 19th century to the 18th century.

Surname Lineage for Griffis family in America

As indicated in part one of this story, I was able to push our knowledge of the Griffis surname back an additional three generations from our Civil War veteran, William James Griffis, through his father Joel Griffis, and through his grandfather Daniel Griffis.

“Although it is well known that the majority of the surnames held by Welsh people are of patronymic origin and that relatively few such names are in use by a high proportion of the the population … (t)here is no reason why those researching Welsh families should not share the universal fascination with surnames, though – as with all genealogical research – we must accept that the history of a name does not always throw light on the history of an individual family. For the latter, nothing can replace working systematically backwards, proving links all the way.” [1]

While I do provide a picture of what this Griffis family looks like through time, I also try to provide the reader with a path of discovery that I went through discovering bits and pieces of information and encountering dead ends. The story also provides the frustration one experiences when trying to reconstruct a family tree. Sometimes this does not happen and you are left with unsolved pieces of the puzzle. It is a messy process but in the end, more information is discovered, promising leads are either validated or proven false and a better picture of the past is gained. There is always the possibility of discovering new facts and sources of information to make our view of the family clearer.

While I am able to establish connections between Harold Griffis, his father Charles, his grandfather William, his great grandfather Joel and his great great grandfather Daniel, and his great great great grandfather William, not much is known of the family of Daniel Griffis. Current research points to his having four sons and an unknown daughter. There is strong evidence that Joel Griffis and William Gates Griffis were two of his sons.


A number of facts pertaining to (1) Daniel Griffis; (2) his older brother Nathaniel Griffes (he spelled the surname differently); (3) Daniel’s son William G. Griffis; (4) Daniel and Nathaniel’s uncle Stephen Gates and his son Stephen Gates Jr. and grandsons; and Stephen Griffith (An older brother of Nathaniel and Daniel) who married a Gates cousin appear to provide supporting evidence of a family connection with the Griffis Mayfield families and the William Griffis Family in Huntington, New York:

  • A family manuscript, the “Peets-Welsh manuscript”, and a manuscript by Martha K Hall, Griffith Genealogy: Wales, Flushing, Huntington, referenced in part one of this story, indicate that Daniel was a son of William Griffis and Abiah (Gates) Griffis and was born April 1, 1777 in Huntington, Suffolk county, Long Island. Both manuscripts also list the twelve children of William and Abiah Gates Griffis. One of Daniel’s brothers was Nathaniel Griffes. The manuscripts lack specific documentation on facts pertaining to the family but provide an initial starting point to corroborate the family trees that are depicted in the manuscripts.

See an earlier story on a great grandson of Nathaniel Griffes.

Charles Griffes
Charles Tomlinson Griffes
  • A family manuscript, the “Peets-Welsh manuscript”, and a manuscript by Martha K Hall, Griffith Genealogy: Wales, Flushing, Huntington, referenced in part one of this story, indicate that Daniel was a son of William Griffis and Abiah (Gates) Griffis and was born April 1, 1777 in Huntington, Suffolk county, Long Island. Both manuscripts also list the twelve children of William and Abiah Gates Griffis. One of Daniel’s brothers was Nathaniel Griffes, spelled ‘Griffith’ in the manuscripts.
  • A review of the Federal and New York state census from 1810 through 1855 indicate that Daniel Griffis had six children: four sons and two daughters. Joel Griffis (1807) and William Gates Griffis (1807) were two of the three sons. The two other sons are not known. The two names of the daughters are Ruth and Sally.
  • An Ensign (Ensinger) Griffis is found in various United States census in Mayfield and the Schenectady area. Based on the Will of Nathaniel Griffes, it is assumed he is his son.
  • In the 1855 New York state census, Daniel Griffis reported that he was born in Suffolk County in 1776, based on a reported age of 79. This is where William Griffis and Abiah Gates Griffis lived. In the same 1850 census, Daniel indicated he lived in Mayfield for 20 years. 
  • In the same 1855 census for the small town of Mayfield, New York, William G. Griffis and Joel Griffis indicate that they both were born in Albany county and had lived in the Mayfield, New York area for 20 years. This implies that Daniel, William and Joel moved to Mayfield about 1835 from the Albany-Schenectady area. 
  • William Griffis’ headstone in the Mayfield Riceville cemetery indicates his middle initial was “G”. I believe the “G” stood for Gates, a reference to his grandmother’s maiden name.
  • The 1820 Federal Census for Niskayuna, Schenectady County, lists three ‘Griffies’ families in close proximity based on the census taker’s enumeration path. They were virtually next door neighbors. It is assumed the census enumerator misspelled their names. In addition, between two of the the ‘Griffies’ households, one headed by Daniel and another headed by Nathaniel, is a household headed by Steven Gates. Steven Gates (b. 1750 d. 1837) was Abiah Gates’ brother. Stephen Gates is Daniel and Nathaniel’s maternal uncle. Stephen Gates is found living in this area in the Federal Census in 1790 through 1830. There is also a household one house away from Nathaniel’s that is headed by an Ensign Griffies.
  • The five families (households of Nathaniel Griffies, Daniel Griffis, Stephen Gates, Stephen’s son also named Stephen Gates, and Ensign Griffis) lived close to each other in the Niskayuna, Schenectady area in the early 1800’s. The snapshots of the census reveal an older Gates family, headed by Stephen Gates, surrounded by younger Griffis families and one of Stephen’s son, Stephen Gates. Nathaniel Griffes was about midway in age between Stephen Gates and his sons, Stephen Gates and Daniel W. Gates.
  • The younger Stephen Gates named a son in honor of Nathaniel: Nathaniel Griffes Gates. Nathaniel Griffes named another son of Stephen Gates, Daniel W. Gates, as one of his executors of his will.
  • Stephen Griffith, one of Nathaniel and Daniel’s older brothers, married Anna Ruland, who was a maternal first cousin. Anna Ruland’s mother was Naomi Gates, sister of Abiah Gates.
  • The connections between Nathaniel Griffes, Stephen Gates, and Daniel Gates were obviously based on mutual trust and affection between family members. Both families have many of their respective descendants buried in the Vale cemetery in Schenectady, New York.

The Griffis(es) and Gates Families of Niscayuna and Mayfield New York

Family of Daniel Griffis

The path of discovery associated with reconstructing the Griffis(es) family was full of fits and starts, dead ends, recent discoveries, and continued unanswered questions. The following represent the family trees of the key families that can be traced back to William Griffis(th) who lived in Huntington, Long Island in the 1700’s.

Based on a review of available historical records, Daniel Griffis, the great grand father of Harold Griffis, had four sons and two daughters. Two sons are not known but documented in the household in U.S. censuses.

It appears that Daniel had one older son and three sons that were closer in age. He had a daughter, Ruth, that was born close in age to the oldest son and a younger daughter that was born when the rest of the siblings were older. See the family tree below (click the image for larger view).

The family of Daniel Griffis, click for larger view.

One of the two sons of Daniel Griffis that can be identified is William G. Griffis (1805 – 1860) William had four children. The oldest was William James Griffis (1852 – 1940). See family tree below (click on image for larger view).

The Family of William G. Griffis, click for larger view.

William J. Griffis had a large family of nine children. His three oldest children, Florence (4 years old), Annie (age 2) and Carrie ( less then 1), tragically died of an illness, possibly Cholera. [2] His fourth oldest, George William Griffis (1872 – 1960), had one child, Edith Mae Griffis. George’s wife, Nora Irene Dodge (1901 – 1950), died in 1932. A widower, George married his second cousin’s wife who was a widow, Ida Mae Sperber Griffis. Ida originally married Charles Arther Griffis (1877- 1926) who was the father of Harold Griffis. Hence, an interesting connection between the family lines of William G Griffis and Joel Griffis.

The other son of Daniel Griffis, Joel Griffis (1807 – 1882), had seven children with his first wife who died in 1850. He married a second time and had four additional children. In his first family, he had four sons and three daughters. One of the sons, William James Griffis (1843 – 1908), is the father of Charles Griffis and the grandfather of Harold Griffis.

Family List of the Family of Joel Griffis

As indicated in the first part of this story, Daniel Griffis had 11 siblings. One of Daniel’s brothers was Nathaniel Griffes. While his name was spelled differently in various sources, Nathaniel’s grave and Will have his surname spelled as ‘Griffes’. Nathaniel Griffes was the sixth child of William Griffis. Nathaniel spent most of his life in the Schenectady, Niscayuna, Watervliet area of New York. In the early years of his life, Daniel Griffis also spent time in this area near his brother and their uncle Stephen Gates.

The following is a depiction of the family tree for Nathaniel Griffes (click image for larger view).

Family tree of Nathaniel Griffis, click for larger view.

The following is a list of individuals in Nathaniel’s family.

List of individuals that are part of Nathaniel Griffes’ family.

Another important family that provides additional corroborating documentation of the linkage between Daniel Griffis and his father William Griffis is the Gates family. Nathaniel and Daniels’ mother, Abiah Gates had seven siblings. See the family tree below (click on image for larger view). Two of those siblings provide corroborating evidence of the ties between the two families. Abiah’s younger sister, Naomi Gates, married John Ruland. They had nine children, the seventh child Nancy (Anna) Ruland married Nathaniel and Daniel’s brother Stephen Griffith. The other is Stephen Gates Junior, the youngest of the eight siblings. After fighting in the revolutionary war, Stephen settled in the Niscayuna, New York area and lived the remainder of this life in the area.

The Gates Family, click for larger view.This reflects Abiah Gates and Stephen Gates as brother and sister.

During the 1820’s and 1830’s, the families of Daniel Griffis, Nathaniel Griffes, Ensign Griffis, Stephen Gates Junior lived close to each other. In addition, Stephen Gates’ sons Stephen and Daniel W. Gates were close family friends to Nathaniel Griffes. The following family tree depicts the family of Stephen Gates and his brothers and sisters (click on image for larger view).

The family of Stephen Gates Jr. and his siblings, click for larger view.

Tracing Back to William Griffis in Huntington, New York

My path to discovering William Griffis(th) of Huntington, New York started in the small town of Mayfield, New York. Our family had the original copy of the one page discharge paper for William James Griffis from the Civil War (image below). The one page document indicated that he was born in Mayfield, New York. He was purportedly 19 years old at the time of his discharge which implied he was born around 1846.

The Civil War discharge paper of William J Griffis, indicating his place of birth as Mayfield, New York. Click for larger view.

The land that is now the town of Mayfield was part of the Mayfield Patent of 1770. The town was established in 1793 from the town of Caughnawaga in Montgomery County before the formation of Fulton County in 1838. It was one of the first three such towns formed in the county. [3] [4]

Map of Fulton County, New York : from actual surveys
1856 Map of Fulton County. Click for larger view. [5]

My subsequent research on William J Griffis revealed he may have been 22 when he was discharged from the war. William mustered into service in Johnstown, New York, a short distance to the west of Mayfield, October 17, 1862 for the ‘standard’ three year enlistment term in the New York 153rd Infantry Volunteers, Company “A”. His age was listed as 19 in 1862 (Image 2 below). If he was 19 at the time of his discharge, he would have been 16 at the time of his enlistment. Correlating information from military and pension files, William’s birth date was March 14, 1843. William as actually 19 at the time he enlisted. [6]

Image 2: New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900 Click for larger view.

Based on researching local New York county records, the original New York Census [7] and reviewing Federal census documents, I was able to locate four Griffis families that lived in the Mayfield / Broadalbin, New York area starting in the 1840’s through the turn of the 18th century and onward. The heads of the four family households were Daniel Griffis, William Griffis, Joel Griffis and Ensinger Griffis. Depending on the year and type of census, these four individuals were reported in various family settings as described below.

In the 1855 New York State Census (table one below), I was able to locate William in the household of Daniel Griffis.

Given the small size of Mayfield, it is highly likely that these four Griffis families were related. I had no direct corroboration but it gave me promising leads and, to date, unanswered questions about the exact configurations of each of the respective families over time. As stated in part one of this story, the Griffis name was an unusual spelling of the Griff(ith)(ths)(in)(ing)(ies) surname. I figured, based on corroborating information, they might be part of the same extended family.

Mayfield population, source U.S. Decennial census

In 1850 the following three farms were found in the Agricultural Non-Population census for the Broadalbin and Mayfield, New York areas. The farms were not on contiguous parcels of land. They were fairly sizable farms, ranging from 80 to 100 acres. It is not known if each of the Griffis men owned the land or were managing the land. Based on how the census taker made his rounds, William and Joel’s farms were closer to each other in Mayfield. Information on their farms were ostensibly one page apart in the census (the number of columns of information associated with the agricultural census took up two pages to record) and were taken respectively on July 18th and 19th, 1850. Daniel’s farm was a bit further off in Broadalbin. The information on his farm was found on page 223-224 and the census taker visited his farm on August 3rd, 1850. Evidently, the census taker missed capturing information on Ensinger Griffis’ farm in Broadalbin.

Ensinger (born 1797) appears in the 1850 census as head of a household along with his son Samuel Griffis (born 1821), Samuel’s wife Hannah Griffis (born 1825), and his grandson Henry Griffis (born 1857). The census lists the value of the real estate next to Ensinger’s name, who owned the farmland, at $1,200. [8] Given the similar value of his farm compared with farms of Daniel and Joel (above), it is conceivable he had a similar sized farm. Depending on the census, the households were located in Mayfield or Broadalbin, which is contiguous to and east of Mayfield.

Broadalbin was created from the towns of Johnstown and Mayfield in 1793, before Fulton County was formed. In 1799, part of Broadalbin was used to form the town of Northampton. Broadalbin lost the southern part of the town in 1842 to form Perth. When the Great Sacandaga Lake was created in 1930, some of the town’s land was covered with water, including the Sacondaga Vlaie, a broad expanse of marshy land.[9]

Burleigh, L. R. (Lucien R.); Burleigh Litho; Burleigh, L. R., Lithograph of Broadalbin from January 1880 printed by L.R. Burleigh with list of landmarks, Click for larger view.

Census Taking and Farm Households in the 1800’s

One must recognize and appreciate the act of taking a census when researching family history. From a simple behavioral viewpoint, the act of census taking is a social process similar to a salesperson knocking on a door. It involves an element of chance and the probability of getting answers, reliable answers. Presumably, census takers were known in their respective communities, increasing the likelihood of gaining acceptance and obtaining reliable information based on trust. It involves the dynamic of an individual moving up and down rural roads, knocking on doors, having people hopefully coming to the door or meeting the census taker on the farm property and receptively allowing the census taker to ask intrusive questions, taking precious time from the farmer to provide information to simple direct questions. The active process of census taking also brought to bear the issues of writing what one heard when asking questions and recording information in the best penmanship they have and hopefully accurately transcribing what they heard.

The decennial census has always required a large workforce to visit and collect data from households. Between 1790 to 1870, the duty of collecting census data fell upon the U.S. Marshals. A March 3, 1879 act replaced the U.S. Marshals with specially hired and trained census-takers to conduct the 1880 and subsequent censuses.

During the early censuses, U.S. Marshalls (sic) received little training or instruction on how to collect census data. In fact, it was not until 1830 that marshals even received printed schedules on which to record households’ responses. The marshalls (sic) often received limited instruction from the census acts passed prior to each census.[10]

While each census had their specific list of questions to be answered, its reference point was a domicile, a home, a farm. It descriptively chronicles who lived in that domicile without regard to family kinship. By virtue of the census being purely descriptive, it can provide puzzling results when one is viewing a house or farm through the lens of a perceived family structure. Sometimes things do not line up in terms of what one anticipates seeing in terms of family structure.

Coupled with the social process of census taking, viewing the composition of a given family in a rural community needs to be viewed in a social and historical context of what families faced as farmers in the 1800’s.

Family relationships in the farm have important implications on production decisions, such as the choice of crops, the organization of family labour and its allocation to different tasks, management of farm land and other assets, and questions of inheritance. …(T)he nature of the farm business cannot be understood without reference to the family that operates it. Factors such as number, age and gender composition of the household play an important role in labour divisions and management decisions. [11]

The composition of a farm household may change due to the economic demands of farm production and the ability of family members being able to work. As family members get older, a younger generation of family members may move from one home or farm to another to assume different roles of managing the farm. I believe that this happened with the Griffis families in the Mayfield area and the Griffis, Griffes, and Gates families in the Niscayuna area of New York state.

By visually scanning the rows of families tabulated in the census pages of the state and Federal censuses, you could trace the census takers route in documenting farms and homes within the town’s boundaries and determine the proximity of family members in separate households. In specific time periods, the Griffis families lived next to each other.

Each of the Federal and New York state censuses between 1830 and 1860 asked different questions and were taken at different time periods of the year. The New York state based census was taken in 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915, and 1925. The Federal census was taken every ten years, beginning in 1790 and onward. [12]

The information in the 1855 New York state based census is noteworthy. The information contained in the 1855 New York census helped with my tracing the Griffis families back from Mayfield to the Schenectady, New York area in the early 1800’s. It was the first to record the names of every individual in the household. It also asked about the relationship of each family member to the head of the household, something that was not asked in the federal census until 1880. The 1855 New York state census also provides the length of time that people had lived in their towns or cities as well as their state or country of origin—this is particularly helpful for tracing immigrant ancestors. If born in New York State, the county of birth was noted, which is helpful for tracing migration within New York State.

In the 1855 New York State census, the census enumerator documented that Daniel Griffis lived in Fulton country for 20 years and was born in Suffolk County around 1777 which corroborates information found in Griffith Family manuscripts on the Griffith(s) family from Huntington, New York. [13]

The Griffis Families in 1850’s

While the 1850 agricultural census listed three farms under the Griffis name, the 1855 census only lists two Griffis households in the Mayfield area. Comparing the census data between 1850 and 1855 perhaps reflects the impact of the changing age and composition of individuals in the respective households based on the demands of managing farms. As Daniel was getting on in age, his sons Joel and William assisted Daniel in managing his farm. Joel’s children assisted Daniel at one point in 1850. In 1855, it appears that William, his son, may have consolidated his farm with Daniel’s or moved onto Daniel’s farm to assist.

One of the two Griffis households in the New York state census for Mayfield in 1855 contained the following individuals and related information. [14]

Table 1: Household of Daniel Griffis 1855

NameAgeBirth YearRelationCounty of BirthYrs Resident
in Town
Daniel Griffis791776HeadSuffolk20
William Griffis431812SonAlbany20
Eliza Griffis261829Dau in LawFulton20
William James Griffis31852GrandchildFulton3
Jeremiah Griffis21853GrandchildFulton2
1855 New York Census

This is five years after the Federal agricultural census was taken. A lot can happen in five years. Table One reflects Daniel Griffis at almost 80 years old as the head of the household and his son, William, and his family residing with him. Daniel’s wife is not present. There is a grandson, William J Griffis, in the household but he is much younger than the Civil War veteran who would have been 12 at the time. Hence, there were two cousins named William James Griffis.

Nearly 80 years old, Daniel may have been involved with performing limited farm duties. He may also have had title to the land and therefore was considered as head of household. However, it would be logical to assume that William, his son, assumed the bulk of responsibilities in managing the farm.

Another Griffis household in the New York census of 1855 in Mayfield captured a snapshot of the household of Joel Griffis at a pivotal time in the life of his family (see Table Two). The census links William J. Griffis (born 1843) to his father, Joel Griffis, and to brothers and sisters. Joel’s wife is not present in the household.

There is a good chance that William Griffis, who is living with Daniel (Table One above) is Joel’s brother given the closeness of their ages. Also it is interesting to note that Daniel, his son William (Table One above), Eliza (William’s wife), Joel and Stephen (Joel’s son) all were resident’s in Mayfield for 20 years and were born in other counties which suggests that they moved from Albany County approximately in 1835. [15] Daniel the elder of the family was born in Suffolk county. [16]

Table 2: Household of Joel Griffis 1855

NameAgeBirth YearRelationCounty of BirthYrs Resident
in Town
Joel Griffis471808HeadAlbany20
Stephen Griffis211834ChildAlbany20
Joseph H Griffis191836ChildFulton19
Margaret M Griffis171838ChildFulton17
William J Griffis121843ChildFulton12
Ruth A Griffis91846ChildFulton9
1855 New York Census

Going back five years to 1850, we see a different picture. Reviewing the 1850 New York state Federal census in Mayfield revealed a puzzling composition for Daniel Griffis’ household. [17]

Table 3: Household of Daniel Griffis 1850

NameAgeBirth Year
Esther Griffis861764
Daniel Griffis731777
Sally Griffis241826
Stephen Griffis161834
Wm Griffis
1850 Federal Census

Daniel is still listed as the head of the household at the age of 73. He reported is birth year as 1777. There is an Esther Griffis, age 86 in the household. While is it possible on face value that this is Daniel’s wife, based on information in the 1840 Federal census (see below in the story), his wife would have been in her 60’s at this time. Daniel’s wife’s name is not known and presumably she died between 1840 and 1850. The 1850 state census did not list relation of family nor county of birth. Based on information in Griffith family manuscripts [18], Daniel had a sister named Esther who was born in 1773 and purportedly died in 1829. This Esther might have been his sister, if so, the Griffith manuscripts have an erroneous date of death for his sister.

What is equally puzzling are other Griffis family members listed in the household. There is a Sally Griffis (age 24) and Stephen Griffis (age 16) and a “Wm” Griffis with no age given.

Similar to the challenges of tracing female family members, Sally Griffis is an enigma. Prior to the twentieth century, it is typically difficult to locate and trace a woman. Most historical records have been created for and are about men, making it more challenging to research the women in a family. For example, property was usually listed under the man’s name, and men ran the majority of the businesses and controlled the government. Also, it was the man’s surname that was carried to the next generation by the children. In addition, few women left diaries or letters.[19]

Sally Griffis shows up only once in my research. I do not know who her parents are nor do I know if she got married. However, it appears that Sally was providing a helping hand in Daniel’s household. Based on the reporting of a census taker, we are given a ‘fact’ that she was born in 1826 and lived with Daniel Griffis along with Stephen Griffis in 1850. Sally could have been a daughter of Daniel. Daniel would have been been 49 when Sally was born. Sally could have possibly been a daughter of William if he was married before he married Eliza as a second wife. However, there is no evidence of this supposition. Another possibility is that Sally might have been a daughter of Joel Griffis. Joel would have been 18 when she was born. However, as indicated below, her birth would have been before he married his first wife, which could have happened but is unlikely. For the moment, I am assuming Sally was a daughter of Daniel Griffis.

The comparison of information related to Stephen Griffis (age 16) mentioned in Daniel’s household between the 1850 and 1855 New York census appear to corroborate that Stephen was a grandson, a son of Joel’s, and was living with his grandfather in 1850 to help on the farm and in 1855 returned to his father Joel’s household. The ‘Wm’ Griffis presumably is William Griffis, Daniel’s son. William’s son William James Griffis and son Jeremiah Griffis were born respectively in 1852 and 1853 (Table One) after the 1850 census.

The second Griffis family in the Federal census of 1950 reflects the household of Joel Griffis (see Table Four below). In 1855 (Table Two above) it appeared that Joel had five children with no wife listed: Stephen (born 1834), Joseph (b 1836), Margaret (b 1838), William (b 1843), and Ruth (1846).

The 1850 census revealed an older son Daniel (1832) who apparently left the household by 1855. the 1850 census also indicates the absence of a wife and the presence of another daughter Francis (born 1849). [20] It is believed that Francis passed away from a childhood illness since she is not found in the 1855 state census nor in the 1860 Federal census.

Table 4: Household of Joel Griffis 1850

NameAgeBirth Year
Joel Griffis421808
Daniel Griffis181832
Joseph Griffis141836
Margaret Griffis121838
Wm Griffis71843
Ruth Griffis51845
Francis Griffis11849
1850 United Stated Census, New York, Fulton County, Mayfield
Gravestone of Margery wife of Joel Griffis. Click for larger view.

A review of available records associated with grave sites in the area indicate that at the age of 39, Margery, Joel’s wife, passed away on May 1st in 1850 [21]. It is not known what was the cause of death. Her youngest child, Francis, was born in 1849.

It is important to note that the census taker compiled the information on Joel’s house on July 17th, 1850. At that time, Joel, a recent widower of less than two months, undoubtably had his hands full with a household of six children ranging from Daniel at 18 to Francis at one year of age. All but Stephen were living with Joel.  Stephen, at the age of 16, was living with his uncle William and grandfather. In the next five years before the 1855 census was taken, it appears that young Francis passed away.

Joel and Margery were married in Watervliet, New York in 1831. [22] This is consistent with the census reporting that Joel migrated from Schenectady /Albany County area to Fulton county around 1835. Also Joel and Margery had two sons prior to their move to Mayfield.

Before Margery passed away at the young age of 39, they had seven children: four sons and two daughters. Daniel was the oldest (born 1832), followed by Stephen (1834), Joseph H. (1836), Margaret Mary (1838), William James (1843), Ruth Addie (1845) and Francis (1850). Based on the birth locations of the children, it appears the family moved from the Schenectady, New York area to Mayfield, New York around 1835. This is based on statements to the census enumerator that they lived in Fulton county for 20 years in 1855. The two older sons were born in the Watervliet – Albany New York area while the remaining children were born in Fulton County where Mayfield is located. It appears that Joel and Margery along with other Griffis family members, notably his father Daniel Griffis (1777 – ), and brother William Griffis (1805- 1860) migrated westward from the Albany Schenectady area to the rural areas of Mayfield in 1835 to live life initially as farmers.

Joel Griffis married Anna Marie Ostrom after Margery Gillespie Griffis’ death, sometime before the birth of his eighth child, Mary Griffis, in 1856. Joel had three additional children with Marie. [23]

Although we are primarily tracing Daniel Griffis backward through various Federal and state census documents for the purpose of tracing the family surname, two other pieces of information are pertinent for tracing and linking the family surname. William Griffis died December 19, 1860 and was 56 years old. He was buried in the same cemetery as Joel’s wife Margery in Rice Cemetery, in Mayfield. [24] While the census documents did not indicate his date of birth, the headstone for William Griffis provides documentation of an approximate birth. In addition it provides his middle initial “G”. This is a corroborating clue of William’s connection to William and Abiah (Gates) Griffis. As indicated in the first part of the story, Gates is the surname of Daniel’s mother. I believe the middle name of William G. Griffis, who died in 1860, was Gates.

Headstone for William G Griffis, Riceville Cemetery, Mayfield, New York.

It is not absolutely certain that Joel and William are brothers. They could possibly be cousins. I am willing to hedge a bet that they were indeed brothers. If William was born around 1805, Joel was born around 1807, they conceivably could be brothers. Their proximity to each other in the Mayfield Broadalbin area, their help in managing farms in the 1850’s, and their collectively movement to Fulton county in the mid 1830’s also lends credence to their being siblings. In addition, Joel along with William’s wife Eliza, were executors in the probate process of William G. Griffis’ will when he died. [25]

The Griffis(es) families in the 1840’s: A Period of Change

The ability to trace family members in Federal and New York state census documents prior to the 1855 face an inherent challenge. While the New York state census provided more detailed information than the Federal census, the first three state censuses for New York (1825, 1835, and 1845) are difficult to access and largely unavailable online. Most records have been lost due to a 1911 fire in the Albany state capital. County clerks maintained duplicate copies for their counties and in some cases counties maintained copies of records from these first three censuses. Prior to 1880, the Federal census only recorded the name of the head of household. Individual members of a given household were counted in ordinal age categories (e.g. male aged 10 – 14, etc.).

I was able to rely on New York state census material in the 1850’s to locate individuals in the Griffis(es) family. However, working backward in time in the 1840’s, 1830’s, 1820’s, 1810’s, 1800’s and 1790’s, I was limited by finding heads of households and age group categories that changed every ten years. If one knew the birth dates of given family members from other sources, then one could compare the age distribution of family members within a given household to determine if specific individuals reflected the distribution of individuals within specific age group categories in a given census. [26]

Based on the recent addition of digital land and property records from the New York Land Office and county courthouses [26a], The records include land grants, patents, deeds, and mortgages. This collection includes all counties except Franklin, Nassau, and Queens. A land assessment record was discovered that indicated Daniel Griffis acquired Land from Alexander M. McKinley on January 1, 1837 in Fulton County, New York. [26b] The land he acquired was in East Kingsboro, and consisted of two parcels: 238 and 247. We now know that Daniel owned land in Fulton in 1837. In 1841 Daniel transferred a parcel of land to his son William G. Griffis. [26c] It is interesting to note that on the same page of the Index to Deeds, it is recorded that the wife of Stephen Griffis transferred two parcels of land to Jedediah Robersons on February 6 1857 and Feb 16, 1858.

Based on a review of 1840 Federal census information, Daniel and his sons Joel and William moved away from the Schenectady, New York area and were living in Fulton County, New York. Ensign Griffes moved away to Carlton and is found in Saratoga County. Daniel’s older brother Nathaniel and his family as well as their maternal uncle’s family (Stephen Gates) continue to reside in Niscayuna, Schenectady county.

The following table summarizes the configuration of each household of Griffis(es) families based on the age group distributions found in the 1840 census. I have attempted to place names of known ancestors in various census categories. As you can see from reviewing the information in Table 5, there are a few inconsistencies.

Table 5: 1840 United States Census and Griffis(es) Households

Head of HouseholdAge CategoryNo.Location
Nathaniel GriffesMale 5-9
(Nathaniel 7
son of Stephen Griffes?)
1Niscayuna, Schenectady, NY
Male 30-39
(son Stephen?)
Male 70-79
(Nathaniel Griffes)
Female 20-29
(Stephen’s wife Mary Witney?)
Female 60-69
(Esther Griffes)
Stephen Griffes?Male < 5
(William 5, James 1)
Male 20-29
(Stephen Griffes would have been 35)
Female 5-9
(Julia was born after 1826)
Female 20-29
(Stephen’s wife Mary Witney)
Ensign GriffisMale 15-19
(son Samuel)
1Charlton, Saratoga, NY
Make 40-49
Female 15-19
(unknown daughter)
Female 40-49
(Ensigns Wife)
Daniel GriffisMale 30-39
(son William)
1Mayfield, Fulton, NY
Male 60-69
Female 20-29
(unknown possibly a wife of son and a daughter)
Female 50-59
(Daniel’s wife)
Joel GriffisMale < 5
(son Joseph Griffis)
1Mayfield, Fulton, NY
Male 5-9
(sons Daniel Griffis
& Stephen Griffis)
Male 30-39
Female < 5
(daughter Margaret)
Female 30-39
(Joel’s wife)

In the Federal 1840 census, Joel and Margery’s family of six had four individuals engaged in agricultural work. There was one male under 5 (Joseph), two males 5 through 9 (Daniel and Stephen) and another male 30-39 (Joel)in the household. There was one female under 5 (daughter Margaret), 1 female between the ages of 20-29 (Margerie his first wife).  [27]

1840 United States Census Household of Joel Griffis, Click for larger view

Daniel Griffis is also found in the 1840 Federal Census in Mayfield. His household had five individuals, all were reported as being employed in agriculture. The household had one male between the ages of 30-40 (presumably William Griffis), a male between the ages of 60-70 (presumably Daniel), two females between the ages of 20-30 (not certain as to who they are which again raises the issue regarding Sally Griffis), and a female between the age of 50-60 (presumably Daniel’s wife). [28] It appears that William Griffis lived with his father on and off between 1840 and 1855. Without access to land ownership records, it is difficult to tease out the specific relationships between father and son and the management of the farms in Fulton county.

1840 United States Census Household of Daniel Griffis, Click for larger view.

While Daniel and his family were residing in Fulton county, New York, his older brother Nathaniel and his family were in Niskayuna, Schenectady county. Nathaniel Griffes was 72 in 1840. The 1840 Federal Census lists a Nathaniel Griffes who was between the ages of 70-79. Within his household a female between the ages or 60-69 (his wife Esther, yes another Esther born 1778), a male between 30-39 (his son Stephen) and a female between 20-29 ( possibly his daughter Julia Griffes born 1815). [29]

The household documented next to Nathaniel’s, identified as the household of Stephen Griffes, does not reflect what would be the family configuration of his family in 1840.  The census enumerator has recorded Stephen’s household as having two males under 5 (Stephen did not have two sons at that age in 1840), a female between 5-9 (Stephen’s daughter was born after 1840), and a male and female between 20-29 (Stephen and his wife Mary would have been in her 30’s). would be expected . Stephen was just starting his family. He and his wife (Mary Whiteney) and their first of three children, James A Griffes (born 1839) lived with or either next to his father. [30]

1840 United States Census Household of Nathaniel Griffes and Stephen Griffis, click for larger view.

In addition to the Griffes families in Niscayuna, Ensign Griffis and his wife and son (aged 15-19) and two daughters (aged 20-29) resided in Saratoga county. [31]

1840 United states Census Household of Ensign Griffis, click for larger view.

A review of local newspapers in Schenectady County revealed a marriage announcement for Esther Griffis. Esther was one of Nathaniel’s daughters. She married Gideon Wilber on 5 October 1843.

Source: The reflector and Schenectady Democrat., October 13, 1843, Page 3, Persistent Link ; also: Schenectady reflector. October 13, 1843, Page 3 Persistent Link

A “Hector N Griffis” and William A. Gates are also mentioned in the local newspaper on November 1843 as having mail left at the local post office. I have no idea who is Hector Griffis! This is a simple declarative sentence but it reflects ‘a few hours’ of research that carries a heavy weight because I have researched this name and I come up with nothing.

Source: The reflector and Schenectady Democrat., November 10, 1843, Page 3Persistent Link

Nathaniel Griffes and family were members of the Dutch Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York. The church records indicate that Nathaniel Griffes and his wife Mary Ann Griffes, and Mary Esther Griffes became a members in 30 October 1834. The three are listed again as being received into the church on 1 November 1842. Nathaniel’s son James A. Griffis was received into the church congregation on 6 June 1853. His wife was received by ‘confession’ on 4 June 1869.

Click for larger view of left had photo | Click for larger view of right hand photo.

Griff(es)(is) family and Gates Family Households in Niscayuna and Watervliet: A Close Connection Between Families

The Town of Niskayuna, New York was created on March 7, 1809 from the town of Watervliet, with an initial population of 681. The name of town was derived from early patents to Dutch settlers: Nis-ti-go-wo-ne or Co-nis-tig-i-one, both derived from the Mohawk language. [32]

Niscayuna Population – U.S. Dicenniel census

It is noteworthy that there are only four pages of census for the town of Niskayuna. There were 111 Niscayuna family households documented in the census on August 7, 1820.

Daniel and at least two of his children, Joel and William moved from the Niscayuna / Watervliet area in the mid 1830’s to Mayfield. It appears that Ensign Griffis and his family also moved from the Niscayuna area to Saratoga County and then to Fulton county to be near his uncle and cousins.

Prior to his time, the Griffis families of Daniel, Joel, William and Ensign lived in close proximity to Daniel’s older brother Nathaniel and the family members of their maternal uncle, Stephen Gates Jr. and a first cousin, Stephen Gates. Two first cousins were named Joel (Joel Griffes 1799-1828 and Joel Griffis (1807-1882). Joel Griffis named one of his sons Stephen, perhaps in honor of his uncle or his first cousin. Below is a diagram of the families of Nathaniel Griffes and his son Stephen Griffes.

The families of Nathaniel and son Stephen Griffes. Click for larger view.

Since the 1850 census listed names of individual family members, at this point in my research on Nathaniel and Stephen Griffes, I went back to this census year to determine if I could discover more of children of Nathaniel Griffes and Stephen Gates

Stephen Gates, Nathaniel and Daniel’s maternal uncle, had eight children. His fourth oldest child, Stephen Gates, must have been close to his cousin Nathaniel Griffes despite being Nathaniel’s junior by 17 years. (See Family tree below). Stephen also had eight children. His sixth child was named Nathan Griffes Gates.

Family Tree of Stephen Gates. Click for larger view.

The Griffis(es) and Gates families were close and appeared to follow each other in various relocations from Huntington, Long Island to Watervliet, New York and to Niscayuna, New York. In 1810 both the Gates and Griffis(es) families lived in Watervliet, Albany County. By 1820, both either moved to Niskayuna, Schenectady County.

Stephen Gates, the ‘pater families‘ of the Gates family in the Watervliet / Schenectady / Niscayuna area was a younger brother of Abiah Gates, grandmother of Daniel and Nathaniel. Stephen Gates is found living in this area in the Federal Census in 1790 through 1830. [33] He died in 1837 and was buried in Vale Cemetery. [34] Vale Cemetery is located in Schenectady, New York.

His memorial on the Find a Grave website follows:

Stephen Gates was born at Huntington, Long Island in 1750. He was married first to Eunice. After her death, he married  Eve Young. Stephen Gates was a veteran of the revolutionary war, having been a member of the Albany County Militia, 13th Regiment in addition to serving under other officers. One of his homes was 3 miles west of Bemis Heights, Saratoga. He served as a volunteer guide to the scouting portion of the Continental Army under General Horatio Gates. He also served in other capacities during the war. He also lived in Dutchess County, New York and Schenectady, New York. He died in 1837. His remains were removed to Vale Cemetery after 1857.

The reference to Stephen Gate’s first marriage to “Eunice” is not documented.

Many generations of both families lived their lives in this area. There are 47 individuals buried in the Vale cemetery with the Gates surname. There are 15 individuals buried at Vale Cemetery with the Griffes surname. [35]

The connections between the Gates and Griffis(th)(es) families were obviously based on one mutual familial trust and affection. [36] This is substantiated by a number of facts surrounding the families. The composition of the four families that live close to each other reveal an older Gates family surrounded by younger Griffis(es) families. Nathaniel was about midway in age between Stephen and his sons, Stephen Jr. and Daniel W. Gates.

  • Stephen Griffith, an older brother of Nathaniel and Daniel, married Anna Ruland. Anna was a maternal first cousin of the brothers. Anna’s mother was Naomi Gates, a sister of Nathaniel’s maternal grandmother Abiah Gates. [37]
  • The son of Stephen Gates, also named Stephen, named one of his sons Nathaniel Griffes Gates. Obviously in honor or his older cousin Nathaniel.
  • Nathaniel Griffes named one of Stephen Gates’ sons, Daniel W. Gates, as one of his executors of his will.

Below is the Headstone for Nathaniel Griffes Gates.

Headstone of Nathaniel Griffes Gates, source: Find a Grave

Below is an excerpt of the will of Nathaniel Griffes. It reflects Nathaniel’s decision to name one of Stephen Gates’ sons, Daniel W. Gates, as one of his executors of his will.

Daniel Griffes Gates executor of will for nathaniel Griffes
Nataniel Griffes’ will identifying Daniel W. Gates as one of the executors of his will. Click for larger view.

Nathaniel’s Will reveals a number of discoveries surrounding his family. Many facts that are not discovered through the Federal and New York state census. [38] The will identifies the following individuals in Nathaniel’s family:

  • The will identifies his son Stephen.
  • The Will mentions his wife ‘Hester’. Hester is a variant of Esther [39]
  • Four daughters, two of whom are married are identified in the will: Anna Griffes, wife of Stephen N Waterbury; Abiah Griffes, wife of John Vedder, Julia Griffes and Hester Griffes.

Ann Griffis is mentioned as having letters left at the post office in a local newspaper in 1842 on numerous occasions:

Source: The Schenectady Cabinet, or, Freedom’s sentinel., August 02, 1842, Page 3, Persistent Link; also: The Schenectady cabinet, or, Freedom’s sentinel., August 16, 1842, Page 1; The Schenectady cabinet, or, Freedom’s sentinel., August 09, 1842, Page 3

The table below reflects the household composition for the families of Daniel Griffis, Daniel’s uncle Stephen Gates and the son of Stephen Gates, Stephen. Daniel’s brother, Nathaniel Griffes, is not found in the 1830 United states census. Nathaniel would have been 62 years old.

Table 6: 1830 Federal Census: Niskayuna, Schenectady County

Census CategoryNameName
Daniel GriffisStephen Gates
(First Cousin)
Male under 51 (Philip Gates would have been 6)
Male 5-91 (Possibly Nathaniel G Gates age 11)
Male 10-14
Male 15-19
Male 20-291
(One of three sons – possibly a Stephen Griffis age 21)
Male 30-391
(Stephen was 45 in 1830)
Male 40-49
Male 50-591
(Daniel at age 53)
Female under 51 (unknown)
Female 5-91
(Sally Griffis age 3)
1 (unknown)
Female 10-142 (Evelina would have been 15)
Female 15-19
Female 20-29
Female 30-391 (Wife Hanna / Johanna would have been 42)
Female 40-49(Daniel’s wife)

As reflected in Table 6 above, Daniel’s household is very small. It contains a male between the ages of 50-59 (Daniel would have been 53 at the time), A male between 20-29( this could have been William, Joel, or the other unknown brother), a female between 5 – 9 (this could be Sally Griffis at age 3) and a female between 40-49 (presumably Daniel’s wife). [40]

The death of a Stephen Griffis from Schenectady was found in a data collection of Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930 [41]. It states: “At Schenectady, on Tuesday (May 13m, 1834) of last week Mr. Stephen Griffis (died), aged about 25 years.” Based on an interpolation of facts based on census age distribution tabulations for the household of Daniel Griffis over time, it is assumed Daniel had a sone that was possibly born around 1809. It this was the case, this Stephen Griffis could very well have been Daniel’s son.

During this decade, a review of Newspaper announcements in the Watervliet area revealed the marriage of a Ruth Griffis on the 20th of March, 1830. This was the first occurrence of Ruth Griffis in my research.

Ruth Griffis marriage announcement, The Schenectady Cabinet, May 26 1830 Page 3

With nothing else to corroborate her relationship with the Griffis family, I researched the past of her husband, Jacob Cromar (Cromer). I went back to the 1850 census which listed individual names and was able to work backward, documenting the family of Ruth Griffis. In 1850, Ruth and her family lived in Charlton, New York. A town the Ensign Griffis lived prior to his moving to Mayfield / Broadalbin. Ruth possibly was the daughter of Ensign Griffis or Daniel Griffis. While I do not have absolute proof, the structure of the respective family households of Ensigner and Daniel over time suggest that Ruth was Daniel’s daughter.

1850 United States Census, New York, Saratoga County, Charlton, Image 28 of 46, Line 25, Page 358.

Ruth and Jacob had 7 children as documented in 1850 Federal Census. Ruth was 40 at the time of the 1850 census. A review of Federal and New York state census documented their movement from Charlton, to Mayfield (1860). They probably worked a farm close to Ensign, Daniel, William and Joel. As their family aged, they probably sold the farm and moved to nearby Johnstown. In 1865 Jacob and Ruth lived in Johnstown, New York with their son Daniel. [42]

Family of Jabor and Ruth Cromer

Nathaniel and Daniel’s cousin Stephen Gates had eight children, as reflected in the family trie diagram at the beginning of the story. Given the census enumerator’s tally of his household in 1830, it is difficult to figure out who could have lived there. [43]

1820 Federal Census in the Niscayuna New York Area

The 1820 Federal Census for Niskayuna, Schenectady County, lists three ‘Griffies’ families in close proximity based on the census taker’s enumeration path and a Gates family household of an uncle (Stephen Gates Jr.) and first cousin (Stephen Gates). It is assumed the census enumerator misspelled their names and based the spelling on phonetics.

This page number 577 from the 1820 United States census provides a graphic portrayal of this extended family.

1820 Federal census for the Niskayuna, Schednectady County, New York. Click for larger view.

Between two of the the ‘Griffies’ households, one headed by Daniel and another headed by Nathaniel, is a household headed by Steven Gates. It is assumed that this is the elder Steven Gates (b. 1750 d. 1837). He was Abiah Gates’ brother and Nathaniel and Daniel’s’ maternal uncle. There is also a household one house away from Nathaniel’s that is headed by an Ensign Griffies. Presumably, as stated earlier, Ensign is Nathaniel’s son who is just starting a new family with is wife and son, Samuel, age one.

Table 7: 1820 Federal Census: Niskayuna, Schenectady County

Male <1051
Male 10-153
(Joel &
Male 16-25111
Male <451
Male >451
Female <105
Female <161
Female <26111
Female <451

While part of the family composition depicted in the 1820 Federal Census of Daniel’s family fits the growth of his family, it is difficult to explain the sudden emergence of 5 unknown females under the age of 10 in his household. In census data after 1820, the household composition of Daniel Griffis does not contain five males in this age growing older. It is not known if the census enumerator made a mistake, if Daniel actually had five additional daughters under the age of 10, or the household had children from the other Griffis and Gates families running about.

A review of Newspapers in Schenectady County during this time period revealed a few occurrences of Nathaniel Griffes(is) in local newspapers, notably for mail left at the local post office:

Excerpt of newspaper announcement : Source: The Schenectady Cabinet., April 02, 1828, Page 3, Persistent Link

1810 Federal Census in the Watervliet, New York Area

The 1810 census only lists the head of household and summary data on the distribution of males and females in the household. Based on the reported counties of birth for William G Griffis and Joel Griffis (Albany County), a Daniel Griffis is found living in Watervliet, Albany County. [44] The household of Daniel Griffis contained a 3 males between the ages of 1-9. Presumably the three sons under 10 included Joel (2 at the time) and William (age 6). The name of the third male under 10 is not known. There also is an unknown third son between the ages of 11 and 15. Daniel’s household also included a male between the age of 26-44. Daniel would have been 33 at the time. His household also included one female under the age of 10 (this could be Ruth Griffis based on age), and a female between the age of 26-44 (presumably Daniel’s wife).

There is also another Daniel Griffis listed in the 1810 census in Albany. However, given the proximity of Daniel’s brother, Nathaniel, and two Gates relatives from his mother’s side of the family in Watervliet, it is assumed Daniel lived in the Watervliet /Schenectady area in 1810.

Table 6: 1810 Federal Census: Watervliet, Albany County

< 10
< 16
< 26
< 45
< 10
< 16
< 26
< 45
Gates Jr.

In 1800, Daniel would have been 23 years old. Daniel is not documented as a head of a household in 1800. It is not known where Daniel lived in 1800.


This three part story not only attempts to impart knowledge about the Griffis family surname but also discusses through my research what is, and what is not, genealogical “proof“.

Tracing one’s surname back in name is not necessarily an easy process. As one gets into the detail, the ‘facts’ become less certain and oftentimes confusing. By relying on a variety of sources to substantiate facts, one’s certainty of a fact or relationship increases. Sources of facts, evidence, may vary and could be personal knowledge (someone you knew within your lifetime), a Bible, a will, a deed, an obituary, death certificate, a church baptismal document, a pension application, census records, etc. The ability to find a number of corroborating facts increases the likelihood that you are headed in the right direction.

In genealogy, evidence includes many of the sources mentioned above. It does not include a family tree posted on an ancestry website, nor does it include published or unpublished compiled family histories, unless they contain specific historical references to evidence or facts.

A genealogist with a law background has cogently addressed this subject in the context of drawing a distinction between “proof” and “evidence,” and the amount of evidence that is needed to produce a certain standard of proof. There are parallels in family history research and law. [45]

Evidence is anything that is offered to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact.evidence is what supports a belief that a fact is proved (or disproved).”  [46]

In law there are different standards of proof, from “beyond a reasonable doubt” (criminal cases) to “preponderance of the evidence” (civil cases). In between these two standards is “great weight and preponderance of the evidence”.

What this might operationally mean for genealogy research is:

  • Beyond a reasonable doubt: at least 95% of the facts compel a certain conclusion, conclusive proof;
  • Great weight and preponderance: 65-85% of the evidence supports a solid conclusion, probably true, appears to be true, most likely true;
  • Preponderance of the evidence: a conclusion is more likely than not – it has enough weight more than a flip of the coin that it is solid, probably true.

Basically, these principles have guided my research. Hopefully, my results have revealed ‘family facts’ as well as interesting stories about distant relatives. It is a process and, no doubt, the stories may change for the better as time goes on.


The feature image at the top of this story is a photograph taken on July 16, 1935, entitled “Griffis Family Reunion’. It is a photograph that is in one of the photograph albums of Evelyn Griffis. Click here for a larger view of the photograph. The patriarch and matriarch of the Griffis family in the photograph are in the center of the photograph. William James Griffis and his wife Charlotte (“Lottie”) Wetherbee Griffis. William J. Griffis’ father was William G. Griffis who is mentioned in this story. William G. Griffis was a son of Daniel Griffis.

Griffis surname line for William Gates Griffis and Joel Griffis

[1] Shiela Rowlands, Sources for Surname Studies, in Pages 147 – 160, quote Page 147.

[2] Ely McClellan, John Peters, John Billings, Surgeon General’s Office of the Army, Cholera epidemic of 1873, War Department, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1875

[3] For historical background of Mayfield, New York, see: History of Mayfield, NY from History of Fulton County, Revised and Edited by Washington Frothingham, published by D. Mason & Co. Syracuse, NY 1892

G. F. Pyle, The Diffusion of Cholera in the United States in the Nineteenth Century, Geographical Analysis, Published on behalf of the Department of Geography, The Ohio State University, Jan 1969, Pages 59-75;

alternative link:

 Lorraine Frasier, Mayfield History, , page accessed 17 Nov 2021.

Fulton County was created on April 18, 1838 from Montgomery County. Montgomery County was created on March 12, 1772 from Albany County originally called Tryon County and renamed in 1784. This particular county was originally named after Tryon County after colonial governor William Tryon (1729–1788), renamed after the American Revolutionary War general Richard Montgomery (1738–1775) in 1784 .

For an excellent source that provides New York county maps over time, see: Interactive Map of New York County Formation History,, Page accessed 5 May 2019.

See also Mayfield, New York, Wikipedia, Page last updated 31 October 2021, page accessed 11 Nov 2021.

Smith, Robert Pearsall, 1827-1898, Map of Fulton County, U.S. Library of Congress, New York : from actual surveys, Created / Published Philadelphia : Published by Jno. T. Hill, 1856. Digital Id

Beach Nichols, Atlas of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, New York : from actual surveys, New York : Stranahan & Nichols, 1868

[4] Chace, J., Smith, Robert Pearsall, Map of Fulton County, New York : from actual surveys, Philadelphia : Published by Jno. T. Hill, 1856.  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

[5] Among the various sources that were used to determine William J Griffis’ birth date:

  • New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900, 153rd Infantry, Page 257;
  • U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Pensions, Certificate Number 662.205, Amanda Griffis (Carpenter), Declaration of a Widow for Original Pension, February 7, 1908. The latter source indicates the actual birth date of William J Griffis as March 14th, 1843. See image of original document.

[6] The information in the 1855 New York state census is noteworthy. It was the first to record the names of every individual in the household. It also asked about the relationship of each family member to the head of the household, something that was not asked in the federal census until 1880. The 1855 New York state census also provides the length of time that people had lived in their towns or cities as well as their state or country of origin. This is particularly helpful for tracing ancestors that may have moved to the specific area. If born in New York State, the county of birth was noted, which is helpful for tracing migration within New York State.  

Information collected in this census includes: 

  • Name (of each household member)
  • Age, gender, race
  • Relation to the head of the household
  • Birthplace (country, U.S. state, or New York county)
  • Marital status
  • Length of residence in current municipality
  • Occupation, citizenship status, and if a landowner
  • Literacy status, and if deaf, dumb, or blind

[7] Joel Griffis : U.S., Selected Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850, New York, Agriculture, Fulton County, Mayfield, Page 211-12, Line 28, 18 Jul 1850

Daniel Griffis: U.S., Selected Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850, New York, Agriculture, Fulton County, Mayfield, Page 223-224, Line 19, 3 Aug 1850

William Griffis: U.S., Selected Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850, New York, Agriculture, Fulton County, Mayfield, Page 213-214, Line 17, 19 Jul 1850

[8] Ensinger Griffis, U.S., Federal Census, 1850, New York, Fulton County, Broadalbin, Page 49, Lines 12-15, Enumeration date 5 Aug 1850. See larger view of page of census depicted below.

[9] Broadalbin, Wikipedia, this page was last edited on 1 Nov 2021 and accessed on 29 Dec 2021.

See also: Washington Frothingham, History of Fulton County, Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co, 1892, Pages 59-61

[10] Census History, Staff, Census Instructions, United States Census Bureau, Page updated December 09, 2021, page accessed 4 Jan 2022.

[11] Elizabeth Garner and Ana Paula de la O Campos, Identifying the “Family Farm”: An informal discussion of the concepts and definitions, ESA Working Paper No. 14-10 December 2014, Agricultural Development Economics Division, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Page 11

[12] Census History, Staff, State Cenuses, United States Census Bureau, Page updated December 09, 2021, page accessed 4 Jan 2022.

See also Instructions for taking the New York state 1855 census : Elias Leavenworth, Secretary of State, Instructions for Taking the Census of the State of New York in the Year 1855, Albany: Weed, Parsons & Co., Printers, 1855. Page 10,c=1,q=field11%3D%5B992790%5D%2CqueryType%3D%5B16%5D,sm=s,l=library1_lib%2Clibrary4_lib%2Clibrary5_lib

It is made the duty of the town clerks, and the clerks of the common council of cities,to receive from the office of the county clerk, the blanks for the marshal or marshals appointed for taking the census of town and cities, and to deliver them to the latter, whose duty it will be to apply for the same. Where more than one marshalis appointed in a town or ward, the clerk should divide the blanks between them, as nearly proportioned to the population in the several election districts, as possible. The intimate knowledge which these clerks are presumed to have of the relative population and wants of their several election districts, led to their being designated as proper persons to receive and subdivide the blanks. As a general rule, there will be one marshal appointed to each election district ; but in some cases, where the whole population does not exceed three thousand, one person only will be appointed in the town. In all such cases the commissions of the marshals will specify the fact, and be sufficient authority to the clerk for delivering over, upon application, the whole amount of blanks received for such districts.

The marshals, being appointed, will receive with their commissions, a copy of these instructions, and should lose no time in becoming familiar with the details therein contained, and in learning, if necessary, by inquiry at the town clerk’s office, or of the clerk of the common council, the boundaries of their districts. They should also apply for the requisite quantity of blanks from the town clerk’s office ; or, if in a city, from the office of the clerk of the common council, and make arrangements to begin their labors on the first Monday of June.

[13] In the 1855 New York state census, Daniel Griffis reported that he was born in Suffolk County in 1776 based on a reported age of 79. He lived in Fulton county for 20 years which implies he moved to Fulton county around 1835.

1855 New York Census Fulton County, Mayfield. Click for larger view.

Page 7 of the Hall Manuscript indicates Daniel Griffis’ birth date:

Source: M.K. Hall, Griffith Genealogy: Wales, Flushing, Huntington, Unpublished Manuscript 1929, originally published 1937. It has been reproduced for commercial access by a variety of publishers. The copy I accessed was published by Creative Media Partners, LLC, Sep 10, 2021. This work is in the public domain in the United States of America. A PDF copy of the book can be found here.

[14] 1855 New York Census, Fulton County, Mayfield, Election District 1, Page 499, Household 6, Lines 27-31. Click to see image of page.

[15] 1855 New York Census, Fulton County, Mayfield, Election District 1, Page 503, Household 33, Lines 15-16. Click to see image of page.

[16] 1850 United States Federal Census, Mayfield, Fulton County, New York, National Archives and Administration, page 28, lines 31-37

[17] 1850 United States Federal Census, Mayfield, Fulton County, New York, National Archives and Administration, page 38, lines 6-10

[18] The two manuscripts are 

Mildred Griffith Peets, Griffith Family History in Wales 1485–1635 in America from 1635 Giving Descendants of James Griffis (Griffith) b. 1758 in Huntington, Long Island, New York, compiled by Capitola Griffis Welch, 1972 . PDF copy of the manuscript can be found here.

M.K. Hall, Griffith Genealogy: Wales, Flushing, Huntington, Unpublished Manuscript 1929, originally published 1937. It has been reproduced for commercial access by a variety of publishers. The copy I accessed was published by Creative Media Partners, LLC, Sep 10, 2021. This work is in the public domain in the United States of America. A PDF copy of the book can be found here.

[19] Alice Plouchard Stelzer, Having Trouble Researching Your Female Ancestors? Here’s Some Help, Family History daily, Originally published Feb 2013, Updated Feb 2017

Introduction to Tracing Women (National Institute),,Page was last edited on 10 October 2015, Page accessed 01 Mar 2022.

Leland Meitzler,  Tracing Your Female Ancestors, Genealogy Blog, 22 April 2013, Page accessed 11 Nov 2019

Melisa Johnson, Methodology for Elusive Female Ancestors, National Genealogical Society NGS Monthly, Accessed 14 Dec 2021

Bibliography of Research sources for Finding Your Female Ancestors Workshop, State Library of North Carolina and State Archives of North Carolina 23 August 2014

Find Your Female Ancestors, Family Tree Magazine

Finding Elusive Female Ancestors: 8 Essential Tips | Findmypast Masterclass, 15 Mar 2018

[20] Joel Griffis Household, 1850 United States Census, New York, Fulton County, Mayfield, Page 29, Lines 31-37, Enmerated on 17 July 1850.

Click for larger view.

[21] Headstone Inscription: “WIFE OF JOEL GRIFFIS” “IN HER 39 YR” Burial: Riceville Cemetery Mayfield Fulton County New York, USA Created by: Katherine MacIntyre Record added: Aug 08, 2012 Find A Grave Memorial# 95024757

The website,, lists the following Griffis members in the Riceville cemetery in Mayfield, New York.

  • A E Griffis, dates unknown
  • Augusta C Griffis, Inscription: “WIFE OF DANIEL GRIFFIS” “AGE 27”
  • E A Griffis or F A Griffis, Birth and Death dates Unknown – This might be Ensinger Griffis.
  • Margery Griffis, – 1 May 1850
  • William G Griffis 1804 – 19 Dec 1850

[22] Newspaper announcement: The Schenectady Cabinet, Marriage and Engagement Notices, 2 Mar 1831.

Joel Griffis was born October 14, 1807 in Albany , NY and died 18 October, 1882 in Gloversville, NY; Margery Gillespie was born 30 Jan 1897 in Schenectady, NY and died 01 May 1850 in Mayfield, NY.

[23] The following represents the family of Joel Griffis. Joel had a second family after his first wife, Margery, passed away.

[24] William G Griffis – Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 04 January 2022), memorial page for William G Griffis (1804–19 Dec 1860), Find a Grave Memorial ID by Thomas Dunne 28262391, citing Riceville Cemetery, Mayfield, Fulton County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Jim Griffis (contributor 47396794) .

[25] Present John Stewart county judge in the matter of the administration of there goods, chattel accounts of William G. Griffis, decd., January 7, 1861 Probate Date, New York Wills and Probate Records , Fulton County, Minutes, Volume 0003-004, 1856-1873, pages 229-230, image 148, See original document.

[26] Enumerators of the 1840 census were asked to include the following categories in the census: name of head of household; number of free white males and females in age categories: 0 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 20, 20 to 30, 30 to 40, 40 to 50, 50 to 60, 60 to 70, 70 to 80, 80 to 90, 90 to 100, over 100; the name of a slave owner and the number of slaves owned by that person; the number of male and female slaves and free “colored” persons by age categories; the number of foreigners (not naturalized) in a household; the number of deaf, dumb, and blind persons within a household; and town or district, and county of residence.

The 1840 census also asked for the first time, the ages of revolutionary war pensioners and the number of individuals engaged in mining, agriculture, commerce, manufacturing and trade, navigation of the ocean, navigation of canals, lakes and rivers, learned professions and engineers; number in school, number in family over age twenty-one who could not read and write, and the number of insane. 

Taken from Chapter 5: Research in Census Records, The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy by Loretto Dennis Szucs; edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry Incorporated, 1997).

Although the 1840 census asked for the ages of revolutionary war pensioners, many revolutionary war veterans may not have received a pension or were not documented. I have reviewed the published list and find many of the Griffis(th) and Gates revolutionary war veterans are not documented in this special publication.

See: Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services with their Names, Ages, and Places of Residence, Published by Authority of an Act of Congress Under the Direction of the Secretary of State, Washington: Blair and Rives 1841.

The following table depicts key individuals that were used to link various Griffis family members together in the 1840 and earlier censuses. It indicates their respective birth dates and ages when Federal census data was captured. I used this as a base to compare the family configurations recorded by census takers at specific times for each of the earlier censuses.

Key Family Members Used to Link Griffis Families in Census Prior to 1840

Gates Jr
Son of
Dau of
William G

William Dollarhide, The Census Book: A Genealogist’s Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules and Indexes, Heritage Quest: Bountiful, UT, 2000.

[26a] Land and property records from the New York Land Office and county courthouses were digitalized and made accessible by . The records include land grants, patents, deeds, and mortgages. This collection includes all counties except Franklin, Nassau, and Queens. Researchers should note that the Oneida County records will be found with the Herkimer County records.

United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975.”Database with images. FamilySearch. : 17 February 2023. Multiple county courthouses, New York.

[26b] Daniel Griffis, Grantee of Property United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975.”Database with images. FamilySearch. : 17 February 2023. Multiple county courthouses, New York. Date : 1 Jan 1837,

Index to Grantees Fulton County NY From 1772 to 1839, Page 293| Click for Larger View

[26c] William G. Griffis, Grantee of Property United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975.”Index of Deeds, Line 2, Page 293, Database with images. FamilySearch. : 17 February 2023. Multiple county courthouses, New York. Date Ocober 28, 1841,

Click for Larger View

[27] 1840 United States Federal Census, New York, Fulton County, Mayfield, page 332, Line 5, image 14 of 29 filmstrip. See copy of census page.

1840 United States Federal Census, New York, Fulton County, Mayfield, page 331, Line 12, image 14 of 29 filmstrip. 

1840 United States Federal Census, Mayfield, Fulton County, New York, National Archives and Administration, image 14 of 29 filmstrip.

[28] Joel Griffis household, 1840 United States census, New York, Fulton County, Mayfield, Page 144, Line 5

[29] Daniel Griffis household, 1840 United States census, New York, Fulton County, Mayfield, Page 142, Line 11

[30] Nathaniel Griffes and Stephen Griffes households, 1840 United States census, New York, Schenectady County, Niscayuna, Page 125, Lines 15 and 16

[31] Ensign Griffis household, 1840 United States census, New York, Saratoga County, Carlton, Page 29, Line 7. The Ensign Griffis family household is noted as having one male between the ages of 16 – 19 (which correlates with his son Samuel’s age of 19, born 1821), a male between the ages of 440-49 (which would be Ensign age 43, born in 1797), a female between the ages of 40-49, and two unknown daughters between the ages of 15-19.

[32] Austin Yates, Schenectady County New York, Its History to the Close of the Nineteenth Century, New York; New York History Company 1902

Niskayuna, New York, Wikipedia, Page updated 22 February 2022, Page accessed 27 Feb 2022

Horatio Gates Spafford, LL.D. A Gazetteer of the State of New-York, Embracing an Ample Survey and Description of Its Counties, Towns, Cities, Villages, Canals, Mountains, Lakes, Rivers, Creeks and Natural Topography. Arranged in One Series, Alphabetically: With an Appendix… (1824), at Schenectady Digital History Archives, selected extracts, accessed 27 Feb 2022

George Rogers Howell and John H. Munsell (1886). “History of the Township of Niskayuna”History of the County of Schenectady, N.Y., from 1662 to 1886. New York City, NY: W.W. Munsell.

[33] Stephen Gates, 1790 United States Federal Census, New York, Albany, Watervliet, Line 23, Page 138. On line 21 there is a William Griffins. The household of Stephen Gates included 3 white males under 16 and one white male over 16 (Stephen Gates), and 6 white females.

Enumerators of the 1790 census were asked to include the following categories in the census: name of head of household, number of free white males of sixteen years and older, number of free white males under sixteen years, number of free white females, number of all other free persons, number of slaves, and sometimes town or district of residence. The categories allowed Congress to determine persons residing in the United States for collection of taxes and the appropriation of seats in the House of Representatives. This first United States census schedules differs in format from later census material, as each enumerator was expected to make his own copies on whatever paper he could find. Unlike later census schedules an enumerator could arrange the records as he pleased.

The 1790 census of the original thirteen states canvassed an area of seventeen present states. Schedules survive for eleven of the thirteen original states: Connecticut, Maine (part of Massachusetts at the time), Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Vermont. (Vermont became the fourteenth state early in 1791 and was included in the census schedules).

Enumerators were only required to make one copy of the census schedules to be held by the clerk of the district court in their respective area. In 1830, Congress passed a law requiring the return of all decennial censuses from 1790-1830. At this point it was discovered that many of the 1790 schedules had been lost or destroyed, about two-thirds of the original census from the time period. The 1790 census suffered district losses of Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Virginia. However, some of the schedules for these states have been re-created using tax lists and other records. Virginia was eventually reconstructed from tax lists as well as some counties from North Carolina and Maryland.

Taken from Chapter 5: Research in Census Records, The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy by Loretto Dennis Szucs; edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry Incorporated, 1997).

[34] Nathaniel Griffes Gates, Find a Grave, memorial 8743987, Birth 16 Nov 1819, Schenectady, Schenectady County, New York, Death 16 Aug1898 (age 78), Buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan, Plot: Block 21 Lot 1.

[35] The following individuals are buried in Vale cemetery:

Griffes Family Buried in Vale Cemetery Schenectady New York

NameDatesPlot InformationTombstone
Angelica K
1847 – 1930Section HPhoto
Anna R Griffes4 Feb 1861 – 6 Nov 1885Section M-3Photo
Esther Griffes1778 – 3 Jun 1848Photo
James A Griffis3 Dec 1839 – 18 Jan 1898Section M-3Photo
Jane Viele Griffes24 Oct 1832 – 25 Jul 1918Section M-30Photo
Joel Griffes10 May 1799 – 24 Oct 1828Photo
Julia Griffes
Julia A Griffes10 Dec 1838 – 25 Sep 1864Section M-3Photo
Maria Griffes1817 – 9 Jul 1828Photo
Mary Whitney Griffes1808 – 1877
Nathaniel Grifesunknown – 11 May 1956Section H -12
Nathaniel Griffes3 Oct 1763 – 3 Mar 1842
Stephen Griffes1805 – 1850
William W Griffes29 Oct 1870 22 Jul 1872Section M-3Photo
William Whitney Griffes1835 – 1905Section HPhoto

[36] Personal correspondence with Kate MacMillan, Oct 30, 2020. Ms. MacMillan’s research is focused on a different family line of the Gates family but she graciously shared this information on my line of the Gates family.

[37] See: The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol XLII, April 1911, No 2, New York, New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Pages 128 – 143; Page 138 identified the marriage between Stephen Griffith and Anna Ruland on March 4, 1789.

This information contradicts an assertion in a family manuscript that Nathaniel married Anna Ruland. I believe the manuscript incorrectly referenced Anna’s marriage to Nathaniel.

See; Page 8 in Mildred Griffith Peets, Griffith Family History in Wales 1485–1635 in America from 1635 Giving Descendants of James Griffis (Griffith) b. 1758 in Huntington, Long Island, New York, compiled by Capitola Griffis Welch, 1972 . PDF copy of the manuscript can be found here.

[38] Will of Nathaniel Griffes, U.S. Wills and Probate Records, 1659 – 1999, Schenectady Wills, Vol D – E, 1832 – 1845, date of Will 20 May 142, date of Probate 15 Apr 1842, Probate Place Schenectady NY, Image 325 – 327, Pages 386 – 390. See PDF copy of will.

The following is a transcription of Nathaniel Griffes’ Last Will:

In the name of God *** I Nathaniel Griffes of Niskayuna in the county of Schenectady, seeing the uncertainty of this mortal life do make this instrument in writing and for my last will and testament.

I direct my Executors hereinafter named to sell and dispose of all and singular my personal property. Exceting my household furniture, and to collect all my debts due to me, and from the avails thereof to pay and discharge my funeral expenses and all my just debts which I may owe at the time of my decease.

I give devise and bequeath to my daughter Ann the wife of Stephen Waterbury, the farm I have purchased of from Abraham Wendell. Also ten acres of the farm on which I now reside which is adjoining the farm of My. Hand on the west and on the south and on the east of the said farm on which I live and on the north by the Cowar Road the farm as now in fence. To have and to hold said Wendell farm and the said ten acres to her my said daughter Amr her heirs and assigns forever upon the condition nevertheless that my said daughter Ann pay within two years from and after my decease the sum of one thousand dollars to my daughter Julia and one thousand dollars to my daughter Hester which sums I hereby give to my daughters respectively and which are to be and remain alive on th said premises devised to my daughter Ann until they are fully paid off.

I give devise and bequeath to my wife Hester all and singular my household furniture and goods, also the use of the Buildings & farm on which I now live reside (deducting therefrom the said ten acres devised as aforesaid to my daughter Ann) for and during  the natural life of my said wife, and which bequests are to be enjoyed by her in lieu of Dower on my other Real Estate – the said Household furniture which was given to her absolutely being intended to be in lieu of dower on the farm devised to my said daughter Ann.

I give devise and bequeath to my son Stephen the use and enjoyment of the farm on which I now live (deducting therefrom the said ten acres) to be used enjoyed by him during his natural life, and subject nevertheless to the interest therein devised as aforesaid to my said wife and also further subject as follows to wit the said use and enjoyment by the said Stephen of my said farm during his life is upon the condition the he pay to my son Ensign within five years from my decease the sum of eight hundred dollars and the interest thereon annually to commence accruing upon the expiration of two years after my decease and also upon condition that my son Stephen pay to my daughter Abiah wife of John Vedder the sum of two hundred dollars in tow years after my decease, with interest annually and also upon condition that my son two daughters Julia and Hester convenient apartments in the dwelling I now occupy and necessary Board so long as they respectively remain unmarried, and also upon condition that my son Stephen acquit and discharge my estate from all and any claim which he may pretend to have against it, and I do hereby declare  that the above mentioned payments to be made and conditions to be fulfilled by my son Stephen are to be and remain liens upon the said premises so devised to him my son Stephen until they ar fully paid and performed.

Upon the termination of the said Life Estate in my said farm that is upon the death of my said son Stephen. I give devise and bequeath the farm on which now resides (deducting therefrom the said ten acres) the one half thereof to my grandson Nathanial the son of my said son Stephen & the other half to the other children of my son to have and to hold to their heirs and assign forever while my daughter Ann continues to own the premises devised to her. I give to her the privilege of cutting and carrying off for the use of the premises devised to her one hundred fence rails from off of the now occupied by me Each and Every year the service of eight years after my decease.

I do hereby declare that my son Stephen in the use and enjoyment of the farm devised to him is not to cut or carry off any more timber than shall be necessary for his own fuel and the fences and buildings therever.

All the rest  and residue of my estate real and personal after paying my debts as afous (comment: avouch) am I devise and bequeath to my children share and share alike.

I hereby constitute and affiant my friends Abraham Preace of Niskayuna, Daniel W. Gates of the City of schenectady and Stephen Waterbury of Watervliet Executors of this my Last Will  hereby reworking all foreseen wills by me made. 

Signed and sealed by the testator as and for his last Will and testament in the presence of us the undersigned who have signed our names as witnesses hereto in his presence and in the presence of each other. 

Dated May 18th 1841

It is interesting to note that a number of legal notices were found in historical newspaper related to Nathaniel Griffes will (below) 15 years after Nathaniel’s death.

Note that the legal announcement spelled his and his descendants’ surname “Griffis”. It appears that after his son Stephen’s death, as stuipulated by the will, Nathaniel bequeathed one half of the farm to his grandson Nathaniel and the other half to the remaining children of Stephen’s. It appears that the grandchildren Wiliam W, James A., Almira, Wilber and Julia under the legal representation of D.M. Chadsey petition the Supreme Court of new York to sell the property.


  • The Schenectady Cabinet, August 12, 1856, Page 3, Persistent Link ;
  • The Schenectady cabinet., August 19, 1856, Page 3
  • The Schenectady cabinet., August 26, 1856, Page 4
  • The Schenectady cabinet., September 02, 1856, Page 4
  • The Schenectady cabinet., September 16, 1856, Page 4
  • The Schenectady cabinet., September 09, 1856, Page 4
  • The Schenectady cabinet., September 23, 1856, Page 4

[39] “The modified form Hester has seemingly co-existed with the original Esther throughout the name’s usage in the English-speaking world, where despite a theoretic slight pronunciative difference Esther and Hester were long largely – perhaps totally – interchangeable, with it being routine for a woman cited as Esther in one document to be elsewhere documented as Hester. “

Quote from: Esther (given name), Wikipedia, Page updated 15 Feb 2022, page accessed 4 Mar 2022.

Thanks to my co-pilot in life Susan Bronston Griffis for pointing this out. It was one of the many vexing, specific literal facts that genealogists deal with and try to reconcile, a name that is ‘different’ in different sources, Hester (in a Will) vs Esther (on a headstone).

[40] Daniel Griffis household, 1830 United Stated Federal census, New York, Albany County, Watervliet, page 470. Line14 image of 53 filmstrip. See copy of census page.

[41] “At Schenectady, on Tuesday of last week Mr. Stephen Griffis, aged about 25 years”

Death of a Stephen Griffis, The Christian Intelligencer of the Reformed Dutch Church U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930Vol IV, No 198 May 17, 1834. U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors.

Original data: Newspapers and Periodicals. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.

The Digitized Content is licensed from the American Antiquarian Society (“AAS”) and may not be reproduced, transferred, commercially or otherwise exploited, in whole or in part, outside the terms and conditions of this service without the express written consent of AAS. All rights reserved.About U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930

This collection contains marriage and death details extracted from various newspapers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. Details may include names, event dates, ages, family relationships, and other facts of interest.

The collection includes 3 volumes of deaths compiled from various Boston papers, 1704–1800, and excerpts from the following newspapers:

  • The American Mercury (Connecticut), Deaths and Marriages, 1784–1832
  • Christian Secretary (Connecticut), Deaths and Marriages, 1823–1867
  • The Hartford Times (Connecticut), Deaths and Marriages, 1817–1866
  • The New York Evening Post (New York), Deaths, 1801–1885, and Marriages, 1801–1890
  • The Christian Intelligencer of the Reformed Dutch Church (New York), Deaths and Marriages, 1830–1871
  • Columbian Centinel (Massachusetts), Deaths and Marriages, 1784–1840
  • New York Weekly Museum (New York), Deaths and Marriages, 1788–1817
  • The Boston Transcript, Deaths, 1875-1930 (broken into ranges of 1875–1899 and 1900–1930)
  • New Haven Columbian Register, Deaths and Marriages, 1812–1836

[42] Stephen Gates household, 1830 United Stated Federal census, New York, Schenectady County, Schenectady, Albany County, page 225. Line 2 image of 53 filmstrip. See copy of census page.

[43] Ruth Griffis Cromer family, 1865 New York State Census, New York, Fulton County, Johnstown, Line 11, Page 57

Ruth Griffis Cromer family, 1870 United States Census, New York, Fulton County, Johnstown, Line 39, Page 232

Ruth Griffis Family, 1860 United States Census, New York, Fulton, Mayfield , Line 37-49 , Page 42 and LineLine 1-3, Page 43

Ruth (Griffis) Cromer Burial site and information:

Name:Ruth Cromer
Birth Date:1811
Death Date:1871
Cemetery:Prospect Hill Cemetery
Burial Place:Gloversville, Fulton County, New York, United States of America
Spouse:Jacob Cromer
Children:Abiah Alexander William H. Cromer
Source Finds Grave Website

[44] Daniel Griffis household, 1810 United Stated Federal census, New York, Albany County, Watervliet, Line 6 image of 8 filmstrip. See copy of census page.

Stephen Gates Jr. Household, 1810 United Stated Federal census, New York Albany County, Watervliet, page 1313. Line 3 image 1 of 8 filmstrip. See copy of census page.

Nathaniel Griffes household, 1810 United Stated Federal census, New York Albany County, Watervliet, page 1312. Line 20 image 1 of 8 filmstrip. See copy of census page.

Stephen Gates Household, 1810 United Stated Federal census, New York Albany County, Watervliet, page 1326. Line 4 image 8 of 8 filmstrip. See copy of census page.

[45] Robin Willis, Reprise: what is “proof” of family history? , Blog Post 1 March 2019, Digging Up Dead Relatives: Legends, Outright Lies, and Useful Facts About Our Ancestors, , Page accessed 10 Mar 2022. I have made a PDF copy of this Blog article because I think it provides a succinct, incisive depiction of what constitutes proof and evidence in genealogical research.

See also Roberta Estes, Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof? 11 July 2018, Blog: DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy: Discovering Your Ancestors – One Gene at a Time, Blog page accessed 02 Nov 2021

[46] Robin Willis, Ibid.

Daniel Griffis – Captured, Imprisoned, & Perished

Civil War Supply Wagon Train

A letter from the U.S. Adjutant General’s Office, which tersely documents the military history of Daniel Griffis, succinctly states the theme of this story. [1]

Prison of War Records show a D.F. or D.E. Griffiths or Daniel Griffis same Co. and Regiment Daniel Griffis, captured at Berryville, Virginia on August 13, 1864. He was transported to Richmond, Virginia and placed in a Confederate prison. He was then sent from Richmond, Virgina to Salisbury North Carolina on October 9, 1864. While in the Salisbury Prison, he was admitted to the prison hospital October 30, 1984 and died November 4, 1864 of “Int. fever”. “Int” or “intermittent fever” in Civil War medical parlance usually referred to recurring fevers. “Intermittent fevers” was a term that was used for a variety of illnesses, notably malaria. [2] The Adjutant General Office’s letter indicates that Confederate prison records misspelled Daniel’s name as “D.F. D.E. Griffiths”. [3]

This story follows the lead up to and capture of Daniel Griffis by Mosby’s Raiders, his imprisonment in Richmond, Virginia and his subsequent transfer to the Salisbury Confederate Prison.

First Dragoons with Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley

1st Dragoon Standard

Daniel Griffis was a private in the First New York Dragoons. He was an infantryman for the first year of his three year tour of duty as part of the 130th infantry regiment of the New York Volunteers. Then the regiment was transformed into a calvary unit and he became a wagon master at the end of 1863. Read More about the First Dragoons.

Daniel Griffis’ capture was at the beginning of General Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah campaigns that took place from August to October 1864. Leading up to his capture, Daniel’s regiment, the First New York Dragoons, was heavily involved in major battles and skirmishes at the front end of Sheridan’s campaigns in 1864 in the Shenandoah valley.

All throughout these campaigns, as part of the First New York Dragoons regiment, Daniel Griffis was driving a team of mules on a supply, ammunition, or ambulance wagon. Depending on the strategic circumstances of battle, he may have been part of a company, regimental, brigade, division or corps wagon train.

The days were undoubtably long and labor intensive when in action. Daniel’s marching orders were determined by whether the troops were approaching or retiring from the Confederates. His wagon train was placed to be as far as possible or practical from danger but close enough to the calvary and infantry to provide ammunition, supplies or assistance for the wounded. If he was driving a munitions or ambulance wagon, he was expected to go back and forth as safely as possible to resupply troops or pick up wounded soldiers.

At the end of a given day, under the command of a quartermaster, the wagons were parked in fields to avoid obstructing roads. Supplies were dispensed, wagons were repaired, attention was given to the care of the mules. Fences were torn down and ditches were filled in to facilitate their early start the next day.

Delays in long marches would tire the mule teams . Operational orders of the Union army underscored the need to feed and water the mules during those delays to keep them ‘in good heart’.

As General Ulysses Grant recalled:

“There never was a corps better organized than was the quartermaster’s corps with the Army of the Potomac in 1864. With a wagon-train that would have extended from the Rapidan to Richmond, stretched along in single file and separated as the teams necessarily would be when moving, we could still carry only about three days forage and about ten day to twelve days rations, besides a supply of ammunition. To overcome all difficulties, the chief quartermaster, General Rufus Ingalls, had marked on each wagon the corps badge with the division color and the number of the brigade. At a glance, the particular brigade to which any wagon belonged could be told. The wagons were also marked to note the contents: if ammunition, whether for artillery or infantry; if forage, whether grain or hay; if rations, whether bread, pork, beans, rice, sugar, coffee or whatever it might be. Empty wagons were never allowed to follow the army or stay in camp. As soon as a wagon was empty it would return to the base of supply for a load of precisely the same article that had been taken from it. Empty trains were obliged to leave the road free for loaded ones. Arriving near the army they would be parked in fields nearest to the brigades they belonged to. Issues, except of ammunition, were made at night in all cases. By this system the hauling of forage for the supply train was almost wholly dispensed with. They consumed theirs at the depot.” [4]

Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley campaign (August–October 1864)

In early August, 1864, Grant directed the consolidation of Federal forces in the Maryland, West Virginia, and northern Virginia areas into a new Middle Military Division and placed General Philip H. Sheridan in command. The 6th and 19th Corps (Daniel’s brother William Griffis was a soldier in the 19th), were returned to the Valley as part of this force. Units previously assigned to the area were consolidated into the 8th Corps. The local cavalry division was joined by two horse divisions from the Army of the Potomac to create a cavalry corps for this powerful new force. The First New York Dragoons were part of this initiative. Sheridan was instructed by Grant to end Confederate military power in the Valley and to destroy the Valley as an economic asset. [5]

Sheridan started preparations for his campaign at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Harper’s Ferry was a key supply depot for the Union Army. Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers with access to boats, having rail access with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and access to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Harper’s Ferry was strategically important to both sides during the war. The town changed hands eight times but remained under control of the Union for 80 percent of the war. [6]

Given the size of the army, the amount and range of supplies required to support the troops and the number of mules required for the wagons, the brigade wagon trains were massive. The photograph below and featured at the top of this story illustrates the size of a wagon train required to follow a military corps or brigade.

O’Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882, photographer, photograph from the main eastern theater of war, winter quarters at Brandy Station, December 1863-April 1864. Library of Congress Click on photo for enlarged view
Supply trains of the great armies numbered thousands of six-mule teams and during the march the wagon train would stretch for several miles.

Filled with critical provisions such as food, clothing, medicine, munitions, equipment required for maintenance and spare parts, horse saddles and other paraphernalia, compressed bales of hay and oats for horses and mules, the supply train was a necessary lifeline of the army. While the railroad was also vital in the rapid movement of troops and provisions, the trains were limited by the scarce routes of the era. Although trains would often move much needed ammunition rapidly near the front, it was the mule and horse that often hauled it to troops.

The mobility of the army depended on the carrying capacity of its wagons. Toward the end of the war, the Army of the Potomac carried ten days of rations and ordnance stores for an entire campaign. The number of wagons per regiment varied depending on circumstances and military campaigns and there are a variety of Union military General Orders that qualified the use and deployment of wagons. [7]

Supply trains left for the “front” regularly, always under threat of attack. To protect wagon trains from guerrilla Confederate cavalry, it was standard Union military operational procedure to park wagon trains on the outskirts where troops were situated, protected in the flank and guarded behind the Union lines. Supply trains of the great armies numbered thousands of six-mule teams and during the march the wagon train would stretch for several miles. [8]

In addition to standardized security procedures for managing wagon trains, the Union Army initiated the use of “100 day men” to guard wagon trains. Hundred Day Men was the nickname applied to a series of volunteer regiments raised in 1864 for 100-day service in the Union Army during the height of the American Civil War. These short-term, lightly trained troops freed veteran units from routine duty to allow them to go to the front lines for combat purposes.

As the Civil War entered its fourth year, troops were increasingly difficult to raise in both the North and the South. In the North, substantial bounties were offered to induce enlistment and the unpopular draft and the substitute system was used to meet quotas. The governor of Ohio, John Brough proposed to enlist the state militia into federal service for a period of 100 days to provide short-term troops that would serve as guards, laborers, and rear echelon soldiers to free more veteran units for combat duty. Brough expanded the idea and enlisted the support of the governors of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Jersey to raise 100,000 men to offer the Lincoln Administration. The governors submitted their suggestion to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who placed the proposal before President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln immediately approved the plan. [9]

Two Ohio regiments, attached to General Kenley’s Independent Brigade, part of the 8th Corps, were responsible for protecting the reserve brigade wagon train that Daniel Griffis was a wagon master. The 144th and 149th Ohio Infantry Regiments were guards for the wagon train. [10]

Reproduction of an engraved copper portrait of Ohio Governor John Brough. He was elected in 1864 during the Civil War and pledged to continue military support for the Union cause. Brough died in 1865 and did not complete his two year term. [11]

“The transportation of supplies is limited by the ability of the Government to provide (wagon ) trains, and by the ability of the army to protect them; for large trains create large drafts on the troops for teamsters, pioneers, guards, etc. An army train, upon the most limited allowance compatible with freedom of operations for a few days, away from the depots, is an immense affair. Under the existing allowance in the Army of the Potomac, a corps of thirty thousand infantry has about seven hundred wagons, drawn by four thousand two hundred mules; the horses of the officers and of the artillery will bring the total of animals to be provided for up to about seven thousand. On the march it is calculated that each wagon will occupy eighty feet – in bad roads even more; consequently a train of seven hundred wagons will cover fifty-six hundred feet of road – or over ten miles; the ambulances of a corps will occupy about a mile, and the batteries about three miles; thirty thousand troops need six miles to march in, if they form but one column; the total length of the marching column of a corps is therefore twenty miles, even without including the cattle herds and trains of bridge material.” [12]

The Berryville Wagon Raid – August 13, 1864

As indicated in a prior story (A Tale of Two Brothers – Part Three) on August 7th, 1864 Sheridan arrived and took command of the army.  On August 10th at 5 in the morning, Sheridan started his entire army from its secure camp on Bolivar Heights near Harper’s Ferry for the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

At 9 in the morning they reached Charlestown. Beyond the town, the 8th Corps was sent to the left of the pike, the 6th Corps to the right and the 19th Corps (William Griffis’ Corps) in the center of the road. All moved in parallel columns.  The wagon train, pursuant to Army Orders and procedures probably delayed their start and were probably not immediately behind the 6th, 8th and 19th army Corps, guarded by 100 day men. After an 18 mile march the troops camped near Berryville at 5 pm. The wagon train may have been a few miles behind.

On August 11th William and his comrades marched left of the road in open country guided by compass and camped near Newtown, Virginia.  They marched by the flank, slowly feeling their way southward.  They could hear cannon towards the front, signifying that the calvary was engaged with the Confederates.

On the 12th the troops marched to the valley pike. The army moved alongside the pike in parallel columns through the adjoining fields while the advance portions of the army kept up a continual fire on the rebel rear guard. In the afternoon of August 12th the army passed through the village of Middletown, Virginia and camped in an open, level field. 

As George Perkins, who was a soldier in the 149th Ohio volunteer infantry (one hundred day’s men) who provided guard duty for the wagon train, observed:

“On the 12th of August Sheridan moved up the valley, passing along the road near our camp. The General and his staff rode at the head of the column. The cavalry came next riding in columns of four, followed by the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps, the army of West Virginia and the Artillery. Our brigade was detailed to guard the wagon train. Brigadier John C. Kenley’s independent brigade consisted of the 144th and 149th Ohio, the 3d Maryland Infantry, and Alexander’s battery of Light Artillery.”

” … it took an entire day to pass our camp, the Cavalry and Infantry in column of fours, (giving) some idea may be had of the grandeur of this army.” [13]

Consistent with Army procedures and regulations, the army Corps wagon train that Daniel Griffis was assigned camped near Berryville after picking up their supplies at Harper’s Ferry. His wagon train was part of the reserve brigade wagon train. They probably prepared the night camp for rapid departure in the morning of August 13th. According to policy, they faced wagons so that they can be pulled in the direction of march without turning in a semi- circle. The day before, they removed fences and filled in ditches for a speedy morning departure.

Roadside Plaque where the Berryville Wagon Train Raid occurred. Plaque is located on side of the Lord Fairfax Highway near the intersection of the Harry Byrd Highway, source: Read the Plaque

It is interesting to note the facts pertaining to the raid on the roadside plaque as compared with how the event was described in the newspaper stories of the event.

The Corps or brigade level wagon trains were organized by division. Each brigade train was guarded by ‘100 day men’, or 300 guards per division train and would prevent stragglers from joining the relative safety of the trains. [14] During the convoy on August 13th, the wagon train probably shortened the column length during breaks by forming wagons in column of twos. If a wagon had problems or a broken wheel, the train continued on and left the disabled wagon with an escort. Troops or artillery pass wagons on the left; keeping trains closed up; and trains must not be cut by other trains.  The wagon trains were given a five minute rest period at the end of every hour. 

Mosby’s Raiders

Daniel’s wagon train was in an area of northern Virginia, known as ‘Mosby’s Confederacy’. John Singleton Mosby (December 6, 1833 – May 30, 1916), also known by his nickname, the “Gray Ghost”, commanded the 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, also known as Mosby’s Rangers, Mosby’s Raiders, or Mosby’s Men. Mosby’s area of operations was Northern Virginia from the Shenandoah Valley to the west, along the Potomac River to Alexandria to the east, bounded on the south by the Rappahannock River, with most of his operations centered in or near Fauquier and Loudoun counties. [15]

Noted for their lightning strike raids on Union targets and their ability to consistently elude pursuit, Mosby’s Rangers disrupted Union communications and supply lines throughout the war. The calvary unit’s typical strategy involved executing small raids with 20 to 80 calvary behind Union lines. They would enter the area undetected, quickly execute their mission, and then rapidly withdraw, dispersing their bounty to Confederate troops and blend in among local southern sympathizers. The calvary members typically had more than one horse on their raids. One horse would be replaced by another to maintain speed and allude capture. [16]

Confederate Cavalry Colonel John S. Mosby and some of his men. Click for enlarged version.

Top row (Left to Right): Lee Herverson, Ben Palmer, John Puryear, Tom Booker, Norman Randolph, Frank Raham. Second row: Robert Blanks Parrott, John Troop, John W. Munson, John S. Mosby, Newell, Neely, Quarles. Third row: Walter Gosden, Harry T. Sinnott, Butler, Gentry Source: Francis Trevelyn Mill, Editor in Chief & Robert Lanier Managing Editor, The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Four, The Cavalry. The Review of Reviews Co., New York. 1911. p. 171.

There are different accounts of what happened on August 13th, 1864. James Riley Bowen in his regimental history of the First New York Dragoons, stated that:

“Early in the morning of August 13, the entire reserve brigade wagon train was captured by the guerrilla Mosby. It had been moved out from Harper’s Ferry, and was in park near Berryville. The train was guarded mostly by one hundred day men, who threw down their arms and ran like sheep at the first sight of the coming guerrillas. We lost all our regimental records, besides much valuable private property. Mosby destroyed seventy-five wagons, and ran off two hundred prisoners, with a loss of but two men, killed by Than Marr and another Dragoon, who stood their ground and were captured. Than had $100, which he quickly hid beneath a large stone. Escaping on the road to Richmond, he returned and secured his money. In this affair, we lost two week’s mail.” [17]

George Perkins, who was assigned to guarding the wagon train, recalled the Berryville raid in his written experiences with the 149th Ohio volunteer infantry:

Our brigade (the 149th Ohio Volunteer infantry) was distributed through the length of the train, each company in charge of thirty wagons. …  Soon after dark, in spite of warning from the officers, the men began to straggle, dropping out of ranks; some were getting into wagons, others climbing the fences and sleeping in the fields, expecting to overtake their command by morning. My chum, James Ghormley, and myself, after marching until eleven o’clock at night, concluded that we were too tired to go any longer that night, and that a good sleep was just what we needed. We were within two miles of Berryville when this notion entered our heads. When we awoke daylight was just visible, and we hurried on to overtake our Regiment, expecting to boil coffee at the first fire we came to. We walked on and soon came to where the train had ”parked,” that is, had encamped for the night, and were just pulling out. It has been said that this stop was made without orders from our officers, but that the rebels, riding along during the night dressed in our uniform, saying they were aids, had given these orders, their object being to cut off the train and attack it for plunder. 

Our little squad soon came to where a company of the 144th Ohio (the other division of 100 days men that were charged with guarding the wagon train) were cooking breakfast. We asked permission to boil coffee at their fire. We stacked arms, and our coffee had just come to a boil when “bang! bang!” came two artillery shots at us, scattering the limbs of the trees above our heads. These shots were followed by a volley from a clump of woods. Then they charged, yelling as they came.

…We grasped our guns, leveled them over the stone wall, gave them one volley, when the Captain in command gave the order to scatter and save ourselves. Well, we ran.” [18]

In response to the firing behind stone walls, Confederate Raider Munson recalled:

“Before the attack he (Mosby) expressed the hope and the belief that his men wold give (General) Kenly the worse whipping any of Sheridan’s men ever got, and it delighted him to see the work progressing so satisfactorily. At several points along the line Kenly’s men made stands behind stone fences, and poured volleys into us but, when charged, they invariably retreated from their positions.” [19]

From the Confederate perspective, John W. Munson, one of Mosby’s Raider’s, provided an in depth perspective of the Berryville encounter, 42 years (1906) after the event in a personal history of the Mosby Raiders. Colonel Mosby took 300 men from Upperville, Virginia, the largest he ever had for a single engagement, over into the valley. They went into camp around midnight near Berryville. Scouts were sent out and they returned with information about a Union wagon train moving down the pike. Mosby, Munson and a few more of the calvary took off to learn more about the wagon train.

“We struck out in the direction whence, in the stillness of the night, came the rumbling echoes of the heavily laden wagons. In olden times, when the stages were run up and down the valley turnpike, it was said that the rumbling of the coach on the hard, rocky road could be heard for miles a’ still night and, on the quiet August night of which I am writing, we heard the wagon train long before we came in sight of it, which we did in an hour after Russell (John Russell, a prominent valley scout of Mosby’s) reported to the Colonel.” [20]

Mosby and his scouting party split up and individually rode up to the wagon train and blended in. “We rode among the drivers and guards, looking the stock over and chatting with the men in a friendly way.” It was too dark for the Union guards and wagon drivers to distinguish Mosby’s men. Through their friendly chats, Munson indicated in his history of the Raiders that Mosby’s men determined that there were 150 wagons in the train, with more than 1,000 head of horses, mules and cattle guarded by 2,000 men from two Ohio regiments and one Maryland regiment, with calvary dispersed along the entire line.

At a certain point in the night, confident of their knowledge of the wagon train, Mosby withdrew his men from the line, one by one, to avoid detection. He ordered Munsen to go back to camp and wake the troops up to meet Mosby on the turnpike further down the road. At day break the whole command of three hundred men along with two pieces of light artillery (12 pound cannons) met Mosby. They set up the cannon on top of a small hill and waited for the train to appear. Mason indicated that Mosby’s main concern was keeping the three hundred calvary in line to avoid charging before he was ready. ‘Three hundred over two thousand meant being careful’.

From Munson, John W. Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerrilla. New York: Moffat, Yard, and Co., 1906, Page 105

Mosby ordered the artillery to fire on the wagon train, two shots exploded in the train.

“The whole train stopped and writhed in its centre as if a wound had been opened its vitals. … What on earth ever possessed them I am unable even to this date to say. Two thousand infantry and a force of calvary all at sea, but, as with one mind, and without making the least concerted resistance, the train began to retreat. Then we rushed them, the whole Command charging from the slope, not in columns, but spread out all over creation, each man doing his best to outsell his comrade and emptying revolvers, when we got among them, right and left.

“The whole wagon train was thrown into panic. Teamsters wheeled their horses and mules into the road and, plying their black-snake whips, sent the animals galloping madly down the pike, crashing into other teams which, in turn, ran away. Infantry stampeded in every direction. Calvary, uncertain from which point the attack came, bolted backward and forward without any definite plan, Wounded animals all along the train were neighing and braying, adding to the confusion. Pistols and rifles were cracking singly and in volleys.” [21]

The conflict was strung out over a mile and a half which was the length of the wagon train. The effects of the surprise attack and resulting pandemonium had union troops and guards fleeing. Mosby gave orders to unhitch all teams that did not run away and burn the wagons. By eight in the morning the fight was over.

Similar to other accounts of this raid, Munson’s account may not be entirely valid and given the passage of time between the actual event and the publication of his book in 1906. The recollection of events and facts may have changed. Maryland did not have 100 day soldiers but Ohio had 42 regiments of 100 day men regiments. [22] Based on a newspaper article on the raid, the escort of the train was made up of 100 day’s men of the 144th and 149th Ohio regiments, whose time in service was to expire the very next day after the raid! [23]

One of the more reliable news stories reported by the Washington City National Republican indicated that the reserve brigade train had approximately 70 wagons. According to their news source, the 6th Corps left their wagon trains behind when they were transported from Louisiana to Washington City after the Red River Campaign and were furnished new wagons for the Shenandoah Campaign. Purportedly the original wagons caught up with the regiment in Washington and a quartermaster under ‘misperceived’ orders put together the reserve brigade wagon train and attempted to follow the division to the front.

Among the troops that were part of the reserve brigade wagon train was a Major Sawyer, paymaster, who was ordered to pay off Colonel Devine’s brigade of calvary. He purportedly had $100,000 in greenbacks for payroll in his possession. According to the writer of the newspaper story:

“At five ‘clock, a.m. the rebels, posted in the woods on the road began firing with pistols, and the guards skedaddled, threw down their guns and vamoosed. This left the long train at the mercy of the guerrillas, and there was a good deal of scrambling.”[24]

As reported in the newspaper article and in Munson’s recollections with the Mosby’s Raiders, Major W.E. Beardsley, commanding the 6th New York Calvary, was with the wagon train and immediately ‘put himself in fighting order‘ when Mosby attacked the wagon train. He had a galloping duel with a rebel officer and two other skirmishes with Mosby’s men. He moved upon four men who were attempting to rob the Paymaster’s wagon. “As the Major’s regiment was particularly interested in the greenbacks there deposited, it may naturally be supposed that he neglected no chance for rescuing the devious deposits.” [25]

Beardsley dispersed the four guerrillas from the wagon and although the brigade mail had been captured and carried off, the greenbacks were untouched.

John Munson, one of Mosby’s men, told a different tale:

“Among the wagons burned was one containing a safe in which an army pay-master had his greenbacks, said to be over one hundred thousand dollars. We overlooked it, unfortunately, and it was recovered the next day by the enemy, as we always supposed; but there is a story afloat in the town of Berryville that a shoemaker who lived there at the time of the fight got hold of something very valuable among the wreckage of our raid and suddenly blossomed out into a man of means, marrying later into one of the best families of the valley. He never would tell what his new-found treasure was. Maybe he got the safe and greenbacks.” [26]

George Perkins also ‘recalled’ a different story about the incident with the greenbacks:

“The paymaster was shrewd; he had packed the money in a cracker box and placed it in a wagon, keeping his strong box in his own vehicle. During the fight this cracker box was tumbled down the banks of a little creek that ran through the field. I saw it lying there and after the skirmish the paymaster came back and got it.” [27]

A report by Lieutenant Colonel Frederick R. Miller, officer of the 144th Ohio National Guard, which does not appear in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (O.R.) but was published in the September 2, 1864 edition of the Upper Sandusky Wyandot Pioneer newspaper, attributed the success of the raid to some extent on the delay of the train of the Cavalry Corps in moving from Bolivar (Harper’s Ferry), the wagon training being stalled by the breaking of the bridge three miles north of Berryville, and finally the parking of the train near Berryville. [28]

Despite differing stories about the Berryville Wagon Train raid, it was nevertheless a major event. Not only did Mosby disrupt a major supply chain for Sheridan’s campaign, it captured union soldiers (one of which was Daniel Griffis), livestock, horses and mules, supplies, documents and mail, and ammunition.

What Really Happened on August 13, 1864?

Depending on what news source a newspaper obtained their information on the raid, the facts and figures varied considerably in regard to the number of prisoners captured, the number of livestock and equine stock was confiscated, and the number of wagons burned. With few exceptions, the Union based newspapers relied on a terse telegraph message from Secretary of War Stanton who quoted General Sheridan’s comments that the result of the raid was exaggerated by Mosby.

The following provide an illustrative example of the range of differences in newspaper reporting across the Republic and the Confederacy. Blue background reflects Union oriented newspapers and grey back ground reflects Confederate oriented newspapers. This is not a representative sample of newspapers reporting the incident. Of the few articles that are referenced, the article from the National Republican (Washington City) · 22 Aug 1864, appears to have the most information about the wagon raid.

Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) · 19 Aug 1864, Fri · Page 2:

50 wagons and 400 mules captured

Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT) · 23 August 23, 1864, Page 2

“47 wagons captured and 120 cattle”

New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) · 14 Aug 1864, Sun · Page 4

“15-20 wagons burned”

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · 17 Aug 1864, Wed · Page 1

“The story of plunder taken from me by rebels, is humbug;”

New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) · 17 Aug 1864, Wed · Page 4

“Stories about accumulated plunder untrue”

Fort Wayne Daily Gazette (Fort Wayne, Indiana) · 17 Aug 1864, Wed · Page 2

“Stories of plunder is humbug”

National Republican (Washington, District of Columbia) · 19 Aug 1864, Friday · Page 2

“losses will amount to about 50 wagons, 400 mules, 200 head of cattle, and from 150 to 170 men…”

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier (Bangor, Maine) · 19 Aug 1864, Fri · Page 1

“The attack upon the supply train proves our losses to be 50 wagons, 400 mules and 150 men. The 100 days men became panic stricken, threw down their arms, and fled like sheep.”

National Republican (Washington, District of Columbia) · 22 Aug 1864, Mon · Page 2 Part One

National Republican (Washington, District of Columbia) · 22 Aug 1864, Mon · Page 2 Part Two

“By this raid, the rebels captured forty-seven wagons, all but ten of which were burned, and one hundred and twenty head of cattle.”

News story from the Charlotte NC Democrat, 23 August, 1864, Page 2

“…captured and destroyed seventy-five loaded wagons and secured over two hundred prisoners, including several officers, between five and six hundred horses and mules, upwards of two hundred beef cattle, and many valuable stores.”

The Weekly Standard (Raleigh, NC) · 24 Aug 1864, Wed · Page 1

“…capturing and destroying 75 loaded wagons and taking over 200 prisoners, including several officers, and between four and six hundred horses and mules, 200 head of cattle and other valuable stores.”

The Daily Selma Reporter (Selma, Alabama) · 17 Aug 1864, Wed · Page 2

“…capturing and destroying 75 loaded wagons and taking over 200 prisoners, including several officers, and between five and dsix hundred beef cattle and many valuable stores.”

The Daily Conservative (Raleigh, North Carolina) · 20 Aug 1864, Sat · Page 1

“…captured and destroyed seventy-five loaded wagons and secured over 200 prisoner, including several officers, between five and six hundred horses and mules, upwards of 200 head of cattle and other valuable stores.”

From Berryville to Richmond: A long Journey for the Prisoners

After the raid, Mosby’s attention turned to the immediate needs of removing three hundred prisoners, nearly nine hundred head of captured stock and other spoils out of Sheridan’s country. Their decision was to take the prisoners, the animal stock and booty to Rectortown, Virginia which was twenty-five miles south and over the mountain ridge in Fauquier county. Mosby ordered his men to unhitch all the teams that had not run away and to set fire to the wagons. They fastened loose harnesses on the animals and starting hoarding them into one drove down the pike towards the Shenandoah River. Some of the Raiders decked themselves out with officer uniforms found in the baggage of the wagons. From one of the wagons, some of the raiders found musical instruments and “the leaders of the mounted vanguard made the morning hideous with attempts to play plantation melodies on tuneless fiddles.” [29]

They crossed the Shenandoah River and began their ascent of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Down the turnpike into the rushing Shenandoah, regardless of ford or pass, dashed the whole cavalcade; some swimming, some wading, others finding ferriage at the tail of a horse or steer.” [30]

It is not known which mountain ‘gap’ pass they crossed. It could have been Snicker’s Gap or Ashley’s Gap. They arrived in Rectortown at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, the same day of the raid. After dividing the horses and plunder among the Raiders, they sent the mules and the cattle to General Robert E. Lee for the use in the Army of Virginia. The animals were driven through Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpepper and Orange counties as far south as Gordonville, Virginia. Guards were detailed to also take the prisoners to Gordonsville. [31]

The trek from Rectortown to Gordonsville is 64 miles and would take approximately 22 and a quarter hours to walk.

Among the Union prisoners, including Daniel Griffis, was William McCommon, a member of Company “A” of the 149th Ohio Volunteer Infantry “100 day men” troops. McCommon wrote about his experiences of being captured during the Berryville Wagon Raid and his subsequent prison life in a letter. [32] While it is not entirely certain that his experiences are identical with Daniel Griffis’ experiences, it is highly likely that his path from Berryville to Richmond, Virgina and then to Salisbury Prison, North Carolina were similar if not identical to Daniel Griffis.

McCommon indicated they crossed the Shenandoah River after their immediate capture and marched on the first day for thirty miles, probably to Rectortown, Virginia. It appeared that the guards ordered many of the prisoners to ride the mules that were also captured. The next day’s ride took them to Culpepper Court House, Virginia. On the map above, that is approximately half way to Gordonsville, Virginia, the location mentioned in Munson’s memoir.

However, at the end of the third day McCommon indicated that they reached Lynchburg, Virginia where they were placed in an old tobacco warehouse. He indicated that there were three hundred prisoners in the warehouse when they arrived. The distance between Gordonsville, Virginia and Lynchburg is 87 miles and would take approximately 30 hours to walk. If the prisoners were escorted to Lynchburg, then McCommon’s story is factually incorrect since it is unlikely that they marched 87 miles in one day on their third day of their forced movement. It is conceivable that they marched to Gordonsville, which was a day’s march away) and were placed in an old tobacco warehouse in Gordonsville.

Danville Prison
Thurson, J. M., Drawing, Company F, 90th Ohio Vols., View of Danville, VA Where Union Prisoners are Confined, 1865, Library of Congress [33]

McCommon’s reference to Lynchburg and tobacco warehouses suggest that the prisoners were incarcerated at Danville Prison. During the Civil War, six Danville, Virginia tobacco warehouses were converted to use as prisons for captured Union soldiers. The brick or wooden structures were stripped of all furnishings, including chairs and lamps. During the fifteen months, between December 1863 and February 1865, Danville housed Federal prisoners. The prisoners faced brutally cold weather in the winter and sweltering heat in the summer.

“We were quartered on the dirty floor, covered with tobacco dust. You could hear the men sneeze in all languages. Our fare was still one loaf of bread for two men. [34]

While McCommon’s writing suggests that the soldiers captured in the Berryville Wagon Raid were marched as far south as the Danville Prison in Lynchburg, I am led to believe that the prisoners were actually incarcerated in Gordonsville as Munson indicated in his book.

The likelihood that the prisoners were brought to Gordonsville is also substantiated by the past practices of Mosby’s Raiders in managing prisoners. The Raiders brought prisoners from their raids to Gordonsville in the past.

Map showing route taken by Mosby with his prisoners, Nov. 27th-29th, 1863 [35]

In this detailed map (above) from an unidentified printed map, Union soldier Robert Sneden traced the circuitous route he and other prisoners, captured by Mosby’s Guerillas during the Mine Run Campaign, followed from near Rappahannock Station, Virgina, to Woodville, down the Blue Ridge Valley, through Madison Court House and on to Gordonsville. Sneden has annotated the map with the names and locations of many of the small communities through which he passed.

Gordonsville, Virgina was a critical crossroads in the Civil War, as key supply lines funneled through the town by rail and road. Gordonsville also was home to the Exchange Hotel Civil War Receiving Hospital, treating more than 23,000 sick and wounded between June 1, 1863 and May 5, 1864. [36]

The Confederates kept the prisoners in Gordonsville (or Danville) for four weeks and then moved them to Richmond, Virgina. It is not known if they were transported via rail or marched to Richmond. If they marched, it would have taken them approximately 22 hours.

Gordonsville to Richmond would take 22 hours to march.

They remained in Richmond, Virginia for one night and then the prisoners were moved across the river to Belle Isle Prison.

Daniel Griffis’ journey as a prisoner from Berryville to Richmond [36a] Click to see enlarged view of map.

During the Civil War more than 400,000 soldiers and thousands of civilians were imprisoned and about 56,000 died in captivity. When someone was in captivity, timing of being captured mattered. Union prisoners captured before July 1863 died at a rate of 4 percent and those captured after that month died at a rate of 27 percent. [37]

Lacking means for managing large numbers of captured troops early in the war, both sides relied on the traditional European system of parole and exchange of prisoners. A prisoner who was on parole promised not to fight again until his name was “exchanged” for a similar man on the other side. Then both of them could rejoin their units. While awaiting exchange, prisoners were briefly confined to permanent camps. The exchange system broke down in mid 1863 when, after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln, the Confederacy refused to treat captured black prisoners as equal to white prisoners. The prison populations on both sides then soared. [38]

Park Ranger Stephanie Steinhorst describes the conditions and hardships of prisoners of war during the American Civil War. The video touches on the subject of why the prisoner parole system failed during the war and how many soldiers were kept as prisoners during the Civil War. This video is part of the American Battlefield Trust’s In4 video series, which presents short videos on basic Civil War topics.

Captives moved like flotsam from capture to prison and then often from one type of prison to another. [39] For example, when the Confederates placed Hiram Eddy, a captured regimental chaplain in an abandoned tobacco factory in Richmond on July 28, 1861, it was just the start of his journey. He spent three nights in September on a prison train to Charleston where he was moved back and forth between the city jail and the Castle Pickney prison. Then on January 1, 1862, he was transported to Columbia, South Carolina and remained there for two months before returning to the original tobacco factory and then Libby Prison in Richmond. With the union army moving up the peninsula close to Richmond, he was moved to the Salisbury Prison, North Carolina. After a year, three states, six prisons and 1,400 miles, in July 1862, he returned to the nation’s capital. [40]

Richmond Prisons and Belle Isle Prison

Throughout the Civil War there were 25 locations in Richmond, Virginia that housed Civil War prisoners. [41] As the capital of the Confederacy and a major rail hub, Richmond was a center of activity during the war, including the management and transportation of prisoners. Numerous prisons were established in and around the city to accommodate the large influx of Union prisoners from both the Eastern and Western theaters of the Civil War. Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, Castle Lightning, and Belle Isle are representative of the prisons in the Richmond area. [42]

While Libby Prison housed captured Union officers, the majority of common soldiers and noncommissioned officers were incarcerated at Belle Isle Prison. During the 18 months the prison was operating, more than 20,000 prisoners were received at various times. Estimates have the death total at nearly 1,000 men. 

Belle Isle is a 54-acre island in the city of Richmond, Virginia and lies within the James River. It was a popular recreational area in the 1800’s for the citizens of the city. It was converted into a training sight for new recruits at the beginning of the Civil War. By the second summer of the war, however, Belle Isle opened as a prisoner of war camp to ease overcrowding at Libby Prison. The island prison was meant to be a temporary solution, and no structures were actually built to house prisoners. Three-foot-high earthworks enclosed a 6-acre space which was sufficient for a ‘wall’ since the surrounding rapids in the river served as a good deterrent against escape. Prisoners lived in flimsy pole tents—10 men to a tent—without adequate shelter from rain or cold. Officers and guards did have proper quarters nearby. 

A Confederate photograph taken in the field shows tents where Union prisoners of war were housed on Belle Isle, an open-air prison located on an island in the James River across from Richmond. The photographer, Charles R. Rees, took the image from a high point on the island; in the distance, at center left, is the Capitol. Click to view enlarged photo. [43]

The site was technically able to hold 3,000 prisoners, and reached its capacity within 2 weeks after opening. In mid-July 1862, there were 5,000 prisoners on the island. The prisoner-exchange program helped reduce the prisoner count in the prison. Prisoners were processed from Belle Isle through Libby Prison until the prison was nearly vacant. By September 23, 1862, the prison was closed. However, the breakdown of the prisoner exchange made the space on Belle Isle needed once again, and the prison was reactivated in May 1863.

In January 17, 1863, the prison was re-opened then closed until May, when it was opened again. By November, the prison population reached 6,300 prisoners. When the prison was reopened in 1863, the earthworks were increased to 5 feet high with ditches running along both sides. The inside of the prison was marked off with 60 streets radiating from a central avenue. The streets were lined with tents for the prisoners, with about 14 to 15 men per tent.

Although its intended capacity was 3,000, there were only 300 prisoner tents for shelter. Prisoners outside of a tent were on their own for survival. At its peak, there were 10,000 prisoners on Belle Isle, and many prisoners suffered from lack of shelter. During the cold winter of 1863, up to fourteen people would freeze to death each night. [44]

The lack of shelter the elements were not the only threat in camp. Diseases such as dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, and small pox raged through Richmond and the prisons. Sick inmates on Belle Isle were treated in the nearby hospital tents, with severe cases being sent to a hospital in the city. The limited and inconsistent supply of food was not sufficient to sustain the prisoners. Prisoners resorted to stealing among themselves and the prison guards. Hungry soldiers were known to steal the guards’ pets, such as chickens and dogs for food.

“It was a bleak spot, bare of trees. Some of the prisoners had tattered tents, the majority had none. It rained every day we were there and the fog was so thick you could almost cut it until about noon. We had no protection whatever from this weather, and we would walk around in the night in the rain until we fell asleep on the muddy ground. We would lie there until awakened by the intense cold, to get up and walk again. Here they fed us on wild pea soup… . the meals were never on time, as it took the cooks an hour or more to skim the maggots off the soup… . “ [45]

Belle Isle Prisoner, Source Library of Congress [46]

In February 1864, the Belle Isle prisoners were moved to Anderson prison in Georgia. On February 7, prisoners began leaving in groups of 400 men via train to Georgia.

“In February, 1864, the Bureau arranged the initial shipment of Federal prisoners from Virginia to the new and soon to be notorious camp at Anderson, Georgia.  The captives numbered more than twelve thousand.  To minimize congestion, Sims (Frederick William Sims was Military Superintendent of Railroads of the the Confederacy) limited departures to a single daily trainload of four hundred.  To discourage escape they were routed inland via Petersburg, Gaston, Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta. Though the prisoners were crammed into half-ruined boxcars which afforded little protection from the weather, the journey probably was a lesser ordeal than their subsequent confinement. … Late in June, as the enemy closed in upon Richmond and Petersburg, a particularly heavy mass was dispatched from Virginia, this time by the new Piedmont road (rail line) .” [47]

By March 1864, the last group of prisoners left Belle Isle. In June, 6,000 men were confined here but they were all transferred out to Danville Prison and Salisbury Prison by late October.  Daniel Griffis was one of those ‘last wave’ of prisoners that were housed at Belle Isle and then transferred on October 9, 1864. As McCommon wrote:

“We remained for seven weeks on Belle Isle, when we were sent to Salisbury, N.C. We thought Belle Island was awful, but this place, no man can describe it, only an ex-prisoner of war.” [48]

Daniel Griffis and his fellow prisoners were among a large contingent of prisoners moved from Belle Isle to Salisbury Prison due to the fall of Atlanta and the ongoing siege of Richmond which made it easier for the Union army to potentially rescue its Union prisoners. Salisbury received some of the Richmond prisoners, and after October 1864, the majority of newly captured Union prisoners. [49]

Prisoner Transport From Richmond to Salisbury

It is not known how Daniel Griffis was transported from Richmond, Virgina to Salisbury Prison in Salisbury, North Carolina. There were a number of possible rail routes, depending on the condition of railroad for various lines.

By September 1863, the Southern railroads were in bad shape. They had begun to deteriorate very soon after the outset of the war, when many of the railroad employees headed north to join the Union war efforts. Few of the 100 railroads that existed in the South prior to 1861 were more than 100 miles in length. [50] The Confederate railroad lacked sufficient rail mileage. There were gaps between key rail lines. There was a general inability to repair and maintain tracks and rolling stock . The Confederate rail system had differences of gauge between the various rail companies. The Confederacy witnessed a general failure to build badly needed new lines which ultimately hurt the infrastructure of the government and commerce. [51]

Map of Confederate Railroads from Robert C. Black, The Railroads of the Confederacy, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, click for larger view. [52]

Anderson Prison in Georgia was further south than the Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. Logistically, transporting Union prisoners from Richmond to Anderson required a number of stops and transferring prisoners between rail lines that possibly had different gauge track. The “new Piedmont road” was an addition of railroad track built by the Piedmont Railroad during the war between Danville and Greensboro. On the map above it is numbered as ‘9’. This new rail connected the Richmond and Danville railroad line (number 9 on the map) with the Piedmont Railroad (number 15) and the North Carolina Railroad (number 20 on the map). All three rail lines had identical rail gauge of four feet and eight and a half inches and effectively provided a line for continuous travel or rail transportation between Richmond and Salisbury.

Chattanooga, Tennessee: Confederate prisoners at railroad depot. source unknown

Click for larger view.

Given the Union army’s push toward Richmond in October 1864 and the improved rail line to Salisbury, it is likely that Daniel Griffis, among many other Union prisoners, were transported on prisoner train lines directly from Richmond to Salisbury.

Salisbury Prison

Lithograph – Bird’s eye view of Confederate prison pen at Salisbury, [53] Click on Image for Larger View

At the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederacy was unprepared to manage Union deserters, prisoners of war and Southern deserters and dissenters. Initially these individuals were placed in jails and abandoned buildings in major urban areas. In July 1861 the Confederate government appealed to the Confederate states for a prison. North Carolina, the only state to offer a prison, suggested the site of a former cotton factory in Salisbury. [54] Its location on a rail line would facilitate prisoner movement. The main structure, a four-story brick factory, and accompanying wooden buildings would sufficiently house the anticipated two thousand inmates. [55]

On November 2, 1861, the Confederate government purchased the sixteen-acre site for $15,000. Guards were hired, and repairs and modifications to the site were made. On December 9, 1861, depending on which historical sources is referenced, between 100 to 120 Union prisoners arrived. By May 1862 Salisbury Prison held more than fourteen hundred inmates. [56]

From December 1861, when Salisbury Prison opened, through September 1864, the prison experienced a 2 percent death rate. Between October 1864 and February 1865, the rate dramatically increased to 28 percent. An estimated 4,000 prisoners died at the prison during its existence, for an overall death rate of 26 percent. Bodies were collected daily at the “dead house” and hauled in a one-horse wagon to trenches in a nearby “old cornfield.” [57]

As McCommon described one aspect of death at Salisbury:

The last time I saw Armstrong and Ghormley (fellow soldiers of his regiment) they were piled on the dead wagon that came twice a day to collect the dead. The corpses were piled in, one on top of the other like so many logs, taken out and buried in trenches. [58]

Plan of Salisbury Prison, used by the Confederate Engineers. Pinterest source unknown

“The prison was enclosed by an 8-foot high fence with a parapet about 4-feet high running along the outside for guards to patrol along. The entrance was guarded by 2 cannon wit other cannon positioned along the portholes in the fence, with a full sweep of the inside of the compound. The prison headquarters was on the north side of the entrance gates, outside of the compound. The main building was located toward the southeast corner of the compound. The cottages were located in groups of 3 at right angles a short distance from the main building, toward the center of the compound. there was a blacksmith shop toward the front gate and later served as the “deadhouse”.” [59]

In late May 1862 prisoner exchange negotiations between the Union and Confederacy resulted in the parole of about fourteen hundred prisoners of war that were incarcerated in Salisbury. Salisbury Prison held few inmates until October 1864, the same time that Daniel Griffis was transferred from Belle Isle Prison to Salisbury Prison, when thousands of captives began arriving and when more were diving each day at the prison. As stated, timing of when one was captured and where one was incarcerated was the key for survival. Unfortunately for Daniel Griffis, he was captured and housed at Belle Isle and Salisbury Prison during the worse time for Union prisoners.

In the fall of 1864, escape from Salisbury Prison was considered almost necessary to save one’s life.  At the beginning of November 1864, the prison held up to 10,000 inmates (figures vary based on source of information), the largest number at any one time and far more than the 2,500 for which it was designed. Conditions quickly deteriorated. Inmates faced overcrowding, poor sanitation, limited availability of food and water, vermin, inadequate medical care, and lack of warm clothing and heating fuel. Sewage was worse than inadequate.  Pervasive filth brought rampant disease. Tents and dugouts in the ground served as makeshift shelters as buildings were converted to hospitals for the growing number of sick. With only thin, lice-infested rags for clothes, the vast majority of prisoners were forced to live outside on the ground as late-fall overnight temperatures dropped near freezing. Up to twenty men a day died in the fall of 1864 owing to these harsh conditions. [60]

Many prisoners had to dig dugouts in the ground to escape the rain and cold. The food ration was inadequate to sustain a prisoner even if he was healthy, well-clothed and sheltered, which most were not. Food rations, if handed out, might consist of half a loaf of bread and a pint of rice soup with a layer of bugs swimming on top. One prisoner claimed he lost 95 pounds in less than three months, ending up at 87 pounds. [59]

When the prison was flooded with new captives in October, the guards were expected to control thousands of prisoners living unrestrained in the open prison yard.  The guards marked a “dead line” six feet inside the wall and dared prisoners to cross it.  Any inmate who even got close was shot.  A few prisoners deliberately walked up to the line seeking relief from their miserable lives.

“Guard duty at the Prison was not popular. In 1861 the pay for a volunteer was $10 a month with a bounty of $11.  By June 1862 the bounty had increased to $100 and guards were taken as young as 16 years of age.  In July 1863 guard duty at the Prison was organized into a service known as the Home Guard with men between the ages of 18-50.  The Senior Reserves took over the guarding of the Prison by the summer of 1864 and they were composed of men above 45 years old.  These guards who came from various regiments including Gibbs Prison Guards, Howard’s Guards, Captain Henry Allen’s Company and Freeman’s Battalion oversaw approximately 15,000 prisoners from December 9, 1862 to February 22, 1865.” [61]

A new commandant, Major John Gee, was assigned to the Salisbury Prison late in the summer of 1864, about the same time the senior reserve guards arrived.  Prisoners judged Gee to be “cold-blooded” and “brutal and avaricious, void of all sense of honor.”  [62]

One of those prisoners who died in these harrowing times was Daniel Griffis. He arrived at Salisbury Prison on October 9, 1864, during a time when the prison was at its breaking point in terms of managing the prisoner population. After only three weeks at the prison, he was admitted to the prison hospital on October 30, 1984. He died a few days later on November 4, 1864 of “Int. fever”. [63] As stated at the beginning of this story, “Intermittent fevers” was a term that was used for a variety of illnesses, notably malaria. [64] After being a prisoner since August 13, 1863, 82 days as a prisoner during this ‘harrowing time’ undoubtably reduced his physical condition and health.

He was buried, as McCommon described seeing his deceased comrades of his Ohio regiment, in a trench with other prisoners. Many of the dead were buried in eighteen 240-foot-long trench graves without coffins in a former corn field. Exactly how many prisoners were buried in the trenches is not known. [65]

Shortly after he died, the most ambitious escape attempt by prisoners occurred on November 25, 1864, when captives rushed the prison gates, took guns from the guards, and tried to make a run into the woods. The guards fought back, firing a cannon three times and recaptured the men, who were weak from lack of food. About 250 men, including several guards, died in the desperate escape attempt. [66]

As a consequence of these conditions, Confederate authorities decided to remove the prisoners as soon as a safe place could be found for them. Out of the 10,000 or so prisoners, over 5,000 fell victim to starvation and disease. When it became apparent that the Confederacy was losing the war, the remaining Union prisoners were sent to Richmond, Virginia, and Wilmington, North Carolina.

February 1865, General Grant authorized a final prisoner exchange, and the Salisbury Prison was evacuated. By March 1865, all of the prisoners, except the infirm, had been evacuated.

“All POWs were transferred from Salisbury in February 1865, about six weeks before Maj. Gen. George H. Stoneman, on 12-13 Apr. 1865, destroyed the prison and other Confederate installations collectively known as the Salisbury Arsenal. In May Federal troops occupied the town, but in early September 1865 the Union commander turned over civil control of Salisbury to duly elected town officials. At the end of the war all Confederate property fell into Union hands and in September 1866 was sold at auction by the Freedmen’s Bureau to the Holmes brothers for $1,600.” [67]

In what became known as Stoneman’s Raid, Union General George Stoneman captured Salisbury and torched the prison April 12, 1865.  Three days earlier, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox.  Two days afterward, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

Aftermath of Daniel’s Death

It is not known when William Griffis found out that his brother died in the Civil War. Nor do we know when his father Joel Griffis was advised of his son’s passing. We do know that Joel Griffis subsequently filed for a pension as a dependent of Daniel Griffis on May 31st, 1877. [68] After a long series of affidavits, requests for additional information, and correspondence, Joel abandoned his request for a dependency pension. Frustrated, demoralized and exhausted, he wrote a letter to President Chester Arthur on June 22, 1882.

Salisbury National Cemetery

Salisbury National Cemetery was established by Confederate authorities to serve as the burial ground for captured Union soldiers incarcerated at the prison in Salisbury. Recent historical research has led to a dispute over how many men are believed to have died during the last year of the war and are buried in the cemetery. The dead were buried in 18 trenches measuring about 240 feet long, located at the southeast end of the cemetery. Surrounding the burial trenches are three burial sites of 412 soldiers of the Civil War who had been buried at Lexington, Charlotte, Morganton, and other places, and were transferred to the national cemetery in 1866. Most of the soldiers are unknown.

Colonel Oscar A. Mack, the inspector of cemeteries, said in his report of 1870-71, “The bodies were placed one above the other, and mostly without coffins. From the number of bodies exhumed from a given space, researchers estimated that the number buried in these trenches was 11,700. The number of burials from the prison pen cannot be accurately known.” The figure of 11,700 was generally accepted for many years. However, the actual number of that were buried is probably lower and it is doubtful the exact number will be known and verified. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers were likely buried at Salisbury Prison. The federal government was unable to verify the number of dead or compile a credible list of interments to a degree that would have allowed them to inscribe names on a single memorial or on individual headstones. [69]

The most accurate government-issued document associated with these burials is found in the Roll of Honor, No. XIV, compiled by the U.S. Army Quartermaster General’s Office, and published in 1868. Daniel Griffis is incorrectly listed as D.E. Griffith [70].

The cemetery was designated a national cemetery in 1865, but the land was not acquired until the early 1870’s. [71] The cemetery was dedicated in 1874, a wall was built around the perimeter the following year and by 1876 the headstones and a monument were in place. 

Salisbury National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. [72]

National Salibury Cemetery, Photos by Jenny Dené-Hotchkiss:

Salisbury national Cemetery
Salisbury National Cemetery
Salisbury National Cemetery
A 25-foot-high (7.6 m) granite monument topped by a statue of a soldier, erected in 1908 by the state of Maine.


Featured image: O’Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882, photographer, photograph from the main eastern theater of war, winter quarters at Brandy Station, December 1863-April 1864. Library of Congress Supply trains of the great armies numbered thousands of six-mule teams and during a campaign march the wagon train would stretch for several miles.

[1] May 31, 1877 letter from U.S. Adjutant General’s Office to the Bureau of Pensions, Department of Interior, Part of the file of Joel Griffis application for a military pension on behalf of Daniel Griffis, Pension File Application No. 231.631, National Archives, Civil War Pensions.

[2] Goellnitz, Jenny, Civil War Medical Terms, E-History, Department of History, Ohio State University, Page was accessed January 19, 2021

[3] D. H. Rucker, D.H., Acting Quartermaster General, Brevet Major General, Quartermaster General’s Office, General Orders No. 7, February 20, 1868. Names of Soldiers who in Deference of the American Union, Suffered Martyrdom in the Prison Pens Throughout the South, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1868, Page 44 of the linked version, Page 134 of the original version.

[4] Grant, General Ulysses S. , The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Old Saybrook Ct: Konecky & Konecky. (1886 and 1992). Pages 449-450

[5] Gallagher, Gary W., ed. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. Military Campaigns of the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006; Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001, Page 482; Wittenberg, Eric J. Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2002, Page 58-60; Morris, Roy, Jr. Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan. New York: Crown Publishing, 1992, Page 182-184; Philip Sheridan, Wikipedia, page access January 10, 2021; Shenandoah Valley Campaigns, Britania Sheridan’s Valley Campaign of 1864, Page accessed January 20, 2021 ; Editors of, Shenandoah Valley Campaigns,, Updated page August 21, 2018, Original page march 21, 2011, Accessed January 28, 2021; Showdown in the Shenandoah Valley: 1864 Valley Campaign, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove, National Park Service, Last updated: February 26, 2015; Gallagher, Gary, ed., The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 (Military Campaigns of the Civil War) Chapel Hill: University of North carolina Press, 2009

[6] Harpers Ferry and the Civil War Chronology, Harper’s Ferry national Park, National Parks Service, Department of Interior, Last updated: July 24, 2019

[7] Lackey, Rodney C., Notes on Civil War Logistics: Facts and Stories, United States Army Transportation Corps and Transportation School, Fort Lee, Virginia, date accessed December 15, 2020.

[8] Hess, Earl J., Civil War Logistics, A Study of Military Transportation, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2017, Chapter 6

[9] Hundred Days Men, Wikipedia, page last edited on 9 Nov 2018, page accessed 4 Jan 2021; Leeke, Jim, A hundred days to Richmond: Ohio’s “hundred days” men in the Civil War, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999; One Hundred Days Men, Ohio History Central, Page accessed 4 Ja 2021

[10] The 144th Ohio Infantry Regiment was mustered in at Camp Chase, May 11th, 1864, as a Ohio National Guard unit with 834 men, Colonel Samuel H. Hunt, reported at Baltimore and assigned to guarding fortifications in Maryland and Delaware; May 18th moved to meet Early’s invasion – Companies B, G, and I in Monocacy Junction battle, losing fifty killed, wounded and captured; July 13th returned to Washington, then into Virginia; attacked while guarding a train near Berryville, by Moseby’s command, loss five killed, six wounded, sixty captured; mustered out at Camp Chase, August 31st, about 700 men, Colonel Hunt commanding; of its captured many starved to death in Andersonville and other prisons.

The 149th Ohio Infantry was organized at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio, and mustered in as an Ohio National Guard unit for 100 days service on May 8, 1864, under the command of Colonel Allison L. Brown. The regiment was attached to Defenses of Baltimore, 8th Corps, Middle Department, to July 1864. 1st Separate Brigade, 8th Corps, to July 1864. Kenly’s Independent Brigade, 8th Corps, to August 1864. The 149th Ohio Infantry mustered out of service at Camp Dennison on August 30, 1864.

[11] Source: Hundred Days’ Men, Ohio History Central, Page accessed 8 Feb 2021; One Days Men, Wikipedia, Page accessed was updated on 9 November 2018

[12] Tolles, LTC C. W. , An Army: Its Organization and Movements, Second Paper, Continental Monthly, Volume 6, Issue 1, July, 1864, Page 3

[13] Perkins, George, A summer in Maryland and Virginia; or Campaigning with the 149th Ohio volunteer infantry, a sketch of events connected with the service of the regiment in Maryland and the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia; Chillicothe, Ohio: The Scholl printing company, 1911, Page 32

[14] O.R., Series 1, Volume 11, Part 3, Chapter XXIII, pp. 376-377 , General Order 155,” actually published as a circular, dated August 14, 1862, from S. Williams, Adjutant General, Army of the Potomac Point 10: To each brigade train the brigade commander will assign a guard of companies of 100 men. No other men will be permitted to go with the wagons. These companies will permit no straggler of any command whatever to join the train, compelling all such to join their own regiments or march as prisoners and assist the guard in giving aid to the wagons. The officers will exercise their cool judgment and energy to expedite the march and not wait to be asked for assistance. ; Rusling, Captain J. F. (1865). A Word for the Quartermaster‟s, appearing in the United States Service Magazine, Volume III. NY: Charles R. Richardson. Page 256

[15] 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, Wikipedia, This page was last edited on 11 December 2020, This page was edited on 11 December 2020 and page was accessed January 17, 2021;

[16] John S. Mosby, Wikipedia, Page was last edited on 11 December 2020, Page accessed January 4, 2021; Alexander, John H,  Mosby’s Men. New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1907; Williamson, James Joseph. Mosby’s Rangers: A Record of the Operations of the Forty-third Battalion Virginia Cavalry. New York: Ralph B. Kenyon, 1896; Munson, John W. Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerrilla. New York: Moffat, Yard, and Co., 1906

[17] James Riley Bowen, Regimental History of the First New York Dragoons: Originally the 130th N. Y. Vol; Infantry; During Three Years of Active Service in the Great Civil War, originally published by author 1900, Reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2012,  Page 213

[18] Perkins, George, A summer in Maryland and Virginia, Pages 33-34

[19] Munson, John W. Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerrilla. New York: Moffat, Yard, and Co., 1906, Page 106

[20] Ibid, Page 102-103

[21] Ibid, Page 105

[22] One Days Men, Wikipedia, Page accessed was updated on 9 November 2018

[23] National Republican (Washington, District of Columbia) · 22 Aug 1864, Mon · Page 2

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Munson, John W. Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerrilla, Pages 106-107

[27] Perkins, George, A summer in Maryland and Virginia, Pages 34-35

[28] Miller,Lieutenant Colonel Frederick R.Letter to the newspaper, The Wyandot Pioneer., Upper Sandusky, Ohio, September 02, 1864, Page 1

[29] Munson, John W. Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerrilla, Page 108

[30] Ibid, Page 108

[31] Ibid, Page 110

[32] McCommon, William, Company A, 149th Ohio Volunteers Infantry, My Capture and Prison Life, in Perkins, George, A summer in Maryland and Virginia, Pages 39-45

[33] Thurson, J. M., Drawing, Company F, 90th Ohio Vols., View of Danville, VA Where Union Prisoners are Confined, 1865, Library of Congress

[34] McCommon, William, Company A, 149th Ohio Volunteers Infantry, My Capture and Prison Life, in Perkins, George, A summer in Maryland and Virginia, Page 41

[35] Sneden, Robert Knox , Drawing on map, Map showing route taken by Mosby with his prisoners, Nov. 27th-29th, 1863., Library of Congress

[36] History of Gordonsville, Virginia, Welcome to the Town of Gordonsville. Page accessed 2 Mar 2021

[36a] This map was added after I published the story. I used an 1864 map of Virginia to track Daniel’s journey, as described in William McCommon’s letter, ‘My Capture and Prison Life’.

“(This map was) prepared by the Coast Survey for the Union Army in October 1864. The Civil War had turned decisively in favor of the Union, with Grant besieging Lee in Petersburg, Virginia since June and Sherman capturing Atlanta in September. This was the finest available map of the region, and copies would likely have been rushed to officers both at headquarters and in the field.

“At the outset of the Civil War, it became apparent to the Union leadership that there were few reliable maps available of the likely theatres of war in the Confederate states. As the Fedeal Government’s most sophisticated mapping agency the Coast Survey was quickly recruited into the war effort, tasked with compiling the best available information, and creating up-to-date maps of the southeastern United States. By the standards of their time, the resulting maps were superbly detailed, providing commanders with essential data about the natural and human geography of the regions in which they were operating.

“This map of Virginia and West Virginia is a fine example of the Coast Survey’s work. It is a compilation likely based on commercial and official sources including the Boye-Bucholtz map of Virginia (1859), the charting work conducted by the Coast Survey in the Chesapeake and on its tributary rivers, and field surveys conducted by Union engineers. The map places particular emphasis is placed on the transport networks essential to troop mobility and supply, with rivers and railroads highlighted with blue and red overprinting. Also of interest is West Virginia, admitted to the Union only in June 1863, its borders and name also highlighted in blue and red. Richmond, the ultimate target of Grant’s siege of Petersburg, is surrounded by concentric red circles at 10-mile intervals, fittingly placing it at the center of a massive bullseye.

“(This map) was first issued in 1862, though with significantly less interior detail and a somewhat different color scheme. It appeared again in 1863 and earlier in 1864, before this final edition appeared. All prior states of the map feature blue concentric distance circles around Washington, which have been removed from this edition.”

Map of the State of Virginia, issued by Bache and the Coast Survey in 1864, Compiled by W[alter] L. Nicholson / Lith. by Cha[rle]s G. Krebs, MAP OF THE STATE OF VIRGINIA Compiled from the best authorities and printed at the Coast Survey Office. Washington: United States Coast Survey, October 1864

[37] Costa Dora L. and Mathew Kahn, ” Surviving Andersonville: The Benefits of Social Networks in POW Camps”, American Economic Review 97, no. 4, September, 2007, Page 1468;

[38] American Civil War Prison Camps, Wikipedia, Page accessed January 28, 2021

[39] Kutzler, Evan, Living by Inches, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019, Page 11

[40] Kutzler, Evan, Living by Inches, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019, Page 10

[41] Richmond Prisons, Civil War Richmond, Page accessed 10 Oct 2020

[42] Prisoners in Richmond, National Parks Service, Richmond National Battlefield Park, Updated page 27 Sep 2017, accessed 15 Dec 2020

[43] Charles R. Rees, ca. 1863, Mounted photographic source: Valentine Richmond History Center; Belle Isle Prison, Encyclopedia Virgina

[44] Galuszka, Peter, A Deathly Island: Looking Back at Belle Isle’s Horrific Past, Style Weekly, 29 Oct, 2013, Page accessed 3 Mar 2021; Belle Isle Prisoner of War Camp, My Civil War, Page accessed 3 Mar 2021; Prisoners in Richmond, National Parks Service, Richmond National Battlefield Park, Updated page 27 Sep 2017, accessed 15 Dec 2020

[45] McCommon, William, Company A, 149th Ohio Volunteers Infantry, My Capture and Prison Life, in Perkins, George, A summer in Maryland and Virginia, Page 41-42

[46] A Richmond prisoner U.S. General Hospital, Div. No. 1, Annapolis, Md., Private Jackson O. Broshears [i.e. Brashears], Co. D, Indiana Mounted Infantry. On the back of the photograph: Age 20 years; height 6 feet 1 inch; weight when captured, 185 lbs.; was in rebel hands three and one-quarter months, 2 months of which were passed on Belle Isle. Under treatment in U.S. Hospital 8 weeks – constantly improving – now, May 19th, 1864, weighs 108-1/2 lbs., photographer not known, Albumen print, 1864

[47] Robert C. Black, Robert C., The Railroads of the Confederacy, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Page 361

[48] McCommon, William, Company A, 149th Ohio Volunteers Infantry, My Capture and Prison Life, in Perkins, George, A summer in Maryland and Virginia, Page 43

[49] Confederate Prison (Salisbury), NCpedia, 2006, Page accessed 3 Oct 2020

[50] Railroads of the Confederacy, American Battlefield Trust, internet page accessed January 28, 2021; Ramsdell, Charles, The Confederate Government and the Railroads, The American Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (July, 1917) pp. 794-810; Robert C. Black, Robert C., The Railroads of the Confederacy, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998

[51] Gallagher, Gary, Insight: Off the Tracks,, June 2019

[52] Map from Robert C. Black, Robert C., The Railroads of the Confederacy, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998

[53 ]Kraus, C. A, and J.H. Bufford’S Sons Lith. Bird’s eye view of Confederate prison pen at Salisbury, N.C., taken in. Boston ; New York: J.H. Bufford’s Sons Lith, 1864. Map.

[54] Walker, Leroy Pope, Governor’s Correspondence: Letter Authorizing the Establishment of a Confederate Prison in Salisbury, N.C., North Carolina digital Collections, July 18, 1861

[55] Salisbury Prison, Anchor, North Carolina Online History Resource, Page accessed January 25, 2020; Brown, Louis A., Confederate Prison (Salisbury), from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006; Kutzler, Evan, Living by Inches, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019, p 9

[56] Louis A. Brown, The Salisbury Prison: A Case Study of Confederate Military Prisons, 1861-1865 (1992); Sanders, Charles W., While in the Hands of the Enemy: Military Prisons of the Civil War, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University press, 2005; Brown, Louis A., Confederate Prison (Salisbury), from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006 ; Hesseltine, William B., ed., Civil War Prisons, Kent: Kent State University Press, 1977; Prison History, Salisbury Confederate Prison Association, Page accessed 15 Jan 2021; Annette Gee Ford, The Captive: Major John H. Gee, Commandant of the Confederate Prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, 1864-1865, North Carolina, manufacturer not identified, 2000; Joel R. Stegall, Salisbury Prison: North Carolina’s Andersonville, North Carolina History Center, : Civil War and Reconstruction, September 13, 2018, Page accessed 14 Jan 2021; Pike, Thomas, Salisbury prison was final stop for many, Post Bulletin , Rochester, NY, October 16, 2012

[57] McCommon, William, Company A, 149th Ohio Volunteers Infantry, My Capture and Prison Life, in Perkins, George, A summer in Maryland and Virginia, Page 43

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