Friday, March 26, 2010

The Long and Winding Baker Road to Center Lisle, by Sue and Jim Kinsella and Pat Herdeg

Last summer, during the week the Kinsella family spent at Lake George to celebrate Aunt CB and Uncle Jack's 60th wedding anniversary, our brother, Jim, organized a History Day. He's writing a history of our Baker ancestors and he wanted to see the area where they lived, near a town called Granville, not far from Lake George, when they first came to New York.

Today's Granville is a small village of about 2500 people, nestled up against the Vermont border. One of the sights our relatives would have seen every day were the Green Mountains of Vermont in the near distance. While Granville would eventually become the ‘colored slate capital of the world,' the slate deposits were only discovered in 1850, when the Bakers were long gone. Instead, back in their day, theirs was an agricultural life.

We trooped into the Granville Historical Society offices  and librarians brought us dozens of books, some hundreds of years old, so we could search them for references to our family - which we found! Then we piled into two cars and drove out into the countryside to find what might remain of the area called "Truthville" where our family had first settled.

We drove and drove until, at last, Jim veered off to the side of the road and pulled up in a desolate area. He sat staring straight ahead. Pat, who was in his car, realized that he was staring at the Green Mountains across the state line in Vermont, soaking in the sight that must have been so familiar to our ancestors. But there didn't seem to be anything left of the settlement.

I pulled my carload of history buffs up alongside Jim's and he called over to me, "You know that dip in the road a little ways back? That was where Truthville was supposed to be." He looked dejected. "It looks like there's nothing left now. I'll just try one more small side road and if we don't find anything there, we'll go back. I'm sorry ...."

I followed him as he turned down a nondescript country road. It looked just as unpromising as the previous dip in the road. But then ... we came around a corner and laid out before us was a small settlement, anchored by a white clapboard Baptist church. The sign in front of it said, "Erected 1784, The First Baptist Church in the Town of Granville." Jim cried, "This is the Truthville Baptist Church our Baker family founded!" 

We saw a woman coming from the church lot and Jim ran up to her, crying breathlessly, "Is there a river behind this church?" Yes, she said, there was. Jim again, "Is there a grist mill on the river?" She wasn't so sure of that, but her brother owned the house next door, on the river, and Jim could go look - or see it better from a bridge nearby.

Dad, Jim and I went into the church, which was getting ready to celebrate its 225th anniversary of continuous use. A deacon took Jim to see the original books describing the founding of the church and the early activities there, hand-written by one of our relatives. He actually held in his hands the same book our ancestors had held and written in 225 years before!

Jim was also given some of the beautiful lapped cedar panels from the original ceiling. I went up into the ancient attic to see remnants of the original wallpaper and building construction, while Dad took pictures of the sanctuary from the balcony. Pat, Tom and Christi, Mom and Chris went across the street to the cemetery and found many Baker gravestones memorializing our ancestors' siblings, nieces and nephews.

It was all deliriously amazing, but I really wasn't sure what I was seeing until Jim filled us in on the history. This is the story that he wove:

After arriving on the Mayflower, our Baker family eventually settled on the eastern side of Connecticut, near Rhode Island. In 1769, Jerusha Baker married John Joe Backus, who was from another family that had lived in the same area for many generations.

Both families had been leaders in the "Great Awakening," an evangelical religious revival promoted by independent, open-air preachers who drew large and emotional crowds. Benjamin Franklin devoted many front pages of his newspapers to these sermons, spreading the word even further.

This movement is credited with playing a key role in the development of democratic concepts leading up to the American Revolution. In particular, it challenged the traditional British conviction that social stability depended on deference to the privileged class. Instead, the preachers of the Great Awakening taught that the Bible declares all men created equal, with the true value of a man indicated by his moral behavior, not his class, and that the souls of all men can be saved. They called for religious freedom, claiming that liberty of conscience was an "inalienable right of every rational creature."

This attitude did not sit well with the Congregationalist Church, which was the establishment in CT, and those who did not conform to its authority were subjected to severe discrimination. Are you surprised to learn that the Baker and Backus families were among its targets? In fact, they were leaders in the very first church in New England to separate from the Congregationalist establishment and two of our ancestors' brothers served as pastors in this Separatist Church. The sanctions against them became so severe that John Joe and Jerusha decided to leave CT and follow her parents north to Jericho, MA.

Then the Revolutionary War broke out. Jerusha's brother, Solomon Baker, helped Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen (a distant Baker cousin) capture Fort Ticonderoga, on Lake George in what is now NY, from the British. John Joe volunteered for militia duty and marched with his MA comrades to the fort to help hold it.

The area around Fort Ticonderoga was a wild territory, with no roads, only trails too narrow even for wagons. There were very few settlements and the still-strong, fearsome Iroquois Indian presence discouraged migration. In addition, there were continuous raids by Tories who had fled to Canada after losing the Battle of Saratoga. Furious about losing their homes and lands, they frequently returned with the Indians to burn and ravage any area settlements attempted by American pioneers.

Are you surprised to learn that the Baker and Backus families found this to be a bracing and exciting opportunity? John Joe brought Jerusha from MA and they settled into a house abandoned by Tories, one that included a near-by grist mill. He convinced his in-laws, the Bakers, to join them, as well, in a settlement near Granville called Truthville.

The American victory in the Revolutionary War in 1783 brought peace to most of the colonies, but not to Washington County, where Granville and Truthville were located. Tories still mounted devastating raids on the area from Canada and, in one of those raids, John Joe and Jerusha's grist mill was burned down.

They were assaulted from other directions, as well. The debts incurred during the Revolutionary War crippled the nascent country for years and the Articles of Confederation exacerbated the situation by refusing to grant taxation authority to the central government. Farmers were hardest hit since taxes were calculated by their individual states largely based on the amount of land they owned.

By 1786, the inhabitants of the Granville area were beginning to believe they had traded one tyrannical government for another.  Several local farmers were put in debtors' prison, a number of others had their property and even homes confiscated, and the rest grew angry at their treatment by New York State. Trouble erupted in January when the residents of Granville forced a sheriff to actually EAT the writs for payment he had brought with him and then ran him out of town.

As one of the leaders in the town, John Joe Backus was almost certainly involved in this incident. NY sent in its militia and Jerusha's brother, Solomon Baker, a lieutenant of a company in Granville at the time, surely would have been among those sent in to quell what was termed a “rebellion." Luckily, or actually most likely because it was Solomon Baker versus John Joe Backus (relatives and friends), conflict was avoided.

(However, on an historical footnote, a farmer named Daniel Shay heard about this rebellion and started his own revolt in MA six months later. This "Shay’s Rebellion" is cited as the main reason the Founders scrapped the Articles of Confederation and created the stronger Constitution. Once again, our relatives quietly changed the course of the nation.)

By 1798, Granville's assessment listed 400 heads-of-household, with the Baker and Backus families among the richest. They had settled down to farm. As the county prospered through building bridges, creating highways for stagecoach lines, and increasing population, they prospered also. Stores, mills and blacksmith shops sprang up, and also churches.

By this time, probably still upset about the discrimination that had driven them out of CT, our families had turned their backs on the Congregationalist Church and become Baptists. Jerusha's brother, Benjamin, opened a tavern in Truthville and served as the first Deacon of the local Baptist church.

Yes . . . the same Baptist church that we discovered still in use on our History Day 225 years later! And the same Benjamin whose writing is in the original church log book that Jim held in his hands, and whose gravestone, along with those of his children, is in the cemetery.

Alas, despite having lived in the area for nearly 25 years, there were also storm clouds gathering. John Joe and Jerusha did not have clear title to their land. Two different people claimed to be the original owners. Our ancestors had paid one of them but the other claimed that he was the true original owner and should have been paid instead. In 1798, he sued.

Just as today, it took years for the lawsuit to wind its way through the courts, with several verdicts returned in our ancestors' favor. But in 1810, a higher court of appeal found against them. To settle the suit, our ancestors would have had to buy their land all over again, but this time at the much higher value created by their decades of work to make the area so prosperous. Are you surprised to learn that they said, "No way!"

So after more than 30 years, John Joe and Jerusha, along with most of their children, and Jerusha's brother Solomon, with his family of boys, vacated the land they had lived on for so long and pioneered again. This time, they chose land in an area that had been left unsettled when the first wave of pioneers had leapfrogged to the Genesee Valley.

Our Baker and Backus ancestors had started out young in the untamed Washington County near the border between NY and VT. Now in their sixties, they became the first settlers in a frontier land again - this time, the untamed territory of Cortland County, in southern New York.

In 1817, the families intermarried again. John Joe and Jerusha's daughter, also named Jerusha Backus, married Ira Baker, who as the son of Solomon, her mother's brother, was also her first cousin - a common pairing at that time. They would have a son whom they named Leonard Timothy Baker. And Leonard, in time, would become the grandfather of Ethel, Adin, Ruth and Lillian Baker of Center Lisle, in what is now Broome County in New York's Southern Tier.


Photo 1: The History Tour group outside the Washington County Historical Society library in Granville, NY - Aunt CB, Pat Herdeg, Christi (Tom's sweetheart), Tom Kinsella, Sue Kinsella, Jim Kinsella, Chris Kinsella; Photo by Jack Kinsella

Photo 2: Researching family history in the Historical Society library - Jim, Aunt CB, Christi, Tom, Chris

Photo 3: The Truthville Baptist Church in the township of Granville - and here's a mystery: Notice that the right side of the church, near the window, is blurred, as though a  mist or something is passing over it. I (Sue) took this picture after Jim, Dad and I had investigated the church, and after Jim had held the church's log book in his hands and I had explored the ancient attic. The pictures that I took before and after this are all crisp, and even the left side of the building in the picture looks fine. Note that the room where Jim read the log book is inside where that window on the right is. Do you think that maybe one of our ancestors could have come back while we were there to meet his future family while we were meeting our ancient one? Just asking.

Photo 4: Sanctuary of the Truthville Baptist Church

Photo 5: Original log book from building the church and its first years of service, written by Benjamin Baker, who was the brother of Jerusha Baker Backus

Photo 6: Gravestone of Benjamin Baker in the church cemetery


Pat said...


Great work!!

I love the picture with blurry mist on one side--WHICH of our ancestors came back to see us??!

And, while Sue did admit to 'going up to see the ancient wallpaper' in the church, did she write that she may have found a piece of that ancient wallpaper and taken it with her, bat guano and all?! Well, yes she did--our intrepid historian, ready to risk the hanta virus to get to the truth!

Loved reading about this--it WAS a fun day--afterwards, seeing the Saratoga battlefield was also interesting, with my brother Jim and the park ranger having two different takes on the battle--I am going with my Jimmy's version!


Pat said...

Whose front porch is at the top of the cousins blog? I want to go visit and 'set a spell', with a tall glass of lemonade, listening to stories, as we --all of us cousins are there on this porch, in my mind--smell the flowers of springtime....


Susan Kinsella said...

Ah, that's my friend Amanda's porch over in Tompkins County just the other side of Ithaca from Center Lisle. I love the feel of this picture, I take a little vacation from everything I worry about every time I see it, and I thought it was a good fit for representing our ancestors moving nearby to pioneer and farm.

I suspect their fields may have looked something like the one in the distance, and maybe they built porches like this, too. Plus, all the flora and fauna is the same as what they had.

Well, and also, I didn't get the "iconic" picture of Wendell's farm that would have been the most "center" of Center Lisle. If others have that or a similar picture - Joyce? Wendy? Kathryn? Others? - we could run them as a story, too.

AUNT CB/ MOM said...

Man alive! Is it any wonder that I am amazed with what these smart alecks accomplish? This story is wonderful and all true! It sent a quiver up my spine to be where so many of those who had gone before had been!!
On another note, Center Lisle is in Broome County. I know because when we were small we slept upstairs where Wendell and Joyce had their bedroom and on the wall was a LARGE map of Broome CTy for us to peruse!!
PS I wonder if that was Benjamin Baker spotting Sue for taking a piece of his wallpaper?

Jack Kinsella said...

What a wonderful stoy you told!!

Susan Kinsella said...

Ah, thanks for the correction on the county, Mom.

I didn't look it up, just went by Jim's info and probably he meant Cortland area. It did seem to me that it must be a huge county if it was all Cortland.

I've corrected the story to refer more generally to the Cortland area. I also realized that I was way off in my NYS geography, thinking that Center Lisle was over in the southwestern part of the state, so I corrected that, too.

After reading your comment, I looked up Broome County in Wikipedia. I'm not sure the entry there is entirely correct, I think I see at least one mistake ("prior to 1776, the Loyalists fled to the United States," when I believe it should read "Canada."). But I was impressed that it said that NYS established counties in 1683, when what is now Broome County was part of an enormous Albany County (any surprise?). At that time, the county encompassed northern NYS, all of what is now Vermont, and theoretically extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

So apparently the Baker-Backus families were "just" moving to a different part of their county when they moved down to the Center Lisle area. And, theoretically, they could have moved to where Diana, Judy or I live now and still been in the county!

Susan Kinsella said...

Okay, I checked the County info with Jim and learned that I had made a mistake when I assumed that when he said the Backus-Baker families moved to Cortland County, that meant they immediately went to the area around Center Lisle. (Clearly, I didn't know the geography there well enough.)

I learned from Wikipedia that Washington County, where our family first lived in Granville and Truthville, was originally part of the giant Albany County, then carved out to be named Charlotte County ("after the King's niece I believe," says Jim), and then changed its name to Washington County, in honor of George Washington, after the Revolutionary War.

As for our family moving to Cortland County, Jim says, "They moved to Solon (Bakers) and Freetown (Backuses) in Cortland County in 1811 (one of the Bakers married that year and didn't move until a few months later). It wasn't until 1872-74 that they finally moved to Broome County (Leonard Baker, and this after living in Solon, Cortland, and then Marathon...all in Cortland County)."

Jim adds, "Cortland County was made up of land given to soldiers in the Revolutionary War....While our ancestors were in that war, they didn't receive any land from this land grant. Instead, I believe they moved here partly because of the lawsuit I mentioned but I also think I have one piece of info stating a relation of the Backuses lived near Syracuse...I'm guessing he told his relatives that the land was good south of him and cheap."

I know Jim has been to the Cortland County Historical Society to research family history, plus done a lot of other research, and I'm amazed at all the details that he's gathered. Still, he says, "Lots more to research ... there's so much to learn!" Amen.

Carol White Wiley said...

Thanks for the interesting history lesson. John Backus and Jerusha Baker were my ancestors, so I found it a very informative.

Pat said...


Welcome to the blog and the family!

How far back are we related?

If you want to email for more history, etc, my email is

Otherwise, we will have stories about Bakers/Backus' in Canterbury, CT and most likely, back to the Mayflower contingent, who lived in Eastham on Cape Cod in Ma.


Vera K said...

Greetings: I'm a great grand-daughter of Jay Backus White. Descended from the Steven Hopkins (Mayflower) line. VERA K WHITE

Pat said...

Hello Vera!!

Welcome to our historical family blog!

It looks like we part genealogical history (looking at your name of Backus) back where Jerusha Baker and John Joe Backus had children--our Jerusha Backus--their daughter--married Ira Baker and we remained Bakers until my grandmother, Nancy Ethel Baker married Lloyd Taylor.

Of course, MY maiden name is Kinsella, and my married, Herdeg, so there you go--VERY hard to follow history with all of the women changing names, but it does give us avenues to explore that we might not have had if they had not!

Yes, we are also from your Stephen Hopkins Mayflower family. Living here in MA, I do get great information on the Mayflower side, but since it IS Mayflower families, MUCH has been written so easy to find on the internet.

Not so easy for other sides of my family.

Please do email me at if you have any other questions/comments, or family history to pass on!! If you have information on the Backus that we do not, and you want to write it up, I will put it up on our blog!


CB/Mom said...

Isn't this great to meet other relatives this way!! Please do get in touch with Pat and let us figure out how we are related!!
And to go back to Conn, when Great awakening upset the cart there, the separatists [ our relatives] were required to support the Congregational church even tho they had formed their own . They protested about ''taxation without representation " to no avail so they left!!!I do recognise that SPICE in all of our relatives!!!

CB/Mom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. said...

hello. I am great-great granddaughter of David Hatch (through his daughter Minerva Hatch, her son Jay Backus White, my mother Ina May White). I read this history with great fascination. Several years ago my sister and I visited Cortland Co., New York to learn more of our grandfather's family. We visited the McGraw Village Cemetery and found gravestones for Ira Baker as well as Isaac Jerome White and Minerva Hatch White. I live in Cumberland Co., VA in the home built by Jay Backus White. Judy Duncan

Pat said...



Looking back through our ancestry, I am guessing that you all are related through Polly, daughter of John Joe and Jerusha, while we are related through Jerusha, sister of Polly.

Your Polly married David Hatch.
Am I right?


PalmsRV said...

I'm also a descendant of John Backus/Jerusha Baker through their son John (and one of his wives -- not sure who). So glad to have found your blog.

Pat said...

Hello new cousin!

We part ways here in this generation, as we are descended from John Joe Backus's daughter Jerusha and you from their son John.

I see from your blog site--GREAT work--that your family moved on to other parts of the country--Michigan etc.

Good to meet you.

SaraG said...

Hello from another cousin, though more roundabout. I'm related (distantly) to the Backus family through the Mayflower connection, but also because I am studying their relationship to the Richardson family who moved to Livonia, New York (then Ontario, now Livingston, around 1805).

I am working on compiling a history of all the descendants of a particular Jonathan Richardson who moved to Livonia with (at least) 3 sons, and the widow of one, Daniel Richardson, married, as probably his third wife, John (6) Backus, son of John and Jerusha.

Whooh. That is a bit convoluted! But anyways, hi cousin!

Pat said...

So wonderful to hear from another cousin! Good luck with your book on the Backus' and Richardsons.

If you ever need an audience for a short preview of your book, think of us on the cousins blog--we love our history!

To reach me by email, just email Pat at My brother Jim is working on a book for the Bakers, so may want to commiserate!

Anonymous said...

Thank you sharing your experience, your information, and your passion! My husband descends from Ira and Jerusha (Backus) Baker, so you have really included his family in this! As I enjoy digging up the personal aspect of genealogy, finds such as this page are a rare treat, and fully appreciated! I don't have an account on here, so posting as anonymous, but you can email me, if interested, at ~Lila Pierce

Pat Herdeg said...


So good to meet another cousin! I will email you and we can figure out just how far back we go with your husband's side.