Mysteries We Wrestle With

We have learned a tremendous amount about our Compton ancestors, beginning in 1951 with my third great-grandmother Hannah Compton Wells in her Bible, but we’ve run across several mysteries along the way. For two of them we have recently found a measure of satisfaction, but others are still challenging and often frustrating.

What’s with all the Orange geography?

Our first geographic information about the Compton family came in the references Grandmother Wells made in her Bible. She said her grandfather who fought and died in the Revolution served in the First Militia of Orange County, New York. She told us her mother was buried in Sugar Hill, N.Y. and her father in Watkins [N.Y.], both of which are in the southwest Finger-Lakes area of New York, so the family had to have changed location. 

Listing showing William Compton’s name in First Regiment, Orange Co. NY, 
just as Hannah Compton told us in her Bible.

The statements in Hannah’s Bible seemed plain enough, but when the Internet came along, we found ourselves with confusing info on the names of places related to those ancestors. Many of them apparently had roots in Orange Co., New York. Fine. Others were connected to some place called Monterey, Stueben, New York. But Monterey, as best we could figure, was in western New York, on the other side of the mountains— fine, but we were also getting claims about some things “Orange” in the western area. Some even combined Monterey with Orange.

Now we have it mostly sorted out. We’re told that so many people in the southern Finger Lakes area came from Orange County in eastern New York that they fondly gave the name Orange to their township in their new western locale. As I understand it now, Monterey was a small borough in Orange Township, in what ended up as Stueben County. But I still protest records that say someone was born in Monterrey, Stueben in the mid-1700s because I know the area wasn’t settled until the end of that century.

See The Comptons’ Move to the Lakes for much more on that move.

What about the family and roots of Charles E. Wells?

Another mystery has been trying to find the family and roots of Grandmother Hannah’s husband, Charles E. Wells. Read about that pursuit and recent conclusions at  C.E. Wells.

Who was Salina Canfield?

My first introduction to this ancestral lady was in the notes I copied from Guy Lockwood in 1951. Grandmother Wells had written that her mother Hannah Post’s mother was “Mary Canfield Gibbs, and her mother was Slina Canfield [spelling hers].” For many decades I took that at face value—until the Internet came along.

There we find multiple claims that Salina was the wife of the William Compton who came from England and fought and died in the Revolution. One of the “Comptonology” sources gives Mary and Salina different fathers—Thomas Canfield and Samuel Canfield—with no connection offered between them (which would be possible if Salina was the mother of Mary).

We have another source, repeated twice, that agrees with Grandmother Hannah. Her niece, Harriet Compton Robinson, youngest daughter of Hannah’s brother Peter, made the same claim Hannah did, in virtually the same words, in letters to two different relatives. See Voices from the Past. Both times she states that “Hannah Post’s mother was Mary Canfield Gibbs and Mary Canfield Gibbs’ mother was Salina Canfield.”

Perhaps the most telling comments in both Harriet’s letters is what she said about the wife of  William of the Revolution. One first mentions him, followed by “what was his wife’s name I cannot find out.” In the other, after mentioning William, the author writes, “Rachel, can you possibly recall whom he married, the maiden name of our great-grandmother?” Then she goes on to recount the mother and grandmother of Hannah Post, as mentioned above.

At the same time, the obituary of one of Hannah’s nephews, Henry Clay Compton, says this:

The progenitor of the family in America … was William Compton who came from England to the United States, and with his wife, Salina (Canfield) Compton, settled in Orange County, N. Y. He served in a New York regiment during the Revolutionary War and was wounded in action. The best information is that he served in the First Regiment, Orange County Militia, under Major Zachariah DuBoise.

I include the last two sentences as confirmation of information we have from other sources, specifically:

  1. The location in Orange County

  2. The First Regiment

  3. His commanding officer

Here is a non-Internet­ source that lists Salina as the wife of William who came from England and fought in the War.

So what are we to believe? Since other family sources besides Hannah Wells say the same thing she said in her Bible, and since she is two generations closer than Henry Clay Compton, it’s tempting to believe her version. Wouldn’t Hannah have known who her own grandmother was, even though she never met her?

But what do we do with the other claims? It’s true that with Internet sources all it takes is one source to make a claim and others pick up on it and follow suit, but that doesn’t explain the Henry Clay Compton source—unless that was the original source that started all the Internet versions.

Did he actually die in the War?

Grandmother Wells said her grandfather “had his jaw shot off and died in the Revolutionary War.” We took that at face value and assumed it true for more than fifty years. Then we received a challenge to the idea, based on the information in the 1790 census. A descendant of William Compton’s other son (i.e., Hannah’s uncle Runyon) expressed doubts as a result of studying that census. He wrote:

. . . there is a Wm Compton in the 1790 census (Orange Co.): 2 males, 16 & over, 6 males, under 16, and 2 females. In both the 1800 and 1810 census records, there is Wm Compton and Wm Compton, Junior. (Runyen Compton is on the 1810 census as well.)  I had assumed that Wm. Jr. was the one who married Hannah Post, and that Wm was his father. What is the documentation that indicates that [the first] Wm was killed in the Rev. War? Is it possible he was injured and subsequently lived in Orange Co.? (The number and gender of the children of Wm. Jr. in the census records correspond very closely with the birth dates for them given on the web sites (Rootsweb,, etc.)

This does present a mystery. In 1790 “our” William, who would marry Hannah Post four years later, was just 14 and his brother Runyen was 16. That would fit the census’s “2 males, 16 & over,” but unless the man who fought in the War had other children we have no record of, it leaves several males unaccounted for.

As for the documentation of his death, in addition to my Hannah, who had only one generation between him and her, I have two other statements that he died, including another about his jaw being shot off. See Data Analysis. Also check out Voices from the Past. In those four family sources, it’s interesting that Hannah is the only one who says he died, while Harriet and Elva May just say he fought in the War—and even more interesting that Delphine doesn’t even mention him or the war. So we have other sources who don’t mention his dying in the War.

At the same time, it remains difficult to ignore Hannah’s word since she remains the closest to the fact—William’s granddaughter, even though she wasn’t born until forty years after the War. But . . . it’s hard to deny a census as well, even though it is the census with the barest amount of information of all those that would follow.

As I said, mysteries we wrestle with.

Where was Hannah Phebe Post born?

This mystery has evolved along the same lines as the one about Salina Canfield. Family sources say one thing, and Internet sources another. Referring to her mother Hannah Post, my ggg-grandmother Hannah Compton Wells wrote in her Bible that her mother was born in Holland. Since it was her grandmother, it seems like she would know. We’ve now found other family sources that say the same thing. Internet sources, on the other hand, give her a 1779 birth in “Orange County, NY,” or “Orange, N.Y.”

One of the family sources not only says she was born in Holland, but it gives a relatively detailed account of it, including the fact that she came over at age sixteen with her younger sister and stayed with an aunt in New York named Annaje Jans Bogardus. There is no mention of whether the parents, Peter and ??, ever came to America. See “Voices from the Past.”

Now another family source has surfaced—Delphine Lockwood Wilson, who is a descendant of Anna Post Lockwood, the oldest of William and Hannah Phebe’s eleven children. The very first words in that record are that “Hannah Post came over from Holland.”

The above was fairly convincing—until a current family member who has lived in Holland pointed out that Salina, Canfield, and Gibbs are definitely not Dutch names. (Post could be either Dutch or English.) So where does that leave us?

Looking at the information we have at this point, I want to lean toward the reports of family members—except for the challenge of the names that aren’t/ weren’t Dutch. I guess it is back to guessing games and hypotheses and mysteries.

An additional challenge and problem with all this comes when we try and correlate the dates. If Hannah Phebe Post was born in 1779 and came to America at age 16, that would be in 1795. However, the marriage date we have for her and William is January 1794, with their first child born in November of the same year—both of those dates a year before the 1795 date when she would have been 16 if born in 1779. But then, our evidence for the 1779 date may not be rock solid, and it claims to be an American birth date. If she was born in Holland, then the American birthday has little value.

Of course we know that Internet information, as much as it sometimes uncovers exciting things for us, carries no guarantees of accuracy. So how do we know which of these dates are or are not correct is, at the moment, anyone’s guess. The only date my ggg-grandmother Hannah (our oldest source) mentioned was the one for Sir Spencer’s battle.

Is Sir Spencer Compton really in our line?

Our biggest mystery and missing link is the one to Sir Spencer Compton. It is intriguing that that link is still missing, given how many Compton descendants are interested in genealogy and how many sources we have that mention a Spencer connection (I myself know of at least five). This is what we know at this point (January 2012).

·    Sir Spencer Compton, second Earl of Northampton, had six sons.

·    The first, James, inherited the title and clearly was not a “younger branch” of the family, as Hannah Wells put it. Her niece Harriet explained it this way: “The reason for the Comptons leaving England was … that in those days the oldest son was the heir to all estates, leaving the remainder of the family …. poor …. hence they left Eng. & came to America.”

·    Back to Spencer’s family. Two sons died without children, and one son had only a daughter. Counting James, we have quickly eliminated four sons L.

·    A fifth son, Sir William, in his will left everything to his nephews, strongly indicating he had no children of his own.

·    That leaves only Sir Charles (the second-born). He had two sons, and his son Hatton had three sons, but we have little information on them—except that none, as far as we know, was named William.

One of the handwritten family sources says that William Compton who came to America was “one of the three sons of the house of Warrick in England….” It is hard to write this off since the family estate, Compton Wynyates, is in “Warwickshire,” a location mentioned by Hannah Wells in her account. So still, a mystery to wrestle with.

Observation: While Hannah Wells speaks of her grandfather as being “grandson of a younger branch” of Spencer’s family, there must have been several more generations between her (born 1821) and Spencer (died 1643), or even her father (reportedly born 1776) and Spencer. If it were to turn out that one of Hatton’s sons emigrated to America, that would put four generations between Spencer and Hannah Wells. If  Hatton’s grandson, it would be five.

And so we continue searching, analyzing, and looking forward to word from other descendants of what they are finding.

As for whether there ever really was a connection between the American Comptons and Sir Spencer Compton, it is worthy of note that our branch of Comptons are not the only ones who make this claim. Just about every source that talks about William Compton who fought in the Revolution also talks about Spencer. All but one branch of our family with whom I’ve so far become acquainted carries the story.

In one sense, that's what makes it all the more a mystery that we don't have full and correct information. However, we're talking about several generations and more than 150 years between Spencer and the Compton children and even more generations to later descendants who passed it on, so perhaps it's not surprising most of them had only "broad strokes" about the generations in between.  

Sources Referred to in this write-up: Four in-family sources, plus two “Comptonology” sources. For more on the first four, see Voices from the Past.

Hannah Compton Wells –granddaughter of William who fought in the Revolution. Hannah’s information was written in her Bible, likely many years before she died in 1888. (Shared by Esther Gross, descendant of Hannah.)

Harriet Compton Robinson –daughter of Peter Compton, great-granddaughter of William who fought in the Revolution. We have two letters, one at least written by Harriet to another family member telling about the family history. (Shared by Shelley Compton Hutchens, descendant of Runyen Compton.)

Delphine Lockwood Wilson –daughter of Anna Lockwood’s son William, so second great-granddaughter of William who fought in the Revolution. Dated 1911. (Shared by Ellie Drake, descendant of Anna.)

Elva Mae Dunham and likely her two sisters –great-granddaughters of David Compton, so third great-granddaughters of William who fought in the Revolution. Their mother and aunt are believed to be their sources, so that would put them one generation closer, done perhaps the 1920s.  (Shared by Robert Schwab descendant of David.)

Comptonologies – I have two files called “Comptonology.” One is credited to a William H. Compton, “keeper of the Comptonology Records, and the other to “Mrs. Ethel Compton Thomas.” William reports that he gathered [his information] from records in the Bible of Edith Runyon, by then deceased. The two do not have identical information.