How the Willes Family Came to Potsdam, St. Lawrence County, New York

My 3rd Great Uncle, Bela Willes read a notice in the newspaper and decided to join a commune starting up with promises of land and everyone treated equally in Potsdam, St. Lawrence County, New York. The rest of his immediate family decided to go along with Bela.

Bela, along with his parents, Sylvanus and Eunice (Davidson) Willes, and his brothers Jabez, Oliver, and Wilder along  with his wife, went off for an adventure with hopes of claiming land in Potsdam.

The other two Willes brothers, Luther and Ziba, traveled to the Western Reserve in hopes of adventure and claiming land. With the two brothers, Luther’s wife, Fanny Willey, and her parents and siblings accompanied the two brothers. The group had to stop in Erie, PA to retool and raise more funds for their journey. Winter was upon them, another reason for staying in Erie. Ziba started a newspaper in Erie during this rest stop and became friends with another newspaperman, who decided to travel with the party, which left in the spring to the Western Reserve.

Meanwhile, Bela became a member of the commune, while his other two brothers, Jabez and Oliver established themselves in Potsdam by starting businesses. Jabez and Oliver were instrumental in incorporating the village into the town of Potsdam. In Potsdam, Jabez became a politician and judge, and Oliver became a businessman while starting a factory.

In the meantime, Wilder, Orinda, Sylvanus, Eunice settled on an island in the 1000 Island Chain near the mainland of St. Lawrence County, New York. Wilder and Orinda probably met and married at Newberry College (Vermont) while studying to become teachers. Wilder and Orinda taught school while Sylvanus and Eunice started to farm on the island. The commune failed and Bela became a Methodist minister (circuit rider), establishing a Methodist church and a school-house in Canton, St. Lawrence, New York.

When Wilder and Orinda’s two daughters were born, the family moved back to the mainland.  When the commune broke apart, each member received the land they farmed during the experiment. Bela became involved in the church; he transferred the farm to Wilder. Wilder became a successful farmer and raised his growing family, along with having his parents, Sylvanus and Eunice, living also on the farm. The  parents lived with Wilder’s family until their death.

Wilder’s daughter Louise married into the Clark family. Louise and her husband, Silas S. Clark lived with Wilder and family on the farm. Wilder turned the farm over to Louise and her husband where Wilder and Orinda lived with Louise’s family until their death.

Wilder’s other children studied education. Harriet and Orrenda became teachers and journeyed to Indiana to teach the pioneer children. Here the two sisters married Hoosier gentlemen. Orrenda married James R. Carson and Harriet married Simeon T. Yancey. Both daughters lived in Indiana, with Orrenda buried in Hamilton County, Indiana. When Harriet’s husband Simeon died, she moved back to Potsdam and lived with her sister Louise and niece Clara until her death. Her grave is in Potsdam, New York.

Their brother Oliver F. Wills (he changed the spelling of his surname) journeyed to Iowa and established a farm in Benton County, Iowa. He was a successful farmer, and had three daughters. The three daughters married and lived in and around Iowa and Illinois. Oliver and his wife, Nancy Clark Wills graves are in a cemetery in Vinton, Benton County, Iowa.


About hoosierbeth

I have been researching my ancestors, your ancestors and everybody else's since 1981.
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