By Peg Ross, Town of Greene Historian
Recently I wrote about a six-year-old boy, Amasa Gordon, who was placed as a servant in the household of Gaylord Cummins in the Town of Smithville. He was to be there until he was twenty-one years old and be honest and behave kindly to the Cummins family and on their part, Amasa was to be fed, clothed, taught the art of "aggraculture" and to read, write and do arithmetic. This happened in 1820 when the towns in this area were just beginning to be developed. The story generated some interest on what happened to this boy. Did he grow up? One of our daughters who read the story took it upon herself to see if she could find him in later years. Then I entered the search. Finding people is an interesting process with many stumbling blocks as anyone knows who has tried to find ancestors. This is an attempt to put a human face on Amasa Gordon – an attempt that is superficial in that most of the findings aren’t backed by conclusive facts but make good sense. Keep in mind that spelling was not consistent in the 1800s and also that in Census records dates are very often incorrect, off by a few years. The records depended on how well the enumerators wrote the data down and how truthful people were.
I made an error in the spelling of one of the Justices of the Peace that signed the legal indenture document. I read his name as Elisha Ladd but his surname was Sadd. The L and S were written similarly and this is the kind of error that shows up on the Census records also. Elisha Sadd was one of the first settlers in Genegantslet and was an active participant in the local government being a Justice and also Town Clerk from 1810-1815.
Amasa L. Gardon shows up in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census. He is 38 years old, estimated birth to be 1812. He is a farmer living in Caton, Steuben County, New York with a wife, Margaret, 42 years old.
In 1860, Masa L. Gordon is 47, est. birth 1813. He is a day laborer and can neither read nor write (Oh Oh. That part of the bargain with the master wasn’t fulfilled). He now lives in Lindley, Steuben County, New York with his wife Margarett and Julia A. Welden, 6 years old. There is a neighboring family named Welden who have many children and another Welden family with many children on the same Census sheet. It seems likely that Amasa and Margaret took in one of the Welden children to care for her.
At this point I decided to call the Town of Lindley Historian, Catherine Pierce, to see what I could find out. The minute I mentioned Smithville, she said, "We had families who moved here very early from Smithville". She mentioned the names Cram and Gridley specifically. Also the Mersereaus who settled the Guilford area. Perhaps Amasa’s wife was related to one of these families. But I felt I was on the right track knowing that Smithville prompted a quick response from the historian.
I then looked at the website of Lindley and discovered that Amasa L. Gordon was listed as a Civil War veteran from there. He enlisted on 12 Oct 1861 in Corning in the 86th NY Infantry, Co. F. He seemed rather old and I thought perhaps it was a son even though there was not one listed in the Census. I found his age on one of the rosters and he was listed as 42. Then I looked up the names of every Civil War soldier in the Union Army. There was only one Amasa L. Gordon listed in the whole United States. Amasa was not an uncommon name but Amasa L. Gordon seemed to be. He was discharged for a disability in May, 1862. Historian Pierce mentioned that was the end of a typhoid outbreak.
Because next year begins the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a few words about Amasa’s 86th NY Infantry Regiment is in order. You’ll hear much more about our own 114th Regiment in the near future. The 86th, known as the Steuben Rangers, passed the first winter doing guard duty at or near Washington and was not ordered to the front until Aug. 1862 when it lost 118, killed, wounded and missing at the second Bull Run. It bore a prominent part in the battle of Chancellorsville, was engaged at Brandy Station, and in the thick of the fight at Gettysburg. It won renown as a fighting unit. It was commonly named "the fighting regiment of the Southern Tier." Out of a total of 1,318, the regiment lost 98 killed in action, 73 died from wounds and 153 from other causes – a 25% staggering loss of the regiment.
In 1870, Amzi Gordon, age 56, est. birth 1814, is living in Corning, Steuben County, NY. He is a laborer and cannot write. His wife, Margaret, is 58.
In 1880, L. Amaser Gorton (I’m amazed I found him!), age 64, est. birth 1816, is still living in Corning, Steuben County, NY, with wife Margaret, age 67. Amasa has become younger. There is no job listed except Margaret is a housekeeper as she has been in all the censuses. There is again a neighboring Welden family.
The last entry is pure guesswork and take it as such. As there is no 1890 U.S. Census – it burned – other records have to be searched. I found the following from the Wellsboro Agitator, a newspaper printed in Wellsboro, PA, which is less than 50 miles from Corning on December 2, 1890. "Last Thursday Amasa Gordon, Charles Rightmire and the latter’s son went out hunting rabbits on the hills along Bear Creek near Tioga. A Tioga correspondent says that Gordon was standing on a log with his gun cocked watching for game. When he got down from the log, the gun was discharged, the load tearing through the muscles of his left arm fracturing the bones and severing the arteries." The article goes on in great length about all the procedures. It took a long time to get him to a doctor because only one neighbor had a horse and he lived quite some distance away. He was taken to a doctor’s office where it was decided to amputate his arm just above the elbow. Gordon never rallied from the shock of the injury and died later the same day. He left a young wife totally unprovided for (?). Amasa would have been 76 years old.
Whether this was his death, I don’t know. It fits in many ways but having a young wife does not seem too plausible. But Amasa Gordon was not a common name in Tioga or Steuben Counties.
I hope you have fun searching for someone you’re interested in and as for this search of Amasa L. Gordon, I leave it up to you. Is it believable? I like to think that it is and from humble beginnings he lived a good long life.