Three Sisters, DuPont - The Facts, the Fiction and the truth about Pierre Jean DuPont."

by Glen Swartz, Alexandria, VA, May 2007
This article may not be reprinted for commercial profit.

For over 145 years a number of fictitious stories about Pierre Jean DuPont and his three daughter's of Lewis County, New York have been in print and are now circulated on the internet has fact. Who knows how many family histories have incorporated this fiction, believing it is true, not to mention a number of obituaries I've seen. Few address the real man behind these stories, a young man, leaving the old world for a new, unknown land.

- The Facts and the Truth -

Pierre Jean DuPont's name was spelled with as many variations has those recording it, and the main influence on spelling was whether the recorder was French, Dutch, or English. The Huguenot Historical Society of New Paltz, NY, are "reasonably certain the original spelling was DuPont." Few records remain on Pierre Jean DuPont, so reconstruction of his life is challenging, but not impossible.

Pierre was probably a first generation immigrant, likely from the Palatine Alsace region where the name is most frequently found. He apparently immigrated sometime prior to the revolution, probably landing in New York. According to Drew, Tales from Little Lewis (p15), Pierre met his wife to be, Maria Richter, an indentured servant onboard the same ship.

Maria's eldest daughter, Catherine was living with her son Jacob, and her grandchildren, including Lewis Dietz in 1860. It is likely Catherine had knowledge of the immigration from her mother and passed that story along to her grandchildren. Lewis, who was 23 at the time, had an interest in family genealogy, his application on file with the Mayflower Association (approved 1897). Whether he recorded any of the stories of his grandmother I do not know, but that is a probable source for the story of immigration and the three sisters related in Drew, while Hough, in his History of Lewis County, creates a total fabrication (see, The Fiction).

Pierre was probably born about 1749 based on the 1800 census (age 45, or over), and assuming he married around age 21. His wife Maria was born 28 Dec 1755 and they probably married about 1770, based on the birth of their first known child Catherine. The story in Drew, they met onboard, Maria an indentured servant, and assuming an indenture for five years, makes it seem likely they married after both were released from that obligation, which would then put the immigration about 1765 when Pierre was 16 and Maria, 10.

How Pierre earned a living when he first arrived is unknown, but he was probably an indentured servant, employed has a laborer to pay off the cost of the passage. The first extant record I have found for Pierre, was in Dutchess County, NY, where on 15 Aug 1775, Peter Depung was a signer of the Articles of Association in support of the Revolution (Smith, p485). It is a reasonable assumption he also served in the local militia during the Revolution, but I have found no rolls that show which unit. The fact he signed the Articles of Association, and was issued land by Van Rensselaer in 1787 (more later), indicates his service was honorable.

Their first known child was Catherine, born 18 Sep 1770 according to Drew. With an exact date of birth, my conjecture is Lewis Dietz also recorded this information. I have not located a baptismal record for Catherine. 10 Jan 1790 Catharina DuPont married Henrich Dies (Dietz) at the Schoharie Reformed Church, NY and 10 Oct 1790, Peter Jan duPont and Maria sponsored the baptism of Peter Jan Dietz, son of Henrich Dietz and his wife Catherine at the Beaver Dam Reformed Church, Berne, Albany Co, NY (Vosburgh, p10). Catherine and her family removed to Greig, Lewis Co, NY about 1823, and she died after 1860, presumably on the homestead of her son Jacob, where she was living that year. According to Drew, she was buried on the homestead and later re-interned at the Collinsville Cemetery. I have not found a tombstone for her, though her husband is buried there next to her mother.

Their next known child was John who was born in 1775. I have not found a baptism, but census records fix the year of birth. (Based on the gap, it seems likely Pierre had an unknown child born ca. 1773, who died young) John married about 1798 to Sarah Fellers, based on the birth of their first known child Sicily. She was baptized 27 Jan 1799 at the Beaver Dam Reformed Church, and the sponsor was Peter John Depond and Polly. 23 Jun 1800, "Sarah Fellers, wife of John Depung," was accepted into the Beaver Dam Reformed Church. The record indicates that they later moved out of the parish. The same year Sarah was accepted into the church, John was recorded in the 1800 census for Berne, listed next to his father, with a daughter under age 10. Then in the 1820 census, John was found in Brighton, Ontario Co, NY and this is the last record I have found for him.

Pierre's third known child was Eva. She was baptized 16 Dec 1781 at the Reformed Church of Germantown, Columbia Co, NY. The entry reads, Eva, daughter of "Peiter du Pang and Maria Reichard." The sponsors were Niklas Rausch jr and Eva Rausch. (Pierre could have had two more unknown children, born ca. 1777 and 1779, and who died young) Eva married before 1815 to Mr. Parker and she died sometime after.

Pierre's fourth known child was Elizabeth, born Apr 1783. I have not found her baptism, but she was presumably also born in Germantown, Columbia Co, NY. The following entry 23 Jun 1800, at the Beaver Dam Reformed Church proves Elizabeth was Pierre's daughter; "Elizabeth Depung, daughter of Peter J. Depung," was accepted into the church. The same record indicates that she later moved out of the parish. 1 Jun 1801 Elizabeth Debone married at the Schoharie Lutheran Church, NY to Frederick Swart, and a witness to the wedding was Henrich Dietz. 02 Oct 1807 Elizabeth and Frederick had a son, Peter J. Swart, born to them. His namesake was probably Pierre Jean DuPont, but a baptismal record has not been found. About 1823, Elizabeth and her husband, along with Elizabeth's mother, Maria, relocated to Greig, Lewis Co, NY. They were probably accompanied by her sister Catherine's family, has both are listed near each other on the 1825 census for Watson (later renamed Greig), Lewis Co, NY. Elizabeth died there 16 Dec 1841 and is supposedly buried on Swartz's Hill, in a now lost family cemetery.

Pierre's fifth known child was Maria, baptized 16 Sep 1787 at the Reformed Church of Germantown, Columbia Co, NY.  Her parents are recorded as "Peiter du Pong and Maria Richardson," and the sponsors were "Samuel Bender & wife Maria Reddleft."  (Again, it seems probable Pierre had a child, born ca. 1785, who died young)  Maria married about 1805, probably in either Berne, or Schoharie, NY to Caleb Lyon.  According to Drew, Maria and her husband left Berne following the marriage, initially settling near Rochester, and finally in Lyonsdale.  In 1819 her husband took over administration of the Brantingham Tract (later renamed Greig), and two of her sisters soon followed.  Maria died 11 Jun 1869 in Greig, Lewis Co, NY and there is a monument to her and her husband on the little river island in Lyonsdale. 

 

1787, the Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer had the vacant lands of his Manor in his west Rensselaer Manor [Berne] surveyed and he made plans to develop and populate those unsettled lands.  Handbills were distributed throughout New England announcing that he would give veterans of the Revolution homesteads without cost (Miller, Harold).  On 17 May 1788, Peter J. Depong, at Beaver Dam (Berne), leased lot no. 430, containing 168 acres from the Patroon (Rensselearwyck, West Manor Ledger A, p93) and in the 1790 census of Rensselaerville [Berne], Peter J. Dupong was listed with this son, wife and three of his daughters.  His daughter Catherine having married Henrich earlier that year.   

 

During the period 1787-1803, Pierre and his family appear in the local censuses, and periodically in the local area churches as his children came of age, became members of the church and were married.  Pierre who was apparently not literate, was probably farming on the land near the families his children married into.  Caleb Lyon seems to have been the only interloper, and his land deals were probably why the families of his daughters, Catherine and Elizabeth relocated to Lewis County later.  Outside of baptismal records I have found only one other brief mention of Maria, where Washburn, in his "Reminiscences," mentions ... "very early the gratuitous services of Mistress Bennet and her colleague, Mother De Pung..."  Wasburn was a physician in  Rensselaerville, so perhaps Maria was a midwife.  Probably shortly after the marriage of his last daughter Mary about 1805, Pierre and his wife, with their children all married off, relocated to Phelps Township.  Peter Depong is mention there in the 1810 census, the household having one male over age 45, and one female over age 45. 

What Pierre did in Phelps I don't know.  Perhaps he retired there, not far from his son who was over in Brighton Township.  At around age 61, Pierre would seem a little old to be doing the back breaking labor running a farm. 

 

Pierre probably died in 1815 when his will was proved in Ontario County, NY.  In it he names his wife Mary, and five surviving children: son John, and daughters, Catharine Dietz, Eve Parker, Elizabeth Swartz, and Mary Lyon.   The will is undated, but I presume it was made the same year it was probated.  He signed his will with the mark "PJD." 

 

Probably shortly after Pierre's death, Maria returned to Berne to live with her daughter Elizabeth's family (one of the two women age 45 and over, in the household of Frederick, and in 1830 the woman age 70-80).  About 1823, when her daughters Catherine and Elizabeth and their families removed to Greig, she went along.  It must have been an arduous trip, over 120 miles, for a woman who was now 65 years of age.  Anna Maria died in 31 Dec 1836 at Greig, Lewis Co, NY and is buried at the Collinsville Cemetery.  Her tombstone is inscribed: Anna Mai Henrietta Frederick Ritcher, consort of Peirre Jean Depont.  Died 81 yrs & 9 da (Erected by her Grandson, L. R. Lyon) and is located adjacent the tombstone of her son-in-law, Henrich Dietz.  Note, I have never seen her referred to as anything but Maria or Polly. 

 

In 2007, Pierre Jean DuPont's Patriotic service was recognized by the Virginia, George Washington Chapter of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, through his daughter Elizabeth. 

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- The Fiction -

 

The first publication I'm aware of was in 1860, when in the "Lewis County History," it is stated:

Mr. Lyon married Mary, daughter of Maj. Jean Pierre Du Pont, nephew and aid of Montcalm, last French commandant at Quebec (Hough, p109).  Hough wrote basically the same thing again in 1883 (p428).  Hough made no mention of Pierre's other daughters, and provides no citations or sources for these statements.  In my research, the association with Montcalm, who was killed in 1759 just does not hold up to scrutiny.  I have found no records to support the assertion Pierre was ever in Canada, or the French Army at any time. Further, none of  Montcalm's sisters married a DuPont.  - This is sad, because it was written when Maria was living, and it took a decade to get to the truth. 

 

In 1905, it was stated Colonel St. Pierre Dupont, was one of the French soldiers who came over with Lafayette to aid in securing the independence of this country in the Revolution and after that struggle he settled in Berne.  His daughter Catherine married Henry Deitz (Oakes, 1:501.  Jones).  Oakes makes no mention of other daughters, and provides no citations or sources for these statements, but he is the first one to put Pierre in Berne. 

 

In 1910, this time it was stated he was Commodore Pierre Dupont, commander of part of the French fleet that aided the United States during the revolution, and was the grandfather of Henry Schwartz on his mother's side [not named] (Cutter, 2:763.  Hoskins).  Cutter, like Oakes, makes no mention of other daughter's and provides no evidence or citations for these statements.  He was also simply publishing family stories related to him. 

In 1961, it was stated Peter met his wife to be, an indentured servant on board a ship, and his daughters were born in Quebec.  It continues, it is said Caleb Lyon met his wife Mary, a daughter of Peter, in Quebec, and that Peter was lost at sea, date unknown (Drew, pp15-16).   This is the first time somebody did manage to connect the above three daughters, but fails to cite any records. 

 

These references, at best, might be considered clues, the worst are pure fiction; Pierre probably was French, probably immigrated some time before the revolution, possibly about 1765, did have some involvement in the Revolution and was at Berne for a time.  I have even found some obituaries, apparently based on Hough.  I have found nothing to support claims he rose above the rank of Private (if he was in the Militia), died at sea, or was ever in Canada or the French Army, in fact the extant records prove much of this is false. 

 

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Bibliography 

Cutter, William R., ed. "Genealogical and Family History of Northern New York..." 3 vol, NY: Lewis Hist. Pub. Co., 1910.  vol.2, pp763-4.  Hoskins.

 

Drew, Hazel C. "Tales from Little Lewis." Lyons Falls, NY: 1961.  (LCCN: 62027125)  pp15-16. 

 

Hough, Franklin B. "A History of Lewis County, in the State of New York: From the Beginning of Its Settlement to the Present." Albany, NY: Munsell & Rowland, 1860.  p109. 

 

Hough, Franklin B. "History of Lewis County, New York: with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers." Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1883.  pp427-429. 

 

Kelly, Arthur C. M. "Baptismal record of Reformed Church of Germantown, New York, 1729-1898." Rhinebeck, NY: A.C.M. Kelly, 1969.

 

Kelly, Arthur C.M., "Marriage Record of Two Early Schoharie, NY Churches; St. Paul's Lutheran Church 1743-1899 and Reformed Church 1732-1892." Rhinebeck, NY: Kinship, 1978. 

 

Miller, Harold.  Berne Historian and author. 

 

"People Made it Happen, History of the Town of Rensselaerville ca. 1788-1950," Rensselaerville, NY: Rensselaerville Hist. Soc., 1977.  p113 - physicians. 

 

"Rensselearwyck Manor (NY), Records 1574-1870."  NY State Library, Albany NY: (MA/FM 974.74 V36 99-18511).  Reel 4: "West Manor Rent Ledger A, Index & pp1-336, Ledger B Index." 

Smith, Philip H. "General History of Dutchess County: from 1609 to 1876 Inclusive." Pawling, NY: P.H. Smith, 1877. p485.

Vosburgh, Royden W. ed., "Records of the Reformed Dutch Church of the Beaver Dam in the Town of Berne, Albany County, New York." NY, NY: New York Gen. & Biog. Soc., 1918.

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