John Spencer, 1781-1867

JOHN SPENCER of Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Minnesota

John Spencer was born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, to Amos Spencer and his wife Mercy Spencer, who were 3rd cousins and shared the same surname. Mercy died when John was quite young, and as was common in those days, he and his siblings were then parceled out to be raised by relatives once the father remarried. The father, Amos Spencer, went on to marry three more times. John was raised by two of his mother’s sisters, twins Eleanor and Audrey Spencer, who lived in Stephentown, Rensaeller County, New York. The twin sisters were married to Carr brothers: Audrey married Thurston Carr and Eleanor married Edward Carr. It may have been while he was living in this area that John Spencer met his future wife, Nancy Carr, although we cannot yet find out her exact connection to the Carr family. She may possibly be a daughter of Esek Carr. No proof yet.

John Spencer and Nancy Carr were married about 1801. Family lore says this marriage took place back in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, but it could well have happened in the Stephentown area or even in Herkimer County, New York, where all their children were born between about 1804 and 1819. 

John Spencer and his wife, Nancy Carr, had six children: Thirza, Amos, Polly Ann, Richard, John B. and Wilson Benjamin. I descend from Richard’s branch.

The Spencer family was enumerated in Norway Twp., Herkimer County, NY in 1810 and 1820. In 1830 they were in W. Brunswick Twp., Herkimer County. Then, in 1837, John Spencer bought land in Conneaut Twp., Crawford County, Pennsylvania, and moved his family there. During their time in Pennsylvania, two family members died. John Spencer lost his son Richard in 1839, and his wife Nancy in 1846. The two are buried side-by-side in the Conneautville Cemetery, which is located in Spring Township right next to Conneaut Township where they lived and owned land. By 1850 John had remarried to a woman named Sarah (last name unknown). In that census year, John and Sarah were enumerated in Conneaut Twp. with her daughter and his grandson, Wilson Spencer, living in their household (John is shown age 66, born RI).

In 1853, John and wife Sarah signed a deed selling their Crawford County land to his son Amos Spencer. By 1856, John had moved to Iowa (without Sarah) and was living in the household of son Wilson Benjamin Spencer in Union Prairie Twp., Allamakee County, Iowa (John is shown age 70, born RI). The family migrated to Rice County, Minnesota shortly after that, where they appeared in the 1860 federal census and in the 1865 Minnesota Territorial census. In 1860, John is shown age 76, born RI.

Wilson Benjamin Spencer and his family members are buried at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault. There is a headstone for his father John Spencer in that lot as well. My father and his brother visited Maple Lawn Cemetery a few years ago and brought back photographs of the Spencer headstones there. 

Then last year I stumbled upon a website about the Old Prairieville cemetery in Rice County, Minnesota. I was so surprised and excited to discover that John Spencer’s original burial location was at Old Prairieville, and there was a photo of his original headstone! It had been protected from weather and vandalism by being buried for decades in the abandoned cemetery. Interestingly, the death date for John is two years earlier than what was on the more modern marker in Maple Lawn Cemetery. The old stone reads, “died Nov. 23, 1867 aged 86 years & 5 mo’s.”

For more information on the history of Old Prairieville Cemetery, and to see photos of headstones uncovered there, see:


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