The Continuing Mystery of Caleb Lewis….

by Leslie Lewis, 17 Nov 2019

After years of research, we may finally be getting closer to discovering the parents of Caleb Lewis (1790-1856). Caleb is my elusive 3rd great-grandfather who was born in Rhode Island and then settled in western New York State. I trace my family line back from my father Russ Lewis to his father Ralph Spencer Lewis to his father Stillman Otto Lewis to his father Ralph Lewis to his father Caleb Lewis.


In 2010, I wrote in a blog post about the records and resources we had consulted up to that point, and what we knew so far—although calling it a “nice paper trail” was a bit generous. In many ways, Caleb did not leave behind much of a paper trail at all, beyond the usual public records such as census enumerations. There were no family letters or narratives that spoke of his childhood, his parents or his family prior to his appearance in western New York State.

Caleb and Joanna (Wade) Lewis are buried in Farmersville Center Cemetery in Farmersville, Cattaraugus County, New York. Their tombstone indicates that Caleb died on May 9, 1856, age 66 years, 4 months and 3 days, suggesting a birthdate of January 6, 1790.

Caleb’s first appearance in the federal census is in Stafford, Genesee County, New York in 1820, showing him as head of household with tallies for his wife and first two children. We do not yet know when and where Caleb and Joanna first met, but they married on March 5, 1817, most likely in Genesee County, New York.

We know that Caleb purchased land in Cattaraugus County, New York, from the Holland Land Company in 1822 and that’s when the family settled in the Town of Farmersville. They lived out their lives there, farming and raising a family. Caleb appeared in Farmersville consistently in state and federal census records, in which his reported birthplace was Rhode Island.

Caleb’s last will and testament is on file at Cattaraugus County courthouse, with a list of heirs but no information on relatives beyond his wife and children.

An early resource for us was the Compendium of History, Reminiscence and Biography of Western Nebraska, which contained a brief biography of Caleb and Joanna’s son Ralph Lewis and a sketch of his “Clover Leaf Farm” in Keya Paha County, Nebraska, where he and his family had settled. His biography claimed that his father Caleb was “born in Rhode Island, and his family were all killed at the Wyoming massacre except his father and grandmother.” Extensive research into the Wyoming Valley massacre of 1778 has not yet led to information on the parents of Caleb Lewis.

One of our biggest “breaks” in researching this family was obtaining Bible record transcripts. It has been a custom for hundreds of years for a family to keep track of births, deaths and marriages by writing them into their Bibles in the blank pages provided for this use. When I first met cousin Kim Lewis-Novak in the year 2000, she gave me a copy of the Lewis family Bible record she had obtained from the Cattaraugus County Historian. Then a few years later I found another transcript of the family names and dates on file with the Daughters of the American Revolution as part of a member application. The 1958 transcript stated that the Bible was in possession of Mrs. Leon R. Adams and was from the original handwriting. Mrs. Leon R. Adams was Glendora (Swift) Adams, a great-granddaughter of Caleb and Joanna through their daughter Eliza Ann (Lewis) Badger. That Bible record gave us the birth, death and marriage dates of Caleb and Joanna Lewis, and the birthdates of their eleven children.

From the very beginning of our research into the family tree we have fleshed out all of the children in Caleb and Joanna’s family by following up on them through census records and whatever else we could find. This process is becoming easier and easier now that sites like Find-a-Grave let us see headstone inscriptions and allows us to easily share family trees, documents and photographs.


Enter DNA. My dad, Russ Lewis, took a DNA test in 2012, both for his autosomal DNA (covers all ancestral lines) and for his Y-DNA. You may know from high school biology class that men determine the gender of their offspring because they pass along either an X or a Y chromosome at conception. When it’s an X-chromosome, the child will be female. When it’s a Y-chromosome, the child will be male. Females do not carry the Y-chromosome so only men can take a Y-DNA test. The interesting feature of Y-DNA is that it passes basically unchanged from father to son for many generations, although random changes or mutations can happen at any generation along the way. Two men who share Y-DNA share a common male ancestor who may be as near as their father or grandfather, or as distant as a great-grandfather three or four hundred years prior. Just how closely any two men are related is calculated by the number of marker differences between them. For the sake of the reader, I won’t go into more detail about the science of DNA other than to say it is a wonderful new tool for genealogists!

Dad’s Y-DNA test revealed that his closest matches are men who descend from John Lewis of Westerly, Rhode Island. John Lewis was born about 1630 and died around 1690. He settled in what later became Westerly and raised his family there. He and his wife had seven sons and a daughter. Only two of these seven sons are represented among Dad’s Y-DNA matches, and his two closest current-day relatives descend from the son Samuel Lewis (1671-1739).

Their line of descent goes like this:

John Lewis (1630-1690) + wife (name unknown)

Samuel Lewis (1671-1739) + Joanna Crandall

Jonathan Lewis (1690-1785) + Jane Lewis

Jonathan Lewis II (1719-1759) + Sarah Barber

Jonathan Lewis III (1752-1814) + Martha Bowdish

Jonathan III and Martha are the common ancestors shared by both of the men who match Dad most closely on his Y-DNA results. Knowing this allows us to focus our search on this line of the Lewis family. However, Jonathan and Martha’s family is well-documented in the Rhode Island vital records, and there is no son named Caleb. The son born in 1790 was named Jesse. So we must look back to the previous generation.

In Jonathan II and Sarah’s family, there were five sons who were married and having children in the years around our target date of 1790. Although the Rhode Island records do not reveal a son Caleb born in 1790, in two of the families there is enough room between the births of the previous child to one that might have come after a 1790 birth. But none is shown. Are the records complete for each family? Could there be one or more children missing from the records?

If you go back another generation, Jonathan I and Jane had five sons that we know of, and one of them was named Caleb (1721-1783). The five Lewis sons in Jonathan and Jane’s family were beyond raising families by 1790, but they could have had grandsons named Caleb. More work to do.

It’s promising. One of the things that keeps me hopeful is the tradition of naming patterns. Out of the many descendants of John Lewis of Westerly, Samuel’s line contains the most descendants named Caleb. People in those days named their children after other people in their immediate family.

Rhode Island vital records are extensive, but not necessarily definitive. So far we have yet to find paper records confirming a Lewis family with a son named Caleb born in 1790. Of course, Rhode Island is located next to Connecticut, and some lines of the family settled across the border. So far no Caleb Lewis born in 1790 appears in the Connecticut records. But the absence of such a record does not mean the birth did not happen.

What if the tombstone date or age is incorrect? Are we putting all our eggs into the 1790 basket?


Caleb and Joanna (Wade) Lewis had a son, Caleb Lewis, Jr., who married Elizabeth Ann Babcock in 1847, according to records of the Seventh-Day Baptist Church. The Babcock family had been long involved in this particular sect. As it turns out, so were the Lewises and many other families who intermarried in Rhode Island and then migrated westward, often together with extended family members, to parts of New York and beyond.

Surnames common to the Seventh Day Baptists included Lewis, Maxson, Burdick, Barber, Stillman, Ennis (or Enos), Mosher, Crandall, Clarke, Hubbard, Coon, Babcock, Lanphere, Kenyon and others. These families settled in Rhode Island because of the freedom to practice their religion in a colony that tolerated religious differences. The Seventh Day Baptists were an endogamous community (endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific social group, caste, or ethnic group). As a result, many descendants today share ancestors with more than one of these surnames. As it turns out, many of my Dad’s autosomal DNA matches have multiple SDB surnames in their roots. Since they are so intertwined, it is difficult to find a common ancestral couple. More work to do here to sort it all out.


Seventh Day Baptists (SDBs) are a Baptist denomination which observes the Sabbath on the seventh-day of the week—Saturday—in accordance with the Biblical Sabbath of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 5:12). The movement originated in mid-17th century England and spread within a few years to the British colonies in North America.

Stephen Mumford, a SDB from England, arrived in Rhode Island in 1665 and is mentioned as an advocate for seventh-day Sabbath in many records of the time. The first SDB church in America was at Newport, Rhode Island, established December 1671. In that month, two members of the First Baptist Church of Newport, pastored by John Clarke—namely, Samuel and Tacy Hubbard—withdrew from that church and joined with Mumford. Along with four others, they covenanted to meet together for worship, calling themselves Sabbatarian Baptists.

To be continued….

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