Friday, July 14, 2017

Ephraim Ackley and His Family (1751/52-1822)

Ephraim Ackley (my 4th great grandfather) was born in East Haddam, Connecticut. He was the son of Nathaniel Ackley and Mary Williams.  Ephraim was the seventh of nine children of Nathaniel and Mary, and was born on February 25, 1751/2.  Below is a copy of his birth record from East Haddam public records. [1] 

The reason for showing the year as 1751/2 is that England and its colonies switched to the Gregorian calendar in that year. Prior to 1752, England and her colonies had used the Julian calendar, under which the year began on March 25th.  Although much of Europe had adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582 because of inaccuracies in the Julian calendar related to leap years, England had not, and by 1750 the English calendar was 11 days out of sync with the rest of the world.  To correct this situation, in 1750 Parliament passed an act requiring England and its colonies to change calendars in 1752. England's calendar change included three major components. The Julian Calendar was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar, changing the formula for calculating leap years.  The beginning of the legal new year was moved from March 25 to January 1.  Finally, 11 days were dropped from the month of September 1752. The changeover involved a series of steps:
  • December 31, 1750 was followed by January 1, 1750 (under the "Old Style" calendar, December was the 10th month and January the 11th)
  • March 24, 1750 was followed by March 25, 1751 (March 25 was the first day of the "Old Style" year)
  • December 31, 1751 was followed by January 1, 1752 (the switch from March 25 to January 1 as the first day of the year)
  • September 2, 1752 was followed by September 14, 1752 (drop of 11 days to conform to the Gregorian calendar) [2]


Ephraim married Hannah Jewett, daughter of Gibbons Jewett and Rhoda Hyde. Although no primary record of their marriage has been found, the divorce petition filed by Hannah in 1799 gives their marriage date as January 20, 1780 (more about this petition later) [3]. Ephraim and Hannah had five sons; Ephraim (born February 26, 1781), Warren (born August 18, 1783), Henry (born September 28, 1785), Julius (born August 17, 1787), and Gibbons. (born October 2, 1789). All of them were born in East Haddam, Connecticut [4].

Revolutionary War

Although there is no direct evidence that Ephraim served in the revolutionary war, there are some records that indicate that he may have. In the pension application of Nathaniel Ackley, Nathaniel states:  “That in March 1778 he enlisted into the service of the United States in the company of cavalry commanded by Capt Ephraim Ackley for three years, that he served two years and six months of said enlistment, that he performed all of said duty on the sea coast between New London Connecticut and New York City…” [12]. As part of this pension application Nathaniel provided the discharge note below that he claims was written by Ephraim Ackley.

Ultimately Nathaniel’s pension application was rejected; one of the reasons given was that the handwriting in the release note purported to be from Capt. Ephraim Ackley was suspiciously similar to the handwriting in the rest of Nathaniel’s application.

Although no official record can be found of Ephraim’s participation as a soldier in the Revolutionary War, there is evidence that he participated in other ways. From other records we will see that Ephraim was a farmer, and he apparently was called upon to supply cows to the Continental Army during the war. The following letter from Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt [5] directs Ephraim to deliver four head of cattle for the use of the men of the 2nd New York regiment, which Van Cortlandt commanded.

While it cannot be proven that Ephraim earned the title of “Captain” during the Revolutionary War, he was appointed a Captain by the Connecticut State Assembly in 1785. The appointment was recorded in the Public Records of the State of Connecticut [6]: 

In the same year, the Connecticut State Assembly provided some tax relief for Ephraim, resolving “that Captain Ephraim Ackley be Abated for one Horse” [7].

We will see that tax issues would become a problem for Ephraim later in his life.

Slave Owner

Ephraim appeared in the first census of the United States in 1790. He is found living in East Haddam, Connecticut with his family. Below is an excerpt from that census [8]:

Enumerators collected the name of the head of household, number of free white males aged 16 and over, number of free white males under 16, number of free white females, number of all other free persons, and number of slaves.  So, in addition to Ephraim himself, there were two other free white men over 16 living in his household.  Although not known for sure, it is reasonable to assume that the four free white males under 16 are his sons Warren, Henry, Julius, and Gibbons. This assumption can be made because all four of them are found in other censuses as well as other records into adulthood, while their brother Ephraim is not found in any other records other than his birth record mentioned above, and so he must have died before 1790. The one free white female in the household is presumably his wife Hannah. The final column, the number of slaves in the household, does have a “1” in it, so Ephraim appears to be one of the rare slave owners in the state of Connecticut at this time.


We find further evidence that Ephraim was a farmer from this notice appearing in the Middlesex Gazette in 1795 [9]. Apparently Ephraim’s farm was being used as a location for a well known horse to be bred with local horses in the East Haddam area.

As mentioned earlier, Ephraim experienced some difficulties in paying his taxes. Evidently the practice in those days was to sell off property of individuals who could not pay their taxes to cover the bill. The following is a notice of such a sale of some of Ephraim’s possessions found in the newspaper in May of 1799 [10]:

Note that Ephraim was two years in arrears on his town and state taxes. This notice was made in May of 1799, and the auction was to be held in August, so he did have some time to try to pay the bill before his property was sold. It is not known whether he paid the bill or if the auction took place as scheduled.

Wife Hannah Petitions for Divorce

1799 went from bad to worse for Ephraim. In October of that year, his wife Hannah filed a petition for divorce with the General Assembly of Connecticut, the same body that had appointed him Captain of the militia 14 years earlier. The petition alleged cruel and abusive treatment, and asked for a divorce. A verbatim transcription of the petition (including spelling errors and abbreviations) follows [3]:

Page 1 
To the Honble General Assembly of the State of Connecticut to be Holden at New Haven in sd state on the second Thursday of Oct AD 1799 --- The Petition of Hannah Ayer Ackley late of East Haddam in the County of Middlesex but now residing in East Windsor in the County of Hartford ---Humbly sheweth --- that on the 20th Day of January AD 1780 she was lawfully joined in marriage to Ephraim Ackley of sd East Haddam – that your Petitioner from the Day of her Inter Marriage with sd Ephraim untill this time hath ever on her part continued to fullfuill all the Duties of a Wife to a Husband, enjoined by the Marriage Covenant. 
That the said Ephraim wholly disregarding his Duty toward the said Hannah hath at sundry times within six years last past in the most violent and outragious manner abused your Petitioner, not only by the most Indeacent and abusive language but by repeatedly beating and wounding your Petitioner in the most cruel and Inhumane manner. --- That the said Ephraim not regarding his Duty in any aspect but being devoid of all the feelings of humanity, and conjugal affections, hath taken your Petitioner. 
Page 2 
Petitioner when about Eight months gone with Child and in the most barbarous & savage manner draged her from bed & in the same Indecent, cruel & inhumane manner kicked & beat your Petitioner.
That the sd Ephraim hath repeatedly with in five years last past --- threatened to take the life of your Petitioner --- that at a Certain time within the before mentioned term the said Ephraim in the night season threatened your Petitioner, that unless she would go to bed to one Saml Palmes (then in the House of the sd Ephraim) the sd Ephraim would take the life of your Petitioner before morning ---
That the sd Ephraim Ackley hath repeatedly within the aforesd term threatened to take the life of your Petitioner provided she came, or offered to come to bed to him --- that by the abusive treatment and inhumane conduct of the sd Ephraim Ackley your Petitioner within the aforesd period of time hath been frequently obliged in order to preserve her life, to retire from the House of the sd Ephraim and seek an asylum at her neighbors, or in an adjacent barn --- that she repeatedly has been, and still is, in great fear from the conduct of the sd Ephraim and still considers her life to be in constant danger 
Page 3 
from him --- Whereupon your Petitioner prays Your Honors to take her unhappy life into your consideration and order and decree that your Petitioner be Divorced from the sd Ephraim Ackley and she declared single and unmarried --- and she as is Duty bound shall ever pray --- Dated at East Windsor the 23 Day of Sept AD 1799 ------------
                                                                                                             Hannah Ayer Ackley

To either Constable of the Law of East Haddam in the County of Middlesex greeting 
By authority of the State of Connecticut you are hereby commanded to summon Ephraim Ackley of said East Haddam to appear before the Honorable General Assembly of the state of Connecticut to be holden at New Haven in said state on the second Thursday of October next – on the first Tuesday after next after the opening of said Assembly which will be the 15th of October next – then & there to answer unto the foregoing memorial of Hannah Ayer Ackley if he see cause & you are also to have a true & attested copy of said memorial & this is citation (at least twelve days before said first Tuesday) with the said Ephraim and at his usual place of abode ---- hereof fail not but of this memorial & citation make service & due return dated at East Haddam Sept 25th 1799. 
Two dollar State duty is paid
Thereon Coppied & Signed by
                Jabez Chapman   Justice Peace & Quorum 
Page 4 
East Haddam 30th Sept 1799 I then left a true and attested copy of this memorial and citation with the within named Ephraim Ackley 
Attest Andrew Champion  Constable

It is fair to say that the allegations in the petition can be viewed as no less than shocking and disgusting. Note that at the end of the petition the General Assembly gave instructions to the constable of East Haddam to summon Ephraim to appear before them and answer the allegations. According to the source for this material, no action was taken on this petition, so it is assumed that a divorce was not granted. Note also that the constable attested to the fact that he delivered the petition to Ephraim, and that the constable, Andrew Champion, is the same person who was to auction Ephraim’s property earlier in the year to cover his tax burden.

Neither Ephraim nor Hannah can be found in the 1800 Census. Ephraim is found as head of household living alone in East Haddam in the 1810 Census [11], and once again neither of them can be found in the 1820 Census.


Although there are no reliable primary sources documenting Ephraim’s death, there is some evidence that he died around 1822 or 1823. In the pension application of Nathaniel Ackley mentioned above, Nathaniel states “That he enlisted into the service of the United States as a volunteer in the month of March in the year 1778 or 1779 according to his recollection and as he verily believes, and belonged to a Company of Cavalry consisting at that time of about sixty men of which Ephraim Ackley of East Haddam who died in said East Haddam about twelve years since was the Captain…” [12]. This statement was dated December 2nd, 1835, so that would put Ephraim’s death around 1823 if he died about 12 years earlier according to Nathaniel’s statement. Another source, “Ackley & Winton Genealogy and Allied Lines” [13], gives a specific death date of October 12, 1822. This genealogy offers no source for this date, and all searches to date have failed to find anything to verify that particular date.

Discussion Questions

  • Are any of you descendants of Ephraim Ackley? How do you descend from him?

Link of the Day

Today's link is for the Connecticut State Library. This is where I initially found the reference for Hannah Ackley's divorce petition.

Quote of the Day

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."   



1. East Haddam (Connecticut). Registrar of Vital Statistics, Records of births, marriages, and deaths, 1687-1915, Volume 2,  (Births, marriages, deaths v. 2; Family History Library Microfilm 1398798), page 3.
2.  “The 1752 Calendar Change”, Connecticut State Library Website,
3.  Connecticut General Assembly, “Lotteries and Divorces, Second Series, 1718-1820”, Hartford, Connecticut, microfilmed 1967, p. 1-4.
4.  East Haddam (Connecticut). Registrar of Vital Statistics, Records of births, marriages, and deaths, 1687-1915, Volume 2,  (Births, marriages, deaths v. 2; Family History Library Microfilm 1398798), page 227.
5.  Jacob Judd, “Correspondence of the Van Cortlandt Family of Cortlandt Manor”, (Tarrytown, NY, Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1977), p. 143.
6.  Forrest Morgan, Leonard Woods Labaree, and Charles Jeremy Hoadly, “The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, May 1785-Jan 1789, Volume 6”, (Connecticut, Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainerd Company, 1945), p. 25.
7.  Forrest Morgan, Leonard Woods Labaree, and Charles Jeremy Hoadly, “The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, May 1785-Jan 1789, Volume 6”, (Connecticut, Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainerd Company, 1945), p. 13.
8.  1790 U.S. Census, East Haddam, Middlesex County, CT; page 447; NARA Microfilm M637.
9.  “The Beautiful Full Blooded Horse Hyder Alley”, Middlesex Gazette, March 7, 1795.
10.  “Notice is Hereby Given”, Connecticut Gazette, May 29, 1799.
11.  1810 U.S. Census, East Haddam, Middlesex County, CT; page 300; NARA Microfilm M252.
12.  Revolutionary War Records for Nathaniel Ackley, NARA Series M805, Roll 3, Image 339, File R20.
13.  Carol Ackley Winton, “Ackley and Winton Genealogy and Allied Lines”, (Salt Lake City, Utah, Genealogical Society of Utah, 1971).

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