Samuel Colman was the first family name, written on a cemetery monument, that started me wondering about my family history. My mother, Betty Coleman Simmons, grew up in Cooperstown, NY and I had many visits there with my grandmother and her sisters. When she photographed Sam's grave marker while passing through Richfield Springs, NY in 1990, I started wondering about the other names I had never heard before. That's when I started to dig into the records. Luckily, Massachusetts vital records are well documented. The following "story" is constructed from these bare facts and supplemented with deeds, newspaper items, letters and published histories.
Samuel Colman was born in colonial Ashburnham, Massachusetts on September 28, 1768. His baptism was recorded on December 22, 1769. He was the second child and first son of Job Colman and Elizabeth Martin. His sister Mary was two years older. His family moved west to Shelburne, MA about 1772. By that time there were two more siblings: Elizabeth born on 11 August 1770, and John born 21 June 1772. Job Colman bought land from Daniel Beldon in Shelburne in 1773. They lived near the Deerfield River, at the end of Barnard Road, near the family of Parker Dole, where another sister, Rachel, was born in 1774.
When the “shot heard round the world” was fired in Concord it was heard in Shelburne. Samuel was a boy of 5. His father Job marched with Captain Hugh McClellen’s Minute Men of Colrain on April 20, 1775. Records show he served 15 ½ days. Again under Captain John Wells Company in the Northern Department, he served from 22 September to 28 October 1777.
Samuel had five more brothers and another sister: Benjamin in 1776 (died in 1777 as many local children succumbed to an illness that year); Rhoda in 1778; Benjamin in 1780; Joseph Emerson in 1783; Zenus in 1785; Zur in 1789.
On 30 June 1794 in Shelburne, 24 year-old Samuel married Nabby Dole, four years his junior. Soon after they moved west into New York State. They settled in Stewart’s Patent, now part of Springfield, Otsego County, NY. According to The History of Springfield, “In his young manhood he journeyed into what was then ‘the unknown west’ seeking a desirable location for a home. Lured by the beauty of the hills and woods he purchased from the town a tract of timber land near Allen’s Lake and erected a log cabin.”
Children born to Samuel and Nabby included:
- Anson 17 March 1795
- Franklin about 1797
- Horace about 1800
- Homer about 1802
- Hamilton 7 October 1804
- Nelson about 1807
- Charles Darwin after 1810
- Parker 1813
Of these children, only Parker was given a family name, after Nabby's father Parker Dole.
In 1798 Samuel was appointed Lieutenant of the militia in a new company in the Town of Otsego, under Captain Asa Fisk (Otsego Herald 14 June 1798).
The 1800 and 1810 census’ of Springfield also include a John Col(e)man. The age bracket indicates that it could be Samuel’s brother John. In 1810 this John had six children. In 1820 he is no longer listed in Springfield. A Heath MA town history, which includes a discussion of the division of their father Job’s land, indicates that John had died by 1812 when the land was probated. No further information has been found about this family. Names of other than the head are not included on the census before 1850.
At the annual town meeting in Otsego in 1803, Samuel was named Commissioner of Highways, with Abner Pier and Israel Loomis (Otsego Herald 10 March 1803).
The Otsego County Registry of Deeds documents the purchase in 1804 of 52½ acres of land by Samuel Colman for $800 from Perry Allen, being a portion of lot 55 of McNeil’s patent. In 1818 he purchased the easterly side of lot 56 from Richard Elwood for $605.
In the summer of 1805 his parents’ family was stricken by typhus, along with several neighbors in Heath, MA where they had relocated. Rhoda, aged 26, died as well as Zenus, aged 19, Joseph, aged 21, then both parents. Their graves in the old Shelburne Hill cemetery are not marked. The youngest, Zur, survived. He was 16. His guardianship is registered in the Hampshire County records. Samuel inherited a portion of the property which was later sold to a neighbor.
In 1814 he was named a justice of Otsego County, along with a long list of others (Otsego Herald 23 April 1814).
On January 1, 1817 “a respectable number of citizens from several towns in the county of Otsego convened at the house of Col. Henry…to consider the expediency of organizing a society for the promotion of Agriculture and the Useful Arts” (Otsego Herald 9 January 1817). Samuel Colman was named Secretary. James (Fenimore) Cooper was also an officer. The Colmans were progressive farmers, taking a strong interest in improved farming methods. Otsego County was reputed for improved agricultural methods, pioneering the introduction and breeding of superior grades of livestock. Samuel Colman subscribed to the Genesee Farmer, which promulgated new methods of agriculture.
At the annual town meeting in Otsego in 1817, Samuel was named School Commissioner with Oliver Cory and Abraham Van Horne (Otsego Herald 6 March 1817.)
Parts of Otsego were annexed to the Town of Springfield in 1825. The description of wards 30 and 31 reference the “School House by Samuel Coleman’s.”
Education was important to the Colmans. Son Anson received medical training under a Dr. Palmer in Richfield Springs. He settled in Rochester, NY, marrying a daughter of founder Nathaniel Rochester. He studied in Boston, Philadelphia, London, and Paris; was instructed in the treatment of cholera in Montreal; lectured at the Geneva NY Medical College for two years (Rochester Historical Society, Publications, 1943).
On July 2, 1830 his youngest child, Parker Dole Colman was drowned in Rochester, NY at the age of 17. He may have been studying there and living with Anson.
Son Hamilton taught school as a young man. He worked a dairy farm near his father’s farm. In 1838 he was Commissioner of Deeds for Otsego County, and he served as town supervisor for Richfield Springs in 1858. His son Norman became the first Secretary of Agriculture under U.S. President Grover Cleveland in 1889, having been commissioner since 1884. He was a teacher, a lawyer, and lieutenant governor of Missouri.
Charles was a lawyer. In 1845 he was "admitted as attorneys and counselors of the Supreme Court" with a list of others. He lived in St. Louis, MO in 1860 and Ann Arbor, MI in 1870.
Between 1841 and 1846 Samuel transferred land to his son Homer. The 1850 census lists Samuel living with Homer. A letter from son Franklin to Horace in 1853 expresses outrage that Homer and his wife “have succeeded in their knavery, they have stealthily and deceitfully taken from Father every vestige of his title Deeds, they have stolen a sacred contract entered into for the support of Father & Mother. They have abused & maltreated our Father & Mother & finally to cap the climax of iniquity they have turned my dear enfeebled Parents out of their own house & taken possession themselves.” The 1855 NY state census lists Samuel and Nabby living with Horace and his wife Nancy.
Of his children, Horace, Homer and Hamilton remained nearby. Franklin, Nelson and Charles went west. A record of Caroline's marriage or death has not yet been found. She will require more research.
Samuel Colman died in Springfield on 22 December 1857 and was buried in Richfield Springs with Masonic Honors. His obituary in the Freeman’s Journal states: “He has held various offices of trust and responsibility, which he discharged with strict fidelity, and now in his 90th year, is ‘gathered to his fathers’ in perfect charity with all mankind, and in the confident hope of a glorious immortality.”
Nabby Colman died less than two years later, on 6 May 1859. She was 85.