Family Data


     Simon Barnett

        Martinique, W.I. to Chenango County, New York

Simon's life was lived in interesting times. He progressed from what was undoubtedly a disadvantaged birth in Martinique in the West Indies to a meeting with the noted statesman, Tallyrand in the wilderness of 18th century New York. He fought as a privateer and was wounded during the Revolution, was one of the first settlers in Chenango County, New York and was the scion of a large family that persists strongly to this day. And yet, my first contact with his memory was to see his broken tombstone propped against a tree in a horse pasture. The cemetery had been  abandoned and stones stolen to serve as sidewalk pavers in the neighboring trailer park. Years later, I returned with my son, John, to find the stone. After a long search we found it face down in the grass and broken even more. The exact location of the cemetery was unknown. With the property owner's permission we took the stone away to preserve it. It is now repaired and is erected in the Pioneer Cemetery in Greene, New York next to that of another early settler, Stephen Ketcham. It awaits its return to its original place once that cemetery can be restored. One of the probable reasons the cemetery was abandoned was that several people of color are buried there, among them Simon Barnet. But, I'm getting ahead of the story. First; to Martinique.

The island of Martinique was first settled by the French in 1635 having first been discovered by Columbus in 1505. Plantations of sugarcane were planted and large scale farming undertaken. In order to do this slave labor was required. The native Carib Indian population were not useful for forced labor since they were extremly fierce, violent, and warlike. They were all but exterminated by the French. A remnant was settled on a neighboring island. Beginning in the late 17th century black skinned African slaves were imported and proved more useful. French colonists went there as civil servants, as soldiers, and as prisoners. A search of records from the time indicate two possibilities for Barnets in the islands. Census of 1675 lists one Lieutenant Jean Pierre "Baret", a soldier guarding the port, living with his fiance', another gentleman, and 20 slaves. The name appears in another place as Barnet. A search of the International Genealogical Index (IGI) indicates several Barnet/Barnett individuals in the West Indies from 1674 until the present without giving us a definite match for Simon.

Records from the time of Simon's birth are difficult to access since Martinique has been ravaged several times over the years by the eruption of Mt. Pellee'Mt. Pelee aftermathand has changed hands politically more than once. The 1902 eruption devastated the island, as seen here, and  killed 30,000 people. Naturally, records were lost. Also, many records were sent to France for strorage in the archives and France, too has been fought over much since 1743, the year of Simon's birth.

In any case Simon was born and at age 11, (1754) according to family tradition, he sailed on a French privateer, captained by his uncle, (perhaps as a stowaway) to disrupt English shipping since what in America is called the French and Indian War was in full swing at that time, although not officially declared until 1756. As the story goes; and it is reprinted in several histories with little variation, the ship was captured by a British Man-o-war and taken as a prize to the port of Philadelphia. The histories say Simon jumped overboard at night and, with the help of a plank, swam to shore, finding shelter with the sizeable group of refugees from the islands.

Simon became an apprentice to Joseph Marsh, a well known ship builder and while learning the trade met Margaret Sidell, daughter of a German immigrant who was also bound to Mr. Marsh. Nearly twenty years after coming to America, Simon married Margaret. The union was not easily accomplished as the records of Locust Street Church indicate. The statement of an anonymous pastor is recorded:

"Simon Barnet and Margaret Sidell were married May 30, 1775 by Slaughter, by license. Application was made to me, but I sent them off as he was a mulatto and she a white woman whose father was present. Both served their time with Joseph Marsh, the shipwright." ( I think the "both" referred to here are Simon and Mr. Sidell, not Simon and Margaret)

The "Slaughter" referred to is Rev. Michael Sclachter, a well known Dutch Reformed minister of the day whose openess made him widely sought after for marriages. Unfortunately, his records were stolen during the war as attested by a newspaper ad by Reverend Schlacter asking for help if anyone knew where the records might be.

Simon was active in the Revolution. His 1832 application for a pension makes very interesting reading. He is aged 89 at the time of his deposition and describes his service as follows:

"That at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War he (Simon) resided in the city of Philadelphia and was a ship carpenter there previous to the taking possession of Philadelphia by the British, but the precise time he cannot state. He performed the following service. He was employed by John Wharton and Joshua Humphrey to build a Row Galley mounting one 18 pounder which was armed, manned, and stationed in the river as a guard to the city of Philadelphia and in this service he was engaged one month. BoatHe also helped build a second Galley of the same description built by one Simon Shulick. This was also stationed in the river as a guard to the city and in which service he was engaged one month. Also he assisted in building another in the yard of Shulick that was intended to be put to sea or stationed off the hook. In this business he was engaged six weeks. (ed. These small 12 - 18 man row galleys were intended to harass larger ships and get in under their guns to mount boarding parties.) He also assisted in building ten "chevaux-de-frise". One or two of them he built at the city of Philadelphia and others on the Jersey Shore five miles below the city. (ed. These were large timbered obstructions with sharp upward and forward pointing spikes that were submerged in the river channels to hold off or sink enemy ships.) A part were sunk at Fort Mifflin and others at what was called "Hog Island."

" He worked at them at least six months."

"He resided in the city of Philadelphia until after the British evacuated the city and he was then employed to build boats on the Swatara Creek to be united with other boats built on the Otsego Lake and which came down with Sullivan at the time of his expedition against the Indians. The boats were taken up the river to Wyoming and from there up the Chemung River. In this service he was engaged six months. He performed this last mentioned service under Captain Robbins and Colonel Mack."

"After this, but the time he cannot state, he enlisted on board the brig Fair American Captain Stephen Decatur for a three month cruise. He enlisted at Philadelphia, cruised off Charleston and had an engagement off New York and took the brig Arbuthnot in which engagement he was wounded in the thigh. They took several other prizes. They returned to Philadelphia and refitted after serving out his three month cruise. He again entered on board the same brig and the same captain for a second three month cruise. During this cruise they had an engagement with another ship (name not recollected) and fought her from daylight until twelve o'clock and took her. This vessel mounted ten guns and the Fair American sixteen. They also took a refugee schooner, ran her aground and also ran aground themselves. They also took the ship Lady Margaret invoiced at thirty five thousand pounds. (ed. The American ships were part of the "Pennsylvania Navy"; actually privateers. The captain and crew shared the proceeds of the sale of their prizes.) He served out the three months cruise and was discharged. He afterwards engaged on board Captain Casson's ship of twenty guns, called the Rising Sun for a three month cruise and served out the time. Ships battleThey took seven prizes and brought some into port. Some were retaken. He also entered on board the ship Washington (actually Lady Washington) Captain Josiah, and went on a nine month cruise to France in company with the ship St. James Captain Kane, each of them of twenty guns. On the way they took a ship of forty guns called the Lion. They also took the ship Luxforce (?) and a cutter called the Will. While in France they heard the news of peace and brought the news home to America. At this time he served full nine months as he believed."

Even with all this detail Simon was denied a pension apparently because, at the time of his service he was not enlisted in the Continental Navy. I consulted Charles Claghorn's book, Naval Officers of the American Revolution and was able to verify every one of  Simon's claims as to times, ships, and captains. Also, the Pennsylvania Archives record the names and duties of the officers and shipbuilders he worked for. If the log books of the ships can be located Simon's presence may also be verified directly. The activity that he was engaged in was obviously dangerous  but even more so should he be captured. As Privateers and not "Regular Navy" the British felt free to treat captured sailors and officers as pirates. Many were killed as such and others imprisoned in inhuman conditions. The American government was obliged to threaten retaliation on its British prisoners before Britain changed its behavior. 

Sharing in the prize money awarded for captured ships left Simon with some assets. Philadelphia land records indicate that in May of 1783, "Simon Barnett, shipwright, bought a frame house and lot from Thomas Davis, a wharf builder, that was on the west side of the alley near Swede's Church in the Southwark district, in the County of Philadelphia." A description of the Southwark district of the time is seen in Rudolph Walther's on-line history of Philadelphia. He says:

 "Southwark, immediately on the river front, was marked by great wood-yards for supplying fuel before the days of anthracite coal, also by the sheds and yards of boat-builders and mast-makers, and by ship-builders’ yards down to the site of the United States Navy Yard.
A great many of the Southwark dwellings were inhabited by sea captains and seafaring men, and down to quite a recent period a considerable portion of its inhabitants were the families of seagoing people and "watermen.""

Only four years later the records show that Simon and Margaret sold this property to Jaques le Ray de Chaumont. This man was a French aristocrat, not interested in living in the house. In fact, he liked larger accomodations and had his own large establishment as seen here. duChaumont mansionHe came to America after the Revolution, to collect on loans made by his father to the country. While here he speculated in land. I believe he purchased Simon's house and lot as part of an agreement to settle him on a part of the land he had bought in what is now Otsego County, New York. It must have been a good offer to get Simon out of sight and smell of the sea. Events in France soon led to  intentions to create in Chenango County, New York, a haven and settlement for aristocratic refugees from the French Revolution, including Queen Marie Antoinette and the Dauphin. Simon was engaged, I believe, as their interpreter and site manager. That this is so is reinforced by the fact that Simon named his son, born in Otsego County in 1792, after the leader of the refugee group, Charles Felix du Bulogne. This was before he and the group settled in Chenango County. M. du Bulogne preceded a group of refugees including M. du Chaumont and purchased a tract of land from Treat and Morris. Part of that tract was sold to Simon Barnet. 

It was during this time in 1794 that the French colony was visited by M. de Tallyrand who, as late minister of the king of France, had fled the revolution. He rode on horseback from Philadelphia to see what progress had been made on the part of the refugees. It would have been very unhealthy for him in France at the time as there were those seeking to make him a head shorter. A small village had been created and farms cleared. However, in 1795, while riding to Philadelphia with payment for the remainder of their mortgage, M. du Bulogne was drowned while trying to cross a rain swollen Loyal Sock Creek. This caused the mortgage to be forfeit and the land reverted to its original owners. The French colony was unable to survive this blow and by 1796 all had left to take up another attempt at colonization in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. The place was called Asylum and eventually Frenchtown. It,too, was not sucessful.  

Simon Barnet stayed behind in Chenango County. His title to his land was forfeit and he was forced to purchase it a second time. In the growing community of Greene, New York he made his living and raised his only remaining child, Charles Felix Bolyne Barnett. Family lore holds that when Charles F. was a small boy his father took him to New York City to be educated. Indeed, the 1800 census shows them there in the 7th Ward. Also present is another adult man between 25 and 45 and a girl between 16 and 25. These are possibly Charles' siblings who either died or moved away. There was a very severe Yellow Fever epidemic in the city around this time. No record has yet been found of them outside these census pages. In 1810 all are back in Chenango County and Charles is married and living separately. In this census three men over 18 and one girl under 10 are shown. Margaret died March 17, 1836 and Simon March 1, 1837. He was 94 and she 83 at the time of their respective deaths. They lived through a tremendously momentous era of our history and left this world quietly and with a lasting legacy.