Calvin Luther Norton sits at the end of the stubbiest branch of our family tree and is only my 2nd great grandfather. He should appear as a child in the 1850 U.S. Census, ideally with his parents, but I have never been able to find him. His Civil War pension file is one inch thick but not very helpful. Every so often I find a tantalizing clue (or a red herring), so that I feel I am always circling him but never getting much closer.
Other descendants have recently taken the AncestryDNA test, and I think the problem might soon be solved that way, though I haven’t been able to get very far with it yet. A genealogist once suggested that I research all Norton families in the area where Calvin was born, and I did so even though there were quite a few, but I could never place him in a family. I should ask male descendants with the Norton surname if they would take a Y-DNA test to at least narrow down which Norton family, if any, is the right one.
According to the records of the Vermont Soldiers Home in Bennington where he died 21 Feb 1888, Calvin was born 23 Aug 1844 in Keeseville, N.Y. Keeseville is a hamlet straddling the Ausable River, half in Clinton County and half in Essex, just a few miles from Lake Champlain and within the confines of today’s Adirondack National Park. Civil War documents consistently describe him as a farmer, 5’8”, with dark hair, fair skin and hazel eyes.
A birth in Clinton County is confirmed by the 1855 New York State census, where Calvin appears as “Luther C. Norton”, 10 years old, living with the widowed Elizabeth (Cornell) Allen in Oswego, Oswego County, N. Y., over 200 miles to the southwest of Keeseville on Lake Ontario. The space for “Relation to the head of the family” seems to say “Nev.” I believe Calvin is somehow a nephew or grand-nephew of Elizabeth, who was the daughter of Revolutionary War soldier Caleb Cornell (1756-1803) and his wife Martha Anson (c. 1765-1848).
After Caleb’s death Martha married Aaron Norton (c. 1750-1813), another Revolutionary War veteran, and Calvin may be descended from this man by an earlier wife. A Cornell A. Norton, whom I suspect is a son or grandson of this Aaron, seems likely to be related to Calvin in some way.
For years I could not find Calvin in the 1860 U.S. census, but I now believe he is the “Luther Parrot” aged 16 living in Schuyler Falls, Clinton County, N.Y. in the household of Delia E. Cornell and her first husband, Horton Parrot. Delia was the daughter of Silas Anson Cornell, a brother of Elizabeth (Cornell) Allen above, so that she is likely a cousin to Calvin in some way. Delia was a very popular name in this Cornell family, I believe because it was the nickname of their ancestor Deliverance Gifford (1727-1759). Besides Caleb and Delia, other unusual names favored by Cornell descendants are Godfrey, Govett, Guilford, Junius, Lafayette, Loyal, Narcissa and Rheuby. Many American boys were named for the Marquis de Lafayette after the Revolution, so this name may have no family significance other than an association with the Patriot cause.
Delia (Cornell) Parrot left Horton in August of 1862. Like many deserted husbands, he announced this fact in the newspaper so as not to be liable for any debts she incurred. Their son Henry Douglas (1862-1940) would have been 2 months old at the time of the marital break-up, and was probably soon given into the care of John H. and Rheuby (Cornell) Fallon, Rheuby being another child of Silas Anson Cornell. Henry Douglas used the surname Fallon throughout his life, and is mentioned in John Fallon’s will as “my adopted son Henry.”
Calvin enlisted in the Vermont Volunteers at Burlington, where he seems to have been living, on 22 Feb 1862. He was 17 though he claimed to be 18, probably so that no parent or guardian would have to sign. When asked for the name of his closest relative while in an army hospital in 1864, he answered Nathan Maxfield. I began researching this man, and discovered both that he enlisted in Burlington on the same day as Calvin, and that he had married Delia (Cornell) Parrott since enlisting. He was seemingly only a relative in the sense that he was the wife of Calvin’s probable cousin. This suggests that Calvin had few living relatives by the 1860s.
Calvin had served the bulk of his three year commitment when he was captured at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Va. 19 Oct 1864. He was transported to Richmond where he remained a prisoner until 15 Feb 1865. He was held at both Libby and Pemberton Prisons, with scant rations under overcrowded and often extremely cold conditions. This is likely where he contracted the lung and heart problems that would plague him the rest of his short life.
Calvin married Delia Bell 25 Jun 1865, only two months after being discharged. Delia was the daughter of farmer and shoemaker Francis Bell and his wife Susan Pray of Ausable, Clinton County, N. Y. The ceremony was performed by Methodist minister Lucius D. Gay at his home in Clintonville, Clinton County, N.Y. I am sure that Calvin and Delia knew each other before the war—her brother Francis Bell lived and worked on John and Rheuby (Cornell) Fallon’s farm as of the 1860 census, and the Fallons’ son Silas Henry, Calvin’s contemporary and possible cousin, signed an affidavit in Calvin’s pension file saying that Calvin also worked on the Fallon farm before the war and was then able-bodied.
Calvin and Delia’s firstborn arrived 13 Aug 1867 in Peru, Clinton County, N.Y. All of my family papers give this son’s name as Calvin Cornell Norton, but both his Social Security application and his death certificate give his middle name as “Colonel” and I am not sure what to make of that. He was a literate person and I assume he would have known what his middle name was and how to spell it, so could it possibly have been Colonel, and if so, why? Or was Cornell pronounced like the word “colonel” by the family and never written down so that he assumed his middle name was Colonel? He lived until 1950 and my father’s family would visit his farm in Essex, Chittenden County, Vt. fairly often.
Calvin and Delia’s second child Lafayette A. Norton was born 24 Mar 1870 in probably Clinton County, N. Y. I have never found a record that gives his middle name, and he may have had an additional first name–his father’s gravestone says “Erected by his sons C. C. and C. L. A. Norton.” He was killed 13 Jan 1891 in a tragic quarry accident in Essex, Essex County, N.Y., when ice caused the brake to fail on the gravity railroad used to lower stone 900 feet down to Lake Champlain for shipping. The loaded car raced down the slope, causing the empty car going up to fly into several men, killing Lafayette and three others instantly. He is buried in the Hinesburg Village Cemetery with a gravestone that includes the words “How we miss him.”
Their third and last child was my great grandmother Mary Ann Elizabeth “Libbie” Norton, born 1 Feb 1873 at Willsboro, Essex County, N. Y. She would marry tinsmith James Milford Thurber in Hinesburg in 1890, and would name one of her daughters Rheuby Mae.
Calvin was last enumerated in Hinesburg, Chittenden County, Vt. in 1880, where he was a farm laborer. The spaces where the birthplaces of his parents should be listed are blank, and I think it is likely he was orphaned at a young age and did not know much about his parents. Lafayette and Mary Ann Elizabeth are at home, but Calvin Colonel is attending school and working in the home of a Taggart family eight miles away in Charlotte. I cannot find any other connection to these Taggarts.
So this is the simple version of where my research stands–I have also spent a lot of time researching associated families. Besides working the DNA angle, I should also look for the records of the Hinesburg, Vt. Grand Army of the Republic Post to which Calvin belonged, also known as Post 37 or the Cummings Post. I have been told that many of these groups produced short biographies of all their members, usually including their parents’ names. I would also like to take a trip to the Keeseville area to visit repositories there.