Will the real Cornelius Durant please stand up?

Faced with the declaration, straight from the horse’s mouth, that Maria Cornelia Durant Ritchie was the only child of Cornelius Durant v.1732, I’m distinctly flummoxed. This was not what I was expecting.

V., our museum guest, is descended from a woman named Melinda Durant Oldham of Indiana. Indiana became a state in 1816, and Melinda Durant’s parents moved to the state shortly thereafter. Melinda was probably born in 1819 (it’s what’s on her tombstone), but I don’t have a birth record for her from Indiana or anywhere else, and the ages listed in the Censuses are not consistent (as is often the case). Funny thing about Melinda’s kids, though? She named the fourth one Edward Durant Oldham.

According to V., Melinda’s parents were one Cornelius Durant and one Betsey Hawley Durant of Berkshire, Massachusetts, recently arrived in Indiana. She has this from family histories, but I’ve been unable to confirm it, probably because Melinda was born in the very first few years Indiana was a state. V. believed that this Cornelius Durant was related to the Edward Durants of Boston/Newton, and that’s what brought her to our museum.

I thought I’d solved it. I felt sure Melinda’s father was Cornelius v.1787 — the one Cornelius v.1732’s will says doesn’t exist.

There just aren’t that many Cornelius Durants documented in Massachusetts. Two legit individuals I can identify in Massachusetts Town and Vital Records:

  1. Cornelius Durant v.1732 (1732-1812) — We know this Cornelius exists in Boston and surrounding areas, and we know his parents were Edward Durant II and Judith Waldo Durant of Boston. We know he was married at least once, to Maria Fenno in Medford in 1786, and we know they had a daughter, Maria Cornelia Durant, in 1789. We also know Maria Cornelia’s mother died when Maria Cornelia was an infant, and we know that Maria Cornelia married Andrew Ritchie in 1807 and is listed in her father’s will as his only child.
  2. Cornelius L. Durant (1801-1883) — This Cornelius Durant was the son of Dennis Durant and Bathsheba Ward Durant. He’s buried in Palmer, Massachusetts, outside Worcester (Hampden County), the same town in which he was born.

And two question marks:

  1. Cornelius Durant born 28 December 1776 — This Cornelius’s parents are listed as Anna and Ebenezer Battle, and his hometown is listed as Dedham. I have no idea why his surname does not match his parents’. There’s only one entry for his birth, while Massachusetts Town and Vital Records often have multiple entries for the same individual, which leads me to believe this could be some form of typo. I have the image from the original documents, but I still need to scour it to see if I can read it any better than the scanner could.
  2. Cornelius Durant v.1787 (baptized 26 August 1787 in Medford) — If this Cornelius was the son of Cornelius and Mary Durant, who are this other Cornelius and Mary (if it isn’t Cornelius v.1732 and Maria Fenno Durant)?

But what’s interesting about all these Corneliuses is that none of them are from Berkshire. Palmer is the furthest west of the four, and it’s still 35-40 miles as the crow flies from there. There is no listing in the Massachusetts Town and Vital Records for the birth of any other Cornelius Durant. There’s also no listing in the Massachusetts Town and Vital Records for the marriage in 1816 or thereabouts of any Cornelius Durant to a Betsey or Elizabeth Hawley anywhere in Massachusetts, let alone in Berkshire, as V.’s family’s story goes.

Nor, for that matter, is there a listing for the birth of Henry Durant, the ostensible first child of Cornelius Durant and Betsey Hawley Durant, in the 1816-1819 range in Berkshire or anywhere else in Western Massachusetts. In 1816 a William Henry Durant was born to Reuben and Hannah Durant in Littleton, Massachusetts, but that’s clear across the state. In 1821, a Henry Durant was born in Pepperell, Massachusetts, also clear across the state, to John and Mehitabel Durant. By 1821, too, V.’s ancestors were in Indiana: the 1820 U.S. Federal Census records the presence of one Cornelius Durant in Ripley County, Indiana, and lists in his home five people — a free white male 26-44 (presumably Cornelius), a free white female 16-25 (presumably his wife), a free white male and a free white female both under 10 (presumably Henry and a sister), and a free white male over 45 (father? father-in-law? renter?).

So which Cornelius Durant is which? In my next post, I weigh the possible explanations.

(Bibliographic Info in the Comments)



One thought on “Will the real Cornelius Durant please stand up?

  1. Ancestry.com. 1820 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data: Fourth Census of the United States, 1820. (NARA microfilm publication M33, 142 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

    Ancestry.com, Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s