Tombstone Tueday: Captain Levi Ely (1732-1780)

Headstone of Capt. Levi Ely located at Park Street Cemetery, West Springfield, MA.

In Memory of Capt Levi Ely
who was killed Octr 19th, 1780
In the Service of his Country
on the Mohawk River
In the 48th year of his age
Who dies in youth and vigor,
dies the best; Struck thro’ with wounds, all honest on the breast.

On a rainy day in June, after several weeks away from genealogical research, I fired up my laptop and began to trace a particular line back another generation. Within an hour, I discovered my 6th great grandfather, Levi Ely. He was quite a man, as can be inferred from his glorious headstone and the inscription.

Levi was born on Nov. 26, 1732, to Samuel and Abigail Ely. Samuel and Abigail were blessed with six sons and one daughter, all born in West Springfield, MA.

Samuel Ely house, built 1722, West Springfield, MA

Levi was about ten years old when his father built this house (still standing nearly 300 year later!) in West Springfield. The house was originally surrounded by 10 acres of farmland. In 1760, the house passed to Levi when he bought out his siblings’ shares in the family homestead. Capt. Ely added another 14 acres to the property.

In October of 1758, Levi was married to Abigail Sergeant. Abigail was the daughter of Lieut. John Sergeant and Abigail Jones Sergeant.

Lieut. John Sergeant (my 7th great grandfather) served during the French and Indian Wars with Capt. Josiah Willard’s Company at Fort Dummer, located near Brattleboro, VT. Very sadly, he fell in action. An account of his death is found in A history of the town of Northfield, Massachusetts by Temple & Sheldon:

March 29, Lieut. John Sergeant, his son Daniel, Moses Cooper,
Joshua Wells and another, started from Fort Dummer down the
scout path to Colrain, for the purpose of cutting some ash timber for
oars and paddles. When . a little more than a mile from the fort,
they were fired upon by an ambush of 12 or 15 Indians. Moses
Cooper was mortally wounded at the first fire, but managed with the
help of a comrade to reach the fort. Lieut. Sergeant and the two
others retreated slowly, firing as they went. The woods were thick
and the savages well covered. Wells was soon killed. The Lieut,
encouraged his son with the assurance that help would be sent from
the fort ; dared the skulking enemy to come out and fight like men,
and firing as often as an Indian showed himself. When near the fort,
Lieut. S. was killed and his son taken captive.

Between 1759 and 1780, Levi and Abigail had 11 children; 7 girls and 4 boys:

  • Lucretia
  • Hulduh
  • Jerusha
  • Levi
  • George
  • Daniel
  • Sabra
  • Theodosia
  • Solomon
  • Elihu
  • Abigail

Capt. Ely was commissioned on Sept. 21, 1777, and put in charge of 2nd Company, 3rd Division of the Massachusetts Militia under Col. Moseley for about 5 weeks on an expeditionary force sent northward. He was released and sent home, then called back in the summer of 1780 to serve in Col. Brown’s Regiment. The Company was raised for a 3 month service and sent to the western frontiers of New York to defend against the British and their Indian allies. An account of his death repeated in various sources goes like this:

[Capt. Levi Eli] was killed by the Indians in a battle on the Mohawk River, a little East of Utica, NY, Oct. 19, 1780. He left home in the charge of a company, a short expidition against the Indians, all being his townsmen and neighbors, and they were all killed only a few days before their term expired.

Further research is needed into the Captain, but what I know right now, from a cursory bit of research, is that he was a military man and a wealthy man. At the time of his death, he had a net worth of 1,007 pounds sterling, a pretty good sum for the time.

Captain Levi Ely (framed) by William Jennys, ca. 1775-1780

The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA, has among its holdings this portrait of Capt. Levi Ely, painted by William Jennys (1774-1859). Jennys was a portrait painter who worked throughout New England. Capt. Ely was a wealthy man, so he certainly had the means to commission a portrait.

One has to feel pretty bad for poor Abigail Sergeant Ely. She lost both her father, brother and husband to Indian attacks. It was a pretty brutal world back then.

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