Biography of JAMES MERTON, 
ENGLAND>VOLNEY, New York, 
A CANAL FAMILY
Many thanks to Esther Rancier for researching and sharing her information on the Merton family.   I try with all the families to include more than just begats.  People need to be viewed in the context of their world.  My goal is to really tell the many aspects of Oswego County history.  Eventually if one reads all my bios, a person will also learn the local history and cultural story of the area. Esther.

Esther is researching in Richland and Mexico the Soul/Soule, Brace and Daniel P. Smith families, and would appreciate hearing from anyone researching these surnames.   Esther Rancier at: erase@pacbell.net
 

People settled in Oswego County, NY largely due to the existence of water.  They used the waterfalls and rapids for free power to run water-wheels.  They made livings from Lake Ontario, Oneida Lake, the Oswego River and the Salmon River.  Then came the construction of the Erie and Oswego Canals creating more opportunites.  Even rainwater seeping through the limestone in the pasturelands enriched the dairy industry with the ability to produce special cheeses still in demand.

By 1825 when the Erie Canal brought people and goods to Oswego County faster and cheaper.  The canal, which was conceived to improve transportation, also offered wonderful chances to poor, uneducated men to get jobs which gave long term security for their families.    In 1845 there were 4,000 boats on the canal operated by 25,000 men, women and children. 

From 1820-1840  2,500,000 immigrants arrived in the US from England alone.  There were even larger numbers of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Austro-Hungary and Russia.  Census records reveal that most English immigrants stayed in New York State. 

The British government did very little to stop the English  flow.  They were happy to see the “idlers” go.  Idlers in this case usually meant debtors.  Debts meant jail in those times.  Thus the English who came to America in this period often were not after religious freedom, but were fleeing debtor’s prisons.  The Industrial Revolution displaced many traditional workers in Europe.  America, however, needed workers.  Immigrants of this time wrote  letters home expressing amazement at the quanity of food they ate, the jobs available, and the comforts they enjoyed.

It is possible that James Merton, born 5 February 1814 in Sussex, England, heard about such a letter.  He wed a Sussex woman, Jane White, born 28 February 1817.  By 1835/37 they had sailed to America and come up the Erie Canal stopping at Lysander, Onondaga Co., NY where their son, John H. Merton was born on 10 October 1837.

The family came to Volney, Oswego Co., NY for James to work on the canal as a boatman.  They were enumerated in the 1850 Volney census.  Their older son John H. Merton apparently was working and living away from home.

Murton [sic], James -36-boatman-England
Murton [sic], Jane -33-wife-England
Murton [sic], Adaline -11-daughter-NY
Murton [sic], Albert -9-son-NY
Murton [sic[, Charles -7-son-NY

Murton [sic], Jane -3-daughter-NY
Murton [sic], James E -2 months-son-NY

The baby James E., born 6 April 1850, died 2 June 1850.  They also had a daughter who died young.  She was Minerva M. Merton, born 11 March 1846, who died 7 August 1846.  Their son, Charles, born 6 February 1843, died 28 November 1855.  He was buried in the Mount Pleasant Western Cemetery at Volney. 

Boatman in the Volney area worked partially on the Oswego Canal as well as the Erie, but conditions were much the same.  Boatman performed various simple tasks, but worked  primarily with the horses and mules.  An animal pulled the barge for about 12 miles.  Then the beast was changed for a fresh one.  Barns were maintained at 12 mile intervals along the canals.  If the animal slipped or fell into the canal, it drowned.  There was no way to hoist  them out of the steep-sided canal. 

There were two kinds of canal boats.  The faster packet boats carried only passengers.  They were generally owned by companies and the boatmen just tended the horses.  The other type of vessel carried freight.  These barges were sometimes owned by families who worked together on the boat.  It was unclear if the Mertons ran a freighter or just worked the horses. 

The family must have enjoyed their life along the canal.  They remained at Volney.  The 1870 Volney census carried the following listing:

Murton [sic], James -55-farmer-England-$3800
Murton [sic], Jane -53-wife-England
Murton [sic], Mary -15-daughter-NY
This immigrant family had prospered.  James’ large family had also done well.  His daughter Mary Eva Merton, born 25 May 1855, never married, dying 3 January 1893.  She was buried at Mount Pleasant Western Cemetery, Volney.

In another household in the 1870 Volney census James’ son John was shown.

Murton [sic], John -38-boatman-NY-$6025
Murton [sic], Adeline -29-wife-NY
Murton [sic], Libbie -8-daughter-NY
Murton [sic], Charles -3-son-NY
John had wed in 1859 Adeline Jewett.  According to Historian Churchill they had a third child not shown in this census. 

Daughter Sarah Jane Merton, born 18 December 1848, wed ca. 1866 George Ives, a local boy.  They were enumerated in the 1870 voleny census thusly:

Ives, George -29-farmer-NY-$1400
Ives, Jane -21-wife-NY
Ives, George -2-son-NY
Ives, Addie -1-daughter-NY
George and Jane also had a son Chester E. Ives who died 10 August 1912.  He was laid to rest at the Mount Pleasant Western Cemetery, Volney.  Jane died 7 August 1922, age 73.  She was buried in lot 5 at Mount Pleasant Western Cemetery, Volney. 

Daughter Adaline E. Merton, born 24 August 1839, wed Nathan W. Locke, born 25 December 1842 in Jefferson County, NY, between 1865/70.  She became the mother of two Locke children.  Her daughter Nada E. Locke, born 25 July 1870, wed on 8 April 1888 David Watson VanBuren, born 18 March 1865 in Volney.  Nada had four VanBuren children.

Adaline E. (Merton) Locke died 31 May 1899 in Volney.  She was buried at Mt. Adnah Cemetery in Fulton, NY.  Adaline’s death certificate listed the names of both of her parents and their place of birth as Sussex, England.  She died from paralysis at age 59.  Her daughter Nada E. (Locke) VanBuren died 13 August 1952 in Volney. 

   In the 1880 census John’s family had removed to Fulton, NY.  His mother Jane (White) Merton had died on 29 January 1878.  She was buried at Mount Pleasant Western Cemetery, James gave up farming and lived with John who had gone into business serving the boatmen and their passengers supplying them with groceries and kerosene.

Merten [sic], John H -43-canal grocer-NY
Merten [sic], Adeline -39-wife-NY
Merten [sic], Libbie A -18-daughter-NY
Merten [sic], Chas J -13-son-NY
Merten [sic], James -66-father-Eng
Tabbs, Carrie -43-sister-in-law-NY
Strong, Catherine -62-dressmaker-NY
John’s store was located at the Basin where he enjoyed a steady flow of customers.  There were many grocery stores like his along the canal.  Father James died 4 December 1881, age 67.  He joined his wife in the Mount Pleasant Western Cemetery. 

In 1891 John became the president of Fulton.  Previously he had served as the town collector of taxes.  He enjoyed considerable respect from his fellow citizens and customers.

John’s son Charles J. Merton, born ca. 1868, removed to Cleveland, Ohio by June 1893.  In the 1910 Cleveland, O. census he lived with his wife Fannie E., age 33, without children. 

John’s brother Willian Albert Merton, born 10 August 1841, wed Alice C. VanBuren, born 23 September 1842.  Alice was the daughter of Daviud VanBuren of Volney.  On 14 April 1887 his will was recorded in Oswego County.  He left to his daughter Alice Merton the use of land  “on the east end of said Sub no. 5 ... to be held & owned by her, for the purposes of obtaining therefrom her necessary firewood, and any rail timber she may desire to use on Sub no.2 during her natural life, not exceeding forty years after the decease or re-marriage of my said wife.”

Alice also received outright after the death of her mother land in Sub no.2.  This land could be passed on to her children.  This parcel was along River Road, some of the choicest land in Oswego County to this day.  River Road runs on both sides of the Oswego River/Canal between Fulton and Oswego up on the bluffs overlooking the barge traffic and all the boats in the channel.  The entire will is online at <rootsweb.com/~nyoswego>. 

William and Alice were enumerated in the 1920 Volney census.  Called W. A., he was described as a 78 yesr-old farmer with his wife Alice, age 77.  Living with them was her nephew George VanBuren, age 48.  He was also mentioned in the will of his grandfather David VanBuren.  Included in the household were two boarders.

Family researchers indicate that William and Alice had four children.  They were the following:

1.  Annie Merton b. 6 September 1866; m. George Church; d. 1 September 1944.
2. James Merton b. 19 June 1868
3. Melvina Merton b. 1 September 1871 in Volney
4. Alice E. Merton b. 24 September 1876 in Volney
On 3 January 1930 in Fulton, NY William Albert Merton died.  In the census which followed soon after his death, there was this enumeration at Volney.
Merton, Alice C. -89-widow-NY
Ware, Wardle -57-son-in-law-NY
Ware, Alice E. -53-daughter-NY
Ware, Elsie M -19-granddaughter-NY
VanBuren, George D -59-nephew-NY 
  Alice had moved in with her daughter Alice E. who had wed on 30 January 1902 Ware Wardle, born ca. 1879 in Granby, NY.  He was the son of P. Frank and Helen Ware.  According to the census, daughter Elsie sacked knives in a knife factory.  Wardle and George both worked as dairy farmers. 

Wardle and Alice had two other children living outside the house. Ethel, born ca. 1905, and Albert, born ca, 1907, were their names, according to family sources. 

William’s daughter Melvina Merton, born 1 September 1871 in Volney, wed Fred D. Dutcher, born ca. 1873.  They were enumerated in the Milo, Yates Co., NY 1930 census.

Dutcher, Fred -57-none stated-NY
Dutcher, Melvina L -58-wife-NY
Dutcher, Erwin -10-son-NY
The Dutchers also had two other children.  They were Clara and Fred H. Dutcher.  Melvina died 7 October 1941 in the Solders and Sailors Hospital at Penn Yan, NY.  She was buried in the Mount Adnah Cemetery in Fulton.

William’s son James A.  Merton, born 29 June 1868, wed in 1888 Cora Church, born 18 December 1873.  In the 1930 Volney census James A. was 62, a laborer in “a gun works.”  Cora was 56.  They owned their own home valued at $4500.  James died 28 December 1956.  They had one son, William Merton, born 13 December 1894.  He married in 1914 Bertha Blake, born 23 January 1894.  They apparently moved around before settling in Falls Creek, PA.  They were enumerated in the 1930 census there.  They had two children, William A. Jr., age 12, born in Louisiana, and Sara E., age 8, born in NY.  This family paid $25 for rent per month.  There are believed to be living descendants.

Special thanks go to Michael O. VanBuren <mvanburen@hotmail.com> for sharing his research.  His data included unpublished sources.  Insofar as possible his input was confirmed in public records and published sources.  Please direct questions about sources not in the bibliography to him.

SOURCES:

Churchill, John C.  Landmarks of Oswego County, New York.  Syracuse: Mason, 1895.
Erie Canal - 175th Anniversary.  Available [online] [26 September 2004].
Locke Indentures, Oswego County, N.Y. Available [online]  ]23 September 2004].
Mt. Pleasant Western Cemetery, Volney, N.Y.  Available [online] [24 September 2004].
U.S. Census Fulton, Oswego Co., NY 1880.
U.S. Census Volney, Oswego Co., NY 1850, 1870, 1920 & 1930.
U.S. Census Milo, Yates co., NY 1930.
U.S. Census Cleveland, Cuyahoga, OH 1910.
U.S. Census Falls Creek, Clearfield Co., PA 1930.
Will of David VanBuren, Volney, N.Y.  Available [online] http://www.rootsweb.com/~nyoswego/deeds/davidvanburen.html [24 September 2004].
WorldConnect Project.  Available [online] http://worldconnect.genealogy.rootsweb.com [23 September 2004].
 
 

 
Back to Biography Page

Back to Town of Volney

Return to the Oswego County homepage

Copyright © October 2004 Esther Rancier , Michael O. VanBuren
All Rights Reserved