Our Dead Relatives Genealogy

Barzillai Willey

Written by Don Park

Barzillai Willey is buried in Bowery Cemetery located about one mile west of Memphis, Clark County, Indiana. His gravestone has his name as Rev. Barzillai Willey. The stone also indicates that Elizabeth, wife of Barzillai Willey, is buried next to him.

The following is from the record of the October Term 1832 of the State of Indiana, Clark County, Clark Circuit Court, dated October 26, 1832: It is the sworn testimony of Barzillai Willey in application for a pension for his service in the American Revolution. Barzillai Willey was 68 years old at the time, but he clearly was lucid because he continued to preach for 19 years after that time. Barzillai's claim was numbered S. 16299. The claim was granted and is recorded in the National Archives in Washington, d.C. as number 3304 in Book D, Vol. 9, page 199. He received a pension of $46.66 per year.

"While living in Lyme, New London Co, Connecticut Barzillai Willey enlisted in 1779 and served as a private two months in Captain Ledyard's Company of the Connecticut Line. While living in Middletown, Hartford County, Connecticut Barzillai Willey enlisted April 1, 1782 and served 12 months as a private in Captain Miles' Company, Colonel Canfield's Regiment of the Connecticut Line. The first period of service was at Ft. Griswold. The second period was guarding the line from Stamford, Connecticut to Horses Neck. Barzillai Willey stated he was born June 10, 1764. Barzillai Willey said he moved from Middletown, Connecticut to New York in 1788 where he resided until 1807, when he moved to Cincinnati. He lived there until he moved to Clark County, Indiana in 1809 or 1810."

In 1999 Bowery Cemetery was still an open cemetery and was well maintained. The cemetery was adjacent to Bowery Methodist Church, which was founded by Barzillai Willey, but the church is no longer there. There is an association of interested local citizens that supervises activities in the cemetery. They have published a booklet titled, "The Bowery Cemetery Association Centennial History Book." There is an active Methodist church named Willey's Chapel located several miles from Bowery Cemetery, which was apparently named for Barzillai Willey.

There are several accounts about Barzillai Willey available, which provides the opportunity to compare accounts and to get some sense of the accuracy of records concerning non-famous people such as Barzillai, and, perhaps, famous people. The author's comments on these accounts appear at the end of this section. Since the question always comes up, Barzillai is from the Bible (2 Sam 17:27, 2 Sam 19:31, 1 Ki 2:7) and, according to The Bible Reader's Encyclopedia and Concordance, is pronounced Bar-zil'-ay-eye.

The following account about Barzillai Willey is from "Isaac Willey of New London, Connecticut and His Descendants"(1) "At 14 he enlisted in the Revolutionary Army at Hartland, CT, and was stationed at Ft. Griswold. He reenlisted at 19, and was present at the surrender of Burgoyne. He was in the employ of Gen. Wadsworth two or three years, and the only time he lost was on training days.

His future wife worked in the kitchen of the farmhouse. After their marriage, they moved into the 'Black River Country' in New York, a hundred miles from a settlement, where their cabin and its contents were burned, and he had to return for a supply of bread. In 1797, he was licensed as a Methodist preacher on Herkimer circuit; was admitted on trial in 1799, and ordained Deacon in 1801; was on Albany circuit in 1803, and on Black River circuit in 1804. He was a very zealous preacher, and in one year received 400 persons into the church.

He had a tin store in New York, and exchanged his wares in Canada for furs; but being defrauded by a clerk and obliged to give up everything, he emigrated, and in 1810 went down the Ohio on a raft, and raised a crop of potatoes where Cincinnati now stands; going down to the Falls he found the river low, which he interpreted as a warning to go no further, and built a cabin near where Mrs. Zuloff's residence now stands, east of Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Thence, he removed to Blue Lick, a few miles in the country, his horse drawing a barrel of salt and a few household goods on two poles attached to his sides. In the winter of 1812-1813 he built a fort for protection from the Indians, and had two U.S. soldiers stationed with him. He was a 'shouting Methodist" both in church and at home, and a great friend of the missionary cause. although a poor man with a large family, he contributed $100 a year for many years. The little homemade book, covered with brown paper, in which he kept his accounts, is still extant. The future Bishop Ames came to his house once in the interest of the cause, and after retiring, heard the old man reprove the girl for throwing tallow from the candle into the fire. He thought nothing was to be expected from such a person, and was much surprised at receiving $100 the next morning. When returning from church one day with his wife on the horse behind him, they were fired on by a band of Indians who were pursuing a white man before them. He continued to preach until his death, May 22, 1851, and was buried in the Bowery church graveyard, near Memphis, Indiana."

The following is from "Baird's History of Clark County, Indiana."(2) "'Brazilla' Willey, the first of the name to seek a home in the West, was a native of Connecticut and when a young man served two terms of enlistment in the War of the Revolution, at the close of which he located in his native state where he remained until migrating to Southern Indiana nearly one hundred years ago. Arriving at his destination in 1811, he settled a short distance above Jeffersonville near the site now occupied by the Zulauf residence, but the following year moved to the tract of land northwest of Memphis (IN) where he built his cabin and stockade to which he brought his family the same year.

Mr. Willey was a fine mechanic and made three trips to New Orleans making the return journey on foot and meeting with not a few thrilling experiences on the way. Owing to the failure of his partner, a Mr. Bowman of Jeffersonville, his last trip was far from successful, but to reimburse him for the loss sustained that gentleman subsequently deeded him two hundred acres northwest of Memphis referred to which at that time was valued at a little more than the government price per acre but which in the end proved fortunate indeed to the possessor.

Southern Indiana being on the frontier and exposed to the depredations of hostile Indians, the settlers took the precaution to protect their cabins by surrounding them with well constructed stockades and well it was that they did so for it was not long after the completion of Mr. Willey's fortification that the terrible Pigeon Roost massacre occurred in which so many settlers and their families fell victims to the ruthless savages and which for a long time caused great uneasiness on the frontier. When Mr. Willey moved to his possession it was a wilderness but with energy characteristic of the true pioneer he resolutely addressed himself to the task of its improvement and in the course of a few years had a goodly portion of it cleared and under cultivation. Meantime as opportunities permitted he continued his mechanical work which consisted principally of building boats for the river trade, the material used in the construction of these craft being whipsawed and but little iron required.

In 1813 he built a boat sixty-five feet in length on Silver Creek, which he floated to the river when the water rose, and sold at a good price. Several years later he constructed another boat near the mouth of the same creek which was propelled by steam forced through a pipe projecting from the stern into the water, this being one of the earliest attempts to utilize steam as a motive power on water.

In addition to boats, a number of which he constructed and disposed of, Mr. Willey built a grist and saw mill combined on the Blue River which burned when nearing completion but he immediately rebuilt it which he operated about two years and then sold the same. He furnished the lumber for the Collins Mill on the Kentucky side of the Falls. He was a man of service to his own and other localities.

When quite young, he united with the Methodist Episcopal church and not long after moving to Indiana entered the ministry of the same and discharged the duties of his holy office for many years first as a local preacher and later on the regular work of the circuit. Barzillai Willey died in 1851 and is buried in the cemetery at Bowery Chapel, a church about one mile west of Memphis which he organized and to which he ministered from time to time for a number of years besides erecting the building in which the society worships." The following is from the record of the October Term 1832 of the State of Indiana, Clark County, Clark Circuit Court, dated October 26, 1832.

It is the sworn testimony of Barzillai Willey in application for a pension for his service in the American Revolution. Barzillai Willey was 68 years old at the time, but he clearly was lucid because he continued to preachfor 19 years after that time. Barzillai's claim was numbered S. 16299. The claim was granted and is recorded in the National Archives in Washington, d.C. as number 3304 in Book D, Vol. 9, page 199. He received a pension of $46.66 per year. (A copy of the court record in the original script was kindly made available by Mrs. Nickie Hall-Hensley.) "While living in Lyme, New London Co, Connecticut Barzillai Willey enlisted in 1779 and served as a private two months in Captain Ledyard's Company of the Connecticut Line. While living in Middletown, Hartford County, Connecticut Barzillai Willey enlisted April 1, 1782 and served 12 months as a private in Captain Miles' Company, Colonel Canfield's Regiment of the Connecticut Line. The first period of service was at Ft. Griswold. The second period was guarding the line from Stamford, Connecticut to Horses Neck. Barzillai Willey stated he was born June 10, 1764. Barzillai Willey said he moved from Middletown, Connecticut to New York in 1788 where he resided until 1807, when he moved to Cincinnati. He lived there until he moved to Clark County, Indiana in 1809 or 1810."

The following record is from the "Roster of Soldiers and Patriots of the American Revolution Buried in Indiana."(3) Drummer in Capt. Samuel H. Parson's Co., 6th Regt. Private in Capt. Amos Jones Co. Proof: Connecticut Men in the Revolution, pp. 72, 506.

Author's comments on the several accounts: 1. Burgoyne surrendered 16 Oct 1777. Barzillai Willey was probably not there, but it is possible if he enlisted as a Drummer when he was 13 years old rather than 14. It was apparently common to not claim service as a Drummer for pension purposes. Burgoyne surrendered after a campaign that culminated in the Battle of Saratoga, New York. This battle is considered by military historians as one of the 15 most significant battles of all time, because it resulted in France deciding to support the Americans in the Revolution. It is generally acknowledged that we would not have won our revolution if France had not supported our cause.

2. The only General Wadsworth of the American Revolution was Jeremiah Wadsworth, who was Commissary General of Purchases from April 1778 until January 1, 1780. He was from Connecticut.

3. The first workable steam powered boat was demonstrated in 1787. Fulton invented the first financially successful steam powered boat in 1807. Barzillai was not the first to try to power a boat with steam.

4. Steam engines were well known, although not extensively used, at the time Barzillai built his sawmill. It is possible that Barzillai had a steam-powered sawmill.

5. It was common practice in the early 1800's to ship goods to Louisville, KY or to Jeffersonville, IN via the Ohio River on rafts, to portage the Ohio River Falls, and to load on to flat boats for shipment to Natchez or New Orleans. The flat boats were constructed of hardwood and were dismantled and the wood sold at the terminal point of the trip. The flat boaters usually returned via the Natchez Trace, by foot or by horse, to Nashville, TN and from there to points north, usually Louisville, KY.

6. If one looks at the usual history of the American Revolution, he will conclude that nothing happened in Connecticut of a military nature. So, was there anything significant about Barzillai enlisting? The answer is that the British raided the Connecticut coast in 1777, 1779, and 1781. In 1779, Gen. William Tryon of the British Army almost destroyed Fairfield and Norwalk. In September 1781, Benedict Arnold, as a British general, attacked New London and Groton. As stated in the "Oxford History of the United States, Volume II, 'The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789', "Near Groton, at Fort Griswold, Connecticut, militia cut down almost two hundred of Arnold's infantry before surrendering; the British forces retaliated by killing most of the garrison after they had laid down their arms. This slaughter — the word is appropriate — was followed by abuse of the wounded." This was followed by the destruction of Groton and New London. Barzillai enlisted in the face of danger!

7. The "Horses Neck" referred to is probably Horses Neck, MA. 8. Middletown, CT is now in Middlesex County, which was formed from parts of several counties, including Hartford County, in 1785.