Thursday, July 11, 2013



A reader of an earlier Blog noted a reference to one of his and Nedra’s ancestors, Andrew Babcock (1731-1801) who came from England in 1773 with his brother Edward. They were anchor makers and blacksmiths.  Andrew’s brother died a year after arriving, but Andrew became involved in 1778 with the making of “the Great Chain” as it is now called, across the Hudson River near West Point.  I learned as I read more of this project that the engineer for this fortification of West Point was Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the famous Polish patriot and Enlightenment scholar who was in France in 1776 and who came to America to offer his services to General Washington.  Kosciusko’s name I recognized from my high school history course, but I did not know he was an engineer, architect, artist, and musician.  He also was a foe of slavery and left his estate to Thomas Jefferson to use the money to free Jefferson’s slaves, which Jefferson did not do because it would have created problems for his fellow plantation  owners and family.  The case eventually was settled fifty years later by the US Supreme Court with Kosciuszko’s descendants being awarded what was left of the estate.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t much, because the trustees embezzled the money over the half century of litigation.  Kosciusko was much appreciated by George Washington because his engineering skills were used for several fortifications and military engineering projects that prevented the British from following up on their victories or achieving their conquests. 

               Andrew Babcock lived and worked near the northern reaches of Manhattan in  what was then part of Bergen County, New Jersey and now part of  Orange County in New York.  He helped make the links of the chain at the Noble and Townsend Forge located there.  Each link was 18 inches in thickness and two feet in length and weighed 114 pounds. The links (in batches of 4) were placed on rafts of logs and towed to West Point.  The Great Chain was 1800 feet in length and the blacksmiths joined them together.   The barrier was set up to prevent the British ships from attacking Albany and joining British forces in Canada.  That would have cut the US in half and isolated New England from the other colonies.  General Benedict Arnold devised a plan to take over the forts at West Point, release the chain and bring about a defeat of Washington’s army.  It was thwarted when a spy (Major Andre) was captured and Arnold was tipped off and managed to escape and sail back to England.

After the War Andrew Babcock married Susan White and they had four children, Edward E. Babcock, Rachel Babcock, Sarah J Babcock, and James Babcock.  Nedra is descended on her mother’s side from Edward Babcock the great great grandfather of Nedra’s mother, Florence (nee Dawald) Miller.  On her father’s side Sarah Babcock is the great great grandmother of Harold Miller, Nedra’s father.   Susan White Babcock was widowed in 1801 and cheated of her land in Greene County, Pennsylvania.  She used a flat boat and with her four children and belongings followed the rivers and canals to settle near Cincinnati.  The Babcocks made their way into Indiana in the 1830s, especially in Fulton County, Indiana.   There were other Babcocks who came to North America several generations earlier in the 1600s. Some of those Babcocks were loyalists and supported the British during the American Revolution and many of those moved to Canada, particularly in the Brockville, Canada, region, not far from where Nedra and I lived when I was teaching at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario.  The memories of Ontario residents were set in a bronze marker by the St Lawrence seaway and I recall reading “These fortifications were emplaced by order of her Majesty, Queen Victoria, as protection against American aggression.  I didn’t learn that in my high school history class!  After the Revolutionary War thirteen of the links were saved to form a monument  at the West Point Academy and the rest of the Great Chain was melted down and sold to recoup some of the costs of the war. 

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