Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dustin Bellfield Willard's Early Years

Dustin Bellfield Willard
1800 - 1823

Our Willard history starts with Dustin. Nothing is known of his youth or who his parents were.

Dustin wrote that he was born March 25, 1800 in Washington County, Vermont just 17 years after the Revolutionary War ended. Vermont joined the Union in 1791. Washington County was originally named Jefferson County, which was established November 1, 1810. It was made up from parts of Addison (Formed 1785), Orange (1781), Caledonia (1792) & Orleans (1792) counties. The name was changed to Washington County on November 8, 1814. Today, the main city in Washington County is the capital of Vermont, Montpelier. Towns in Washington County that were organized before 1800 are: Barre (Formed 1781), Berlin (1763), Calais (1781), Duxbury (1763), Marshfield (1782), Middlesex (1763), Montpelier (1781), Moretown (1763), Northfield (1781), Plainfield (1797), Roxbury (1781), Waitsfield (1782), Warren (1780), Waterbury (1763) & Worchester (1763). Dustin probably came from one of these 15 towns.

There are a number of Willards in the New England area around 1800, but no connection has been made yet between Dustin and any of them. The most prominent was Major Simon Willard who emigrated from England in 1634. His story and many other Willards are found at the Willard Family Association.

As I said, no one knows about Dustin's youth. But we do know what was happening in the Country when he was ages 12 to 15. The Country was at war with England in the War of 1812. In 1813 America took control of Lake Erie and seized parts of western Ontario. And in 1814 Napoleon was defeated in Europe allowing England to move more troops to Canada thereby pushing the Americans out. This solidified Canada as a nation. The War of 1812 was over by 1815.

But the War of 1812 had a direct consequence on the inhabitants of Vermont. Many were of French decent and they traded in the underground market with French Canadians. “The settlers in Vermont carried on substantial trade with Canada, most of it avoiding British revenue officers. The War of 1812 severely restricted this smuggling so Vermont was very antiwar. When the war ended, many Vermonters left the state to farm better lands in Ohio and a few New Englanders came to replace them.” (Pg. 691 of the Handybook for Genealogists, 10th edition). One of Dustin’s sons Jacob wrote about him by saying that he was of French decent and that he emigrated at an early age from Ohio to Mississippi and later to Louisiana.

The War Of 1812 had left most of the Vermont population severely in debt. And 1816 was an especially bad year economically for the state. It was called the “Cold Year” or the “Famine Year” marked by a near total crop failure. The state suffered extreme frosts and a drought that lasted most of the year. A great number of livestock froze to death. Stories circulated about the land of plenty westward in the Mississippi Valley. By 1818, most of the inhabitants of Vermont had abandoned their homesteads and headed west. The majority settled in Ohio, but some became residents of Indiana, Missouri and even Northern Louisiana.

Scores of pioneers found work in New York State to finance their move west. In 1817 work had begun on the Eire Canal, a man made waterway connecting Albany on the Hudson River with Buffalo on Lake Eire. Construction lasted until 1825 upon its completion.

Dustin knew that the County where he was born was known as Washington County. Since the County had not been renamed that until 1814, it is likely that he left Vermont sometime between 1814 and 1823 whereupon he enlists into the US Army in New Orleans, Louisiana. On January 22, 1823 he enlisted for 5 years, but there is no record of a pension in the National Archives in Washington DC, where these records are kept. He was a member of the 1st Regiment Infantry. His enlistment papers stated that he was 23 years old (he was really only 22), 5 feet 7 inches high, of dark complexion, blue eyes, sandy hair, and by profession a carpenter. Militarily not much was going on during the years that he was in the Army. There was some action in Florida with the Seminole Indians. But much of that was guard duty. There was also limited action in Cuba and Puerto Rico dealing with pirates.

It would appear that Dustin was discharged from the Army by 1826.  Because in that year he got married and settled down in Mississippi.

There are many ways Dustin could have migrated to New Orleans. But I believe it likely that Dustin traveled from Vermont to Ohio and then journeyed down the Ohio River to the Mississippi river. From there he would have navigated south to New Orleans. But as of now I have no substantiation of my theory.


  1. Love the photo! ;-)

    Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  2. Knowing and understanding the local history like you have shown is always very helpful. Good hunting!
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)