So they say the U.S. government owes my family money… Clara Ellis’ descent from Jacob DeHaven’s family

Clara Miles, born Ellis, in her last days, would often look to my mother and her fascination with the family tree and ask her what good it does her to know so much about our family’s “old dead relatives”. Having grown up in a house in the middle of an orchard above Hood River, Oregon, in the middle of a depression (she was seven when the markets crashed, heralding her generation’s version of our modern economic crisis), and then coming of age as the world’s nations went to war, she hadn’t the time to contemplate history, or really much of anything less practical than child care, housework, music, crafts, and the balance between income and expenditure. Becoming a widow a couple weeks after turning 33, she hadn’t the luxury.

However, she might have finally approved of my mother’s interest in the tree had she known of her descent from the DeHavens of Pennsylvania.  As her first husband was first cousin to Oliver Cromwell (a number of generations removed), Clara too had been a distantly removed first cousin to at least one interesting historical figure herself, a man named Jacob DeHaven. If the legend is true, then just as Nathan Hale gave but his one life for his newly emerging country, Jacob gave his fortune for the survival of the fledgling United States while General George Washington was struggling at Valley Forge.

This is the story has two parts. The first is an introduction to Jacob DeHaven, and the second is the story of Clara Miles’ family’s descent from Jacob’s grandfather.

William Penn, “Friendly heretic” and beneficiary of his father’s Royal good will.

Colonial Pennsylvania began, much like its neighbors Maryland and the colonies of New England, as a dumping ground for people whose religions were little tolerated back home. It had been King Charles II’s gift to the Penn family, paying off a debt he owed to Admiral Sir William Penn for his help in restoring him to his throne in London following the death of Lord Protector Cromwell and the demise of his Commonwealth. The land grant to the late Admiral had been given over to his eldest son, the younger William Penn, who had embraced the faith of the Society of Friends, better known by its one-time derogatory nickname of Quakerism.

Regarded as heretics in their homeland, the Quakers of Wales and other parts of the British Isles quickly sailed to this new land, described as Penn’s woods, or Pennsylvania, which was organized from a small town at the confluence of the Schuykill and Delaware rivers, named for the Biblical town of Philadelphia. These Quakers were joined soon after by other religious outcasts, including the followers of the German Reformed faith. Among this latter set were the De Havens.

Little is known of the De Havens before their departure from the Westphalian town of Mulheim, other than perhaps they were of French origin. The family being of French ethnicity and Protestant makes it easy to presume that they were Huguenot, though no documentation exist showing the family having departed France specifically as a result of their adherence to the Reformed faith.

Evert in den Hoffen (the Germanized version of “Edward de Haven”), his wife Lisebiet Schipbower, their teenage sons Gerhard and Herman, and their youngest children Peter and Annecke arrived in Philadelphia between 1696 and 1698, and naturalized as a British colonists there. The family moved on to Whitpain Township in the German sector of the barely 20-year-old colony.

Peter went through his teenage years out in the farmlands of Whitpain, eventually marrying a German-Dutch girl named Sidonia Levering at the year-old Church of Wytmes in Whitemarsh Parish in 1711. The couple began almost immediately raising a family, siring 10 children over the course of two decades. The youngest child, Jacob, was born sometime between 1730 and 1733.

The DeHaven family grew wealthy from land ownership and farming, and was huge by the time that Jacob grew to marrying age. Some suggest that he married a Mercy van Pelt, and may have had children at one point (a son that died in infancy, and another that died in the Battle of Germantown), or he may have simply become an elderly bachelor. In any case, the stout 6-foot-tall man with dark eyes, long hair, and stubble on his chin, passed on no direct descendants to the next generation. The task of continuing the family name in America fell to siblings and cousins.

F. Heppenheimer’s “Washington at Valley Forge”

The story about his financial assistance to George Washington, of course, is where the story slowly shifts from the documented to the stuff of legend. Jacob was in his early 40s when the first battles of the Revolutionary War broke out in the provinces of Massachusetts Bay and Virginia. After the rebels won in Boston, the British rallied to the defense of Quebec, and then successfully took New York City, as the Continental Congress declared independence from London in Philadelphia, just to the south. From there, Sir William Howe led the British Army against the congressional seat of power, fighting across New Jersey over the course of the year. By December 1777, all that separated the invaders from the rapidly evacuating City of Brotherly Love was the ice-choked Delaware River.

Thomas Paine at the writing of “Common Sense”

In the words of Thomas Paine, this was the “time to try men’s souls.” The Continental Army was reduced from 20,000 fighters at the evacuation of New York to about 5,000 by the time Washington set up winter camp on the west bank of the Schuykill River, at a place known as Valley Forge. With three quarters of his army preparing to go home at the end of their enlistments, service for which the Continental Congress had not money to pay, General Washington was facing the real possibility of having to call quits to the fight.

“We have never experienced a like extremity at any period of the war,” Washington wrote to Joseph Reed, newly-elected President of Pennsylvania. “Every idea you can form of our distress will fall short of the reality. Unless aid comes our affairs must soon become desperate beyond the possibility of recovery. The army must disband or starve. This is a decisive moment; one of the most. I will go further and say the most important America has ever seen. The crisis in every point of view is extraordinary and extraordinary expedients are necessary. I am decided in this opinion. This is a time to hazard and to take a tone of energy and decision and by one great exertion put an end to the war. All parties but the disaffected will acquiesce in the necessity and give in their support.”

Upon receiving these desperate words from the head of the Continental Army, President Reed sent out an urgent call to the landowners of Pennsylvania, many of whom responded with generous donations. According to apparently unsupported assertions made by Howard DeHaven Ross in his history of the DeHaven Family, one of the most generous of them all was that given by Jacob – about 50,000 dollars worth of gold to pay wages, and eight times that value in supplies. Ross called this a donation, while others later would call it a loan. In some secondary sources, the donation/loan was given singularly from Jacob’s own financial resources, who they say held a farm near the winter camp that was later marauded by starving soldiers during that bitter winter. Others suggest that the resources came from a collection by which Jacob merely acted as spokesperson.

The first time that the Dehavens attempted to seek “restitution” for the “donation/loan” was in the late 1850s. Supposedly near to success, the controversial rise of Abraham Lincoln to power and subsequent secession of the southern states from the Union delayed the Dehaven effort to gain repayment. As the Reconstruction Era came to an end, the Dehavens again brought forward the repayment issue in 1878, which made it as far as the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill to issue payment failed in part because other interests carried the day in Budget discussions, and partly because of lack of supporting evidence for the claim – supposedly the records acknowledging a financial obligation were lost in the burning of Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812, and a Dehaven family Bible page presented in 1859 that served as a receipt for the “donation/loan,” complete with the Continental Army seal, was in fact missing from that book.

In 1895, the “De Haven Club,” led by W.M. Ridnour of Savannah, Illinois, and E.H. Wahl of Vandalia, Illinois, took up the cause on behalf of the descendants of Jacob’s family. Claiming that the Continental Congress records remained in a chaotic state, and noting that they were protected from open examination without the permission of the current Congress, the Club sought a reconsideration of the case of repayment. Although persisting for years after the foundation, the claim again never went very far.

Two additional major attempts would be tried for the funds in the next two decades. In 1910, descendants from Huntsville, Alabama, would attempt to secure “repayment,” but with no success. In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge called for repayment of the loan, calculated to be worth $4 million at that time. The Great Depression and a World War would pass before descendants of the Dehavens would again emerge to push Congress again toward repayment in 1966, with Washington State Representative Tom Pelly introducing a bill to offer $50,000 to the family to end their never-ending quests to obtain repayment of their legendary loan – the bill died in committee.

The last attempt to seek “repayment” began in January 1988, when Thelma Weasenforth Luunas of Stafford, Texas, brought a suit forward through Jo Beth Kloecker against the U.S. government for a “reasonable amount” and a statue of Jacob at Valley Forge. At that time, using a standard 6 percent interest, compounded daily, the amount of the loan was figured to be about $141.6 billion, as of the following March when suit was filed.

Although it had the same chances of success as previous post-Civil War attempts, the 1989 suit turned into a class action that had the side-effect of drawing together at least 800 descendants of the DeHaven family (again, Jacob had no direct descendants), mostly from Pennsylvania, but ranging from as far away as Italy and Hawaii. Although it generated no funds (the six-year statute of limitations for cases against the Federal Government killed the attempt, despite an argument that the loan preceded chronologically passage of that statute), the DeHaven descendants at least found a new source of pride. “Someday, someday, the DeHaven family will be known for what it really did,” said pastor Charles Dehaven of New Braunfels, Texas.

Jo Beth Kloecker, then a rookie lawyer, estimated in 1989 that based on 10 generations with 4 children average per family, there should be about a half million descendants of the DeHaven family. The actual descent field is probably more extensive. However, this part of the story represents the path of descent for the family of the late Clara Miles, our family’s DeHaven descendant.

How ’bout them apples?

Clara was born into the Ellis family, the youngest of four sisters born to Guy Speight and Irma Miller Ellis. Maxine, the oldest, was born a year and 8 months after their marriage in April 1911, and the three other girls were born in two year intervals starting with Jane about 5 years later. (Frances was born in 1920.) As a teenager, Clara was very adventurous, and was noteworthy in the family as having climbed Mount Hood, the tallest mountain in Oregon. When the war started, she met and married her first husband, Alva Jackson, stationed for at least part of the war at Fort Lewis near Tacoma. They would raise two little girls together until his untimely death in 1955.

Mary Elizabeth Spivey Ellis and daughter Kate

Mary Elizabeth Spivey Ellis and daughter Kate as members of the Mas Luz Reading Club in Rogers, Arkansas. (via Rogers Historical Museum)

Guy Speight Ellis was also a youngest child, but of Clara’s grandparents, Alexander and Mary Elizabeth Spivey Ellis. Born a couple days before the end of 1883 in Washington County, the far northwest corner of Arkansas, Guy’s parents found a stable living situation a few years later managing a hotel in Oologah in Indian Territory. This would bring the family its greatest brush with fame, as by the end of the 1890s, Guy’s older sister began going out with Will Rogers, the future Vaudeville performer and movie star. As with more than one girl, Kate’s parents would find Will to be “too wild” to feel comfortable dating him for any length of time, but all through his travels to South America, Africa, and Australia, she was one of his more ardent pen-pals. Before his round-the-world trip, Kate introduced him to Betty Blake, the woman who would later become the performer’s wife.

Guy, meanwhile, went westward in the first decade of the 20th century, arriving in Oregon by 1910 according to census records. A year later, he married Irma Miller, who would outlast him by about two decades. The couple lived at several locations in the Hood River area before finally finding a place to settle at Irma’s parents’ “ranch,” the Miller family homestead located in the hills beyond Oak Grove, a small community above southwest Hood River. From there, the Ellises took their small part in the making the Hood River valley into one of the Apple Capitals of the Northwestern United States. When Irma died, her daughter Jane inherited the “ranch,” and eventually passed it on to her own daughter, Dona, who finally sold the property sometime before Jane’s death in 2004.

The burning of Osceola, Missouri.

Alexander S. Ellis, Guy’s father, was born further north in Osceola, Missouri, on 1 April 1854 to Tennessee-born Joshua William and Penelope Stuart Ellis, just a handful of years before the start of the American Civil War. His childhood was relatively peaceful, at least until the infamous pro-North Jayhawker attack on his home town on 23 August 1861. With both parents coming from the South, it would be hard to envision the couple and their two boys being spared in the Sacking of Osceola. Indeed, by the end of the war, the family was living in northwestern Arkansas.

Most of the children in the family died young, with the exception of the two oldest boys, James and Alexander. The mother likewise died young, after her last stillbirth in 1868. With two teenage boys to rein in, Joshua remarried to Mary Jane Boroughs, who gave the farmer a son and daughter before she died seven years later. Likely, Joshua moved westward into Indian Territory around the same time as Alexander, and finally died in 1913, about six years after Oklahoma became a state.

Joshua William Ellis was born in 1824 on North Drakes Creek near Richland Station (today’s Portland), a community centered on what was then a 40-year-old brick house, once named “Traveler’s Rest,” north of Gallatin in Sumner County, Tennessee. His parents were Snelling and Peggy Hudson Ellis, early settlers of the county. Shortly after Joshua married Penelope in 1851, they set out for Osceola (they would be in Missouri a year later, in time for James Robert Ellis’ birth). When Joshua was four years old, Snelling died, leaving Peggy with five boys. How she managed raising them remains something of a mystery, but one source suggests that she might have remarried to another Ellis, first name Abram. The older boys would have likely tended farm for her in any respect, while she tended to raising Joshua. Eventually, Peggy would die in Tennessee in 1851, around the time that her son married and headed off to Missouri.

Robert and Sally DeHaven Ellis made their way to Sumner County, Tennessee in 1803, leaving behind Virginia and Pennsylvania to build a new home.

Robert and Sally DeHaven Ellis made their way to Sumner County, Tennessee, in 1803, leaving behind Virginia and Pennsylvania to build a new home.

Snelling, meanwhile, was born in Virginia just after the Revolutionary War in 1785, the second son of Robert and Sally DeHaven Ellis. Likely raised in Loudoun or Culpeper counties, Snelling followed his parents in 1803 to Tennessee. He married Margaret Humphreys Hudson (descendant from explorer Henry Hudson’s grandfather) in mid-November 1810, and then served in the West Tennessee militia during the War of 1812, protecting part of the hinterland from pro-British raids or invasions.

Sarah or Sally DeHaven, of course, is the family’s connection into the DeHaven family. Born the daughter of Abraham and Rebecca Pawling DeHaven in the Province of Pennsylvania around 1753, Sally married a cavalryman who served under Light Horse Henry Lee of the First Regiment of Dragoons, Robert Ellis, Jr. Both partners had come from Pennsylvania, Robert from the Welsh Tracts, and relocated southward before the start of the war to Loudon County, Virginia, apparently around the same time as Sally’s father. The young family later moved onward to Lunenburg County after the war before crossing the Appalachians into Middle Tennessee. Robert’s participation in the Revolution probably marked the start of the Ellis family’s move away from Quakerism, as participation in fighting is against Quaker beliefs.

Sally’s father Abraham was the first cousin of Jacob DeHaven. Born the son of Herman (or Harmon) DeHaven and Annekin op den Graef, both of whom eventually ended life in New Providence, Pennsylvania, Abraham apparently led his branch of family southward. His migration from the German areas of Pennsylvania to the south eventually led to this branch of family’s alliance with the Confederacy in the difficult Civil War period.  His wife, Rebecca Pawling, descended not only from the wealthy Pennsylvania Pawling family, but also the De Witts, a politically connected Dutch family, particularly in the early 17th century.

Herman, as said before, was the son of Evert in de Hoffen, the leader of the family’s migration from Europe. Evert is the common ancestor to Jacob DeHaven, the legendary creditor of George Washington; Herman was Jacob’s uncle.

Sigh, if only it could be true that the United States government owes DeHaven descendants money. There are so many past debts I’d like to pay off…

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14 Responses to So they say the U.S. government owes my family money… Clara Ellis’ descent from Jacob DeHaven’s family

  1. I believe we are related then. My connection comes via James Dehaven (August 12, 1879 to November 15, 1946). It’s a lovely post; thank you.

  2. MrFireStation says:

    Yes – my wife’s family (and son) are also part of the supposed half-million plus Jacob DeHaven heirs (through his brother Edward). We haven’t been able to draw all of the genealogical lines with 100% certainty, but the story has been in the family for generations and we have a pretty good idea of how everything links. Let me know when you get a check in the mail. 🙂

    • benmangel says:

      Last check of the mailbox… no Czechs (or checks), but certainly a lot of Poles around, now that we’re in Wroclaw. 🙂 Will keep looking, though…

  3. Joe says:

    Nice article. A few details not quite right as the Howard DeHaven Ross book is misleading. Check out The Find A Grave listings for Peter Dehaven 1686 and his brother Harmon which will give you some idea of the family layout. Write if more information is wanted. [Both Peter and Harmon are in Pennsylvania.]

  4. Zac says:

    I too am part of the dehaven family… Although I’m am only 13 I’m am very smart and ready to start finding the key points on reeling the American judicial branch into a trap…. Well first off we would refer back to article 6 which declare that all debts owed by the government should be paid back… But the judge of the district of Colombia stated it has been well over a century so there for it should not be payed pack… But while that is true which is hard for me to atmit they haven’t given the members of the dehaven family enough of a fair chance to explain why what they are doing is extremely unfair … And to realize this situation is not exactly about money but about the fact that they owe us the money… They can at least put a monument down… I mean it’s not a big thing to ask for knowing that our family has kept America alive and thriving just because of one kind hearted decission our ancestor has made… We need to come atamericas judicial branch with a soft coming strike and as we unfold build it into a bigger attack…since of course we would have started the court battle which then couldn’t be stopped …. And therefore would have tone reasons with on some level … If we have the right person to try and defeated this once and for all we have a good chance of winning…but whoever is defending our side must be well educated and ready to have the thought that they just don’t want to admit they are wrong to this family stuck in their head .for whenever times get rough.

    • benmangel says:

      Hi Zac: I hate to rain pessimism on your plans, but I tend to think that the legend is little more than a legend. One that is pretty cool, no doubt, but there simply isn’t the proof needed to carry through with a successful suit in a rational court of law. It’s a wonderful story to share with your kids, though, once you are old enough to have them. Better to apply your intelligence to more likely causes, methinks. Best wishes with wherever your ambitions lead you to, meanwhile. -Ben.

  5. Aidan Holbrook says:

    My family is related to Jacob DeHeaven too, we never where paid but Grover Cleveland wrote a document saying we had to be paid, but the old contract disintegrated when they opened the glass cover, and decided not to pay us.

  6. Interesting article! I am a member of the DeHaven Club and have heard the legend for a while. My dad, another James DeHaven, son of Addison, did a lot of research. I am so interested, especially in where the family originated from. Let us know if you get a check. We will all be watching the mail.

  7. Pam Richards says:

    My grandmother, Jennie DeHaven, was born in 1901 in Pennsylvania. She was the youngest of 3 children. Her sister was 13 years older and her brother was 9 years older. Her father was a tailor and mother was a piano teacher. She was raised by her grandmother after her home caught fire when she was a little girl. She was also told as a child about Jacob. My grandmother was called Jane most of her life. She married my grandfather, Peter Kuhstos(s), one of 10 children from Bedford County PA. He dropped the second s from his last name. His father was from Germany and mother was from France. Jane had 3 boys. The first was my father, Peter, born in 1924. Three years later, she had Bobby, who died at 2 months with meningitis. The last was stillborn. She gave me a copy of the family tree hand typed in 1901 and another typed in 1930 from her older cousin. I used to love to listen to her old stories. She also played the piano for silent movies and wrote a song for my older sister when she was born about her golden hair. I still have the 45’s. She died in 1989 and is buried in Pennsylvania. Pam Richards

  8. The DeHaven geneology as I know it is listed at www. Evert DeHaven is there as are 25000 others.

    I have additional family info if anyone wants it.

  9. Nicole Jackson says:

    Nice article. I too am related!!

  10. Julian DeHaven says:

    Just because we all share a last name, does that really make us all related in some way?

  11. Gloria a Kuhstos says:

    GA Kuhstos ( Kuhstoss) Jane DeHaven was my grandmother

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