he brothers Samuel and George Dorrance Stewart, along with their cousin John and aunt Sabra (the mother of Samuel Stewart Ellsworth) were perfect examples of Nutmeggers gone west to seek their fortune.
They were all descendants of Alexander Stewart, who came from Ballymena in Antrim, now Northern Ireland. The family was what came to be called "Scots-Irish," because they were originally Scots Presbyterians settled in the north of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s. Alexander was born at Ballymena in 1675 and died in Voluntown, Conn., in 1742. His wife Margaret Dixon was also born at Ballymena, in 1677, and died at Voluntown in 1725.
They had only one son, named Samuel, who was born about 1720, either at Ballymena or on board the ship taking the family to Connecticut, and baptized at New London. He too died at Voluntown, in 1784. He married Elizabeth Kennedy, also of Voluntown (the place was evidently a hotbed of Scots-Irish), in 1741 at Glasgow in (then) New London County. The name of this place testifies to the great number of Scots who found themselves in New England before the Revolution. A great many of them were "movers," front-runners in the great migration that grew from a trickle to a flood once the war freed the lands west of the Alleganies.
Samuel and Elizabeth had a son John, born in 1742, who was the eldest of their eventual 18 children. He was the father of a Samuel Stewart whose son John D. Stewart came to Penn Yan and is further detailed below. I believe the sisters Mercy, Lydia, Lucretia and Elizabeth, also of Penn Yan, were also daughters of the elder John Stewart. Among Samuel and Elizabeth's other children was a Sabra, born in 1763 at Voluntown, whose first husband was George Dorrance, and her second Wanton Ellsworth. Sabra and Wanton were the parents of Samuel Stewart Ellsworth, who also came to Penn Yan; Sabra's nephew George D. Stewart was named for his aunt's first husband.
Another son of Samuel and Elizabeth Stewart was Samuel Jr., born at Voluntown in 1761 and died at Junius in Seneca County, N.Y., in 1842. He married Rebecca Barnet, who was born about 1757 at Plainfield, another town then in New London County, and died at Junius in 1840. The marriage took place in 1781 at Voluntown, and their children were born there, at Ogdensburg in St. Lawrence Co., and at Junius. The eldest was George D. Stewart born 1782 at Voluntown; Samuel Stewart was the third son, born with his twin sister Rebecca in 1793. All three came to Penn Yan, Rebecca to marry Dr. Henry P. Sartwell.
George D. Stewart married Harriet Benham (born 1790 in Amenia, Columbia Co.) in Penn Yan; and died at Bethel (now Gorham) in 1825 at the age of 43. His brother Samuel also died young, at Bethel in 1828, age 35. The two men had an effect on Penn Yan far out of proportion to the years they spent here, having been leading merchants as early as 1818.
John D. Stewart was born at Waterford in Saratoga County in 1803. His father was yet another Samuel Stewart, a grandson of Samuel and Elizabeth who was a merchant there, and was well-known a few years later during the War of 1812 as "General Stewart." Unlike a lot of men who were called "General," this Samuel Stewart actually held a commission and was in action at Sackett's Harbor.
John D. first came to Yates County after graduating from Union College in Schenectady in 1823. He clerked for a while for Samuel Seeley in Dundee. Seeley also owned a store in Hector Falls, Tompkins Co., and Stewart worked there until in the spring of 1829 he arrived in Penn Yan. He clerked two years for Eben Smith and then the two men formed a partnership and became Smith & Stewart. In 1832 Stewart bought Smith out and in 1834 took in Nelson Tunnicliff as a partner, a man who had served as a clerk for Stewart during the previous two years.
This was the birth of the Penn Yan firm Stewart & Tunnicliff as merchants and grain brokers for the next 16 years. They rented the same store, at the south corner of Main and Jacob Streets, until they bought it. The store they built after the fire of 1840 is still standing, the north wall still showing the ghost of the older one, which had an elliptical louver and stepped gables. The top floor of this (25 Main Street) and the building next door were added in 1897.
Stewart's first ventures into the grain business took place in 1832, when he served as agent for his uncle John in Waterford, a very large and prosperous miller. (Unfortunately, none of the Scots-Irish had any imagination at all when it came to naming their children, which is one of the things that make tracking them so difficult.) In that year John D. Stewart purchased and shipped 8000 bushels of wheat. The following year the Crooked Lake Canal opened and this business exploded in size. In 1834 Stewart built his warehouse on Canal (Seneca) Street, which stood where the old malthouse is now; from that time he also bought and sold fruit and other produce.
In 1850 Stewart went to California, and was shocked to read in the New York newspapers that his business had failed; when he returned to Penn Yan, his affairs were tangled in hopeless bankruptcy, and after that he only held salaried offices, and died in April 1878, aged 75.
Stewart's wife was Mary E. Hopkins of Potter, whom he married in 1849, and they had three children, of whom two married. Their daughter Mary married a man named Morse and lived in Rochester; their son Samuel went to Canton, Illinois, and married there Ella Wycoff of that place. John D. and Mary E. Stewart are both buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Penn Yan.