Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Creative Spelling, Part II

...in which we discover just how inventive those early nineteenth century military record keepers really were.

Almost as an afterthought, following the consistent listing of the four captains under whom John Jay Jackson served, a mention was made of a fifth. On the cover of a folder showing his claim number to be 20618, after the entry for his discharge in the spring of 1817, was the handwritten entry,
Also served under Capt. W. L. Duffy.

Since my interest in tracking these captains was to uncover something about the military history of my husband's fourth great grandfather, I have been researching each of the captains mentioned in his War of 1812 pension papers. I did just swimmingly, looking up information posted online for Captain John Morris. Likewise for Captain Matthew J. Magee, despite my misgivings about the somewhat unexpected spelling of his surname. Even Captain "Birdsell" didn't throw me for a loop, once I realized how easily his name could have been misspelled.

But when I came to Duffy, that was the Captain who stopped me in my research tracks. There was no Captain Duffy of record—at least, not that I could find.

Turning to that reference book that has been so helpful—Francis B. Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army—I did find a couple Duffy entries. But no "W. L." One was for a Charles Morgan Duffy, the other for John Michael. Taking a closer look at these entries, I realized the first man had served in 1898, the second in 1861. Not exactly War of 1812 material.

Thankfully, my penchant for following The Bright Shiny stood me in good stead at the brink of this quandary. My eyes started to wander down the page—you know, just in case the weary editors happened to mess up the alphabetization process—and settled on a possibility. It did begin with D-U-F, but then made an unexpected turn.

There was one more positive aspect about this possibility: the first and middle name were William and Le. (Yes, if you are wondering, that is exactly how it was entered. If the "Le" were really part of the surname and alphabetized as such, I would never have found it.)

The spelling for that renegade surname? Dufphey. Yes. I kid you not.

The person in question—and, undoubtedly, from his biographical entry in Heitman's Register, he appears to be the right captain for part of Jackson's service—William Le Dufphey was from North Carolina. He served in the army from at least the beginning of the War of 1812, then as 1st Lieutenant transferred to the 3rd Regiment of Riflemen on March 24, 1814, and after the four rifle regiments were combined into one following the war in 1815, served as its captain.

Various entries recounting history of that time period mention William Le Dufphey's name. Some of these narratives provide a hint of what service must have been like for John Jackson's outposts along the Mississippi River from Saint Louis northward.

A description of expeditions much like we had already encountered the other day, this time appearing in the John O. Anfinson history of the Upper Mississippi, The River We Have Wrought, mentioned Captain Dufphey in the context of another explorer we've met: Stephen Harriman Long.
On July 20, 1817, just below Lake Pepin, Long's party came across three Native Americans killing a rattlesnake that had just struck one of them. They had cut out the flesh around the bite, hoping to stop the venom from spreading. Two days later, upon reaching Prairie du Chien, Long learned that a rattlesnake had bitten Captain William Le Dufphey from the American garrison there. While Dufphey's leg had swollen and turned black, he had recovered with the help of some unspecified remedies.

Apparently, the entire area was infested with rattlesnakes, as well as the more pleasantly anticipated bounty of fish and buffalo.

Considering that my previous research on John Jay Jackson's tour of duty had indicated the possibility that his service included work on several riverside outposts in that area, he likely had been in this same vicinity as Stephen Harriman Long and Captain William Le Dufphey, experiencing the very same hazards.

Lest you wonder, after a snake bite like that, whether the Captain made it, a quick peek back at Heitman's Register tells the rest of the story. Well, amend that: it tells a very abbreviated rest of the story. After assuming command of the Rifle Regiment on May 17, 1815, the captain apparently resigned his commission on February 15, 1818, thus making way for yet another captain's name to be added to the list of those under whom John Jackson once served—depending, that is, upon which date of discharge you believe for Jackson's own term of service.

Above: Falls of Saint Anthony, Upper Mississippi, as painted by British-born resident of Saint Louis, Henry Lewis, circa 1847; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.



  1. "Le Dufphey" is so much more alluring than "Duffy." I'm enjoying this side trip and now I want to track down the various men my ancestors served under.

    1. Oh, do, Wendy! If nothing else, it was quite a journey, discovering all the resources available covering that time period.

  2. I thought that William was perhaps actually from a French family

    1. Once I realized that "middle name" was spelled Le, that was my thought, too. Not sure why they didn't just present it as such in the Register.

  3. Dufphey? Who'd of thunk it... no wonder searching for Duffy / Duffey came up empty!

  4. They were in Minnesota or what would become Minnesota...and that rocky, river part of the state has Timber Rattlers. :)

    1. That was another surprise, reading all the journal entries about the snakes and other wildlife encounters. When I think of Minnesota, I always think of c-c-cold weather. When I think of snakes, I think of warm weather. You know, like southwestern desert. It was just unexpected to find that--just like some of the other things that have come up during this study.


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