Friday, August 14, 2015

Whistler's Wife's Forts

In my quest to discover exactly how—and where—it might have been that John Jay Jackson married Sarah Howard Ijams, I've taken up the parallel track of the courtship of Sarah's widowed mother by Captain (and widower) John Whistler. However each of these women met up with their prospective husbands, sometime around 1818, the one's story cannot be far from the other's.

We've already seen how John Whistler's tour of duty took him to many outposts of the then-western frontier of the United States. Keeping in mind that his wife and family would follow him in some assignments—but due to their nature, not in others—I became curious to see just where John's first wife might have been during his military career.

There are a number of discrepancies concerning genealogical reports of Captain Whistler's first wife. Her name was supposedly Anna Bishop, but whether she eloped with the young John Whistler after his return to England following the War of 1812 (as some stories portray it), or was just someone he met when he settled in Maryland in the newly-formed United States, I can't be sure. Some Whistler family researcher have disputed this story.

Piecing together John Whistler's military history was a chore, considering that various histories of the last century seemed to carry details in disagreement with other reports. One of the best ways, I thought, to trace his wife's whereabouts was to see where her children were born. After all, John and Anna Whistler were the parents of fifteen children. That should have left some sort of genealogical trail.

For much of my behind-the-scenes work on this question, I relied on the footnotes of a family history posted online: that of Cheryl Whistler Garrison. It was through her work on the descendants of John Whistler that I found the 1917 Griswold book, The Pictorial History of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Some of her other citations led me to resources I otherwise might not have discovered.

Even so, combining Griswold's Pictorial History with Whistler's biographical sketch in Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army didn't provide a full picture of the family's whereabouts. Nevertheless, keeping in mind my hunch that where the Whistler children were born would clue me in on where their mother was located, I proceeded as best I could.

Sometime after enlistment in the United States Army, following injuries sustained in battles in the western frontier, John Whistler was sent to Fort Washington to recuperate. It was at that point when his family joined him.

Fort Washington is a location I want to take a moment to review, for that location will figure in our story at a later point. The fort itself was part of the early history of Cincinnati, located on the Ohio River at the mouth of the Licking River. Though the fort is no longer in existence, its location is commemorated by a plaque on Fourth Street in the city, as well as by Fort Washington Way, a corridor of the Interstate that runs through downtown Cincinnati.

As early as 1803, the fort was relocated, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, to the newly-established Newport Barracks. For the purposes of our story, though, John Whistler was by then long gone, having joined General Anthony Wayne's campaign northward from Fort Washington. It was during that tour of duty that John Whistler became involved in building the first Fort Wayne.

That, however, was not a trip for women and children. Anna and her young children likely stayed behind at Fort Washington. While the Whistlers' older children were likely born in or near Hagerstown in Washington County, Maryland, by the time of the tenth child—Ann, born in 1794—we finally have a way to pinpoint the domestic unit trailing then-lieutenant Whistler. Baby Ann's arrival was at Fort Washington.

By then, however, Ann's father had moved on to other assignments. He was part of the Battle of Fallen Timber somewhere near present-day Toledo, Ohio, less than two weeks before Ann was born at Fort Washington. After the battle, Whistler continued on with General Wayne to the location of the current city of Fort Wayne. After completion of the fort's construction, apparently the family rejoined the newly-promoted Captain Whistler, for the family's thirteenth child, George Washington Whistler, was born there at Fort Wayne in 1800.

There were other children born to John and Anna between Ann and George, of course, but places of birth were not indicated. Then, too, some records indicate that John did not remain at Fort Wayne, but had been reassigned to another fort in the Detroit area upon his promotion in 1797. Whether the family went with him in this in-between time, or stayed on at Fort Wayne is not clear. However, by the time of George's birth, the family was together again, back at Fort Wayne.

By 1802, the family was on the move again, likely following John's transfer to Detroit. We can tell where John's wife was once again, by the proof of the arrival of daughter Caroline Frances on Christmas day, 1802, in Detroit. This was the Whistlers' fourteenth child, followed only by a son born in 1808.

At this point, with the War of 1812 upon them, it is hard to determine where John Whistler's family stayed. A note in the Pictorial History indicates that at some point, the family had stayed on at the fort in Indiana, living in quarters there on the compound and socializing with others of the same circumstances. One woman, a neighbor at the fort, later reminisced of her association with the Whistlers,
The commandant was a man of high character, a linguist and a musician; his wife was a woman of rare charm and force of character.

After the war's conclusion, the dates of John Whistler's assignments again become unclear. He was sent back to Fort Wayne to rebuild the garrison there—according to some reports, either in 1815 or 1816. Or, he was honorably discharged in 1815. Or, he was reassigned in 1815 as military storekeeper at Newport Barracks, the post which replaced the old Fort Washington, across the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

However it happened, one thing we can tell: no matter where Whistler was on April 25, 1814, his wife was back at Newport Barracks in Kentucky. This time, we can't trace her whereabouts based on the arrival of any of her children. The news that reached John Whistler this time—wherever he was stationed—was not happy news. On that day, Anna Whistler had died, and was buried somewhere in Newport, Kentucky.

Above: "Fort Washington as it Appeared about 1810," illustration from Volume 1 of Charles Frederic Goss' Cincinnati, The Queen City, 1788-1912, published by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Company in 1912; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. There is a Fort Washington in PA too - the site of Militia Hill where the troops fought the British after the Battle of Germantown - and from where they "retreated" to Valley Forge. As a DAR member - you might wanna know. :)

    Licking River ... that rings a bell... isn't that the way from the Ohio River to where John Jay and family ended up?

    1. That river's name may seem like a misnomer, because Licking County, Ohio, is near Perry County (where John Jackson settled) and Fairfield County (where the Ijams family lived). However, the river close to those counties, which eventually accesses the Ohio River, is called Muskingum River--the name of the county just east of Perry County, where Zanesville is located.

  2. With 15 children the youngest being six years old he would have looked for a wife right away! :)

    1. Good point, Far Side! On top of that, the more I think about it, the more I feel like the Whistlers and the Ijamses knew each other from past residences together--most likely at Fort Wayne.

      I have some more documentation I'm going through right now that seems to indicate that Elizabeth's husband died later than originally indicated at Find A Grave, which may, however, complicate matters.


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