The Hall House And Dred Scott

Sitting on a shelf in the Research Center at the Fenton History Center are two old ledger or journal books which go unnoticed by many researchers. These books hold valuable clues if one is researching the William Hall family or the Cheney family. And yes, it is the family which includes the William Hall who built our Hall House which now houses the Research Center.

These two books were both compiled by Lewis Hall and both are all hand written. Lewis Hall was a nephew of the William Hall, who built the Hall House. Lewis was born in 1815 in Kiantone, the son of James Hall and Polly Cheney. This explains why he compiled the genealogies of both the Hall family and the Cheney family. From internal evidence we find that he compiled these in 1887-88. How he did this we do not know, but at that time period family genealogies were often compiled by corresponding with other family members to obtain information on each branch of the family. Many times the result is a printed family genealogy, but there does not seem to be any printed genealogies produced from these manuscripts. If he did correspond with other family members to gather all the information, we do not have that correspondence except for a few letters attached to pages in the books.

Another nice feature of these genealogies is that Hall did not limit the information to just the male lines. A number of the female lines are continued one or two generations, especially those who also migrated to Chautauqua County. Both the Hall family and the Cheney family can be found in Massachusetts before their migration to Wardsboro, Vt., after the American Revolution. The Halls and the Cheneys and many other families left Wardsboro, Vt., and settled in Chautauqua County in the early 1800s. Many of the families settled in the town of Ellicott, which in 1812 included the present city of Jamestown and the towns of Ellicott, Carroll, Kiantone, Poland and part of Busti.

But tucked between the pages was a short letter from a family member who had requested and received copies of at least some of the compiled genealogies from the Fenton History Center in the late 1970s. It is in this letter we learn a little bit more about Lewis Hall that was not included in what he wrote about himself in the compiled genealogy. He recorded that he was a graduate of Yale in 1839 and was admitted to practice law in St. Louis in 1842.

In 1843 he married Abigail Augusta Davis, and in 1847 they settled in Jamestown where he became a manufacturer and dealer in lumber. What the letter tells us is that Lewis Hall studied law in St. Louis under Roswell Field, the father of Eugene Field, the poet, and was Field’s partner when they defended Dred Scott. The Dred Scott case did begin in St. Louis in 1846 and continued through the courts until the U. S. Supreme Court ruled on it over 10 years later. A quick look at information on the Internet has not confirmed Lewis Hall’s part, but has produced a source which will be pursued to try to verify and expand on this tidbit of information that thankfully was kept with the genealogy for more than 30 years. Don’t we wish that Lewis Hall had written at least a little bit about his participation in such an important event in our nation’s history?

The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County’s history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.

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If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.