Ephraim Sixbee. How frustrating do I find thee? Let me count the ways.
Ephraim Sixbee was born 4 March 1791, presumably somewhere in New York State, and died 25 March 1850 in Jefferson, Wisconsin. Those are the bare facts, and there really isn’t a lot with which to embellish them.
The surname first appears in New York State as Sixby and sometimes Sixbee. By the turn of the 20th century, Sigsbee (occasionally Sigsby or Sigsbey) was the common spelling and the earlier forms had become fairly rare. Having a famous admiral to hang the family reputation on quickly establishes preferred spelling.
There was an unfounded family tradition that Ephraim Sixbee was the father of Admiral Charles Sigsbee – totally incorrect. Not only are their ages incompatible with such a relationship, but the ancestry of the admiral is known and well documented by his descendants. The two men were probably related, perhaps cousins of some degree, but they were not father and son, nor brothers, nor of any other close blood kinship.
The first proof of Ephraim Sixbee’s existence is his War of 1812 service. During this same period, Ephraim and an unidentified Nathan Sixby were involved in a Holland Land Purchase transaction 4 Nov 1813 wherein they purchased 75 acres of land at $5 per acre. The eventual disposition of this property is not known and, after his brief appearance in that one record, Nathan disappears into thin air never to be seen again.
After marrying in Schenectady sometime around 1813, Ephraim settled in Tompkins Co., NY before 1820, where he and wife Rachel (Jones) eventually sold a piece of land jointly with a Davenport Sixbee. This Davenport was not Ephraim’s son of that name, as the son would have been far too young to own property at the time the land was purchased. How Ephraim and his wife came to have an interest in the property, which had originally been purchased by Davenport alone, is not known. Likewise, the relationship between this Davenport Sixbee and Ephraim Sixbee is a mystery, although there is a strong temptation to think they may have been brothers since Ephraim apparently gave his first son the same given name.
Ephraim moved his family to Wells township, Bradford Co., PA by 1828. While residing there, the names of two of his daughters appear on a tax list as “poor children” for whom the parents could not pay the schooling costs. The family was in Winnebago Co., IL by 1839 and moved to Jefferson Co., WI in the mid-1840’s. Probate records state Ephraim had nine children living at the time of his death; none were specifically identified by name (and, as a technicality, it should be noted that son Davenport Sixbee was actually deceased at that time).
Identifying Ephraim’s seven younger children was a fairly simple task; the two older children were the stuff of which migraines are made.
For a number of years, the existence of Ephraim’s apparent eldest son rested solely on a scant fragment of family information. Davenport Sixbee – an odd enough name to be noticed, one would think. Trouble was, it never showed up. Finally, in military records: Sixbee, Debenport, (age) 24, (eyes) blue, (hair) brown, light, (height) 5’8″, (where born) NY, (occupation) farmer, (enlisted date) 1839 – July 15, (where) Ithica, (by whom) Lt. Riell, (for what period) 5 years, (regiment and company) 6? Inf. [letter illegible], (died) 5 June ’40, (remarks) At Dixon’s, Wisconsin Ter., a Private.
So there really was a Davenport, likely son of Ephraim and Rachel. His enlistment at Ithica was a short distance from where he would have grown up and (assuming he really was Ephraim’s son) where he may have returned when his parents and siblings moved on to the midwest, brother Reynolds remaining in Pennsylvania. Davenport’s death in the Wisconsin Territory was a bit ironic considering that his family would ultimately relocate to that area. He may have been named for the earlier Davenport Sixbee – who, like Mysterious Nathan, had vanished into unrecorded history without further trace. But where did the name come from in the first place? There was a John Sixby who married Leah Davenport, but that might not mean much. John supposedly went off and died in the Revolution, before Ephraim was born. But . . . did he die, or did he just drop out of sight after the war?
Early census figures and family lore indicated another unidentified son, for whom there were no clues until a photograph marked “Cousin Sarah Horton” surfaced, with indications that a Wisconsin Sixbee descendant had visited Cousin Sarah in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. Sarah Horton turned out to have been born Sarah Sixbee, daughter of Reynolds (sometimes spelled Runnels) Sixbee. Reynolds fit all the criteria to be the missing son. Like Davenport, Reynolds is usually a surname. Unlike Davenport, no potential Reynolds family connection has yet surfaced.
Ultimately, this leaves a whole rack of unsolved mysteries: Where did this Sixbee family come from? Who was Nathan “Sixby” and what became of him? Who was the first Davenport Sixbee and what happened to him? Was there a Davenport family connection? Was there a Reynolds family connection? And, most perplexing of all – Ephraim, who’s your daddy?