The Stephensons in the 1800s


George Wold Stephenson, 1813-1896

George Wold Stephenson

George Wold Stephenson

George was born in 1813, the son of George Stephenson and Elizabeth Would.  Family tradition has it that he was named for his second cousin, George Stephenson, the inventor of the first practical railroad steam engine.  To this date, we have not been able to verify this connection.

George was apprenticed at the age of 11 and worked faithfully for seven years.  At the age of 18, he went to London and became involved in the trade union movement.  It became his lifelong ambition to free the labor class from the oppression of the rich. The following year, he marched with 90,000 men to appeal to the King.  He walked 200 miles to Liverpool.

Agnes Catherine Hamilton

Agnes Hamilton Stephenson

He married Agnes Hamilton in Liverpool 1835.  They had five children there, but two of them died very young.  In 1844, with three sons, George and Agnes left for America. The family stayed one year in New York City, and then moved to Long Island where they lived for ten years and had five more children.  The last child born was Edward William, our ancestor. In 1855, they set out for the “West,” settling in St. Johns, Michigan.  George’s son, James, described their arrival in St. Johns in a letter:

In September, 1855, during a heavy storm of rain, which had continued for about a week, my father and mother with seven children, came into this town from Corunna by team with one wagon loaded with furniture and household goods.  In the wagon there was only room for two besides the driver and the roads being in such primitive state and so terribly muddy, all of us were compelled to walk a great share of the way.  I never shall forget my first view of St. Johns.  Emerging from a dense forest on a prominence overlooking the infant village, a strange sight greeted our eyes.  A hole in the wood, about 20 houses and muddy unimproved streets were before us.  Our home was to be the upper story of a store building and our provision to be potatoes, cod fish, and hulled corn.  Nothing else would be obtained in the place for at least six weeks, at the end of which time father succeeded in securing a cow which added miraculously to our commissary.  The roads were utterly impassible and our beds and bedding were in Lansing.

George established a business as a merchant tailor which prospered throughout the years.  He was very active in community affairs.  He was president of the village trustees and was appointed by the governor to serve in management of the State House of Corrections.  When the Clinton County Courthouse moved from Dewitt to St. Johns, the court rented space in Clinton Hall from George for several years.  The Clinton Independent  was started in 1866 by two of his sons, and it operated in the back of his store.  He also helped establish a “Live Association,” the intent of which was to provide a good burial at a reasonable price.  He was treasurer of the association for the next 29 years.

He was a member of the Knights of Labor for fifty years. He was considered a “free thinker,” and was a liberal in many fields, including his Christian faith.  He was one of the founding members of the Episcopal Church of St. Johns, and the names of George Wold and Agnes Stephenson were inscribed in a memorial window in the church.  Donald Winegar saw the window in 1936.  I don’t know if it is still there.

G.W. Stephenson's Watch

G.W. Stephenson's Watch

Agnes died in 1879. George retired in 1888 and died in 1896.  They are buried in St. Johns.   At his death, his pocket watch was given to his son, E.W. Stephenson, who carried it for 53 years and gave it to Donald Winegar, his oldest grandson, in 1931.  James Winegar, Donald’s son now has possession of the watch, and it is still working.


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