Great-great grandson of Susan Austen Pearce (1794-1865)
The Austen name has been associated with fine works of literature and fast and fancy automobiles. One Internet source says that the name is as likely to be found in Scotland as England. House of Names.com says, “The name was first found in Bedford, Surrey, and Salop, England, and Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Kincardine, Scotland.” Like many Scots, at least one early American settler came by way of County Antrim, Ireland. David Austin, with an “i,” was a “saddlebag” Presbyterian ordained in New York in 1788. But, our Austens not only spelled their name with an “e,” according to family sources they were Baptists from Kent County, south of London [see earlier article “Faith of our Fathers (and Mothers): Part I”].
As with the surname Pearce, Austen has many spelling variations:
Austin, Austeane, Austyn, Austine, Ostian, Ousteane, Ostheim, Oysten, Oasten, Ostime, Hoston, Houston, Hughesdon, Houston, Hastings, and many others.
British historian Robert Penhey tells us that the name originated from the French “Augustin,” the Roman Catholic saint Aurelius Augustinus of the fourth century AD. The Roman emperor at that time was Caesar Augustus, and his supporters in Christ likely took his name as title or surname, which also distinguished them from others with the same first name. About two centuries later, a St. Austin, or another Augustine, says Penhey, “brought the [Roman] Catholic version of Christianity to Britain and began the process of ousting the Celtic Church, which was a version of the Orthodox cut off from the Greek Church.” From his headquarters in Canterbury, Kent, the county of Susan Austen Pearce and brother Charles’ birth, he became friends with King Ethelbert and “Christianity spread quickly over the island” (Bryson 50). Australian cousin and Austen family researcher, Brian Austen, shows us a line of pre-Reformation Roman Catholic priests with the family name. From the 16th century and the reign of Henry VIII, the Austens continued to be followers of Christ, but were as likely to be non-conformists as members of the new State Church.
Perhaps the second most influential Austen in British history was author Jane Austen (1775-1817). Among her famous novels are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Virtually all have been made into films. The latter was the subject for spoof about a decade ago with Clueless, but more serious treatment is scheduled when Emma comes to the big screen in August of 2002. While no direct connection has ever been made between our families, one might find the genealogy of this preacher’s daughter interesting. Dozens of other sites explore her family, her work, and her persona.
But, let’s get back to our Austens. We know a few things about the father of Grandmother Susan and Uncle Charles from the Original Family Narrative (OFN) but even less of their father, Ambrose [see early article on Austens]. Now, thanks to cousin Caroline Austen Pinkers, we believe that Ambrose’s father was Thomas. We recently learned from his will, which was written in 1795, that he lived in Yalding, Kent County, with his wife Mary, daughter of Henry Martin. They had five children, two girls and three boys, one of whom was Ambrose (1757-1841). In 1779, at the age of 22, Ambrose married Susannah Beard [see “Our Quaker Beginnings”]. According to Brian Austen, a very distant Australian cousin, an “A. Austin” is listed as arriving at Philadelphia in 1818. This is considered to be our Ambrose, and there is no record that he was accompanied. Several Austins had arrived in that port in 1800, 1802, and 1805, but there is no indication of a link to our Ambrose (Passenger and Immigration Lists Index of 1998 Supplement). This was two years before his son Charles and my Great-great grandfather Richard Pearce came through Philadelphia on the way from New York to Pittsburgh and Pine Creek, Allegheny County.
According to Ohio land records, Ambrose bought a corner parcel of land in Jeromesville, Wayne County just west of Wooster, on February 9 that same year. This tiny Indian town was built around 1762 and named for the Jerome Fork of the Mohican River. The founder, John Baptiste Jerome, a French Canadian who married an Indian woman, sold seed corn and traded livestock. Ambrose would have undoubtedly used the Forbes Road, now US Rt. 30, to get to Pittsburgh. From there he may have taken passage on a riverboat down the Ohio to what is now East Liverpool, then continued west to Canton, Massillon, and Wooster. Or, he could have taken a wagon west along what is now US Rt. 22, crossed the Ohio by ferry at Stuebenville, and proceeded northwest via the scenic Rt. 250 into Indian Territory. The tribes these early Austens had to contend with included the Mohican, Delaware, Wyandottes, Shawnees, Chickasaws, and Cherokees. Though friendly at first, they fell under British influence during the War of 1812, no doubt resenting the ever-expanding settlement by the Whiteman, and periodically sent the pioneers scrambling for the nearest fort or blockhouse for protection. Much of the rural property west of the Allegheny Mountains was called “donation” or “depreciation” land and offered to military veterans who had served in either the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. Others could purchase property for as little as 20 cents an acres under governmental homesteading provisions such as the Pennsylvania Settlers’ Act of 1792. The story of our Austens is really the story of the settling of the American west. What follows are some tidbits relating their initial discontent, their struggles, and even their unusual associations with others on the frontier.
The death of Ambrose’s youngest son Joseph was reported in the Ashland Press of 1893 and claims that his father, after arriving in Philadelphia, “next came to Pittsburgh, Pa., but not liking the country came further west, locating near Jeromesville, making this their home.” One must admit, having seen the steep hillsides of Pine Creek, that Ohio offers better farmland. Among the first Europeans to settle there were the Eagles and the Newmans in the early 1800s. The Austens intermarried with these and other families. This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Jeromesville with cousin Tom Austen and wife Margery. In addition to the properties and graves, we inspected the founder’s cabin, which had been moved uphill off the floodplain, then purchased and renovated by Tom’s father Ralph in the 1920s to raise his family. It’s interesting to see the old logs visible in places through the lathe. But, most interesting is the small hole and burn mark in the front door. Could this have been a burning arrow? This and other stories, as well as the details of Ambrose’s other offspring, will be available shortly in a genealogy being compiled by Brian Austen.
One of Ambrose’s daughters, Charlotte, married Sparks Bird, a probable descendant of French and Indian War hero Col. James Burd. Sparks had been born at either Redstone Old Fort or Ft. Burd, both on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh. Charlotte became the second of his three wives. He was a nephew of General Beall, who had cut the road that was later to become US Rt. 30 through the forest from Wooster through Jeromesville and west in 1812 [see “One Unusual In-law”].
Charles and Sarah Pearce Austen’s daughter Susanna married John Grubbs in 1832. He was a carpenter, and in 1841 they moved to Niles, Michigan to start over. In 1852 John left Michigan with their three sons and John’s brother and his son for a St. Joseph wagon train bound for Oregon. Susannah had returned to Western Pennsylvania to be with her parents, but two years later she took a steamer to Panama, a mule train across the isthmus, another steamer to Portland, then a wagon up the Willamette Valley to be with her husband and sons.
Charles and Sarah Austen’s grandson John Thaddeus Austen (1864- ), through Charles Jr. and Anna Jones Austen, lived near the river in Aspinwall, northeast of Pittsburgh. He, like his father and uncle John, was a carpenter. He worked in a pipe mill, a hardware store, a feed store, and eventually a grocery store. He married Hattie Robinson in 1887 and had six children. His listing in the Memoirs of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania includes the following:
The grandfather of Mr. Austen was Charles Austen, a distinguished soldier of England, holding the position of Captain in the guards and also serving as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He came to America in a sailboat in 1820 and was head of this branch of the Austen family in the United States.
Family historians are still trying to verify Charles’ position in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars, but we wonder if grandson John Thaddeus handled feed and flour ground at the Pearce Milling Company of nearby Pine Creek. John’s grandmother was Sarah Pearce, twin sister to Richard Pearce who married Susan Austen. Richard and Susan and their descendants were in the milling business for 127 years [see “Settlement at Pint Creek”].
John and Hattie’s youngest child Willard (1897-1994) earned a medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1921. After several years at the Mayo Clinic, he moved to New York for special training in Otolaryngology. In the tradition of his Great-grandfather Charles, Dr. Austen joined the US Navy and served on board the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Bogue, which was assigned to hunt German submarines. When he was released in 1946 he had attained the rank of Captain. He served the Veterans Administration in New York City for many years. We owe a great deal to Willard for his research in England on the Austen family and to his niece Caroline Pinkers, who carries genealogical curiosity.
I have been in contact with several other Austens and Austins; some are related and some are not. For example, Kathy now lives near Greenville, SC, but was born in Natrona Heights, northeast of Pittsburgh. Her maternal grandfather was Orr Wallace Austin, and her great-grandfather was Alonzo George Washington Austin. Her information stops with the great-great grandparents Gilbert and Christena, who are buried at Stewardson Furnace. Could we be related to them?
Is the famous Pittsburgh grocer, James Austin, who invented a unique carpet cleaning agent and whose descendants have manufactured household products in Mars, PA since 1887, related to us? Mars is less than five miles from Pearce Mill Road and was the post office of my Grandfather Wesley Pearce and is now the home of my brother Carl. James Austin’s son Harry A. took over the company in 1929. The line of managers has included Harry G., Harry G. Jr., and John T. Austin. Since 1935 Austin’s A-1 Bleach has been a household phrase in America. Other products include automobile windshield washer fluid and many cleaning products.
The Austin/Austen name ranks 222 in frequency among American surnames with over 160,000 members. The most famous was Stephen Fuller Austin (1793-1836), born in Austinville, VA, and is given credit for the founding of the State of Texas in 1822. Austin, TX, is named after him. Many of the more famous American Austins have been associated with New England. Jane Goodwin Austin (1831-1894) wrote popular books about that part of the country. Warren Austin (1877-1962) was a Senator from Vermont and American’s first Ambassador to the United Nations. Hugh S. Austin published The Austin Family of Bennington, VT. The Austin-Rich Genealogy was published in Farmington, MI, in 1968. Mary Austin (1868-1934) also wrote novels.
A quick search on the Internet shows Austens and Austins from almost every walk of life. This article is intended to be just a framework from which to begin collecting information on our family. As we write this, several exciting research possibilities exist: that Great-great Uncle Charles would indeed have had, as the Original Family Narrative says, “access to the Royal family [which] admitted him to the palace during King George IV time.” All this, because he held a high rank in the Army and Royal Navy? And, what if we are directly related to Jane Austen? Genealogy is fun, but personal historical family narratives are even more fun to me because of the sense of connecting the past to the present, much more than names and dates. As science, let’s say involving DNA, and technology, let’s say with computers, makes giant strides in the 21st Century, we’ll have even more information to work with. When will you get involved and what will you contribute?