He had “a cold gray eye, solemn visage and sinister aspect.” His Dutch neighbors said he could bewitch things and people at will, and his very presence struck terror in hearts of children. And he had a thirst for the blood of Native Americans, whom he blamed for the death of his only son.
Such was John Lamont, who died April 10, 1843, in Harpersfield Township. A Revolutionary soldier, Lamont was a man who knew great hardship and even greater sadness, and spun legends from those difficulties.
The “1878 Williams Brothers History of Ashtabula County” states Lamont was of French descent, but that appears to be in error. John Lamont, according to various ancestry websites, was a descendant of Robert Lamont, who immigrated with his mother around 1750 from Colerain, Ireland. It is believed that, like many of the immigrants from northern Ireland, the Lamonts were Scotch.
Robert’s brother, Archibald, had been kidnapped several years earlier, brought to Colonial America and sold as a servant on Long Island. This gave his mother and brother a beachhead in the country.
In America, the Lamont surname blends with “Lemon,” for the “t” was often dropped from the Lamont name when spoken. For the purposes of this story, Lamont will be used. In addition to the “Williams Brothers History,” sources consulted include “A Brief Account of the Life at Charlotteville of Thomas William Lamont and of His Family” by Thomas Lamont and various public records.
Robert and his mother settled in Nobletown, N.Y. A Miss Brown, also from Ireland, became Robert’s wife shortly after he arrived in the United States. Their son, John, was born Sept. 18, 1753, in North HIllsdale, N.Y.
As a child, John was a practical joker with a rude, even sadistic, streak. A family history shares the story of his mother filling an outdoor oven with bread, cakes and pies for the family. John decided a box turtle ought to be baked alive in the oven along with the goods.
Another boyhood incident preserved by his ancestor, Thomas Lamont, involved John calling to his brother, William, to look at “the largest trout you ever saw” in a spring by which John was standing.
It was winter, and as William stooped to look for the fish, John gave him a push that sent William headlong into the ice-cold water.
A prisoner of Brant
John, William and a third brother responded to the call for patriots that rang throughout New England in 1776. Their Hillsdale neighbor, John McKinstry, had served as a soldier in the French and Indian War. McKinstry was commissioned a captain, and formed a company under Col. John Patterson’s Massachusetts Regiment.
John served as a private in this company and was wounded in the hands and leg at the Battle of Cedars (Montreal), in May 1776. He and McKinstry were captured by Brant, the Mohawk half-breed chief sympathetic to the British cause.
McKinstry and Brant, who had been educated at an academy in Connecticut, were both Freemasons. When McKinstry gave the secret symbol to Brant, the Mohawk released him. Lamont, however, was taken prisoner and carried off to Indian territory.
Marked for torture and death, John Lamont decided to use his ability as a musician to charm his captives. A violin was among the spoils they had taken, and Lamont, spotting the instrument, picked it up and started to play. The Native Americans decided his life was worth sparing — if he could run the gauntlet.
John Lamont ran and survived the course of beating and torture, was adopted into one of the tribes and assigned a squaw for a wife. But from Lamont’s viewpoint, it was all a ploy, and the first chance he got, Lamont escaped and returned to the battle for independence.
In 1777 he once again enlisted as a private, this time in Capt. Ezekiel Cooper’s Company of rifle rangers at Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He served with Cooper for a year, then enlisted for three months in a Capt. Miller’s Company.
John married Elizabeth Sullivan in 1780. Their only son, Robert, was born in 1790. They had four daughters: Elizabeth (Bartholomew), Rosannah, Polly (Hartwell) and Sally (Gregory).
John and Robert first appear in Ashtabula County history circa 1807, when they carved out a temporary settlement in Geneva Township with Benjamin Custin. They stayed there a couple of years and moved on to Harpersfield Township, where they established another settlement. John, however, did not become a landowner in the township until 1828, when he purchased 25 acres in lot 57.
Violating the white flag
When war with Britain came to the land in 1812, Robert responded to the call of his country and enlisted in Capt. John R. Reed’s Company, which had Alexander Harper as its lieutenant.
February 1813 found Reed’s Company in the area of present-day Toledo. The prior month, the Northwest Territory forces suffered a horrible blow at the Battle of River Raisin in the Michigan Territory. Under the command of Gen. James Winchester, 1,000 poorly trained soldiers, mostly from Kentucky, were pitted against British soldiers and American Indians. The American forces were slaughtered — 379 were killed, and many of the other troops were wounded or captured.
The wounded Kentuckians who could not keep up with their retreating forces, were butchered by American Indians as they attempted retreat. Estimates of the number murdered in this manner range from six to 40. The incident, known as The River Raisin Massacre” produced the rallying cry “Remember the Raisin.”
Following the massacre, Winchester called for volunteers to return to the enemy territory under the white flag and request the British military leadership allow the Americans to claim the bodies of the fallen soldiers.
Robert Lamont volunteered for this hazardous duty. He was accompanied by a French guide and a Dr. McGehan, presumably to attend to any wounded Americans who might have survived.
As they traveled toward Malden under the flag of truce, the three men took refuge in a log hut that stood in the area of present-day Toledo. They hung their flag of truce above the entrance to the cabin, but at some point during the night, the enemy discovered their presence.
Without warning, the men were fired upon through an opening in the hut. Robert Lamont was killed instantly; the other two men were wounded.
Robert, 23, left behind a widow, Hannah (Rodman), and two daughters, Mary Calista and Rosenna.
A vow of revenge
When John Lamont learned that his only son had been killed by the British and Native Americans, “the old man ... became frantic, raved at the destitution of of British honor and of Indian barbarity and swore vengeance on them all,” records the “Williams Brothers History.”
Lamont was not making idle threats.
Although history books have failed to make the connection, it is very likely that John Lamont was the murderer of Stigwandish or Standing Stone, the legendary Seneca Indian who befriended the settlers of Ashtabula County (see “Odd Tales,” April 9). Although Stigwandish was sympathetic to the British cause in the War of 1812, he promised the settlers he would return to the county and warn of any impending attack.
Stigwandish kept his promise, but he was murdered by a resident who sought revenge for the death of his son in the War of 1812. Stigwandish’s body was hid in a hollow tree near Indian Creek in Geneva Township.
On his deathbed, the murderer confessed and directed his neighbors to the tree where he hid the chief’s body. The moccasins, bones and a tomahawk were discovered there. But history never recorded the name of the murderer.
Nor does the “Williams Brothers” text make the connection between John Lamont’s grief, oath of vengeance and odd behavior as a wizard.
The wizard reference comes from Charles S. Simonds, a founding member of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ashtabula County, forerunner of the Ashtabula County Historical Society. Simonds makes no reference to John Lamont’s service in the Revolutionary War or the tragic death of his son. Rather, he focuses on Lamont’s peculiar powers over nature.
Further credence to our John Lamont’s eccentricity is noted by Thomas Lamont, the family biographer, although he erroneously calls Robert by his father’s name.
Simonds’ picture of John Lamont is that of a man with brawny frame, erect carriage and more than six feet of height. He was shrewd and sarcastic, yet indolent and unthrifty. His neighbors were afraid of the man, and whether fact or fiction, John Lamont the wizard became the scapegoat for any adversity that occurred in the neighborhood.
“If the leaven failed to rise and a heavy loaf resulted, the unlucky housewife charged John Lamont with the misfortune. Did the alkali and grease show less than their usual affinity and fail to combine as soap, it was bewitched, of course, and John Lamont bore the blame,” Simonds wrote.
“There were some who knew that he possessed a familiar spirit, and vouched for the fact that they had seen the nipple from which the imp derived its nourishment,” Simonds wrote. “The forest teemed with game, and those men were mighty hunters. The bear, the deer, and the wild turkey furnished their larders. But John Lamont could put a spell upon their rifles, and when the day’s hunt proved unsuccessful, or the rifle failed in its usual accuracy, old Lamont bore the blame.”
Simonds wrote that the pioneers even went so far as to concoct an antidote of silver against Lamont’s curses. They scraped their silver broaches and Spanish quarters into a crucible with the molten lead for their bullets, and believed the ammunition thus produced possessed “a charm against his incantations.”
A resident by the name of “Tiffany” was said to singularly possess power against Lamont and his spells. This intriguing character was apparently a frontier exorcist, who had his own set of incantations.
A challenge came when Tiffany’s maple syrup failed to form a powder. Tiffany suspected that Lamont had bewitched his sugar-bush, and set a trap for the old wizard.
“One of his recipes taught him that if any substance bewitched could be consumed by fire, and the witch could be kept from contact with the substance while burning, that the death of the witch would be inevitable,” Simonds wrote.
Tiffany placed his boiled syrup in a kettle, heaped the firewood about it and allowed the flames to lick the sides. As the smoke ascended, John Lamont emerged from the forest, in apparent agony. He begged Tiffany for some warm syrup to relieve colic pains, but Tiffany was unmerciful. He seized a handspike and drove Lamont from the camp.
The sugar was destroyed, and the wizard survived. But the story gave the “disbelieving Yankees of the neighborhood” an occasion for mirth, wrote Simonds.
The old wizard and soldier died Aug. 10, 1843. He is buried in Harpersfield Township Cemetery. The Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution purchased a new headstone for his grave some time ago, but the birth year on the stone is questionable, suggesting he lived to 100. However, when John Lamont applied for his Revolutionary War pension in November 1818, he gave his age as 65, which is line with the 1753 birthdate.
At least one of Lamont’s daughters, Elizabeth Bartholomew, stayed in the Geneva area. And his granddaughter, Mary Calista, married into the prominent Bishop family of Harpersfield Township.
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