There is disagreement about the parentage Henry Vanmatre who settled near Ten Mile Creek in what is now Greene County, Pennsylvania. This page was created in the hopes that it will move the anlysis in the direction of clarity.
Original records, especially those with primary informants, are to be preferred. But what follows will also make reference to the following compiled histories:
- [Dr] Draper MSS. transcription online
- [Ke] Kemp, Annabelle. Lucas Genealogy (Los Angeles, CA: Bookman Press, 1964).
- [Lec] Leckey, Howard L. The Tenmile Country and its Pioneer Families: a Genealogical History of the Upper Monongahela Valley (Waynesburg, PA: Waynesburg Republican, 1950).
- [Lew] Lewis, Virgil A. "The VanMatres: Pioneer Families of Mason County —Their Ancestors and Descendants," published in The weekly register of Point Pleasant, Va. [W. Va.], 14 April 1886, page 2; image available through Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
- [Sm] Smyth, Samuel Gordon. A Genealogy of the Duke-Shepherd-Van Metre Family, from Civil, Military, Church, and Family Records and Documents (Lancaster, PA: New Era Printing Co., 1909).
- [Sm1] Smyth, Samuel Gordon. "Records Relating to the Van Metre, Dubois, Shepherd, Hite, and Allied Families" The West Virginina Historical Magazine Quarterly 3 (1902) pages 45–55.
- [VM] VanMeter, Anna Hunter. "A Glance at the Van Meter Family in the United States of America" The West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly 2 (1902) pages 5–18.
Background on Henry
Henry Vanmatre came to reside near Tenmile Creek reportedly before 1770 (see the blue star on the upper-left of the accompanying map). He was among the early settlers, so the region was disputed, with competing claims from Virginia and Pennsylvania (both provinces sometimes issued patents for the same land), as well as frequent violent interactions with the native peoples of the region. Henry served as commissioner, associate judge, and county treasurer, and appeared in municipal records and newspapers in these roles. He appeared on Pennsylvania tax lists and in the 1790 and 1800 censuses. Henry wrote his will in 1801 and it was proved in 1803. Henry married Martha Moore of Maryland, and his will named Martha along with eight daughters and six sons. We must be very impressed with Martha if she brought fourteen children into the world and raised them in health to all reach adulthood, especially given the privations that came with frontier life.
So, we have documents showing Henry Vanmatre in this region, and documents showing other Vanmeters. The Vanmeter family reused given names frequently, and the early family expanded rapidly into hundreds of individuals, so care must be taken not to ascribe two documents naming two different men "Henry Vanmater" to the same man. This is a difficult task, and there are plenty of Vanmeter documents that cannot be certainly identified with one specific man.
It would be helpful to have an identification of Henry's wife. While several authors identify her as Martha Moore b. 1728 (e.g., [Ke, page 410]), daughter of George Moore and Elizabeth Lucas of Prince George's County, Maryland, this information seems for now to be unsubstantiated by any original document. She appeared as a widowed head-of-household in 1810 and reportedly died in 1825 or so. If she truly had 14 children, some at least in the early 1750s, and died in 1825, she was very likely born between 1725 and 1735 and lived to be quite old.
Henry's will was dated 20 April 1801 and was probated in 1803 in Green County. It names:
- wife Martha
- eldest son Joseph Vanmatre and Joseph's sons Joab and Henry Vanmatre, both under 21
- eight daughters Sarah, Alice, Rachel, Elizabeth, Phebe, Rebekah, Martha, and Mary
- second son Jesse Vanmatre
- sons Absalom Vanmatre, Henry Vanmatre Jur, and John Vanmatre
- grandson William Thomas
Executors were his son Jesse Vanmatre and son-in-law Charles Sivon.
Early VanMeter Families
There were many men named Henry VanMeter in colonial America. We focus here on three Henry VanMeters who each migrated through the course of their lives, including spending time in the vast territories claimed by Virginia in the 1700s. These three men are certainly distinct individuals because they made three separate wills, naming their various children. Henry son of Isaac died probably in what is now Hardy County, West Virginia (near where the Eastern Panhandle meets the main body of the state) around 1778; Henry son of John died in Berkeley County, Virginia (today towards the tip of the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia) in 1790; and the present Henry, who made his will in 1801 in Greene County in the far southwestern corner of Pennsylvania.
In assigning them to their correct parents, we must understand the Vanmeter families around at the time of their birth. There were two immigrant Vanmeters to colonial America, whose early records were recorded with patronymic naming but whose descendants later adopted names that were variants of "Van Meteren":
- Jan Joosten, descendants generally spelled their name "Vanmeter/Van Meter/Vanmetre" with an 'e' immediately after the 'm'
- Jan Gysbertsen — descendants generally spelled their name "VanMatre/Van Matre/Van Mater" with an 'a' immediately after the 'm'
But spelling wasn't standardized in the 17th and 18th centuries, so there are exceptions to these spellings, and sometimes the handwriting in original documents was just hard to read. (It is not known if the two Jans were cousins.)
Jan Joosten's wife had four children by a prior marriage, but he had just one known child with her, Joost Janz. Original records only allow us to identify three sons of Joost: Jan "John" bap. 1683 (known as "the Indian Trader"), Isaac b. by 1693, and Hendrick "Henry" bap. 1695.
Jan Gysbertsen also had one known son, Kreijn/Kryne, born in the Netherlands around 1650. From a bible record and his will, we know Kreijn had sons Jan b. 1687, Gisbert b. 1694, Benjamin b. 1702, Cyrenus b. 1706, and Joseph b. 1710.
To add to the confusion about the Henry Vanmeters, Jan Gysbertsen also had at least one grandson Henry, born 15–20 years after the others.
Estimating Henry's birth year
In order to eliminate men who could not possibly be Henry's father, we must first estimate his birth year. Estimates given by various sources range from 1720 into the 1740s. While there seems to be no argument given against the early part of this range, some authors have argued that he cannot have been born later than the 1720s on the basis of the ages of his children. Specifically, his 1801 will identifies his eldest son as Joseph, and it has been argued that Joseph was born around 1744-1746.
Unfortunately, several of the Henrys mentioned above were closely associated with Josephs — either having a known son Joseph or a brother Joseph or both. So the appearance of a Henry and a Joseph near each other is not necessarily evidence that they were father and son, nor generally do such records identify which Henry and Joseph produced the record.
To start untangling records and then piecing together separate narratives for these men, let us start with the most striking thing about the records of the present Henry: he generally spells his nam "Van Matre". So although all authors have tried to place him as a descendant of Jan Joosten above, we must first take a serious look at whether he could have been of the family of Jan Gysbertsen, who spelled their surname the same way.
Virgil A. Lewis claimed that Henry was born in Hardy County, Virginia in 1740 and was the son of Isaac^4 Van Meter, son of John^3, or possibly was Henry^4, the son Henry born circa 1720 of Isaac's uncle Isaac^3 (the discrepancy arising because it is not clear when Lewis writes that Henry was the son of John Vanmeter "the Indian trader" whether he thought this John was Joost Janz Vanmeter or his son Jan Joosten). Samuel Gordon Smyth claimed he was instead he was the same man as Henry Van Meter, the son born around 1742 of Isaac's brother Henry. Howard L. Leckey notes that neither of these is possible based on ages — Henry's son Joseph was very probably born in the mid-1740s and his daughter Martha's gravestone indicates a birth year 1754, while daughter Sarah's indicates a birth year 1758. It is therefore clear that Henry could not have been born as late as the 1740s.
From son Joseph's age, it would seem Henry was born at the latest during the 1720s. The thirteen children spanning years from around 1743 to 1769 place his wife's birth year at 1726, give or take a year or so, so it is likely Henry was born by the mid-1720s. So with even a very conservative estimate, Henry's father would have born by 1708, say.
If we assume, as all sources seem to, that Henry was a descendant of Joost Janz Vanmeter. Joost had three known sons: Jan bap. 1683, Isaac b. ca. 1692, and Henry bap. 1695. They appear many times in land records, often together, and no other unplaced Vanmeters appear as well. So we can be pretty confident that they were the only sons to reach adulthood. We consider in turn why neither Henry b. 1695 nor any known grandsons of Joost can be the present Henry, who died in Greene County, PA leaving a will dated 1801.
- Hendrick "Henry" bap. 1695 died in New Jersey leaving a will dated 1752 and dated 1759, naming a complete different collection of children which he recorded through 1748, overlapping when the present Henry would have been having children. His son Joseph was probably born around 1722, so it be feasible for Henry to have had a son Henry around 1720. But he named no son Henry in his will.
- Henry b. ca. 1717, the son of Jan b. 1683 -- this Henry died in Virginia, leaving a will dated 1790 and proved 1793, also naming a complete different collection of children.
- Henry b. ca. 1718, the son of Isaac b. ca. 1692 -- this Henry married Rebecca in Philadelphia in 1741, then lived in Virginia, where he died leaving a will dated and proved in 1778. It names his wife Rebecca and again, a different collection of children.
Assuming, then, that no one named multiple sons Henry, we look to the next generation down, looking for males born before 1710. The only such child is Johannes, son of Jan, bap. 1708. This date is right at the limit of the latest believable birthdate for Henry's father, using a very conservative estimate. Johannes reportedly had two children before his death in the early 1730s, neither named Henry. And even though marriage and children's birth records are not known, it seems unlikely that a man born around 1708 would have married and had three children by 1725, and even less likely that one of these children would have had a son Joseph by the mid-1740s.
We are forced to one of three conclusions
- This Henry was the eldest child of Hendrick "Henry" Van Meter, but for some reason was not named in the will his father made in New Jersey in 1752. It is perhaps surprising that Hendrick had seven known sons and named none of them Henry. . Hendrick did use some names that do not appear to be family names, but the names "John" and "Fetters" certainly were. On the other hand, if this Henry were a son of Hendrick, then it would seem he had one full-sibling, Joseph, and so it is notable that this Henry named his eldest son Joseph. Joseph was probably born by 1722, so the timing would be good for this Henry to be a full-sibling of comparable age. —— How to explain Henry's omission from the will of Hendrick, then? Henry would have moved west from Pilesgrove, New Jersey, perhaps when his uncle Isaac made the move, and so distance could explain the exclusion of such a son from the will. Or perhaps his father gave him his share of the inheritance before the move. However, Isaac was still in Pilesgrove when the Presbyterian Church was founded there in 1741, and all of the adult Vanmeter men in Pilesgrove seem to have appeared in the church records from the forming of the Pilesgrove Presbyterian Church in 1741. No additional son Henry of Hendrick appears in those records.
- This Henry was the son of an unknown son of Joost Janz Vanmeter -- the three known sons of Joost appear many times in land records. But Joost left no will and seemingly vanished from the records from 1695 until one appearance in 1706, while his wife Sarah lived into the 1720s. She was only in her mid-30s at Henry's baptism in 1695, so we might wonder if there were unrecorded children after Henry. If one had died around 1720, he could have fathered the present Henry and yet not lived long enough to leave a trace in the paper records -- dying right around the age of majority when he could have started buying and selling land with his brothers.
- This Henry was not a descendant of Joost Janz Vanmeter -- in particular, there is another family of a similar name that descends from Jan Gysbertsen van Meteren a.k.a. van Matre. This family tended usually used the spelling Van Matre, a spelling that almost never appears among the desncendants of Joost Janz Vanmeter. It is notable, then, that the present Henry spells his name Van Matre in his will, as does his son Jesse. Some research should be done to see where Henry could be placed as a descendant of Jan Gysbertsen van Matre.
Vanmeters who came to Greene County, PA
The first Vanmeter to settle in what is now Greene County, PA was probably Jacob Vanmeter. He applied to purchase 300 acres on Muddy Creek the year the Land Office opened for purchases in 1769 in the newly acquired far western part of the state.
Revolutionary War Testimony of Samuel Foster
Samuel Foster of Marion County, Indiana deposed on 18 November 1836 that:
- we was 73 years old the previous February (inferred birth February 1763)
- he volunteered in spring of summer of 1778 under Jesse Pigman, Captain, John Minor Colonel, Joseph Van Mater Lieutenant
- he served at Swansfort at Muddy Creek Settlement, his then place of residence, near the Monongahela River in the territory disputed by Virginina and Pennsylvania
- his employment was at least four months at the fort, [searting] as an Indian spy and guarding the fort
- he said about his service this must be understood: it was a settlement arrangement, that the neighbors built the fort and the object was mutual self-defense from the Indians. He was in no engagement and his company had none.