75 The Wandering Blaws
By Edwin Olen ‘Ted’ Blew
Have you ever wondered what happened to the Blaws, whose family name graces the historic village of Blawenburg? Ted Blew, who is a descendent of patriarch John Blaw, and who previously wrote about John Blaw’s grave in Blog 44, returns to share his research on the many places the Blaws migrated in the United States. Note that we published the quotes verbatim, complete with misspelling and incorrect grammar, to retain their historical integrity.
The Dutch Blauws seem to be a peripatetic race of people as evidenced by their 17th century wanderings from the Netherlands to Brazil and then to New Netherland, now known as New York, and later into New Jersey and beyond. This may explain why there are no Blaw names found in current directory listings for Blawenburg or nearby communities. Other factors probably encouraged this wanderlust, including the pursuit of better opportunities by later-born sons, who did not inherit family homesteads, or the availability of cheaper land, including bounty land grants in other states for veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Or maybe it was just getting too crowded around Blawenburg.
Whatever the case, most of the Blawenburg Blaws, descendants of my 6th great-grandfather, the first John Blaw, who settled in the area in 1740 after migrating from New York, had either died or moved away from Blawenburg by around 1815. Among the last of these early Blaw families still living in this immediate area, as recorded in William H. Blue’s authoritative family history, were:
Elizabeth (Elisabet) Blaw/Blue (1759-ca1789), married James Voorhees (1754-1844). She was born near Blawenburg and was baptized at the Reformed Dutch Church of Harlingen on 10 Feb 1760. James was born in Blawenburg, and they were married in Somerset County;
James Blue, married Elizabeth Lanning in 1795 and died in 1813. They lived in Montgomery Township, Somerset County;
Michael Blaw (1751-1787), married Mary Stout (1753-1842). He was baptized at the Reformed Dutch Church of Harlingen in Somerset County, NJ and died in Somerset County, NJ leaving a will, which is on record in the NJ Archives.
There are many New Jersey residents today who can trace their ancestry to the first John Blaw of Blawenburg. Some still use the surname, but the much larger concentrations of these Blaw descendants now live outside of New Jersey.
The Blaw Surname
A note about surnames: The 18th century Blawenburg Blaws used several versions of their ancestors’ surname, Blauw, the Dutch word for the color blue. Blue and Blew are still the most frequently used, and you will see those variations used throughout this blog. Charles H. Engle, Sr., a family historian and descendant of John Blaw, offered the following entertaining explanation for this phenomenon in a speech he gave in the 1950s:
“One of the facts which is brought to the attention of anyone who tries to trace [a] family is the spelling of their last name. It is rather amusing to hear some people insist that their name was always spelt the way they write it today. Generally, the only rule that can be followed is to pronounce the name phonetically and then to have an open mind because you may find that your name has changed considerably over the years. If you imagine that your great grandfather knew or cared how his name was spelled, you are probably mistaken. He couldn’t tell what it was and there are many records of some near spelling of his name. Sometimes, it is spelt two or three ways in the same document. It mattered little how a name was spelled when the owner could neither read nor write. For example, one of my ancestors is today a Reber, but in documents from ‘back in the day’, it is spelled Reber, or Raber, or even Rever. Many names have been changed more or less by immigration officials, by clergymen, and legal officials to suit either their ignorance, their national bias, their whims, or their mistakes.”
Where did the Blaws go?
The short answer is “to the mostly frontier areas of West Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.” After settling in these places, many Blaw descendants, like many other American families, continued migrating westward into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and, ultimately, California.
The chart below shows where the earliest migrating Blaw generations first settled. A numbering system is used here and throughout this blog to identify the birth order of each individual within each Blaw generation. For example, John Blaw 1.0 represents the first generation, John Blue 1.1 is the first-born of John 1.0, Michael Blaw 1.3 is the third-born of John 1.0, John Blaw 1.3.2 is the second-born of Michael 1.3, and so on.
Early Blaw families who left Blawenburg
Migration to North Central Virginia
John [1.1.1], Michael, Uriah, and Abraham Blue, four grandsons of the first John Blaw [1.0], left Somerset County and settled with their families in Hampshire and Berkshire Counties, Virginia, starting in 1752. Their father, the second John Blaw [1.1] and his wife Cattron Van Meter, followed them there from New Jersey a few years later.
The Blaws settled in Virginia (now West Virginia).
This area lies in the northeastern corner of present-day West Virginia, near the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia and is presently populated by large numbers of the descendants of these early Blue settlers. This is the branch of the Blue Family who inherited a silver cup, made in New Amsterdam circa 1676, handed down to the first-born son of each generation. Some members of this branch of the family later migrated from Virginia to Ohio and Missouri.
These and other Somerset County Blaw families were probably drawn there by land grants from Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, owner of over five million acres of land in Virginia’s ‘Northern Neck’ and by the existence of a sizeable Dutch population, which had previously migrated from New Jersey and New York.
Historical Marker near Romney, WV,
noting Lord Fairfax land grant, circa 1754, to John Blue 1.1.1
According to Maxwell and Swisher in "History of Hampshire Co., WV", George Washington, as a lad of 16 years, was commissioned in 1748 by Lord Fairfax to survey some of the Fairfax lands. "On April 4 he made an entry showing the kind of people who lived there (along the South Branch of the Potomac), and who were all squatters on the lands of Lord Fairfax, or at least on land claimed by him. On April 4 he (Washington) writes, 'We were all attended with a great company of people, men, women, and children, who followed us through the woods, showing their antic tricks. They seemed to be as ignorant a set of people as the Indians. They would never speak English, but when spoken to all spoke Dutch'."
Migration to the Finger Lakes Region of New York
The Blaws settled in Lake Country in New York state
Several grandsons of the first John Blaw, through his sons Michael and Frederick, migrated from Blawenburg to the lake country of New York State, mostly in the area between Seneca and Cayuga lakes.
One of these grandsons, Isaac Blue [1.5.11], was a Revolutionary War veteran. He and his wife Amelia Ann Sortor moved their family from Somerset County to Ovid, Seneca County, New York sometime before 1809. Like many other veterans of that war, he was probably attracted by the government land grants given as rewards for their service. Walter Gable’s history of the area notes that “…Hundreds of veterans settled in this new Military Tract [of about 1.8 million acres] after the war, with more than 300 in Seneca County . . . By 1800 there were nearly 5,000 people in Seneca County. These early settlers were of many nationalities and portions of the American colonies. Mostly, there were German and Scotch Irish from Pennsylvania; Holland and Dutch and English settlers came from New York.”
Other early travelers included Samuel Blew [184.108.40.206.2], a 2nd great-grandson of the first John Blaw and son of Revolutionary War veteran Michael Blue and his wife Mary Stout. Samuel was baptized at the Harlingen Church in 1775. He and his wife Rebecca Stout were living in Sheldrake, Seneca County, New York in 1807 and are buried there in the Sheldrake Cemetery.
1859 Map of Sheldrake Point, NY on Cayuga Lake
with Graveyard and Mrs. Blue Home Locations
A local family history includes the following account: “This Samuel Blew, after his father’s death, with his wife, mother and sister, moved from New Jersey and came to Sheldrake, NY about 1806 or 1807, making the long trip by ox teams (no railroads in existence) by the way of the North Woods, consuming many days, having about 350 miles to cover, stopping to prepare their meals and at night, camping under the trees for a good night’s rest, resuming their journey by daylight. They may have followed the Old Indian Trail that led up the Lehigh Valley which was a dense forest, but it has been transformed since those days by the march of improvements made as railroads were built, and today the Lehigh Valley is well called the Switzerland of America. What a thrill of delight and pleasure it must have been to them when they saw for the first time the wonderful Cayuga Lake: the goal of their ambitions was reached. He purchased a farm containing about 100 acres from one of the old settlers who obtained it by charter or grant from the state of New York and the deed for it was signed by Dewitt Clinton, then governor. It had a log house on the place as well as a blacksmith shop. Here they started anew in life’s journey and from whose veins sprang their numerous descendants.”
Headstone of Samuel Blew, early Sheldrake, NY Settler
There are over 25 Blew/Blue family members with New Jersey origins buried in the Sheldrake Cemetery alone, and many hundreds of Blaw descendants populate this region today.
Sheldrake NY Cemetery and road sign with Blew Names
The Eastern Pennsylvania migration
The Blaws settled in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Brothers Michael [220.127.116.11] and Frederick Blue [18.104.22.168], great grandsons of John the first, were both baptized at the Harlingen Church. After serving in the Revolutionary War, about 1778, they and their wives [Phoebe Voorhees and Mary ____ (surname unknown), respectively] settled in Northumberland County, later Columbia County and Montour Counties, near present-day Danville, Pennsylvania and raised their families near the banks of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. Michael’s sons Isaac, who was Captain, and Isaiah, served with the ‘Danville Blues’, a rifle company active in the War of 1812. Peter Blue, New Jersey-born second cousin of Michael and Frederick, and his wife Mary Montgomery, also settled in this area.
Probable Blaw Migration Route into Danville-Shamokin PA Area
Along Old Native American Paths
An old Danville city history includes the following interesting entry: “Before closing, I must mention the noted peach orchard of Mr. Michael Blue, two or three miles out on the hills. He was a Jerseyman, and they are said naturally to take to watermelons and peaches. It was congruous, therefore, that he should have the best peach orchard in the settlement. It was an extensive one, of natural fruit, consequently of small size, but much of it (had) good flavor, yet not such as would compete with the large and luscious fruit from Delaware and New Jersey, now offered by the fruiters in the Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York markets.”
Today there are large numbers of Blawenburg Blue descendants still living in this area and the influx of large numbers of New Jersey families is memorialized in some modern-day town names such as Jerseytown and Jersey Shore.
John Blew [22.214.171.124], great-grandson of the first John and my 3rd great-grandfather, was born in Blawenburg in1754. He served as a Private in the Somerset County New Jersey Militia during the Revolutionary War. In 1788, he and his wife Jerusha joined the Hopewell, New Jersey Baptist Meeting. In 1796, they left New Jersey and moved to Shamokin Township, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, probably in pursuit of a veteran’s land grant.
In his history of John Blew, Charles H. Engle, Sr. writes: “After leaving New Jersey, we may imagine the Blew family to have crossed the Delaware and traveled westward to the Susquehanna and along that river through the primitive settlements of now Wilkes-Barre, Berwick, Bloomsburg, and Danville. Here John may have visited his [cousin] Michael. He may have crossed the river at now Sunbury and then turned back eastwardly. Shamokin Township then lay across the river from what is now Danville. Here the family made a home in the wilderness and lived for six or seven years . . .”
At this time, John and Jerusha’s family consisted of six sons and five daughters. By 1803, they had moved about 40 miles to the southeast to Norwegian Township, Berks [later Schuylkill] County, Pennsylvania, into what later became one of the world’s largest anthracite coal mining regions. A deed of that year shows John Blew granting to William Norris, Jr., in exchange for $20, “all ores of every kind of description, which is or may be found with privilege to search for and take away, provided no damage is done to said land except when absolutely necessary for purpose aforesaid”.
Pennsylvania Anthracite Coal Region –
Final Destination of John and Jerusha Blew
A Schuylkill County Historical Society newsletter paints the following picture of the Blew family’s travels: “As word spread of the retreat of 'Savages’ further westward, St. Anthony' s Wilderness, became attractive as its great timber and agricultural wealth eventually revealed itself. The ethnic German majority soon gave way to an ancestry rooted in the British Isles and the European Continent. Word spread throughout the Middle Atlantic states regarding Schuylkill County's resources. Early land speculators, timbermen, farmers, canal builders, and forgers of iron realized Schuylkill’s vast potential. By the time the state of Pennsylvania created this new county in 1811, the county had already seen an influx of ethnically English and Dutch entrepreneurs who migrated by river and wagon trail from points northeast, east and southeast. Among these new settlers came the family of John and Jerusha Blew who migrated from Somerset County, New Jersey by way of the Susquehanna River and Northumberland County Pennsylvania. The family originally settled at Silverton (Branch Township) in what was then Norwegian Township. John Blew had served in the American Revolution and later moved here with his family about the year 1804. He died there in 1811. John Blew's ancestors had come to America from Holland before the days of the American Revolution. John’s wife, Jerusha Blew, died in 1829.”
Many of these Blew descendants worked in the mines and on the small farms in this area and the Blew name may still be found in abundance in local directories, including many of the Blews in my branch of the family tree.
Return to Blawenburg
The first Blaw settlers would be happy to know that at least a few of their 21st century cousins have returned to Blawenburg to visit.
One descendent, David P. Blauw, served as Minister of Blawenburg’s Reformed Church from 1982 to 1994. David is the son of Stuart Blauw, a former minister of the Reformed Church in America in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Stuart is the son of James Blauw who came from the Netherlands in about 1919, settling in Minnesota and later in Chicago. While David P. Blauw is not a direct descendant of the Blawenburg Blaws, further genealogical research may be able to connect him and his family to Blawenburg through study of the 17th century or earlier Blauw families living in the Netherlands.
Directory of Ministers of the Blawenburg Reformed Church
As early as 1988, a family historian and descendant of John Blaw named William H. Blue, of Seattle, Washington, made field trips to the area to conduct family research. Bill met with local residents and experts, including Marian Palmer, Walter C. Baker and Ursula Brecknell and was perhaps the first family member to visit the Blaw family burial grounds, originally covered with brush and brambles but now graciously maintained by the Cherry Valley Homeowners Association.
Bill Blue is one of the founders of the National Blue Family Association [NBFA: www.bluefamily.org] and, through that organization’s efforts, many Blaw descendants, including me, have visited Blawenburg as part of a series of family reunions, the most recent of which occurred in 2018.
National Blue Family Association Reunion at Blaw-Nevius Burial Grounds, July 2018
For many years I drove through Blawenburg on my way to and from work in Princeton, never realizing my connection to that place until it came to light during an NBFA reunion there in 2002. Since then, I’ve visited Blawenburg and the Blaw-Nevius Burial Ground many times.
Despite our many wanderings, I and my Blaw cousins from around the world will always think of Blawenburg as home.
Modern-day signs in Blawenburg, NJ
1. When the Blaws moved to their various locations, there were few roads. They often followed trails made by Native Americans. Travel was slow and difficult at best.
2. The Blaw descendents number in the thousands today and not all are in the United States. For example, one of the readers of our blog, Gael Rodriguez, lives in Mexico.
3. Blaws were involved in the tragic winter event at Donner Pass in California. See Blog 60, The Donner Party Was No Party.
1. ‘Descendants of John Blaw (Blue), d. 1757, Somerset Co., NJ. Fifth Edition’, Compiled by William H. Blue, National Blue Family Association, April 2003.
2. A Speech to the [Mahanoy City, PA] Rotary Club, Charles H. Engle, Sr., circa 1950.
3. ‘History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present’, by Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher, 1897.
4. Tales of Blawenburg, Blog #39, ‘The Chalice’, by David Cochran, May 4, 2020. https://www.blawenburgtales.com/post/39-the-chalice
5. Wikipedia article about Lord Fairfax. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Fairfax,_6th_Lord_Fairfax_of_Cameron
6. ‘The Written History of Seneca County, New York’, Walter Gable, 2004. https://www.co.seneca.ny.us/the-written-history-of-seneca-county-new-york/
7. Sheldrake Point Map, Original Publisher - A.R.Z. Dawson, I.D. Peck, S. Willard Treat, A.Y. Peck, C.O. Titus, J.H.C. Dawson & L.G. Dawson, Phila. 1859. https://www.cayugagenealogy.org/maps/1859/seneca_images/5921.jpg
8. Sheldrake Cemetery Inventory, 1959. http://seneca.nygenweb.net/cemeteries/sheldrakecem.htm
9. ‘Sheldrake Springs and the Blew Family’, by Nicholas Murray Townley, Sr., Letter to nephew Earnest R. Blew, October 15, 1919.
10. ‘Out on Frequent Alarms – The Revolutionary War Service of John Blew’, C. David Engle, May 2020.
11. ‘Historical and Biographical Annals of Columbia and Montour Counties Pennsylvania’, Volume I, J.H. Beers & Co., 1915.
12. ‘Indian Paths of Pennsylvania’, by Paul A.W. Wallace, 1965, Penn State University Press.
13. ‘Danville, Montour County Pennsylvania. A Collection of Historical and Biographical Sketches’, D.H.B. Brower, 1881.
14. ‘A Genealogical Study of John Blew’, Charles H. Engle, Sr., 1954.
15. Anthracite Region Map, https://www.mininghistoryassociation.org/Scranton.htm
16. ‘The Blew Families of Schuylkill County’, Schuylkill Heritage, Vol.2 No.3, Summer 1994, Newsletter of the Schuylkill County Historical Society.
17. Personal correspondence from Stuart Blauw, May 2020.
All graphics were provided by Ted Blew.
Copyright © 2022 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.