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Vanattas of Mercer County


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Alternate Spellings - Vanatta, Vanata; Vannatta, Vanater, Vernatta, Vernater

Links - Vance, Part1 History, Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889. There is an interesting book online "The Vannatta-Van Etten Family History"

Contacts - Donna Meszaros on Gersham Vanatta; Lee Sulzberger on Benjamin Vanatta



James and Elizabeth Hull Vanatta of Beaver County, Pa

We have quite a bit of information on the children of James and Elizabeth Hull Vanatta of Beaver County, Pennsylvania. James died in 1837 in Pennsylvania but Elizabeth and some of the children came very early to Mercer County. There is a good deal of biographical information on some of the children in the above linked Portrait and Biographical Album of Muscatine County, Iowa as they soon moved on to Iowa. Curiously the Muscatine Iowa biographies make no mention of the stops in Mercer County, so we will include what we know of that here.

There seems to be some connection to Rock Island County for the Vanattas as well. This was directly north of Mercer County. Curiously there are several mentions of Jasper County, Illinois in connection with the Mercer and Iowa Vanattas. We do find a number of Vanattas in Jasper County though it is pretty far removed from Mercer County, so there probably was a family connection.

Having said all that, we are including here a partially unproven list of children for James and Betsey Hull Vanatta. This was forwarded to us by Donna Meszaros and is from a family group sheet provided to her by Christina Finlayson. She has since been unable to contact Ms. Finlayson for more information. The children range from 1795 to 1821 and are given as: (1)Calvin John, (2)Moses, (3)Daniel, (4)Benjamin, (5)Rachel Cherry, (6)Mary, (7)Samuel, (8)James, (9)William, (10)Gersham, (11)Catherine, (12) Thomas, (13)Elizabeth. One web site says three of these children died in infancy but does not indicate which ones.

We found James Vanatta censused in Ebony Township in Beaver County, Pennsylvania in 1830: Males: 1 under 5, 1 5-10, 2 15-20, 1 20-30, 1 50-60; Females: 1 under 5, 1 5-10, 1 40-50. There is also a James 20-30 with a wife 20-30, 1 male child under 5, 1 male child 5-10 who is a likely son. These are the only Vanattas in Beaver County. In 1840 in Beaver County we find only Thomas Vanatta 20-30, his wife 15-20, 1 male child under 5, and 1 female 50-60 (possibly Betsey Hull Vanatta). In 1850 Thomas is found in Cedar Twp, Muscatine County, Iowa: Thomas Vanatta, age 34; Martha, age 30; Nancy, 9, Mary, 7, Appeline, 5, Hannah, 3, Emma 1, and Elizabeth age 70.

William is given in the 1889 Iowa History as son of James and Betsey and in 1850 son James is living next door to William. He is also given in the Muscatine History as a twin of James and they are both 39 in the 1850 census.

Below we will continue with some of the other probable children of James and Elizabeth Hull Vanatta, who did have connections with Mercer County.

John Calvin Vanatta

John Vanatta appears to be the eldest son of James and Betsey Hull Vanatta. He early on dropped the name Calvin and was known as Colonel John or Bloody John Vanatta. He supposedly enlisted in the War of 1812 at a young age and served as a drummer boy where he got the nickname Colonel John. After serving five years in the war he worked on the Ohio River keelboats. There are records of him in Illinois in the Blackhawk War as Sgt. John Vernater of Warren County (Mercer and Warren County were formed from unorganized territory and Pike County in about 1825 so they were adjoining counties.)

The History of Mercer County, Illinois, 1882, page 118, contains a brief history of John under Keithsburg Township: “The first settler was John Vannatta. He came alone from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, arriving here about the first of May, 1827, and opened a supply yard for wooding steamboats. A year or two afterward his brother Benjamin followed him, and the two carried on together the peaceful employment of cutting and selling wood, until interrupted in 1831 by disquieting rumors of the uneasy disposition of the Indians and their preparations for war. Their neighbors at the Upper Yellow Banks, the Denisons, left their home for two months, and it is probable that these families also went away until security was assured [hence John enlisting from adjoining Warren County?]. Next year the Black Hawk war broke out - a war in which the excitement was more disproportioned to the danger than in any other of which we read. But the danger was real and imminent in this region. Yet these white families remained busy at their toil, unmoved by the warnings and entreaties of their dusky friends, tarrying in the face of peril, refusing to depart. How was it hundreds of miles away? The people alarmed by exaggerated reports, had loaded their wagons for possible flight, and regularly laid down to their slumbers with barricaded doors and in feverish anxiety. On the day that the Denisons came down on their way to Pence’s fort, so-called, the Vanattas gathered up their goods, and with their families went out and stayed all night in a low place on the prairie. The following day they reached Pence’s where the inhabitants had collected from the surrounding country. This place and Monmouth were the rallying points for a large section during the war. Pence’s stockade was made of logs split once in two, stood upright and close together with one end in the ground, forming a palisade not less than twelve feet high and enclosing about 700 square yards of ground. After a few months’ absence the Vannattas returned."

The 1830 Mercer County census supports the information as the sole inhabitants of Mercer County were Erastus Denison; John Vannatta; Benjamin Vannatta; Augustus Horton; William Denison; John W. Denison.

The next information we find is that John bought the claim of Bloomington, Iowa from Colonel Daventor in 1835 and in 1836 moved his family to Bloomington and laid out the City that was renamed in 1849 to Muscatine. He himself apparently stayed there in 1835 as he is not listed as participating in the 1835 elections that took place in Mercer County, though his brother Benjamin was.

Samuel Vanatta

The only information we have on Samuel is that he immigrated to Mercer County in about 1835 (evidently after the 1835 voting as he is not listed.) We do find a marriage record for Samuel Vanater and Nancy Gabbert on 10/30/1836 in Rock Island County, just north of Mercer. The best evidence we have that he was a son of James and Betsey Hull Vanatta is that William Vanatta, given as a son of James and Betsey in the 1889 Muscatine Iowa History linked above, named a son Samuel, probably after his brother. The only Samuel Vanatta we found in 1840 that was a possibility was in Jasper County, Illinois, and we found him nowhere in 1850.

Benjamin Vanatta

The biography given under John from the History of Mercer County ends with the sentence "Benjamin Vanatta had a pre-emption claim to the S. E. ¼ of Sec 22 where Keithsburg now stands." This land record is indeed listed in Public Domain Sales Land Tract Records: Benjamin Vanata #377637 (Federal Claim) SEFr Sec 22 T13N R5W, 100.53 acres purchased for $1.25 per acre on 8/5/1839. The History continues on page 127 "The Vannattas made the beginning here. As early as 1834 Rousy Bowen was living in a little house on the bank of the river, and chopping wood for these men. …and the same season Robert Keith bought Benjamin Vannatta’s claim, which embraced the site of the present town, and in the spring of 1836 took possession of his purchase. He continued keeping the wood-yard which his predecessors had started, and henceforth the place was called Keith’s Landing."

Benjamin evidently moved on to New Boston Township as in the "Act to Organize Mercer County" Section 2 found in the 1882 History we find 'That James Irvin, George Piper and Benjamin Vanata, or any two of them shall be judges of the election to be held at the town of New Boston. When the organization was completed in April of 1835 by the election of officers, Jesse Willits, Benjamin Vanata and Samuel Piper were the judges. There is also a notation that Benjamin Vanata was selected as a grand juror for the first term of circuit court in Mercer County." Ms. Finlayson's family group sheet mentioned above tells us that Benjamin died in 1842 in Rock Island County. Supposedly he was first married to Margaret Cunningham and then married (2) Betsy Ann Barnes, 20 Jul 1835 in Jasper County, Illinois (this might argue for Samuel of Jasper County in 1840 being his brother?.) We find Benjamin nowhere in the 1850 census.

Rachel Vanatta Vance Starns

Rachel was born about 1804 in Pennsylvania and died 5 September 1895 in Mercer County. She married (1) William Vance evidently in Beaver County, Pennsylvania as their children until 1838 were born Pennsylvania. That she was related to other Vanattas who came to Mercer County is suggested by her naming a child Gersham Vance after her brother Gersham. There is more on Rachel and the Vance children on the Vance page.

Rachel Vanatta Vance married Joshua B. Starns sometime before 1860. Rachel's son Andrew Vance, age 10, born Iowa, is with Rachel and Joshua Starns next door to Rachel's son Robert Vance in 1860. Joshua died 1 April 1864 in Mercer County. Rachel is mentioned in the biography of William Vanatta in the Muscatine County History above as a widow of Joshua Stern of Mercer County, Il, but the bio does not mention the Vance connection.

James and William Vance (twins)

As mentioned above the biographies of these two are found in the Muscatine History above. We believe they migrated directly to Muscatine County, Iowa sometime before 1850 and that they did not stop in Illinois as none of their children show as born Illinois.

Thomas Vanatta

Thomas Vanatta is also found in Muscatine Iowa in 1850 with mother Elizabeth Hull Vanatta, age 70. This family also seems to have migrated directly to Muscatine.

Gersham Vanatta

We first find Gersham Venatta in 1840 in Rock Island County, just north of Mercer: 1 male 20-30, 2 females under 5, 1 female 20-30. Gersham was born about 1819 in Pennsylvania and married Sarah Palmer 10 October 1833 in Knox County, Illinois (Knox County was just southeast of Mercer County). Gersham had been a private in P. Butler's regiment from Monmouth Il in the Black Hawk War, along with brother John. Donna Meszaros tells us that Benjamin and Gershom Vannatta also served in Capt Pike's Co, Rock River Rangers, in the Sac and Fox War which occurred before the Black Hawk War. Sarah Palmer was sister of Donna's great-great grandfather. Donna tells us that Gershom and Sarah went to Oregon in 1854 and later moved to Clark County, Washington.

Gersham and Sarah are found in Township 15 N Range 3W Mercer County (future Perryton Twp) in 1850: Gursham Vannatta, 37, farmer, born Pa; Sarah, 28, born In; Betsy, 16, Il; Jane, 13, Il; Mary, 10, Il; Eli, 2, In. Sarah's age is quite clear and we wonder about the possibility of a first wife as she would have been only 12 when Betsy was born. Next door to them is a brother of Sarah: Minor Palmer, 25, born In; Caroline, 19, born Ohio; Benjamin, 1, born Il.

There is one reference to Gersham Vanatta in the 1882 History of Mercer County having to do with the creation of the county farm or poor house (see Mercer Poorhouse. The History says, "the commissioners in 1853 ...after much deliberation, decided to purchase a farm for the county, upon which might be erected suitable buildings for an infirmary....a special meeting of the commissioners was held at the court-house in Keithsburg, September 20, 1853, which is the first record we can find relating to the subject of a poor-house. At this meeting they ratified a provisional contract made by Mr. Wilmerton with John I. Clark and Gersham Vannatta, whereby the latter sold to the county 110 acres of land lying in the S/2 of Sec 33 T15 and in the N/2 of Sec 4 T14, both in Range 3 W...the latter being timberland. The consideration was $1,400, and two orders were drawn at this meeting, for $700 each, in favor of Clark and Vannatta....[the deed] was recorded January 12, 1854,...in Book M of Deeds, pages 308 and 308.

Eliza Vanatta Kiddoo

Eliza Vanatta was born 1821 in Pennsylvania which would seem to match with the daughter Elizabeth mentioned in the Finlayson family group sheet and is given as daughter of James and Betsy Vannatta of Pennsylvania in a biography of her husband in the 1882 History of Mercer County. This bio erroneously said that Betsy Vannatta came to Mercer County in 1844, remained four years and then went to Jasper County, Il, and died there at the ripe old age of seventy two. We know that Elizabeth was at least in Muscatine County, Iowa in 1850 with son Thomas in the paragraph above. Of course she might then have gone to Jasper County.

Eliza Vanatta married Richard Kiddoo, son of James and Mary Kiddoo, 12 October 1837 in Pennsylvania. They migrated to Millersburg Township in Mercer County in 1845. Richard and Eliza Vanatta Kiddoo had 13 children per the 1882 history: Mary (deceased), William, James, John (deceased), Nancy, Eliza, Martha (deceased), Thomas, Hannah, Amos F., Cyrus C., Adda, and Caroline S. Richard Kiddoo died February 3, 1882. Richard and Eliza were members of the Presbyterian Church. Eliza died in 1907 in Mercer County. We have more information on some of the children but are not putting up a Kiddoo page as they were not associated with New Boston or Eliza Township. We would be happy to share the information that we do have (email Nadine on the About Us Page.

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