Saturday, December 15, 2018

James Dyer: From Niagara County to the Fiji Islands

“James, He went to the Sandwich Islands. Married and had children. No details available.”
By Kenneth Brown, Tessa Dyer, Max Dyer.
Most of us have at least one ancestor with little more than a name; This article is about one of those ancestors; including a little family history, a smattering of American history, some old newspapers, genetic genealogy, and the wonders of the world wide web.
The Fiji Islands
James Smith Dyer was the son of Jeremiah Dyer, an early resident of Niagara County, and partner with his son-in-law, Thomas Van Sickler, in the “Journeyman’s Boot and Shoe Store” in Lockport. James was born about 1807 in New Berlin, Chenango County, New York. His father was born in Rhode Island. They were descendants of William Dyer and Mary (Barrett) Dyer, the Quaker Martyr, and Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Jeremiah’s family lived in Brownsville, Jefferson county during the War of 1812, they moved to Lewiston, Niagara county by 1816, by 1820 they’d moved to Porter, and by 1830 they were Lockport residents. Jeremiah purchased lot 4 on South Street and Lot 27 on Genesee Street in 1835. Three generations of Dyers lived at the house 227 Genesee Street. 

I’ve looked for information about James Smith Dyer for over forty years. I found three sources, all of which said he ‘went to sea.’ My first source was a typescript, By the Name of Dyer, by William Allan Dyer, 1940: “James – He went to the Sandwich Islands [Hawaiian Islands]. Married and had children. No details available.”  The informant for the descendants of Jeremiah Dyer In “By the Name of Dyer” was Paul Dyer Emmons of North Wilmington, Massachusetts, James Smith Dyer was his great uncle. My second source was a biographical note in a DYER family file held by the late Vee Houseman, Porter Historian. “[James Dyer] “ran away to sea thus nearly being the cause of breaking his mother’s heart. He was at one time quite a noted personage on one of the Fiji Islands and after one shipwreck which did not cure him of his love for a seafaring life finally found a grave beneath the ocean’s waves.”  The note was written by James’ sister, Jane Marie (Dyer) Emmons, in a reminiscence article written for the Lockport Daily Journal in 1891. My third source, Jane Marie’s daughter, Patience Dyer (Emmons) Hall, wrote in her family album in 1906, transcribed by noted Niagara County historian, Clarence Lewis, “James Dyer was born in Youngstown, I think; went to sea when quite young. Was shipwrecked. I do not know much about his life.”
I gave up my search for James, but, unknown to me, on the other side of the world, in Fiji, Max Dyer was searching for the family and ancestors of his American ancestor:
“As an inquisitive youngster in Fiji, one thing that always pondered on my mind was where did we, the Dyers, come from. For such a foreign European name in Fiji, it had always interested me as to the origins of my paternal ancestry. Our family history was quite vague, and my father also queried his grandfather on this. His reply was that our ancestor was an American whaler named James Dyer, who settled in Fiji and never returned home. That was the extent of our family knowledge which sparked my interest and so began my journey back in time.”
While I had given up hope of finding anything more about my 3rd great uncle, and while Max was unsuccessfully searching for his American ancestor, my cousin, Tessa Dyer, had become actively involved in using DNA to further her genealogical research and to help others with their research through and the Facebook group, “DNA Detectives.” Tessa and I have shared our interest in our Dyer family history and genealogy for many years, and on the first of July this year, I received an intriguing Facebook message from Tessa:
“Hi Ken, I was recently contacted by a new DNA match for some assistance in his brick wall. This cousin, Max Dyer, and I match at about the 4th-6th cousin level, making it that we most likely share a 3rd or 4th great grandparent. He knows his 3rd Great Grandfather is James Smith Dyer, an American whaler who settled in Fiji around 1830-1840, but he always was stuck on who his [James Dyer’s] parents were. Once he received the match to me, he checked out my [] tree and thinks that the James Dyer who was born to Jeremiah Dyer and Mary Smith appears to be the same as his James. He also had some info, before finding his match to me and seeing the tree, that his James Dyer was in Niagara and possibly involved with Canadian "rebels". It’s quite interesting that our Dyer line reaches all the way over to Fiji and Australia, just from one guy. Anyway, do you have anything or know anything about James Dyer (Lyman Ira's brother) or have heard anything about the Canadian "rebels?”
My purpose in writing this article is to share with the reader, the story of Niagara County native, James Smith Dyer in an historical context, and, in their own words, Tessa and Max describe their genealogical journey of discovery.
James Smith Dyer was probably born about 1807 in New Berlin, Chenango County, New York. His father, Jeremiah, born in Rhode Island, was a nineteenth century property developer; “clear the land, build a cabin, move and repeat.” Jeremiah married Mary Jane Smith in New Berlin in 1806. During the War of 1812 between the Americans and the British, the Dyer family lived in Brownsville, Jefferson county, and after the war, about 1814, they moved to Lewiston, Niagara county. When Jeremiah’s daughter, Mary Ann married Thomas Van Sickler, Jeremiah and Thomas became partners in The Journeyman’s Boot and Shoe Store in Lockport. James was a descendant of immigrant ancestors, William Dyer and Mary (Barrett) Dyer, the Quaker Martyr, and Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and Plantations. James appears to be the second of eight children of Jeremiah6 and Mary Jane (Smith) Dyer. (William1, Charles2, Charles3, Samuel4, Oliver5).
Max Dyer shared with me an article in which James “Jimmy” Dyer stated that he had participated in the “Caroline Affair, the catalytic event of American outrage that fueled The Patriot War 1837-38.
The Caroline Affair
Niagara County was in the eye of a storm in December 1837. Just across the Niagara River, William Lyon Mackenzie, a disaffected legislator, had declared Upper Canada independent from British rule. McKenzie offered 300 acres of land and 100 dollars in silver to anyone who would join the cause of liberty. His offer was published in a Lockport newspaper.  McKenzie’s Army of Independence was pitifully small, comprised of about equal parts of men from the United States, men born in the United States who had moved to Upper Canada attracted by British land grants, referred to as “New Loyalists”), and United Empire Loyalists resettled in Upper Canada after the American Revolution.  In early December, McKenzie’s small force of about 400 rebels was defeated in Toronto, at the Battle of Montgomery Tavern. Another force of about 400-500 rebels under Charles Duncombe, were defeated at Scotland, Ontario. McKenzie and Duncombe and about 200 of their followers escaped to Navy Island in the Niagara River on December 13, 1887. They declared the Canadian island the independent Republic of Canada. There were about 600 volunteers, mostly American or American-born, on the island by the end of December. Almost half of these men were from the town of Lockport. On the night of December 29th Canadian Royal Navy commander, Andrew Drew, and a small force of British soldiers and militia in five boats rowed across the Niagara River to Schlosser, on the American side of the river, to destroy the SS Caroline. The Caroline was used by McKenzie for running guns and supplies from Buffalo to Navy Island. That night the Caroline was docked at Schlosser, not far from Navy Island. Commander Drew and his troops boarded the Caroline unopposed, set it on fire, towed it into the current, and let it drift toward the falls. One American, Amos Durfee was killed on the dock, most likely from a shot fired from the tavern at Schlosser toward the British troops. Local newspapers in Buffalo inaccurately reported that 20 men had been killed either in the initial attack or when the burning ship went over the falls. However, the Caroline ran aground shoals between Scholosser and the Falls, and broke up, the wreckage was all that went over the falls. The “British invasion” at Schlosser, the destruction of the SS Caroline, and the murder of an American citizen caused public outrage across the United States against the British. Mackenzie abandoned Navy Island under heavy fire from British troops on January 14, 1838. He and his force retreated to Buffalo, New York, where Mackenzie was captured by the U.S. army and sentenced in a U.S. court to 18 months' imprisonment for violating neutrality laws. Hostilities continued throughout the year. On January 9, Upper Canadian rebels and their American supporters aboard the schooner “Anne” unsuccessfully attacked Fort Malden at Amherstburg on the Detroit River.  On February 24, rebels aboard the steamer “Erie” departed from Cleveland but were turned back by British at Fighting Island south of Detroit. On March 2, about 300 rebels from Sandusky, Ohio, crossed Lake Erie to occupy Pelee Island. They were driven off by British soldiers. About 14 rebels including their leader were killed in the action and 11 others were captured.
In March rebellion leaders formed the Canadian Refugee Relief Association and not long after a militia of sympathetic Americans which called themselves “The Hunters Lodge” was organized in Cleveland. The Hunters Lodge rebels dressed as Native Americans and led by American William “Pirate Bill” Johnston attacked and burned the British steam ship “Sir Robert Peel” in an American port at Wellesley Island on the St. Lawrence River on May 29. President Martin Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott to prevent further incursions into Canada. However, the Canadian/American rebels  continued their raids, using the U.S. as a base of operations and cooperating with the U.S. Hunters' Lodges, dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Canada. A combined British and American force of 500 men hunted for Johnston throughout the Thousand Islands. Later in 1838 a Canadian rebel, Benjamin Lett, murdered a loyalist named Captain Edgeworth Ussher, who had been involved in the Carolina Affair. The raids did not end until the rebels and Hunters were decisively defeated at the Battle of the Windmill, nearly a year after the initial battle at Montgomery's Tavern. American authorities warned that any person who actively participated in an attack on British soil or property would be subject to a fine of a thousand dollars and three years in prison. Two of the Canadian leaders were hanged in Montreal. Alexander McLeod, a Canadian, was arrested in New York State in November 1840 for his role in the Caroline Affair.  He was later acquitted when it became clear that he had no immediate involvement in the murder of Durfee. In Montreal in early 1839 Eighty-two Americans, and 61 French Canadian prisoners from a similarly brief and unsuccessful independence movement in Lower Canada, were convicted for their participation in the rebellion and were transported to Tasmania and Australia. Almost all were taken on HMS Buffalo, leaving Quebec in September 1839 and arriving off Hobart, Van Diemen's Land in February 1840. The Americans were disembarked at Hobart, but the French-Canadians were taken to Sydney, New South Wales. Eventually, in February 1849, a Canadian Legislative Assembly passed a law granting amnesty for many of the 1837 rebels. James Dyer was not among those transported on the HMS Buffalo.
James Dyer may have been attracted by the allure of free land in a newly independent territory of Upper Canada and a $100 bounty, which he may have seen when it was advertised in Lockport newspapers, or he may have been caught up in American indignation and war fever. James must also have been aware of his possible fate if captured; trial and ‘transportation’ if captured in Canada, or fine and imprisonment if captured in the United States. Regardless of the extent of his participation in the Caroline Affair or the Patriot War, the failure of the rebellion must certainly have magnified the potential consequences of involvement, perhaps so much so that he left New York for New England, signed on to a whaling ship in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and sailed to the South Pacific, never to return. James abandoned whaling in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and sailed to the Fiji Islands in the early 1840s where he remained until his death at his home in Rewa, in 1872. He fathered one known son, Jimmy Dyer, Jr., and was the progenitor of a large family living in Australia and Fiji Islands to this day.
Tessa Dyer’s story
“Recently, I received a message on from Max Dyer. In his message, Max said he had just received his DNA results and that he and I were a “strong match.”
I’ve seen many people say that 4th-6th cousin DNA matches is too far back to be useful, or have seen people be told, “don’t waste your time with that far back of a match.” Well, a 4th-6th cousin DNA Match who reached out to me just solved one of our family’s biggest genealogical mysteries! Recently, I received a message on from Max Dyer. In his message, Max said he had just received his DNA results and that he and I were a “strong match”. His message went on to say that he was his family’s genealogist and that his research had led him back to a (4th) great grandfather, James (Jimmy) Smith Dyer, but that he had hit a brick wall on James Dyer’s origins. He described James Dyer as an American Whaler who had arrived in Fiji around the years of 1830-1840’s. Max went on to briefly tell the story (which, what I now have learned is a fascinating tale) of James Dyer’s interactions and successful integration with the native Fijian culture. Max also stated that James Dyer now had 6 generations of descendants in Fiji.
I keep my tree on Ancestry as public, exactly for helping others out with their search for their piece of the puzzle. In Max’s message to me, it was clear he had looked through my tree for a “James Dyer” that would match the few details he did have about his James’ origins, which was basically a mention in a book about James once residing in or around Niagara Falls, NY, and a birth date. He found a James Dyer in my tree that matched up with the approximate birth date and definitely matched the location. Since he knew the descendants, he also mentioned that it was apparent that James had named his children after several of his siblings (which were listed in my tree). With the DNA match confirming that we matched on such a level that we most likely shared a 4th/5th great grandparent (which in this case is James’ father and mother, Jeremiah Dyer and Mary Smith), this certainly appears to be the correct James Dyer.

At the same time I was messaging Max back with the confirmation that it did appear to be the same James Dyer, I messaged my distant cousin, Ken Brown, who is our family’s genealogist, and it was due to his large body of work over many years on our Dyer line that I credit with a large majority of the information I have about that line. His work and breadth of knowledge about our family line is very beneficial and extremely interesting. I reached out to Ken to let him know about this new DNA match cousin, Max Dyer. I shared with Ken the information Max had and that it appeared to lead to our James Dyer. Now, my work about James just had what his approximate birth year was and that he was not mentioned in his father, Jeremiah’s, will. This had left me wondering what had happened to him. Ken had a little more information than that, however. Ken knew of the family tale that James had joined a ship and sailed away from America. At some point the family heard from him and he was in the Sandwich Islands, but they never heard from him again, so he was presumed dead at sea by the family. Shortly after I contacted Ken about this information, he messaged me back, excitedly saying that this DNA Match and the information Max brings with him just solved a “great mystery” in our family genealogy.
Max requested both Ken and my email addresses and then set about emailing us all the info he has collected over the years, from local sources that were not readily available or apparent to Ken or I. Max also shared with us his own personal family photos and history of people we now know we are related to. Instead of being lost at sea, James Dyer started a new life and fully became integrated into Fijian culture. Those stories are best left up to Max to tell, but they are fascinating, James Dyer was quite the character. 
By using DNA as a tool in genealogy, not only has a long-time genealogical mystery been solved in the Dyer family, but we have also gained a whole new set of relatives who we didn't know existed until now! To me, it also is a great example of how close we all really are as people. Our Dyer’s here in America and Max’s Dyer’s in Fiji are all one family, now proven by DNA, and supported by history!
Excerpt from Tessa’s “DNA Detectives” thread on Facebook:
 “It really was the coming together of a few things, (a) that Max decided to do Ancestry DNA (I had mine done years ago), (b) that Max also had thoroughly researched that line (to what he thought was a brick wall) and we (Ken and I) had ours mapped out, and (c) that we were all willing to share and open to what we all discovered!
Max Dyer’s story and his message to Tessa: 
“I hit a brick wall and parked my paternal research for a very long time. I had been led down so many misleading ancestral routes and exhausted the relevant resources at my disposal.”
James ‘made enough noises’ to be recorded in Fiji’s historical literature, visiting US Consular Service, naval ships, and historical writers. I knew his full name, ‘James Smith Dyer,’ he was from Lockport, Niagara county, New York. Stories passed down through the generations said that he was an American whaler who decided to make Fiji his home. He learned the Fijian language, helped the Fijian villagers interact with foreigners, married a chief’s daughter, planted and farmed, built a sailing cutter, and fought, with his Fijian neighbors, against ferocious warriors who attacked his farm.

In addition to what Tessa has mentioned, an essential component that made this a success was James ‘made enough noises’ to be recorded in Fiji’s historical literature in by visiting US Consular Service Naval ships or historical writers. From the literature I knew his full name ‘James Smith Dyer’ and that he was sailor from Lockport, Niagara County, New York. Stories passed down through the generations said that he was an American whaler.

James, like many whalers, decided to make Fiji home because he probably couldn’t gather the courage or will to journey back home across the Pacific in ships with dreadful conditions on a voyage that took months to years. James learnt the Fijian language, helped the Fijian villagers that took care of him to fight a major provincial tribal war by supplying them with weapons acquired from prominent settlers for the purchase of land. He married a chief’s daughter became a farmer/planter built his home, cutter (sailing boat) also offered his services to visiting US ships to fix broken masts etc. Reports to the Consular included surviving a ferocious attack by warriors that pillaged his farm. In his later years, he commanded over hundreds of Fijian warriors in an expedition as part of posse with other settlers to hunt a whole village in the unchartered highlands responsible for the death of 2 fellow farmers. James lived up until his early 70s and became a prominent figure in his Fijian province and reported to receive the first root crops of the seasons (only done to chiefs).
Today he has thousands of descendants.
With the breakthrough of the DNA match with Tessa and confirmation of my notes with Ken’s, I am now rest assured that James Smith Dyer has finally journeyed back and reached home.
“Thanks Tessa, getting the test done was one of the best decisions ever made. As mentioned, I did hit a brick-wall and pretty much parked my paternal research for a very long time. I had been led down so many misleading ancestral routes and pretty much exhausted relevant resources that was at my disposal. Finally, I thought well maybe science could crack this mystery through a DNA test given its successes and that’s how it came about.” Max.
Tessa L Dyer, lives in New Hampshire on a small farm, is married with 2 adult children, 1 teenager, and 1 grandchild, and works in Child Welfare. Tessa has been researching family history and genealogy off and on for the last 20 or so years. The last several years she has been involved in using DNA to further her genealogy research and to help others in their journeys.  
Max Dyer: Lives in Brisbane Australia originally from Fiji, married with two children. Senior Civil Designer by profession, family historian and genealogist with 28 years of experience. Author of the book, “Ancestors and Descendants of Jacob Steiner.”
Kenneth Brown: Lives in Michigan, married with three adult children. Retired educator, family and friends’ historian and genealogist with forty years of experience. His research has been published by Lewes (Delaware) Historical Society and Idaho Genealogical Society. 

For additional information about CeCe Moore, mentioned by Tessa, consult “Your Genetic Genealogist,” and “The Genetic Genealogist:”
[1] “By the Name of Dyer,” William Allan Dyer, 1940 (an unpublished typescript) is a compilation of the descendants of William and Mary (Barrett) Dyer, English colonists to the Massachusetts Bay Colony circa 1635, who, with Roger Williams, were among the founders of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1637.  
[2] Correspondence between Max Dyer and Ken Brown, October 1, 2018.
[3] Correspondence between Tessa Dyer and Ken Brown, July 1, 2018.