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Brief History of the DeMerritt Family

Two brothers, Jean (French for John) and Eli were citizens of France when Robespierre came into power.  Being of aristocratic parentage they anticipated persecution and for that reason decided to leave France.  Jean came to the United States and became known as John DeMerritt.  His brother Eli went to the Isle of Jersey.

John DeMerritt settled near Exeter, New Hampshire.  Before the Revolutionary War was granted a tract of land by the King of England.

Eli came from the Isle of Jersey and settled near Newbury, Conn.

We have no record covering the maiden name or early life of John DeMerritt’s wife.  He was born on August 19, 1763

At an early age John DeMerritt joined the revolutionary forces opposing the British forces and fought in the battle of Bunker Hill.  He was killed in action during the war of 1812.

Shortly after John DeMerritt’s death his wife died leaving only one child, Benjamin Franklin DeMerritt.  Being left an orphan at the age of 8 years, he was bound out to a shoemaker in Portland, Maine whom he served until he reached the age of twenty one.  He then started a shoe shop of his own making custom-made boots and shoes.

Having prospered and having accumulated some wealth, he sold his business and moved to LaSalle, Ill. in 1849.  There he purchased a home where he lived until his death in 1897.  He purchased a vacant lot on the main street in LaSalle and built a two story brick building. He opened a custom made boot and shoe factory on the second floor and used the first floor as a salesroom. He operated this business until a short time before his death.

He represented his ward in the council of the city of LaSalle for twenty years and for a number of years was chairman of the Republican Central Committee of LaSalle County.

B. F. DeMerritt and Jane Briggs, the only daughter of John P. Briggs, were united in marriage at Cornish, Maine on July 9, 1847.

John P. Briggs, father of Jane Briggs, was born at Cornish, Maine and died in LaSalle, Ill.  His wife was Dorothy F. Boynton and was born at Cornish, Maine.  Her father was Samuel Boynton, was born at Deering, Mass. And died at Cornish, Maine.  He was a descendant of Lord Boynton of Ireland.

John P. Briggs served during the war of 1812 with a commission signed by James Madison.  He was a doctor and surgeon and was given a commission as surgeon’s mate in the infantry.  He was transferred to navy and served on Commodore Perry’s flagship.  He served without a commission signed by the President until April 10, 1813 when he was given one signed by James Madison.  He was wounded in action and entered the U.S. hospital at Erie, Pa. On Sept. 30, 1814.  He was honorably discharged on June 15, 1815. Note – This record was obtained for me by Richard Bolling a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri.  The record was obtained from the Old Record Division of the department of the Army, now filed in the National Archives, Washington, D. C.

To B.F. and Jane DeMerritt nine children were born.  Seven females and two males.  One son Edwin DeMerritt was never married, the other son John B. DeMerritt was born in Portland, Maine June 28, 1849.  He was married to Harriet Woolsey in Grand Rapids, Mich. On Mach 8, 1868.

Harriet Woolsey was born in Auburn, N.Y. on April 25, 1848.  Her father was James T. Woolsey and her mother was Matilda Ketchum.

Shortly after their marriage John B. DeMerritt and his wife moved on a farm near Oglesby, Ill.  From there they moved to a farm near Emmington, Ill.

They moved with their five children from Emmington Ill. to Custer County, Nebraska with two of their neighbors.  This move was made in 1879.  These three families were the first settlers in Custer County.

Sod houses were built about two and one half miles from what is now the county seat of Custer County, Broken Bow.  They were located about 65 miles from Kearney, Nebr. the nearest railroad town.  During the coming years they lived in Berwyn, Nebraska; Broken Bow; Nebraska, Ft. Scott, Kansas, on a farm near Newport, Nebraska, on a farm near Prescottt, Kansas; then in Alexandria, Nebraska.

John B. DeMerritt died in a hospital at Fairbury, Nebr., August 15, 1924, and Mrs. DeMerritt died at the home of her daughter Mrs. T. H. Morrell, Blue Mound, Kansas on Jan. 6, 1926.  Both are buried in Mt. Washington Cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri.

Children of John B. and Harriet DeMerritt
Name   Place of Birth  Date of Birth  Died
Horace G. DeMerritt LaSalle, Ill.  March 18, 1869 Feb. 23, 1923
James W. DeMerritt Deer Park, Ill.  Aug. 2, 1873  Living
Ada M. DeMerritt Deer Park, Ill.  May 8, 1875  Jan. 7, 1954
B. F. DeMerritt, Jr. Broughton, Ill.  Dec. 31, 1878  Feb. 18, 1888
Emily M. DeMerritt Broughton, Ill.  Nov. 5, 1879  April 10, 1944
John E. DeMerritt Broken Bow, Nebr Oct. 4, 1882  Living
Wm. A. DeMerritt Broken Bow, Nebr. May 20, 1884  Dec. 20, 1949.

By John E. DeMerritt


John E. D’Merritt, Thirteen Years Old, a Licensed Preacher

Expounds the Gospel in an Eloquent and Magnetic Manner.

Converted One Hundred and Ten People in His First Evangelistic Work.

Boy Was Born in a Dug-Out Near Broken Bow, Nebraska

Fort Scott, Kan. May 29.- A wonderfully interesting little prodigy who is just now attracting wide attention is Rev. John E. DeMerritt, the boy preacher.  He is the youngest licensed minister of the gospel of whom there … and without doubt the youngest
Person ever vested with the legal authority to perform a marriage ceremony.  The boy is but 13 years old, and yet is a regularly appointed and licensed preacher of the Baptist church.  His advanced capabilities and matured spirituality are indeed amazing, and one who hears him will not doubt the wisdom of the church in conferring upon him the ordination.  The talent seems to have been born in him and to have voluntarily asserted that without even the usual preparation for such a mission.  Not more unusual are the extremely early development of his mind and moral character, his oratorical ability and his magnetic eloquence than is his utter unconsciousness of the distinction which he enjoys by reason of these gifts.  With the dignified mien of a gray-haired preacher he steps into the pulpit, apparently oblivious to the curious gaze of the crowds who squeeze into the church to hear and see him, and with the evident spiritual experience and wisdom of an old theologian he discourses the word of God.  His sincerity and enthusiasm paliate the occasional ungrammatical construction of a sentence and his ease of expression and fountain of words and thoughts seem to exclude the fact that he is but a mere boy.

John E. DeMerritt is from a family of preachers, whose native state is Illinois, though he was born in a frontier village of Custer County, Nebraska.  The humbleness of his birthplace was strikingly similar to that of the Nazarene, whose life he emulates.  He was born in a dugout near the town of Broken Bow, where his father later conducted a country store.   At the age of 9 years he evinced what seemed to his parents a strange inclination toward religious subjects, and when one day his father found him in the cellar under the store, surrounded by a group of children to whom he was endeavoring to tell the story of Christ, he was both astounded and alarmed as to the soundness of his son’s mind.  Not long after the boy begged to take part in the prayer meeting and Sunday school.  His father and mother, while desiring to cultivate a Christian spirit in him, became not a little uneasy over his religious tendencies and finally decided to restrain him.  For a year he was not allowed to testify in the prayer meeting. At the end of that time his parents moved to Fort Scott, where his father continued in the mercantile business.  The parental restraint became lax, and his interest in religious work waxed zealous again.  It was but a few weeks before he was in the demand in the young people’s societies, and the soundness of his reasoning could no longer be doubted by his parents.

His first address to a large audience was at a union revival meeting conducted by Major Cole, the Chicago evangelist.  Young DeMerritt addressed a business men’s meeting, and from that day his fame began to spread.  Being a member of the Second Baptist church of Fort Scott, he often occupied the pulpit, and on those occasions the 300 seating capacity was insufficient by half.  Less than a year ago he was formally licensed as a minister. Not until about that time had he ever considered the doctrinal questions of his church, but the attitude of his denomination on the baptismal ordinances came to his attention, and after a careful study he joined issues with the church by the advancing the proposition that no one but regularly ordained ministers should be permitted to administer the rites of baptism, and withdrew from the straight Baptists and affiliated with the Missionary Baptists.

A few months ago he left his school to engage in evangelistic work. His first series of meetings was held at Nevada, Mo., where in four weeks he had 110 conversions and sixty-two additions to the church.  No building in the city would hold those who wanted to hear and see him at each meeting.  At one of the meetings a business man expressed a doubt as to the originality of the fluent sermons preached by the boy, saying he believed they were committed to his memory.  The pastor challenged the audience to choose a text and present it on a slip of paper just before the next meeting.  The following evening a hatful of texts  was gathered from the audience.  They were shaken up, one was drawn out and the young evangelist discoursed upon it for over an hour to the astonishment of his hearers.  A Nevada newspaper man asked him when he was converted, and he replied ”I was born converted.”  This is the most reasonable explanation. If indeed, it is one, of the source of the boy’s premature knowledge and potential influence over his elders.  He is said to be able to readily quote from any book in the bible and to interpret the scriptures with wonderful insight into their meaning.  He is now assisting his 22-year-old brother, Rev. William DeMerritt, in a series of meetings at Clinton, Mo.

Another brother, H. C. DeMerritt, is preparing himself for the profession. The “boy” will work east, visiting in the large cities.  He will stop at LaSalle, Ill. where his grandfather Benjamin F. DeMerritt lives.

Only a few days ago the young prodigy performed his first marriage ceremony.  He was called upon to unite Charles H. Morris and Miss Myrtle L. Thornton, young people of prominent families, who envied the distinction of being the first to be married by him. The ceremony was performed as gracefully and impressively as would have been expected of one old in the administration of such rites.

J. B. DeMerritt, the boy’s father, is a native of Maine, but lived for twenty-five years at LaSalle, Ill.  He spent the last four years of his residence there in the post office.  His grandfather, John DeMerritt, was one of the colonial soldiers who, under Major Sullivan, stole the eight  kegs of gunpowder at Portsmouth and carried them to Bunker Hill for the battle of the revolutionary war.  He claims to be the only living direct descendent of Robesie  Reign, the French Revolutionist of 1494.

Mrs. DeMerritt, the boy’s mother, was born in True Bend county, New York, but lived for many years and was married at Ottawa, Illinois.  Both she and her husband are of strict  religious inclinations, and are viewing the strange development and wonderful work of their son with something of that amazement and pride with which Joseph and Mary must have looked upon the development of Christ’s life.

They carefully preserve all the newspaper clippings commenting on his personality or his work in the different cities and towns, and take great comfort in reading the many letters he received from converts and pastors of the different churches where he has conducted meetings.  Numerous letters from the converts are regarded by him as treasures, for while his work with adults is effectual, he loves to “open the way” for the children, who usually become strongly attached to him.

So constant are the calls for the prodigy preacher and so incessant has been his responses that his parents fear his voice will fail him, and have endeavored to persuade him to desist for a time, but he affectionately answers, “Wist ye not, I must be about my father’s business.” However, he contemplates making only one-night engagements when he enters the work in the largest cities of the east this summer.

Kansas City, Mo.,

Oct. 20, 1959

Dear Judy:
 The John DeMerritt who hauled the powder to the second battle of Bunker Hill, which the Americans won, came from France during Robespierre’s reign of terror during the French Revolution.  During the revolution the rich and the aristocrats were either driven from France or wee executed.  John DeMerritt was a young man with wealthy parents, so to avoid persecution and possible execution, he came as an immigrant to America and settled near Exeter, New Hampshire.  About 1770 he applied to King George for a grant of land which was given to him near Exeter, N.H.  He cleared some of the land and planted crops which he tended with a yoke of oxen. He did not come to America with Lafayette……….

 Actually the battle of Bunker Hill was not fought on Bunker Hill, but on Breed’s Hill.  The following is a copy of comments on that battle taken from the Columbia Encyclopedia published by the Columbia University Press:

 “The battle of Bunker Hill was the first severe engagement of the America Revolution, fought June 17, 1775 at Charlestown, Mass.  The action really took place a short distance S.E. of Bunker Hill, on Breed’s Hill which the Americans had occupied the previous night and were in process of fortifying. Since the new fort threatened the British occupation of Boston, the British decided to attack that afternoon.  The first two charges were repulsed by the American marksmen at terrific cost to the British, and the third succeeded only because the Americans ran out of powder.”

 “Though the British thus took possession and made their hold on Boston seacure for a time, the Americans wee greatly strengthened in morale by the demonstration of the fighting qualities of their small force.”

 The encyclopedia says nothing about the second battle of Bunker hill, however an article appeared in Harpers magazine some time in the 1860’s in which a copy of Ballard Smith’s history of the revolutionary was described what Smith called the second battle of Bunker Hill.

 In that article Smith said that a small group of Americans a few nights after the battle of Bunker Hill, captured several small British outposts and took rather large quantities of powder in kegs.   They carried this powder to a nearby church, known as parson Adam’s church, and hid it under the pulpit.  This was done at night.

 Several days later the Americans rallied after being supplied with plenty of powder which was hauled from the church in “old John DeMerritt’s ox cart”. The British were then engaged again by the Americans who this time drove the British from Breed’s hill back down into Boston.  The British boarded the British ships anchored in Boston harbor and sailed away leaving the Americans in control of Boston.

 About forty five years ago my father obtained copies of Harpers magazine in have mentioned and sent one copy of his children.  I lost mine some high water which flooded our basement where I had the magazine stored in a trunk.  I asked your Grandmother Morrell if she had her copy of the magazine, however, although she remembered getting it, she did not remember what had become of it.

 R. Frothingham wrote a book titled The Seige of Boston which was published in 1902.  I obtained a copy of this book, but could find no mention of the second battle of Bunker Hill.

 Tradition has it the John DeMerritt took his oxen and ox cart and joined the American forces because the American needed some means of transportation so they could get their supplies to the fighting forces.

 I hope this will help you in your study of the American revolution and will answer the questions for you.

Sincerely yours,

Uncle John (John E. DeMerritt)

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