One of the real surprises of this little research project was discovering that my Agin ancestors (my mother’s father’s family) have a long history in New Jersey stretching back to colonial times. I have been able to trace the Agin family line back six generations to my fourth great-grandfather James Agin, who was born in Somerset County in 1759.
James must have been quite a guy. In September 1776, one month before his 18th birthday, he volunteered as a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Over the next three years, he participated in a number of key battles, including the Battle of Trenton (Dec. 1776), the Battle of Princeton (Jan. 1777), the Battle of Van Nest’s Mills (Jan. 1777), the Battle of Germantown (Oct. 1777) and the Battle of Monmouth (June 1778).
When the war was over, he settled in Amwell Township, Hunterdon County – in the western part of the state, close to the Delaware River. He owned a farm there, somewhere near the small town of Ringoes.
James married a woman named Ann (there’s no record of a maiden name) and together they raised seven children including John (my third great-grandfather), Wilson, Charles, Joseph, Hannah, Patricia and Eliza. They are the ancestors of hundreds of descendants clustered mainly in New Jersey and Ohio. These include my second great-grandfather Samuel Davis Agin, who fought in the Civil War, my great-grandfather Jacob Agin and my grandfather Harry Agin.
James Agin lived a long life, passing away in 1836 at the age of 77.
How do I know all this? It turns out, for someone who was born 251 years ago, James Agin left an amazing paper trail.
First, James applied to the federal government for a veteran’s pension in 1832. These records are kept in the National Archives and it was easy to purchase a copy from the archives.gov website. The file contains over 40 pages of correspondence and affidavits, all written in longhand, that provide incredible detail about James’s service during the war. It’s slow but engrossing reading and I will be sure to write a more detailed post about it soon.
Second, James wrote a will in 1836 and you can read the full text online. Again, there is a lot of interesting information there for a future post.
Third, James’s family history is recorded in a curious little book called A Skech of the Agin Family of Old Amwell Township in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, published some years after James’s death. My sister Cathy and I went to the Hunterdon County Library to check it out.
The author, Cornelius W. Larison, was a doctor, geologist, zoologist and educator from Ringoes. He was an interesting character to say the least.
Larison believed a more phonetic spelling of English would help more people to read, and he started the Fonic Publishing Company to put this theory into action. So the word “Skech” in the title was no typo. The book is filled with strange, phonetic spelling and florid prose: “Quick to perceiv, he redily lerns new processes, and carries his wurk with ease and rapidity.”
Apparently, Larison was friends with another James Agin – grandson of the original James and cousin to Samuel Davis – and he decided to pen a little book in his honor. Chapter I is a long-winded meditation on the lives on young boys who serve as apprentices in various trades. Chapter II is a tribute to the many Christian virtues of the younger James Agin who, we are informed, rose from a hard childhood to serve in the Civil War and later become a pillar of the community.
Altho Mr. Agin’s military record is excellent, he is better known to me as a Soldier of the Cross. Under this standard he has bivouacked with us these many years. And during these years, he has kept his culors bright and his weapons keen. Under this standard he ever finds work to do; and with that cheerfulness and complaisance that characterizes the devout christian, he does it. Whether in the family circl, in the prayer meeting, or in the church; whether as a nurse in the sick room, or as a father in the social circl, or as a neighbor to those near whom he livs, or as a citizen, that same unfeind christian element stands out in bold relief – supported and defended by his knowledge of the Scriptures and by his daily experience….
As a citizen of Ringos during the past 26 years, James Agin has been known as a man of sterling integrity, quiet manners, frugal ways, temperate habits and an exemplary Christian character. It is a principl ever kept in view by him, that men should liv within their means. Hense, his credit has always been good, and his dets very few. A luver of truth, he is always careful what he says and how he says it. His promises ar sure as time and circumstances will allow. I have never herd his word disputed, nor his statements gainsaid.
But the book’s real value for me is its final chapter, “The Progenitor of the Agin Family.” In two short pages, Larison provides an invaluable family history spanning a century – providing some key information obtainable nowhere else.
In future posts, I will flesh out this history with some of the other findings of my research – starting with a shout out to my own Civil War ancestor, Samuel Davis Agin, on the 150th anniversary of the start of that conflict.