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Harriet (Pierce) Stevens, Oregon Trail Pioneer

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Harriet (Pierce) Stevens, Oregon Trail Pioneer
Accession Number
Date Added
8/17/2020 2:53:11 PM
Historical People
Gift of
Robert Underhill
Collection Title
Collection Description
Robert Underhill
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In 1854 Harriet & John Stevens left Coldwater, MI with their three children John (1837 - 1898), Jeanette (1842 - ), and Jasper (1850 - 1925) to create a new home in Oregon.  This was more than a 2,000 mile journey; dangerous and difficult.

What we know of Harriet begins with a record of Oregon pioneers that said Mrs. Harriet Stevens came overland to Oregon in 1854, that she was born in Clarendon in 1817, that her mother died when she was 4 and that she was raised by Mrs. Chaplin of LaGrande, OR. 

Harriet's husband John Stevens was born in Jamaica VT in 1806 and in 1830 married Mary Adams in PA where he had moved to.  In 1832 John & Mary moved Tecumseh, MI where Mary died in 1833.  He took their two children, one being Mary Cordelia (1833 - 1886), to stay with friends in PA and started for Chicago but ended up in Coldwater, MI.  It was there in 1835 that he married Harriet.  The 1850 census shows Mary in the household so clearly John was reunited with his children at some point after he remarried.

Harriet's burial record in LaGrande, OR tells us her maiden name was Pierce, though in other records it is recorded as Peirce or Pearce.  Pearce seems to have been the traditional spelling used by her grandfather Giles Pearce's family but for simplicity purposes and given it is the most common usage, we are just going with Pierce.  A record of Harriet's birth in Clarendon hasn't been found but it appears she was born to either Hannah Pierce (1797 - ) who was not yet married in 1817 or her sister Patience Pierce (1800 - 1821) who was also not married.  Their three older sisters were all married already by 1817 and their mother Hannah was 52 at the time.  Given the Oregon record saying Harriet's mother died when she was 4 years old (1821), one might jump to the conclusion that Patience who died in 1821 was the mother, but it is more likely Hannah, who also died in 1821, had taken the role of Harriet's mother. Such things were common up until fairly recent times.  Harriet would have thus began life as the 13th child of Hannah (Arnold) Pierce (1765 - 1821) and Giles Pierce (1765 - 1835).  Hannah & Giles and those children still living with them, including young Harriet, left Clarendon and moved to Hamburg, NY by 1820.

The connection to Mrs. Chaplin is the Arnold family.  Mrs. Chaplin was Lucinda (Arnold) Chaplin (1788 - 1850) who also lived in Clarendon.  Lucinda Arnold and Hannah Arnold were only distantly related but with both Arnold lines in Clarendon at this time they likely saw themselves as closer kin than they technically were.  The Lucinda & Rev. Daniel Chaplin household also left Clarendon and relocated to NY by 1820; in their case settling in Hartland which is about 50 miles from Hamburg.  After Hannah's death in 1821, Lucinda and Daniel Chaplin took 4 year old Harriet.  At the time they had 5 children of their own and would go on to have 8 more.  In Hannah's case, when she died in 1821 there were only 3 of her children who were not yet adults; a 12 year old girl and boys 14 & 16.

Lucinda & Daniel Chaplin never moved to Oregon but rather it was their son Daniel (1822 - 1887) and his wife who did, ultimately settling in LaGrande which is where Harriet & John Stevens also eventually settled.  Daniel Chaplin, the younger, had moved to Quincy, Branch County, MI in 1850.  That was the same county that Harriet & John Stevens were already living in.  The Chaplin household made the overland journey to Oregon in 1854.

Harriet's adopted parents the Chaplins did not move to Michigan either yet Harriet is found there in 1835 when she married. What may have brought her to Branch County was her cousin Green Arnold (1818 - 1893) whose family had relocated from Hartland, NY to Branch County, MI sometime after 1832.  Green Arnold's family had also come from Clarendon to Hartland just before he was born in 1818.  All of his older siblings were born in Clarendon.  Green Arnold and his family accompanied the Stevens family to Oregon where Green & Stevens had a hotel.

John Stevens was actually Brigadier General John Stevens, commissioned by the Governor of Michigan as part of the State militia.  He served as County Sheriff as did Green Arnold.  John Stevens was a successful businessman with varied ventures in PA, MI, & OR and in OR was the Registrar of the Land Office under President Grant. 

John & Harriet Stevens are said to have had 5 children, though only 3 have been identified to date.  Two are believed to have died young.  Harriet passed away in 1896 in LaGrande and John in 1903.  Green Arnold 1893 in LaGrande.  He was the son of Rice Arnold (1783 - 1836 and Prudence (Parke) Arnold  (1789 - 1839).