Oren Briggs (1797-1882)

Oren (also spelled Orren, Orrin or Orin) Briggs is my 4x great grandfather. He is also one of my ‘brick wall’ ancestors. Oren’s story fascinates me. He was born about 1797 in Massachusetts (according to his census entries) or Maine (according to his children’s later census records). Maine was once part of Massachusetts so it probably is Maine. Prior to 1839, I can find no definitive record of him, though two potential matches have been identified. Orren Briggs married at least three times, and I descend from his third wife, Susan Bowder.

The Boone County, Illinois years

The earliest known confirmed record for Oren is in a Boone County, Illinois deed book, with the entry dated July 16, 1840. “Orin” purchased Lots 1 & 2 on Block 2 on Mechanics Street in the Crosby Addition to Belvidere, Boone County, Illinois, from Frederick W. Crosby and wife. On the 1840 Federal Census, Oren is listed as one male age 30-40 (he would be about 43) and one female 15-20. A smudge is present in the female “under 5” box but it’s difficult to tell if it’s meant to indicate a child or not. Enumerated just under Oren is Ralph Rix, a shoemaker born in Connecticut but lived in Herkimer County, New York for many years.

On February 23, 1842, Oren’s son Ralph R. Briggs is born. He was possibly named after Oren’s friend Ralph Rix (unconfirmed). Additional land deed entries are recorded for “Orren Briggs and wife” on Sept 20, 1842, and several in 1843 for Oren Briggs, wife and Lucy Crosby. “Oren Briggs and wife” was last recorded on November 28, 1844, when they sold their sawmill, land and water rights to Guildford D. Hammond. The identity of this wife remains a mystery. Distant cousins refer to her as “Mary” though I do not know what proof exists for this name. “Mary” is last recorded in the deed book, this is not proof that she died before 1845. She is out of the picture prior to 1847, however.

Oren married Sarah Hodges in Boone County, Illinois on July 29, 1847 by J. Lawrence, Justice of the Peace. This wasn’t a long marriage, as they divorced in 1848. She filed for divorce citing Oren’s “impotence” as the reason for divorce.

Oren then married Susan Tittle (nee Bowder) in Belvidere on May 24, 1848. He was nearing 50 years old now. It was Susan’s second marriage, and she had at least two children from a previous marriage: Jonathan (born Dec 1841) and Elizabeth Ann (born March 1846). Jonathan and “Lizzie” were listed as Tittle’s in the 1850 census, but were Briggs for the remainder of their lives.

The 1850 census of Boone County shows Orren and Susan living with children Jonathan, Elizabeth, and Ralph Briggs. All of the children were born in Illinois.

On October 08, 1851, daughter Mary Emogene (aka Emma) was born. I have looked up some land records at the library in Belvidere and distant cousin and fellow research Chris G. has as well. I’ve Chris’ here and will add mine as time allows. Chris G.: “Just reviewed the land transaction records I transcribed in Belevidere, Ill some years ago. It sure looks like Orren A. Briggs and his father in law, Jacob Bowder, did a lot of land business with each other. (Jacob is the father of Susan Bowder Briggs, Orren’s 3rd wife)”

  • 5 Oct 1848 pg 22: Orrin Briggs purchased from Jacob Bowdell (as spelled in record) piece of dam
  • 15 Mar 1849 pg 194: Orrin Briggs, trustee Jacob Bowder, sold SE 1/4 sec 35 township 45 range 3 to A. Hotchkiss to Briggs and Crosby
  • Oren Briggs and wife Mary sold a saw mill located on Beaver Creek on Dec 10, 1845.
  • Mary on deeds as wife @ Belvidere, Illinois Dec 10, 1843; Nov 28, 1844; and Dec 10, 1845

The last Oren Briggs entry in the deed book was dated July 26, 1852 – a bond for a deed to Milo Smith. Sometime around 1852, Oren and the family moved to Stevens Point in Portage County, Wisconsin.

The Portage County, Wisconsin years

From about 1852 to 1858, Orren and family are living in Stevens Point, Portage County, Wisconsin.

On August 13, 1853, Milo Smith (through his attorney A. B. Crosby), Oren Briggs and John Phillips created the “Smith, Briggs and Phillips Addition” of Stevens Point. This extended Main Street eastward and added added several city blocks to the north of Main Streets. The new streets running parallel to main were called Beazns(?) (now known as College Avenue) and Briggs, and the streets running across Main were Smith, Prentice, Green(?) (now known as Rogers Street) and Phillips. I have a photocopy of the original document officially showing the new platted addition. A complete transcription of Orren’s land transactions will be posted here asap.

The 1855 Wisconsin State Census lists Oren as head, with 3 white males, 5 white females, and 1 foreign born. Susan, Elizabeth, Mary and Lida only account for 4 females. It’s worth noting on the 1900 Federal Census, Susan reports having six kids, two of which are living in 1900. We know that Lida and Mary died before 1900, and the other two probably died as infants. One of them is possibly named Phoebe.)

Orren built a clapboard house in the Greek Revival style, at 701 Main Street, Stevens Point, Portage County, Wisconsin in 1856. This house is still standing but was moved to a location on College Avenue and it is still in use. Some suspect this is the oldest standing house in Stevens Point.

The Vernon County, Missouri years

From about 1858 to 1861, the family was in Missouri (although who knows if they stopped off anywhere along the way). On the 1860 census, Orren and Susan are living in Drywood, Vernon County, Missouri. Children listed are Jonathan, Elizabeth, R.R, Imogene and Lida on the census, though Imogene is really Mary Emogene. This mention of “R.R” is significant evidence that Ralph Rix Briggs was a son of Orren’s (as there has been some debate). It also appears that the enumerator wrote “twins” in the margin next to Ralph and Jonathan, who were both 18. Perhaps Orren and Susan felt it best to pass the boys off as brothers rather than deal with the subject of divorce.

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President. His views opposing slavery were well known. The Civil War was brewing and in January 1861 the South seceded from the United States, starting with South Carolina. It is presumed Orren knew there was unrest coming and decided to pack up his family and move them to a safer, more established location. On Sept 12, 1861 the Dry Wood Creek battle took place in Vernon County, and was a Confederate victory.

The Buchanan County, Iowa years

Orren and family moved to Buchanan County, Iowa sometime prior to January 1861. On January 27, 1861, Susan’s daughter Elizabeth Ann (aka Lizzie) married Warren Bouck, a native of Illinois in Buchanan County. Later that year, on December 14, 1861, Ralph married Warren’s sister, Sarah Jane Bouck, in Independence. Oren settled in Jefferson Township to farm. Orren and Susan supported her parents, Jacob Bowder and Rebecca Walters. In 1864, Jacob Bowder deeded his farm to Orren and Susan in return for lifetime care – but a year later he died. In 1868, Oren and Susan sell her son Jonathan 4 acres of land. In May of 1865, Ralph moved to Elk Point, Union County, Dakota Territory, where he homestead a farm. The area is on a piece of land that is bordered by Nebraska on one side, and Iowa on the other. On April 06, 1866, daughter Lizzie (Elizabeth), who had been widowed since the Civil War, remarried, to John S. Coats. Susan and Orren sold more land to son Jonathan on Apr 21, 1868. On May 03, 1868, daughter Mary Emogene married John Torrence, a native of neighboring Linn County, Iowa.

On the 1870 census, Orren is living in Jefferson Township, Buchanan County with Susan, daughter Lida, and daughter Mary Emogene (aka Emma and my 3x great grandmother) along with her husband John Torrence and their son Oscar. On April 21, 1872, Lida Briggs married George W. Elliott, who was born in Indiana.

Sadly, Emma died in 1875, age 23 and Lizzie died in 1877, age 30. Both deaths were most likely due to childbirth complications.

The Cherokee County, Iowa years

On the 1880 census, in Silver Twp, Cherokee County, Iowa, Orren and Susan are living with their widowed son-in-law, John Coats, and grandchildren Minnie age 12, Wilbur/Wilbert, age 9 and William age 3.

Susan Briggs and George Elliott are also on an 1879 delinquent tax list for Silver Twp, Cherokee Co. Susan’s land is at the south half of the SE quarter of section 33 and George’s is the north half. Section 33 is on the Ida County line, and in fact Susan’s land is on the county line. I visited the location in August 2005, and there is a ramshackle wooden house on George’s land. You never know — it might be the house they lived in!! I tracked down the owner, who lives on the eastern half of section 32. I got the permission to get a closer look at the house. We explored inside and around the house, but it was very overgrown outside and the house was literally falling down. I did take a lot of photos though!

Orren Briggs died June 5, 1882 age 83 and was buried in the Aurelia Cemetery. To find where he was buried: at the Aurelia cemetery, enter at the 2nd gate from the north. He is 7 rows in on the north. (Michael Grohe stone is just next to Orren’s and there are Wharton burials around it). Orren’s is the small, broken stone. No writing is readable. The rest of the stone might be sunken in the ground.

The local sexton told me Orren is buried in a plot for five people, that was purchased by “Susan Briggs”. However, only one other person is buried in it! And… no name was entered for this burial. Perhaps this is Nellie, daughter of Oscar Torrence and Mary Emogene Briggs, who was raised by Lida and George?


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Filed under Biography, My Family History

One response to “Oren Briggs (1797-1882)

  1. Pingback: Divorce 1848 style! « Rootsfinder Family History

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