William Y.B. Pierce

William Young Birch Pierce

W.Y.B. Pierce was born on 28 Jun 1824 in Athens, Greene County, New York. He was the eldest son of Dr. Eli Pierce and Sarah B. Burgess. At the age of about 11 his family moved from the hustle and bustle of city life to northern Indiana. When they arrived, the land was sheer wilderness. Trees and undeveloped forests abounded. The original estate was on about 500 acres of land just outside of Fort Wayne.

At a young age, William helped clear the land. He frequently traveled back and forth to Athens with his father who still had business interests in New York. It was in Athens he fell in love with Mary Ann Sanderson, daughter of the glue manufacturer, John Sanderson and Margaret Whitfield. Mary Ann was born on 20 Jun 1814 in Ireland. They married circa 1845 we presume in Athens. W.Y.B. brought his wife back to Indiana where his father had given or sold him farm land on the family estate.

After the death of his mother in 1853, William and Mary Ann remained on the estate. Besides maintaining his own farm, William continued to help his father manage the estate and tend to his business interests. Mary Ann tended to the house chores and her family. William and Mary Ann Sanderson Pierce had five children all born on the estate:

  • *John Eli Pierce, b. 22 Nov 1846. Our ancestor.
  • Margaret Pierce was born about 1848. She married F.C. Rice
  • Bessy “Minnie” Pierce was born in 1851. She died young.
  • Sarah Burgess Pierce, born on 30 Mar 1852. She married Samuel Powell.
  • Mary Eliza Pierce, born in 1854. Mary married John McCartney
  • Birch Pierce Jr., born in 1859 in Hazelcot, Whitley, Indiana. He died young.

William remained at Hazelcot tending to the farm until Mary Ann died 7 December 1877 at which time he moved to Wisconsin. According to local and family legend, no one ever returned to the house for anything. The estate was left intact and unoccupied. Silverware, ornate furniture, crystal chandeliers, the Burgess family books, abandoned just as they were. It is told that Dr. Eli’s medical bag was left on a table near the door and his hat hung on the hat tree in the foyer. The castle was said to be haunted, perhaps by the ghost of Sarah Burgess Pierce. We will be doing more research on the Hazelcot castle and it will appear in the Places of Interest section.

Mary Ann is buried in Eel River Cemetery. W.Y.B. Pierce remarried on Oct. 9, 1879 in Waukesha County (just west of Milwaukee County). His new bride was Mrs. Martha L. Latham.

In 1879, right around the time they were married, the local newspaper reported that Martha was building a new home in the Howard neighborhood of Buena Vista. It was built by C.A. Benedict an established carpenter in Portage county. At the time of Martha’s marriage to W.Y.B., Chilton was about 9 and Mary about 7 years old. By 1880 the house was completed and they were living as a family in Buena Vista.

Martha was born in Waterbury, Vermont in 1833 and came to Wisconsin with her parents in June 1845 settling in New Berlin, Waukesha County. Martha was the daughter of George Scagel and Deborah Hunkins. Martha’s father was a member of the convention which drafted the constitution of the State of Wisconsin. She was educated in the common schools and the academy in Waukesha (now Carroll College). She taught school for several years. By 1857, Martha was an active worker in the Prospect Hill Baptist church, having been baptized several years before in Lowell, Massachusetts. She was deeply interested in church work and gave devoted service as long as her health and strength permitted. She was a lifelong member of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary society.

On 10 August 1862, she married Thomas Jefferson Johnson in Waukesha County Wisconsin. Thomas enlisted as a corporal in the 28th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Company G immediately after the marriage (enlisted Aug. 16, 1862). He died of disease in Helena, Arkansas 25 May 1863 just after the siege of Vicksburg. During his service he was promoted to full Sergeant.

Several years later she married Rev. Alanson W. Latham. Martha had two children with Rev. Latham. Chilton Lee and Mary Emma Mr. Latham held pastorates in Philadelpha, Indiana and in Wisconsin. Alanson died 17 December 1878.

Martha’s family was from the Waukesha county area. She had a sister, Mrs. Frank Hunkins in Waukesha, and a niece, Mrs. Emma Parsons also in Waukesha. Clinton was living in Milwaukee, Mary, (aka Mrs. C.E. Gibson) was living in Neenah. She had three grandchildren, Lloyd Latham of Chicago, Edith and Urbane Gibson of Neenah.

William was an ordained Baptist minister and was very active in church activities. W.Y.B. died 13 September 1898 in Portage County of gangrene and diabetes. Two of his daughters, Mary Eliza McCartney from New Orleans and Sarah Powell from Chicago were at his bedside at the time of death. After his funeral conducted by the Baptist minister in Wisconsin, his body was shipped to Columbia County, Indiana. He was buried at Eel River Cemetery. Martha and her son, Chilton, accompanied the body to Indiana and returned to Buena Vista a short time later.

Martha died at the home of her daughter in Neenah, Winnebago County, Wisconsin on May 8, 1926. She had been living with her daughter for about twenty years. She was blind for more than fifteen years before her death and had not walked for the last three years. In all that time she never complained of her infirmities. She was buried in Liberty Corners Cemetery, Portage County, Wisconsin.


  1. Ellen M. Rohr Said,

    There is another child we believe to be the daughter of WYB Pierce. Her name is Margaret “Maggie” Hazella Pierce. She married Franklin Crehore Rice. F.C. Rice was the executor of many of the family estates. We have conflicting dates of birth for Maggie. She does not appear on any of the censuses with the family. We believe her to be born between John and Bessie or Sarah and Mary. She married F.C. Rice on Nov 23 1869 in Milwaukee. The couple had three children. Two girls, Margaret and Adelene and a son Harvey. The parents and two girls are living in Baltimore, Maryland in 1900.

  2. Ellen M. Rohr Said,

    Nancy found her. In 1860 Maggie Pierce is living with her aunt and uncle Isaac and Eliza (Sanderson) Van Schaick. Also livint with them is Sarah Sanderson, who we believe is Sarah Sanderson daughter of William Sanderson Sr.

    I also found her in the 1850 census living with the Van Schaack family in Athens, N.Y. Although her last name is not listed as Pierce (actually is left blank) we believe Elizabeth to be Sarah Elizabeth Sanderson and Margaret to be Margaret Pierce. The listing of Mary Powell living in the household (another family name) make is almost certain this is the right family.

    I will now add her information above.

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