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The Kief Family in Manchester (Part 1)

By dhowell - Posted on 18 November 2009

by Ray Berg and Alan Dyer (February, 2009)

We continue our exploration of early Manchester families in the 1830s. We've previously learned about the early developers John Gilbert and the Fargo brothers, Stephen and James. Some of the traditional printed histories about our early settlers have been shown to be incorrect, as these men and their families were often from well-to-do professional backgrounds, and were not coming as struggling pioneers. These early founders tended to be Masons, leaving central New York because of strong anti-Masonic sentiment and jealousies in the early 1830s. They came with money, and the intent of investing in raw Michigan land and growing their wealth. These early Manchester residents came from the same general geographic area of Onondaga and Madison Counties, New York, and in many cases knew each other in New York before coming here. So it is most probable that early Manchester Village settlement consisted of clusters of men and their families coming together as a planned move, not as random pioneers who all happened to end up here.

The large Kief family was part of one such group, and in the next two articles we look at the various Kiefs, who resided here from 1833 until the 1930s. In particular, we'll look in detail at the patriarchal head, Artemus Kief, and the varied life of his son John Dey Kief, whose habit of dabbling in many business ventures and interests shows the great variety of lifestyles and choices in early Manchester.

Introduction to the Kiefs – Massachusetts and New York

The Kief family is typical of the migration pattern of many of Manchester's early settlers. The earliest Kief generation that can be reliably traced begins in western Massachusetts, where a large segment of the Industrial Revolution began. Jeremiah Kief (also written in the records as Keef) was born about 1750 in Colrain, Massachusetts. He was a tailor, and served in the Continental Army off-and-on from 1777 to 1784. By the 1780s, he is located in Williamstown in Berkshire County, in the far northwest corner of Massachusetts. This was a manufacturing center utilizing the mill power of the Hoosic River, and is also near the town of Lenox (home of John Gilbert).

Jeremiah has one son and three daughters, but dies before 1790, as his widow Mary Keef shows up in the 1790 Williamstown census with the children. Mary lived to age 90, passing away in June 1836 in Williamstown. The one son is Artemus Kief, born July 8, 1780, and trained as a blacksmith. In those days, blacksmiths had a much larger role in general metal-working than we commonly think of today, and their position in a town's economy was substantial. Any household device made of metal was typically fabricated by the local blacksmith, often to the customer's specific order.

Fig 1. Artemus Kief as blacksmith was an important citizen of the town (Click image to view larger version)

No record has been found of Artemus or Mary Kief in the 1800 census, and it may be that they are living in a household with a different male person as head.

Artemus Kief marries Saloma Gregory (born December 1, 1789) on March 7, 1807, and they remain in Williamstown until around 1810, when the census shows him in Fayetteville, Manlius Town, Onondaga County, New York (called Manlius Four Corners at that time), with an extended family. This includes his father-in-law Esben Gregory, who lived with Artemus until 1837, when Esben moved to Troy, Michigan with a son.

Artemus makes his first recorded land purchase in 1816 in Fayetteville. Records show him operating a prosperous mill and blacksmithing operation at the north end of Fayetteville, and acquiring substantial land holdings between 1816 and 1842. We also see him in various legal proceedings, such as witnessing the will of his neighbor in August 1814 in Fayetteville.

Fig 2. An 1848 photograph of Fayetteville, NY, showing Artemus Kief's former shop at right (Click image to view larger version)

His location in Fayetteville was economically enhanced by its position on a feeder canal to the Erie Canal, which is constructed in this period. It is likely he met and/or knew John Gilbert, as Gilbert set up a home in this area in the same time period. James Harvey Fargo also ran a wagon mail route in this area beginning in 1827.

The Family of Artemus Kief

Artemus and Saloma Kief had five children we can positively identify, all of whom except Betsey moved to Manchester in the 1833 time period:

  1. William D. Kief, born 1808 in Massachusetts, died January 2, 1882 in Manchester, who remained single all his life, and was a millwright. He appears to have been a quiet man, always living with siblings, of an introspective, intellectual bent, and not getting involved in community business leadership like his brothers.
  2. Betsey Ann Kief, born January 1810 in Massachusetts, died May 16, 1890 in Manchester. She moved to Manchester in 1842 with her father Artemus. She was married October 18, 1863 to James Harlow Fellows in Manchester. James Fellows was born April 14, 1809 in Onan, Onondaga County, and died April 21, 1884 in Sharon Township. Betsey appears to have been a dutiful spinster daughter to her parents in New York, and then to Artemus until his death in 1857, after which she marries and settles in Sharon Township.
  3. Lucien Bonaparte Kief, born December 24, 1810 in New York, died February 16, 1890 in Ypsilanti. He was married on December 19, 1850 in Ypsilanti to Corinna P. Howland, born December 17, 1826 in New York, and died August 28, 1893 in Ypsilanti. Lucien initially built a large farmstead north of Manchester, and had some limited involvement in early Manchester commerce in partnership with his brother John. But he eventually settled in Ypsilanti in 1865 where his wife's family had relocated from Manchester. There he ran a successful woolen manufactory at Rawsonville, and lived in a nice home at 310 S. Huron. Lucien may have also moved to Ypsilanti to "make his own mark," away from his more outgoing (and impetuous) brother John.
  4. Eliza T. Kief, born 1812 in New York, died 1888 in Manchester, who married James Harvey Fargo in 1834 in Manchester. After James' death in November 1840, she lived with her brother John for several years, and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio with her two sons for a few years. She subsequently returned to Manchester and married widower Joseph McMahon around 1864. See previous articles for more on her story.
  5. John Dey Kief, born 1815 in New York, died October 2, 1883 in Manchester, and named after Artemus' good friend and neighbor in Fayetteville, John Dey. John Dey Kief married twice—first, Jane A. Hough, born 1817 in New York, the daughter of a prosperous merchant, and who died young on April 9, 1849 in Manchester, and second Louise D. Merriman, born September 18, 1828 in New York, died July 20, 1886 in Manchester. John D. Kief had a varied and interesting life, and Part 2 of this article focuses on him because of his prominence in Manchester commerce and various "fads" of the time.

We believe that the male Kiefs were all Masons, based on the strength of this movement in central New York in the early 1800s and their economic positions in the local society. They most likely left for Manchester as a combined result of "Michigan Fever," the developing anti-Masonic movement, and having known John Gilbert.

Fig 3. A typical anti-Masonic pamphlet from central New York, 1831 (Click image to view larger version)

Artemus Kief in Michigan

So Artemus Kief followed the pattern of several early Manchester residents: born in western Massachusetts in the late 1700s, moved to Onondaga County, New York for about 30 years building wealth and experience, then being swept up in the speculative and emotional "Michigan Fever," precipitated by the Erie Canal completion and economic boom times. His children first left in the 1830s, and Artemus eventually moved to Manchester in 1842 after the death of his wife Saloma, to be with his children.

We know Artemus arrived in Manchester in 1842, because we see several real estate transactions in Fayetteville in 1842 where Artemus is selling off his property along Genesee Street (and making a donation to permanently establish the Methodist Church building there), and where John Dey and Lucien have returned to get their father and also clear out their remaining land holdings. Artemus then takes a ½ interest in son Lucien's farm acreage north of Manchester.

Artemus may have also continued as a blacksmith in Manchester, but by the 1850 census he is 70 years old, and no occupation is shown. He is living with son Lucien. He dies on November 26, 1857, and is buried in the Kief family plot with his daughter-in-law and two grandchildren in the Manchester Old Burying Ground. His grave was marked with a tombstone commemorating him and his two grandsons, but for unknown reasons his remains, and those of Jane Hough Kief and her two sons, were not moved to Oak Grove Cemetery when other Kief family members were relocated. Their gravesite is now lost.

The Kief Family in Manchester

The arrival of the Kief siblings in Manchester around 1833 coincided with the rapid growth of commerce in Manchester at this time. John Dey and Lucien Bonaparte Kief seem to have been the ambitious ones, and soon began a general dry goods store on what was then known as Exchange Place (now Main Street) in downtown, most likely initially renting a building on the north side of the street. Lucien eventually purchased substantial farmland in north Manchester Township and southern Sharon Township, and gradually shifted his focus to farming until 1865, when he moved to Ypsilanti. Their brother William worked as a millwright in the existing flouring mill on the river.

The first deeded land purchase by a Kief in Manchester is dated June 29, 1838, from James Harvey and Eliza Kief Fargo, and Shepherd and Catherine Knapp, to John D. Kief for Lots 9, 10, and 11 of Block 22. This would constitute the area now roughly occupied by the Clark gas station, Frank's Restaurant and Pyramid Office Supply. Thus John D. Kief becomes involved with the "northwest corner" of Exchange Place, including the establishment of the Manchester Hotel. We speculate his mercantile business was also located here.

While John D. Kief became involved in the mercantile business, and eventually many other things, there is no evidence that he took interest in local government. We can find no records that he ever sought political office. Nor are there any records of participation by brothers Lucien and William in civic affairs. William did join the Manchester Lyceum as a charter member, but there is no record of him participating in the ensuing debates or selection of topics. What John D. Kief did do is participate in a wide variety of celebrations, schemes, fads and business careers, all with varying degrees of limited success.

As for Betsey and Eliza Kief, it is difficult to learn much about them personally. In mid-19th century American life, women's lives and interests, and a part of their individual identity, became encapsulated with their husbands', and therefore little written information can be found about them. We do note, however, that Eliza always shows up signing individually on property transactions involving her and her husband James Fargo, contrary to the typical situation where the husband was the sole legal owner and decision maker.

Fig 4. What did John D. Kief contribute to this 1867 scene of Manchester? [see Part 2 of this article] (Click image to view larger version)

Coming in Part 2...

We'll pick up on the children of Artemus Kief in Part 2 of this article, particularly John Dey Kief and his many ventures. In particular, we'll see him open the Riverside Medicinal Bathhouse on the River Raisin, which he promoted as offering many "cures." We'll also see examples of his involvement in civic activities and causes, his competitive spirit, his impetuosity, and how he "battled the ups and downs of life." We'll also look at how the whole Kief family evolved through the 1930s here in our town. Keep following along with us…

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine. Presented here by permission.]