Sunday, November 29, 2009

John Butler - My Irish Ancestor

John Butler
Private, Revolutionary War
My Third Great-Grandfather

Until about ten to fifteen years ago, I was not aware of any Irish heritage. Although my parents has always "celebrated" St. Patrick's Day, it was because that was their wedding anniversary day, not because we were Irish, or had Irish blood.

For a few years, I had been doing research, off and on, to overcome my Aunt LVene's (historically the family genealogist on my father's line - even a "book") comment: "We don't know much about Grandpa Preston." My wife and I figured out fairly early on that it wasn't that she didn't know (she was too smart and good for that) - it was that "She didn't want to talk about him" because of some family conflicts that had occurred earlier and during her lifetime. While we respected her for her position, we were certainly not taking that for a final answer; this was my great-grandfather, after all.

His story is told elsewhere, off course; he is my father's mother's father: James P. Preston. In the information we found on him, we discovered his mother was Asenath Butler, the daughter of John Butler, who fought in the Revolutionary War. It turned out that our John Butler (there are thousands - it seems - by the way) was actually born in 1745 in Cookeny Parish, County Wicklow, Ireland! This is my third Great-Grandfather. I do have Irish blood.

About the same time that we were visiting northwest Ohio to gather some of this information, and share it with others, in hopes of learning more, it came to our attention that the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) were researching Rev War soldiers that were buried in the area. They had identified our John Butler as being buried near the small town of Florida, a few miles east of Defiance, Ohio, along the Maumee River. He died in Richland Twp, Williams Hull Co, Ohio, 22 Nov 1830. The SAR placed a marker for him and held a ceremony. I was unable to attend, but did receive a photo and a VHS video tape of the event.

What more do we know about our John Butler? He served as a private throughout the war and believed that he continued to serve as a soldier through the War of 1812, although only his service in the Rev War is recognized in US military records. He likely served with various state and/or local militias, which we continue to attempt to identify. This is based on his pension files information. He was "serving" or at least living in Detroit at the time it was surrendered to the British by US General William Hull. Gen Hull said he surrendered in order to save the lives of the several hundred civilians there who would surely have been massacred by the Indian allies of the British. By way of the surrender, the civilians were allowed passage back down to Ohio. That is how they got there for his daughter, Asenath, to meet and marry William Preston in Defiance in 1820. Thank you General Hull. General Hull received a court martial for his actions, but I will always thank him, every chance I get. This is based on information left behind by Asenath, retold many times to her family through her long life (1803-1888), and generally confirmed by our subsequent research.

While his father, James Butler, never left Ireland, two brothers did, and served with John in the Rev War. James' brother, Thomas Butler, had come previously to the USA and had a gun shop in Carlisle, PA. Thomas was a supplier of guns to Gen. George Washington and the US army - I've seen the paperwork. Thomas had five sons, first cousins to our John, who all served as Officers in the Rev War and some later in the Mexican War. They were touted as the "Fighting Butlers" later by LaFayette. I'll post that story later, as well, of course. All eight Butler soldiers (first cousins) appear to have served at Valley Forge with Washington. The gun shop building still stands in Carlisle - I have photos of our visit - and a prominent plaque stands on a nearby street celebrating the contributions of Thomas to the war effort.

Finally, there are at least three mysteries regarding our John Butler I continue to research, and I would appreciate help or suggestions:
1. Where did he serve, and where was he between 1782 and 1803?
2. Who was his wife, Lena, and where did he meet her? What became of her?
3. There were apparently two to four sons of John and Lena Butler in NW Ohio around the time daughter, Asenath, married William Preston... what became of them?

Comments welcomed.

Families are Forever! ;-)


  1. Hi Dr. Bill,

    You probably already know this, but your John Butler is not listed in the DAR's Patriot Index database. He IS listed in the SAR's database, however, his status is "not evaluated," meaning that no one has filed an SAR application using John as a patriot.

    The SAR citation says, "Revolutionary War Graves Register. Clovis H. Brakebill, compiler. 672pp. SAR. 1993. Also SAR Revolutionary War Graves Register CD. Progeny Publishing Co: Buffalo, NY. 1998."

    I'm guessing you've already looked for a pension, too, right?

    Sorry I can't be of more help! I do encourage you to apply for membership in the SAR, and have a female relative apply to the DAR. If nothing else, you'd get him listed in the DAR database, and possibly find more people searching for him that way.

    Happy holidays to you and yours!

    Little Bytes of Life

  2. My grandfather, James Butler, was born in Wicklow(don't know the parish or town) around 1860-70. He probably had a brother, John, perhaps more brothers and sisters. He came to the United States in 1890, eventually moving to New Britain, CT, marrying Mary Conway. Their children were Thomas, James, Sadie, John (my father), and Mae. I don't know how this can help, but it can't hurt.

  3. Thank you for the note, John.

    There are so many Butler families, it is critical to be very careful to work from the known to the unknown in tracing the family. My Butler's came over more than a century earlier than yours.

    Thank you, again, for your visit!

    Bill ;-)

  4. Hello, Just came across this old post. My brother tested our Butler family DNA (Y-37) a few years ago. We are a match to a direct descendent of The Fighting Butlers. HIs ancestor was Thomas Butler b. 1720 reportedly in Coolkenna, Co.Wicklow. However, our connection is back in Ireland since my family did not immigrate until 1857. My great-grandfather was b.1832 in Clonmel, Co.Tipperary. We also have a match to a DNA cousin in Ardfinnan, Co.Tipperary, a few miles west of Clonmel.

    The direct descendent of The Fighting Butlers, Thomas Talbot Butler, was asked to test in order to establish a definite connection to the "brother" James' descendents. The results showed they were NOT brothers. Have you tested DNA? I would be glad to share results with you.
    If you check the profile for "Thomas Butler, patriarch of The Fighting Butlers" on, I posted the discussion from The Butler Society about the theories of Thomas's roots.
    Mary Butler Arnold

    1. Thank you for your Comment. That is most interesting. There is so little recorded information on my ancestor John, it is hard to know much of anything for sure. I've relied, to date, primarily on the "Butler Family in America" book of the early 20th century. Thanks, again, for the update. ;-)

  5. Hi Bill,
    Thanks for the great read. I also read your info on Thomas Butler. My father, Melvin D. Butler had compiled an enormous about of info on the Butler family tree. I just want to throw this out for your consideration. It was my understanding, that the “Thomas Butler” gunsmith from Carlisle was married to Eleanor. The Thomas Butler, you have included in a later post, married to Ann Dalrymple, who I believe is a nephew to the Thomas Butler, the gunsmith.
    Thomas Butler who married Ann, also had several brothers including John Butler, their father was also a James Butler born in Ireland around 1718. Sometimes we get the two “ Thomas Butler’s” confused. Does this help or just make matters more confusing.😁

    1. Thank you for your interest. They can be confusing, for sure. The three questions I posed still seem to be unresolved with added years... ;-)