The 1834 Will of Lydia Shores McClenen

I love solving a 200-year-old mystery!

In the 1907 Descendants of Benjamin Chamberlain book, the author writes that Gabriel Chamberlain married Mary Ann McClenen, and Susan Chamberlain married John McClenen. These marriages would have taken place in the 1830s somewhere around Jefferson Township, Morris County, NJ, but no one seems to know who this McClenen family was!

So I did what I always do: research all the McClenens in the area, trying to piece together enough records to find the family. But this time, that didn’t work. Most of the records are spelled phonetically and ranged from McClenen to McClennan, McClelland, McClellan, etc. I ended up with a ton of possible names, and no thread to connect them. What a nightmare.

Luckily during my search, I came upon a Will Index for New Jersey that said there was a will for a Lydia McClenen. It appeared that she could be Lydia Shores who married Robert McClenen in 1804, Morristown, Morris, NJ at the Morristown Presbyterian Church. At that time, Robert was noted as being of Hanover, Morris, NJ and Lydia was noted as being of Mendham, Morris, NJ.

I ordered the original images of the will and waited three months for them to arrive. In the mail yesterday was her will! And, boy oh boy, did it unlock everything!

This is the will of Lydia Shores McClenen. The spelling changes throughout the document, but her actual signature says Lydia McClenen. Her sons signed their names as John D. McClennen and William McClennen.

I transcribed it with all the typos and grammar mistakes included “as is.” There are many run-on sentences, and commas look like periods, so it’s hard to parse. I did break it up into paragraphs for each child — it’s not broken apart like that in the original. I’m guessing the actual writer is an attorney or friend, and used “McClenon.” But Lydia, John and William actually sign their own signatures and use McClenen or McClennen.

Also, it appears that she’s giving more than 100% of her land away, but I think part of it is dower land that she owns outright, and part land she inherited from her husband, Robert McClenen. See my analysis and comments below her will, and land transactions below that.

In the name of God, Amen. I Lydia McClenon of the township of Jefferson, County of Morris and State of New Jersey, being in sound mind, memory, and understanding, blessed be God for the (unreadable) and considering the certainty of Death, and the uncertainty of the time thereof, and  to the end that I may be the better prepared to leave this world whenever it shall please God to call me hence, do therefore make and declare this my last will and testament in the manner following, that is to say:

First and principally I commend my soul into the hands of Mighty God, my Creator, hoping for free pardon and remission of all my sins, and to enjoy everlasting happiness in the heavenly kingdom, through Jesus Christ, my Savior. My body I comment to the earth at the discretion of my Executors herein after named.

Next, I give and bequeath to my second son John D McClenon the one half of my land, adjoining Peter J Davenport and Solomon Davenport lands commencing  at the road leading from Milton to the Hamburgh Turnpike running a paralel line to the mountain, one bed and bedding together with the one half of the remaining part of the real estate. 

And I give my Eldest son, William McClenon the one half remaining part of my land laying adjoining my son John, together with the one half of the remaining part of the Real estate. 

And the remaining part of my lands and the remaining part of the Real estate to be left in the hands of my Executors for the sole use of my Daughter Mary Ann’s life time. After her death to be equally divided among her children if any (unreadable) is if she has no children or no child to be divided equally between my two sons John and William or their heirs.

If my Father James Shores should out live me, my wish is to have him comfortably taken car of his live time out of the property.

Lastly is is my wish to John (unreadable) with m son John D McClenon, Executors to put in full force this my last will and testament.

In witness whereof I have hereun l put my hand and seal, this thirteenth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty four.

Her signature: Lydia McClenen

Signed, sealed , published and declared by the said Lydia McClenon to be her last will and testament in the presence of us.


Benjamin Cooley

Simon A Demarest

John H Brown

Next page:

John H Brown, one of the witnesses to the will, swears that he saw Lydia sign it. Will proven: 22 May 1840.

John D McClenon one of the Executors, agrees the will is hers. He signs: John D McClennen, 22 May 1840 

Next page:

*This is to certify that we believe the words one half of the remainder of my real estate after devising half of the land to John D McClenning the testator intended it to mean the other half of her personal estate and have divided said personal property accordingly (unreadable) it is so understood and agreed upon by both the executors and heirs as witness our hands this 30th day of October 1839.


John D McClennen

William McClennen

*not to be recorded

The “not to be recorded” is actually written on the page. I’m not sure what it means. It seems you would want this new definition of the terms of the will to be recorded.

My notes and thoughts:

  1. The will is written on 13 June 1834. What prompts her to write a will at this time? The marriage of her daughter? Or her daughter turning 21? Mary Ann is with Lydia on her 1830 census, born 1815-1820. 
  2. The executors agree to the definition of the wording on 30 Oct 1839, so she is dead by this date. It appears she does have personal property in her name. Both John and William sign this document, so they’re both in the area at this time or can travel to this area.
  3. The will was proven 22 May 1840.
  4. John signs the approval of the will, 22 May 1840. So, he’s alive at this time and in the Jefferson area in order to sign this document. It doesn’t mean he’s living there, just that he can easily travel there.
  5. It appears his full name is John D McClennen. William is not noted with a middle initial, but later records show him as William H. McClennen.
  6. It seems she made both John and William co-executors.
  7. The Hamburg Turnpike in Jefferson township is today’s Route 23/Oak Ridge Road. It runs “parallel to the mountain” as it heads north from Milton to Oak Ridge, before cutting through the mountain and heading towards Kinnelon, Morris, NJ. There is a Chamberlain Road off of Route 23 in that area, and this land could be near there.
  8. William is the eldest, and John is the second son. No notation about where Mary Ann falls into the child line-up. But since Mary Ann is still with Lydia on the 1830 census, it’s likely she’s the youngest child.
  9. It appears that she’s saying (I could be wrong!) that some land is divided evenly between William and John, and that Mary Ann gets some part of the land, or personal property, possibly belonging to Lydia herself in her own name, not inherited from her husband, Robert. Otherwise, she’s giving away 150% of her land, which makes no sense. John and William noticed that, too, and tried to clarify what the will meant.
  10. Mary Ann does have children who survive her, so land records may show them getting title to this land and/or selling it. And, indeed, there is a land transaction that includes Gabriel Chamberlain and his wife, Mary Ann (late) McClenen, see below. Mary Ann would have only married in 1833 or 1834, and doesn’t have her first child until 1834 (John Henry Chamberlain, born 16 Oct 1834), so this will is written while Mary Ann is pregnant, before the birth of her first child. Perhaps that’s why the will was written — so that, should Mary Ann die in childbirth, it was clear what would happen to the property.
  11. William appears to be in New York City and John appears to go to Newark, Licking, Ohio, so land records may show them selling their land, and indeed, there is such a transaction, see below.
  12. John is on the 1840 census for Jefferson, Morris, NJ.  William is having kids in New York City by 1831; he’s on the 1840 census for New York City.
  13. In order to guess the ages of the children: Lydia and Robert marry in 1804, so the children are born after that. Lydia leaves property to all three children, so presumed all three children are over 21 in 1834, so born between 1804 and 1813. Mary Ann is married, so could inherit land even if she was under 21, because the inheritance would be “owned” by her husband.
  14. There’s no grave for Lydia or Robert. They married at Morristown Presbyterian Church, so possibly buried in a Presbyterian Church cemetery in the Jefferson or Randolph area.
  15. Lydia leaves property to all three children, so presumed all three children are over 21 in 1834, so born between 1804 and 1813.
  16. Her father, James Shores is still alive in Oct 1834. He is on her 1830 census, aged 80-89. Both John D McClennen and Gabriel Chamberlain, her son-in-law, have an 1840 census but no older man on either of them. So James Shores was presumed dead between 1834-1840. 
  17. There is an 1887 land map of land ownership with Gabriel Chamberlain on it. I don’t know if this is Lydia’s land or not. It’s just north of Milton. There is Davenport land on the map, but it’s many generations since Peter and Solomon owned land there, so the map might not be useful for identifying her land parcel. Land deed records are available on FamilySearch for Morris County, NJ.
  18. This is Peter F or J Davenport and Solomon Davenport. The 1830 census is alphabetical, so you can’t see neighbor relationships – can’t use the census to determine where this land is, or who the neighbors are. Solomon Davenport and Peter Davenport are still in Jefferson in 1840 and you can use that census to see neighbors. “Gilbert” (Gabriel) Chamberlain is nearby, as is John D “Maclemon” McClennen. (The quality of the page on FamilySearch is much clearer than on Ancestry.) Until this time, I did not realize that either Gabriel or John had an 1840 census, but once I knew the land was near Peter and Solomon Davenport, I was able to discover Gabriel and John on the same page, but mislabelled or misspelled.
  19. Abraham Chamberlain, son of Benjamin, was born 1783 in Sparta. Per the Chamberlain family genealogy book, after his marriage in 1811, he settled on “the Shores place near Russia” — that’s Russia, Morris, NJ.
  20. Per the Chamberlain Genealogy book, Mary Ann McClenen married Gabriel Chamblerlain, and John McClenen married Susan Chamberlain. Susan is the daughter of Benjamin Chamberlain and Hannah Banford. Gabriel is the son of Joseph Chamberlain and Susan Sayre. Joseph and Benjamin are brothers, Gabriel and Susan are first cousins.

The Land Transactions

James Shores to Lydia McClennon

25 Dec 1827

James Shores of Jefferson, Morris, NJ to Lydia McClennon (daughter of the said Shores), of the same place. Two tracts of land, one where Henry French lived (give the lineage of how James Shores got the land from Abraham Chamberlain), and another 50-acre tract. Witnesses by Benjamin Chamberlin and Squire Lum.

(So Robert McClenen is dead by 1827. Married women couldn’t own land in their own name until 1854 in NJ, so she’s a widow.)

John D McClennon, Gabriel Chamberlain and his wife, Mary Ann, sell land to William McClennen

10 May 1842

Gabriel Chamberlain (and his wife, late Mary Ann McClennen) and John D McClennen of Jefferson, Morris, NJ, to William McClennen of New York City. Land description says this is the land of Lydia McClennen. Gabriel, Mary Ann and John are selling their inherited land to William.

The Families

I’m not 100% sure of this, because it appears that some McClennen children change their name to McClellan, but here goes:

If you are on, you can find Lydia Shores McClenen’s tree here:

William H McClennen is born around 1805 in New Jersey. He marries Sarah A Greenleaf, probably in New York City around 1830, and has these children, all born in New York City:

William McClennen b 1831
Lydia Ann McClennen Daw b 1833
Martha J McClennen Hewson b 1836
Nicholas E. B. McClennen be 1839
Eliza M McClennen b 1843
Serena Almire McClennen Harmony b 1843

John D McClennen is probably born around 1810 in New Jersey, and married Susan Chamberlain around 1833. Their children through Robert are born in NJ; John is either born in NJ or OH:

Hannah McClelland (not McClennen) Rees Dewees, b 1834
Armenia McClellan Tharp b 1840
Sarah Maria McClellan Phillips b 1842
Robert W McClellan b 1845
John B McClennen b 1849

John Sr appears to have died between July through September 1850 in Newark, Licking, Ohio. His widow, Susan, remarries to Daniel Baker.

Mary Ann McClenen Chamberlain is born around 1815 in New Jersey, and married Gabriel Chamberlain around 1833. They both die in NJ, he in Morris County and she in Sussex County a few years later. Their children:

John Henry Chamberlain (my ancestor line), b 1834
Almeda E Chamberlain b 1839, never marries
William M Chamberlain b 1842
Mary M Chamberlain Ross b 1845
Joseph R Chamberlain b 1849

Got questions about this information, or if you have a DNA match to these McClennen people, please contact me!

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