The See family of San Luis Obispo and their origins


The See Family: Background

In San Luis Obispo County, California the See family is a well remembered pioneer family. Their often outrageous exploits are sometimes hard to reconcile with the upstanding middle-class image that they themselves presented forward to society. In searching their roots, I have discovered a rich and well documented history of this family that probably arrived in Pennsylvani and pushed Westward living for nearly 100 years on the fringe of American civilization.
There is quite a bit of material on various See famlies in the New World, though the ancestors of the San Luis Obispo family have not received any genealogial attention until recently. I am greatly indebt to the hard work and generousity of both Mrs. Mildred Edgerton and Mr. Hal McCawley whose contributions have allowed me to easily identify my line amongst the many See families in the United States.
I should first address one of the biggest myths that have become common lore concerning the See family of San Luis Obispo County. For many years people have associated the Sees with the California based candy company See's Candy. See's was founded by a Canadian, the son of a Mrs. Mary See who has no connection in any way to the See family of San Luis Obispo. Many stories have been circulated that Mary See was the sister of Rachel See Calloway, but this is clearly untrue, if not by the fact that Mary See was not born a "See" but married one, certainly by the fact that neither Mary nor her husband trace their origins to California, Indiana, or Kentucky.

Martin See of Rockingbridge County, Virginia

Martin See is the patriarch of the See family of San Luis Obispo. We first find Martin in Rockingbridge/Augusta Counties of Virginia. This area was part of the Virginia Valley, a large area that was populated by many German and Scot-Irish people from the North. I have not done a great deal of working on the records of this area, but it appears that a Martin Sea and John Sea are on the tax rolls for 1778 in Rockbridge county. Rockbridge was carved out from Augusta county and turning to Augusta records we find "Martin Sea" named in a deed dated the 25th of April 1772. The unusual name of "Sea" indicates that these various Martin Sea/See entries are most likely the same man. The most important record of Martin Sea is his will which was written on the 25th of December 1807 in Rockbrige and proved on the 2nd of February in 1807. This instrument names his wife Margaret, who is earlier identified as a second wife in a marriage contract dated the 05th of August 1785; Margaret had been married to David Stokes. Martin's will also names his children: Dolly Kender, Mary Lemons, John Nauls Sea, Conrd Sea, and George Sea [ref: O.F. Morton, "Rockbridge Co., VA " (1922), pg. 528]. John Nauls Sea and his brother Conrad are identified in the probate as of Kentucky; helping to establish their identity in that state.
It is assumed that Martin Sea came from Pennsylvania, since most of the Germans who came to the Virginia Valley originated from that State. From the Revolutionary War Pension Applications of Martin's children John See and Dolly Kinder (Kender) it can be establish that the family did come from Pennsylvania, since both identify their place of birth as Pennsylvania. Dolly states her place of birth as Berks County; however, John's pension states "Parks", which is not a known county of that State. It is assumed that since John did not write his own claim letter, that "Parks" was a transcription mistake and should have been "Berks". Mrs. Mildred Egerton's research has identified a possible record in Pennsylvania for Martin. In 1768, a Martin Seh is listed in the tax records for Maxatawny township of Berks County, PA; corroborating Dolly Sea Kinder's claim application. Earlier records that are a little more difficult to positively identify as Martin, is a records of Johan Mar. Say who arrived in Philadelphia on the 07th of October 1743 on board the ship "St. Andrew" and signed an oath. In 1744, the records of New Hanover Lutheran Church, Falkner Swamp, Berks County show that Johan Martin Saeh (sic) was in attendence and was the servant of Andreas Kebner. On the 06th of June 1756, Johan Martin Sea and his wife Elizabeth HESSLERIN are recorded as baptising their son Johannes See at the Zion (Moselum) Evangelical Lutheran Church, Richmond Township, Berks County, PA. John See, son of Martin of Rockingbridge, states his birth as the 06th of June 1755 in his Revolutionary War Pension. The coincidence of date and the close ness in the stated year is unlikely to be a coincidence, especially considering the numerous circumstancial evidence.
From research concerning the children of Martin See, it appears clear that Dolly, John, and Conrad are his children by Elizabeth Hesslerin. Not enough information is known of the other two children George and Mary to determine if they were children of Elizabeth or of Martin's second wife. The known children for Martin are as follows:


John See (1755-1837) of Montgomery County, Kentucky

John See left three important records that help us identify him. His Revolutionary War Pension, his will, and the recording of his residence as Kentucky in the probate of his father Martin Sea of Rockbridge. The most detailed record of John and his life is contained in the letters of petition for his Revolutionary War Pension which he filed on teh 01st of October 1832 in Montgomery County, Kentucky. The National Archives have mistakenly filed this petition under the name John "Lee"; however, tax records for Montgomery county of that time do not show a John Lee and local historians in Montgomery have recognized this petition as John "See" and in doing so have also posted a commmemorative plaque stating his war service at the County Court House in Mt. Sterling. Having read the application itself, I can clearly see that it is for John See; however, it is not unusual for the name to be transcribed as "Lee" due to the similarity in the cursive "L" and "S" of that time. In the pension John states his name, day of birth and place of birth, as I have discussed earlier in the Martin Sea section. Unfortunately, he does not name his parents or siblings. He does states that at age 13, he moved to Augusta County, Virginia and in 1782 volunteered for a term of nine months in teh Virginia Militia under Capt. Bucchannon and Col. Bowyare. John was present at the surrender of Cornwallis in 1782. John also states he moved to Kentucky about 1786 and lived near Lexington before settling in Montgomery County, Kentucky. Turning to Montgomery County tax records, we find John See living along Sycamore Creek on 150 acres which is identified as "second rate land". In 1830, John obtains a slave, but before that year there is no evidence of slave ownership.
John See wrote his will on teh 23rd of March 1837 and the will is proved in August Court of that same year. John names wife Polly, granddaughter Emily Howard, and lists his children. John's estae was divided on teh 22nd of March 1838 [ref: Order Book, A-1, pg. 152].


Joseph See (c1787-1852) of Kentucky, Indiana, & Missouri

There is not a great deal of family oral history concerning Joseph See, though there are many stories concerning his children. Some researchers have been skeptical about the identification of Joseph See of Monroe County, Indiana as the same man named in the will of John See of Montgomery County, Kentucky. I feel convinced that the evidence identifying Joseph's wife as Nancy Baty on the death certificate of Joseph See of San Luis Obispo; makes a very strong case for identifying Joseph of Monroe County and Joseph, son of John See as one man. The rarity of the See names also increases the likilihood of this connection, since the other See families found in Kentucky are related to a different family found in West Virginia.
Joseph See is named in several documents that help us identify him. First of all he is found in the tax lists of Montgomery County, Kentucky starting in 1813. Tax records do not indicate Joseph was terribly prosperous having been taxed upon 60 acres of "third rate land". In 1818, he and his wife are named in the will of Thamas Beatty who makes the following provision to, "my son in law, Joseph See is to continue in possession where he lives now and the ground he cultivated together with teh big Spring filed for the term of three years after my decease and thus to be given up to afore mentioned Persons" [ref: Montgomery Will Book B, pg. 255-8]. Joseph is also named in the will of his father in 1837, but tax records in Montgomery and land records in Indiana suggest that he had removed to Monroe County, Indiana by that time. The will doesn't state Joseph's residence and no additional probate records have been discovered to establish Joseph in Indiana at that time.
Indiana records for Joseph See are found in the Indiana Land Entires for the Vincennes District, Monroe County, Township 7N, Range 1W dated the 20th of June 1836 [ref: Margaret R. Waters, Vol. 2, Pt. 1 (1948)]. It should be noted that Joseph is listed in Waters' abstract as "Lee"; however, once again tax records and deeds are clear that this is probably Joseph See. The first deed for Joseph is dated 1848 for 80 acres in Township 8 of Monroe; he is listed as Joseph Sr. indicating his son was of age by then. The See family appear to have lived in the Perry Township of Monroe on a farm of 80 acres.
In 1847, Joseph See Sr. sells his property and his wife "Phoebe" signs her dower share away. The appearance of Phoebe, indicates that Nancy Baty had died and Joseph had remarried, though no marriage record has been found. Only a few of the marriage records for the See family are found in Monroe and this may indicate incomplete records or perhaps marriage pre-dating their arrival in Monroe County. Joseph See Sr. and most of his children sell their land in Monroe and head West. The 1850 Census ennumreates most of the family in Carroll County, MO; however on the 05th of May 1852, Joseph's will is probated in neighboring Livingstone Co., MO [ref: Estate Papers #2540]. Joseph's will clearly lists all his children and the estate papers of his son William who died about the same time helps to further identify positively that this is the same family. CLICK HERE FOR FAMILY GROUP SHEET.

Joseph See (1817-1905) of San Luis Obispo, California

Joseph See and his family left a colorful and often scandalous history as their legacy. A variety of stories within the family portray the Sees as rough mountain folk well remembered for their acts of murder, theft, and bootlegging. However the records left behind also so a pioneer family that established schools, joined the popular fraternal organizations of the day and were often leaders in their community. As a pioneer family in San Luis Obispo county, California they left numerous records concerning their lives and numerous photographs also survive. Joseph See the patriarch of the is family is the son of Joseph and Nancy (Beatty) See of Montgomery county, Kentucky. Joseph Jr. was born in Montgomery county. In the late 1820s early 1830s, Joseph's father headed to Indiana, where it is believed Joseph met and married Sarah Elizabeth O'Neal.

Nothing is known about the O'Neal family. A marriage bond for Joseph and Elizabeth is not found in Monroe county. Elizabeth See's obituary states that she died on her 64th Wedding Anniversary, setting the date of their marriage around the 8th of November 1836 [re: "SLO Tribune" 09 Nov 1900. Joseph See's brother, who married Elizabeth's sister Leah O'Neal, left record of their marriage in Monroe suggesting that the two brothers met the two sisters in that county; however, there is no record of an O'Neal family in either the tax lists or deeds of the county.

Monroe county, Indiana records find the Sees in that county in the 1830s and 1840s and this is where we first find Joseph and his wife Sarah Elizabeth O'Neal. Monroe County tax lists and deed book of the 1840s document the residency of Joseph See, his brother William and their father Joseph Sr. Tax records dating from 1841, record Joseph Sr. as a land holder in Perry Township with 80 acres valued at $196.00. The largest sized plot taxed in the area for one person is 160 acres. The tax list of 1841, records William See in Salt Creek with only a poll tax and Joseph See Jr. polled in Perry Township. Joseph See is listed again with 40 acres worth, $150.00 on Clear Creek. These small farms may represent improved land, since deeds suggest the men purchased and sold more than is ever found in the tax lists. In 1849, Joseph Jr. and his wife Elizabeth sell off 260 acres of land, liquidating their property for the move West along with their father and many of their siblings. The family moved to Carroll county, Missouri where they are enumerated by the 1850 Census. Both Joseph's father and his brother William die in Missouri leaving wills and documenting Joseph's presence in the area. Sometime between 1852 and 1857 Joseph move West with at least his brother John and his sister-in-law Leah O'Neal See; eventually to make their final journey West to California.

The obituary of Joseph's granddaughter Amanda Laird Washburn who died in 1926 provides an interesting footnote to the See family's journey West. The obituary recounts the wagon train trip and the fact that their train was the first to come upon the remains of the Mountain Meadow Massacre outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The Massacre had been staged by Mormons, who dressed as Indians, captured a wagon train of white settlers and murdered them. This was done in hopes of keeping emigrants out of the Mormon territory. Amanda had been born in Missouri [re: obit Elizabeth, MO] before the move West and would have had knowledge of the event. It is recorded that the wagon train behind the Meadows Massacre was enroute to San Bernardino, the first stop for the See family. Various sources suggest that Joseph may have emigrated in the same time year as the massacre, making this story plausible. Joseph's death certificate lists his length of residence in California as 48 years which would place his arrival in California in 1857 [note the Mountain Meadows Massacre dates Sept '57]. San Bernardino County deeds establish their arrival by December 1857 which corroborates Joseph's death certificate and fits with the story of the Mountain Meadow Massacre.

The first stop for the See family was San Bernardino County. By December of 1857 Joseph See, his brother John, and his widowed sister-in-law Leah O'Neal See arrived in San Bernardino County, California and had purchased land. There are three deeds in Joseph's name. The tax lists provide some information on Joseph's activities and wealth holding at this time. In 1858, Joseph is taxed upon 48 acres of farm land and four town lots. Joseph's land was worth $240.00 and the town lots were worth a total of $100.00. In addition to the land, Joseph owned $679.00 of personal property; probably cattle and horses, bringing Joseph's net worth in 1858 to $1194.00. Joseph purchased additional land on the 10th of March 1859 [re: DB D pg. 288]. The tax rolls of 1859 show Joseph with lots number 657 in section B.6 of San Bernardino valued at $130 acres, which indicates he probably sold some of the land. His personal property had increased to $935.00 in that year. The 1861 tax records clearly indicate that Joseph had left the county. Deeds of sale show that Joseph sold two parcels of land in 1858 and Joseph along with his wife Elizabeth sold land to ...