Winston Churchill’s Upstate New York Ancestors (History)

By Daniel T. Weaver

Sir Winston Churchill’s maternal grandfather, Leonard Jerome, studied law for three years with Marcus T. Reynolds, an attorney born in Minaville, NY. Reynolds, a Union College graduate, was the first person to practice law in Amsterdam before moving to Albany where he became one of New York State’s top attorneys. Before studying law with Reynolds, Churchill’s grandfather attended Union College in Schenectady, graduating in 1839.

Sir_Winston_S_Churchill
Copyright. United Nations Information Office, New York – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division.

Winston Churchill’s mother was an American and he cherished his American heritage. Churchill’s maternal ancestors, although originally from New England, settled in upstate New York, after the American Revolution. One of his great-great grandfathers on his mother’s side was Aaron Jerome. Jerome was born in Wallingford, New Haven, CT on December 4, 1764. He died on April 4, 1802 in Pompey, NY, a town southeast of Syracuse in Onondaga County, where he is buried.

In between his birth and death, however, he bought land and settled in the Town of Charlton. Charlton in Saratoga County is often confused with Charleston in Montgomery County. Charlton is the first town a motorist enters on Route 67 after leaving the Town of Amsterdam, a few miles east of the City of Amsterdam.

Aaron Jerome married Elizabeth “Betsy” Ball, allegedly a cousin of George Washington, and their son, Isaac, one of Churchill’s great-grandfathers was born in Charlton. Betsy’s father, Lebbeus Ball, (another of Winston Churchill’s great-great-grandfathers) served as a captain in the Revolutionary War in Col. Timothy Danielson’s Massachusetts Regiment. He was wounded and later promoted to Major, retiring in June 1782. He moved to Charlton after the war and owned a farm on Division Street. He died around 1806 and is buried in the Sweet Cemetery in Pompey. Both the Ball and Jerome families, related by marriage, show up in Pompey in the 1800 census. According to former Charlton historian, Frank J. Lafforthun, Lebbeus sold his farm to Peter Lockwood in 1797. That might be an indication of the date the Balls and Jeromes moved to Pompey.

An indenture (mortgage document), owned by a friend of mine, shows that Aaron Jerome along with James Callen took out a mortgage on land in Charlton from Daniel Campbell of Schenectady on September 12, 1785. I have not been able yet to pinpoint where Aaron Jerome lived. A later indenture in 1814 is between the descendants of Campbell and Callen. Since Jerome’s descendants are not part of the second indenture, it suggests that at some point Jerome probably sold his share of the land to Callen before moving to Pompey.

During the War of 1812, Issac Jerome, Churchill’s great-grandfather, was a Lieutenant of Grenadiers in the 98th Regiment of the Onondaga County Militia. He became a Captain in 1816. In 1807, he married Aurora Murray. Aurora Murray, one of two Churchill maternal great-grandmothers was born in Chatham in Columbia County. Their son Leonard was born in 1817 in Pompey.

After studying law with Marcus T. Reynolds, Leonard moved to Palmyra, NY, where he married Clarissa Hall. It was Leonard and Clarissa’s daughter, Jennie Jerome, known later as Lady Randolph Churchill, who was Winston Churchill’s mother. Family lore says Churchill’s grandmother Clarissa was part Iroquois, but that is disputed by historians and biographers. Leonard and one of his brothers founded the Rochester Daily-American, the forerunner of today’s Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.

In 1850 Leonard moved to NYC where he became a financier and owned a large portion of the NY Times. He was one of the founders of the American Jockey Club with August Belmont and William Travers, and built Jerome Park racetrack in the Bronx. His interest in horse racing brought him often to Saratoga. According to NYRA, in 1863 John Morrisey “enlisted his friends John R. Hunter, William Travers and Leonard Jerome to form the Saratoga Association. Its first responsibility was the construction of a new, permanent grandstand on the current site of Saratoga Race Course.”

Churchill had hoped to visit upstate NY. Unfortunately, he was never able to. When the Pompey Presbyterian Church burned in 1946, one of his American cousins asked Churchill for a donation to rebuild the church. British law didn’t allow him to send a monetary donation. Instead, he sent 12 signed photos of himself which the church sold to help raise funds. While Churchill never made it to upstate New York, his daughter, Sarah did. Sarah, an actress, performed in S. N. Berhman’s “No Time for Comedy” in July 1955 in Fayetteville, near Syracuse. Numerous shirttail cousins of Winston Churchill still live in Onondaga County.

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An earlier version of this article appeared in the Recorder when owned by Mcleary Media LLC.

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