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Levi (Lamphere) Sherman, the hermit of Moravia

Sometimes researching family history is like a roller coaster. It is exciting to find out you're related to a famous person and gratifying to find ancestors who were upstanding citizens who contributed to society in some way, but what about when you uncover a family secret or an ancestor or relative who did something shameful?


When we venture into the family forest we should make sure we're ready to accept whatever we may find. We should remember our goal is to learn about our family's history and the fact is we can also learn from both their successes and their failures. Actually, it's probably easier to learn from people's failures than it is to learn the secrets of people's success.


Yes, shameful deeds put a stain on the family record, but there is a positive side. The fact that these records exist is an important lesson for us all, especially for those with children. Remembering that your deeds will be recorded in newspapers, court records, people's journals, or elsewhere, might help influence people to make better decisions.


After a story hits the newspapers, all your peers, neighbors, and family discover what you've done, and your name is tarnished forever. A hundred years from now your great-grandchildren might want to learn about you and search old newspapers and what would you like them to find? That you were abusive, criminal, or even a murderer? Also, knowing the shame or stigma the family suffers should also be strong motivation to resist the temptation to do shameful deeds, too. It makes the decision process simpler: If you'd be ashamed for people to read about it in the newspaper, don't do it!


I have been working on adding more documents and sources to the people in my tree and I was searching newspapers at fultonhistory.com when I stumbled upon a story about Levi Sherman, with the headline "Assault With Deadly Weapon - Such is the Charge Against Levi Sherman After Shooting a Woman". I had been researching another branch of my family from the same area, but this story jumped out at me because my 4th great-grandfather was named Levi Sherman and he also lived in the same area.


My ancestor, Levi Sherman, was the grandfather of Cora (Sherman) Leonard. Cora married Lewis Leonard, son of Charles Russell Leonard. Cora's father was James Sherman. I remember there was another Levi Sherman with a son named James in nearby Wayne County, mentioned in my previous blog, but this incident was in Cayuga County so it wasn't this other Levi Sherman. I also already found a story about Levi's daughter, Dora Sherman, who pistol-whipped a man in 1874, for not paying the rent he owed her, and she also stabbed a man with a pitchfork in 1878. Based on this pattern of aggression, I was pretty sure there was a connection, so I continued reading and found more articles about the incident, all shown below.


The story, in short, is that Levi Sherman lived "in the woods" near Venice, New York. He had a girlfriend, Minnie Cogsdill, a married woman who had apparently separated from her husband. In November of 1907, Minnie left Levi and went to her friend Mrs. Pearl Wallace's home in Venice. Levi showed up and asked to speak with her and they went outside to talk. He asked her to marry him while brandishing his gun and she agreed, fearing he would kill her. She then said she had to go inside to get her cloak and he objected, saying she had plenty of cloaks at home. When she protested, he slapped her in the face. Then, giving up the charade, she told him she would not marry him and went back in to the Wallace home. A few minutes later, Levi appeared at the front door and began shooting at the occupants inside. Mrs. Wallace was the only one shot, receiving only a grazing, and when he ran out of bullets, he was chased away. Police found him later in a cornfield and although his gun was fully reloaded, he did not resist and was taken into custody. He was taken to prison and soon after committed to Willard Asylum in Ovid, New York. He escaped in November of 1908 but was captured after locals spotted him in Moravia.


What made me realize this wasn't my ancestor, Levi Sherman, was that mine died in 1898, nine years before this incident. Also, my ancestor would have been near 90 years old if he were alive in 1907 and Minnie was only 31. I looked among Levi's children's names and found no mention of a son named Levi, so who was this "Levi Sherman", hermit of Moravia? For this answer, I looked to the census and on the 1875 New York State Census, I found the following:

Here we find Levi N. Lamphere (or Lamphier) living in the home of my 4th great-grandfather, Levi Sherman, who was 63 years old at the time. Mary Lamphere, age 28, was listed as Sherman's housekeeper and it appears her two sons were in the home: Daniel Webster Lamphere, age 6, and Levi N. Lamphere, age 2 years 4 months. So Levi Lamphere (later called Levi N. Sherman) was born in January or February of 1873.


Looking back on the 1870 census, we see Mary and Daniel were already in Levi Sherman's home, along with two of Levi's sons, so it is possible that Levi N. Lamphere was actually a son of Levi Sherman. Oddly enough, on the 1880 census, Mary was listed as Levi Sherman's wife. According to that census, he was 48 years her elder.

Levi N. Lamphere would have been 7 years old in 1880, but I was unable to find him on that census. The next records I found him on was the 1892 New York State Census, when he was 19 years old, a laborer. His name was written "Levi N. Sherman".

Following are the news articles containing the story of the shooting.





So, now we know who Levi Sherman, the eccentric hermit of Moravia was. Whether or not he had any children is unknown, but it appears he was freed by 1914 and it didn't take long for him to find someone willing to marry him. On November 17, 1914, Levi N. Sherman married Manervia Maxson (Manervia Lillie) in Sempronius. (NY Marriage Cert. 25174). Hopefully she wasn't coerced by his gun!


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