The Skinner Family
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Lewis Bailey Skinner and Olive Ann Webb
  This web site covers the ancestors and descendents of Lewis Bailey Skinner and his wife Olive Ann Webb. Both the Skinner and Webb families were colonial pioneers, arriving as immigrants in the United States long before the American Revolution. Since the Skinners and Webbs lived through the birth of American democracy, both families are rich with historical figures, land speculators, colonial settlers, entrepreneurs, industrialists and pioneer stories. Learning about both of these families has been an incredible journey of discovery. Living in New England, where both of these families began, has allowed us to visit houses, historical artifacts, and gravesites to experience first hand the history of the Skinner and Webb families. This web site is the culmination of that wonderful experience. Since both the Webbs and Skinners were pioneers, learning about these incredible familes allows you to witness the birth of a nation.

August 23, 1898: Wedding day for Lewis Bailey and Olive Ann in Anaconda, Montana. From left to right: William Bradley Webb (father of Olive Ann), Olive Ann Webb, Lewis Bailey Skinner, Elizabeth Spier Webb (mother of Olive Ann). Lewis Bailey Skinner worked for the Anaconda Mining Company in the late 1890s and Olive Ann Webb's father was in Anaconda on one of his many entreprenurial adventures.

Two Very Different Families
  The Skinner and Webb families come from two very different backgrounds in England and those backgrounds have a significant impact on the development of the two families in America. Thomas Skinner, the original Skinner immigrant was hardly a wealthy man--he in fact died poor. On the other hand, the Webb family ancestors were wealthy--many of them are Knights in the court of British royalty, including Henry VIII. The aristocratic history of the Webb family will have a profound impact on the immigrants and subsequent Webb descendants.

Be Sure to...
  To get the most out of the web site, there are three things to keep in mind. 1) Both the Skinner and Webb portions of the site are told as stories, in chronological order, so it's important to follow the links on each site in order. 2) It's difficult to remember who descended from who. On both the Webb and Skinner sections of this site is a link called "Cheat Sheet", which is a bare-bones list of the direct ancestors of the Skinners and Webbs. 3) Much of the migration and growth of both families is intertwined with the growth of the American colonies and their expansion. To understand many of the terms used in the web site, it's important to read the explanations of colonial land grants below before you start in on the Skinner or Webb stories. Understanding 'how things worked' is critical to understanding the stories of these two exceptional families.

Colonial Advancement--The Move West
  Most of us think of California when we hear the phrase 'Go West, Young Man'. But in the 1600's, 'going west' might mean a few miles up the road from one of the established New England colonies. In the late 1700s, by the time of the Declaration of Independence, nearly all the people in America still lived east of the Adirondac Mountains. In the mid 1600s, the 'frontier' was really nothing more than the land that lay just outside the colonies. In the 1600s, current Boston suburbs like Roxbury, Worcester, Charlestown, and Malden were the 'frontier'. Both the British and the colonial settlers had an intrinsic desire to move outward, to establish new settlements. The British promoted growth and movement because it meant a larger market for British goods and settlements tended to stabilized and organize the frontier. The colonists were eager to 'move west' because it meant cheap land, greater freedom, control over one's destiny and a path to greater prosperity. To promote the mutual desire for movement and growth, the British used a system of land grants.

Land Grants
  Land for new settlement was made available by British authorities through a structured, multi-step process that ended in a land grant. The process started with a group of citizens, typically in the same town, agreeing that they all wanted to establish a new settlement. This group of citizens (typically around 30 men--women usually stayed behind until land was cleared and houses were built) would petition the British authorities for land at a specific location. Initial approval would mean a survey would need to be completed. Upon completion of the survey, the process would continue until ultimately, a portion of land was granted. The grants were large--Royalton, Vermont, where many Skinners ended up, was a land grant of 30,000 acres. Land grants were often referred to as 'plantations'. The fact the land grants were given to a group of citizens of the same town explains the many New England towns with 'New' as part of the town name. In our town, Durham, a group of residents started a new settlement, New Durham, which eventually became the present town of New Durham, NH.

Strings Attached
  To ensure the formation of settlements and to discourage land speculation with no settlement, grants usually came with a number of requirements. Each requirement came with a time limit. If the specifics of the land grant were not met in the specified time, the authorities had the right to revoke the grant. The requirements included minimum numbers of dwellings and families, establishment of a church, meeting hall, school, and at least one minister. To ensure land was available for the construction of the buildings specified in the grant, the initial land survey required land be set aside--these set asides were called 'rights'.

  In Vermont. five property 'rights' were required for settlements. 1) The 'college right', a school (college may have had a different context than it does now) 2) The 'grammar school right' for construction of a grammar school. 3) The 'first minister's right', land for the first minister recruited for the settlement 4) The 'gospel right' for construction of the first church (which was usually called a meeting place and was used for civic functions as well) 5) The 'town school right'. Each 'right', or set aside, was 300 acres.

  The concept of proprietors is important, especially to the stories of the Skinners and the Webbs. Proprietors were the initial group of people who petitioned British authorities for a land grant. If the grant was allowed, the proprietors became the initial governing infrastructure for the town. The 'proprietors committee' decided the initial allocations of land for each proprietor based on the land survey. They also made decisions concerning the sale and purchase of land, disputes over boundaries, assignment of committee members for specific projects, and collection of 'subscriptions'--an early form of taxes--that were collected to build infrastructure. Proprietors controlled the formation of the new settlement. It is easy to see how New England's system of town meetings and 'selectmen' evolved from proprietors committees. Proprietors, in addition to the advantage in governing the new settlement, had a tremendous financial advantage: They were able to buy the initial allocations of land in the grant for very low prices.

Cheap Land
  Land grants were relatively inexpensive and covered large amounts of property. As an example, the land grant of 30,000 acres that established Royalton, Vermont, cost 100 pounds, paid to Benning Wentworth, British Governor of New Hampshire. A similar grant from the British Governor of New York may have cost 1000 pounds. It is important to point out the "New Hampshire" and "New York" in colonial times had far different meanings than they do now. "New Hampshire" included what is now New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and parts of Connecticut. Boundaries were vague since most of the land was not settled, surveyed, or in many cases even visited by the colonists. Adding to the confusion, there were sometimes arguments between the British Governors over who had jurisdiction over land parcels. Vermont was an independent republic until 1791 largely due to a historical argument over overlapping land grants made by the British Governor of New York and the British Governor of New Hampshire, who both claimed jurisdiction over the same land. In any case, being a proprietor meant very cheap land in a new settlement.

Settlers vs. Speculators
  Given the financial advantages of becoming a proprietor in a new settlement, the system was ripe for land speculators who would obtain a land grant and never even set foot on the land--they would simply try to resell the land at a higher price. Settlers, on the other hand, wanted to clear the land, build a homestead and establish a community. Settlers generally despised speculators and it's easy to understand why--settlers worked hard to establish a new community and often faced great danger and hardship. Speculators simply sat back and made money. To complicate things a bit, some settlers were also speculators. In this case the 'speculator' was part of the community and if they used some of the profits to advance the community, they were actually highly regarded in the community. The story of the Skinners, includes one such settler, Zebulon Lyon.

  As you read the stories of the Skinners and Webbs, it's easy to forget the difficulties early American settlers faced. I have not attempted to include some of the more dismal aspects of colonial settlement and it is interesting the most of the stories from the settlers themselves are upbeat and optimistic. But I think it's important to realize that our settler ancestors paid a very high price in their endeavors. It's a price we will never fully understand. Yet, in a sense, they did it all for us, their descendents. Their goal truly was life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"Massachusetts soon became like a hive overstocked with bees, and many thought of swarming into new plantations"--Cotton Mather

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(c) Jerry Gottsacker, 2006