|Nathan and Polly Teall’s gravestone|
in Geneva’s Washington Street Cemetery.
Photo courtesy of Mark Gossoo.
Elmira City Historian
According to legend, Captain Nathan Teall came to Newtown (now Elmira) around 1794 and opened Teall’s Tavern on Sullivan Street near East Water. One of the frequent guests was State Assemblyman Judge Emmanuel Coryell who lived somewhere between Athens and Owego. At the time Judge Coryell was head of a committee to change the name of Newtown as there were several other Newtowns in the state.
According to the Star Gazette on June 27, 1939, “One night in 1806 little Elmira Teall, Nathan’s youngest daughter climbed into his [Coryell’s] lap and went to sleep. Noticing her beauty, Judge Coryell thought it matched the beauty of the surrounding country and later according to the story asked for the Board of Trustees to change the name of Newtown to Elmira. The name Elmira is said to come from Spanish words of Moorish origin ‘El Mira’ meaning beautiful outlook.’ Wellington’s troops took the name back to England from their Spanish campaigns, and eventually it became the name of a character in a book. It is surmised that Mrs. Teall had read the book and named her youngest child after that character.”
But who was Elmira Teall, and what’s her story? I had to do some detective work.
The Tealls lived in Elmira until around 1805 when they moved to Horseheads with their five daughters and four sons. Shortly thereafter they moved to Watkins Glen. The Tealls operated a tavern at the foot of Seneca Lake near today’s Harbor Hotel. It was a popular spot for tourists who traveled around Seneca Lake. Visitors stopped at Teall’s Tavern for “a glass of their favorite wine or one of those ‘slings’ fashionable at the time.” The October 30, 1894 Geneva Advertiser described Nathan Teall as a “jovial landlord with a hearty welcome to greet the coming guest, and just as cheery a goodbye to speed the departing guest. Mrs. Polly Teall was a model landlady.”
The Teall family left Watkins Glen for the Widner farm in Waterloo, New York in 1810.
So, then I started a genealogy of Elmira Teall. According to the Chemung County Historical Society, they believe Elmira was Phoebe Elmira Teall who became Phoebe Madden, wife of John Madden. But, I’m not so sure this is correct.
The Star Gazette article mentioned above says “youngest daughter.” My research shows that Nathan and Polly had three daughters before the Newtown name change meeting. Elmira was born on December 20, 1795, Phoebe was born on June 24, 1797, and Sarah E. was born November 10, 1799. These three birth dates are important because according to their brother, Horace Nathan Teall, in a published letter to the Geneva Advertiser on April 18, 1881, he stated that his father “from 1792 bought several lots from Moses DeWitt in Dewittsburg, afterwards called Newtown, and later Elmira. The latter name was for my sister, started by Mathew Carpenter, and other friends of the family at Nathan Teall’s Inn on said farm, at a meeting held there called for the purpose of changing the name of Newtown to some other name. They had met there several times but could not agree. As my sister, then about 4 years old, and a great favorite of all (both whites and Indians) went running into the room, she was caught up and held up, and her name rang out ELMIRA, amid the cheers and clapping of hands; that decided the name of the town.”
Brother Horace claimed this was 1800 (the Star-Gazette says 1806) as he had his father’s letter when Mr. Carpenter appointed Nathan to public office shortly after the Elmira name decision. So, the first daughter Elmira would have been around 5 years old, Phoebe would have been around 3 years old, and Sarah, theoretically, would have been too young for this legend if Horace were correct. So, now I narrow it down to these two older sisters.
As a genealogist, I can make several possible surmises on what happened to Elmira Teall.
According to the family tree I made, she was born in the Western Reserve, Connecticut in 1795 – this was actually a piece of northeastern Ohio that had been claimed by Connecticut, and called Connecticut. From there, I find no trail between this Elmira and the rest of the family. Many of the Teall family is buried in the Washington Street Cemetery in Geneva, but not Elmira Teall, nor anybody named Elmira.
Could Elmira have possibly died between 1795 and 1797, and the family named the next daughter Phoebe Elmira as was a popular custom. Or, did she live and just was not mentioned again, and if not, why not. I did not find a maiden aunt living with any of the Teall nieces or nephews in New York State censuses from 1730-1750. The closest possibility I found was an Elmira Lamphere who was born in 1795 in Connecticut, and lived in Waterloo, New York at the same time as the Tealls, but I did not find any connection to the Teall family. I did not find this Elmira’s husband or burial either.
I found six women named Elmira who were born in, or around, 1795 in Connecticut, or New York, none of which seem to fit.
After I finished my version of the Teall family tree, I found and corresponded with a woman who is in the current generation of the Teall family. The family tree she created on Ancestry.com is similar to mine – with sisters Elmira and Phoebe being two separate people. Her birth dates on these two sisters were slightly different from mine. She also has no further listings of either sister after their births.
Someday, I may have an updated story to tell about Elmira Teall, but until then I consider her a mystery.
Teall Family Tree http://tinyurl.com/pnnjgup