Thursday, July 21, 2011

Victory Birdseye (1782-1853), Victory Phelps Collier (1820-1898), Victory Clark Beers (1832-1920)

Portrait from the Re-Union of the Sons and Daughters of Old Pompey, 1875.

   Curiously named U.S. Representative Victory Birdseye is profiled today, and in addition to his terms in Congress held seats in both houses of the New York legislature and served as District Attorney and Master in Chancery of Onondaga County, New York.  A New Englander by birth, Victory Birdseye was born in Cornwall, Connecticut on Christmas Day, 1782, being the eldest son of Ebenezer and Eunice (Tomlinson) Birdseye. The unusual name "Victory" stems from a distant relative of Birdseye who had been born towards the end of the French and Indian War in 1759. The future congressman's parents decided to pass on that name to their first born child, with the 1875 history of the town of Pompey noting that:
"Such a name, so given, became so dear to the family, that when at the successful close of another great warthe first child of a new generation was born to them, it was, as a matter of course, given to him."
   Young Victory's education took place at a grammar school in Cornwall as well as Lansingburgh, New York. He would enroll at the Williams College in Massachusetts in 1800 and graduated in the class of 1804. Deciding upon a career in law, Birdseye returned to Lansingburgh to study under his uncle Gideon Tomlinson and in 1807 was admitted to the New York bar. In June of that year, he removed to Pompey, New York, where he would reside for the remainder of his life. Establishing a law practice in that town, Birdseye married to Electa Beebee (1793-1860) in October 1813 and they later became the parents of twelve children: Victory James (1814-1898), Ellen, Ebenezer, Emma Rawson, Lucien, Henry Clay, John Clarence, Albert Franklin, Charlotte Amelia, Horatio, Julia Catherine, and Eunice Electa.
   Within a year of his resettlement in Pompey Victory Birdseye had made his first move into local political life, being named as a Justice of the Peace. After a four year stint in that office he was named as a Commissioner in Insolvency, and six years later was appointed as U.S. Postmaster at Pompey. Birdseye would serve in that capacity for nearly 21 years, and while still serving as postmaster was elected to the posts of Master of Chancery for Onondaga County (serving from 1818-22) and Onondaga County District Attorney (serving from 1818-1833). 
  Birdseye reached his highest degree of political prominence early in his Pompey residency, being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1814. His term extended from 1815-1817 and following his return to Pompey served as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821. Following this, Birdseye continued to be a prominent figure in state politics, winning election to the New York state assembly in 1823, 1838 and 1840 and held a seat in the New York state senate from 1827-1828. Birdseye was returned to the U.S. House of Representatives for a second term in 1840 (this time as a Whig), and during the 1841-43 session served on the committees on Private Land Claims and Expenditures in the War Department
   Birdseye resumed his law practice in Pompey following his second term in Congress and for many years was affiliated with the Pompey Academy, serving on its Board of Trustees. He died at age 70 on September 16, 1853, and was subsequently interred at the Pompey Hill Cemetery. The obituary for Birdseye shown below appeared in the September 29, 1853 edition of the Oswego Daily Journal.

   In some interesting side notes to his life, Victory Birdseye served as the special counsel to conduct the prosecution in the trial of those who had allegedly abducted and killed William Morgan, a New York mason who had planned to expose that organization's secrets. Morgan's disappearance brought about powerful anti-masonic sentiment in the U.S., and also sparked the formation of the Anti-Masonic Party. Victory Birdseye was also the great-grandfather of one Clarence Frank Birdseye (1886-1956), the man who developed the modern frozen food process. Most everyone is familiar with the brand name, but in case you aren't, here's what you see when you buy a frozen bag of peas or carrots!

   On September 11, 2016 (five years after the above article was published), I was lucky enough to be vacationing near Pompey, New York and decided to seek out the resting place of this obscure congressman at the Pompey Hill Cemetery. With the aid of a GPS, the drive to Pompey went quickly and in short order, I located the Birdseye family plot. Besides being one of the most picturesque cemeteries you'll ever visit, Pompey Hill is home to the grave sites of Victory, his wife Electa and each of their twelve children. And now some photos from the trip!

The Birdseye family plot.

"V.B.", Victory Birdseye's burial marker.

Portrait from the History of the University of Michigan, 1905.

   Victory Phelps Collier was a native New Yorker who would go on to hold numerous political offices in Michigan. Born in Victor, Ontario County, New York on April 25, 1819, Victory P. Collier was the son of Stephen and Abigail Phelps CollierVolume II of the History of Calhoun County, Michigan: a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principal interests makes special note of Collier's first name. It is mentioned that a special "prescience" inspired Collier's parents to "bestow upon him the cognomen of Victory, for his subsequent career was one long series of victories". 
   Collier attended the common schools of Victor as a child and later removed with his family to Michigan in September 1835. After a long trek that was not without hardship, the Collier family reached their destination, and during his youth, Collier resided in both Battle Creek and Johnstown. Early in his Michigan residency Collier "worked in the woods" and ruing his late adolescence began teaching school during the winter months. In 1842 he made his first move into the political life of Michigan when he was elected as Sheriff of Barry County, being just 23 years of age at the time of his election. He served in that capacity for one term and also held the post of school inspector and town clerk in Johnstown.
   In 1847 Victory Collier left Johnstown and removed to Battle Creek, where for the next two decades he engaged in the mercantile business. He began as a salesman in the employ of H. Marsh and Company and later was a partner in the firm of Collier and Coy (later to change its title to Collier and Wallace). He retired from that business in 1858 and for a number of years afterward followed the hardware trade. He had married in Battle Creek in 1849 to Minerva Pew, to whom he was wed until her death in 1861.  Five children were born to their union, and several years following his wife's death remarried to Mary Fitzgerald, with whom he had one child.
   Having become a leading merchant in the Battle Creek, Michigan area, Collier reentered political life in 1864 when he was elected to the Michigan State Senate from Calhoun County. He won reelection in 1866 and during his two terms chaired the Senate committee on finance. Collier continued his political ascent in 1871 when he successfully ran for Michigan State Treasurer, and would subsequently hold that post for two terms (1871-75). 1875 proved to be a busy year for Collier, as he was elected as the Mayor of Battle Creek shortly after completing his second term as state treasurer. Also in that year, President Grant appointed him as U.S. Minister to the Netherlands, but Collier declined that diplomatic post. Similar actions occurred when Collier was offered the posts of U.S. Consul at Frankfurt, Germany and Assistant Secretary of the Interior in Grant's cabinet.
   Further honors were accorded to Victory P. Collier in 1876 when he was named as United States Centennial Commissioner at the exposition in Philadelphia, helping to represent the state of Michigan. In the latter period of his life, Collier served as a regent of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and also held the presidency of the First National Bank of Battle Creek, serving in the latter post for over two decades. 
   Victory Phelps Collier died at age 78 on June 28, 1898, and was predeceased by his second wife Mary, who had died in May 1897. Both were interred at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Portrait from the Men of Progress of the State of Connecticut, 1898.
     Connecticut state legislator Victory Clark Beers was born September 25, 1832, in Cornwall, Connecticut, coincidentally enough, the same birthplace as Victory Birdseye. The son of Curtis and Alice Curtis Beers, Victory C. Beers attended school in the town of his birth and for the majority of his life engaged in farming in Cornwall. He married in 1862 to Sarah C. Harrison (1840-1915), with whom he had two sons, George (1866-1931) and Ralph (1878-1961).
   Little else is known of Beers' life, other than the fact he served in the Connecticut State Senate from 1870-1871, and the State Assembly from 1884-1885, being a member of the committee on Military Affairs in the last named office. He is also listed as serving as the town treasurer of Cornwall for fifteen years, 1880-1895. An exact date of death for Victory Beers originally couldn't be located, but few days after this article was written the death year of 1920 for a Victory C. Beers via the website, making him either 87 or 88 at the time of his passing.


  1. Victory Birdseye had a role in the rescue of Solomon Northup, a kidnapped New York resident who was sold into slavery in 1841. See my post at my History Winks blog:

    1. David, I am the Great-great-great-great granddaughter of Victory Birdseye. Thanks for including this information, as I had not heard this before. Wonderful to hear of his part in helping free men and freed slaves.

    2. Wow. This is really neat. My name is Victory Barbier

  2. My 4-year-old daughter is the great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of this particular Victory Birdseye. She just asked me if there were any other people with her name so I Googled her just to be sure and came across this page. Thanks for the research! We knew much of this info but not all of it.