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Elizabeth Potts (Fitzhugh Birney (1803-1869)
Daughter of William F. and Ann (Hughes) Fitzhugh, wife of James G. Birney, II.
  • by Marvin Kusmierz (December 2011)
  • Elizabeth Potts Fitzhugh, daughter of William F. and Ann (Hughes) Fitzhugh, was born March 25, 1803, at Hampton on the Hudson, New York. She died on January 12, 1869, and is buried next to her husband, James G. Birney, II, in Williamsburg Cemetery, Groveland, New York.

    Elizabeth had two sisters; Rebecca and Ann C.; and seven brothers; William Hughes, James, Henry, Robert H. , Samuel H. and Daniel H, the latter a close friend of James G. Birney, whom Elizabeth married on March 25, 1841. Elizabeth was the second marriage for James.

    A year later, the newly weds left the comforts of New York, and head east to join the pioneer community of Lower Saginaw (Bay City). They arrived at East Saginaw where they resided in a hotel for several months, while suitable arrangement for a residence in Lower Saginaw were being established. James owned large tracts of land, and was a partner in the Saginaw Bay Company, that had laid out the village of Lower Saginaw several years earlier. James was kept busy with these interests, while Elizabeth cared for their two children, a son name Fitzhugh and daughter names Anna. She also spent much time in helping to promote the establishment of a church, which became the Trinity Episcopal church. The Birney's were without a doubt, the most renowned family of the pioneer community.

    When James came to Lower Saginaw, he was a well known national figure. For many years he was a prominent leader the te anti-slavery move, and was a key figure in organizing the abolitionist Liberty Party. In 1840, he was chosen by the party as its first Presidential candidate, and in 1844, while residing at Lower Saginaw was again chosen by the party. Elizabeth spent much time alone rising the her young children while James was off on the campaign trail. 2843 was an especially difficult year for both, their youngest child, Anna, died, only two years and two months old. That year, James fell off his horse and was injured, from which he would never recover.

    By 1853, James declining health lead him into heading East to Eagleswood, N.J. , where he hope he might get better medical care and a successful treat of his ailment. He never returned to Bay City, succumbing from his condition, he died in November, 1857. These were very difficult times for Elizabeth, and some relief came from her step-son, James, the eldest son, James G., he moved his family to Lower Saginaw from Connecticut to assist Elizabeth in handling her husband's estate. A few years later, Elizabeth a wealthy widow, returned to New York, where she disposed of a large portion of her money to various needy causes.

    The following written history related to Elizabeth, attests to her benevolent nature:

    Historical Collections, by Michigan Pioneer & Historical Society, 1886.

    BAY COUNTY.

    “TRINITY PARISH, BAY CITY”
    By Reverend A. A. Butler, Rector.

    Page 257.
    When the late James G. Birney removed to Lower Saginaw, his amiable wife (whose memory is so kindly cherished by all the old settlers) took great interest in the propagation of fruits; the rich soil and genial climate soon caused a response to her efforts, and the result was an abundance of fruit in a comparatively short period after planting, which was kindly divided among those who were destitute of the luxury, till it was observed that they made no effort to produce it for themselves, when the distribution was very properly discontinued.

    Page 308 (Ref. Rev. Daniel E. Browne).
    On March 3, A. D., 1843, in the village of Lower Saginaw, as Bay City was then called, in the comfortable log house of Mr. and Mrs. James G. Birney, she being a communicant of the church, he baptized their infant son Fitzhugh. This was the first known administration of the sacrament of holy baptism in the village.

    Page 309.
    Not infrequently the sick died without the consolations of religion, and were buried without the prayers of the church. It was during this interval that a communicant of the church, Mrs. James G. Birney, out of pity for the spiritually neglected children, established the first Sunday school. It sessions were held in a small brown school-house, the only public building in the settlement.

    Page 314.
    The first two communicants of the church in Lower Saginaw, Mrs. Elizabeth Birney and Mrs. Ann Fitzhugh, removed from the village before the parish organized.

    Page 316 (Ref. Rev. Wright).
    Again he warmly urges planning and giving for the new church, “that all efforts may end in a work that shall be permanent;” and is thankful to record a legacy to the parish of two thousand dollars, from one of its earliest communicants, Mrs. Elizabeth Birney, and also the gift of three building lots from her daughter, to be devoted to the erection of a stone church.

    The New York Times – February 7, 1869

    Bequests by the Widow of Gen. James G. Birney.

    From the Rochester Chronicle, Feb. 5.

    The following are among the bequests made in the will of MRS. ELIZABETH P. BIRNEY, of Geneva, deceased widow of JAMES G. BIRNEY: To the Rochester Orphan Asylum, $1,000; to FREDERICK DOUGLAS, S. D. PORTER and T. C. MONTGOMERY, trustees, $1,000 for the education of the colored children in Rochester; to JOHN A. NEEDLES, of Baltimore, trustee, $2,000 for the education of the colored children in that city; to ELIZABETH BLACKWELL and others, of New York, trustees, $2,000 for the Women's Hospital of that city; to the American Bible Society, $2,000; to the Episcoplal Church (Trinity) in Bay City, Mich., $2,000; to HARRIET TUBMAN (A colored woman now living in Auburn, N.Y.), “the Moses of her people, whom she has delivered from American slavery by hundreds,” a life annuity of $50. The legacies are payable three years after MRS. BIRNEY'S decease.

    Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories, by Jean M. Humez. - 2003.

    Page 309.
    I have just answered a letter from Caroline. She wanted to know how Harriet Tubman's $50 from Mrs. Birney, now ready, should be sent – Perhaps Harriet had a revolution – I meant to say Revelation, for she came & solved my doubts, saying she was told it was given for her present use, to make her & her parents comfortable & she wanted it sent to me. -- Her garden had failed, by the west season & the masons turning water on it & they were in need of supplies – (Martha Coffin Wright to Ellen Wright Garrison, October 20, 1869.)

    Additional Notes.

      1850 - Census: Hampton Twp., Saginaw, Mich.

    • Birney, James G. - b. 1792, Kentucky.
    • Elizabeth P., wife - b. 1803, New York.
    • Florence, daughter - b. 1835, Kentucky.
    • Fitzhugh, son - b. 1842, Mich.
    Birney Family Menu

    Elizabeth P. (Fitzhugh) Birney

    Family Genealogy
    Family Pictorial
    1893 KY Newspaper Articles
    * {1948 Saginaw News (pdf)}
    First family:
    Agatha (McDowell), spouse
    James Birney, 1st child
    William Birney, 2nd child
    David Bell Birney, 5th child
    James G. Birney IV, grandson
    Second family:
    Elizabeth (Fitzhugh), spouse
    Fitzhugh Birney, 1st child
    Names Referenced
    Birney, Anna (dau)
    Birney, James G. (husband)
    Birney, Fitzhugh (son)
    Blackwell, Elizabeth (s-dau)
    Browne, Daniel E. Rev.
    Butler, A. A. Rev.
    Douglas, Frederick
    Fitzhugh, Ann C. (sis)
    Fitzhugh, Daniel H. (bro)
    Fitzhugh, Elizabeth P. (subject)
    Fitzhugh, Henry (bro)
    Fitzhugh, James (bro)
    Fitzhugh, Rebecca (sis)
    Fitzhugh, Robert H. (bro)
    Fitzhugh, Samuel (bro)
    Fitzhugh, Wm. F. (father)
    Fitzhugh, Wm. H. (bro)
    Garrison, Ellen Wright
    Huges, Anna (mother)
    Mongomery, T.C.
    Needles, John A.
    Portor, S.D.
    Tubman, Harriet
    Wright, Martha Coffin
    Subjects Referenced
    Auburn, NY
    Baltimore, MD
    Bay City, MI
    Eagleswood, NJ
    East Saginaw, MI
    Connecticut
    Groveland, NY
    Hampton on Hudson, NY
    Liberty Party
    Lower Saginaw, MI
    Rochester, NY
    Rochester Orphan Asylum
    Saginaw Bay Company
    Trinity Episcopal Church
    Williamsburg Cem., NY

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