Elizabeth Bullis – Herstory

Up until recently, I had very little on Elizabeth Bullis. The census is all I have found to provide a window of birth between 1821 and 1823 in the state of New York. Her marriage to Julian DeJean is recorded in a Rock County index (transcribed) as 22 October 1846 at Janesville. Their first son, George, was born two months before the marriage. Three probabilities emerge:

  1. The marriage was indexed in the wrong year and it should be 1845.
  2. George’s birth year can only be found on his death certificate, and the informant on George’s death certificate was off by one year.
  3. Elizabeth did indeed marry Julian DeJean after the birth of their first child.  

Number three is very probable but is not anything to gossip about. Remember, Wisconsin had only been made a state in the 1830s. The place and time that our Elizabeth lived in was the rough frontier. Often, communities accepted common-law marriages before a minister could get back to the area to perform the ceremony.

Many DeJean researchers have asserted that the father of Elizabeth Bullis, wife of Julian Fayette Schuyler DeJean, was a military man known as Commodore Oscar Bullis. I disagree with them. I have found a woman named Elizabeth Bullis who was, in fact, the daughter of Oscar and was born within a few years of our Elizabeth. However, this father and daughter have no known associations with Wisconsin. There are records of Oscar’s daughter living in New York under her maiden name years after Julius and Elizabeth are married in Wisconsin.

I connected our Elizabeth to John R. Bullis (b. 1789 in New York) and Catherine (b. 1791 in New York) because they are the only Bullis couple of the right age living near Elizabeth in Wisconsin around the time of her marriage to Julian DeJean. When we take all of their other inferred children of John R. Bullis and place Elizabeth in birth order, her placement fills in a gap. Also, her son, James, is found in the household of James Bullis in 1870. James Bullis was a provable grandson of John R. and Catherine, who also had a son named James.

In 1860, the family of Isaac Bullis appeared nearby. By 1870, these two families are enumerated next to each other. As with Elizabeth, Isaac’s birth year fills in a gap in John and Catherine’s 1850 inferred family. One glaring problem is, he is the only Bullis in Wisconsin who consistently identifies his birthplace as Vermont, as do his wife and children. And they are found in Vermont in the 1850 census. He and his family moved to Iowa, where they spelled their surname Bulles. All the other associated Bullis’ were born in New York. Elizabeth and Isaac were married before 1850, so they are found in their own households.

Proposed family for John R. Bullis and his wife Catherine. Except for Abram (Abraham), Elizabeth, and Isaac, all children are located in John and Catherine’s 1850 household. Abraham is living next door to John R. in 1850, and is within two households of John and Catherine in 1860. Note the placement for Elizabeth and Isaac as proposed children. Note also the large gap between Abram and Catharine, indicating additional children may be found elsewhere.

My hypothesis is further supported by DNA matches to two of the inferred sons in John R.’s 1850 household, William (b. 1820) and Jerome (b. 1827).  

In reviewing the DNA match through William Bullis, the evidence leading up to John Richard Bullis (b. 1875 in Wisconsin) is acceptable; however, the evidence linking this man to a father named William is weak. His name suggests that he is a descendant of John R. Bullis (whose middle name is not known, just his initial), and he was born in Wisconsin at the right time to be a son of William and grandson of John R.

The review of the DNA match through Jerome Bullis had better available evidence, and I accepted the lineage.

I know, I know…I have not completed a reasonably exhaustive search of all records. I do not know when or where John R. Bullis died; therefore, I do not know if there is a will or record of probate that could shed more light on my theory. So, for now, it is just my theory. 

In the meantime, here is the story I think details the life and times of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was born about 1822 in New York, the fourth child (second daughter) of John R. Bullis and his wife, Catherine. They moved to Wisconsin from New York in the 1840s. Her father purchased land in Milton Township, Rock County, where she met and married Julian DeJean. Probably with the help of a family member who lived in Albion Township in Dane County (John S. Bullis), Julian and Elizabeth found a farm to rent where he and Elizabeth welcomed their first two children, George W and Clark. Julian’s oldest brother, Joseph, had settled a few years earlier at Rutland Township, just two townships over, and he kept tabs on little brother.  

In 1855, Elizabeth and Julian left the Dane county farm and stayed briefly in Rock County, near the DeJean and Bullis family farms. The DeJean family most likely needed help with the family farm due to the advanced age of the DeJean patriarch, Stephen. Julian’s mother, Corniela/Cordelia, died in 1859 at the home of Julian’s sister, Nancy, in Rock County. Nancy died later that year, then their father, Stephen, followed a year or so later.

They worked hard and scraped enough savings to buy a farm in the newly created county of Juneau (formerly part of Adams County). The farm in Kildare Township was small but provided well enough, and their family grew. George and Clark had three new siblings, Jennie Jane, Daniel, and James, all before 1850. By 1860, Julian’s brother, Lewis, moved into the county, probably because of Julian’s favorable reports.

The family began to go their separate ways. It seems they lost young Clark after the births of Elizabeth’s namesake and their last son, Alfred. By 1870 they returned once again to Milton Township, Rock County, where Elizabeth’s family was still farming. They found a home next to Isaac Bullis, who had arrived in the area ten years earlier, and Julian set up shop as a carpenter. George had fallen in love and married Marion Tucker the year before. He lived next door and worked alongside Julian as a carpenter, while Marion stayed home with the firstborn grand-baby DeJean (Carrie Irene). Julian and Elizabeth sent their son, James, to live with his cousin, James Bullis. Daniel, young Elizabeth, and Alfred stayed with Julian and Elizabeth. Jennie did the inevitable and got married in 1871 to Edwin Bond.

It’s not clear who left first, but son, George, and daughter, Jane, moved their new families to Harrison County, Iowa, while Julian and Elizabeth went to Kansas. In 1873, they lived in Osborne County, Kansas, where Julian continued to work as a carpenter and was able to get some extra income as the postmaster for the area.

Something change, or perhaps, something came to a head. After a short stay in Kansas, Elizabeth, her youngest daughter, and her son, Daniel, left Julian and moved closer to George and Jennie’s families in Iowa. And, while James and Alfred made it to Kansas with their parents, they too were soon missing from the picture. The lack of records for the two does not mean death. James, at least, survived to adulthood and may have ventured off on his own.  

Yet something caused Elizabeth and her children to leave Julian in Kansas. Perhaps they all rallied to George and Marian when they lost their oldest child, Carrie Irene, in 1879. Maybe, this was the excuse Elizabeth needed to leave Julian and take (or send) her younger children to Iowa.

By 1880, Julian was still in Kansas, working as a carpenter and postmaster, but living with another woman. Up in Iowa, Elizabeth married her youngest, and final, dependent child off to Eugene J. Pitts. Elizabeth’s happiness was brief, though. After her grandson, Evan Edward Pitts, was born, her namesake daughter, the younger Elizabeth, died. Mother Elizabeth returned to Wisconsin, perhaps to be near her Bullis siblings, who mostly remained in Rock County.

The most tragic part of Elizabeth Bullis DeJean’s life is her death. She was very hard to find, you see. And even now, I am not 100% certain it is she, but I found the death certificate for one Elizabeth DeJean, a 66-year-old (b. ~1823) housewife whose place of birth and husband’s name was unknown. She died of “inanition” (exhaustion caused by lack of nourishment) on 13 April 1889 at the County Poor Farm at Johnstown, Rock County, Wisconsin. She was buried at the “Cemetery at County Farm.”  There is no headstone, no grave marker, no memory of Elizabeth.

The possible death record for Elizabeth DeJean nee Bullis. Digital copy obtained from Wisconsin Historical Society on 20 February 2020.
The location of the County Poor Farm Cemetery in relation to Janesville and Milton.

One thought on “Elizabeth Bullis – Herstory

  1. Love it! Some solid detective work! FWIW I followed your logic regarding Elizabeth’s parents and can’t argue with it! Such a shame she died in such ignominy (if that is her) and none of her children could/would help her!


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