b.28 Aug 1783 Livingston, Essex County, New Jersey, United States
d.23 Mar 1844 Livingston, Essex County, New Jersey, United States
m. 2 Dec 1798
Facts and Events
Early Years, 1783-1797
Elizabeth's father Moses Ely served in the New Jersey militia during the early years of the Revolution, working as a cartman in a commissary and foraging unit during the battles on Long Island and in New Jersey. Moses married Elizabeth's mother Rebecca Cook in 1782, and Elizabeth was born the following year. By this time, the economy had been devastated by seven years of war. With no prospect of employment near the family home at Livingston, Essex County, New Jersey, Moses Ely moved his family to New York City in the spring of 1784, less than five months after the last British troops had departed.
During Elizabeth's childhood, the Ely family enjoyed a period of growing prosperity. As residents rebuilt areas of the city that were destroyed by fire during the war, there were many opportunities for a cartman like Moses. In only two years, he earned enough money to purchase a 56-acre farm in Livingston. Five years later, he secured the contract to supply lumber for the frame of the Trinity Church, which was rebuilt in 1791 on the site of the original church that had burned during the British occupation.
When they first moved to the city, Moses and Rebecah Ely lived on Lombard Street, directly behind Trinity Church. In 1796, Moses purchased a house and lot at 37 Barley Street (now Duane Street). The Barley Street house was located on the south side of Duane Street between Broadway and West Broadway, with the lot running through the block from Duane Street to Reade. The Old New York Hospital was located on the opposite side of the street, the hospital standing on the west side of Broadway, and its grounds extending from Duane Street to Worth. Elizabeth's younger sister Sarah recalled that Elizabeth attended a school located north of the hospital on Broadway, "which she reached by going across lots in the rear of that institution, following a path which led from Duane Street in the neighborhood of her home, through a barley field, diagonally to Broadway.
The First Baptist Church in the City of New York was another landmark in Elizabeth's early life. In those days, the church was located on Gold Street near Fulton, ten blocks from the Ely house on Barley. Back in Livingston, Moses and Rebecah had attended the Presbyterian Church, but in New York City they attached themselves to the Baptist Church, perhaps due to the influence of Rebecah's uncle, a Baptist minister who often preached at the home of Rebecca's father in Livingston. Sarah Ely Halsey remembered that her mother Rebecah was "baptized in the Hudson River at the foot of either Murray Street or Warren Street." The Ely children all attended the First Baptist Church, and their parents raised them "in strict conformity with the tenants of that faith." This upbringing had a lasting influence on Elizabeth, whose second husband was a Baptist minister.
First Marriage, 1798-1819
Elizabeth's first husband was George G. Ring, the eldest son of George Ring and Anna Maria Eckert of Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, New York. George G. Ring was a grocer and the Ely family's neighbor at 34 Barley Street. Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth and twenty-two-year-old George were married at Christ Lutheran Church of Franklin Street on December 2, 1798, observing the Ring family's association with the Lutheran faith.
Over the next four years, Elizabeth gave birth to two sons, but these were difficult times for the family. Basing his account on an interview with Elizabeth in the 1840s, a biographer of Elizabeth's second husband called George "an intemperate, profligate fellow." This biographer was hardly an unbiased source, but there may have been some basis to his harsh judgment. If George truly was an "intemperate" man, his work offered many opportunities to imbibe, since groceries at that time often specialized in liquor, much like taverns and grogshops. About 1804, George became a cartman. The Ely family had good connections in that trade, but George soon had serious financial troubles. Newspaper notices at the end of 1805 call upon creditors to appear before the Recorder of the City of New York to make claims upon the estate of "George Ring, junior..., an insolvent debtor." According to the biographer's account, George G. Ring abandoned his family about this time and disappeared, having no further contact with his wife.
Sometime after 1805, Elizabeth moved to Livingston, Essex County, New Jersey. Newspapers place her in that vicinity in 1810, at Centinel Village in 1814, and at Livingston in 1815. During this period, Elizabeth attended the Northfield Baptist Church and became friends with its pastor, the Rev. John Watson. In 1818, she agreed to marry him. According to Rev. Watson's biographer, Elizabeth believed George Ring had "left the country" and had "received intelligence, in some of the western papers, of the death of a man answering to his name and character." When friends learned the couple intended to marry, they urged Elizabeth to get a divorce, fearing it was unwise to remarry without proof of her husband's death. Elizabeth appealed to the New Jersey General Assembly and an act of divorce was granted February 15, 1819. Providing no grounds, the act simply says “the marriage contract between George Ring, formerly of the state of New-York, and Elizabeth his wife, of the county of Essex” is dissolved, and George and Elizabeth “are hereby declared to be set free from their matrimonial contract, as fully as if they had never been joined in matrimony.”
Second Marriage, 1819-1840
Elizabeth married the Rev. John Watson on May 24, 1819. A short time later, the minister of a neighboring church brought a complaint against the Rev. Watson to the New York Baptist Association, arguing that Watson should be expelled from the Association for breaking God's law by marrying a divorced woman. The Mt. Bethel Church hired a lawyer to defend their pastor, and he was ultimately exonerated after a thorough investigation concluded that he had every right to marry a woman who had legally divorced her husband for good cause.
John and Elizabeth Watson remained at Mt. Bethel until 1826, a period that included the births of two sons — Benjamin Ely Watson (1820) and William Williamson Watson (1822). A daughter, Sarah Maria Watson (1826), may have been born at Mt. Bethel, or at Piscataway, New Jersey, where the family moved in March 1826 to join the Seventh-day Baptist Church. Although the Mt. Bethel Church gave the Rev. Watson a letter of recommendation, they quickly excommunicated him for embracing the doctrines of the Seventh-day Baptists. The Watson's situation became even more difficult when the Piscataway Church became embroiled in a bitter dispute between members who wanted to provide continuing financial support to the previous pastor, and those who wanted to support to the Rev. Watson. Convinced that he could not succeed in this climate, Watson declined to become the permanent pastor at Piscataway, but agreed to preach there on a temporary basis.
By this time, the Rev. Watson was gaining a substantial reputation in the Seventh-day Baptist community through his contributions to the theological magazine The Protestant Sentinel. On the strength of his growing reputation, the Seventh-day Baptist Missionary Society appointed Watson to be a traveling missionary charged with visiting the churches of Western New York for one year starting in the winter of 1828/1829. While Elizabeth and the children stayed behind in New Jersey, John endured a year filled with long journeys on horseback, returning to New Jersey with spinal problems that would plague him for the rest of his life.
When John returned from his missionary tour, he purchased a farm next to the Ely homestead in Livingston, providing a permanent home for Elizabeth and the children. In spite of declining health, John continued to make the 25-mile journey to preach at Piscataway once a month for nearly a decade. In January 1840, he slipped on ice and fractured his leg, leading to an illness that resulted in his death on April 30, 1840.
Final Years, 1840-1844
Elizabeth survived her second husband by four years, dying at Livingston in 1844.