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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Willis E. Diefendorf

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[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. 92-93 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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One of the most prominent residents of Fort Plain is Willis E. Diefendorf, a retired merchant, who has endeared himself to all by his public-spirited interest in the affairs of the village and admirable personality. He was born in Sharon Springs, New York, June 5, 1855, the son of Ephraim G. and Mary (Leake) Diefendorf, and comes from a family that has been established in the Mohawk valley since the early part of the eighteenth century. About the year 1730 two brothers, John and Jacob Diefendorf, came to America from Switzerland or Holland and settled in this section of New York — John on the Mohawk above Sand Hill, and Jacob in Currytown, in the town of Root. Jacob Diefendorf had two sons: Henry and Jacob. The latter had several children: Elizabeth (Diefendorf) Snow, Nancy (Diefendorf) Dockstater, Margaret (Diefendorf) Snow, William and Jacob. The line of descent that concerns us came through the older of the two brothers, John, who was the father of George John, Jacob, John Jacob and Catherine Diefendorf Windeker.

George Diefendorf was a Tory in the Revolution and for this stand was disowned by his brothers. He had a son who settled in New York city, another son who located in Sharon, and a daughter who married George Garlock, the father of Peter G. Garlock. The second son of John Diefendorf (I), John (II), was the father of Denus, John (III), Elizabeth (Diefendorf) Young, Nancy (Diefendorf) Klock, Catherine (Diefendorf) Faebrick, Maria (Diefendorf) Oathout, and Gertrude (Diefendorf) Dygert. Jacob, the third son, had the following children: Daniel, Henry, John Jacob (II), Rudolph, David, George, Abram, and several daughters. Catherine Windeker had no children.

John Jacob Diefendorf had the following children, whose families were: Elizabeth married John Fox, and subsequently Joseph Klock, becoming the mother of Nancy, who married Fred Fox; Betsy Klock; Polly Wagner; Catherine, the wife of William Walrath; Dolly Snyder; Margaret (or Peggy) Moyer; Benjamin; Charles; John and Alexander. John and Dolly were twins. John Diefendorf was the father of Abram, Warner, Samuel, Peter, Catherine Dunckel, Nancy Wendell, Benjamin I., Sally, who died in childhood, Betsy, France, Maria Timerman, Lucy Dunckel, and Sally France. Samuel did not live to maturity. Nancy married John T. Timerman and had several children: Catherine Dunckel, who married a France; David; Elizabeth Dunckel; Jacob; Maria Lent; Ann Plato, and several who died in infancy and childhood. George's children were: Abram, Jacob, Lany Hackney, Betsy Alpough, David G., Daniel G., Sally Youngs, William, Jonas and Levi G. Catherine, the wife of Daniel Gros, had no children. Margaret married John Jenkins and became the mother of Daniel, Margaret Raysner, Nancy, a spinster, John, William, Katherine Foot, and Eliza Thumb. William Diefendorf of Sharon (or Sharon Springs) had the following children: Lucy Hatmaker, Maria France, Elizabeth Parsons, Catherine Hutt, Lucy Blackwell, William Jr., Lucy Ottman, Clarissa Burton, Josiah, Almira, Ephraim and Douw. Maria married John Dunckel but had no family. Lany Young, wife of Adam Young, had five children: Eliza Swartout, Elijah, Maria Wintersteen, Catherine and Charles. Jonas Diefendorf's children were: Catherine Countryman, the wife of Solomon Countryman; Maria, who married Jacob Young; Lucy Ann, the wife of William Bleeker; Elizabeth, who died in infancy; Sarah D., who married David Bates; Nancy, the wife of Thomas Armitage; John J.; Lavina, who married J. Oliver Riggs; Eliza, who died unmarried; Wilbur F., a bachelor; John J.; and Matilda, who became Mrs. James Gallaway. Daniel Diefendorf was the father of Elijah, Hiram, Jesse, Maria, Nelson, Mary Ann, Lavus, Sarah and John. Benjamin Diefendorf, the youngest of the twelve children, had the following children: Josiah, Mary M. Sandhovel, Oliver, Elizabeth Shaver, Catherine, Menzo, Stephen, Lyman, Ben, Elisha, Norman, Martha, and a boy who died in childhood.

Ephraim G. Diefendorf, son of William, was born at Sharon Springs and spent part of the early portion of his life as a farmer in Schoharie county. Later he became interested in the wholesale grocery business at Albany and traveled on the road in this connection for years. He settled in Fort Plain in 1865 and made this village his home until his death in 1883. For some years prior to his decease he was retired from active business life on account of his failing health. Mr. Diefendorf's mother, who bore the maiden name of Mary A. Leake, lived until March 6, 1896. She, too, was a native of Sharon Springs.

Willis E. Diefendorf was a lad of ten when the family took up residence in Fort Plain, so it was in the schools of the village that he received most of his education. As a youth he worked in various local stores and at the age of eighteen went to Johnstown, New York, where he started the first book store in the place and conducted it with success for several years. In 1878 Mr. Diefendorf sold out his store in Johnstown and returned to Fort Plain to open a book and stationery store here. The fact that this store has been in continuous operation ever since attests the success of this venture. Long ago it became established as a part of the community life, for it has contributed substantially to the intellectual development of the people as well as furnished them with merchandise. Mr. Diefendorf's direct connection with the business ceased more than twenty years ago, when in 1903 he sold out to his younger brother and T. S. Waters, but the store has remained in the family and has been continued along the lines laid down by its founder nearly forty years ago.

Mr. Diefendorf was married to Miss Emma Ricketts of Johnstown on April 14, 1880. Mrs. Diefendorf is the daughter of Jonathan and Mary (Pierson) Ricketts, the father a native of England and the mother of this state. Mr. Ricketts was a pioneer glove manufacturer of Johnstown and operated a factory there until his death, which occurred on August 24, 1899. The mother survived him for little more than a year, passing away on November 6, 1900.

Perhaps the outstanding characteristic of Mr. Diefendorf's career has been his generous and whole-hearted support of every movement and organization that had for its purpose the betterment of the community. He has always had the welfare of Fort Plain close at heart, taking a deep personal interest in its well-being. His own efforts have been crowned with that financial success which is the gauge of every business man's achievement and long ago he was permitted to leave the active pursuit of a livelihood to enjoy the fruits of his labors. That he has been liberal in using his means to bring opportunity and pleasure to others is well known to every one in the village, although he has ever sought to avoid ostentation of every sort. Mr. Diefendorf is a member of Fort Plain Lodge, No. 433, A. F. & A. M.; and socially is identified with the Fort Plain Club, the Little Falls Country Club, the Masonic Club and the Colonial Club of Johnstown, among whose members he numbers many warm friends. For thirty years he has been senior warden of the Church of the Holy Cross, Episcopal, and an active worker in the parish. Politically he adheres to the republican party. As might be suspected from his long connection with the book trade, Mr. Diefendorf is a man of cultured tastes whose pleasures are those of a reader and scholar. His residence is at No. 14 Home street, Fort Plain.

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