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John Ernst Georg Dafoe

The Dafoe Family includes John Ernst Dafoe, the first generation of Dafoe's born in the New World, in the present State of New York. John emmigrated north to Lower Canada with his family after the American Revolution.

Born Born 1725-1726   in New York
Married Married 1 Feb 1749 Maria Maritgen KellerA Germantown, Albany co. (now in Columbia co.), New York
Died Died Feb-Sept 1784   St. Johns, Quebec


  • Father: Abraham Devoe
  • Mother: Anna Maria Catharina Reiffenberg (probably)


  1. George Dayfoot; bp. 27 Nov 1749; d. Aug 1777
  2. Conrad Dafoe; bp. 14 March 1753; d. 1843-1851
  3. Abraham Dafoe; bp. 11 May 1755; d. 1815
  4. John Johannes Dafoe; b. 30 Apr 1758; d. 1835
  5. Jacob Dafoe; bp. 19 July 1761; d. 1784
  6. Mary Defoe; b. 19 Oct 1763; d. c. 1834-1839
  7. Michael Dafoe; b. 20 Feb. 1766; d. 31 Dec. 1859
  8. Daniel P. Dafoe; b. 15 Sept 1769; d. 1842

The Parents of John

His father Abraham emigrated from Switzerland as a baby in 1709. Anna, who was probably but not certainly his mother, came from Germany.

Johnís Early Years

In his youth he was known as Johan Ernst Defuh. In later life his name was anglicized in the 1760's when Englishmen settled around him in the Hoosick Patent, New York Province. Records of the time show him as John Davoe/Devoe, Defou, Devoet, Devoot, even Dayford and "old Dayfoot". Other spellings for this name appear in documents of the time1.

John and Maria

Maria (later Mary) Keller was born on March 27, 1729 and baptized at Loonenburg (now Athens in Greene County), New York, the daughter of Conrad Keller and Maria Barbara [Proper] Keller. John married Maria on February 1, 1748/49 in Germantown Reformed Church at Germantown, New York. She passed away in what was then western Quebec and was buried August 12, 1789, in Fredericksburg, which is now in Lennox and Addington Co., Ontario.

Dafoe homestead Like John, Mary was a Palatine and spoke German better than English. Two of John's brothers also married Keller girls. John became a solid citizen of Pownal (part of Vermont in 1790). He was elected Deer Reeve and Pathmaster, and built a grist mill near the town centre (John's second great-grandson Phillip Dafoe became Pathmaster in 1902, of Tudor Twp., North Hastings).

The Revolutionary War

John was among the many Loyalists who were rounded up and jailed in Connecticut in 1776. He escaped in 1777, probably in the general break-out that occurred when the prisoners heard they were to be shot the next morning.

Then on August 16th, 1777, John fought in the Battle at Bennington, just north of Pownal, with his sons George, Conrad, and Abraham. This battle was the turning point in the American Revolution. John's oldest son George was shot, taken prisoner, and put in a rebel barn. He was nursed by his mother and his sister Mary, but he died a few days later. George's version of the surname is preserved in Dayfoot Brook, where he homesteaded, at Petersburgh, New York. However, Loyalist names were unpopular in the area; so George's widow and son Michael went by Dunning (her maiden name) until Michael was old enough to find out the truth. (The Rev. Arthur Dayfoot of Toronto, formerly of Brampton and one of our guest speakers at our 1984 reunion, is descended from George's line).

George's brother Abraham was captured and paroled; his father John Sr. was captured and held. Again John escaped, this time to Canada. Colonel Rogers (of "Rogers' Rangers" fame) authorized him to raise a company and thus he was sometimes known as Captain Defoe. However, there is no note that he ever had such a company; instead he appears in war records as a courier-spy, on secret service, tracking through the forest between Crown Point and New York City. His wife Mary kept one of the "safe houses" along the couriers' route.

In recent years, Jean [Dafoe] Lake and Eleanor Carleton Moult were pleased to be able to walk through the original part of this house in Pownal; it is the oldest house in town. We have pictures of John's house and an early carriage house on the property. John had "30 acres in Pownal; a good house valued at 100 pounds Halifax currency; an orchard and a grist mill valued at 300 pounds. He also lost his horses, cows, hogs and wagons."

The Final Years for John

As son Conrad later said, his father was a robust man, but his rough life as a spy ruined his health. John died in the refugee camp at St. Johns (now St-Jean-sur-Richelieu), Quebec, between February and September of 1784 of an unspecified illness, age about 58. Brian Roberts has added: "Strange as it may seem, it was probably malaria, which was then common in the inland river valleys of New York."

No portrait of John exists, but we may picture him as a tall, sturdy man with a determined jaw - the "Dafoe chin" that many of us have inherited - and a ruddy complexion from being outdoors. Although he could not write his name (he used the monogram JD), he was a successful man of affairs and confident in his own opinion. He had the courage to speak out for what he felt was right and would fight for it, even when this totally disrupted his life. His descendants, whatever their national allegiance, can be proud1.


For information on Daniel Thevou and his line, see The Beacon; 2002 Annual Issue No. 5, page 11.

Notes on the Children

  • John Johannes Dafoe was born on April 30, 1758 in Albay, New York and died in 1835 at Richmond, Ontario.A

NOTE A: Per email of August 21, 2007 from Kim Cameron.


  1. "The Beacon", by Quinte Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society; orig. avail. at Alberta Family History Society Library, Calgary

-- JimBenedict - 30 Dec 2005
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