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Below is a family biography included in the Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania published in 1904 by T. S. Benham & Company and The Lewis Publishing Company; Elwood Roberts, Editor.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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ROWLEY K. ORTT, who is one of Norristown’s widely-known manufacturers, has risen by his own exertion to the position which he now occupies, inventive genius and mechanical skill enabling him to perfect a lawn mower on entirely new principles, making it a novelty in its line, a steady demand existing for it in all parts of the world.

Mr. Ortt was born October 25, 1855, at North Ridge, Niagara county, New York. His father was a contractor and builder who enlisted at the beginning of the Rebellion in the Eighth New York Volunteers. He was discharged in October, 1863, at Baltimore, after serving three years. He was a helpless invalid and was brought home by two comrades in an invalid’s chair and placed in bed. His wife undertook to lift him and strained herself, causing a rupture, from which she died one week later. The husband’s ailment was due to the fact that he was placed in the cook- house, the steam from cooking pork being the cause of his sickness. After his wife’s death a nurse was secured to take care of him. There were four children: Hannah M., John M., Rowley K., and Cyrus N. Ortt. Hannah died in 1894; John in 1874, his death being caused by a kick from a horse; Cyrus lives in Pekin, New York, where he owns a small farm, and his father, who is now seventy-eight years old and seems to grow stronger with age, lives with him. The father was born in Lehigh county, Pennsylvania, but when he was a mere lad the family removed to New York state.

The Ortts came originally from Germany, but have long been naturalized in this country. Arthusia (Peterson) Ortt (mother) was a daughter of John Peterson, a farmer living at North Ridge. John Peterson had seven children: John, Nathan, Cyrus, Arthusia, Melinda, Oranda, and Jane. Arthusia married Elias Ortt (father), as has been said. Elias Ortt built many of the prominent buildings in that section of the country prior to the war. He built a church, parsonage and a school house at Beemsville in Canada, removing his family to that place while engaged in the work. Having learned that Elias’s wife’s mother was dying, the family started to return, and when they reached the Suspension bridge which was just being built at that time, there being only a walk for the carpenter to cross it consisting of three six inch boards, and the boat known as the “Maid of the Mist” being on the opposite side of the river and not likely to return for some time, and Mrs. Elias Ortt (mother) being very anxious to reach her mother’s bedside before she passed away, and there being apparently no other way, she said she could walk over on those three narrow boards, and she did so, one of the carpenters going ahead, holding her hand and her husband following. Mrs. Ortt was thus the first woman who ever crossed the Suspension bridge. There were three children at that time, Anna, John and Rowley, who were strapped in the basket running on a cable rope used to draw the workmen across, and thus all reached the New York side of the river safely.

The inventive genius of Rowley K. Ortt was manifested at a very early age. When only nine years old he went to live with a cousin and later with Thomas Parker. While at Mr. Parker’s he was replanting twenty acres of corn which had been partly ruined by the grub worms. While engaged in this laborious task he conceived the idea of the jabber planter, using it next day with fairly good results. The next night he improved on his first idea and made a new planter which worked still better, and was loaned to a neighbor named Fuller. Fuller secured a patent for the machine and started to manufacture it, which he did successfully. Rowley K. Ortt at this time was only seventeen years of age and of course received nothing for his invention.

While hauling logs from the woods the young inventor had another opportunity to display his genius. The bob-sled upset and broke the short reach on the hind bob. Ortt went to work and bored a hole through the back bolster, and coupled it by a swivel to the front bolster and to this day all bob-sleds are made in that way.

In 1878 Thomas Parker took the agency for the Norristown gleaner and binder, manufactured by William A. Singerly in what was then known as the agricultural works and is now the Keystone Hosiery Company’s building, at Astor and Oak streets, Norristown. Mr. Parker could not succeed with them and Mr. Ortt took hold and succeeded in making them operate very well. The result was that the company induced him to come to Norristown in 1879. He made a number of improvements, including a chain tightener, a friction tension, etc. He left the company in 1883, going into the shoe business at 125 East Main street. In 1892 he sold out the shoe store and has since been working on patents. Among those he has secured are devices for curtain fixtures for inside shutters for lace curtains; also a double nut tack, a bonnet for vestibule cars, and the Clipper lawn mower. The last he is now manufacturing, being unable to supply the extensive demand for the machine, which is steadily growing in popular favor. Mr. Ortt is now manager of a large establishment in the lower part of Norristown, owned and operated by the Clipper Lawn Mower Company, Incorporated.

Mr. Ortt has been twice married. His first wife was Jane Greavy of Norristown. The couple were married in 1882, she dying in 1889, and leaving two children, Hannah L. Ortt and Ellwood K. Ortt. He married, in 1893, Rachel P. Flint of Germantown. They have one child, Horace F. Ortt.

The relationship of the Ortts and Petersons has been mentioned. The Petersons were connected also with the Tanners and the Brownells, both old families, the Brownells being of Rhode Island. Phoebe Tanner, daughter of Josias Tanner, by his second wife, Phoebe Brownell, was born May 11, 1775. Phoebe married John Peterson in November, 1793, both being of South Kingston, Rhode Island. The couple removed to Bristol, Vermont, and later to Ridgway, in what is now Orleans county, New York. They endured the privations of early frontier life, going to western New York when it was still a wilderness.

Josias Tanner was the son of Francis Tanner and his wife Elizabeth (Sheldon) Tanner. Elizabeth was a daughter of Isaac Sheldon, a respected citizen and freeman in South Kingston. She was born in 1713. Josias was a Revolutionary soldier.

Francis Tanner was the son of William and Elizabeth Tanner of South Kingston. He was born July 3, 1708. After his marriage he removed to the neighboring town of Hopkinton, where he bought twelve hundred acres of land. He was admitted a “freeman” in South Kingston in 1753, and in 1762-5 held the honorable position in that day of justice of the peace, holding his commission (still in existence) from the governor of the province. He died January 3, 1777, and his widow in 1801.

William Tanner, father of Francis, and founder of that branch of the Rhode Island Tanners in America, first appears in the state in 1682, as witness to a deed of Frances Houlding, wife of Randall Houlding, the leading spirit in the colony that she had lately represented in England. In 1687 William Tanner paid a tax on one poll. In 1693 he bought land in South Kingston, having somewhat earlier married a daughter of Henry Tibbitts, an influential landholder who in his will provided an estate for each of his children and for each grandchild whose parent on the Tibbitt side was dead. William Tanner was prominent in founding the old Seventh-Day Baptist church in Westerly, now Hopkinton, and held an influential position therein. He was living as late as 1735, and his third wife, Elizabeth, as late as 1752. The date of his birth is unknown, but was probably about 1660-3. It is not known from what part of England he came, nor to what branch of the Tanners he belonged. The family has, been traced to the time of Edward III, if not to the Norman conquest. It is probable that William Tanner and a brother or two brothers crossed the ocean to escape the rigorous measures enforced against the Baptists in the time of Charles II.

William Tanner was the father of fifteen children. Francis had seven children. At his death he gave his slave, Quom, his freedom. The boy, Quom, was a Revolutionary soldier.

Josias Tanner was the father of thirteen children. He was admitted a “freeman” in 1757. He was ensign of the Second Continental Company, 1762, and a private of the First Battalion, Rhode Island troops, Colonel Green commanding, from June 1 to July 1, 1778, Colonel Arnold’s detachment. He died March 14, 1810, and his remains rest on the old homestead in Rhode Island.

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This family biography is one of more than 1,000 biographies included in the Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania published in 1904 by T. S. Benham & Company and The Lewis Publishing Company.  For the complete description, click here: Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

View additional Montgomery County, Pennsylvania family biographies here: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Biographies

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