The Pioneer History of
 Orleans County, NY
Biographies, Part IV

By Arad Thomas

Online Edition by Holice & Deb



James Mather was born in Marlborough, Vt., July 23d, 1784. His family are said to be descendants from Rev. Increase Mather, President of Harvard University, who received the first degree of Doctor of Divinity, that was conferred by that college. Mr. Mather came to Gaines in the summer or fall of 1810, to look out a place for his settlement. There was then some travel on the Ridge Road, with a prospect of more when the country was settled. The Holland company had established their land office at Batavia, and it seemed to him sure that in time a village or city would grow up at the mouth of Oak Orchard Creek. The Oak Orchard trail was then marked from Batavia to the lake, and Mr. Mather shrewdly predicting a village would be founded where that trail crossed the Ridge, took up some four hundred acres of land lying on each side of the Oak Orchard Road and south of the Ridge, on which he afterwards settled and resided while he lived.

Before removing to Gaines, Mr. Mather had resided for some time in the town of Russia, Herkimer County, where he manufactured potash which he sent to the Canada market by way of Ogdensburg. He was in this business when the embargo declaring non-intercourse with Great Britain was proclaimed. He continued his trade however, and by the skillful distribution of a few dollars among the government officials, his ashes were allowed to pass the lines and his profits were huge.

In the winter of 1811, he broke up his establishment in Herkimer County, and removed to his land in Gaines. A younger brother, Rufus Mather, assisted by driving a team of two yoke of oxen before a sled which was loaded, among other things, with three potash kettles. There eas no bridge over Genesee River, at Rochester, and Rufus attempted to cross on the ice near where the canal now is. In the middle of the river the ice broke and let the loaded sled into the water. Rufus succeeded with great difficulty in getting out without loss, and followed the Ridge to his destination, and stopped at the house of Cotton Leach, west of the present village of Gaines. Rufus remained and labored for James the next summer. James Mather had cut down the trees on a small spot south of the Ridge, on the Oak Orchard Road, near where his son George Mather now resides; but no clearing within the bounds of the village on the Ridge had then been made..

Rufus Mather says he felled the first tree on the village of Gaines, on the Ridge road. That tree stood on the west side of Oak Orchard Road. A piece of land was soon cleared there and James Mather built his log house on that corner in the spring of 1811. He married Fanny Bryant, February 15th, 1813. She was born in Marlborough, Vermont, October 28th, 1788.

In the winter of 1813, they commenced house keeping in the log house Mr. Mather had built on his lot, and remained there during the war, when so many went away.

Mr. Mather always kept open house, according to the custom of the country there, though he never professed to keep tavern; entertaining every one who applied to him for accommodations as well as he could, and his house was generally full of newly arriving emigrants who were waiting till their own cabins could be built, or of such casual strangers as came along.

Oliver Booth, afterwards the tavern keeper, stopped with Mr. Mather when he first came in, until he got his own house built and fitted up.

Soon after Mr. Mather settled in Gaines, he set the potash kettles he brought with him and commenced buying salts of lye, or "black salts," of the settlers as soon as settlers came in and made them. These salts he boiled down into potash and took them to the mouth of Genesee River, or the mouth of Oak Orchard Creek, and sent them to Montreal to a market. He paid for these salts in salt fish, iron, leather, coarse hardware, and a few axes, chains, and such toots as farmers must have, which he obtained in exchange for his potash, and took care to sell at a fair profit, and with these things he paid some money. He was in fact almost the only source from which those who did not bring money with them got any to supply their wants.

Early in the spring of 1811, Mr. Mather finding his provisions getting low, went to the Oak Orchard Creek, at the head of Stillwater, from the lake, with two men and a seine and caught three barrels of fish in a few hours. These he drew to the Ridge with his oxen and took them to Black Creek Mill, a few miles south of Rochester, and with these fish and money, he bought wheat and pork, got his wheat ground, and took it home, and so he was well supplied the first year with these provisions. About the time Orleans county was organized, he built a large brick building for a tannery, in which with his brothers and others he carried on tanning a number of years, though he never worked at that business himself. He dealt considerably in land, at one time owning a large farm where Eagle Harbor village and flouring mills are now built, and several large farms in other places. From the rise of value in these lands, and the profits of his speculations, he became wealthy. He died August 29th, 1854.

Mr. Mather has seven children: Louisa, who married Wheeler M. Dewey. She died many years since. Dwight, who died in youth. Adeline married Paul H. Stewart. Eunice married Daniel F. Walbridge. George married Mary Ann Crane. He resides on his paternal homestead. Ellen married Hon. Noah Davis, of Albion, late at Justice of the Supreme Court. Mary married Howard Abeel, a merchant of Albion.


Elihu Mather was born in Marlborough, Vt., July 26th, 1782. He was a tanner by trade. He came to Gaines to reside in 1825, and went into business with his brother James in his tannery and working his farm.

In the great anti-masonic excitement arising from the abduction of William Morgan, Mr. Elihu Mather was indicted as an accessory to the crime, and tried at Albion and acquitted. The trial occupied ten days. Mr. Mather continued to reside in Gaines until 1851, when he removed to Coldwater, in Michigan, where he died January 29th, 1866.


Henry Drake was born in New Jersey, April 6th, 1770. He settled in Gaines in March, 1811. In 812, he built a dam on Otter Creek, a few rods north of the Ridge, in Gaines, on which he erected a sawmill, which was the first sawmill built within the present town of Gaines.

Mr. Drake learned the clothier's trade in his youth, but following farming as his business in life. He married Betsey Parks, in New Jersey. She died April, 1843. Mr. Drake died December 25th, 1863, at the age of almost 94 years.


Simeon Dutcher was born in Dover, Dutchess County, New York, April 21st, 1772. For fifteen years after arriving at manhood he labored as a millwright, a trade he assumed without serving any regular apprenticeship. He then commenced preaching and was ordained an elder in the Baptist denomination. In the year 1817, Elder Dutcher removed wit his family to Carlton, New York, and in 1820 he removed to the town of Gaines, where he resided until he died. The primary object he had in coming to the Holland Purchase was to preach and serve as a missionary among the people, the Baptists having no church organization in Orleans County.

The people were few, poor and scattered, and Elder Ditcher never received much pay for his ministerial labors, but supported his family mostly by working a farm. He used to preach in several neighboring towns after such were erected. And for several years he officiated at nearly all the marriages and funerals in this part of the country.

The first framed meeting house erected in Orleans County was built in the village of Gaines by a stock company, who sold the slips to whom they could, on the condition that the house should be used by different denominations, and it was so used.

A Baptist church was organized at Gaines in 1816, under the pastoral care of Elder Ditcher, to whom he preached until 1827, when the anti-masonic excitement prevailed in his church. Elder Ditcher, who was a free mason, was required to renounce Freemasonry. He declined to do so and was excommunicated, and dismissed from his church.

In the later years of his life Elder Ditcher professed to be universalist in religious sentiment. He was always regarded as a good man and was much beloved by the early settlers. He died January 22d, 1860.


William J. Babbitt was born in Providence, Rhode Island, September 1786. He learned the blacksmiths trade of his father and worked at that business mainly until he came to reside in Gaines, where he had a small shop and occasionally worked at his trade for several years. In the year 1812, he took up the farm on which he ever afterwards resided, part of lot thirty, township fifteen, range one, and moved his family there in 1813.

For many years after Mr. Babbitt settled in Gaines no professional lawyer had come into what is now Orleans County. The people however would indulge occasionally in a lawsuit, and Mr. Babbitt being a good talked, and a man of more then common shrewdness, they frequently employed him to try their cases in their justices' courts. He improved under his practice until he became the most noted "pettifogger" north of the Tonawanda Swamp, and whichever of the litigants secured the services of Esq. Babbitt, was quite sure to win his case. He was active in getting the town of Gaines set off from Ridgeway in the winter of 1816, and July 1st of the same year, on his application a post office was established in Gaines and he was appointed postmaster, which office he held five years. This was the first post office and he was the first post master in Gaines.

In 1831-32 he represented Orleans County in the Assembly of the State. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace by the council of appointment in 1815, and re-appointed from time to time until the elections to that office were given to the people under the constitution, when he was elected by the people holding the office of Justice of the Peace in Gaines, in all 23 years.

He was several times Supervisor of his town, and held various other town offices from time to time. He took pleasure in serving in official and fiduciary positions, and was largely gratified in this particular by his fellow citizens.

He was remarkable for promptness in keeping engagements. Late in life he was heard to say that he was never behind set time in being present in any legal proceeding to be had before him. He acquired a character for uncompromising fidelity in business matters, and by a life of industry and economy laid up a large property.

He died July 20th, 1863.

He married Eunice Losey, June 27th, 1810. She died April 4th, 1867.


Gideon Freeman was born in Stillwater, Saratoga County, January 11th, 1787. About 1799, he moved with his father to Ledyard, Cayuga County, and in March 812, he settled northwest of what is called Long Bridge, and took up the southwest section of land now in the town of Gaines. He was the first settler in this locality south of the Ridge, and founder of what was for many years known as "Freeman Settlement."

He cleared up a large farm and carried on a large business as a farmer. His son, Chester Freeman, now of Barre, related that in the cold season of 1816, his father planted forty acres to corn, which was a total failure. He had a large stock of hogs that year which he expected to fatten on his corn, from the loss of which, having nothing to feed them, many of them starved to death in the next fall and winter. He had a large stock of cattle at that time and but little food for them.

Mr. Freeman chopped over nearly fifty acres of woods to browse his cattle in the winter of 1816-17, losing only about six of his cattle from starvation. Mr. Freeman owned a part of the suction lying next east to his home farm. On that land one year he sowed forty acres to wheat, which grew very large. At harvest time he measured off one acre of his field and cut and cleaned the wheat on it, getting fifty-five bushels of wheat on that acre.

Mr. Freeman was a liberal, generous man, and labored hard to induce settlers to come in and to open the country to inhabitants. He sustained some large losses in his business and became insolvent, finally losing all his land. Here removed to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he died in 1832.

Mr. Levi Atwell, Joseph Stoddard, and Reuben Clark were among those who moved into the Freeman settlement soon after it was commenced.


Chester Freeman, son of Gideon Freeman, was born in Scipio, Cayuga County, August 18th, 1807. Mr. Freeman married Eliza Chidester, in 1835. She died in March, 1848, and October 30th, 1849, he married Amanda Morris. he has resided on lot thirty-one, in township fourteen, range two, in Barre, since 1842. He came into Orleans County with his father, in 1812.


Daniel Pratt was born in Westmoreland, Oneida County, N. Y., March 25th, 1788. He married Polly Bailey, August, 1809, and moved to Gained and settled on the Ridge in the spring of 1810. His wife, Polly, died August 30th, 1812. He married Caroline smith, January 8th, 1815.

He went east during the war of 1812 and remained two years, then returned to his farm, on which labored until his death, October 7th, 1845. Mrs. Caroline Pratt, died September 18th, 1831.

The first wheat sold by Mr. Pratt was taken on an ox sled by him to Rochester, and sold for twenty-five cents a bushel.

Mr. Pratt was a man of quiet habits, trusty and faithful. He was much respected by his acquaintances.

He was Town Clerk of Gaines for many years and held the office of Overseer of the poor a long time.


Daniel Brown was born in Columbus County, N. Y., June 15th, 1787. He removed wit his father's family to Upper Canada, in the year 1800. He resided in Canada during the war of 1812. He experienced much trouble in consequence of his refusal to bear arms in that war against his native country. He was indicted and tried for treason and acquitted. In January, 1816, he removed to the town of Gaines and settled one mile north-east from Albion.

Mr. Brown has established an enviable character for integrity among his acquaintances, and has been honored and respected.

He was Supervisor of the town of Gaines in 1844, and has held various other town offices.

He married Mary Willsea, in Canada, in the year 1807.

Mr. Brown is still living.


Wm. W. Ruggles was born in Hardwick, Massachusetts, January 1st, 1800. His father, Seth Ruggles, removed with his family in 1804 to Poultney, Vermont, where Wm. W. labored on a farm until he was eighteen years old. He then entered the office of Judge Williams, at Salem, N. Y., as a student at law. Here he studied law eight months in the year, teaching school winters. He closed his preparatory law study with Chief Justice Savage, at Albany. Having been admitted tot he bar, he came to Albion and formed a partnership with Judge Moody, which was soon dissolved.

He removed to Gaines in 1824, and began the practice of his profession there.

In the contest between Gaines and Albion for the county buildings, he took an active part for his village.

He aided in founding Gaines Academy, and the Farmers Bank of Orleans, at Gaines.

He exerted himself to have the New York Central Railroad located along the Ridge, and use his influence in favor of the building of Niagara Suspension Bridge, and was a stockholder in that company.

In his profession as a lawyer he was diligent and successful. He held the offices of Master in Chancery, Supreme Court commissioner, Judge of the court of Common Pleas, and Justice of the Peace and various other town offices. He was several times the candidate of the Democratic Party for the State Legislature, but failed of an election as his party was largely in the minority.

Judge Ruggles had a cultivated mind, enriched by studious habits of life. He was particularly fond of Astronomy, on which he left some lectures in manuscript, written by him.

In the autumn of 1849 he went to Chicago, intending to reside and practice law there, but having taken cold while on his voyage around the lake, he was compelled to return to Gaines sick, and never recovered, dying at Gaines, April 22d, 1850.

He spent a year surveying government land in Michigan, when General Cass was Governor, where he contracted fever and ague, from which he suffered ever afterwards.

He married Miss Ann Davis, daughter of Dea. Perry Davis, of Gaines, in 1827. She died Aug. 20th, 1846. He left three children, William Oakley, now a broker in New York; Henry C., a Civil Engineer in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Hester, who married Mr. Fred Boott, and resides in Gaines.

The Pioneer History of Orleans County, NY, By Arad Thomas


Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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