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

By Arad Thomas

Online Edition by Holice & Deb




Among the old families in Orleans county, none are better known or more favorably considered then the Gregory family, of Shelby. Of Scotch descent, Ralph Gregory removed from Fairfield, Vermont, to Shelby, in 1816, where he followed the occupation of a farmer and brought up his six sons to the same calling.

Mr. Gregory, the father, died in 1837. His six sons still survive and live in or near Shelby, except Philo, who moved to Michigan ten ears ago.

Brought up inhabits of industry and strict economy, they have each acquired a competence of property, and are enjoying a serene and quiet old age together so long, and the Gregory Brothers may be referred to for proof that in this good land of ours, perseverance and energy will achieve success, and health and long life made happy will very surely be attained by those who live worthy of such rewards. Extracts from the local history of two of the brothers are as follows:


"I am the fourth son of Ralph Gregory. I was born in Fairfield, Franklin County, Vermont, April 18th, 1796.

In the winter of 1817, my father with his family removed to what is now Shelby, Orleans County, N. Y. On that journey it fell to my lot to drive the team of two yoke of oxen attached to a wooden shod sled. We were on the road from February 5th to April 3d, making some stops, waiting for snow and to recruit. The greatest distance traveled in any one day was twenty miles, and that was on the ice of Lake Champlain.

But in the closing up of our journey we were three days getting from four or five miles north of Batavia to our stopping place. I married Betsey Wyman, April 5th, 1818.



"I was born in Fairfield, Vermont, April 10, 1802, being the youngest of seven sons. I was a cripple in my feet and ankles from birth. I did not walk until I was four years old. My crippled condition and my extraordinary birth, being a 'seventh son,' occasioned my being called while a boy 'doctor.' This title was peculiarly annoying to me. This and the drunkenness, profanity and infidelity which characterized some of the faculty with whom I was early acquainted, prejudiced my mind strongly against the medical profession. I have lived to find honorable exceptions to this character among some of the profession I have since known.

My only sister died before she was quite five years old.

In the early part of September, 1815, there were severe frost destroying the crops before they had matured. This so discouraged my two oldest brothers, who then had families living a few miles distant from each other, that they told my father they were done with Vermont, and had determined to seek their fortunes in the west.

At their suggestion, and in order to keep his family together, my father, then fifty years old, consented to go with them, patriarch like, to seek for himself and family ' a better country.' He accordingly took a saddle horse and visited the Genesee County, and spent some six weeks in viewing the entire region, when he returned home bringing in a favorable report of the land.

This was hailed with joy by us all except my mother, who was much attached to her old home. Houses and lands, and everything else too cumbersome to carry were disposed of, so that by the first of February, 1816, we were on our way to the far famed Genesee.

Our caravan consisted of two four ox teams, each attached to heavy wooden shod sleds, starting on the 5th, and a two horse team starting on the 6th. We had good teams, but we had a tedious journey. The most of the way the sleighing was bad. From Whitehall to near auburn, our sled s had to be newly shod every other morning, and from Auburn west we had to mount our sled on wheels.

After refreshing ourselves awhile with friends in Gorham, Ontario County, we came onto Batavia and there made another stop. It was not about the middle of March, and the younger boys went to work, while my father and the two eldest of his son went out to look for land. The place where we stopped was about four miles north of Batavia, and is now called Dawes Corners.

My father located a farm for himself on Maple Ridge, In Shelby, paying one hundred dollars for his 'chance' on one hundred acres, and buying articles of land in the vicinity for his sons.

On the third of April we again started on our journey, and arrived at our new home near the close of the third day, a short journey this last, but a very wearisome one. I was then about thirteen years old.

When we arrived at our future resident, we had no shelter for men or beast. Orange Wells and Samuel Wyman had located in that neighborhood in the spring previous and made small improvements, and built log houses.

Through the hospitality of Mr. Wells, we were kindly sheltered for a week, by which time we had built a cabin for ourselves.

Our oxen could very well live on browse, but our horses after standing one night tied to a brush heal, looked so sorry that my father took them back to Batavia.

We were all happy we could get into our new house, not a costly edifice like those dwellings of some of our rich neighbors of the present day, but made of rough unhewn logs, notched down together at the corners, shingled with rough hemlock boards, with joints broken and battened with slabs round side up, the floor made of split basswood logs spotted upon the sleepers, and flattened on the top, leaving an open space at one end for the fire place on the ground, the end of the floor planks affording a convenient seat for the children around the fire, in the absence of chairs and sofas.

Our first work was to fell trees around our dwelling, burn off the brush and logs, and enclose a patch of land for a garden and fruit nursery, my father having brought a small bag of apple seeds from Vermont.

We procured peach stones in Ontario County. This was in the spring of 1816. Four families had wintered near our location, but on the opening of spring neighbors came infrequently, and the forest resounded with the sound of woodman's ax and the crash of falling trees.

Among the names of settlers who had located in our neighborhood about the time of which I have spoken, I remember Elijah Bent, Alexander Coon, Oliver R. Bennett, James Mason, Leonard Dresser, Andrew Stevens, William Knowles, William C. Tanner, Josias Tanner, Elijah Foot, Peter Hoag, Stephen Hill, Franklin Bennett, Micah Harrington, Daniel Fuller, Daniel Timmerman, William Dunlap and Elizur Frary.

There was a will and indomitable courage entertained on the part of the settlers, but it was exceedingly difficult for them to obtain money for the common necessaries of life.

Mr. Hiel Brockway bought a lot in this vicinity, and send on Mr. Calvin C. Phelps (now of Barre) to chop, clear, and sow with wheat ten acres of land. He boarded with Mr. Wells. To him Mr. Brockway would send barrels of pork, flour, and whisky, the last of which was considered in those days about as much of a necessary as pork or flour, for him to sell to the inhabitants.

This was a relief to many, and saved the buyers much time in looking up their supplies and transporting them home.

At one time my father paid Mr. Phelps eleven dollars for as much pork as he could carry away in a peck measure. I don't recollect the number of pounds.

At another time he paid Elijah Bent twenty-five cents a pound for pork.

By the first of June in the year we came, we had driven the woods back from the house in one direction thirty or forty rods. The brush was burned off and the ground planted with corn among the logs. This was in 1816, known as the 'cold season,' when snow fell in every month in the year but two, with frost every month. Consequently we raised but little corn, and even that was saved in an unmatured condition. We were, however, with much care, able to make passable meal from some of it.

The little wheat sown the fall before yielded bountifully, but the supply not being equal to the demand, owing to the large emigration of people into the country, scarcity and high prices prevailed before the next harvest.

With so small a supply to be obtained, roads so new and rough, prices high, settlers poor, and their best and almost only means of conveyance an ox team, it is no wonder much suffering and want prevailed.

My father had one horse, and he assumed the office of commissary of subsistence in part, for the whole settlement, and acted as mill boy for the family. He would ride about the country to find grain, sometimes getting a grist neat Batavia, the next on the Ridge road, between home and Rochester. Notwithstanding my father's faithful effortsm, we would sometimes come short for food, then our good mother would put us on 'half rations.'

At one time our supplies were completely exhausted. We had been expecting our father home all day, with his bushel of grist perhaps, but he did not come and we went nearly supperless to bed, expecting he would arrive before morning.

Morning came but father did not. We hope he would come soon, and took our axes and went to work, but our axes were unusually heavy. Faint and slow were the blows we struck that morning. While we boys were trying to chop, mother sifted a bag of bran we had and made a cake of the finest, which she brought out to us during the forenoon. We ate this which stayed us till noon, when father came and brought us plenty to eat, such as it was. Variety was not be had in those times.

In course of this season most of the lands near my fathers were located by a hardy and energetic population, mostly from New England.

By the fall most of the occupied farms had their fallows, of from three to twenty acres in extent, ready for sowing. This crop, though sowed among roots and stumps of trees, produced a yield of from thirty to fifty bushels per acre.

This bountiful return, together with a fair corn crop, placed us above want and fully satisfied us with the country we had adopted as our home. Pending this harvest there was great scarcity of provisions, but neighbor lent to neighbor; the half layer of meat and loaf of bread was divided, while for weeks many families subsisted on boiled potatoes and milk, and such vegetables as the forest afforded.

When the earliest patches of wheat were cut and threshed, there was no mill to grind nearer than Rochester. There were mills on the Oak Orchard Creek, but they of such construction there was not water at that season sufficient to turn them. Neighbors would join together and send a team to Rochester to carry grists too mill for them all at once.

In many instances green wheat was boiled whole and eaten with milk. I ate of it and thought it good. The products of this harvest exceeded the wants of the producers of their bread, and as we had no highways on which we could send our grain to market, we were restricted in our sales mainly to new comes who had not time to raise a crop. A bushel of wheat was the price of a day's work of a man, and he was considered lucky who had an opportunity to sell wheat for money, at even a low price.

On the first day of July, 1817, wheat was worth two dollars and fifty cents a bushel in Orleans County, and in the winter next after farmers drew their wheat to Rochester with ox teams, a journey round taking three days or more, and sold it for from twenty-five cents to thirty-one cents a bushel in money, and we felt that was better then to go home hungry.

In consequence of my lameness my parents did not design that I should be a farmer, but Providence seemed to order otherwise. My privileges and means for obtaining an education were limited, and to the business of felling the forest, clearing land, and reaping the harvest I became much attached, so that even to the present day, the ax and the sickle are my favorite tools.

At one time I came near entering as clerk in a drug store, but the proprietor proved to be a worthless character, broke down and ran away. No other business appearing to offer for me, I accepted the occupation of a farmer, which I have followed ever since, now residing on the homestead of my father.

The first school taught in our neighborhood was by Miss Caroline Fuller, of Batavia, in the summer of 1817. The next winter we had a full school taught by Mr. J. N. Frost, of Riga. I taught school myself two terms before I was twenty-one years old. When I was twenty-one year old I was elected constable, which office I held three years in succession. Since then I have held a few offices both in towns and county, but never depended upon the fees of office for my support.

I was married April 20th, 1828, to Mary A. Potter, daughter of Wm. C. Potter, of Shelby.

My mother died April 4th, 1832, aged 65 years, and my father died April 20th, 1837, aged seventy-two years.

My father was a local preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and in connexion with Rev. Jas. Carpenter, of the Baptist denomination, he labored faithfully to plant and foster the principles of evangelical truth in the minds of a people otherwise mostly destitute of religious instruction.

I have been connected with the temperance organizations of all sorts that have been established here in the last thirty years.

At the age of eighteen years I was led to embrace the Savior of the world as my Savior, and from that time through much unworthiness, I have been endeavoring to hold on my way, trusting that the merits of Christ will avail for my short comings.

Millville, January, 1863. MATTHEW GREGORY."

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


Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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