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Chapin, Dr. Cyrenius - Erie County

DR. CYRENIUS CHAPIN, son of Capt. Caleb Chapin, was a man whose career fills a memorable chapter in the pioneer history of Buffalo. Physician, soldier and frontiersman. Dr. Chapin was a typical American of that stern epoch when hardship and peril developed the latent resources of character.

Cyrenius Chapin was born in Bernardston, Massachusetts, on the 7th of February, 1769. He studied medicine with his brother, Dr. Caleb Chapin. He practiced for several years at Windhall, Vermont, later removing to Sangerfield, Oneida County, N. Y. In 1801 he came to Buffalo. In 1803 he went to Fort Erie, but later returned with his family to Buffalo. Dr. Chapin's life was full of the hardships of the frontier physician, and he went on horseback to his patients, making hundreds of perilous journeys through the wilderness. He founded the first drug store in Buffalo, and often supplied gratuitously not only medicine but food to his needy patients. He wielded a great influence, and was highly esteemed by the Indians, who were accustomed to speak of him as "The Great Medicine Man."

When the War of 1812 broke out, Dr. Chapin raised a company of volunteers and offered his services, both as officer and surgeon. He was successively commissioned Captain, Major and Lieutenant-Colonel. He served with the American vanguard in the occupation of Fort George in May, 1813. In June he organized a body of mounted riflemen which he commanded in the fight at Beaver Dams, Canada, on the 24th of June, 1813, under Lieutenant-Colonel Boerstler, whose force was compelled 'to surrender. On July 12 Col. Chapin and his men were sent as prisoners toward Kingston, in two boats, under a heavy British guard. Col. Chapin had laid a carefully concerted plan of escape, and when the boats were a few miles from their destination, the Americans, at a signal, rose, overpowered the guards, steered for Fort Niagara, and after a night of rowing delivered their erstwhile captors to the commander of the fort as prisoners of war. When the British attacked Buffalo in December, 1813, Col. Chapin made a daring stand at Black Rock and defended the place till he had only five men left. He then retreated to Buffalo, where he found a dismounted six-pounder cannon. Hastily mounting it on wagon-wheels, he gathered a few men and boys whom he drew up at Niagara street, where he fought the British till his cannon was disabled. When further resistance was useless, he mounted a horse, tied a white handkerchief to his sword, and riding to the enemy held them by parleying till the inhabitants of Buffalo had time to escape.

He also obtained from the British officer in command advantageous terms, for the surrender of the village, but the plighted word of the foe was shamefully violated. Col. Chapin was made a prisoner and taken to Montreal, where he was held nine months. On his return to Buffalo he was appointed surgeon of the military hospital. When he retired from this office he removed to Geneva, N. Y., but returned to Buffalo in 1818, and here he continued to reside, practice his profession and take an active part in public affairs till the close of his life. On the organization of the Erie County Medical Society in 1821, Dr. Chapin was made its first President. In 1836 the citizens of Buffalo presented him a service of silver plate as a testimonial of their admiration of him as a citizen and soldier.

In 1793 Dr. Chapin married Sylvia Burnham, of Bernardston, Mass. He died on the 20th of February, 1838, and was buried with military honors. The cemetery where his remains were laid to rest is now the site of the City and County Hall.

SOURCE:  Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York; Volume I