Geneva History 

History of Ontario Co, NY & its People, Pub 1911, Vol 1  


Chapter XXIX,  pg 331 - 338

(still to add pg 339-378)

Transcribed by Dianne Thomas



Welcome to Ontario County, NY, History and Genealogy. 
If you would like to link Ontario County data to this site please contact me. Copyright resides with the contributor.
   Please email me with your submission of  ancestors to add to this listing.

Return to Home Page                                    Return to Town Histories

Town & Village of Geneva


Compiled from materials furnished by Chares Delamater VAIL. L. H. D., by whom all rights are reserved, also revised and corrected by him.


As a bit of earth, Geneva, as seen today, has much to plume itself upon, but in the early days the coign of vantage of Geneva as a place was not so much its beautiful surroundings as the fact that it shared with Bath the honor of being the gateway to the Genesee country, and by the Genesee country is meant here no merely the geographical valley of the Genesee river, but, in a larger, freer sense then current, the entire portion of the Empire state from Seneca lake to lake Erie, a country which, coming suddenly to he attention of the world through Sullivan's Raid in 1779, at once dazzled its imagination as a new earthly paradise and to this day remains a magnet of undiminished attraction - a country to which, if traditions may be believed, no less a one than WASHINGTON once made a flying visit with his friend, Colonel William FITZHUGH, to verify its charm - a legend worthy to be true, even it it be not so.  

As already stated, the early coign of vantage of Geneva was that it shared with Bath the honor of being the gateway to the Genesee country, but happily for Geneva and unhappily for Bath, it was not a case of sharing equally.  To the coveted Genesee country, there were, it is true, in the early time but two approaches from the seaboard, one from the Hudson river by waterways to Geneva, the other from the Chesapeake bay by waterways to Bath; but since to the bulk of the seaboard population sighing for new demesnes the approach form the Hudson river was the more convenient, it resulted that practically Geneva was the gateway to the Genesee country, and further, that as between Bath and Geneva the star of empire never took its way beyond Geneva.

Fortunate in its geographical situation and surroundings, Geneva was equally fortunate in the exceptional character of its early settlers as a body - a peculiarity for good which came not to Geneva only, but in differing degrees to all the old towns of the Genesee country.  The circumstances attending the settlement, hap-hazard, on lands owned by the State, without any attempt whatever at sifting or selection; contrariwise, it was a case of organized settlement under great proprietary, to whom the character as well as the number of the settlers mattered, and to whom the same time rapidity of settlement was a consideration of moment. 

It must be remembered that, while by the celebrated convention of December 16, 1786, held at Hartford, Connecticut, by the State of New York and Massachusetts, to settle their rival territorial claims under their Colonial charters, the rights of sovereignty over that portion of the State of New York west of the meridian of the 82nd milestone in the boundary line between New York and Pennsylvania, i.e., over the Genesee country, was reserved to the State of New York, the fee simple, together with the right of pre-emption or first purchase from the native Indians of the soil of the same, was given to the State of Massachusetts; and that subsequently the State of Massachusetts, not caring to interest itself as proprietary in any plans for disposing of the lands of the Genesee country to actual settlers, sold its pre-emption rights, April 1, 1788, to tow of its citizens, Oliver PHELPS and Nathaniel GORHAM, representing an association.  This passed the lands of Western New York from State proprietaryship  to the proprietaryship of private individuals and the advantages that naturally follow private ownership and management.

The intimate particulars of the creation of the Phelps and Gorham proprietaryship over the Genesee country, and how 2 years later, in 1790 and 1791, this proprietary ship passed to Robert MORRIS, and how, April 11, 1792, that portion of this 

proprietaryship lying between Seneca lake and the Genesee river passed under the name of the "Genesee tract" to Sir William PULTENEY and the Pulteney Associates, it is not pertinent to recount in this connection; nor is it pertinent to pass in review the various proprietary ships which later arose in the western half of the Genesee country, by purchase from Robert MORRIS or from the MORRIS estate.  It is pertinent however, or at least it will gratify a laudable curiosity, to fix the first cost of the territory which today constitutes the city of Geneva, being 2,400 acres more or less.  To Massachusetts, for the right of pre-emption of the lands of the Genesee county, Phelps and Gorham paid, or contracted to pay, $1,000,000, being an average per acre of about 12 cents; and to the native Indians, in satisfaction of their claims on the "Genesee tract" in which Geneva is located, $12,000, being an average per acre of about half a cent.  If these figures are correct, the first cost of the territory now included in the city of Geneva, was but $300!!



The First Settlers

The first proprietaries, Phelps and Gorham, 1788-1790, did not content themselves with efforts to secure acceptable settlers from the eastern portion of New York State only, or from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the States geographically nearest, but being Massachusetts men made special efforts to secure settlers from Massachusetts and from New England  generally, and the roll of early settlers in the "Genesee tract" shows many names from that portion of our country.  But the proprietaryship of Phelps and Gorham, two years, was too short for any particularly significant results to be accomplished.  Of these first proprietaries, however, Oliver PHELPS and Nathaniel GORHAM, it will ever be the historian's privilege and duty to record that both were men of elevated character and marked intelligence, and in particular of Mr. PHELPS that in all business matters he was conspicuously remarkable for capacity, energy, and shrewdness, and that throughout the territory embraced in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase his memory has been cherished with profound respect, and that the system of land survey into townships and ranges, organized by him in Canandaigua in 1789, was afterwards, with slight modification, adopted by the United States government. 

Under the next proprietary, Robert MORRIS, 1790-1792, no special efforts at actual settlement within the "Genesee tract" seem to have been made, as Mr. MORRIS had apparently purchased the great domain for speculative purposes only, but though during this proprietaryship the work of settlement was not pushed, it did not by any means cease, settlers continuing to come from geographical sections brought into touch with the "Genesee tract" by Phelps & Gorham. 

When, however, in 1792 Sir William PULTENEY, representing the Pulteney Associates, became proprietary of the "Genesee tract", a new and memorable chapter began in the settlement of the country which had so recently been thrown open to the knowledge of the world.  There appeared on the scene, as an agent of Sir William PULTENEY and the Pulteney Associates, Captain Charles WILLIAMSON, a Scotchman by birth, an Englishman by adoption, an American by naturalization, a Bostonian by marriage, but above all a man of genius, a man of extraordinary energy and resource, peculiarly fitted to promote large enterprises, even if he was to an extent over-sanguine of results and prodigal in expenditures to achiever the determined end.   Immediately, by advertisement, by publications, by personal visits to important centers, and by correspondence, Captain WILLIAMSON with masterly tact concentrated attention abroad as well as at home on the new paradise.  Especially he utilized with great success the interest in the Genesee country which had been kindled by the very laudatory reports of that country which had been spreading in every direction since the return of Sullivan's army from its triumphant but devastating raid through the land of the Senecas to the Genesee river, in 1779.  In no long time it resulted that on both sides of the Atlantic and on this side in Maryland and Virginia, as well as in the Eastern States, well-to-do families became interested, and soon the "Genesee tract" was invaded, so to speak, by ladies and gentlemen, many of whom came with their servants and slaves.  But the invaders were resolute men and high spirited women, and the terrors and hardships of subduing a wilderness did not affright them or drive them back.  They came into the wilderness to make it blossom like the rose and they stayed and triumphed.   


A Social Center

But more remarkable even than the presence of a certain number of families of culture and prominence in Geneva at its very beginning, is the extent to which Geneva became and still is a center for families of that class, and the cumulative effect it has had in lifting the town of the whole place, and in making Geneva a cultured home of industry and order and prosperity, as well as of letters and the gentle arts.  When passing in review the century of events in Geneva, one is struck with the high character of the things attempted and achieved by its professional men, and its captains of industry.

Quite as striking as the number of Geneva's families of culture and prominence, is the extent to which in the history of Geneva they have been constant and continuing forces.  It is to be regretted that a table prepared to illustrate this peculiarity and to exhibit the historic families of Geneva, in groups as determined by birth and marriage combined, is too long to be incorporated in this historic sketch, but a few words by way of summary may be allowed.  Altogether there is a total of 28 groups, with 152 families, not counting any family twice, the various ROSES, for example, who are related, counting as only one family.  Of these groups, 8 began before 1800, four between 1800 and 1810, three between 1810 and 1820, four between 1820 and 1830, four between 1830 and 1840; the remainder, excluding the present generation (five), at various dates between 1840 and 1870.  The largest of the groups, is the LAWSON group, beginning 1796 with Jacob W. HALLETT and including 21 different families, among which are, for example, the familiar names of ROSE, NICHOLAS, DOX, BOGERT, GALLAGHER, MELLEN, CAMMANN and PATTERSON.  Besides the historic families in groups, one finds also about he same number of prominent single or unrelated families, the grouped and ungrouped families making a total that is certainly remarkable in any place the size of Geneva.


Religious Characteristics      pg 335

The religious characteristics presented by Geneva are quite as remarkable as its social characteristics.  In the earliest period, strange as it may seem, the Episcopalians in numbers and influence practically balanced the Presbyterians; a phenomenon not paralleled probably in any other part of the country, but explicable by reference to the sources whence the original population of Geneva was drawn.  Again, and this coincidence should be writ large, for it is quite as striking as the fact just noted, Geneva is relatively the strongest center in the United States of both the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians.  And last of all, but perhaps more remarkable and more complimentary to Geneva than either of the two facts already mentioned, the total membership of the Christian bodies in Geneva compared with the total population shows as large a percentage as is show anywhere else in our country and possibly larger.

A unique characteristic remains to be noticed.  Years and years ago, Geneva was conspicuous for its large number of retired clergymen, also its large number of unmarried women and a Geneva wit won immortality by this epigram: "Ah! Yes, Geneva is equally the saints' retreat and the old maids paradise!"  This epigram is introduced not in the way of veiled disparagement of a certain class of Geneva's clergy and a certain class of Geneva's women, but to give a legitimate occasion for emphasizing the fact that in the long history of Geneva, nothing is lovelier than the shining record of its unmarried women, not only in acts of Christian charity and beneficence, but in lives of high and noble example, and nothing more wholesome or gratifying than the quiet but elevated influence of its retired clergy.


Chronicle of Geneva

I come not to the chronicle of Geneva.  The events before 1800 are, in a way, but a prelude to the events after 1800, and are comprised in two formative periods, a shorter and a longer, both full charges with occurrences of moment, but each subject to a domination entirely different from the other.  The shorter period embraces the years from 1787 to 1792, inclusive


Period 1787 to 1792   

The story of the civic life of Geneva opens in June, 1787, with "a solitary log house and that not finished, in habited by one JENNINGS".  This house, soon enlarged by Jennings, Elark JENNINGS, into a tavern and presumably the first tavern within Geneva's borders, stood a little south of what is now the junction of Washington and Exchange streets, on what was then the Indian trail leading southward to Kashong from round the lake, the trail breaking over the top of the shore-bank at or about the spot where now stands Trinity church.  Within a year several huts or log house, bark-covered, arose alone this street or trail, among them one bark covered structure, more ambitious that the rest, the framed tavern and trading establishment erected by the so-called Lessee company in the summer or early autumn of 1787 and occupied by Dr. Caleb BENTON as representative of that company.  This straggling line of bark-covered structures, overtopped by the lank-bank, formed the distant prospect of Geneva for the first wayfarers from the east into the Genesee country, a contrast to the distant prospect of the beautiful and busy Geneva of the 20th century. 

As the gateway of the Genesee country, and to an extent identical geographically with Kanadesaga, the famous but fallen capital of the Senecas, and at the same time as the headquarters of the Lessee company, i.e., the New York Genesee Land Company, a company organized early in the first year of Geneva, 1787, Geneva had, of course, from the beginning a floating population of varying numbers, a population made up mostly of explorers, land speculators, Indian traders, and of pioneers passing through to the westward; but, along with these and such as these, there were those who had come to Geneva to become permanent settlers, or who, arriving there, had found it to their interest to become such.  The number of permanent settlers in Geneva during the shorter formative period grew, but not rapidly, for in 1790, Geneva is spoken of as a place of only ten or twelve families.   


The Earliest Comers   pg 337 - 338

No complete list exits, nor probably can ever be made, of the various persons who were in Geneva for a longer or shorter time during the first formative period ( 1787-1792), either as temporary residents or permanent settlers, but the following confessedly imperfect list, gathered from Mr. CONOVER's historical papers, is not without interest and value: 

Elark JENNINGS, at once first innkeeper and first recorded inhabitant; Peter BARTLE, Indian trader; Horatio JONES, Indian interpreter; Asa RANSOM, maker of Indian trinkets; Gilbert R. BERRY, silversmith; John WIDNER, farmer at the foot of the lake and ferry keeper; Daniel EARL and Solomon EARL, his son, farmers over the outlet; Captain Timothy ALLYN and one HICKOX, merchants; Jacob and Joseph BACKENTOSE, tailors, who by their skill created in time a State-wide ambition to wear clothes by a "Geneva tailor;" one BUTLER, the first carpenter; James TALLMADGE, a blacksmith and Elisha TALLMAGE, merchant; Ezra PATTERSON, inn keeper, presumably on site of the Carrollton; Joshua FAIRBANKS, inn keeper, site not certain; Dr. Caleb BENTON, representative of the Lessee company, with head quarters in their tavern and trading establishment; Colonel Seth REED and Peter RYCKMAN, first holders of important land patents in Geneva; Major Benjamin BARTON, Major Adam HOOPS, Jacob HART, Joseph ANNIN, William (?) JENKINS, surveyors; Dr. William ADAMS, first physician and a little later Dr. ANDREWS; and land owners among others as follows: Jerome LOOMIS, from Lebanon, Connecticut; Major Sanford WILLIAMS; Captain Jonathan WHITNEY; Roger NOBLE from Sheffield, Massachusetts; James LATTA, from New Windsor, New York; Solomon WARNER, William ANSLEY, a Mr. RINGER , a Mr. CRITTENDEN, owner of the farm on which were the Old Castle and the Indian mound; Phineas STEVENS, at the Charles BEAN's place; while at Kashong were settled Joseph POUDRE and Dominique DE BARTZCH, the latter a man of great influence at the time in this region.  Other names of this period are: SISSON, VAN DUZEN, BUTLER, JACKSON, GRAHAM, and SCOTT, the last two being merchants who came in June, 1793.  To this list it would be a pleasure to add, were it known, the name of him who during the first formative period introduced into Geneva the manufacture of brick, for Dr. COVENTRY in his Journal records, under date of July 3rd, 1792, that he went to Geneva and bought 300 bricks at $4 per thousand, a price which precludes the supposition that the bricks he bought were imported bricks. 

Besides the taverns or inns already mentioned, there were at least three other early inns, but it is not certain whether they came into existence in the first formative period or sometime later; the famous MC CORMICK tavern on the southwest corner of North and Exchange streets, the first in on the Kirkwood site, and TUTTLE's tavern just south of the Charles BEAN place.  But in those early days every man's house was in a way an inn, for no man might refuse rest and refreshment to the wearied traveler, especially for a reasonable consideration; and besides and behind this humane impulse was the ever present and the ever active desires to exchange news, for in Geneva, just waking into life, this was before newspapers and stages and any fixed mail service, and of course before telegraphs or telephones or railroads or steamers or canal packets, still waiting for their predestined inventors.  To this first period, but possibly to the beginning of the next period, belongs General H.W. DOBBIN, land owner, a soldier of the Revolution who enjoyed, and justly, marked local celebrity.

HTML by Dianne Thomas  

Copyright 2005 - 2014

These electronic pages may be printed as a link or for personal use, but is NOT to be reproduced
in any format for profit or presentation by ANY other organization or persons.


[NY History and Genealogy]