History of Ontario Co. & Its People

Vol. 1, Pub. 1911  Pg.  108 - 117

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The New Coalition of Free Soilers Adopt the Name Republican--Men Identified with the Movement--A Tangled Local Campaign--Union Ticket Put in the Field by Republicans and Democrats--Opposing Know Nothing Candidates for County Offices Win at the Election. 

With the opening of the State campaign of 1855, the Free Soil coalitionists became a distinct political organization.  The names with which they had been popularly christened, in entire disregard of their old-time party affiliations as Whigs or Democrats, were dropped.  Barnburners, Hard Shells, Woolly Heads, Sewardites, and Anti-Hindoos became Republicans. 

The work of party organization under the Republican name, began the year before in the West and in Maine, extended rapidly throughout the North during 1855.  The struggle in which the emigrants from the Free States had engaged to save Kansas from slavery, the fight which the obscure rail splitter of Illinois was making against Douglas and squatter sovereignty, his proclamation of the truth that this Nation could not exist ˝ slave and ˝ free, and the success of the Anti-Nebraskans at the opening of the 34th Congress in electing Nathaniel P. BANKS, Speaker of the House of Representatives, were under the Republican banner. 

In New York State, steps were taken early in the summer to organize the new party.  The first Republican State convention was called to meet in Syracuse, September 26, to nominate a ticket for State offices to be filled at the November election.  Each Assembly district was to be represented by two delegates.  The Whig party, dominated by its Seward or Free Soil wing, called its convention for the same date and city. 

In the Ontario county districts, the same plan was pursued--the Republican and Whig conventions being called for the same date, with the evident intention of merging one in the other.

The calls for the Republican district conventions read as follows: 

First District Republican Convention 

The electors of the Eastern Assembly District of Ontario county, who are in favor of the Republican organization, will meet at the Town Hall in the Village of Phelps, on Saturday, September 8th, at 2 o’clock, p. m., for the purpose of selecting two delegates to represent said district in the Republican State Convention, to be held at Syracuse on the 26th September next, and to transact such other business as may legitimately come before the convention.--August 25, 1855. 




Joseph JANE,

Thomas SMITH,

George MACK,






Elihu STONE,





James BROWN,

Levi CASE,


Jonathan BURT.


Second District Republican Convention 

The Independent Electors of the several towns, in the Second Assembly District of Ontario county, who are opposed to the further subjugation of our government to the interests of Slave Power, to the extension of Slavery into our National domain, and to any further strengthening of the Slave Power by the admission of Slave States into the Confederacy, are requested to meet in their several towns, irrespective of former party associations, and select twice the usual number of Delegates to a District Convention, to meet at Hick’s Hotel in Bristol on Saturday, the 22d of September, for the purpose of selecting two Delegates to the State Republican Convention to meet at Syracuse on the 26th inst., and to transact such other business as may be found necessary.  By Order of the Committee.

September 6, 1855. 

The calls of three Republican town caucuses appeared in the September 13 issue of the local Free Soil organ.  That for Canandaigua was called to meet in the town hall and to it were invited “all citizens who are opposed to the aggressions of the slave power, and in favor of political action with reference to that question.”  That for Bristol was held at the house of S. C. HICKS and included electors who were “in favor of the Republican organization.”  That for Richmond was held at Hazen’s tavern in Honeoye, and included all who were “in favor of forming a Republican party, in opposition to the extension of slavery on free soil and also opposed to secret societies for political purposes.”

The only report we have of these first gatherings of men who were willing to be known as Republicans is the following from The Times of September 20, 1855: 

Town Convention 

At a meeting of the Republicans of the Town of Canandaigua, announced at the Town Hall on Monday, the 17th inst., according to previous notice. 

The following gentlemen were elected Delegates to the district convention to be held at Bristol on the 22d inst.: 

Evander SLY,

Edwin HICKS,

Stephen PARRISH, 2d,






Stephen SAXTON,


Charles HALL,

Joel M. HOWEY,



On motion, Resolved that the delegates be authorized to appoint substitutes, in case of their inability to attend. 

On motion, Col. W. MILLOR, E. W. GARDNER, and Joel M. HOWEY were appointed Town Committee for the ensuing year. 

It is a matter to be much regretted that the reporter did not give more of the details of this first Republican caucus in the town of Canandaigua, that we have no list of the voters present, or record of the speeches made.  We have been informed by one of those who was present that there was a very small attendance, barely enough for officers of the meeting and to forward its business.  Not all of those elected delegates to the district convention were present at the caucus, but it is fair to presume it was known that they were in sympathy with the movement.  Perhaps no speeches were made.  Not always do the men meet to initiate a movement of such far-reaching significance make much noise.  They act rather than talk. 

The only survivor of the delegates elected at this historic gathering is Elisha W. GARDNER, of Canandaigua.  Joel M. HOWEY, an honored agriculturist, survived until 1909, when he died at the ripe age of 91 years.  Evander SLY, who headed the delegation, was then and for many years afterward one of the most prominent business men of the village.  Stephen PARRISH was superintendent of the Canandaigua Gas Light Company and later became a resident of Jersey City.  Edwin HICKS, who had only been a resident of the village since the preceding January, was a young attorney, whose anti-slavery sentiments, imbibed as a boy among the Bristol hills, naturally led to his identification with the new party at its very beginning.

E. S. GREGORY had been the partner of Myron H. CLARK in the hardware business and later engaged in banking.  H. C. LUCAS was for many years prominently identified with the produce business.  Stephen SAXTON was a lumber merchant.  R. B. JOHNSON was a farmer living at Centerfield.  Henry WILLSON, son of Jared WILLSON, later met his death as a soldier while fighting in support of the principles which he espoused at this caucus.  Charles HALL was a prominent farmer of Cheshire, and the father of Lorenzo C. and John B. HALL.  Chauncey REMINGTON was a leading druggist and M. REMINGTON, his nephew, was a farmer.  W. W. McCLURE was for a long time a leading stone mason.  Willson MILLOR was the man to whom “in an evil hour,” as Mr. MILLIKEN later told readers of the paper, the latter sold The Times in the summer of 1854, and who remained its proprietor until February of the next year, when the office was burned out.  The paper was reestablished by Mr. MILLIKEN in May, 1856. 

The first “Republican” convention in the county was that called as above noted for the First or Eastern Assembly district and held at Phelps on September 8.  E. W. FRISBIE acted as its chairman, and Edward W. HENDERSON, and B. H. BARLETT as its secretaries.  Thomas McLOUTH, formerly a Whig, and Lyman CATLIN, an ex-Democrat of the Hard Shell school, were elected delegates to the State convention.  Delegates to district conventions were elected as follows: 

Senatorial--Robert ROYCE, of Hopewell; Thomas M. TERRY, of Farmington; John McKAY, of Seneca; R. N. FERGUSON, of Phelps; J. DEWEY, Jr., of Manchester, and H. METCALF, of Gorham; C. BANNISTER, A. J. SHANNON, and T. POMEROY, at large.

Judicial--G. W. DUESBURY, Jacob WADER, and Jonathan PRATT.   

The Whig convention for the First district elected J. M. Bradford, of Geneva, as its representative to the Whig State convention.


The Republican convention for the Second Assembly district was held, pursuant to the call, at the home of S. C. HICKS in Bristol, on the 22nd of September, 1855. 

The convention organized by the election of Josiah PORTER, of East Bloomfield, as chairman, and Zoroaster PAUL, of Richmond, and Edwin HICKS, of Canandaigua, as secretaries. 

The towns were represented by these delegates: 

Canandaigua--Edwin HICKS, Stephen PARRISH, 2nd., M. REMINGTON, Charles HALL, Joel M. HOWEY, and Willson MILLOR (not all those elected at the caucus above reported being present). 

Richmond--Zoroaster PAUL, D. L. HAMILTON, Hiram ASHLEY, W. A. REED, Willard DOOLITTLE, Alfred FRANKLIN. 

Victor--B. B. TRASK, L. DEWEY. 

East Bloomfield--J. PORTER, Myron ADAMS, C. W. HIGBY, H. GAINS, Thayer GAUSS. 

West Bloomfield--O. WADE, Silas C. BROWN, E. F. LEECH, G. A. WENDELL, Henry L. TAFT, Sireno FRENCH. 

Bristol--John MASON, W. S. HICKS, Stephen A. CODDING, Arunah JONES, W. Scott HICKS, Orestus CASE. 


A committee, consisting of Messrs. BROWN, ASHLEY, JONES, HAMILTON, HIGBY, CODDING, and FRENCH, reported resolutions declaring that “we have to require of public servants only intelligence, honesty and fidelity in the discharge of the duties confided to their care, without reference to the stars predominating at their birth, or the distance between their own and the natal place of their neighbors:” that “to proscribe any of our fellow citizens on account of their religious faith and make a polemical doctrine the test of citizenship, is to attack the fundamental elements of our Republican form of government,” and that the members of the convention, as Republicans, asserted unequivocally:  “1st, That no more slave states shall be admitted into the Union; 2nd, That no slavery shall be permitted under any pretence in any territory in the United States;  

3d, That slavery shall be abolished in all places within the jurisdiction of the Federal Government; 4th, That the Fugitive Slave law shall be repealed; 5th, That the influence of the general government shall, under all circumstances, be exerted to discountenance and restrain slavery, and to extend and promote the blessings of Freedom.” 

The resolutions were adopted, and Willson MILLOR and Zoroaster PAUL were elected delegates to the State convention, and Edwin HICKS, Elnathan W. SIMMONS, and Hiram ASHLEY delegates to the Judicial convention.  Colonel MILLOR, Sireno FRENCH, and Orestus CASE were appointed as the central committee. 

The Republican and Whig conventions at Syracuse, September 26, through conference committees, united upon resolutions and upon a ticket of candidates for State offices, and the Whig convention dissolved and repaired in a body to the hall where the Republicans held their meeting.  The Republican ticket thus nominated was headed by Preston KING, of St. Lawrence county, as a candidate for Secretary of State. 

But not all of those identified with the Free Soil movement had yet enrolled themselves in the new party.  Not all of those who expressed themselves as in sympathy with its purposes cared yet to commit their political fortunes to its keeping.  Not all of those who were destined to engage in its cause and participate in its early triumphs were yet fighting under its banner.  Old party ties were then, as they are now, difficult to throw off.  It was not until the next year that party lines finally adjusted themselves to the new conditions. 

It required the hot fires of a Presidential contest to bring the men, who believed that the time for temporizing with the monstrous evil of human slavery had passed, to see that they must make open profession of the faith that was in them, and, sinking personal differences, pushing aside considerations of selfish interest, and forgetting past political associates, give to the cause of Freedom, as represented by the Republican party, the support of their names and votes as well as of their consciences. 

So through the later campaign, that for the nomination and election of county and district officers, as had been the case in that for the election of delegates to the State convention, the Whig leaders kept up their organization and many of the Free Soil Democrats continued in active affiliation with the party to which they had so long acknowledged allegiance.  The local campaign, therefore, was a tangled one, and it is difficult, after this length of time, to follow its turnings. 

Both the Republican and Democratic county conventions were held on October 13, with a view to bringing about a union between the Republicans and Democrats in the nomination of a ticket of candidates for county offices.  Upon recommendation of a conference committee, it was decided that each convention should nominate a full ticket and then appoint another committee of conference, with power to make up from the two sets of candidates a union ticket. 

The Republican convention thereupon nominated the following candidates, constituting  the first ticket put in the field by the Republican organization of Ontario county:  For county judge, Samuel A. FOOT, of Geneva; for county clerk, Nathan J. MILLIKEN, of Canandaigua; for sheriff, William A. WILLSON, of Manchester; for district attorney, Emory B. POTTLE, of Naples; for county treasurer, John MOSHER, of Canandaigua; for justice of sessions, Arunah JONES, of Bristol; for superintendent of the poor, George DUNKLE, of Hopewell. 

The Democratic convention first nominated Charles J. FOLGER as county judge, but he peremptorily declined, and the ticket was made up as follows:  For county judge, Albert LESTER; for county clerk, Elnathan W. SIMMONS; for sheriff, Dexter H. HAWKS; for district attorney, Elisha W. GARDNER; for county treasurer, Jacob J. MATTISON; for surrogate, John N. WHITING; for superintendent of poor, George GOODING; for justice of sessions, George W. STEARNS. 

Myron H. PECK, Elbridge G. LAPHAM, William C. DRYER, Elisha W. GARDNER and Henry O. CHESEBRO, appointed to confer with a similar committee from the Republican convention as to a union ticket, reported that they could not reach a satisfactory agreement as to the matter. 

But the effort to unite on a ticket was not given up and finally, when only one working day remained before election, there was a compromise effected by which the following union ticket was agreed upon:  For county judge, Emory B. POTTLE (Rep.); for sheriff, Nathan J. MILLIKEN (Rep.); for county clerk, Elnathan W. SIMMONS (Dem.); for district attorney, Dolphin STEPHENSON (Rep.); for surrogate, John WHITING (Dem.); for county treasurer, Jacob J. MATTISON (Dem.); for superintendent of poor, Henry MOTT (Dem.); for justice of sessions, Arunah JONES (Rep.). 

The opposing Know Nothing ticket was made up as follows:  For county judge, Peter M. DOX, of Geneva; for sheriff, Henry C. SWIFT, of Phelps; for county clerk, John J. LYON, of Canandaigua; for county treasurer, George WILLSON, of Canandaigua; for district attorney, T. O. PERKINS, of Canandaigua; for superintendent of poor; J. Q. GROESBECK; for surrogate, Samuel SALISBURY, of Canandaigua; for justice of sessions, James M. PULVER, of Gorham. 

There was also a “Hard Shell” ticket, on which Thomas M. HOWELL ran as a candidate for county judge; Edgar W. DENNIS, for district attorney; Nathaniel K. COLE, for county clerk; Justus H. DAWLEY, for sheriff, and William H. PHELPS, for county treasurer.

The county election resulted in the success of the entire Know Nothing ticket, excepting its candidates for county treasurer and surrogate, to both of which offices the coalition candidates (both of them Democrats) were elected by small majorities. 


At the Eastern or Second Assembly district Republican convention, held at the Canandaigua hotel, October 13, 1855, and at which Silas C. BROWN, of West Bloomfield, acted as chairman, and Arunah JONES, of Bristol, as secretary, Judge Henry W. TAYLOR, of Canandaigua, was nominated to the office of member of Assembly. 

At an adjourned meeting of the First district Republican convention, held at Clifton Springs, October 6, Samuel A. FOOT, of Geneva, was placed in nomination for the Assembly. 

Judge FOOT was elected over his Know Nothing opponent, Corydon WHEAT, by 48 plurality, while Stephen H. PARKER, the Hard Shell candidate, received 745 votes.  Judge TAYLOR was defeated by Oliver CASE, re-nominated by the Know Nothings, by 197 plurality.  The Hard Shell candidate, Myron H. PECK, received 202 votes. 

For Senator of the 29th district, the Republicans had presented John WILEY and the Know Nothings Sidney SWEET.  The latter was elected.  For Justice of the Supreme Court, E. Darwin SMITH, the Know Nothing nominee, defeated Addison T. KNOX, Republican. 

Preston KING, who headed the Republican ticket as a candidate for Secretary of State, was defeated by a small plurality by Joel T. HEADLEY, the Know Nothing or American party candidate.  The other nominees were Aaron WARD, National Democrat, and Israel T. HATCH, Soft Shell Democrat.


Notwithstanding these successes in State and local elections, the day of Know Nothingism had ended.  Many of those who had voted its tickets had never become members of the order, and had no sympathy with its secret purposes.  They had used it as a weapon with which to wreak vengeance on the old leaders.  That accomplished, there was another shift of the political kaleidoscope.  Even in New York State hope of resuscitating the Whig party was abandoned.  The various movements that had masqueraded under the guise of Anti-Nebraskaism, People’s convention, Anti-Hindooism, etc., had become Republican in name-- “Republican, no prefix, no suffix; but plain Republican.”  But by one of those strange mutations that occur in politics, not all those who had identified themselves in the various independent and protesting movements were to join the new party--some of those who opposed those movements were to become active and influential in its councils.  

In these imperfect sketches of the movements out of which was organized the Republican party in Ontario county, the writer has gone into particulars as far as possible as to the members and officers of conventions and committees, realizing that such details may not be interesting to the general reader, but believing that in them is contained the most valuable record of the party’s beginnings here.  They embrace the names of some, not all by any means, of those to whom belong the honor of guiding and uniting the anti-slavery sentiment of the time, and to whom should go the credit for organizing and setting in motion the party machinery.


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