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Kindly transcribed by Donna Walker Judge & Deborah Spencer
From History of Ontario County, NY Published 1878
Pg 24 - 31
THE PIONEER; HIS JOURNEYS---EARLY MILLS--- A PIONEER COURT---ONTARIO PRIOR TO 1800---TRIAL OF "STIFF-ARMED GEORGE." AND HIS DEFENSE BY RED JACKET.
The lands of Ontario
were purchased in 1788, and the county formed January, 1789.
As rivulets, and then a steady stream, the tide of settlement
came flooding the centres of occupation, and then moved away in
divergent lines, cutting roads and losing itself in the surrounding
forest. Both proprietors
and population were well fitted for the work before them.
The abode of the settler was rude, the public buildings first
erected by the county were of a pioneer description, but the mind was
intelligent and far-seeing. The
same axe used in cutting the logs for the cabin was swung to fell the
trees to be used in building schoolhouse, church, and mill; and,
excluded from intercourse with former homes, a local society was
organized whose fame is co-extensive with that of the Genesee country.
It is well to revert to the founders of these,---our schools, our
churches, our societies, our general prosperity.
The war of the Revolution was a grand school for the sturdy youth
of New England. Fearless,
energetic, and independent, there were few dangers they did not
surmount, no obstacles they did not remove, and distance was no bar to
finding a rich and healthful home.
He who traversed the forests of Ontario in 1796 found
three-fourths of the heads of families had been soldiers in the
Revolution. They toiled in
hope, and lived to realize. Inheriting
the manly firmness of their forefathers, they felled the original
forest, opened roads for communication, and surrounded themselves with
comforts and advantages with a rapidity hitherto unknown and akin to the
marvelous. No age supplied
men more intelligent, better versed in useful acquirements, or more
skilled in the practical concerns of life.
From fragments of old newspapers we find jottings of library
associations, medical societies, agricultural fairs, religious
organizations, and school formations.
Influences then set in motion have continued uninterruptedly to
the present; the remembrance of past honors stimulates the present to
like effort. An academy
famous for its students, its system, and its thoroughness began in an
act of incorporation as early as 1795.
A newspaper started at Geneva in 1797 has come down active and
potential to the present; churches founded with a half-dozen families
have been the nucleus of societies numbering hundreds; while, in the
halls of justice, eloquence and legal skill from a THOMPSON, a KENT, a
SPENCER, a VAN NESS, and a PLATT honored the bench, to which tribunal a
HOWELL, a GREIG, an younger SPENCER, a WILSON, a HUBBELL, a SIBLEY, and
a MARVIN, with other honored names, submitted many a masterly
dissertation of the law.
passed away and a wonderful transformation has been effected.
CORNPLANTER, RED JACKET, and FARMER's BROTHER have departed, and
left no SENECA orator to sustain their reputation and rehearse
their triumphs. The
pioneers of the earliest day have laid them down to rest, their sons
have reached a goodly age and followed after, and the grandson tills the
lands and occupies the dwelling where his ancestor toiled in what to us,
in its manners and customs but not in time, is an ancient and finished
period. He who looks upon
the portraits in the court-house of Ontario questions:
"What of these these men, and how do they lay claim to this
distinguished honor? while
the labors of a TURNER, possessed by few, give glimpses here and there
of men deserving honorable mention, while scores are passed
unnoted." How slight
the recollections of WILDER, ADAMS, and PITT; of COMSTOCK, ROBINSON, and
BOUGHTON! Who knows of
BATES and ATWATER, OAKS and POWELL; of Samuel GARDNER, John R. GREEN,
and Samuel COLT; of Myron HOLLEY, Herman H. BOGART, and Nathaniel W.
HOWELL? Who can recall in
honor of the leaders in settlement, as pioneer landlords, as prominent
attorneys, as first merchants and prime movers in works of improvement,
development, and permanence, the names of scores deserving of a record
in the history of Ontario? The
present owes a great debt to the past.
Not in vain must be their efforts to found here a community which
for education, religion, and progress shall be inferior to none.
The foundation was ably laid by the pioneers; to those who come
after them falls the building of a fit superstructure.
Their toil reduced the forests to fruitful fields, their entries
of lands are the heritage of those who receive them in trust and pledge
themselves to their proper use. It
is well, in this connection, to place on record the narratives of some
few, as types of the journeys made to this section by them in seeking
homes, and of their exodus to the rich lands of the HOLLAND purchase.
In accordance with precedent, Roswell TURNER, of Vermont, had
located at the outlet of Hemlock Lake, erected a log house, and cleared
a small tract during the summer and fall of 1796, and, to have the
advantage of firm footing, chose to bring out his family during the
winter. The journey was
long and wearisome, but Cayuga lake was finally reached, and TURNER set
out to cross upon the ice. The
attempt was made on horseback, and he narrowly escaped the loss of his
mother and two children by the breaking of the ice.
Within the year of his settlement at the outlet two of the family
died, and sickness added to his misfortune.
His after-record as a settler in the HOLLAND purchase is full of
interest in his efforts to maintain his family and supply his stock with
the twigs from felled trees to prevent their starvation.
journey was made by Peleg REDFIELD, of Connecticut.
He had obtained two hundred acres of land west of Clifton Springs
and made some improvements, and returning East, set out in February of
1800, with a sleigh and span of horses.
In the sleigh were beds, bedding, and furniture, his wife and six
children. West of Utica the
journey was memorable. The
horses became exhausted traveling through the deep snow, and all who
were able were compelled to walk. Their
cabin had not been roofed and could not be inhabited till spring, and a
settler shared his dwelling with the family.
The cabin was roofed, doors cut, and logs split for a floor, and
in these quarters the summer was passed, and fall saw the family in a
double log house. The
journey of the WADSWORTH's through to their lands on the Genesee river
portrays a pioneer experience in all its plain hardships.
Colonel Jeremiah WADSWORTH purchased a tract of land at Genesee
from Mr. PHELPS, and offered advantageous terms for its occupation to
James and William WADSWORTH, relatives.
They accepted, and in June, 1790, having completed preparation,
began their journey. William,
the older brother, set out with a yoke of oxen and cart, several hired
men, and a slave belonging to the family.
The cart progressed slowly.
The men advanced and cut logs and curduroyed the streams and
sloughs, so as to supply a roadway.
Reaching Cayuga lake, two canoes were obtained, fastened
together, and a platform of poles built upon them, and on this a
crossing was effected. Progress,
prior to the arrival at Canandaigua, was but twelve miles a day.
James WADSWORTH took the water route to the head of navigation on
Canandaigua Outlet with provision and furniture, and reached the village
of Canandaigua three days later than his brother.
Having arranged for a new journey, the brothers left Canandaigua
upon an Indian trail, and, clearing a way for their cart, made their
first camp at "Pitt's Flats."
Having rested the next night at Conesus lake, James set out on
horseback to precede the party, and took what was called the "Big
Tree" trail, and, reaching Big Tree, with a companion passed the
night there and in the morning returned on his track to meet the party.
William had got upon a branch trail, which became obscure and was
lost, so that night found him in a swamp, where the cattle were hitched
to a tree and all encamped. James,
following on the cart track, found the bewildered party and guided them
to their location, where for a short time the cart and ground were their
bed, but soon a cabin furnished shelter.
They found here a man named Lemuel JENNINGS, engaged in herding
cattle for Oliver PHELPS. It
is recollected that this land of the WADSWORTHs had been selected by
PHELPS' guide and by Horatio JONES, and was undoubtedly well chosen.
James, having seen the lost party safely located, returned the
same day to Canandaigua, and on his return became bewildered.
A light attracted his attention, and was found to be in the hands
of Jenny, the slave woman, who was holding it while his brother hewed
plank for a floor. The
cabin being built, a few acres of land were put in crop.
William was a genuine pioneer, handy at a "raising" and
fond of a muster; James was more at ease in cultivated society, and
passed much of his time at Canandaigua.
In September, 1790, all but black Jenny had the fever and ague,
and she and William were left to care for the stock while the rest
returned East. James
returned in June, 1791, and noted an increase of settlers, the raising
of barns, and the prospects of a great crop of wheat.
"In 1791, Oliver PHELPS, first judge of Ontario County,
admits James WADSWORTH to practice as attorney and counsellor, to enable
persons to sue out writs and bring actions, which at the present, for
want of attorneys, it is impossible to do."
The brothers rapidly extended the sphere of their operations, and
were prominent in the development of the Genesee valley.
Their history, fully written, would be no unimportant portion of
the early record of that locality.
Prominent in all
pioneer history is a record of its mills.
The grain must be ground, and he who set up ever so rude a
structure was a benefactor to the settler.
Many the tale scores of pioneers yet living can tell of early
experience in their journeys to and from the mills with their grist.
Richard SMITH, James PARKER, and Abraham DAYTON, followers of
Jemima WILKINSON, erected the first grist-mill in Western New York
during the summer of 1789, and here was ground the first bag of grain
milled in all this region. Levi
SMITH, working in the employ of Nathan ALDRICH, of Farmington, carried a
grist upon horses to the Friend's mill in 1791.
The stump mortar was the early chief dependence for preparing
grain for bread. Fire was
kindled in the centre of a stump cut square across, and a conical cavity
burned to a sufficient depth and dimension, and cleaned thoroughly.
A pestle was swung by a horizontal pole over the stump, and used
in reducing the grain to a proper fineness.
Gamaliel WILDER, one of the earliest pioneers of Ontario, and the
first to settle in Bristol, built, in 1790, the pioneer mill of Ontario.
It was patronized beyond its ability to do, and, urged on by
necessity, every creek was dammed wherever power could be had, and
grist- and saw-mills multiplied.
It is related of
Joshua HERENDEEN, a pioneer of Farmington, that he set out in the fall
of 1790 with two yoke of oxen and journeyed up through the woods to
Wilder's mill, and reached his goal late on Saturday night.
Mrs. WILDER was opposed to Sunday milling, and asserted that the
mill should not run on that day "if all Farmington starved."
Another journey was the only alternative.
Later in the season grain was taken up the lake to this mill by
HERENDEEN, McCUMBER, and SMITH. A
portion only was ground, and the rest was stored and laid over till
spring. John GANSON was a
settler in Avon, and, with his sons John and James, came on in 1788.
The sons remained during the winter, and the father moved out in
the fall of 1789. During
the winter they built a "tub-mill" on a small stream,
tributary to the Genesee. This
was the first mill in the Genesee valley.
Built of logs, the curb of hewed plank, the spindles a
straightened section of a cart-tire, and the stones dressed from native
rock, it was truly a primitive concern.
A sieve made of splints answered for a bolt, and the work was
only a little improvement on the mortar and pestle.
To this mill Jared BOUGHTON took his buckwheat in 1790, a
distance from Victor of twenty miles.
The Indians gave PHELPS and GORHAM a tract of land twelve by
twenty-four miles for a "mill yard;"
and they conveyed one hundred acres of this to Ebenezer ALLEN, a
character intimately associated with the early history of this region.
The condition of conveyance was the erection of a mill by him
upon it for the accommodation of the first settlers.
It was a surprise to the Indians when they compared the size of
the mill with the extent of the "yard;" but they expressed of
dissatisfaction. This mill
was resorted to by Ontario settlers from as far east as Canandaigua.
The mill was poorly built, badly located, and had a single run of
stones. Its greatest
capacity was sixty bushels per day.
After wheat-harvest, in 1790, BOUGHTON set out for this mill,
with two yoke of oxen, came to the end of his road, and before him lay
low, wet ground in a heavy forest.
He set off and found his way to the river, over the hills east of
Mount Hope. Here he put
bells upon his oxen and turned them loose, and backed his grain, a sack
at a time, across the stream down to the mill.
The first grist-mill built in the vicinity of the county seat was
erected in 1791, by Oliver PHELPS, Sr., at Littleville, on the outlet,
and was known as the Phelps mill. It
had one run of stone, one bolt, and the flour was conducted directly
from one to the other by a short spout.
Small as it was, settlers came to it to get grinding done from
long distances. As a
contrast to the present, and an illustration of the ingenuity of that
early period, we transcribe a description, by Edwin SCRANTON, of a mill
built in 1807, by Charles HARFORD, upon the site of the city of
Rochester: "The main wheel was a tub-wheel; in the top was inserted
a piece of iron, called the spindle, and the stone that ran rested upon
it, so that in raising and lowering the stone, to grind coarse or fine,
the whole enormous wheel, with the stone upon it, had to be raised with
the bottom-timbers. This
was done with a monstrous lever, which ran the whole length of the mill,
tapering to near the end, which was managed by a leathern strap put
twice around and fastened to the timbers at the end, while at the other
end hung a huge stone. The
bolt was carried from a screw made on the shaft under the stone, into
which a wooden-cogged wheel was geared in like manner, similar to an old
pair of swifts. The meal,
as it ran ground from the stone, fell upon a horizontal strap, about six
inches wide, and ran over a wheel at the far end of the bolt.
This strap ran into a box on the upper side, and, as it went over
the wheel, the meal was emptied into a spout and carried into the bolt.
In grinding corn this spout was removed, and the meal fell into a
box made for the purpose. The
bolt, however, had to go constantly, as the science of mill-making here
had not reached that very important improvement of throwing out of gear
such machinery as is not wanted running.
But after all that was a charming mill.
It rattled and rumbled like thunder, and afforded much amusement
to the boys who assisted in the ponderous operation of hoisting the
gate. This was hoisted with
a lever similar to the one that raised the stone.
A bag of heavy weights was hung to it, and then it was a
half-hour's job for a man to hoist it alone.
When once hoisted it was not shut again till night,---the stones
being let together to stop the mill between grists.
The primitive simplicity of this mill was in accordance with the
rude improvements of the time."
Engaged in the
practical and devoted as now to the acquisition of property, the forms
of local government were maintained, and the occasion found the
machinery of the courts in good working order.
It is said that the first court of Common Pleas and General
Sessions was convened in the unfinished chamber of Moses ATWATER, in
Canandaigua, on the first Tuesday of June, 1792.
Oliver PHELPS was Judge, Nathaniel GORHAM, Jr., Clerk, and Judah
COLT, Sheriff. A grand jury
was called, and Deacon George CODDING was appointed foreman.
Vincent MATTHEW, of Newtown, was the only attorney present at the
opening of court. Having
being duly instructed by the court, the grand jury retired to the
northeast corner of the public square, where, having comfortably seated
themselves upon some logs, deliberation was had for a brief time, and
then, returning into court, reported no farther business before them,
and were discharged for the term. These
plain men, clothed with authority, and consulting as they sat upon those
tree-trunks, present a picture of strength and simplicity, whose vivid
realization would exhibit, with no slight power, the origin of our free
and independent system of government.
The history of
pioneer courts all over the Western country presents a record of
assembly in open air or rude building, and the proceedings had not that
reverence ascribed to legal majesty; but the existence and operation of
such assemblies by and for the people is indicative of the intelligent
direction of popular will. The
first decade of white supremacy in Ontario comprises much in the way of
pioneer enterprise. To this
period belongs the detail of affairs unnoted at the time, but
interesting now, as sources of present industries.
Influenced by curiosity, and having the ulterior object of
investment, various persons traversed the Genesee region, and from their
notes a general idea may be obtained.
We see in 1792 but a forest, a few cleared fields, some
straggling huts at various intervals, and clusters of huts with an
occasional frame building. What
history have we here but of the people and their sturdy self-reliance
and mutual kindness? The
traveler was hospitably received, and experienced some of the
vicissitudes peculiar to his situation.
Custom had made familiar, usages and discomforts, which, to the
stranger, were unendurable. Liancourt
WATSON and others, escaping the forest, sought in the hamlet inns the
same comforts common to the East, and vented their disappointment in
complaint; but it must ever be a matter of surprise that large families
were enabled to occupy houses with but a single room during an entire
winter, and to maintain a degree of order and neatness to some degree
historic. The lakes were a
source of supply of fish for the table, and an abundance of excellent
venison was freely offered. A
writer of 1796 thus expresses the contrast effected by the brief period
of four years: "The
county of Ontario, having several years the start in settlement, and the
advantage of many Indian clearings of great extent,
had already the comfortable appearance of an old settled country; the
old Indian orchards had been dressed up and the fruit secured from
depredation. During this
year a farmer near Geneva made one hundred barrels of cider, and in an
orchard at the old Indian town one hundred bushels of peaches were
obtained and sold to a neighboring distillery.
The town of Canandaigua presented a changed appearance; a
court-house and jail were already built, and an academy founded on a
subscription of thirty thousand dollars was in process of erection.
The whole adjacent country was rapidly settling with a most
respectable yeomanry, but particularly that part lying between
Canandaigua and the Genesee river.
Geneva took a fine start; a street was laid out on the summit of
rising ground west of the lake; at the south termination a handsome
country house was begun, and finished during 1797; and, in the corner of
the square, a large and convenient tavern and hotel, besides many other
large and well-finished houses."
The lake had known canoe, raft, and boat, but in 1796 a new
enterprise was projected and executed.
A sloop of forty tons' burden was put on the stocks, intended,
when finished, to run as a packet between Geneva and Catharine's Town, a
small village at the head of the lake.
The close of the season found the vessel launched.
This, the first launch of a passenger and freight craft upon the
beautiful and never-frozen Seneca, was an occasion to call together many
people from the different settlements.
It was with no little surprise that they who, by families and in
parties, had dropped into the country, now found themselves a part of a
large and respectable assemblage. Here
were Native American and European, ostensibly engaged in the same
object---their own well-being and the aggrandizement of the Genesee
country. Already it was
almost one continuous village from Geneva to Lyons, distant sixteen
miles. In 1795 the
Legislature was induced to decree a division of Ontario, the north half
retaining the name Ontario, and the part struck off being formed as
Steuben on March 18, 1796. The
year 1797 was notable for the exodus of families to the Genesee country.
It has been estimated that the number was far in excess of
previous years, and that not less than three thousand people came into
Steuben and Ontario during the brief period of six weeks of the winter
of 1796-97. These
immigrants were principally of the most substantial farmers from
Pennsylvania, Maryland, the Jerseys, and New England.
The improvement of the country not only brought comforts but
luxury. Regular weekly
markets had been established in Geneva and Canandaigua, and there was an
abundant supply of meat of all kinds.
A printing-office had been established at Geneva, and a weekly Gazette
published. The number
of subscribers within six months had increased to a thousand.
A Scotchman established a brewery at the same village, and the
event is characterized as promising to destroy in the locality the
baneful use of spirituous liquors.
Water was brought in pipes from a remarkable spring a mile and a
half distant in plentiful supply to the door, the kitchen, and the
farm-yard, and the circumstance is adduced as evidence of the
conveniences enjoyed. Let
it not be understood that the work of settlement was more than in its
infancy; years elapsed, and the settler penetrated yet deeper into the
forest, and repeated, with less of hardship, the story of initial
In 1800, the Indians
had settled peaceably in their villages and aided the settlers in their
improvements. There was
honor among them, and fidelity; and when, as in instances, they were
wronged by overbearing whites, they found no more able nor prompt
defenders than the old settlers. But
the curse of intemperance was all powerful in its influence, and
occasional brawls resulted in the death of parties concerned.
It was in one of these that a white man named John HEWITT was
killed at or near Buffalo, then included in the limits of Ontario
County. The murder was done
by an Indian named "STIFF-ARMED GEORGE," while intoxicated,
and his surrender was demanded by the civil authorities for trial.
The Indians resisted an arrest and became greatly excited.
To their minds the fact of drunkenness was an extenuation of the
crime, while the law of the whites made this aggravation of the offense.
The Indians insisted that they were an independent nation and had
jurisdiction of the case, and claimed an appeal to the general
government. Many attempts
were made to induce the Indians to surrender the murderer that he might
be tried by the laws of the State.
Meetings were held at which both races were present, but which
proved of no avail, when finally, a council of the principal chiefs of
the SENECAS, CAUYGAS, and ONONDAGAS was called at
Canandaigua for a grave consideration of the question.
The assembly included the principal inhabitants of the village,
and was an occasion of much solemnity and perfect decorum.
The speech addressed to the white portion of the audience, made
by SA-GO-YE-WAT-HA, or RED JACKET, was against a surrender.
The speech was published by James D. BEMIS, then editor and
proprietor of the Ontario Repository, and is produced here as
furnishing grounds or judgment as to his ability as an orator, although
the interpreter has much to do with the expression, and either may or
may not have fully expressed his sentiments.
Picture to yourself a man six feet in height, of open countenance
and penetrating black eye, thus addressing the pioneers of Canandaigua:
ask your attention. Good
will and harmony have subsisted with us for years, and now an unhappy
event has taken place. One
of us has murdered one of your people, and the act cannot be recalled.
It seems as though the effect would be an end to our friendship,
but we come to this place to see if harmony may not be preserved.
Our superintendent has departed and we have no guardian, no
protector. We ask that our
speech may be taken to the President.
In the past, William JOHNSTON was our superintendent, appointed
by the king, and by him these offenses were settled.
You threw off the government of the British and gained your
independence. We held a
treaty, and a method was employed of redressing accidents of this
character when we were the sufferers.
We claim the same privilege in making restitution to you that you
then adopted towards us.
told us at the close of our treaty at Philadelphia that we had formed a
bright chain of friendship, that we must not let it rust, and the United
States would do their part. Our
people have been murdered. Two
years ago a few of our warriors were in camp westward of Fort Pitt, and
two white men took their rifles, traveled three miles to the encampment,
and, unprovoked, fired upon the Indians, killing two men and wounding
two children. We relied
upon the treaty and obtained satisfactory redress.
Let the same action be pursued in this case.
this cool, intended murder?
It was not. The
accident was done in a quarrel resulting from the use of liquor.
We do not excuse his unintentioned crime, but come here grieved,
to have it settled.
this accident has taken place we have been informed that, by the laws of
this State, if a murder is committed within it, the murderer must be
tried by the laws of the State and punished with death.
were such laws explained to us? Did
we ever make a treaty with the State of New York and agree to conform to
its laws? No; we are
independent of the State of New York.
It was the will of the Great Spirit to create us different in
color. We have different
laws, habits, and customs from the white people.
We shall never consent that the government of this State shall
try our brother. We appeal
to the government of the United States.
the customs and habits of our forefathers we were a happy people; we had
laws of our own; they were clear to us.
The whites came with their customs.
They brought liquor among us, which our fathers affirmed would
prove our ruin. It has
caused the death of numbers of our people.
A council was held to seek a remedy; it was agreed that no
private revenge should take place for any such murder.
President of the United States is called a great man, possessing much
power. He may do as he
pleases. He may turn men
out of office who have held their offices long before he held his.
He can do these things, and cannot he control the laws of this
State? Can he not appoint a
commission to come forward to our country and settle the present
differences, as we on our part have heretofore often done to him upon a
similar occasion? We now
call upon you, brothers, to represent these things to the President,
that he may send a commission with power to settle the present
difference. To refuse us
will be a serious matter. Our
brother shall not be tried by State law, which makes no difference
between a crime done in liquor or in cold blood.
If tried here, our brother must be hanged.
This we cannot permit. When
has a murderer of our people been punished by death?
treaty with Colonel PICKERING requires our superintendent to reside in
Canandaigua, because it is centrally located to the SIX NATIONS,
and because here our families are stipulated by treaty to be paid.
Treaties are sacred. Our
superintendent should reside here.
We have had no voice in the present appointment and feel
ourselves injured. When
Captain CHAPIN was appointed our wishes were regarded.
He has been turned out, although satisfactory to us, because he
differs from the President on government matters.
We have a superintendent who is ignorant of our affairs and
unknown in our country. We
need one resident here and well known to us."
Speeches were heard,
and arguments presented, but the offender was reluctantly surrendered.
"STIFF-ARMED GEORGE" was brought to Canandaigua, and
lodged in the jail, which was then located where the Webster House now
stands. An indictment for
murder was found against him, and he was tried at the Oyer and Terminer
of Ontario County in February, 1803.
The trial was held in the old court-house, now called the
"Star Building." The
Hon. Brockholst LIVINGSTON, a Supreme Court Justice, presided.
John GREIG, Esq., as District Attorney, prosecuted the case for
the people, and the defense was made by Peter B. PORTER and RED JACKET.
Many Indians were present, and swarmed about the building.
RED JACKET addressed the court and jury in SENECA, and was
interpreted. It was on
evidence that the murder was without malice, and attended by mitigating
circumstances. The court,
attorney-general, grand jury, and citizens, signed a petition to
Governor CLINTON for the pardon of the Indian.
Judges HOSMER and ATWATER concurred with Judge LIVINGSTON in
recommending the offender as a fit subject
of mercy. A special message
was sent in to the Legislature by the governor, and STIFF-ARMED GEORGE
was not executed. Thus was
arbitrary power asserted. Might
made right, and justice was mingled with mercy.
A banquet at the jail tavern, kept by Phineas BATES, was attended
by citizens and chiefs. Toasts
were drank, and speeches made.
observations of a foreigner traversing Ontario in 1800, accurate
and intelligent as he was, present a portraiture of that period well
calculated for this portion of our work, and embracing points desirable
to mention in this chapter. Fresh
from England, every object was seen in the light of contrast and
novelty, and a glimpse is given of life three-quarters of a century ago.
Traveler arrived at Geneva, July 7, 1800.
The weather was hot and sultry, and the thermometer stood about
ninety degrees. A
thunder-gust swept over Seneca lake, and its waters assumed variety of
colors. On the near shore
they were a beautiful bright green, while on the farther shore white
streaks were visible. A
ride made July 12, six miles from Geneva, on the Sodus road, showed
excellent land, fine farms, woodland worth six dollars an acre, haying
done, and wheat turned down. A
farm of one hundred and fifty acres, which cost two hundred and fifty
dollars, sold twelve hundred dollars' worth of cider in 1799, from
orchards of Indian planting. Three
tons of red clover had been taken from an acre of ground, and stalks
were gathered full five and a half feet long.
The timber was noted to be beech, sugar-maple, hickory,
butternut, white-wood, bass-wood, and oak.
Reapers were seen at work in a field of wheat, near Seneca lake,
on the sixteenth day of July. The
horse-road up to the west side of the lake, near the bank, had but one
or two clearings, while all along the carriage-road, farther back,
settlement was continuous. The
lake vicinity was considered unhealthy, and the lands, then neglected
and heavily timbered, ultimately became highest in value.
Watkinstown (Naples) settlement contained ten houses.
The neighboring flats contained three thousand acres of superb
land. On July 26 rye was
cut and got in, haying was in progress, and wheat was ready for the
sickle. A visit was made in
August to the Sulphur Springs, seven miles out from Geneva.
A fellow-traveler took the trail to Lyons and Sodus, while our
friend took the left towards Canandarque, and crossed Flint creek on a
good planked bridge, near its junction with the outlet of Canandarque
lake. Here were grist- and
saw-mills, but insufficient water to run them.
A grove of hemlock and white pine was seen.
The timber was excellent, and, from its scarcity, was esteemed
valuable. At the Sulphur
Springs several apertures permitted the egress of the water, which,
flowing together, expanded upon a sheet of limestone, and stagnated in
the marsh below. No trees
grew in the marsh. The
water was clear as crystal. The
spring was midway between Geneva and Canandarque, on the northward,
which was preferred in wet weather to the lower road.
The settlements were of recent origin, yet for seven miles the
country was cleared on each side. In
1800, the lower part of Seneca lake, terminating in marsh and swamp,
abounded in snipe, pheasant, quail, deer, and other game.
Geneva contained sixty families, among whom were those of Mr.
COLT, JOHNSTON, HALLET, REES, BOGART, and BEEKMAN.
Three of these heads of families were lawyers; there were also
two doctors, two storekeepers, a blacksmith, shoemaker, tailor, hatter,
hair-dresser, saddler, brewer, printer, watchmaker, and cabinet-maker.
A hat made wholly of beaver was sold at ten dollars.
The sloop of which we have spoken was running to the head of the
lake as a packet. It was
observed that trees, cut high above reach, were standing as they grew,
along the road. They had
been blown across the road, and cut off to clear the way, and the root,
by its weight, resumed its former position.
These roots were often ten to twelve feet in diameter, and loaded
with earth. They did not
penetrate the earth, but spread along the surface, and the more the
trees were protected, the less hold of the soil they did take.
At a trial at Canandarque, a witness swore that on the same day a
certain large tree was blown down in a certain township and rose again.
Objection to the evidence was overruled, and a number in the
court-room swore to the same circumstance.
reached on the morning of August 8, and Mrs. MORRIS received her guest,
who speaks of her as "elegant, beautiful, and accomplished,"
with the true spirit of hospitality.
The ride from Geneva was along a terrible road, through heavy
timber, and rich soil. Mosquitoes
swarmed in myriads, and drew blood through a thick riding-glove, while a
fly, resembling a drone bee, was fierce in its attack upon the horses.
The last five miles of the journey were on higher and partly
cleared ground. Near the
lake was the camp of a large party of Indians.
The road lay along the northern shore of the lake, crossing two
outlets, the eastern being artificial and the western natural.
The location of the village is criticised, but unjustly, as the
centre of the place commands an extensive and delightful view.
While in 1792 composed of a few buildings, and equal to Geneva,
in 1800 it was one-third larger, and contained ninety families.
The place had a single street; thirty lots were laid off on each
side; each lot had forty acres area and one hundred and twenty-one yards
frontage. This gave the
village a length of two miles, but the extremes are now but a mile and a
half apart. The unimproved
lots are valued at from six hundred to a thousand dollars each.
As evidence of good land, two and a half tons of hay have been
made to an acre. The
leading inhabitants are Thomas MORRIS, Esq., Oliver PHELPS, Nathaniel
GORHAM, and Judge ATWATER. Indians
were found in the town, and Colonel BRANDT had just left there for the
La Grand River settlement. Many
a ride was taken during a stay here.
August 14, Indians were seen in what is now Hopewell, sleeping
around a fire in the open air during a mourning excursion, and on the
following Sunday a meeting was attended at the court-house.
The congregation were Presbyterian, and consisted of fifty men
and thirty women. Horseback
riding was a custom, and in the evenings excursions were made for
several miles along the lake.
the Genesee on August 18, the traveler passed a meeting-house in
Bloomfield which had only progressed in construction as far as the
frame. The journey was
continued, and we are left to note the homelike character of settler
life. There was no rush of
train, no clatter of harvester, but the reapers were seen gathering
wheat with the sickle, the mowers were heard sharpening their scythes
and seen bending to their work, the sultry air was relieved by heavy
showers, and the lightening descended to rive the forest-tree or strike
the new-raised barn. Everywhere
all was new, fresh, and natural. It
is difficult for any who did not see it to realize the condition of this
country pending its occupation by settlers.
Standing upon high vantage ground, the eye rested upon an
extended view of forest. Upon
the hill and on the flat the trees showed no opening.
The settlers were seen briefly at Geneva and Canandaigua, then
disappeared into the woods, whence individuals occasionally issued for
supplies, or with their first crop, seeking to exchange for articles of
manufacture. Those heavy
woods were not untenanted, and as evidence of warfare on the wolf, we
see Theophilus ALLEN come in with five scalps of these animals, killed
in 1792, on No. 8, fourth range; Samuel MILLETE has a single scalp of
one killed in No. 12, third range; William STANSELL, one of a wolf
killed at the forks of Mud Creek, No. 12, in the Gore; William MARKHAM,
of one killed in No. 10, fourth range; while Thaddeus CHAPIN had killed
a wolf at Conesus Lake; Elijah CLARK, at the head of Canandaigua lake;
and Benjamin KEYES, one killed in the town of Canandaigua.
All these scalps were taken to the town clerk, Samuel GARDNER,
and by him cropped, and for each was paid a bounty of five dollars.
Deer were numerous, and saddles of venison sold cheap in the
villages, and made much of the pioneer's bill of fare.
The silence of the forest once broken by the axe, the change
seems almost incredible. Industry
was the rule, and each seemed urged on by some necessity to rid their
farms of the forest-trees and secure an area for tillage.
One may see to-day fringes of timber relieving the open
landscape, but the oak, the white-wood, the beach, the sugar-maple, the
bass-wood, the white ash, the hickory, and the other species of trees
once existing so numerous, and of noble proportion, have fallen, and
upon their site orchards grow and wheat-fields wave.
Not without a great sorrow did the SENECAS, yielding to
necessity, transfer their hunting-grounds to the proprietors of the
purchase. It is credited to
RED JACKET, that he arranged upon a bench in the old "Star
Building," a seat full of Indians, and one white man upon a small
part of the end of the seat; then filled a bench with white men, and
placed an Indian on the end, thus to illustrate the changes of time in
the ownership of the races. His
speech upon the loss of Indian dominion is his masterpiece.
"We stand," said he, "as a small island in the
midst of the great waters,---we are encircled, we are encompassed.
The Evil Spirit rides upon the blast, and the waters are
disturbed; they rise, they press upon us, and the waves once settled
over us, we disappear forever. Who
then lives to mourn us? None.
What marks our extinction? Nothing.
We are mingled with the common elements."
Yearly they came to their old haunts to fish, and hunt, and watch
that the whites made no infraction of the treaty to observe the sacred
character of their burial-grounds; and not long since a few old squaws
were seen in Canandaigua, where hundreds had been wont for many years
annually to assemble.
The needs for
clothing required sheep-raising, but the wolves proved the means of
their destruction so much as to make the business for a time almost
impossible. A flock of
sheep had with great care been brought on and safely housed; the owner,
going out one morning to exhibit them to a neighbor, found them all
killed, and this was not a solitary instance.
Pens, sixteen rails high, were required as a protection.
When winter came, a troop of these fierce and cowardly creatures
would collect about the log dwellings of the settlers, and watch for stock
to attack, and if disappointed, would raise such howls as would startle
even the stout-hearted backwoodsman.
The wolf found no fiercer or more inveterate foe than the
Indians. They dug pits
along the side hills, covered them with brush and leaves, and bending
down small trees, hung upon them, over the pits, the offals of deer.
The wolves, springing for the bait, would fall through the brush
to the pit bottom, where they were found and killed.
A reference to the town to the town records shows that but few
years elapsed ere the discontinuance of bounties would indicate that the
wolf had ceased to be troublesome.
The amount of labor
accomplished by the settlers within the few first years was astonishing.
It was soon arranged as a system what should be the ordinary
course of procedure for an immigrant.
Those who had passed the initial stage of settlement, in response
to inquiries, gave their ideas of what was required to make a good start
in the new country.
A writer, in 1797,
thus expresses his opinions: The
least any family could do with was "a good log house with two
rooms; if made by hired men will cost one hundred dollars.
A small log house, twenty feet square, will cost fifty dollars.
A number settling together can do with one yoke of oxen, and, of
course, one set of farming utensils, for every two families the first
year. The price of oxen per
yoke was seventy dollars; of a cow, fifteen dollars; farming utensils,
necessary at first, twenty dollars; and an ox-cart, thirty dollars.
It was no difficult matter for a young man to secure farms during
the earliest years of settlement; many received a dollar a day wages,
and bought lands for twenty-five cents per acre.
consideration of the early settler was a home for himself and family,
and the furniture was not unfrequently the work of his own hands.
The heavy timbered land being reached, some time was necessarily
devoted to the building of a log house and stable.
Provisions were required for the men, and food for the oxen, and
this without roads or near neighbors.
The farm house was built somewhat in this wise:
The walls were of logs, notched and fitted, and the openings
between clinked and plastered with mud.
The lower part of the chimney was of stone, and the upper of
sticks, mud-plastered. The
roof may be of bark, the floor of split logs, with flat sides joined at
the edge. Blankets form
divisions. The door is of
hewed plank, hung upon wooden hinges, and the window is of greased
paper, to exclude rain and permit the entrance of light.
Glass and nails were difficult of purchase.
As late as 1805, Peleg REDFIELD, a Manchester settler of 1800,
having engaged in the construction of a frame house, and wanting those
essentials, set out with sled and oxen for Utica to buy them, and took
with him fifty bushels of wheat. The
grain was sold at one dollar and sixty-eight cents per bushel to Watts
SHERMAN, a Utica merchant, from whom wrought nails were bought at
eighteen pence per pound, and two boxes of glass for seven dollars and
fifty cents. The store bill
was made out and signed by Henry B. GIBSON, then clerk and book-keeper
for SHERMAN. The sleeping
apartment of the log cabins was the loft, reached by a ladder.
While reminiscences at times complain of uncleanliness and fleas,
yet these pioneer abodes, as a rule, were patterns of neatness and good
order. Furniture and
dishes, old in fashion, clumsy of make, were adapted to use, and in
harmony with the surroundings. At
the huge fire-place were hooks and trammel, the bake-pan, and the
kettle. Elsewhere stood the
plain table and the flag-bottomed chairs; perhaps blocks answered for
seats, or maybe the easy, high-backed rocker had been brought to this
forest home. The shelves
supported blue-edged plates, spoons of pewter, cups and saucers much
unlike those of to-day, and a black earthen tea-pot.
In one corner sooner or later was installed the tall Dutch clock
to take the place of the noon mark, and in another was the bedstead with
high post, cord bottom, and covered with quilts, a curiosity of
patchwork, a relic of much labor, and a souvenir of the enjoyment at a
quilting-party. Then, too,
there was the spinning-wheel, the pioneer music, and not unfrequently
the loom. The picture was
not unpleasant of a barefoot daughter competing with her mother at the
wheel, and the rival hum of the machines as the hours went by till time
to lay them aside to prepare the noonday or evening meal.
At social gatherings, light feet kept time to the changes of the
fiddle, and often at night the rattling drum and shrill-toned fife
attracted the ear, and roused the martial ardor of the former soldier.
To-day the finest
establishments rise like Aladdin's palace at the bid of wealth, but in
the early day, the most refined, and many of ample resources, formed
their establishments with extreme difficulty.
The first few years of pioneer life was a season of much
deprivation. The scarcity
of provisions, severely felt in the fall of 1792, was considerably
increased in the following spring by the number of families who at that
time emigrated into the county of Ontario.
Flour and pork were procured from Philadelphia and
Northumberland, in Pennsylvania, and by the assistance of this timely
supply, settlements were begun in various parts, more especially on
Conhocton creek to the south. It
is said that so far from the reported abundance of feathers from the
vast number of wild fowl frequenting the lakes and marshes, the settlers
found use for all the bedding brought with them, and even dressed skins
of game and the cat-tail from the swamps were of no little use.
The men passed much of their time in camps, exploring the
navigable streams, removing their obstructions, opening roads, and
building mills, and most rapidly was the way opened for the speedy
occupation and cultivation of the country.
The principle of co-operation was early acknowledged, and
attended with satisfactory results.
From 1790 to 1796,
neighborhood settlement was most successful.
The families constituting a settlement like that of Farmington,
hidden within the forest, took advantage of mutual aid and
encouragement, and thereby became more closely allied im sympathy and
friendship. Again, as at
Canandaigua, a body of emigrants, instead of locating in the woods,
fixed themselves in one spot, and bestowed their first labor on the
improvement of their village lots, which, to obviate the trouble of
fencing, would be worked up in a number of small portions by the
settlement under common fence, each lot being the property of the
the manifest hardships endured by the pioneers, they were satisfied.
In conversation with those who witnessed the clearing up of this
section, the almost invariable declaration is that those were happy
days. They assert that the
people were more united and more willing to give each other aid.
There was more equality in condition.
People were not accustomed to the distinctions of wealth and
store-clothes. The garments
worn were generally the same in all seasons.
The farmers of that date commonly went clad in clothing made in
their own families, as the result of necessity and economy.
The matrons and maidens were not averse to labor, and loved the
buzz of the spinning-wheel and the double shake of the loom.
The web was unfurled upon the grass-plat, bleached under careful
supervision, and, aided only by the carding- and fulling-mills, the wool
from the flock was manufactured into wearing apparel, and, known as
home-made, was worn common. Sabbath
and holiday were occasions when "boughten clothes" made their
appearance. Yet, often,
suits made by the female members of the household were worn by child and
parent with evident pride. In
large towns British goods were in use, and the fashion seems to have
been such as to merit the notice and reproof of staid matrons of the
time. Where now the silk
rustles and the "pull-back" impedes free locomotion, the
calico adorned, and was worn with comfort.
The girls made their own dresses, and they were not cast aside
with the season. The toilet
was soon made, whether for the social gathering or the sedate attendance
at the meeting-house, miles distant.
If a party for social
enjoyment was announced to be held in the neighborhood, none stopped to
inquire who were to be there, but each, mounting the horse, sled, or
cart, set out for a season of general enjoyment.
All strove to give mutual help, and ingratitude was rare.
There was a freedom notable as the growth of common estimation,
and enjoyment taken with zest was free from censure or scrutiny.
Independent feeling and noble sentiment were the fruits of
industry, and in them was the dignity of character derived from
conscious worth exemplified. Amusements
were mingled with labor, and pastimes were more prevalent than at
present. There were corn-huskings
and apple-parings, quiltings and choppings, knittings for the benefit of
the poor, fairs for the exhibition of industrial products, races, and
elections. There were
celebrations of memorable occasions, political rallies, and all the
ludicrous features of muster-day. There
were raisings of barns and bees for logging, these last ending with a
huge bonfire, a good time, and the consumption of pumpkin pies, sweet
cider, and rye whisky. Visits
deserved the name. They
were given and received with pleasure.
Several went together, and the hum of conversation was unceasing.
Cards were not in use, and if the visited was absent, a call was
made again, and the experiences of the interval gave fresh subject for
converse. Horseback riding
was common, since the horse could pass where tree and stump forbade the
use of wheeled vehicles.
As a glimpse at the
customs of nearly eighty years gone by, the recollections of a quilting
party in 1797, at Canandaigua, are given.
During the summer of that year the wife of Captain DUDLEY, a
tavern-keeper of the village, gave general invitation to a tea and
quilting party. The
invitations were made by Sally DUDLEY and Jane PETERS, girls aged about
eleven years, the latter-named being known till her recent death as Aunt
Jennie LEGORE. The girls
called on every woman and girl in the village.
They set out up the east side of Main Street, and down the west
side, passing by none. The
house standing on the east side of Main, second from the north corner,
made by the junction of PHELPS with Main, was the place of assembly.
The quilting came off next day.
A bad swamp extended across Main Street where Bristol opens upon
it, and the ladies from above the swamp were obliged to cross it upon
horses, riding behind their husbands.
In crossing, some of the party were dismounted, but being
extricated from the swamp pushed on to the tavern, where clothing was
soon dried and all ready for work.
Mrs. DUDLEY had three quilts on in the bar-room, and, with but
three exceptions, every woman and girl in the place was present, and
there were just enough seats. After
finishing the quilts the whole party, joined by the gentlemen, partook
of a good supper. The
enjoyment was somewhat diminished when it was learned, through
the ill-timed importunity of some one as to the materials composing an
excellent pot-pie, that Mrs. DUDLEY had made it from a portion of her
old, tame bear. While the
tea was being drank Orlander MORSE began to tune his fiddle, and supper
ended, dancing began. The
music was lively, and all had a gay time.
A dancing-school had been opened in Captain DUDLEY's ball-room by
Mr. ADJUTANT, and opportunity was given to his pupils to practice their
lessons in French Four, Money Musk, and like dances.
There were present on this occasion Judge HOWELL, Sallie CHAPIN,
Mrs. SANBORN, Jno. CLARK and wife, Mr. SALTONSTALL and wife, Augustus
PORTER, Dolly and Minerva TAYLOR, Mrs. Israel CHAPIN, Mrs. Thaddeus
CHAPIN, H. CHAPIN, Elihu YOUNGLOVE and wife, and Peter B. PORTER.
The manner of cooking
at that time was entirely different from the present, as stoves were
then unknown and unimagined. Most
now living know nothing of the old style of cooking in front of the huge
back-log, or the baking of short-cake in the ashes, nor of the turkey
hung upon the spit and properly basted by mother or the girls.
Those were home-spun ways of preparing food; but old people
insist that victuals thus cooked were more pleasing to the taste than
those of to-day. It is
comforting to realize that in the concerns of life a general equity
prevails, and meagre gifts in one direction are fully atoned by a
bountiful bestowal in some other. Only
the memories of the past remain. Dress
has passed through many forms, travel has known constant advances,
society has become classified, work has taken new forms.
There is more formality and less enjoyment.
The fiddle, the dulcimer, the flute, are superseded by melodeon,
organ, and piano. The brass
or silver band give weekly concerts where then rattled the drum.
The thunders of the pipe-organ are heard where the brass viol was
known. The aged grandmother
may still knit, but machinery has obviated the necessity.
The poor may still stitch, but sewing-machines are found in most
clothing is unknown, and with the lack of dependence has grown a feeling
of isolation. The spirit of
sociality has congregated the religious at their various meetings, the
benevolent in different societies.
The old warfare with in-intemperance is still in progress, and
the farmer has united with his neighbor to cheapen purchase and
cultivate fraternal relations. While
the generations of to-day unite to honor those of the past, they would
not be of them. Each race
is fitted for the exigencies of the times, and as the pioneers nobly did
their work so we of the present receive it from them, and pass it
improved to our successors.
LANDS---CROPS---MARKETS---DISTILLERIES---SALT WORKS---CLIMATE IN EARLY
DAYS---AN ONTARIO HERMIT.
axe the settler swung amid the sea-like solitude, And
rushing, thundering down were flung the Titans of the wood."
purchaser of lands upon the plains and prairies of the West, plowing
with ease the rich sod and employing the improved machinery to cultivate
the crop, knows nothing of the ceaseless round of hard labor which was
the price of all improvement. And
were all that was done so much for the future, the prospect was not so
dark; but however small the price, whatever the time given, a day of
judgment ultimately came, and by default the land often reverted to the
original owner. Then, when
a glimpse of comfort was seen in thicker settlement and better
communication, the terrors of warfare, creating a general panic, caused
many a house to be deserted to which the builder never again saw fit to
return. There is a talk of
pioneer privation, as though the language used were cheap of utterance;
but when the settler toiled hard and late, saw sickness and death enter
the cabin, incurred indebtedness he could not meet, and finally
abandoned to some other the place he longed to call home, there was that
in it which must be experienced to be felt.
True, the soil only required a slight cultivation to yield the
most ample returns, but there was no market for a surplus.
In preparing new land for the growth of wheat, no plow was used
primarily. A settler in the
Genesee country bought half a township, twelve thousand acres, and
felled the first tree in the spring of 1799.
By autumn following he, with the aid of three men and three yoke
of oxen, had put in one hundred and eight acres in wheat.
The settler himself was about sixty years of age, and his son was
a youth of about fifteen, and these two did a fourth part of the work.
To show the industry of these parties it is understood that heavy
timber stood upon the ground, and time was taken to build a cabin and a
stable. In the preparation
of new land for wheat, no plow could be made available and none was
used. In this instance, the
logs were heaped and burnt, the harrow was passed several times slightly
over the field, the grain was then sown and harrowed in.
Never did finer wheat reward labor.
The average yield of this crop in 1800 was twenty-five bushels an
acre. Stems of Sicily and
stalks of Genesee wheat were known to grow to the number of thirty from
one seed. Early as was this
period of which we write, the fly---the pest of winter wheat---had
lodged its larvae in the stalks and begun its work of injury.
It was a matter of surprise whence came the weeds and noxious
insects which appeared almost contemporary with tillage.
Connected with the
early clearing of lands there were two classes, the heavy purchasers and
the squatters. The latter
found employment and kind treatment, but few became owners; their
character was that of improvidence and shiftlessness, and they
disappeared with the growth of the country, no one knows whither.
Two methods of preparing land for crops were in use; the one not
only cleared the brush and cut out the grubs, but swept away the timber,
leaving a forest of stumps---the other proceeded on the plan of
deadening by girdling each tree, and the spectacle was seen of the
tracts covered by their lifeless trunks and producing fine crops.
The latter was regarded as a temporary expedient.
The choicest timber was held in no esteem, and the trees, cut in
logging lengths of about sixteen feet, were hauled together, heaped, and
let stand for a time to dry, and then fired.
The fragments were raked together and entirely consumed.
This gave rise to a new branch of industry.
Men from Utica and beyond made purchases of such goods as the
settlers would require, and driving to the clearings bought these ashes,
and having worked the asheries, took East the pearlash, which was for a
number of years an article of ready sale, and enriched those who gave
their time to the manufacture.
As an evidence of the
fraternal spirit common to the settlers, it is the universal testimony
of all survivors, that when, as sometimes happened, a settler became
incapacitated from labor by sickness, the neighbors gathered with
cattle, if for a logging, or with cradle and rake if in harvest, and, as
a half pastime, brought up his work.
There was little use for horses, and the employment of oxen was
general. The cart was
loaded with wheat for the mill or the market; it was heaped with the
grain to be drawn to the barn or stack, and on occasion served to convey
the family to church or on a neighborly visit.
There was no period of a farmer's life but that he could find
work to do. The days of
winter, aside from the care of stock, were employed in fencing and
chopping a new lot to put in corn.
In spring, when all was dry, the brush was burned and the logs
consumed. If the fire in
its work swept the field, the ground was all the better prepared for a
crop. The combustion of
decaying leaf and matted roots of vegetation contributed material for
enriching the already fertile soil.
The traveler among the settlements in those spring days found the
woods darkened by smoke, and the fires by night conveyed a strong
impression of a camp. The
men, rude in dress, blackened with the handling of charred timber, and
perspiring at their labor, would deceive a novice as to their character
and ability, and it was hard to realize that these men so engaged were
well calculated to lead in council, preside at assembly, and conduct
with credit business of moment. There
were times when the fires driven by the winds amidst a dry, rank growth,
gave a lurid grandeur to the scene.
The flames swept over the ground, and now and then communicating
with a tree hollowed by decay, and ignitible as tinder, crept upward to
the top, and for hours became a wooded furnace.
Upon the clearing, freshly kindled fires gave a glowing light,
while gathered fragments glowed in the heat and then smouldered away.
If time did not admit a thorough clearing, corn, turnips,
potatoes, and pumpkins were grown among the blackened logs and stumps.
The hoe was not needed, but weeds there were which grew up rank
and luxuriant and were pulled by hand.
It was customary with some to sow wheat and rye after harvesting
corn, but commonly a special piece was cleared, sowed, and harrowed in.
Agriculture was in a crude state, and the hoe and harrow were
leading utensils in caring for a crop.
Whatever could be, was made by the settler himself, because there
was no place of purchase, and if there were he had no money.
The drag was a rough but serviceable article.
It was fashioned somewhat after this manner:
two round or hewed sticks were joined at one end and braced by a
cross-piece, forming an A, one piece extending beyond the other.
Seven heavy iron teeth were obtained from the blacksmith and put
in,---four on the longer piece, and three on the other.
There were instances of harrows with wooden teeth.
The plows which came in use were heavy and clumsy.
The blacksmith was the manufacturer, and, with wooden
mould-board, the work was done in a rude manner.
crops produced, besides wheat and rye, were oats, barley, clover, and
timothy. The wild grass was
in large quantities along the Genesee river, and, in 1803 Augustus
PORTER and Stephen BATES advertise in the Ontario paper that they have a
good supply of hay made from this grass at a point fourteen miles above
Allen's Hill, and are prepared to winter the cattle of new settlers.
The difficulty with the settler was the care of his crop. Hands
could not be obtained, and many a field grew brown, and the owner would
have given a good share of the crop to have it harvested.
The hay crop was cut with scythes and raked in windrows beneath a
burning sun. The wheat was
cut in some localities with the sickle; but this was regarded as too
tedious, and the cradle was employed.
Wheat was threshed by flail, making an all winter job for hands,
or was trod out by the oxen, made to traverse a circle upon which the
opened sheaves were laid. Winnowing
was done by raising and letting fall the grain, with barn-doors open and
wind blowing through. Some
time elapsed ere a fanning-mill was introduced.
The chief difficulty with which the settler had to contend, when
all others had been surmounted, was the lack of a market.
Steuben county, a
region much broken, and embracing a succession of high hills and deep,
narrow valleys, and not near as productive as Ontario, was considered to
have much the advantage, in not only having a nearer but a better market
for her produce. The
records, wherever given, show that the raising of wheat had been the
main dependence for a crop, but the inability to transport to market
made prices low. The
farmers of the township of Bloomfield, first in settlement, and early
supporting a large population, found difficulty in attempts to market
their crop. When WILLIAMSON
cut his road in 1792, by way of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to
Baltimore, wheat, which brought a dollar at Bath, was only sixty cents
at Geneva, a difference graduated by a lack of transportation.
In the fall of 1804, a wagon-load of wheat, containing one
hundred bushels, was brought by four yoke of oxen from Bloomfield to
Albany, a distance of two hundred and thirty miles.
The wheat was purchased at Bloomfield for five shillings currency
per bushel, equal to sixty-two and a half cents, and sold at Albany for
seventeen and a fourth shillings, or two dollars fifteen and a half
cents a bushel. The time
occupied in making the journey, going and returning, was estimated at
twenty days, taking into account the badness of the roads.
It naturally follows that the enterprising men of that day gave
their attention to improving both water and land routes, and a class
embarked in the business of transporting grain, which could be bought at
pretty much their own price, and gained considerable property.
These conveyances, originating in the necessity of a few, became
a regular and prosperous business, and so continued until the
construction of the Erie Canal, when the whole business collapsed, and
the entire machinery disappeared forever.
By the year 1818 the wagon transportation was in full force.
Upon the turnpike were many Pennsylvania wagons.
Six horses drew them, at snail pace, along the narrow way.
These nondescript instruments of a past commerce are nearly
forgotten, and in another generation will be beyond recollection.
They were capacious as a canal boat, with long sides, and high
and covered with canvas. They
were built heavy and strong, and were supported upon huge wheels, having
tires of six to eight inches width.
Three and four span of powerful horses were attached to this land
craft, and upon the harness were little towers bearing small bells.
The driver, a gay, careless fellow, sat upon a high seat or rode
the nigh-wheel horse, guiding by voice and single rein his teams.
Innumerable taverns sprang up all along the route, ranging from
the veriest log hut to the more pretentious frame, and all obtaining
full patronage, not according to their desert, but the travelers'
The wagons were of
great capacity, and, once upon the road, kept their way against all
other vehicles. It is
related that a large eight-horse wagon was in Geneva during 1818, and
the owner, an Albany man, endeavored to contract with a merchant for a
load of wheat at three shillings a bushel, but the latter had not
sufficient to make a load. DARROW,
a settler in Phelps, chanced to be at the village, and told the
wheat-buyer to go home with him and he would load him up for two
shillings and six pence a bushel. The
offer was accepted, and the wagon was driven out to DARROW's, distant
four miles, and loaded with two hundred bushels.
The teams were kept over night without charge, and next day took
their departure for the market at Albany.
The cultivation of
tobacco was carried on sufficient for home use, and at the stores a
pound of this article had the same price as a bushel of wheat.
This expedient, like that of raising hemp, was attempted as
likely to benefit the people in affording a diversity of product.
We have spoken of the sale of wood ashes, and the manufacture of
potash in kettles. It is
estimated that four hundred and fifty bushels of ashes made a ton of
potash, a barrel of which weighed four hundred pounds, and the sale of
ashes as late as 1816 was the chief reliance for the purchase of tea and
spices. One of the first
evils which beset the settler was the establishment of whisky
originated at the same time with the grist-mills, and were generally
found combined. To them the
new settlers took their corn and rye, and received in exchange the
product of the still. Small
and log-built, they made up in numbers their lack of capacity; and while
there is much said of its purity, no person can study the history of
that time without being impressed with the ruinous effect of strong
drink upon all classes. The
time is so recent, and descendants of families are still resident of
localities so as to forbid personal allusion, but he who asserts that
the temperance movement has accomplished little in Ontario, as well as
in other counties, knows little of the ruin and death caused by liquors
in the days of which we write. The
tavern was but a synonym for dram-shop, and there were at one period
sixteen houses, one for each mile, between Canandaigua and Geneva, where
the sign "Tavern" was put out.
Not only was there every day habitual drinking, but much of
raisings, harvesting, etc., were incomplete without liquor.
The first temperance movement, so far as learned, in all this
region was made by a Friend named Stephen DURFEE, on the occasion of
raising his house, in 1811. He
notified his neighbors that no liquor would be provided, and was able
without difficulty to raise his building.
Aside from custom, one cause of so much liquor was its
distillation from surplus grain. One
of the greatest hardships of the settlers was the want of salt.
He not only required a supply for his provisions, but for his
cattle. The price varied
according to distance from the salt-works.
The manufacture at Onondaga was rude and rapid.
Asa DANFORTH and Comfort TYLER, by means of a kettle suspended
over a pole held up by two crotched sticks, made thirteen bushels of
salt in twelve hours. For
years it was customary for settlers from long distances to bring kettles
with them, and manufacture enough salt for their own use.
At first each dipped the water in pails, and carried it to the
place for boiling; then a pump was used, later water-power.
Improvements were made from time to time, and solar works in
large numbers have been erected. A
trip made by Jared BOUGHTON will illustrate the experience of the
Ontario settler in obtaining a supply of this necessary commodity.
In the fall of 1790 the Victor settlement was found out of salt,
and it was resolved that a boat should be sent for a quantity to Salt
Point. Some time in
November the BOUGHTONS, Seymour and Jared, and John BARNES, set out for
Swift's Landing, now Palmyra, took a Schenectady boat, and went on their
journey. The only
inhabitants on the route were the Stansells, at Lyons.
Below the junction of Mud and Ganargwa creek and Canandaigua
Outlet they came upon an obstruction of logs some sixteen rods in
extent, and to pass it were obliged to haul their boat to shore up a
steep bank, and move it on rollers to a point below, where they
relaunched and went on. Twelve
barrels of salt were procured, and the return voyage begun.
Arrived in the Seneca river, a storm of snow was encountered, and
ice formed in the stream. Progress
was slow, and when the boat struck upon stones in the bottom, the men
were obliged to get out and, wading in the ice and water, set it free.
At the wood-raft the boat was transported overland, and so also
were the barrels of salt. The
water was low, and the boat, with her cargo, was left at Lyon's Landing.
Following township lines through the woods to Farmington, they
came back by way of Palmyra, with six yoke of oxen, and by means of
wagons and sleds, along a road made by themselves, the first cargo of
salt was conveyed to the town of Victor.
The climate of
Ontario had something to do with its settlement.
The sickness suffered was attributed to the climate.
The summers were found to be warm, and the weather in winter,
while not so intensely cold, was more steady, and snow lay longer.
It is a feature of this region that, however uncomfortable the
day during the heated term, the nights are pleasant and cool.
The land having been cleared, the climate has been indisputably
healthy. From exact
registers kept by the different supervisors and assessors of the towns,
it appears that the county of Ontario contained in 1799 twelve thousand
two hundred free inhabitants, and the number of deaths amounted to
population of Bloomfield was one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six,
and of them but three died. One
of these was a person, seventy years of age, whose trouble was
intermittent fever; the others were infants.
In five other townships, whose population was one thousand six
hundred and sixty, two only died, one of whom was sixty years of age and
the other seventy.
The insalubrity of the Genesee country was proverbial, and the intermittent fever, known better as fever and ague, was escaped by few. The age of the citizen is indicative of the character and the climate, and it is notable here that in 1875 there were in Ontario county one thousand seven hundred and twenty-six persons, or three and a half per cent of the population, who were seventy years and upwards of age. Of these persons, three hundred and eighty-four were over eighty, thirty-nine over ninety, and three over one hundred years of age. The following is the roll of those over ninety: Henry SMITH and Samuel POMEROY, of Bristol; Huldah WEBSTER, James A. POTTER, Catharine McCARTHY, Polly CARROL, John DIXON, and Emma JENKINS, of Canandaigua; Esther B. QUINN, Mary ROBINSON, Flavius J. BRONSON, Zadoc BAILEY, Zilphia TOPLIFF, and Betsey TERRY, of East Bloomfield; Joanna CUMMINGS, Mary LARNER, Eunice WHITE, and Rhoda NICHOLS, of Farmington; Christian FISHER, of Gorham; Wareham SHELDON and Isaac PLATT, of Geneva; Barzil BENHAM, Sarah LINCOLN, and A. FLETCHER, of Hopewell; Michael VAN WORMER, Sarah OLIN, Grazilla VANDERHOOF, Charles S. JOSELYN, Levi WOLFIN, Deacon T. WHEELER, Lydia TAYLOR, Rebecca VAN DEUSEN, and William GROVE, of Phelps; John JENREE, Elizabeth DODGE, Joseph GRAY, and Luther WHITNEY, of Seneca; Bell COLLAN, of Victor, and Jerusha STRATTON, of West Bloomfield. A chapter upon the temperature, salubrity, and vital statistics could not more forcibly and truthfully represent the attractive features of the county in those respects. Among the old residents and early settlers of Ontario was Ebenezer HORTON, the Ontario Hermit. His dress was outlandish; his performances grotesque. He came to Farmington about 1795 and bought a farm by the Cedar Swamp, near the present home of S.P. GARDINER, thereon built a cabin, where he lived until his death, entirely alone. For a period of sixty years HORTON was an inmate of the cabin, and finally died at the age of ninety, during the winter of 1856. Dancing was with him a passion, and few were his equal in this direction. Never the corn husking to which he was not unwelcome. Rapid in labor, he was a choice hand, and when the fiddle was brought out no one could "cut it down" like Eb. HORTON, who occasionally introduced variations in the way of somersaults and other performances, all in perfect time. It is said of him that when he had reached fourscore a dancing party was announced at "Cooper's tavern," and the old man, putting his slippers in his pocket, wended his way thither. The company most willingly give him the floor, and enjoyed a specimen of dancing as practiced in the olden time. He was a weather-prophet and believed himself able to control its mutations, and when his efforts failed the result was attributed to demoniacal influence. Prior to his advent in Farmington he had lived in Rhode Island. His naturally weak mind was partially unsettled by religious excitement, during which a sleigh-ride was planned by his young companions as a diversion, and he being invited consented to go. When called for he took to his heels, and reaching a small tree climbed it, and no persuasion could induce him to descend. The weather was cold, and to suffer him to remain was to run the risk of his being frozen, and so the tree was chopped down, but, in falling, lodged upon a larger one, to which he scrambled, and up which he ascended and seated himself upon a limb. During a parley he promised to descend, provided a good fire were built under the tree to warm him. This was done, and down he came at a single leap from high perch to the ground. Bones were broken and flesh bruised, but surgical aid was called and recovery eventually followed. He showed a desire for isolated existence by building a hut near a large swamp remote from any dwelling, and there living alone and dreaded. Finally he came out to Ontario, and lived as has been stated. Few of that vicinity do not recall this character,---a type of individuals to be found in most localities, an example of the frailty of our race.
Created by Dianne Thomas
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