The Early History of Ontario County, New York

 Kindly transcribed by Deborah Spencer

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From the History of Ontario County, NY    

Published 1893     Pg 102 - 106


A Brief Chapter Devoted to the Settlement Made by the Society of Friends in what is now Yates County--An Outline History of the Society and of its Remarkable Leader, Jemima Wilkinson, alias "The Friend"--Early Grist Mills. 

IN the preceding chapter reference was made to the settlements begun at Kanadesaga and Canandaigua under the direction and patronage of Proprietors PHELPS and GORHAM; and at a later period how the lessees made the former place their chief seat of operations, and were followed in the same work by agent Charles WILLIAMSON of the London Association.  Under the patronage of the persons named, the northern part of what is now Ontario county was developed and settled.  And what is true of that locality will also apply to the western part of the State of New York, which was likewise improved and developed under the patronage of the Holland Land Company.  The Holland Purchase and the Morris Reserve were each, in part at least, portions of Ontario county as originally created, but as the jurisdiction of the county over that region of country was of brief duration, the subject of its purchase, subdivision and early history needs but a slight notice in this work.  However, there was an element of pioneer population in Ontario county, which, although the territory settled now forms a part of another county, is nevertheless deserving of some mention in this record.  We refer to the settlement made by the "Friends" in what is now the town of Torrey, Yates county.  As a matter of fact the emissaries of the "Friends" made their first visit to the Genesee country very soon after the close of the Revolution, before the controversy between Massachusetts and New York was decided, and, of course, before PHELPS and GORHAM made their extensive purchase, and before any county erection in this part of the State was even contemplated. 

In the year 1786 Ezekiel SHEARMAN visited the Genesee county, his object being to find some suitable location for a permanent settlement for the followers of Jemima WILKINSON, but finding the country not ripe for occupation, Mr. SHEARMAN returned and reported to the society the result of his investigation.  During the next year three other emissaries of the society visited the region, stopping for a brief time at Kanadesaga, then proceeded up the lake to the location of the old Indian village Kashong, where they found two Frenchmen, DE BARTZCH and POUDRE, who were residing there and carrying on trade with the Indians.  By these traders the committee was informed that the region about them was unsurpassed for purposes of settlement and cultivation.  The travelers proceeded several miles further southward and examined the lands in the vicinity of the outlet of Lake Keuka, and decided to make a favorable report to the society, but to leave the exact location of the colony to the discretion of those who should first come to make a home in the region. 

The first settlement by the society of "Friends" was made during the latter part of the summer of 1788, when twenty five of their number made this place their permanent home.  The next year the little colony received large accessions in numbers, and even their faithful leader herself attempted the journey to the "New Jerusalem," but an accident compelled her to return to Philadelphia; and it was not until 1791 that the Friend joined the colony, at which time its number amounted to more than one hundred persons. 

Jemima WILKINSON, as she was originally named, or the Universal Friend, as she styled herself after her somewhat remarkable transformation from the material to the spiritual being, was the founder and leader of the sect or society just referred to.  She was with her followers religionists of the order usually termed fanatics.  The people who allied themselves to the Friend were earnest, honest, upright men and women, and among them were many persons who are remembered as having been among the foremost men of Ontario county during its pioneer period; and although the society has been for many years extinct, and memory of it lives only in historical records, no intelligent speaker has given voice to sentiments other than of praise for the society and for its most zealous founder and head. 

Jemima WILKINSON was born in the town of Cumberland, Providence county, RI, in 1758, the daughter of Jeremiah and Amy WILKINSON, and the eighth of their twelve children.  The young life of this child was not unlike that of others of her condition and situation, nor did she possess traits that marked her in contrast with others of her time.  She lived in an age when it was not an uncommon thing for numbers of people to separate themselves from established sects and set up a new standard of religious discipline or worship; and while Jemima was brought under the influence of one of these departures, she was not governed by it. 

During her young womanhood Jemima underwent a remarkable and singular change.  In the summer of 1776 she fell sick with a disease that puzzled the medical men and was called by them one of the ailments of the nervous system, and not of the physical, for she suffered no pain.  Gradually wasting in strength, her life hung by a slender thread, and she finally fell into a trance state and appeared almost lifeless for a space of 36 hours.  Then she suddenly aroused herself, called for her garments, dressed, and walked among the members of the household, though weak from long prostration.  From this time forth she disclaimed identity with Jemima WILKINSON, asserting that her former individuality had passed away, and that she was another being, a minister of God sent to preach His gospel, and to minister to the spiritual necessities of mankind.  She took to herself the name "Universal Friend," or "Public Universal Friend," and would recognize no other name, even to the end of her life, although to her followers she was commonly known as "The Friend.

The first public appearance of the Friend in her new character was made on the Sunday following her rising from the bed of sickness, and on that occasion she delivered a discourse, displaying a remarkable familiarity with Scripture passages and surprising her hearers with the peculiar force of her delivery.  She traveled about from place to place, visiting and preaching in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, drawing many followers to her standard, among them men of wealth and influence; and in the summer of 1782 she went to the neighborhood of Philadelphia, where her ministrations were continued.  To establish a community home in some new and unsettled region was the cherished desire of the Friend, and it was for this purpose that Ezekiel SHEARMAN visited the Genesee country in 1786. 

As has been stated the colony of the Friends in the New Jerusalem was established in 1788 upon the lands ceded to Massachusetts by New York.  As afterward developed, the settlement was on both sides of the old pre-emption line, and, in 1794, Charles WILLIAMSON, in response to a petition, showed the society the greatest consideration, treating them with great liberality and confirming to them the title to the lands upon which they had settled. 

However, dissensions finally arose among members of the society, and the result was in the purchase of township number seven in the second range from Phelps and Gorham for the use of the Friend and those of her followers who remained faithful.  This township was named Jerusalem in Yates county, while the provisional district of Jerusalem embraced a much larger area of territory, and was one of the original civil divisions of Ontario county. 

The Society of the Friend gradually decreased in numbers and influence until the death of its founder, which took place July 1, 1819, after which time it soon passed out of existence. 

One important event in connection with the Friend's settlement at City Hill, in the present town of Torrey, was the erection of a grist-mill in 1788, the first structure of its kind in that region of country.  And a noteworthy fact, also, was the settlement by the pioneers of the society, which was the first permanent settlement west of Seneca Lake.  These sturdy pioneers, during the year 1788, sowed about twelve acres of wheat, which was the first event of its kind in the State west of the lake.  In this connection we may add that the Friend's mill for some time supplied the whole region of eastern Ontario county with flour, except such as was brought from the east. 

The grist-mill above mentioned at the Friend's settlement was built in 1789 and 1790 by Richard SMITH in conjunction with Abraham DAYTON and James PARKER.  The following record is taken from Mr. SMITH's family Bible.  "4th July 1790 I have this day completed my grist mill and have ground ten bushels of Rye," and "July 5,  "I have this day ground ten bushels of wheat the same having been raised in this immediate neighborhood last year."  

The first grist-mill erected in Western New York appears to be that of John and James MARKHAM on a little stream which enters the Genesee River, two miles north of Avon, in the winter of 1788-9.  INDIAN ALLEN built a mill at Rochester late in the year 1789, the frame being raised on the 12th and 13th of November.  Oliver PHELPS built a grist-mill on the Canandaigua outlet, about five miles northeasterly from the lake and about half a mile above Shortsville.  This was run for some years by Samuel DAY, and commonly called Day's Mill; it was built in 1791.  Early in the year 1794 Bear's mill at Waterloo, Seneca county, was erected, the frame thereof being put up on Sunday by church people from Geneva at the request of the minister who officiated at the Presbyterian church at Geneva on that day.

Created by Dianne Thomas  

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