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
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
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
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
During the next year three other emissaries of the society
visited the region, stopping for a brief time at Kanadesaga, then
proceded 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 proceded 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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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