Town of Phelps History
History of Ontario Co, NY
Pub 1878 pg 164 - 165
Transcribed by Dianne Thomas
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town of Phelps, originally called the district of
"Sullivan" was organized in 1796, the same years in
which Steuben county was set off form Ontario.
Its name was bestowed in honor of the extensive land
proprietor, Oliver PHELPS, who acknowledged this unsought
recognition by giving the inhabitants a "reception" at
the aristocratic inn of Jonathan OAKS, where in all
probability, Bacchus reigned supreme.
town was crossed by the impetuous SULLIVAN in his
devastating march in 1779, and not one decade had yet passed since
the Senecas were flying before his riflemen, ere a solitary white
settler might have been seen threading his way through this dense,
uninviting wilderness; his name was John Decker ROBISON, of
honored memory, the first white settler within the present
boundaries of Phelps.
located in 1788, and purchased of Phelps and Gorham, lot No. 14,
in township 11, first range, said to contain three hundred and
twenty acres of land, the wholesale price of which was two
shillings per acre. A
mistake of one hundred and seventy acres was however, made in Mr.
ROBISON'S favor, which reduce the price of the whole purchase
to about one hundred dollars, and this enormous debt was satisfied
by ROBISON erecting a building for PHELPS, in
Canandaigua, which was the first frame structure in the village,
located on the corner of Main street and Railroad avenue,
southwest of the Canandaigua Hotel.
When John Decker ROBISON and his sturdy associates left Columbia
county for the land of the Senecas, they came with well defined
ideas of the trials and hardships with which they would be obliged
to contend in the settlement of a new country.
One of the most noticeable and wisest preparations made by
this resolute band was the driving of one hundred head of cattle
for Phelps and Gorham into the forest for beef, intended as
presents to the Indians, without whose friendship they well know
all attempts at settlement would be in vain.
They arrived at the outlet of Cayuga lake when not a white
settler was to be found between Utica and Geneva.
The task of ferrying their stock across the lake was no
light one. Obtaining
two bateaux at Geneva, they were strapped together, and a rude
ferryboat was constructed, capable of carrying eleven head of
cattle. Starting from
the outlet on the eastern shore, they rowed and poled the heavy
craft and heavy load one mile up the lake to secure a landing
place, the shore below being covered with a marsh.
James ROBISON, then a boy of sixteen, oldest son of John, and Nathaniel SANBORN, drove the cattle through to
Geneva, where on the day following their arrival, the pioneer, John
D. ROBISON, joined them.
Both subsequently became settlers of Phelps.
In 1789, Mr. ROBISON'S family came to the new
country; and it may not be uninteresting in these days of fast
steamers, fast trains and fast rails, to know in what manner of
conveyance they traveled. They
were put on board a rude contrivance called a boat, which was
propelled by rowing, pushing with setting poles, and dragging with
ropes, and the course they pursued was up the Mohawk into Wood
creek, through the Oneida lake into Oswego river, and up the
outlets of the lakes to Phelps.
few days after the arrival of Mr. ROBSON'S family, they
were followed by, Pierce and Elihu GRANGER, Nathaniel
SANBORN, and Mr. GOULD, all of whom returned to
Connecticut in the fall, leaving Mr. ROBISON and family
sole inhabitants of the wilderness.
were however, in a delightful spot, hemmed in on all sides by a
dense, living forest, where the song of the wild birds, the swift
foot of the deer, with an occasional glance from old Burin to
break the monotony, constituted their daily surroundings and their
morning or evening calls.
opened a tavern in the year 1793, and was for many years its
popular proprietor. His
son, Harry H. ROBISON, was the first white child born in
those early days, as now, animosity and strife existed among the
settlers, which often would close a warm friendship, and embitter
the remainder of their lives.
An unpleasantness existed between ROBISON and GRANGER,
and the latter being taken suddenly ill, and thinking death near,
sent for neighbor ROBISON to come and see him.
He came, when Mr. GRANGER addressed him, saying,
" Mr. ROBISON, we have been much at variance, and now
I am about to die; I sent for you that you might ask for my
ROBISON, not feeling in just that mood, replied, " You
d____d old "Picteroon,", I came to see you die, not to
ask your forgiveness."
purchased three hundred and twenty acres next east of ROBISON'S.
He had two sons, Pierce and Elihu, and one
daughter, who married Mr. CASE.
Pierce resided in a large mansion at Unionville,
erected by his father, and now owned by CRANSTON.
Elihu erected a house on the south side of the outlet,
and there reared a numerous family. General Gordon GRANGER, who attained much notoriety
during the late rebellion, was a grandson.
after the ROBISONS and GRANGERS, came Jonathan
OAKS, Seth DEAN, Oliver HUMPHREY, Charles HUMPHREY and
Elias DICKINSON. Jonathan
OAKES was a sturdy pioneer, a man of good judgment and
decision of character, and in every way well qualified to meet the
hardships incident to the settlement of a new country.
He displayed excellent judgment in the selection of land,
and soon conceived the idea of erecting a hotel, which resulted in
the building of the “Oak’s Corners” tavern in 1793, which
stood until a few years since, when it was destroyed by fire.
This was the second framed tavern in the whole Genesee
country, and was a marvel in its day.
The remains of the wine-cellar, which was a huge affair,
are still to be seen. A
strong and finely-built stone wall surrounded the garden, portions
of which are now standing, al tending to show that the Oaks’
tavern was indeed, a gigantic affair in “ye olden time,” and
must have appeared strangely grand looming up among the rude log
habitations in the surrounding neighborhood.
Mr. OAKS was the first supervisor of the town,
elected April 1, 1796. A
grandson, Nathan OAKS, Esq., resides at “Oaks Corners”,
a prominent citizen, and one of the progressive agriculturists of
the county. He has
five children: Thaddeus, residing in the village of Geneva,
and William, Fannie, Edward and Nathan, with their
among the early settlers was Philetus SWIFT, who settled in
1789. He was an
honored and influential citizen; and held many offices of honor
and trust, both civil and military.
He became judge of the County Court, a member of the State
Senate, and at one time discharged the duties of
lieutenant-governor as president pro tem of the Senate; and he
commanded a regiment in the war of 1812, on the Niagara frontier.
settled in the town, a short distance west of Melvin Hill in 1791.
Mr. SALISBURY was one of the prominent pioneers, and
did much toward the transformation of the wilderness to a land
that “blossoms like the rose.”
emigrated from Conway, Massachusetts in 1796 and located between
Orleans and Melvin Hill, on the road leading form Chapinville to
Oaks’ Corners. Other settlers on this highway were Deacon John
WARNER, at Orleans, and Jonathan MELVIN at what
has since been known as Melvin Hill.
An anecdote is related of Mr. MELVIN too good to be
lost. He had been to
the village of Geneva, and while on his return on foot to his
home, in passing the old Indian orchard, he picked up an apple,
when the owner o the orchard chanced to see him and in commanding
tones, ordered him to “ put that apple down”.
Mr. MELVIN replied, “You must be mean to begrudge
a neighbor an apple; I
will plant one hundred trees next year for the public;” and true
to his word, the trees were planted along the highway on his farm
for the benefit of the public.
came in 1796, and located a short distance east of Flint creek, at
what has since been known as “Warner Hill.”
Nicholas PULLEN and Walter CHASE settled in
1791; John Sherman in 1794; and in 1797 Theodore and
Lemuel BANNISTER located a short distance north of Oaks’
NEWHALL located in 1796, between Melvin Hill and the village
1794, Lodowick VADEMARK settled in the east part of the
town, on the Canandaigua outlet, and erected a pioneer mill.
Joseph VANDEMARK, John and Patrick BURNETT, Cornelius
WESTFALL, Coll ROY, Joseph, Eleazer and Cephas HAWKS, were
also pioneers of Phelps.
HILDRETH came in the town in 1802, accompanied by his son, William
grandson, William HILDRETH, Esq., now resides in Rochester
and is one of the popular proprietors of the “Bracket House”.
He has also served the people of Ontario County in many
official capacities. He
held the office of sheriff a number of years, and a long time
officiated as United States marshal.
George WILSON settled in 1800.
John R. GREEN was a pioneer merchant, and commenced
business at Oaks’ Corners.
Wells WHITMORE came into the town with Jonathan
OAKS, and was an enterprising pioneer.
The following is related of Mrs. WHITMORE: “AT one
time there were six Indian wigwams, inhabited by Indians, which
stood on her father’s mill yard; on a certain day, when the
family were all absent except herself, not only during the day but
the night following, an Indian, partly intoxicated, came into the
house and demanded bread; she informed him that there was no bread
in the house baked, and to convince him of the fact, showed him
dough that was prepared for baking.
He told her that she lied; and drawing a knife, flourished
it over her in a very threatening manner, and said he would have
some bread. On this
she grasped the cheese tongs, that being the only weapon within
reach, and made towards her copper colored antagonist, who
instantly beat a retreat, and never troubled her again. The
cheese tongs were then applied to their appropriate use, and a
cheese was put into a press
that stood in an open shed attached to the house, and she retired
to her lonely couch, dreading most of all a return visit from the
drunken Indian. During
the night, a firm step in the shed where stood the cheese-press
accompanied by other noises, convinced her that he had actually
returned, and she knew now what might be the final result, being
still along. The
noise, however, soon ceased, when she found that her cheese had
been stolen, not by an Indian, but by a bear.”
first marriage in Phelps was that of Joseph ANNIN,
subsequently known as Judge ANNIN and Miss READ,
daughter of Seth READ, the pioneer; and the justice that
tied the silken knot was Thomas SISSON, one of the first
magistrates in the county.. Tradition
says that the father of the young lady was obstinately opposed to
the union of his daughter with the one of her choice, and had
forbade him entering the house, and in company with Esquire
SISSON, he was passing the premises of the father of his
inamorata about the hour of twilight, at which time she was
engaged in milking her father’s cows near the highway; that she
set her milk-pail aside for the time being, when they stood up
under the shelter of an apple tree or grape vine, as the case
might be, and then and there were solemnly and legally declared to
be man and wife. The justice and bridegroom prosecuted their journey home,
while Mrs. ANNIN finished milking the cow that was
commenced by Miss READ.
inventor of the threshing machine resided in this town, and here
it was that machinery was first used in threshing grain.
Mr. Ezra GOODDELL, a machinist and mill-wright, was
employed to operate the carding-works of Mr. Luther ROOT,
and while there he suggested that if grain were thrown to the
“picks” of the carder, it would tear the berry from the stalk.
After some discussion, a few straws were placed in the
machine, and the result was entirely satisfactory, every stalk
being nicely cleaned. The
carding machines were then placed against the wall and thrashing
began, and was carried on with great success; and many years
after, carding machines were used for purposes of threshing and
were only discarded when horse-power came into use.
discovery of plaster in this town was made about 1812, and Thomas
ROY was dispatched to Virginia for the purpose of negotiating
for the purchase of the FRANAWAY lot, as it was called.
The purchase was made and the lot subsequently disposed of
to several parties.
first plaster mill was erected by Cephas HAWKS, and about
he same time Luther and Francis ROOT, Ezekiel WEBB and
Nathaniel HALL formed a co-partnership and purchased the grist
mill formerly owned by Seth DEAN, and changed it to a
plaster mill, where they conducted a successful business.
prominent pioneer, large land and slave owner, was John
BAGGERLY, who came from Maryland and located in the western
part of town. A son, Samuel H. BAGGERLY, resides in the village of
Harvey STEPHENSON, form Springfield, Massachusetts, located in the village of Orleans in about the year 1800; a son Dolphin STEPHENSON, is the present postmaster in the village of Phelps, and one of the oldest attorneys in the county. His grandfather was also an early settler in this town. Calvin STEPHENSON was a pioneer and a soldier of the Revolution. It seems that patriotism predominated in the STEPHENSON family, as Calvin had six sons in the war of 1812. James was taken prisoner and died near Montreal; William served gallantly through the war and afterwards joined the regular army, and died on the plains of the west; Luther was in battle of the river Raisin, and was with General HARRISON at the battle of Tippercanoe; other sons were Theodore, Calvin and Chester.
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