Biography of Calvin Tiffany, 
Town of Mexico, NY

Many thanks to Esther Rancier for contributing this information on Calvin Tiffany.  For further information please see the Town Historians or Historical Societies Page.
 

  On 29 February 1799 Phineas Davis, his wife Sally Smith, Calvin Tiffany, his wife, Abigail Walker and their infant son Rufus arrived from Connecticut on a sled drawn by two yokes of oxen. The trip had begun in the last week of January 1799 in Hartford, CT. The sled had capsized once near Schoharie, but they were able to go on.  The party crossed the Hudson River near Albany riding on the back of a cow.  They passed through both Utica and Whitestown, NY.  It was noticed that Whitestown was far larger then than Utica. All these details were recorded by Sally Smith Davis in her diary which is still existent. 

 They brought with them two beds, bedding and some utensils for cooking.  Together they occupied one long cabin for the next few months until the Davises were able to find another abode.

 In the late fall of 1799 Phineas left his pregnant wife and went for a planned three-week trip back to Hartford, CT and Rutland, MA, his hometown, to guide his brother Asa and family back to Mexico. Enroute Phineas fell ill.  He was gone over five months.

 Sally was alone, ill and without adequate food.  Calvin Tiffany and his wife tried to assist but they too were low on supplies.  The story was that they had but one loaf of bread plus cracked corn and some venison to sustain them. These early days made for such a tough life that Abigail often dissolved in tears. 

Calvin built a cabin on lot 35 where they settled.  But cabins in those days were windowless and without doors.  It sheltered them against the deep winter snows that blew in off Lake Ontario, but it offered little else in the way of creature comforts.  The dreadful place became famous in Mexico history for it became the first house to burn down in February 1801. 

Abigail and Rufus were alone when a spark from the fireplace blew into the roof and everything was soon ablaze.  They owned so little that most was rescued from the flames except a barrel of flour. 

Homeless Abigail with Rufus in tow went to the Phineas Davis place.  They took in the Tiffanys. Once more the families lived together until the cabin was rebuilt.  Sadly, the same house was burned down again in 1807.

 Calvin had bought lot 55.  He moved his family there by 1808.  It was in this establishment where he opened his home for use as a tavern which in its own way became a famous landmark for the next half-century.  The first Mexico town meeting was held there when Calvin was made Town Clerk.  The first meeting of the Oswego County Board of Supervisors took place there.  Many of the earliest Mexico church services were held there also.  The great social events of the area were usually held there.  The young local men held a “log house dance” in an effort to find young women who were in short supply.  Many stories still remain of the first such event.  To have an evening of dance took a total of six days of traveling time, so poor were travel conditions. 

 Calvin was the son of Ezekiel and Mary (Knowlton) Tiffany of Ashford, CT.  Calvin’s uncle, Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton took part in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in July 1759.  He also commanded a division at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  On 16 September 1776 he was killed in the Battle for Harlem Heights.  Another uncle, Lt. Daniel Knowlton, was in the Crown Point Expedition and many Revolutionary battles. 

 Calvin, born 5 November 1772, married Abigail Walker about 1794 at Ashford.  Abigail died in Mexico 20 July 1823, age 50.  She was buried in the Primitive Cemetery.  The exact names and number of their children are unclear.  The 1820 Mexico census indicated that as many as 13 people were in the household, yet by 1830 there were only 2 males and 4 females left in the house.  These males were  Calvin and his son, John.  Rufus Tiffany had a separate household in Mexico in 1830. By 1816 he had opened a store adjoining his father’s tavern.

 When in May 1811 the First Congregational Society of Mexico was organized, Calvin Tiffany became one of the first trustees.  This group in 1818 became a Presbyterian Church.  Calvin and his family worshipped there regularly. 

 In 1813 Calvin Tiffany was appointed Postmaster.  By 1815 the post office was transferred to Mexicoville.  Postage then cost 6 cents for 30 miles.  While Calvin lost the mail, he was busy as Commissioner of Highways surveying a new route for the old post road on which lay the Tiffany Tavern.  By 1828 the Scriba Road ran by Phineas Davis to an intersection with the road by Tiffany’s.  More and more roads were added with the passing years. 

 Calvin was also a Constable, an Assessor, and in 1802 a Town Supervisor.  All roads seemed to lead to Tiffany’s.  He was very popular. Yet his tavern’s location eventually declined.  The center of activity shifted to the Mexico Village. 

 When Oliver Richardson arrived in 1805 he hired Calvin to build his new house.  Oliver provided the supplies and Calvin was paid $20 for his labor.  The cabin was built of round logs, cut 20 feet long.  The inside was about 17 feet long.  The abode had no door, no windows, no chimney and no fireplace.  A family of ten moved into this place. 

 When the Masonic Lodge was begun, Calvin joined.  It took from 1808 to 1818 to get the final permission to begin officially.

 The 1820’s were sad years for Calvin.  He lost not only his wife, Abigail, but Rufus’ family.  Rufus married Althea H. ____, born ca. 1801.  Rufus and Althea had two sons, Julian who died 1826 at 5 months and Rufus W. who died in 1822.  Their daughter, Mercy Fay was baptized 7 March 1830, then died young about the same time as the mother ca. 1831.  The mother and all three children were buried in the Colosse Cemetery.  After these deaths Rufus disappeared from Mexico records. 
 Later Calvin and his second wife, Polly, joined the Mexico Baptist Church in 1831.  At first there were only 56 members of this new group. 

 Calvin and Polly were included in the 1850 Mexico census.  Calvin was 76 and Polly was age 80.  She was born in NH.  They lived with his son, John, and his family.  John took over his father’s land.  He married Mary, last name unknown.  Their son, Willard W., was born ca. 1845.

 There is a stone in the Primitive Cemetery for a George P. Tiffany who died in 1812.  There was a cholera epidemic that year.  He has been previously identified as the son of John W. and Mary, but John W., who married Mary, was only born ca. 1818.  George P. may have been a son of Calvin’s.   Polly was also buried in the Primitive Cemetery.  Her stone had no death date.  There is no record of Calvin’s death. 

 Sometime between 1850 and 1869 John sold the Tiffany land to David Prosper Taylor and his son, John C. Taylor, Sr.  Taylor passed it to Chester G. Dewey who built a cheese factory on the corner.  Then the place became known as Dewey’s Corners, a name still used.  John, Mary and Willard went west.  By the 1870 and 1880 censuses they ran a small hotel or boarding house in Central City, Gilpin Co., Colorado. By 1880 Mary was 61; John W., 62.  Willard W. Tiffany was 35 and single.  He worked as a post office clerk and lived with his parents.  They must have had quite exciting lives there compared with sleepy Mexico.  In the 1870’s and 1880’s Central City, CO was a wide-open  Rocky Mountain boom-town.  It was the wild west with bars, bars, bars, ladies not ladies, cowboys, miners, card sharps and gunfights!  Quite a contrast. 
 

 SOURCES:
 Cemetery Census of the Town of Mexico, Oswego County, New York.  Mexico: Mexico Historical Society, 1984.
 Churchill, John.  Landmarks of Oswego County, New York.  Syracuse: Mason, 1895.
 Family Group Record.  Available.  [online] http://www.familysearch.org  [2 December 2002]
 Foley, Janet Wethy.  Early Settlers of New York State, 1760-1942, v. 2.  Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1993.
 Johnson, Crisfield.  History of Oswego County, New York.  Philadelphia: Everts, 1877.
 Mackenzie, George Norbury.  Colonial Families of the United States, v. 7.  Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1995.
 Presbyterian Baptisms Mexico 1827-1831, Mexico, NY.  Available [online] 
 [6 December 2002]
 Shumway, Bonnie and others.  Mexico Memories.  Mexico: Mexico Historical Society, 1997.
 U.S. Census for Gilpin Co., CO for 1870 and 1880.
 U.S. Census for Oswego Co., NY for 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1880.


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