Yates County, New York  - 1873

 

Return to Home Page                                           Return to Town Index

 

 

History & Directory of Yates County, Volume I, by Stafford C. Cleveland published 1873

 

kindly transcribed by Deborah Spencer & Dianne Thomas

 

HISTORY OF YATES COUNTY     

Chapter I     100 Years Ago   pg 9 - 16

1869 looks back 100 years and inquires of 1769.  No living actors of that time report the answer. It must be gathered from the traditions, the accessible records, the history, so far as any has been written. 

Of the little county of Yates, or the space now bounded and defined with fixed lines and so called, we know it was then a part of the land of the Senecas.  It belonged to the Indian Paradise of the Genesee country.  As it lies now between the great thoroughfares of eastern and western travel in this State, so it did then between the east and west trails of the Iroquois.  The great Gannudasaga trail passed on the west side of Seneca Lake from Tioga and Chemung to Kanadesaga, Kanadarq and the west; but probably then as now the most frequented route from the Susquehanna valley to the western bounds of the Seneca dominion, was by way of the vale of Canisteo.  

We are not aware that any villages of national importance among the aborigines existed within the boundaries of our county.  Their most important towns were on the great central trail which connected their Long House from east to west.  Rich and inviting as this region must have been, and bountiful in the products of the chase and the spontaneous fruits of the forest, it does not seem to have been a focal point for tribal gatherings or a seat of authority and power. The Senecas, however, traced their supernatural origin to Bare Hill in our northwestern town on Canandaigua Lake. 

Going back 100 years, we find these remarkable children of the forest in full and undisturbed possession of this blooming land.  It was yet 10 years before the irruption of SULLIVAN carried desolation to their settlements and ruined their budding industries.  That hard and cruel blow would then have seemed an event impossible to anticipate. Ten years before, the French had been driven from their beautiful Acadie, of which, in their liberal geography, western New York was a part. For 150 years they had struggled with pertinacious and almost indomitable energy to establish their sway.  Their admirable foresight in the selection of their posts, and their wise alliances with the western tribes of the wilderness had seemed certain to place the destiny of the continent within their grasp. But the fatal hostility of the Iroquois, added to the military power of England and her Atlantic colonies, turned the scale against them. The French were driven out, and the English took possession of what would otherwise have been, perhaps to this day, a part of the French empire.  Had the English been vanquished, the result would probably have been a far happier one for the natives. The French and Indians meeting on peaceful terms, assimilated readily. Not so the English.  Their contact with the Indian was fatal to the feebler race, who melted away from the presence of the Anglo Saxon as if pursued by the hand of fate. And rum, the Englishman’s constant and powerful ally in dealing with the simple denizens of the forest, was the most desperate and deadly fiend that ever interfered with their social and national well-being. The French did not resort to this wicked device for success with the Indians, until the British had gained such advantages by it as to drive their rivals to the same expedient.  Besides, let it be told to the lasting honor of the Jesuit Missionaries, that for a long period they wholly prevented the French traders from dealing in spirituous liquors with the Indians, and that so long as the French occupancy lasted, they greatly restricted this terrible traffic among them. 

The labors of these missionaries are among the brightest examples of devotion and self-sacrifice. They penetrated to deepest recesses of the wilderness, and cheerfully endured all manner of toils and hardships to plant the germs of the Christian faith among the untutored natives.  Their records show that they planted considerable missions among the Iroquois, and but for the fell influence of recurring wars, they undoubtedly would have achieved a lasting and highly civilizing influence among those progressive and teachable tribes.  They were zealous and untiring; and if white men anterior to 100 years ago, trod the soil of what is now Yates county, they probably belonged to the emissaries of the ever active and indefatigable Order of Jesus. 

They passed away, and no marks remain to testify of their labors, except a few scattered fruit trees, called Indian Apple trees, which are said to have been planted or sprung from seed introduced by these Catholic Missionaries.  More than a hundred years ago their work in this part of Acadie was ended.  Their proselytes among the Indians were not numerous, but their influence on the thought of the rude savages was very considerable, and is said to be still apparent among the scattered remnants of these once formidable tribes. 

The powerful league of the Six Nations had given their aid to the King of England in the expulsion of the French and had become his firm allies, much to their ultimate cost. The support they had rendered in the French war, they put forth again when the colonies rebelled, to uphold the King, and this fatally erroneous policy cost them their very national life, and the possession of the Long House in which they and their ancestors had flourished for centuries.  They delighted to call their admirable political fabric, which extended from the Hudson on the east to Lake Erie on the west, the Long House, of which the Mohawks guarded the eastern door and the Senecas the western. Their friendship toward the British was powerfully promoted by Sir William JOHNSON, whose home was among the Mohawks, and who was a virtual monarch in that tribe and held a great ascendancy throughout the league.   

He was the dispenser of royal favors among the aborigines, and by liberal and conciliatory conduct, secured an influence with the Six Nations far greater than any other man of the white race ever enjoyed.  His power with the Senecas was less conspicuous than with the eastern nations, but on most questions he carried the Senecas with the rest, and attached the entire league to the interests of his master, the King. 

Thus stood matters 100 years ago. The colonial settlements were gradually crowding into the borders of the wilderness.  The colonists and the Indians were at peace.  A very few Protestant Missionaries had penetrated among the Indians, and some advances toward civilization had developed among them; enough to show that could they have been protected from rum and the absorption of their lands by the aggressive race, they would have risen gradually but certainly to the civilized state in the course of a few generations. 

Let us contemplate for a moment the wide gap that divided them from us, even in the external conditions of life. On the territory now embraced within the county of Yates, laced with highways at regular and convenient distances for travel in all directions, supporting 20,000 people, many of them in homes of lavish bounty and luxury, and all in respectable comfort, with more than ¾ of the land under good cultivation, with abundance of first-class domestic animals, and all the fruits and grains of our latitude in profusion, with daily railway connections with these a-board and towards every point of the compass, with the lightning ready to leap with intelligence to every corner of the earth, at our command,--on this favored ground there lived, a century ago, perhaps 500 of the Red race--certainly not more than 1,000--if the estimates of the native populations which have been preserved are correct.  The Senecas, the most formidable of the Iroquois nations, were never supposed to number more than 25,000, and some careful authorities have placed them as low as10,000. 

Their territory, embracing both banks of the Seneca Lake, extended to Lake Erie.  Hence it will be seen that our estimate of the number that found homes on our little space of 320 square miles, is large enough. For roads they had a few trails or paths leading through the forest to their favorite haunts.  Their dwellings were mostly made from the bark of trees, with a few poles for their principal support.  The skins of animals furnished them with much of their bedding and clothing. Their only domestic animal was the dog. The squaws raised little areas of corn, beans and squashes. Near some of the larger villages at the time of SULLIVAN’s  invasion, there were large fields of corn and fine orchards. Some of their dwellings were also framed buildings, tastily painted, but there were few of these.  The most of the Indians still followed the habits of their ancestors. Intercourse with Europeans had furnished them with powder and fire-arms, which added greatly to their potency as hunters and warriors. 

The principal part of their education consisted in woodcraft, which, in its full sense, embraces much that is real wisdom and would be a proud acquisition to the most learned. They had social laws and a political system that seemed to be wisely adapted to their needs, and by no means inconsistent with moderate and wholesome progress.  In religious ideas and practices, they were like others, with no more light than they possessed, crude and illogical.  Feeling about in the dark for a road to the light, they had a child-like solution for the mysteries of life and death, the past and the future. 

Compared with his white brother, the Indian was but a child.  Of what avail was his subtle comprehension of the hunter’s art, of the secrets of the woods and waters, of the habits of the animal kingdom, and the virtues of plants, and all that forms a well trained native of the wilds, against the far higher culture and more extended resources of the Caucasian? The attrition of European enterprise and thought against the comparatively inert or rather undeveloped Indian, with the little conscience that too greatly actuated the stronger race, could bring only fatal results to the weaker. 

Neither seemed capable of accurately and justly estimating the other.  The Indian could not feel the advantage which long centuries of civilized training had given to the white man; and the white man judged the Indian by modes of thought to which the Indian had not approached. Besides, English civilization has always been selfish and absorbing. With a few honorable exceptions, the desire to possess the soil on the part of the settler, has been a sufficient excuse to take it, without a thought of the wrong to those who had owned it, perhaps when Europe was the property of the Roman Empire. 

Yet it ill-becomes us to sit in judgment on our ancestors.  They followed the drift of their time, and acted as well as its average moral sentiment required. They found the forest and the Indian both in their way, and pushed both before them to establish their own social system. The axe and the rifle in their hands were powerful agencies of civilization, but they did not stimulate the most refined speculations on human rights or human duties.  They served the pressing wants of their day, and gave the descendants of the pioneers an unimpeded theatre for the grandest national experiment in the long train of the ages.  It was due to humane and far-seeing rulers to protect weak peoples and see that no vital wrong was done to natives of western wilds.  But Europe sent us rulers who were charged with other aims, and did their work so badly on the whole, as to quicken the germs of self-government budding everywhere in the new world.  They neither protected the aborigines nor cherished the loyalty of the colonists. 

The Indian perished. It is mournful to contemplate his exit; but it seems to be in harmony with the course of nature and the teachings of history. The new and beautiful growths spring up from the mould of the decayed organisms of the past.  There is a grand continuity in the march of Humanity. Though individuals drop away like leaves from the trees, and nations flash up and disappear like the shifting scenes of a dramatic parade, Man endures. 

The dust of one proud race fertilizes the plain on which a succeeding race erects the monuments of its industry and pride. Yet the Human Family is one:  one in flesh and blood, one in emotion and aspiration, one in helpless submission to the fiat of a common destiny, one in the hopeless struggle to solve the riddle of existence. 

One hundred years ago the Indian seemed secure of this part of his Eden, at least so far as his vision might prognosticate the future.  This was a region claimed by England as it had been by France. The war of the revolution was yet in the future, but its preliminary vibrations were beginning to shake the colonies. In the lapse of the next five years it boiled up into the final eruption. With short-sighted loyalty to the King, the Six Nations sided with the British.  They aggravated the struggle by falling on the border settlements, and urged on by Tory hate and Tory assistance, they perpetrated many barbarous horrors in these incursions. And fearful was the retribution which followed. Cherry Valley and Wyoming were terribly avenged. No doubt it was a gala-day for the ferocious Butler and his Indian allies in 1778, when they proceeded from Fort Niagara and launched their canoes on the Canisteo, to move down on the devoted valley of Wyoming. It is said they were joined by Catharine MONTOUR, who left her lodge just beyond the head of Seneca Lake, and by a motley host of warriors from all the Six Nations, with a large number of Tories, who added fury to the flame of barbarous cruelty that inspired the forest warriors.  They did their bloody work and returned in triumph. But their triumph was brief and dearly atoned for. WASHINGTON heard the wail of the border settlements and resolved upon energetic retaliation.  The next Summer Gen. SULLIVAN was sent into the wilderness with orders to lay waste and destroy without reserved or pity.  He entered the land of the Senecas by the gateway of the Chemung Valley. BRANT headed the warriors of the league for a determined stand on the Chemung river; but it was in vain.  They were driven from the field, and flew before the thunder of his artillery till his vindictive march was ended. 

They were only able to keep their wives and little ones away from immediate harm, to suffer the agonies of starvation the following winter.  Queen Catharine fled from her lodge never to return.  SULLIVAN’s men destroyed her home and laid waste its pleasant surroundings. They marched down the eastern shore of Seneca lake, and the echo of their cannon from the western bank of that beautiful water, was like a reverberating prophecy of the new order of things shortly to follow in their train.  It is said they gazed across with delighted eyes, viewing, as they most justly believed they did, a goodly land.  The summer sunshine reflected to their vision no deceitful images.  They had a glimpse of the glorious land that soon became famous as the Genesee Country. The garden of the Lake country inspired them with a warm admiration for its beauty and fertility; and they carried back to their homes such stories of its natural wealth and singular attractions, that the emigration of a few years’ later time was greatly stimulated by the impression which had thus gone abroad at the east. 

The punishment inflicted on the Senecas and Cayugas by SULLIVAN, sufficed for the purpose it was intended to serve. The Indians were thoroughly broken and depressed, and were never afterwards led into a hostile attitude on the soil of New York. The war soon after closed, and the ill-starved Iroquois were left at the mercy of the victors.  It was much to the credit of the authorities that they did not exact the conditions which the laws of war might have claimed from the vanquished. The right of the Indians to the fee simple of the soil was recognized.  In fighting with the British they had done themselves a grievous wrong.  But they had stood by friends whose battles they had fought in a previous war.  They had evinced fidelity, and were far less culpable than those vindictive Tories who had planned and led on the most bloody forays, which had rendered both the Indians and their allies a by-word of terror through all the border lands.  It was well that the principal weight of hatred and wrath on the part of the colonists fell on the Tory outlaws.

 

 

Chapter II      THE NEW JERUSALEM - THE PIONEERS   pg17 - 37

It is now just 90 years since the vengeful incursion of SULLIVAN broke the spirit and destroyed the political fabric of the Iroquois.  It was on the 9thday of September, 1779, that a detachment of 400 of his riflemen was sent up from Kanadesaga, on the west side of Seneca Lake, to Kashong Creek, where they destroyed a large Indian village, with extensive fields of corn and great numbers of apple trees.  The wigwams, and all means of subsistence on the part of the Indians, were completely annihilated.  A portion of the apple trees only remained.  This is the only recorded vestige of war that ever occurred on the soil of Yates county.  It was connected with the perishing throes of the Great Confederacy of Red Men, which had dominated with an imperial sway from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. It was preliminary to a new invasion of powerful arts, of cunning industries, of another system of social and political laws, of new religious conceptions. 

The war of the revolution closed in 1783. Immediately on the consummation of peace, the colonies settled their disputed boundaries and rival claims to the interior wilderness. With little actual knowledge of the geography of the country, British monarchs had granted charters which conflicted in their outlines.  New York and Massachusetts finally settled their differences by a convention of commissioners, who agreed to give to the State of Massachusetts the pre-emptive right to purchase of the Indians all of Western New York, west of a meridian line, to start from the 82nd milestone, on the State line of Pennsylvania; the civil jurisdiction to remain with New York. 

If the State of New York had purchased this claim of Massachusetts, and then setting apart a liberal reservation for the Indians, and settling with them on equitable terms, had presented the entire residue of the country to actual settlers in restricted areas, it would have accomplished an untold amount of good for the commonwealth, and prevented a vast amount of injury and suffering on the part of the settlers. This would have cut off that system of outside and foreign ownership, which is the blight and depression of most new communities. But it had not then entered into the conceptions of men, that such a procedure would not only be the most rapid means of enriching the State, but a measure of actual justice to the primitive settlers. 

The State of Massachusetts sold to a company, of which Oliver PHELPS and Nathaniel GORHAM were the principal representatives, its pre-emptive right to Western New York, for the insignificant sum of £300,000,payable in the depreciated bonds of that State. This was in 1788.  The prospect of the formation of a Federal Government soon brought those bonds to par, and PHELPS and GORHAM finding themselves unable to pay as they had stipulated, on petition to the Legislature of Massachusetts, were released from their contract to purchase, except so much as they had already bought of the Indians, embracing 2,600,000 acres, and extending from the Pre-emption Line to the Genesee River, for which £100,000was paid. 

The purchase of the Indians had been accomplished with much difficulty, owing to the interference and intrigues of the celebrated Lessee Company.  This company was what would be called in modern phraseology, a formidable Ring, composed of men with means and influence to forward their operations. Dr. Caleb BENTON, John LIVINGSTON, and Jared COFFIN, were their principal managers.  They were called the “New York Genesee Land Company,” and their seat of operations was at Hudson.  An auxiliary company, styled the “Niagara Genesee Company,” was organized on the Canadian border, with men of known influence with the Indians, such as John BUTLER, Samuel STREET, John POWELL, and Benjamin BARTON.

With some influences, and aided with the usual stimulating appliances in such cases, a lease was obtained of the Indian Lands for 999 years, for a yearly consideration of 2,000 Spanish milled dollars, and a promised bonus of $20,000, the Indians to retain certain hunting and fishing privileges. 

The State authorities, headed by Governor George CLINTON, fought the Lessee claims with energy and decision, and finally baffled the whole scheme so completely, that the Lessees eventually accepted a compromise which shut them off by taking 10 miles square on the military tract. 

The five townships deeded by PHELPS and GORHAM to Dr. Caleb BENTON, three of which, in the first range, are now embraced in Yates county, were also ceded as a part of this promise. 

While these servants were in progress, movements for settling the country were awakening in various quarters, the most important of which at this early day was that of the Universal Friend. This remarkable personage had for 14 years preached in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.  She had a numerous body of adherents, including families of character and influence, and considerable possessions.  She had conceived the idea of founding a community of her disciples where they might stand as a support to each other, and a light to the surrounding world.  This proposition had been discussed in their councils with earnestness, and in 1786 they held a meeting in Connecticut, at which they resolved to send forth a committee of exploration to select some place, far from towns and cities, where they might live in peace, and establish without interference the peculiar faith and social tenets of their new religion, under the direct control of its living founder and apostle.  Like many other migrations before it, this was initiated under the impulse of religious sentiment, and it had the fervor and thoroughness of purpose which accompany such movements.

A new and somewhat singular body of people, under the leadership of a gifted and striking character, they naturally sought an unrestricted field for the development of their society and one from which the pressure of existing organizations, and their unbending prejudices would be removed.  They desired to plant the new society outside the shadow of older and better organized creeds, where its roots might strike into a new and virgin soil, and its branches reach forth to the heavens without hindrance or compression. 

The ministry of the Friend had enlisted an earnest and devoted band of followers and believers. Under the inspiration of her zeal, they had lighted the lamps of their faith by the fire of the old Hebrew prophets. Dreams of millennial peace floated through their minds. Visions of the New Heaven and the New Earth appeared before them. As all things are possible to religious enthusiasm, in the plenitude of their ardent faith they saw the New Jerusalem descending from the sky to become the tabernacle of men.  This was no longer a vague presentiment of another world, but a glorious reality within their reach.  It was a grand inspiration that nerved their souls to the self-denial and toil necessary to fix their abodes in the woods of Western New York. They came to found a pure social order under a new religious conviction. It was to such an impulse that the first settlement of Yates county owed its beginning. 

Among the nobler nations of our race, the aspirations for a better social state, and dreams of their realization, have prompted many grand attempts to found new communities. Many wrecks of these broken and abortive schemes are strewed along the pathway of human history, as well as many glorious successes. That they have helped forward the improvement of human nature can not be reasonably doubted.  Crude as many of them are, they point to a principle in man that bespeaks his fitness for an exalted destiny; and the fact that he will continue to translate his dreams of perfectibility into schemes of actual life, indicates the possibility of even a terrestrial destiny for the family of man, so rich in its fruitions as to surpass all that visionaries and prophets have been able to portray in their most glowing raptures as the allotment of the future.

The Universal Friend but followed the example of many before her, when she sought the depths of the wilderness to gather about her the flock her ministry had attached to her standard. Utopias had been searched for in both the old world and the new, and in the islands of the distant seas.  Her’s was another, in which the behests of an unseen world were to blossom into beauty and sweetness in the common affairs of life. It was a great undertaking, and it had for a leader one who did not lack the boldness, courage and genius for the task. She had not only the confidence, but the reverence of her disciples. 

At the meeting in 1786, they delegated Richard SMITH, Thomas HATHAWAY and Abraham DAYTON, to search for some fertilel ocation suited to their wants.  They set out the following year on their errand. They passed on horseback through the interior of Pennsylvania. In the valley of Wyoming they met a backwoods explorer by the name of SPALDING, who gave them some account of the Seneca Lake region, and directed them how to reach it, as they did by following the track of SULLIVAN’S march seven years before.  It is said they kept on SULLIVAN’S track to the foot of Seneca Lake, from whence they came to Kashong, where they found two French traders, Dominick DE BARTZACH, and Pierre PONDRE, from whom they also had a good account of the country. They informed the explorers that they had traveled through Canada and the Western Territory, and had nowhere seen so fine a country as this. A few days exploration satisfied them fully, and they returned by the route they came to report to the Friend the result of their mission. 

In 1788, the first settlement was made. A party of 25 persons, among whom were Abel BOTSFORD, Peleg and John BRIGGS, George SISSON, Isaac NICHOLS, Stephen CARD, John REYNOLDS, James PARKER, and some other families, came by way of Albany, making their way to Geneva on batteaux.

At Geneva they found but a solitary log-house, still unfinished and inhabited by Clark JENNINGS. The story of their travels is that they went up the east side of the lake to Appletown, and searched there for a mill site. The noise of falling water, it is said, finally drew them to the west shore.  Considering the size of the cascade, which must have made this noise and its distance within the forest, many deem this account incredible.  Joseph REMER, however, who has passed all his life near the lake, assured the writer that he deemed it a truthful statement.  With a full stream and a quiet atmosphere, the sound of rushing waters, over even a moderate precipice, can be heard a great distance. 

So the New Jerusalem was located on the west bank of Seneca Lake.  This little band arrived in August, and erected their cabins close by the Indian trail leading from the Chemung Valley to Kanadesaga, a mile from the lake and about a mile south of Dresden.  They sowed a field of wheat of about 12 acres the same fall, and, so far as known, were the only actual and permanent settlers that passed the following winter west of Seneca Lake.  They, were, in truth, the pioneer party of the pioneers.  They were the boldest of the bold.  While the country was still tremulous with fear of Indian hostilities, which were not fully allayed till half a dozen years later, by PICKERING’s treaty at Canandaigua, they ventured directly upon their choices territory, before they could hardly have been aware that the Red Man’s title had been eliminated. They were the first to confront as actual neighbors on this beautiful ground, both the Indian and the still wilder inhabitants of the forest. Now that their work has loomed up into historical importance, it would be deeply interesting to know the minutest particulars of their history during that first fall and winter.  They were completely shut out from the world.  No mail could carry messages to their friends in New England, or bring them a lisp of what was transpiring there.  Their sole society outside their own little colony, was the Indian and the wild beast. Their intellectual comforts were drawn almost solely from their Bibles and the dark pervading forest. 

Would that we might have a record of that winter, of their thoughts and activities, of their comforts and distresses, of the hopes that inspired them to labor and to patience. But they were not literary and made no recorded statement that is known to the writer of these pages.  Perhaps they did not conceive that their advent to these unbroken wilds, was to bethought in after time a matter of curious scrutiny to the compiler of history. They deemed themselves but humble workers in the advance line, to prepare the ground for the building of the New Jerusalem; and expected only, that like other builders, their glory would be lost in the beauty of the structure to grow up under their hands. 

Reserving for another chapter the further details of this movement, we will look to what was going forward in other quarters.  PHELPS and GORHAM completed their purchase of Massachusetts, April 1st, 1788. It is claimed by one of our surveyors in this county, Israel H. ARNOLD, that the old Preemption Line was surveyed in 1787, deducing his opinion from tree markings which he has seen on that line. It would hardly seem probable, however, that the survey could have been made before the purchase was consummated.  As the Lessee Company expected to have the land that might lie between the Military tract and the Massachusetts Lands, they took a lively interest in this survey. So two surveyors were employed; Hugh MAXWELL, on the part of PHELPS and GORHAM, and a Mr. JENKINS, (another authority says a Mr. ALLEN), on the part of the Lessees.  The following account of their work is taken from O’Reiley’s “Incidental Notices of Western New York,” incorporated with his “Sketches of Rochester.” 

“These surveyors started from a point on the Pennsylvania line, and proceeded together till the provisions were nearly exhausted.  When within about 20miles of Geneva, and a few miles below Hopetown, near to the creek by which the Seneca Lake receives the waters of the Crooked Lake, one of the surveyors, (MAXWELL), went to Geneva for supplies.  JENKINS, meanwhile, continued surveying the line; and it was while he was thus alone that a slight jog occurred in the line, the prolongation of which northward, threw Geneva, the settlements at which had already attracted some attention, on the east side of the boundary; that side whereon it was most agreeable to JENKINS’ employers it should continue. 

MAXWELL returned and resumed the survey when within about 10 miles of Geneva, and unconscious of the deviation which had occurred in his absence, he aided in running the boundary so that it passed somewhat westward of Geneva. The present site of the village of Lyons, and the whole of Sodus Bay were also thrown eastward of the line thus run out.  The variation of the compass was, however, the cause of a fargreater error in running this line, than resulted from the covetousness of possessing Geneva, &c.  One of the surveyors of the Holland Company, informed Maude in 1800, that they put no dependence now on Mariner’s compass in surveying land, that it will frequently give an error of 60 rods, or 330 yards in 10 miles; that it gave an error of 84,000 acres in running the east line of Captain WILLIAMSON’s purchase, which was not discovered till after the deeds were signed and the money paid. It is added that the difference was generously yielded up by Mr. MORRIS, the purchaser of PHELPS and GORHAM’s title, to Mr. WILLIAMSON, (for the PULTNEY Estate), who otherwise would not only have lost this quantity of land, but would have been cut off from Sodus Bay, Seneca Lake, with Geneva, and the excellent situation of Hopetown Mills, on the Outlet of Crooked Lake, a little eastward of what is now called Penn Yan.” 

Whether by mistake or design, the line diverged to the west, and it was early suspected that it was not correctly surveyed; but the new survey, it appears, was not made till 1793. 

The old Pre-emption Line, from which PHELPS and GORHAM’s purchase was surveyed into Ranges and Townships, constitutes the town line between Starkey and Barrington, passes through Milo Centre on the highway to the outlet of Keuka Lake, and thence on the road leading north beyond the residence of Caleb J. LEGG, in Torrey, and so on northward crossing the Kashong creek some 200 rods or thereabout east of Bellona.

What is called the Pre-emption road, is no where on the Pre-emption Line till we pass north of Cromwell’s Hollow, in the town of Seneca.  Thence the highway is on the Pre-emption Line as far northward as Geneva, and the old stage road from Geneva to Bath, was undoubtedly called the Pre-emption road from that fact, although it diverges from the line through the town of Benton, and more than a mile at the south line of the town. 

Soon after the Pre-emption Line was surveyed, the whole purchase was surveyed into Ranges and Townships, under the charge of Hugh MAXWELL, who begun his work in 1788, and completed it in 1789. The Ranges were six miles wide running north and south, counting from east to west; and the Townships six miles square, counting from south to north. Hence it is that the town of Barrington falls in township number six in the 1st range; the town of Milo, so much as lies west of the old Pre-emption Line, in township number seven, 1st range; Benton number eight, 1strange; Jerusalem, number seven, 2nd range, &c. 

It will be seen, therefore, that the Friends must have come before they could have been aware that the Indian title had been extinguished, or surveys of the country entered upon. Other settlers followed close upon the heels of the surveyors, and in1789, not only a large reinforcement to the Friends’ settlement arrived, but others began to push in.  The door was opened and the fame of the country as one of earth’s choicest allotments to man, soon made it a popular point for the tide of emigration. 

PHELPS and GORHAM having completed the purchase and survey of their tract of land, covering what now constitutes Ontario, Wayne, Yates, Steuben, Livingston, and parts of Monroe and Allegany counties, proceeded at once to make every exertion to people it with settlers. Mr. PHELPS superintended the business in person. 

Their first sale was township number 11, 3rdrange, now the town of Farmington, to a company of Massachusetts settlers, mostly Quakers.  In 1791, these settlers carried grist on horses to the Friends’ mill in Jerusalem, where Joy’s Oil Mill is now located. 

Of the time now about to open, when emigration was to pour into the Genesee country, Mr. TURNER in his history of PHELPS and GORHAM’s purchase says:  “AtGeneva, (then called Kanadesaga), there was a cluster of buildings occupied by Indian traders, and a few settlers who had come in under the auspices of the Lessee Company.  Jemima WILKINSON with her small colony, was upon her first location upon the west bank of Seneca Lake, upon the Indian trail through the valley of the Susquehanna, and across Western New York to upper Canada, the primitive highway of all this region. One or two white families had settled at Catharine’s Town, at the head of Seneca Lake.  A wide region of wilderness separated the most northern and western settlements of Pennsylvania from all this region.  Within the Genesee country other than the small settlement at Geneva, and the Friends’ settlement, there were two or three Indian traders upon the Genesee River, a few white families who were squatters upon the flats, one or two white families at Lewiston, one at Schlosser, a Negro with a Squaw wife at Tonawanda, an Indian interpreter and two or three traders at the mouth of Buffalo Creek, a Negro and Indian trader at the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek, Fort Niagara was a British garrison.  All else was Seneca Indian occupancy.” 

About 30 Townships were sold or contracted in 1788; but the most of these very early sales were to those who held small shares in the association of which PHELPS and GORHAM were the principal shareholders.  Benedict ROBINSON and Thomas HATHAWAY were original shareholders, and Township number 7, in the 2ndrange, now Jerusalem, was deeded to them; which accounts for the comparatively small price at which it was sold, $4,320, or 18 pence per acre. In the 1st range, township number six, Barrington; number seven, Milo; number eight, Benton; number nine, Seneca; were deeded by PHELPS and GORHAM to Caleb BENTON, in behalf of the Lessees; and by Caleb BENTON to John LIVINGSTON, also of the Lessee Company.

The deed of PHELPS and GORHAM to Caleb BENTON, bears date January 16, 1789, and is for the expressed consideration of £3,000. The deed of Caleb BENTON to John LIVINGSTON for the same townships, 6, 7,and 8, bears date April 27, 1789, for the expressed consideration of £4,000. John LIVINGSTON deeded to Levi BENTON, December 24, 1789, lot 37, intownship number 8, 1st range; and August 6, 1790, half of lot 13 ofthe same township, the place whereon he resided.  

On the 28th of November, 1788,Caleb BENTON, by virtue of a resolution of the Lessee Company, set off to James PARKER and his associates of the Friend’s Society a belt of land on the eastside of township number 7, to extend westward far enough to be equal in value to3 ¼ shares of the Company, the west line to run parallel with the Pre-emption Line.  This location is six miles long, contains 1104 acres and is the strip known as the Garter. 

In the year 1789, the wilderness was dotted with pioneer commencements in many directions. The Friends had a large accession to their colony, and the Friend herself arrived a year later to give life and direction to the new movement. On the east side of Seneca Lake several settlers made beginnings.  In that year, Levi BENTON, the first settler of the town that bears his name, and a cousin of Dr. Caleb BENTON, of the Lessee Company, settled at the north termination of Flat street, on the farm since occupied by Henry HICKS, and now by Daniel SHERWOOD.  Around Levi BENTON, clustered in the next few years a very interesting neighborhood of pioneers. 

At this time the Lessees were operating at Geneva, though toward the end of that year they abandoned their most important pretensions.  Says Mr. TURNER:--“The little village of Kanadesaga at the foot of Seneca Lake, had been going ahead under the auspices of Reed, and Ryckman, and the Lessees.”

“In the Fall of 1788,” says a manuscript in the author’s possession, “number 8 was divided into lots and balloted for at Geneva.”  He further says, that the lots drawn were over a hundred in number, and that the manuscript referred to gave the numbers of the several lots, with the names of the parties who drew them.  It would seem to have been for the most part a distribution by lottery to the members of the Niagara or Canada Lessee Company, and Benjamin BARTON and Mr. BIRDSALL drew for their associates. 

The following picture of Geneva is given in the same connection.  “In the Fall of 1788, about the time the pioneer movements were making at Canandaigua, Geneva had become a pretty brisk place; the focus of speculators, explorers, the Lessee Company and their agents, and the principal seat of the Indian trade for a wide region.  Horatio JONES, an Indian interpreter and early pioneer, was living in a log house covered with bark, onthe bank of the Lake, and had a small stock of goods for the Indian trade. Asa RANSOM, the afterwards pioneer at Buffalo, occupied a hut and was manufacturing Indian trinkets.  Clark JENNINGS had a log tavern on the bank of the Lake. The Lessee Company had a framed tavern and trading establishment, covered with bark on the lake shore, which was occupied by Dr. Caleb BENTON. There was a cluster of log houses all along on the low ground near thelake shore.  The geographic al designations were “hill and bottom.”  Peter RYCKMAN and Peter BORTLE were residing there. Col. Seth REED was residing at the Old Castle. Dominic DE BARTZCH, an Indian trader from Montreal, was rather the great man of the country.  His principal seat was at the Kashong which he claimed as an Indian grant, and where he had a trading establishment, though his trade extended to the western Indians, among whom he went after selling his claim to the Kashong farm, to the late Major Benjamin BARTON. 

It is further stated, that John H. JONES witnessed this bargain; and that Major BARTON, in part payment, pulled off his overcoat and gave it to DE BARTZCH.  On the other hand it is affirmed, by James L. BARTON, a son of Major BARTON, that the farm was bought of Pierre POUDRE. 

He made this statement in an address before the Young Men’s Association of Buffalo, in 1848, and his testimony ought to be conclusive.  Both DE BARTZCH and POUDRE had Indian wives. 

The Lessees at this time were strenuously claiming all the lands east of the old Pre-emption Line, that had not been distinctly ceded by the Six Nations, expecting to secure a profitable compromise; and REED and RYCKMAN’S large tract of 16,000 acres on the west bank of Seneca Lake, grew out of this claim, and for services in negotiating Indian treaties, they being members of the Lessee Company.  It was their grasping effort to get the Indian lands, that was supposed to cause so large a divergence of the Pre-emption Line west of its true course.  All that was done at Geneva previous to the Spring of 1793, was under the auspices of REED, and RYCKMAN, and the Lessees.  It was principally a trading point for the Indians and the very few settlers that had penetrated the country in various directions. 

PHELPS and GORHAM, after having sold rather less than ½ of their extensive purchase, in townships and half-townships, conveyed the entire remainder to Robert MORRIS, of Philadelphia, the patriotic friend of WASHINGTON, whose purse had aided so essentially in the success of the Revolutionary War.  The price paid was 30,000 pounds, New York currency,($75,000).  Mr. MORRIS undertook large preparations for the settlement of his purchase, but before he had accomplished anything of importance, his agent in London, Wm. Temple FRANKLIN, a grandson of Dr. FRANKLIN, sold his entire purchase of PHELPS and GORHAM, to Sir Wm. PULTNEY, John HORNBY, and Patrick COLQUHOUN. These were men of wealth and eminence. The price they paid was 35,000 pounds sterling ($170,000) for about one million, two hundred thousand acres of land. The conveyance was made by Robert MORRIS to Charles WILLIAMSON, agent for the London Association, by deed bearing date April 11, 1792. Mr. WILLIAMSON became naturalized for the purpose of holding this title, as his principals, being aliens and non-residents, could not under then existing laws, hold real estate. 

No better man than Mr. WILLIAMSON could have been delegated to the important work of opening up the new country to theadvances of the pioneers, so far as the interests of the pioneers themselves were concerned.  He was kind and forbearing; a man of dash and enterprise; liberal to a fault, and sanguine of results.  In the end his employers found him too expensive in his outlays for the safety of their fortune; but theydid not withhold their personal esteem for him as a man of integrity and the highest personal worth. 

Mr. WILLIAMSON, in the prosecution of his great enterprise, reached this country early in 1792, landing at Baltimore. It was toward Baltimore and Philadelphia that he expected to establish the principal routes of ingress and egress to and from the Genesee country; and during the nine years that he remained at the head of affairs as the agent of the Pultney title, he never abandoned that idea. It may sound strangely to many now, but that was then the only conclusion to which a man of Mr. WILLIAMSON’S breadth of judgment could arrive. The route by way of the Mohawk and Seneca Rivers, was difficult and tedious, and seemed likely never to become a thoroughfare suitable to the transit to eastern markets of the productions of so rich a country as the Genesee lands.  On the other hand, the Susquehanna and Cohocton seemed to offer a natural highway to the seaboard, over which could be carried all that the country might yield. This was no mistaken view.  Some of the early annalists state that in 1800 a bushel of wheat was better was better worth 100 cents at Bath, than 60 cents at Geneva. And it was confidently predicted that this difference would grow wider every year, for little if any additional improvement could be made in the water communication with New York, while that to Baltimore would admit of very extensive and advantageous ones.  It was with this view that Mr. WILLIAMSON founded Bath, expecting it to become the entrepot of trade for one of the richest countries in the world, and a city of metropolitan greatness. 

Looking at this view as the sanguine Scott regarded it before the Erie Canal was dreamed of, there was method, not madnessin his plans. 

In February, 1792, Mr. WILLIAMSON made a flying visit to the Genesee country by way of New York and Albany. He wrote to Mr. COLQUHOUN that he passed through an uninhabited wilderness of more than 100 miles before reaching Geneva, which consisted of a few straggling huts.  There is not a road, he added, within 100 miles of the Genesee country, that will admit of any sort of conveyance, otherwise than on horseback or on a sled, when the ground is covered with snow. He further stated that the price of land had in a few instances exceeded25 cents per acre.  Some few farms of first rate quality, had been sold on a credit for 50 cents per acre. 

Returning to Baltimore he resolved to open a communication with the Genesee country from the south. A colony of very worthless Germans from Hamburg, accompanied his ax-men while cutting a road from Northumberland, by way of what is now Williamsport, over the mountains to Painted Post, and thence to the Genesee River. This road ran by the present site of Blossburg, and was for many years the principal route by which emigrants reached Western New York from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the South. 

By this road provisions were sent from Northumberland to sustain Capt. WILLIAMSON’S new city at Bath, and the neighboring settlers during the first years of their occupation. They had no other resources of any importance, except the Friend’s Settlement, which had five years the start of them, and was a large and comparatively thrifty community, that acted like a sustaining Providence to the destitute pioneers of the surrounding wilderness. Says Guy H. McMASTER, in his history of Steuben County: “Captain WILLIAMSON transported his first flour from Northumberland, and a quantity of pork from Philadelphia.  After these luxuries were obtained, as best they could be, flour was brought on packhorses from Tioga point, now Athens, Pa., and a treaty of commerce was entered into with Jemima WILKINSON, the prophetess, who had established her oracle on the outlet to Crooked Lake, where her disciples had a mill and good farms.

The first navigators of Crooked Lake carried their cargoes in Durham boats of five or six tons burden, which they poled along the shores, or when favoring breezes filled their sails, steered through the mid channel.  These primitive gondoliers have lived to see the end of their profession.” 

In 1790 a national census was taken. A return of the deputy Marshall of New York shows that there were 1047inhabitants on the seven Ranges of PHELPS and GORHAM’S purchase, and west of the Genesee River.  Hence the statement has frequently appeared in local histories, that this number of people included all residing at that time west of Seneca Lake. If we add, however, the Friend’s Settlement east of the Pre-emption Line, numbering 260 persons, Geneva and its surrounding settlers 100, also east of the old Pre-emption, and Culver’s at the head of Seneca Lake, 70, we have1477 for the whole region west of Seneca Lake, then known as the Genesee Country and compromised in Ontario county. 

Of these inhabitants, there were in Township number 7, 1st Range, Milo, 66; number 8, Benton, 25; number 8, 2ndRange, then Augusta, now Potter, 38.  This would give us 388 for the population of what is now Yates county, in 1790. It will be seen that the Friend’s Settlement was at that time much the largest and most important community west of Seneca Lake, and even west of Fort Stanwix and the Susquehanna River.  It is spoken of in one of Mr. WILLIAMSON’S earliest letters as “a very industrious community who have already made considerable improvements, having completed an excellent grist and saw mill sometime since. It is expected there will be double their present number before a twelve month.”  They were considerably reinforced after this, but to what precise extent we have no means of stating.  It is said that the disappointment in regard to holding the land by the Society prevented, to a large extent, additions to their number from among their eastern friends.

Before this check occurred their gain was rapid, and their prosperity all that could be expected from the conditions of their position.  They had established themselves in a beautiful and advantageous situation, they had a good name with the people around them, and numerous sympathizers in the communities from which they had emigrated in New England and Pennsylvania. It is not wonderful that they indulged in bright anticipations, and expected to be the founders of a city.  Hence their beautiful cemetery ground was called City Hill, the title it has continued to bear. 

Another of these early settlers, speaking of the Friend’s Settlement, says, “there are 80 families in it, each has a fine farm, and they are a quiet, moral, industrious people.” This was the best of testimony in behalf of the good character of those who adhered to the Friend, and who led the van in the settlement of Yates county. 

Of the natural condition of the country, a few remarks will be in order.  It was a country for the most part very heavily wooded, a few ridges forming exceptions, where it is said the Indians had repeatedly burned the land over, for the double purpose of securing open spaces in the forest, and furnishing by the new growth the food most eagerly sought for by the deer and elk. These open spaces were supposed by the early settlers to be worthless barrens, and were shunned in selecting lots for permanent locations. They have since been found as good land as the best. The land for some distance east and northeast of Penn Yan was of this character.  That the timber was dwarfish and scattering, was evidently due to some other cause than lack offer tility in the soil.  The trees which prevailed almost everywhere, and often the chief occupant of the forest, was the Hard Maple, which afforded one of the principal resources of the country, that of sugar making.  White oak, of the finest quality, was very abundant, and there was besides an abundance of all the varieties known to this region, such as hickory, black walnut, along the Seneca Lake chiefly, chestnut on dry ridges, ash of different kinds, elm, butternut, basswood or linden, poplar, pine, in some parts of Jerusalem, very largely in East and South Barrington, and all along Big Stream. 

The Dundee locality, however, was one of the open plains regarded in the early days as nearly worthless. A striking characteristic of the heavily timbered land, was there mark able density of the undergrowth.  The hazel bushes, shrubs and young trees of all kinds, made a thicket almost impenetrable on most lands covered by a good forest growth. Mr. WILLIAMSON speaks of the wild fruits with great enthusiasm, and among them mentions the plum, cherry, mulberry, grape, raspberry, blackberry, huckleberry, gooseberry, cranberry, strawberry, and black haw. The older citizens now speak of some varieties of the wild plum with great admiration, regarding it as an excellent fruit.  Near the lakes and streams it was quite prevalent, and was much sought after.  The stream now known as Jacob’s Brook, emptying into the Keuka Lake outlet, in Penn Yan, was a famous locality for the wild plum.  Some of the wild grapes are also spoken of by the older residents as hardly surpassed by the best cultivated varieties.  Doubtless the absence of a good variety of fruits, sharpened their appreciation of the native products.  It is a happy spirit of accommodation in human nature, that we learn to relish the best we have, and regard it as the best the earth affords. 

To those who understood the indications of good land, there was evidence enough that this was a country of abounding fertility.  The pioneers judged of this largely by the timber and the large and towering forest trees, with trunks almost as large at an altitude of 50 to 60 feet, as at the root, afforded an index of deep and excellent soil, which could not be misjudged. 

Wild animals were for a time a source of fear and trouble to the early settlers.  The wolf, a great coward by day, set up his frightful howl at night, and made the deep recesses of the forest resound with his discordant chorus.  During the first few years, and even as late as 1815, in the pine woods of East Barrington, there was a fastness from which the wolves made frequent raids on the sheep-folds of the farmers.

Thousands of sheep were destroyed by these ravenous depredators during the early years of the pioneer occupation. Only those who folded them with the greatest care could be secure of their flocks while the wolves remained.  But they were hunted without mercy, and bounties were offered for their scalps; and thus they were finally driven off to wilder and less inviting regions. 

The bear was perhaps a still more common denizen of the woods, but less hurtful and less feared. This animal frightened more people than he harmed, but was not considered a pleasant companion in the woods.  His attentions towards the civilizees were mostly directed to the swine, for which he had a remarkable fondness.  It would not be difficult to fill a moderate volume with incidents relating to the raids of the bears upon the swine of the early settlers, many of them quite tragic so far as the animals, one or both, were concerned. Unlike the wolf, the bear often afforded savory food and sustenance for the flesh eating pioneers.  It was in this way that Bruin often settled for the damages he had inflicted on the growing pork or corn field of the backwoodsman. David H. BUEL informs the writer that tame bears were very common about the country, as cubs were often caught and kept as curiosities, but they were dangerous pets, and always required to be held by a chain to prevent casualties. Like most the natives of the woods, they did not harmonize with civilization, and were crowded away by its advancing waves. Their exit is not deplored. 

Deer were very numerous and sometimes troublesome, but furnished excellent food for the pioneer larder, which helped greatly in some instances to eke out the scanty supplies otherwise obtained. About the only damage these animals did was to the growing wheat in the fall.  This was sometimes a little grievous, but the venison they supplied no doubt afforded ample compensation for that. The deer lingered in the country much longer than the wolf and bear.

Mr. WILLIAMSON is his enumeration of the animals of the Genesee district, speaks of moose, deer and elk, but no tradition of these have come to the knowledge of the writer. He also speaks of beavers, otters, martins, minxes, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and wild cats, many of which, said he, furnish excellent furs and pelts.  Of game birds, he mentions wild turkeys, pheasants, partridges, pigeons, plovers, heath fowls, and meadow when, besides waterfowl.  Among the fish, especial note is made of salmon of two kinds, besides the varieties now so well known.  That the salmon were plenty in the lakes and rivers of the country, while the Indians were the principal fishermen, is well attested, but that wild turkies abounded does not seem to be confirmed by the traditions that have come to the knowledge of the author. 

It was a country in which the hunter’s life could be as well maintained as almost any other that ever answered that purpose for a savage population, and the white hunters who fell into that sort of life, found a rich field for the exercise of their prowess. 

The rattlesnake was one of the most dreaded of the native occupants, and in some localities was a scourge of the most formidable character.  They had a geographical distribution restricted to certain limited districts, beyond which they were very rare if found at all.  The places they inhabited were generally contiguous to rocky ledges, which formed the best refuge for these venomous serpents. In some places they were so abundant as to be exceedingly pestilent as a foe to the settler.  The hog in such localities was very useful in the war he waged upon the snakes.  Impervious to the reptile venom, he followed the snake to his last retreat, and was as sure on the trail as a dog in pursuit of a deer or fox.  The swine killed more rattlesnakes than the people, and by their industrious aid these terrible ophidians were finally driven from the land. 

The pioneers were not mistaken in their most sanguine and exalted estimate of the country. The sun shines on few better if any. But it was a savage wilderness, remote from the abodes of civilized life.  Its wild estate required an incalculable amount of labor to subdue it and make it the pleasant abode of peaceful industry and social culture it has become.  The obstacles before the early settlers were numerous and forbidding.  The Indian left his trail a mere pathway through the dense and overhanging forest.  He left also the wolf and the rattlesnake, and the nightly and deep rooted forest itself to be removed, so that the sunshine of the coming years might light up the beautiful meadows and waving grain fields that distinguish it as a land of rare beauty and overrunning bounty.  The early settlers found also the ague and fever, which was often worse than all other discouragements and despondencies.  Some of the richest lands were the worst afflicted with this scourge.  The highlands of Steuben and Alleghany were even sought by some to avoid the sickly vapors which covered the fruitful land inviting region of the lakes to the northward.  Their descendants in after years often expressed the most profound regrets at the loss of what might have been: in the possession of rich lands, their fathers had shunned to escape the fever and ague.  This scourge too, though it lingered long in various localities, was finally quelled.  It did not impede the rapid settlement and clearing up on the country, though it enfeebled many a stalwart arm, sometimes for more than a whole year, and sometimes illness of the most fatal character was its accompaniment. 

All these obstacles and drawbacks, were but the shadows of the wilderness and its barbarities passing away to give place to what we must all esteem a more benign and superior condition of social existence, to the softened ray of modern civilization.  It was the Genesee country, it was better still the New Jerusalem, and the ground was wisely selected.  The pious disciples of the new faith had chosen as wisely as the" children of this world" could have done with all their shrewdness. 

 

HTML by DianneThomas

These electronic pages may be printed as a link or for personal use, but is NOT to be reproduced in any format for profit or presentation by ANY other organization or persons.

2014 Contact  Webmaster  Dianne Thomas

Copyright 2004 - 2014

[NY History and Genealogy]