Yates County, New York
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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 nad 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 the
sea-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 as
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 Caucasion?
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
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
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
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 pg 17 - 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 9th
day 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
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
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 £100,000
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
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
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 millenial 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
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 fertile
location 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
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 be
thought 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 20
miles 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.
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
nowhere 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, 1st
range; 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 in
1789, 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, 3rd
range, now the town of Farmington, to a company of Massachusetts settlers,
mostly Quakers. In 1791, these
settlers carried grists 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: “At
Geneva, (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
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 2nd
range, 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, Bentonn; 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, in
township number 8, 1st range; and August 6, 1790, half of lot 13 of
the 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 east
side of township number 7, to extend westward far enough to be equal in value to
3 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
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
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, on
the 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. Elark
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 the
lake shore. The geographical
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
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 the
advances 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 they
did 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
Looking at this view as the sanguine Scott
regarded it before the Erie Canal was dreamed of, there was method, not madness
in 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 exceeded
25 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 pack
horses 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 1047
inhabitants 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 have
1477 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, 2nd
Range, 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
twelvemonth.” 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
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
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 of
fertility 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 the
remarkable 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
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 turkies, pheasants, partridges, pigeons, plovers, heath fowls, and meadow
hen, 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
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 and 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.
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