Yates County, New York - 1873
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History & Directory of Yates County, Volume I, by Stafford C. Cleveland published 1873
kindlytranscribed by Deborah Spencer & Dianne Thomas
HISTORY OF YATESCOUNTY
Chapter I 100 Years Ago pg 9 - 16
1869 looks back 100 years andinquires of 1769. No living actors of that time report the answer. It must be gathered from the traditions, the accessible records, the history, sofar 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 itwas then a part of the land of the Senecas. It belonged to the Indian Paradiseof the Genesee country. As it lies now between the great thoroughfares ofeastern and western travel in this State, so it did then between the east andwest trails of the Iroquois. The great Gannudasaga trail passed on thewest side of Seneca Lake from Tioga nad Chemung to Kanadesaga, Kanadarq and thewest; but probably then as now the most frequented route from the Susquehannavalley to the western bounds of the Seneca dominion, was by way of the vale ofCanisteo.
We are not aware that anyvillages of national importance among the aborigines existed within theboundaries of our county. Their most important towns were on the greatcentral trail which connected their Long House from east to west. Rich andinviting as this region must have been, and bountiful in the products of thechase and the spontaneous fruits of the forest, it does not seem to have been afocal point for tribal gatherings or a seat of authority and power. The Senecas, however, traced their supernatural origin to Bare Hill inour northwestern town on Canandaigua Lake.
Going back 100 years, we find theseremarkable children of the forest in full and undisturbed possession of thisblooming land. It was yet 10 yearsbefore the irruption of SULLIVAN carried desolation to their settlements andruined their budding industries. Thathard 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 indomitableenergy to establish their sway. Theiradmirable foresight in the selection of their posts, and their wise allianceswith the western tribes of the wilderness had seemed certain to place thedestiny of the continent within their grasp. But the fatal hostility of the Iroquois, added to the military power ofEngland and her Atlantic colonies, turned the scale against them. The French were driven out, and the English took possession of what wouldotherwise have been, perhaps to this day, a part of the French empire. Had the English been vanquished, the result would probablyhave been a far happier one for the natives. The French and Indians meeting on peaceful terms, assimilated readily. Not so the English. Theircontact with the Indian was fatal to the feebler race, who melted away from thepresence of the Anglo Saxon as if pursued by the hand of fate. And rum, the Englishman’s constant and powerful ally in dealing withthe simple denizens of the forest, was the most desperate and deadly fiend thatever interfered with their social and national well-being. The French did not resort to this wicked device for success with theIndians, until the British had gained such advantages by it as to drive theirrivals to the same expedient. Besides,let it be told to the lasting honor of the Jesuit Missionaries, that for a longperiod they wholly prevented the French traders from dealing in spirituousliquors with the Indians, and that so long as the French occupancy lasted, theygreatly restricted this terrible traffic among them.
The labors of these missionaries are amongthe brightest examples of devotion and self-sacrifice. They penetrated to deepest recesses of the wilderness, and cheerfullyendured all manner of toils and hardships to plant the germs of the Christianfaith among the untutored natives. Theirrecords show that they planted considerable missions among the Iroquois, and butfor the fell influence of recurring wars, they undoubtedly would have achieved alasting and highly civilizing influence among those progressive and teachabletribes. They were zealous anduntiring; and if white men anterior to 100 years ago, trod the soil of what isnow Yates county, they probably belonged to the emissaries of the ever activeand indefatigable Order of Jesus.
They passed away, and no marks remain totestify of their labors, except a few scattered fruit trees, called Indian Appletrees, which are said to have been planted or sprung from seed introduced bythese Catholic Missionaries. More than a hundred years ago their work in this part ofAcadie was ended. Their proselytesamong the Indians were not numerous, but their influence on the thought of therude savages was very considerable, and is said to be still apparent among thescattered remnants of these once formidable tribes.
The powerful league of the Six Nations hadgiven their aid to the King of England in the expulsion of the French and hadbecome his firm allies, much to their ultimate cost. The support they had rendered in the French war, they put forth againwhen the colonies rebelled, to uphold the King, and this fatally erroneouspolicy cost them their very national life, and the possession of the Long Housein which they and their ancestors had flourished for centuries. Theydelighted to call their admirable political fabric, which extended from theHudson on the east to Lake Erie on the west, the Long House, of which theMohawks guarded the eastern door and the Senecas the western. Their friendship toward the British was powerfully promoted by SirWilliam JOHNSON, whose home was among the Mohawks, and who was a virtual monarchin that tribe and held a great ascendancy throughout the league.
He was the dispenser of royal favors amongthe aborigines, and by liberal and conciliatory conduct, secured an influencewith the Six Nations far greater than any other man of the white race everenjoyed. His power with the Senecaswas less conspicuous than with the eastern nations, but on most questions hecarried the Senecas with the rest, and attached the entire league to theinterests of his master, the King.
Thus stood matters 100 years ago. The colonial settlements were gradually crowding into the borders of thewilderness. The colonists and theIndians were at peace. A very fewProtestant Missionaries had penetrated among the Indians, and some advancestoward civilization had developed among them; enough to show that could theyhave been protected from rum and the absorption of their lands by the aggressiverace, they would have risen gradually but certainly to the civilized state inthe course of a few generations.
Let us contemplate for a moment the wide gapthat divided them from us, even in the external conditions of life. On the territory now embraced within the county of Yates, laced withhighways at regular and convenient distances for travel in all directions,supporting 20,000 people, many of them in homes of lavish bounty and luxury, andall in respectable comfort, with more than ¾ of the land under goodcultivation, with abundance of first-class domestic animals, and all the fruitsand grains of our latitude in profusion, with daily railway connections with thesea-board and towards every point of the compass, with the lightning ready toleap with intelligence to every corner of the earth, at our command,--on thisfavored ground there lived, a century ago, perhaps 500 of the Redrace--certainly not more than 1,000--if the estimates of the native populationswhich have been preserved are correct. TheSenecas, the most formidable of the Iroquois nations, were never supposed tonumber more than 25,000, and some careful authorities have placed them as low as10,000.
Their territory, embracing both banks of theSeneca Lake, extended to Lake Erie. Hence it will be seen that our estimate of the number thatfound 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 totheir favorite haunts. Their dwellings were mostly made from the bark of trees, witha few poles for their principal support. Theskins 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, butthere were few of these. The mostof 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 educationconsisted in woodcraft, which, in its full sense, embraces much that is realwisdom and would be a proud acquisition to the most learned. They had social laws and a political system that seemed to be wiselyadapted to their needs, and by no means inconsistent with moderate and wholesomeprogress. In religious ideas andpractices, they were like others, with no more light than they possessed, crudeand illogical. Feeling about in thedark for a road to the light, they had a child-like solution for the mysteriesof life and death, the past and the future.
Compared with his white brother, the Indianwas but a child. Of what avail washis subtle comprehension of the hunter’s art, of the secrets of the woods andwaters, of the habits of the animal kingdom, and the virtues of plants, and allthat forms a well trained native of the wilds, against the far higher cultureand more extended resources of the Caucasion? The attrition of European enterprise and thought against thecomparatively inert or rather undeveloped Indian, with the little consciencethat too greatly actuated the stronger race, could bring only fatal results tothe weaker.
Neither seemed capable of accurately andjustly estimating the other. TheIndian could not feel the advantage which long centuries of civilized traininghad given to the white man; and the white man judged the Indian by modes ofthought 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 thepart of the settler, has been a sufficient excuse to take it, without a thoughtof the wrong to those who had owned it, perhaps when Europe was the property ofthe Roman Empire.
Yet it ill-becomes us to sit in judgment onour ancestors. They followed thedrift 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 bothbefore them to establish their own social system. The axe and the rifle in their hands were powerful agencies ofcivilization, but they did not stimulate the most refined speculations on humanrights or human duties. They servedthe pressing wants of their day, and gave the descendants of the pioneers anunimpeded theatre for the grandest national experiment in the long train of theages. It was due to humane andfar-seeing rulers to protect weak peoples and see that no vital wrong was doneto natives of western wilds. ButEurope sent us rulers who were charged with other aims, and did their work sobadly on the whole, as to quicken the germs of self-government buddingeverywhere in the new world. Theyneither 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 harmonywith the course of nature and the teachings of history. The new and beautiful growths spring up from the mould of the decayedorganisms of the past. There is agrand continuity in the march of Humanity. Though individuals drop away like leaves from the trees, and nationsflash up and disappear like the shifting scenes of a dramatic parade, Manendures.
The dust of one proud race fertilizes theplain on which a succeeding race erects the monuments of its industry and pride. Yet the Human Family is one: onein flesh and blood, one in emotion and aspiration, one in helpless submission tothe fiat of a common destiny, one in the hopeless struggle to solve the riddleof existence.
One hundred years ago the Indian seemedsecure of this part of his Eden, at least so far as his vision mightprognosticate the future. This wasa region claimed by England as it had been by France. The war of the revolution was yet in the future, but its preliminaryvibrations 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 theBritish. They aggravated thestruggle by falling on the border settlements, and urged on by Tory hate andTory 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 alliesin 1778, when they proceeded from Fort Niagara and launched their canoes on theCanisteo, to move down on the devoted valley of Wyoming. It is said they were joined by Catharine MONTOUR, who left her lodge justbeyond the head of Seneca Lake, and by a motley host of warriors from all theSix Nations, with a large number of Tories, who added fury to the flame ofbarbarous 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 uponenergetic retaliation. The nextSummer Gen. SULLIVAN was sent into the wilderness with orders to lay waste anddestroy without reserved or pity. Heentered the land of the Senecas by the gateway of the Chemung Valley. BRANT headed the warriors of the league for a determined stand on theChemung river; but it was in vain. Theywere driven from the field, and flew before the thunder of his artillery tillhis vindictive march was ended.
They were only able to keep their wives andlittle ones away from immediate harm, to suffer the agonies of starvation thefollowing winter. Queen Catharinefled from her lodge never to return. SULLIVAN’smen destroyed her home and laid waste its pleasant surroundings. They marched down the eastern shore of Seneca lake, and the echo of theircannon from the western bank of that beautiful water, was like a reverberatingprophecy of the new order of things shortly to follow in their train. It is said they gazed across with delighted eyes, viewing, asthey most justly believed they did, a goodly land. The summer sunshine reflected to their vision no deceitfulimages. They had a glimpse of theglorious land that soon became famous as the Genesee Country. The garden of the Lake country inspired them with a warm admiration forits beauty and fertility; and they carried back to their homes such stories ofits natural wealth and singular attractions, that the emigration of a fewyears’ later time was greatly stimulated by the impression which had thus goneabroad at the east.
The punishment inflicted on the Senecas andCayugas by SULLIVAN, sufficed for the purpose it was intended to serve. The Indians were thoroughly broken and depressed, and were neverafterwards led into a hostile attitude on the soil of New York. The war soon after closed, and the ill-starved Iroquois were left at themercy of the victors. It was muchto the credit of the authorities that they did not exact the conditions whichthe 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 agrievous wrong. But they had stoodby friends whose battles they had fought in a previous war. They had evinced fidelity, and were far less culpable thanthose vindictive Tories who had planned and led on the most bloody forays, whichhad rendered both the Indians and their allies a by-word of terror through allthe border lands. It was well thatthe principal weight of hatred and wrath on the part of the colonists fell onthe Tory outlaws.
ChapterII THE NEW JERUSALEM - THE PIONEERS pg17 - 37
It is now just 90 years since the vengefulincursion of SULLIVAN broke the spirit and destroyed the political fabric of theIroquois. It was on the 9thday of September, 1779, that a detachment of 400 of his riflemen was sent upfrom Kanadesaga, on the west side of Seneca Lake, to Kashong Creek, where theydestroyed a large Indian village, with extensive fields of corn and greatnumbers of apple trees. Thewigwams, and all means of subsistence on the part of the Indians, werecompletely annihilated. A portionof the apple trees only remained. Thisis the only recorded vestige of war that ever occurred on the soil of Yatescounty. It was connected with theperishing throes of the Great Confederacy of Red Men, which had dominated withan imperial sway from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. It was preliminary to a new invasion of powerful arts, of cunningindustries, of another system of social and political laws, of new religiousconceptions.
The war of the revolution closed in 1783. Immediately on the consummation of peace, the colonies settled theirdisputed boundaries and rival claims to the interior wilderness. With little actual knowledge of the geography of the country, Britishmonarchs had granted charters which conflicted in their outlines. New York and Massachusetts finally settled their differencesby a convention of commissioners, who agreed to give to the State ofMassachusetts the pre-emptive right to purchase of the Indians all of WesternNew York, west of a meridian line, to start from the 82nd milestone,on the State line of Pennsylvania; the civil jurisdiction to remain with NewYork.
If the State of New York had purchased thisclaim of Massachusetts, and then setting apart a liberal reservation for theIndians, and settling with them on equitable terms, had presented the entireresidue of the country to actual settlers in restricted areas, it would haveaccomplished an untold amount of good for the commonwealth, and prevented a vastamount 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 aprocedure would not only be the most rapid means of enriching the State, but ameasure of actual justice to the primitive settlers.
The State of Massachusetts sold to acompany, of which Oliver PHELPS and Nathaniel GORHAM were the principalrepresentatives, its pre-emptive right to Western New York, for theinsignificant sum of £300,000,payable in the depreciated bonds of that State. This was in 1788. Theprospect of the formation of a Federal Government soon brought those bonds topar, and PHELPS and GORHAM finding themselves unable to pay as they hadstipulated, on petition to the Legislature of Massachusetts, were released fromtheir contract to purchase, except so much as they had already bought of theIndians, embracing 2,600,000 acres, and extending from the Pre-emption Line tothe Genesee River, for which £100,000was paid.
The purchase of the Indians had beenaccomplished with much difficulty, owing to the interference and intrigues ofthe celebrated Lessee Company. Thiscompany 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 principalmanagers. They were called the“New York Genesee Land Company,” and their seat of operations was at Hudson. An auxiliary company, styled the “Niagara GeneseeCompany,” was organized on the Canadian border, with men of known influencewith the Indians, such as John BUTLER, Samuel STREET, John POWELL, and BenjaminBARTON.
With some influences, and aided with theusual stimulating appliances in such cases, a lease was obtained of the IndianLands 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 andfishing privileges.
The State authorities, headed by GovernorGeorge CLINTON, fought the Lessee claims with energy and decision, and finallybaffled the whole scheme so completely, that the Lessees eventually accepted acompromise which shut them off by taking 10 miles square on the military tract.
The five townships deeded by PHELPS andGORHAM to Dr. Caleb BENTON, three of which, in the first range, are now embracedin 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 mostimportant 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. Shehad a numerous body of adherents, including families of character and influence,and considerable possessions. Shehad conceived the idea of founding a community of her disciples where they mightstand as a support to each other, and a light to the surrounding world. This proposition had been discussed in their councils withearnestness, and in 1786 they held a meeting in Connecticut, at which theyresolved to send forth a committee of exploration to select some place, far fromtowns and cities, where they might live in peace, and establish withoutinterference the peculiar faith and social tenets of their new religion, underthe direct control of its living founder and apostle. Like many other migrations before it, this was initiatedunder the impulse of religious sentiment, and it had the fervor and thoroughnessof purpose which accompany such movements.
A new and somewhat singular body of people,under the leadership of a gifted and striking character, they naturally soughtan unrestricted field for the development of their society and one from whichthe pressure of existing organizations, and their unbending prejudices would beremoved. They desired to plant thenew society outside the shadow of older and better organized creeds, where itsroots might strike into a new and virgin soil, and its branches reach forth tothe heavens without hindrance or compression.
The ministry of the Friend had enlisted anearnest and devoted band of followers and believers. Under the inspiration of her zeal, they had lighted the lamps of theirfaith 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 oftheir ardent faith they saw the New Jerusalem descending from the sky to becomethe tabernacle of men. This was nolonger a vague presentiment of another world, but a glorious reality withintheir reach. It was a grandinspiration that nerved their souls to the self-denial and toil necessary to fixtheir 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 owedits beginning.
Among the nobler nations of our race, theaspirations for a better social state, and dreams of their realization, haveprompted many grand attempts to found new communities. Many wrecks of these broken and abortive schemes are strewed along thepathway of human history, as well as many glorious successes. That they have helped forward the improvement of human nature can not bereasonably doubted. Crude as manyof them are, they point to a principle in man that bespeaks his fitness for anexalted destiny; and the fact that he will continue to translate his dreams ofperfectibility into schemes of actual life, indicates the possibility of even aterrestrial destiny for the family of man, so rich in its fruitions as tosurpass all that visionaries and prophets have been able to portray in theirmost glowing raptures as the allotment of the future.
The Universal Friend but followed theexample of many before her, when she sought the depths of the wilderness togather 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 inthe islands of the distant seas. Her’swas another, in which the behests of an unseen world were to blossom into beautyand sweetness in the common affairs of life. It was a great undertaking, and it had for a leader one who did not lackthe 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 delegatedRichard SMITH, Thomas HATHAWAY and Abraham DAYTON, to search for some fertilelocation suited to their wants. Theyset 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 ofSPALDING, who gave them some account of the Seneca Lake region, and directedthem how to reach it, as they did by following the track of SULLIVAN’S marchseven years before. It is said theykept on SULLIVAN’S track to the foot of Seneca Lake, from whence they came toKashong, where they found two French traders, Dominick DE BARTZACH, and PierrePONDRE, from whom they also had a good account of the country. They informed the explorers that they had traveled through Canada and theWestern Territory, and had nowhere seen so fine a country as this. A few days exploration satisfied them fully, and they returned by theroute 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 JohnBRIGGS, George SISSON, Isaac NICHOLS, Stephen CARD, John REYNOLDS, James PARKER,and some other families, came by way of Albany, making their way to Geneva onbatteaux.
At Geneva they found but a solitary loghouse, still unfinished and inhabited by Clark JENNINGS. The story of their travels is that they went up the east side of the laketo Appletown, and searched there for a mill site. The noise of falling water, it is said, finally drew them to the westshore. Considering the size of thecascade, which must have made this noise and its distance within the forest,many deem this account incredible. JosephREMER, however, who has passed all his life near the lake, assured the writerthat he deemed it a truthful statement. Witha full stream and a quiet atmosphere, the sound of rushing waters, over even amoderate precipice, can be heard a great distance.
So the New Jerusalem was located on the westbank of Seneca Lake. This littleband arrived in August, and erected their cabins close by the Indian trailleading from the Chemung Valley to Kanadesaga, a mile from the lake and about amile south of Dresden. They sowed afield of wheat of about 12 acres the same fall, and, so far as known, were theonly actual and permanent settlers that passed the following winter west ofSeneca Lake. They, were, in truth,the pioneer party of the pioneers. Theywere the boldest of the bold. Whilethe country was still tremulous with fear of Indian hostilities, which were notfully allayed till half a dozen years later, by PICKERING’s treaty atCanandaigua, they ventured directly upon their choices territory, before theycould hardly have been aware that the Red Man’s title had been eliminated. They were the first to confront as actual neighbors on this beautifulground, both the Indian and the still wilder inhabitants of the forest. Now that their work has loomed up into historical importance, it would bedeeply interesting to know the minutest particulars of their history during thatfirst fall and winter. They werecompletely shut out from the world. Nomail could carry messages to their friends in New England, or bring them a lispof what was transpiring there. Theirsole society outside their own little colony, was the Indian and the wild beast. Their intellectual comforts were drawn almost solely from their Biblesand the dark pervading forest.
Would that we might have a record of thatwinter, of their thoughts and activities, of their comforts and distresses, ofthe hopes that inspired them to labor and to patience. But they were not literary and made no recorded statement that is knownto the writer of these pages. Perhapsthey 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 preparethe ground for the building of the New Jerusalem; and expected only, that likeother builders, their glory would be lost in the beauty of the structure to growup under their hands.
Reserving for another chapter the furtherdetails of this movement, we will look to what was going forward in otherquarters. PHELPS and GORHAMcompleted 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 fromtree markings which he has seen on that line. It would hardly seem probable, however, that the survey could have beenmade before the purchase was consummated. Asthe Lessee Company expected to have the land that might lie between the Militarytract and the Massachusetts Lands, they took a lively interest in this survey. So two surveyors were employed; Hugh MAXWELL, on the part of PHELPS andGORHAM, and a Mr. JENKINS, (another authority says a Mr. ALLEN), on the part ofthe Lessees. The following accountof their work is taken from O’Reiley’s “Incidental Notices of Western NewYork,” incorporated with his “Sketches of Rochester.”
“These surveyors started from a point onthe Pennsylvania line, and proceeded together till the provisions were nearlyexhausted. When within about 20miles of Geneva, and a few miles below Hopetown, near to the creek by which theSeneca 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 waswhile he was thus alone that a slight jog occurred in the line, the prolongationof which northward, threw Geneva, the settlements at which had already attractedsome attention, on the east side of the boundary; that side whereon it was mostagreeable 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 inrunning the boundary so that it passed somewhat westward of Geneva. The present site of the village of Lyons, and the whole of Sodus Bay werealso 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 ofpossessing Geneva, &c. One ofthe surveyors of the Holland Company, informed Maude in 1800, that they put nodependence now on Mariner’s compass in surveying land, that it will frequentlygive an error of 60 rods, or 330 yards in 10 miles; that it gave an error of84,000 acres in running the east line of Captain WILLIAMSON’s purchase, whichwas 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 thePULTNEY 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 theexcellent situation of Hopetown Mills, on the Outlet of Crooked Lake, a littleeastward of what is now called Penn Yan.”
Whether by mistake or design, the linediverged to the west, and it was early suspected that it was not correctlysurveyed; but the new survey, it appears, was not made till 1793.
The old Pre-emption Line, from which PHELPSand GORHAM’s purchase was surveyed into Ranges and Townships, constitutes thetown line between Starkey and Barrington, passes through Milo Centre on thehighway to the outlet of Keuka Lake, and thence on the road leading north beyondthe residence of Caleb J. LEGG, in Torrey, and so on northward crossing theKashong creek some 200 rods or thereabout east of Bellona.
What is called the Pre-emption road, isnowhere on the Pre-emption Line till we pass north of Cromwell’s Hollow, inthe town of Seneca. Thence thehighway is on the Pre-emption Line as far northward as Geneva, and the old stageroad from Geneva to Bath, was undoubtedly called the Pre-emption road from thatfact, although it diverges from the line through the town of Benton, and morethan a mile at the south line of the town.
Soon after the Pre-emption Line wassurveyed, the whole purchase was surveyed into Ranges and Townships, under thecharge 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 fromeast 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 inthe 1st range; the town of Milo, so much as lies west of the old Pre-emptionLine, in township number seven, 1st range; Benton number eight, 1strange; Jerusalem, number seven, 2nd range, &c.
It will be seen, therefore, that the Friendsmust have come before they could have been aware that the Indian title had beenextinguished, 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, butothers began to push in. The doorwas opened and the fame of the country as one of earth’s choicest allotmentsto man, soon made it a popular point for the tide of emigration.
PHELPS and GORHAM having completed thepurchase and survey of their tract of land, covering what now constitutesOntario, Wayne, Yates, Steuben, Livingston, and parts of Monroe and Alleganycounties, 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, thesesettlers carried grists on horses to the Friends’ mill in Jerusalem, whereJoy’s Oil Mill is now located.
Of the time now about to open, whenemigration was to pour into the Genesee country, Mr. TURNER in his history ofPHELPS and GORHAM’s purchase says: “AtGeneva, (then called Kanadesaga), there was a cluster of buildings occupied byIndian traders, and a few settlers who had come in under the auspices of theLessee Company. Jemima WILKINSONwith her small colony, was upon her first location upon the west bank of SenecaLake, upon the Indian trail through the valley of the Susquehanna, and acrossWestern 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 headof Seneca Lake. A wide region ofwilderness separated the most northern and western settlements of Pennsylvaniafrom all this region. Within theGenesee country other than the small settlement at Geneva, and the Friends’settlement, there were two or three Indian traders upon the Genesee River, a fewwhite families who were squatters upon the flats, one or two white families atLewiston, one at Schlosser, a Negro with a Squaw wife at Tonawanda, an Indianinterpreter and two or three traders at the mouth of Buffalo Creek, a Negro andIndian trader at the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek, Fort Niagara was a Britishgarrison. All else was SenecaIndian occupancy.”
About 30 Townships were sold or contractedin 1788; but the most of these very early sales were to those who held smallshares in the association of which PHELPS and GORHAM were the principalshareholders. Benedict ROBINSON andThomas HATHAWAY were original shareholders, and Township number 7, in the 2ndrange, now Jerusalem, was deeded to them; which accounts for the comparativelysmall price at which it was sold, $4,320, or 18 pence per acre. In the 1st range, township number six, Barrington; numberseven, Milo; number eight, Bentonn; number nine, Seneca; were deeded by PHELPSand GORHAM to Caleb BENTON, in behalf of the Lessees; and by Caleb BENTON toJohn LIVINGSTON, also of the Lessee Company.
The deed of PHELPS and GORHAM to CalebBENTON, 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 JamesPARKER 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-emptionLine. This location is six mileslong, contains 1104 acres and is the strip known as the Garter.
In the year 1789, the wilderness was dottedwith pioneer commencements in many directions. The Friends had a large accession to their colony, and the Friend herselfarrived 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 thatbears his name, and a cousin of Dr. Caleb BENTON, of the Lessee Company, settledat the north termination of Flat street, on the farm since occupied by HenryHICKS, and now by Daniel SHERWOOD. AroundLevi BENTON, clustered in the next few years a very interesting neighborhood ofpioneers.
At this time the Lessees were operating atGeneva, though toward the end of that year they abandoned their most importantpretensions. Says Mr. TURNER:--“The little village of Kanadesaga at the foot of Seneca Lake, had been goingahead under the auspices of Reed, and Ryckman, and the Lessees.”
“In the Fall of 1788,” says a manuscriptin the author’s possession, “number 8 was divided into lots and balloted forat Geneva.” He further says, thatthe lots drawn were over a hundred in number, and that the manuscript referredto gave the numbers of the several lots, with the names of the parties who drewthem. It would seem to have beenfor the most part a distribution by lottery to the members of the Niagara orCanada Lessee Company, and Benjamin BARTON and Mr. BIRDSALL drew for theirassociates.
The following picture of Geneva is given inthe same connection. “In the Fallof 1788, about the time the pioneer movements were making at Canandaigua, Genevahad become a pretty brisk place; the focus of speculators, explorers, the LesseeCompany and their agents, and the principal seat of the Indian trade for a wideregion. Horatio JONES, an Indianinterpreter 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 wasmanufacturing Indian trinkets. ElarkJENNINGS had a log tavern on the bank of the Lake. The Lessee Company had a framed tavern and trading establishment, coveredwith 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 geographicaldesignations were “hill and bottom.” PeterRYCKMAN 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 greatman of the country. His principalseat was at the Kashong which he claimed as an Indian grant, and where he had atrading establishment, though his trade extended to the western Indians, amongwhom he went after selling his claim to the Kashong farm, to the late MajorBenjamin BARTON.
It is further stated, that John H. JONESwitnessed this bargain; and that Major BARTON, in part payment, pulled off hisovercoat and gave it to DE BARTZCH. On the other hand it is affirmed, by James L. BARTON, a sonof Major BARTON, that the farm was bought of Pierre POUDRE.
He made this statement in an address beforethe Young Men’s Association of Buffalo, in 1848, and his testimony ought to beconclusive. Both DE BARTZCH andPOUDRE had Indian wives.
The Lessees at this time were strenuouslyclaiming all the lands east of the old Pre-emption Line, that had not beendistinctly ceded by the Six Nations, expecting to secure a profitablecompromise; and REED and RYCKMAN’S large tract of 16,000 acres on the westbank of Seneca Lake, grew out of this claim, and for services in negotiatingIndian treaties, they being members of the Lessee Company. It was their grasping effort to get the Indian lands, thatwas supposed to cause so large a divergence of the Pre-emption Line west of itstrue course. All that was done atGeneva previous to the Spring of 1793, was under the auspices of REED, andRYCKMAN, and the Lessees. It wasprincipally a trading point for the Indians and the very few settlers that hadpenetrated the country in various directions.
PHELPS and GORHAM, after having sold ratherless than ½ of their extensive purchase, in townships and half-townships,conveyed the entire remainder to Robert MORRIS, of Philadelphia, the patrioticfriend of WASHINGTON, whose purse had aided so essentially in the success of theRevolutionary War. The price paid was 30,000 pounds, New York currency,($75,000). Mr. MORRIS undertooklarge preparations for the settlement of his purchase, but before he hadaccomplished anything of importance, his agent in London, Wm. Temple FRANKLIN, agrandson of Dr. FRANKLIN, sold his entire purchase of PHELPS and GORHAM, to SirWm. 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 onemillion, two hundred thousand acres of land. The conveyance was made by Robert MORRIS to Charles WILLIAMSON, agent forthe 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 existinglaws, hold real estate.
No better man than Mr. WILLIAMSON could havebeen delegated to the important work of opening up the new country to theadvances of the pioneers, so far as the interests of the pioneers themselveswere concerned. He was kind andforbearing; a man of dash and enterprise; liberal to a fault, and sanguine ofresults. In the end his employersfound 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 thehighest personal worth.
Mr. WILLIAMSON, in the prosecution of hisgreat enterprise, reached this country early in 1792, landing at Baltimore. It was toward Baltimore and Philadelphia that he expected to establishthe principal routes of ingress and egress to and from the Genesee country; andduring the nine years that he remained at the head of affairs as the agent ofthe Pultney title, he never abandoned that idea. It may sound strangely to many now, but that was then the only conclusionto which a man of Mr. WILLIAMSON’S breadth of judgment could arrive. The route by way of the Mohawk and Seneca Rivers, was difficult andtedious, and seemed likely never to become a thoroughfare suitable to thetransit to eastern markets of the productions of so rich a country as theGenesee 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. Someof the early annalists state that in 1800 a bushel of wheat was better wasbetter worth 100 cents at Bath, than 60 cents at Geneva. And it was confidently predicted that this difference would grow widerevery year, for little if any additional improvement could be made in the watercommunication with New York, while that to Baltimore would admit of veryextensive and advantageous ones. Itwas with this view that Mr. WILLIAMSON founded Bath, expecting it to become theentrepot of trade for one of the richest countries in the world, and a city ofmetropolitan greatness.
Looking at this view as the sanguine Scottregarded it before the Erie Canal was dreamed of, there was method, not madnessin his plans.
In February, 1792, Mr. WILLIAMSON made aflying visit to the Genesee country by way of New York and Albany. He wrote to Mr. COLQUHOUN that he passed through an uninhabitedwilderness of more than 100 miles before reaching Geneva, which consisted of afew straggling huts. There is not aroad, he added, within 100 miles of the Genesee country, that will admit of any sort of conveyance, otherwise than onhorseback 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 farmsof first rate quality, had been sold on a credit for 50 cents per acre.
Returning to Baltimore he resolved to open acommunication with the Genesee country from the south. A colony of very worthless Germans from Hamburg, accompanied his ax-menwhile 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 yearsthe principal route by which emigrants reached Western New York fromPennsylvania, New Jersey and the South.
By this road provisions were sent fromNorthumberland to sustain Capt. WILLIAMSON’S new city at Bath, and theneighboring settlers during the first years of their occupation. They had no other resources of any importance, except the Friend’sSettlement, which had five years the start of them, and was a large andcomparatively thrifty community, that acted like a sustaining Providence to thedestitute 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. Afterthese 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 enteredinto with Jemima WILKINSON, the prophetess, who had established her oracle onthe outlet to Crooked Lake, where her disciples had a mill and good farms.
The first navigators of Crooked Lake carriedtheir cargoes in Durham boats of five or six tons burden, which they poled alongthe shores, or when favoring breezes filled their sails, steered through the midchannel. These primitive gondoliershave 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 ofthe Genesee River. Hence thestatement has frequently appeared in local histories, that this number of peopleincluded all residing at that time west of Seneca Lake. If we add, however, the Friend’s Settlement east of the Pre-emptionLine, numbering 260 persons, Geneva and its surrounding settlers 100, also eastof 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 Countryand compromised in Ontario county.
Of these inhabitants, there were in Townshipnumber 7, 1st Range, Milo, 66; number 8, Benton, 25; number 8, 2ndRange, then Augusta, now Potter, 38. Thiswould 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 thelargest and most important community west of Seneca Lake, and even west of FortStanwix and the Susquehanna River. Itis spoken of in one of Mr. WILLIAMSON’S earliest letters as “a veryindustrious community who have already made considerable improvements, havingcompleted an excellent grist and saw mill sometime since. It is expected there will be double their present number before atwelvemonth.” They wereconsiderably reinforced after this, but to what precise extent we have no meansof stating. It is said that thedisappointment in regard to holding the land by the Society prevented, to alarge extent, additions to their number from among their eastern friends.
Before this check occurred their gain wasrapid, and their prosperity all that could be expected from the conditions oftheir position. They hadestablished themselves in a beautiful and advantageous situation, they had agood name with the people around them, and numerous sympathizers in thecommunities from which they had emigrated in New England and Pennsylvania. It is not wonderful that they indulged in bright anticipations, andexpected to be the founders of a city. Hencetheir beautiful cemetery ground was called City Hill, the title it has continuedto bear.
Another of these early settlers, speaking ofthe Friend’s Settlement, says, “there are 80 families in it, each has a finefarm, and they are a quiet, moral, industrious people.” This was the best of testimony in behalf of the good character of thosewho adhered to the Friend, and who led the van in the settlement of Yatescounty.
Of the natural condition of the country, afew remarks will be in order. Itwas a country for the most part very heavily wooded, a few ridges formingexceptions, 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 bythe new growth the food most eagerly sought for by the deer and elk. These open spaces were supposed by the early settlers to be worthlessbarrens, 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 thischaracter. That the timber wasdwarfish and scattering, was evidently due to some other cause than lack offertility in the soil. The treeswhich prevailed almost everywhere, and often the chief occupant of the forest,was the Hard Maple, which afforded one of the principal resources of thecountry, that of sugar making. Whiteoak, of the finest quality, was very abundant, and there was besides anabundance of all the varieties known to this region, such as hickory, blackwalnut, along the Seneca Lake chiefly, chestnut on dry ridges, ash of differentkinds, elm, butternut, basswood or linden, poplar, pine, in some parts ofJerusalem, very largely in East and South Barrington, and all along Big Stream.
The Dundee locality, however, was one of theopen plains regarded in the early days as nearly worthless. A striking characteristic of the heavily timbered land, was theremarkable density of the undergrowth. Thehazel bushes, shrubs and young trees of all kinds, made a thicket almostimpenetrable on most lands covered by a good forest growth. Mr. WILLIAMSON speaks of the wild fruits with great enthusiasm, and amongthem 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 withgreat admiration, regarding it as an excellent fruit. Near the lakes and streams it was quite prevalent, and wasmuch sought after. The stream nowknown as Jacob’s Brook, emptying into the Keuka Lake outlet, in Penn Yan, wasa famous locality for the wild plum. Someof the wild grapes are also spoken of by the older residents as hardly surpassedby the best cultivated varieties. Doubtlessthe absence of a good variety of fruits, sharpened their appreciation of thenative products. It is a happyspirit of accommodation in human nature, that we learn to relish the best wehave, and regard it as the best the earth affords.
To those who understood the indications ofgood land, there was evidence enough that this was a country of aboundingfertility. The pioneers judged ofthis largely by the timber and the large and towering forest trees, with trunksalmost as large at an altitude of 50 to 60 feet, as at the root, afforded anindex of deep and excellent soil, which could not be misjudged.
Wild animals were for a time a source offear and trouble to the early settlers. The wolf, a great coward by day, set up his frightful howl atnight, and made the deep recesses of the forest resound with his discordantchorus. During the first few years,and even as late as 1815, in the pine woods of East Barrington, there was afastness from which the wolves made frequent raids on the sheep-folds of thefarmers.
Thousands of sheep were destroyed by theseravenous depredators during the early years of the pioneer occupation. Only those who folded them with the greatest care could be secure oftheir flocks while the wolves remained. Butthey were hunted without mercy, and bounties were offered for their scalps; andthus they were finally driven off to wilder and less inviting regions.
The bear was perhaps a still more commondenizen of the woods, but less hurtful and less feared. This animal frightened more people than he harmed, but was not considereda pleasant companion in the woods. Hisattentions towards the civilizees were mostly directed to the swine, for whichhe had a remarkable fondness. Itwould not be difficult to fill a moderate volume with incidents relating to theraids of the bears upon the swine of the early settlers, many of them quitetragic so far as the animals, one or both, were concerned. Unlike the wolf, the bear often afforded savory food and sustenance forthe flesh eating pioneers. It wasin this way that Bruin often settled for the damages he had inflicted on thegrowing pork or corn field of the backwoodsman. David H. BUEL informs the writer that tame bears were very common aboutthe country, as cubs were often caught and kept as curiosities, but they weredangerous pets, and always required to be held by a chain to prevent casualties. Like most the natives of the woods, they did not harmonize withcivilization, and were crowded away by its advancing waves. Their exit is not deplored.
Deer were very numerous and sometimestroublesome, but furnished excellent food for the pioneer larder, which helpedgreatly in some instances to eke out the scanty supplies otherwise obtained. About the only damage these animals did was to the growing wheat in thefall. This was sometimes a little grievous, but the venison theysupplied 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 theanimals of the Genesee district, speaks of moose, deer and elk, but no traditionof 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 andpelts. Of game birds, he mentionswild turkies, pheasants, partridges, pigeons, plovers, heath fowls, and meadowhen, besides waterfowl. Among the fish, especial note is made of salmon of two kinds,besides the varieties now so well known. Thatthe salmon were plenty in the lakes and rivers of the country, while the Indianswere the principal fishermen, is well attested, but that wild turkies aboundeddoes not seem to be confirmed by the traditions that have come to the knowledgeof the author.
It was a country in which the hunter’slife could be as well maintained as almost any other that ever answered thatpurpose for a savage population, and the white hunters who fell into that sortof life, found a rich field for the exercise of their prowess.
The rattlesnake was one of the most dreadedof the native occupants, and in some localities was a scourge of the mostformidable character. They had ageographical distribution restricted to certain limited districts, beyond whichthey were very rare if found at all. Theplaces they inhabited were generally contiguous to rocky ledges, which formedthe best refuge for these venomous serpents. In some places they were so abundant as to be exceedingly pestilent as afoe to the settler. The hog in such localities was very useful in the war hewaged upon the snakes. Imperviousto the reptile venom, he followed the snake to his last retreat, and was as sureon the trail as a dog in pursuit of a deer or fox. The swine killed more rattlesnakes than the people, and bytheir industrious aid these terrible ophidians were finally driven from theland.
The pioneers were not mistaken in their mostsanguine 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 civilizedlife. Its wild estate required an incalculable amount of labor to subdueit and make it the pleasant abode of peaceful industry and social culture it hasbecome. The obstacles before the early settlers were numerous andforbidding. The Indian left his trail a mere pathway through the dense andoverhanging forest. He left also the wolf and the rattlesnake, and the nightlyand deep rooted forest itself to be removed, so that the sunshine of the comingyears might light up the beautiful meadows and waving grain fields thatdistinguish it as a land of rare beauty and overrunning bounty. The earlysettlers found also the ague and fever, which was often worse than all otherdiscouragements and despondencies. Some of the richest lands were theworst afflicted with this scourge. The highlands of Steuben and Alleghanywere even sought by some to avoid the sickly vapors which covered the fruitfuland inviting region of the lakes to the northward. Their descendants inafter years often expressed the most profound regrets at the loss of what"might have been: in the possession of rich lands, their fathers hadshunned to escape the fever and ague. This scourge too, though it lingeredlong in various localities, was finally quelled. It did not impede therapid settlement and clearing up on the country, though it enfeebled many astalwart arm, sometimes for more than a whole year, and sometimes illness of themost fatal character was its accompaniment.
All these obstacles and drawbacks, were butthe shadows of the wilderness and its barbarities passing away to give place towhat we must all esteem a more benign and superior condition of socialexistence, to the softened ray of modern civilization. It was the Geneseecountry, it was better still the New Jerusalem, and the ground was wiselyselected. The pious disciples of the new faith had chosen as wisely as the"children of this world" could have done with all theirshrewdness.
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