George Knapp Collins.

Spafford, Onondaga County, New York online

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Onondaga County, New York


Captain George Knapp follins



Onondaga Historical Association


This work is dedicated in fiilial respect to the memory of
Dr. John Collins, the father of the Author, who practiced
his profession among the people whose names are recorded
in this record, for nearly twenty-five years, and whose living
descendants still hold his memory in grateful recollection,
after a lapse of forty-nine years since he ceased his labors
and went to rest among those who were his companions and
patrons in life.




The town of Spafford, one of the most picturesque in the
County of Onondaga, is about ten miles in length from north
to south, and about four miles in width from east to west.
Its surface consists of high ridge land bounded on the west
by Skaneateles Lake, and on the east by Otisco Lake and
Valley, descending abruptly on either side to these lakes
and valley, and gradually declining northerly from the
summit at Ripley Hill, situate near the southern boundary
of the town between this and the town of Scott, Cortland

Ripley Hill is 1,122 feet above Skaneateles Lake, and
1,982 feet above tide water ; and from it can be seen in fair
weather, not only lands in the towns of Skaneateles and
Marcellus, which bound the town on the north, but the sur-
rounding country for twenty to thirty miles distant.

Cold Brook, which flows to the south through a beautiful
valley bearing its name, and the Inlet to Otisco Lake, are
the principal streams; but beyond the fact of their per-
ennial character, and that they mark the course of two deep
and beautiful valleys, they are not worthy of mention.

The soil is a sandy gravelly loam, and in early times was
covered by a dense growth of maple, beech and linden trees
on the uplands, interspersed with hickory, chestnut, pine
and hemlock trees in the deep valleys, and especially along
the eastern border of Skaneateles Lake.

Spafford boasts of no valuable mineral products within
its borders, yet there is a weak spring of salt water, and
indications of the presence of natural gas along the western
shore of Otisco Lake. A spring of sulphur water exists
near Borodino on the eastern shore of Skaneateles Lake,
and an outcropping of the Hamilton group of limestone
appears at different places in the southern portion of the
town. None of these natural products, however, have been
developed or turned into practical use.


No earthworks or other marked indications of aboriginal
occupation of the lands in this town have been discovered,
yet tradition says that at one time there was an Indian
Encampment or settlement near Borodino, and different
Indian implements found in that vicinity, and burnt and
blackened soil discovered near that village indicates Indian
occupation at some remote period at that place. The dis-
tance between the two lakes is not very great, and an early
Indian trail from lake to lake ran through this locality,
rendering more than probable the truth of this tradition,
and that in aboriginal times these early peoples not only
had knowledge of these two beautiful lakes, but made abun-
dant use of the excellent fish with which they were so
bountifully supplied.

Town and County Organizations

The first white settler within the present limits of the
to^^Ti of Spafford was Gilbert Palmer, who has been credited
with taking up his abode in the southwest part of lot 76,
Marcellus, in the Spring of 1794, but in the absence of this
statement made by Clark, in his history of the County of
Onondaga published in 1849, which we assume was based
upon substantial grounds, we would put his occupation at
least one year earlier, as his deed from Thomas Ostrander,
the original soldier who drew this lot for services performed
by him in the Revolution, is dated September 21st, 1792.
To our mind it is more than probable that his occupation
was earlier than the date given by Clark.

With the settlement of Gilbert Palmer begins the true
history of this town, yet we trust that a brief statement
of the early transactions affecting the town and county
organization will be interesting.

The first division of the Province of New York into
dependencies or shires was by a law passed by the " Chief
Commander, Council and Representatives " November 1,
1683, ratified by the " Board of Trade," October 17, 1684,
by which the present State of New York was divided into
twelve Counties: New York, Westchester, Ulster, Albany,
Dutchess, Orange, Richmond, Kings, Queens, Suffolk, Dukes
and Cornwall. The boundaries of the County of Albany
are described as follows : " The County of Albany to con-
teyne the town of Albany, the Manor of Renslaerwyck,
Schonechteda, and all the villages, neighborhoods and
Christian Plantacons on the east side of Hudson's River
from Roeloffe Jansens Creek; and on the west side from
Sawyers Creek to the utmost end of Sarraghtoga."

Owing to a change made in the government of the Prov-
ince of New York following the usurpation of Jacob Leister
as Colonial Governor, commonly called the Revolution of
1690, a law was passed by the " Governor, Council and


Assembly," October 1, 1691, in effect re-enacting the former
law of 1683, and at least so far as the County of Albany
was concerned the boundaries of that shire remained the
same. The boundaries of that county were not very
definite in either act, but subsequent statutes treated them
as covering a much larger area than a casual perusal of the
wording of these enactments would seem to warrant.

By an act passed March 12, 1772, by the " Governor,
Council and General Assembly " the County of Albany was
divided into three ocunties: Albany, Tryon and Charlotte.
The County of Tryon in substance is described as including
within its bounds all that part of the Province of New York
lying west of a line drawn north and south just west of the
Schoharie Patent.

By a separate act passed March 24, 1772, at the same
session by the " Colonial (Governor, Council and General
Assembly " the county of Tryon was divided into five towns
or districts: Mohawk, Stone Arabia, Canajoxharie, German
Flatts and Kingsland. The latter was bounded in substance
as follows: On the north by the Mohawk River — on the
east by a north and south line drawn through Little Falls,
— and on the south and west by the south and v/est colony

By an act of the Colonial Legislature passed March 8,
1773, the names of three of the towns or districts named
in the act of March 24, 1772, were changed as follows:
Stone Arabia district was changed to Palatine district;
German Flatts district was changed to Kingsland; and
Kingsland was changed to German Flatts district ; the latter
only affecting the territory included within the present
boundaries of the County of Onondaga. These are all the
enactments under the Colonial period making division of the
Province of New York affecting lands in the present County
of Onondaga.

The first Constitution of the State of New York, adopted
at Kingston, N. Y., April 20, 1777, during the progress of
the War of the American Revolution, recognized the exist-
ing counties of the State as follows: New York, Albany,
Dutchess, Westchester, Ulster, Suffolk, Queens , Orange,
Kings, Richmond, Tryon, Charlotte, Cumberland and Glou-
cester, fourteen in all ; the two latter are now a part of the
present State of Vermont.


By an act of the New York Legislature passed April 2,
1784, the name of the County of Tryon, a name that had
become odious by acts of the Tory Colonial Governor of
that name, was changed to Montgomery; and by a sub-
sequent act passed March 7, 1788, the boundaries of that
county were described as follows: "And the County of
Montgomery to contain all that part of the State bounded
easterly by the Counties of Ulster, Albany, Washington
(formerly Charlotte) and Clinton — southerly by the State
of Pennsylvaina — and westerly and northerly by the west
and north bounds of the State."

By an act of the same date the State was re-divided into
towns, and the town of Whitestown created, which con-
tained within its limits the whole of the Military Tract and
certain lands east thereof extending below Utica, and was
named in honor of Judge White, the first white settler in
the present village bearing his name, four miles west of
the City of Utica.

On February 16, 1791, an act was passed dividing the
County of Montgomery into four counties: Tioga, Otsego,
Montgomery and Herkimer; the western part of the State
having been previously taken from Montgomery and created
into a separate county called Ontario. The County of
Herkimer in this division was briefly described as follows :
On the east by the Counties of Clinton, Washington and
Saratoga — on the south by Montgomery and Tioga — on the
west by Ontario — and on the north by the north bounds
of the State.

The next year, April 10, 1792, Whitestown was divided
and a new town created called Mexico, which included
within its limits all of the Military Tract lying east of the
west bounds of the townships of Homer, Tully, Marcellus,
Camillus and Hannibal.

On the 5th day of March, 1794, an act of the Legislature
was passed creating the County of Onondaga from the
County of Herkimer. It was made co-extensive with the
Military Tract, and was divided into eleven civil towns:
Homer, Pompey, Manlius, Lysander, Marcellus, Ulysses,
Milton, Scipio, Aurelius, Ovid and Romulus. The town of
Pompey was described as follows: "All that part of said
County comprehending the townships of Pompey, Tully and
Fabius, together with that part of the lands called the


Onondaga Reservation bounded northerly by the road called
the Genesee Road, and westerly by the Onondaga Creek " ;
and the town of Marcellus was described as : "All that part
of said county comprehending the townships of Camillus
and Marcellus, together with all the residue of the Onon-
daga Reservation, and the residue of the several lands lying
south west of the said Salt Lake."

From time to time thereafter, by several acts of the
Legislature, the County of Onondaga as then created was
subdivided, and other counties taken therefrom until it
was finally cut down to its present limits, but without
change of the county organization so far as its present
territory is concerned.

On the 7th day of April, 1801, the County of Onondaga,
as then diminished in size, was re-divided into eight civil
towns : Solon, Homer, Fabius, Onondaga, Pompey, Manlius,
Lysander, Camillus and Marcellus. The town of Fabius
contained within its limits the townships of Fabius and
Tully, and all that part of the township of Semphronius
lying east of Skaneateles Lake; and the town of Marcellus
was reduced in size to the limits of the township of that

On the 4th day of April, 1803, the civil town of Fabius,
and all that part of the township of Tully within the County
of Onondaga, and all that part of Semphronius east of
Skaneateles Lake, was created a civil town called Tully.

By an act of the Legislature passed April 8, 1811, a new
town was created as follows : " That from and after the
first Tuesday in April next all that part of the town of
Tully lying west of a line beginning at the north west
comer of Lot No. 25, and running south to the south line
of said town, be and hereby is erected into a separate town
by the name of Spaiford." The name of this town was
given in honor of Hon. Horatio Gates Spafford, the author
of the first Gazetteer of the State of New York. At this
point it seems proper to state that Mr. Spafford, in return
for the compliment paid him, donated to the town its first
blank book for the preservation of its records, and also
a fair sized library for the use of its inhabitants ; the record
book is still preserved in the custody of the Town Clerk,
but the library has long since been scattered and lost.


The town of Otisco was created prior to the town of
Spafford and in part was taken from Tully.

Since 1811 several changes have been made in the
northern boundaiy of the town of Spafford, by adding to
and taking- from the town territory originally from the
township of Marcellus. These changes occurred from 1830
to 1842 inclusive, and during that period the people of this
and the adjoining towns of Marcellus and Skaneateles,
were greatly exercised and excited over the territorial

In the year 1830 the town of Skaneateles was formed
from the western part of the town of Marcellus, and in
the same act, "All that part of the town of Marcellus lying
south and east of a line beginning on the north line of
Lot No. 71 at the north west corner of the town of Otisco
and running down the center of the Outlet of Otisco Lake
to the north line of Lot No. 62; thence west on the north
line of Lots Nos. 61, 62 and 60; thence in a straight line
west across Lot No. 59 to the center of Skaneateles Lake;
thence southerly along the center of said lake to the south
line of Marcellus, shall be annexed to and form a part of
the town of Spafford."

This act engendered much bitter feeling among certain
influential citizens residing within the limits of that part
of the town of Marcellus, thus summarily set off to the
town of Spafford; and the various town meetings there-
after were flooded with resolutions to be offered for pas-
sage in the different sessions of the Legislature; and the
latter body v/as importuned and petitioned from time to
time by the discontents to be restored to the town of Mar-
cellus or set off to the town of Skaneateles.

The town books show a continuous and apparently
acrimonious strife which resulted in the passage of the
act of March 18th, 1840, setting off to the towns of Mar-
cellus and Skaneateles all that part of the town of Spafford
lying north of the south lines of Lots Nos. 69, 70 and 71,

This act, if anything, created more dissatisfaction than
the prior one; so on March 30th, 1842, the Legislature
passed an act compromising the matter by which Lots 70,
71, 68 and 69, Marcellus, were re-annexed to the town of
Spafford. This seemed to give full satisfaction, and the


bounds of the town have remained the same ever since,
and from that time forward there has been no change in
town or county organization affecting the town of Spafford.

It will be noticed that the act of 1830, above referred
to, fixes the western boundary of that portion of the town
taken from Marcellus as the center of Skaneateles Lake,
a fact which v/ould have been the case by law in the absence
of anything said on the subject; but the reader's attention
is also called to the notable exception to this rule of law
and custom make by the Revised Statutes of the State of
New York as to the other portion of the town.

By these statutes the western boundary of this portion
of the County of Onondaga, and by operation of the law
the western boundary of the Tully end of the town of
Spafford, is along the westerly shore of Skaneateles Lake.
The Revised Statutes on this subject reads as follows:
" from a point in the south bounds of the township of
Marcellus southward along the westerly shore of Skanea-
teles Lake until it strikes the west boundary of the county
of Cortland, and thence northerly and easterly along the
latter county lines, &c." These are facts not only of in-
terest to the general reader, but of great importance as
affecting jurisdiction in civil and criminal proceedings.


During the period of the American Revolution the mili-
tary forces of the Colony of New York were divided into
four classes: The Militia, Minute Men, The Levies, and
The Line.

The Militia, included all able bodied men residing within
the Colony who were between the ages of sixteen and
sixty, not specifically exempt by law.

Minute Men, were taken from the Militia by allotment
or volunteering, and were specially drilled, equipped and
kept in readiness for any emergency. This organization,
formed under a resolution of the Provincial Congress of
this Colony August 22, 1775, was discontinued about a
year afterwards by a like resolution adopted June 5, 1776.

The Levies, were drafts from the Militia, called into
service on special occasions, and could be required to per-


form duty during the entire period of their enlistment
outside the Colony.

The Line, consisted of four regiments of Infantry, to
which were sometimes attached a company of cavalry, a
regiment of Artillery, and a corps of Sappers and Miners.
These were turned over to the General Government as a
part of the Continental Establishment, and were subject
to the orders of General George Washington.

Every member of these several forces was by law re-
quired to keep himself fully armed and equipped, and as
the people of this Colony had always been surrounded by
wild beasts, and the still more treacherous and sometimes
hostile bands of American Indians, most of the men com-
posing these forces were accustomed to handling fire arms
and were expert marksmen in the use of the same. What
was most needed to fit these men for efficient soldiers was
military training and such discipline as would render them
obedient to orders of their superior officers; this took
much time and instruction to accomplish.

The Line was organized by enlistment from the Militia
in 1775 and turned over to the Continental Establishment,
and as the term of service of these men was at first so
short, sometimes for only a few months and never to exceed
a year, the efficiency of this branch of service was poor
in comparison with the trained soldiers employed in the
British Army, against whom they were to contend.

The superiority of their marksmanship was not always
an offset for the superior discipline of the enemy. This
early became apparent, and on September 30th, 1776, a
letter was received by the Provincial Congress of this
Colony from John Hancock, President of the Continental
Congress, enclosing resolutions of that body. In that letter
he says : " You will perceive by the enclosed resolutions,
that Congress has come to the determination to augment
our Army and to engage troops to serve during the con-
tinuance of the war. The many ill consequences arising
from a short and limited enlistment of troops are too
obvious to be mentioned. In general, give me leave to
observe, that to make men acquainted with the duties of
a soldier requires time, and to bring them under proper
subordination and discipline not only requires time, but
has always been a work of much difficulty."


"As the troops now in service belong to the several
States they will be considered as a part of their quota in
the American Army. You will please take such steps as
you judge necessary to ascertain what number of troops,
as well as what officers, will engage to serve during the
war." *****

The following are a part of the resolutions referred to,

" Congress, Sept. 16, 1776," Resolved, That eighty eight
battalions be enlisted as soon as possible to serve during
the present war, and that each state furnish their respec-
tive quotas in the following proportions, viz. :

New Hampshire 3 Battalions

Massachusetts Baj^ 15 Battalions

Rhode Island 2 Battalions

Connecticut 8 Battalions

New York 4 Battalions

New Jersey 4 Battalions

Pennsylvania 12 Battalions

Delaware 1 Battalion

Maryland 8 Battalions

Virginia 15 Battalions

North Carolina 9 Battalions

South Carolina 6 Battalions

Georgia 1 Battalion

" That twenty dollars be given as a bounty to each-non-
commissioned officer and private soldier who shall enlist
to serve during the present war, unless sooner discharged
by Congress.

" That Congress make provision for granting lands in
the following proportions, to the officers and soldiers who
shall engage in the service and continue therein to the
close of the war, or until discharged by Congress, and
representatives of such officers and soldiers as shall be
slain by the enemy. Such lands to be provided by the
United States, and whatever expense shall be necessary to
provide such lands, the said expense shall be paid and borne
by the States in the same proportion as other expenses of
the war, viz:

To a Colonel 500 acres.

To a Lieut. Colonel 450 acres.

To a Major 400 acres.


To a Captain 300 acres.

To a Lieutenant . 200 acres.

To an Ensign 150 acres.

To each Non Commissioned

Officer and Soldier 100 acres."
By a subsequent act of Congress passed August 12th,
1780, there was given " To a Major General 1100 acres, and
to a Brig. General 850 Acres."

In pursuance of this generous offer of the General Gov-
ernment many officers and men then in the Line from this
Colony re-enlisted, and some of those entering this service
afterwards enlisted for the war; so when peace was de-
clared there were many who had been members of the
Continental Army for periods ranging from four to seven
years. The First and Second Infantry, under Colonels
Goose Van Schaick and Philip Van Cortland, Col. John
Lamb's Artillery regiment and the Corps of Sappers and
Miners, had a more continuous service than other Con-
tinental organizations from this Colony, and eventually had
within their ranks a large proportion of these long term
service men, and even some of those who had originally
entered the service in other Continental organizations. By
reason of this fact, and the expressed intention of these
organizations to remain on frontier duty for the further
period of three years, in pursuance of the resolutions of
the Provincial Congress adopted March 20, 1871, the
Legislature of the State of New York March 27, 1783,
enacted, after reciting the resolutions of the Continental
Congress above quoted from, as follows:

" Whereas the Legislature of the State are willing not
only to take upon themselves to discharge the said engage-
ments of Congress so far as it relates to the Line of this
State, but likewise as a gratuity to the said Line and to
evince the just sense this Legislature entertains of the
patriotism and virtue of the troops of this State serving
in the army of the United States:

" Resolved, Therefore that besides the bounty of land
as promised as aforesaid, this legislature will by law pro-
vide that Major Generals and Brigadier Generals now
serving in the Line of the Army of the United States and
being citizens of this State, and officers and non-commis-
sioned officers and privates of the two regiments of in-


fantry commanded by Colonels Van Schaick and Van Cort-
land, such officers of the regiment of Artillery commanded
by Colonel Lamb and of the Corps of Sappers and Miners
as were when they entered the service inhabitants of this
State, such of the non-commissioned officers and privates
of said last mentioned corps as are credited to this State
as part of the troops thereof, all officers designated by
Congress subsequent to the 16th of September, 1776, shall
have severally granted to them the following quantities of
land, to wit:

To a Major General 5500 acres.

To a Brig. General 4250 acres.

To a Colonel 2500 acres.

To a Lieut. Colonel 2250 acres.

To a Major 2000 acres.

To a Captain and Regimental

Surgeon each 1500 acres.

To every Subaltern and

Surgeon's Mate 1000 acres.

To every Non-Commissioned

Officer and Soldier 500 acres."

Owing to the delay incident to the extinguishment of
the Indian title, by Treaty, to the lands desired for distri-
bution under this act, and also the time required to survey
and plot the same when acquired, the lands eventually under
the act of 1783 were not ballotted for and patents issued
until July, 1790. In the meantime the soldiers entitled to
these bounty lands became disheartened, discouraged, and
an easy prey to speculators, who obtained the warrants for
most of these claims for a trifle compared with their true
value. Only one soldier receiving bounty lands under the
act of 1783 settled on the lands patented to him in the
town of Spafford, viz: Henry Wentworth (Winford), Lot

Online LibraryGeorge Knapp CollinsSpafford, Onondaga County, New York → online text (page 1 of 32)