Gurney S Strong.

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attracting many of the graduates and a large number
of the residents of this city. The academy has passed
through many vicissitudes of fortune, encountering
adverse criticism, neglect on the part of its trustees
and faculty and graduates and students, surviving
many periods of financial discouragement, and yet
presents at the present time a healthy and prosperous
appearance. It ranks to-day among the best academies
in the State.



CHAPTER XVI



FIRST SETTLER IN THIS COUNTY



Ephraim Webster, the first white person who made
a permanent settlement in Onondaga county, was a
very remarkable man. It was through his friendship
and influence that Asa Danforth and Comfort Tyler,
the pioneers in settling Syracuse, were permitted to
settle in Onondaga Hollow in 1788. Many things
have been written and told of him, but much of his
history, preserved in tradition and print, is unfortun-
ately more romantic than real. It is known that Mr.
Webster wrote out the story of his life, abounding in
adventures among the Indians; and there has been
some conjecture as to what became of this manuscript.
The story that was commonly reported, and which
has been handed down in tradition, is that the author
intrusted his manuscript to a young law student in
Onondaga Hollow for the purpose of having it pub-
lished in New York city ; and that the young man,
after returning from New York city, told Mr. Web-

(241)



242 FIRST SETTLER IN THIS COUNTY

ster that lie had lost it while passing down the Hudson
river.

There are several people now living in Syracuse
who are the descendants of Ephraim Webster; and
there are some old people among them who can well
remember the generation that followed this early pio-
neer. The story which comes from them, and it bears
strong marks of probability, is that Mr. Webster
either sold or gave his manuscript to James Fenimore
Cooper, the great novelist, who used it in writing the
celebrated Leather-Stocking tales. The life and char-
acter of Ephraim Webster are very similar to those
of Natty Bumppo, the hero of Cooper's Indian stories.
In speaking of his hero, Mr. Cooper says in his preface
to " The Deerslayer:" " He is too proud of his origin
to sink into the condition of the wild Indian, and too
much a man of the woods not to imbibe as much as
was at all desirable, from his friends and companions ;"
though he also adds that "in a moral sense this man
of the forest is purely a creation."

Mr. Webster not only won the friendship of the
Onondaga Indians, some time after they had ceased
to be man-eaters, and the gratitude of the early set-
tlers of this county, as was shown in the large grants
of land given him, but he was very serviceable to the
government of this State not only but also to the
United States. The dates of Webster's birth and
death and the dates of the writing of the Leather-



HEKO OF THE LEATHER-STOCKING TALES 243

Stocking tales, the character and life of Webster and
of Cooper, add strong probability to the statement
that Webster was Cooper's guide through the forests
of New York State and that he furnished valuable
material to America's great author. Webster was
born, according to the old family Bible, June 30, 1762,
and died October 16, 1824. In "The Pioneers," the
first of the series written, the Leather-Stocking is
represented as already old and driven from his early
haunts in the- forest by the sound of the axe and the
smoke of the settler. " The Deerslayer " should have
been the opening book, for in that work he is seen
just emerging into manhood. "The Pioneers " was
published in 1822; "The Deerslayer" in 1841.

Mr. Webster is known .to have been an eloquent
man, for it was -through his persuasive tongue that
he frequently escaped death at the hands of the sus-
picious and jealous Indians. The following sketch of
his life is from a manuscript in the possession of the
Onondaga Historical Association : "I was born in
the town of Hemsted, in the State of New Hampshire,
and when I attained my twenty-first year, as the war
was then raging between the colonies and the mother
country, I enlisted into the army of the former for
eighteen months and joined the regiment of Colonel
Jonson, also from New Hampshire. We marched
immediately for Lake Champlain, and on arriving in
the vicinity of Ticonderoga the corps to which I



244 FIRST SETTLER IN THIS COUNTY

belonged was divided into two bodies and stationed on
each side of the lake which was here about three miles
wide."

Here follows the story of one of Webster's feats,
when, in company with another soldier, he swam
across the lake to carry dispatches to the other portion
of the troops.

" When the term of my first enlistment expired, I
returned home and spent three months and then again
enlisted under old Colonel Jonson and continued in
the service till the close of the war. During the last
part of my service I was stationed at Greenbush, and
while there I formed an acquaintance with a Mohawk
Indian by the name of Peter Yarn. Being desirous
of learning the Indian language, after receiving my
discharge I returned home with him, whose residence
was on West Canada Creek. Here I spent three
months without speaking a word of English during
the time. Being now able to converse with the Indians
in their own language, when the spring was fairly set
in I went to the mouth of Onondaga Creek and com-
menced a very brisk trade with the Onondagas for
furs and other articles of native merchandise. After
three weeks' traffic, having accumulated a pretty good
stock in trade I went to Albany, employing several of
the Onondagas to accompany me to assist in trans-
porting my goods.

" While in the city I learned from several persons



Webster's manuscript 245

of importance, one of whom Avas General Schuyler,
that the British agents at Maumee and other western
posts were striving to induce the western tribes to
continue a warfare against the country and had also
sent an agent to the Six Nations to induce them to
unite in hostilities; and as to the agents that our
government had sent to treat with these western tribes,
they had slain one, bribed the second and frightened
the third away.

" Under these circumstances after some hesitation
I was inclined to enlist as an agent of the govern-
ment under disguise to visit these western tribes and
ascertain how far they had been tampered with by
British emissaries. Having become somewhat of a
favorite among the Onondagas and neighboring tribes,
twelve hundred, principally Mohawks and Oneidas,
volunteered to accompany me, who pledged themselves
to bring me back in safety, or to fight in my defence
as long as a warrior remained. Partly under the pre-
tence of holding a grand council with the western
tribes and partly that of a general hunt, we visited
the different posts along the western frontier without
molestation or suspicion and remained nearly six
months in the country. As I could speak the Indian
tongue fluently and was dressed in the Indian style,
my companions had no difficulty in concealing my
true character by representing me as having been
captured by the French while a young child and



2-1(3 FIRST SETTLER IN THIS COUNTY

afterward purchased by the Mohawks and adopted
into their tribe.

" In this borrowed character, by being constantly
on my guard, I passed without suspicion and thus I
had an opportunity of discovering the machinations
of the English, which I communicated from time to
time to my employer. At the end of six months,
however, I was taken sick with a western fever and
returned home with my companions. When the
English discovered that their trickery had been dis-
covered and communicated to our government, they
were highly indignant against me and offered fifteen
hundred guineas for my person or my scalp. They,
however, no longer hesitated but signed the treaty of
peace which included the western tribes that were in
their particular interest. I now returned to my old
station at the mouth of the Onondaga Creek, and
resumed my business of trafficking in furs.

"The second year after my return, a Mr. Newkirk
came into the country with two men in his employ,
bringing with him two barrels of New England rum,
five barrels of whiskey, a quantity of blankets, some
red yarn, several dozen hawkbells, a large stock of
small white beads. I soon discovered that he was a
man of intemperate habits, his favorite beverage being
hot flip, made in a cup manufactured from an ox-horn.
As I discovered that his habits would soon make a
finish of him if persisted in, I was anxious to talk



AN INDIAN TRADER 247

with hi in on the subject. It was, however, a consid-
erable time before I could find him sufficiently sober
to listen to me, and then he very abruptly replied that
' God Almighty owed him a debt of fifteen hundred
dollars, and he was determined to settle the account
as soon as possible.'

" He continued about three months after this and
died alone in his cabin in a fit of what would now be
called delirium tremens, his men having left him
some days before. With a slab of cedar shaped some-
what in the form of a shovel I dug a grave in a sand
knoll near by, placing a slab at the bottom, two at
the sides, with another to lay over the body, when
the Indians, who had taken the liberty of staving the
head of one of the casks of rum and drinking to their
heart's content, gathered around in great numbers and
manifesting their feigned sorrow in a manner that beg-
gared all description, whooping, singing and weeping
and dancing, they tumbled into the grave faster than I
could drag them out, till finding it impossible to pro-
ceed any farther, while they were present, I finally
hit upon the plan of advising them to go and get
another drink.

' ' Approving of the suggestion which was so much
to their own taste I was soon left alone, and in a short
time I had completed my melancholy task. I con-
tinued still to reside at my old station and for several
years carried on a successful trade in furs, ginseng



248 FIRST SETTLER IN THIS COUNTY

and other Indian commodities, till I was called again
into the service of the State by assisting in surveying
the military tracts, in which are now the counties of
Cayuga, Seneca and some other places. After this I
returned once more to Onondaga and settled on the
mile square of land that was confirmed to me for my
services among the Indians."

These words complete the main portion of the man-
uscript but to it has been added this paragraph : ' ' Mr.
Webster lived several years on the above-mentioned
mile square as a prosperous farmer but still keeping
up a traffic with the Indians for furs and other articles
particularly for ginseng, which he prepared and sent
to the Chinese market. In the summer of 1822 or '23
he took a journey to the country of the Senecas with
a view of purchasing their annual stock of this article
when he was taken sick and died in his seventy-third
year. He was buried on the western bank of the
Tonawanda in the town of Pembroke, where his dust
still slumbers without even a stone to mark the spot."

The dates in this concluding paragraph are evi-
dently incorrect, and doubtless arose from the fact
that the exact date of Webster's death was for some
time in doubt. It was in his sixty-third year that he
died. The old family Bible gives the date of his death
as October 16, 1824, which is doubtless correct. The
date also in the opening paragraph is evidently incor-
rect, as a reference to the history of the Revolutionary



HIS father's family 249

war will clearly show, as compared with the old fam-
ily Bible substantiated by a document referred to in
the next paragraph. It is not surprising that at that
early day a man who had lived so long among the
Indians should have been somewhat remiss in his
memory of dates.

From a paper in Webster's handwriting it is learned
that his father, Ephraim Webster and Phebe Parker
were married by Ebenezer Hay, December 21, 1752.
His parents' children are thus given: Samuel, born at
Chester, Rockingham county, New Hampshire, Decem-
ber 29, 1753 ; Phebe, born atChester in 1756 ; Asa, born
at Chester, April 25, 1785 ; Susanna, born at Hamstead
in the same county, May 16, 1760, and died April 2,
1795; Ephraim, born at Hamstead, June 30, 1762;
Parker, born at Hamstead, April 5, 1765; Mary, born
at Hamstead, April 3, 1768; Sarah, born at Hamstead,
April 20, 1770; Moses, born at Hamstead, October 27,
1772; Ebenezer, born at a place whose spelling looks
like Neberry Coos, April 13, 1775, and died, he and
his mother, May 1, 1775. There is a Newbury in
Merrimack county, New Hampshire. Ephraim Web-
ster was married the second time, to Sarah Wells of
New Chester, January 8, 1778, at New Salisbury.
There is a Salisbury, Merrimack county, New Hamp-
shire, where the great Daniel Webster, son of Eben-
ezer Webster, was born in 1782. The statesman Daniel
and the pioneer Ephraim were distant relations.



250 FIRST SETTLER IN THIS COUNTY

Ephrairn. Webster's children by his second wife were :
Ebenezer, born at " Neberry Coos," October 2, 17 78;
John, born at " Neuburry Coos," September 8, 1780;
Henry, born at New Chester, March 11, 1784; Betsy,
born at Chester, May 31, 178G and died July 12, 1788.
Ephraini Webster died at New Chester, August 18,
1803, aged seventy-three years, having been born May
24, 1730.

When Colonel Jonson raised his regiment in New
Hampshire in the fall of 1777, young Ephraim, then
15 years old, enlisted and marched immediately to
Lake Champlain, arriving at Fort Ticonderoga, which
General Lincoln vainly attempted to recapture from
the British. The surrender of General Burgoyne at
Saratoga, which occurred soon after, put a stop to
further campaigning, and Webster's regiment returned
to winter quarters. When the term of Webster's first
enlistment expired, he returned home where he spent
three months and then again enlisted under Colonel
Jonson, continuing in the service of the Revolution-
ary Army till the close of the war in 1783.

During the last year of the service, he was sta-
tioned at Green bush, near Albany, and there formed
the acquaintance of a Mohawk Indian, whose name
was Peter Yarn. Webster, then 21 years old, did not
return home. There is a well authenticated story to
the effect that he had became disappointed in love ;
and believing that he had been deceived by one, he



Webster's landing 251

lost confidence in all, and determined that lie would
forever abandon civilized life. He accompanied the
Indian to his home on West Canada creek in Oneida
county, and there learned to speak the Indian lan-
guage. He finally located at Oriskany, where he
became a successful trader, dealing in furs and other
articles of native merchandise.

Webster was present at the great council, held at
Fort Stanwix (now Rome) in 1784, at which a treaty
was made between the Six Nations and the United
States. The confidence which the young man had
gained from the officers of the government and from
the Indians is shown in his having been dispatched
for the Senecas, who were slow in coming to the
council meeting. He remained two years at Oriskany,
and during that time made several excursions with the
Indian hunters to Onondaga.

He became intimate and quite a favorite with the
Onondagas and was invited by them to come and
trade with them. Accordingly in the spring of 1786,
he went to Onondaga with a boat load of goods,
brought from Schenectady by water. A trading
house was erected on the east bank of the Onondaga
creek, then a stream of considerable size, near where
it empties into the lake ; and there the stock of goods
was exposed for sale. This spot was known by the
Indians as "Webster's Camp," and it afterwards be-
came known to the early white settlers as " Webster's



252 FIRST SETTLER IN THIS COUNTY

Landing." When lie had accumulated a good stock
of furs from the Indians, he would take them to Albany
or New York.

Webster was generally accompanied in his trading
expeditions by some white man ; but the most promi-
nent traders with whom he became associated were
Asa Danforth, Asa Danforth, jr., and Comfort Tyler,
whom he met at their home in a small clearing in the
town of Mayfield, in Montgomery county. A warm
friendship sprang tip between Webster and the elder
Danforth, both of them having served in the Revolu-
tionary war. The result was that Danforth with his
family and Tyler settled in Onondaga Valley, May 22,
1788. This was the first permanent settlement by the
white people, men and women, in this county. The
ruins of the old Danforth home, located in the most
fertile and picturesque part of the county in the imme-
diate vicinity of Syracuse, are still standing.

And now the settlement at Onondaga Valley, then
called Onondaga Hollow, began to grow. Other men
with their families, many of whom became distin-
guished throughout the State, settled there. When
the town of Onondaga was cut off from the town of
Manlius in 1798, Webster was made the first Super-
visor.

Webster was made a Lieutenant of militia whereof
Asa Danforth was Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant,
April 11, 1798, and Captain of militia, whereof Elijah



HIS PUBLIC SERVICES



253



Phillips was Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant, Jan-
uary 22, 1801. He was also made Inspector of beef
and pork for Onondaga county, April 8, 1803. He
became a Justice of the Peace at Onondaga Valley in
1805. Webster made his home at Onondaga Valley,
at a point up the Onondaga creek, easily reached by
boat from Onondaga lake. He used the place called
" Webster's Landing " for trading purposes only, that
location being exceedingly unhealthy.

During the controversy with the Indians in the
western part of this State, which so soon followed the
Revolutionary war and which was instigated by the
British, between the years 1788 and 1794, Webster
was employed by the State to gain intelligence in the
vicinity of the Miamis. He was fully successful in his
mission, reported to the satisfaction of those by whom
he was employed, and received suitable reward. He
was often with the Onondaga Indians at Oswego,
while the fort was retained by the British, and ren-
dered valuable service to the State. He would dress
as an Indian, and he eluded every effort by the British
to discover his real identity.

So highly was he esteemed by the Onondagas, that
he was early granted by them a mile square of land in
the most fertile part of Onondaga Valley, extending
westward from Onondaga creek and southward from a
line a short distance north of what afterwards became
the old Seneca turnpike road. This land, containing 610



254 FIRST SETTLER IX THIS COUNTY

acres, was finally granted to Webster by the Legisla-
ture in 1795 for the services he had rendered the State.
But Webster lost this property through indorsing the
paper of his friends. The Onondagas, to again show
their great esteem for him, gave him 300 acres,
bounded on the north by lands owned by Joseph
Bryan, Samuel Wyman and Abiel Adams, and on the
east, south and west by the Indian residence reserva-
tion. This gift was confirmed by a grant from the
State, January 14, 1823, according to the copy of the
document in the County Clerk's office, but in July 13,
1823, according to the deeds of this property after-
wards recorded.

Webster established his homestead on the 300 acre
grant. The house was a very substantial building,
65 by 20 feet, two stories high, having hickory beams
and oak joists, mortised in the plate above and below,
and it was clapboarded with pine. The house now
owned by Munroe Mathewson, about half a mile be-
yond the poor house at Onondaga Hill, is very similar
in appearance and construction.

After Webster's death, the widow continued to live
there ; and after her death, the house became the
property of Mrs. Samuel A. Beebe, and then of her
son, Arthur Beebe, by whom it was transferred to
George W. Hunt. The house was located two miles
south of Onondaga Valley and one mile south of
Dorwin Springs. It was completely destroyed by fire
early Sunday morning. May 3, 1891.



HIS. DEATH AND BURIAL 255

Ephraini Webster was a kind, social and obliging
man, mild in disposition, of excellent character, good,
practical judgment and of an intelligence far above the
average. He was absolutely without fear. He was
often heard to speak of his wanderings among the
Indians as the happiest days of his life. When he
settled among the Onondagas he married an Indian
woman, who died shortly afterwards. He married
another Indian woman from whom he was divorced,
as mentioned in a previous chapter. But he did not
live with her "near twenty years" as stated in
" Cheney's Reminiscences," since the old family Bible,
now in possession of the Webster family, gives the
date of his marriage to Hannah Danks as Nov. 19,
1796. When the white people began to settle around
him, he married Miss Hannah Danks by whom he had
several children. But Webster led an unhappy life
with the Danks woman as his wife.

It is known that he left Onondaga for Tonawanda
creek in Genesee county, and that he was buried in
the Indian burying ground just west of the Council
House where the Six Nations held their meetings.
This was October 16, 1824. There is a quit claim deed
recorded in the County Clerk's office, dated December
30, 1824, in which Lucius Halen Webster, a son of
Ephraim, transferred to his mother his interest in the
300 acre patent from the State. When Webster went
away, he did not intend to return. In the early part



256 FIRST SETTLER IN THIS COUNTY

of the century, probably in 1803-4, he visited his old
home in New Hampshire which he had not seen since
he had left the army. It was supposed by his father's
family that he had died.

Webster's body was removed from Tonawanda to
the white cemetery on the Lewiston road, west of
Alabama Centre in Genesee county, the transfer being
made in October, 1831. That is the final resting place
of the man who made an excellent character for
Cooper's " Leather-Stocking Tales."

Ephraim Webster, by his second Indian wife, had
a son Harry, who inherited much of his father's abil-
ity and character and who was Head Chief of the
Onondagas. Harry Webster's sons were George,
Richard and Thomas. Thomas Webster is now a
chief among the Onondagas. The children of Ephraim
and Hannah Webster we* Alonzo, Lucius Halen,
Iantha, Amanda and Caroline. The children of
Alonzo, who was called Deacon, were Alonzo M.,
Hetty A., Ephraim, Orris, Rosetta Amanda and
William. The children of Lucius Halen, a horse
doctor, were Emeline, Caroline, Ephraim and Lucius
Halen. The children of Iantha, who married Richard
Beebe, were Samuel, Charles, Edwin, Wallace, George
and Elizabeth. Amanda, who married Abiel Adams,
had one child, Udora. Caroline, the youngest child
of the pioneer, married Samuel A. Beebe, a brother
of Richard Beebe. These Beebe brothers were both



HIS DESCENDANTS 257

farmers and prominent men in Onondaga Valley.
Samuel was at one time Supervisor. Arthur Beebe,
the attorney of this city, is the only child of Samuel
and Caroline, and he lived many years in the old
Webster homestead. Hannah, the widow of Ephraim
Webster, married Samuel Wyman, whose farm ad-
joined hers; and she died January 29, 1837.

Lucius Halen, generally called Halen, was Web-
ster's eldest child by his wife Hannah ; and he was
named after Dr. Isaac Halen of Philadelphia. Dr.
Halen was a great friend of Ephraim Webster and
the two carried on quite a business in selling ginseng
to the Chinese market. Ephraim would collect the
root from the Indians and send it to Dr. Halen, who
would ship it to China. It was while collecting this
ginseng in the western part of the State that Webster
was taken sick and died. After his death, and after
the property had been divided by giving each child
forty acres, Harry Webster commenced six eject-
ment suits in 1836 to recover possession of the 300
acres of land which his father had left ; but his suits,
which ran along for two years, were unsuccessful.



CHAPTER XVII



A CELEBRATED BOTANIC INFIRMARY



One of the early landmarks of this city, and one that
was widely known throughout the State, was the
Botanic Infirmary of Dr. Cyrus Thomson, located in
Geddes, on the old turnpike road — now known as
Genesee street — on the south side of the Erie canal.
The Infirmary was a large, three-story, brick building,
whose principal feature was the ten large stone columns,
constructed after the Ionic style of architecture and
made of stone brought from Vermont. Those stone


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Online LibraryGurney S StrongEarly landmarks of Syracuse → online text (page 14 of 22)