Gurney S Strong.

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Pleasant Valley, where the subject of this sketch was
born. At an early age he evinced a strong desire for
learning, in which he was encouraged by his friends.
In the fall of 1793, he entered Union College, at
Schenectady, and in due time graduated with honor.
Directly after his collegiate cause was completed, he
entered the law office of Peter W. Radcliffe of Pough-
keepsie, where he remained about two years. He then
went to the city of New York and completed his law
studies in the office of Samuel Miles Hopkins. Soon
after the close of his professional course, he was married
to Miss Margaret Alexander, a daughter of the Hon.
Boyd Alexander, M. P. for Glasgow, Scotland. In the
spring of 1800, Mr. Forman removed to Onondaga
Hollow, and opened a law office on the east side of the
creek, where he began early to manifest his public
spirit and enterprise. At the time he settled at
Onondaga Hollow, the village was mainly situated on
the east side of Onondaga Creek, and he, being desirous
of building up the village and of extending its
boundaries, soon located his father and his brothers,
John, Samuel and Daniel W., near the west end of


the present village, on the north and south road
passing through the same, and rapidly built up the
western part. This left a space in the middle, com-
paratively unoccupied. Here, Judge Forman soon
after erected a large hotel and afterwards a fine
residence for himself, which was occupied many
years after Judge Forman left the Hollow, by his
brother-in-law, the late William H. Sabin. He was
also mainly instrumental in procuring the location of
the academy, church, and two or three stores in the
same vicinity, before he removed from Onondaga,
thereby connecting the whole into one tolerably
compact settlement.

By his integrity and straightforward course in the
practice of his profession, he soon became distin-
guished as a lawyer, and by his talents and gentle-
manly deportment he became familiarly known
throughout the country.

In 1803, William H. Sabin joined him as a partner
in the practice of law, and for several years they did
an extensive business. The subject of the Erie canal
became a theme of deep interest to several of the
leading men of Onondaga, and to none more so than to
Judge Forman. Conversations were held by those who
were friends to the project, and measures were early
taken to bring the great question before the public.
Mr. Forman's talents as a public speaker, and as a man
of influence and character, eminently distinguished


hiin to be the individual who should be foremost in
moving in the matter. Accordingly in 1807, a union
ticket was got up, headed by John McWhorter,
Democrat ; and Joshua Forman, Federalist. This
ticket was carried with trifling opposition. It was
''headed " Canal Ticket," and as such received the
cordial support of a large majority of the electors of
Onondaga county.

As was anticipated by the friends of Judge Forman
and the great work which he was designated to advo-
cate, he brought forward the ever memorable resolu-
tion in the House of Assembly, which alone would
render his name immortal, directing a survey to be
made " of the most eligible and direct route of a canal,
to open a communication between the tide waters of
the Hudson and Lake Erie."

Mr. Forman had studied the subject of canals as
constructed in foreign countries. His mind had been
applied intently to their construction, utility and cost,
and these labors had been brought to bear and have
weight upon the subject now under investigation. He
had well considered all the advantages that would
accrue to the United States and the State of New York,
if this important work should be completed. He had
prepared an estimate of the cost of construction based
upon statistics of the Languedoc canal.

While discussing this subject in Albany, during
the session, Judge Wright and General McNeill, of


Oneida, became converts to the plan through the
instrumentality of Judge Forman ; and Judge Wright
agreed to second the resolution about to be offered
whenever it should be brought up. Judge Forman
had no confidence that the general government would
assist New York in the construction of a canal, but
the resolution framed and offered by him was so
worded as to give President Jefferson an opportunity
to participate in the measure if he would. Fired with
the novelty and importance of this project, and some-
what piqued at the manner of its reception by the
members of the House, the advocate took pains to
prepare himself thoroughly upon the subject, and
when the resolution was called up, he addressed the
House in a forcible and eloquent speech in its favor.
Fortunately the resolution was adopted, and for this
he was for years called a "visionary projector," and
was asked a hundred times if he ever expected to live
to see his canal completed ; to which he uniformly
answered, that "as surely as he lived to the ordinary
age of man, he did ; that it might take ten years to
prepare the public mind for the undertaking, and as
many more to accomplish it, nevertheless it would be

Had not Joshua Forman brought forward the
subject as he did, it is not easy to conceive who would
have had the moral courage to meet the ridicule, of
proposing in earnest, what was considered so wild a


measure. Had it not been for this timely movement,
the subject might have lain idle for years, so far as
Legislative action was concerned. But by it, the ice
was broken, and an impetus given to a direct canal, by
the discoveries made under it, and to Joshua Forman
must ever be accorded the high consideration, as the
first legislative projector of the greatest improvement
of the age.

During all the times of darkness, discouragement
and doubt, he boldly stood forth the unflinching
champion of its feasibility, utility and worth, till the
day of its completion.

On the occasion of the grand canal celebration, first
of November, 1825, Judge Forman was selected by the
citizens of Onondaga county, and as President of the
village of Syracuse, to address Governor Clinton and
suite, on their first passage down the canal accompa-
nied by various county committees along the line. He
had but three hours to prepare his address, and it
thus appears in the Syracuse Gazette of November 2,
1825 :—

" Gentlemen : The roar of cannon rolling from Lake
Erie to the ocean, and reverberated from the ocean to
the lakes, has announced the completion of the Erie
Canal, and you are this day witnesses, bearing the
waters of the lakes on the unbroken bosom of the
canal, to be mingled with the ocean that the splendid
hopes of our State are realized. The continued fete


which has attended your boats, evinces how dear it
was to the hearts of our citizens. It is truly a proud
day for the State of New York. No one is present
who has the interest of the State at heart, who does
not exult at the completion of a work fraught with such
important benefits, and no man with an American
heart, that does not swell with pride that he is a
citizen of the country which has accomplished the
greatest work of the age, and which has filled Europe
with admiration of the American character.

" On the Fourth of July, 1817, it was begun, and it
is now accomplished. Not by the labor of abject
slaves and vassals, but by the energies of freemen,
and in a period unprecedently short, by the voluntary
efforts of its freemen, governed by the wisdom of its
statesmen. This, however, is but one of the many
benefits derived from our free institutions, and which
marks a new era in the history of man — the example
of a nation whose whole physical power and intelli-
gence are employed to advance the improvement,
comfort and happiness of the people. To what extent
this course of improvement may be carried, it is
impossible for any mere man to conjecture ; but no
reasonable man can doubt that it will continue its
progress, until our wide and fertile territory shall be
filled with a more dense, intelligent and happy people
than the sun shines upon in the whole circuit of the
globe. It has long been the subject of fearful appre-
hension, to the patriots of the Atlantic States, that the


remote interior situation of our western country (for
want of proper stimuli to industry and free intercourse
with the rest of the world) would be filled with a semi-
barbarous population, uncongenial with their Atlantic
neighbors. But the introduction of steamboats on our
lakes and running rivers and canals to connect the
waters which nature has disjoined, (in both which this
State has taken the lead, and its example has now
become general,) have broken down the old barriers of
nature, and promise the wide-spread regions of the
west all the blessings of a sea-board district.

"But while we contemplate the advantages of this
work, as a source of revenue to the. State, and of
wealth and comfort to our citizens, let us nevei 1 forget
the means by which it has been accomplished; and
after rendering thanks to the All-Wise Dispenser of
events, who has by his own means and for his own
purposes brought about this great work, we would
render our thanks to all citizens and statesmen, who
have in and out of the Legislature sustained the
measure from its first conception to its present final
consummation. To the commissioners who superin-
tended the work, the board of native engineers, (a
native treasure unknown till called for by the occa-
sion,) and especially to his Excellency, the Governor,
whose early and decided support of the measure, fear-
lessly throwing his character and influence into the
scale, turned the poising beam and produced the first


canal appropriation, and by his talents and exertions
kept public opinion steady to the point. Without his
efforts in that crisis, the canal project might still have
t been a splendid vision — gazed upon by the benevolent
patriot, but left by cold calumniators to be realized
by some future generation. At that time, all admitted
that there was a high responsibility resting on you,
and had it failed, you must have largely borne the
blame. It has succeeded, and we will not withhold
from you your due meed of praise.

"Gentlemen, in behalf of the citizens of Syracuse,
and the county of Onondaga, here assembled, I con-
gratulate you on this occasion. Our village is the
offspring of the canal, and with the county must
partake largely of its blessings. We were most un-
grateful if we did not most cordially join in this great
State celebration."

Judge Forman having concluded his address,
Governor Clinton replied in a very happy and appro-
priate manner ; in the course of which he adverted
to the important views presented in the address, and
observed that they were such as he had expected from
an individual who had introduced the first legislative
measures relative to the canals, and had devoted
much thought and reflection to the subject. His
Excellency also adverted to the prosperous condition
of Syracuse, and of the county, and concluded by
expressing his congratulations on the final accomplish-
ment of this great work.


As one of the committee from Syracuse, Judge
Formau attended the ceremony of mingling the waters
of Lake Erie with those of the Ocean, off Sandy
Hook. He had now passed through all the stages in
the progress of the great work, from its first
announcement in the legislature to its final consum-
mation in uniting the waters of Lake Erie with the
Atlantic Ocean. His efforts in this great undertaking
will ever be an enduring monument of his wisdom,
and to future generations will his fame extend.

It is not to be supposed that Judge Forman had
employed all his time and talents upon this single
object. As a lawyer, he became distinguished ; and,
on account of his integrity and legal acquirements,
was appointed First Judge of Onondaga County
Common Pleas in 1813. He filled the station with
credit and ability for ten years ; in fact, he elevated
the character of this tribunal to the pitch which gained
for it the high reputation which it has since enjoyed.
He took an early and active interest in the estab-
lishment of churches in this county. "The First
Onondaga Religious Society," at Onondaga Hill, in
1806, and the "Onondaga Hollow Religious Society,"
in 1809, owe their early organization mainly to his
efforts. The Onondaga Academy, founded in 181-4,
owes its existence to the interest he manifested in the
cause of education and to his fostering care. He was
also one of the most active in promoting the organi-


zation of the First Presbyterian Society in Syracuse,
in 1824, and was one of its first Trustees.

In 1807 lie took a lease of the Surveyor-General for
a term of years, of a part of the reservation lands at
Oswego Falls, for the purpose of erecting a grist mill
in that wilderness country, at which time not a house
was owned by an inhabitant between Salina and
Oswego. This was the first mill erected on the Oswego
* river in modern times, and it greatly facilitated the
settlement of that region.

In 1808, he founded the celebrated Plaster com-
pany of Carnillus, for the purpose of more effectually
working the extensive beds in that town. In 1813,
Judge Forman built the canal and excavated ground
for the pond at Onondaga Hollow, where he erected
a grist mill, which was then considered one of the best
in the country.

In 1817, while there was yet a strong opposition to
the Erie Canal, and its friends were in the greatest
anxiety, and even doubt as to the final result,
Judge Forman furnished a series of articles, which
were published in the Onondaga Register, signed X,
in defense of the work. These papers were written
with great ability, and are said by competent judges
to be inferior to none that had been written upon that
subj ect.

In 1821, Judge Forman obtained the passage of a
law, (drawn by his own hand,) authorizing the lower-
ing of Onondaga lake, and subsequently the lake was


lowered about two feet. The great difficulty had been
caused by the high water in the Seneca river, rising to
a certain height, which obstructed the channel of the
Onondaga outlet ; and such was the nature of the
obstructions, arising from the narrowness and crook-
edness of the passage, that when the Seneca river
subsided to its proper limits, the water of Onondaga
lake was retained, and in rainy seasons did not fall so
as to make dry ground around it till late in summer,
which was the cause of much inconvenience to the
people living in the vicinity of the lake. To obviate
this, the lake was lowered, and by it the lands around
Salina and Syracuse were improved, leaving bare a
beach about the lake, in some places of several rods in
width. For the cause of philanthrophy and humanity
this was a most important measure. The country
around became more healthful, and although previ-
ously infested with a fatal miasma in August and
September, from that time to this, the county about
Syracuse and Salina, has been considered as healthy as
any other section in the State.

In 1822, Judge Forman procured the passage of a
law authorizing the erection of fixtures for the purpose
of manufacturing coarse salt by solar evaporation,
with a three-cent per bushel bounty on salt so manu-
factured, for a given number of years. He went to
New Bedford in company with Isaiah Townsend, to
make inquiries relative to solar evaporation of salt


water, frorn persons interested in this mode of
manufacturing salt from sea- water on Cape Cod. They
engaged Stephen Smith to come on to Syracuse with
them to manage the salt fields, he having had experi-
ence in this mode of manufacture. Mr. Smith was
appointed agent of the Onondaga company, and
Judge Forman of the Syracuse company, and these
two proceeded to make the necessary erections for the
manufacture of coarse salt.

At this time the Salina canal terminated at the
mill on the southern border of the village of Salina,
and there was no water to be had, available for
purposes of carrying machinery in the immediate
vicinity of the principal salt spring. With a view of
accomplishing this object, Judge Forman accompanied
Governor Clinton to Salina, pointed out the ground,
and proposed to have the Salina canal extended so as
to communicate with Onondaga lake ; and the follow-
ing year this plan was carried out, the canal was
continued to the lake, and arrangements made for the
erection of pump works. This grand improvement in
the elevation of brine, was made at the expense of the
Syracuse and Onondaga Salt companies, under the
direction of Judge Forman. Afterwards the State
bought the fixtures, acpieducts, etc., as they had
reserved the right to do. To no individual so much
as to Judge Forman are we indebted for a modification
of our salt laws, and for the substitution of water


power, for hand labor, in the elevation of brine, for
the reservoirs, and all the apparatus connected with
those improvements, and for the introduction of the
manufacture of coarse salt by solar heat. These were
measures in which the public were dee{>ly interested,
which particularly absorbed his attention, and which
have greatly improved and increased the manufacture
of salt in the town of Salina.

Judge Forman was emphatically the founder of the
city of Syracuse. He came to this place when there
was but a small clearing south of the canal, and lived
in a house which stood in the centre of Clinton street ;
since* removed. When he came to Syracuse, it was
deemed a doubtful and hazardous enterprise. His
friends earnestly desired him to withdraw. But at no
time did his courage, energy or faith fail him. He
foresaw and insisted that it must eventually become a
great and flourishing inland town, and in spite of
much determined opposition, and amidst a variety of
obstacles and almost every species of embarrassment,
he persisted in his efforts, till he had laid broad and
deep the foundations of this nourishing city.

The most prominent obstacles were found in the
rival villages in the vicinity, which were likely to be
affected by the building up of a larger one in their
midst, and in the extensive swamps and marshes which
everywhere in this region prevailed, and in the conse-
quent unhealthiness of the locality.


His work being accomplished, circumstances re-
quired his removal from this scene of his usefulness,
and the theatre of his labors. In 1826, he removed to
New Jersey, near New Brunswick, where he superin-
tended the opening and working of a copper mine,
which had been wrought to some extent prior to and
during the Revolution. Soon after his departure from
Syracuse, the State of New York became sadly con-
vulsed and deranged in its financial affairs. Our
banking system was extremely defective — reform was
demanded by an abused and outraged community. All
saw and admitted the evil, but no one was prepared
with a remedy. At this crisis, Judge Forman came
forward with a plan for relief, and upon the invitation
of Governor VanBuren he visited Albany, and sub-
mitted his plan to a Committee of the Legislature
then in session. At the suggestion of the Governor,
he drew up the bill which subsequently became a law,
and is known as the Safety Fund Act, the great objects
of which were, on the one hand, to give currency and
character to our circulation, and on the other, to
protect the bill-holder. At the special request of
Governor Van Buren, Judge Forman spent most of
the winter in attendance in the Legislature, in perfect-
ing the details of this important act.

This plan operated well for many years, and the
Safety Fund banks of this State sustained themselves
under some of the severest and heaviest revulsions


which the nionied institutions of the country have ever
experienced. And it may be safely affirmed that no
system in practice on this side the Atlantic has better
stood the test of experience, or secured so extensively
the popular confidence as this. The Safety Fund sys-
tem was exclusively the plan of Judge Forman, and
although modifications have since been made, and
others projected, in our banking laws, it may be ques-
tioned whether the system has been materially im-

In 1829-30, Judge Forman bought of the govern-
ment of the State of North Carolina an extensive tract
of land, consisting of some three hundred thousand
acres, in Rutherfordton county. He took up his resi-
dence at the village of Rutherfordton, greatly extended
its boundaries, established a newspaper press, and was
considered the most enterprising individual in that
part of the State; became quite distinguished as a
public man, and noted for his exertions to elevate the
character, and improve the mental and moral condi-
tion of the inhabitants in that region.

In 1831, after an absence of about five years, Judge
Forman visited Onondaga. He was everywhere re-
ceived with unqualified demonstrations of joy and
respect, and every voice cheered him as the founder
of a city and a benefactor of mankind. The citizens
of Syracuse, through their committee appointed for
that purpose, consisting of Stephen Smith, Harvey


Baldwin, Amos P. Granger, L. H. Redfield, Henry
Newton, John Wilkinson and Moses D. Burnet, availed
themselves of the opportunity to present to him a
valuable piece of silver plate as a tribute of the high
respect and esteem which was entertained for his
talents and character, and in consideration of his
devotedness to their interests in the early settlement
of the village. The plate is in the form of a pitcher,
and bears this inscription: " A tribute of respect, pre-
sented by the citizens of Syracuse to the Honorable
Joshua Forman, founder of that village. Syracuse,

At the ceremony of presenting the plate, mutual
addresses were delivered; on the one hand, highly
expressive of the affection and regard of a whole com-
munity, to a distinguished individual, who had toiled
and exhausted his more vigorous energies for their
welfare ; and on the other, the acknowledgment of past
favors at the hands of his fellow-citizens and coadju-
tors, thankful that he had been the humble instrument
of contributing to their prosperity, hoping that the
bright visions of the future importance of Syracuse,
which he had so long entertained, might be realized,
he bade her citizens an affectionate farewell.

On his return to his home in North Carolina,
Judge Forman took with him this token of the grati-
tude of his fellow-citizens, and it remained with him
till the year 1815, when he presented it to his daughter,


the lady of General E. W. Leavenworth, of Syracuse,
then on a visit to her father who was in feeble health,
remarking, that it constituted a part of the history of
Syracuse, and that after his death there it should

While his health permitted, Judge Forman's busi-
ness was principally that of making sales of the lands
he had purchased in North Carolina.

In 1846, this venerable man re-visited his former
friends and acquaintances of his earlier years, and
found in each full heart an honest welcome. To all it
was apparent that the advances of time had made sad
inroads upon his physical and mental powers. Seventy
winters had shed their snows upon his devoted head.
He had heard much of the growth and prosperity of
his cherished city, and of his beloved Onondaga. He
had fixed his heart upon again treading the soil of his
revered county. He had earnestly desired to return
to the land of his fathers before his course on earth
should be closed, to witness the result of those won-
derful improvements in the accomplishment of which
he had taken so deep an interest and so active a part,
and to see the fulfillment of those predictions which
had sometimes acquired for him the name of a vision-
ary projector and enthusiast, and once again for the
last time to behold in the body the few surviving
friends of his earlier years. He could not bid adieu
to the world in peace, till this last and greatest of his
earthly wishes should be gratified.


On this occasion a public dinner was tendered to him
by P. N. Rust of the Syracuse House. A large num-

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Online LibraryGurney S StrongEarly landmarks of Syracuse → online text (page 18 of 22)