Horace Eaton.

The early history of Palmyra: a Thanksgiving sermon, delivered at Palmyra, N. Y., November 26, 1857 online

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Online LibraryHorace EatonThe early history of Palmyra: a Thanksgiving sermon, delivered at Palmyra, N. Y., November 26, 1857 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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Pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Palmyra, New York.









Pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Palmyra, New York.






33 7/7/




Is. 35 : I.— The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them.

Thanksgiving was first instituted as a social and family festival
to commemorate especially the perils, virtues and providential
deliverances of the Pilgrims, who, on the 22d day of December,
1G20, landed on Plymouth rock. Since then, it has been adopted
by nearly every State in the Union as " The Forefather's day," —
in which the early ancestry of every community have justly
claimed a share in its reminiscences.

Such reviews are designed to quicken our patriotism and our
piety, and give new strength to the roots which bind us to the
soil and the principles of our progenitors. It was a noble senti-
ment of the ancient Greek, who, while celebrating the valor and
firmness of his ancestors, exclaimed, " Dying, I will remember

I am sure, you will not regard it inappropriate, on this occasion
to direct your thoughts to a *past generation, — to the men, whose
names you bear, whose memories you honor, whose land you

The venerable Stephen Durfee informed us, that the early set-
tlers used to gather on the southern brow of " Winter-Green-Hill,"
from thence to overlook this valley, and mark at different points
any impression made by civilized man. The wilderness was dense
and heavy, and evinced a deep and a strong soil, well fitted to fix
the strong purposes and call forth the strong exertions of strong-

*This discourse is principally confined to persons who settled here previous to, or about the year
1800 J


Sixty-six years have now passed away, and could the same men
stand on the same eminence, how striking would be the contrast !
The dark and lofty forest has given away to the waving harvest.
Where went up the smoke of the wigwam, now rises the elegant
mansion. Instead of the howl of the wolf, are now heard the
cheerful sounds of a busy and happy community. Before us are
evidences of men and agencies, to whom we may apply the
words of inspiration — " The wilderness and the solitary place
shall be glad for them."

It is natural first to refer to the different currents of immigra-
tion — the basis of this population.

In the obscure background of history, we find the sons of the
forest, the Iroquois, the general term applied to the "six nations,"
ranging in lordly freedom through their wild domains. Next,
the French claimed the command of this wilderness. At length
they gave way to British power. After the Revolution, the treaty
of 1783 left it in possession of the victorious colonies. But the
indistinctness of the original charts involved Massachusetts and
New York in a sharp controversy, — each State insisting upon
its claim to this part of the western territory. This dispute
was submitted for decision to commissioners, appointed by the
different States, who met at Hartford, December 16th, 1786, and
was settled by a compact between the two States, in which New
York " ceded, granted, released and confirmed to Massachusetts,
all the estate, right, title, and property, (the right of government,
sovereignty and jurisdiction excepted,) which the former had to a
large territory west of the Military Tract, comprising the whole
part of country through which the Genesee runs, from its source
to where it flows into Lake Ontario." The amount of land was
estimated at about six million acres. By the Legislature of
Massachusetts this district, in 1783, was granted to Oliver Phelps
and Nathaniel Gorham, for the sum of §100,000, and from that
time became private property. Phelps and Gorham the same
year opened a land office in Canandaigua.

Besides this "Massachusetts Reserve" there was the "Military
Tract" These constituted the two general divisions of Western
New York. The Military Tract was reserved by an act of the
New York Legislature, July 25th, 1782, to be distributed among

the officers and soldiers of New York State, who served in the
Revolution. It was situated directly east of the Massachusetts'
Reserve, or the Phelps and Gorham Purchase. The western line
of the Military Tract was drawn "from the mouth of As-so-ro-dus
Creek, — (or Great Sodus Bay — a contraction of the Indian name,)
south, along the western shore of Seneca Lake, and east by a
line drawn from the most westerly boundary of Oneida or Tus-
carora County, on the Oneida Lake, through the most westerly
inclination of the west bounds of Oneida and Tuscarora territory,
south, by a line drawn due east from the southern extremity of
Seneca Lake." The tract included 1,680,000 acres, and embraces
the present Counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Cort-
land, the greater part of Tompkins, and a small part of Oswego
and "Wayne."

Another locality had a close connection with the early settle-
ment of this town.

Wyoming is a beautiful valley along the Susquehanna, in
the northeastern part of Pennsylvania, twenty-five miles in length
and only three in width; lying between two parallel ranges of
mountains, crested with oak and j)ine. The scenery around is
wild and beautiful, while the valley itself might be chosen for
another paradise. This lovely spot has been stained by many a
conflict. Before it was coveted by the white man, the Shawanese
and the Delawares here shed fraternal blood. The ancient legend
rims, that while the squaws were gathering wild fruits along the
bank of the river, a child caught a large grasshopper. The pos-
session of this insect led to a quarrel among the children. It
extended to the mothers, and finally arrayed both tribes in a
hostile attitude. The battle was bloody. The Shawanese lost
half their number. The remnant abandoned their lands and re-
moved to Ohio.

In 1750, adventurers from Connecticut visited Wyoming.
John Jenkins first surveyed and drew a map of that section.
The Connecticut Colony in 1754 met a council of the six nations
at Albany, paid the Sachems two thousand pounds, and took a
deed of the valley. They claimed the right of settlement, also,
under the charter of James I., to the Plymouth colony. Their
claim was ratified by the first judges in England. In 1762 some

two hundred immigrants from Connecticut had settled in Wyo-
ming. While the men were in the harvest field, twenty of them
were cut off by the Indians. The Connecticut company in 17G9
made a second attempt to occupy their lands, but they then found
certain Pennsylvanians located upon them, who claimed the val-
ley under the charter of 1681, given by Charles II. to William
Penn. Animosities between these two colonies soon ripened into
open hostilities. Three times the Yankees were driven back, and
as many times returned. The cause of the Pennamites at length
lost sympathy w T ith the masses of Pennsylvania, and the proprie-
taries were unable to rally a force sufficient to dispossess the Con-
necticut settlers. In 177-1, Wyoming was constituted a township,
named Westmorland, and joined to Litchfield County, Connec-
ticut. It then numbered nineteen hundred and twenty two in-

In the war of the Revolution, both parties joined in the com-
mon defence. June 29th and 30th, 1778, Col. John Butler, with
four hundred tories and seven hundred Indians, made a descent
upon that settlement. They were then without protection, since
they had sent more than three hundred of their young men to
join the army of Washington. Col. Zebulon Butler, an Ameri-
can officer, rallied the old and young and led them to a feeble
resistance. They were overwhelmed by the multitude of their
enemies. Two hundred were slain. Then took place that awful
" massacre of Wyoming," the horrors of which are too well
known to need rehearsal, and the history of which has been im-
mortalized by Campbell in his " Gertrude of Wyoming."

At the close of the Revolutionary war, a council, called by the
two parties, met at Trenton, New Jersey, December, 1782, and
decided the unhappy dispute. The valley was to fall under the
jurisdiction of Pennsylvania, — the Connecticut settlers to be
confirmed in the possession of their lands. Dr. Peck, in his his-
tory of Wyoming, thus remarks: " The Penns, by the charter
of 10 81, were owners of the soil. Their policy was to lay out
all the best lands into manors and settle them by tenants under
leases. Thus some of the most objectionable features of the feu-
dal system were established in Pennsylvania. The Pennamite
and Yankee wars were not merely a conflict between the proprie-

taries of Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna company for the
jurisdiction of the country. It was not a mere question of boun-
dary, but a question between landlord and tenantry. The ques-
tion was one in which the tenantry of Pennsylvania generally
were interested, and consequently the cause of the proprietaries
was never popular with that class. Wyoming was the battlefield
where the question was to be settled whether the people who culti-
vated the soil slioidd be serfs or freeholders?

Prom the previous history, it is not strange, that many of the
Connecticut colonists preferred to leave their lands and emigrate
into other sections. Not a few of these families were connected
in their future history with this vicinity. They were the first to
discover this wilderness, and open the way for future settlement.

There is a humble stone in the old grave yard of this village,
bearing the inscription — John Swift. But few names are more
deeply imbedded in the foundations of this community. Many
of the "first things " cluster around it. John Swift was a native
of Kent, Litchfield County, Connecticut. When fifteen years of
age, he became a soldier in the Revolution, and served seven
years till the close of the war. He was one of the Connecticut
colony in the valley of Wyoming, and in a bold attempt to fire
the Block house of the Pennamites, he was shot through the neck,
the ball passing between the spinal column and the esophagus.
A like recovery was scarcely ever known in surgery. After
the settlement of difficulties, a company of Connecticut people
was formed, and John Swift and John Jenkins were appointed
agents to select and purchase lands for their occupation. Jenk-
ins had been in the employ of Phelps and Gorham, as surveyor,
and was acquainted with this section of the Genesee country.
In 1TS9, they proceeded to Canandaigua and contracted for
township No. 12, of the second range, and immediately began
the survey of lots along Mud Creek. They built a cabin just
under the brow of the hill, in front of the house now owned
by Nelson Reeves. AVhile asleej) there with their assistants,
at two o'clock in the morning, four Indians, attracted by the light,
put their guns through the open spaces between the logs, killed
one man by the name of Barker, and shot a ball through the
nose of another by the name of Church. It is probable this


attack of the Indians dampened the zeal of the Pennsylvania
immigrants. True it is, the Susquehanna company was given
up, and Swift, in order to effect a settlement sufficiently formida-
ble to render it safe, spent the summer of 1790 in forming com-
panies in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

In September, 1790, Swiftmoved his family into this unbroken
wilderness. He built the first house on the spot where Mr.
Thomas Lakey's sho}D now stands. It was of logs and covered
with bark.

His wife was the first woman who ventured a residence in this
native wilderness. One evening, when making hasty pudding,
three Indians came in and sat around the fire. At length they
made signs of violence. At this, the heroine of the log cabin
seized a red hot poker and so laid it over their heads, that they
concluded a " swift " retreat was the better part of valor.

John Swift was the first pioneer. He was the first moderator
of the first town meeting. He was the first supervisor. He was
the first pound tender; the first captain. At his house was held
the first training. At his house, if we except Canandaigua and
Bloomfield, was formed the first church west of Oneida Lake.
Asa Swift, his son, was the first male child born in this town.
He gave lands for the first grave yard, the first school house and
the first church in this village.*

Indeed from 1790 to 1812, the name of John Swift is connected
with every enterprise, pecuniary, political and religious. At the
commencement of the war of 1812, he was appointed Brevet
General of the New York Volunteers. In 1814, while stationed
at Queenston Heights, he led a detachment down the river, some
six miles, to Fort George, — surrounded and took prisoners a
picket guard of the enemy, consisting of some sixty men. In-
stead of commanding the prisoners to ground their arms and
march away from them, he suffered them to retain their muskets.
One of the captives inquired, " who is Gen. Swift ?" Most unad-

*The first parsonage was built of bass wood logs, on the site of Nottingham's hotel. The first
framed bam was Luther Sandford's The first tww-story fram< d h use was Silas Hart's, now occu-
pied by Daniel Gates. The first child born in what was then called the village was Pomeroy Tucker.
The first blacksmith was Zechariah Blackman. James Smith was the first hatter. Dr. Ainsworth
was the first postmaster. James Rogers, father of Gen. Thomas Rogers, died in 1793. His grave
was the first in the "Durfee Burying Ground." The grave of Benjamin] aimer, the father of George
Palmer, was the second in that place. William Hopkins and his wife died in 17'.:!. on the same day,
and were buried in the same grave. The "Palmyra Register," the first newspaper in this town,
was dated October G, ISIS. Pomeroy Tucker commenced the Wayne Sentinel in 1£>24.


visedly lie stood forth and said, " I am Gen. Swift." In an
instant the inquisitive prisoner put a ball through his breast.
Dr. Alexander Mclntyre was by his side when he fell. He was
borne to the nearest house, where he died and was buried July
12th, 181-1, aged fifty-two years and twenty-five days. After the
war, the citizens of Palmyra disinterred his remains and depos-
ited them in the old cemetry of this village. The New York
Legislature, out of respect to his patriotism and bravery, pre-
sented a sword to his eldest son, and directed that a full length
portrait of Gen. Swift should be hung up in the City Hall, New

And here, though not in the due order of settlement, I deem it
proper to mention that another and the first sacrifice to the war
of 1S12, was from this place. Major William Howe Cuyler was
the first lawyer that opened an office in Palmyra, — a man still
remembered for his public enterprise and generous sympathies.
He was the aid of Gen. Hall. On the night of the 8th of Octo-
ber, 1812, he was killed, at Black Rock, by a four pound ball
from the British battery at Fort Erie. The ball that passed
through his body, still rusty with his blood, is now in the posses-
sion of his son, Wm. H. Cuyler of this village.

William Jackway, John Ilurlburt, Jonathan Millett, Nathan
Parshall, Barney Horton, James Galloway, Mrs. Tiffany, were
some of the followers of Swift from the valley of Wyoming.

Next in the order of time is the Bliode Island Colony.

In November, 1791, Gideon Durfee, Edward Durfee, and Isaac
Springer arrived from Tiverton, R. I. They came in wagons on
the Military road to the old castle at Geneva; from thence with-
out a path, found their way to Palmyra. Pardon Durfee, hus-
band of Mrs. Ruth Durfee, now living, came early in the Spring
of 1792, — driving the cattle belonging to the colony. Nearly
exhausted with fatigue and hunger, he inquired of his brothers
if they could bring him some food. With tears they were obliged
to reply, "we have none;" but there was relief in the case, —
Webb Harwood had gone to Jerusalem, now Penn Yan, forty miles,,
to the nearest mill, and was expected back every hour. The next
August a boat landed near the farm house owned by Hon. Martin
Butterfield, bringing Gideon Durfee, the elder, and Job, Stephen,,


and Ruth Durfee. Lemuel Durfee arrived four years later. Ruth
Durfee married Capt. William "Wilcox. This was the first mar-
riage in this town. Mrs. Wilcox died, at the age of eighty three,
the 13th of the present month.

It is said that Swift had failed to fulfil his engagements to
Phelps and Gorham, — but when the Durfee family arrived he
" took heart," for they brought the hard coin in a leather satchel,
sufficient to pay down for sixteen hundred acres of land. This
money enabled Swift to secure a warrantee deed of the town.

These Pioneers were soon followed by William, James, and
Thomas Rogers, Festus and Isaac Goldsmith, Humphrey Sher-
man, Zebulon Williams and Weaver Osborn, all from Rhode
Island. Osborn married Hannah Durfee and resided on the
farm now owned by Alex'r. Grant. David Wilcox, from Rhode
Island, came with his wife and two children in April, 1791. Ma-
ry, his daughter, afterward wife of Alvah Hendee, was born the
29th of the next June, and was the first white child born in this

We come now to another original element.

The increasing population of Long Island, together with the
dangers of a seafaring life, induced the wise and far-seeing to look
out for a home in the wilderness.

Jn 1788 a company was formed of eleven, in South Hampton,
Long Island. In the early Spring of 1790, Elias Reeves and Joel
Foster took their way to the far west, as their agents, — first to
Fort Pitt, now Pittsburg, where they found Luke Foster, an
acquaintance. Together they penetrated the vast wilderness of
Virginia to the Ohio, and passed down to Fort Washington, now
Cincinnati. There they purchased land on what was called Tur-
key Bottoms. They left Luke Foster to build and make prepara-
tion while they returned to conduct the colony to their forest

But a single circumstance turned the locality and the future
history of the projected immigration. When Joel Foster and
Elias Reeves arrived at Long Island, they found William Hopkins,
an Uncle of Elias Reeves, and Abraham Foster, on a visit from
New Jersey. Hopkins was a son of the Hon. Stephen Hopkins,
•whose trembling hand stands so prominent among the signers of


the Declaration. William Hopkins had been connected with the
*" Leasee Compan)-," was acquainted with the Genesee country,
and saw its prospective importance. He urged upon his friends
the value of a God-fearing community. He told them of the
colonies from New England, that they were descendants from the
Puritans, with principles and purposes congenial with their own.
His arguments prevailed. The company relinquished the purpose
of settling on the Ohio — and directed Elias Reeves and William
Hopkins to pass by the northern route, beyond the Military Tract,
while Joel Foster, Abraham Foster, and Luther Sanford were to
explore along the boundaries of Pennsylvania. The Fosters and
Sanford started June, 1791, but found the country mountainous
and forbidding. Being carpenters, on consideration of good wages,
they stopped at a place called Lindleytown and engaged in the erec-
tion of mills, leaving the work of exploration to Reeves and Hop-
kins, who on the 20th of August, 1791, left Long Island with their
rifles and knapsacks, came by water to Albany, — then on foot,
following the Indian trails to Geneva, — thence to town " No. 12."
These valleys were well watered. The height and strength of the
trees were an exponent of the depth and richness of the soil.
They resolved to try the effect of hard work and honest principles
upon a region more luxuriant than that from which they came.
Upon the tall maples and the sturdy oaks, they placed their names
as a pre-emption mark. This done, Hopkins and Reeves made
their way across the State to the Pennsylvania line, where they
found Joel Foster, Abraham Foster and Luther Sanford. There
they drew and signed the following bond :

"This instrument of writing witnesseth, that Wm. Hopkins of
the State of New Jersey, Elias Reeves, Joel Foster, Abraham
Foster, and Luther Sanford, all of the State of New York, do agree
and bind themselves, severally, each to the other, under the penalty
of fifty pounds, to abide by and make good any purchase of land
which Elias Reeves and Abraham Foster shall make of Oliver
Phelps, Esq., or any other person, within twenty days from the
date hereof. The proportion of land, which each of us shall have

*The Leasee Compnny consisted of sixty men, from Connecticut and New Jersey, united for th e
purpose of leasing land i'rom the Indians, independently of the government. This company was
dissolved by an act of Congress.


is to be concluded among ourselves hereafter. In witness of all of
which, we have hereunto set our hands and seals, in Ontario Coun-
ty, State of New York, this ninth day of September, in the year
of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety- one.

William Hopkins,
Elias Reeves,
Joel Foster,
Abraham Foster,


After concluding this engagement, all, save Elias Reeves and
Abraham Foster, returned to the Island. These made their way
back to No. 12, stopping at the house of one Crittenden, residing
in the " old castle " at Geneva. From him they received a peck
of apples, the fruit of the old Indian orchard, as a present to John
Swift. When they arrived, they were offered some of the apples.
They craved only the seeds, and proceeding to a beautiful bluff on
the farm now owned by Gen. L^man Reeves, they planted them,
which proved the first bearing orchard west of Geneva. Having
selected their lands, they contracted with Phelps, at Canandaigua,
for five thousand five hundred acres, for eleven hundred pounds,
New York currency, one hundred of which they paid down. It
will be noticed this was in September, 1791. The Durfee family had
not yet arrived. As Swift could not meet his engagements, his
title was doubtful. Hence Reeves and Foster, to make the thing
sure, treated with Phelps and Gorham directly. But when Gideon
and Edward Durfee arrived, his hard money met the hard times,
and Swift was enabled to pay his notes and received a genuine
title to the town. Hence we find the Long Island company the
next year taking their deed from John Swift.

Having viewed the land, the spies returned, bringing back, all
of them, like Caleb and Joshua, a good report. This enterprise
was not a failure. The coming winter, Joel Foster built a sail
boat, Cyrus Foster making the nails, and launched it on Heddy
Creek, near South Hampton. After a well spent Sabbath, on
Monday morning, the 4th of April, 1792, the first colony from Long
Island embarked on their voyage of nearly five hundred miles.
They sailed through the Sound to New-York, then to Albany ;


from Albany they transported their boat by land, 16 miles, to
Schenectady — with " setting poles " pushed the boat up the Mo-
hawk to Rome. There the boat was taken from the Mohawk and
conveyed by land something less than a mile to Wood Creek ;
thence floating down to Oneida Lake — through the lake and the out-
let they came to Oswego River ; thence into Seneca River — through
that to Clyde River— from Clyde River through Mud Creek to
Saw-mill Creek, landing near the present residence of Hiram Fos-
ter. The whole voyage occupied twenty-eight days. Mrs. Joel
Foster brought in her arms her eldest son, Harvey Foster, then an
infant of eleven months.

The way now being open, the same old hive sent out repeated
swarms of working bees. The Clarks, Posts, Howells, Jaggers,
Culvers, Jessups, and many others, followed. " The wilderness
and the solitary place were glad for them." This old boat
did good service in going and returning, with other companies, as
they arrived from Long Island at Schenectady. It was finally
conveyed around to Seneca Lake, and used as a pleasure-boat.
Truly a noble craft. I would go as far to see that old hoat, as the
ship in which Dr. Kane penetrated the frozen North.

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Online LibraryHorace EatonThe early history of Palmyra: a Thanksgiving sermon, delivered at Palmyra, N. Y., November 26, 1857 → online text (page 1 of 3)