Arad Thomas.

Pioneer history of Orleans county, New York. Containing some account of the civil divisions of western New York, with brief biographical notices of early settlers, and of the hardships and privations online

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Online LibraryArad ThomasPioneer history of Orleans county, New York. Containing some account of the civil divisions of western New York, with brief biographical notices of early settlers, and of the hardships and privations → online text (page 3 of 32)
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came out from the log, and induced the fishermen to
fix their camp in another place.

Enos Stone, an early settler in Rochester, said " The
principal colony of the rattlesnakes was in the bank
of the river, below the lower falls, at a place we used
to call Rattlesnake Point ; and there was also a
large colony at Allan' s Creek, near the end of the
Brighton Plank Road, I think the}' grew blind about
the time of returning to their dens, in August and
September. I have killed them on their return, with
films on their eyes. Their oil was held in great esti-
mation by the early settlers. Zebulon Norton, of
Norton" s Mills, was a kind of backwoods doctor, and
he often came to this region for tlie oil and the gall of
rattlesnakes. The oil was used for stiff* joints and
bruises ; and the gall for fevers, in the form of a pill


made up with chalk.'-* A rattlesnakes den where
they used to winter, and out of which they would
crawl in earl}^ spring to sun themselves, was situated
on the west "bank of Oak Orchard Creek, on the Ship-
man farm, in Carlton. No snakes hare "been seen
there for many years.

Raccoons were plenty. Their fat was used to fry
cakes, and their flesh was much esteemed for food by
the inhabitants.

Hedge hogs were also common. They frequently
came around the log cabins in the night in search of
food. Dogs, who were unacquainted with the animal
sometimes charged upon him so rashly as to get their
heads flUed with the quills, which it was very difiicult
to extract, on account of their barbed points.

There were no natural openings in the woods, or
prairie grounds in this county, before the settlement
of the country, adapted to the habits of the quail ;
and they are supposed to have come in with the emi-
grants. They soon became plenty, the large M^heat
fields affording them sustenance.

Quails, raccoons and hedge hogs are nearly exter-
minated in Orleans County. A rattlesnake is very
seldom seen.

The beavers were all destroyed by the first hunters
who came here.

Those who asume to know say skunks and foxes
are more numerous now than ever before, which if
true, may be owing to the abundance of field mice
which they feed on.

Before the settlement of this county, streams of wa-
ter on an average were twice as large as they are now;
and they were more durable, flowing the year round,
where now they are low, or dry, a part of the year.

iJarge tracts of low land, now cultivated to grass
and grain, originally was marsh, too wet even to

* Phelps & Gorham's Purchase, p. 425.


grow trees ; sometimes occasioned by the clams of the
beaver, which "by flooding the land destroyed the
timber once growing there. As tlie beavers were
hunted and destroyed, their dams were opened, or
wore away, and their ponds in time have become cul-
tivated fields. Quite a number of tliese beaver dams
existed in Orleans county. The largest in Barre per-
haps was at the head of Otter Creek, on lot 15, from
which a stream flowed north, and near which some
years ago, E. P. Sill had a saw mill, that did a large
business. This beaver pond covered a hundred acres
or more, which after the beaver were gone, but be-
fore the pond had been eftectually drained, became a
cranberry marsh ; and old people still recollect going
there to get cranberries. Near the outlet of this pond
or marsh, was a favorite camping place of the In-
dians, who made this a kind of head-quarters in their
visits here to hunt and fish. As the water subsided
in these marshes, diflerent kinds of forest trees gradu-
ally came in. Another beaver dam was erected on
the head waters of Sandy Creek, on the farm of AVil-
liam Cole. And another on the farm of Amos Root,
at the head of a small stream which flows into Tona-
wanda Swamp. Remains of beaver dams arc seen in
Ridgeway and other towns.

When white men began the settlement of this coun-
ty, the winters were much milder than now. Old set-
tlers tell us the ground seldom froze in the woods so
hard a stake could not easily be driven into it at any
time. Snow did not fall to as great a depth as is
sometimes seen now. The thick tops of the tall trees
broke the force of the winds, and the softening influ-
ence of the great lakes — Erie and Ontario — served to
prevent the extremes of heat and cold, which liave
been more prevalent -since the timber lias been cut
down, and the wet lands dried up.


Soon iiftt^r clearings began to be made in the forest,
peach trees ^Yere planted, and grew luxuriantly,, and
ripened the choicest fruit, in great abundance. The
j)each crop was never a failure, and apricots and nec-
tarines were grown successfully.

The cultivation of aj)ples received early attention,
and some orchards, now in full health and bearing,
are almost as old as the first settlement.

In the woods, the first pioneers found occasionallj''
a Avild plum tree, bearing a tough, acrid plum, of a
red and 3^ellow color ; and a small purple fox grape
of no value.

For many }^ears l^efore and after the opening of the
Erie Canal, wlieat was the great object of cultivation
among the fiirmers. The quantity of wheat raised
and exported from Orleans County yearly, between
1830 and 1840, was immense. Barley did not come
into cultivation till much later tlian wheat, and no rye
was sown for many years.

It was not until after the ravages of the weevil, or
wheat midge, had begun to interfere seriously with
wheat growing, that the culture of beans attracted
any considerable attention.


This swamp lies in the counties of (xenesee and Or-
leans, covering joarts of Byron, Elba, Oakfield, and
Alabama,, in Genesee County ; and parts of Slielby,
Barre, and Clarendon, in Orleans County. Originally
it contained about twenty-five thousand acres, most
of which was too wet to plow, and Avas covered with
swamp timber, or was open marsh, covered with flags,
or swamp grass. Oak Orchard Creek drains this

About 1820, the State constructed a feeder from the
Tonawanda Creek in Genesee County, to convey the


water of Toiiawanda Creek into Oak Orchard Creek,
to supply the Erie Canal with water.

The outlet for water from the swamp was through a
ledge of rock, too small naturally to drain it suffi-
eientl}-, and when the Tonawanda Creek was thus
brought into it, the level of Avater in the swamp was
thereby raised, and nothing was then done by the
State to facilitate the discharge, thus increasing the
stagnant water.

In 1828, the Holland Company sold a considerable
portion of these wet lands to an association, who ex-
pended about twelve thousand dollars, in enlarging
the capacity of the outlet, to drain the swamp through
Oak Orchard Creek.

The Canal Commissioners then appropriat(^d the
whole of the Creek for the canal, and further at-
tempts at drainage were abandoned.

In April, 1852, an Act was passed appointing Amos
Root, John Dunning, Henry Monell, and David E. E.
Mix, Commissioners, to lay out and construct a high-
way across the Tonawanda Swamp, on the line be-
tween ranges one and two, of the Holland Purchase.
A road was made and opened to travel under this Act,
at a cost of about $2,750.

As the surrounding country became settled, this
swamp became an obstacle in passing through it,
from the great expense required to make and main-
tain highways. This large tract yielded but little re-
tiu'ii to the owners, and paid but little tax to the pub-
lic. No further attempts to drain were made. The
association sold their lands to difierent individuals,
and nothing was done to reclaim this tract, until
April 16, 1855, an Act of the Legislature appointed
Amos Root, S.M. Burroughs, Ambrose Bowen, Robert
Hill, John B. King, and Henry Monell, Commission-
ers to drain the swamp.

It was provided in this Act, tliat the Commissioners


should assess the expenses of their work upon the
owners of the lands immediately affected by the
drainage, in proportion to the benefits each would be
adjudged to receive ; the whole amount of such as-
sessment not to exceed $20,000.

The Commissioners entered uj)on their work, and
made an estimate and assessment of the expense. —
This gave offense to the parties assessed, who united
almost unanimously, the next year, in a petition to
the Legislature to repeal the law, and it was repealed.

In 1863, an Act was passed appropriating $16,306 ;
to be expended in improving Oak Orchard Creek, and
the Canal feeder, on condition that all persons, who
claimed damages of the State on account of the
makmg the feeder from Tonawanda Creek, to Oak
Orchard should release all such claims, before the ex •
penditure of the money.



Description — How Bailt— Wiiulo-svs and Door — Walls Raised at a Bee
— Cliimneys — Ovens — Cellars — Double Log House — Copied after In-
dian Wisrwam — Fires — Great Back Loo; — Li";lUs.

HE log lionse; as it was constructed and used
hy the first settlers of Western New York, as
"an invstitution," belongs to a generation now
gone hy. No new log houses are now being built,
and the few old ones now standing, will soon be de-
stroyed by the relentless " tooth of time,*' and of those
who were their builders and occupants, soon not one
Avill be left to tell their story.

The most primitive log house, to which we refer.
was rather a rough looking edifice, usually 12 or 15
by 15 or 20 feet square. It was made of logs, of al-
most any kind of timber, nearest at hand, of uniform
size. These were used with the bark on, by rolling
one log upon another horizontally, notcliing the cor-
ners to make tliem lie close together, to tho height
wanted for tlie outer walls of the house.

An opt'uing in one side was lelt for a door, and
commonly another for a window. Poles were* laid
across tlie walls for a chamber Hooi- to re st on, to be
reach'.Ml by a moveable ladder. A ridge ])ol and
rafters sui)ported a roof, which was made of oak or
hemlock splints, or elm bark.

Bark for roofs was i^eeled in June, in strii)S about
four feet long, and laid upon the rafteis in courses.


licld to the rafter by lieavv poles laid traiisversly,
and bound on by strips of bark. An openini;' in the
roof at one end was left for the escape of smoke from
the tire, which was built ux)on the ground undei- the
opening. "^Fhe remainder of the ground enclosed was
covered with a floor of basswood logs, split, or hewed
to a flat surface. The crevices between tlie logs were
filled or "cliinked" as they called it, by putting in
splints in large openings, and plastering vrith clay in-
side and out.

When a sash, lighted with glass, could be procured
that was used for the window. Instead of glass, oil-
ed paper was sometimes substituted. In an extreme
case, the door was ihade of splints hewed flat and
thin ; but ordinarily of sawed boards, hung upon
wooden hinges, and fastened with a wooden latch,
which was raised by a string tied to the latch, and
put through a hole, to lift the latch from the outside.
Hence, to say of a householder, "his latch string was
always out," was equivalent to declaring his generous
spirit in opening his house to whoever applied for

The carpenter and joiner work on the house was
now complete. Masons, x^ainters, glaziers, and all
other house builders, had nothing to do here. The
owner was his own architect, and commonly the house
was put up at a "bee," or gathering of all the settlers
in the neighborhood, gratis.

We read that Solomon's Temple rose without the
sound of a hammer. The temple in that respect has
no advantage above these early homes of the settlers
of Orleans County. There was no hammering here,
for there w^ere no nails to be driven. Sturdy blows
with the ax did the business, and every thing was
fastened with wooden pins, or withes.

If time and means permitted, and the wish of the
owner was to indulge in the luxury of a cliimney, he


was gratified by building one end wall of Ms house
with stone, laid in clay mortar, from the ground sev-
eral feet in height, carrying up the remainder of the
end with logs in the usual way. A high cross beam,
or mantel, was put in, on this a superstructure of
sticks laid uj^ in a square, as the walls of the house
were, tilled in with clay, was carried up above the
roof and called- "a stick chimney.'"' This chimney,
and all the wood work exposed to the tire, being well
plastered with the cliiy mud, rendered the whole tol-
erably safe from danger of burning, giving little en-
couragement to insurance companies, whose agents
never ventured to take risks on such property.

As wealth increased, and a higher state of civiliza-
tion and architectural development was introduced in
the structure of log houses, stone chimneys were built
from the ground up. About the time when stone
chimneys were first made, cellars under the log houses
began to be constructed ; and were found to be ex-
ceedingly convenient, as a depository safe from frost,
adding much to tlie storage caj)acity of the house.

The introduction of brick ovens marks an era that
may be called modern compared with the primitive
log house. These ovens were sometimes made at a
distance from the house, standing on a frame of tlie
kind called Scotch ovens.

AVhen the family had become sufficiently affluent
to afford it, sometimes a chamber floor of boards
would be laid upon the cross beams over head ; leav-
ing a hole in the flooring, by which a person from be-
low could mount into the chamber on a moveable lad-

And sometimes a wealthy settler, who felt cribbed,
and confined too closely in a single room, would build
an addition to his log house, like the first, and adjoin-
ing it, with a door between. The owner of sucli a
- double log house, was looked upon with envy and


admiration by all the neighboring housekeepers, who
wondered what he could do witli so ninch room ; and
it would be a remarkable and exceptional case if the
owner and his family did not put on some airs and
go to keeping tavern.

It woukl be several years before the general class
of log householders got a barn. Straw and fodder
would be stacked out for the cattle. And, if a shelter
for cattle or horses was desired, some crotches of trees
would be set in the ground for posts, poles laid across
on these, and a pile of straw heaped on, and a shed
warm and dry was the result.

The log house was copied from the wigwam of the
Six Nations of Indians, as to its general form and.
structure. The bark roof was similar in both cases,
but the Indians commonly built the walls of their
Avigwams of bark fastened to upright poles, without
a floor, their fire on the ground in the center, the
smoke rising without any chimney, found its way
tlirough a hole left open in the center of the roof.

Fires were sometimes made in these log houses of
the white men, by cutting a log eight or ten feet long,
from the largest trees that would go through the door
of the house without splitting. This was run upon
rollers endwise through the door, and rolled to the
back of the fire place. A fire was then built in the
niiddle of the log in front, and fuel would be applied
to that place, until the fire would consume the center
of the log ; when the ends would be crowded together
until the whole was burned. Sometimes such a back
log would last a week or ten days, even in cold weath-
er. The light from such a fire was commonly suffi-
cient to illuminate the single apartment of the house
at night. If more light was wanted, a dipped tallow
candle, made by the mistress of the houseliold ; or a
taper made of a dish of fat, or grease, with a i-ag stuck
in it for a wick, would answer the purpose.



Beds and Bedding — Fire Place — Hooks and Trammel — Bake Pan —
Table— Chairs — Pewter Spoons — Blue Edged Plates — Black Earthen
Tea Pots.

LL household furniture used at iirst in the
log houses of the farmers, at their first begin-
ning in the vv'oods on the Holland Purchase,
was about as primitive in its character, as their
new dAv^ellings. It was such as was adapted to
the wants and circumstances of its owner, and such
as he could readily procure.

For teiuporary use, a few hemlock boughs on the
lloor, covered with blankets, made a comfortable bed.
If a better bed and bedstead was wanted, it was made
by boring holes in the logs at proper height ; putting
in rods fastened to upright posts ; and upon this bed-
stead, laying such a bed and bedding, as the taste
and ability of the party could furnish. To a cross
pole over the fire place, kettles were suspended by
wooden or ii-on hooks ; often by an instrument called
a trammel^ which was a Hat iron bar filled with holes,
hanging from the pole, on which a kettle suspended
on a hook, might be raised or lowered at pleasure, by
moving the hook from one IioIq to another.

Their nearest approach to an oven was a cast iron
ll)ake pan, covered with a moveable lid, standing on
eg s, and lifted by a bail. Dough was placed in this
vessel, and coals put on and under it, when in use. —


Another cooking utensil was a fiying 2:)an, witli a
handle long enough to be held in the hand of the
cook, while the meat was flying in the pan over the
lire. Tlie table was at lirst a board, or box covei-
laid on a barrel ; and man}^ of the first families have
taken their meals with the keenest relish, for some
time after moving into a new log house, oif a barrel
head, or a chest cover. Their chairs were often blocks
of logs, or benches and stools, of home manufacture.
It was many years after the first settlement of Orleans
County, before a stove of an^^ kind was seen here.

The pewter mugs and x^l^tters, and the wooden
trenchers that graced the shelves and tables of our
grand-mothers, among the early settlers of New Eng-
land, were not commonly seen in the outfit furnished
the young couple commencing housekeeping among
the first, on this part of the Holland Purchase. —
Spoons of tinned iron, or pewter — home made ; and a
slender stock of necessary crockery, including the
veritable "blue edged plates," comprised the table
furniture ; not however forgetting the black earthen
tea pot, in which the tea beverage for the family was
duly prepared, whether the ingredient to be steeped
\vas houglden tea, or sage, or pennyroj^al, or any
other herb of the fields. These little black steepers,
holding about a quart, were claimed by their owners
to make a better article of tea, than mry other materi-
al ; and were used for every day, some time after
block tin had become the fashionable article for a tea
pot, which increasing wealth and pride had introduced.
To this day, one of these interesting relics of antiquity
is occasionally seen, with its spout probably broken
off, adorning the upper back shelf of some kitchen
pantry, in the great new house, which has succeeded
the log one, carefully preserved, and annually dusted
by the loving hands of the venerable dame, who used


it once ; or, of her grand-daughters wlio, inheriting the
time-honored frugality of th(^ family, in turning every
thing to profitable account, make even the old teapot
useful in storing a few garden seeds.



Cutting down the Trees — Black Salts — Slashing— Clearing — Fallow —
Planting and Sowing — Harvesting — and Cleaning Up — How Done..

RLEANS County was originally covered witlr

^^ a lu^avy growth of trees. Tliese had to be re-
moved to open the soil to cultivation. This,
was commonly done by cutting the trees so as to leave
a stump, two or three feet high. The felled timber
lay upon th(> ground until it was dry, when tire was
put in, and the whole field was burned over at once.
The logs were then cut off at proper length, to be
hauled together in heaps by oxen, and burned ; and
the ashes of the heaps collected and leached to make
black salts and potasli. The land being thus cleared'
of wood, the first crop was wheat, sown broadcast,.
and covered with earth by harrowing the ground with
a triangular harroAv, or drag.

A field with the trees l^'ing as they fell was called
a "slashing,'' and sometimes a "clearing," or a "fal-
low," as the work progressed.

The wheat was sown in the fall, to be harvested the
next season ; no spring wheat being raised. Some-
times corn and potatoes were 2:»lanted among tlu^ logs,,
the first season, by digging in the seed with a hoe.

It was several years before the land could be plow-
ed to much advantage, after the tree's were felh^d, on
account of the stumps, but as these were cliiefi}^ hard
wood, they soon rotted out.

For some j^ears, the first settlers cut their wheat


€rop with a sickle ; threshed out the grain with tiails,
or trod it out with liorses and cattle, and freed it
from chaif by slioveling in the wind, or fanning with
a hand fan. The want of barn floors, and other con-
veniences, made all tliese operations exceedingly la-
borious and slow, compared with such work now-a-

Before barns, with threshing lloors in them, were
made, some farmers made lloors, or platforms of split
logs, and laid them on the ground, without uny roof
over them. Beside these, they stacked their grain
and threshed it on these floors in fair weather, or trod
it out with oxen or liorses.



Want of Ercfidstuff— Scarcity of 3IiHs— Difficulty of getting Grain
Ground — Mill on a Stump — Fever and Ague — Quiuiue and Blue
Pill — No Post Office — Keeping Cattle — Difficulty Keeping Fire —
Instance of Fire Out — Want of Good Water — No Highways — Dis-
couragement from Sickness — Social Amusements — Hospitality —
Early Merchants — Their Stores and Goods — Domestic 3Ianufac-
tures — Post Offices and Mails.

'CARCITY of bread and breadstuff's before the
war, aiid even dov/n to 1818, is to be miniber-
ed among tlie hardships and piivations which
beset the settlers ; and even when they could get a
bushel of wheat, or corn, the difficulty in reducing:
the grain to Hour, or meal, was truly formidable. —
The n(^arest mill was 1 5 to 30 miles away ; there was
no road leading to it : and probably no horse to draw,
or ("arry the grist, if a road liad bo^en opened. But
meal must be had, th'.' undaunted emigrant would
liitch his oxen to his sled, or wagon, pile on a V)ag for
himself, and take as many bags for his neighbors, as

Online LibraryArad ThomasPioneer history of Orleans county, New York. Containing some account of the civil divisions of western New York, with brief biographical notices of early settlers, and of the hardships and privations → online text (page 3 of 32)