John Corbett.

The lake country. An annal of olden days in central New York. The land of gold online

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as an equivalent, on the establishment of
the true line.



The Titles to the lands of Central-
Western New York are derived from the
Massachusetts Pre-emption, the Military
Tract, and Patents to land companies
and individuals. The subdivisions of the
Massachusetts lands were the Phelps
and Gorham purchase, not reverting, of
2,600,000 acres; Holland Company's
purchase, 3,600,000; the Morris Reserve,
500,000; Sterritt tract, 150,000; Connec-
ticut tract, 100,000; Church tract,
100,000; Triangular tract, 87,000; Mor-
ris creditors' tract, 58,570; Cragie,
Ogden and Cottinger tracts, each of
50,000; Forty-thousand acre tract. Mass-
achusetts also had title to the "Boston
Ten Towns" of 230,400 acres, now in
Broome and Tioga counties.

The Military Tract consisted of
twenty-eight townships, each contain-
ing some 60,000 acres, divided into 100
lots. The Onondagas in 1788, ceded to
the State all their country except a res-
ervation, and the tract thus acquired and
one adjoining it on the west were set
apart for bounty lands to Revolutionary


soldiers, who were required to make set-
tlement within seven years from Janu-
ary 1st, 1790. The area of the Military
Tract included all the territory within
the original limits of Onondaga county,
and now constituting the counties of
Onondaga, Cortland, Cayuga and Sen-
eca and parts of Oswego, Wayne, Tomp-
kins and Schuyler. The southwestern
township was Hector, which of the en-
tire twenty-eight, alone retains its first

The Patent granted to John W. Wat-
kins and Royal Flmt, with whom were
associated other residents of New York
City, in the year 1794, included upwards
of 300,000 acres located to the southward
of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. The ap-
plication had been made as early as
1 791, for the purchase of all the unlo-
cated part of the tract, which was
bounded on the west by the Pre-emption
Line, on the south by the Township of
Chemung, on the east by the "Boston
Ten Towns," on the north by the Mili-
tary Tract to the head of Seneca Lake,
and thence to the Pre-emption, by a tract


sold to James Watson. Of the several
locations of lands then existing within
the limits of the purchase, the largest
was that of Ezra L'Hommedieu of
5,440 acres, about the site of Havana.

The James Watson tract extended
along Seneca Lake, northward from its
head, its boundary upon the west the
Pre-emption Line, and was of an area
estimated at over 50,000 acres. He and
others also bought 14,550 acres of the
unappropriated lands in the Township
of Chemung. Along Seneca Lake, about
the outlet to Lake Keuka, James Parker
in behalf of the followers of Jemima Wil-
kinson, known as the Friends, purchased
some 12,000 acres. North of this tract,
Seth Reed and Peter Ryckman had se-
cured title of the State to 16,000 acres,
located southward from the foot of
Seneca Lake between its western shore
and the Pre-emption Line. The patent
was issued before the first survey, and
fully accounts for the deviation of course
of the line then run.



The Land Companies disposed of their
possessions, either by allotment among
members or by sale to investors in large
estates, who transferred to purchasers
of small holdings. The cost to settlers
was slight even after several changes of
title, because of the original low prices
of land. The Watson purchase was at
the rate of three shillings and seven-
pence per acre; the Watkins and Flint
patent, at three shillings and fourpence,
the State reserving all gold and silver
mines and five acres in every loo for
highways; the Parker purchase, at two
shillings and one shilling and sixpence.
The lands of the Military Tract in town-
ship lots, were rated at one shilling and
eightpence per acre.

The Watkins and Flint purchase was
surveyed so as to create twelve town-
ships, each including four sections. The
Watson tract was divided into great lots,
containing from twelve to sixteen small
lots of lOO acres in extent. Among those
acquiring estates through the granting
of these patents, and by subsequent pur-


chase or inheritance, were Jonathan
Lawrence, Robert C. Livingston, John
Lamb, John Ireland, Robert C. Johnson,
Joshua Brooks, Charles Wilkes, John
S. Livingston, Lewis Simonds, Harmon
Pumpelly, Elisha Bondinot, John L.
Clarkson, James Pumpelly, Samuel W,
Johnson and Isaac Q. Leake. Dr. Samuel
Watkins succeeded his brothers, John
W. and Charles Watkins, as landed pro-
prietor at the head of Seneca Lake.

The lands of the Phelps and Gorham
purchase were placed on sale to settlers
as early as 1789, when the first regular
land-oflBce in America was opened at
Canandaigua by Oliver Phelps. The
system of survey by townships and
ranges then inaugurated, became the
basis for laying out all new lands of the
United States. Each township sold by
selection was accompanied by another
chosen by lot, and the same amounts in
payment were required for both. A
large portion of this tract passed into
the hands of William Pulteney and oth-
ers of London, whose agent, Charles
Williamson, in 1792 and following years.


unsuccessfully endeavored to establish
the metropolis of the Genesee Country
on the site of Bath.

The Township of Chemung was
created by the Legislature in March,
1788, and hence was the first civil divis-
ion about the Pre-emption Line, which
was its west boundary. The south limit
was the line between New York and
Pennsylvania; the north having been
some ten miles distant and parallel there-
with, and its east boundary following the
courses of Owego Creek and Susque-
hanna River. Previous to its erection,
various land-owners had become pos-
sessed of estates within its borders, rang-
ing in extent from 1,000 acres up to the
many thousands of individuals and asso-
ciations, but after the survey then au-
thorized, the allotments were not less
than 100 nor more than 1,000 acres, pur-
chased at the price of one shilling and
sixpence per acre.


The Counties of Ontario, Tioga, Steu-
ben, Cayuga, Seneca, Tompkins, Liv-


ingston, Yates, Wayne, Chemung and
Schuyler extend their areas at present
over the section of the State affected by
the invasion of the land of the Iroquois,
in 1779. Their dates of formation, in
the order as given, cover a period com-
mencing ten years after that event and
continuing until three-quarters of a cen-
tury had elapsed. Albany county,
created November ist, 1683, by subse-
quent statutes was made to comprise all
the colony of New York, north and west
of its other limits. Montgomery county,
as "Tryon county,'' March 12th, 1772,
was set off to the westward of the Dela-
ware River.

Ontario county was formed from
Montgomery, January 27th, 1789, and
then included all of New York west of
the Pre-emption Line. Its great dis-
memberment occurred March 20th,
1802, when the country beyond the Gen-
esee River was organized as Genesee
county, although Steuben county had
previously been taken off. It was not
until 1823, and after further territory had
been furnished for portions of Living-


ston, Monroe, Wayne and Yates coun-
ties, that boundaries became fixed,
Steuben county was created from On-
tario, March i8th, 1796, and after con-
tributing to parts of Allegany, Living-
ston, Yates and Schuyler, its area,
which is still the greatest of the counties
of Western New York, became of per-
manent character in 1854.

Tioga county was set ofif from Mont-
gomery, February i6th, 1791. It ex-
tended as far east as the Delaware River
and westward to the Pre-emption Line,
between the State of Pennsylvania and
the county of Herkimer, also formed
from Montgomery the same day. Parts
of ChenangO' and Tompkins and the en-
tire counties of Broome and Chemung
were taken from the territory of Tioga,
previous to the close of 1836. Onon-
daga county, which included the Mili-
tary Tract, was organized from Her-
kimer, March 5th, 1794. On March 8th,
1799, its western portion became Cayuga
county, from which was taken Seneca in
1804, and a part of Tompkins in 1817,
leaving its bounds thenceforth intact.


Thus, Ontario, Tioga, Steuben and
Cayuga were the counties of the lakes
in 1800.

Seneca county was created from
Cayuga, March 29th, 1804, and originally
comprised that portion of the Military
Tract west of Cayuga Lake. Its south-
ern towns went to Tompkins in 18 17,
and its northern part to Wayne in 1823.
Tompkins county was formed from
Cayuga and Seneca, April 17th, 1817.
Towns were annexed from Tioga, March
22nd, 1822, and territory set off to
Schuyler in 1854. Livingston county
was organized from Ontario and Gen-
esee, February 23rd, 1821, and in 1846
and '56, portions of Allegany were
added; Yates county, from Ontario,
February 5th, 1823, and towns were an-
nexed from Steuben, April 6th, 1824;
Wayne county, from Ontario and Sen-
eca, April nth, 1823; Chemung county,
from Tioga, March 29th, 1836; Schuyler
county, from Chemung, Steuben and
Tompkins, April 17th, 1854.



The Officials of Ontario county were
the first in Western New York, and as
follows: Judge, Oliver Phelps; Clerk,
Nathaniel Gorham; Sherifif, Judah Coit;
Surrogate, John Cooper. A circuit court
was held at Patterson's Inn, Geneva, in
June, 1793, and a court of common
pleas at the house of Nathaniel Sanbern
in Canandaigua, in November, 1794.
The first Justices of the Peace west of the
Pre-emption Line were Asa Ransom and
William Rumsey appointed in Decem-
ber, 1 801. Steuben's sole county-seat
was at Bath until 1853, when the crea-
tion of two jury districts caused the erec-
tion of county buildings at Corning.
The first officials were: Judge, William
Kersey; Clerk, George D. Cooper;
Sheriff, William Dunn; Surrogate, Ste-
phen Ross.

Tioga was formed a half-shire county
by the act of organization, which pro-
vided that the courts should be held
alternately at Chenango, now Bingham-
ton, and at Newtown Point, now El-
mira. The half-shire was abolished upon


the creation of Broome county in
1806, and soon afterwards Spencer vil-
lage became the county-seat of Tioga,
which in 1812 was again divided into
two jury districts, with courts at Elmira
and Spencer. The court-house at the
latter place was burned in 1821, and the
following year Owego was designated
in its stead, to become the sole county-
seat on setting ofif Chemung county. The
first officials of Tioga were: Judge,
Abram Miller; Clerk, Thomas Nichol-
son; Sherifif,. James McMasters; Surro-
gate, John Mersereau.

Cayuga county courts up to 1808,
when new county buildings were occu-
pied at Auburn, were held at Aurora,
on the east shore of Cayuga Lake. In
1803, Daniel D. Tompkins there presided
at a circuit court and court of oyer and
terminer, at which an Indian was tried
and convicted of the murder of Ezekial
Crane, Jr. The first officials of Cayuga
w^ere: Judge, Seth Phelps; Clerk, Ben-
jamin Ledyard; Sheriff, Joseph Annin;
Surrogate, Glen Cuyler; District Attor-
ney, William Stuart. The county-seat of


Seneca was at Ovid from 1804 to 181 7,
and then at Waterloo until 1822, when
two jury districts were created and courts
held alternately at each place. The first
officials were: Judge, Cornelius Humph-
rey ; Clerk, Silas Halsey ; Sheriff, William
Smith; Surrogate, Jared Sandford.

Tompkins county's first officials were:
Judge, Oliver C. Comstock; Clerk,
Archer Green; Sheriff, Henry Bloom;
Surrogate, Andrew Bruyn. Livingston
county — Judge, Moses Hayden; Clerk,
James Ganson; Sheriff, Gideon T. Jen-
kins; Surrogate, James Roseburgh.
Yates county — Judge, William M. Oli-
ver; Clerk, Abraham H. Bennett; Sher-
iff, James P. Robinson ; Surrogate, Abra-
ham P. Vosburgh; District Attorney,
James Taylor. Wayne county — Judge
and Surrogate, John S. Talmadge; Clerk,
Isaiah J. Richardson; Sheriff, Hugh
Jameson; District Attorney, William H.
Adams. Chemung countv — Judge, Jo-
seph L. Darling; Clerk, Isaac Baldwin;
Sheriff, Albert A. Beckwith; Surrogate,
Lyman Covill; District Attorney, An-
drew K. Gregg. Schuyler county —


Judge and Surrogate, Simeon L. Rood;
Clerk, A. S. Newcomb; Sheriff, John J.
Swartwood; District Attorney, Lewis F.


The Pioneers included representatives
of every State in the Union and nearly
every country in Europe, all endeavor-
ing to advance the interests of com-
munity, and from this commingling of
character has developed the people,
whose efforts to-day are worthily con-
serving the wealth of resource of their
pleasant heritage about the lakes. The
deeds of this advance guard are dimmed
already by the mists of years; their
works have followed them to the obscur-
ity of time ; like the race which they suc-
ceeded, their remains are moldering in
neglected resting places. They planned,
they labored, they accompHshed, laying
well the foundations of prosperity.

Indian traders led the van of settle-
ment in the Southern Tier, Amos
Draper thus establishing himself on the
site of Owego in 1785, and William Har-


ris at Painted Post in 1787. The former
was joined by James, William and
Robert McMaster, John IMcQuigg, Wil-
liam Taylor, John Nealey and William
Wood, and the latter by David Fuller,
Eli Mead and Van Nye, Samuel, Frank
and Arthur Erwin, Howell Bull and
John Evans. The first settlers on the
Chemung were William Wynkoop, Wil-
liam and Elijah Buck, Daniel McDowell,
Joseph Bennett, Thomas Burt, Enoch
Warren and son. Colonel John Hendy
located on the site of Elmira; Frederick
Calkins and Benjamin Eaton at Corning,
followed by Benjamin and Peleg Gorton,
Ephraim Patterson and others.

Among the pioneers on the town sites,
up to the close of 1790, were the follow-
ing: Geneva, Seth Reed, Peter Ryck-
man, Horatio Jones, Asa Ransom, Lark
Jennings, Doctor Benton, Peter Bortle
and Jonathan Whitney; Canandaigua,
Nathaniel Gorham, Jr., Frederick Sax-
ton, Joseph Smith, Israel Chapin and
Benjamin Gardner; Lyons, Nicholas and
William Stansell and John Featherly;
Naples, Samuel Parish and William


Watkins and brothers; Geneseo, James
and William Wadswortli; Honeoye,
Peter Pitts; Palmyra, John Swift; Water-
loo, John Greene; Ovid, Andrew Dun-
lap; Ithaca, Jacob Yaple, Isaac Dumond
and Peter Hinepaw; Watkins, David
Culver, Daniel Smyth and John
Dow; Havana, Silas Wolcott, William
McClure, Phineas Bowers and George

The first settler of the Military Tract
was Job Smith, on the site of Seneca
Falls in 1787. He was joined by Law-
rence Van Clief. The pioneer of Cayuga
county, Roswell Franklin, died at Au-
rora in 1 79 1. Mrs. Jedediah Holmes died
near the site of Dresden in 1788; Caleb
Walker in Canandaigua, and Rachel
Allen at the head of Cayuga Lake, in
1790; George Dunlap, near Ovid in
1 791; Mrs. Job Smith, at Seneca Falls
in 1792; Elizabeth Barber and Jean
M'Gahen, at the head of Seneca Lake
in 1793; Ichabod Patterson, on the site
of Corning in 1794. These graves of
the wilderness, with the exception of the
battle-slain, were doubtless the first


made in the land, where previously had
rested but the dead of the Iroquois.


The Settlement of the Lake Country
was fully underway within ten years after
the campaign against the Six Nations,
and among the home-seekers were many
who had been numbered in the army of
invasion. In their work of devastation,
the troops had noted the attractions of
the region and the advantages that
awaited but the hand of enterprise. In-
dications were unmistakable that by
direction of white men, had been planted
the fields of corn and reared the cabins
of hewn logs which were features of the
villages, but it was no less apparent,
that at a far earlier time the seeds of the
trees of fruit had been placed in the
receptive soil by the Iroquois.

The treaty of 1784 prepared the way
for occupancy by settlers, but it was not
until a year or so later that clearings
were commenced within the wilderness.
Two lines of pioneers trailed from the
bounds of civilization into the broad ex-


panse of primeval forest, from which the
Indian had been driven but where still
lurked beasts of prey. Those from East-
ern New York and the rocky hillsides of
New England arrived by way of the
Mohawk River, while the thoroughfare
from the plains of New Jersey and
Southern Pennsylvania was the pathway
followed by the soldiers of Sullivan. The
meeting place of these advancing hosts
is perpetuated in the name of Penn Yan,
midway of the northern and southern
limits of the land of the lakes.

The settlers from Pennsylvania estab-
Hshed themselves along the Susque-
hanna and Chemung, within the borders
of New York, as early as 1786, an Indian
trader occupying the site of Owego the
preceding year. In 1787, a trader set-
tled at Painted Post, while the same year
people from New England located on
the site of Geneva, and log-houses were
erected at Seneca Falls and about the
outlet of Lake Keuka. In 1788, settle-
ments were made on the sites of Elmira,
Corning, Havana, Watkins and Canan-
daigua; in 1789, Horseheads, Ithaca,


Ovid, Aurora, Waterloo, Penn Yan,
Honeoye, Lyons and Palmyra; in 1790,
Naples and Geneseo; in 1791, Newark
and Wayne; in 1792, Bath and Trumans-
burg; in 1793, Auburn and Hammonds-

Several of the locations on present
centers of population, for a year or two
were marked by lone cabins, but the tide
of incoming travel continually aug-
mented in volume, and in 1793, the in-
habitants of the Genesee Lands to the
westward of the Pre-emption Line, were
numbered at 7,000, while those re-
siding on the Military Tract and the
lands to its southward about the Che-
mung and Susquehanna, were estimated
at 6,640. The people living in the prin-
cipal villages then established were enu-
merated as follows: Canandaigua, 99;
Geneva, 100; the Friends' settlement,
260; Culver's Town, at head of Seneca
Lake, 70; Catharine's Town, 30; New-
town, now Elmira, 100; Chemung Town,
three miles down the river from New-
town, 50.



The Development of the region of the
lakes followed rapidly upon the initial
events of settlement. The advance of
improvement was along the water-side,
and nearly every point became the scene
of enterprise. The ruins of limekilns,
the marks of charcoal pits, the rock-cuts
where saw-mills and still-houses dotted
the streams, remain as mute reminders
of the leading industries of the time.
The woodman's axe was swung with tell-
ing efifect in the early years, and as the
clearings continually expanded in area,
loggings, raisings and road-openings
evoked the endeavors of the inhabitants,
on many an enjoyable occasion of gene-
ral assemblage.

Saw and grist-mills were manufac-
tories soon established by the settlers,
who until their construction, were
obliged to whip-saw logs for lumber, and
pound their grain in mortars hollowed
from the tops of stumps, with pestles
attached to spring-poles. The first grist-
mill in Western New York was built in
1789, two and one-half miles from the


site of Penn Yan down Crooked Lake
Outlet, by Richard Smith, James Parker
and Abraham Dayton. In 1790, mills
were erected at the head of Cayuga Lake
and near Canandaigua Lake; in 1791,
they were in operation about the Che-
mung; 1792, on the sites of Naples and
Owego; 1793, at Bath, the site of Corn-
ing and near Ovid; in 1794, or previous
thereto, at the head of Seneca Lake.

The Friends, that peculiar people from
Rhode Island whose religious belief died
with its members from the earth, in 1789
harvested the first wheat crop raised in
Western New York, which was floured
in the grist-mill erected by them that
year. The settlement of the twenty-five
pioneers of the sect, in 1787, was about
one mile south of the site of Dresden,
and its location was determined on be-
cause of the extensive water power that
could there be utilized. The first framed
house in what is now Yates county, was
constructed on a farm of 1,000 acres, set
apart for the use of the founder of the
Friends, Jemima Wilkinson, who joined
the colony with a large number of fol-
lowers, in 1789.


The promoters of the Pulteney estate
were the most active developers of the
Genesee Lands. After the location of
Bath, every inducement was held out to
settlers, and for several years its markets
ranked high in importance. What were
known as arks, constructions some fif-
teen feet wide and seventy feet long,
were there made as well as at other
points on the Chemung and tributaries,
in 1800, and loaded with wheat floated
down the Susquehanna to sea-board
marts, where they were taken apart and
both the lumber and the grain readily
sold. The rising waters of these rivers
in early spring, bore southward on their
currents immense rafts of timber, to be
fashioned into ocean fleets at the ship-
yards of Baltimore.


The Industries of the time of settle-
ment were dependent largely upon the
abundance of forest products, and with
the clearing of the land, enterprises that
had flourished at an earlier day waned
in importance, until like the primitive


log-cabins only the sites remained. As
the timber disappeared saw-mills were
abandoned, asheries were rendered use-
less, charcoal-pits were no longer lo-
cated, and maple-sugar making became
almost a thing of the past. Lime-burn-
ing and distilling were continued in
small constructions and with rude appli-
ances, until the many plants of the pio-
neers had given place to the fewer ex-
tensive establishments with modern ma-

The asheries were aggregations of
leach-tubs, where lye was obtained from
wood-ashes gathered from settlers'
hearths, and subsequently reduced by
boiling to the substance known as pot-
ash, which after a process of calcining
became the grayish powder called pearl-
ash. Charcoal-pits contained usually
about ten cords of wood, compactly
placed on end around an open center in
which the fire was kindled. About the
pile earth was banked with vents near the
ground, and constant watching was nec-
essary during the eight to ten days re-
quired for combustion. The limekilns


were circular enclosures of stone built
into earth-banks convenient to the water-
ways, and their blackened, crumbling
walls remain reminders of the past, on
many of the points of the lakes.

Maple-sugar making in the olden days
was an operation amid sylvan surround-
ings, whose charms mitigated the few
irksome features incident to the under-
taking. The thrift and abundance of the
maples about the lakes had awakened
even the interest of the soldiers, and at-
tracting the attention of the settlers in
turn, the sugar-tree was spared no mat-
ter how ruthless the onslaught upon
other growths of the forest. When the
buds appeared in late February, the
sugar-bush became the scene of activity.
Trees were tapped and kettles hung, and
as the gathering of the sap progressed,
ofttimes a "sugaring-of¥" would cause
assemblage of a company for merriment
at night, while bonfires lighted far into
the lonely woods.

The still-house equipment was far from
comphcated, and the determining requi-
site of a location was a living stream of


water as supply to the mash-vat, In which
the crushed corn or rye was fermented.
The furnace fixtures for boiUng the mass
were of plain construction, but the work-
manship of the worm was generally elab-
orate. The spirit of the grain, which en-
tered its spiral length as vapor, was con-
densed to liquid form before its issuance.
This pure product of the still was in
almost universal use, the decanter
usually appearing on the mantel above
the fire-place. On public occasions it
flowed without stint, and no general im-
provement or private enterprise was at-
tempted without a liberal supply.


The Antiquities of Central New York
belong not to the early days of occu-
pancy by this race, nor yet to the barbaric
ages of its predecessor, but arise from
conditions of a time so shrouded by the
past as to be beyond the ken of Indian

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