Millard Fillmore Roberts.

A narrative history of Remsen, New York, including parts of the adjoining townships of Steuben and Trenton, 1789-1898 (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryMillard Fillmore RobertsA narrative history of Remsen, New York, including parts of the adjoining townships of Steuben and Trenton, 1789-1898 (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 30)
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Has been printed exclusively for private distribution,
in an edition of two hundred and fifty copies,
of which this is No.

Presented to

with the
Compliments of the author.







Including parts of adjoining townships of


I 789-1 898


"Which we have heard and known, and such as our fathers have
told us; that we should not hide them from the generations to come."

— Psalms




' 'Z

Copyright 19 14
By Millard F. Roberts

Printed by

Lyman Bros. Inc., Syracuse, N. Y.

For the author

JUL 21 1914

©CI,A376724 ^










Perhaps it is superfluous to suggest to the reader who
is familiar with Remsen, that the material from which
these pages have been prepared was gathered from
vastly wide and scattered sources — gleaned here and
there, bit by bit, through years of patient effort; for in
no one collection was there assembled anything like
sufficient data from which a history of this region could
be compiled with any degree of completeness. And it
is with this fact in mind, that I wish hereby to acknowl-
edge my indebtedness to the following works for valu-
able information:

"The Documentary History of New York;" "Spaf-
ford's Gazetteer of New York," (Editions of 1813 and
1824); "Gordon's Gazetteer of New York;" Hotchkin's
"History of Western New York;" Turner's "Pioneer
History of the Holland Purchase;" Barber and Howe's
"Historical Collections of New York;" Jones' "Annals
of Oneida County;" Durant's "History of Oneida
County;" "Our County and its People," by Daniel
Wager; Benton's "History of Herkimer County;"
Hough's "Histories of Lewis and Jefferson Counties;"
"History of the Calvinistic Methodists of Utica and
Vicinity," by T. Solomon Griffiths; "A History of
Wales," by 0. Morion Morgan; "History of the Welsh
in America," by Rev. R. D. Thomas; McMaster's "His-
tory of the People of the United States;" Snowden's
"History of the State of Washington;" "The Journal
of John Lincklaen," agent of the Holland Land Com-
pany, and the "Autobiography of Francis Adrian Van
der Kemp," the last two edited by Mrs. Helen Linck-


laen Fairchild, of Cazenovia, N. Y.; "Y Cenhadwr
Americanaidd" (American Messenger), a Welsh maga-
zine published in Remsen for more than forty years;
the State Geologist's Reports; files of the Utica, Rome
and Boonville newspapers; and the state, county and
town records.

For much valuable assistance I am indebted to Mrs.
Eveline (Allen) Rockwood, of Union City, Pa., long a
resident of Remsen, and who from the time she was
fifteen years of age taught school here and in surround-
ing districts for several years, thus having a most favor-
able opportunity for knowing intimately the people
who resided here at that time. From various reminis-
cences written me after she had attained the age of
eighty years and upwards, I have been able to give in
these pages many names and historical facts that oth-
erwise could not have been obtained; and thus, only
for her superior intellect, retentive memory, and kindly
interest in aiding the work, it would have fallen far
short of what it is.

I am also similarly under obligations to Mrs. Alsa-
mena Owens, whose life of over ninety years has been
spent here; and to Broughton W. Green, of Harmony, N.
Y., an early school-teacher in Remsen and Steuben; to
Charles R. Green, of Lyndon, Kas.; to Simeon R. Fuller,
of Holland Patent; to my grandfather, Robert M. Jones,
who came here a boy, in 1801, and for fifty years was
actively engaged in business, and whose entire residence
here covered a period of more than seventy years; to
William L. Piatt, of Sherburne, N. Y. ; to Cornelius R.
Jones, of Syracuse, N. Y.; to Mrs. Esther (Burchard)
Buell, of Hamilton, N. Y.; to Mrs. Esther (Piatt) Saw-
yer, of Hamilton, N. Y.; to G. W. Wheldon, of Pueblo,
Colo. ; to Mrs. Ann Farley, of Prospect, N. Y. ; to Edwin
Thomas, of Remsen; to Mrs. Jane (Evans) Roberts, of


Bay City, Mich.; to F. W. Patterson, of Waterville, N.
Y.; and especially to my mother, whose vivid recol-
lections of people and events in this locality extended
over a period of more than three quarters of a century.

M. F. R.
Syracuse, N. Y.,

January 25, 1914.


The gathering of the historical facts and reminis-
cences presented in this volume was actuated at first by
no motive other than the gratification of curiosity as to
the march of early events in the place of my birth and
home of my ancestors; but gradually more and more
interest was inspired by my work, until diligent research
and extended inquiry accumulated a mass of material
that attained to unexpected proportions. It was then
that I determined to embody in comprehensive form
for permanent preservation much that I had gathered
of Remsen's history, from the time its forests were first
disturbed by the pioneer's axe, down to the close of the
centennial year of its organization.*

As to the scope of the proposed undertaking regarding
the territory to be considered, there was forced upon
me the fact that the principal settlement of my home
township, the incorporated village of Remsen, extends
into Trenton township; and that citizens of parts of
both the townships of Trenton and Steuben always have
been closely identified with those of Remsen in social,
religious, and business associations. So it seemed im-
perative that the contiguous districts should be in-
cluded in the scope of the narrative.

The task of compiling was not entered upon, however,

*The year 1898. The task of compilation, and nearly all of the
research work, was done at odd hours during years of busy pursuits.
In the spring of 1897, when the first chapters were nearly ready for
the press, a change of business which necessitated my removal to a
distant city stopped all progress; and for fourteen years my notes
and manuscript never saw the light. This will explain the omis-
sion — ^with the exception of a few family sketches and biographies
handed in later — of all records of a date subsequent to 1898.


without misgivings that the historic material to be
found in a section entirely destitute of colonial and
revolutionary incidents might prove rather uninterest-
ing, and while it cannot be pretended that the vein has
been found richer than it promised, it is, nevertheless,
hoped that something of interest to the people of this
locality has been preserved from the oblivion into which
the annals and traditions of the early settlement were
fast receding.

I have been unable to enrich my collection by much
documentary matter — letters, diaries, or memoranda.
I found that little of the early history had ever been
recorded. It rested largely in the memory of the pio-
neers, who have long since gone from the scenes of their
hardships and trials — those plain, hardy and free-
hearted men who first broke into the original wilderness
of these townships, and with their own hands began to
make them what they now are. Much that would now
be valuable and entertaining perished with them.

The history of this region cannot be looked upon as
a record of events that may be considered great. The
chopping of forests, the building of cabins, the founding
of settlements, and the gradual subjugation of a most
stubborn wilderness are the only matters that can en-
gage the attention of the chronicler. Therefore the
events herein recounted are neither tragic nor widely
important; the troubles rehearsed are far from over-
whelming; the mysteries are not entirely mysterious;
the disasters not always disastrous. No battles have
ever been fought within these boundaries. "Pen-y-
mynydd" and "Boncen Fawr," within the memory of
man have never spouted fire nor been shaken by an
earthquake. No carved stones nor rusty weapons have
ever been found on the ''plains of Cobin" or in the
valley of the Cincinnati, to indicate that either Remsen,


or Steuben, or Trenton in past ages was aught more than
an abiding place of wild beasts, or perhaps at rare in-
tervals the hunting-ground of barbarians.

Originally, it was designed to include the family his-
tories of the pioneers and early settlers; but, unfor-
tunately, satisfactory data concerning many of these
families could not be obtained, despite most strenuous
efforts in that direction. The obvious lack of senti-
ment, or even ordinary interest manifested by so many
regarding the records and traditions of their ancestors,
are among the difficulties attending an endeavor of this
nature. Apropos of this view of the subject, a recent
writer has truthfully said that, "To know nothing of
our ancestry or whence we came, to have no reverence
for the precious memories of the past, is to ignore the
elements and influences that have made us what we
are: and who so dead to sympathy and affection, to
kindred and country, that would not preserve the
record of his ancestors, the place of his birth, the home
of his childhood and the sacred spot where repose the
loved and lost ones of each."

Concerning many of the early settlers I have been
unable to obtain any data whatever, and of others
nothing more than the family name, or perhaps an im-
perfect record of their ancestry or posterity. However,
such of these facts as could be gathered are presented,
trivial as they may seem and unsatisfying as they are,
with the hope that the future student of family history
may derive help from the record, and perhaps be en-
abled to supply deficiencies to his own satisfaction, if
not to the interest and enlightenment of others.

A large proportion of these early settlers were Welsh,
as is shown in the following pages. Now in all the realm
of genealogical research there will be found scarcely
anything more perplexing and discouraging than an


attempt to follow the lines of a Welsh family. There
seems to have been a lack of variety in names to bestow
on the children of Wales, which has resulted in an in-
terminable array of identical names, making the task
of locating and identifying branches of families and
compiling their records, a most intricate and well-nigh
hopeless undertaking. Furthermore, the custom of
giving to children the Christian name of the father for
their surname, has more or less prevailed with them for
centuries; and this practice it is found was not always
followed uniformly regarding the children of the same
family, for some were given, or would assume, the
father's Christian name for their surname, while broth-
ers and sisters would retain the father's surname for
their own. Thus, in the chapter on "Family History
and Biogi'aphy," it is shown that among the early Welsh
settlers was one John Parry; and a son of his, who set-
tled here a year or two prior to the father, was called
William P. Jones — presumably, William Parry Jones
— taking "Jones" from his father's first name, John.
Another son of Mr. Parry was called Ellis John-Parry,
and a son of the latter was known as William Ellis.

In Wales and in localities in this country where there
are many Welsh people in one community, the multi-
plicity of identical names often necessitates an added
name, or distinctive appellation. Sometimes this may
be the name of the parish in Wales in which they live
or whence they came; or the name of a village, or set-
tlement, or farm; or the name of the vocation or trade
they follow, or their fathers had followed before them;
the color of the house in which they live, or the material
of which the house is built. Sometimes it has occurred
that an episode in the life of a man has furnished him
with an added name, which was lasting and borne by
his children. In many cases these added names are


used to the exclusion of the proper name, until the
family is better known by the former than by the latter.
Still, the appellation, however unpoetic or common-
place, in no sense implies disesteem.

The language of Wales in print, with its many con-
sonants and double consonants, has drawn from the
wag many a quip; but some one has said that "Welsh,
like Wagner music, is better than it looks." So it may
be added for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar
with the language, that the Welsh appellations it has
been found necessary to use herein to distinguish fam-
ilies and individuals, are really "better than they look."

The civil lists and other matters of public record have
been omitted, as they are already embodied in the
several published histories of Oneida county, and there-
fore easily accessible to the inquirer; the space these
subjects would have occupied being devoted to material
not so fully given in those works — facts pertaining to
the people, whence they came, where they located,
their customs, achievements and everyday life.




Scope of the Work ix

Original Design xi

Difficulties of Welsh Nomenclature xii

Omission of Public Documents xiii



First Settlers X

State Legislation 2

Remsen Organized 2

Primitive Conditions 2

Early Roads 3

Topography 6

Geology and Soil 8



Samuel Sizer 10

Arrival of Baron Steuben 11

Early Land Purchases 12

Locations of Settlers 13

First Welsh Emigrants 14

Descriptive View of Village 30

Village Charter Obtained 35

Division of the Township 37




Small Farms the Rule 46

Log Cabins 47

The Fire-place 47

The Tallow-dip 48

Methods of Computing Time 49

Social Pleasures 52

Regarding Agriculture 54

Rise of Dairying 54

Primitive Implements 56



The Iroquois Domain 59

Conflicting Claims 59

Civil Divisions Subject to 62

Oneida County Erected 62

Various Land Patents 62

Sharp Practices 63

Lincklaen's Journal 65



Waterways 68

Methods of Transportation 68

Early Highways 69

First Bridges 72

Mail Routes 74

Stage-coaches 75

Canals 78

Railroads 7^




Numerous and Frequent 82

The First Opened 82

Early Heavy Travel 83

Type of Early Landlord 84



Every Household a Workshop 90

Hand-spinning and Weaving 90

Manufacture of Potash 91

Lime Kilns 93

First Grist-mills and Saw-mills 94

Distilleries 98

Tanneries loi



Early Missionaries 109

Taylor's Journal no

First Church Society Organized no

First Welsh Society Formed 119

Temperance Cause 158

Burial Grounds 161



First School in Remsen Township 165

Remsen Academy 169

Early School Teachers 171




Indians 175

Reminiscences of Steuben Township 181

Professional Men 187

The Singing Master 205

The Militia 209

Cold Summer 211

Murders and Ghosts 214

Cu rrency Sea rcity 216

Mine Prospectors 218

Early Sports 220

The Gunpowder Plot 222

Fires and Firemen •. 223

Casualties 224

Revolutionary Pensioners 226



Pioneers and Others 232



The first settler in Remsen township was Barnabas
Mitchell, who came from Meriden, Conn., in 1792, and
began a clearing on the farm which subsequently for
many years was in the possession of his son, and is now
known as the "Milo Mitchell place." He was soon
followed by others, and within two years Nathaniel
Rockwood, John Bonner, Perez Farr, Bettis Le Clerc,
Jonah Dayton, John Kent and Shubael Cross had joined
the settlement, nearly all of whom were from New Eng-
land. In September, 1795, five families from Wales
also located in the vicinity, being the first of their na-
tionality to stake their future prosperity in these town-
ships against what the forest wilderness might have in
store for them and theirs. From this on the settlement
was gradually increased by other arrivals, until by the
fall of 1801 the population numbered about sixty fami-
lies, or nearly three hundred souls.

Thus two distinct strains made up our pioneer ele-
ment, each of which was tinged with its own peculiari-
ties of thought, temperament, and methods of religious
observance. In common, however, they brought to the
hard task of wresting from the primeval wilderness a
home for themselves and loved ones many inherent
qualities of heart and mind — courage, self-reliance,
steadfastness of purpose, frugality, industry — which
their descendants may well contemplate with pride and
affectionate admiration.

The latter part of the eighteenth century and the


early part of the nineteenth, comprised largely what
appropriately may be termed the "Formative Period"
regarding legislation for the extension and adjustment
of civil divisions in the newly occupied portions of our
state; for during those years the wise men at Albany,
endowed with liberal discretion and urged by the vast
landed interests of the day, were busy cutting the broad
domain of our commonwealth into squares, strips and
gores, to form new counties and townships, and in urg-
ing the construction of highways to further the expan-
sion of settlements.

By an act of the legislature passed March 15, 1798,
forming the new County of Oneida from the County of
Herkimer, it was also enacted that, "All of the town of
Norway lying in the said new County of Oneida, shall
be erected and organized into a new town, to be called
Remsen." So we find that, unlike most other town-
ships, Remsen was organized by the legislature without
petition, action, or movement on the part of its inhab-
itants to advance such organization. This was only
six years after Barnabas Mitchell had pitched his tent
here in the wilderness; and the new township did not
have enough male inhabitants of legal age entitled to
citizenship to fill all its offices — had nominations been
made for all the customary town officers from super-
visor to fence viewer and hog-reeve — so to the astute
politician and crafty office-seeker, this anomalous situ-
ation gave no opportunity to extend the glad hand and
to pat familiarly on the back any voters except those
only who were candidates for office.

Now unless we recall vividly to mind what the condi-
tions of our country at large were at this period, even
though but little over a century has since passed into
history, we can but faintly conceive the conditions of
pioneer life here. The entire population of the country


then was less than that now included in the City of New
York and its environs. The western part of our state
was still spoken of as the "far west," while Cleveland
was on the remote frontier, and Detroit only a military
post in the wilderness. There was not then, in fact,
anywhere on the globe, a public conveyance of any kind,
except stages, that carried goods or passengers from one
point to another at regular intervals according to an
advertised schedule. If one had occasion to go from
one country to another by sea, he went down to the
nearest port, as did Jonah, when he went to Joppa and
waited there until "He found a ship going to Tarshish,
when he paid his fare and went down into it." If one
did not find a ship going to the particular city he de-
sired to visit, he took passage in one going to some
neighboring port or country, and thence made his way
as best he could to his destination.

So little had been done to diversify the occupations
of mankind that a great majority of our people were
forced to gain a livelihood by tilling the soil. In the
older communities, of course, such artisans as the black-
smith, the wheelwright, the carpenter, the tailor and
the shoemaker, the butcher and the baker were found
in every village; but in the newer, most of these, to-
gether with the doctor — who was also the dentist — and
the preacher, had to travel from place to place in the
exercise of their vocations. The farmer's market was
very limited, and the cost of transporting what he had
to sell was great. Roads everywhere were bad, for as
little was known about road making then as about many
other arts. Indeed the demands for new roads were so
great that neither the counties nor the states could pro-
vide money for building them, and keeping them in
repair, by any system of taxation that the people could
endure. Accordingly public money began to be used


to open new roads in the more sparsely settled regions,
while those in the older were turned over to corpora-
tions who improved them and collected toll from those
who used them. And the rate of toll charged every-
where was excessive. In New England a road wagon
drawn by four horses was charged twelve and one-half
cents for each two miles. In New Jersey one cent per
mile for every horse was demanded. In Pennsylvania
and Maryland the rate depended on the width of tires,
and the number of horses, and varied from two cents to
sixpence per horse for every two miles. In Virginia the
rate was twenty-five cents for twelve miles.

Necessarily the cost of transportation was every-
where well nigh prohibitive, the average the country
through being ten dollars per ton per hundred miles.
To send a barrel of flour from Buffalo to Montreal cost
one dollar and fifty cents. To move a bushel of salt
three hundred miles cost two dollars and a half, and five
dollars to send a hundred weight of sugar the same dis-
tance. All articles that could not stand this rate were
shut out of market; and among these were grain and
flour, which could not bear transportation more than
one hundred and fifty miles, unless they could be sent
along some all-water route.

Again, in the first decade of the nineteenth century
farmers tilled their land with implements that were little
better than those used by the Greeks and Romans, or
even by the Egyptians, Assyrians and Chaldeans in far
earlier times. The wooden plow, perhaps rudely im-
proved by an iron share, was everywhere used. Wheat,
oats and rye were harvested with a sickle, and threshed
with flails, or tramped out by horses or cattle. Not
one of the many labor-saving machines with which far-
mers are now so familiar had then been invented or
thought of.


Labor was cheap, and those who worked for wages
were forced to compete with laborers whose condition
was Uttle better than that of slaves; for many people in
foreign countries sold their services for a term of years
to ship captains to obtain passage to this country.
This was true, not ojily of men, but the services of their
wives and children on arrival here were sold at auction
to such as would buy, the highest bidder being he who
would pay the captain the sum he demanded — usually
a little more than one hundred dollars — in return for
the labor of the poor immigrant for the shortest term.
This term was commonly from three to eight years for
a man or woman, and somewhat longer for a child. At
the auctions where these people were thus sold into
bondage, wives were separated from husbands and chil-
dren from their parents, as ruthlessly as colored slaves
were separated in the south. During the term agreed
upon the "redemptioner," as he was called, was to be
fed and clothed, but was to receive no other compensa-
tion until his term of service was ended, when he was to
have a suit of new clothes, a grubbing hoe, a weeding
hoe, and an axe, to help him to begin life on his own
account. The condition of those who were forced to
compete with labor of this kind was miserable enough.
Farm laborers were fed and lodged by their employers,
and paid but little more in cash than would serve to
clothe them. Hod carriers, mortar mixers, diggers and
choppers labored from sunrise to sunset. Wages in
New York and Albany were forty cents per day. In
Baltimore, men thought themselves fortunate to get
employment at eighteen pence a day, and throughout
Maryland wages averaged about six dollars a month.
The average wage rate, the country over, was not
above sixty-five dollars a year, including food and


Such were the general conditions confronting the
Remsen pioneers. And now in a brief glance at the

Online LibraryMillard Fillmore RobertsA narrative history of Remsen, New York, including parts of the adjoining townships of Steuben and Trenton, 1789-1898 (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 30)