Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

. (page 154 of 192)
Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 154 of 192)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


part of those in the south, chiefly have the blood of Tartar origin
in their veins.* By this I will not say that none of the offspring
of the aborigines of this country are remaining; neither that the
inhabitants of some parts may not be the ofl'spring of savage tribes,
driven before these Tartarian hordes from their eastern seats on the
confines of the northeastern Asiatic shores ; no more as I would contest
that a few islanders, even Norwegians, might have been induced or
compelled to settle on the northern parts of the American continent.
Manners, language, features, render it rather plausible; but to con-
clude for these reasons with Grotius — that stupendous wonder of
learning, of whoui might be asserted what Livius said of Cato, *That
his intellectual endowments were so extensive that he excelled in what-



* Utica.



ever he undertook, and seemed to devote himself to that science* —
that our country was colonized by Norwegians, and extort arguments
from etymology, you might as well derive Af/ana from Eqvift.-f

"Michaelis may convince yon that the ten tribes could not have
searched here an asylum, and I dare assert that had this hypothesis
been placed on a solid foundation there would yet exist incontrovert-
ible proofs. Perhaps I may glance at this topic some future day, and
then you will judge with what success.

"I doubt not, my dear Mappa, or I shall convince you of the
plausibility of this cherished hypothesis when I have time to collect
my arguments, as the Chancellor Livingston desired, and put these
in battle array among my Phllos. Res. or the theories of Buffon and
Jefferson; and if then I may be so successful as to render it prob-
able that the Gauls, the Francks, the Celts originated all from the
same immensely prolific bee-hive, then nothing is wanting but correct
genealogical tables to prove to the first fj,ir squaw — and there are
handsome ones, indeed, if you make some small allowances — that we
are distant cousins.

'•The greatest part of the Indians whom I have seen are tall and
robust, with strong, well-shaped limbs, broad foreheads, the nose
somewhat curved, the ears long and broad, — deformed by art.

" Several of the Oneidaa speak the English language very correctly,
as I am informed, and many, too, write it. Peter Otyageit, who, dele-
gated to Congress, died this year on his journey, had been for some
time in France with the Marquis Lafayette, and was in some respects
highly civilized and master of the French language and politeness,
although it was doubtful if his heart was improved as well as hia
head; at least he has been accused that he did learn to blend the
vices of the savages with those of >•■ polished nation. So true it
appears with regard to those unhappy tribes, that if their fathers did
eat sour grapes their children's teeth have become dull indeed; and
it may be justly questioned if the vicinity of their white neighbors
is to them not rather a curse than a blessing. How contrary is this
with the genuine spirit of Christianity ! But what chemical operation
is powerful enough to extract it from Indian traders and straggling
borderers? Captain Jacob Reed speaks and writes with tolerable
accuracy, shows a bold and courageous appearance, and dresses as a
white man ; but now, too, I delineated bis chief worth. Beech-tree,
their chief, had the greatest influence on them.

"The cradles of their babes are of a curious workmanship, often
lined with silver plates, ornamented with wings, and wrapt in silk.
Their principal merchandise are furs, with whose value they are
thoroughly acquainted. The principal are those of Beavers (Fishers),
Hespans, or Racoon?, Martins, Minks, Muskrats, Bears, and Deer-
skins.

" Judge White was commissioned to distribute among them the stip-
ulated grain. He is a man between fifty and sixty years of age, of a
middle stature, corpulent, and of a comely appearance. He enjoys
now that exquisite gratification of being the creator of hia n^cn for-
tune, and placing all his children in an independent situation. Judge
White resided in Connecticut in the year 1785. He made a journey
to the western part of this State ; made a purchase of the land ho now
lives on; moved thither in 1TS6J with his five sons; built a log house
and barn; went the next year for his wife and remaining children,
although there was not at that time one single white man in the nine
miles around him. In 1788 he constructed a saw- and grist-mill;
possessed in the fourth year all which he wanted for his convenience,
ease, and comfort in abundance; built in the fifth year a convenient
frame house and substantial barn; and is now encircled by a number
of respectable families, — amongst these two of his married sons and
Mr. Jonas Piatt, son of Judge Zephaniah Piatt, married with Miss
K. Livingston, a sister of that eminent divine in New York, who yet
recollected with a grateful remembrance the time he spent at the Dutch
universities.

"I deem the acquaintance of this young man a real acquisition, for
which I am again indebted to our friend George Clinton. I have
often, indeed, been surprised with admiration at his knowledge of men,
which is a distinguishing trait of his character, and in my opinion



"t" " ' Alfana vient d'Eqnus, snnH doute ;
Mills 11 faut avotier aussi
Qu'qii venant de 1^ jusqu^ici
II a blcn changS eur la route.'

" P. BoNiroAtt's Man. de hien parler, Dial. ii. p. 173.

f See history of Whitestown for correct statement.



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



547



one of the chief means of his political success. His Excellency had
u high opinion of young Piatt, and spoke of him in the most flatter-
ing terms. This prompted me to observe him, and I was not disap-
pointed. The little intercourse I could enjoy with Mrs. Piatt— both
being then in a state of anxiety about their only infant, which, in
my opinion, shall never recover — prompts me to say little about her,
except that I was highly pleased with her courteous and kind recep-
tion. I am persuaded I could not do her full justice. It is quite
otherwise with hor husband. I presume to say I know him, bow
short our intercourse was, and dare assure that if ever thou art fav-
ored with a similar opportunity thou wilt love and respect him. So
much ingenuousness and modesty without bashfulness, vanterie : such
obliging manners without importunely obtruding his civilities; such
u, comprehensive mind; such an intuitive solid judgment; all this
combined shewed him the man who, sooner or later, must become the
pride of the bar, the glory of the bench, and a chief ornament of our
State; so that I really consider the pitiful pittance of his present
clergyship not as a reward, but a temporary station, in which he is to
hoard up more intellectual treasures, to develop these unexpectedly
before his fellow-citizens, and prepare a most delicious repast by his
achievements for his aged and revered patron.

" The society here is already plensing; so is the situation of this
little village, more adapted for the enjoyment of rural retirement
than luring in a. commercial point of view. The houses are more
built for convenience than for show; the roads are daily improving,
of which you may form a partial opinion from the fact that while I
was here Mr. and Mrs. Livingston came in their own carriage, in four
days, from Poughkeep to Whitesborough.

"That £ do not exaggerate to reader you enamored with this
charming country, one proof shall be sufficient. Ry the last census
the number of souls in Whitestown was 5788, — a stupendous number,
indeed, within the small circle of five years. In Whitesborough itself
there is scarce an acre for sale. Dr. Moseley paid for three acres, for
a building-spot, £50 per acre.

*' The soil is a rich, fertile loam ; from 30 to 45 bushels Indian corn
per acre is an ordinary crop; ofttn it gives 50, 60, and more. In
some parts, by long droughts, the soil is apt to bake and rent, and
requires thus more labor. Shall it be cultivated with propriety and
success? One of your fee-land farmers would not consider that as a
formidable objection, well knowing that his exertions should be
doubly compensated. There are here, nevertheless, some, too, who
are willing to reap, but not in the sweat of their brow.

" The article of fish is scarce ; firewood has already become an ob-
ject of so much importance that it is saved and sold to advantage;
and salt cannot be obtained below a dollar the bushel.

" I crossed, about two miles from Whitesborough, the Oriskany Creek,
where many of the Oneida Indians resided in former days. The
actual proprietors of the soil did long decline the sale; the price was
yet too low. At length it hath risen to their pitch. Several farms
have already been taken up, and the woods resounded when I passed
there from the strokes of the hardy axe-men. One year more, and
the one farm shall be joined to the other, as here on the Eanpus-Kill.
I had only advanced a few steps when my attention was fixed on a
number of skulls, placed in a row on a, log near the road. I was in-
formed by the workmen that this place was the fatal spot on which
the murderous encounter happened between General Herkimer and
his sturdy associates and the Indians, when this brave and gallant
soldier did fail with a number of his men. He showed me a large
tree, on which was coarsely carved something resembling a man's
head, which should represent this intrepid warrior.

" On Monday, about noon, I arrived at Fort Stanwix. The Baron
De Zeng, industriously employed in laying out a kitchen-garden, had
already seen me, and gave me a cordial welcome. He then introduced
me to Colonel Colbrcath, a Revolutionary soldier, who, finding him-
self in the patronage of his old general, who resided on a part of the
estate which the governor possessed in this neighborhood, he had
offered the baron a part of his house till that of De ?eng should be
cleared of its present inhabitants. We partook of some refreshments ;
my horse was brought on a luxuriant pasture-ground.

" See there me, my dear sir, at the famous Fort Stanwix, where
Janzevoort*- baffled the impetuous ardor of the British, and Colonel
Willett eluded their vigilance. See here me, in the centre of New



* Gansevuort.



York State, the elevated spot from where the waters are flowing to
the Bast and the West, chalked out, as it were, by nature, to become
the seat of government of this mighty State, while Fort Schuyler
must gradually rise to the rank of the emporium of the West. Here
is the [retreat] from the bustle of business, while the opulence and
wealth is through various channels conducted to this great reservoir,
to repay the inhabitants of its neighborhood with those of the remot-
est North and West with case and comfort; there magnificent build-
ings raised and a seat prepared for arts and sciences.

"The Baron De Zeng, a German nobleman, descends from a noble
family in Saxony, and arrived in America during the Revolutionary
war. He was married to u respectable lady in New York, nnd did
now intend to begin a set'lement in this vicinity. He hud engaged
to accompany me on this tour, and I expected, as I really experi-
enced, that he not only should be an agreeable companion, but very
useful to me in maoy respects.

"The baron was so kind to charge himself to purchase a grand
canoe, engage two servants, and procure the required provisions for
our voyage. As he had before rowed through this wilderness, he
knew best what was wanting to lessen the hardships of a similar
enterprize; and I must do him the justice that he left nothing untried
to procure every ortiole which might render our journey more agree-
able. A well-made tent, with a good carpet, stood foremost on the
list, and his spouse took care that a sufficient quantity of bread and
biscuit was prepared. While all this was brought in readiness, I bad
the satisfaction to explore the country, examine the woods with the
contemplated slate for the canal, to join the Mohawk with the Wood
Creek, and convince myself of its practicability. But this is only the
dwarf fixmg his eyes upward to the gigantic canal,, yet in embryo.
The soils differ little from that of Whitestown ; except the summit of
the highland, on which the fort is erected, generally not less fertile;
often too rich for wheat as the first crop ; not free from baking ; sev-
eral feet deep of the same unadulterated mould as the uppermost layer.
By digging ten and twelve feet, often deeper, leaves perfectly pre-
served, branches of trees, large pieces of timber, are discovered. I
did see several samples of all these when a well was dug for Colonel
Colbreath. Elm, ash, beech, heavy oak, and walnut are in the upper
part; on the lower ground chiefly beech, maple, and birch. As no
apparent obstruction is visible, the canal may be executed nearly in a
straight line.

"Scarce a day passed in which not two, sometimes three, bateaux
arrived, whose destination was towards the Genesee lands, Onondaga,
Cataraqui, or other parts of the western district. We met daily with
groups of five or six men on horseback in search for land, with inten-
tion, if succeeding, to move on with their families the next winter or
following spring ; while every day one or other accosted us to purchase
lands of which we did not own one single inch.

"During the time I tarried here, a large bateau with furs arrived
from the West; two yoke of oxen carried it over the portage. This
was the second cargo within one week. It may be conjectured from
this single example what riches the waters of Oneida Lake may carry
on to Fort Stanwix, if every obstruction shall be removed. Now, it
makes a fortune to individuals; then, it shall become as productive
to the nation as a gold mine.

" We waited another day in the hope of a few refreshments, which
I had procured at Schenectadi; but at length our patience being ex-
hausted, although De Zcng was possessed of a deep fund of it, nearly
equal to that of your friend, we walked on Saturday towards Wood
Creek, saw our baggage stowed, stepped in the canoe, and pushed oflT.
"Do you recollect, Mappa, how Remus vexed his brother Romu-
lus by springing over the ditches with which he had encircled the
future mistress of the world ? Here certainly might he have indulged
his whim with less peril. No Oneida Indian, no valiant American,
could have considered his country insulted by this process. The
Wood Creek, indeed, resembles, at the landing-place, rather an insig-
nificant ditch than well a navigable stream. Ere long it is, neverthe-
less, enlarged, and resembles very much the numberless inland waters
by which our ci-devant Fatherland was intersected. We arrived, at
the distance of three miles, at Fort Bull, or rather at the place on
which, during the war, a fort of that 4iame was erected. The same
fact I found after verified, viz., places designated by names originating
from fortifications constructed during the late French or the Revolu-
tioniiry war.

"As we indulged ourselves from time to time in angling, we hooked
a few trout and several large chubs, without reflecting that the sun



548



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNT y, NEW YORK.



waa setting ; our lusty boys waded continually to drag our deeply-
loaded canoe over rifrs and shoals. At once the air was darkened,
which was rendered of a deeper hue by the streams of lightning with
which it was on a sudden as embroidered j several peals of thunder
re-echoed through the woods, and the increasing darkness became
now visible. The boys were discouraged; De Zeng sprang at once
out the canoe and inspired them with fresh courage; and your friend?
I trusted in their experience, and hoped their trial would be a short
one; and then they might rest from their labors, while the baron
ought to pay some price of not possessing his soul in equal patience.
" Now we proceeded quickly, and discovered alter a few minutes a
light in a small cottage. It was that of the Widow Armstrong, on the
corner of the Wood and Canada Creeks, seven miles from Fort Stan-

wix, the part of land where Rosevelt's purchase begins, with which

you and some of my best friends desire to become acquainted, and
which, if I nm not mistaken and disappointed in my wishes, may be
once a goodly heritage, under God's almighty blessing, for ns and our
children.

" As we are now engaged in drying our clothes by a good fire, and
Mrs. Armstrong is preparing our supper and couches, I must allow
you a little rest before I offer you my rough sketch of the skirts of
that noble tract, once the heritage of the Oiieidas, now the object of
ardent longings of Americans and foreigners, who, by every licit and
illicit means, by extravagant praises and unfounded slanders, en-
deavor to secure this possession to themselves, while some squatters
have fixed themselves here and there on Its borders, — a tract which,
in population and wealth, must vie in time with any part of the
Western District.

*' I am yours sincerely."

" KiNGSTOif, 1st August, 1V92.
"My pear Sin, — Tou followed our steps, sir, through the meandcr-
ino- Wood Creek to the spot where the Canada Creek empties in it, the
residence of Mrs. Armstrong, thus far the hospitable patroness of that
insulated spot. I really hope, my dear sir, that you may have been
able to keep your attention awake, otherwise it must become a more
than herculean labor to drive the sleep from your eyes by a dry topo-
graphical description. I really am apprehensive that the wish of
getting rich by the purchase of a few hundred thousand acres of this
land cannot make a suflicicntly deep impression on your disinterested-
ness, even if your purse was in unison with such a wish. I hope, at
all events, it shall not exceed a slumbering, not heavier tbnn mine on
horseback, awakening the instant when I was leaning half-wny from
the saddle; and in that case I am not without hope, or the fall of a
heavy oak, the report of our guns, our cries of joy on a caught prey
of fish or deer, the lamentations and curses of our crew, and every
real and imaginary danger shall break off the spell of the enchant-
ment of some fair or malignant sorceress, and permit you to contem-
plate the residence of the beautiful Oneida Lake with admirntion.

" It is a general observation with regard to this world— and I am yet
wavering to decide if the name of New or Old is the most appropri-
ate— that the most barren tracts are everywhere near the sea-coast;
that the most populous part of the fifteen States, which have been
settled in the beginning, cannot be compared with the extensive
fertile fields of the West, and that their natural productiveness and
riches are increasing in proportion that you penetrate deeper in the
interior. Every traveler confirms this truth, and every new settle-
ment affords so many inconteslible proofs from the unusual produce
of the fields, as by the sudden increase of the lands, to confirm these
reports.

" No man dared yet to contest this truth except a few German in-
habitants on the rich borders of the Mohawk before the Revolutionary
war, believing — in which they were confirmed by the cunning artifices
of their great landholders and crafty politicians — that their paradise
was surrounded by ursurmountable barriers, being no habitable spot
above Canajohari, impenetrable except by a savage's foot, except by
British Caandians, who dreaded the neighborship of Americans, ex-
cept land-jobbers aiming at a cheap purchase by artfully underrating
the land.

" The tract with which I would make you better acquainted was
purchased two years past from the Six Nations, and begins at the
Wood Creek, where that of the Canada Creek joins it. It has to the
northeast Funda's* purchase ; to the south and west the Oneida reser-

* Fonda.



vation, the military lands now beginning to be settled ; to the north-
west Lake Ontario ; to the north the Great Salmon Creek, from which
it touches again Funda's purchase, in a northeastern course. See here,
then, the rough circumference of 700,000 acres. Consider, my dear
sir, if I might err somewhat in a due course, and take the east for the
west, that I am yet in the infancy of my geological expedition, and
am ready to say Peccfivi, Pater; not, however, in that bewitching tone
I heard you sing 'Mon p5re, je viens devantvoup.' To prevent gross
mistakes and secure you of forming an erroneous opinion of my senti-
ments, I send you with this u pretty correct map, which, with the
assistance of that of Governor Pownall, may learn you in how far I
was successful.

" A simple statement of courses is sufficient to lay open the water
communication with all the circumjacent lands : by the Wood Creek
to the Mohawk eastward, and so on to the North River; through the
Seneca River, southwest of the Oneida Lake, to the Genesee lands,
whose settlements are daily increasing; through the Onondaga and
Oswego Rivers, in Lake Ontario; through the St. Lawrence and the
North River, in the ocean. Consider now further, sir, that the dis-
tance of Fort Brewerton at the west end of Oneida Lake, near the
moulb of the Onondaga River, is, in a straight line, only eight miles
from the Little Salmon Creek, and twelve miles from the great two
principal landing-places on Lake Ontario; and the distance from the
centre of the lake, near Bruce's Creek, is, in a straight course, no more
than twelve mites to the same spot.

" The land is there not much broken, with few stones or rocks, so
that few hands, as soon as the trees arc chopped, might make a toler-
able good road from the one lake to the other. This land carria.ge
is of a vast additional value; but no man can have seen the shape of
the land and examined the Salmon Creek from Lake Ontario, and
Bruce's Creek from Oneida Lake, in their courses, and doubt yet the
high probability of a water communication of a short distance be-
tween these two lakes. Join to all this- — and this, my dear sir, is an
encouraging observation — that the circumjacent tracts, as the Genesee
lands to the south, Funda's, Steuben, Oothout's patent, are already
partially settled, and continue to increase in inhabitants, while the
lots in the military lands are increasing daily in value.

" Is this not already a great deal, my friend? I know you consider
it from this point of view, and are already anticipating the time that
stores and magazines, villiiges and country-seats, are adorning the
borders of Oneida Lake ; and yet how great this is, it is not all. Throw,
I beg you, for a moment a cursory glance on the situation of this
tract,' — I ought to have said come and see and believe. Towards the
south you have Oneida Lake, that of Ontario to the north, both joined
by the Onondaga and Oswego Rivers; and in these disembogue, be-
sides a number of smaller creeks, the Wood Creek, the Oneida Creek,
the Canada Creek, the Fish Creek, the Little Fish Creek, the Black
Creek, Bruce's Creek, the large and smaller Salmon River, and what
is called the Fresh Lobster Creek, from the numbers we caught here
of this delicious crustaceous fish, even superior to the sea lobster, and
as exquisite a dainty as those in Guelderland and the Duchy of Clevcs,
which afford there such a sumptuous and palatable dish to the modern
descendants of Apicius.

" Both Salmon Rivers emptying in Lake Ontario, to the north of this
tract of land, and the Fish Creek in Oneida Lake, are in the spring
and fall full of salmon. Tou may form of this assertion a pretty ac-
curate opinion after I have informed you that one Oneida Indian look
with his spear 46 salmon in one hour; another, in the presence of
Captain Simonds, 65 during one night; and another, 80. They are
equal to the best which are caught in the rivers of the Rhine and
Meuse, ond might, if the time of fishing was limited by the Legisla-
ture, ond, what is more, its laws punctually obeyed and executed with
rigor, become as beneficient to our country, at large as the salmon
fishery of the Meuse, in Holland, from which the East and West In-
dies are supplied with this luxurious fish. Were the method of catch-
ing the salmon in fuyks and smoking these introduced, as I advised
several, with the offer of initiating them in this mystery, Oneida Lake,
with its tributary streams, might supply an abundant provision for
all the States, the West Indian market, that of South America in-

° ""Persuaded of this truth, I wrote to my Dutch friends, and ob-
tained through my old Hon. friend, D. Herbach, from a mercantile
house at Schoenheren,-the staple-place, as you know, of this commo-
dity -an accurate description of the mode of catching, curing, smok-



Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 154 of 192)