Samuel W Durant.

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

. (page 156 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 156 of 192)
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twenty-four pounds. Some have been taken of forty and forty-five
weight; but those of the largest size are chiefly brought from Lake
Ontario. When Bruce had prepared him, he showed us a handful
fat, as yellow as gold. It was indeed a delicious repast for our sup-
per. Roasted, asthia was, — and no cook could have done it better, —
or broiled, or stewed, — as we did eat after a while, — you would not
have been able to distinguish it from a fine turbot, if its shape had
been imitated. A barrel containing about fifty catfish, the head and
backbone being thrown away, is sold here at £4 10«. We observed
here two sorts of trout (Forellai), both known by the name of salmon-
trout, although incorrectly. We could not obtain a specimen of the
white species. These were the yellow and the red-colored, properly
named salmon-trout. The first is gtnerally of a smaller size, its
color a dark brown, with a yellow tinge. The other is larger, the
brown more lively, with reddish spots, fringed with a color of gold,
and are sometimes between two and three feet long. The chub
(3'Wo6) is the usual bait, sometimes frogs.

" In the morning we made an excursion in the country, took a
straight northerly course, and returned through the west and south
at the other side to our encampment. The foreland near the lake,
at the east side of the creek, appeared but indiff'erent to the eye, now
somewhat used to contemplate first-rate soil, and the timber stood in
the same relation. At the distance of about one-fourth of a mile from
the lake the ground rises, and continues to do so, if you
proceed another quarter of a mile. Then the soil increases in fer-
tility from step to step, and in the same proportion in depth. We
had at first only a layer of four, then of six inches, which augmented
from two to seven palms of my hand. When we had proceeded about
two miles, sometimes it is a black woodland, in other places it was
mixed with a fine black sand, aomctiiuea a rich blue, sometimes a.
fine yellow clay.

"It seems to me that you are somewhat surprised at my accuracy.
Do you not then recollect that I never could be satisfied in having
done a thing by half? I may be mistaken. I may make a wrong
decision through ignorance or inadvertence; but it was my sincere
aim to obtain a correct view of this country for your, for my own,

" I removed with my large pocket-knife first the muck, till I reached
the first layer, and protruded then a sound stick in that spot as far
as it could penetrate, when I oft'jn, at five and seven palms' depth,
discovered the same sort of soil at the end of the stick as that on the
surface. Beech, maple, walnut, was the principal timber, with here
and there an ash and lime-tree, oak and pine, near the shore.

"We crossed the creek a little above a beaver-dam, and found the
same excellent soil at the west side, with the same gradation, and in
the same proportion as that which we had explored on the east, till
we arrived again at the plain covered with fir and pine.

" This is a barren plain, De Zrng, so it seems, but it has good water,
it has good building spots, and by manuring and good bu^bandry will
make good gardens. It is barren indeed, De Zeng, although it may
be meliorated, but you do not reflect on the advantages of that creek ;
art thou not convinced by what thou hast seen that, with small
exertions to improve it, full-laden bateaux may go in and out, — may
do it actually now ? Did your eye not discover the mill-seats on this
creek? Ought not the valuable lands back to these not to come in
competition? Can you not see bateaux ascending Bruee's Creek
and descending the Salmon Creek ? Can you not see the furs and other
valuable produce of Canada brought hither through the canal? Ah,
do you not see already various stores and magazines crowded with
merchandise ? — then you have nothing of second sight. Return to this
spot within thirty or forty years, and you shall exclaim, * De Zeng was
pretty near the truth, but underrated yet the value of the spot;' and so
it would have been indeed now had a colony been planted here under
Stuyvesant's administration, and the noble patronage of the Dutch
government, of a few families of Boers from Guelderland, and of
fishermen from the borders of the Meuse.

" A swamp begins about two miles and a half from the creek, which
extends itself considerably in the country and joins an excellent piece
of land, which is separated by another marsh from the lake towards
the west. You may calculate the value of this land by that one of
the Oneida Indiana. Colonel Lewis left nothing untried to have it
secured to him as his individual property; and that the Indiana,



when afterwards a French adventurer, one Chevalier Bennett,* had
obtained the possession, did give him in lieu of it 60,000 acres near
Gataraqui. Even these swamps must acquire in time no inconsiderable
value, from the timber which they contain. Their draining, never-
theless, though it may be executed, must be an expensive undertaking,
by want of a descent for the water, as they are lying nearly on a

" We left Bruce's Creek on Friday evening about six; the sky was
serene and delightful ; a soft breeze curled the waves and fringed them
with white, while the sun sinking towards the west beautified the
whole scenery. I did not witness such a grand or majestic sight since
I crossed the Atlantic. It must be seen before it can be fully ap-
praised, and then it must be a brute whose bosom does not glow with an
ardent love towards his Creator, and adores His goodness and wisdom,
so majestically displayed in every part of the universe. In propor-
tion that we penetrated deeper in the lake the beauty of this diversi-
fied prospect was more und more enhanced ; the islands, the shores,
the woods, the mountains obtruding themselves to our sight, seemed
to vie with each other for the preference. At length the slight breeze
increased; ere long a biisk wind arose from the west; the increased
undulated motion with the white-capped waves appalled our raw
hands, whose trembling limbs and pale visages too clearly betrayed
their fear of a threatening shipwreck. Wo endeavored to assuage it,
as the wind was steady. If we had any apprehension, it arose from
their inexpertedness, from their unsubdued terror, from the knowledge
that two or three waves would have been sufficient to sink our deeply-
loaded canue. We conquered, nevertheless, and they rowed on with
redoubled alacrity. We encouraged and applauded their efforts and
laughed away their fears.

" I never witnessed a uioro charming sight; it was indeed exquisitely
beautiful; the sun in its full splendor at the western hoiizon, gilding
the enchanted clouds, an extensive sheet uf water in an undulating
motion, two isUinds towards the south in front, which wo were now
approaching, » small openiUj; betwcL'n these through which we had a
view of the southern coaat, one single, covered with grass, and with
one tree-adorned rock, behind which in perspective appeared the
country of the Oneidat with the Canoserago hills.

"We landed half after seven at the largest and most westerly
island, tuwed the canoe un shore, und walked by an Indian path in
the woods,

"This island might in ancient days have been the happy seat of a
goddess, in the middle age that of a magician, or a fairy's residence
in the times of chivalry. Proceeding on oneiifter another through
the stately trees, through which we perceived yet the last glances of
the setting sun, we were at once, after a few rods, surprised with an
enchanting view, of which it is not in my power to give you an ade-
quate description. All that the poets did sing of the gardens of
Alcinons, all the scenery of those of Arneida, so highly decorated by
Virgil and Ariosto, could scarce have made upon me, who was capti-
vated unawares and bewildered, a more deep impression than this
spectacle of nature. We did see here a luxuriant soil in its virgin
bloom ; we did see industry crowned with blessing; we did see here
what great things a frail man can perform if he is willing. It seemed
a paradise which Happiness had chosen for her residence. Our path,
gradually increasing in breadth, did lead us to the circumference of
a cleared circle, surrounded with lime-trees ; at both sides of the path
was planted Indian corn, already grown from four to five feet, while
a few plants towards the middle of this patch were six feet long, and
this in the middle of June. A small cottage of a few feet square
stood nearly in the centre of this spot. It had a bark covering, and
to the left of it a similar one, three-fourths uncovered and appro-
priated for a kitchen. Here was the reaideace of Mr. and Madame
Des Wattines, with their three children.

"They lived there without servants, without neighbors, without u,
cow'; they lived, as it were, separated from the world; Des Wattines
sallied forward and gave us a cordial welcome in his desmenes. The
well-educated man was easily recognized through his sloven dress.
Ragged as he appeared, without a coat or hat, his manners were those
of a gentleman, bis address that of one who had seen the higher cir-
cles of civilized life. A female, from whose remaining beauties might
be conjectured how many had been tarnished by adversity, was sit-
ting in the entrance of this cot. She was dressed in white, in a short
gown and petticoat, garnished with the same stuff; her chestnut brown

* Penet.

hair flung back in ringlets over her shoulders, her eyes fixed on her
darling Camille, a native of this isle, at her breast; while two chil-
dren, standing at each side of her, played in her lap. Her appear-
ance was amiable indeed ; a wild imagination might have lost herself
and considered the weary, toiling Des Wattines as the magician who
kept this beautiful woman in slavery, but ere soon the charm dwindled
away. Esteem for the man filled our bosom, and when you consid-
ered how indefatigably he must have exerted himself, what sacrifices
he must have made, what hardships endured to render her situation
comfortable and rear roses for her on this island, so deep in the west-
ern wilderness, then, notwithstanding all the foibles which a fastidious,
cool observer might discover at his fireside, in a character and con-
duct as that of Des Wattines, he becomes an object of admiration. I,
at least, gazed at him in wonder. Des Wattines introduced us to his
spouse. She received us with that easy politeness which well-educated
people seldom lose entirely, and urged, with so much grace, to sit
down, that we could not refuse it without incivility. This couple was
now in the second year on this island, and all the improvements which
we had seen were the work of Des Wattines' hands exclusively.

" Our refreshment was a dish of tea, or rather their usual beverage
from Venxts' hair, which she has collected and dried, palatable enough
indeed when sweetened with sugar. It was growing dark before we
could be persuaded to leave our new companions, who insisted on our
staying with them that night, which we declined reluctantly, but en-
gaged ourselves to return in the morning and to partake of their

"Both had gained a claim to this sudden affectionate attachment.
He, initiated in the manners of the fashionable world of the old conti-
nent, with a tincture of belles-lettres, with that sprightliness and
versatility of mind, characterizing

"' Ce peuple aimable, ami des arts,
Tiintot grave, tuntflt futile,
Par cent tourbillona emport€,
Agitant d'une main leg&re
Les Iiochets de la noiiveautS;
Frivole et gaS par caract6re
Et raisonueiir par vanitfi.'

"She so artless, so graceful, so fair; who might have extorted com-
pliance where a world of men could not prevail; could it be else, or
Europeans not insensible to the pleasures of society, and separated
from those dear to their hearts, must have been gratified with the
vicinity and courtesy of this couple.

"Few trunks, few chairs, an oval table, two neat beds, was the
principal furniture; a double-barreled gun, a pretty collection of
books, chiefiy modern literature, in the French language, the chief
ornaments of the cottage.

" At our return to our encampment our tent was pitched, the fire
blazing, our boys snoring, and we, too, soon fell asleep. I awoke
with daylight, and made the circuit of this fortunate island. When
I returned to the place of our landing I crossed the corn plantation
and went on, to contemplate more carefully what might have escaped
my sight the preceding evening.

"Des Wattines had laid out behind the cottage a pretty garden,
divided by a walk in the middle. The two foremost beds, and rahnta,
against the house, were covered with a variety of flowers; sweet-
williams, lady-slippers, with a few decaying hyacinths. At the right
hand were bush-beans, large kidney-beans, at poles ; cabbage, turnips,
peas, salade, with that strong-scented herbage which we call keovel
(chervil), and which you purchase so dear at your arrival in New
York, although its culinary use in cakes and soup was then yet un-
known there. At the left, watermelons, cantelopes, cucumbers, per-
sil, string-peas, with a few of the winter provisions, all in great for-
wardness, with few or no weeds among them ; behind the garden a
small nursery of apple-trees, which was closed with a patch of lux-
uriant potatoes ; and these, again, were joined both sides by wheat,
describing a semicircle around it.

" All this was, the workmanship of Des Wattines' industry ; without
any assistance, not even a plow or harrow, having no other tools but
an axe and an hoe. It was true it was all in miniature, but it required,
nevertheless, an indefatigable industry to be able to accomplish all
this to such a degree of perfection. When I approached the cottage
Des Wattines was yet employed in dragging heavy wood for fuel
towards it, which he chopt and split in a short time, and in less yet
the-fire was blazing, when he came with a catfish of sixteen pounds
1 for our breakfast. While he was busily engaged in its preparation,



madame appeared, bruught hira a handful persil, nnd dressed the
table. The lable-cloth was of neat damask, a few silver spoons and
forks, the plates and dishes cream-colored, — remnants yet of their
former affluence; while the contentmfint legible in her eyes spread a
fresh glow over her countenance, and made a deep impression on our
hearts, and whetted our already keen appetite. De Zcng was mean-
while arrived, and complimented madame with his usual politeness.
Salade, roasted and stewed fish, well baked, warm bread of Indian
corn, with good Hyzan tea, which she accepted from us with kind-
ness, soon filled the table. I was seldom better regaled. The fish was
delicious; the sprightly conversation gave a fresh relish to every
mouthful we tasted ; and we might have desired to be inhabitants of
that enchanted spot, had it been in our power to withdraw our jitten-
tion from the hardships to which they were exposed, and banish the
idea that they seldom could obtain anything else but fish.

" You know, ray dear sir, how all significant it is toujoura de ^)«*-
dn'x ! Although the gay conviviality of Dcs Wattines drove for a
while this gloomy thought away, it could not prevent its return, while
now and then a downcast look, — how suddenly it was relieved ! — an in-
voluntary, half-suppressed sigh, gave a new poignancy to the bitter-
ness of this feeling. Bes Wattines, even assisted by De Zeng, ridi-
culed in vain similar reveries and phantoms; she smiled, and its force
was blunted — an island! in Oneida Liike! The want of all society
whatever, except, perhaps, a solitary visit from — a bear! the want of
many of the necessaries of life, and that, too, in her situation, when
her Camille was born ! the imj)erious necessity to leave, from time to
time, sueh an amiable, delicate woman with three children, helpless,
sometimes days together, alone on this island, as often Des Wattines
went to the Oneida Creek for corn. Was it possible that similar
reflections should not have marred the most tumultuous joy ? I will
not deny that my spirits were damped, and my jocundity was now
and then deeply' tinged with melancholy.

" Des Wattines inquired in the boundaries of our journey * to Lake
Ontario,' 'and in what manner?' * Well, with our canoe,' was the
reply. He sprang from his chair and stared us fully in the face with
a ' Par Di'cu ! with your canoe, — to Lake Ontario ? unu»y ! prc}iez le
bntenii, take it, major; it is at your service, prcncz le.' We did not
hesitate long to accept his offer. We might have brought our adventu-
rous expedition to a hiip])y end; it was unquestionable that we might
effect it with far greater safety in a bateau. We soon had our baggage
transported in it, left our canoe behind at the island, with our frying-
pan, through the slothfulness of our hands. We started thus on Satur-
day morning about ten. Towards the south the Canoserago Creek,
rich in fish, falls in the lake. The bottom of the lake at the south
side is a grey stone, which extends to the shore and seems divided in
oblong squares. There are appearances, and very strong indeed, of
rock-iron, which ore in some parts is extending for a considerable
length on the shore, and, although we had proofs not its reality into
question, we could not ascertain it. The land had again a very prom-
ising aspect at some distance from the shore, and shall, I doubt not, be
transformed within a few years in productive farms. We arrived at
Fort Brewerton about noon, situated at the northwestern corner of the
lake. Here is a location of about four hundred acres, obtained by Mr.
Kaats during tbe late British war. It was now inhabited by two
families, viz., that of one Captain Bingham and one Mr. Simonds,
the latter from Caughnawagha. They had rented it at £20 a year,
and desired to make a purchase of it, but Mr. Kaats, acquainted with
its value, had constantly declined their ofifers.

"I was highly gratified with excellent bread and butter, feasted on
milk for my beverage, and purchased two pints of it, which we carried
t) our bateau. The situation alone renders this spot of considerable
consequence, and its importance must be heightened as soon as the
back lands are settled, and the navigation of the western waters shall
be carried to that summit, to which it eventually must ascend. The
soil is clay, of which a large quantity of brick was made; somewhat
further a sandy loam was covered with stately trees, — oak, then beech,
ash, and maple.

" We arrived in the Onondago River, which, even as the Fish Creek,
has generally very steep banks, — more so, however, at the west side.
We passed some pines, and through our unexpertness, large rifts, with
diflaculty. It was said here was an ancient Indian eel-weir, by which
this natural obstruction in the bed of the river had been increased.
The stream was otherwise very placid, and our progress, of course,
easy. To the west, joining Kaats' location, is an excellent tract of
land, the property of Mr. L'Home Dieu; to the south the military


lands, chiefly a valuable, fruitful soil. A sudden shower compelled us
to land about three miles below Fort Brewerton, where we encamped
that night, being resolved, if the rain might abate, to take a view of
the land.

"The soil is rich, with a great variety of luxuriant trees; a black
loam, with a mixture of fine sand of the same color, many inches
deep, then clay; the timber majestic, spreading its branches and
foliage ; beech, oak, maple, black ash, with here and there a pine and
hemlock. I had ventured — rather imprudently, perhaps — a few
miles in the woods; the beauty of the spot had lured me deeper and
deeper, till at last I knew not from where I cnme or whither I went.
The sun being set, I had lost this unerring guide; my only refuge
was n»iw my pocket-compass, by which I again discovered the coarse
which I had to steer towards the river. This, nevertheless, would
have brought rae two miles below ray encampment had not De Zeng,
apprehensive of this issue, sent out the boys to hunt the straggler.

"Next day, about three in the afternoon, we reached Three Rivera
Point, eighteen miles from Fort Brewerton; here join the Onondago
and Seneca Rivers, that of Oswego flowing to Lake Ontario in a
northwesterly direction. One Barker lived at the east side of this
point, whose chief employment was to conduct the bateaux over the
falls in O.-wego River. lie might have been independent had he
possessed virtue and strength of mind sufficient to take advantage of
his situation. Every bateau bound to or coming from the Genesecs,
Onondago, Oswego, Cataraqui, and Niagara stops here, and their
crews would often deem it a happiness could they there be supplied
with refreshments of bread, butter, and milk, of rum and gin. He
knew scarce the first, so seldom did he see these articles, and the
latter he wanted for himself exclusively.

"This spot is a reservation of Church land for the benefit of the
district; and why not, my dear sir, are not by this great Slate a few
millions of their unsold hinds devoted and appropriated to the main-
tenance of the clergy, without any distinction of sects, so the new
settlers would not be burthened above what they are able to bear, and
the worthy clergy would not often be reduced to bcggnry ? A small
patch of corn promised a good crop, and a similar of summer wheat,
which he said to have sown the first of May, had branched out its
large ears.

" At the southwest side of Oswego is the valuiiblc tract of L. Ganse-
voort, with here and there a cleared spot; and another in no respect,
except extension, inferior to this, is a location of one thousand acres
of L'llome Dieu, to the north of the Onondago, opposite to the
southern point of the Oswego.

" We hired Barker at five shillings a day to bring us over the fall
and stay with us till our retur-n. We started from the point at four.
We distingui^hed at a considerable distance the grumbling noise of
the water on the first and second rift. Near the tirst is a remarkable
good mill-seat. Here were the Onoudarjon collected in large plumbers ;
some fishing, some smoking in their hut?, others from time to time
arriving and passing us in their bark canoes, — with much art con-
structed, so light and easily manageable that it squaw with her little
dauo-hter gained on us, and left us soon behind her by her velocity.
We concluded to encamp about ten miles from Three Rivers Point,
opposite to a handsome island in the Oswego River. The pickerel
often weigh here thirty pounds; pike is of a similar size; we took a
catfish of four span and a half; perch, too, of which we obtained u,
few, is here in abundance.

" At a short distance from the river is a good fertile soil ; further,
of a rich clay ; the timber pretty similar to that we had seen before.
We started again pretty early on Monday morning, and arrived at
the falls, twelve miles from the point. This indeed was again a
very interesting sight. You would be enraptured with it. Could I
borrow and then make u?e of Vernet's pencil, so that I could do
justice to the scenery, I would ofi'er you a grand tableau. At the
south side is a farm of three hundred acres, of one Mr. Valekenberg,
who intends to build him this year a saw- and grist-mill. It is a
noble spot for constructions of this kind.

" Here we unloaded our bateau, dragged it about a hundred .rods
over the carrying-place, and there, below the falls, committed her
a"-ain to its proper element. In a few moments our baggage was
a^^ain on board, nnd we in the bateau. Here Barker did give ns a
proof of his dexterity and alertness: with a rapidity which dimmed
the sight, with an incredible swiftness, we passed over stones, between
rocks and inlands, as an arrow on the wing, and lost tbe falls out
of our sight and hearing before we could reflect to turn our eyes



on3e more towards these or examine our proceFs with coolness. At
twelve we arrived at Oswego, yet secured by a British garrison, not-
withstimding it ought to have been surrendered many years before to
our government, in conformity to the treaty of peace. But I should
not have dared to assert that from our side all its articles bad been
religiously observed. If so, nevertheless, then our national forbear-
ance was a rare example in a republican government.

" It is time, my dear sir, to take Fonie repose; I at least am in want
of it, and the generous cannot be lack in courtesy. In my next I

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 156 of 192)