Samuel W Durant.

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

. (page 71 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 71 of 192)
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and subsequently, it was called " Old Fort Schuyler," in
contradistinction to Fort Stanwix at Rome, which, during
the same period, was called Fort Schuyler, in honor of
General Philip Schuyler. Its name was changed by bad
taste when Colonel Dayton was sent with a. garrison to
repair and put it in a state of defense in 1776. Both these
fortifications are long since leveled, and their sites occupied
by dwellings and marts of trade. The ground occupied by
Old Fort Schuyler is now covered by the tracks and build-
ings of the New York Central and Hudson River Rail-

Mr. Jones states, in hiS annals, that old Fort Schuyler
probably fell into disuse soon after the close of the French
war. He also states that a block-house was erected at a
period previous to the close of the Revolutionary war,




which stood on or near the site of the old fort* The
Oneida Indian name of the locality was, according to Mor-
gan, Ya-nun-da-da'-sis ; and after the fort had fallen to
ruin they christened it Twa-da-ah-lo-da'-que, meaning ruins
of fort. The Indian pronunciations differed so widely,
even among members of the same nation and tribe, that it
was extremely diffioult to get the correct sound and repro-
duce it in -written English.

The Cosby Manor was surveyed in 1786 by John R.
Bleecker, a son of Rutger Bleecker, and subdivided into
lots, and numbered consecutively. The present city of
Utica lies mostly between and covering the lots from No. 82
to No. 104. These lots were laid out as near as possible
at an angle perpendicular to the general course of the river,
and extending to the south and north lines of the manor, a
distance of about three miles on either side of the stream.
The extreme dimensions of the manor were eleven miles
and seventeen chains in length along the river, and six
miles in width. A little less than one-half of the tract is
included in the present county of Herkimer. The lots,
according to Dr. Bagg and Mr. Jones, were from sixteen
to seventeen chains in width.

According to Dr. Bagg, lots Nos. 90 and 91 belonged to
the heirs of General John Bradstreet; Nos. 92, 93, and
94 to Rutger Bleecker; Nos. 95, 96, and 97 to General
Bradstreet's heirs; Nos. 98, 99, and 100 to General Schuy-
ler. Mr. Jones states, in his "Annals," that lot No. 82
also belonged to J. R. Bleecker ; Nos. 83, 84, and 85 to
J. M. Scott; Nos. 86, 87, 88, 98, and 99 to General Schuy-
ler; and Nos. 89, 90, 91, 95, 96, and 97 to General Brad-
street's heirs.

Bleecker's map of 1786 shows a clearing on lot No. 86,
which was designated as " McNamee and Abm. Broome'sf
improvements." This clearing was upon both sides of the
stream called the Plate Kill, and the " old fort" was desig-
nated on lot No. 93. Two houses then stood on the east
side of the road, now Genesee Street, and one on the west
side, all near the fording-plaoe. Improvements had also
been made a little farther to the west, and slight ones
near the present eastern limits of the city. According to
the statement of Mr. Justus Ackley, a venerable pioneer
who died in Rome in March, 1874, at the age of one hun-
dred and three years, made to Dr. Bagg, there were but
two log houses on the site of Utica in 1785. These he
described as being built of split basswood, with the inter-
stices covered with bark. Their fronts were from twelve
to twenty feet high, according to the taste of the owners,
and they were covered with a shed roof, the lower end being
only a few feet from the ground.

Moses Foote, who commenced the settlement of Clinton
in 1787, on his way out stayed over night with one of the
settlers at Utica, who stated to him that he had half an acre
of land cleared in 1785. This statement Dr. Bagg copied
from the journal of Dr. Alexander Coventry.

The two dwellings spoken of as standing on the eastern
side of the road, near the river, were occupied by John

* This block-house was occupied for some time between 1790 and
1800 by Moses Bagg, Sr., as a blacksmith-shop,
■j- Dr. Bagg writes this name " Boom."

Cunningham, who lived nearest the river, and George
Damuth.t The house on the west side of the road was
owned by Jacob Christman. An emigrant who passed
through the place in 1787, says there were also three log
houses near the old fort.§ The house farthest west was
owned and occupied by the man McNamee. A settler
arriving in 1788, adds the name of Hendrich Salyea to
the list of settlers. The name of Mark Damuth occurs
among those of several settlers who located at Deerfleld
Corners in 1773, but who were subsequently driven out by
the war.

John Cunningham appears to have been a peculiar being,
assuming Indian habits and dress, and making his home
among them for months together. He remained only a
short time in Utica, having sold out his betterments to
John Post and removed previous to 1793. Jacob Christ-
man seems to have followed the business of boating on the
Mohawk, and it is doubtful if he ever had any title to land
in the place. Abraham Boom had a lilc-leasc from General
Schuyler, and after his death his son disposed of it to the
Christmans. Salyea seems to have been a trading charac-
ter. He had a twenty-one years' lease, dated on the 28th
of July, 1787. This he sold to John Cunningham.
Other improvements he sold to Peter Smith for £5. After
this he squatted on a part of lot 90, and lived in a log
house for several years.

The Cosby Manor formed a part of the upper district of
the Mohawk Valley, included up to the year 1784 in
Tryon County, which was subdivided into four districts, —
Mohawk, Kingsland, Canajoharie, and German Flats, the
latter including the Cosby Manor. The name of the
county was changed to Montgomery in 1784. On the 7th
of March, 1788, the district of German Flats was divided,
and a new town, called " Whitestown," was set off. The
east line of this new town crossed the Mohawk River at the
ford near Cunningham's house, and extended thence, north
and south, to the British dominions and the State of Penn-
sylvania, and included within its limits all the western
portions of the State.

The site on which now stands the city of Utica was
originally ill adapted for the location of a large town. In
speaking of this, Mr. Jones, in his " Annals of Oneida
County," uses the following language : " Nearly all the
ground now (1851) built upon was then (at the time of
first settlement) an almost impassable swamp. All that was
then anticipated was to make the place a ' landing' upon
the Mohawk, and as the adjoining county was cleared up,
and this stream became smaller, its prospects were greatly
improved by its being at the head of navigation. The first
business men of the place could only hope that the vil-
lage of ' Old Fort Schuyler' would be the port of the cities
of Whitestown and New Hartford."

It is recorded by Dr. Bagg that, when Whitestown was
erected into a separate township, the east line was located
with the view of cutting off the Dutch inhabitants of Deer-
field, leaving them still in the original district of German
Flats. The line was located through the influence of

I Written also Demooth, Dcmuth, Dimotb, Dcmot, etc.
J This was the father of Hon. Pomroy Jones.



Whitestown, which was settled by Yankees. When Oneida
County was organized, in 1798, the east line was located
where it is at the present time.

The first settler who arrived in 1788 was Major John
Bellinger.* This gentleman was one of the gallant soldiers
who followed the ill-fated Herkimer to the bloody field of
Oriskany, eleven years before. Major Bellinger was a native
of the Mohawk Valley. His arrival at Old Fort Schuyler
was in the month of March, and it is stated that the snow
was four feet deep. His first shelter was a " hut of hem-
look-boughs," and was located near where is now the corner
of Whitesboro' and Washington Streets. In this primitive
habitation he dwelt for the space of four months, in the
mean time clearing a portion of his land and getting mate-
rials for a more commodious frame dwelling, which he
erected the same season by the labor of his own hands. It
is claimed by some that this latter building is still standing
on the south side of Whitesboro' Street, in the rear of the
third building from Washington Street.

In this building the major " kept tavern," which must
have been the first hostelry in the place. At a later period
he erected another and larger building on the opposite side
of the street, which was also a tavern, and known as the
New England House. Here the major presided until his
death, in 1815. He was evidently quite a noted personage
in the hamlet, having taken part in the organization of the
first bank in the place. He accumulated a handsome prop-
erty, and before his death donated a lot upon which to build
a Presbyterian church. His family, on both sides, was
respectably connected.

Mr. Jones states that during this season (1788) also
came William Alverson, the father-in-law of T. S. Faxton,
along with his father, Uriah Alverson, who leased and lo-
cated upon a part of lot No. 98. He also says that a
squatter family, consisting of Philip Morey and his sons
Solomon, Richard, and Sylvanus, from Rhode Island, were
living upon lot No. 97, and another, named Foster, on lot
96. Dr. Bagg states that the Alversons came in 1789 and
leased land from G-eneral Schuyler in what is now West
Utica, and built a house on the ground now occupied by the
church of St. Joseph.

But the most noted arrival of the year 1789f was that
of Peter Smith, the father of the noted GeiTit Smith, who
came from Rockland County, where he was born in 1768.
The father, as well as the son, was a remarkable man. He
had learned the mercantile business in the importing house
of Abraham Herring & Co., and at the age of nineteen
years had commenced business as a merchant on his own
account at a place called Fall Hill, near Little Falls. At
this place he remained only a year, when he removed to
Utica, then Old Fort Schuyler. Here he built a log store,
as nearly as can be known on the site of the present Bagg's
Hotel, where he opened a general stock of merchandise.
N Not long after he put up another store building of the same
materials, near the lower end of Main Street. He also
erected a fine two-story dwelling afterwards, on the corner
of Main and Third Streets. Mr. Smith prospered in busi-

* Judge Jones and others make his arrival three years later, in
1791. We follow Dr. Bagg.
t Itls possible that he came in the autumn or early winter of 1788.

ness and accumulated a very large property, a portion of
which consisted of a farm of two hundred acres lying east
of the village, beyond the Gulf, upon which he resided when
his son Gerrit was born, in March, 1797. The foundation
of his business prosperity was laid when he began trading
with the Indians. Subsequently the famous John Jacob
Astor, of New York, became his partner in the fur trade,
which made the latter one of the wealthiest men in

It is said that these two men often made the journey on
foot between Schenectady and Old Fort Schuyler, carrying
their packs on their backs, and trading with the Indians
for furs at their villages on the way. Subsequently they
were partners in extensive land speculations. Mr. Smith,
in his early years, became perfectly conversant with the
language of the Indians, and by fair dealing, together with
the exercise of great judgment and shrewdness, acquired
an influence oyer the natives akin to that possessed by
Sir William Johnson and Colonel Peter Schuyler in former

Mr. Smith and Mr. Astor watched and attended diligently
the various sales of public lands, and made many profitable
ventures, and the former became the owner of many tracts
in various parts of the State.

About 1794, Mr. Smith, through his great influence over
the Indians, persuaded the Oneidas to execute to him a
lease, running for a period of nine hundred and ninety-nine
years, of a tract of land comprising about fifty thousand
acres, reaching from the town of Augusta, in Oneida
County, across Madison County to the east line of Onondaga

There was then in existence a law of Congress prohibit-
ing the Oneidas from selling lands to white settlers, but
Mr. Smith evaded this by taking a lease which amounted
to about the same as an absolute title. There was a division
in the nation on the advisability of disposing of the land to
Mr. Smith, but his knowledge of their language was greatly
to his advantage, and when Congress sent Colonel Timothy
Pickering to counteract his influence, there was a great
gathering at the well-known " Butternut orchard" to hear
the respective speakers. Colonel Pickering made a long
and able address, which was translated and delivered to the
Indians by an interpreter ; but when Mr. Smith arose and
addressed them in their own tongue his influence was irre-
sistible, and he was subsequently confirmed by the State in
the quiet possession of his lands. The tract was at first
called New Petersburgh, and afterwards Peterboro'. Mr.
Smith was Sherifi' of Herkimer County in 1795, when it
included Oneida. He removed from Utica, and resided
at Wetmore's Mills, now Yorkville, for a short time, and
in 1806 again removed and settled on his new Indian tract.

Madison County was organized the same year, and he
was appointed one of its judges, and in 1807 became first
judge, which position he held until 1821, filling it to the
satisfaction of the people.

As an illustration of his business capacity and extreme
shrewdness, we copy the following incident in his life from
Dr. Bagg's work :

" His readiness of resource and his promptness to circumvent a rival
are well illustrated in a story that has already appeared in print, aiid



which I give as it has been told to me. He was lodging one nWht at
Post's tavern, at the same time that Messrs. Phelps and Gorham were
also guests. Mr. Smith occupied a room that was separated from the
other land' speculators by a very thin partition. In the night he heard
them whispering together about a certain valuable piece of land which
they were on the point of buying. Rising from his bed and summoning
the landlord for his horse, he was soon on his way to the land-office at
Albany. When Messrs. Phelps and Gorham had finished their night's
rest and taken their breakfast, they jogged on leisurely to the same
destination. What was their suqirise when near the end of their
journey to encounter, on his way back, Mr. Smith, whom they had so
recently seen at Old Port Schuyler, and how much more astonished to
learn, on reaching the office at Albany, that the coveted prize was

He left his great estates to his son Gerrit. Hia death
occurred at Schenectady, where he was then residing, in

From all accounts Mr. Smith was the first merchant in

Succeeding him, in the spring of 1790, came John Post,
who was of Dutch extraction, born in Schenectady in 1748.
He had served through the war of the Revolution in the ranks
of his country's armies, and is said to have been present at
the surrender of both Burgoyne and Cornwallis. He had
been engaged in trade with the Iroquois nations for several
years previous to his settling at Utica, and removed here
for the purpose of pursuing the same calling. He had
purchased from Hendrich Salyea, the previous year, his
interest in a tract of land leased of Rutger Bleecker for
the sum of £100. He had also purchased the interest
of John Cunningham and a part of that of George Da-
Muth. On a small clearing, probably made by Cunning-
ham, he had, at some period during the season of 1789,
erected the first framed house in the county. It stood on
the west side of Genesee Street, and not far from Whites-
boro' Street.

As before stated, he came from Schenectady in the spring
of 1790, bringing his family, household furniture, pro-
visions, and a stock of merchandise in a bateau up the
Mohawk River, and, after a voyage of eight or ten days,
landed at his new home.

During the first year his house served the triple purposes
of dwelling, hotel, and store, and up to the year 1794 his
dwelling and that of Colonel Bellinger were the only places
of entertainment in the place.

In 1791, Mr. Post erected a building adjoining his
dwelling and near the present northwest corner of Genesee
and Whitesboro' Streets, into which he removed his mer-
chandise, and carried on quite an extensive trade with the
Indians. The commodities which the Indians brought in
to exchange for his goods were principally furs and ginseng,
the latter a medicinal plant, which then abounded in the
country, and for which there was quite an extensive demand
for the Chinese trade. He had plenty of Indian customers,
and sometimes as many as thirty or forty, including women
and children, made his premises their stopping-place through
the night ; in summer sleeping on the grassy lawn and be-
side the fences, and in winter occupying the kitchen floor
around the blazing chimney fire. Among other articles he
kept, as was customary in those days, a stock of liquors,
and these were most probably among the pi'incipal attrac-
tions to the children of the forest.

Mr. Post's tavern had the distinguished honor of housing
for a brief period, in November, 1793, several members of
the French Castorland Company, among whom were MM.
Desjardines, Pharoux, and the afterwards famous engineer,
Mark Isambart Brunei. M. Pharoux was drowned the
succeeding year at the falls of Black River, now in the city
of Watertown. The party wore on their way to explore
the new French purchase on Black River, called by them

It would seem that these travelers found little to their
tastes in this frontier " tavern," and the description which
they gave of it was anything but flattering to the pride of
mine host.

" Mr. Post," says the writer, " keeps the dirtiest tavern
in the State of New York, which is not saying little. Fol-
lowing the custom of the country, the linen is changed only
on Sundays, to the misfortune of those who arrive on
Saturday ; and I therefore resolved to sleep on the couch
they gave me with my clothes on. The common table had
little to my relish, so that I was obliged to live chiefly upon
milk, a proceeding which shocked the self-esteem of Mr.
Post, who could not conceive how, with the cheer he pro-
vided his guests, they could call for milk in preference."

It seems that this French company purchased certain
supplies at Utica, though not without experiencing con-
siderable difficulty. Mr. Post and Mr. Kip controlled the
pork and salt trade of the place, the former having all the
pork and the latter all the salt. Not being able to make a
satisfactory bargain with Mr. Post, who they thought
asked too much for his pork, they went and purchased Mr.
Kip's entire stock of salt, and this speedily brought Mr.
Post to terms.

According to Dr. Bagg, it appears that Mr. Post did not
like the business of hotel-keeping, and only continued it
until other accommodations had become established. The
business of general merchandising and the transportation
of goods was more suited to his inclinations, and within a
few years he erected a large three-story wooden warehouse
on the bank of the river, and building or purchasing a
number of the boats then in use on the Mohawk, he car-
ried on an extensive business for those days in the trans-
portation of produce, merchandise, goods, and passengers,
to and from Sohenectady.f He soon after erected another
warehouse, of brick, which stood a few rods above the

His business increased and prospered, and he purchased
and owned some of the most valuable lands in the vicinity
of the town, including about ninety acres of lot No. 95,
belonging to the estate of General Bradstreet. But in
the midst of his prosperity, and when on the eve of retiring
from the cares of active business, the tide of fortune
changed, and within a few years he was reduced from com-
parative affluence almost to penury. He had several
daughters, the second one of whom attracted the attention
of a young man named Giles Hamlin, who had been clerk
to Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, and was considered a good

« For interesting extracts from this journal see History of
Jefferson County.

t For a description of these boats and the navigation of the river,
see Chapter XVI., Internal Improvements.



business man. The couple finally married, and Hamlin was
taken into partnership with his father-in-law in May, 1803.
He was very ambitious, and the firm soon enlarged its
business to wholesale dimensions. Hamlin was intrusted
with the purchase of goods in New York, and took advan-
tage of the confidence reposed in him to lay in an immense
stock upon Post's credit, which was speedily disposed of
to small country dealers upon long credits, the firm taking
notes for the goods.

The house again filled up with new goods, and the busi-
ness went on as before. As a sample of the way in which
they carried on trade it may be stated that in the year 1803
the firm advertised five tons of candles for sale by the ton,
box, or pound, and one thousand pounds of cotton yarn.
But when the time of meeting their New York paper ar-
rived it was found that collections among their country cus-
tomers were slow and diflScult, though they took in exchange
large quantities of wheat, pork, and other' produce, which
they stored for a favorable market. But in the midst of
this stirring business a terrible calamity overtook them, and
there was an end of the firm and its operations together.
Early on the morning of the 4th of February, 1804, a fire
broke out in the store and destroyed everything except a
part of the books and papers and a little silver money.
There is no mention of insurance, and we take it for
granted that the loss was total. Mr. Post behaved in a
very honorable manner, selling off his property to pay his
indebtedness, and becoming in a few months comparatively
penniless. He subsequently removed with his large family
to a small farm at Manlius, in Onondaga County, where he
died in 1830. In closing his notice of Mr. Post, Dr. Bagg
uses the following words : " Nothing now remains of Mr.
Post but a wretched street called by his name, on lands
which he once owned, unless it be the large box-stove which
once heated his store, now to be seen in front of one of the
hardware establishments, and which, perchance, was the
instrument of his ruin."*

The following additional items regarding this prominent
settler we find in Mr. Jones' work :

" While here, and under the influence of rum, the Indians frequently
engaged in bloody fights, wore often turbulent and troublesome, and
sometimes showed their knives when none but Mrs. Post and her
ehildren were in the house. About 1792, the celebrated 'Saucy Nick'
entered the dwelling-store with another Indian, and, learning that Mr.
Post was absent, they demanded in most imperious and insulting tones
of Mrs. Post, pipes, * backer,' and rum ; Xick at the same time drawing
his knife, fiti-uck it into the counter, handle up, and also shut the door
of the room. As they wore about compelling Mrs. Post to draw more
rum, she found an iron rod upon the floor, and seeing a hired man,
named Ebenczer Hendersoh, passing the window, she called him in.
Nick would not permit him to enter until be told him that he was
called to get more i-um. Mrs. Post then directed the man to throw
the Indians out of the house, she at the same instant striking the
knife beyond their reach with the rodj and with her assistance the
order was literally obeyed. Nick ever afterwards treated the family
with proper respect. At another time Mrs. Post interfered to put an

* This old relic of the early days stands in front of the hardware-
store of Mr. Roberts, on the corner of Broad and Genesee Streets.
It is a massive affair of cast iron, weighing 410 pounds, and dates
back to 1796. Mr. Jones states that this fire occurred in 1806 or
]807. According to Mr. Jones, John Post was the first regular mer-
chant in the place, but according to Dr. Bagg, Peter Smith preceded

end to a fight among several Indians, who had paesed the night by the
kitchen fire, when one of them rushed towards her with his knife.
She seized a chair, with which she defended herself until another
Indian eame to her relief by attacking her adversary.

" While Mr. Post kept tavern, upon one occasion the celebrated In-
dian chief, Joseph Brant, became his guest for a night. Brant was

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 71 of 192)