History of Depeyster, NY


Local Histories

THIS was the twentieth town erected by an act of Legislature which passed on the 24th of March, 1825, and was organized on the 3d of May following. About three—fourths of the territory was taken from Oswegatchie and the balance from the town of De Kaib. The northwestern part of the town bordering upon Black Lake is an extensive marsh of about 2,000 acres; on the southeast, bordering upon Beaver Creek, it is also marshy; and on the southerly line is broken by parallel ridges of primitive rock. Its peculiar location, being separated from the greater part of the settlements of Oswegatchie by Black Lake and the Oswegatchie River, and from the settlements of De Kaib by a broken and intervening wilderness, was considered a sufficient reason for a separate town organization.

The surface of the soil is comparatively level, though sufficiently rolling to insure good drainage. The borders of the town along Black Lake, Macomb and De KaIb are more or less broken with rocky ledges. The soil of the greater part of the central portion is a clayish loam, though a narrow drift from Mud Lake to the Oswegatchie is somewhat sandy. There were several large swamps in the town which were considered of little value, but recently have been reclaimed by draining and now produce large crops of grass. On the whole the soil produces excellent crops and compares favorably with any lands in the county.

The table lands or clayish marshy slopes were formerly covered with a good quality of large white oaks, the ridges with rock maples, beech and birch, the ledges with beautiful rock elms, and the swamps with pine and cedar. The ledges along the line of De Kalb and part of Macomb are principally of white lime rock, from which a good quality of lime is manufactured for building purposes, this being the only valuable mineral as yet discovered in the town. The principal streams are on the borders of the town, the Oswegatchie River on the north, Black Lake on the west, and Beaver Creek on the east. Fish Creek and a few brooks are the only streams that traverse the town, but do not have sufficient water or fall to afford power for manufacturing purposes. The town as a whole is not well watered for stock purposes. A few springs flow from the foot of ledges on the borders of the town, but for the central portion surface water and wells only are to be depended upon.

In selecting a name for this town the citizens were desirous to call it "Stilwell,” as a man by that name was one of the promincnt residents; but he declined on the ground that some one of the land proprietors might be willing to make the town a liberal present for the privilege of giving it their name. A correspondence was opened with Frederic Depeyster, of New York, who owned a part of the tract taken from De Kaib, which resulted in the selection of his name for the town. The expected present did not come until about fifteen years later, when his son presented the town with a fine bell of about 800 pounds weight. The bell had the donor’s name, with a suitable inscription cast on its surface. The bell was hung on the tower of the Bethel Union church, where it remained about thirty years. After the old church fell into decay and was abandoned, the bell, by consent of tke town, was transferred to the M. E. church, where it now remains.

The first town meeting was held in pursuance of statute at the house of Timothy Morris, May 3, 1825, Jonathan Curtis acting as chairman.. Smith Stilwell was elected supervisor ; Timothy Morris, town clerk; John Willson, Moses King, Horace Plympton, assessor; Jonathan Morris, and Bela Bell, overseers of the poor.

The first settlement in the town commenced as follows: The State road, leading through the central portion of this tract of land, by which settlers coming in by the way of Albany had to pass, Mr. Ford, in order to assist them to reach this part of the county, established stopping places at various points on the route. Samuel Bristol, who with a large family had recently moved from Sandgate, Vt., and settled on the St. Lawrence about four miles above Ogdensburg, was engaged by Mr. Ford to move out on this road and keep a public house. In November, 1802, he located on lot No. 12 on the southern border of the township Oswegatchie, which was about half a mile north of Depeyster Four Corners. The following spring he erected a commodious log tavern, and during the summer cleared about thirty acres and got three of them sowed with fall wheat. I)uring the winter of 1803—4 Thomas Willson, from Hebron, N. Y., Joseph Rounds, Mr. Barnard, Mr. Green, Ichabod Arnold and Robert Hill, from Rhode Island, Frederick Plirnpton, from Massachusetts, Capt. Rufus Washburn, and David Day, all, except the latter, having families, moved into what was then called the Bristol settlement, putting up at Bristol’s tavern until they could build shanties to live in.

Silas Kellogg, in 1806, came to the settlement and built a log tavern on the hill about a mile south of the Four Corners. Some of the soldiers and citizens of Ogdensburg, when it was taken by the British in February, 1813, fled to this place and made Kellogg’s tavern their headquarters for a few days. In the summer of 1809 James Averell, 2d, a young man about nineteen years of age, came in with his wife and goods on pack horses from Cooperstown by the way of Plattsburg, and settled near Kellogg’s tavern on a tract of 3,000 acres of timber land that was purchased from Mr. Cooper, the father of the novelist.

Mr. Averill opened a store in a log building, where he conducted a small business for about two years, when he moved to Ogdensburg. In 1809 Smith Stilwell came in from Albany and purchased a large tract of land lying on both sides of the State road, the northerly line resting on the east road, and the one leading to the western part of the town, which was opened about that time. He made a small clearing, built a log house, and moved his family to the place the year following, and with them he brought "Black Bet,” the first negro slave, and the only one that was ever owned in the town.

From 1810 to 1815 the following persons came to the settlement: Joseph Shaw, Mansfield and Levi Bristol, Lemuel Day, Josiah Thornton, John Parker, and C. Hurlbut. Previous to 1811 the people at the Bristol settlement were supplied with a monthly mail from Ogdensburg. At that time, however, an arrangement was made with Joseph Shaw, by which, during the two years following, the mail was carried every week, most of the time on foot. For several years after the close of the War of 1812—15 immigration was light. During the cold season of 1816, it is said, there was not a month during which this section was not visited by severe frosts, and little was raised in consequence, and a portion of that little was destroyed by the birds and squirrels, which were unusually numerous that year. During the following year the scarcity of provisions was such that many families were reduced to the verge of starvation, and only for the abundance of wild game the suffering would have been much greater. In some cases the potatoes recently planted were dug up to satisfy their hunger. The early grain was anxiously watched, and before the kernel was fairly ripe it was cut, dried, and sent to the mill. The nearest mill was located at Cooper’s Falls at De Kalb, and as there was no road to the place the people were obliged to carry the grain through the woods upon their backs. The price of wheat went up to two and three dollars per bushel, oats one dollar, and potatoes a dollar and a half. For a few years after these cold seasons several families moved into the place, and most of them settled in the western part of this territory, as new roads had been bushed out through some choice lands in that section. Among those who came were Jonathan Curtis, Reuben Hastings, William B. Wheelock, Bela Bell, Moses, Amasa and Zenas King, Lewis Dimick, Eli White, Nathan, James and Luke Dean. Moses King settled on the corner lot where the road from Heuvelton to Fish Creek crossed the Lake road, about a mile and a half west of the State road, which place has since been known as King’s Corners. White settled on a lot near King’s Corners, and built the first frame house in that section, which is still standing. He kept tavern for several years, where his boy Drue, a bright, smart and well-behaved lad, under the influence of the bar-room, became dissipated, and for years was known to the people of the town, Heuvelton and vicinity, as the leader of one of the vilest gangs of vagabonds in the country.

In the summer of 1825, John Finch. Benjamin F. Partridge, Adam Fishbeck and others commenced a settlement in what has since been known as the "Fish Creek" settlement. Messrs. Finch and Partridge built the first bridge across the creek, for which Mr. Ogden allowed them $100 on their land contract.

In 1826 the wheat crop was so abundant, that during the winter and spring following it was almost impossible to dispose of it. Seventyfive bushels an acre was an average crop, which was sold or exchanged at home for three York shillings per bushel. Mr. Stillwell drew two hundred bushels of beautiful wheat to Ogdensburg, and with some difficulty prevailed upon Mr. Parish to take it in payment of land at five shillings per bushel. Within a few weeks after this occurrence, the entire wheat crop of the State was struck with rust, destroying both grain and straw, when the price of wheat arose to two dollars per bushel. These few years of low prices and crop failure so discouraged the settlers in raising money, that many of them thought seriously of abandoning their lands, when Mr. Ogden consented to receive cattle as payment on their contracts.

After this several families came to town and settled in the eastern and western parts: Samuel Perry, David Lawyer, Harvey Hardy, Adam Fishbeck, Jacob and Nelson Coffin, Christopher Nelson and brother, N. F. Swain, Mr. Forbs, Mr. Hydorn, John Shepard and brother, Richard Purmot, E. R. Turner, Alexander Chilton, Abner Armstrong, David Scarlet, Abner Murphy, Jesse McCurdy, John Smithers, Hiram English, Ezra. Smith, Reuben Smith, John Hedge, Alanson Tuttle, Jackson and Samuel Laughlin, John and Wiliiam Fleethan, the Newcomb family, Benjamin Eastman, Loren and John Wilison, the Thornton family, the Walker family and many others, most of whom had families. Within a few years all the arable lands were taken up and improved. Many of the descendants of the early settlers are now living in the town or vicinity, and not a few have risen to fill important places of trust in the State and nation.

Wild animals at an early day, especially deer, were very plentiful, and continued so for a number of years later, owing to large tracts of marshy timber lands on the borders of the settlements connecting with woods leading to large bodies in the back towns. Also the patches of woods left by the settlers joining eacil other were such that animals could traverse the town without crossing clearings. The deer did 110 damage further than to browse or tread up the fall wheat, but the wolf would kill or worry the sheep, and the panther or bear would occasionally kill a calf or a yearling. About 1818 Mr. Stilwell having purchased a flock of forty sheep yarded them near his house. He. had a large dog, and thought that the wolves would not dare venture near the premises while they were guarded by so fierce an animal. During the following night the family were awakened by the barking of the dog and his jumping against the door of the house to attract the attention of the inmates. Mr. Stilwell remarked during the uproar tilat there was no danger of wolves while the dog was outside barking. Upon visiting his sheepyard the next morning he was surprised to find that fifteen of his flock had been killed, showing plainly that a large number of wolves had been present.

In the early fall of i 820 several calves had been killed in the vicinity of Mud Lake, Shortly after Mr. Parker, father of ex-Senator Parker, of Potsdam, with others, were hunting deer in that vicinity, when they discovered two young panthers about the size of a cat in a cavity formed by an overturned tree. The mother not being in the immediate vicinity, they carried the cubs to Depeyster Corners. A general hunt was at once organized, and after they had scoured the woods where the cubs were taken they discovered the panther a short distance from the place in the top of a large tree. Mansfield Bristol, one of the party, an expert marksmen, was selected to shoot the animal. It required a second shot to bring the pantiler down, which proved to be one of the largest of the species, measuring nine feet and six inches from nose to tip of tail.

Late in the fall of that year William Washburn, the son of Rufus Washburn, one of the pioneers that had settled in the Bristol neighborhood, then about seventeen years of age, started out in the vicinity of Mud Lake with his dog and gun to hunt deer. He soon discovered strange tracks in the light snow, which then covered the ground, and his curiosity led Him to follow them. He traced them a long distance, into what is now the town of Macomb, to a place where they entered a cave in a ledge of rocks west of the State road. The day was nearly spent, yet he determined not to be hindered from the attainment of his object, and finding the opening of convenient size he endeavored at first to send his dog into the cave. His dog refused to go, so he crept in some distance with his gun in a fixed position to fire, and his dog followed close behind him. Having reached a part of the cave where it was quite dark he discovered at a short distance from him two large eyes of fire-like brilliancy, which seemed to watch his movements, their owner appearantly ready to spring upon him. Here he paused and bringing his gun to bear upon the object deliberately fired. His dog rushed passed him to attack the animal; the young man now retired and was soon followed by his dog. Hearing no noise or sign of life within he after a short delay again ventured into the den and listened for some time, but all was quiet, and he at length ventured nearer, and groping in the dark laid his hand upon the paw of an animal, evidently dead, which he with much difficulty dragged out. It proved to be a male panther of large size. The ball had entered a vital part of the brain and killed him instantly. This panther was supposed to be the mate of the one killed during the early part of the fall.

The deer is considered harmless, yet a wounded buck if hard pressed will turn upon his pursuers. A man by the name of Dake, while hunting in the western part of the town near the "deer lick,” in the vicinity of the Warren farm, in the fall of 1828, shot and wounded a very large buck, having a pair of longantlers with several spikes on each. Before he had time to reload his rifle (the guns of that day were muzzle loaders and flint locks), the buck turned upon him with great fury. Mr. Dake clubbed him with his gun and broke the stock in pieces, then used the barrel, striking him over the head until it was bent nearly double. His gun being used up, and he not being able or strong enough to grapple the buck by the horns, he ran around a tree and the deer after him. This circus was kept up until both the man and the deer were nearly exhausted, when a neighbor, hearing Mr. Dake’s cry for help, came to his assistance and dispatched the deer. Mr. Dake’s clothes were torn in shreds, and his body badly lacerated by the deer’s horns, The writer can vouch for this, as he afterwards saw the man’s wounds and the bent gun barrel.

As late as 1835 the wild animals in Depeyster seemed to be as plenty as ever. George Perry was hunting deer that fall, and while groping along the foot of the ledge next to the Black Lake marsh above the Pearson’s lot just before sun-down, discovered several deer, some standing and others lying down, in a clump of small hemlocks. The moist condition of the leaves, preventing the crackling noise of his foot-steps, allowed him to approach within a short distance without attracting attention. He rested his rifle on a knot of a small tree and took deliberate aim at a deer and shot it dead. The reverbrating sound of the gun so bewildered the animals that they only made a few bounds and came within range again, when Mr. Perry reloaded and dropped another deer. This process was repeated until he killed the whole drove of five without moving out of his place. The writer can vouch for the truthfulness of the above statement.

The farmers had been so much annoyed by the depredations of wolves, that in the fall of 1836 a general hunt took place, which was participated in by every able bodied man and boy in town and vicinity which drove every ravenous beast far beyond the limits of the town.

In the summer and fall of 1837 several sheep and calves were killed, one at a time, in different parts of the town, which indicated that it was either the work of a bear or panther. A close watch was kept, when a bear was started near the flat rock, making his way along the several patches of woods on the rear end of farms, endeavoring to enter the big swamp just south of the Black Lake road. Several men, boys and dogs were in pursuit of the bear and just as he entered the Fleetham woods, lie was shot, causing a slight wound in the hip, yet he out-ran his pursuers and was in a fair way to escape. The writer, then a boy in his fifteenth year, hearing the commotion started from his home, which was about one-fourth of a mile from the woods, having a smooth-bore rifle loaded with shot. He dropped a ball into the gun and with a paper wad rammed it down while on the run to the woods. On arriving at about where the house of Philo Hydorn now stands, he saw the bear about ten rods away, coming down a slope directly towards him on a gallop. Being out of breath and alone, yet nothing daunted, he endeavored to draw a fine bead on the bear while he was passing between the trees, when he suddenly turned to the right, leaped over a fence a few rods away, and endeavored to reach the swamp by a flank movement. When Bruin found that he was again confronted, he raised upon his hind feet and wheeled to take his back track. As he turned, the gun was discharged and the contents took effect just back of his shoulder, which set him reeling. With much difficulty the bear scaled the fence, knocking off a rail as he went over, and he fell to the ground and expired before the party in pursuit arrived. His color was black, and he weighed 420 pounds. The highly-prized gun used on this occasion was given away the following winter by the writer’s father to a party of men whom he carried ill a sleigh to "French Creek" (now Clayton), where the patriots assembled with the intention of making a raid on Kingston.

During the agitation, in 1828, to remove the public buildings from Ogdensburg, Depeyster voted in favor of High Falls on Grass River as a county seat.

Previous to the erection of Macomb the settlers had either to go to Morristown or Gouverneur to transact town business. In 1841 Depeyster voted to have this territory annexed to this town.

Depeyster Corners, where apost-office was established in an early day, has been considered the central point for the inhabitants to assemble on business occasions. The former merchants were T. Morris, Harry Smith, Hartwell & Judd, Jesse Legg, Dr. G. W. Barber, Union Store, Ira and Frank Wheelock, Cilandler & Loveland, George Fleetham. The present merchants are M. C. Mason, J. D. Willson, Orr & Day, a furniture store by Mrs. R. C. Ward, one carriage repair shop, one blacksmith shop, one hotel kept by H. O. Mason. There is one physician, D. M. Foss, and two clergymen.

There are nine full school districts and a joint one partly in Macomb a post-office in Depeyster village, one at King’s Corners (Kokomo), and one in the Fish Creek settlement (Edenton) ; a steam saw mill at Mud Lake, and a shingle and feed mill at King’s Corners. There was formerly a steam saw mill run by J. Curtis, T. D. Witherell and Benjamin Eastman.

The military record of Depeyster will compare favorably with that of any other town in the county. The town was well represented in the War of the Rebellion, having held the first regular war meeting and sent out a large number of men considering the small town and population, as will be seen by referring to page 196, the chapter on the War of the Rebellion. The efforts to raise volunteers, means and the necessaries to be sent to the front for the use of the soldiers, was cheerfully complied with by the people in general

Religious Societies.— In the winter of 1805 6, Bela Willes, a Methodist, opened a school in the house of Samuel Bristol, and held religious meetings on the Sabbath. Traveling preachers or missionaries had occasionally held services in the neighborhood. At the first town meeting held to organize the town, a committee, consisting of Smith Stillwell, Nathan Dean and Philo Hurlburt, was chosen to raise a subscription for a town house and a union church. A special town meeting was called on the last Monday in June, when a resolution was passed to erect a house at a cost not to exceed $1,500, which resulted, with the subscription, in the erection of the Bethel Union church.

The Bethel Union society was incorporated October 23, 1827, with Bela Bell, Luke Dean, Joseph Sweet, Zenas King, Jonathan Curtis, Horace Plympton and Smith Stilwell as trusttees. The house (owned in common) served the purpose, of both town hail and church, it being open to all denominations to hold religious services in. The Methodists, Presbyterians, Universalists and Congregationalists were represented by some one of the trustees, but they were so divided in their denominational views that no one body had a controlling influence, Each of the bodies had paid taxes and had subscribed to the building fund, hence were entitled to the use of the house. No regulation as to the time that each body could claim the use of the house having been made at the formation of the society, it happened quite often that two of them desired to use the house at the same time, which caused no little contention. This state of affairs continued until some of the societies became sufficiently numerous and able to build a house of worship for themselves. The records of the societies in those early days were so loosely kept, that it is impossible to give exact dates of their organizations. It is generally conceded, however, that the Methdists organized a church shortly after the Bethel Union church was completed, or about 1830. Three trustees of the former Bethel or Union society, Bell, Dean and Sweet, later became identified with the Methodist organization.

In the winter of 1856-7 the Methodist and Congregational societies heid several meetings with a view of building a union church to be occupied in common, but failed to agree, when the Methodist society built the present frame church, late in the fall of 1857, and finished it the following spring. In 1870 the church was raised up, a basement finished off, and rebuilt in the present style, and the “town bell" before mentioned hung in the tower. In 1891 the church was thoroughly repaired and refurnisiled at an expense of $1,500, making it one of the most pleasant places of worsilip in the county. During the past few years the church has been greatly revived under the present pastor, Rev. George Sharp, having a mission board, ladies’ aid society, Sunday school, etc. The present membership is about ninety ; value of church property, $3,500.

The Congregational Society, according to the recollection of the older members, was organized in Depeyster about the year 1832. The Rev. J. B. Taylor assisted in the organization, and Mansfield Bristol was one of the trustees. The Methodists and Congregationalists were the only regularly organized Christian bodies in the town that held regular services in the old stone church and kept the house in repair. In the summer of 1858 the present church edifice was commenced, and completed the following year at a cost of about $3,000, exclusive of the bell and furniture, which cost about $800 more. The Rev. B. B. Parson, who served the church at Heuvelton in 1842, reorganized the church in Depeyster, and supplied it for a time, when Ira Day and F. G. Willson were chosen deacons. It was again reorganized in 1848, and the society built the new church as before stated. Chester Dyke, John Fleetham, and Jesse B. Willson were the trustees ; having a membership of about eighty. Recently the church has been put in good re pair, the parsonage thoroughly overhauled and enlarged, to keep pace with the increased prosperity of the society, which apparently has taken a new lease of life. The preaching services, the Young People’s Society, and the Sabbath-school are well attended. W. H. Way is their present paster.

The supervisors of the town with dates of service are as follows
1825-19, Smith Stilwell; November 7, 1829-34, Luke Dean; 1834-39, Horace Plympton ; 1839-40, Jonathan Curtis: 1840-43, Abner McMurphy; 1843-44, Sylvester John son ; 1844-46, Jonathan Curtis; 1846-47, John Blisdel; 1847-48, David Fuller; 1848-51, Thos. D. Witherell; 1851-52, Levi Fay 1852-54, Thos. D. Witherell; 1854-56, Alanson Tuttle; Jesse McCurdy; 1859-61, Benjamin F. Partridge; 1861-63, Alanson Tuttle; 1863-64, John B. Chandler; 1864-70, Robert Dorman; 1870-72, John B. Chandler; 1872-74, Thos. D. Witherell; Lewis W. Willson to till vacancy from April 4 balance of term ; 1874-77. Wm. Newcomb, to fill vacancy caused by Willson’s resignation; 1877.82, Harry N. Hardy; 1882-88, Geo. H. Fleetham; 1888-91, Millard C. Mason; 1891-92, Thaddeus L. Willson; 1892-94, Robert D. Orr.

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