Fort Covington was erected as a town from Constable February 28, 1817, and included what is now Bombay. The
mile square comprising the village of the same name and something over seven thousand acres contiguous on the west
had been a part of the St. Regis Indian reservation, but were ceded to the State, a part in 1816, and the remainder
two years later. The consideration paid to the Indians therefor was an annuity of fifteen hundred dollars forever
- equivalent to twenty-five thousand dollars capitalized at six per cent. After this cession most of the tract
was patented by the State to settlers who had previously held the lands under leases from the Indians at a rental
of ten cents per acre per year, though two parcels were reserved by the State for military purposes. One of these,
bordering on the right bank of the Salmon river, contains about fortv-six acres exclusive of the highway, and was
leased by the State in 1845 to John Moore at a rental of twelve dollars per year, subject to surrender of the premises
whenever the State should require. Moore subsequently assigned the lease, and the plot has since been occupied
under similar assignments by a number of parties. It is at present in the possession of F. J. Dimond, Wffliam G.
Kelsey, the Alex. Smaliman estate, the Salmon River Yacht Club, and others. The like reservation on the left bank
of the river is under lease to Mrs. Albert Nevin, and comprises about fourteen acres. The rental for this parcel
is five or six dollars. Both leases being terminable at any time at the pleasure of the State, the lessees naturally
do not care to undertake costly improvements, and it would seem as if it were for the best interest alike of the
State and of Fort Covington that the policy of holding the lands for possible fortification and military occupation
be abandoned, and the plots sold outright to the highest bidder, for there is not the slightest likelihood that
either of them will ever be fortified or be used for military purposes. For a time following the act of reservation
it was proposed now and again to erect defensive works there, but the proposition never went further.
Fort Covington is the oldest town in the county in point of settlement by the whites with the exception of Burke
and Chateaugay, and if we count William Gray a white it antedates even these. Gray was a revolutionary soldier
at the age of seventeen years, his home having been in Washington county, and was captured by the British near
Whitehall. Held as a prisoner at Quebec until the close of the war, he located at Caughnawaga, and then at St.
Regis. In everything but birth he was more Indian than white. In 1793 the St. Regis chiefs leased to him lands
now comprising the village of Fort Covington, known as the mile square, for two hundred dollars annual rental and
the promise of the erection of mills there. Three years later this lease was assigned by Gray to Thomas Araquente,
a St. Regis chief, and carried with it a saw mill which had been built in the meantime. Toward the close of the
year 1798 Araquente transferred his holdings to James Robertson of Montreal for two thousand four hundred dollars
and an agreement on Robertson's part to continue payment to the Indians of the stipulated rentaL Robertson's lease
was for a term of nine hundred and eighty years. Araquente even assumed to include in the transfer, besides the
mill and mile square, the lands on both sides of the Salmon river to its source, but no attempt appears ever to
have been made to enforce possession or title under this latter conveyance. Three brothers of James Robertson also
became interested in his investment. They erected a grist mill in. 1804, which was swept off by a flood in 1805,
and was immediately rebuilt - the cost of the two structures and equipment, according to Dr. Hough, having been
about seven thousand dollars. Robert Buchanan was the builder for the Robertsons, and afterward leased and operated
the mill for a good many years. He died at Fort Covington or Dundee in 1829, and his brother Duncan in 1825.
The town includes only a part of township number two and the ceded Indian lands, making an aggregate assessed acreage
of 22,565. It is one of the smallest towns in the county, while in valuation it ranks seventh. Ninety years ago
its valuation was the same as Bangor's, and but little less than that of Chateaugay. Malone's was eighty thousand
dollars larger, and is now the greater by two millions and a half. In the intervening period Bangor's assessment
has been multiplied by five, Chateaugay's by six, and Malone's by fifteen, while Fort Covington's has increased
only about fourfold. True, Fort Coyington has since been partitioned to make Bombay, but in the same period Bangor
has lost Brandon, a part of Harrietstown, and Santa Clara; Chateaugay has been shorn of Belimont, Burke and Franklin;
and Malone has had taken from it Duane, Brighton and the richest part of Harrietstown.
Fort Covington is well watered. The Salmon river flows northwestwardl'v through the northern and eastern part of
the town; the east branch of Deer river traverses almost the entire length of the town on the east; the west branch
of the same stream crosses the entire south part, whence it bends into Bombay for a short, distance, and •then,
swinging easterly, again enters Fort Covington, approximately paralleling the east branch, which it joins just
above the point of confluence with the Salmon; the Little Salmon flows through the eastern part of the Indian cession,
and Pike creek through the western section. The latter empties into the Salmon below the Canadian border, and the
Little Salmon. about half a mile south of the border. Cushman brook flows for about three miles through the eastern
part of the town, emptying into the Salmon a mile above the mouth of Deer river.
Fort Covington has of course its ridges and valleys, though not so markedly as most of the towns to the south,
a considerable section being as nearly level as any equal body of lands in the north country. Its soil is largely
clay except in the south portion, and as a whole is well adapted to profitable agriculture. Originally it was of
course densely wooded, and with a larger growth of hard timber than characterized Constable and Westville. It is
one of the few localities in the county where oak flourished, a tree that is seldom known on light or gravelly
ground. Even now thirty to forty thousand feet of oak are sawed there annually. There was also in some parts of
the town a good stand of pine. Most of the latter went down the river in rafts of lumber and ship masts to Montreal
or Quebec, as also did the cut from Westville and even from as far to the south as Malone. Pine lumber sold in
those days at five dollars a thousand for common, and at eight dollars for clear. A number of the finest farms
in the county are in Fort Covington, and a particularly large proportion of its farmers have ranked high in intelligence,
in character and in the degree of success that they have attained in their calling, and have been regarded locally
as authority in methods and as examples to be emulated. Even as long ago as 1820 farmers of the town succeeded
in winning a noticeable part of the premiums given by our first county agricultural society at its first fair for
cattle and farm products.
Since there are no town records of date earlier than 1817, nor church records until still later, the story of settlement
and progress prior to the war of 1812 is now practically impossible of definite ascertainment, the more so because,
early occupancy having been in general under leaseholds from the Indians, deed records are also lacking. The part
of the town which is now the village was known until 1817, and even later, as French N ills, though why so called
it is difficult to understand except upon the theory that a considerable percentage of the early inhabitants were
French, for the mills were the enterprise of Englishmen and Scptchmen.
The name which was assumed upon the erection of the town was taken in honor of General Leonard Covington, who was
mortally wounded at the battle of Chrystler's Farm in 1813, and died on a boat en route to French Mills. His funeral
was held from the house, then a hotel, that is now occupied by Frank J. Bucklin, at the west end of the lower bridge,
and interment was near the residence of the late T. T. Kimball, on what has since been known as Oovington Hill,
not far from the block-house. The remains were removed to Sacketfs Harbor in 1821. The town would have been called
simply Covington except that a town so named had already been erected in the western part of the State; and hence
"Fort" was prefixed.
When the first settlers other than those connected with the mills came, and who they were, is not known with certainty.
Dr. Hough's history names Samuel Fletcher, Aaron McLean, Ambrose Cushman, John Hunsden, David Lynch and Robert,
Walter and Duncan Buchanan as having located in 1800 or soon thereafter; but the records in the county clerk's
office do not show any of these except Robert Buchanan as having had title to real estate in the township at anything
like the date stated, though it is known from State records that Mr. Hunsden was there in 1803 as clerk of the
Indians. He was a physician, and, according to the Franklin Telegraph, died there in 1820. He had been a revolutionary
soldier, was familiarly known as "captain," and in announcing his death the Telegraph said that he "had
long been a useful and respected inhabitant." He was at one time deputy collector of customs. His daughter
was the first wife of General S. C. F. Thorndike of Malone. A map in the Secretary of State's office, made in 1818,
indicates that he was then the owner of about eight hundred acres of land along the Little Salmon river and west
of it. By an act of the Legislature, passed in 1819, he was to be allowed twelve hundred dollars on any purchases
of lands that he might make, as compensation for his services in inducing the Indians to consent to the cessions
of 1816 and 1818.
It is also known that at least one of the Hobertsons was there as early as 1798; but in apparent discredit of Dr.
Hough's statement Gf early residents is this record in the diary of James Constable, who visited the place in August,
1805: "Came to the French mills on the north side of Salmon river, being an old saw mill, and now not at work.
There is a very large grist mill completing on the other side, the property of a Mr. Robertson of Montreal, which
is the old mill with additions. Mr. Buchanan, the superintendent, went through it with us. In April, last, the
dam was undermined, gave way, and overset the then mill, the waters carrying the millstone a great distance. *
* * The mill is constructed for four run of stones, and the work appears to be good. The expense must be considerable,
and the iron work is got at Judge Bailey's, twenty-five miles distant. There is no village here, and no people
but those belonging to or working at the mills." (The reference to Judge Bailey is important, as establishing
that in 1805 there were iron works at Chateaugay.) But as impeaching Mr. Constable in part, and to some extent
suggesting that there were more PeoPle at French Mills, or at least in the township, at the date in question than
he or even PT. Rough indicates, I give the following transcript from the assessment roll for 1806 of the town of
Malone, of which Fort Covington was then a part:
David and Luther Danforth
These all seem to be, and most of them certainly are, Fort Covington names, though two or three of them may belong
to Westville. Unfortunately the assessment roll from which they are copied does not carry any township or lot descriptions.
However, an old map or1 file in the county clerk's office locates Mr. Blanchard three or four miles south of the
village, and his will as recorded in the surrogate's office in 1832 refers to Seth W. B. Wilson as his grandson,
and makes provision for his education, though I am informed by a surviving member of the family that there was
no blood relationship between the two. Mr. Blanchard was in 1817 one of the associate judges of the court of common
pleas, and at the first town meeting was elected a commissioner of common schools. He was, too, one of the first
men to hold the office of deputy collector of customs at French Mills. He had a son, Steven, who was the father
of Justus and Seth. The latter was decidedly a "character," effervescing good nature, fond of companionship,
and dearly loving a joke. His conversation was picturesque in the extreme, abounding in wit and quaint expressions,
some of which are still quoted frequently in the town. By occupation he was a wheelwright, and he lost an arm by
reason of its having been so badly mangled by a saw as to necessitate amputation.
The map referred to puts Silas Ousiliman just over the town line in Westville, but shows Ambrose abutting on the
river, south and east of the village. The latter was a soldier in the war of 1812.
Samuel Fletcher is marked as owning the lot next west of Ambrose Cushman. At a later date he was a merchant at
West Constable or Westville Corners, and eventually removed to St. Lawrence county. He was an uncle of Calvin T.
Fletcher of Helena, who at one time practiced law in Malone, and the great uncle of the late Ernest T. Fletcher
of Malone. Thomas Fletcher is thought by Stiles Stevens, his grandnephew, and exceptionally well informed on points
of early local history, to have been the man who was shot by the British when they raided the town in 1812, though
Mr. Briggs remembered the name as Frazer. Mr. Stevens is probably correct.
David and Luther Danforth are on the map at the southeast corner of the mile square, at the upper falls, where,
in company with Guy Meigs, they had a gang saw mill, which after Mr. Meigs had withdrawn from the partnership they
continued to operate until the timber supply had been practically exhausted. They also had a carding and fulling
and woolen mill, which latter they leased in 1836 to Luther Starks and Sidney Briggs - Starks subsequently assigning
his interest to Daniel Russell and D. S. MeMillan. The place is the same that was until recently occupied by Thomas
Davidson, deceased, with a carding mill, and it is worthy of note that, whereas in early times nearly every cornmunity
had such a mill, Mr. Davidson's was in 1917 the only one in the entire county. It still contained the machinery
for the manufacture of cloth. The exact date of the erection of the woolen mill here is unknown, but it was probably
between 1830 and 1835, and was the second mill of the kind in the county. In a letter written by John H. Hatton.
and published in 1903, it is stated that Luther Danforth had three sons, a son-in-law (Thomas Riehey) and a grandson
who were Methodist ministers. Allen Danforth, presumedly a son of David or Luther. served as fifer in Captain Tilden's
company in the war of 1812.
Sullivan Ellsworth was doubtless a. brother of Orange and an uncle of Chandler, as a biographical sketch of the
latter lists a Sullivan as cue of the brothers of Orange. The map gives him a number of farms in the central and
southern parts of the town. Orange Ellsworth must have arrived earlier than 1808, as Chandler was born in the town
in that year. His farm adjoined the home place of Sullivan. Aipheus Ellsworth, a brother of Orange, probably came
at about the same time with the latter. Certainly he was there in 1814, as in that year he joined with Orange in
taking title to lands which were already in their possession, probably under contract.
David McMillan was the father of Mrs. Ebenezer Stevens, who was the first white child born in the town, and also
of David Stiles, who gave the Lawrence, Webster Co. woolen mills in Malone so fine a reputation for honest and
durable, even if coarse, products, and who, removing to Wisconsin at about the close of the Civil War, amassed
a fortune in lumbering, and died there in 1883. A son, B. Frank, is an almost annual visitor to old. friends in
Malone and Fort Covington, and is prosperous. Arthur McMillan, a. brother of the elder David, was a member of Captain
Tilden's command at French Mills in the war of 1812.
Buel H. Hitchcock came in 1802. from Vermont with Albon and Airic Man of Westville. He was a physician, and Aretus
M., Myron H. and Airic (all of whom became prominent in the business life of Fort Covington twenty years later
or more) were his sons. Airic removed to Cornwall, Ont. There is still standing, though built over, a frame dwelling
house that is known as the "Hitchcock house." In a paper prepared some years ago by John A. Quaw it is
said that this building was in existence when James Campbell came in 1808, and that it is believed to be the oldest
frame structure in the county. It is now at the south foot of Water street, on the bank of the river, and it probably
was the home of Dr. Hitchcock. Formerly it stood on the lot now occupied by the residence of James MacArtney, some
twenty rods north of its present location. It was from this house, as told by Christopher Briggs and Stiles Stevens,
that a man stepped out with a gun when the British entered the town in 1812. Particulars regarding the affair are
not altogether agreed, except as to the fact that the British fired upon him and either wounded or killed him.
Henry Briggs was in trade at French Mills during the war of 1812, but afterward returned to Washington county for
a time. He came to Fort 'Covington again in 1820, accompanied by his family. Several sons of a brother came later,
and became well known and substantial men in the northern part of the county. Henry was the father of Christopher,
who was elected county superintendent of the poor in 1864, lived in Malone for many years, and committed suicide
in 1890 by stabbing himself in the abdomen. The Briggs family was a large one, but I think that the last member
of it lately living in this section and bearing the name was Levi, a son of Christopher, who made his home with
his son-in-law, Guy Man, in Westville.
Concerning Ezekiel Paine or Payne I am able to learn but little. He was town clerk of Constable, of which Fort
Covington was then a part, in 1808, a coroner the same year, one of the incorporators in 1815 of a literary society
known as the French Mills Miscellaneous Library, and upon the organization of Fort Covington as a town in 1817
was elected one of the inspectors of schools. Samuel H. Payne was an. ensign in the State militia in 1818, a captain
in 1822, and deputy customs officer in 1838, at which time he evinced such interest and sympathy, if not open activity,
in the Papineau cause or Canadian rebellion that he was removed from office. The neutrality law then made it the
duty of customs officers, among others, to aid in enforcing that statute, and in particular to seize any arms or
munitions or supplies that were intended for use of insurrectionists against a foreign government, so that Mr.
Payne was adjudged by the administration to have doubly offended, in that, besides having individually violated
the neutrality law, he had been also negligent and disregardful of the obligations of his office for enforcement
of it. At that time probably nine-tenths of the people in . Fort Covington were pronounced partisans of the rebels.
Whether any of them actually went into Canada, as many did at Ogdensburg, to help the rebels fight their battles,
I am not advised; but fifty or more of the most prominent men in the place organized an association to give them
aid and comfort by subscription of funds and by procuring guns for them. The next year Mr. Payne was nominated
by his party for the Assembly as a vindication, but was defeated by John S. Eldredge of Hogansburgh. In 1838 two
militia companies in Franklin county were called out for service on the border for enforcement of the neutrality
law, and at least one of the two was stationed at Fort Covington, under the command of a Captain Montgomery. The
troop used the building now known as the Spencer or American House for a barracks, and cells of oak plank were
built in the cellar for the confinement of men who should be arrested or of soldiers guilty of infractions of discipline.
The fact that this hotel was at one time a military barracks is seemingly well understood in Fort Covington, but
generally the date is erroneously thought to have been during the war of 1812. Though I have been unable to get
any certain line upon the date of erection of the hotel in question, I am confident that it was not then in existence,
because there is good authority that in 1812-14 there were but two taverns in the place; one at the west end of
the lower bridge, and the other the building known in recent years as the Matthews store. Walter H. Payne was a
son of Samuel, was district attorney from 1857 to 1860, and was nominated as a Breckinridge elector in the latter
year, but declined. While unable to establish the fact with certainty, I am disposed to believe that Samuel was
a son of Ezekiel, and Walter a grandson.
Daniel McLean is thought to have been the father of Allan, and the grandfather of the late Mrs. D. J. Stewart and
of Mrs. Gilbert. A. Wright of Malone.
Of the other pioneers, assuming that all of those whom I have listed from the assessment roll were Fort Covington
residents, nothing can now be learned.
James Campbell came in 1808, and for a long time was a prominent figure in the town and county. He was a mechanic,
but if he gave due attention to the duties of the many offices which he filled he could not have had much time
to work at his trade. He was customs inspector in 1812; adjutant of the Franklin county regiment the same year;
assistant United States storekeeper to receive and care for the immense quantities of supplies sent from Sacketts
Harbor and Plattsburgh for General Wilkinson's army while it was quartered at French Mills in 1813-14; one of the
associate judges in 1817; sheriff from 1815 to 1818; a Presidential elector in 1828; member of Assembly in 1827.
After the war of 1812 he was an ensign in the State militia, and then adjutant again. An advertisement in the Franklin
Telegraph. shows that he was in trade at French Mills in 1821. He died at Cornwall, Out., in 1883 at the age of
George B. R. Gove, a man of strong character and driving energy, came from New England in 1809, and for many years
was one of the leading men of the place. He was supervisor seven times between 1823 and 1840; was elected county
clerk in 1825; was member of Assembly in 1824 and again in 1849; was customs officer 1850-4; and was also a commissioner
of the United States deposit fund. He had a briekyard near the village in 1825, and was in the mercantile business
in 1828, built and operated a grist mill, a mill for grinding plaster, and a saw mill on the Little Salmon river,
and had an ashery. It was through Mr. Gove that the attempted frauds upon the United States treasury by David Jones,
by the presentation of baseless or raised claims for losses and damages in the war of 1812, were exposed. Mr. Gove
had an honest claim amounting to about six hundred dollars, which Jones had multiplied by ten. A communication
came to Mr. Gove from Washington in regard to it, to which he instantly replied that he had no claim for the larger
sum, but did have one for the smaller. A thorough investigation followed, which exposed the enormity of the Jones
operations, and disclosed that perjury and false certification had entered into them. But between the question
whether a Federal or a State statute had been violated no successful prosecution could be made.
Captain James B. Spencer was another early arrival, having come from Vermont in 1810. For a man who attained to
the prominence and possessed the influence which he enjoyed, he must have been most unfortunate or thoroughly bad.
At one time or another he was accused of participation in a number of crimes, viz., passing counterfeit money while
he lived in Vermont, collusion with Jones, his brother-in-law, in the attempted war claims frauds, smuggling and
subornation of perjury. But he appears to have lived down all of the charges, and to have commanded the respect
and confidence of his townsmen and of the county generally. He was commissioned a captain in the regular army by
President Madison in the war of 1812, was afterward agent for the St. Regis Indians; a local magistrate; deputy
collector of customs; twice member of Assembly; surrogate; a Presidential elector in 1832; and in 1836 was elected
to Congress over Asa Hascall, though he lost Franklin county by about two hundred majority, and owed his success
to St. Lawrence. He died at Fort Covington in 1848.
The McCrea family was also represented early at Fort Covington, but I am unable to learn much about them. The estate
of James McCrea, Jr., was administered there in 1809, by James MeCrea of Essex county. John MeCrea was a second
lieutenant in an artillery regiment in 1817, was one of the early deputy collectors of customs, and a deputy sheriff
in 1823. His home was where Timothy T. Kimball afterward lived.
William Ware must also have come early, as his estate was administered by his widow in 1809, and Essex county militia
officers boarded with. Mrs. Ware in 1812. Though I have no positive information to that effect, I believe that
Preserved Ware, afterward well known and prominent in both Fort Covington and Bombay, was a. descendant.
Daniel W. Church, who settled here in 1809, was a surveyor and mechanic, and built many of the mills in the northern
part of the county. He removed to Morristown, and died there.
Still another estate, administered in 1815, is of interest because of the field of conjecture which it suggests.
Elihu Spencer, a soldier in the tTnited States army, was killed at the battle of Chrystler's Field in 1813, and
upon the petition of his mother, Martha, a brother, Joseph, was appointed administrator. The record of proceedings
affords no further information. Wonder is excited if the administrator named was the father of Joseph Spencer,
whom so many of us knew as landlord of the old Spencer or American House. The assumption that he was is strengthened
by the fact that in a later generation there was an Elihu Spencer. Still there is probably no record in existence
which could resolve the question, nor any living person who knows.
Jonathan Ordway located in 1809 or 1810 on the east branch of Deer river, three or four miles southeast from the
village, where he had large holdings. Besides engaging in farming and lumbering, he was a practicing physician.
A grandson, Walter S. Ordway, is a merchant in Westville.
Thomas Erwin was here as early as 1813; perhaps earlier. He was the father of Rev. James Erwin, who was for half
a century a Methodist circuit rider and pastor, and of whose activities extended mention is made in the sketches
of Chateaugay, Malone and Westville. The elder Mr. Erwin was an elder of the Presbyterian church, and a close friend
of "Father" Brunton, concerning whom more is told in connection with the history of churches in the town.
If there were others who were residents prior to the war, the number could not have been large, and information
about them is not now procurable. To the war itself the place contributed comparatively few soldiers - possibly
its close proximity to the border making residents there apprehensive that if they should identify themselves openly
and actively with the American cause their families and property interests might suffer more seriously in the event
of the place falling into British hands. As a matter of fact, French Mills was entered by enemy forces but twice
during the war: the first time in November, 1812, for perhaps an hour, and the second in February, 1814, for perhaps
two or three days. Except for two cases. at neither time were civilians or private property much molested. On the
payrolls of the several Franklin county companies which served during the conflict, on file in the adjutant-general's
office at Albany, I find only these Fort Covington names: James Campbell and Seth Blanchard, sergeants; Alpheus
Chapman, Silas Cushman, Arthur McMillan, John S. Payne, Allen Danforth, Marcus Harriman, Samuel H. Payne, James
B. Spencer, Silas Ware, Joseph Spencer, Ezekiel Blanchard, Alpheus Ellsworth (spelled Exworth), and Noble Sexton.
The last named had been a soldier in the war of the revolution.
Fort Covington became an American military outpost within a month following the declaration of war, a company
under Captain Rufus Tilden of Moira having occupied it July 8, 1812, and proceeded at once to erect a block house
- which, however, was never finished. It stood on Covington Hill, hut whether near the site of the Presbyterian
church, as most residents of the place appear to believe, or farther west, at the crest of the hill above Water
street, is, I think, an open question. Other companies, from the vicinity of Troy, arrived in September, and one
from Essex county in October. All were under the command of Major Guilford Young of Troy, and, with the exception
of Captain Tilden's, were withdrawn early in November. but not until after they had made two expeditions against
St. Regis, the first of which was fruitless. On the second they captured the place and a company of British soldiers
which was in garrison there. Yet another expedition, of which I have never seen mention except in a private letter
written by one of the participants (Lieut. Noble of Essex county), was undertaken November 3d. The battalion was
ordered out by Major Young ostensibly to proceed against plunderers who were alleged to be driving off cattle at
a point eight or ten miles away. They marched all day, a distance of about eighteen miles, for eleven of which
they floundered through two swamps, when some of the officers revolted because no plunderers had been found and
because they had become satisfied that the major was in reality leading them to an attack upon a superior force
near Montreal. They returned with their forces to French Mills - their commands being militia organizations, and
therefore not subject to service beyond the confines of their own country. Hardly had the Troy and Essex county
companies been withdrawn from French Mills when Captain Tilden and his men, numbering forty-odd, were captured
by a larger force of British, Canadians and Indians, who remained hardly an hour. The post was occupied soon thereafter
by companies from Columbia county. which remained until March, 1813, and then by the company of Captain David Erwin
of Constable, who continued in charge until the arrival of General Wilkinson's army in November of the same year.
The year following Captain Tilden's capture was without notable incident locally. The story of General Wilkinson's
stay is recited in considerable detail in another chapter, and need not be repeated. Hospital Surgeon James Mann,
from Massachusetts, says that at this date the vicinity of French Mills was a wilderness, and letters written by
members of Major Young's command, a year earlier, complained bitterly that, though the officers were able to find
accommodations of a sort in the homes of residents, the body of privates had to live in tents and huts, with altogether
inadequate protection from the cold. The many sick soldiers in General Wilkinson's army had mostly to be transferred
to Malone, though local tradition is to the effect that a house opposite the American Hotel was converted to hospital
uses. But even if every habitation in the place had been so taken, no great number could have been accommodated,
as a map of date 1818 shows only thirty buildings in all, including mills, in the mile square. The army remained
until February, 1814, a part camping on Covington Hill, near the block house, and others on a site on the west
side of the river, about a quarter of a mile south of Chateaugay street. Both positions are believed by present
residents to have been fortified, and there is an impression on the part of some that the military reservation
adjacent to Canada on the east side of the river also had defensive works. But apparently more intelligent examination
of this latter locality resolves what had been deemed a fortification into a reservoir for supplying water to a
distillery just across the border. Pipe logs leading to the place from the mill pond have been cut at a number
of points. The army here was under the immediate command of General Jacob Brown of .Tefferson county, General Wilkinson
having transferred his headquarters to Malone. When General Brown's command was withdrawn and departed for Sacketts
Harbor in February, 1814, the block house is said to have been burned and the barges which had brought the force
from Sacketts Harbor scuttled and burned down to the ice. Of the truth of the latter representation there is no
doubt whatever, as the wrecks of the boats are still to be found at the river bottom. but the block house is claimed
by some to have continued to stand for a good many years. Upon evacuation by General Brown the British marched
in, February 19, 1814, and seized such stores as were to be found.
The presence of an army in a community, its individual units freed from the restraints of home, and prompted often
in periods of camp Widleness to excesses and unmoral acts, is always demoralizing to the citizenry, and French
Mills undoubtedly suffered in this regard, though it is doubtful if it had ever been a particularly godly place,
as it is stated in a biography of Rev. Nathaniel Colver that in 1820 there was not a "praying man" in
the town. It is altogether probable that business throve when the soldiers were paid, as their scant and miserably
poor rations disposed them to buy supplies locally whenever they were in funds. But after the departure of the
troops a sharp reaction was experienced, and for years a tremendous scarcity of money prevailed. Christopher Briggs
told the writer thirty-odd years ago that when he arrived in Fort Covington in 1820 the place had not recovered
from the effects of the war. Only from Judge Campbell or Allen Lincoln could cash be had, and. even as late as
1827, when Mr. Briggs engaged in trade, he did not handle a hundred dollars in money in an entire year's business!
Confirmatory of Mr. Briggs's story of hard times, I find in the advertising columns of the Franklin Telegraph in
1821 no less than seven notices of sheriff's sales of the property of prominent Fort Coving-ton men, viz.: Ambrose
Cushman, Benjamin and Samuel Sanborn, John Drum, Samuel and Jonathan Rich, and James McLean.
From the year 1820 we are on surer ground, with more exact and more accurate data, though trustworthy particulars
on some points are still unobtainable. According to Mr. Briggs, there were then about thirty-five dwelling houses
in the hamlet, and only one store, kept by John Aiken. The manufacturing establishments included a carding mill,
a tannery, a grist mill, a cabinet shop, and a trip-hammer works, which made scythes and nails. The map of 1818
in the Secretary of State's office shows the carding mill, marked as a "clothiery," on the east side
of the river, the (Herrick) "bark mill," just above it, the trip-hammer works at about the place where
Courtney's carriage shop now stands, and the grist mill on the west side, close up to the dam. The trip-hammer
works and nail factory were operated by Jesse Woodbury, Jr., from Washington county. There were several stores
at Dundee in Canada. It was almost impossible at that time to haul goods from Plattsburgh on account of poor roads,
and pretty much everything that the people required from merchants came from Montreal. The customs officers were
not vigilant or strict, and never pretended to collect duties on small quantities bought for personal or domestic
use unless the smuggler operated so openly that he could not he ignored with safety. When Mr. Briggs did teaming
between Fort Covington and Plattsburgh his employers would give him three dollars for the expenses of a round trip,
of which seventy-five cents had to be paid. for tolls, so that two dollars and a quarter was all that he had for
other expenses for three nights and four days on the road. But even this was a munificent allowance in comparison
with the funds that sufficed for his journey from Washington county with his father. There were eight in the party,
and at the start fourteen dollars was the total amount in their possession. Three miles this side of Plattsburgh
the sum had been reduced to three shillings, which one member of the company took at Ellenburgh, and pushed ahead
on foot. Mr. Briggs and family were two or three days completing the journey, without a cent of money. "We
had. to live plainly and work industriously. I had lived in the town thirteen years before I had anything but a
lumber wagon in which to drive to church, and even then I was the first outside of the village to own. a buggy,
while in the village such vehicles were very few. * * * But the period of stress and stagnation following the war
was nearing its end, and a year or two later prosperity came to the town - not in. the degree by which we measure
success and growth to-day, but in the modest way in which we estimated them then. Farmers from all over the county
brought their black salts there to market them. * * * All these influences combined to build up Fort Coyington,
and it was from about 1822 to 1832 that the town witnessed its period of most rapid. development and greatest prosperity.
Men could not come here from all over the country to the southward with their produce without adding materially
to the volume of the town's business. They found the place the best market accessible for their products, and these
products brought them no cash except in rare instances. They had to take pay for them from the stores, so the town's
merchants made money both on what they bought and on what they sold." But the year 1825 was a disastrous one.
Lumber tumbled in price, and George N. Seymour, Allan McHutcheon and Aretus and Myron Hitchcock failed. Indeed,
as stated by Mr. Briggs, John Aiken, Benjamin Raymond and Warren L. Manning were the oniy merchants the town ever
had in the earlier years who did not fail at some time, though most of them got on their feet again.
The Franklin Telegraph contained advertisements by the following:
William Burns, tea and sheetings, 1820: John Davidson, dry goods, groceries and tinsmith at Salmon River lines.
1820: James Campbell, Genesee flour, pork, and a thousand gallons of whiskey, 1821; P. B. Fiske, saddlerv and boots
and shoes, 1821; William Herrick. soal leather at twenty-six cents per pound by the hundredweight, 1824; John &
R. Johnson, successors to R. Hawley & Co., in store in rear of Joseph Spencer's tavern, dry goods and groceries,
in 1825, to which they added millinery later in the year, with a milliner "from the south"; Jeremiah
Parker, tailor, 1825; A. McHutcheon & Co., a closing out sale of their stock of dry goods, groceries and hard
and earthen ware, 1825; James Parker, saddlery, 1826; Miss H. W. Smith, a ladies' school in 1826 at Dr. Paddock's
house, at which the tuition for instruction in reading, writing, English grammar, composition and. geography was
two dollars, and three dollars for rhetoric, history, philosophy, chemistry, ornamental needlework, and painting
in oil colors and on velvet; and George B. R. Gove, at the old McHutcheon stand, salt, dry goods, groceries, hardware
and whiskey, 1828. Mr. Gove also advertised brick-making in 1825; J. Congdon and R. A. Campbell a carding mill
in 1821; and Dr. Roswell Bates vaccination in 1820 at a charge of twelve and a half cents per ease "ready-pay"
or twenty-five cents "trust."
Spafford's Gazetteer, a standard work published in 1824, states that Fort Covington then had forty-nine mechanics,
two storekeepers, three grist mills, one fulling mill, two carding machines, one iron works, one nail factory,
three tanneries and one ashery. At one time there were six asheries.
The Franklin Republican, published at Fort Covington, contained these advertisements in 1828: George B. R. Gove
and John R. Johnston, merchants; Ora F. Paddock, druggist; and Thomas Mears, miller. In 1830 the following were
advertisers in the same paper:
David L. Seymour, potash kettles, salt, strong beer and sole leather; Orvis & Meeker, by George B. B. Gove,
agent, tea and domestic goods; Aretus M. & M. Hitchcock, general merchants; and William Cleveland. and James
Parker, hotels. The senior member of the firm of Meeker & Orvis was Uriah D. Meeker, who afterward became county
clerk, and then was for many years deputy clerk and one of the most respected citizens of Malone.
Quoting Mr. Briggs again: "I visited Malone for the first time in 1822, and I should think that the towns
were then of about equal size. I do not know whether Fort Covington ever contained actually more inhabitants than
Malone. The latter had a larger area devoted to agriculture about it at that time than the former, and may have
contained the most people. But about 1825 Fort Covington forged ahead of Malone from the business standpoint, and
maintained the lead until the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain Railroad was built, though Malone seemed for a time,
when its cotton factory was built, to have recovered at least a part of the ground lost."
Unlike most of the other older towns, which were peopled so largely from New England, Fort Covington's earliest
settlers were from Canada, and were of French extraction, with some sprinkling of English and Scotch, though there
were a few also from Vermont and from Washington county in this State. Indeed, perhaps the latter locality supplied
the larger number of pioneers between, say, 1806 and 1820.
The population of Fort Covington has had remarkable fluctuations. Three years after the town's erection it had
just under one thousand, which exceeded that of any other town in the county except Malone, which outnumbered it
by about 150. In 1825 it had increased to 2,136, or 118 per cent., and in the ensuing five years there was a further
gain of 32 per cent. to 2,901, which placed it ahead of Malone by about 700, or by 200 more than in 1825. Only
in these years was it ever larger than Malone. In 1835 it had decreased to 1,665, a loss of 42 per cent.- due in
the main, if not altogether, to the partition of the town to form Bombay. From this latter date there was a fair
rate of growth to 1860, when the figures stood at 2,757 (about half as many as Malone then had), but following
that year there was an almost unbroken decline to 1900, since when the population has been practically stationary
at a little over 2,000. The figures for 1915 are 2,045, of which 199 are aliens, and the number residing in the
village is 757. The village was incorporated in. 1889. There are now seven towns in the county each having a larger
population, and one other which is of about equal rank.
While Fort Covingion never at any time except in 1825 and 1830 had a larger population than Malone, it was nevertheless
for a quarter of a century the more important and busier place. Its location gave it advantages which no other
town in the county possessed. The Salmon river used to be navigab.le for barges and for steamboats that drew eight
or nine feet to a point about a mile above Dundee, which made the place the natural port of entry and of exportation
for the entire county and for the eastern section of St. Lawrence as well. Flour and other supplies had to he procured
there or from Plattsburgh, and for a long time our lumber and black salts went there on their way to market in
Montreal or Quebec. Its stores were the best stocked in the county, and it is not easily understandable why its
pre-eminence was not greater than the record shows. It certainly had some enterprising and strong men. In the number
and ability of its members of the bar in early days it was particularly strong, and its physicians stood easily
first. Politically it almost dominated the county at one time, when complaint used to be preferred against the
interference and arrogance of the "Fort Covingtori junta," as it later obtained concerning the "Malone
ring." With everything so favoring it, it would seem that until Malone gained its railroad facilities it ought
still more to have outranked and outstripped it. Can it be possible that even in early times a spirit of laissez
faire prevailed, as it certainly did at a later period, a single illustration of which it is worth while to cite?
Thirtyodd years ago Charles W. Breed of Malone visited the place for a part of a day, and dropped in for a call
upon a druggist, who soon proposed a fishing trip down the river. Mr. Breed assenting, the druggist in question
locked his store, and called upon his competing druggist (who was also postmaster) to join the party. The latter
also locked his store and post-office. and the three were absent for some hours. One wonders if something of this
attitude may not have been responsible for the deadness which for a long time characterized the Fort. But this
is a long break in our story, and there ought to be a returii to about 1820.
John A. Qua gave his recollections of early Fort Covington in a letter published a few years ago. He came there
from Washington county in 1819, when he says that there was no store except a small grocery, which was where the
Gillis drug store stood later, though there were two places which sold liquor. All trading was done at Dundee.
There was no school house, nor a church, and Alexander Campbell had the only hotel, at the west end of the lower
bridge. The village consisted of oniy a few log houses. Outside of the village on Drum street, the only residents
were a Mr. Russell, David Drum, Ehenezer Stevens and Sewall Gleason; on the Bombay road, a Mr. Dana and Robert
and William Chapman: on the Deer River road. north of the Ellsworths, only two log houses on Creighton street,
William Creighton and Samuel Fletcher; and on Burns street, George Larkin Burns, William Ryan and William Holden.
The first school house was on the Farlinger place, and the second on the Thomas W. Creed place. With the latter
a town house was combined, in the upper room of which Lorenzo Coburn's reminiscences state that a Mr. Crosby had
an "academy" (not incorporated) in 1825, and Rev. Elisha Hazard taught a district school in the lower
room. Wages in 1819 were three shillings a day, and it is a safe guess that a day was longer than eight hours.
John U. Hatton did not become a resident uatil about 1850, but he was in time to gather a good deal of early history
at first hand from those who had made it, which he published in his later years. He names Charles Marsh (not mentioned
either by Mr. Briggs or by Mr. Qua) as having been in trade in 1820. Mr. Marsh was decidedly prosperous at one
time, and devoutly religious. Indeed, Mr. Hatton says that he took upon himself the entire support of the Presbyterian
church, less such contributions as others might 'volunteer to make. He lived in an old stone house on Water street,
just above the mouth of the Little Salmon, which sloped from the highway back to the bank of the river. It was
built in four sections, so that the roof of each new part stepped down from the older. The newer parts were shed,
storehouse, etc.; these have been torn down, and the front remodeled. It was known as "Marsh's castle."
At one time the systematic smuggling practiced at the Fort was conducted largely by landing the goods at the river
end of the building, and then secreting them in it until there should be opportunity for their removal. I have
never heard, however, that Mr. Marsh was a party to such operations, or even privy to them. He failed about 1850
for more than twenty thousand dollars, afterward became insane, and died poor. He was thrown from a buggy thirty-.
odd years ago, and never recovered from his injuries. He came from Washington county by way of Montreal, where
he got his training in merchandising.
Still another merchant in the long ago was Samuel C. F. Thorndike of Malone, who, however, remained for oniy a
The activities of William Hogle, a notable personage at one time, were principally of a little later date. According
to Mr. Hatton, he was an adopted son of George B. R. Gove, and his store at one time employed five clerks, and
had so large a trade that all were kept busy. He went into the steamboat business, sinking over twenty thousand
dollars in it, which ruined him financially. Later, however, he operated the Gove saw mill, and manufactured saleratus
on an extensive scale from pearl-ash. He had a wharf just below where the Little Salmon empties into the Big Salmon,
and used to ship potash or pearlash, hoop poles and Indian baskets by canal boat, via the St. Lawrence, the Richelieu
river and Lake Champlain, to New York city. He was also a partner of Allen M. Lincoln for a short time in the manufacture
of starch in the Luther Starks woolen mill.
Yet more important factors in business than any of these were Benjamin Raymond, Warren L. Manning, Richard Grange
and James W. Kimball, all of whom were of a later period. Perhaps S. V. R. Tuthill, a partner of Mr. Manning, ought
to be included in the list, and also D. E. Deneen and T. W. Creed as later extensive dealers.
The story of the industrial establishments of Fort Covington is difficult to trace in detail with accuracy. The
first were, of course, the Indian saw mill and the Robertson grist mill, together known as the French mills. If
taken literally, Mr. Constable's diary, locating the one on the north and the other on the south bank of the river,
would require them to be either below the Lincoln tannery, where the river bends to the west, or south of Chateaugay
street; and a map on file in the county clerk's office, made in 1835, actually shows them at the first mentioned
point, which is an absurdity, because that site admits of no power development. Moreover, records in the Secretary
of State's office at Albany establish incontestably that these mills were in the immediate vicinity of the sites
of the present electric light plant and of the former McNaughton grist mill. An act of the Legislature, passed
in April, 1819, providing for the sale of the lots in the mile square carried a prohibition against the issuance
of a patent by the State to the heirs or legal representatives of James and Alexander Robertson for the grist mill
lot until they should pay to the State one hundred and twenty dollars, to be applied to the benefit of Robert Buchanan.
Knowing that it was the policy and law of the State that original occupants of any given parcel in this tract should
have the preference in buying at the appraised valuation, but that nevertheless compensation must be made to the
then tenants or occupants who had made improvements, the significance of the provision quoted from the law of 1819
is readily seen. Buchanan had been a lessee of the grist mill from the Robertsons, and in the course of his fifteen
years of such occupancy had doubtless laid out something on the property for betterments. The Robertsons, apparently,
declined to compensate him for these, and, the disagreement being carried to Albany, the State limited the prescriptive
right of the Robertsons to buy unless they complied with the general obligation to pay for improvements. The matter
evidently dragged for six years, when, in 1825, Elizabeth Robertson Stuart of Montreal, "sole heiress of James
and Alexander Robertson," met the stipulated condition, and received the State's patent to the lot on the
west side of the river, where the electric light works are, which she contracted in 1831 to Thomas Mears of Hawkesbury,
Ont., who was the father of Hamlet B. and Thomas Stewart Mears. But if this be not enough to fix convincingly almost
the precise spot where the first grist mill stood, it may be added that I have been privileged recently to see
the notes on early Fort Covington that were made thirty or forty years ago by a gentleman who then examined carefully
into the facts, when pioneers were still living to impart information, and these notes also locate the original
mills at the places stated. Having in mind probably the general course of the river from where it passes out of
Westville, Mr. Constable must have written "north" and "south" where "right" and
"left" would have been more accurately descriptive.
But before proceeding to designate as far as may be the various establishments that have flourished, decayed and
disappeared at this center of activity during nearly four generations it seems pertinent to unfold more fully the
conditions and record concerning the ceded lands in the mile square.
Seven or eight years before its cession by the Indians to the State the Robertsons sublet the east half of the
tract to William Hawkins, who, unable to keep up his payments, repudiated his agreement with the lessors; but,
instead of surrendering his holdings to them, delivered back a part to the Indians. During his possession Hawkins
had in 1809 and 1810 erected a new saw mill where the first one had stood. Ignoring their own lease to the Robertsons,
the Indians thereupon leased the lots between Mill street and the river, together with the saw mill thereon, to
The entire mile square, ceded by the Indians in 1816, was surveyed by State authorities in 1818 into "houselots"
and "outlots." The former, numbering about one hundred, were of varying dimensions, and were all in localities
which were expected to be occupied by village residences or commercial and manufacturing establishments. Two factors
were to govern in the sale of these, viz., the estimated value of the land alone, and the appraised value of improvements,
if any, added. For the unimproved lots or parts thereof (for some of the lots were sold as a whole, and others
broken into two or three or even a half dozen parcels each) the prices ranged from fifteen dollars to two hundred
dollars apiece, while the appraised value of improvements varied widely. For the lot on which the electric light
works are the straight land value was appraised at $2,000, and the improvements at $3,120, out of which latter
sum Buchanan was, of course, to get his $120, while the remainder represented the interest of the Robertsons themselves
- they having been the original builders. The value of the several lots lying between Mill street and the river
was set at $1,000, and of the improvements at $1,500.
The "outlots" were in the outskirts of the mile square, and had an area of from two to thirty-four acres
each. The number of such lots was twenty-one.
Now for such history of the several mills and shops in the locality as I have been able to gather:
According to the Constable diary, the saw mill on the east side of the river had gone into disuse by 1805. It had
undoubtedly been a primitive and cheaply constructed affair, and naturally could not last long. By 1810 William
Hawkins had rebuilt it, as shown by State records, and by 1816 Wareham Hastings had come into possession. The latter
purchased the property outright from the State in 1822, and sold it the same year or the next to Joshua Aiken of
Peru, who in turn disposed. of it in 1823 for $5,300 to Benjamin Sanborn of Fort Covington and Thomas Mears of
Hawkesbury, Ont. The deed of conveyance includes both a saw mill and a grist mill. The latter was built by Sanborn,
for Chapter 7 of the Laws of 1824 recites that he had by mistake built a part of his grist mill on the lot above
the one that he owned, and gave him the privilege of buying the additional lot. When and how the saw mill went
out of existence I am unable to learn. In 1826 Sanborn disposed of his interest in the property to Mears, and the
grist mill remained thereafter for nearly half a century a Mears possession, though operated now and again under
lease by other parties - among whom were John and Robert Patterson, who had it when it burned about 1870, Isaac
Seeley, John Gullies and Gilbert A., Albon and Almon Wright. Later the Wrights had it by purchase, and sold it
in 1888 for twelve thousand dollars to the Fort Covington Milling Company (a McNaughton organization), which proceeded
to lay out several thousand dollars additional in converting it into a roller-process mill and otherwise improving
it. This company did an extensive business for a number of years, smuggling wheat by the carload, and finally having
to pay five thousand dollars to the United States government to settle the case against it. Not long after the
dam had been carried off by a freshet in 1913, the mill burned, and has not been rebuilt.
The "bark mill" marked on the map of 1818, which would naturally be supposed to belong to the Streeter
tannery, was in fact an adjunct of William W. Herrick's, and had no water privilege except for grinding for that
particular works. State records show that it had gone into practical disuse in 1832. Near this hark mill was Benjamin
B. Streeter's tannery, in which Grindal Streeter was afterward a partner. A shoeshop was an adjunct of it, and
not far away was a hat factory run by one or more members of the family. At this factory high hats for men's dress
wear were made. As I now visualize the oniy one of them that I ever saw, it might have served as a pattern for
the headgear that Uncle Sam is pictured as wearing, or it might have been copied from it. These hats were higher
and larger than t.he modern silk tile, were of a yellowish tinge, and the plush or fur with which they were covered
was nearly as long as the fur of an animal.
It seems a reasonable assumption that the "clothiery" shown on the map was a carding mill - perhaps that
of J. Congdon and R. A. Campbell advertised in 1821, and also the same as that which George A. Cheney owned later.
Certainly it could not have been a woolen factory, for there was no such establishment in the county until after
The triphammer works, as already stated, were owned. and run by Jesse Woodbury, Jr. The census of 1825 lists them
as still in existence, but that of ten years later omits them altogether.
Quite a distance down the river, and between the river and Water street, was William W. Herrick's tannery, with
shoeshop connected with it. The precise date of its establishment can not be ascertained, but certainly was 1818
or earlier. Walter Herrick, a grandson, is confident that it antedated Allen Lincoln's, which was on the lot next
north, and probably was built in 1822.
Mr. Lincoln had a shoeshop in connection with his tannery, and also a store in one end of it, from which he wholesaled
large quantities of merchandise (then cheaper there than at Cornwall) to go into Canada for resale. When Mr. Lincoln
identified himself with Fort Covington there was riot a house in the place that he could rent, and he had to fix
his habitation temporarily in Westville - walking to his work every morning, and tramping home at night. His tannery,
shoeshop, store, real estate investments and other activities prospered him remarkably, and no man in the town
was of greater importance or more prominent. His estate, valued at one hundred thousand dollars. was one of the
largest ever accumulated by anybody in Fort Covington. His tannery continued to be operated for a good many years.
his son. Allen M., running it, and then James Blansfield. It was finally torn down.
The Cheney carding mill and dye works were sold to John and Alexander M. Stewart. who converted the building into
a furniture factory, which fire wiped out.
James Courtney's carriage shop stands about where the Streeter tannery used to be. and is the only industry in
the vicinity on the east side of the river where there were formerly so many. A part of the Courtney building once
stood on Water street, where Mr. Courtney understands that it was at one time a hotel, kept by a Mr. Dutcher, and
then by Hiram Stafford, but which others remember as a saloon only.
Near this point there was also a plant for rectifying whiskey, which was run by D. E. Deneen and Michael Mead.
As already demonstrated, the first grist mill was located nearly opposite, close up to the dam on the west bank.
The lot on which it stood was contracted in 1831 by a Robertson heir to Thomas Mears, who already owned a like
mill on the east bank, and full title passed in 1839. But the premises had been sold under a judgment in 1836,
Hamlet B. Mears buying them in, and the sheriff's certificate of sale reciting that there were "grain mills,
a distillery and outbuildings thereon." The deed of 1839. however, recites the description as it appeared
in the contract of eight years earlier, and mentions oniy an old building that had theretofore been used as a mill,
without specifying its kind, but which undoubtedly was the original grist mill of 1805. The census of 1835 so lists
it, but that of ten years later omits it, so that it must have disappeared, perhaps by decay or by fire, during
that decade. Between the contents of the contract of 1831 and the sheriff's certificate it is made to appear rather
convincingly that the distillery was built between 1831 and 1836. It is understood to have been owned and operated
by Aretus M. and Myron Hitchcock. How long it was run and what became of it is unknown, but my conjecture is that
it became the Luther Starks woolen factory, as the latter was established in a building that was already standing,
which the lessee undertook in his lease to complete and improve.
In 1841 Hamlet B. and Thomas S. Mears leased to Luther Starks for ten years, with renewal privilege, a building
and water rights on the west side of the river for a carding and fulling mill and for the manufacture of cloth,
the lessors reserving a right of way to a point below for a saw mill if they should build one there. By the terms
of the lease Mr. Starks was to make specified changes and improvements in the building. He operated the industry
until he committed suicide by cutting his throat in March, 1850. The business was continued for a few years thereafter
by Tilness Briggs.
The saw mill contemplated in the lease was built by the Messrs. Mears, and after a time was made over into a starch
factory, which the Mears Brothers operated, followed by Gilbert A. Wright and then by Allen M. Lincoln and William
Hogle. It had but a brief life.
Both this starch factory and the Starks woolen mills were torn down and the material in them utilized for the erection
of a sash and door factory near by for Gilbert A. Wright, which was four stories in height, and is said to have
contained ten thousand dollars' worth of machinery. It did a considerable business for a country plant until it
was destroyed by fire.
Matthew Fleming and Donald Chishoim had a wheelwright shop just below the starch mill, and later Seth Blanchard
had one yet farther down the stream. Both were burned. Lewis Bullis also had one on Center street, east of Water
street, and on Salmon street, below Center, James Somers had another, a good many years ago. The building is still
standing, but is not in use.
The sole industrial establishments in this immediate locality at present are the Courtney shop on the east side,
and on the west bank the electric light and power plant, the saw mill, planing mill and feed mill of Patrick and
W. H. S. Keefe, who came from Canada in 1902, and first installed the electric works, which have a potential development
of three hundred horse power. The rates for service are two dollars per month per light for residences and half
a dollar more per light for commercial consumers. The arrangement induces free burning of lamps, with the result
that Fort Covington always has the appearance of being one of the best lighted villages in Northern New York. Plans
and terms were virtually agreed upon in 1917 by which Shields Brothers were to build a transmission line from the
works to Bombay, and there use the current for lighting their factory and offices as well as other business places
and residences. The Keefe dam was carried off by a freshet in 1913, and has been replaced by one of concrete.
South of this center, close by the upper bridge, on the west side, Calvin Henry had a stone blacksmith shop in
the long ago, which was displaced thirty years since by a furniture factory built by Spencer & Premo. The latter
was converted a few years ago into a co-operative creamery, now owned and operated by Solon Storm. Almost directly
across the stream was Daniel Noble's tannery and shoe shop. The building is now a barn, just in the rear of William
G. Kelsey's dwelling house. Mr. Noble owned a considerable tract of land south of the tannerv, and an indentation
of the river there has borne the name Noble Bay for many years.
At the so-called upper falls, south and east of the upper bridge, near the old Danforth saw mill, which age and
high water put out of existence thirty or forty years ago, there was a carding and fulling mill and woolen factory
at least as early as 1834. Luther Danforth owned it in 1836, and presumably built it. He leased it in that year
to Luther Starks and Sidney Briggs. According to the census this mill and the one on the Little Salmon in 1834
manufactured 22,407 yards of cloth valued at $6,885 - which was only about half as much as the like product of
the county that was made in the same year in families, where in the same time there were also made 20,623 yards
of cotton and linen. In that period nearly every family had its flock of sheep, and wives and daughters were accustomed
to make the cloth required for practically all garments for men, women and children, as well as blankets and spreads
for the beds and tables. Spinning and weaving were then included in the customary household accomplishments, and,
indeed, as Gaillard Hunt puts it, "in the country each family was an independency. * * * The household stood
alone, and might be cut off from communication with the rest of the world for months at a time without inconvenience."
Some specimens of these early manufactures are still to be found in Franklin county, and show an intricacy of design
and a beauty of finish that are amazing for hand work. Even the President himself in 1809 wore a suit of homespun
at his inauguration. Mr Starks assigned his interest in the lease of the mill in 1839 to Daniel Russell and D.
Stiles McMillan: and in 1843 the business was advertised under the name of Sidney Briggs & Co., who announced
the price of twenty-five cents per yard for making gray cloth, or thirty cents for colored. In 1850 Mr. Briggs
assigned his lease of the property to Benjamin Raymond, who in turn assigned it soon afterward to Alonzo Doane
and Reuben Martin - Doane assigning his interest the same year to Preserved Ware. In 1856 Mr. Martin came into
actual ownership of the property. The operators of the mill from the time of Briggs to 1866 are not surely ascertainable.
Luther Danforth is claimed h some of the older people to have run it himself for a part of this period, while others
insist that he never ran it himself at all. Tiliness Briggs and Norman McPhee were both there for a time, and during
a part. of the period of Martin's ownership it was operated by his son-in-law, Elory Howard. Moses Santinee and
Louis Currier, brothers-in-law. also ran it, but whether separately or in partnership no one seems to remember.
In 1866 it was sold to Joseph Shannon, who, with his son. David, operated it except for a short time until it was
sold to Thomas Davidson in 1893. Mr. Davidson still made cloth there occasionally in a small way until his death
in 1917, but the establishment was better known as a carding mill, the only one of the many doing custom work that
at one time flourished in the county. The old dam was carried off, and the plant depended upon a gasoline engine
Near this woolen mill Daniel Taro (brother of "poor Peter" of Malone, a skillful moulder sixty years
ago, but afterward a vagrant drunkard, who was killed on the railroad near Montreal) had a foundry before the civil
war. A mortar and pestle made there may still be seen at the MacArtney drug store.
Across the river from the woolen factory, but farther up the stream, Thomas Mears once had a saw mill, which was
run as late as 1875 by S. J. Stewart, and still later by Allen Fay for his brothers, Joseph and James. Joseph now
owns the site and power, the mill having gone out of existence.
Toward the close of the civil war, when the price of cotton reached a fabulous figure, Gilbert A. Wright built
a flax mill near this saw mill, arid in 1866 sold a half interest in it to Hamlet B. Mears; but the enterprise
did not prosper, and was abandoned - the building being made over into a sash and blind factory, and eventually
Daniel Whitney and Luther Bartlett had a tub factory in the same vicinity, which was owned and run later by Sands
Austin. It was burned when Mrs. Lareach and two daughters were occupying the second story as a residence. The mother
was old, and the night of the fire had been locked in while the daughters went to the village. Unable to make her
escape, she was burned to death.
Another tragedy near by was the drowning perhaps seventy years ago of Thomas Carter and two girls. They had been
to church and returning had to cross the river in order to reach their home. The boat was small and unsteady, and,
overturning, all were drowned.
Over on the Little Salmon earlier than 1830 John Starks built the first woolen mill that the county ever had. Misfortune
pursued him persistently, however, the mill having been carried off by a freshet while it was yet almost new, and,
having been quickly rebuilt, was destroyed by fire in 1839 or 1840. Mr. S±arks removed to Malone, and in
1843, in company with Cyrenus Gorton and George A. Cheney, bought the woolen mill now owned by the Lawrence-Webster
Company, but failed soon afterward. His Fort Covington mill was rebuilt by Myron Hitchcock, who ran it for a time.
and I am informed that Sidney Briggs also had it later. It was finally torn down or carried off by high water.
Near the John Starks woolen factory was the dwelling house of Robert McPhee, an expert weaver who came from Paisley,
Scotland, and set up looms in his house. He employed two or three hands, and turned out a considerable product
of fine goods.
In this same locality George B. R. Gove built and ran a grist mill, a mill for grinding plaster and a saw mill.
It is said that the plaster ground here was drawn to Plattsburgh, where it was sold as a fertilizer. The grist
mill became the property of Judge Henry A. Paddock, son-inlaw of Mr. Gove, and was sold by him in. 1865 to Sherman
B. Rickerson. Subsequent owners have been Thomas and William Hamilton, Robert Mitchell and now Archibald MeNair.
Though the mill still stands, it is useless, partly from depreciation and also for lack of power, the dam having
been undermined. The Gove saw mill was run at one time by William Hogle, and fifty years ago or more he and Allen
M. Lincoln had a starch mill there, which was owned afterward by Thomas W. Creed. It was carried off by a freshet
In view of the general practice in early times, it would be strange if there were not a saw mill on every stream
in the town where a power could be developed; but I have been able to obtain trace only of a few additional to
those already named; all but two of these were in the vicinity of Deer River Corners, now called Fort Covington
Center. The first of them was on the east branch of Deer river, and was doubtless built by Jonathan Ordway; another.
with a tub factory combined, was built by Nathan, James and Addison Inman, and was burned in 1861; one a hundred
rods up the stream, built, by Edwin S. Beau in 1857, sold to Richard Delarm, 'who resold to Mr. Bean, and the latter
to Lewis Billings; another, still farther up the stream, built by Winchester Briggs, and gone long ago; still another
was built and run by Alien Ellsworth; and on the west branch of Deer river Alonzo and William Ordway had a mill.
Another industry in this locality was a brickyard on the Charles Frye farm, operated by Robert Cushman and Seth
Blanchard. The field book of a State survey in 1832 shows a saw mill on Pike creek that had almost rotted down,
and which at the date stated was owned by David McMillan. Information from another source fixes 1813 as the date
of its erection; at a later date it was removed and rebuilt by Mr. McMillan farther up the creek.
The earliest hotels in Fort Covington were one at the west end of the lower bridge on Center street in a building
a part of which is now the residence of Frank J. Bucklin, and one in the building now occupied by the Allen S.
Matthews estate as a tin and hardware store. Both of these were running in 181 3, and perhaps earlier; the former
with Alexander Campbell as landlord, but by whom the latter was first kept I am unable to ascertain. Lemuel K.
Warren (who was a landlord at Hogansburgh in 1831) was its proprietor in 1820, and William Cleveland had it in
1830. Mr. Cleveland had previously owned a distillery in Malone, and kept a hotel on Webster street, near the Brewster
resiclence. Joseph Briggs erected a hotel almost on the international boundary in 1816, which was known as the
Briggs house for more than forty years. Landlords there after Mr. Briggs were William Shedd, Albert Stebbins and
John McGregor. It is now a private residence, occupied by Edward Chorette. An act of the Legislature passed in
1825 authorized the leasing of a quarter of an acre of land owned by the State which was bounded on the north by
Chateaugay street, on the west by Salmon street, and on the east and south by Salmon river (which is the lot where
the creamery now is, or near it) to Benjamin Sanborn, provided he erect thereon a tavern house and outbuildings,
but with the restriction that no part of the premises be used as a deposit for saw logs or lumber. Whether Mr.
Sanborn ever built the hotel I do not know. In 1825 Joseph Spencer, the elder, had a hotel the location of which
I cannot fix. Merchants by the name of Johnson advertised their store "in the rear of Joseph Spencer's tavern."
Harvey Clark had a hotel on the lot immediately west of the school house grounds (now known as the Sawyer lot)
as early as 1819 or 1820, which he rebuilt in 1824. The new house burned in 1827, and while it is known that Mr.
Clark was still an innkeeper a year or two later, it is impossible to determine whether it was at this same point
or elsewhere. He was a brother-in-law of Rev. Nathaniel Colver, who boarded with him in 1821, and who wrote to
Mrs. Colver that he could see from his chamber window "every morning and evening from one to three deer within
about a hundred and fifty rods, playing in the meadows." James Parker had a hotel in 1830, which was probably
the present Nbrthern Hotel on Water street,* which he is said to have built. The latter has had many landlords
since that time, among whom the following are recalled: Osborn Allen (the grandfather of J. 0. Allen of Brushton),
Alexis Thitcher, Oliver Paddock, F. W. Stoughton, and David and Robert Stafford for a few years following the civil
war, Tom Lee, Samuel McElwain, Dan. Taillon and King Kellogg. During the Stafford regime Fort Covington was engaged
in a big fight to give the town a temperance character, but the Staffords persisted defiantly in the sale of liquor,
and were frequently indicted and fined therefor. David became violently insane in 1873. Mr. McElwain committed
suicide by cutting his throat in 1883. Another old hotel was the so-called "old red house on Mill street.
which was kept by Judge James Campbell. The date of the building of the American or Spencer House is unknown, but
it was certainly in existence as early as 1837, and even may have been the hotel kept by Joseph Spencer, the elder,
in 1825, in the rear of which was the Johnson store. Samuel Browning, afterward at Hogansburgh and then proprietor
of the Ottawa House in Montreal, kept the American House at one time, and other hosts there include James Caul,
Joseph Spencer, the younger, N. Hollenback, Fitch O'Brian, Duncan M. Cameron, Alexander Gardner, Charles Kellogg,
and now Daniel Grant. This hotel was a military barracks in 1837 or 183S. when troops were stationed in the town
to enforce our neutrality laws during the Papineau rebellion in Canada. The American House and the Northern Hotel
are the only present inns in the town, and, unlike most other towns in early days, Fort Covington does not appear
to have ever had taverns outside of the village.
Fort Covington's first newspaper was the Franklin Republican, founded by J. K. Averill in 1827, and then published
by Samuel Hoard, with Francis D. Flanders as associate editor, until 1833; the Franklin Gazette, established by
Mr. Flanders in 1837, and removed to Malone in 1845, when Mr. Flanders was Assemblyman; the Salmon River Messenger
(sometimes derisively called the Mullet) which J. Dennison Fiske founded in 1851, and which J. Seeley Sargent (who
removed to New Orleans) published later until it was discontinued after a year or so; the St. Lawrence Valley Record,
founded by William Manson and published for a few years until 1876, when it was discontinued; the Svn, started
by Ransom Rowe in 1885, and since his death, ten years afterward, published by Isaac N. Lyons; and the Advertiser,
established by Frank J. Bucklin in 1910, but discontinued in 1917.
Fort Covington Academy was chartered April 21, 1831, and notes were given to the amount of nearly three thousand
dollars by a number of men of the vicinity, with promise to pay annually the interest on their obligations toward
the support of the institution. The upper room in the town hail, which at that time was on the Creed lot at the
corner of Chateaugav and High streets, was used at first for a sehool room, as it had previously been used for
a private academy that was taught in 1825 h a Rev. Mr. Crosby. A stone building two stories in height was erected
for it the next year on the public square on the west side of the river, on the same lot that is occupied by the
present high school. The original structure was burned in 1874, and was rebuilt in 1876. The academic charter was
surrendered in 1904, and the high school with an academic department authorized at the same time. The number of
academic students ranged for a long time in early days between twenty-five (in 1840) and seventy-five (in 1842),
in which latter year the fees received for tuition aggregated eight hundred dollars. The high school now employs
three teachers and has fiftyfive pupils.
Transportation conditions comprise an interesting story. In early years the Salmon river was navigable even for
large boats to a point south of the international boundary, and much freight was sent out and brought in by water,
and a considerable passenger traffic was fostered. Local parties were both steamboat builders and owners, though
most who so operated lost amounts which in those days were accounted a fortune. The principal market was of course
Montreal, but in some cases shipments were made directly to New York city. In 1866 two lines of steamers were running
between Dundee, Que., and Montreal, with competition so keen that the fare was only a sixpence; and in 1881 there
were four lines of boats plying between Dundee and Cornwall, Dundee and Lancaster and St. Anicet, Dundee and Ogdensbuirg,
and Dundee and Massena, each having a good patronage. In those days Fort Covington got its coal by water, and the
price there was so much less than in Malone that in some cases it was hauled by team from the former point to the
latter, whereas now the Malone price averages the lower. The channel of the Salmon is at present so shallow that
even motor pleasure craft scrape the bottom at some points - due in part of course to the fact of filling in, but
perhaps also to the fact that the level of the St. Lawrence itself is claimed to be lower than formerly. Something
like thirty years ago the federal government made an appropriation for dredging the Salmon, and in 1889 the State
appropriated ten thousand dollars for the same purpose. But there could be no value to these operations so long
as nothing was done from the boundary north, and Canada would do nothing in the matter, as its engineers estimated
that it would require a hundred and fifty thousand dollars to dredge the river properly through the Dominion to
the St. Lawrence.
But advantageous and beneficial as water navigation was in former years. the need for railway facilities was felt,
and agitation to obtain them developed, in 1866. or perhaps a trifle earlier, and continued intermittently and
spasmodically for fifteen or eighteen years before success was realized. The first movement of the sort of which
I have knowledge began about 1866, when it was proposed to build from Potsdam Junction (now Norwood) to St. Lambert.
Que. Public meetings were held in every hamlet in the northern part of the county, and as the constitutional prohibition
against granting aid to private enterprises was not then in force Fort Covington. voted to bond for seventy-five
thousand dollars and Bombay for fifty thousand dollars as a bonus, while individuals pledged sums upon a like basis
up to five hundred dollars each. The undertaking never went further, and about 1868 a new project was presented
and urged - which looked to the building of a road via Malone to Ausable Forks, where connection was to be made
with the' Delaware and Hudson system. This also failed of practical result, and in 1872 the proposition was advanced
to construct a line from Montreal to Massena. Again Fort Covington voted to give a bonus of seventy-five thousand
dollars, Bombay of forty thousand, and individuals generous amounts. Matters then dragged for ten years, when construction
was actually begun under Grand Trunk auspices, and the line opened for business in 1883. No local aid was given
except for rights of way and some small personal subscriptions. In 1887 the contract was let for an extension from
Fort Covington to Massena, the work of building was rushed, and thus Fort Covington gained a rail outlet eastward
through Canada to New England points and westward to the New York Central system, though the service is not particularly
good as respects passenger accommodations.
The St. Lawrence Valley Agricultural Society was formed in 1871, and held annual exhibitions on well chosen and
excellently fitted grounds to and including 1875 - five in all. Enterprising farmers and business men stood by
the project enthusiastically and loyally, but every year expenses exceeded receipts, so that when the affairs of
the society were finally wound up in 1883 the life members, numbering seventy-five, had to pay about fifty-five
dollars each to discharge the debts.
The first murder committed in Franklin county was perpetrated in Fort Covington February 2, 1825. The victim was
Fanny Mosely, who had formerly lived at Hawkesbury, Ont., where she had been married three or four years previously
to a worthless schoolmaster, and had come to Fort Covington for a wedding trip. There her husband stole all of
the money, two hundred dollars, that her father had given her as a marriage portion, and also a sleigh and a pair
of horses derived from the same source, deserted her, and was newer afterward heard from. Thus abandoned and left
destitute, Mrs. Mosely became a tailorss, won general respect, and accumulated some property. In 1824 she went
to the Videtoes, two or three miles south from the village, to make her home, and became engaged to Stephen Videtoe,
with arrangements for the marriage to occur a few days subsequent to the date of the murder. At the time that the
crime was committed Videtoe and Mrs. Mosely were alone in the house, except for Videtoe's parents, who were sleeping
in the kitchen. Videtoe had pretended for some days previously that he had seen Indians about the premises, and
simulated fear that they meant to massacre the members of the household. Accordingly he procured a gun and ammunition,
and after darkening the window with a blanket shot Mrs. Mosely, and, death not being instantaneous, gave her wine
which contained arsenic. She died after two or three hours, ignorant that her affianced was her murderer. Videtoe
gave out the report that Indians had come to the house, broken the window near the victim's bed, and shot through
the aperture. At first his account of the affair was accepted generally as truthful, and, spreading with amazing
rapidity, soon brought men armed and grimly determined to hunt down the assassins and give them summary justice.
But no tracks were to be found in the snow leading to or from the house, and, it becoming manifest that the window
had been broken from within instead of from without, and it appearing also that the bullet could not possibly have
taken the course it did if fired as Videtoe had represented, the theory of Indian perpetration was quickly abandoned,
and Videtoe was arrested. The trial in the following July continued for five days, and though the evidence was
almost wholly circumstantial it was deemed so convincing that the jury required only a few minutes 'to find, a
verdict of guilty. Some features of the trial seem curious to-day. The sessions of the court began at seven o'clock
mornings, and were continued until late every evening - the final session not having been concluded until five
o'clock in the morning. Just preceding or just following the judge's charge, a prayer was offered by Rev. Mr. Colver.
The execution was August 26, 1825, and was public. It occurred on the lot on Elm street in Malone, just east of
Mrs. Gilbert's, now owned by Harry H. Hawley, which was long known as "gallows hollow." Crowds of people
coming from all parts of the county were present to witness the gruesome affair. Videtoe protested his innocence
to the last, and went to the gallows with a written denial of his guilt in his hand, and even after the trap was
sprung changed the paper from one hand to the other and waved it at the crowd. The motive for the crime was of
course never positively known, but was conjectured to have been jealousy, or possibly a desire to avoid the marriage.
Videtoe was about twenty-five years of age.
A second murder, suggesting in some of its phases the Videtoe affair, was perpetrated November 18, 1885, by Edward
Gower. The victim was his wife. They lived in a rude hut west of Fort Covington Center, and had been to Brushton
to market their turkeys. On the way home, both having got out of the wagon, their horse ran away, and Gower pursued
it, leaving the woman to follow at her pleasure. Gower's story ran that after reaching home and, waiting a time
for Mrs. Gower, he assumed that she had stopped for the night with a neighbor, and went to bed. He claimed to have
been awakened by a crash of breaking glass, and to have fired through the window in the belief that mischievous
boys were about, and with intent to frighten them away, after which he insisted that he returned to bed, and knew
nothing of the fatal result of his shot until the next morning, when he found his wife dead under the window. Blood
prints on the window casing indicated that Mrs. Gower had tried to get into the house after she had been shot,
and the belief was that she had returned home soon after Gower himself arrived, had been thrust out by him, and
then shot deliberately through the window. The prosecution contended that it would have been impossible to inflict
the wound had Gower fired as he claimed to have done. Mrs. Gower was seventy years of age. A plea of guilty of
manslaughter in the second degree was accepted by the court, and the prisoner was sentenced to imprisonment at
Dannemora for one year.
A calamity of a different sort occurred in the town May 12, 1875, when a tornado swept over a section of. the village.
The schoolhouse near Malachi Barry's was unroofed, a daughter of Mrs. Fanny Brown instantly killed, and a child
of Harry Lowe seriously injured. Others of the school children were also slightly hurt. The path of the wind was
narrow, but ten or fifteen other buildings were partly wrecked, and in one case where a fence was destroyed every
post was pulled out of the ground.
The record of public offices held by Fort Covington residents is formidable, and demonstrates that the town has
not been slow in gaining recognition of the political claims of its people. Excluding minor positions, like coroner,
associate judge of the court of common pleas, loan commissioner, attorney for the St. Regis Indians. subordinates
in the customs office and clerkships at Albany and Washington, the list is as follows:
School Commissioners.- William Gills, George W. Lewis and William G. Cushman.
Deputy Collectors of Customs.- Seth Blanchard, John Hunsden, James Campbell, John MeCrea, James B. Spencer, James
Campbell, Samuel H. Payne, Ezra Stiles, George B. R. Gove, Ezra Stiles, Philo A. Matthews, S. E. Blood, A. S. Creighton,
George S. Henry, Sidney Ellsworth, Rodney Russell.
Sheriffs.-James Campbell, James C. Sawyer.
District Attorneys.- Henry A. Paddock, Waiter Payne.
Surrogates.- James B. spencer, Henry A. Paddock.
County Judges.- William Hogan, Roswell Bates, Joseph R. Flanders, Henry A. Paddock.
County Clerks.- George B. H. Gove, Uriah D. Meeker, Francis D. Flanders, Edward A. Whitney, Almerin W. Merrick.
Representatives in Congress.- William Hogan, James B. Spencer.
Members of Assembly.- William Hogan, George B. R. Gove, James Campbell, James B. Spencer, Jabez Parkhurst, Francis
D. Flanders, Joseph R. Flanders, George B. H. Gove, James W. Kimball, Allen S. Matthews.
Presidential Electors.- James Campbell, James B. Spencer.
It is interesting to note that besides presiding on the bench Dr. Roswell Bates was upon one occasion himself arraigned
in circumstances that must seem amazing to the present generation, which apparently holds the Sabbath in so indifferent
estimation. The doctor started one Sunday afternoon or evening from Fort Covington to drive to Malone, where he
was to spend the night with his sister, Mrs. Leonard Conant, and then get an early start on Monday for a visit
in Vermont. At Westville he was overtaken by an officer, who, apprehending him, escorted him back to Fort Covington,
where he was arraigned the next day and fined for having traveled otherwise than professionally on Sunday. His
church also took him to task for the offense, and disciplined him by denying him the privilege of partaking the
communion until he should express penitence, which he did after half a year. At the time in question a State statute
prohibited traveling on the Sabbath except in cases of charity or necessity, or in going to or returning from worship,
visiting the sick and certain other specified cases.
[Continued in Part 2]