History of Houndsfield, NY


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When on August 5, 1796, the proprietors of the eleven towns, otherwise known as the Black river tract, divided the lands among themselves, numbers 1, 4, 5, 8 and 10 (Hounsfield, Champion, Denmark, Rodman and Harrisburgh), with 1,283 acres of what is now Worth, fell to Richard Harrison and Joseph Ogden Hoffman. On June 30, 1797, Harrison and Hoffman sold the north part of Hounsfield (11,134.5 acres) to Henry Champion and Lemuel Storrs, and on March 10, 1801, disposed of the south part (15,913 acres) to Peter Kemble and Ezra Hounsfield (consideration of $4,000) who sold to settlers and smaller proprietors through the agency of Silas Stow and Elisha Camp.

As is well known in Jefferson county history, the title to all lands in the region passed from Macomb to constable, and from the latter to the lesser proprietors. This town passed through the same channel and its title became vested in Harrison, Hoffman, Low and Henderson as owners of the eleven towns, or the Black river tract, as above stated, and as more fully detailed in an earlier chapter of this work. Champion and Storrs, who paid for the north part of the town (with the town of Champion) $58,383.33, sold a portion of their tract (Nov. 14, 1798) to Loomis and Tillinghast, receiving therefor two promissory notes of $6,000 each, the payment of which was secured by mortgage on the lands. The notes were not paid when due, hence the mortgage was foreclosed, and on June 20, 1801, at the Tontine Coffee House in New York, under a decree of chancery the Loomis and Tillinghast lands were sold to Augustus Sacket, also of New York, who had heard of the desirable location and who, previous to the sale, had visited the region, having in mind at that time the subject of purchase and the subsequent improvement and settlement of the territory, although at that time he had no idea that his tract was to become one of the most historical localities in the whole country, and even afterward a military and naval station of much importance.

After the title had become perfected in Augustus Sacket he at once came to the lands with a small company of employees and began making improvements, so that within three years he had established quite a colony of mechanics and others, and was himself the possessor of one of the most pretentious residences in the region. In the meantime settlement had begun elsewhere in the town, and the honor of being the pioneer seems to have fallen to Amasa Fox, who in 1800 settled in the north part of the town in the vicinity of the afterward known "Muskalonge burying ground." If local tradition and scattered records are reliable, Fox was a worthy pioneer, an earnest developer, and one whose name should be preserved, although none of his immediate descendants are now known to be in the locality. Following closely after Fox, other scattered settlements were made along the south bank of Black river, a number of which were of a temporary character and associated with the flourishing settlement built up by Jacob Brown, at Brownville. The real pioneer of Hounsfield was Augustus Sacket, who began his extensive work during the summer and fall of 1801. At the same time the proprietors of the south part of the town were hardly less active, and under the agency of Silas Stow a number of sales and improvements had been made. In 1802 an observing traveler passed thrdugh the town, noting the condition of development, and reported about 30 families then settled in the territory, but did not (neither does any extant record) preserve their names. Mr. Sacket's colony probably included the majority of these settlers, while those scattered along the river with a few in the south part of the town comprised the others.

On his arrival at the place in 1801, Mr. Sacket first built a saw mill that later corners might be furnished lumber for their buildings, but no sooner was he comfortably established in his new residence than there was added to the settlement a number of English families, whose temporary wants required attention, but nearly every one of whom in later years became successful and comfortable in life, and furnished to the county some of its staunchest business men. This colony came in 1805, and included Samuel Luff and his sons, Edmund, Samuel, jr., Joseph and Jesse (from whom sprung a thrifty and prosperous line of descendants), David Merritt, William Ashby, John Root, Henry Metcalf and George Slornan, nearly all of whom were afterward in some manner identified with the best history of the town and its interesting events. In the same vicinity, and following closely after the settlement by the English colony, there came John and William Evans, Daniel Reed, Amasa Hulbert (then called Hollibut), Charles Berry (called Barrie), Uriah Rowlson (Roulison), Azariah P. Sherwin and others whose names are lost with the passing years and whose descendants long ago left the country.

In addition to those already named there came and settled in Hounsfield during the first few years of its history, Ambrose Pease, Theron Hinman, Stephen Simmons, Loren Buss, Joseph Landon (at whose house the first town meeting was held), Jotham Wilder, John Patrick, Hezekiah Doolittle, Josiah McWayne (who is said to have come soon after 1800), Jeremiah Goodrich, Samuel Bates (the pioneer head of the numerous and prominent Bates family of later years), John W. Phelps, William Waring (the first town clerk), Solomon, Robert, Asher, Austin and Joshua Robbins (five brothers who came from Berkshire, Mass., about 1806 or '7 and founded the Robbins settlement in the southwest part of the town, and from whom sprung a numerous and highly respected family), Elijah Field (founder of Field's settlement, south of East Houndsfield, and father of Rev. Lebbeus Field), Palmer Westcott (who came about 1807, and carried on an extensive-potash works. He was the head of an afterward numerous family in the town and county), Asahel Joiner (who lived to be more than 100 years old), Dr. Titus Ives, and also Jonathan and Erastus Ives (who were owners of large tracts of land in Hounsfield and Watertown. Dr. Titus was the father of the late Willard Ives, of Watertown.)

Among the other early prominent settlers were Ebenezer Allen (located on lot 38 about 1808, and among the settlers was known as Major Allen, by reason of his long and honorable revolutionary record. He was grandfather of Lebbeus F. Allen who still lives on the old homestead), Nathan Baker (settled on the south line about 1808), Timothy Holden (1810), David Spicer, Elisha Ladd, Joseph Knowlton, William C. Pease, Thomas Wright, Daniel Holloway (who carried on a cloth mill near Stowell's corners), Ezra Tyler (a revolutionary patriot), and Ira Inglehart (whose family became prominent in the later history of the county).

All these, and perhaps many others whose names cannot now be recalled are believed to have been in the town previous to the war of 1812, and nearly every one of them was an active participant in that great struggle. These were the pioneers who accomplished the work of settling the town and preparing the way for later generations of occupants. The task was neither hazardous nor especially eventful, but before it was fully done a war with Great Britain took place, and for nearly three years this town was the constant theatre of important military and naval events, and some of the most stirring incidental events of the period.

However, pioneer life was not without its incidents to prove the friendship existing among the settlers although few of them were acquainted with one another at that time. In 1805, according to the personal reminiscences of David Merritt, on Sunday evening, a settler who lived half a mile from any other habitation, had occasion to visit his nearest neighbor. Unknown to him, his four year old child followed at a distance, and not overtaking his parent, became lost in the woods. After a time the settler returned and was at once questioned by his wife as to the whereabouts of the child, whom she supposed had accompanied him. Losing no time the nearest neighbors were summoned and all the night was spent in a vain search for the lost one. All the next day (Monday) the search was continued, other settlers aiding, but still no trace of the lost was found. Still another night passed but without recovery, and the intensity of the suspense was heightened by a rumor that a panther had been seen prowling about the woods. At last it was determined to make still another effort to find the child, and a messenger was sent to Sackets Harbor with the news and a request for aid. No man hesitated, and to the number of about 500 they were gathered from all quarters of the town; and headed by Samuel Luff, William Ashby and David Merritt, they repaired to the home of the distressed settler. About 11 o'clock Tuesday morning a line was formed extending a mile to the right and left of the house, so that every foot of ground might be examined, and then the' forward march began. In this way the men proceeded about two miles, when the report of a gun shot was heard. The signal was understood and all hastened to the spot, where the little fellow was found alive and unharmed, although much exhausted.

During the period of its early history the town, which then formed a part of Watertown, was almost entirely without public improvements, and the conveniences for travel were indeed limited, as the authorities of the mother town were little interested in the developnient of the region but were wholly occupied with improving the thoroughfares from the east into their immediate territory which had recently been designated the seat of justice of a new county. This is one of the reasons which made necessary the creation of a new town, but in addition thereto was the equally important fact that the proposed new jurisdiction at that time contained more than 200 qualified voters, in which respect it was exceeded only by the towns of Rodman and Rutland. Indeed, in 1807 Hounsfleld contained 226 voters with requisite property qualifications, while Rodman and Rutland each contained 236. But whatever the cause the creation of the town was accomplished in 1806.

Part 1 Houndsfield
Part 2 Organization
Part 3 Sackets Harbor
Part 4 Incorporation
Part 5 Supervisors 1806-1899

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