Pioneers of Jefferson County, NY
From: Jefferson County Centenial 1905
Compiled by Jere Coughlin, Secretary
Hungerford-Halbrook Co, Watertown, N. Y.


Prior to the close of the 18th century this portion of the State of New York was an unknown solitude, covered by a forest of immense growth of trees whose limbs had waved in the breeze of Lake Ontario from primeval times. Coursing through this region were many streams, and the great river whose dark and rushing waters colored from the moss from the mountains gave it its name, and from it the name of this region, the Black River country. These waters were teeming with fish life and the forests were abundant with game, but the foot of the white man had never trod its solitudes with the exception that in the French and Indian Wars and the War of the Revolutions, military parties had made excursions through this region and lonely trappers and hunters had wandered here in quest of game. Now and then a Jesuit missionary had left his home in Sunny France and had wandered to these solitudes in his zeal to preach the gospel of Christ to the savage aborigines, who flitted through these shades. Trails from the Iroquois nation in central New York crossed this country to the several lakes and rivers and to the great river, St. Lawrence, and these dusky warriors, either on excursions for fish and game or on war excursions to Canada, passed to and fro in these forests. Reports had reached civilization from this and other sources of the value of the forest and the fertility of the soil. Towmards the close of the 18th century, land purchasers became interested in this section of the country. At the close of the Revolution in 1783 and thereafter, great business depression had fallen on all the country and especially on the New England states, but after the organization of the federal government, confidence was restored in our political institutions. Business began to revive slowly and conditions of great poverty were widespread through all New England. At this period in our country's history, the spirit of adventure and desire to possess valuable lands seemed to take possession of the people of New England. They turned their eyes toward the westward, and the stream of emigration broke on the Ohio, and a smaller stream was diverted northward to the Black River country. The people desired to leave the sterile lands of the New England states and to acquire more fertile farms, and to seek better opportunities in the West and in the North. Large tracts in this section of the State had been purchased by land speculators, and they resorted to the usual inducements to cause emigrants to take up the lands which they had purchased. Thus information was spread broadcast of the iertility and value of this section.

The towns in this county were settled in the following order:
Adams was settled April 16th in the year 1800, and was organized as a town, April 1st, 1802 and was named in honor of President John Adams. Some of the first settlers were Nicholas Salisbury, David Smith, Peter Doxtater, the Coopers, Foxes, WTrights, Edmons, Wm. Benton, mostly from Rhode Island and Connecticut, Massachusetts and the Eastern part of this State.

The Town of Alexandria was settled in 1811. It was organized as a Town in 1821. It was named Alexandria for the son of J. D. Leray who lost his life about the time of the Mexican War. Among the first settlers of Alexandria were Leray and many other Frenchmen. Many of the other settlers were from the State of Vermont.

Antwerp was settled in 1803. It was organized as a Town April 5th, 1810. It was named Antwerp from Antwerp in Belgium. Capt. Wm. Lee, Jas. Bethel, Mary Sterling, Samuel Sterling, John C. Foster, Wm. McAllester and David Parrish were among the first settlers, many of whom were from the State of Vermont and nearly all from New England.

The Town of Brownville was settled, May 21st, 1799. It was organized as a Town in 1802. It was named in honor of General Jacob Brown. Among its first settlers were Jacob Brown, Geo. Brown, Ebenezer Hills, J. W. Collins, R. Avery, Horace Matthews. and Wm. Lord. Many of these people were from New England and the Eastern part of the State.

Cape Vincent was settled in 1801. It was organized as a town April 10th 1849, and was named in honor of Vincent Leray. It was first settled by white men, by the French and British soldiers, who occupied the fort on Carleton Island, but the first American settler was Abijah Putnam in 1801, Samuel Coen in 1804, and Daniel Spin ing and others. Elber Kelsey came with twenty other men. among them Richard Esseistyn and Dr. Avery Ainsworth came about this time. These men were from New England and the central part of this state.

The Town of Champion was settled in 1797; March 14th 1800 it was organized as a town. It was ramed in honor of Henry Champion, a soldier of the Revolution, who fought from Bunker Hill to the close, and who led one of the columns of Mad Anthony Wayne when he won the brilliant victory over the British at Crown Point. He was a brother of Deborah Champion who has been honored by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the southern part of the County, who named their chapter of the D. A. R., the Deborah Champion Chapter in honor of this patriotic woman. The first settlers were Noadiah Hubbard, Daniel Coffeen, Samuel Starr, Thomas Wood, David Star and many others. These men came from the Mohawk Valley and New England.

The Town of Clayton was settled in 1801. It was organized as a Town April 27, 1833. It was named from Hon. John M. Clayton. One of its first settlers was John Bartlett.

The Town of Ellisburg was settled in 1797. It was organized as a Town, February 22nd, 1803. It was named in honor of Lyman Ellis, the first settler. Some of the first settlers were Lyman Ellis, Marvel Ellis, Caleb Ellis, Wm. Hicks, B. E. Pierce, Robert Fulton, Wm. Root, Isaac Waddle, Abram Wilcox and Hezekiah Pierce. The Ellisses were from Troy. The majority of the other emigrants were from the New England States.

The Town of Henderson was settled in 1802. It was organized as a town February 17th, 1806. It was named in honor of Wm. Henderson. Among the first settlers were Thomas Clark, Peter Cramer, Luther, Ma, James and Jedediah McCumber, Jesse Hopkins, Mark Hopkins, Calvin Bishop and David Bronson. These men were mostly from the New, England states. There was also a Scotch settlement begun in 1803. There was Duncan Drummond, Peter Barry, Duncan Campbell, Daniel Scott, Daniel McNeill.

The Town of Hounsfield was settled in 1800. It was organized as a town, February 17th, 1806. It was named in honor of Ezra Hounsfield. Some of the first settlers were Peter Kimball, Amasa Fox, Augustus Sacket, David Merritt, Samuel Luff, Wm. Ashby, and Elisha Camp. . These men came both from England and New England, and the central part of this state.

The Town of Leray was settled in 1802. It was organized into a Town, February 17th, 1806. It was named in honor of J. D. Leray de Chaumont. Benjamin Brown and his wife were among the first settlers. She was the first woman that settled in this township. Others were Joseph Child and his sons, Samuel. David and Moses, Benjamin Kirkwood, Thos. Wood, Wm. Cooper. Dr. Horatio Otis and Rowell Woodruff. Moses Kent was the land agent.

The Town of Lorraine was settled in Nov. 1802. It was organized in a township. April 6th, 1804. It was called Malta, afterwards Lorraine. Some of its early settlers were Jos. McKee, Elijah Fox, Benjamin Gibbs, John Oliver, Asa Brown, Aaron Brown, Wm. Lanfear, Clark Allen, besides the Pitkins, Lamsons and Wises and Lymans. Most of these came from the New England States.

The Town of Lyme was settled in 1801 and was organized in March, 1818. It was named from Lyme, Connecticut. Among its first settlers were Henry A. Delameter, Timothy Wheeler, Richard M. Essesistyn, Peter Pratt, Joe Davind and Timothy Soper, Jas. Horton and David Horton, John Tremper, Jos. Rider and Silas David. Many of these were from Ulster County and New England. Orleans was settled in 1800 and was organized as a town, April 3rd, 1821. It was named after New Orleans. John Wilkes, Ma Hull, Roderick Flagler, Richard Taylor, Peter Pratt, Wm. Collins. Samuel Lennel, Lester White, Warren Hall, Adams and John Page, Benjamin Page, Dr. Cushman and John Lafarge a Frenchman who came in 1824, Dr. Reuben Andrus who came from Ver mont.

Philadelphia was settled in 1803. It was organized as a town, April 3rd, 1821. It was named Philadelphia for the city of that name. It was settled largely from people from Pennsylvania, who were Friends. Joseph Childs, Moses Moon, Jas. Moon, Benjamin Brown, Mordecai Taylor, Robert Comfort, Daniel Coffeen, Thos. Gilbert, John Stickland, John Townsend and David Evans.

Rodrnan was settled in 1801. It was organized as a town, March 24th, 1804. Named Rodman for Rodman, clerk of Assembly when town was organized. Anson and Ebenezer Moody, Jonathan, Noah and Aaron Davis, Benjamin Thomas, Simeon Hunt, Timothy Greenley, Jessie Smith and Geo. Gates were among the first settlers. Mrs. E. Moody was the first white woman in the town and her son, William H. Moody was the first white child born in the town of Rodman.

Rutland was settled in 1799. It was organized into a town, April 1st, 1802. It was named after Rutland, Vermont. Asher Mills, David Coffeen, Ethel Bronson, John Felt, Dr. Isaac Brown, Mrs. Elizabeth Parkinson and David Taylor and Samuel Porter were some of its early settlers. They came from Vermont and other New England States, and from the central part of this State.

The town of Theresa was organized in 1841. It was named after a daughter of J. D. Leray. Captain John Hoover, Ebenezer Luff, Dan Hall, Mrs. Keeler, M. Huntington, H. Mooney, Anson Cheeseman, Marcus B. Ashley, John A. Evans and Dr. Jas. Brooks are among its first settlers.

Watertown was settled March 14th, 1800. It was named on account of the water power of the river. Among the first settlers were Henry Coffeen, Zacariah Butterfield, Oliver Bartholomew, Sirrieon Woodruff, Dr. David Massey, Hart Massey, David Bent, Aaron Brown, Jas. H. Biddlecom, Jothan Ives, Ezra Parker. Wm. Parker. Joseph Moore, Joel Goodale, Aaron Keyes, and Mrs. I. Thornton.

The Town of Wilna was settled in 1798. It was organized into a town, April 2nd, 1813. Many Frenchmen settled in this Town at an early period besides David Coffeen, Jas. Barney, Francis Lloyd and Nathan Brown.

The Town of Worth was settled in 1802 and '03. It was organized as a town in May, 1848, and named in honor of General Worth. Among the firsts settlers were Timothy Greenlev, Joseph Wilcox, Elisha Gillett, Leonard Bullock, Lodowick Edmons, Joel Calkins and John Houghtaling.

By these statements it will be seen that the first settlements in this County were made in the Town of Champion and in the Town of Ellisburg in 1797. Noadiah Hubbard was the first settler in the Town of Champion. He came from Steuben with several others and penetrated into the Town of Champion which was then an unbroken forest. He followed blazed trees for a part of the way, but came to the spot where he built his cabin, through the trackless forest, in 1797. When he made his home in this township there was not a human habitation within miles. He was solitary and alone in a great pathless forest. He supposed that he was the first settler in the county and in the memoirs which he wrote in regard to the early days of the pioneer living in Jefferson Co. claimed this distinction to be his, but the honor of being the first settler in Jefferson County is contested by Lyman Ellis, who settled what is now kt'own as the Town of Ellisburg in 1797. It is almost impossible to decide priority of settlement between these two men. It is possible that Noadiah Hubbard is entitled to the distinction but Lyman Ellis certainly raised the first crop of corn and wheat that were ever raised by a white American in what is known as Jefferson County.

These two men passed their long and eventful careers within the boundaries of the Towns of Champion and Ellisburg, and their ashes are resting beneath their soil. They were stalwart representatives of the pioneers who settled our County.

The first religious organization was made in Champion in June, 1801 by the Reverend Mr. Bascomb. At this date he organized the Congregational Church. The Church organization was kept up but meetings were not held continuously until 1807. Reverend Nathaniel Dutton came from Vermont and was installed as the pastor of this church. He was the first settled minister. Rev. Dutton was born in Vermont, and was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1802. He came to the Town of Champion, sent by the Missionary Society of Connecticut as a missionary to the people of the Black River Country. He was a devoted Christian man and spent his long life in ministering to the religious demands of the towns on the Black River frontier. He died in 1852 and is buried in the Town of Champion where he so long labored with the people as a Christian minister.

As will be seen little advance was made in the settlement of this county until the year 1800 when emigrants from all parts of New England, from the Mohawk Valley and from Pennsylvania came poring in, seeking to carve their homes from the wilderness. They came down Black River, they came from Utica and Rome, through the forests, following the trails of blazed trees. They came on Lake Ontario to Sackets Harbor, and from that point, distributed over the country. The hardships they encountered are almost incredible and it seems amazing that anyone could be found so courageous as to leave civilization and plunge into the great forest hoping to establish a home and fortune in its solitude. Many of the pioreers were accompanied by their wives and their first work upon arriving upon the property that they had purchased was to erect some kind of a habitation that would protect them and their families from the elements. The implement of greatest importance to these pioneers was the axe. On every side of them was a dense growth of timber in the midst of which they proposed to erect their future homes. Upon arriving at the selected spot, they immediately began to cut down the forest timber and in an almost incredible space of time, a habitation was erected which afforded comfortable protection for them and their families. After the erection. of the home, the next matter of importance to the pioneer was to clear off a sufficient portion of land so that potatoes and vegetables could be raised for the maintenance of the family. The task was soon accomplished by burning the trees after they had been fallen into heaps and the ground was soon made ready for cultivation and crops were immediately put in the ground and the pioneer began to feel that he was independent, although surrounded by the great forest. While this work was going on they subsisted on such food as could be brought into the country through the trails in the woods, and from the fish and game which abounded in the streams and forests. The settlements grew rapidly after the year 1800 ana soon were quite considerable hamlets, in various parts of the County. At Adams there was a sawmill built and a number of houses. The place was then called Smiths Mills in honor of David Smith, who was the first representative of this section of the country about the village, then covered by a forest of mighty growth. It was beech, maple ash and giant elms and birch, and interspersed in the hard timbet were giant pine trees that lifted their bulks to enormous heights. To give one some idea of the growth of these monarchs of the forest, tradition tells us that on the site that was for years known as Totman's Tavern, there were three pine trees. They were cut down by Daniel Fox. One of the trees made thirteen logs, and the other two made twelve logs each, making thirty-seven logs from the three pine trees that stood on this spot. No sooner did the settlements begin to appear than the pioneers immediately began to erect school houses, and churches were organized, church edifices erected so that people might not only have church, but school opportunities. Many of the pioneers were God fearing men and women, and they introduced to this frontier and to these forests the conditions of New England life. Books that the pioneers brought with them into this country give us some idea of the trend of their minds. They brought with them the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Pilgrim's Progress, Saints' Rest, the English Reader, Spelling Book and a few other books. They were masters of few books but good ones, and in perusing these works, they obtained ideas which moulded their lives and their characters.

The social conditions on this frontier were democratic. The class distinctions which have grown up under our civilization were unknown in the primitive days. There was a genial and genuine hospitality. Each cabin received with generous greeting the newcomers to the community, who were invited with hearty welcome to participate in the frugal fare and the best conditions that the family could afford. No one was turned away from the door. In the daytime the men were occupied in falling the trees and when the trees were sufficiently dried, they were burned and the ashes were made into potash or black salts and sold at Albany or Kingston. The sale of this potash was about the only means that these people had ot obtaining money.

In the evening the family gathered in the large room of the cabin in front of the fireplace whose ruddy glow filled the room. They engaged in reading the well worn books and in discussing such matters of interest as would arise in the little community.

The home of the pioneer was the center of ceaseless industry and toil. While the men were engaged in cutting the forest trees, or in cultivating the land, the women were equally industrious in the rude cabin home. They prepared food by the fire in the fireplace, and baked the huge loaves of Indian Bread in the great oven. They prepared a bill of fare that was appreciated by these hardy Sons of toil. From early morning the hum of the spinning whcel and the click of the loom gave evidence that the busy housewife was industriously preparing the cloth for the homespun and the linen for the household. Some of the linen has been handed down to the present generation and it is prized as evidence of the thrift and handicraft of the women of the frontier. A mutual dependence made these frontier people sympathetic and helpful. If from accident or sickness or any other cause one was unable to perform their necesnary work, the whole community would make what they called a "bee" and they would do the work in the fields and in the house. There was fellowship, a sympathy and a brotherly kindness among those people that is refreshing to know. The whole history of this frontier is filled with instances that illustfate the kind and hearty helpfulness of these people toward one another. In the Town of Houndsfield one Sunday evening a little boy wandered into the woods and was lost. The alarm was given and Sunday night the people searched the woods in vain for the little child. On Monday a general alarm was given, and nearly 500 hardy men from all around the surrounding country congregated for the purpose of instituting a systematic search for the lost child. In about two hours after the search had been in progress, the discharge of a gun three times in rapid succession announced that the child was found. Then all returned to the home of the parents and the child in great weakness was restored to the arms of its weeping mother. A shout went up that made the forest ring, from the lusty throats of these hardy nien of the wilderness, in joy and in sympathy that the boy had been found. Instances of this kind are found in the history of almost every town in the county.

Following the pioneers who first established their homes were the professional men, physicians and lawyers. Of the lawyers I will not speak. Of the physicians I can only mention in passing a few: Dr. Green and Dr. Eli Eastman of Adams. Dr. Avery Ainsworth of Cape Vincent. Dr. Horatio Otis of Leray, Dr. Isaiah Massey. Dr. Reuben Andrus of Lafargeville. Dr. Abel Sherman, Dr. Hugh Henderson, Dr. Isaac Bronson of Rutland and also Dr. Crafts Pevson Kimball of Burrville. Dr. Kimball had a varied experience in practicing medicine in this section. He married one of the pioneer women, Miss Julia Porter. He was commissioned a surgeon in the War of 1812 in Col. Tuttle's regiment, a regiment that was raised in this section of the State. His last years were spent at his farm, and he died in 1872. A great debt of gratitude is due to these pioneer physicians. They left civilization and came into this country to minister to the afflictions of the people scattered in the wilderness and they encountered great privation and hardship in the practice of their profession. They did not accumulate a large amount of the world's goods for that was an impossibility, but they were held in grateful regard by the people of the frontier and their services for humanity entitled them to be remembered with gratitude.

Many of the frontier people came to sudden death by accident. The first to die in the Town of Adams was Alexander Salisbury. He was drowned while crossing the creek during the freshet. The first death in Watertown was a Mr. Thornton, who was killed by a falling tree. Such accidents were common all through this county. The people were also afflicted with fever and ague, and many suffered from fevers and from diseases incident to frontier life. The faithful physicians that ministered to them in their afflections, riding on horseback for miles through the lonely forest, were important factors in the early life of the people in this county. Many of the pioneers had been Revolutionary soldiers. They had fought successfully the soldiers of a foreign tyrant, and only achieved victory to find themselves sunk in poverty and financial adversity, but with stout hearts they came to this desolate country fully determined to carve from the hard conditions of nature, both their fortunes and their homes.

A type of this class of pioneers was Edward Salisbury, a native ox Rhode Island, who moved to Adams in 1802. He was the father of twelve children. Thomas, Edward, Duty. Enon, Lodwick, Alexander, DeEsting, Smith, Lovina, Sarah. Charlotte and Abigail was 1st Lieutenant in the French and Indian Wars, was in several battles at Ticonderoga where 2000 men fell. His brother was killed at his side and himself had nine balls in his coat. He was in the Battle on the Plains of Abraham where Wolfe fell. Served in the Revolutionary War and died March, 1829, aged 104 years. By visiting our older cemetaries and graveyards you will see by the marker at the head of the graves that a great many Revolutionary soldiers are sleeping in the bosom of the soil. On each recurring May morning their graves are scattered with flowers, an evidence that their name and fame is embalmed in the hearts of grateful posterity.

This in brief is a short history of some of the pioneer men and women of Jefferson County, They left civilization and made their way through trackless woods to seek their future home. They cut down the primeval forests, reclaimed this country to civilization and made the wilderness to bloom and blossom like the rose. "They cast a handful of corn in the Earth in the top of the mountain, the fruit thereof shakes like Lebanon."

We drop a sympathetic tear in memory of their suffering and privations, but we hold them in everlasting rememberance for what they were and for what they accomplished.

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