History of Oswego County  


Lake Ontario in a Gale, Oswego, N.Y.
Lake Ontario in a Gale, Oswego,  N.Y.


Offsite Links: 

  • The POORHOUSE STORY - by Linda Crannell, (which is a clearinghouse for information about 19th century American poorhouses) can be viewed at: http://www.poorhousestory.com.  Oswego County has two early reports (1824 and 1857) dealing with the relief of the poor and poorhouses.


Click to View larger image.
1902 Map of Oswego County, N.Y.
1902 Map of Oswego County, NY


Click to View larger image.

1885 Map of Oswego County, NY

Click to View larger image.
1860 Map of Oswego County, NY
1860 Map of Oswego County, NY

Information was obtained from the Historical & Statistical Gazetteer of New York State, R. P. Smith, Publisher, Syr., 1860, by J. H. French.

---This county was formed from Oneida and Onondaga, March 1, 1816.1   It is situated upon the S. E. extremity of Lake Ontario, centrally distant 135 mi. from Albany, and contains an area of 1,038 sq. mi.  Its surface is generally level or gently undulating.  A series of bluffs 20 to 40 feet high border immediately upon the lake; and from their tops the land stretches out in long and gradual slopes, occasionally broken by the valleys of the river courses.  The general inclination is northerly, as indicated by the drainage, though the summits of the ridges within half a mi of the lake have about the same altitude as those upon the S. border of the co.  A low ridge extending in an easterly and westerly direction, from 3 to 5 mi, N. of Oneida Lake, forms the watershed between Lakes Ontario and Oneida.  In the E. part of the co., this ridge turns northward and unties with the system of highlands which separates Lake Ontario and the valley of Black River.  The highest point of this range, in the town of Redfield, is 1,200 to 1,500 feet above tide.

  The rocks of this co. consist of the Lorraine shales, in the extreme N. part, on the lake; the gray sandstone,2 extending from the N. E.corner to near the center, its southern limits being marked by a line drawn due E. from Oswego River about 1 mi. from its mouth; the Medina or red sandstone, bordering on the last, and comprising more than one-third of the area of the co.;  and the Clinton group of shales, slate, and sandstone, occupying the extreme S. border.  These rocks are exposed only in the N. E. part and along the river courses, being generally covered with a thick mass of drift and alluvial deposits, consisting of sand, gravel, and clay.  The gray sandstone is hard and compact, and is little affected by the action of the elements; hence the disintegration is slight, and the soil upon it is thin and poor.  The Lorraine shales are easily disintegrated, and form the basis of the strongest and richest soils in the co.  The red sandstone crops out on the banks of all the streams which flow through the region which it occupies.  It is extensively quarried for building stone, though it is more easily acted upon by the elements than the gray sandstone.  Weak brine springs are found associated with this red sandstone throughout the co.  The Clinton group, occupying the entire S. border, consists of parallel layers or beds of shale and red and gray sandstone.  This is the same geological formation which is found the principal iron ore beds of Penn. and Oneida co.; and throughout the formation in this co., iron ore is found.

  The drainage of  W. and S. parts of the co. is principally through Oswego River, and of the N. and E. portions through Salmon River and a great number of smaller streams that flow directly into the lake.  Oswego River is formed by the junction of Seneca and Oneida Rivers at Three River Point.  It is 23 mi. in length, and falls 128 feet in its course, in several distinct falls, each of which furnishes an excellent water-power.  Oneida River, forming the outlet of Oneida Lake, is 18 mi. in length and falls about 12 ½  feet in its course.  Salmon River and other streams flowing into the E. extremity of the lake all have successions of rapids and cascades, which furnish to that portion of the co. an abundance of water-power.  The principal bodies of water are Lakes Ontario and Oneida.  The former, constituting the N.W. boundary, presents an almost unbroken coast line for a distance of 40 mi. within the limits of the co.  Little Sandy Pond, in the town of Sandy Creek, is the only considerable indentation.  The mouth of the Oswego River furnishes a valuable harbor, the only one of importance in the co.  Oneida Lake, constituting a portion of the S. boundary, is 141 ½ feet above Lake Ontario. It is one link in the chain of the internal water communication of the State.  A considerable portion of the land in its immediate vicinity is marshy.  Iron ore beds and a fine quartz sand, used in the manufacture of glass, are found upon its N. shores.  The soil found in the shale and sandstone region has already been noticed.  The drift and alluvial deposits which cover the greater portion of the co., furnish a great variety of soil.  The sandy portions are light and weak, while the clayey portions are hard, tough, and unyielding in many places.  Where these are mixed, a rich, deep soil is the result.  Along the E. border of the co. are great quantities of limestone boulders, which essentially modify the soil of that region.  The marshes are generally composed of beds of black muck and other vegetable matters, and form the riches kind of natural meadow when drained and cultivated.


(1) Its name was derived from the Indian On-ti-ah-an-taque.  The early French explorers called it “Chomaquen.”  The portion lying E. of Oswego River was taken from Oneida, and that lying W. from Onondaga.  The Onondaga portion embraced the township of Hannibal and 33 lots of Lysander, belonging to the Military Tract.

(2) This gray sandstone has been used for grindstones.

(3) This height is given by the State Geologists.  Joseph E. Bloomfield, Civil Engineer of Oswego co., who has made several surveys through this region, makes the height of Oneida Lake 124 feet above Lake Ontario.

Part 2:

  Agriculture, maufactures, and commerce about equally engage the attention of the people.  Stock raising and dairying are the principal branches of agriculture; spring grains and wool are also extensively produced.1  The commerce is mostly concentrated at Oswego City, and is carried on by means of the lake, the Oswego Canal, and the R. R.  The manufactures consist of flour, lumber, barrels, 2 starch, and a variety of other articles.  The amount of flour annually manufactured is greater than in any other co. in the state.  The principal mills are at Oswego City, Fulton, and vicinity.

  The Oswego Canal, connecting Lake Ontario with the Erie Canal at Syracuse, is 38 mi. long, and for most of the distance is formed by the slackwater navigation of Oswego River.  Oneida Lake and River also form a part of the internal navigable waters of the State, connecting with the Oswego Canal at Three River Point and with the Erie Canal at Higginsville.  The Oswego & Syracuse R.R. connects with the New York Central R.R. at Syracuse. The Watertown & Rome R.R. enters the co. in the N. E. corner, and passes through Williamstown, Albion, Richland, and Sandy Creek.

  This co. is divided into two jury districts,3 the courts being held respectively at Pulaski Village and Oswego City.4  At the former place a brick building, including a courthouse and jail, was erected in 1820, and at the latter a wood courthouse about the same time.5  A stone jail was erected in the city in 1850, and a fireproof co. clerk’s office in 1851.6  The county poorhouse is located upon a farm of 60 acres in the town of Mexico.  It is an old building, and is poorly adapted to its purpose.  The average number of inmates is about 50.  An asylum for insane paupers is in process of erection adjacent to the poorhouse.  The Oswego Orphan Asylum, located at Oswego City, is in part a co. institution.  All the children of the inmates of the poorhouse between the ages of 4 and 6 years are supported at the Orphan Asylum at the co.expense.

   Two daily and 5 weekly papers are published in the co.7


(1) The first settlers of the co. were principally engaged in the manufacture of lumber and potash.  Wheat was once a staple production; but since the commencement of the ravages of the midge it has given place to the coarser grains.

(2)  Barrels to the amount of 1, 500, 000 are annually manufactured for the Oswego flour mills and the Syracuse salt works.

(3) The eastern district comprises the towns of Albion, Amboy, Constantis, Hastings, Mexico, New Haven, Orwell, Parish, Redfield, Richland, Sandy Creek, West Monroe, and Williamstown;  and the western, the towns of Granby, Hannibal, Oswego, Palermo, Schroeppel, Scriba, Volney, and the city of Oswego.

(4) Perley Keyes and Ethel Bronson, of Jefferson co., and Stephen Bates, of Ontario, were appointed commissioners to locate the county seats and select the sites for the county buildings.  The first co. officers, appointed by the Governor and council, were Barnet MOONEY, First Judge; Henry WILLIAMS, Smith DUNLAP, Peter D. HUGUNIN, David EASTON, and Daniel HAWKS, jr., Judges and Justices;  Edmond HAWKS, Judge; Elias BREWSTER, Surrogate; James ADAMS, Co. Clerk; and John S. DAVIS, Sheriff.  The first courts were held in schoolhouses from the first organization of the co., in 1816, to the completion of the courthouses, in 1820-21.

(5) The city soon outgrew the first courthouse, and the courts for many years were held in the city hall.  They are now held in Mead’s Hall, on E. Bridge St.  The old courthouse for several years was used as a schoolhouse; but recently it has been removed, and converted into a Sunday school chapel for the Church of the Evangelists, where 500 children receive religious instruction.  At their last annual meeting, the Board of Supervisor’s authorized the raising and appropriated $30,000 for the erection of a new courthouse in the city, on the E. public square; and the building is now being constructed of Onondaga limestone.

(6) Previous to this time the clerk’s office was kept alternately in private houses at each of the shire towns for periods of 3 years, the books being carried back and forth at the end of each period.

(7) The Oswego Palladium – Commenced in 1819 by John H. LORD and Dorephus ABBEY. It was subsequently sold several times, then in 1853 it was sold to Dudley FARLING, the present editor, who sold his interest, in July 1854, to T. P. OTTOWAY, the present publisher

The Oswego Daily Palladium – Issued in connection with the weekly since 1850.
The Oswego Times – Under which name it is still published by J. TARBELL.
The Oswego Daily Times – Is still issued by J. TARBELL.
The Pulaski Democrat – In 1856 it passed into the hands of ____Miller, its present publisher.
The Fulton Patriot – M. C. HOUGH, John A. PLACE, and T. S. BRIGHAM were successively interested in its publication.  The latter was succeeded by R. K. SANDORD, its present publisher.
The Phoenix Reporter – By Joshua WILLIAMS, by whom it is still published.

Part 3:

  The portion of the co. of Oswego lying near the mouth of the river was discovered in 1654 by French Jesuits, who established missions here for the conversion of the Iroquois.1   The French had previously explored the St. Lawrence; and in 1615 Champlain, in an expedition against the Onondagas, passed through the E. part of the co.  In 1700 the English explored the country occupied by the Five Nations as far W. as Oswego; and in 1722 a trading house was built here under the direction of the N. Y. colonial government.  From that period considerable trade was carried on by the English between Oswego and Albany through Oswego River, Oneida River and Lake, Wood Creek, and the Mohawk.2 In 1727 the English built a fort on the W. bank of the river, near its mouth.3

  The French, claiming this whole territory, remonstrated against the action of the English, and several times planned expeditions to destroy the fortifications, but did not carry them into effect.  Upon the commencement of the “Old French War” of 1753, Fort Ontario was erected on the E. bank of the river; and another fort was built upon the summit of the W. ridge in 1755.4  In the summer of 1756, 5,000 French under Montcalm, with a heavy train of artillery, consisting of 30 guns of large caliber, crossed the lake from Fort Frontenac (now Kingston) and appeared before this place.  The forts were invested Aug 11, and, after 3 days’ hard fighting, they were surrendered on the 14th.   The victors demolished the forts, burned the English vessels, and retired.  In 1758, Col. BRADSTREET, with 3,350 men, crossed the lake from this place and reduced Fort Frontenac.  After destroying the fortifications and securing the military stores and vessels, he returned to Oswego and rebuilt the forts there.  Fort Ontario was greatly enlarged, and built in the most substantial manner.  In the summer of 1760, the powerful army of Lord Amherst embarked here on an expedition down the St. Lawrence.  From this time Oswego became the most important military station upon the western frontier.  During the Revolution it was strongly garrisoned, and formed the headquarters of many of the marauding parties that desolated the frontier settlements.  It continued in possession of the British until 1796, when it was surrendered under the provisions of Jay’s treaty.

  In 1790, George SCRIBA, a merchant of N. Y. City, and a German by birth, purchased 500,000 acres of land lying between Lakes Oneida and Ontario, for the sum of $80,000.6   This purchase, known as “Scriba’s Patent,” was bounded on the E. by Fish Creek and on the W. by Oswego River, and embraced 14 towns in Oswego co. and 4 in Oneida.  In 1794, Mr. SCRIBA caused a settlement to be made and a sawmill built on the shore of Oneida Lake, to which he gave the name of “Rotterdam,” __now Constantia.  In 1795 he built a gristmill___the first in the co.___ and several other buildings at the same place.  During the same year his patent was surveyed and divided into townships and subdivided into lots.7  About the same time he commenced a settlement at the mouth of Little Salmon Creek, on the shore of Lake Ontario, 12 mi. N. E. of Oswego, which he called “Vera Cruz,” (now Texas.)  He here built a gristmill, store, and other buildings, and commenced an active trade on the lake; and for some years the place bid fair to become a formidable rival of Oswego, and the most important commercial station upon the lake.

  A few other settlements were made at other points in the co., principally under the auspices of Mr. SCRIBA, previous to 1800; but immigration did not begin to flow rapidly until a few years later.  The lands of Mr. SCRIBA were divided and sold to a great number of different parties; and while his exertions and expenditures were of great service to the first settlers, they proved extremely unprofitable to himself.  In common with all the frontier settlements, the growth of this region was seriously retarded by the War of 1812.  Oswego village became the theater of stirring military events; and on the 5th of May, 1814, it was taken by the British. At the return of peace, immigration again flowed in, and the subsequent history has been one of steady and continuous progress.  The opening of the Erie and Oswego Canals, in this State, and of the Welland Canal, in Canada, greatly increased the commercial importance of the city and stimulated the manufacturing interests throughout the co.


(1) There is a tradition that the French established a military post here at a very early period; but research among the papers of that period does not corroborate the statement.

(2) There were several portages on this route, __around the falls in the streams, and across from Wood Creek to the Mohawk.

(3) Not a single trace of this fortification now remains.

(4) This fort stood at the junction of West 6th and Van Buren Sts.

(5) The French landed 50 mi. E. of Oswego, and marched along the lake shore under cover of their naval force.  The English garrison numbered 2,000 strong.  Col. Mercer, the English commander, was killed by a cannon shot on the 2d day of the siege.

(6)  In this grant, the State made reservations of the territory at the mouth of the river, within the limits of the city of Oswego, and also at the falls in the village of Fulton.  Most of these reservations were disposed of at public sale in 1827.  At an earlier date, considerable tracts in Scriba’s Patent, on Oswego River, were jointly purchased by Gen. Alexander HAMILTON, John LAURENCE, and John B. CHURCH.  Several other grants were also made along the river.  Other tracts of considerable magnitude were purchased by Schroeppel, Rosevelt, and others.

(7) This survey and subdivision were made by Benjamin WRIGHT, who in 1793-94 ran the base line from Rome to Fort Ontario, on which the towns of Scriba’s Patent were laid out.  The townships of Scriba’s Patent, like those of Macomb’s Purchase, received names from the proprieters that are known only in deeds; viz., __

1. Fulda ---Ava, Lee, and Annsville
2. Munden ---Lee and Rome
3. Solingen ---Annsville
4. Florence---Florence
5. Franklin---Williamstown
6. Middleburgh---Amboy
7. Linley---Camden
8. Bloomfield---Lee and Annsville
9. Embden---Vienna
10. Edam---Vienna
11. Rotterdam---Constantia
12. Delft---West Monroe
13. Breda---Hastings
14. Brugen---Palerma
15. Mentz---Volney
16. Georgia---Schroeppel
17. Fredericksburgh---Scriba and Oswego City
18. Oswego---Scriba and Oswego
19. Vera Cruz---New Haven
20. Mexico---Mexico
21. Richland---Richland
22. Alkmaer---Albion
23. Strasburgh---Parish
24. Erlang---Schroeppel

The townships of the Boylston Tract in this co. are,--

 6. Campanis---Boylston

 7.  Arcadia---Redfield (once Greenboro’)

10. Richland---Sandy Creek and Richland


    Richland appears to be uncertain, or this name has been applied to two surveys.

(8).  At the time of the purchase Mr. SCRIBA’s fortune was estimated at $1,500,000; but the whole of it became swallowed up in his efforts to promote the interests of the infant settlements; and he died Aug. 14, 1836, at the age of 84, a poor man.

Back to Oswego County NYGenWeb

Copyright © 1999 - 2007LauraPerkins
All Rights Reserved