Chapter VI - Hist. Steuben Co - McMasters [1853] - Steuben Co., NY GenWeb

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Hist. Steuben by McMasters Table of Contents

History of the Settlement of Steuben County, New York

by: Guy McMasters [1853]

Chapter VI

Captain Williamson’s administration--Life at Bath--Grand Simcoe War-- Races -- Theatre --vindication of the ancients--Bath Gazette-- County Newspapers--the Bar--Physicians

Captain Williamson having, toward the close of the last century, fairly established himself at Bath, was the greatest man of all the land of the West. His dominion extended from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario; a province of twelve hundred thousand acres owned him as its lord; Indian warriors hailed him as a great chief; settlements on the Genesee, by the Seneca, and at the bays of Ontario, acknowledged him as their founder; and furthermore, by commission from the Governor of the State of New York, he was styled Colonel in the militia of the Commonwealth, and at the head of his bold foresters, stood in a posture of defiance before the Pro-Consul of Canada, who beheld with indignation a rival arising in the Genesee forests, and taking possession of land which he claimed for his own sovereign, with a legend of New Englanders and Pennsylvanians, mighty men with the axe and rifle, and with colonies of Scotch and Irish boys, who cleaved to the rebellious subjects of the King.

His was no idle administration. It did not content him to set in idle grandeur in his sumptuous log-fortress on the Conhocton, like a Viceroy of the Blackwoods, feasting on the roasted sides of mighty stags, and eating luxurious hominy from huge wooden trenchers, with the captains of his host. Neither did he yield to those temptations which so often beset and overpower governors sent to administer the affairs of distant districts of the wilderness, who, instead of collecting tribute from the refractory aborigines, and keeping them well hanged, are forever scouring the woods with hounds, and beating the thickets for bears, to the great neglect of the Royal finances. He galloped hither and thither with restless activity--from Bath to Big Tree, for Seneca to Sodus, from Canadarque to Gerundigut, managing the concerns of his realm with an energy that filled the desert with life and activity. People heard of him afar off--in New England, in Virginia, and in Canada. The bankers of Albany and New York became familiar with his signature, Englishman and Scotchmen were aroused from their homes and persuaded to cross the ocean for Genesee estates, and hearty young emigrants of the better sort--farmers and mechanics of some substance--were met upon their landing by recommendations to leave the old settlements behind them, and try their fortunes in Williamson’s woods. Pioneers from below pushed their canoes and barges up the rivers, and men of the East toiled wearily through the forest with their oxen and sledges. Not a few Virginian planters, with their great household, abandoned their barren estates beyond the Potomac, and performed marches up the Susquehanna valley and over the Laurel Ridge in much the same style (saving the camels) as the ancient Mesopotamian patriarchs, shifted their quarters--youngster and young ladies making the journey gaily on horseback, while the elderly rode in ponderous chaises, secured against catastrophes by ropes and props, and the shoulders of their negroes. Several such cavalcades came over the Lycoming Road. One is yet remembered with some interest by a few, as containing a pair of distinguished belles, whose fame went before them, and who were met on their descent, half frozen, from the mountains in mid-winter, at the Painted Post Hotel, by a couple of no less distinguished sprouts of Northern gentility, one of whom was afterwards so fortunate as to gain the hand of one of the frost-bitten beauties.

The administration of the affairs of the estate beyond the limits of this county, is not, of course, a matter to be treated of with propriety in this volume. Much of the agent’s personal attention was of course required in this, but he made his residence at Bath, and to life and doings at the metropolis, our attention will for the present be directed.

Captain Williamson dwelt in his stronghold on the Conhocton, in high style, like a baron of old. All the expenses necessary to support the state which such a regent should maintain, were borne by the boundless fund which he controlled. Gentlemen from far countries came up to the woods on horseback, and were entertained sumptuously, as the gallant captain’s feudal prototype were wont to welcome to their castles straggling crusaders, pilgrims and foreign knights. There was an abundance of gentility in the land, both sham and genuine. Sometimes the admiring wood nymphs, who had heretofore seen only ill-favored and bare-backed pagans striding through the forest, beheld a solitary horseman, finely dressed in the most approved fashion of the cities, trotting down the interminable lane of pines, followed at a respectful distance by his servant (a spectacle which this good Captain Williamson himself might be seen dashing in gallant style through the woods, with a party of riders from the Hudson or the Roanoke, mounted on full blooded horses, while a functionary from the baronial kitchen brought up the rear, with luncheon and a basket of wine. There were, moreover, asses in lions’ hides, who came down with a great flourish, and passed themselves off for real Nubians. A few old settlers have occasion to remember one of these gentry, a certain captain, “a great big man, and a mighty fine gentlemen, with ruffles in his shirt, and rings on his fingers,” who contracted to build Captain Williamson’s stupendous Marengo barns, and one day went off in a portly and magnificent way, without paying his carpenters.

The Pine Plains were unable to support such courtly personage, and indeed the good stock of working men and farmers who tilled the land, found the soil so ungracious, that they were not a little straightened for the means of supporting life. Captain Williamson transported his first flour from Northumberland, and a quantity of pork from Philadelphia. Afterwards these luxuries were obtained as best they could be. Flour was brought on pack horses from Tioga Point, and a treaty of commerce was entered into with Jemima Wilkinson, the prophetess, who had established her oracle on the outlet of Crooked Lake, where her disciples had a mill and good farms. The first navigators of Crooked Lake carried their cargoes in Durham boats of six or eight tons burden, which they poled along the shore, or when favoring breezes filled their sails, steered through the mid-cannel. These primitive gondoliers have lived to see the end of their profession. Notwithstanding these resources, the village of the Plains were sometimes reduced to great straits. The Canisteo boy brought over his bag of wheat on a horse, threw it down at the door of the agency house, and was paid five silver dollars the bushel. He drove his bullock across the hills, slaughtered it a the edge of the village, and sold every thing from hoof to horn for a shilling the pound. He led over a pack-horse laden with grain, paid all expenses, treated, and took home eighteen dollars. On old farmer remembered paying two dollars and a quarter for the hog’s head, “and it was half hair at that.” “Bath was just like San Francisco,” says an old settler on the comfortable farms of Pleasant Valley, “straw was a shilling a bunch, and every thing else in proportion. Money was plenty, but they almost starved out. They once adjourned court because there was nothing to eat. If it hadn’t been for the Valley, the Pine Plains would have been depopulated. After court had been in session two or three days, you would see a black boy came down here on a horse, and with a big basket, foraging. He would go around to all the farms to get bread, meat, eggs, or anything that would stay life. Bath was the hungriest place in creation. You couldn’t trust a leg of mutton to anybody but the land agent.”

The citizens of the county made court week a kind of general gathering time, and the larders of Bath were sometimes speedily exhausted. The prudent juryman before setting out from home, slung over his shoulders a bag containing a piece of cold pork, and a huge loaf of bread; for no one know to what extremities the ministers of justice might be reduced.

Nevertheless the affairs of the metropolis went on finely. The county prospered. The river was partially relieved of encumbrances; roads were opened; bridges were built; farms were cleared. In 1796, or about that time, Captain Williamson resorted to sundry bold devices to arouse the backward people of the East, and to spread the fame of his realm throughout the land. Before entering upon those subjects, however, there is a martial affair which must by no means be lightly passed over--the grand Simcoe War of 1794. The memory of this has almost perished. Few of the good people know how a high and mighty potentate of the North once rose up the wrath against Captain Williamson, and threatened to come down upon him with the King’s regiment, to storm his villages, to plant his artillery, if necessary, under the ramparts of his stronghold on the Conhocton, and to restore the Pine Plains with the rest of Western New York, to the Crown of Great Britain. This is really the bloodiest paragraph to the annuals of Steuben County, and must be carefully treasured.

In a rather stunning explosion of rhetoric, a certain Fourth of July orator thus sounds the prelude to a kind of epic anthem, in which he indulges, in view of the threatened conflict with the Powers of the Pole. “Hark! What sounds are those which arise from the lowering North! Lo ! the great Unicorn of Albion begins to moan in the forests of Canada, and that other red quadruped which rides rampant upon the British shield, begins to growl in an offensive and impertinent manner for the bristling ramparts of Toronto. War’s mighty organ murmurs in distant caverns, and clouds like black war-elephants, raise their dusky backs out of the water of Lake Ontario.”

Further quotations from this sonorous document will be refrained from. Humbler imagery will suffice to illustrate the passage of arms between Captain Williamson and the high and mighty Viceroy of upper Canada. It is not generally known to our citizens what an enemy arose against us in our infancy, and the infant settlement, like a sturdy little urchin, squared itself in defiance against the veteran bruiser, who offered to bully it out of its rights.

It is well known that by the treaty of 1783, The British agreed to evacuate forthwith all military posts held by them within the territory of the United States, the forts of Niagara and Oswego were held under various pretexts until the year 1796. Certain claims of sovereignty over certain lands in Western New York, were asserted by British officers, and their presence, their influence over the Indians, and the intrigues of their agents caused much apprehension and annoyance to the settlers. Captain Williamson, as we have seen, was interested in a settlement at Sodus. On the 16th of August, 1794, Lieut. Sheaffe, a British officer, call at that place, “by special commission from the Lieutenant Governor of his Britannic Majesty’s province of Upper Canada,” and in the absence of Captain Williamson, left a letter for him, demanding “by what authority an establishment has been ordered at this place, and to require that such a design be immediately relinquished.”

The potentate by whom this order was dictated was Colonel Simcoe, an officer, who, we believe, served with some distinction at the head of a regiment of loyalists in the Revolution, a gentlemen undoubtedly of ability and discretion, and esteemed a good Governor by the Canadians, but one who felt sore at the late discomfiture of the Royal arms, and who appears to have embraced the delusion for a long time entertained by British officers of the old school, of the possibility of marching through America with a brigade of grenadiers. The Duke de la rochefoucault Liancourt, a French traveler, gives us the key to Col. Simcoe’s character and aspirations.--”He discourses with good sense on all subjects, but his favorite topics are his projects and war, which seem to be the objects of his leading passions. He is acquainted with the military history of all countries. No hillock (a small hill) catches his eye without exciting in his mind the idea of a fort which might be constructed on the spot, and with the construction of this fort he associates the plan of operations for a campaign, especially of that which is to lead him to Philadelphia.”

Col. Simcoe, then, had a professional hobby. He look at banks and bra`es with the eye of Major Dalgetty, and believed that hills were made for castles, harbors of forts, and knolls for “sconces.” Of Pharsalia and Agincourt, of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand, and the flank movements of Gustavus, of the tactics of Gideon and the forays of Shishak, of battering-rams and bomb-shells, of torpedos, catapults, pikes and pistols--of such was the conversation of Col. Simcoe. Of marching from Niagara through the wilderness like a Canadian Hannibal, of routing the back-woodsmen and making captive the audacious Williamson in his stronghold among the mountains, of emerging from the forest with drums, clarinets and feathers, of riding over the stupefied farmers of Pennsylvania, and trailing his victorious cannon through the streets of Philadelphia. of hiding the humiliation of Saratoga in a blaze of glory, and of generally grinding to powder the rebellious enemies of the King--of such were the dreams of Col. Simcoe.

As the first step toward the attainment of these magnificent results, the Viceroy of His Britannic Majesty stole a barrel of flour.

How this exploit was performed,--whether the storehouse was approached after the style of Turenne, and the clerk summoned to surrender the key of the padlock, in the words of the Grand Turk at Constantinople; whether hoops were respected and staves treated considerately, according to the usages of the Black Prince and other mirrors of courtesy, we cannot say, though the Governor undoubtedly overhauled his library and reviewed Rollin’s History before he attempted a maneuver which was probably without a precedent in the “military history of all nations.” The particulars of this fell swoop of the Canadian war-kite do not appear in the few books hastily consulted on that subject,--loftier matters, the evacuation of forts, the movements of emissaries, and the correspondence of functionaries, being solely discoursed of in those. Old settlers, however, aver that a quantity of flour belonging to Capt. Williamson was seized by the British and carried off.

Capt. Williamson resented the affront in a spirited manner. A sharp correspondence following between himself and the trespassing parties. The cabinet at Washington took in matter in hand. The prospect looked, to the men in the forest decidedly warlike. The “black war elephants,” which the orator saw rising out of the billows of Ontario, it may be believed, shook their bright and glittering tusks with evil purport, while those other surly quadrupeds which displayed themselves in such an ill-tempered manner on the “bristling ramparts of Toronto,: undoubtedly indulged in demonstrations equally hostile and alarming. Captain Williamson had reason to believe that in the event of actual hostilities, the vengeance of Col. Simcoe might seek him in his own city. He determined to make ready for the blow, to rally the woodsman, to picket the public square, and to entertain the Canadian Hannibal and his legions with such a feast of smoke, steel, and sulphur, as those fire-eaters alone could relish.

Gen. McClure in his manuscript says, “The administration at Washington apprised Capt. Williamson of the difficulties that had arisen between this country and Great Britain, and required him to make preparations for defense. He therefore received a Colonel’s commission from the Governor of New York, and immediately thereafter sent an express to Albany for one thousand stand of arms, several pieces of cannon and munitions of war. He lost no time in making preparations for war. He give orders to my friend Andrew Smith to prepare timber for picketing on a certain part of our village and ordered that I should erect block-houses according to his plan. The work went cheerily on. We could rally, in case of alarm, five or six hundred, most of them single men. Our Colonel organized his forces into companies. I had the honor of being appointed Captain of a light infantry company, I had the honor of being appointed Captain of a light infantry company, and had the privilege of selecting one hundred men, non-commissioned officers and privates. In a short time my company appeared in handsome uniform. By the instructions of our Colonel we mounted guard every night,--exterior as well as interior. Most of our own Indians, whom we supposed were friendly, disappeared, which we thought was a very suspicious circumstance.

The young settlement, like the infant hero of old, seemed likely to be attacked in its cradle by a serpent; and although the backwoodsmen, even of Canisteo, were to considerate to strangle the British Empire aggressively, and without an act of Congress authorizing such violence, yet it is quite apparent that had this great power seen fit to assail Col. Williamson’s little province, the consequences would have been disastrous either to the one or the other. Every thing was made ready. Further movements of those “black war-elephants” and the rest of the hostile menagerie were awaited with interest. How soon will the snorting charger of Simcoe prance upon the banks of the terrified Conhocton, while his gloomy grenadiers stride through the forest with fixed bayonets and frowns. How soon will the flags of St. George flaunt under the Eight-mile Tree, or field pieces roar under our splintering palisades, while all the Six Nations, yelling in the under-brush, drive the wolves distracted. The apprehension of invasion was probably not very alarming, yet sufficiently so to excite patriotism and visions. The lonely settler, sleeping in his cabin far in the forest, the loaded rifle standing at his bed side, the watchful hounds growling without, dreams that his house is assailed by seventy or eighty Espuimaux, painted like rainbows, and led on by George the Third in person, while Lord Cornwallis supports his sovereign with a ninety-gun ship and a bomb-ketch.

All stand waiting for the dogs of war. “The solitary express-rider now gallops through the streets of Northumberland, clatters along the rocky roads, wheels up the Lycoming, climbs the Laurel Bridge and urges his stumbling horse over rugged German path, descends to the Tioga, hurries along the rivers, and, riding at night into the guarded citadel of the Conhocton, declares tidings of peace. The lion, grumbling no longer on the ramparts of Toronto, lies down in his lair; the pacified unicorn ceases to stamp upon the Canadian soil, and the black war-elephants haul in their horns, and sink behind the northern horizon.” Such is the preoration of the Fourth of July Orator.

In 1796, Col. Williamson, by way of blowing a trumpet in the wilderness, advertised to all North America and the adjacent islands, the grand races would be held at Bath. At the distance of half a mile from the village, a race-course of a mile in circuit was cleared and carefully grubbed, and all the resources of the metropolis were brought forth for the entertainment of as many gentlemen of distinction and miscellaneous strangers as might honor the festival by their presence. But what probability was there that such a festival would be celebrated with success in the midst of “a wilderness of nine hundred thousand acres?” From Niagara to the Mohawk were but a few hundred scattered cabins, and in the south a dozen ragged settlements, contained the greater part of the civilized population till you reached Wyoming. But Col. Williamson did not mistake the spirit of the times. Those were the days of high thoughts and great deeds. On the day, and at the place appointed for the race and the proclamation, sportsmen from New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore were in attendance. The high blades of Virginia and Maryland, the fast-boys of Jersey, the wise jockeys of Long Island, men of Ontario, Pennsylvania and Canada, settlers, choppers, gamesters and hunters, to the number of fifteen hundred or two thousand, met on the Pine Plains to see horses run--a number as great, considering the condition of the region where they met, as now assembles at State Fairs and Mass Meetings. No express-trains then rolled down from Shawangunk--no steamboats plowed the lakes--no stages rattled along the rocky roads above the Susquehanna. Men of blood and spirit made the journey from the Potomac and the Hudson on horse-back, supported by the high spirit of the ancients to endure the miseries of blind trails and log taverns.

The races passed off brilliantly. Col. Williamson himself, a sportsman of spirit and discretion, entered a Southern mare, name Virginia Nell; High Sheriff Dunn entered Silk Stocking, a New Jersey horse--quadrupeds of renown even to the present day. Money was plenty, and betting lively. The ladies of the two dignitaries who owned the rival animals, bet each three hundred dollars and a pipe of wine on the horses of their lords, or, as otherwise related, poured seven hundred dollars into the apron of a third lady who was stake-holder. Silk Stocking was victorious.

This, our most ancient festival, is rather picturesque, seen from the present day. The arena opened in the forest, the pines and the mountain around--the variegated multitude of wild men, tame men, rough men and gentlemen, form a picture of our early life worthy of preservation. Canisteo was there, of course, in high spirits, and throughout the season, with self-sacrificing devotion to the ancient, honorable and patriotic diversion of horse racing, seconded, with voice and arm, every effort of Baron Williamson to entertain the country’s distinguished guests. Young Canisteo went away with mind inflamed by the spirited spectacle, and before long introduced a higher grade of sport into their own valley. A pioneer of that region, known to the ancients as a youth of game and a “tamer of horses,” will, at the present day, talk with great satisfaction of a Jersey horse, which not only bore away the palm in the Canisteo Races, but on the Pine Plains, in the presence of men from Washington, Philadelphia and New York, (fifteen hundred dollars being staked on the spot by strangers), distance the horse of a renowned Virginia Captain, who, being a “perfect gentlemen,” invited the owner of the victorious beast and his friends to dinner, and swore that nothing was ever done more handsomely even in the ancient dominion. Bath and the neighborhood was, in those days, the residence of a sagacious and enterprising race of sportsmen. They not only raised the olympic dust freely at home, but made excursions to foreign arenas, sometimes discomfiting the aliens, and sometimes, it must be confessed, returning with confusion of face. It is told how a select party of gentlemen--Judges, Generals, and Captains--once went down to Ontario County “to beat the North;” how, after the horses had been entered, an Indian came up and asked permission to enter a sorry-nag which he brought with him, which with some jeering was granted; how, to the general astonishment, the pagan’s quadruped flew off with a “little Indian boy sticking to his back like a bat,” and let the crowd by a dozen rods. The judicial and military gentlemen straightway set out for home, each with an insect in his ear. The great race-course was not often used, during Williamson’s time, for the purpose for which it was made, after the first grand festival. It was chief valuable as a public drive for the few citizens who were so prosperous as to keep chaises. There was, however, a course on the Land Office Meadows south of the village, which was at different times the scene of sport.

Colonel Williamson further embellished the backwoods with a theatre. The building, which was of logs, stood at the corner of Steuben and Morris street. A troop of actors from Philadelphia, kept we believe, at the expense of the agents, entertained for a time the resident and foreign gentry with dramatic exhibition of great splendor. Of these exhibitions we have no very distinct account, but the public eye was probably dazzled by Tartars, Highlanders, Spaniards, Brigands, and other suspicious favorites of the Traffic Muse. The excellencies of the legitimate drama seem to have been harmoniously blended with those of the circus, and with the exploits of sorcery. We hear of one gifted genius who astonished the frontiers by balancing a row of three tobacco pipes on his chin, and by other mysterious feats which showed him to be clearly in league with the psychologists.

The race course and the theatre brought the village which they adorned into bad odor with the sober and discreet. Without intending to speak of such institutions with more civility than is their due, we maintain that in the present case they brought upon the neighborhood where they existed, and upon the men who sustained them, more reproach than they merited. The theatrical exhibitions were but harmless absurd affairs at worst. The races were perhaps more annoying evils. People are certainly at liberty to think as badly of them as they please, but they should consider the spirit of the times, the military and European predilections of their founder, and also his object in their institution (which of course does not of itself change the moral aspect of the matter). Colonel Williamson was inclined to hurry civilization. The “star of empire” was too slow a planet for him. He wished to kindle a torch in the darkness, to blow a horn in the mountains, to shake a banner from the towers, that men might be led by these singular phenomena to visit his establishment in the wilderness. Therefore, jockeys were switching around the meadows before the land was insured against starvation, and Richard was calling for “another horse” before the county grew oats enough to bait him.

Notwithstanding the extenuating circumstances, Baron Williamson’s village bore a very undesirable reputation abroad--a reputation as of some riotous and extravagant youngster, who had been driven as a hopeless profligate from his father’s house, and in a wild freak built him a shanty in the woods, where he could whoop and fire pistols, drink, swear, fight, and blow horns without disturbing his mother and sisters. This was in a great measure unjust. The main employment of the town was hard work. “He couldn’t bear to have a lazy drunken fellow around him,” says an old settler speaking of the agent, “and if any such came he sent him away.” The men of the new country were rough and boisterous it is true, but also industrious and hardy, and out of such we “constitute a State.” If has often been flung into our faces as a reproach, that when the first missionary visited Bath, on a Sunday morning, he found a multitude assembled on the public square in three distinct groups. On one side the people were gambling, on another they were witnessing a battle between two bulls, and on a third they were watching a fight between two bullies. We are happy to say that the truth of this rascally old tradition is more than doubtful. Aside from the manifest improbability that men would play cards while bulls were fighting, or that bulls would be trumps while men were fighting, the evidence adduced in support of the legend is vague and malicious. To suppose that Colonel Williamson’s ambition was to be at the head of a gang of banditti who blew horns, pounded drums, fought bulls and drank whiskey from Christmas to the Fourth of July, and from the Forth of July around to Christmas again, is an exercise of the rights of individual judgment in which those who indulge themselves should not of course be disturbed. It may be true that sometimes, indeed often, a horn or horns may have been blown upon the Pulteney Square, at unseasonable hours of night, in a manner not in accordance with the maxims of the most distinguished composers; it is not impossible that a drum or drums may have been pounded with more vigor than judgment at times when the safety of republic, either from foreign foes or from internal seditions, did not demand such an expression of military fervor; it will not be confidently denied by the cautious historian that once or twice, or even three times, a large number of republicans may have been assembled on the village common to witness a battle between a red bull and a black one; but from these cheerful ebullitions of popular humor, to jump to the popular conclusion that the public mind was entirely devoted to horns, drums and bulls, is a logical gymnatic worthy of a Congressman.

These aspersions upon the character of the early settlers as men of honor and sobriety, are repelled with much sharpness by the few survivors. “We were poor and rough,” say they, “but we were honest. We fit and drinked some to be sure, but no more than everybody did in those days.”

“The man that says we were liars and drunkards, is a liar himself, and tell him so from me, will you? There isn’t half the honesty in the land now that there was then.. Oh! what miserable rogues you are now. You put locks on your doors, and you keep bull dogs, and then you can’t keep the thieves out of your houses after all!”

“I have seen them do in Bath what ye wouldn’t do the morrow. When a pack-horse with flour came from Pany Yang or Tioga Point, I have seen the ladies carry it around to them that hadn’t any. Many and many’s the time I have seen the M----’s and the C----’s and their daughters take plates of flour and carry them around to every cabin where they were needy. I have seen it often, and ye wouldn’t do the same at Bath the morrow.”

In like manner on the Canisteo, you hear--”people now, friend ain’t a comparison to those Ingens. They were simple creatures, and made their little lodges around by the hills, three hundred Ingens at a time, and never stole a thing. Those Ingens came to our houses, and were around nights, and never stole the first rag. Now, that’s the truth, friend. They would snap off a pumpkin now and them perhaps, or take an ear of corn to roast, but they were just the simplest and most honest creatures I ever see. But now, Lord! you can’t hang up a shirt to dry but it will be stolen.”

Occasionally there is an expression of contempt at the decay of chivalry. “There was men enough then that would have knocked a fellow down if he said Boo. It isn’t half an affront now to call a man a lair or a rascal. If you whip an impudent dog of a fellow, you get indicted.”

Captain Williamson further astonished the backwoods with a newspaper. In 1796, the Bath Gazette and Genesee Advertiser was published by Wm. Kersey and James Eddie. This was the earliest newspaper of Western New York,--Ontario Gazette, of Geneva, established the same year, being the second. We have not had the good fortune to find a copy of this ancient sheet. Capt. Williamson, in 1798, said, “The printer of the Ontario Gazette disperses weekly not less than one thousand papers, and the printer of the Bath Gazette from four to five hundred.” How long the latter artisan continued to disperse his five hundred papers we are unable to say. The candle was probably a “brief” one, and soon burned out, leaving the land in total darkness, till Capt. Smead’s Democratic torch, twenty years afterwards, illuminated the whole county, and even flashed light into the obscure hollows of Allegany. Of this happy event we may take the present opportunity to speak.

In 1816, Mr. David Rumsey published at Bath the “Farmers’ Gazette,” and Capt. Benjamin Smead started at the same place the “Steuben and Allegany Patriot.” This sheet is the most unquestionable antiquity which the County has produced. Though but thirty-five years have elapsed since Capt. Smead opened his republican fire on the enemies of human rights, (a fire which never so much as slackened for more than a quarter of a century,) such have been the improvements in the art of printing that in comparison with the bright, clean country newspapers of 1851, The Patriot looks raspy enough to have been the Court Journal of that ancient monarch, King Cole, if it were lawful to suppose that the editor would ever have consented to manage the “administration organ” of such a rampant old aristocrat. The Patriot differed in several important particulars from our modern county papers. Geneva, Olean, and Dansville advertisements were important features. The editorial matter was brief, and the first page was occupied with advertisements of sheriff’s sales and the like, instead of such “thrilling thousand dollar prize tales” as “The Black Burglar of Bulgaria, or the Bibliomaniac of the Jungles,” and others of like character, which in our modern home newspapers sometimes crowd off the even the Treasury Report and elegant extracts from the leading journals. The columns devoted to news would poorly satisfy the demand of the present generation. We think the news cold if forty-eight hours old, but then tidings from New York in ten days almost smoked, and Washington items two weeks old were fairly scalding. The political matters was also of an ancient tone. There was a little sparring between Observed and Quietis on the one hand, and some invisible enemy on the other who dealt his blows under cover of the Ontario Messenger. The antiquarian of nice ear will also detect antiquity in the rhythm of caucus resolutions. It is comforting to the patriotic citizen to think how much cheaper eloquence is now than formerly; how much easier one can strike the stars with his lofty head from the Buffalo platform, the Philadelphia platform, or the Baltimore platform, than from the Bucktail platform and other old-fashioned scaffolds. The style of abuse which prevails at present in school-house conventions is inclined to be rolling and magnificent; in the days of the old Patriot it was direct and well planted, straight, short, and distinct.

It appears that even then there was a brisk agitation about the division of the County. Steuben was like Poland in the clutches of the Three Powers. Three “rogues in buckram let drive” at it,--Penn Yan in front, and Tioga and Allegany in the flanks; and like a man beset with thieves, the stout old County backed against the Pennsylvanian border and “dealt” by the Patriot very efficiently.

In the Patriot of Jan. 19, 1819, occurs the following proclamation indicative of the spirit of the times during court week.


A Hunting Party will be formed for the purpose of killing wolves, bears, foxes, panthers, &c., to commence on the 20th of January, at 7 o’clock A.M., and will close the same day at 3 P.M.

This being the week of the sitting of the court, gentlemen from towns of this vicinity are invited to meet at Capt. Bull’s Hotel at 7 o’clock, on Friday the 15th inst., to aid in completing arrangements for conducting the grand hunt..

Bath, Jan.. 12, 1819.

Appointed Commanding Officer of the day.”


The year 1796 is furthermore a memorable one in our annals for that in the said year was organized that wrangling brotherhood, the Steuben County Bar. A few straggling birds of the legal feather had alighted on the Pine Plains in the preceding year, but were not recognized as constituting a distinct and independent confederacy. These adventurous eagles however found themselves in 1796 released from allegiance to the Ontario Bar by the act organizing Steuben County, and thenceforth confederated for the more systematic indulgence of their instincts, under the name and style of the Steuben County Bar.

A framed court house, and a jail of hewn logs was erected for the furtherance of justice, and in the former of these edifices the first Court of Common Pleas, held in and for the County of Steuben, convened on the 21 st day of June, 1796.

The Honorable William Kersey was the presiding Judge. Judge Kersey was a grave and dignified Friend from Philadelphia. He came to Steuben as a surveyor, and practiced that profession, and performed the duties of Lord High Chancellor of the county for several years, when he returned to Pennsylvania, greatly esteemed by the people who he judged. Abraham Bradley, and Eleazer Lindley, Esqs., of Painted Post, were the Associate Judges.

“Proclamation made, and court opened,” says the record. “Proclamation made for silence; commissions to the Judges, Justices, Sheriff, Coroner and Surrogate read; George Hornell, Uriah Stephens and Abel White were qualified Justices of the Peace; Stephen Ross as Surrogate.”

The following attorneys and counselors appeared in due form. Nathaniel W. Howell, (late of Canandaigua,) Vincent Matthews, (late of Rochester,) William Stuart who presented “letters patent under the great seal of this State, constituting him Assistant Attorney General, [District Attorney,] for the counties of Onondaga, Ontario, Tioga and Steuben,”) Wm. B. Verplanck, David Jones, Peter Masterton, Thomas Morris, Stephen Ross, David Powers.

The first Court of General Sessions was held in 1796. In addition to the Judges mentioned in the Record of Common Pleas, offenders against the people encounted the following array of Justices of the Peace. John Knox, William Lee, Frederick Bartles, George Hornell, Eli Mead, Abel White, Uriah Stephens, Jr.

The first Grand Jury was composed of the following citizens:--John Sheather, Foreman; Charles Cameron, George McClure, John Cooper, Samuel Miller, Isaac Mullender, John Stearns, Justus Woolcott, John Coudry, John Van Devanter, Alexander Fullerton, Amariah Hammond, John Seeley, Samuel Shannon. This jury presented two indictments for assault and battery, and were thereupon discharged.

General McClure made of the early members of the bar the following notice. “I will mention as a very extraordinary circumstance, that although our new settlement consisted of emigrants from almost all nations, kindred and tongues, yet not a single gentlemen of the legal profession made his appearance amongst us during the first two years. However, had they came, we had not much employment for them in their line of business, as is our litigations were settled by compromise, or by the old English law of battle, and all decisions were final. In our code there was no appellant jurisdiction. In the following year we had a full supply, shortly after the organization of Steuben County.

The first arrival was George D. Cooper, of Rhinebeck, on the North River. He was appointed the first Clerk of the County. The next arrivals were Messrs. Jones, Masterton, and Stuart, from New York. Next William Howe Cuyler, from Albany. Mr. Cuyler was a fine portly elegant young man of very fashionable and fascinating manners, of the Chesterfield order. In 1812, General Amos Hall appointed him aid-de camp, and while stationed at Black Rock he was killed by a cannon ball from Fort Erie. Major Cuyler was a very active intelligent officer, and his death was much lamented. He left a young wife and one son.

Next in order came Dominick Theophilus Blake, one of the sons of Erin-go-brah. He was a well educated young man, but his dialect and manner of speech afforded much amusement for the other members of the bar. He had but little practice and did not remain long with us, but where he went and what became of him, I never had heard.

Samuel S. Haight, Esq., moved from Newtown with his family to Bath. Gen. Haight had an extensive practice, and a numerous and interesting family of son and daughters. He is yet living, and resides in the county of Allegany. Daniel Cruger, William B. Rochester, Williams Woods, Henry Wells and Henry W. Rogers, members of the Steuben County Bar, studied law in Mr. Haight’s office.

Gen. Vincent Matthews resided for many years in Bath. He was said to be at the head of the bar for legal knowledge, but was not much of an advocate. Judge Edwards, Schuyler Strong, Jonas Clark, Jonathan Haight, John Cook, and Leland and McMasters, are all that I can remember of the old stock. Ah, yes! there’s one more of my old friends--Cuthbert Harrison, a Virginian, a young man of good sense, and whether drunk or sober, he was a good natured clever fellow.”

Mr. Cuthbert Harrison is described as a young man of fine talents and one of the most eloquent advocates in the western part of the State.

Gen. Daniel Cruger, for a long time a leading member of the bar and an influential politician, was a printer by trade. He worked in the office of the old Bath Gazette, before the year 1800. Afterwards he published a newspaper in Owego. Adopting the legal profession, he practiced with success at Bath. In 1812, he was elected a member of the Legislature, and chosen Speaker of the House. After this he was chosen representative in the same body for three successive years. In 1813 he served with credit as Major of Infantry, under Gen. McClure, on the frontiers. In 1816, he was elected Member of Congress. In 1823, or about that time, he was again sent to the Legislature. He afterwards removed to Syracuse, returned to Bath, and in 1833, removed to Virginia, where he continued in the practice of law until his death, in 1843. Gen. Cruger, under the judicial system of New York, was once Assistant Attorney General, or District Attorney, of the district composed of the counties of Allegany, Steuben, Tioga, Broome and others. After the abolition of this system, he was District Attorney of the county of Steuben.

Of the early Physicians of the county, we have not much to say. Dr. Stockton, of New Jersey, and Dr. Schultz, a German, came in with Capt. Williamson, and were the most prominent of the pioneer physicians. The surgeon, in ancient times, lived a rough life. His ride was through forests without roads, across rivers without bridges, over hills without habitations. Bears rose up before he startled steed as he rode at dusk through the beechen groves of the upland, and wolves, made visible by the lightning, hung around him as he grouped through the hemlocks in the midnight storm, and insanely lusted for the contents of his saddle-bags.

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