Biography of William Avery (1793 to 1840)
 
Daniel H. Weiskotten
11/30/2000
 
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William Avery (1793 - 1840)
 
 

W. Avery is listed in the 1827 Village of Cazenovia Register as a Steam Engine Maker.
 
 

From Re-Union of the Sons and Daughters of the Old Town of Pompey, Held at Pompey Hill, June 29, 1871.  privately published in 1875:

AVERY FAMILY.
(pages 253 to 258; only locally relevant parts on pages 254 to 257 are included here)

<:253>
        (Ebenezer) Punderson Avery (son of Solomon Avery) was born in Groton, Conn., May 21st, 1765; he consequently was not old enough to enter the war of the Revolution, but to show that he was of the right stock, we mention that at the massacre of Fort Griswold, on the 6th of September 1781, nine of his uncles and cousins fell, and he waded in blood over his shoes to obtain their remains from the Fort.  He married Lovina Barnes, daughter of Phineas Barnes and Phebe Bernent, Dec. 15th, 1786, at Great Barrington, Mass.; here he resided some time, and then removed to the then so called "Royal Grant", in Herkimer County; here he built and ran a grist mill for a few years, and it was believed to be located further west than any mill for grinding grain on the Continent.  In 1796, he removed to Pompey, and settled on a ,farm a mile south of Oran; here he reared his large family, and died Sept. 10th, 1840.\
        Mr. Avery was peculiarly fitted by nature for a pioneer; he was among the first in any enterprise to improve the minds, the morals or condition of his fellow men; the church, the school and public library, always found in him an ardent supporter; his patriotism secured him a place as captain in the militia; and his integrity, as administrator for many a widow and orphan; his love of justice made him often the arbiter in his neighbors' quarrels, and his excellent judgment often turned the scale, for or against, many an incipient undertaking.
        But he was most useful to his fellow men, perhaps, as a <:254> mechanic; his trade properly was a mill-wright, but he often was employed on small machinery, and on one occasion, by a very wealthy man, to construct a perpetual motion (machine); he had been taught to work by square rule, and a barn still standing next south of his old residence, is believed to be the first in the county framed by "square rule;" he was almost continually employed in building grist mills, saw mills, fulling mills, carding machines, tanneries, and later, cider mills and threshing machines.  About 1810, he constructed a cast iron plow, which, for many years, was a general favorite in this locality; his inventive faculties were large, and he would probably have allowed them some little scope, and, at some cost, had not prudence and the demands of a family of twelve children, kept him busy in labor that paid every day.  His children were Hannah P., who became Mrs. Samuel Willard, the mother of W.W. Willard, of Syracuse; her second husband was William Higgins, of Van Buren; Sally B., who married George Miller, of Tunkhannock, PA; Lucy, who married Belden Resseguie, VanBuren; William; Phebe, who married Colonel Reynolds, of Cazenovia; Candace, relict of Horace Sweet; Lucetta, who married William M. Wood, of Mishawaka, Ind.; Perlena, the wife of Abner Duell, Manlius , Perlina,, the relict of Euroclyden Gerre, who resides in, VanBuren; Cyrus; Nancy, the wife of Elam Thomas, Knowlesville, Orleans Co.; and Samuel.
        William Avery, son of the preceding, was born in Herkimer County, August 16, 1798, married Eunice Hart, daughter of Comfort, October 24, 1815.  He early manifested a disposition to be a mechanic, was continually contriving water mills and wind mills to drive other machinery, and long before he attained his majority he was employed in all parts of the country to repair machinery, and was considered the most skillful workman known in Central New York.  His inventive faculties were of a high order, but often from a lack of books on mechanical subjects, he lost much valuable time in experiments that had long before been tried <:256> and exploded.  His first invention of any importance, was a machine for making wire harness for loom in 1824.  His other inventions were numerous, and hardly a year passed without a patent being granted to him.  The one by which he is best known, was the rotary engine, believed to be still the simplest and cheapest in the world, and in a limited sphere has proved for about 40 years extremely valuable.  The first saw mill at Centerville, this county, was run by one of these engines for many years, and did a vast amount of work.
        In 1822 he built a small steamboat which was first launched on the mill pond at Buellville; it was afterwards taken to Cazenovia lake, and finally to the Erie canal.  The Onondaga Gazette of October 1, 1823, says: "A steamboat built at Buellville, in Pompey, passed through this village last week."  The engine from this boat was purchased by the late Henry Gifford, of Syracuse, who used it to pump salt water for many years.
        Mr. Avery moved to Salina and carried on a large foundry and machine shop, and afterward, removed to Syracuse, where he was for a time in company with Elam Lynds; he built the machinery for the first steamboat navigation on Lake Ontario, and was the, first white man to navigate the St. Lawrence, river, from Kingston to the head of the Long Sault Rapids, passing two considerable rapids before reaching that point.  Travel on that route in those days was so inconsiderable that it did not pay, and the proprietor withdrew the boat in a year or two.  In 1837 he removed to Chicago, which he then described as s little sickly sunken hole.  He soon took a contract of the State of Illinois to make the rock cut on the summit of the Illinois and Michigan canal; the price was $1.49 per cubic yard, and the estimated cost $240,000; this was considered the largest contract that had ever been taken in this country at that time.  While completing this great undertaking, by which the waters of Lake Michigan were calculated to he diverted to the Mississippi, he was attacked by a fatal disease, and died on the 16th of November, 1840, <:257> at Athens, and is buried at Rockport, Illinois.  Some of his feats of walking when the country was new were considered very good; he walked on one occasion from Oran to Ithaca in a day and back the next.
 

 
WILLIAM AVERY had inventive faculties that were of a very large order. The invention by which he is best known was the rotary engine, for years believed to be the simplest and cheapest in the world. In 1822, he built a small steamboat, which operated on Lake Cazenovia, and finally on the Erie Canal. He afterward built the machinery for the first steamboat on Lake Ontario, and was the first white man to navigate the St. Lawrence River from Kingston to the Sault Rapids.  In 1837-38, the State of Illinois awarded him the contract to take the rock out on the summit of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. While completing this great undertaking, by which the water-sheds of Lake Michigan were calculated to be diverted to the Mississippi River, he was attacked by a fatal disease which caused his death.  (Chronicles of the Bement Family in America 1928, pages 157-158)