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Historical Information on Osbornes and Cobbs Buried in Pioneer and Forest Hill Cemeteries

by Mary Cobb

I’m designing this essay to achieve several goals. First, to give pertinent, and interesting information, to the best of my knowledge, about persons buried in these two cemeteries. Second, to present a family tree that gives core facts and relationships for these people. Third to relate other information that might be of historical interest about their lives. Therefore, there will be some diversions from the main story line and persons to allow me the freedom to ramble a bit. I’ll begin with Captain Thomas Osborne, buried in the Pioneer Cemetery very close to the Main Street side, along with his wife and teenaged daughter.

Biography of Thomas Osborne, Captain U.S.A.; my four times great grandfather.

Thomas Osborne, of our Pioneer Cemetery, was born April 21, 1777 in East Hampton, Long Island., and died Sept. 13, 1856 in Fredonia. Already of an old American family, his three times great grandfather, Thomas, emigrated from Kent, England possibly as early as 1631, but more likely after 1636. As an early resident of the New Haven colony in 1638, the family’s tannery business was on the town square in that settlement. This first Thomas moved to East Hampton, LI. somewhere between 1648 and 1651.

Subsequent generations lived in and around the East Hampton area for the next 150 years and more. As times changed, there was less tolerance for the old Puritan ways. This, coupled with new economic demands, led to the development of the clothing industry, and emigration to new job sites, such as in Rensselaer County, N.Y. Our Thomas’s adult records begin in the town of Hoosick, Rensselaer. Here he had been living from 1799 as a tailor and shopkeeper with wife Jane Filer, (Dec. 22, 1775 - April 16, 1844), and seven of his eight children when the War of 1812 began. An early agitator for war, a chapter in “History of Rensselaer County” by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester details his service as captain of an artillery company that marched to Plattsburgh only to find on their arrival that the battle was over.

Thomas relocated with his family to Fredonia in 1821. What brought him to Fredonia, and if he continued to earn his keep as a tailor here, is unknown at this point, but it is possible that his move was the result of a major fire in nearby Troy in 1820 that destroyed many tailor and cloth-related businesses.

His children were Thomas Albert, b. 7/1/1800, Ervin Filer, b. 4/29/1802, Gustavus Adolphus, b. 4/24/1804, George Clinton, b. 4/12/1806, Viraldo Emmett b. 4/16/1808, Emma Corbet Filer, b. 4/24/1809, Esther Jane, b. 12/28/1811 and Puella Melvina, b. 6/6/1820. Fairly unusual for the time is the fact that all but one of them lived to adulthood. The cause of Emma’s death remains unknown, but her burial was in the Pioneer Cemetery in 1824 at age 15.

A number of family items were displayed in honor of her forebears by one “Miss Jane Osborne” (Esther Jane perhaps, or possibly Thomas A’s daughter,) as part of Fredonia’s Old Settler Festival in 1873. A chapter devoted to this festival lists silverplated sugar tongs 100 years old, two 150 year-old needle books, and items relating to Thomas’s commission and political prominence in Hoosick up through 1814. This same History of Chautauqua County by Andrew Young states that Thomas Osborne was deeded original lots 32 and 33 in the village by Elijah Risley, one of Fredonia’s very first settlers.

Jane Filer, Thomas’s wife, is more of a mystery. As is common for women of the time, the records on her are scant. It is certain that her father was Thomas Filer or Fyler of East Hampton where she was born, and probably her grandfather was Samuel Fyler of the same town. Filers did not remain for many generations in East Hampton, and there is only one paragraph devoted to their genealogy in Hedges’ History of East Hampton.

Captain Thomas’s first son Thomas Albert became a judge who lived and died in Mayville, N.Y., and is the Osborne most often mentioned by area histories. My family line, however, proceeds from Thomas’s fourth son George Clinton Osborne, who, along with brother Ervin Filer, remained in the immediate Fredonia area all of his life. With his wife, Abigail Guage Potter, George is buried in the Forest Hill cemetery. At this point the family history gets much more richly detailed due to the existence of 30 or so family letters lovingly saved by Sarah Maria Parsons Cobb Dodge (whew!) in the late 19th century. That there were dozens, perhaps hundreds more such missives is attested to by my uncle Eldridge Cobb, who tells me, shamefacedly, that as a young man he burned them all just to get rid of them. Bad uncle, or at least, shortsighted, from the historian’s perspective…

George Clinton Osborne, as many men of his day, was a farmer and a small businessman as well, producing construction grade lime. Letters and notes mention a family residence in Fredonia, and by 1830 he was an early owner of farm property in Van Buren. His daughter Emma Elizabeth, or Libby as she was called, writes from there of hot summer weather, sailing in the Bay, and picnicking on Van Buren Point and carving initials in a tree there. Emma also tells with pride that she graduated from the Fredonia Academy in 1847 and was certified to teach “all subjects, including French” in an academy or other select school. She did indeed teach at a school two miles from Van Buren before her marriage, but never in an advanced level institution as she had hoped.

In the mid to late 1830’s a speculative business venture very nearly made Van Buren Bay into the port city that Dunkirk later became. Stock market shares were sold, plans drawn for a railroad, city streets laid out, and even a number of buildings begun. A major change in financial conditions, and President Andrew Jackson calling for national usage of specie (payment or requital in kind), caused the venture to collapse. After some years of hard work and planning, the investors basically lost their shirts. A letter by Emma writes of disappointed George selling his property and returning to Fredonia in 1848, so one would assume he had been in on the venture as well.

George had married Abigail Potter in the 1820’s and the first of our family letters begins with her generation’s story. That she was living near Hoosick before her marriage seems clear. Sources variably name Galesville, Washington Co. N.Y. or Poultney, Vt., but her tombstone gives Ft. Miller, N.Y. as her birthplace. These early letters generally seem to have been kept because each contains information on an important event in the family and community life. Each missive reads as a vignette from the past, providing the present reader with much room for imaginative speculation.

I have managed to piece together that Abigail had several sisters, one of whom is also buried in Forest Hill, Angeline G. Potter, born 9/9/1811. On May 1, 1833 she married Chatfield Parsons, who, like Thomas Osborne, was born in East Hampton, L.I. On his own from an early age, apparently due to his father’s indebtedness, Chatfield moved to Hoosick as apprentice to an uncle. While the letters give no indication of how Angeline and he met, Ft. Miller’s proximity was certainly a favorable element. Urged by his brother, after their marriage Chatfield and Angeline moved to Racine, Wisconsin where they maintained a farm and an inn. As that area grew, Chatfield became postmaster, Justice of the Peace, and eventually delegate to the constitutional convention of Wisconsin in 1840. The couple resettled in Fredonia in 1866 to be near their daughter Sarah during their older years. Many letters went between “Chat” and “An” during trips apart. An ability to render a clear, and even poetically-phrased sentence in the style of the time is there in husband Chatfield’s affectionate and newsy letters. In return, Angeline’s own writing was physically well- trained, and grammatically correct, evidencing the extent and quality of her education.

Angeline bore three children, Charles Foster, who died as an infant in 1837, and Sarah Maria, (1843-1910) and William Rollins (1834-1860). William married a Jennie Allen in January of 1860, and later that year set off across the country in a wagon train to make his fortune in Denver during the silver strike there. His penciled letters home detail the countryside, fatigue, and danger of the trip itself, as well as the lawless chaos in the Colorado mining area of “Gregory Diggins.” The series breaks off abruptly in late June and a family bible lists William’s death on July 23, 1860 from causes unspecified. Jenny returned to her home in Canada brokenhearted.

As mentioned, another group of these early letters was written by Libby Osborne, mostly to her aunt and uncle in Wisconsin. Not only does she write about Van Buren and her activities, but also her courtship and marriage to John Porter Cobb on June 14, 1849. Cobb (2/24/1819 - 9/1/1887), was the son of a farmer, Joseph W. Cobb, of Stockton, N.Y., and seems to have had a bent both for letters and business. According to his obituary, he attended the Fredonia Academy in 1837 and subsequently taught school in Canada. Then he made his way to Camden, Oneida Co., N.Y. where he worked at least from late 1846 through Sept. 1847 as a clerk in a dry goods store. How he met Libby Osborne is not clear, but perhaps he had already settled and begun his own business in Fredonia, it being a sizable town relatively close to family in Stockton. At any rate, the two were married in Fredonia in 1849, and had one son, John Porter Junior, born in 1858.

The senior Cobb was a successful businessman for many years in Fredonia. Among other things, in 1848 he ran a newspaper called The Fredonia Express, which was later half-owned by Thomas A. Osborne the judge, Emma Osborne’s uncle.

Tragedy struck the family in 1865. Emma contracted a form of typhoid, and a blackedged letter by her grief-stricken husband relates her last days and her own belief that she would recover. She was only in her mid-thirties when she died, and Johnny, her only child, was seven. It is no surprise to see that her husband remarried, to Emma’s first cousin Sarah Parsons, by October 1866. By all accounts, this was a long and amicable relationship, and John junior maintained a close relationship with his stepmother throughout his adult life. After John Cobb senior’s death by stroke in 1887, Sarah married Ulysses Dodge, a founder of the first Grange and otherwise prominent Fredonian, and lived in Fredonia until her passing in 1910.

J. P. junior married Mary Reed, daughter of Anson and Sabrina Reed of Reed’s Corners, formerly the junction of routes 20 and 60 on the outskirts of Fredonia. The couple had one son, Harold Reed Cobb, who also resided entirely in Fredonia and was a banker by profession. A highly successful businessman, John at different times owned a lumber and feed store, a lime and coal business, and was part owner of a shoe store with a Mr. Griswold.

Jumping back in time, and as a side note, George and Abigail Osborne had a daughter two years younger than Emma Elizabeth, Mary Priscilla, who married one Calvin Smith, and eventually settled in Ohio. In the Osborne plot in Forest Hill, there is a broken headstone for “Little Emma”. This was for a four year old daughter of Priscilla and Calvin who died of diphtheria in Fredonia.

There are quite a few more stones in the Osborne section of Forest Hill. These are for Captain Thomas’s son Ervin Filer Osborne, born in Hoosick in 1802, died in Fredonia in 1876, and the first of his three wives, Harriet Randall. All three of his children are also buried there; Charles F. Osborne, 1829-1905, Phebe P. Osborne 1830 - 1917, and Thomas A. Osborne, 1833 - 1902. A final headstone for Mary L. Osborne who lived from 1863 to 1964 really deserves an article by itself.

The story in brief is that Mary, from Brooklyn, married an Osborne, probably Thomas, son of Ervin, who died when she was still quite young. In widowhood for most of her very lengthy life, many of us still remember her sitting in malodorous rusty black widow’s dress on her front porch on Spring Street. Her hair long since snow white and eyes a piercing blue, I vividly remember one childhood visit when she recalled a parade of Civil War soldiers returning to Brooklyn when she was a tot.

Here ends the outline of grave sites in the Pioneer and Forest Hill cemeteries for Captain Thomas Osborne, Jane Filer Osborne, Emma Corbet Filer Osborne, George Clinton Osborne, Abigail Potter Osborne, Chatfield Parsons, Angeline Potter Parsons, Charles Foster Parsons, William Rollins Parsons, Emma Elizabeth Osborne Cobb, John Porter Cobb senior, Sarah Parsons Cobb Dodge, Little Emma Smith, and other related Osbornes and Cobbs. The first three of the above named are in Pioneer Cemetery, and the rest in the front “old” section of Forest Hill, near the main entrance.