First Settlements and Measures Leading Thereto --- Population at Different Periods --- Homes and Privations of the Early Settlers --- Their Clothing --- Primitive Methods of Grinding Corn --- Pioneer Sociability --- Condition Ameliorated by the Introduction of Improvements --- Settlement Retarded by Remarkable Ice Freshet --- Evidences of Wealth and Prosperity of Present Inhabitants --- Routes and Means by which the Pioneers Reached their Wilderness Homes --- Navigable Streams the Public Highways --- Indian Trails --- Routes Indicated by Blazed Trees --- Chenango Road --- Rapid Multiplication of Local Roads.
In the events connected with the Colonial struggle for independence, especially that which witnessed the devastation of the Iroquois country by the invading army of General Sullivan in 1779, we trace the immediate agencies which opened up to European immigration the whole of Western New York, for until after the close of that struggle, as we have seen, the whole of that vast extent of country west of the east line of Chenango county was reserved Indian domain. Having thrown off the oppressive burdens imposed on the by the mother country the mind of the colonists expanded with the new and invigorating thought of liberty and they were simulated to the development of new enterprises and new industries. It is fair to presume that those who had been favored during the war with a view of the beauty and fertility of this country, as were some of the soldiers who accompanied Sullivan's expedition, bridged with prophetic vision the interval which must elapse ere the return of peach should enable them to make this fair land their future home, which many of them did, and that the favorable reports given it to their associates in arms and their neighbors at home, gave direction to the minds of many who subsequently took up their abode in this wilderness; certain it is that the extinction of the Indian title and the immediate subsequent opening of these lands by survey and sale to settlement, was the signal for a vast hegira from the New England States, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the eastern counties of this State to this section of country.
Within two years from the close of the war we find the first permanent settlers threading their way through the almost trackless forests to their new homes in Southern Change, which was opened to settlement before the northern and central portions, and was occupied even before the extinction of the Indian title, and while the country was still threatened with Indian hostilities. Settlements had been previously made by squatters on the Oneida Reservation in the vicinity of Oneida, but they were not permanent. The settlement of the original county of Chenango dates from 1784, a more detailed account of which will be given in the history of the towns of Afton and Bainbridge. The settlement was rapid when once commenced. In 1800, two years after its organization, and sixteen after its first settlement, Chenango county had a population of 16,087; and in 1810, notwithstanding its territorial reduction by the erection of Madison county four years previously, it had increased to 21, 704, while Madison county then had a population of 25,144. Indeed the substantial numerical increase too place within the first three decades, up to 1814, when it had a population of 24,221. Its subsequent growth up to 1835 was slow; and since that period there has been no permanent increase and but little change, as is show by the subjoined table, showing by half decades the population of the two counties from 1800 to 1875: ---
The pioneers of Chenango county, unlike those who subdued the prairies of the Great West, encountered a forest of giant growth, from who dominion a portion of the soil had to be redeemed by hard and persistent labor, with many accompanying privations, as preliminary and necessary steps to making it yield them and their families a subsistence. At least one generation was worn out in this sturdy battle with the giant forest and the poverty which environed most of those who were pioneers of this locality. It required a hardihood and perseverance which we of this generation can scarcely appreciate. Having made sufficient clearing, the pioneer next erected his rude cabin of logs, covered it with peeled elm bark, and floored it with the halves of split logs. Greased paper answered the purposes of a window, for glass had not yet made its way into the settlement; and the door, when the consisted of anything more substantial than a suspended blanket, was made of hewed planks, fastened together with wooden pins, and hung upon hinges of the same material. A spacious hold in the roof constituted the provision for a chimney, and a bare spot on the earthen floor, the fire-place. Some were fortunate in the possession of a scanty supply of furniture brought with them from their eastern homes; while others were contented with furniture as primitive in its construction as their cabins. These latter were sometimes made more comfortable by hewing the logs so as to make a close joint; wile at others the searching winds and pelting rain and snow were excluded by chinking the openings and plastering them with mud. The cattle which some of the first settlers were able to bring with them were foddered at first by browsing on the terminal buds and succulent branches of trees felled for the purpose, and some of which, especially basswood, yielded a good supply of this food, of which the cattle became very fond. The rank grass which grew in great luxuriance upon some of the flats and small Indian clearings afforded in some instances a temporary supply.
Having provided a temporary shelter (for while many of the hardy pioneers occupied these rude habitations for many years, others soon provided themselves with more comfortable homes, from the product of the mill s which speedily sprang into existence,) he next addressed himself to the task of clearing a spot for the crops which were supply the ensuing year's provision for the family. Thus annual inroads were made in the dense forest, which slowly, but gradually, receded from his humble habitation, and the spacious and fruitful farms which now adorn Chenango's beautiful slopes were plotted out. The seed was reverently deposited amid the blackened stumps which still pressed their claim to the virgin soil, and marred for many years the otherwise beautiful scene, and was nurtured with a tender care and solicitude, as it was often the only dependence for the next year's bread. The friendly maples supplied an abundance of sugar, while the forests abounded with game and the streams with fish. Indeed, without these, life would have been impossible with the class of people upon whom the subjugation of this wilderness devolved.
But the forests, while abounding in game, were also infested with numerous ravenous eats, which preyed upon the scantly flocks of the settlers, and imperiled the lies of the latter. They were a constant source of annoyance long after they ceased to occasion any serious apprehensions to the settlers themselves, a fact which the early town records bear abundant evidence. They became the common enemy. Every man's hand was lifted against them, and a deadly war of extermination was waged against them, to which an additional stimulus was given by the payment of generous bounties. Under these vigorous efforts, combined with the increase in population and the constant removal of their haunts-the forests-they were drive to more congenial climes, never more to molest the onward march of civilization in this region of country.
The deer in the forests not only supplied them with venison, but also in some measure, with clothing, both men and women wearing garments fashioned from the skin of that animal; for after the clothing with which they emigrated from their eastern homes became unserviceable, home manufacture was the rule. This, for a time the associate of wool and flax, as the materials for the manufacture of clothing, gradually gave way to the latter, which were for many years the dependence of the early settlers, with whom the spinning wheel was almost as common and indispensable as the sewing machine of the present day.
The absence for a few years of grist-mills was a fruitful source of inconvenience, and compelled them to resort to the Indian method of reducing their corn, which consisted in pounding it in mortars rudely constructed from hard-wood stumps, which were hollowed out by repeated burnings and scrapings. The pestle consisted of a stone attached to, or suspended from a bent sapling. Wheat was sometimes boiled and eat with milk. This difficulty was soon obviated in some localities by the erection of mills, but in others it remained a source of inconvenience for many years, owing to the inaccessibility of mills, in the absence of suitable roads, and often of any roads at all.
There was one circumstance which largely compensated for the hardships and privations of pioneer life --- the spirit of true fraternity and sociability, which they developed to a degree to which we of the present age are strangers, except through tradition. Their interests and sympathies were mutual, and commencing, as most of them did, with a life of poverty and it attendant associations, they felt mutually dependent, were on a plane of social equality, and manifested a true and kingly spirit of helpfulness. That social ostracism engendered by caste, a relic alike of ignorance and barbarism, which it is the mission of the genius of American institutions to eradicate, and which inexorably separates the individual members of a community at the present day, was to the unknown. They mingled freely with each other, and shared each others' joys and sorrows. In conversation with the venerable remnant of pioneer settlers, or rather the immediate descendants of the pioneers, we have been deeply impressed with the regretful earnestness with which they recur to those happy days of their pioneer toils, sympathies and joys.
The excessive stringency of pioneer life was gradually ameliorated by the introduction of public improvements, as the influx of settlers rendered them necessary and possible. Public roads were opened, bridges erected, and better means of conveyance than the early rough state of the country rendered serviceable were introduced. Mills were erected by private capital and individual enterprise. These improvements not only vastly mitigated the severities experienced by the early settlers in reclaiming this wilderness to the use of civilization, but tended also t attract to it others who were looking for eligible homes in the West, as this country was the justly considered.
The settlement was retarded by a remarkable ice freshet in the winter of 1787-8, which destroyed most of the property of the settlers upon the river intervals. Scarcely less calamitous to life and property was the scarcity that followed in 1789.
From this time this section of the Susquehanna's beautiful valley attracted many sturdy and active emigrants from the comparative luxury of their eastern homes to grapple with the temporary hardships and privations incident to the settlement of a new country. A steady and healthy growth was maintained for many years; and though Chenango and Madison cannot point to any gigantic commercial or manufacturing enterprise within their borders, they can, with just pride, refer the stranger to the no less gratifying evidences of wealth, prosperity and contentment exhibited by the tillers of the soil, who have supplemented nature by improving an already beautiful country and transformed it from its pristine wilderness to the productive and attractive farms which adorn its hillsides and gentle slopes. If we do not hear the busy hum of mechanical industry as it greets us in large and populous cities and villages, neither do we see nor deplore the disparaging contracts between affluence and poverty which the latter picture invariably presents. Here all are producers, and the wealth of the country is more uniformly distributed. While few have an excessive abundance of this world's goods, few also are drive to a position of dependency.
What a series of struggles with savage, unsubdued nature, is implied in the contrast between the primitive condition and present cultivated state of the country. In the vivid language of the poet: ---
"Through the deep wilderness where scarce the sun
Can cast his darts, along the winding path
The Pioneer is treading. In his grasp
Is his keen ax, that wondrous instrument,
That like the talisman transforms
Deserts to fields and cities. He has left
The home in which is early years were passed,
And led by hope, and full of restless strength,
Has plunged within the forest, there to plant
His destiny. Beside some rapid stream
He rears his log-built cabin. When the chains
Of Winter fetter Nature, and no sound
Disturbs the echoes of the dreary woods,
Save when some stem cracks sharply with the frost:
Then merrily rings his ax, and tree on tree
Crashes to earth; and when the long, keen night
Mantles the wilderness in solemn gloom,
He sits beside the ruddy hearth, and hears
The fierce wolf snarling at the cabin door,
Or through the lowly casement sees his eye
Gleam like a burning coal." 2
We turn from the fruitful and inviting subject of pioneer life to the consideration of the means by which the pioneer reached his home in the wilderness and the projects of internal improvement which subsequently engaged his attention. When the first settlers came in there was not a road in the county. There were two principal routes by which the came, denominated the north and south water routes-the former the Hudson and Mohawk rivers; the latter the Susquehanna; and the most navigable streams were the most frequented highway for some years after they arrived. Many, however, compassed the entire distance from the far New England Sates on foot, bringing nothing with them but an ax. Those who came with their families generally came with ox teams drawing sleds, sometimes wood-shod, or covered wagons, often performing the entire journey in this manner, and frequently driving a few sheep, cattle and other animals before them. Many, however, resorted to this mode of conveyance only to and from the termini of the water routes. The winter season was generally selected, as then they could reach points in the wilderness which were inaccessible to their rude conveyances at other season. Many who came by the northern route threaded forest unbroken from Whitestown, except by the few scant, rude clearings made by the Indians. Blazed trees were the forest guide boards, and by their aid the forests were traversed from one location to another. But these human denizens could not prosper in their isolated settlements; they must needs open communication with each other, and to this end roads were indispensable and of the first importance.
The pioneers first followed the Indian trails and from these branched off into routes indicated by marked trees. The earliest authentic representation of these trails which has come under our observation indicates on extending south-west from the Mohawk at about the locality of Utica, through Oneida, (Oneiout,) about four miles north of the position supposed to have been attacked by Champlain in 1615, and Cazenovia Lake, about the same distance south of Onondaga Lake, passing thence near the foot of lakes Skaneateles and Owasco (Asco) to Goi-o-gouen, the seat of the mission of St. Joseph, on the east shore of Cayuga (Tichero) Lake. This crossed two trails within the limits of Madison county, one extending from the mouth of Salmon (Otihatangue) River, along the westerly branch of Fish Creek, passing the east end of Lake Oneida, (Lac Techiroguen) to the position of the Fort of 1615, thence in a south-westerly direction to a point nearly midway between Ithaca and Elmira, intersecting at that point a trail extending from Great Sodus Bay (Bay des Goi-o-gouen) along the east shore of Cayuga Lake into Pennsylvania; and the other starting the Fort of 1615, and extending in a north-westerly direction passing about the point at which Chenango Creek begins to form the west boundary of Madison county, thence to Techiroguen at that point a trail extending from the one starting at the mouth of Salmon River, at about the locality of Pulaski, and thence south to Ganentaha, on the east shore of Onondaga Lake where the latter trail intersected on extending from Oswego (Chouegouen) along the west side of Oswego River, (R. des Onnontagues,) crossing the Seneca at Three River Point, and running thence through Ganentaha to the trail first described, near the town site of the Onondagas in 1654, intersecting at that point also a trail extending from the one on Salmon River from a point about on the first degree of longitude east of Washington, running thence a little east of south, striking the north shore of Lake Oneida at a point which the prolongation of the line forming the southern portion of the western boundary of Madison county would intersect, and extending with slight deviations along that line to the point on the frail first described where it is intercepted by the trail from Oswego, and thence in a south-westerly direction to the locality of Pine valley, in Chemung county, touching in its course the heads of Tully and Cayuga Lakes.3 A representation of the trails of a more modern period represents one extending from Fort Schuyler (Utica) through the "old Oneyda Castle," which is there named Canowaroghare, 4 Canadasseoa, which apparently corresponds with the position of East Boston and Canassaraga Castle to Three Rivers. A little south-west of Canaseraga a branch extends to Onondaga, south of the lake of that name.5 Another map indicates a trail extending from Oneida village in a general easterly direction, passing through "Canaghsaraga, a Tuscarora Town," and Onondaga, crossing the Seneca apparently in the locality of Montezuma, and thence through Canadasegy, Canadaragey, and Chenufsio (Geneseo) to Fort Sclosser (Buffalo.) 6 This and the last preceding trail doubtless corresponds with that which is well known to have crossed the northern part of Madison county, passing through Oneida Castle, Wampsville, Quality Hill and Canaseraga, leaving the county at Deep Spring; and it is equally certain that it was the first work of internal improvement in the county from which the first settlers derived advantage, though constructed as it was for purposes vastly at variance with theirs.7
When the first settlers located in the southern part of Chenango County, they found a road extending from Bainbridge to the mouth of Page Brook, some three miles below Chenango Forks, which is known as the "Chenango Road," and on which many of the pioneers located. It extended through Coventry and the southern part of Greene. The growth of timber upon it indicated that it had then (about 1792) been opened some fifteen years or more. It is not positively known by whom it was cut through, but DeWitt Clinton and Wm. L. Marcy, who were consulted in regard to it, expressed the belief that it was constructed by a detachment of Sullivan's army under Gen James C lint, and the former stated that it was paid for the State.
Local roads were rapidly opened in the various towns. In the town of Sherburne, where a very complete record has been kept, not less than forty-seven roads were laid out as early as 1800, eight years after the first settler established himself in that town.