AS might be apprehended, there were internal causes, originating in the necessities of the inhabitants, the growth of settlements, the convenient transaction of business of a public nature, etc., which led to the formation of Cortland county as a separate civil organization. Some of the principal of these causes were enumerated in the original petition to the Legislature for the division of Onondaga county, which read as follows:---
"To the Honorable, the Legislature of the State of New York in Senate and Assembly convened: The Petition of the Subscribers, inhabitants of the towns of Fabius, Tully, Solon, Homer, Virgil, and Cincinnatus, humbly sheweth:---
"That the county of Onondaga is ninety-six miles in length, and at an average breadth of about twenty-five miles; that from the extreme of the southern boundary of the said county to the court house is sixty miles, --- which operates greatly to the inconvenience of many of your petitioners in giving their attendance at court. That the population of said county is now very great,1 and is daily increasing, which renders it impossible for our Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace to transact with due expediency the legal business of said county; whereby the suitors of said courts experience great delay of justice, which, in the opinion of your petitioners, is equivalent to a denial of justice. That you petitioners humbly conceive that a division of the said county will be of signal advantage to the inhabitants of the said towns of Solon, Fabius, Tully, Homer, Virgil, and Cincinnatus, and also to the inhabitants of the northern part of said county.
"Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that the before-mentioned towns be erected into a new county by the name of Cortlandt, and that there be three Courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace held in the said county as follows, viz.: on the second Tuesday of April, and the first Tuesday of September and December, in every year, after the due organization of the said county.
"And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray."
This petition was signed by seven hundred and forty-seven of the prominent residents of the five towns desiring the separation. On the 4th day of February, 1808, the petition was introduced in the Senate by the Hon. John Ballard, a resident of Homer and a member from the western district. It was referred to a committee composed of Messrs. Ballard, Buel and Yates. On the following day Mr. Ballard made a report in favor of the payer of the petitioners, presenting at the same time a bill to that effect, which was thereupon read the first and second times and referred to the Committee of the Whole. In this Committee it was called up on the 8th, when it was ordered to be engrossed. On the 10th it was read for the third time and passed.
It was sent on the same day to the Assembly, read and referred to the Committee of the Whole. Here it met with considerable opposition, as important measures usually do. The northern towns of Onondaga county remonstrated against the proposed division of the county, and opposition was fostered among the people to such an extent that the Hon. Joshua Forman, the founder of Syracuse and then in the Assembly, make a characteristically eloquent and forcible speech against the measure. But it was all without avail; Cortland Count was to be, and it was --- and is. The bill became a law on the 8th day of April, 1808. Following are the more important sections of the law which gave this county a place among the civil organizations of the State:---
"An Act to Divide the County of Onondaga, passed April 8th, 1808.
"I. Be it enacted by the people of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, that all that part of the county of Onondaga, to wit: Beginning at the south corner of the town of Cincinnatus, and thence running north along the east line of the towns of Cincinnatus, Solon and Fabius, to the northeast corner of lot number sixty, in said town of Fabius; thence running west along the north line of that tier of lots, through the towns of Fabius and Tully, to the northwest corner of lot number fifty-one, in said town of Tully; thence south along the east line of the county of Cayuga, to the southeast corner of the towns of Virgil and Cincinnatus, to the place of beginning, shall be one separate and distinct county, and shall be called and known by the name of Cortland.
"II. And be it further enacted, that the Courts in and for the said county shall be held at the school house on lot number forty-five in the town of Homer.
"III. And be it further enacted, that all that part of the town of Fabius situated in the county of Cortland shall be called Truxton; and all that part of the town of Tully in said county of Cortland shall be called Preble."
Other sections of the Act provided that Cortland county should have one Member of Assembly; that it should form a part of the Western Senatorial District and part of the Thirteenth Congressional District.
The passage of this Act, forming as it did the town of Preble from Tully, and Truxton from Fabius, gave the new county six townships --- Virgil, formed from Homer in 1804; Cincinnatus, formed the same year from Solon; Homer, Solon, Preble and Truxton. No changes were made in the towns during the first decade of the century.
The Act of the Legislature erecting the county provided for the holding of three courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace; they were to be held on the second Tuesday of April, and the first Tuesdays of September and December, in every year after the due organization of the county. These courts were to have "the same jurisdiction, powers and authorities as the courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace in the other counties of the State have in their respective counties." Suits previously commenced, however, were not to be affected so as to work a wrong or prejudice to any of the parties; nor were any criminal or other proceedings on the part of the State to be in the least affected by the change; on the contrary, all such civil and criminal proceedings were to be prosecuted to trial, judgment and execution. It was also provided that the courts of the new county should "be held at the school-house on lot 45, in the town of Homer." John Keep was the first County Judge, receiving his appointment on the 3rd day of April, 1810.
As before stated, Cortland county was made a part of the Western Senatorial District and of the Thirteenth Congressional District, and was entitled to one Member of Assembly; this latter fact continued until 1823, when two Members, Daniel Sherwood and John Gillett were elected. Ephraim Fish was the first Member, elected in 1810, taking his seat at the opening of the 33d session. Further first officers of the county were John Ballard, County Clerk, appointed April 8th, 1808; succeeded by Reuben Washburn, April 3d, 1810. Asahel Minor, Sheriff, April 8th, 1808; succeeded by Wm. Mallory June 9th, 1808 (by appointment), and Joshua Barllard April 3d, 1810. John McWhorter, surrogate, appointed April 8th, 1808; succeeded by Mead Merrill, April 3d, 1810.2
The political parties of the country at the time under consideration were the Democratic and Federal; but the era was not yet inaugurated when the political field was annually filled with the hotly engaged contestants of later days, determined to show that the fate of the country depends upon the success of their respective parties.
In order to place clearly before the reader the events leading to the formation of the county, its boundaries, its condition at the time of its formation, etc., necessary to a proper understanding of its detailed history, we have anticipated by about seventeen years the first settlements within its borders. Let us now revert to the history of that period.
The pioneers of this county came, in the main, from New England --- brave, hardy, energetic, persevering Yankees. While it was not for them to perform great and heroic deeds, in the common understanding of the term, they nevertheless participated in events about their own hearthstones and in the thick forests that surrounded their primitive dwellings, which should record their names on the imperishable rolls of honor beside those of men who have marshaled armies to drench with blood a hundred battle-fields. They were men who must have lived not so much for the enjoyment of living, as for the future good that might accrue from their earthly work. Many of them had taken active part in the stern events of the Revolution, while all had felt the inspiring influences born of the knowledge that henceforth they and their country would be free; and they came into the wilderness full of rugged enthusiasm and an unflinching determination to create peaceful and permanent homes for themselves and their posterity.
Settlement in Cortland county was delayed beyond that of most other sections of this State. The Indian title to the rich garden of the Genesee country was extinguished before the Military Tract was ceded to the State, and it lay on the great thoroughfare from the populated country farther east. The Phelps and Gorham purchase, through the energy of its owners and eastern agents, was rapidly settled at an early date, about fifty townships having been sold by the year 1790; while the central portions of the State, hilly and covered with a heavy growth of timber, was looked upon with little favor by prospective pioneers. Hence, it was not until the fall of 1791 that a permanent white settler began his home in this county, on the banks of the Tioughnioga river. At that date the valleys of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers had been settled to some extent for more than five years. The site of Binghamton had been occupied two years. Onondaga valley had been settled about five years. Salt had been manufactured at Salina for three years. Norwhich had been settled three years; Ithaca two years. Oxford, Chenango county, was settled in 1790, and mills had been erected at Rochester in 1788.
The pioneers of this county, or a large majority of them, came in either by way of the Susquehanna, the Chenango, and the Tioughnioga, from the south and east; or southward from Manlius through Truxton, an later from Onondaga Valley. The Indian trails were followed, where practicable, until State roads were opened, and many of the limited domestic outfits of the early settlers were brought up the Tioughnioga in canoes. Journeys of hundreds of miles, from Massachusetts and other Eastern States, were made in what were then called "Connecticut covered wagons," which toiled onward through the wilderness day after day, the pioneer and his family sleeping in or beside them at night. The forests were peopled with innumerable deer, so that the pioneer seldom wanted for excellent meat; but often when the journey was unexpectedly prolonged, the little store of supplies was exhausted, and the travelers were forced to depend upon roots to keep away the wolf of hunger.3 Many of the pioneers had never seen an Indian; but the greater part of them had read or heard of their bloody deeds on the border, and met them for the first time with much trepidation. In almost every instance, however, the settlers were kindly received, and were often placed under obligations almost for life itself, to the generous and faithful deeds of the red men.
Many of the early settlers came into the county in the winter season, and often suffered severe hardships. Deep snows buried the indefinite trials from sight, and made progress through the forests exceedingly slow. But three miles a day were traveled at times for days together; and when these unusual delays caused a scarcity of food, as just alluded to, the situation of the pioneer, in the midst of a snow-covered forest, with wife and children looking to him for care and sustenance, was not an enviable one.
In the year 1789 Amos Todd and Joseph Beebe left their homes in New Haven, Conn., and journeyed through the wilderness to Windsor, in Broome county. They were brothers-in-law, Mr. Beebe having married the sister of Mr. Todd, and she shared the fortune of her husband and brother in their new and primitive home. Two years after their settlement in Windsor they became convinced that the valley of the Tioughnioga held out greater inducements for them than were offered in their present locality; they accordingly determined to penetrate still further into the wilderness. After a tedious journey, accompanied by the usual toil and hardship, they reached a point on or near the site of Homer village, where they erected the first rude dwelling constructed by white men within the limits of this county. These three pioneers reached their destination in the fall, and immediately built their house, which stood near the bridge on Main street, just north of Homer village. The dwelling was built mainly "of poles, twelve by fifteen feet." During the following winter the two men returned to Windsor for the remainder of their household goods which had been left behind. Instead of making the journey as anticipated, they were snow bound for six weeks, leaving Mrs. Beebe alone in the wilderness, her only companions the howling wolves and other beasts of the forests. But her remarkable bravery and hopeful patience sustained her through the long period of loneliness and anxiety as to the fate of all that was dearest to her. It was an example of womanly heroism of which there are few parallels.4
The two men packed their goods in a canoe, and at the earliest possible moment started towards the waiting wife and sister. At Binghamton they were joined by John Miller, a native of New Jersey, and in due time reached the lonely woman. Mr. Miller explored the East river section, and then returned southward. In the spring he came into the county accompanied by John House, James Matthews, James Moore, Silas and Daniel Miller. All of these men located near the site of Homer village, Mr. Miller on lot 56, (now in Cortlandville); Messrs. Beebe and Todd subsequently settled on lot 42. Darius Kinney came to Homer in 1793, and other settlers in that vicinity rapidly followed, more particular records of which will be found in the history of the town of Homer. In 1797 Homer contained but ninety-two inhabitants.
In the year 1792 Joseph Chaplin came into the town of Virgil and made the first permanent settlement; he located on lot 50 and two years later moved on his family. He explored and surveyed the State Road from Oxford, Chenango county to the Cayuga lake during the first season, afterward employing assistants and fulfilling his contract for the construction of the road. It was completed in 1793-94; after which he brought in his family. About the same time a road was surveyed and partially cut through the wilderness from the south, near the river, until near the present site of Marathon village, when, diverging from the stream, it crossed the south line of lot number 72, about three-fourths of a mile east of the village of Marathon, and, continuing in a northerly direction, intersected the State road on lot 42 in Freetown and so passed on northward through the county to the Salina salt works, giving it the name of "the Salt Road." These two roads were the first in the county that were worthy of being called roads.
The next settlers came into Virgil in 1795, after which time, as will be learned in the history of that town, settlement was made from year to year, though not so rapidly as in some other portions of the county.
Ezra Rockwell and his sons, Thomas and Ezra, jr., came into the present town of Taylor in 1793; they were from Lenox, Mass., and settled on lot 78, a bounty for the father's services in the Revolution. Two years later (1795) Thomas Rockwell removed to Cincinnatus, occupying lots 9 and 19, the latter including the site of Cincinnatus village. Settlements in Taylor were few until after 1810.
The first actual settlers of the town of Marathon were Dr. Japheth Hunt and wife, then aged people, two sons, James and William, and three daughters, Betsey, Nancy and Hannah. The family came up the Tioughnioga in canoes in the year 1794, and located about a mile south of the site of the village. Settlements had progressed but to a limited extent by 1810. In the same year (1794) Nathaniel Potter, Jonah Stiles, Christopher Whitney, David Morse and Benjamin Brown located in the town of Truxton, and a large number of settlers had located in the town by 1810. Settlement within the present limits of Cincinnatus was begun in 1795, about which time John Kingman, Thaddeus Rockwell Zurial Raymond, Dr. John McWhorter, and Samuel Vining came in. By the year 1810 settlement in this town had advanced so the that the population was about 1.500. Solon was first settled in 1794, by Roderick Beebe and Johnson Bingham, the former locating on lot 75, a portion of which has since been called Mt. Roderick; he was from Massachusetts and Mr. Bingham from Connecticut. During the succeeding five or six years settlement in this town progressed slowly.
In 1794 the first of those energetic men --- men of brain as well as muscle --- who laid the foundation for the present prosperity of the town of Cortlandville, made a settlement near the site of the present thriving village. Jonathan Hubbard and Moses Hopkins both came that year, the former becoming the owner of the greater part of the land on which the village now stands, and the latter locating on lot 64, just west of the village. They came in by way of Cazenovia and Truxton. Several accessions were made in the settlement during the years 1796 and '97, and from that time to 1810 pioneers came in rapidly, attracted by the natural features of the spot and in a greater degree, doubtless, by the influence of their predecessors. By the year 1810 the nucleus of a village was established, while a settlement of still greater activity existed at Port Watson. The lands in that vicinity had passed into possession of a few eastern men, the principal one of whom seems to have been Elkanah Watson, whose name appears in the records of the County Clerk's office with wonderful frequency from the year 1800 through the succeeding twelve or fifteen years, as the seller of lots in the village of Port Watson. Watson's home is given as in "Albany county (now Pittsfield), Massachusetts." Many of his sales were made by attorney, and will be more particularly referred to in the history of the town, in a subsequent chapter.
Settlement was begun in Freetown in 1795 and in Preble in the next year; the former town by Ensign Rice, who settled on lot No 2, which was drawn by Robert Smith, a soldier of the Revolution. Rice was a son-in-law of Smith and the latter also settled on the lot in 1800. James Cravath and John Gill were the first settlers in Preble, the former removing from Pompey Hill, whither he had migrated from Connecticut; he located on lot 68 and Gill on lot 76.
In the year 17975 Ebenezer Crittenden settled within the present town of Willet. He came from Barrington, Mass., married a wife in Binghamton, and, with their child, he pushed a canoe containing his family and household goods up the river to the chosen spot for their pioneer home. About twenty families had located in the town by 1810.
The town of Scott was settled in 1799; Lapeer in 1802 and Harford in 1803. In the latter but few families had arrived by 1810. Peter Gray, a native of Fishkill, Duchess county, was the first white settler in Lapeer,6 locating on lot 70. Peleg Babcock, with his brothers, Soloman and Asa Howard, came into the town of Scott in 1799, from Leyden, Mass. The former located on lot 82, with Solomon and Asa H. beside him on the same lot. Settlement in this town was slow, until later in 1810.
The population of the towns that had come into existence by the year 1810 as shown by the census report was as follows:
1885 History of Cortland County
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