HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF FREETOWN
FREETOWN is bounded on the north by Solon and Cortlandville; on the east by Cincinnatus; on the south by Marathon, and on the west by Virgil and Cortlandville, and lies a little south of the center of the county, on a ridge between the Otselic and Tioughnioga rivers. Its surface is high and hilly, broken by small streams flowing north and south through the town. It comprises 16,425 acres, with an assessed value per acre of $20.52; total assessed value of real estate, $337,145.
This town was organized on the 21st of April 1818, and comprises what was the northwestern quarter of the old military township of Cincinnatus, with lot No. 20 which was taken from Virgil in 1820. The soil is a clay loam, better adapted to grazing than grain growing, although good crops of corn, oats, barley, potatoes, etc., are raised. In later years especial attention has been given to dairying and with excellent results.
The pioneers of this town encountered hardships greater than were experienced by those of many other towns in the county. The natural aspect of the wilderness in this section was forbidding and the land difficult to clear. To get their corn ground, the pioneers usually preferred to go to Manlius or Onondaga Hollow rather than to Chenango Forks or Ludlowville. The distance they thus had to travel was about forty miles, fording streams and often being compelled to camp out one or more nights on the way, exposed to storms and dangers from wild animals. The roads were mere paths, which could be followed only by marked trees. These tedious journeys had t be made until 1798, in which year the first gristmill was erected in Homer, as heretofore stated; and even this improvement left the pioneer of Freetown a long distance to travel through the forest to mill.
The first settler in Freetown was Cyrus Saunders. He was a native of Rhode Island and was born May 19th 1772; he married Nancy Hiscock, also a native of that State, in 1794 and came to Freetown in 1795, locating on lot No. 5. He dwelt there about fifteen years - years of severe toil and privations, but made endurable to him by the thought that he was making a home for his family and his own enjoyment in old age. When his last payment on the land was made he learned to his consternation that his title, like so many to which we have referred, was imperfect and his farm was lost to him. He removed with his family to Factory Hill, in Homer village, where he remained until the factory burned in 1813, his children working in the factory during that period. His children were Naby (now Mrs. Naby House), Catharine, Almeda, Lavina, Cyrus, Nancy, Perry and Elisha.
From Homer the family removed to the town of Solon, on lot No. 81, settling on fifty acres of land for which he paid $300. The tract was covered with forest and Mr. Saunders had practically to begin life over again, the first step in which was to build a log house. They lived on this farm about nineteen years, after which he and his son, Perry H., went to McGrawville and bought the carding and cloth-dressing mill which had been conducted by Eber Wilcox and John Peat. This business they continued for a period of ten years, after which they removed to Cuyler, in what is known as the Kenney Settlement. Cyrus Saunders finally removed to Chautauqua county, where he died in 1856.
Nancy Saunders, wife of Cyrus Saunders, took her infant daughter, Naby (now a resident of Westfield, Chautauqua county), in the year 1796, and made a journey on horseback to her former home in Rhode Island; she was accompanied by a neighboring woman. A year’s residence in the wilderness, where she had seldom seen a white woman, had given the young wife a feeling of homesickness which she imagined would be dispelled by a visit to her old home. It must have been a long and trying journey, but was made without serious mishap. The infant, Naby, was one of the children who worked in the Homer factory and is now living, as above stated, and enjoys good health at the age of eighty-nine years.
Robert Smith, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, was one of the very early settlers in Freetown, having drawn lot No. 2 for his services to the country. He located himself and family on the lot in 1800, where he had prepared a mere log cabin for their accommodation. After some years of severe struggles to make a home in the wilderness, he sold his property to Samuel G. Hathaway. Mr. Smith’s descendants afterwards lived in Marathon.
Soon after Mr. Smith’s settlement, Caleb Sheopard and David H. Monrose moved from the eastern part of the State and Settled with their families on lot No. 22. Mr. Sheopard removed to Michigan about the year 1850. Mr. Monrose remained on his farm and died in 1837.
William Smith, a native of Vermont, migrated from Great Bend, Pa., to Freetown in the year 1802, and located on lot No. 25. He made several small purchases of land until he owned a farm of about 165 acres. He disposed of his property and removed to Cortlandville in 1835. He was a man of considerable prominence, held several town offices and military positions. He had a family of nine children.
In 1804 Gideon Chapin located on lot 42 where he erected the first sawmill in the town. There is a mill on the same site at the present time, in which is one run of stone, which is operated by Mr. Underwood.
Samuel G. Hathaway settled in Freetown in 1805, having removed from Chenango county, where he had located two years earlier. He purchased 300 acres of land of Robert Smith, as before noted. At that time Mr. Hathaway’s nearest neighbors on the north, east and west were four miles distant and eight miles on the south. In1819 he removed to the eastern part of lot 71 in the town of Solon, in the history of which town will be found further reference to his eminent career as a public man. The following incident which he related to Mr. Goodwin, the historian, finds its proper place here: --
"Soon after the General came to Freetown he desired to make some additions to his stock of cattle, and learning that Caleb Sheopard, living near the salt road about five miles distant, had a calf to sell, he made arrangements to procure the animal. Having finished his day’s work, he started for Mr. Sheopard’s. Near evening, with a rope halter in his hand with which he intended to lead the calf, if successful in making the purchase; and thus equipped, without coat or stockings, he plodded on his course through the woods, by way of marked trees, there being no road. He succeeded in obtaining the calf and started for home; but night coming on, and it being much darker than he anticipated, and carelessly hurrying along with his treasure by his side, he soon found himself unable to distinguish the blazed trees, but still persevered, hoping to come out right. It was not long; however, before he found he was out of the right course and concluding that for the present he was lost, very calmly set about camping out for the night. He fastened the calf to a tree, and reposing by its side, was delighted through the long and dark night by the hooting of owls, howling of wolves, screaming of panthers, and other music of a like interesting character. At length morning dawned and as aurora flung her gorgeous rays over the dense forest, revealed to his eager gaze his position on the pine ridge, one or two miles out if his way. His calf was hastily detached from the tree and he again set out for home, which he reached at an early hour, having a sharp appetite for his breakfast, and much to the gratification of his anxiously waiting mother."
Another incident of early pioneer life in this town reaches us, which is worthy of preservation:
In November, 1799, an old hunter was passing between the Tioughnioga river and Freetown Center, when, on ascending an elevation, he struck an Indian trail leading to the pine woods. Soon after entering upon the trail he heard a piercing scream, as if coming from a woman in distress. This was repeated and, as he quickened his pace, the sounds became more distinct and he could hear moaning as if a person was suffering pain. His anxiety was soon relieved, however, by seeing an enormous panther springing upon a deer that was struggling upon the ground and covered with blood. The hunter was unarmed and he hesitated a moment, undecided what to do; but concluded to hasten on, rather than run the risk of furnishing the panther with any part of the meal he was about to enjoy from the deer. He had not proceeded far before he was startled by what appeared to be the leaping of a panther behind him. As he had a few pounds of fresh venison, he picked up a heavy bludgeon and hurried on until he came to a large log. When he cut the venison into two or three pieces and throwing one into the mouth of the log, which was partly hollow, and the others a little distance from it, awaited the approach of the enraged beast. The moon was shining sufficiently to enable the hunter to see the panther approach and attempt to enter the log, when the hunter sprang forward and with one blow laid the animal almost powerless upon the ground. Repeating the blows, the huge beast was soon dispatched and the hunter took off his skin and retraced his steps homeward. A grand hunt was organized the following day, in which three panthers, five wolves and six bears were killed.
Eleazer Fuller was an early settler in Freetown, coming from Northampton, Mass., in 1806 and locating on lot No. 12, where he purchased one hundred acres. He had a family of four children; a daughter became the wife of Wm. Mantanye; his son, Austin Fuller, removed to Indiana, lived in Springfield and became auditor of that State.
Rockwell Wildman and Isaac Robertson came into the town in 1808, the former locating on lot No. 15, He died in 1855, leaving children on the homestead. The latter came from Connecticut and died in 1811, followed by his wife in 1815.
John Aker and Henry Gardner, the former from Albany county and the latter from Plainfield, N.Y., came to the town in 1809; they both settled on lot No. 32, where Mr. Gardner bought one hundred acres. He died in Illinois in 1858 at the age of eighty years. He was the father of seven children. About this time or a little later the settlers in the town received accessions in the persons of Charles and Curtiss Richardson, Wm. Tuthill, Jacob Hicks, Isaac Doty, John Backus and Aruna Eaton. Such were the hardy men who made the first impressions of civilization in the wilderness of Freetown. Gradually they cleared away the forest, opened and improved roads and prepared the region for the better enjoyment of those who were to come after them.
At the opening of the War of 1812 the town had become sufficiently settled so that neighbors could reach each other without a pilgrimage of half a day or more through the woods.
In 1812 John Conger migrated from Granville, Washington county, and located on lot No. 12, where he bought one hundred and five acres. The farm, with subsequent additions, is now owned by Ed. Warren. Mr. Conger was an enterprising and intelligent man and became a prominent citizen. He died at the age of fifty-five, in 1836. He had five sons and four daughters.
Harmon S. Conger was elected to Congress in 1846 and 1848 and held other positions of trust, wherein he earned a reputation for integrity and ability; the entire family was one of the utmost respectability.
In 1813 Austin Waters removed from Saybrook, Conn., and located on the same lot with Mr. Conger, where he also purchased one hundred and five acres, then entirely covered with forest. By years of persevering toil he cleared and improved his land and lived there until over eighty years of age.
Walton Sweetland, a native of Connecticut, came from Granville in 1814 and settled on lot 22, on what was afterward known as the Tripp farm. With his subsequent purchases he acquired a farm of one hundred and thirty acres. He devoted his attention to clearing and improving his land until 1838, when he sold it, and in 1846 engaged in mercantile business at Freetown Corners. He was a man of native ability and was elected to the offices of school inspector, superintendent, and justice of the peace, holding the latter position for twenty-eight years. In 1844 he was appointed associate judge, which office he held several years. He was also conspicuous in early military organizations, and rose from the office of corporal to major.
Geo. I. Wavle, from Montgomery county, N.Y., settled on lot No. 4 in 814, where his widow now resides. He purchased there four hundred and fifty acres, was an industrious and reputable citizen, and died in 18135, leaving a respectable family of children.
Minor Grant, who was born in Chenango county, 1806, came to Freetown in 18124 and settled on one hundred acres of land, which he soon sold and removed to Cincinnatus. In three or four years he returned and has lived in the town ever since.
During the period of the early settlement of Freetown, it was generally regarded as somewhat sterile and subject to severe frosts; the crops were often cut down, which, with the rugged character of the surface, tended to retard rapid settlement. But the town is now one of the most prosperous dairy districts in the county. It is isolated from railroad communication with markets, but is well supplied with good roads over which numerous stage lines give direct connection with Cortland village and other important points. The log houses of the pioneers have given place to the comfortable and neat-framed farmhouses to be seen in all directions, indicating the general prosperity of the community.
In the War of the Rebellion this town responded to the calls of the country for men and means with the same degree of patriotism that characterized the other towns of the county. The following list embraces all those who enlisted in the town and received bounties: --
Call of October 17th, 1863. Bounty paid, $300. Total bounty, $3,900. - John B. Richards, Lafayette M. Torrance, Henry Seeber, Everett Vosburg, James H. Haight, Duane Hammond, James C. Tuttle, William J. Mantanye, Nelson W. Smith, Theron C. Guernsey, D. Webster Smith, George D. Watrous, James S. Hammond.
Call of July 18th, 1864. Bounty paid, $1,00, except $700 to one. Total bounty, $13,700. Total brokerage, $350. - William A. Brink, Ezra C. Carter, John H. Cormick, Loren P. Copeland, Coleman Guernsey, Adolphus Hopkins, Austin Mantanye, Isaac M. Richardson, Clinton D. Stanton, Charles Tanner, Henry S. Tillinghast, Chauncey L. Judd, Dewitt P. Allen, William Hamburg.
Call of December 19th, 1864. Amount of bounty $600, except $500 to two. Total, $6,400. Brokerage, $15. - James J. Higgins, William H. Mitchell, William Lamgan, Bernard Derrigan, Charles Taylor, Edward Cowles, Arthur Hunt, Ahi W. Coltrane, John M. Creaton, Stephen Herdy, M. Shields.
Recapitulation: - Paid for filling quotas, calls October 17th, 1863, February, 1864 and March, 1864, $3,900. Paid for filling quota, call July 18th, 1864, $14,050. Paid for filling quota, call December 19th, 1864, $2,215. Grand total, $20, 165.
Freetown Corners is the largest hamlet in the town and contains about twenty-five houses and two churches. The first merchant in the town began business here; his name was Peter McVean. He continued only a short time and was succeeded by John M. and Sylvester M. Roe, who came from Virgil; they were in business here in 1834. At a later date Zachariah Squires was in business here eight or ten years and was succeeded by C. B. Perkins, and he in a short time by Walton Sweetland, who began in 1846, as already stated. He continued in trade many years. Samuel Pierce was afterward in business and was burned out, since which time there have been numerous changes, the more prominent proprietors having been John Hubbard, and at the present time Alphonso Dearman, who was formerly Mr. Hubbard’s clerk for several years. Mr. Dearman is also postmaster in the place and clerk of the town.
Churches. - The First Baptist Church at Freetown Corners was organized in 1810, by Elder Caleb Sheopard, who first preached there. The first settled minister was Benjamin W. Capron. This was the first church in town.
The Presbyterian Church of Freetown bore the name of the original town of Cincinnatus until the year 1825. It was received under the care of the Presbytery of Onondaga September 1st, 1812, and on the division of that county, was assigned to the Presbytery of Cortland. The church seems to have always been small and feeble and to have had no regular pastor. It has been reported at times as statedly supplied and other times as vacant. Rev. Eleazer Luce preached in 1833 and ’34.
East Freetown. - This hamlet contains a post-office and a church. At an early day a tavern was kept here by Geo. I. Wavle, in the house now occupied by Nancy Wavle. There is at the present time no hotel in the town.
The Methodist Episcopal Church at this place was erected in 1846 and is in the circuit of Freetown Corners. The building committee were A. Underwood, H. Orcutt, M. Grant, L. Peck, S. C. Coleman, W. Colwell and E. D. Fish. The early prominent members of the church, before the erection of the building, were Hamilton Orcutt and wife, Miner Grant and wife, Lyman Peck and wife, Elder Cameron and wife, Perry Gardner and wife, Joseph Gardner and wife, Sally Ripley, Russell Grant, Alanson Underwood and wife, Philander Underwood and wife, Alden Harrington and wife, Warren J. Scouten and wife, and some others, most of whom are not dead. The officers of the society at the present time are Turner Butman, John Butman, W. H. Colwell, D. M. Grant, Alanson Underwood and Stephen H. Ford. The membership of the church is about sixty.
There is a church society, few in membership, in the southeast part of the town, of the Methodist denomination. They erected a church building during the late war, the ground for which was donated by Calvin Eaton.
I. C. Beebe established a creamery near Texas Valley in 1870 and has carried on a successful business since. He has had a patronage of.425 cows at one period. The building is two stories high, one wing being 24 by 55 feet and the other 14 by 14.
The post-office at East Freetown has been kept by P.P. Grant since 1860. John King had the office in 1851 and is thought to have been the first postmaster.
The following is a list of the officers of this town:
Supervisor - Marcus Borthwick
Town clerk - Alphonso Dearman
Justices of the peace - S. L. Woods, Nelson R. Moon, Daniel Bowdish
Assessor - V. M. Grant
Commissioner of highways - Horace Martin
Collector - John S. Woods
Overseers of the poor - William McKee, Ithemur Dunbar
Inspectors of election - Clarence Tripp, Lawrence Caffrey
Town auditors - Levi Smith, Bernard Cafrrey
Constables - John S. Woods, D. Colwell, James A. Wavle, Chas. Monroe and Orvil Picket
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