Early Settlement of the Town of Hunter
the History of Greene County, New York
With Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men
1884 by J. B. Beers and Co.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
The first settlements in this mountain wilderness were made by men said to have been tory cow-boys, but whether they merited this obnoxious title, or were unjustly forced to leave Putnam county is conjectural. Whether they had made themselves troublesome, or whether the increasing earnestness of the patriots as the war progressed produced the same effect, there is no means of knowing. But it is a fact, that Putnum county citizens would no longer tolerate them, and so without ceremony they were forced to secure safety by seclusion in the unexplored fastnesses of these mountains and their then hidden valleys. They were Samuel Elisha, and John Haines, and Gershom Griffin. The date of their settlement is not definitely known. They entered the mountains by way of Kingston and Mink Hollow, and settled on Schoharie Kill. Their location was discovered some years afterward, about 1786, by some Dutchmen who came there from the east side of the mountains while hunting for bears. About this date they were followed by Samuel Merrit, Jacob Carl, and a number of Shay’s followers from Massachusetts, who, on their defeat by the troops under General Lincoln, fled for safety.Other early settlers were from Connecticut, and they brought with them those Puritanic traits of character for which the colonists of the State were noted, and which their descendants retain to a worthy degree. But prior to 1800, the population of this portion of Windham was exceedingly sparse. While the county below, through the clove to the eastward, was quite thickly settled, and even that portion of the town now Lexington, West Kill, and Bushnellsville—the western portion of what is now this county, boasted of a church organization in 1790, of some 70 members—with the exception of a few scattering pioneer’s cabins near Hunter, and by the lakes, the few proscribed settlers made up the population. As the acreage in Catskill town advanced in price in proportion to the decrease of the unimproved lands, the emigrants from New England and the lower counties were forced to attempt the reduction and subjection of these mountain lands to a state of cultivation. But this mountain town must credit its development to the energy and enterprise of a few men interested in the tanning business, the most prominent of whom was Colonel William Edwards. In the history of all trades, eras of great enthusiasm are common, and by such a one was Hunter first brought into anything like active life. This interest had its birth about 1815.
The wide-spread growth of hemlock, covering nearly all of the Catskills from base to summit, made the region a center for the prospecting tanners, who were not slow to see that, as a whole, the country was naturally adapted to their wants. All around was one great forest, which could be converted into lumber, and through which, in an untamed sort of a manner, wildly tumbled numerous mountain streams, with an abundance of water, affording admirable mill sites. The valleys of the principal creeks teemed with numerous and extensive tanneries, and a large, active laboring population, and the solitude of the deep mountain passes and valleys was made vocal by the hum of industry, the buzz of water-wheels, the crunching and grating of the “up and down” saws, and the rattling of machinery. The admirably written, neatly and systematically kept records of old Windham, by Samuel Gunn and Munson Buell, the first two town clerks, make it an easy and pleasant task for the inquirer into the early acts of our ancestors. From these some facts have been gleaned concerning Hunter, prior to its organization as such. In 1798, the name of Samuel Haines appears as path-master; and again as such in 1799, for district No. 29, with Herman Mason for No. 30. But in this portion of that town, the surveys of public highways were not ordered until after those in others. In what is now Jewett, the records of highways are quite numerous, with also a few in Lexington. Owing to the sparsely settled condition of then “cold lands” (Hunter), but little attention was given to them, either by settling pioneers, or by the inhabitants, though undoubtedly there were some sort of marked roads to the different clearings, to the lakes and cloves, and to the Olmstead settlement and grist-mill, which, according to French’s gazetteer, was running in 1794, though his name does not appear on the town books until much later. The first record of a road in these parts appears as follows.
“This may Certify whom it may Concern that we
the Subscribers, Commissioners of Roads, have Established a Road on the Easterly
part of the Town of Windham for public use, Sd. Road leaves the old Lake
road a few Rods West of Mr. John Wilmont’s House and is bounded West at a
Large Rock on the Corner of Phineas Goodwin’s land at the Cawters Kill, thence
a southerly course in a line of markt trees across a Corner of Charles Mason’s
land then across Peter Britt’s land thence Easterly in the same
direction as the Cawters Kill Runs—leaving the Kill on the South Side of the
Road about two miles from the first mentioned Bounds, then the Road Crosses the
Kill to the South Side and Runs along the Kill until it Crosses the Kill to the
Northerly Side and Keeps the same course that the Kill Runs till it strikes
Kingston line. “
“JOSEPH HADDEN } “Commissioners of Highways”
“JUSTIS SQUIERS }
“Windham, Mary 29th, 1799.”
Formation of Hunter
The following is from the statutes of 1813:
“And that all that part of the said county of Greene,
bounded south-easterly, southerly, westerly and northwesterly by the bounds of
the county, easterly and northeasterly by a line running from the northwest
corner of the town of Saugerties, in the county of Ulster, so as to include all
those several parts of the county of Greene lying west and southerly of the
summit of the Catskill Mountains, shall be and continue a town by the name of
This was old Windham, from which the towns of Windham, Ashland, Hunter, and Lexington were erected.
Ambrose Baldwin, now about 90 years of age, boasts of having lived in two counties and no less than five towns, and that he has never lived two miles from his birthplace.
The following quotation explains itself:
“Chap. XV. An Act form dividing the town of Windham into three towns,
passed January 27th 1813.
“I. Be it Enacted by the
People of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly:
“That all that part of the town of Windham, in the county of Greene, lying east of the easterly line of great lot number twenty-two in the Hardenburgh patent, and south of the height of land between the East Kill and the Great Hollow, be erected into a separate town by the name of Greenland, and that the first town meeting of the said town of Greenland be held at the house of Daniel Bloomer in said town.:
The other two were Windham and Lexington. The recorded history of the town after its erection from Windham is uninteresting. The earlier notes record the annual by-laws and the brief-like bounds of the various and numerous roads. At this remote day, the recording of bounds by dead trees, marked trees, stones, saplings, and brooks, seems a curious oversight and carelessness on the part of those usually precise fathers. The first records to be seen on the clerk’s journal are of the first annual meeting, and are as follows:
“Pursuant to the act erecting the town of Greenland, the
first annual town meeting was held in the town of Greenland and county of
Greene, at the house of Daniel Bloomer, on the sixth day of April in the year of
our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirteen.”
“Resolved to have three assessors in this town; one collector, three
constables, one pound, near the house of Daniel Bloomer, and nine fence
“Road Masters: No. 1, Benjamin Jones Jr.’ No. 2. Sumner Parmenter;
No. 3. David Ingerson; No. 4, William Miller; No.5 Dunken McGregor Jr.; No. 6,
William Adderson; No. 7, Robert Patten; No. 8, Samuel Hanes; No.9, William Shaw;
No. 10, Edward Hanes; No. 11, Jeremiah Smith; No. 12, James Prichard; No. 13,
Robert Bridgsel; No. 14, Aaron Brewer; No. 15, Ephraim Lion ; No. 16, Asa Lord;
No. 17, John Johnson; No. 18, Harvey Fairchild; No.19; James Miller; No. 20,
Lemuel Woodworth; No.21, David Loter; No. 22, John Wilson; No. 23, Benjamin
Demett; No. 24, Harlom Bawlding; No. 25, Caleb Carr; No. 16, ____ ______; (New
District).” * * *
“Fence Viewers: Asa Lord, Dunken McGregor, Joshua Parmenter, Samuel
Hanes, Joseph Chatterdon, Joshua Wolven, James Osterhout, William Whittaker,
John J. Artman.”
“Lawful fence to be four feet and half high—well stopt.”
“After canvassing the votes find the election as follows:
Daniel Bloomer, Supervisor; Sumner Parmenter, Town Clerk.
“Assessors: Samuel Hanes, Nathaniel Miller, Neven Wilson.
“Commissioners: John Wilson, Matthew Winters, Benjamin McGregor.
“Poor Masters: Samuel Hanes, John J. Artman.
“Constables: John Wilson Jr., Benjamin Jones Jr., Calep Carr.
“Collector, Neven Wilson.”
The orthography throughout the earlier records of this town is quaint, but strictly phonetic. Special meetings, records of new highways and school districts, surveys, records of individual ear marks for stock etc., in a confused state, are to be found, and are unimportant as historical facts.
At a special meeting held at M. S. Palmenter’s residence, march 22d 1814, the subject of dividing the town of Greenland was brought up for discussion and put to vote with a result in the negative.
The second town meeting, held at the house of William Shaws resulted in the elections of the following: Abijah Griffin, supervisor; Daniel Bloomer, Lemuel Woodworth, Nathan Salisbury, assessors.
At this meeting, it was voted to pay the town clerk $7 per year for his services; to pay a bounty of $10 to the catcher or killer of each wolf above one year old; to give the clove road to the turnpike company; to pay the school commissioner $6 annually; an to raise $175 for the poor. In 1824 it was voted to relinquish the road between Perkins’ and the New York Tannery to the Hunter Turnpike Company.
In the entry dated October 31st 1814, wherein is recorded a meeting of the school commissioners and the re-districting of No.3 and No. 4, the word Hunter, as a prefix, is first used; nor does the work Greenland again appear as such.
In 1826 the bounty on wolves was raised to $15, and on panthers to $20; wild cats $2, and foxes 50 cents.
The presidential election, November 5th 1832, seems to have been a very warmly waged one. The aggregate number of votes cast for the several candidates were: for governor, 375; lieutenant-governor, 375; senator, 375; U. S. representative, 746; for presidential electors, 15,777; the latter vote representing some 100 ballots. The election lasted three days, and undoubtedly not a little rum was punished.
The records of Windham, and their duplicates for the inhabitants of Greenland, show, recorded according to law, the individual earmarks used upon their live stock. lthough fences were numerous, and by-laws regulating the height of fences annually passed, they were slight affairs, as the estrayal notices recorded go to prove. The first few records of this sort are as follows: April 10th 1813:
Wilson’s mark is a crop on the near ear and a slit in the off one.”
“Samuel Hanes’ mark, Greenland, April 20th 1813, is a
happenny under the left ear.”
“Woster Perkinses mark, Greenland, April 20th 1813, is a
swallow fork in the left ear.”
“Mathew Winter’s mark, Greenland, May 4th 1813, is a crop
and fork on the left ear.”
The usual pioneer poverty of a new settlement swept away all distinctions, and from this general level a kindly fellowship prevailed among those men. They helped one another, and poor as they were, annually voted from $100 to $300 for the extremest of the indigent emigrants, a few of which will always float into every new settlement. Both before and after the Revolution, it was customary throughout their native New England towns, having no work-house, to let out their paupers to the lowest bidders. Being obliged to support the poor, they wished to do it as cheaply as possible, and the person who would support the pauper for the smallest sum, paid out of the sum raised for such a purpose, would have that opportunity. The paupers were sold at public auction, and their treatment under this arrangement depended solely upon the character of their purchaser. In some instances, individuals were treated with great harshness. There was, perhaps, some excuse for this practice, but gradually public sentiment caused it to be discontinued. In several of the Southern States, the same practice prevails to-day. This practice must have been known to the New Englanders who settled here. And this knowledge undoubtedly caused them to suspect all plans, other than the proper town authorities caring for their poor. The establishment of a county poor house was before the people, at different years, but was strongly opposed by this section of the county, and resolutions of remonstrance were several times passed against it adoption. And even after its adoption, the working of its system was assiduously watched and attacked. To show the metal of these early advocates of equal rights, at a special town meeting, held at the house of Harlon Perkins, January 8th 1828. “For the purpose of taking into consideration the acts of the Board of Supervisors of the County Poor House,” who, it seems, voted to levy a tax for the maintenance of religious services at said institution. A committee, consisting of John Beach Jr., Daniel Bloomer, William Miller, and Jedediah Hitchcock, was appointed to draw up a series of resolutions, remonstrating against such a tax. The resolutions were as follows, and show them to have been men of ideas and education:
“Resolved: That as citizens of the most enlightened and free government
on Earth, we ought to venerate and respect our constitution, which secures to us
our rights and liberties as freedom:
“Resolved: As the sense of the meeting that the right of the full and
free enjoyment of religious liberty, uncontroverted by any manor set of men, we
esteem as one of the greatest blessings any people can enjoy. And which we deem
to be secured to us by our excellent Constitution:
“Resolved: that we must
believe it the duty of any people having those rights secured to them, to fully
and freely examine into, and expose any and every attempt to filch from them
those rights-whether it be done under pretense of law or by any arbitrary
strength of assumed power:
“Resolved: That we deem any compulsory tax to pay for preaching any
religious doctrine whatever, to be contrary and subservient of our Constitution
and any law authorizing such a law to be unconstitutional:
“Resolved: That we look in vain into our Statute Book for any law
authorizing our Supervisors to impose a tax on the inhabitants of the County of
Greene to pay for providing preaching at the County House in said County:
“Resolved: That we deem the tax voted on the inhabitants of said county
the last year by seven Supervisors, to pay for preaching at the County Poor
House, as an unwarrantable stretch of arbitrarily assumed power and contrary to
our Constitution and laws.
“Resolved: That as preaching at public expense at our State Prison is
the only precedent for the same at a County Poor House, we deem our Supervisors,
by taking that as a precedent, as virtually degrading our unfortunate poor to a
gang of miserable fellows:
“Resolved: That in our opinion the County Poor House is a charitable
institution, and its inmates not generally connected with crime, and that they
ought no to be so imprisoned that they may no reasonably attend the worship of
Almighty God agreeable to the dictates of their own consciences:
“Resolved: That those Supervisors who voted against the imposition of
the aforesaid, are for the act entitled to the thanks of an interested
“Resolved: That we incorporate the sentiment expressed by our fellow
citizens of Catskill in a toast drank by them at the late celebration of the
Battle of New Orleans, in that village, to wit:
“the charter of our liberties: may be who first presumes to pass the
Rubicon, encounter the dagger of a Brutus:
“Resolved: That a copy of the above resolutions be forwarded by the town
clerk to the Catskill Recorder and Green County Republican, with
a request that they publish the same in their respective papers.”
“A true copy. Attest,
“D. Stow, Town Clerk”
The ultimate result of this remonstrance is unknown, but it certainly shows vigor of thought and independence of spirit. It is thought the draft was made by John Broch Jr., a lame man of Jewett, who is said to have been exceedingly clever in judgment, and active in all public affairs, original and far sighted. Hunter had had but few paupers.
Hunter Village and Vicinity
The region round about what is now Hunter village and vicinity, including that portion of old Woodstock, New Lexington, Jewett, and Windham, was permanently settled prior to the colder and rougher lands to their southeast by the descendants of those earnest and intensely practical Connecticut freeman. They brought to this town, as their inheritance, many of those traits character which made the colonists of that old State remarkable in our country’s history. Those followers of Davenport were men singularly original, and eminently far-sighted, with minds logical, legal, and astute. The framing of their remarkably original constitution in 39, the first example in history of a written constitution, organizing a government and defining its powers, with it a model or a guide, goes to prove them to be men who possessed an earnestness that was terrible in its intensity; and intensity which went with them into everything–piety, politics, education, work, play; which lifted them above human weakness, and made then victorious, though sad. They were a people no acquainted with idleness; they forgot fatigue, and were not stopped by difficulties. Life to them was a grim battle—they revived not to lose it; a sacred opportunity—they hoped not to throw it away. Religion, they said was what they came for—the chief thing; they meant it; they acted it. They did not attempt to combine the sacred and the secular; they simply abolished the secular, and left only the sacred. The State became the church; the king a priest; politics, a department of theology; citizenship, the privilege of those only who had received baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For the first time in history of the world, it may be, these people brought together the subtle brain of the metaphysician, and the glowing heart of the fanatic. But the outward arrangement which they constructed for themselves, the visible framework of their lives in home, and shop, and field, and court, and school, and church, were the authentic expressions of their character, and fitted them as the garment does the man who wears it. These were closely related communities, with local self government; only members of the church were allowed any voice in the State as freemen; every man was a soldier; indolence was deemed a disgrace. They made the school-house and the meeting-house the symbols of modern civilization, supported by methods which proved to be sound elements of popular liberty. They were called bigoted, and their laws dubbed blue laws, but now, before these modest representatives,--the fathers of American progress, the founders of Hartford, Simsbury, Farmington, Norwalk, New Haven, Wallingford and Glastonbury; the temple and the palace, the camp and the forum, the monastery and the castle, all bow down like the sheaves in Joseph’s dream and make obeisance.
Few can look back into the history of their own lives, family, and ancestry, and not discover elements which have formed their destiny. “Like produces like, “ in the moral as well as in the natural world. This is a true of nations as of individuals, as true of individual as of communities, as history has shown us by the influence these men had upon their posterity. If comparing the early settlers of these highlands favorably with their ancestors seems bombastic, their early work, privations and achievements, cannot be known to the reader of today. But they surely brought with them the more enduring traits of their enthusiastic progenitors. These men, as their names declare, were Connecticut born, and can easily be traced in Savage’s exhaustive genealogical work back to the settlements of 1636-70. From the Windham, Ulster county records, dated April 1798, John Hasbrouck, Peter Roggen, and John Van Gaasbeck jr., justices, we find at the request of Alexander Boyd, John Tuttle, and Isaac Miles, “a committee appointed by a plurality of votes to nominate the town officers.” that the board appointed the following, the majority of whose names will be seen to be as stated:
Beach, supervisor; Samuel Gunn, town clerk.
Assessors: Ephraim B. Hubbard, Martynis Laraway, Munson Buel (afterward long county judge and town clerk, and a man of a noble and rounded character).
Commissioners of highways: Enos Baldwin, Benjamin Johnson, Darius Briggs.
Commissioners of schools: Justis Squires, Alexander Boyd, Richard Peck.
Overseers of poor: Zephaniah Chase, John Tuttle.
Constables: Elisha Thompson, Constant Andrews, Harmenis Garlick, Elijah Bushnell, Richard Jersey.
Fence viewers: John Maben, John Tuttle, Darius Briggs, Smith Parks, Martynis Laraway.
Pound masters: Samuel Gunn, Samuel Aimes, Theophilus Peck, Justis Squires, Peter Laraway.
Path masters (Which took in the districts comprised in all of old Windham): William Beach, Ephraim Turney, Solomon Ormsbee, Ephraim Parks, John Ives, Israel Whitcomb, Jared Rin, Theron Hough, Benjamin Jones, Adnah Beach, Lawrence Decker, Elisha Thompson, Nathaniel Wilcox, Jeremiah Barber, Elisher Latimer, Nathaniel Butler, Benjamin Chamberlain, Elijah Bushnell, David Van Dyke, Isaac Miles, Samuel Haines, Herman Mason, Ephraim Hubbard, Joseph Haddon.
Collector: Henry Becker.
Besides these men, leases were granted by Robert Livingston as early as January 1777, to John Darling, witnessed by John Maben and Richard Peck, for lands on the Schoharie Kill, whose marked bound-trees are yet to be seen near Lexington Flats. Also, Henry Goslee, Samuel Merwin, Ichabod Andrews, Stephen Ford, Ephraim Lloyd, Elisha Calkins, Jarius Strong, William Parker, James Coe, Benjamin Fairchild, Eliphalet Wheeler, Munson Brackett, Nathan Inman, Ebenezer Pixley, Jesse Hills, Trueman Hinman, Isaac David (Sealer of leather), John Wilmott, Joseph Hadden, Charles B. Clark, Elijah Scovill, Uriah Townsend, William Allen, Adonijah Ford jr., Josiah Pettit, Samuel Baron, Stephen Simmons, David Way, Amherst Andrews, Seth Green jr., William Falkner, Daniel Bloomer, Arba Royce, Eber Cornish, Samuel Kelsey, Caleb Halcomb, Jason Peck, Caleb Elmore, Walter Munson, John Phillipps, Jonathan Ford, Chester Hall, Silas Fowler, Edward Darling, Timothy Bishop, Samuel Camp, Peter Brewer, David Gregory, William Miller, Bennajah Rice, Isaac Becker, Moses Steel, Urie Cook, Stephen Simmons, Joel Ford, Asa Brown, Justus Artman, Cornelius Decker, Stephen Burgess, Elijah More, James Carle, Samuel Perkins, Daniel Miles, Moses Townsend, Robert Townsend, Reuben Hosford, David Garrison, Nathan Salisbury, Orrin Burnham, John Stone, Henry Cline, George Swap, Jacob Smalley, Elias Lion, Lemuel Hitchcock, Solomon Woolcot, Michael Showers (died abut 1803), John Bray, Ezra Dibble, Phineas Benjamin, Samuel Goodsil, George Robinson, Jesse Goodsil, Nathan Osborn jr., Russel Gladding, Eli Osborn, Noah Pond, Alanson Barlow, Silas Sawyer, William Scott, Isaac Doolittle, Nathan Dudley, Edward Wright, Johnson Pane, Peter Knap, Abel I. Hall, James Addis, and others, whose names as officers of those early days are found recorded in the neat, round hand of Munson Buel prior to 1803, nearly all of which show in themselves Connecticut patronymics. So around Hunter of 1825 (then Edwardsville) the same Connecticut surnames were traceable, the descendants of whom are found in the Lockwoods, the Greens, the Dibbles, the Beaches, the Neals, the Biddells, the Egglestons, the Ingrahams, the Winters, the Wentworth, and others of to-day.
One of the earliest settlers here was Seth Green, a journeyman shoemaker and cobbler, who for some time had lived below the mountains, where he had been working from family to family, cobbling, or, in the parlance of those days, “whipping the cat.” He came to this place about 1790, where he “squatted” on what is now called the old Green homestead, just west of the village and on the southern banks of the Schoharie Kill. He was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, August 1st 1762, and was a son of Seth Green. He married Anna Buckingham of Saybrook. They had six sons and one daughter, all of whom were raised in the log cabin that he called home. Their names were: Samuel, Annijah, William Chauncey, Jiles, Elias, and Temperance. The last married Roger Bronson, who is said to have built the first saw-mill, on the site where the tannery afterward stood. Roger Bronson is also said to have been the first, thus making it conjectural.
Another early settler of this village was Sumner Palmenter and wife (a Miss Schofield). He was a son of Jerry Palmenter, who first settled near the lakes. He lived here and raised a family, and about 1830, in company with Daniel Bloomer Esq. And wife (daughter of Samuel Haines), moved with his family to Ohio, he going to Berlin Heights and Mr. Bloomer to Eastman, Putnam county. Both were stout, robust men. For many years these men lived on their lands unmolested by the owners, confident that the land untitled was their property, but about 1810 two Frenchmen, James Bushau and Anthony Loucet, came form some lower county, who owned at least portions of Great Lot 23, claimed their property, and to whom Green paid $5 per acre. The lands were afterward rented out by the Hunters as life and tenant leases, at such reasonable annual rates (one shilling an acre) that the anti-rent league’s disaffection never seriously troubled the agents. In fact there was but one meeting, and that amounted to more of a burlesque in the end. But one man had free rent. This was John Haines, in honor of his birth being that of the first male child in the town. Mr. Isaac Showers of Tannersville, well known as one of Hunter’s most respected and intelligent citizens, a surveyor and a civil engineer, was sub-agent under L. T. Miller, agent, for John Hunter’s estate, and through his kindness and that of Hon. H. S. Lockwood, and Captain Harmon Dibble, and the venerable Jiles Green, and the genial Nelson Eggleston, these facts have been learned.
In common with all mountain lands, this territory was nothing but a “howling wilderness,” and Hunter was particularly dubbed “an ivy swamp.” The roads as spoken of elsewhere were scarcely more than paths marked by blazed trees. The forest and mountain sides were alive with wolves, panthers, and wild cats. The grey wolves made the night hideous, and fires were nightly lighted to keep them off the small clearings; and as late as 1820 the settlers of the hillside brought their live stock, particularly their sheep, nightly to the fold, to guard against the depredation of these fierce animals. Bears, too, were common, and for more than 20 years from 1810, Jiles Green, a son of Seth Green, set a trap in “Shanty Hollow” with occasional success, catching from four to six a year. The early houses of the settlers were log cabins, and in them as late as 1830, Esquires Green, Palmenter, Daniel Bloomer (“a square just man”), and others, tried their petty cases.
Little had been accomplished toward forming a village settlement prior to the prospecting tours of Mr. Edwards in 1816-17, although a few cabins were standing, and town elections had been held at Sumner Palmenter’s three years previous. But from the ivy swamp and hemlock forest sprang Edwardsville, and on the site of the Bronsons saw-mill, one of then largest tanneries in the Sate, and the first to use hot liquors in the manufacture. The very streets of Hunter were, in 1817, covered with monarch hemlocks. These were felled the first year. Colonel Edwards brought his skilled workmen form his former home, and took in many new apprentices, among whom were David Van Horn and Abram Harr, afterward tanners at West Kill, Lexington. The leather in the summer season was either taken to Catskill or to Bristol, now Malden, from whence it was carried in sloops to New York, and in winter it was not infrequently carried direct overland by sleds. To keep the supply of bark up to the demand, furnished work for all the settlers of Hunter, and many of the roads then used over the mountains were equal to many modern ones.
Freshets of destructive force were no uncommon; the deep snows of the mountains yielding to the heart of the sun, often causes a mountain stream to appear as if angry at the restraint that men had imposed upon it at different points, and to rise in its might, shake itself free of all obstructions, and tear along between the banks, scattering ruin and spreading destruction, until there is nothing left of the dams of the various saw-mills but wrecks. Such freshets were not uncommon, and more than once swept the New York Tannery dam form its site. But in the summer, the waters of the Schoharie Kill were again fettered, stronger than before, and the wheels again turned.
Although Colonel William Edwards was the founder of what is now Hunter village (formerly Edwardsville), prior to his advent we have traced many earlier settlers, but with his advent, as if by magic, sprang into life a business town teeming with life and energy. Such being the fact, its rise identical with that of the founder, a sketch of his life, abridged from a speech by his eminent son, William W. Edwards, delivered before the Hide and Leather Board of Trade, at its annual dinner, February 10th 1849, at the Metropolitan Hotel, New York city, in response to a toast, “The Memory of Colonel William Edwards,” cannot be amiss. He said:
“Colonel William Edwards was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey,
November 11th 1770, and was a son of Timothy Edwards and grandson of
Rev. Jonathan Edwards, president of Nassau Hall, Princeton, in 1775. His mother
was Rhoda Ogden, and elder sister of Governor Aaron Ogden, His ancestors on her
side were tanners from the first settlement of the town.
His parents moved to Stockbridge, Berkshire county, Massachusetts, in
1771, where his father continued business as a merchant, the inhabitants being
mostly Indians. The elder Edwards
was an active whig, and well-founded tradition says he loaned the Continental
Congress a sum upward of $100,000 in gold coin, which he eventually lost.
His son was trained amid the stirring events of the Revolution and the
reconstruction. In 1784 young Edwards having chosen his trade, was bound by
his father to his uncle, Colonel Mathias Ogden, and his uncle by
marriage, Colonel Oliver Spencer (both officers of the Revolutionary war),
who continued the tanning business at Elizabethtown. He received, besides
his board, the privilege of tanning with his master’s stock, four sheep skins
a year—no clothing, not even a pair of taps. He afterward labored for one year
and a half as journeyman, under instruction, at the rate of thirty dollars per
annum.” * * *
has seemed somewhat strange to those unacquainted with the energy
and business capabilities of Colonel William Edwards to accurately conceive how
a bankrupt man from Massachusetts, could in so short
a time create such a business as founded and built up Hunter, as she was
in 1821-almost as if a magic wand had been brought to a sweep over the then
wilderness of hemlock. Suspicions floated in the air that Mr. Edwards was not
the poor man he claimed to be, but facts were stern realities with him, He is
known to have come to Greene county almost penniless. The true inwardness of
this success was this. In 1807, he had induced on a salary of $1000, and
enterprising young shoemaker, one of his customers, to repair to New York, as
his agent. He was not deceived in his selection; the tact, the talent,
and the integrity of Gideon Lee brought him into position and wealth; and he
ever remained a true friend, in prosperity as well as adversity. Under Mr.
Lee’s auspices, in May 1817, after amendments to several of the then State
laws relative to the manufacture of
leather, the New York Tannery was formed, with a capital $60,000. this was under
the supervision of William Edwards & Son, and in conformity with Colonel
Edward’s plans, a tannery was erected at Hunter, upon a site purchased by the
company, at his instance, with 1,200 acres of land adjoining, the center of the
great bark region at that period. It
was built upon the margin of the Schoharie Kill, and covered by substantial
buildings. It was calculated to tan
5,000 hides per annum, the first modern tannery, it is believed, entirely under
cover, built in the United States. Their first leather was sent to market in
Workmen to erect the tannery and to manufacture the leather were brought
from Massachusetts for the purpose. In
1818 Colonel Edwards had been required by his associates to pass through the
two-thirds act, as the insolvent law of the State was termed, to protect their
interests as well as his earnings, but he never for a moment looked upon it as
the final settlement of the claims against him; more than the required amount of
this creditors cheerfully united in his petition for the same. The were most of
them his personal friends, and many of them were more or less distressed by
their loss. In 1822, Messrs. Edwards purchased the real estate of the company by
the aid of Jacob Lorillard, and thenceforward, greatly enlarged, it was supplied
by him and his successor with stock. In
1830 the tannery was totally destroyed by fire, and as with the loss of his
bark-mill at Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1811, he lost all he had, but it
arose again with enlarged capacity the same season. In 1834 he had so far
prospered that he determined to carry out his long cherished plan.
He had his property of every description, without reserve, appraised at
its fair value by Foster Morss and Jonathan Palen, his brother tanners, and sold
the same at the appraisal, to his three eldest sons, and assigned their notes to
James Powers, of Catskill, and Lewis Strong, of Northampton, Massachusetts, to
be collected, and the amount, exceeding $25,000, distributed pro-rata among his
creditors, which, in due time, was fully accomplished. Thus, at the advanced age
of 64 years, he surrendered a profitable business and all his property,
literally beggaring himself, to do what he could to pay those debts from which
he had been legally discharged sixteen years before. From this period he retired
from active business, supported by his children. The last ten years of his life
were spent in New York and Brooklyn. He died December 29th 1851, the
death of the righteous, and has gone to his high reward. His remains repose in
Greenwood, but his monument may be seen in the growth of the Hunter of to-day.
In the prime of life, Colonel Edwards was of commanding presence, six feet, four inches in height, well proportioned, of great strength and self-control, prompt and decisive. He had an inventive mind, as four patents granted him prior to 1813 show. Among them were the copper heater, hide-mill, application of hot liquor, and roller.
Colonel Edwards, as the old settlers affirm, had a remarkably large head, and to children unaccustomed to him, was a source of fright. This was occasioned by a bump from the head of an Indian lad, while at play dodging around the big chimney of this father’s house when four years old. The blow laid him senseless, but did not affect him more seriously that the enlargement of one side of his head to a lamentable deformity. He was a man quite unostentatious in his habits; a candid, practical man. A man very plain of features, which spoke of decision and energy of character. Though exceedingly kind at heart, his appearance often led to wrong impressions in this regard. He was ever the friend and patron of every useful improvement in the trade, liberal in communicating the knowledge he had acquired by his own experience, and grateful for new improvements or ideas from others; always paying, when required, a liberal compensation therefore. He was a strict Christian, and highly spoken of by all.Colonel Edwards married Rebecca Tappan, daughter of Benjamin Tappan, November 11th 1793. His family consisted of 11 children all but one living to maturity, the sons having without exception been energetic business men,---tanners, merchants, and ship builders.