Article Number Three - 
The English Settlers

Written by Joshua G. Borthwick and originally published
on March 1, 1879, in the Catskill "Examiner". Copy provided by the Durham Center Museum and retyped by Annette Campbell



Upon the restoration of peace and independence to the United States, at the close of the war, in 1783, new settlements sprung up, as by magic, in all parts of the country.  This has sometimes been considered as an evidence of the energy and prosperity of the people.  It was an evidence of their energy, born of their distress and extreme poverty; and although it led to prosperity in the end, yet it is not to be taken as an evidence of their prosperity at the time. The financial condition of the country was such that its bonds, alias Continental money, ---"flat dollars," ---depreciated to that extent that they were often sold for one-eighth of their value.  As an illustration of this fact, I have recently seen an old account book of 186 pages (pages about 6 inches by 8), now owned by Mr. Horace Strong, of Durham, which was bought by his grandfather in Durham, Conn., on the 10th of March, 1780, for which he paid twenty dollars in continental money.  Add to this the fact that many private fortunes were destroyed by the ravages of war, or freely donated by their owners to the great cause of Independence, and we see that it became a necessity, in many instances, for individuals and families to go into the wilderness, where land was supposed to be free and game abundant, in order not only to retrieve broken fortunes, but to provide food and homes for their loved ones. Bearing these things in mind, we are prepared to see the DeWitts, and the Planks, and the Egbertsons, and others, return to their former homes, and recommence the settlement at DeWittville, (now Oak Hill), in 1783, to be followed by many others, during that and subsequent years from the Valley of the Hudson, and from the New England States, especially from the State of Connecticut.  In all this we see the workings of a kind Providence in developing the resources of the country and in filling it with a hardy, patriotic, liberty-loving, Christian people.  Many of these early settlers were officers and soldiers in the war of Independence, and bequeathed an imperishable love of native land to their posterity.  It is exceedingly difficult to ascertain who were the first Yankees who settled in the town. French, in his Gazetteer, says that it was Roswell Post and Capt. Asahel Jones.  This may be correct. If so, it certainly was not previous to the year 1783, for according to French, that was the year in which Roswell Post came from Connecticut, with his father Abraham Post, and settled in Greenville.  From a diary kept by Selah Strong we learn that he left Durham, Conn., on the 24th day of August 1784, and arrived in Durham, N.Y., August 27th, and he mentions the following names of men on the ground as settlers, viz., Jonathan Baldwin, Abiel Baldwin, Phineas Canfield, Ebenezer Tibbals, David Merwin, Capt. Jairus Wilcox, John Strong and Selah StrongJohn Strong, however, afterward returned to Connecticut and died there.  He was a Revolutionary soldier, and occupied the position of first sergeant in the army. Selah Strong was also a soldier in the war, and their father, Eliakim Strong, was a lieutenant in the French war of 1775.  We also find the names of Timothy Munger, who arrived Nov. 4, 1784, Caleb Cook, John Cowles, Jr., David Cowles, Elijah Rose, a Mr. Hurd, a Mr. Bronk, Augustus Shew and Bill Torry.  It appears that the eight men first mentioned constituted a colony, and that Phineas Canfield was their storekeeper. He lived on Canfield hill, as it was called, on the farm now occupied by Mr. Owen More, formerly by Liberty P. MoreMr. Strong, in his diary, speaks of going to Mr. Canfield's bark hut for supplies of pork, beef, and flour. Mr. Canfield afterward became the owner of James DeWitt's grist mill. [ I mistake in regard to the location of this mill---it was built on the rocks opposite to Ding's mill. Our forefathers invariably built their mills on the rocks.] Mr. Canfield became a member of the Presbyterian church, after its organization in 1792, and died May 13, 1800.  David Merwin settled on the farm now owned by Henry P. Lacy. None of his descendants remain. Capt. Jairus Wilcox was quite an old man when he came and settled on the old Wilcox farm, now owned by Zobiaski Brown. His son Francis was a young man, and cleared up the farm and lived on it until his death. Ebenezer Tibbals settled on the farm now occupied by S. VanWagoner.  This was the first proposed center of the town, where they anticipated building their church and burying their dead. One of the first deaths was that of Miss Sarah Cowles, a sister of John Cowles, Jr., and David Cowles, who according to this plan, was buried "by the side of a piece of woods" on his farm; but in the bustle of pioneer life, and the change of the burial place, it was lost sight of, and the exact location cannot now be ascertained.

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