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English Lawyer Settled in Town of Cairo in 1750

By Grace Story Webber, Cairo Township Historian
Published in the Catskill Daily Mail June 5, 1952

Newspaper article courtesy of Linda Larsen. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin

(This is the sixth in a series of articles on the early history of the Town of Cairo. The last article dealt with the lives of the traders of early history. Today’s tells of events from 1700 to 1800)


The Indians and traders had used the Susquehanna Trail, which is now route 145, and its branches to reach Hudson River, which was their trading center. Karl H. Borlan describes these trails in the following terms: "Generation after generation these trails had been traveled and were from 12 to 18 inches width and had become well worn grooves from three to twelve inches in depth, depending on the stability of the natural ground." He continues: "The white people came. They followed these trails, first walking then riding horses; later wagons and coaches were used. The roads had to be made first for this advancement. Logs were thrown into the bottom of the streams where the bed was of muck or silt. Corduroy roads were constructed in swampy sections and later these logs were covered with planks (this was known as the Plank Road), as an added refinement on certain heavily-traveled sections. Then bridges were constructed across the streams. These bridges were made of logs and substantial bridges they were. There were plenty of logs. Labor was cheap and roads were one of the necessities of life."

Road Contract Let

As early as "the seventh day of May, 1794" Oliver Trowbridge and Rufus Dodge (Road) Commissioners let a contract for "the building of a road from Woodstock to Single Kill (now Cairo) which was to go by "The house of James Cooper". . . then on "the 30th day of August, 1799, the Commissioners of Highways in and for the town of Catskill" gave a contract to "Lay out a private road two Rods wide. . . Beginning on the East Kill Road. . . and from thence as the Road then ran until it Intersects the road that leads to Forge", (Now Purling). These were back roads. The main roads must have been in a condition quite usable, for as early as 1733 (believe this is a typo and should be 1833 - SH)  saw mills and grist mills were in use and this machinery had to be "brought in."

Here is the description of one of the first saw-mills used on the Single Kill: "It was not a large mill. A single saw was enough to supply the neighborhood with boards and joints, as beams and rafters were either hewn out or sawed out by hand in a pit. The first grist-mills were portable, something like a coffee mill. Then a pair of stones sufficed to grind the maize and the wheat which was raised on the low-lands.". . .the miller at one time was Helme Jansen Turner, an honest man, but sometime he did not remember who brought which meal."

J. B. Beers in the History of Greene County records that "It is claimed by the people of Woodstock (Woodsack according to the early records) that the first grist mill and saw-mill ever erected in the town" (was this the town of Cairo or the larger town of Freehold of that time?) "was built on the Kaatskill Creek at that place. The building was destroyed by fire previous to 1816." Who erected these mills and to whom did they cater?

Was English Lawyer

We know that James Barker, "The Patroon", was an English Lawyer who came from Woodsack, England, to America and settled, first at Catskill then in 1750 at Woodstock, on a 6,000 acre tract which extended from the little hamlet of Woodstock, nine miles north to Prink, later the town of Durham, situated on both sides of the Katskill Creek.

He brought twenty-three families with him. He established a homestead, put up log dwellings for himself and tenants, and commenced clearing the land. "He was a kind and considerate master and sought by every means in his power to improve the condition of his tenants’ and slaves.

"Every Sunday they—tenants and slaves—were called together and divine service conducted by him, after the Church of England, his wife assisting in the service." This is the first religious service recorded in the present town of Cairo. Although the Dutch Reformed—the Church of Holland—must have been used, if not before, at least at the same time.

There are a number of legends told of his possessions which will be told among the Tall Tales of Cairo.

I have found no record to how Patron Barker provided for his dependents, but we do know what was required of most of the patroons and as he was "a good master" we will build a word picture of how people of 1750 lived here in our town of Cairo, or shall we call it Shingle Kill.

The first houses, like all of the first pioneers’ houses, were of logs, but being English, his permanent dwelling was of wood. We can assume that it was a one and half story building with a room on each side of the hall, each with a fireplace for heat as well as for cooking, 2 rooms deep. Also a large brick oven for baking. Whether the McQuade house of today, the MacWilliam’s dwelling of days gone-by, was the original dwelling of Patroon Barker and his wife is not certain. There is every indication that this may be the fact.

Beautiful Lilacs

Today around this dwelling there are beautiful lilacs. As early as 1750 lilacs were brought into this locality as well as apple, pear, quince, cherry, plum and apricot trees, currant bushes, onion and many other vegetables. The blue and white muscetel grape vines grew wild and from the Indians watermelons, pumpkins and beans beside corn were obtained. Also gourds, which were used extensively and when cleaned and dried could be used for a long time. Then there was the tobacco for smoking and trade.

Fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, pigeons, and other feathered game were on the menu. The hogs were generally fattened in the woods on acorns but "when fed on Indian corn give the sweetest pork." Of course, there was the beef which all Englishmen must have. Did these people live good! Besides the pigs and cattle, the horses were very necessary for travel and the oxen were used for the cultivation of the land. The land was very productive in those days.

Even today, there are a number of natural terraces at Woodstock and the story is that the Patroon built his house on the first terrace overlooking the Catskill Creek, the white tenants on the next terrace and the black slaves lived on the next terrace.

Tudor Descendant

James Barker who was born in England in 1727, married Elizabeth Moore, who was a lineal descendant of the Tudors, in England. They had one son, John, who was born in England, Dec. 14, 1764. He died Dec. 19, 1835. They were blessed with two more sons, James who "died Sept. 27th, 1767 AE 1 yr. 1 mo." and was buried at Woodstock, and Thomas, who had a son, George.

Mr. and Mrs. Barker also had five daughters, Sarah Barker, who married Mr. Ecklor; Nancy Barker Salisbury, Jane Barker Olmstead, Mary Barker Dedrick, of whom Dorothy Tolley Francell of Main Street and Lamont Dedrick of Grove Street are descendants, and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Barker married Thomas Taylor and they had at least six children, Richard, who married Adelaide Howell of Sunside, owned the 200-acre farm where DeWitt Rockefeller now lives. John, who married Maria, sister of Adelaide Howell, lived on a 200-acre farm near the creek now owned by Leland Cole. David, who married his cousin Sally Dedrick, lived where Russell Cole now lives on Durham Road. (Sally Dedrick owned the Scherhorn place on Acra Road now occupied by Alfred. R. Martin). There was the wife of Dr. William Tellfair and his sister; each owned 200 acres of land and lived where Mr. E. Reister now lives on the Durham Road. Also there were two other daughters, one who lived in Columbia County and Nancy Taylor, who was born Jan. 27, 1788.

Nancy married Charles Cole, (written in margin Harvey Cole), who was born Aug. 9, 1791. She owned two hundred-acres of land where Leland Cole now lives. It is interesting to note that Mr. Cole is the only descendant who lives on the "original grant of land", which has been passed in a direct line. His son, Russell, lives on original Patroon Barker property but it was not a lineal transfer. Nancy and Charles Cole had ten children. Louise married John Bush and were the great-grandparents of the writer, Grace Story Webber; Betsy who married John Henry Persons; Phebe who married Nathan Finch; Harvey E. Saxton who married Christina Hoose; Nathan Taylor; Sarah who married Holmes Van Der Hoef; James Taylor who married Catherine Egland; John B.; Catherine who married Walter Hoose who were the great-grandparents of George Holdridge, and Russell who married August Morehouse. Charles Cole died April 14, 1863, and his wife Nancy, died Sept. 3, 1866.

The report is that Patroon Baker had 40 grandchildren and gave each 200 acres of land. His wife, Elizabeth Stuart Barker, died on the 18th day of May, 1796, aged 58 years, and Patroon James Barker died in 1820 at the age of 93 at the residence of Obadiah Every in Durham, one of this tenants. It is also interesting to note that Jacob Roggen of Oak Hill was employed to settle his estate.

There are many descendants of this great couple still living. Some may know of their ancestors and some may not but all of us can enjoy stories about the earliest recorded settlers of Cairo.

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