History of the Town of Newport
From Nathaniel Benton's History of Herkimer County, 1856.

 

Contains that part of the county lying within the following bounds viz.: beginning at the southeast corner of great lot number eighteen, in Hasenclever's patent, and running thence on the line of said lot, a northerly course to the Steuben road; then on a direct course to the centre of lot number thirteen, in Walton's patent; then through the centre of lot number sixteen, in Walton's patent, to the west bounds of the county; then on a direct line to the southwest corner of lot number twenty-eight, in the third allotment of the Royal grant; then easterly, along the line of lots to the northeast corner of lot number twenty-three, in said allotment; then south, along the line of lots to the southeast corner of lot number forty-two, in the second allotment of said grant; then on a southerly course to the Canada creek, at the bridge, near the house heretofore or late of Obadiah Kniffin; then west, to the middle of the creek; then down the middle of the same, until a west course will meet the place of beginning; and then west to the place of beginning.

As will be noticed in the above boundaries, a part of Hasenclever's and Walton's patents, and portions of the second and third allotments of the Royal grant, are in this town.

No part of the territory of this town was settled before the revolution, and probably not before 1790. I will pause a moment to record again the Indian name of this creek, as laid down on an outline map of the Mohawk river and Wood creek, showing the relative positions of Fort Bull, Fort Williams and German Flats. This is the name, Teughtaghrarow. It is marked on Southier's map of the province of New York, published in 1779, Canada river; and it is so called on a map made by Guy Johnson, in 1771. This stream, at Newport, is quite as much entitled to the respectable appellation of river as the Mohawk is, at any point above the junction of the two streams.

William, Ephraim and Benjamin Bowen, of Newport, Rhode Island, purchased the lands where Newport village is now located, of Daniel Campbell of the city of New York, in 1788-9. Mr. Campbell obtained his title from the commissioners of forfeitures, in July, 1786. Christopher Hawkins, Benjamin Bowen and Joseph Benseley, came from Rhode Island to Fairfield, about the year 1788. In 1790, a Mr. Lauton made a small clearing in the town, and put up a log cabin which he abandoned. In the fall of 1791, Mr. Hawkins removed into the town, from Fairfield, with a view to a permanent settlement; and in the spring of the following year, he erected a small house for the Bowens on their property, and Benjamin Bowen seated himself there the same year. In 1793, Mr. Bowen built a sawmill, and the next year, a gristmill, at this place. Joseph Benseley removed from Fairfield to Newport, in 1795; between this time and 1798, William Wakely, Mr. Burton, Stephen Hawkins, George Cook, Nahum Daniels, Edward Coffin, John Nelson, John C. Green, John Churchill, George Fenner and William Whipple, made permanent locations in the town. These families were from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Mr. Wakely kept the first tavern, and George Cook opened the first store in the town. Mr. Hawkins derived his title from the commissioners of forfeitures, through Joh's T. Visscher. Coffin, Green, Nelson, Churchill and others, purchased lands on the west side of the creek, in Walton's patent. It will be noticed that this tract of 12,000 acres, was granted by the crown, in 1768, to five brothers by the name of Walton, and seven other persons, who it may be assumed conveyed their interests to the Waltons as soon as the patent was issued, for no one out of that family ever claimed any interest in these lands, except the Waltons. At the date of this grant, and even at the outbreak of the revolution, some of the Walton patentees were known to be officers in the army and navy of Great Britian; and all of them living at the commencement of the war, retired to England, except Gerard Walton, who remained in the city of New York during the whole period of its occupation by the British. Now, there is not any question about the Walton title. It is, so far as I know, perfectly good; but how it was preserved and protected from forfeiture and escheat might interest the curious, and elucidate an event connected with our early history.

The first town meeting after this town was erected, took place in 1807; Doct. Westel Willoughby was the moderator; Christopher Hawkins was chosen supervisor and Phineas Sherman, town clerk. Newport village, containing about 700 inhabitants, is a pleasant and healthy location. A gentleman, distinguished by his position; of enlarged and liberal views and accurate observation, and who had several times passed through Newport to Trenton Falls, before the era of rail roads had diverted the travel, told me, he had never seen in this country or in Europe, anything that exceeded in beauty and variety of scenery the valley of the Canada creek, and the route then traveled from the Mohawk to Trenton. He had visited the highlands and lowlands of Scotland, traversed the Alps and the Appenines, navigated the Rhine, and passed through Germany; but had seen nothing that pleased him so much, as the route above mentioned. This village is connected by plank roads, with the canal and Central rail road, at Mohawk and Herkimer, and at Little Falls.

Christopher Hawkins, was the first permanent settler of this town and its first supervisor after its erection. In April, 1834, Mr. Hawkins had prepared a sketch of his juvenile adventures, and at his death he left the manuscript with his family. The volume has been recently placed in my hands, and from it I propose to make condensed abstracts of its contents. This I deem no departure from my general plan. I should willingly give all the space required for a literal copy of the narrative touching the escape of Mr. Hawkins from the Jersey prison ship, and his sufferings before he reached home, if I had it.

Referring to the manuscript, young Hawkins, then in the thirteenth year of his age, and an indented apprentice to Aaron Mason of Providence, R.I., in May, 1777, went to New Bedford, Mass., and shipped on board the privateer schooner Eagle, mounting twelve small carriage guns, commanded by Capt. Moury Potter. This small craft was bound on a cruise for such British vessels as could be captured. The Eagle made her offing and as the officers alleged or supposed, cruised in the track of vessels sailing between New York and England. She crossed the broad Atlantic, however, without seeing or speaking with a single vessel. In due time the privateer made the English coast, where she remained a short time when the captain and crew concluded to "bout ship" and return home in no pleasant mood, as they had promised themselves on the start, as many prizes as they could man, on the outward cruise. On the return passage, the Eagle spoke an unarmed schooner which proved to be a French vessel from the West Indies bound to Halifax, when some dispute arose between the officers and crew of the Eagle in regard to the national character of the schooner, the latter insisting that she was English, and could be made a lawful prize. To settle this point the first lieutenant of the privateer, John Paine, boarded the French vessel and examined her papers, who returned and reported her a French vessel loaded with flour. John Ward, the boatswain, and a large majority of the crew were dissatisfied with this report, but their grumblings did not avail any thing; the officers of the Eagle did not deem it prudent to superadd piracy to the crime of the rebellion.

The next vessel overhauled by the Eagle was an English merchant brig, deeply laden, bound to New York, and here, according to Hawkins's relation, John Bull completely outwitted and out-maneuvered brother Jonathan, and this was owing to the inefficiency of Capt. Potter, of the privateer. It was quite dark when the Eagle came up with the brig, which kept on her course without apparently paying any attention to the little craft hovering around her. A broadside from the schooner soon produced an inquiry from the brig, "What in God's name do you want of us?" The reply was, "Shorten sail, come under my lee and send your boat on board me." The Englishman now began to excuse himself, said his boat was lashed under his booms and he could not get her out; that if he could have permission to lie by until morning he would then send his boat on board. This was agreed to, but in the morning there was no brig in sight; she being a pretty good sailer had spread her canvas and departed on her course. It was then determined to stand on course for Sandy Hook, in the hope of overtaking the brig, but a severe gale from the northeast sprung up, which lasted two or three days, the sea making a clear breach over the schooner's deck, her crew had to exert their utmost skill and energies to keep her from foundering. They had then no time to think of making lawful prize of British vessels.

Before the storm had entirely abated, the privateer was captured by the British sloop of war Sphynx, of twenty guns; the schooner was sunk, and the crew taken as prisoners of war to New York, when a new era in the life of Hawkins was opened to him, and new scenes presented to his juvenile contemplation. After reaching New York, Hawkins and most of his companions were placed on board the prison ship Asia, an old transport, then anchored in the East river. At the expiration of three weeks, Hawkins was taken on board the British frigate Maidstone, of twenty-eight guns, to serve as a waiter to one of the under officers of that ship. He was held in the British service about eighteen months, and being a mere boy, and an officer's waiter, found but little difficulty in getting on quite comfortably in all respects, save the yearning wish to see his mother. Having quieted the apprehensions of his officer in respect to his desire to leave him, by saying he had become satisfied with the service, and did not wish to go home; he often had permission, when his ship was in port, to go ashore in the city of New York. Hawkins was not long in improving an opportunity to make his escape, and return to North Providence, which he reached late in November, 1778, pretty well satisfied, as he then thought, with a seafaring life. He remained in the service of Obadiah Olney, of Smithfield, between two and three years, when a fit of roaming again came over him, and he went to Providence and shipped on board a privateer brig, of sixteen carriage guns, commanded by Christopher Whipple, Esq. The vessel soon put to sea, and was captured by two British cruisers, on the fifth day after leaving Newport. Hawkins's prospects were again blasted, and his anticipations of enjoying large receipts of prize moneys were changed to a prospect of a long and gloomy imprisonment. The crew of the privateer brig were taken to New York by the captors, and placed on board the Jersey prison-ship. I cannot give in detail the contents of the journal before me. The horrors of "that floating hell," as it has often been called, and the cruelties inflicted by the British officers upon the American prisoners, are too familiar to our countrymen, to require repetition now. There can be no doubt that the American prisoners offended against the police regulations of the ship. Starvation, sickness and extreme privations drove them to madness and desperation. These offenses were punished with savage severity.

In the latter part of September, or the beginning of October, 1781, Hawkins and a shipmate, William Waterman, conceived the hazardous project of making their escape from the prison ship, by swimming to Long Island, a distance, as they calculated, of two and a half to three miles, outside of the sentinels posted along the shore. To get clear of the ship was the main difficulty to overcome. It was impossible to leave the upper deck without being discovered. The prisoners were confined, during the night, to the lower deck, where there were no guards, the gun ports of which were secured by iron bars, strongly fastened to the timbers of the ship. Having secured an old ax and crowbar, they went to work during a heavy thunder storm, and removed the bars from one of the port holes of the lower deck, and after replacing them temporarily, to prevent detection, they stowed their wearing apparel, what little money they had, with some other articles, into their knapsacks, which they fastened to their backs, by passing the lashings under their arms, and across the breast. From the description given of the contents of the knapsacks, they must have been very heavy when saturated with water, and greatly impeded the progress of swimming. Waterman and Hawkins, thus equipped, left the ship, being let down into the water with the aid of their fellow prisoners, by means of an old service rope, which they had obtained.

After reaching the water, Hawkins passed along the side of the ship to the stern, and then struck out for land, being guided by the lights of the vessel and beacon light on shore, one of the extreme points of the line of the enemy's sentinels. Hawkins did not again see Waterman after he left the Jersey, but has no doubt Waterman succeeded in reaching land. After gaining a point out of gun shot distance from the shore, Hawkins was guided by the half hour call of "all's well," by the sentinenls on shore, and directed his course to the one on his right, who gave the last call. This he judged would carry him, when he reached the land, to a point of safety. About half an hour before he gained shore, his knapsack broke loose. He was unwilling to part with it, and endeavored to retain it, by taking it under one arm and then the other; but he lost his course by adopting this expedient, and made slow progress in reaching land. He was finally compelled to abandon his knapsack and the contents, and was left destitute of all covering when he landed, except an old hat. After being nearly three hours in the water, and swimming about three miles, according to his own statement, he reached land cold, stiffened and nearly exhausted. With considerable difficulty he was able to walk, and concluded he would go to the barn that he and Waterman had agreed on as a place of meeting, before they left their prison.

In reaching the barn, he met with several mishaps, tumbled over a pile of stones, and in his nude state he was exposed to and received several severe bruises and scratches, which excited his anger. This he found restored some degree of animal heat, and by the time he had reached the hay in the barn loft, he felt a strong inclination to sleep, although his blankets were not of the finest texture.

Hawkins left his hiding place as soon as it was dark, and wandered all night, he knew not whither, naked and hungry, in a hard storm of rain, and made another barn his refuge and hiding place the next morning. Here he remained until the next day at noon, when he thought it best to issue from his hiding place, and take an observation, with a view of finding out where he was. This part of Long Island was then infested with tories, and straggling bands of Hessians were prowling about the country. He supposed, by pursuing an easterly course, that he increased the distance between himself and New York. Nothing very material occurred, hunger pressed him very hard, and he went into a potato field to obtain a few potatoes, which he designed to roast when he could find an opportunity, and here he was discovered by a young woman, who had come with a basket to procure some of the vegetable for family use, at a house near by, and seeing a human being with no covering but an old hat, she dropped her basket, and ran screaming towards the house, while Hawkins was quite as nimble footed in reaching a piece of woods in an opposite direction. Here he armed himself with a large club, and directed his course towards a bay or cove in sight, to avoid the tory hounds, which he feared might be put upon his track. He was not, however, molested, and took up his lodging that night in a barn, upon unrotted flax. The next morning, Hawkins arose with the sun, and pursued his journey through the fields, having the road on his right and the bay on his left, observing the farmers at work in the fields, and avoiding them.

Two and a half days of exposure, without food, began to tell pretty severely upon young Hawkins. He saw two young men at work in a garden near a farm-house, and made up his mind that he would speak to them. He approached in a direction so as not to be seen by the people who were at work in the adjoining fields and told them he wanted some old clothes and something to eat. After some explanations one of the young men directed him to sit down where he was and he would go and speak to his mother and see what she had to say about the matter. Hawkins then felt assured that if his case was to be disposed of by a mother, he was safe; and so it proved. The young man soon returned to him with a decent pair of trowsers and some food. Hawkins made no unnecessary delay in covering his nakedness and satisfying his hunger. He was then taken to the old lady in an out-house, who asked him various questions, and among others, if he had a father and mother. Hawkins told her he had a mother at Providence, and that his father was then in the American army. She replied, with tears streaming from her eyes, "I wish you were at home." It was arranged between this kind matron and Hawkins that he should take a shirt and pair of trowsers, then hanging on the fence, and if he was taken up and any questions should be asked about them, he was to say he stole them. This kind and patriotic dame then directed young Hawkins where he could find a canoe and oar to take himself across a small bay which lay in his route to Sag Harbor, gave him more food, and sent him on his way home to his mother.

The husband of this lady, and the father of the two young men to whom Hawkins had first addressed himself, had three years anterior to the time now mentioned, been arrested by the British and confined in the Jersey prison-ship, and had died on board that pestilent old hulk, only two or three weeks before Hawkins came to the house. This explains why this kind hearted woman was so cautious and timid. I can not follow the details of the journal any further for want of room.

The only incident worthy of notice in this connection, which occurred to Hawkins on his way to Sag Harbor, happened at Oyster Bay. He was there arrested by a gang of refugees, detained some time, and finally sent on his way back to New York to be again incarcerated in the prison-ship. He met with friendly treatment from one of the citizens at Oyster Bay, after his arrest, who furnished him with clothes and money, and who told him that a boy of his resources and energy could not long be detained in the prison-ship, if his captors succeeded in getting him there. Young Hawkins did not allow himself to be taken back. He escaped from the guard which had him in custody, and finally reached home in safety, pretty well cured of his seafaring propensities. Mr. Hawkins was quite a young man when he came into the county.