HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF MARCELLUS

Submitted by Sue Goodfellow

Source:  Onondaga; or Reminiscences of Earlier and Later Times by Joshua V. H. Clark.  Syracuse:  Stoddard and Babcock, 1849, Vol. I, pp. 289-300.


MARCELLUS* was one of the townships number nine of the Military Tract, and also one of the eleven towns formed at the organization of the county, in 1794.  It then comprehended all of the townships of Marcellus and Camillus, and all of the Onondaga and Salt Springs Reservations west of the Onondaga Lake and Creek.  At present it contains but about thirty lots of the original township, or about one-tenth of the original town, as at first set off.  The first settlements were made in this town in 1794, by William Cobb, who settled on the hill east of Nine Mile Creek.  The same year, Cyrus Holcomb settled on the west hill, and two families by the name of Bowen, and one by the name of Cody, settled near Clintonville, and Samuel Tyler settled at Tyler Hollow.  A family by the name of Conklin, and one or two others settled the same year in the southern part of the town.  A family by the name of Curtis settled at Nine Mile Creek in 1794, but did not remain long.  The first permanent settlement there, was made by Dan Bradley and Samuel Rice, in the fall of 1795.  They were joined by Dr. Elnathan Beach, in the winter following, who erected the first frame house in town the following summer.  It stood near the late dwelling house of Curtis Moses.  The second was built by Judge Bradley, and the third by Deacon Rice.  In 1806 there were but nine dwelling houses in the village.

These settlements made in different parts of the town prepared the way for others; so that we find a rapid increase of population almost immediately.  Among the settlers on the west hill, were Nathan Kelsey and Thomas Miller.  Col. Bigelow Lawrence had eight sons who settled, four on the east hill, and four on the west hill, all within sight of each other.  His sons were Joab, Peter, Bigelow, Rufus, Calvin, Jeptha, Levi and Dorastus; and subsequently, Martin Cossit settled in the village, about the year 1798.  Samuel Wheadon moved to the south hill as early as 1800.  A short time subsequently, Josiah Frost, Philo Goddard, Nathan Healy and Enoch Cowles settled in that neighborhood.  At an early period, there settled on the east hill, Caleb Todd, Nathaniel Hillyer and Richard May; and at a still later period, Martin Goddard, Terrence Edson, Reuben Dorchester and William F. Bangs.  James C. Millen and his sons, were the first permanent settlers in the north-east section of the town.  He and six sons, except one all died within a short time afterwards.  The settlement at the falls now called Union Village, was commenced in the fall of 1806, and the paper mill now owned by John Henry, was erected 1807, and the next year a grist and saw mill were erected.

When the early pioneers of this favored town first came on, it was covered with a heavy burden of hard timber, with very little underbrush.  The leeks, nettles and wild grass afforded excellent pasturage for cattle, on the upland; but the low land was covered with a gloomy hemlock forest, which presented formidable obstacles to the clearing of the land, and bringing it to a state fit for cultivation.  Hence the first settlements were made on the more elevated portions of the town.  There was no evidence here as in some other parts of the county, that any part of this town had ever been under cultivation  Here were no Indian fields, no traces of ancient occupancy by a foreign people, or evidence that the soil had ever been pressed by the foot of man, except as a rude hunter in pursuit of his game.

Most of the early settlers of Marcellus were from Massachusetts, some from Connecticut and Vermont.  They paid a high regard to religious duties, and great attention to the training of their child in moral and intellectual pursuits. The establishment of schools was among their first considerations. Accordingly, we find in the winter of 1796-97, only one year after the settlement had commenced, a school established, and Dan Bradley the teacher.  He took a deep interest in the welfare of the young, and hence volunteered his services as a teacher. He was the first male teacher in the township, and taught two successive winters in a log school-house.  The summer before, Miss Aseneth Lawrence, daughter of Col. Bigelow Lawrence, taught the first school kept in the town, in the same house.  This house was on the east hill.  A frame school house was soon after erected on nearly the same ground, and continued to be occupied until 1807 after which, a school-house was erected in the village, and another on the west hill.  The early settlers were most of them favorable to religious institutions, and many of them prominent supporters.  The people were generally Congregational or Presbyterian, with an occasional Baptist; but all agreed to worship together for a period of about twenty years.  As an evidence that the early settlers were favorable to religious institutions, it is worthy of notice, that in 1802, within seven years after the first settlements were made in the village, measures were taken, preparatory to erecting the present house of worship.  The building materials were set up at vendue; and among the bidders, we find nearly all the names of the inhabitants of that time.  The church was organized October 13th, 1801, and the society was organized under the style and title of the "Trustees of the Eastern Society of Marcellus," in May, 1802; Dan Bradley, Martin Cossit, James Millen, Martin Goddard, Thomas North and Nathan Kelsey, Trustees.  Their house of worship, still standing and in good repair, was erected in 1803, and was the first house of worship erected in the county.  By way of renown, it was then remarked, that it was the only meeting house between New Hartford and the Pacific Ocean, which was literally the fact.  Rev. Seth Williston was a Missionary here in 1800, and subsequently, Rev. Caleb Alexander, who organized the society.  The following clergymen have filled the pulpit, to wit:  Rev. Messrs. Jedediah Bushnell, ___ Cram, Amasa Jerome, ___ Robins, Caleb Atwater, Levi Parsons, from 16th September, 1807, and continued with an omission of two years, to 1841--thirty-four years, and Rev. John Tompkins.

St. John's Church, (Episcopalian) Marcellus, was organized in 1824, and their church edifice built 1832.  A Universalist Society was formed in 1820, under the style and title of "The First Universalist Society of the town of Marcellus;" Bildad Beach, Samuel Johnson, Chester Clark, Trustees.  "First Zion Society in Marcellus," organized in 1822, at the house of David Holmes; William Newton, Joseph Gilson, Andrew Shephard, David Holmes and Silas Bush, Trustees.

Dr. Elnathan Beach came to this town as a practicing physician, in the winter of 1795-6.  He erected the first frame house in town, a year or two after he came.  He was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, educated as a physician, and commenced the practice of medicine in his native town, where he obtained the reputation of a judicious and skilful practitioner.  Possessing an enterprising spirit, he relinquished an extensive practice, broke away from his friends and early associations, and took up his abode in the wilderness, where he continued the practice of medicine.  He entered considerably into public life, was appointed sheriff of Onondaga County in 1799, and held the office till the time of his death.  He is represented as being a very active man and zealous in the pursuit of what he deemed a worthy or important object.  To his own family he was peculiarly kind and indulgent, and to community, affable and obliging.  He was extensively known, and his merits appreciated throughout the county.  He died in 1801, in the midst of usefulness, at the age of forty years, affectionately beloved and sincerely lamented as an irreparable loss to the infant settlement.

Nine Mile Creek is the principal and only stream of note in this town.  It drains the Otisco Lake, and passes through this town from south to north.  It received its name from the fact that it is nine miles from Onondaga, which at the time the first settlements were made at the Creek, was the nearest settlement on the east, and nine miles to Buck's, the next settlement west.  It is supposed by many that it received its name from its being nine miles long, but this cannot possibly be the case, as it is more than twice that distance in length.

This stream affords great facilities for water power, and is capable of carrying a large amount of machinery.  The first erection on this stream was a saw mill, by Samuel Rice and Dan Bradley, in the fall and winter of 1795 and 1796.  It stood a little above the present stone mill of Mr. Talbot.  It was built at great disadvantage and expense.  The inhabitants were so few that the proprietors of the mill had to send to Camillus for help to assist at the raising.  It was finally raised after considerable labor, and proved a great help to the community in which it was located.  For several years there was no grist mill in the place, and the inhabitants had to go to Manlius, fifteen miles, or to Seneca Falls, twenty-five miles, which usually took two or three days.  Mr. May and Mr. Sayles erected a grist mill near the before mentioned saw mill, in 1800, which greatly relieved the people, and for several years it did all the custom work of the town, and part of Onondaga and Camillus.  Since this, the increase of machinery and mills has been considerable, and this stream is capable of much further improvement.

In 1796, Dr. Elnathan Beach opened a store in the village, and kept for sale dry goods, groceries and medicines.  He continued in trade till the time of his death, in 1801.  Lemuel Johnson succeeded Dr. Beach, and built a new store.  Deacon Samuel Rice kept the first tavern in town soon after he came on.  He was succeeded by General Humphreys, and he by William Goodwin.  A Post Office was established at Marcellus 1799, and Dr. Elnathan Beach appointed Post Master.  Samuel Tyler was a Justice of the Peace in 1799; perhaps before.

The early records of this town have been destroyed by fire, a thing to be regretted, so that there are no means of knowing who the earliest town officers were.  They have no record further back than 1830.

By the act of 1794, we find the first town meeting, ordered to be held at the house of Moses Carpenter, and it is presumed it was so held.  The house was about a mile east of the present village of Elbridge.  By the record of the Board of Supervisors, we find William Stevens Supervisor from 1794 to 1797; Samuel Tyler, Supervisor in 1797, and Winston Day in 1798.  The voters of Marcellus thought it rather a hardship to go down to Camillus, and finally, in 1796, rallied all their available force, and by out-voting the Camillus people, carried the next town meeting up to Marcellus, so that the town meeting for 1797 was first held in this town, at the house of Samuel Rice.  The house was a log one, and stood nearly opposite to the house now belonging to William Leonard.  Samuel Bishop opened the first law office in town, 1801, and B. Davis Noxon the next, in 1808.

RACHEL BAKER.--Perhaps the most remarkable case of devotional somnium, on record, is that of Miss Rachel Baker, formerly of this town.  A full history of her case may be found in the Transactions of the Physico-Medical Society of New-York, vol. 1, p. 395.

Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell, in describing her case, and who gave it a thorough investigation, thus remarks.  "The latter of these remarkable affections of the human mind, somnium cum religione, belongs to Miss Rachel Baker, who for several years has been seized with somnium of a religious character, once a day with great regularity.  These daily paroxysms recur with wonderful exactness, and from long prevalence have become habitual.  They invade her at early bed time, and a fit usually lasts three-quarters of an hour.  A paroxysm has been known to end in thirty-five minutes, and to continue ninety-eight.  The transition from a waking state, to that of somnium, is very quick, frequently in fifteen minutes, and sometimes even less.  After she retires from company, in the parlor, she is discovered to be occupied in praising God with a distinct and sonorous voice.  Her discourses are usually pronounced in a private chamber, for the purpose of delivering them with more decorum on her own part, and with greater satisfaction to her hearers.  She has been advised to take the recumbent posture.  Her face being turned towards the heavens, she performs her nightly devotions with a consistency and fervor, wholly unexampled in a human being, in a state of somnium.  Her body and limbs are motionless; they stir no more than the trunk and extremities of a statue; the only motion the spectator perceives, is that of her organs of speech, and an oratorical inclination of the head and neck, as if she was intently engaged in performing an academic or theological exercise.  According to the tenor and solemnity of the address, the attendants are affected with seriousness.  She commences and ends with an address to the throne of grace, consisting of proper topics of submission and reverence, of praise and thanksgiving, and of prayer for herself, her friends, the church, the nation, for enemies and the human race in general.  Between these, is her sermon or exhortation.  She begins without a text, and proceeds with an even course to the end, embellishing it sometimes with fine metaphors, vivid descriptions and poetical quotations.  There is a state of body felt, like groaning, sobbing or moaning, and the distressful sound continues from two minutes to a quarter of an hour. This agitation however, does not wake her; it gradually subsides and passes into a sound and natural sleep, which continues during the remainder of the night.  In the morning she wakes as if nothing had happened, and entirely ignorant of the scenes in which she has acted.  She declares she knows nothing of her nightly exercises, except from the information of others.  With the exception of the above mentioned agitation of the body and exercise of mind, she enjoys perfect health.  In October, 1814, Miss Baker was brought to New-York by her friends, in hopes that her somnial exercises (which were considered by some of them, as owing to disease) might by the exercise of a journey, and the novelty of a large city, be removed.  But none of these means produced the desired effect.  Her acquaintances stated that her somnial exercises took place every night regularly, except in a few instances, when interrupted by severe sickness, from the time they commenced, in 1812.  In September, 1816, Dr. Spears, by a course of medical treatment, particularly by the use of opium, prevented a recurrence of her nightly exercises.

The parents of Miss Baker were pious and early taught her the importance of religion; she was born at Pelham, Mass., May 29th, 1794.  At the age of nine years, her parents moved with her to the town of Marcellus, from which time, she said she had strong convictions of the importance of eternal things, and the thoughts of God and eternity would make her tremble."

By degrees, her mind became more and more agitated, and nightly had conversations in her sleep, till at length, these assumed a regular devotional and sermonizing form, and none who ever witnessed, doubted they were the genuine fruits of penitence, piety and peace.

HON. DAN BRADLEY--was a son of Jabez and Esther Bradley.  He was born at Mount Carmel, (since Haddam,) New Haven County, Connecticut, 10th June, 1767.  He received a classical education, at Yale College.  He entered that celebrated institution in his nineteenth year.  Four years afterwards, on the 9th of September, 1789, he graduated with distinguished academic honors, and received his master's degree out of course, at the age of twenty-three.  In October, 1790, he was licensed to preach the gospel, by the association of New Haven County, and the same month, viz. 21st day of October, 1790, was married to Miss Eunice Beach.  On the 11th of January, 1792, he was ordained at Haddam, Connecticut, to the pastoral charge of the Church at Whitestown, New Hartford.  In the month of February following, he removed his family to that place, and took charge of this new congregation and parish, and continued his pastoral care of this flock nearly three years.  He was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Johnson.  On the occasion of the induction of Mr. Johnson to his pastoral office, and in honor of the event, was given, (after the solemn services of the ordination at Church,) a grand "Ordination Ball."  Singular as this may appear at the present day, it was a custom then practiced by our Puritan fathers, who on any other occasion would have thought it exceedingly sinful, and perhaps a mode of religious rejoicing, which in this degenerate age of godly alienation, might be thought rather questionable.

In January, 1795, Rev. Dan Bradley was dismissed from the pastoral charge of the Church in Whitestown, at New Hartford, and the 6th of September following, removed with his family to the town of Marcellus, at the age of twenty-nine.  The country was then comparatively a wilderness.  He entered at once into the business of farming, with zeal and cheerfulness, and soon became noted for the purity of his taste, and success of his undertakings, setting a beautiful example to those around him, that education and refinement of mind were essential attributes to happiness and prosperity.  He was appointed a Judge of Onondaga County Courts, in 1801, and by his display of legal knowledge, soon became somewhat distinguished as a Jurist.  In 1808, he was appointed First Judge of the County, which office he held with some degree of distinction, till the time of his resignation in 1813, when he was succeeded by Joshua Forman.  He was somewhat remarkable for his ready classic humor, and on many occasions displayed it much to the amusement and gratification of his friends.  On a time, during is official capacity as judge, a certain colored man, named Hank Blakeman occupied, on the Oswego River, just above Oswego Falls, a commodious place for landing, and it was also a convenient crossing place.  For the privilege of landing on his dock, the colored man exacted a small fee. This was thought rather oppressive by some of his neighbors, who summoned the Road Commissioners of the town, who laid out a road in such a manner as considerably to abridge his privileges.  He feeling himself aggrieved, appealed to the Judges of Common Pleas, who upon a proper representation of the facts, took the matter into consideration.  A day was set for an investigation of the matter, and Judges Humphreys, Bradley and Vredenburgh, accompanied by the present Judge Moseley, then a student with Judge Forman, at Onondaga, who went down as an advocate of the aggrieved party's rights.  In those days the roads were almost impassable in that region, and the party made arrangements to go down in a boat from Salina.  A suitable store of provisions and other necessaries, was laid in for the occasion, and the party set off in high spirits, anticipating a delightful trip.  The day was propitious; they glided down the river beautifully, and it required but little exertion to make the desired progress.  While passing along under the shady oaks and elms which crowned the margin of the river, Judge Bradley languishingly remarked how pleasant was their journey, and quoted the first verse of Virgil's Georgics,

  "Tityre, tu, patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi," &c.

On they went, enjoying the scenery beyond measure.  They examined the case in hand, and finally reversed the acts of the Commissioners, restoring to the injured party his rights in full, very much to his satisfaction, who was so much rejoiced, that he gave, voluntarily, as a fee to his young lawyer, five silver dollars, which he has since declared was his first and richest fee, and gave him more pleasure, than any other received in his life.  Business done, they turned their faces towards home.  But with the fatigues of the day, and the opposing current of the river, their progress was in the beginning rather slow.  However, by dint of perseverance and hard labor, they made respectable progress.  It was work indeed, and to add to their embarrassment, night was at hand; the musketoes, gnats, flies and bullfrogs, gave them no peace, and some of the party began to murmur.  In this state of affairs, Judge Bradley was called upon to reverse his sentiment, received with so much éclat in the morning, whereupon he readily replied--

   ___ "facilis descensus Averni;
  Sed revocare grandum, superasque evadere ad auras,
  Hoc opus, hic labor est."

Which, in the language of a familiar poet, may be rendered,
 

  "Easy the fall to Pluto's dreary den,
  But hard the scrabble to get back again."

The flagging spirits of the party were revised by this sally, and the rest of the voyage was performed, if not with wished for speed, with greater cheerfulness.

To return, it is not of his professional career that we designed so much to speak, nor of his character as a man, a christian, a parent and a friend, though in all these respects the only language could be that of eulogy.  But it is of him and his influence as an agriculturist, that this sketch was mainly designed.

Always correctly viewing agriculture as the great vase of national prosperity, he devoted himself with a well directed zeal, (which some term enthusiasm,) to a thorough examination of the principles on which the cultivation of the soil should be conducted.  His grand object was to reduce the process of agriculture to a science, and to induce organization and order where confusion and uncertainty prevailed.  In his essays on the various subjects which he discussed, he displayed a master mind, deeply imbued with the principles of philosophy and experience, and his efforts have undoubtedly had a weighty influence in improving the agriculture of our county, as they have greatly enriched most of the various agricultural publications of the country.  In the New England Farmer, the Baltimore Farmer and the Plough Boy, are found numerous forcible efforts of his sagacious and penetrating mind.  The Genesee Farmer owed much of its elevated character to his reflections.  It was for a long period the chosen medium through which for a long series of year, the rich results and ample experience of his mature mind were presented to the public.  He was one of the first to attribute the hoof-ail, which prevailed extensively in 1820, to the prevalence of ergot in the grasses, and he collected a mass of facts on the subject, which set the matter forever beyond question.  He always strenuously opposed the heterodox notion of wheat turning to chess--and showed conclusively by science and experiments, the absurdity of the idea.  Indeed there is scarcely a subject connected with scientific or practical agriculture, on which light has not been thrown by his labors, a correct theory established, and objections to innovations obviated.  Every subject that promised to be an improvement in agriculture, received his attention, and if its claims were well founded, he did not hesitate to adopt it himself, and urge its adoption by others.  As a patron and advocate of agricultural societies, he was among the first, and to his opinions and influence, many of the prominent advantages derived by the State from the law of 1819, was unquestionably owing.  He was appointed President of the first Onondaga County Agricultural Society, in 1819.  His numerous articles, published in the volumes of the State Agricultural Society, and his contributions to most of the agricultural journals of the day, establish conclusively, the interest he felt in his favorite pursuit, and the zeal and intelligence he brought to its support.  It was the happiness of the author in early life, to enjoy is acquaintance, and long will be remembered his conversations and lessons upon this his favorite topic.  He died at his residence, at Marcellus, September 19th, 1838, aged 71 years.  He died as he had lived, at peace with the world, and with an unshaken confidence in his God.  Such men are an ornament to the age in which they live, and their country owes them an incalculable debt of gratitude.

Statistics of the town of Marcellus, taken from the Census of 1845:--

Number of inhabitants, 2,649; subject to military duty, 292; voters, 622; aliens, 48; Paupers, 00; children attending common schools, 648; acres of improved land, 16,169; grist mills, 9; saw mills, 10; paper mills, 3; fulling mills, 2; carding machines, 2; woolen factories, 2; tanneries, 4; Church--Baptist, 1; Episcopal, 1; Presbyterian, 1; Congregational, 1; Methodist, 1; common schools, 13; select do., 8; taverns, 3; stores, 6; groceries, 3; farmers, 514; merchants, 11; manufacturers, 21; mechanics, 131; clergymen, 3; physicians, 6; attorneys, 2.
 

*For the history of the first settlement of this town, the author has been greatly assisted by a manuscript of the Rev. Levi S. Parsons.


Submitted 10 November 1998