Friday, August 29, 2008

Early Records of the Town of Gates, N.Y.

By John M. Robortella

The following is an excerpt from The Settlement of Western New York With a Review of Early Records of the Town of Gates 1809-1837, historical essay and transcription by John M. Robortella.

A transcription of the early records of the Town of Gates, N.Y., was made as a volunteer project for the Gates Town Historian, 1605 Buffalo Road, Rochester, New York 14624. The documents in the historian's archive are public records and are not under copyright.

Opportunity on the frontier of the new nation. This was western New York State shortly after the American Revolution. Here was where the happiness described by Jefferson in the Declaration could be pursued, where every child would receive an education, where one's faith could be practiced freely, and where a man with even limited means could buy land and build a new life for his family.

America was founded on the concepts of freedom and opportunity -- notions unheard of in the Old World. America provided a dream, albeit one with flaws some of which are still not resolved to this day. But for many, nonetheless, it was a dream, an improvement over life across the Atlantic.

It was all to begin in western New York. The first real estate office in America was opened here. The average American had liberty and opportunity here. And the Town of Gates in Monroe County became a place where the great American experiment took root and flourished. Gates became a quintessential American town that has never stopped evolving.

Introduction to the Transcription of Early Gates Records
The earliest documentation of the government of the Town of Gates in the possession of the town historian is a handwritten book of minutes, finance, school district, and road survey records dating from 1809 to 1837. The text begins on Page 35 of this historic book and concludes on Page 142 with a listing of owners' marks and brands for farm animals in the town.

Among these records are the original surveys for Pixley Road, Spencerport Road, and Wegman Road in Gates.

The founding of the Town of Gates evolved from an early transaction in the Phelps and Gorham Purchase with the sale of Town No. 1 in the Short Range of the purchase on November 8, 1790, to a group of investors from Northampton and Springfield, Massachusetts. The town that they purchased became known as Northampton and included present-day Gates, N.Y.

The first official Northampton town meeting was held on April 4, 1797, at the home of Peter Sheffer, near Scottsville, N.Y.

In 1802, the state legislature subdivided Ontario County and created Genesee County which included four towns: Northampton, Southampton, Leicester, and Batavia.

By 1808, three new towns were founded and separated from Northampton: Murray, Parma, and Riga. Settlers in the last remaining remnant of Northampton then had to reorganize their town and begin thinking of a new name.

Hugh McDiarmid (the exact spelling of his last name is unclear) was elected town clerk at the Northampton reorganization meeting on April 4, 1809, and probably began keeping the minutes on loose-leafed pages. John Williams served as town clerk in 1810 and 1811. Frederic Harford and Francis Brown succeeded him in 1812 and 1813, respectively, and the minutes and written records of the town were passed on to each clerk in succession.

Town officers soon realized that a formal minute and record book was needed. At the 1811 town meeting, they voted to transfer five dollars from the poor fund to enable Town Clerk John Williams to make the purchase: "Voted that the Poor Master send to John Williams five dol. to buy a Town Book."

It is believed that the book now in the town historian's archive is the minute book purchased by Mr. Williams in 1811. The pages are 8 inches wide x 12-3/4 inches deep, and are lined and pre-numbered by the manufacturer.

The text begins on Page 35. It is assumed that Mr. Williams or a succeeding clerk started to record the minutes on Page 1, possibly recopying the records of the first three meetings at the beginning of the book.

At some point, one of the succeeding clerks ripped out the first 34 pages of the book and recopied everything, perhaps to have all the early town records available in one book. There is little doubt that the entire minute book has been written by the same person. The writing is clear, the pages are well preserved, and the records are remarkably easy to read.

The book concludes on Page 142 and the last dated entry is from 1837 (although that entry appears on Page 140 of the book).

The book ultimately passed to Franklin Hinchey, the son of pioneer William S. Hinchey who settled in Gates circa 1810. The family owned several hundred acres in the town and became active in public service. For example, on June 9, 1829, William Hinchey hosted a town meeting in his home, which is documented on Page 135 of the minute book. In the 1870's, William's son, Franklin, built the homestead that stands today and is the only site in the town on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Hincheys were leading citizens of Gates and were active in community and church activities. It is not surprising that one of the later town officials entrusted the minute book to Franklin for safe keeping, especially since the annual town meetings and town clerk records were held and kept in private homes until the 1940's when the first Gates Town Hall was opened in the former Lee's Tavern on Buffalo Road.

For at least 100 years, then, the book remained within the Hinchey homestead. It resurfaced in 1999 when Wolcott Hinchey was preparing to sell the property to the Gates Historical Society. He presented the book to Town Historian Jack C. Hart on December 11, 1999. In a letter to Mr. Hinchey, Mr. Hart wrote that "please be assured that I will protect and preserve this book as one of the treasures of the town historian's file."

The book remains in the historian's vault and a transcript was made for study and local history research.


Genbook said...

How can libraries purchase a copy of this book? (Price, bookseller, etc.)

John Robortella said...

The book has not been published. The original document is in the archives of the Town of Gates historian (Judy DeRooy, 1605 Buffalo Road, Rochester, N.Y. 14624).

The transcript is in loose-leafed format in a three-ring binder. Along with an introductory historical essay, the entire project runs to about 300 8.5 x 11 pages. I would be happy to provide Word text files of the project if you would like to have the files and output them for your use.

John Robortella

rosie said...

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Public Records