Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sweet Land of Libbeus

Script No, 547, February 23, 2008

© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

Entering Batavia from the east John Fowler mentions spotting an “extensive brewing establishment”. He doesn’t know its history but this would be the three-year-old brewery on the future Elm Street, just off to the right as he rode by. It had been built by Libbeus Fish, who had come from Vermont as a young boy in 1796, along with his father, to the mouth of the Genesee. The two had stayed there with one of the numerous Hosmer clan for several days, Libbeus suffering with the less-lethal form of Genesee fever found away from the swampy parts of the river’s valley. Father and son set up a mill and were soon joined by the mother and five other children. The following year the eight Fish’s would build a cabin near Ebenezer Allan’s mill, future site of downtown Rochester. Before long Libbeus had a new brother, John, by many accounts the first white child born in the growing settlement, although he had several rivals in the infant persons of Mortimer Reynolds, Seneca Allan, and a son of Enos Stone.

By 1800, then in his early thirties, Libbeus had purchased property on the east end of Batavia, near the site of the school on Ross Street, and a few year later purchased more land a few blocks back to the east. He became a town trustee and later a president of the Bank of the Genesee. He ran the brewery until 1835, then turned it over to his son Eli. Today, after a succession of owners – and fires - the plant’s descendent, the R. R. Gamble Distributing Company, operates at Batavia’s Industrial Park on the other end of town. Fowler takes a moment to expound on the good then being done by various temperance societies against the “too free use of ardent spirits.” He does approve of the substitution of “malt liquor” but it’s not the stronger malt liquor of today. Back then, to a Brit the phrase referred to a weaker brew, which was often augmented with more potent spirits to ‘up’ the alcoholic potency.

But, on into Batavia. Fowler feels it’s quite a bit larger than Le Roy, but the population figures he gives are only 200 higher here than Le Roy’s. He also mentions seeing two or three good inns, the Holland Company’s land office, and a court house with its attendant jail. Which brings us back to the trial we mentioned last week.

Full details are not easily accessible. Here’s what we do know, courtesy of the Ithaca Journal of April, 1830, and the Saratoga Sentinel of June. As mentioned last time, in early January anti-Mason stalwarts James and Elijah Gray, father and son, allegedly murdered James Davis in Le Roy. The ensuing trial opened in Batavia on Wednesday, April 21st, Judge Gardner presiding, with D. A. Rumsey and lawyers Marvin and Redfield for the people; esquires Allen, Chandler and Hosmer (G. Hosmer, this time) for the defendants. Both teams had their days in court. By the time everyone had made his speeches – usually from three to five hours apiece – it was a few minutes before midnight on Saturday. Judge Gardner then turned the case over to the jury, to be decided then and there, even though it was the Sabbath, it apparently being too inconvenient to continue the trial on Monday. Around seven AM the jury found the Grays guilty. One online source did report that Governor Throop had later commuted one of the sentences, but further details are elusive. If you know what happened, let us all know. Next time we’ll shuffle off west.

© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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