Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
Mattie, the Lake Ontario-sailing cat's tale
Captain Horatio Nelson Throop, said Mattie, came from a sea faring family. His father Samuel had sailed salt water aboard a whaler and had named his first son for the greatest British sea warrior of sailing days, Admiral Nelson. Throop was a man of big ideas. He designed and built one of the fastest sailing schooners that ever floated on the lake, and his steamer the Ontario, a boat he also designed, was the finest passenger ship of her time.
One day at the village post office, Captain Throop spoke in greeting to his good friend and neighbor Samuel Cuyler, who in turn asked “Have you heard of the new law? If a slave runs away it's our duty to return him to his master. “
Throop answered “If a man has enough grit to run away and reaches Pultneyville, I'll be danged if I'll send him back south.”
“Well that's what I think too - I and others. How would you like to join us? With your ship, you could take our “passengers” on the last leg of their trip to Canada.”
Throop had worked hard since he was twelve years old and by now he had made a good deal of money. He thought about what it would have been like if he had not been free to steer his own course through life. There had been setbacks. But there had also been opportunity, and when it came along, he had been free to seize it. He felt fortunate to have been able to do what he wanted which was to sail the lake on his own ship and to have become wealthy while doing it. So he said yes.
A day later when the captain had again come out of the post office, Cuyler greeted him once more. Then he asked “Will you be making the run with the Ontario to Rochester tomorrow?”
“Then we'll have a cargo for you,” said his friend with a quick wink.
Throop glanced at a stranger across the street. The man was leaning on the bridge rail studying the several schooners tied up in the creek. He hadn't expected any fugitives to arrive in Pultneyville so soon. But he answered “Very well. My boat runs for passengers.”
The stranger looking over the harbor was a bounty hunter in search of runaway slaves. If he had heard the conversation he gave no sign, and Throop went on his way back home.
As he walked down Washington Street, Throop wondered how he would get his “cargo” aboard the Ontario. One or two fugitives could be placed in trunks or crates and carried aboard. But too many large boxes might make the slave catchers suspicious, for Throop's steamer normally did not load much cargo in Pultneyville. Nor could he walk the runaways aboard openly. Cuyler could perhaps distract one bounty hunter, but Throop knew at least three southerners were hanging around the town right now, and that at least one would be watching all the departing ships. Clearly they suspected some “passengers” were about to arrive in Pultneyville on the underground railroad. The slave catchers would collect a large reward for each runaway returned to the south, and anyone caught helping an escaped slave could be fined. It was even possible that the courts could seize his vessel for breaking the law and auction it off.
As he considered ways to outwit the bounty hunters, a wagon load of firewood approached. The teamster, Will Murton, pulled up his mules and said “Captain Throop I have your wood for the steamer here. This is the first load. Do you want it stacked on the pier?
Throop glanced out at the lake, noting the clear sky and gentle west wind. There would be no bad blows or heavy waves from the east tonight. He said, “Yes, that will be fine.” Then he had a sudden thought. “Hold on a moment, Will. I'd like you to do something a little different with our fuel this time.”
Throop looked around for nearby strangers, and then stepped close to the wagon seat and gave Will some odd directions as to how to stack the wood on the pier. Then he walked on to his home.
There were seven of them, Peter Butler, his wife Mary, Peter's father, and four other men, all field hands and all from a North Carolina plantation. They'd come north through Philadelphia to New York City and then up the Hudson to Albany where they were given a ride west on the Erie Canal aboard Black Joe's boat. Black Joe was a free black man. He owned his own canal boat and in the past he had smuggled dozens of runaways from Albany aboard it. He had put the group ashore in Palmyra, a day's journey from Pultneyville and the runaways had then come north to Williamson concealed under a wagon load of hay. Here, they spent the night at another “station” on the underground railroad before traveling afoot during darkness with a guide leading them the last five miles to Cuyler's house by the lake.
It was now late afternoon and Cuyler and Peter Butler stood on the porch surveying the lake and the little harbor to the west. They were also watching a large steamer, bold of bow and graceful of line, now slowing as she neared the harbor pier. The slap of her paddle wheel blades striking the water and the grand sounding hoot of her steam whistle as she backed down to come alongside the pier carried clearly to them over the quiet evening water.
“There's your boat.” said Cuyler. “After dark you'll go aboard. The captain will take you to Rochester and you'll be transferred to a Canadian steamer there. For now though, we'd best say inside. The fewer people see you the better. There are at least three bounty hunters in town, and I'm sorry to say there are a few locals who would also like a reward for turning in runaways.”
Darkness comes slowly in mid-summer on Lake Ontario. It was nearly 11 o'clock before the front door of Cuyler's house opened, and the fugitives filed out into the quiet night. Peter had told his wife to follow close with Father at her back. Peter led them quickly across the road and into the dark shadow of the warehouse on the pier's end. Here they pressed against the wall a few yards from the pile of cord wood for the ship's boilers that lay stacked down the length of the pier. The wood had been piled in two long lines about four feet high with a narrow lane between them just as Cuyler and told him it would be. Beyond lay the sleek white ship waiting to take them to freedom, her hull pale in the starlight. The lake lay still and hushed, as if it were holding its breath making not even a whisper against the shore, and the voices of a small group of men on the pier next to the steamer carried clearly to the runaways.
Peter looked up at the North Star near the bowl of the Drinking Gourd. They had followed that star for many days on their journey. Now the Ontario lay directly beneath it. He uttered a quick whispered prayer and then bent down to slip into the wood pile, followed by the rest of the group. As he disappeared into the shadowed lane, the unexpected sound of a banjo playing the song 'Dixie' came to his ears.
At the other end of the pier stood three southerners talking with Captain Throop who leaned on the railing beside his wheel house above them. Cuyler strolled up hands in pockets just as one of the southerners called out “Play another - do you know Jimmy Crack Corn?”
Throop picked up his instrument and said “Sing with me if you will. Sam here says I have a voice to shame a frog.”
Peter was nearly to the end of the wood pile. He crouched in its shadow wondering how they could get by the bounty hunters. The three slave catchers stood barely fifty feet away when he heard Mary gasp. A sudden clunk of a falling stick of firewood hitting the dock sounded behind him. Peter's stomach knotted in fear as he froze with bent knees in the darkness by the wood. A rat bolted across his feet, raced up onto the top of the woodpile beside him, and scampered away.
“What's that?” the tall man beside Cuyler asked as he turned to stare towards the wood pile. Peter's legs ached as he tried to stay still.
Cuyler, his hands clenched in his pockets, sounded casual as he said “I didn't hear anything.”
Then he gestured towards a small movement in the water, the V shaped wake left by a muskrat swimming by.
“There. It was that little swimmer perhaps.” He turned back to face the men. “Gents, I came to tell you a card game is in the making up at the Pigs Ear. If you can take yourself away from our Captain's sweet serenade, you'd be welcome to join us.” As he spoke, he jingled a handful of coins in his pocket.
The tall slave catcher's eyes followed the muskrat. Then he looked back at Cuyler and said “Reckon there's no action here tonight. Let's see what cards you Yanks can deal us.”
They moved off as Throop struck a chord from the banjo strings once and then began strumming a lively tune. When Peter still crouched on trembling legs, as motionless as the firewood next to him heard “Picayune Butler is Going Away” he reached for Mary beside him who took his hand and squeezed it in silent celebration. When the song ended, he straightened up and stepped forth followed by his family and the four men. All the runaways walked boldly up the gang plank for freedom.
The shadowed figure of the captain awaited them at the head of the gangway. Throop reached out to shake Peter's hand as he came up to the deck. “You're almost there. One more short passage and your journey's done. Now follow me this way.”
The next morning, after her fuel wood had been loaded, the Ontario cleared Pultneyville bound west. Once free of the harbor, Throop left the wheelhouse and went down to his cabin where he had hidden Peter's family. He invited them up on deck telling them “You're safe now. You can have the run of the ship until we reach Rochester. There we'll put you aboard my friend's boat for Canada. Andrew the Steward will take you all down for breakfast now.”
But Peter lingered behind for a moment. “Why do you do this, all you 'conductors'?”
Throop looked out over his ship's bow at the now calm waters ahead. Then he turned to meet Peter's steady gaze.
“I can't speak for Samuel and Captain Ledyard and Black Joe. Only myself. I was twelve when my father died. I turned to and went to work, for I had a mother and brother and two sisters to support. By the time I was twenty I had built my schooner Sophia, a thirty tonner. I lost her my first season through my own poor judgement. But people gave me another chance. My old master took me back at his shipyard and gave me work. I paid off my debts and began anew.”
Throop paused and leaned on the railing to gaze down at the water foaming along side the Ontario. He lifted his eyes to the horizon and continued.
“I have been very fortunate. There have been trials. I have always regretted my failure to secure investors for my screw driven steamer. I know my design was superior to the Ericcson propeller. But I have also worked with good people and I was exceedingly fortunate to have had the opportunity to design and build my Ontario, the finest steamer on all the lake.”
Throop straightened and again met Peter's steady gaze. “It's only right that others should have the same chances that I had. In the path of life there are many thorns as well as flowers. But man should be free to take that path wherever it leads.”
Peter nodded. “We are grateful”.
“Well, enough lofty talk. You should join your family for some food.”
“Yes sir. But can I ask one last question?”
“Why does your ship have a big eye painted on her side?”
“I caused that to be placed there. It is the Eye of Providence-under whose protection all men must mutually pledge to guard one another's lives, fortunes, and honor. Both afloat and ashore, we can do no less.”
© 2009 Susan Peterson Gately
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Script No, 543, January 19, 2008
© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte
In 1643 Jesuit priest Father Isaac Jogues traveled around Dutch New York, stopping off at New Amsterdam to pay his respects to colonial director-general Willem Kieft. During his visit several Indian raids took place, in which the Natives, “burnt many houses and barns full of wheat.” The good Father, by the way, would be martyred by the Iroquois three years later, near the Mohawk River.
Jessie Ravage, writing in the Encyclopedia of New York State, describes how, by the mid-1700s, farmlands along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and Scoharie Creek had become the ‘breadbasket’ of New York State. Much of the British Revolutionary War action along the latter was due to the fact that the region was a major supplier of wheat flour to the Continental army. In the years immediately following, landlords often levied their rents in the form of wheat. Gradually the northward spread of grain diseases pushed the growing areas further and further ahead, encouraging the settlement of lands to the west.
As mentioned last time, by late August of 1830, as John Fowler made his way across New York, that ‘breadbasket’ had moved into central and western New York. The construction of the Erie Canal had greatly facilitated the thrust and one of the greatest benefactors had been the canal-side village on the Genesee River. Jogues had mentioned one important use for the grain, right from the earliest Dutch settlement, which was the making of beer. That would continue on through Rochester’s development, as wheat and beer followed the plow, moving on through Buffalo and Milwaukee, until that ‘breadbasket’ would end up into the midwestern U. S.
As a student of agriculture, John Fowler showed particular interest in the wheat/flour business of Rochester, noting that the, “millers are making every effort to get their flour to New York, &c., ere the frosts commence. . . . At this, as at most of the villages I have passed along I have observed advertisements at the stores, in the public papers, and the bars of inns, offering the utmost cash price for any quantity of wheat”. He mentions the city’s eleven ‘flouring mills’ turning a total of 12,000 barrels of wheat into 2,500 bushels of flour. Every day! He goes on to mention, “various other mills and manufactories, distilleries, breweries, &c. &c., everything bespeaking the rising wealth and importance of the place.” But, as the morning moves along, he begins thinking of hitting the road again, telling his readers that frequent stages are leaving the village every day. He seems to have contracted a benevolent form of Genesee Fever – an earlier name for malaria – and has decided to check out more of the valley, planning to catch a stage upriver to visit Geneseo.
As he gathers his baggage we’ll take a moment to take a look at a wheat-related story appearing this year in the Rochester Republican. “Boring for Wheat – This is certainly an age of wonders. We have frequently heard of boring for water; but never till recently of boring for wheat. — Two persons (father and son,) lately succeeded in obtaining two barrels of wheat by boring with a common auger through the floor of Mr. Hill’s granary, [in] Parma, — it being elevated a little above the earth. They are now reaping the reward of their ingenuity in the county jail at Rochester.”
Saturday, March 20, 2010
1850 Ridge Road / Ontario, NY 14519
Phone: 315-524-8381 / Fax 315-524-5838
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
This Sunday, March 21st at 2:00 PM
Lynne Belluscio, curator of the Jell-O Museum at the Le Roy House
will speak at the meeting at the Henrietta Historical Society meeting
at the Henrietta Public Library on
“The Light that Failed – Ingham University for Women”.
455 Calkins Road
Rochester, NY 14623
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
This Sunday, March 21
"Golden Era of Silver Lake" 2 PM - Explore the fascinating history of nearby Silver Lake with Dan Miller, author of the new book "Silver Lake, New York: A Brief History". Copies of the book will be available at a special book signing.
The Nunda Historical Society meets at the Historical Society Building at 24 Portage Street.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
In this Women's History Month, we look at the impact of the history of the women's movement with filmmaker Louise Vance, who tells the story of how one group of youngsters was moved by experiencing the site of the birth of the modern women's rights movement.
A new film about a unique way some young women learned about the history of the women's rights movement will debut on WXXI-TV Wednesday, March 24th at 9:00pm.
“Seneca Falls” follows WOWER Power, a struggling multi-cultural theater troupe comprised of nine teenage girls from San Francisco, as they travel to Seneca Falls to perform their original play at the historic 150th Anniversary Celebration  of this groundbreaking moment in American history.
Saturday, March 20, 2010 - 1:00pm
Please join us for a preview screening of "Seneca Falls", followed by a panel discussion.
Other Womens History Month programming is listed at
Saturday, March 13, 2010
“Historic Photos of New York State” event
at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 18, at the Morgan-Manning House, 151 Main St., Brockport
Richard O. Reisem will present his book on historic photos from across the state during the event, which is free
For more information, call (585) 637-3645.
Governor George Clinton addresses the state legislature, urges strengthening defenses against the British. They vote £30,000 for fortifying New York City and £12,000 for the frontiers to the west and north.
Quaker mill owner Daniel Anthony (father of Susan B, Anthony) is born in East Hoosac (later Adams), Massachusetts.
Indian agent General Israel Chapin, noticing desertions from local reservations and fearing trouble from his charges, meets with them at Buffalo Creek and stays close to them on through this year and into the next.
William Berczy, Samuel Street, and Timothy Green, backed by Aaron Burr, Melancthon Smith and Elisha Boudinot, petition Canadian lieutenant governor John Graves Simcoe for 1,000,000 acres along the shore of Lake Ontario.
Onondaga County is carved out of Herkimer County. The town of Manlius is formed, with Comfort Tyler as Justice of the Peace. ** The Seneca County town of Ovid is formed.
The state legislature votes to extend the Mohawk Valley Road west from Fort Schuyler (Utica) to the Genesee River. The extension will be named the Main Genesee River Road.
William Berczy leaves New York City, heads upstate.
Berczy reaches Williamsburg.
Berczy leaves Williamsburg on a visit to Simcoe, accompanied by John Henry Sommerfeldt, Joachim Lunau and Francis Schmidt.
Chapin tries to get Mohawk chief Joseph Brant to agree to meet with George Washington at Pennsylvania's Fort Venango. Brant refuses. ** Onondaga sachem Clear Sky tells Chapin that the Iroquois nation is as free as any nation, including the
The first church services in Ovid are held at the home of Abraham Covert.
A grand jury in Canandaigua fails to indict the German settlers who went on a rampage at Williamsburg last year. ** Chapin meets with O'Bale, son of Cornplanter, at Buffalo Creek. The chief insists Chapin accompany him to Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, to survey military conditions. Chapin agrees. ** Berczy and his German immigrants, having fled the law in the Genesee region, arrive at Queenston and Chippewa, Canada, on the Niagara River.
Carleton instructs Simcoe to prohibit the Americans from founding any settlement on the south shore of Lake Ontario.
Chapin manages to keep O'Bale and other chiefs from joining the British and other tribes in northwestern Ohio. ** The Iroquois meet at Canandaigua for internal discussions on a treaty with the U. S.
The Iroquois meet at Canandaigua for internal discussions on a treaty with the U. S.
Simcoe protests to British minister to the U. S. George Hammond, in Philadelphia, that Charles Williamson’s settlement at Sodus is a threat to Canada.
The U. S. press publishes Simcoe's protest, and explains the threat it poses.
The wife of land agent Israel Chapin dies in Canandaigua. She's given the largest funeral the community's seen to date.
Christopher Dugan writes to Charles Williamson from the Falls of the Genesee, the first business letter written in (the future) Rochester. He informs the agent that the mill is badly in need of repairs, and that he would like some recompense for acting as caretaker for the property. ** New York State settler David Piffard is born in London’s Pentonville neighborhood, to a stockbroker and his wife.
A British party lead by Major Roger Hale Sheaffe crosses Lake Ontario, delivers a formal protest against Williamson's settlement at Sodus Bay and requests an audience with the land agent in a week's time.
Williamson drafts a letter to family friend Henry Dundas, secretary in the English Home Office, strenuously protesting Simcoe's threats
Colonel Timothy Pickering arrives at Canandaigua.
Williamson pays H. MacKenzie $41.20 to cover ‘his Expenses to Genesee Mills to get them repaired.’
The Oneida arrive at Canandaigua for the treaty talks. Canadian government representatives have been barred from the negotiations.
Cornplanter meets with Simcoe, who promises the Seneca chief Canadian land at Lake Ontario's Long Point if an agreement with the Americans is not reached. ** Farmer's Brother and Little Billy and their Senecas arrive at Canandaigua, joining the Cayugas, Oneidas, and Onondagas. Cornplanter arrives the following day.
Charles Williamson and his wife Ann have a son, Alexander.
Pickering feels he has soothed Indian feelings over the issues of Presque Isle and land along the Niagara River.
Some of the Indians drink too much and no negotiations take place.
Pickering presents the treaty to the assembled chiefs, but Cornplanter objects on the grounds of previous bad faith.
The Pickering Treaty is signed at Canandaigua, limiting the Seneca to western New York lands.The Six Nations receive $10,000 in goods as payment for their land at disputed points, notably Presque Isle, Ohio. The U. S. agrees to add $3000 to the $1500 annual payment promised to the tribes forever.
Charles Williamson's Geneva Hotel, built at a cost of $15,000, is completed. He hires former English hotelier Thomas Powell as manager and an English chef; celebrates the opening with a grand ball.
County boundaries are surveyed in the Military Tract. ** Connewango pioneer Sarah Ash (Metcalf) is born in Rensselaer County. ** A “Block-house” or public storehouse is erected at the salt springs at Onondaga Lake. ** The legislature authorizes the surveying of a road between Utica and the Genesee River. ** Onondaga County is carved out of part of Herkimer County. ** Jediah Stephens, having been recently elected supervisor of the new Canisteo district (parts of Steuben, Allegany and Livingston counties), meets Painted Post supervisor Eli Mead at Cohocton Village. They ride to Canandaigua together. ** The approximate date Elder Daniel Irish conducts the first church services (Baptist) in the Cayuga County town of Fleming. ** Augustus Porter prepares a map of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase from his own survey. ** East Bloomfield pioneer Markham family buys another farm in the area. The resulting settlement is named Markham's. ** Potential Indian and British problems slow settlement in the Genesee region. ** Philadelphian Thomas Cooper visits the Genesee Country. ** The town of Northfield, in what will become Monroe County, is created, containing the future towns of Brighton, Henrietta, Irondequoit, Penfield, Perinton, Pittsford, and Webster. ** The population of Herkimer County is 1500; Otsego County 12000, Tioga County 7000. ** Judge Augustus Porter leads a team to re-run the 1788 Pre-Emption Line, to correct errors. ** Abraham Cuddeback becomes the first settler in Skaneateles, starting a homestead in the military tract. ** Jemima Wilkinson arrives in the Town of Jerusalem with her followers. ** The Fabius area is settled. ** A bridge across the Genesee River is built at Avon. ** John Danforth arrives in the future Liverpool. ** The Candor village area of Tioga County is first settled. ** The Town of Virgil, part of the Town of Homer in Herkimer County, becomes part of Onondaga County.
Strict Baptist Minister Thomas Streeter settles near here. ** The governor and the council of appointment make Charles Williamson an Ontario county judge.
Pulteney land agent Charles Williamson arrives in the area. He lays out a village green (later Pulteney Square).
A one-room log schoolhouse, paid for by subscription, is built south of Pittsford. John Barrows is the first teacher. It will be the only one in the area for ten years. ** Early settler Simon Stone builds a sawmill and a grist mill just to the west of the settlement.
The Philadelphia office of the Holland Land Company hires surveyor Joseph Ellicott to mark out company-owned land in the northwestern part of the state.
Free black Asa Dunbar establishes a settlement in the Rochester area, on the east side of the Genesee River, which will one day become the Corn Hill neighborhood. ** Benjamin Barton sells his mill site on the upper falls of the Genesee to Sir William Pulteney and associates. ** Ebenezer “Indian” Allen abandons his unprofitable mill on the Genesee and moves to Canada.
Williamson clears a road between Palmyra and Sodus Point in the spring - the Old Sodus Road. He builds an inn on Sodus Bay and lays out 100 building lots. ** He acquires the Genesee Mill Lot once belonging to Ebenezer Allan in the future Rochester, from Robert Morris. ** Charles Cameron, an agent of Williamson, begins a village at Lyons. ** Williamson sends Joseph Biven to build a tavern on the Conhocton River (Biven's Corners, then North Cohocton. ** Williamson has Bath's main square (Pulteney) cleared except for a Liberty Pine Tree and has a blockhouse erected, in case of a Canadian-Indian invasion. He also has a one-story frame courthouse and a log jail built. When he learns of the U. S. victory over the Indians at Fallen Timbers he demolishes the blockhouse and builds 40 log homes, a theater and a racetrack. He offers ready-made farms for sale.
© 2012 David Minor / Eagles Byte