December 8, 1871
Pioneer Life in the Genesee Country
[From the Rochester Union]
The late George C. Latta - who resided at the mouth of the Genesee river for more than sixty years, and died there recently - left a diary in which he had noted some events of his life as a pioneer. From this we have been permitted to make extracts, which will be read with interest, by not only the older citizens, but by many of the younger, who wish to know something of this region at the beginning of the century:
Removal to Western New York.
"My father, James Latta, and Sarah Jackson were married in the city of New York, Feb. 23, 1773. They removed to Walkill, on the Hudson, where they remained until 1778, removed to New Windsor, on the Hudson, and in 1789 removed to Geneva, Ontario county, taking his family, including six children. The family came up the Hudson to Albany in a sloop, crossed to Schenectady in wagons, ascended the Mohawk river as far as Fort Stanwix (now Rome) in small boats, which they hauled over the portage into Wood creek, and down that they passed into Oneida lake. They reached the lake on the evening of a clear moonlit night.
My father being anxious to cross the lake, paid his men extra wages to pass over the lake to Fort Brewerton, during the night, fearing a storm would arise in the morning and detain them several days, as was frequently the case. The roue was then down the Oneida river to Three River Point, then up the Seneca river to the outlet of Seneca lake, then up that channel to Geneva. The voyage from Schenectady to Geneva occupied seventeen days, and during the greater part of the time it rained.
Geneva, Elmira and Thereabouts.
At that time there were but three or four houses at Geneva, and about the same number at Canandaigua, and those built of logs. My brother Samuel came by way of Newtown and drove the cattle. On his arrival at the farm he found that the men employed to chop had planted some pumpkins, which were partly ripe, and as they had been without milk for a long time, they picked some of the pumpkins and had a supper of milk and pumpkins. There was no mill in the country nearer than Newtown (now Elmira), forty miles distant, and as the mill had no bolt, the flour ground there had to be sifted before using. I have heard my father tell of going to Newtown to mill with a grist on horseback, and at night he would turn his horse loose to graze, while he took lodgings himself in a tree to keep out of the way of the wolves, which were very numerous at the time.
The Milling Business.
Provisions at that time were brought into the country by water up the Mohawk river in batteaux, and from the Susquehanna river on pack horses. It was some time before mills were erected in this part of the country. Most of the families kept one or two mortars or pounding blocks for pounding corn in. These blocks were frequently made by the people in the stump of a tree near the house. They would cut a clump off square, and then burn or dig a cavity in the top, deep enough to receive corn; and to save the labor of pounding a springpole was frequently used.
I can recollect seeing mortars of this description used in this town (Greece) on or near the farm of John Peterson, (now owned by Patrick Rigney) eight miles from Rochester. I came into the town, then called Gates, in 1810. I can also recollect when my father lived in the town of Seneca, four miles west of Geneva, of his going to mill on horseback in company with my brothers, two years old than myself, as early as 1804 or 1805. We first went to Bear's mill, seven miles wast of Geneva, on the Seneca outlet (now Waterloo.).
Arriving at the mill and finding that we could not not get grinding that we could not get grinding done immediately, we concluded to go to Lyons mill on the Canandaigua outlet or near the place where Lyons now stands. After an absence of four days we returned home, with our grist. This was good news to the family, both on account of our safe return and the receipt of the flour, which was undoubtedly much needed as it was about harvest time.
Going To Lewiston.
My mother died on the 3d of July, 1807, and my father moved to Lewiston in the spring of 1809 and purchased a farm three miles east of Lewiston village, on the Ridge road. The land to make the farm was covered with timber. I remained with my father on the farm one summer. During the summer I attended school at the school house in the Indian village of Tuscarora six weeks, and in the winter of 1810 I attended school in the village of Lewiston. In the spring of 1810 I commenced and drove oxen two months on the farm spoken of by James L. Barton in his address delivered before the Young Men's Association of Buffalo on the 16th of February, 1848, as being the place where his father slept the first night of his arrival at the place where the village of Lewiston now stands.
For this labor I received from my brother-in-law, Benjamin Barton, his order on Joshua Fairbanks for ten dollars' worth of dry goods.
The Mouth of the Genesee.
In the month of June, 1810, I left Lewiston on horseback, for the mouth of the Genesee river, where I arrived on the 17th of that month. At that time the Ridge road was not cut out on the ridge where it is now traveled, but was run on the ridge and north and south of it, where it could be made with the least labor.
At that time there was no causeway over the Tonawanda swamp, a distance of about four miles. I recollect when crossing that swamp the water was from fetlock to knee-deep to my horse. I think there were then but two frame buildings between Lewiston and the Genesee river. One was at what is now the village of Gaines, the other was erected by Abel Rowe (father of Asa Rowe) and was occupied for a tavern until the spring of 1845, when it was owned by R. P. Edgarton. A public house was afterward erected on the same site, and at the date of this narrative was kept by George Wimble. It was near Rowe's green house in the town of Greece.
I recollect attending the house warming of Mr. Rowe's tavern in the winter of 1811. It took two days to attend the ball and get home to the mouth of the river. We started with a sleigh and returned with a wagon. We were overtaken by a rain storm, which continued all the night of the ball and until 10 the next morning.
Deer Hunting - A Lake Voyage
In the month of August I went out in company with Benjamin Gardner, of the firm of Child & Gardner, merchants at Charlotte, and several others to hunt deer, which at that time were very plenty. We caught two or three deer and I caught the fever and ague, which shook me every day for fifty-six days, and then every other day for some time longer and so rendered me quite low.
In November, Porter, Barton & Co. had a vessel (the Ontario) lying in the Genesee taking in a cargo for Kingston, Upper Canada and Ogdensburgh. My brother Samuel, and Capt. Charles Sweet, master of the schooner, thought it would be of service to me to take a trip across the lake. Accordingly I was fitted out with the necessary sea stores by my brother, and put on on board under the care of the captain.
We sailed about 11 at night for Kingston, where we landed a part of our cargo and then went down the St. Lawrence to Ogdensburgh, where we landed the remainder. We lay several days at Ogdensburgh, and then got under way for Kingston. On the passage up the St. Lawrence we ran upon a flat rock near Chippewa Bay and lay several hours, and then got off and went to Kingston.
We took on some freight at Kingston, and then left at 12 at night. The next day we came within ten or fifteen miles of Genesee River, where met a heavy wind and had to run across the lake and put in at Presque Isle Harbor. We were at this time rather short of provisions and the next morning the captain, Oliver Culver; Frederick Bushnell , Samuel Sheldon, other passengers and myself went on shore in pursuit of provisions and called at the house of the widow Sellick to get some bread, but could not get any, as she was out of flour.
She said she had sent a grist to mill, and if would wait until it returned she would let us have some. Some of the party discovered she had a loaf at the fire baking. They purchased of Mrs. Sellick, or she gave us half the loaf and we purchased some turnips and went on board.
At night the wind was fair, and we got under way for Genesee River. The next morning we made the land off the Devil's Nose and got into the Genesee that afternoon. Cutters had crossed the toe of the river for several days. We had no provisions on board the vessel except peas and pork; no butter, bread or vegetables. The vessel was about three weeks performing this voyage. I recovered my health and have never had but one fit of the ague since.
Oliver Culver, Fred Bushnell, &c
On this trip I first became acquainted with Fred. Bushnell, Oliver Culver and Samuel Sheldon. Soon after we returned Mr. Bushnell came to the mouth of the river with a small stock of goods and commenced mercantile business in connection with James K. Guernsey. In the month of January, 1812 he made a bargain with my brother and took me into his service. I continued with him as clerk until the spring of 1821, for which I received a salary of $50 per year and board until April, 1816, and from that time till March, 1821, I received $200 aper year and my board.
Going to the Front
War broke out in June, 1812. We removed the goods to Victor, Ontario county, in the spring of 1813, where we remained until the fall of 1814. I was then sent to Lima and remained in J.K. Guernsey's store until the winter of 1815. I was then sent to Alexander, Genesee county, where I remained with Henry Hawkins, a partner of Mr. Guernsey's, till piece was declared.
Soon after I went back to the mouth of the river, where Guernsey & Bushnell commenced mercantile business again. I continued with them as a clerk till 1821. During my clerkship from 1812 to 1821 I was never absent without leave except once. That was in December 1814. I was engaged in the warehouse when the news came that the British had cross the Niagara river and taken Fort Niagara, and advanced into the country as far a Eighteen Mile Creek. I concluded that if my country ever needed my services it was then. I was nineteen years of age.
I immediately went about purchasing, and the same evening at about ten o'clock I left Genesee river with about one week's provision in my knapsack and rifle on my shoulder, steered my course for the Ridge road on foot and alone, and arrived at Parma's Corners next morning. There I met a great number of militiamen going on to meet the enemy.
Frederick Hanford, then public store keeper, hired a team and took in eleven of us and started for Lewiston. The second day we arrived at Hardscrabble, six miles east of Lewiston, on the Ridge, and about eight miles from Fort Niagara, then in possession of British troops. Here we remained about three weeks and numbered about 300 men under arms. We were under the command of Col. John Atchison. We had no fighting to do during my stay. I got rather tired of staying with the army, and I got a pass and returned to Genesee river.
Incidents in Camp
Many amusing incidents occurred while we were in camp at Hardscrabble. One night after we had retired three guns wee fired, the signal for all hands to go to headquarters. We all started quick time for the colonel's quarters, about three-fourths of a mile distant. On getting there we found that the alarm was false.
Soon after getting to rest we were again alarmed and turned out. We were drawn up in line of battle on the Ridge road and expected to do something for our country. Again the alarm proved to be false. By this time it was easy to get up an alarm, and the men were somewhat tired and frightened.
After midnight the camp was again alarmed by the cry that the Indians were upon us. It turned out that our captain gave this alarm in a dream. The room where he slept was dark, and a man lying next to him in getting up had put his hand upon him. The captain sprang up; catching a straw bed on which he was sleeping, he began to shout "The Indians are upon us," and slung his bed right and left before him. We were much relieved to find this came from a dream. This caused much fun, and ours was afterwards known as the "Straw Bed Company."
Commencing Business - The Lake Trade.
In 1821 I began business at Charlotte in connection with J.K. Guernsey, F. Bushnell and T.R. Hawkins. We bought a stock of goods and vessels of Guernsey and Bushnell, and rented warehouses for $400 per year. We established an ashery one mile west of the river. Subsequently we took a store and ashery, at Gaines and did a large business. In 1825, we dissolved the partnership. I sold out my interest at Gaines, and with Messrs. Guernsey, Bushnell and Hawkins established the form of G.C. Latta & Co. at Charlotte. In 1831 I purchased the interest of my parters and continued business. Among the property were the well known schooners General Brown, Julia, Mary Jane, Swallow, and one of about fifty tons, called the Charlotte, built at the mouth of the river in 1828 to run as a packet between the Genesee and Cobourg and Port Hope, in Canada. This was the first packet which ran on that route.
We continued to run the packet across the lake, twice each week, till 1834, when the steamer Transit commenced her trips between Toronto and Genesee river, calling at Port Hope and Cobourg, and since that time till these notes are made, a steamboat has been kept on that route by Mr. Bethune. In 1834 I engaged in business with Henry Benton, late cashier of the Farmers and Mechanics' Bank of Rochester, and continued with him till the fall of 1832, when he retired and Mr. Bushnell took his place.
In 1835 I retired from trade. It was in the winter of 1832 and 1833 that I built the well known schooners Guernsey and Cleveland, which I afterwards sold to Horace Hooker of Rochester. In 1828 I purchased a farm in Greece in a state of nature; having cleared it In 1840 went there to reside. In 1857 I purchased the Lake House of Charlotte and have since resided there."
Mr. Latta was born at Mt. Pleasant near Geneva, April 10, 1795 and died at Charlotte on November 26, 1871. He says in a foot note, "I have always been of the opinion that Charlotte would some day be a place of business, but have now made up my mind that it will not grow during my time, still I think when we get a change of times and a new set of inhabitants that it will grow up and become place of considerable importance."
Speaking of the trade on of Genesee, Mr. Latta says: "As early as 1809 Messrs. Rozell, Lewis & Co.. of Ogdensburgh, built a schooner called the Experiment, to trade between that place and Genesee River. He subsequently built two more schooners, one of which was called the Genesee Packet, and continued to trade between these points till 1812, when war was declared. The vessels were then sold to the government and went into service on the lake."
Shipbuilding on Irondequoit Bay.
"In the winter of 1814 and 1815, Guernsey & Bushnell built, in connection with Oliver Culver, Wm. Davis and F. Hanford, a small vessel in the town of Brighton, near Orange Stone's. two miles from Irondequoit landing, and drew her on wheels with oxen to the landing and launched her at the head of navigation in the bay. In the summer of 1816-17 the vessel was laden with flour and went down the St. Lawrence as far as Montreal, and returned loaded with merchandise.
This vessel, in company with the Swanton, owned by Francis Charton, was the first decked vessel that descended the St. Lawrence as far as Montreal. Some time after that steamers began to run down to Dickinson's landing, and in 1840 they ran through to Montreal and Quebec."
Mr. Latta's diary contains other memoranda for which we have no room. What we have copied is given to be read by those who would know something of this country at an early day. There are still a few of the pioneers living who recollect witnessing some of the events to which Mr. Latta refers.