Read Before The
HERKIMER COUNTY HISTORICAL
During The Years
1896, 1897, AND 1898
Compiled by Arthur T. Smith
Secretary of the Society.
Herkimer and Ilion, N. Y.
Citizen Publishing Company, Publishers
FRAGMENTS OF NORWAY'S EARLY HISTORY.
An Address by Fred Smith, of Norway
Delivered before the Herkimer County Historical Society, May 14, 1898.
The town of Norway was organized April 10, 1792, by an act of the legislature. Its original boundaries included the towns of Fairfield, Russia, Ohio, Wilmurt, and Webb and that portion of Newport lying easterly of the west Canada Creek, in Herkimer county; portions of Oneida, Lewis and Clinton counties, all of Hamilton and the most of St. Lawrence. About 36 towns are now located within its former limits. Fairfield was taken off in 1796, Remsen in 1798, Russia as Union, and part of Newport in 1806, and Ohio as West Brunswick in 1823. No boundary changes have since occurred.
The "greater" Norway of 1792, was about 125 miles in length, with an average width of 50 miles, the "lesser" Norway of the past 75 years is scarce 6 miles square; of the town as now constituted, its early settlement and pioneers we shall only write.
The surface is elevated and rolling. A broad plateau of high land extends from southeast to northwest through the centre, from which numerous trout brooks flow northward and eastward to Black and Spruce creeks and southward and westward to White creek. No town in the county is better watered. Before settlement, and unbroken forest of splendid timber, mostly hard wood, with a generous border of hemlock along the streams and a border of spruce, balsam and cedar on eastern and northern bounds covered the whole territory.
The first attempt to settle was made in the year 1786, by a Mr. Whipple and Hawkins from Rhode Island, on the farm recently owned by Munson Bunnell. After erecting a log shanty and making a small clearing, they found they had located on the wrong lot and abandoned their enterprise. The next year, 1787, witnessed the first permanent settlement. It was made by Fisher, Jeremiah Jr. and Angel Potter of Rhode Island, all young unmarried men. Their sisters Mary and Sarah, accompanied them. They leased lot No. 4 of the third allotment of the Royal Grant, containing 300 acres, for a period of 21 years, with the privilege of purchase at the expiration of that time for $2.50 an acre. They built their log cabin near the southeast corner of said lot, about three fourths of a mile directly north of Norway village. Their first year in the wilderness was a trying time. The nearest neighbors were seven miles distant. Their stock of provisions ran short. Forest game supplied in part their pressing wants. Their parents came from Rhode Island, in April, 1788.
Before 1790 Thomas Manley came from Vermont in company with David Underhill, a cousin. They located a mile south of Norway village. John, Amos and Andrew Coe Jr. and Captain David Hinman came from Southbury, Conn., 1789 and settled a short distance northerly of the village. The Manley and Coe families were important factors in the town's early history.
Marvelous accounts of the fertile soil, healthy climate and cheap lands of the Royal Grant spread through New England and eastern New York, and resulted in a large emigration of desirable settlers between the years 1790 and 1800. The dread of that bane, fever and ague, was unknown on our healthy hills. A few of the prominent settlers after 1790, were Henry Tillinghast, Sylvanus Ferris, Edward Henderson, Henry G. Gardiner and George W. and William H. Cook. Noah Smith, great grandfather of Judge George W. Smith of Herkimer, was a resident of the Hurricane district. Josiah and Dudley Smith were the pioneer settlers on the land on which Norway village is built. In 1794 they bought lot No. 31, of the second allotment of the Royal Grant, containing 200 acres, of Peter I. Vosburgh of Kinderhook, N. Y., agreeing to pay $650 for the same. The deed states that the grantor received title June 1, 1785, of Jeremiah VanRensealaer and Henry Oothoudt, commissioners appointed by the state to sell the forfeited estates of the Johnsons. The north and south road through our village divided the lot in equal parts, Josiah taking the east and Dudley the west lot. They little thought that the flourishing (?) village of Norway would be built on their purchase. By common consent the location of Cook's store, half a mile north, was expected to be the future village of the town, but the partial failure of the Cooks, and the laying out of the State Road in 1806 changed the program.
The largest board of supervisors that ever convened in the county, the number being 24, met in 1797. In point of population and taxes, Norway was the eighth town of the number. Oneida county was formed in 1798 and Herkimer county reduced to eight towns. In 1799, this town was second in valuation and taxes, Herkimer being first. At the beginning of the present century over three-fourths of the town was thickly dotted over with clearings and log houses. Cutting off the splendid forests was the main business of those days. By night the fires and by day the smoke could be seen from a hundred choppings. The air was full of the music of ringing axes, the crash of falling timber and the tinkle of sheep and cow bells. The log houses resounded with the melody of wheels and loom, and the merry prattle of children, for babies were in style in the days of yore. The census of 1800 found 1,003 inhabitants, of which more than 900 resided within the present town limits. Of this number, over 500 were less than 16 years of age and only 65 over the age of 45. Included in the list were three slaves, George W. Cook, Josiah Curtiss and Josiah Smith owning one each. Norway slavery was probably of a very mild type.
Thomas Manley was the first supervisor within present town limits; chosen in 1797, and the two following years. He held this office in all for nine years and many other positions of trust and honor. He became a recognized leader of the Federal party in town. Manley had a fair education for the times and sufficient quiet energy to insure success in the farming line. He was rather large in stature, sedate and dignified in appearance and intercourse; from these traits, some have likened him in demeanor to Washington. His townsmen had the utmost confidence in his integrity and wisdom.
Henry Tillinghast came from Dorset, Vt., to Norway in the fall of 1794. He was a native of Rhode Island. He was a man of good sense, correct habits, of sterling integrity, untiring industry, strict economy and positive energy. He was direct and impulsive in style, bordering on rudeness in business transactions. Politically, he was an ardent democrat and in addition to minor offices, held the position of supervisor for 15 years. In the board of supervisors he was so persistent in having extravagant bills cut down, that he was named by his brother supervisors the "Old Docking Machine." Would that there were more of this kind of machine politicians at the present time. His business was divided between farming and quite an extensive tannery for early days, and in both he was quite successful. Two years after coming to town he married Miss Sarah Dyer of Vermont, and reared a family of ten children to mature years. Perhaps no family identified with our early history in social, political and religious matters occupied so prominent a position for 50 years after 1795, as that of Henry Tillinghast.
Sylvanus Ferris came from Westchester county in 1798 and bought 110 acres, a part of the farm now owned by Supervisor Smith. The purchase price was $6 an acre. The avails of his potash industry soon paid for the land. Other farms were purchased and in 1824 he was the owner of about 700 acres. He was a man of ability, and success attended all of his business, including the buying and selling of country produce. For many years he was a partner with Robert Nesbitt in the butter and cheese trade. He gave each of his sons a farm when they married. In 1836 he induced his sons to sell their farms and with five of them, removed to Galesburg, Ill., and located on government land there, he giving each of his sons a section of land. The change was extremely fortunate in a money sense. The Ferris family were originally from Connecticut. The youngest son of Sylvanus, George W. G., recently died in California. This enterprising family had crossed the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, before the day of railroads. Ferris of World's Fair wheel notoriety was a grandson of the subject of this sketch.
No lawyer ever resided in Norway, but several able pettifoggers in justice courts flourished. Among the number was John Coe and Ira Coe, his nephew, and Daniel C. Henderson, grandfather of the somewhat honest Herkimer attorney, Hon. John Dryden Henderson. Of the early history of this vicinity no man was as conversant as Daniel C. Henderson, and to him we are indebted for many historical facts. Of large stature, commanding presence and superior social qualities, he was a born leader in political and local affairs.
The town has been represented eleven years in the assembly department of the state legislature as follows:
Thomas Manley in 1799, 1809, 1820.
The last Tillinghast named were sons of Henry Tillinghast.
In 1802 Wm. H. Cook was appointed sheriff and held office four years.
Nicoll Fosdick was elected presidential elector in 1816. He was a native of New London, Connecticut; a scholarly, dignified man, and a relative of our old time merchant, Frederick Mason, with whom he resided.
This town has been favored with official political honors in the past, and is ready and willing for further service.
Westel Willoughby was the first doctor. He located on the hills some two miles north-east of the village in 1792.
Amos Coe and Thomas Brayton in 1793 opened taverns.
Capt. David Hinman built a saw mill on Sulpher Spring brook and Carpenter Cole a grist mill near ex-Supervisor Comstock's the same year.
The first prominent merchants were W. H. and Geo. W. Cook. They came from Dutchess county in 1793 with capital and enterprise and located one-half mile north of our present village. Cook's store was the rallying point for all town business for some fifteen years thereafter.
Frederick Mason bought out Cooper & Sanford and opened a store in our village in 1816 and continued business until about 1840. Charles Bradley built the store now occupied by J. H. Bliss in 1816 and was a prominent merchant here for nine years after. He died suddenly in 1825. Within the memory of persons now living, more mercantile business was done at Norway Corners than in the villages of Cold Brook, Poland and Middleville combined.
The first school was taught by Janette Henderson in 1793. In 1806 Phebe Smith taught in the Barnes district near Byron Comstock's boarding around and receiving a $1 a week payable in any kind of farm produce at the close of the year.
Arnold Willoughby was a noted wheel maker at the beginning of the century, supplying this section of country with wool and flax wheels.
Several cheese box shops flourished in former years. Now we have no manufacturing interests and no prospects of any in the future save cheese factories.
Within town bounds we can point out the deserted sites of one distillery, three grist mills, three wool carding mils, six saw mills and ten tanneries.
Josiah Smith opened the first tavern in Norway village in 1806, the year that the state road was laid out.
Our first and only postoffice was established in 1813 with Josiah Smith, postmaster. The mail route for 30 years was over the state road from Johnstown to Trenton.
The census of 1825 showed a population of 1,168, greater than at any future enumeration. The number today would not exceed 850. At the last census in 1890 it was 817. In these times of debt, doubt and depression, it is not likely to increase.
The first religious meetings were held in 1792. Presbyterian and Methodist societies were formed previous to 1800. The first Methodist church in the county was built in 1808 a mile and a half east of Norway village on the Jerseyfield road. This road, extending from the Mohawk river due north to the Jerseyfield patent, was thickly settled and a number of the families were prominent Methodists. The old Union church at the village was built in 1814 and used by all denominations, except Methodists, until 1831. At least half the settlers prior to 1800 were natives of Rhode Island and Baptist in sentiment. The Norway Baptists became members of the Newport church. In 1829 a Baptist society was formed in town and their church built in 1831. The prominent members of the early Baptists here were, Osee Bronson, Christopher Cadman and Samuel Western and families. The Episcopalians organized a church in 1819. For a time it was quite strong in membership, but was discontinued over twenty years since. The Presbyterians were the strong denomination of former days. Their organization was abandoned some fifty years ago. The Free Will Baptists at one time had quite a society, long since out of existence. The M. E. church at the village was built in 1838 at Black Creek the same year. The first Catholic came to town in 1842; they now constitute one-fourth of our population and materially lessen attendance at the Protestant churches.
Noted religious revivals occurred in 1830 conducted by Rev. Augustus Littlejohn in the Presbyterian church, and in 1834 at the Baptist church conducted by the Rev. Jacob Knapp. These old time religious excitements were called protracted meetings.
The early settlers soon found that our stony uneven service was poorly adapted for grain raising, with Albany for our nearest market. Our soil is adapted to grazing. Some of the New England emigrants brought the art of cheese making with them. Several small dairies of from six to ten cows were established before 1810.
Colonel Jared Thayer, a native of Berkshire County, Mass., was our pioneer cheese dairyman. About the year 1812 he had a dairy numbering 20 cows, the first of that size in the county or state. It was located on Dairy Hill on the farm owned by W. P. VanVechten. Before 1830 cheese dairying became universal and this town in entitled to the credit of being the pioneer town that gave Herkimer county cheese a reputation in former years. Ferris & Nesbitt were the first buyers, followed by Harry Burwell. The first cheese factory was erected in 1864; there are now seven in town.
Our ancestors endured privation, but their poverty was hopeful. They were self supporting. Their fields furnished wheat and flax, their flocks and herds, wool, meat and leather; their trees, maple sugar. Our hatters, tailors, coopers and shoemakers made us comparatively independent of the outside world. Every home was a manufacturing factory; in the year 1824 over 16,000 yards of home made cloth was produced. Winter work of threshing and flax dressing was in demand. Taxation was light and politicians honest. The curse of vote buying and selling was unknown. The effeminate luxuries of these days did not prevail. The years of our greatest prosperity extended from 1800 to 1850.
Now how different; we are dependent on bob veals, the store and cheese factory. Not a bushel of wheat is raised or a yard of cloth made. We are staying in the world without a doctor, shoemaker or tailor. Who will blame us for feeling pessimistic as we think and write of former days.
This crude sketch of our history refers mainly to events prior to 1840. Let other historians tell of later ones.
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