THE PIONEERS OF NEWPORT
Whence and How Came They
The passages below were transcribed in 1997 by volunteer Joan Veeder from the Historical Article, Prepared and Read by George Lorenzo Johnson of Ilion, N.Y., on the Occasion of the Celebration of the Centennial of the Town of Newport, 1906. Unusual spellings and punctuation have been maintained from the original speech.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and old neighbors:
My school education was finished here, in the winter of 1848, in the basement of the Baptist Church.
To a great extent Newport always seems like home to me. My boyhood being spent here, the recollections of that period are not effaced, in a little travel between the Atlantic and the Rockies, I have not found a more pleasant spot than this valley.
Sir William Johnson, in his petition for the Royal Grant gave the Indians names as De-Yosh-ta-vaeon.
Prof. J. W. Taylor, of Poland, about 1860, brought out the name of Kuoyahoora.
I have wondered where he got that.
My father grew up to manhood on my grandfather Johnson's farm, which has been Henry W. Dexter's for the last fifty or more years. Grand-father being quite aged, when I was seven years old, my father went there to manage the farm a couple of years, 1834-5. North of that corner about half a mile on Mill Creek, was and is now the little hamlet, known as the "Old City," on the town line, a little of it in Newport, but mostly in Fairfield.
Grandfather once said that "before the Bowens got started at Newport the "city was quite a place of business." It had several mills, a grist mill, saw mill, wool carding, fulling, dyeing and cloth dressing mill, a tannery, potashery, hotels, store mechanic shops, etc. The grist mill, carding and fulling mill, I saw in operation as late as 1836 or 1837. The saw mill was dilapidated at that time. In 1895-6 I started out to learn by whom and when, the first mill was built there. I did not entirely succeed, but I did succeed in learning who the first settlers and builders of mills at Newport were; and the first roads to the place.
The Pioneers of Newport came across the Royal Grant, from Newport R. I., stopping a while on the way in what is now Fairfield. Christopher Hawkins came first, in 1786, and commenced a settlement in what is now Norway. Discovering his mistake, he abandoned that location and then waited awhile. The deeds of land on the east side of the West Canada, refer to lot No. so and so, in the second or third allotment of the Royal Grant. There were four allotments of it. How many of the owners know all about that? The oldest deeds of land in the "Old City" refer to the escheat and forfeiture of Sir John Johnson.
General William Johnson, the father of Sir John, fought the battle of Lake George in 1755, taking the French commander, Dieskau, prisoner mortally wounded. His men fled and the colonists called it a great victory. Johnson, in honor of his soverign King George named the lake, George, and the affair passed into history as the battle of Lake George. As his reward, Johnson received his title of Baronet, a grant of $5,000, sterling, a promotion to Major General in the British army; also appointment of Indian Agent with a salary of $2,500. Henceforth he was known as Sir William and lived in true baronial style.
He continued service to the King through the French War. In March, 1761, he petitioned for this Grant. King George personally signed it, affixing the sign manual and Great Royal Seal of the British Empire, hence the title Royal. It has been said that there was no other case like it. The King did not make a practice of signing grants for individuals, and he placed this endorsement upon it: "This Grant is in consideration of the faithful service rendered unto us by the said William Johnson, the grantees yielding and paying two beaver skins, to be delivered at our castle of Windsor on the first day of January every year."
The Royal Grant is all that tract of land, not previously appropriated, north of the Mohawk river and between the two creeks, east and west Canada, up to the line of Jerseyfield, which line starts at the East creek in the village of Devereux and runs north-westerly by the village of Gray, crossing the West Canada above Hinckley, thence down the west bank of the West Canada, to the Mohawk river, containing about 100,000 acres.
There was Glenn's Purchase 1734, of about 25,000 acres with the little hamlet of Eatonville about in the centre of it, and a few lots of Burnetsfield on the north side of the Mohawk that had been patented.
Sir William in his will devised this grant to his children, Sir John, sons-in-law, and other children, enjoining that none of it should ever be alienated, but the provisions of the will were never carried out.
All of Newport on the east side of the West Canada is on the Royal Grant, the west side is on Hassenclever, and Walton's patent. Peter Hassenclever in 1769, obtained a patent on 18,000 acres running northerly from the present Herkimer and Schuyler over the range at an altitude in Newport of over 1600 ft.
Until 1772, this part of the State was all Albany county. Sir William had founded Johnstown, and built his second and last mansion - Johnson Hall, was instrumental in getting the county divided and a new county set up, with the county set at his new town of Johnstown.
Governor Tryon, with his Lady, visited Sir William at Johnson Hall, and were right royally entertained. In honor of the Governor, the new county was named Tryon. Sir William died in 1774. In 1775 war clouds were gathering and in 1776 the war of the American Revolution was on.
The Johnson family were loyal to the King. Sir John, the sons-in-law and others remained loyalists, Tories they were called; and to save themselves escaped to Canada, but did not cease annoying and distressing the people here in the Valley. Gov. Tryon was also loyal to the King. He was admired and idolized by the tories, and thoroughly hated by the patriots, "Sons of Liberty."
On the 22nd of Oct., 1779, our State Legislature passed the attainer act, escheating and forfeiting the estates and properties of the Johnson families, and other Tories, and this Royal Grant, with the rest of the estate, was confiscated.
Our State Legislature on the 2nd of April, 1784, had stricken from the statute book, the name of the great county of Tryon, which was all the state west of a north and south line near Hoffman and Ferry, east of Amsterdam, and north to the St. Lawrence river, and the honored name of him who fell at Quebec, Montgomery, was inserted in its place.
During the war of the Revolution our State had contracted a great debt amounting to $10,000,000. It was an enormous sum for those times, four dollars or over per capita. To get some relief, our government considered selling the forfeited estates of the Tory." Commissioners of Forfeiture" were appointed, lands surveyed and put upon the market. A few lots of this Royal Grant were sold that fall, 1784.
The next spring, 1785, people from New England began to come, Chatfield and Mann being about the earliest. They settled in what is now Fairfield. In 1786; several others came, among whom was Christopher Hawkins, before mentioned.
This Royal Grant was an inviting field of good soil at low price, about two dollars and fifty cents per acre. The people from New England soon found it out.
John Bucklin, Benj. Bowen and two brothers, William and Ephraim, and David Benchley, all from Newport, R. I., came in 1787, and many others from other States came, all stopping in what is now Fairfield.
In July 1786, Daniel Campbell of the City of New York purchased of the Commissioners of Forfeiture, the tract whereon Newport village now is.
In 1788-9 the Bowens, before mentioned, purchased of Mr. Campbell, the water power and land for the village. In 1788, the town of Herkimer was organized. This was then town of Herkimer, Montgomery county.
In 1790, a Mr. Lawton made a small clearing and put up a log cabin on what has been known for 100 years as the Hawkins farm, east of the village, which he later abandoned.
In February, 1791, by legislative action, Montgomery, county was divided, and this western part organized as Herkimer county. It then had a wide extant. Montgomery had extended to the western bounds of the State, as established by treaty with the Indians at Fort Stanwix (now Rome) in 1768, which boundary was only a little west of that, but in 1788, by another treaty, at the same place, the Indians ceded 8,000,000 acres of land west of that, and Ontario county had been organized. So Herkimer extended from Montgomery to Ontario, and west to Lake Ontario and the river St. Lawrence, containing territory that has made ten or eleven whole counties and parts of others.
The town of Herkimer had extended to the northern boundery of the State. Norway was organized from the northern part of Herkimer in 1791. At that early date there were no established public roads west of Schenectady. As late as 1788, a gentleman, Mr. Elkana Watson, of Providence, R.I., travelling on horseback through the Mohawk valley, kept a diary and wrote in it in reference to the road, "at the division lines of farms and fields, there were gates to be opened and shut by the traveller, but there were no fences at the side of the travelled road."
He was on his way to the great council and treaty at Fort Stanwix, in September 1788. He was a promoter of the first canal enterprise, 1792-95.
The first Stage that carried mail from Albany west to Schenectady, Johnstown and Canajoharie, was first used in 1790, and made trips once each week. In 1792, the route was extended to Fort Plain, Old Fort Schuyler (Utica) and Whitestown, (Whitesboro).
The question of opening a road from the Mohawk valley in the Palatine district across the Royal Grant in the direction of the Black River had been agitated, and in 1790 the State Legislature voted an appropriation to build a bridge over the East Canada creek, three miles from its mouth, but nothing more was done about it. In 1800, the Mohawk Turnpike was charted, and soon thereafter, arrangements were made to open the State road from Johnstown, north-westerly across the Royal Grant, which fixed the location of Salisbury, Norway, Cold Brook and Russia.
The Palatine settlements from 1725; were in a narrow strip along the Mohawk, about four miles wide, and extending as far west as Frankfort.
The Mohawk river had been their thorofare and commercial highway. Batteaux were used, which were a long, pointed, flat bottomed boat, that would carry from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds, according to the water supply.
In the meantime the Pioneers kept coming, more and more every year. In summer time they could come by boat to the "Little Carry," (Little Falls) and from there up into Fairfield quite conveniently.
A man with his axe and a pack of provisions obtained from the Palatine in the valley, would find his lot for a home, chop a small clearing, burn it off in the fall, making it ready for spring planting, put up a cabin and return for his family; then when there was snow and the streams were well bridged with ice, his family and household goods, were loaded into a huge sled with a yoke of oxen for a team, and away they would go for the "Land of Promise." In Munsell's County of Albany, page 310, it is recorded that twelve hundred sleigh passed through Albany in three days, in the winter of 1795, with emigrants going west.
In the fall of 1791, Christopher Hawkins found the little clearing and cabin, abandoned by Lawton, before mentioned, and took it for permanent settlement, obtaining title through Mr. Vischer of the Commissioners of Forfeiture, That was the first permanent settlement now known to have been made in the present town of Newport.
In the spring of 1792, Hawkins erected for the Bowen's upon their property a small house, and Benjamin Bowen settled himself there the same year, and the next year built a dam and saw mill, and a year later, 1794, a grist mill.
The record books of Herkimer county from its organization in 1791, to the organization of Oneida county in 1798 were left at Whitestown (now Whitesboro). Those books are now in the Oneida county clerk's office in Utica. The books opened at Herkimer in 1798 were burned in a disastrous fire in March, 1804. The earliest records now kept in the county clerk's office at Herkimer, commence in March 1804. I failed to find any records of use to me in regard to the "Old City." I then found your late neighbor and fellow citizen, Sherman Wooster, who was a living record book. I had known him for years and he remembered me.
He was sitting on his pleasant piazza on a fine day, apparently in good health and bright memory, although about 90 years of age. He said "yes, I know Christopher Hawkins well. I didn't like school and my father, (Judge Sherman Wooster) said I should work. I worked for Hawkins, and he told me many things about the early days of Newport. I have been in that house he built for Bowen many times. It was of sawed lumber, got at the "Old City" and hauled over "Woodchuck hill," on that old first road from Joe Spellman's on White Creek. The Bowen house was the central rear part of that great Waterman mansion on the hill. It was not large, but had a great kitchen and large fire place having room to roll in great logs and pile on long wood in front, as was then the fashion or custom. When he (Hawkins) had raised some grain, to get it ground for food, he put sack of it on the back of a gentle ox and took it over the same "Woodchuck Hill," through the woods to the grist mill at "Old City," for grinding."
"There were four houses on that road between Hawkins' and White Creek, Stephen Hawkins, Christopher's brother, Messrs. Vischer, Potter and Post. Post was a brother of Dan and Nathaniel, whose farms all joined White Creek. They were from White Creek, Washington County, this State."
That ended my interesting and valuable interview with Mr. Wooster. He had given me information not obtainable in any other way. It was the next best thing to getting it direct from Christopher Hawkins himself; he had revived, confirmed and added to what I had learned when a boy, he had settled the point for me as to the mills at the Old City that were there and doing business before 1792.
I had lived near neighbor to Dan and Nathaniel Post some ten years and always supposed they came from Connecticut, and still think they did originally.
The Post house was near the bridge at the crossing of White Creek. The barn, a little farther back in the meadow, is there yet, or was not long ago.
I have a sister that was born in that Post house in 1830. That was the only one of the four I saw.
I was the cow boy on that farm many years, and knew where all the others had been, by the stone remaining from the fire place and chimney, pit of cellar, and some apple trees near by.
The road ran on a ridge in the middle of the pasture and meadow next to the Hawkins farm. We drew hay from that meadow, and apples down the hill eastward.
The road had been closed to the public some time.
In 1795, Joseph Benchley removed from Fairfield to Newport. Between this time and 1798 William Wakely, Mr. Burton, Stephen Hawkins, brother of Christopher, Geo. Cook, Nahum Daniels, Edward Coffin, John Nelson, John J. Green, John Churchill, Geo. Fenner, and Wm. Whipple made permanent locations in the town. These families were from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
Mr. Wakely kept the first tavern and Geo. Cook the first store. Coffin, Green, Nelson, Churchill and others purchased land on the west side of the creek, in Walton's patent.
As Newport advanced in population and wealth, a better and more direct road was needed from the east. All roads had been leading to the "Old City."
The line from grandfathers (now Dexter's) corner was opened thorough Middleville and Easton's Bush to Little Falls.
Middleville got its name in 1808, a bridge over the West Canada from Fairfield in 1810, a Postoffice and weekly mail in 1816. It is probable that Newport did not do any better than that and also got its Postoffice and weekly mail in 1816.
From the corner before mentioned a road was then opened westward across Mill Creek near its mouth and on across White Creek near its mouth to the slip bank at the West Canada, then a dug-way had to be cut along the slip bank and then continued on to Newport as the road now is. That slip bank was troublesome in the spring time of the year, or after heavy rains, as it would slide and block the road; so much so that another road was cut over the hill farther east. That proved so bad that in 1825, the people of Newport set to work in good earnest to open the dug-way road again, which they did. "I was then sixteen years old and worked there, holding the road scraper after the ploughs." said Sherman Wooster.
Dr. Westel Willoughby was one of the early settlers of Newport. He came on to the Royal Grant in 1792, at twenty three years of age, and settled about two miles away on the hills north-east of Norway village; a rough old country for a young man of his education and ability. The Bowen's were then just getting started here; he soon discovered his mistake, and coming here, some time before 1806 secured for his home one of the finest spots in America. It included that fine park in which has been those fine villa homes of Perry and Sweezey. The land extended north-westerly crossing the hollow in which is that little creek and extending beyond that cottage which Linus Yale, Jr., built and lived in; and on the opposite side of the road from that was the doctor's little farm, extending some distance out. The doctor's house, as I remember it, stood near where Stuart Perry had his, now W. D. Grant's. It was moved up the street towards Norway, to make a home for Deacon Isaac Smith, who retired from his farm in Norway; and the house is there now nearly a century old, easily recognized by that semi-circular work on the front. The doctor's office was on the corner, opposite his house, where now stands the octagon stone house built by Ira L. Cady, a son-in-law of Linus Yale. The Doctor's little farm extended both ways from that corner, east and north. The doctor came here in time to assist in organizing the town.
At the first election in 1807, Dr. Westel Willoughby was the moderator; (Chairman) Christopher Hawkins was chosen supervisor and Phineas Sherman, town clerk.
The doctor was a man of fine education, ability, commanding personality and a useful citizen in the town and county for 40 years; easily the first citizen of the place. Besides having a large practice in the valley, he was one of the promoters and organizers of the Medical College at Fairfield, and was one of the professors 25 years, and president of the same institution for many years, which was one of the first Medical Colleges in the state. He was Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1805, a member of the Assembly in 1807 to 1821, on the Medical staff of the county in the war of 1812 at Sackets Harbor; and member of Congress in 1814.
I used to see him in the years 1836 to 1844. He died in the year 1844, at 75 years of age.
At this point I must close my paper, as I presume I have over run my allotted time and possibly may have wearied some. If I have entertained any I am thankful.
I have endeavered to show how and why Newport was settled and also where the settlers came from, thinking that on this occasion--the Centennial of the birth of this bustling village--it might interest many to have a clearer understanding of these things.
I wish to thank you for your kind attention and would express a hope that this town which first began its existence one hundred years ago, may continue to increase and in a larger measure enjoy the prosperity which has followed it thus far.
If you enjoyed this material you'll probably like Jane Raynore's Memoirs of Old Fairfield, a 4-part serialized book covering some of the same geographic area and old families. George L. Johnson's speech was reprinted in A Glimpse in Passing: Newport N.Y., 1791 - 1991.
Last Updated: 11/14/97
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