The Chronicles of Cooperstown

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[by S. M. Shaw 1886]

  There has been an expressed desire on the part of many of the residents of Cooperstown, for several years past, for a new and more complete "History of Cooperstown," than has heretofore been published, the old volume bearing that title being out of print; and since it was issued in 1862 many events of local interest have transpired which should go upon record. In compliance with this general desire and an occasional personal request on the subject, I have undertaken to collate and edit this volume, which is issued a century after the first settlement of Cooperstown; with what degree of success as to meeting the just expectations of my esteemed fellow-citizens of one of the most noted villages in this country, I must leave to their kind judgment. I will only say, I have conscientiously and with much pleasure done the best I could with the material and time at my command, and have preserved for some other writer at a later period, material that otherwise might have been lost.

  Next to Mr. Cooper’s "Chronicles" — which were carried down to 1838 — the most prominent feature of this book is the appreciative tribute which the late Hon. Isaac N. Arnold of Chicago, formerly of Cooperstown, paid to the memory of Mr. Cooper in an Essay which first appeared in the Freeman’s Journal in 1884. He had a few copies of the same, illustrated by a number of photographic views, printed in pamphlet form. This tribute of a scholarly and well-known author and admiring personal friend of Mr. Cooper, has been sought for by literary writers and publishers in different parts of the country, by some of whom it is esteemed the best essay ever written on America s most noted Novelist and naval Historian. S. M. S. ≈ 5


  It is doubtful whether any white man ever visited the shores of this beautiful inland lake previous to the year 1737 — nearly a century and a half ago — at which time it was the favorite resort of the red man. In 1737, Cadwallader Colden, surveyor-general, in his report to the Hon. George Clarke, lieutenant-governor of the province of New York, made this statement: "At 50 miles from Albany, the land carriage from the Mohawk river to a lake, from whence the northern branch of the Susquehanna takes its rise, does not exceed 14 miles. Goods may be carried from this lake in battoes or fiat-bottomed vessels, through Pennsylvania, to Maryland and Virginia, the current of the river running everywhere easy."

  In 1753 the Rev. Gideon Hawley — ordained a Missionary to the Indians, in the Old South meeting house [of Boston,] when the Rev. Dr. Sewall preached on the occasion — journeyed as far as here, and left on record this memorandum: "May 31st. We met with difficulty about getting a canoe, and sent an Indian into the woods to get ready a bark, but he made small progress. In the afternoon came from Otsego lake, which is the source of this stream" — the Susquehanna. It is probable that other christian Missionaries made the same journey at a later period, to this part of the territory of the Six Nations.

  What was long known as the "Bowers Patent," in Middlefleld, was originally owned by John R. Myer, of the city of New York. His daughter married henry Bowers, who was the father of John M. Bowers, and who inherited the large tract of land which subsequently bore his name. John Nichols was the first settler who lived on this patent, in a little house which stood near the river on ‘the Lakelands." He leased a tract of land, and made the first clearing on this patent. It was at his house that Mr. Henry Bowers and his wife first lodged. Nichols’ log house was burned in 1802, at the time the timber was burned which was being kiln-dried for the construction of the mansion of Mr. Bowers, who had that day left for Albany. ≈ 6

  In 1791, when Cooperstown had hut few dwellings, Mr. Henry Bowers caused to be laid out and surveyed by Philip R. Frey, the proposed village of "Bowerstown," which extended from the Susquehanna river to the base of the hill on the east, and from the Lake to a point about 950 feet south thereof. The map of this projected village, now in the possession of Mr. H. J. Bowers, shows that this plat of land — now represented by "the Lakelands" and 350 feet south of the road which forms its southern boundary — was laid out in 82 building lots, nearly all of them 50x130 feet, and in a building lot 200x260 feet for the "Manor Square" on which Mr. Bowers proposed to build, and being part of "the Lakelands," near the Lake and River. "Division street" was to be "as wide as Cooper’s street," and started from the eastern termination of our present Main street. "Bridge street" was the northern boundary. and terminated on the west at the first bridge built across the Susquehanna. "Water," "Myer" and "Washington" streets ran north and south through the village. "Otsego" street ran from a point on Bridge street north, near the Lake, where the present owner of "the Lakelands" has constructed an avenue. Later on, Mr. Bowers probably changed his plans, for we do not learn that these "village lots" were ever put upon the market. It is a pity that "Cooperstown" was not originally as well laid out as "Bowerstown." The former will probably ere long cross the river, by legislative enactment, and embrace within its corporate limits all of the former, and a tract of land lying east and south of it.

  A saw mill was built by Robt Riddle, on Bowers patent, on Red Creek, in 1791, being the first saw mill in this part of the country, and one has been maintained there until now. This locality, now embracing a number of dwellings, school house, mission church, and the mills, has lone been locally known as "Bowerstown."

  In 1783, a little more than a century ago, camee Gen. Washington, as is mentioned in the "Chronicles," who said in his published letter: "I then traversed the country to the head of the eastern branch of the Susquehanna, and viewed the lake Otsego."

  When the Editor of this book came here in 1851, he had the pleasure of meeting two venerable ladies who had been well acquainted with General Washington, and who had met him in society with other Revolutionary celebrities and chiefs — Mrs. Wilson, whose father was at one time on Gen. Washington’s staff, and her daughter Mrs. Bowers. We often listened with great pleasure to the personal reminiscences of the latter of Washington, Lafayette, Baron Steuben, and other patriots of the Revolution. Mrs. Bowers had a most remarkably retentive memory and a thoroughly-disciplined and well-educated mind; hence she was a delightful conversationalist. ≈ 7

  After the power of the Six Nations had been broken in the Mohawk valley, and the warlike tribe which gave its name to that locality had been driven further west, the great Indian Confederacy still held sway about Otsego Lake and along the whole distance of the Susquehanna valley, and west to Canada. The Tories and British were constantly inciting them to deeds of violence. The Cherry Valley Massacre occurred in November, 1778. The following year the government determined if possible to deal a death-blow to the power of the Six Nations, and it was in the summer of 1779 that Gen. Clinton, commanding one wing of the army sent against them, marched from Canajoharie through an unbroken wilderness to the head of Otsego Lake, carrying with him 220 boats and three months’ provisions. His command consisted of about 1,500 troops, and they reached the present site of Cooperstown, July 1. During their stay of several weeks, awaiting the more tardy operations of Gen. Sullivan, whose column had advanced from Wyoming on Tioga, Gen. Clinton employed his men in building the dam spoken of in the "Chronicles." When the water was high enough to answer his purpose, he embarked his army, broke away the dam, and was soon carried by the accumulated waters to the point where he joined Sullivan, near Tioga, August 22d. The battle which followed, in which the Indian Chief Joseph Brant and his Tory and British allies were routed after an obstinate conflict, with great loss to their combined forces, ended the prestige and almost destroyed the power of the Six Nations in this part of the country; and from that day their supremacy, which had at one time extended across the continent, rapidly faded away. Otsego had suffered its last Indian incursion; and from that time forward only occasionally a few straggling Indians were seen in the cabins of its white settlers.

At this point we introduce Mr. Cooper’s record of local events, extending from 1785 to 1838: ≈ 8



    It is always desirable to possess authentic annals. The peculiar nature of American history, which commences in an enlightened age, renders that which is so desirable, in our case, practicable, and, with a view that posterity may know the leading facts connected with the origin and settlement of the village of Cooperstown, and that even the present generation may be set right in some important particulars concerning which erroneous notions now prevail, as well as possess a convenieiit book of reference, the folldwing little work has been written.

    This book has been compiled with care, by consulting authentic public records, private documents, more especially those in possession of the Cooper family, and living witnesses, whose memories and representations might be confided in. It is hoped no error has been admitted into its pages, and it is believed no essential mistake can be pointed out. Where the compilers have not found good reasons to credit their evidence, they have proceeded with caution, and made their statements with due reserve.

    A work of this character can not have a very extensive interest, but it is thought it will have some with a county in which its subject composes the seat of justice; and by those whose fathers were active in converting the wilderness around about us, into its present picture of comfort and civilization, no records of this nature can be regarded with indifference.

    The love of particular places, such as the spots in which we were born, or have passed our lives, contributes to sustain all the affections, and to render us better citizens and better men. This love is strengthened and increased by familiarity with events, and as time throws its interest around the past, reverence and recollections add their influence to that of the natural ties. With a view to aid these sentiments, also have our little labors been conducted. If those who come after the compilers of the Chronicles of Cooperstown, should do as much in their generation, they who inhabit the place a century hence, will, beyond question, be ready to acknowledge that in one essential duty they were not forgotten by their predecessors. In the early annals of this place there was a disposition, as in all new countries, to exaggerate its growth and various printed notices exist, by which its origin is stated to be several years too recent. These errors, as well as several connected with deaths, &c., that exist even in the church registers, and other official documents, have been carefully corrected in this book. In this respect, it is thought no more authentic accounts of the several subjects can be found. ≈ 9

Introduction, Ch. I, Ch. II, Ch. III, Ch. IV, Ch. V, Ch. VI, Ch. VII