The Chronicles of Cooperstown/Chapter II

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CHAPTER II.
FROM 1780 to 1799.
————

  In addition to the abortive attempt at a settlement by Mr. Hartwick, on the present site of the village, between the year 1761 and 1770, Col. Croghan, with his family, resided for a short time on this spot. Appended to one of the deeds of George Croghan to Joseph Wharton, is a map purporting to show the improvements of the latter, at the foot of lake Otsego, but it is supposed that this map was made for effect, as all accounts agree in stating that in 1785, the improvements were very insignificant, consisting of the remains of a few log fences, a clearing away of underbrush, with felled and girdled trees. The block-house mentioned was the only building standing, and the place had been abandoned for years.

Mr Cooper commenced the settlement of his tract in the winter of 1786, many families coming in before the snow had melted. Deeds were given to Israel Guild and several others, who established themselves on spots that are now within the limits of the village, in the summer of that year. This was as farmers, however, rather than as villagers, it being the intention of Mr. Cooper, the proprietor who had the entire control of the property, and who so soon purchased the right of his associate that the connection of the latter with the place never was of any moment, to lay out the village plot in a line extending north and south, instead of in the direction it has actually taken.

  In June, 1786, John Miller, now the oldest living inhabitant of the village, as regards residence, arrived at this place, accompanied by his father. They reached the banks of the river at the outlet, where Mr. Miller felled a large pine across the stream to answer the purposes of a bridge. The stump of this tree is still to be seen, within the grounds of Lakelands, and it is marked, in white paint, with the words Bridge tree. At that time most of the dam of Clinton was still remaining.

  When Mr. Miller arrived, a widow of the name of Johnson, had the only resident family in the place. She lived in a log house, not far from the present stone dwelling of Mr. Pomeroy, though she was then building a frame house near the same spot. This frame building was sold by Mrs Johnson to William Ellison, the well known surveyor, who removed it the same summer, to a position near the outlet, and on what are now the grounds of Edgewater. This was unquestionably the first framed and otherwise regularly constructed house in the village of Cooperstown, as the block-house was the first in logs. It was of respectable size, and of two stories, being intended for a tavern, to which purpose it was applied as soon as habitable. William Abbott arrived in the summer of 1786, and established himself on the farm that still bears his name, about half a mile south of the village. Other persons came and went, and many settlers remained permanently in different parts of the patent. Mr. Cooper was here, once or twice, in the course of the season, but he did not cause any building to be constructed. Mr. Miller remained, himself, but a short time. Many persons were here during the summer of 1786, among others James White, but it is believed none passed the winter within the village plot, but the families of William Ellison, Israel Guild and Mrs. Johnson. The latter soon after removed, leaving no descendants in the place. Mr. Guild took possession of the block-house. — 19

  In the spring of 1787, more emigrants appeared. Early in the season Mr. Cooper arrived, accompanied by his wife, who came however as a mere traveler. They reached the head of the lake in a chaise, and descended to the foot in a canoe. Mrs. Cooper was so much alarmed with this passage that she disliked returning in a boat, and the chaise was brought to the place, in two canoes. In order that it might reach the eastern bank, and to serve the public generally, a bridge was built at the outlet, which was the first real bridge across the Susquehanna at this spot. This bridge was composed of log abutments, sleepers, and logs laid across the latter. A road had been cut through the forest, following the direction of the lake, and coming out along the bank of Lakelands, at this bridge. It was, however, so rude and difficult to pass, that when the chaise left the village, men accompanied it with ropes, to prevent it from upsetting.

  During the summer of 1787, many more emigrants arrived, principally from Connecticut, and most of the land on the patent was taken up. Until this season negotiations were going on among the different creditors of Col. Croghan to redeem this property by paying the claims of Messrs. Cooper and Craig, and taking assignments of the bonds and mortgages; those gentlemen, though legally in possession of the estate, preferring to receive the amount of their debt to keeping the securities. Being persuaded, however, that the land was scarcely worth the money, the creditors, by this time, had abandoned the intention, and Mr. Cooper, towards the close of 1787, began seriously to think of establishing himself permanently in this part of the country. With this view he commenced extending his possessions in the adjacent patents, and either by arrangements with the different great landholders, or by actual purchases, he soon had the settlement of a large part of the present county in more or less subject to his control. The effects were very visible, for there is scarcely an instance of a more rapid growth of a district, in any other part of a country so remarkable for advancement of this nature. When it is remembered that this extraordinary success was obtained in a region so difficult of access, one that is not easily tilled, and which has a severe climate, the energy and abilities that were employed, may be properly appreciate . The proprietor, however, was much favored by the salubrity of the air, the diseases usual to new countries having been scarcely known in this mountainous region. — 20

  During the summer of 1787, several small log tenements were constructed on the site of the village, and arrangements were made by Mr. Cooper to erect a building for his own use, the succeeding season. Still there was no great accession to the permanent population, which at this time did not amount to twenty souls. The circumstance that neither Mr. Ellison nor Mr. Guild had children, and that Mr. Miller was not yet married, contributed to lessen the number of the inhabitants.

  Early in 1788, the house of Mr. Cooper was erected, it being the second regular dwelling in the place. This house stood on Second street, facing F air street, commanding a full view of the lake, and of course immediately in front of the present Hall. It was of two stories, with two wings, and a back building was added in 1791. The siding was of wide boards, beaded, but not planed. A very good representation of this house is to be seen on the original map of this village, where it is marked Manor House. It was removed a short distance down the street in 1799. and was destroyed by fire in 1812.

  In this year Mr. Cooper seems seriously to have set about the formation of a village, a plot being regularly laid out for that purpose. Agreeably to this plan, six streets were laid out in an east and west direction, and three that crossed them at right angles, in a north and south. The street along the margin of the lake was called Front street, and the others parallel to it were numbered from Second up to Sixth street. That next to the river was called Water street, and that at the opposite side of the plot, West street. The street between them, being divided into two parts by the grounds of Mr. Cooper, had two names, viz: Fair street and Main street. All these names are preserved, though Fifth street has never been opened, and one half of Fourth street, and about one-third of Main street, are also enclosed.

  The map, which is well made on parchment, like all similar documents of that period, has its base line on the west side of Water street, with its direction marked "North, 20° East." The map is dated "9th Month 26th, 1788," or "September 26th, 1788," and was made by William Ellison. It is now among the Cooper papers. — 21

  By a certificate of the redemption of the quit rents on "the town plat of Cooperstown," dated October 26, 1799, among the same papers, it would appear that the plat of the village as designed on this map, contains one hundred and twelve acres.

  In the autumn of this year, Israel Guild erected a small frame building of a story and a half, on what is now Second street, about one hundred feet from the intersection with West street. Mr. Guild had purchased the farm that here adjoined the village plat; all the land west of that point being without the proprietor’s plan for the town. This house was originally in a lot it is still standing, being used as a bakery and a hatter’s shop, and it unquestionably is now the oldest house in the place, the Manor House having been destroyed by fire, a~ mentioned, and that of Mr. Ellison having been pulled down when the late Mr. Isaac Cooper built at Edgewater, or in 1812. Mr. Guild, however, continued to live in the block-house until 1789. John Howard, tanner, came this year and prepared to commence his business, at the spot long known as the Tannery.

  Although the settlement of Cooper’s patent commenced early in 1786, the regular commencement of the village dates properly from 1788, for while the idea of a town is older, it was not systematically planned until this summer. It follows that this year (1838,) completes the first half century of the existence of the place. The name of Cooperstown, it is true, appears in one or two papers as early even as 1786 hut the place was indiscriminately known by this appellation, and that of the Foot of the Lake, until the year 1791, when it became the county town.

  In 1789, Mr. Cooper finished his house and set up a frontier establishment. His eldest son, the late Richard Fenimore Cooper, Mr. Charles Francis of Philadelphia, Mr. Richard R. Smith of New Jersey, and several other gentlemen, were his occasional associates. The late Hendrik Frey of Canajoharie, was a frequent visitor, and the traditions of the festivities of the Manor House, during that and the succeeding years, are still agreeable to the lovers of good cheer.

  The lake abounded with the most delicious fish, and Shipman, the Leatherstocking of the region, could at almost any time, furnish the table with a saddle of venison. Among the laughable incidents that accompanied the free manner of the living, so peculiar to a border life, the following stories seem to be well authenticated. — 22

  In the course of the winter of 1789-90, during one of the periodical visits of Col. Frey, a large lumber sleigh was fitted out, with four horses. and the whole party sallied upon the lake for a morning drive. An ex-officer of the French army, a Monsieur Ebbal, resided by himself on the western bank of the lake. Perceiving the sleigh and four approaching his house, this gentleman, with the courtesy of his nation, went forth upon the ice to greet the party, of whose character he was not ignorant, by the style in which it appeared. Mr. Cooper invited his French friend to join him, promising him plenty of game, with copious libations of Madeira, by way of inducement. Though a good table companion in general, no persuasion could prevail on the Frenchman to accept the offer that day, until provoked by his obstinacy, the party laid violent hands on him and brought him to the village by force. Monsieur Ebbal took his captivity in good part, and was soon as buoyant and gay as any of his companions. He habitually wore a long skirted surtout, which at that time was almost a mark of a Frenchman, and this surtout he pertinaciously refused to lay aside, even when he took his seat at table. On the contrary, he kept it buttoned to the very throat, as it might be in defiance. The Christmas joke, a plentiful board, and heavy potations, however, threw the guest off his guard. Warmed with the wine and the blazing fire, he incautiously unbuttoned; when his delighted companions discovered, that the accidents of a frontier, the establishment of a bachelor who kept no servant, and certain irregularities in washing days, that were attendant on both circumstances, coupled with his empressement to salute his friends had induced the gallant Frenchman to come abroad without a shirt. He was uncased on the spot, amid the roars of the convives, and incontinently put into linen. "Cooper was so polite," added the mirth-loving Hendrik Frey, when he repeated this story for the hundredth time, "that he supplied a shirt with ruffles at the wristbands, which made Ebbal very happy for the rest of the night. Mein Gott, how his hands did go, after he got the ruffles!"

  These wags told Monsieur Ebbal, that if chased by a bear, the most certain mode of escape, was to throw away his hat, or his coat, to induce the animal to stop and smell at it, and then to profit by the occasion, and climb a sapling that was too small to enable his enemy to fasten its claws in it, in the way it is known to ascend a tree. The advice was well enough, but the advised having, actually an occasion to follow it the succeeding autumn, scrambled up a sapling first, and began to throw away his clothes afterwards. The bear, a she one with cubs, tore to pieces garment after garment, without quitting the spot, keeping poor Ebbal treed, throughout a cool autumnal night, almost as naked as he was when uncased at the celebrated Christmas banquet. It appears that the real name of this person was L’Abbe de Raffcourt. — 23

    During the winter of 1789-90, Mr. Cooper had a stock of goods brought into the village; Mr. R. R. Smith doing the duty of the merchant. This was the first store established in the place, and of great service to the settlers. Up to this period, the latter had been compelled to go to Canajoharie to make their purchases. Even later, they were obliged to go that distance to find a mill, not unfrequently carrying their grists on their shoulders. The distance, it will be remembered, is twenty-five miles.

    October the 10th, 1790, Mr. Cooper first brought his family to Cooperstown, giving up his residence in New Jersey entirely. From this time, dates the steady and progressive growth of the village. There exists a document to show that in 1790, Cooperstown contained seven framed houses, three framed barns, and thirty-five inhabitants. It is supposed that this enumeration of the inhabitants was made previously to the arrival of the family of Mr. Cooper, as that family alone, with its inmates and domestics, amounted to about fifteen persons. It is also supposed, that the houses, three or four in number, that stood without the old village plat, like that of Mr. Guild, the Tannery, &c., were not included. The house standing at the southeast corner of Second and Water streets, and which for the last forty years has belonged to the Ernst family, was erected this summer by Mr. Benjamin Griffin. It is now the second oldest house in the village.

    February 16th, 1791, the county of Otsego was formed, and Cooperstown was designated as the county town, Mr. Cooper being appointed the first Judge of the county court. A Court House was built at the southeast corner of West and Second streets. It was thirty feet square; the lower story, which contained four rooms, being used as a jail, and the whole of the upper story, as a court room. The lower story was built of squared logs, and the upper of framed work. The entrance to the court room was on the north front, two flights of steps on the exterior of the building, meeting at a platform before a door that opened into the air.

    The jury rooms were in a tavern occupied by the jailer, that stood on the same lot, and which was erected the same year. The first sheriff was Richard R. Smith, who being altogether superior to entering into the lower duties of the office, appointed Stephens, jailer.

    During this summer, the Red Lion tavern, which projected half way across Second street, was erected, as was also the house at the corner diagonally opposite, now owned by Judge Russell. The two houses that stand third and fourth from the corner of West street, on the south side of Second street, were also erected this year, as were several others. The first lawyer who came to reside in the village, was Mr. Abraham Ten Broeck of New Jersey, and the second was Mr. Jacob G. Fonda of Schenectady; both these gentlemen came in 1791. Mr. Joseph Strong, a native of Orange county, came a year or two later, and also Mr. Moss Kent, a brother of the celebrated Chancellor Kent. These four gentlemen were the first of their profession in Cooperstown. They all removed within the first twelve years of their residence, though descendants of Mr. Strong, in the second and third generation, are still inhabitants of the place. Several stores were also set up in 1791, of which the principal was owned by Mr. Peter Ten Broeck. — 24

    The first physician also appeared in the spring of this year; his name being Powers. Doctor Fuller, so long and so favorably known, for a professional career that lasted forty-six years in the same place, arrived in June. In the course of the year, Dr. Powers was accused of mixing tartar emetic with the beverage of a ball given at the Red Lion. He was tried, convicted, put in the stocks and banished for the offence; this sentence, as a matter of course, terminated his career in this spot. A Dr. Farnsworth came a year or two later, and Dr. Gott about the same time; hut for many years, nearly all the practice of the country was in the hands of Dr. Fuller, who is said to have been the medical attendant of more than two thousand births.

    There exists no positive information of the increase of the village during the year 1791, but it was relatively great, for the times. At the end of the year, Cooperstown certainly contained twenty houses and stores, and probably a hundred inhabitants. As most of the emigrants were young, their families were necessarily small, which accounts for the feeble number of the population. From this period, or for the last forty-six years, the place has been more gradual in its growth, the increase being steady and regular, and not subject to the sudden changes of more speculative neighborhoods.

    The first child born actually in the village was Nathan Howard, a son of John Howard; and the first death was that of a son of Mr. Joseph Griffin, which took place October 11th, 1792. On the occasion of this death, a piece of ground was selected as a place of interment, near the junction of Water and Third streets, or where Christ Church now stands.

    The first child born on the patent was a son of Bill Jarvis of Fly Creek. He was born in 1787, and was named after the proprietor, receiving fifty acres of land as a memorial of the circumstance.

    William Abbott had a son born previously to the birth of Nathan Howard, but he did not reside immediately in the village, although forming a part of the village community. The boy was called Reuben, from the circumstance of his being time first born.

    The first school was kept by Joshua Dewey, but it was not commenced until a year or two later. — 25


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