Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site
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CORRESPONDENCE/ARTICLES RELATING TO EARLY HARPERSFIELD HISTORY
(Transcribed by Linda Robinson from The Stamford Mirror microfilm purchased from the NYSHA.)
One Hundred Years Ago: Biographical Sketch of one of the earliest settlers, who moved into Harpersfield one hundred years ago, to with, in May 1784. The rapid prosperity and growth of the town. Its subsequent relapse. Domestic habits of the early settlers. Their social habit and the sequel. (The Stamford Mirror, May 6, 1884 page 1 columns 2-5)
Samuel Wilcox was one of five brothers, whose father was a farmer in easy circumstances in Dutchess county N.Y. It seemed desirous, for the future welfare of the family, that some of the hardy sons, as they attained their majority, that the elder ones should seek other homes.
What induced Samuel to leave home? He was expecting soon to marry, and hence was desirous to obtain a home for himself, independently of his father. Unlike some of their neighbors, who kept their sons around them on the homestead, he, possessing more of the spirit of the Pilgrim element, nothing less than a home of his own would satisfy his inborn thirst for independence.
With this single object in view, he left home in the fall of 1783, on a viewing expedition. His intention was to go into some new country where land was cheap, buy a farm and build up a home for a life time.
How He Came To Go To Harpersfield
The couple were married in March 1784, and moved the following May. This, then, was going west, and decidedly a great undertaking. Only think, the neighbors said, not only moving into a wilderness, but into the very town where so many had been massacred by Indians. This startled the timid, and it was a wonder that any should have a comfortable home, at the risk of even their lives. But the "die was cast," the resolve confirmed. The golden star of hope was urging them on to a happy home which, as by inspiration, they saw in the sunny future not far distant.
How The Couple Moved
For the first year, the old log house was their home. The next spring, they built a house up the road, known as a mud-wall house. This was made of strips of wood, with clay between for the sides of the house, while a huge stone chimney, standing in its majesty out at the rear-end as sentinel. When established in their new house, they felt that they were really in town, and less than a mile from the good Col. His farm is now the residence of R.D. Baird, Esq. As time moved slowly on, the sturdy trees succumbed to the inevitable, and disappeared before the sharp axe of this pioneer, and the virgin soil did its part to repay bountifully for the labor and privations sacrificed in building up a home for a life time.
Many a time, the young wide, after her work in the house was done, did she join her husband evenings and help pick up brush and burn, by the glaring blaze of the brush heaps to clear the land for crops. For many years did the old clearing, the one inducement to purchase, prove a miniature mine of wealth to the young farmer, producing hay for team and cow, and a surplus to new settlers moving in.
The oxteam was also of profit, as new settlers were frequently, for a few years, without a team, and were glad to exchange their labor for the use of the oxen, to log off their land. Thus both parties were benefited. Many were the happy gathering at house raisings. Every family in town was invited; young and old attended, and was spoken of afterwards as very enjoyable seasons.
In 1790, this pioneer built a two-story house, 40x26feet, two stories, and painted red with white trimmings. This is believed to be the first painted two-story house erected in town. This house is now standing, being ninety-four years old.
Rapid Growth and Prosperity of the Town---It's Subsequent Relapse
As the magical wand of progress waved over the town, and the forests slowly receded before the axe, the golden wheat fields echoed the general prosperity of the country. Wheat was the staple crop, as more bushels cold be raised on an acre than of rye---and the price double. Nature never cheats the honest laborer, if his toil is judiciously expended, but repays bountifully-lavishly, or in other words, "God helps such as help themselves." Within the first decade, the Catskill and Susquehanna turnpike opened out this little hamlet, and heralded its prosperity---a good road to market. It took three days to take a load of wheat to the Catskill market, and return. Simultaneously, the Presbyterian church was built, and soon after the Baptist church, each capable of seating six hundred.
So rapid were the improvements, that before the end of the fourth decade, counting from 1784, the year after the war, that there were five stores in town, and as many public houses, all doing a prosperous business. The turnpike taking all the travel for many miles west, Harpersfield being far in advance of other towns, drew nearly all the trade of the surrounding country for years. At that date it was quite a manufacturing town; nearly everything needed by the inhabitants could be found there.
There were two hat factories, two for making axes and other edged tools; two tailor shops, where several hands were employed; one wheelwright, where spinning wheels were made, an industry indispensable then, as every householder must need from two to four for their own use; also an extensive saddle and harness shop; a cabinet and several shoe shops; one silversmith and watch maker and manufacturer of silver spoons; a large millinery and dressmaking establishment; a tannery, several wool carding and cloth dressing mills. All these various mechanical industries except the clothing mills, were at the centre of the town.
It was, up to the end of the first half century, without a rival as a business centre. Its star was sparkling in its zenith. It was almost an Eden, compared with its present status. Then there was a stand still for a few years, followed by a relapse, too plainly visible, beyond revival, which battled and mocked all enterprise, to recover its lost greatness. There was no stir, no excitement of any kind, but a dreary, cheerless monotonous quiet, almost painful.
The Domestic Habits of the Early Settlers
Shoemaking was most performed by the shoemaker going, each fall, from house to house with his 'kit' to make up the family shoes for the winter. This was called "whipping the cat." He would pack up his tools in his apron, and go his yearly rounds. Who cannot but remember how gladly he was welcomed by the children, and the new shoes almost idolized, and especially the first pair of boots for the boys. How willing they were to test them in tramping through the deep snow or pond of water.
Tailoring was, in many case, also done in the house. Girls went out by the day, at from 2.6 to 3 shillings to do the family sewing for the men and boys.
In those times, work was the order of the day, both indoor and out. Children were taught to do something almost as soon as out of the cradle. The little girls to set table, wash dishes, piece bed quilts, and soon to spin and knit their own stockings. The little boys, if he could do no more than with his sled, draw-in wood and fill the wood-box; and in summer, drive the cows to and from pasture; and with his little axe do his part in chopping wood. There were no drones in the family hive. There were no tramps then. That fraternity of worthies had no existence in those times. Boys were apprenticed and bound out to trades at fifteen or sixteen to serve out the time till twenty-one, for little bedsides board, to learn shoemaking, tailoring, blacksmithing and carpentry.
Postage was from six to forty cents for every piece of paper, according to the number of miles carried, paid at the office of delivery. No envelopes were in use then. To fold a letter properly was quite an accomplishment, so as to conceal its contents. The goose-quill was used in writing, requiring no little skill to the keep the pen in WORKING order. A wafer or sealing wax closed the letter. Blotting sand was used instead, as now, blotting paper.
Wood was then the only fuel in city and country. This was before stoves were introduced. The old open fireplace, how cheering, cosy and exhilarating, lighting up the room with the brilliancy of a meteor.
Iron and brass andirons maintained the architectural formation of the wood fire built, of a backlonng, usually drawn in on a sled, then the smaller top stick and forestick on which was piled green and dry wood, that was supposed to make the fire last longer and send out more heat. The fireplaces were from two to six feet wide, the chimneys often taking fire from soot. There were no chimney sweeps except in cities, hence once each year, on rainy days, our fathers would, with a wisp of straw bound to a pole, hold it up the chimney, set fire the straw to burn the soot; this was called "burning out the chimney," and causing such a roar as to frighten the children, the flames going high above the housetop.
The wood ashes made during the year, served as an important factor for the leach for the family soap. Soap making, killing hogs and making preserves were important periods. O, the dear sweet spare ribs, how we children enjoyed them. No community ever enjoyed more than our forefathers. They had muscle and brain. Their mutual toil bound them harmoniously together.]
They were mostly young, married people, some with small children, and hence in a few years the town was full of boys and girls, known then, only by that cognomen while in their teens. There existed no spirit of rivalry, no calumny, such as too often follow in the train of what is called refined society; but more of a generous, hearty, effort to aid each other. All seemed peaceably inclined, and enjoyed a mutual good neighborhood feeling of equality. No one thought their children too good to associate with their neighbor's children. During the two first decades many lived in log houses; some quite neat with two large rooms. What if the children crawled up a ladder to their beds, their sleep was just as sweet and refreshing.
All log house had wooden hinges and latches on their outside doors. A string was attached to the latch, and one end passed through a hole in the door and hung down. It was their pride to boast, that the latch string was out side the door, indicating that their neighbors were always welcome to pull the string, lift the latch and walk in. For many years no bolt or locks were in use on outside doors. No fears were entertained about burglars or tramps; As horses were not always on hand in those times; hence buck and bright were often called into requisition, put before a sled in winter with plenty of straw, and the young folk would pile on as blithesome and musical as summer birds and away they would go several miles for an evening party, apple peeling or spinning bee.
If their hearts were not as large as the oxen, they were large enough to live in good fellowship with their neighbors. Singing schools were general, winter evenings and were much enjoyed by both old and young. Those rides on the ox sled, many years afterwards were remembered as some of the jolliest times in all their lives.
They were church going people, but it seems strange , that they saw no need of a fire in their meeting houses (in) the coldest of weather. Perhaps a religion seal? came to their relief in connection with some of those sound old terrible doctrines, so gloomy, which horrified our childhood, and in which many of our forefathers honestly believed. Some of them, the most objectionable, have in a great measure, been swept away with the belief of witchcraft and haunted houses.
To suppose it possible to take cold going to meeting in story weather, was sacrilegious, bordering on heresy. O, the dear old meetinghouse with bare floors, hard, wood seats, no fire, weather at zero, the very thought now, more than sixty years have passed, provokes a chill.
Of the church music in those days, when the young people of the congregation stood up in the gallery and sung, to the writer, the singing was more harmonious and animating, more enlivening and exhilarating than now, with a paid choir and a five thousand dollar organ.
OMITTED (The Stamford Mirror, May 13, 1884 page 3 column 1)
WHAT IS A SPINNING BEE? (The Stamford Mirror, May 20, 1884 page 1 columns 3&4)
It frequently so happened that a family, through sickness or want of help, was behind in their spring spinning. At that time each family made from forty, to occasionally one hundred yards of line cloth for the family use, varying as to the number of its inmates and the demand called for. This then, say sixty years ago, was a necessity, as cotton goods were unknown. A fact now seems almost incredible.
Linen was not only worn by the family for undergarments in summer, but for sheeting, towels, and beautiful diaper for table-cloths. Many are now treasured up as mementos and keepsakes. The women and girls dressed in linsey-woolsey in summer for their gowns and in winter with flannel, colored and pressed at the fulling mills. Linsey woolsey was made of fine, soft flax and wool, and was very durable and quite neat.
Calico now selling for six cents per yard, I well remember when sold for fifty, and not plenty at that. In large families, as was not uncommon, there were often from four to six of each sex. Here was a call for many yards of tow cloth for the men and boys for pants and shirts. And the girls were brought up to understand, expecting at some future time to marry, it was necessary for them to begin to make cloth, for such an emergency might happen, as it was sometimes anticipated it would, and then the cloth would be wanting for keeping house in numerous articles, for beds and bedding, such as sheets, pillow- cases, bed-ticking for feather and straw ticks, also towels and table-cloths. All of these made at home out of flax grown on the farm. Each family in the country kept a flock of geese for making feather beds. Each daughter was privileged to make all the cloth she could for herself, and two or more feather beds with which to commence house keeping as such an event might, in course of time, happen. Families then considered wealthy furnished their daughters with what was called a "setting out," worth from four to five hundred dollars without a single article made of cotton. Those brown tow pants, worn by the men and boys, as they grew light colored by washing and bleaching, were worn "to meeting" as it was then called instead as now, "going to church." Men, in warm weather, having no other than fullcloth coats, often went without any coat, in their shirt sleeves, wearing cow-hide shoes without stockings, and boys barefooted.
Should a man be seen walking into one of our fashionable churches now-a-days, even in the country, dressed as that of sixty years ago, the congregation would be as much struck with wonder and astonishment, as though Barnum's sacred elephat, from Siam, should stalk in.
It was an old trite saying, though embracing a large amount of truth, that no young woman was capable or fit to marry, unless she had spun at least yarn enough to complete and outfit for one bed---hence the appellation of "spinster," as applied to marriageable girls.
It should be remembered that then, stockings in the country were knit by the mother and girls of the family, from linen and woolen yarn spun at home. One fact of somewhat of a curious nature presents itself for contemplation. All the threads of flax and wool spun in large families, when more than one hundred yards of cloth were frequently made yearly, every thread passed through between the thumb and index finger of the females of the household. Who possesses the arithmetical knowledge, competent to state the many thousands of miles of thread spun yearly in such a family.
This domestic home industry of manufacturing of the raw material grown on the farm into cloth by hand, once so important, is now wholly abandoned, and may, with propriety, be classed in the catalogue as one of the "lost arts."
At that time the "spinning bee" was, in part, a kind and benevolent institution, as well as one more occasion for calling the young folk together, which they were not unwilling to embrace. It was a long and well established custom for the neighbors to lend a helping hand to those behind in their spring's work. Hence a call for a "spinning bee."
The Mode of Procedure
Then on the evening appointed, the boys would bring in the yarn, each accompanied by his girl, and then look out for a jolly, gay time of fun and frolic, of games and plays in which kissing was quite apt to form a part; and generally ended up with dancing, lasting until midnight.
Such festivities are now buried in the dust and rubbish of over a half a century without a head-stone or scrap of history to indicate that there ever was such an institution or established custom among the neighbors in olden times, as that of a "spinning bee."
QUESTIONS ABOUT HARPERSFIELD (The Stamford Mirror, May 20, 1884 page 1 column 4)
I want, through the medium of the MIRROR to say, or inquire, a few words to A.B. Wilcox. His communications to the MIRROR telling of old times is (as far as I can learn,) perused with great interest. But he has skipped over a small space, between the centre of Harpersfield, Stevenstown. My recollection carries me back (although like a dream) to the old house of Erastus Davenport, grandfather and mother occupied the east room, father and mother the west; I was boss. If it was necessary that a spanking operation was resorted to, to make the young and favorite grandson mind, there were signals made by yells and screams, which soon brought grandpa or ma to the rescue. Grandpa would take me down to the store, and well I remember where the raisin keg stood. In the east room was ¼ of a circle where used to be a bar. The old wagon house and shed, A.B.W. remembers. Opposite of the Davenport house was Thomas Maxon, who run an extensive blacksmith business; among all the old former settlers you will find a crowbar, shovel or tongs with T. Maxon's mark. Go a few rods east was a tan-yard, mill pond, harness shop and shoe maker; Copley started a large frame on the south side of the pond and brook; follow up that stream, Sykes and Graves' factory. It seems to me there was a hat factory in the Stevens neighborhood. I would like A.B.W. to give a history as far as he knows as to that location; old Col. Wm. Harper told me that it was the first centre: the Davenport place. I have a portion of an old day book, that of old uncle Noah Davenport. It is interesting to look over. I will mention a few names, A.B.W. will know.
I will tell a few more names from different points. Charles Dayton, Jacob Fort, Samuel Knapp, Wm. Dart, Asa Warner, Lewis Owens, Esikiel Beard, Matthew Dayton, Noah Judson etc., from all points of the compass. I would like Wilcox to tell if he has got the data; the time that grandpa Noah was running the store, still and potash what was in the Centre. I think that grandpa said that a Mr. Spencer kept a tavern there, the old barn, wagon house and shed confirms it. As you say Harpersfield was a commercial centre from Steven to Hotchkiss mill. How they watched for the stage horn coming down Watkins Hill, with as much interest as on the arrival of an ocean steamer in the harbor of New York. Now Harpersfield is dead and Stamford is alive, you know what it used to be called. Hoping to read more of your communications, I remain yours. I come through Schenectady about once a year and every time, I think I will stop over and shake. Still I may yet.
A FRIENDLY GREETING (The Stamford Mirror, June 3, 1884 page 1 column 4)
Now, as to John and Noah Davenport, brothers. They kept an extensive store at the center about 1810. Ten years late, John moved to Davenport, just as that town was being settled; Noah moved one mile east of the center. He was there many years; bought ashes, made potash and got rich. At one time, no doubt, he was the wealthiest man in town. He was known as uncle Noah Davenport, then Judge Hotchkiss, then Capt. Newell; and somewhere in hailing distance, was old Esqr. Wilcox. I write their names as they were familiarly called by the younger townsmen. Uncle Noah subsequently carried on a banking business; loaning on short term of 30, 60 and 90 days retaining the interest in advance. The others named loaned on bond and mortgage. For those days they were counted rich; now they would be counted nowhere. Many might be named who were as forehanded, perhaps as those last mentioned. They were Richard Bristol, Judge Cyrenus Gibbs, Col. Stoddard Stevens, Orange Graves, David Patchin Esq., James Ells, Esq., Elisha Sheldon, Ezra and Daniel Thorp, Daniel Baird, Major Pearse, John Wickham and lastly, the greatest money catcher of them all Isa, Birdsall.
I am happy to be remembered by the Dr. and I can assure him, that he has never been forgotten by me, well remembering his reading medicine with Dr. Hamilton; and I am much pleased to learn of his success in the west. When passing through Schenectady, should like much to receive a call from him, though so changed by the many years since meeting, quite likely we would not recognize each other.
MORE ABOUT HARPERSFIELD OF YE OLDEN TIME (The Stamford Mirror, June 17, 1884 page 1 column 4)
Not a few of the early settler of Harpersfield were not New Englanders, but came from Scotland and the north of Ireland. Col. John Harper, though born in Boston, was Irish. So were the Cowleys, the Harpers of Middlebrook, in Harpersfield; James and Samuel Bell and the McIlvaines of the same neighborhood. The Hendrys, McIntyres, Rickeys, McCullochs, Wilsons, Scotts, Clarks, Douglasses and McKeevers were Scotch.
It is a great mistake that so much of the early history of that town is buried with its pioneers, and that so little pains is taken to preserve what may remain in the memories of its aged people still living.
Notes---The first will recorded in Delaware county was that of St. Ledger Cowley, the father of the late Marshall and Asahel Cowley.
A LITTLE MORE ABOUT HARPERSFIELD AND THE MENTION OF SOME NOBLE AND WORTHY NAMES AMONG THE IRISH AND SCOTCH ELEMENT WHO WERE AMONG THE EARLY SETTLERS, IF NOT THE VERY FIRST WITH THE ADDITION OF SOME OTHER NAMES FROM NEW ENGLAND (The Stamford Mirror, July 1, 1884 page 3 column 3)
In the first place, I cheerfully consent to the correction made by G.W.R. in last week's MIRROR (though I would be better pleased for his name in full,) that Noah and John Davenport were cousins instead of brothers. I was personally acquainted with them both for years, and supposed they were brothers. Noah was a revolutionary pensioner. I had the pleasure of filling out his pension papers in March and September a number of years; about '38 and '40.
As to the names mentioned by G.W.R., the Harpers of Middlebrook, the Bells, McIlwain's, McCullocks, Douglasses, McKeevers and others, among those, a most notable name, that of Mr. James Campbell, his sons Samuel and William. These were of Irish and Scotch element. A few more names remembered: The Hamiltons, Nichols, Knapps, Pierces, Seeleys, Copleys, Birdsalls, Abijah Baird, Silas Washburn, Matthew Lindsley, William Lamb, Levi and Jedediah Gaylor, Eliab and John Wilcox, brothers of Samuel. I was acquainted with mostly all of them, and never knew better inhabitants, and only neglected to mention their names in article of May 6th, on account of rendering it so very lengthy.
However I yet entertain the opinion, that among the very earliest settlers, they were mostly from New England and eastern New York. One fact I presume, not generally known now-a-days, that when Harpersfield was formed and established as a town about 1788, it embraced all of Franklin, Meredith, Kortright and a part of Stamford. Franklin was taken off in 1792; Kortright in 1793 and a small part added to Stamford in 1834. Meredith was afterwards formed from Franklin and Kortright in about 1800.
I think G.W.R. must be mistaken when he says that St. Ledger Cowley's will (Grandfather of Ashel and Marshall Cowley-Ed) was the first recorded in Delaware Co. I supposed wills were not recorded until proved, and not until the death of the testator. I know, personally, of wills being proved and recorded as early as 1831. One in which I was named as executor. Mr. Cowley lived a number of years after that. I enjoyed his acquaintance, and read a number of books of his, at his request, of his peculiar tenets. I was also intimately acquainted with his sons Marshall and Asahel.
P.S. Harpersfield is the oldest town in the county, formed in 1788. Franklin and Stamford in 1783, Delhi 1798, ten years after Harpersfield.
SOME CORRECTIONS (The Stamford Mirror, July 15, 1884 page 3 column 1)
HARPERSFIELD AND STAMFORD IN 1813 (The Stamford Mirror, Aug. 26, 1884 page 1 column 4)
A grandson of Lewis I. Patchin lends us a copy of a "Gazetteer of the State of New York," compiled by Horatio Gates Spafford, and published at Albany in 1813 by H.C. Southwick. The book was purchased by Henry A Ogsbury, Jan. 14, 1814. From it we copy what it says about Harpersfield and Stamford.
Harpersfield, a Post Township of Delaware County, 20 miles N.E. of Delhi, 55 or 58 miles S.W. of Albany and 51 from Catskill; bounded northerly by Otsego County, easterly by Schoharie County, southerly by Delaware river, and westerly by Kortright. It is about 9 miles long and 4½ wide; and extends from Charlotte on the west to the head stream of Delaware river on the east. Its waters are small, but they supply good millseats. It has two turnpike roads; one from Catskill, and one from Albany. The soil is generally a rich chocolate colored loam, well adapted for grass, and the surface is broken with hills and vallies, all capable of cultivation. There are two small ponds, and the land is well watered by springs and brooks. The timber is maple, beech, bass-wood, ash and on the hills, oak; and there are some groves of pine. The land is held in fee, and well cultivated. There are 2 houses of worship, and 9 school-houses; 5 grain-mills; 7 saw-mills, 2 fulling-mills, 3 carding-machines, a cotton and woolen factory and a distillery, besides a manufactory of carding machines and some other works. There are 103 looms in families, which produced 31,353 yards of cloth in 1810, and when there were 284 families, and a population of 1691 souls. The taxable property amounted to $97,711. Some settlements were made here prior to the Revolutionary war, when the inhabitants suffered very much and were driven from their possessions, with the loss of several lives by the savage tomahawk.
Stamford, a Post Township of Delaware County, 15 miles N. of E. from Delhi, 50 W. of Catskill on the Susquehanna turnpike, and 60 miles S.W. of Albany; bounded northerly by the head stream of Delaware river or the Town of Kortright and Harpersfield, easterly by Schoharie County, southerly by Roxbury, westerly by Delhi. Its area may be 60 square miles; and besides the stream that forms the W. boundary, another branch, called Little Delaware, runs through the E. part, and supplies abundance of mill-seats. The land is broken, but the hills afford good grazing lands with spots of meadow also, and the vallies are arable and fertile. The soil is principally a brownish loam. The whole population in 1810 was 1658, with 284 families, 250 taxable inhabitants, 161 electors and 67,185 dollars of taxable property. There are 2 house for public worship: 1 for Scotch Seceders, and 1 for Episcopalians;--and 6 school-houses. There are 6 distilleries, a carding machine, and 70 loams in families, which produced 20,610 yards of cloth in 1810. The lands are held partly by lease, and partly in fee. A small village, formerly called Tinkertown but now Waterville, lies on both sides of the Delaware river, and has a grist-mill, fulling-mill, saw-mill, oil-mill and carding machine, besides a meeting-house and 15 to 20 houses. It is a busy little place, principally in Stamford, and partly in Harpersfield.
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