December 31, 2003

The Robertsons

Robertson Cemetery appears to be named for Captain George Robertson and his family. Robertson was the first permanent settler, the first town supervisor, and seems to have been a rather benevolent man as well, according to George Goodrich.

Chapter V

The First Resident Freeholder

While Amos Sweet was the first man to take up residence in Dryden, he seems never to have held permanent title to any of its real estate, and, so far as we can learn, he left no relatives or descendants from whom the present inhabitants can trace their ancestry. We know not whence he came, except from the "Old Man in the Clouds," who says that he came from "the East somewhere," and our short story of his appearance and residence here is an unsatisfactory and tragic one. We have already given all the facts which we can learn of him except the statement derived from an old obituary notice of Seth Stevens, a relative of the early Rummer family in Dryden, which states that Stevens, while probably residing in Virgil, helped to build the first log house in Dryden, presumably the Amos Sweet house. We have accidentally come across his signature as a witness to an old Dryden deed, which shows that he could write, an accomplishment at that time none too common.

The next settlement in the town was made by a man whose life had a permanent influence upon the town, and who well-earned the title which was afterward given him of being the "Father of the Town," having been its first resident freeholder and afterward its first supervisor.

In the year 1797 there lived near Schuylerville, Saratoga county, N.Y., George Robertson, a young carpenter and millwright, who by patient industry had acquired a home and a little property, but whose ambition prompted him to become a pioneer in the undeveloped wilderness of the Military Tract. His father, Robert Robertson, who had recently died, had in 1769 emigrated with his family, consisting of his wife, Josephine, and two small children, young George and his older sister, Nancy (McCutcheon) from near Glasgow, Scotland, to Saratoga county, where, upon the breaking out of the Revolution, the father enlisted and gallantly served throughout the struggle for independence. The old flint-lock musket which he carried in the army of Washington under the command of General Philip Schuyler, by and after whom one of his sons was named, is still kept as a treasure in the family and was on exhibition at Dryden's Centennial Celebration.

Young George Robertson, in 1797, had an opportunity of purchasing Lot No. 53, of Dryden, from a neighbor, Benoni Ballard, the soldier to whom it was allotted, and in the autumn of that year he made a prospecting tour on foot from Saratoga county to Dryden, reaching Lot 53 by way of the Mohawk Valley, Auburn, Cayuga Lake, and Ithaca, returning by way of the Bridle Road through the present site of Dryden village to Oxford, and thence by way of Utica to his home. Upon this preliminary visit the only habitation which he found in Dryden was that of Amos Sweet, described in the last chapter, where, as he related, there was a clearing of about half an acre which he called a "turnip patch."

Being pleased with the new country and possessed of a courage which, we fear, would be lacking in these days of luxury and refinement, Robertson sold his home and which the proceeds completed the purchase of Lot 53 for eight hundred and fifty dollars. He left his wife and two children for the time being and set out in February 1798 with a sleigh loaded with such implements and provisions as could be carried, drawn by two yoke of oxen, for the long journey. He was accompanied by at least two young men, including his younger brother, Philip S. Robertson, and Jared Benjamin.

Of Philip S. Robertson we shall have occasion to say more hereafter as being one of the pioneers of the northwest section of the town, but of Jared Benjamin we shall say here, lest it be omitted hereafter, that he was then a lad sixteen years of age who had been apprenticed to George Robertson to learn the carpenter's trade and who was induced to accompany him into the wilderness by the promise of eighty acres of land, and who, during the journey and for the first year of the settlement, served as the housekeeper and cook of the party. He afterwards served as a solider from Tompkins county in the War of 1812, after which he journeyed and settled further west, but his son, Charles Benjamin, returned to Dryden and at one time occupied and enlarged the Dryden village tannery and afterwards built a tannery at Harford, one of the old buildings still standing there unoccupied near the railroad station; and his son is Chas. M. Benjamin, now one of the proprietors of the Ithaca Journal. Another of the descendants of this pioneer lad, Jared Benjamin, is Mrs. D. B. Card, of Dryden.

To return to our narrative, it is claimed by some that Walter Yeomans, and by others that Moses Snyder also accompanied George Robertson on this pioneer journey, but neither are mentioned in the first account, published forty years ago when the facts were more attainable, and either may have come a year or two later, although it is certain that both were early pioneers of Dryden from Saratoga county.

The pioneer party were three weeks on the journey, coming by way of the Mohawk Valley, Utica, Hardenburg's Corners (now Auburn), reaching Ithaca (then called "Markle's Flats,") where there were then three log houses, March 1, 1798. It took the whole of the next day to widen the Bridle Road through from Ithaca to Lot 53, upon which Mott J. Robertson, the youngest son of Captain George Robertson, now resides, so as to admit of the progress of the team and baggage. They arrived towards evening on March 2nd and made hasty preparations to spend their first night on the site of their new home. In later years Captain Robertson pointed out to his sons the very spot, now located between the highway and the railroad track near the west line of Lot 53, where, on that March evening, on split basswood logs, they ate their first meal and stretched themselves out to spend the night, having provided the oxen with the tops of the basswood trees for a supper of browse. A fall of two inches of snow during the night caused Philip S. to get up and stretch over them a blanket on stakes, to protect them from the storm. The next morning the men set to work to build a log house and make a clearing so as to secure a crop of grain that season. The trees were chopped down, girdled and burned, the seed was dragged in with the aid of a tree top as a harrow, and the rich, mellow, new ground yielded abundant harvests in that and the succeeding years. Thus the energy and prudence of young George Robertson enabled him to harvest the first considerable crops in the town, and when the subsequent settlers came to him to obtain seed grain, it is said that he supplied those who had no present means of paying for it, but refused those who had money which would enable them to get it elsewhere, lest he should not have enough to supply all his poorer neighbors. Whether such a policy of supplying only those who had no money could be successfully carried out in those times, may be seriously questioned, but it served to exhibit the unselfish character of Capt. Robertson and entitled him to the gratitude of his fellow pioneers, as well as to that of their posterity. His wife and children came on, the next season (1799), in care of her brother, Wm. Smith, of Saratoga, who, after viewing the uninviting prospect of the single log house, surrounded for a short distance with the clearing full of charred stumps and then by the dense wilderness, advised his sister to return with him to his home in Saratoga, but she bravely resolved with her husband to share the hardships and reap the rewards afforded to pioneers in a new country. Their son, Robert R., whose birthday was April 7, 1800, was for a long time supposed to have been the first white child born in the town of Dryden, but we now learn upon reliable authority that Melinda, the daughter of David Foote and the mother of Mrs. Darius Givens, was born at Willow Glen, on February 21, 1800, and was therefore the first native-born child, while Robert R. was the first native-born male citizen of the town.

The heroic and unselfish conduct of Captain Robertson, and his industrious and prudent life, together with abilities of no common order, gave him prominence in our early history and when the town came to be organized as a separate political township in 1803, he was made its first supervisor. Although not the first settler, he was the first resident freeholder of the town, raised the first crop of any account, and, his house being a hospitable refuge for the early settlers perhaps less provident than he had been, he is credited with being the first innkeeper of the town in 1801. These facts well entitled him to be regarded, as he was by the early settlers, the "Father of the Town of Dryden." He was afterward a captain of the State militia and the field opposite the present residence of his son, Mott J. Robertson, upon which this log house was built in 1798, was the training ground for the early yeomanry of Dryden, who were here required to be annually drilled in military tactics. Captain Robertson died April 4, 1844, having raised a family of thirteen children, many of whom have held positions of honor and trust in this and other states, at least two of his sons having served as sheriffs of the county of Tompkins. His oldest child, Nancy, married Thomas Bishop and she and her oldest brother, Thomas, lived and died in the town of Lansing. Robert died in Chautauqua county, N.Y. Phoebe became the wife of Peter V. Snyder, and Corilla the wife of Wm. Brown, who, with her brothers John, Theodore, Cyrus, and Hiram D., made their home in Albion, Mich., and Philip died in Crawford county, Pa. Smith, of whom we shall say more hereafter, resides at Eau Claire, Wis., and Mott J., the only son now residing here, is one of the present Centennial Committee of the town of Dryden.

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 13-17.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at December 31, 2003 10:18 AM in , ,
Note on photos


Just an added bit of family history. Robert and Josephine had another son, William, who went East and founded the town of Eaton, NH.

Cindelyn Eberts said:

Thank you for this piece on the Robertsons. I am doing research for a paper to be presented at the next American Society of Engineering Education about Capt George's grandson, Clarence Hovey Robertson and his work in China. While this doesn't directly pertain to that paper, I found your piece quite interesting!

Larry J. Smith said:

I am the son of Delina Cora Smith, born to Cara Wilson, born to Delina Howell, born to Cyrus Robertson, born to George Robertson, son of Robert Robertson, son of Robert Robertson. Thank you for reporting on my family history.