April 10, 2004

Early settlement

Back in December, I posted George Goodrich's telling of the first resident of Dryden with a valid claim to his land, George Robertson. The following chapter looks at the people who arrived shortly after Robertson and the work they did establishing settlements in the early town.

The first grist mill in Dryden, early development of Ellis Hollow Road, a strange story involving shortcake and cream, and Goodrich's cynicism about his own times relative to those of the early pioneers are a few of the highlights.

Chapter VI.

Other Settlements of 1798 and 1799.

In the fall of 1798, three families settled at Willow Glen. They consisted of Ezekiel Sanford, his wife and one son, David Foote, his wife and four daughters, and Ebenezer Clauson, his wife, one son and two daughters, making in all a party of fourteen persons, who came to Dryden over the new State Road, from the Chenango river, which a single team of oxen drawing a heavy ox sled of the olden times, which was made with wooden shoes and a heavy split pole. This conveyance carried all of the household furniture of the three families, which we infer from that fact could not then have been very rich in housekeeping materials. Sanford located opposite the residence of the late Elias W. Cady, Clauson on the premises now owned and occupied by Moses Rowland, while Foote built his log hut between the two. They are said to have passed a very "comfortable winter," subsisting largely upon the abundant game found in the new country, the oxen being supplied with plenty of browse from the trees. That they were able to live through the winter at all in this way is a mystery to us of the present age, who are supplied with so many of the comforts and luxuries of life. It seemed to the writer at first impossible that cattle could be wintered on "browse" without hay or grain, but he is assured by old men that such is not the case, and that it was not uncommon in old times when fodder was scarce to fell trees in the woods, especially maple and basswood, so that cattle could have access to the tops for their subsistence. We are also reminded that wild deer wintered in the woods in this locality, when the snow was deep, without this assistance of the woodman. These new settlers did survive and seem to have prospered in their homes, and as proof of these facts we know that our present popular highway commissioner, Sanford E. Smiley, is one of a large number of descendants of that same pioneer, Ezekiel Sanford, one of the party who wintered their oxen on browse and themselves on the "abundant game found in the new country" in the winter of the year 1798-9. Like Amos Sweet, who had preceded them one year, they seem to have had, when they came, no permanent title to the land upon which they located, but came empty handed to grow up with the new country as they did, having become the ancestors of many of its now prosperous inhabitants.

The writer was at first unable to learn whether any of these three pioneers except Sanford left descendants now residing in the township, and was surprised to learn that both Mrs. Darius Givens and Mrs. Robert Sager are grandchildren of that same David Foote. Clauson, with all his family, is believed to have moved further west, one of his daughters having married a brother of Wyatt Allen, formerly of Dryden.

Others who settled in 1798, coming here from Lansing, where they had sojourned a short time, were Daniel White and his brother-in-law, Samuel Knapp, a soldier of the revolution, who was engaged in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Stony Point, Brandywine and Monmouth. Knapp took up his location on Lot No. 14, where he raised a large family and died July 1, 1847, aged 91 years. His remains are buried in the Peruville cemetery. Mr. White gave his attention to the construction of the first grist-mill of the town, which stood about forty rods west of the present grist-mill in Freeville, just north-west of where the highway now crosses Fall Creek. He procured a stone which he found out on the Thompson (now Skillings) farm, split it and himself dressed out and took to the mill the first millstones, which answered the purpose and were in constant use until the mill was reconstructed in 1818. His mill was completed in 1802, prior to which time the pioneer was obliged to take his grist to Ludlow's Mill (now Ludlowville) to be ground, or pound it into meal in the hollow of a large stump, as was sometimes done by hand. During the past summer parts of this boulder out of which Mr. White worked these first millstones, were brought to the grounds of the Dryden Agricultural Society by Samuel Skillings, a descendant of Samuel Knapp, and left near the new log cabin, where they will remain as a relic and reminder of the use which Mr. White made in 1802 of a part of the rock. Besides being a practical miller, Mr. White was an ordained deacon of the M. E. church and preached on the Cayuga circuit in 1802, and for several years afterwards. He came to Lansing from Pennsylvania but was originally from Roxbury, Mass., and died at the age of seventy-eight, leaving a family of fourteen children, of whom the only present survivors are Daniel M. White, of Dryden, secretary of the present Centennial Committee, Mrs. Anna Monfort, of Peruville, and Mrs. George F. A. Baker, of West Dryden. Many of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now living.

Aaron Lacy, father of the late John R. Lacy, came from New Jersey and settled at Willow Glen early in the year 1799, on the corner since occupied by the Stickles family.

Zephaniah Brown came from Saratoga and settled on Lot 71, adjoining the town to Ithaca, in the year 1799, cutting the first road from that portion of the town to Ithaca, which was extended two years later by Peleg Ellis to the Ellis Hollow neighborhood. Brown seems to have been the first pioneer in that part of the town and resided for a number of years on the farm since occupied by Chauncey L. Scott. But in about 1830 he and his family moved to Michigan, leaving, so far as we can learn, no descendants in the town.

Tradition has handed down to us an incident of being here preserved of the first visit between the two pioneer families of Peleg Ellis and Zephaniah Brown, after a path had been made connecting their respective clearings in the forest. Mrs. Ellis came to make her call upon her new neighbor on horseback, one of her little girls sitting in front of her and the other behind. As they emerged from the woods into the clearing Mrs. Brown saw them and anxiously called out to her husband in a voice loud enough to be heard by Mrs. Ellis : "Zephaniah! Zephaniah! Mrs. Ellis is coming. What shall we have for tea?" To which her husband replied in a voice still heard by the visitor: "Make a shortcake! Make a shortcake and put the cream in thick ; put it in thick, I say."

Society did not then require of Dryden neighbors the formalities, and shall we say hypocrisy, now in vogue ; but who can say that there did not then exist among these pioneers dressed in homespun clothing and living in their log houses in the clearing, more genuine, heartfelt hospitality than exists to-day, among their more polished descendants in their expensive mansions, furnished with all that modern luxury and elegance can suggest?

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 17-19.

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

Posted by simon at April 10, 2004 10:22 PM in , ,
Note on photos


Mike Sanford said:

I am lookng for more information re Ezekiel Sanford, his son Elisaph Sanford and Elisaph's son Soton Sanford as I am from this line. I would appreciate anyone with information contacting me at mandmsan@comcast.net Thanks for the help. Mike