July 11, 2004

If a bear steals your pig...

Life in the early settlements of Dryden was a challenge, as many of the stories George Goodrich provides here indicate. Your chimney, if you had one, was made of sticks and mud, building that first clearing for a house took eleven days of solitary chopping, and bears would still your pigs when they had the chance. On the other hand, as the stories of the Ellis family suggest, there was tremendous opportunity in this forest.

Chapter VII.

Settlements from 1800 to 1803 Inclusive.

In the year 1800 Lyman Hurd came in from Vermont and settled with his wife and children at Willow Glen, on the corner opposite the blacksmith shop, now vacant. His house which he built there was then the best in town because it had a chimney, the others having merely a hole in the roof for the smoke to pass out. This chimney was not made of bricks and mortar, but of sticks and mud, built up from the beam over the fire-place in cob-house fashion, such as was known in those days as a "stick chimney," the best that could be made with the material at hand. Mr. Hurd brought with him a pair of horses, the first seen in the new settlement, but unfortunately one of them died during the first winter, not being able perhaps to subsist upon "browse," which, as we have seen, was about all the food for domestic animals which the town then afforded. In this dilemna Mr. Hurd and his hired man went off through the woods to Tully and there procured an ox, which they brought home and harnessed with the surviving horse by means of what was called a half yoke, and the "Old Man in the Clouds" certifies to us that for all purposes, "such as plowing, logging, going to mill and to meeting, this team worked together admirably."

Other settlers of the same year were Nathaniel Sheldon, the first physician to reside in the town, and Ruloff Whitney, who built the first sawmill of the town, which was located on Virgil creek, on the road leading north from Willow Glen, which was opened at this time by the authorities of the town (still Ulysses) to connect at this point the "Bridle" road with the old "State" road. This mill was located upon what has since been known as the Joseph McGraw farm, and furnished the first lumber for the new settlement. Ruloff Whitney was also the first bridegroom of the town, having wooed and won one of Virgil's fair daughters, Miss Susan Glenny, whom he married in this, the first year of the nineteenth century, or perhaps more accurately speaking the last of the eighteenth. From this time on settlers were numerous and will be noticed further on when we come to treat of the separate localities of the town with which they are associated, mentioning here in detail on those who, to some extent, are prominently connected with the history of the town, as a whole.

Among these were the two brothers John and Peleg Ellis, who came originally from West Greenwich, Rhode Island, and first settled in Herkimer county of this state, from which John came to Virgil in 1798, having purchased of the Samuel Cook estate Lot No. 23 of that town, upon which he remained about three years. In the meantime his brother Peleg, having exchanged with this same Cook family his home in Herkimer county for Lot No. 84 of Dryden, in the locality since known as Ellis Hollow, first came out to view his new possessions in the fall of 1799. He had difficulty at first to locate his newly acquired property in the universal forest, until meeting with Captain Robertson, he received such directions as enabled him to find it, by means of a map and the marked trees which, when properly understood, indicated the boundaries of the recently surveyed lots. Having found his property he immediately commenced chopping for a clearing, and he is said to have passed eleven days alone at work without once seeing a human being. On the eleventh day Zephaniah Brown, who, as we have seen, had already settled on Lot 71, hearing the sound of the axe came up with his gun in his hand to make his first call upon his new neighbor.

Returning home to spend the winter, Mr. Ellis came on, the next summer, with his family, then consisting of his wife and two daughters, and built on the headwaters of Cascadilla Creek, which flowed through his lot, his first home of logs, in which he lived for eight years. Here, on January 30, 1801, was born Delilah (Mulks), the oldest of the family of Major Ellis to be born in Dryden, the two eldest daughters having come here with their parents. We shall have occasion to refer to Major Ellis hereafter as the captain of the first company of Dryden men to engage in the War of 1812, having afterward been commissioned as major of the militia of the olden time. He lived on the farm which he had thus commenced clearing in 1799 for nearly sixty years and died there on his eighty-fourth birthday, May 9th, 1859. Four of his family of twelve children are still living, one of them, Mrs. John M. Smith, still occupying the homestead. Major Ellis is said to have been a man universally esteemed for his honesty and the qualities which make a good citizen and a faithful friend.

His brother John, whom we left in Virgil, sold his property there and came to Dryden in 1801, first settling here on the farm near Malloryville, since owned by A. B. Lamont, where he remained about three years. Afterwards he also resided in Ellis Hollow near his brother; but a few years before his death, which occurred April 10, 1846, he took up his final place of residence in the town on the place now owned by J. Wesley Hiles, one-half mile north of Dryden village, nearly opposite to the farm where his grandson, Geo. A. Ellis, now resides. From the date of his residence here to his death, John Ellis seems to have been the most prominent citizen of the town. Before the county of Tompkins was organized he held the position of Jude of the Court of Common Pleas of Cayuga county, and afterwards he held the same position in Tompkins county. He was chosen supervisor of the town for twenty-seven years, was a member of the State Legislature in 1831 and 1832, besides holding many minor offices. Subsequent politicians must despair of equalling his record as an office holder, and we must all concede that he was entitled to the designation which was given to him at the time, of being "King of Dryden." Among his many descendants are Thomas J. McElheny, of Ithaca, John E. McElheny, of Dryden, and the late Jennie McGraw-Fiske, to whom we are indebted for the Southworth Library. Judge Ellis is said to have been a man of commanding presence, keen and quick in the use of his intellectual powers. A portrait of him, painted in Albany during his attendance at the State Legislature, is still owned by his grandson, John E. McElheny, and was on exhibition at Dryden's Centennial Celebration, a copy of which is the frontispiece of this volume. For further particulars concerning John and Peleg Ellis see the subsequent chapter of this History which treats of the Ellis family in Dryden.

In the year 1801 the first merchant of the town, Joel Hull, from Massachusetts, settled at Willow Glen, taking up his abode on the corner now occupied by Moses Rowland. He was also the first resident surveyor in the town, but it is said that he was neither a hunter nor a shingle maker, two qualifications which all other early settlers were supposed to possess. He was, however, a man of much intelligence, the first town clerk, in 1803, and a man whose advice was sought in legal matters, being an expert in drawing deeds and contracts. His store was opened in an addition to his house in 1802. His stock of goods was purchased at Aurora and consisted of a chest of old Bohea tea, which he sold at one dollar per pound, a quantity of Cavendish tobacco, at three shillings per pound, and two or three rolls of pig-tail tobacco, at three cents per yard, cash. As money was scarce, barter was in order, and one bushel of ashes would buy one yard of pig-tail. His stock also included a keg of whiskey, two or three pieces of calico and some narrow sheetings. He ventured more extensively in trade afterwards and failed in business, thus setting a bad example which succeeding merchants have too often followed. He and his family afterwards removed to Pennsylvania. An incident of him is vouched for by the "Old Man in the Clouds" which ought to be preserved, as illustrating the condition of the country at that time, and is as follows : In the spring of 1803 he received, from some distant friends in the East, a pig, which was allowed to run at large about the house and in the woods and grew to be a fine shoat of sixty to eighty pounds. One day as Mr. Hull was chopping wood at his door he heard the pig squealing at the edge of the clearing, some fifteen rods distant, as if something was the matter. A windfall of large pines lay between the house and the standing timber, which concealed the location from which the sound was heard, but taking his axe in hand and followed by his oldest son Thomas Lewis, Mr. Hull rushed to the rescue. Arriving upon the scene, he discovered a large bear, with the pig closely embraced in its fore paws, marching off towards the swamp. The bear shortly arrived at a log over which he was struggling to carry his prize, when Mr. Hull dashed up from behind and drove his axe into the head of the robber, killing him instantly and exclaiming at the same time, "Damn you Bruin, I'll teach you the result of stealing my only pig in broad daylight." The pig, though badly injured, recovered and reached full grown proportions.

In the year 1801, there arrived from New Jersey the Lacy brothers, Richard, Thomas, Daniel, Benjamin, and James, who located, the first where Jackson Jameson now lives, the next three in Dryden village, and the youngest, James, near Dryden Lake. All afterwards removed further west, except Benjamin, the father of the late John C. Lacy, of whom we shall have more to say hereafter in connection with Dryden village. In the same year two brothers, Peter and Christopher Snyder, came from Oxford, N. J., and commenced a clearing on Lot 43, to which they emigrated in the following season, as will be seen at length in a succeeding chapter upon the "Snyder Family in Dryden."

William Sweezy lived one-half mile north of Varna and a man by the name of Cooper settled one-half mile south of Etna as early as 1801.

Andrew Sherwood, a soldier of the Revolution, who was the ancestor of another family which has multiplied and flourished in Dryden, came with his son Thomas and settled on Lot No. 9 in the year 1802.

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 20-23.

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

Posted by simon at July 11, 2004 3:13 PM in
Note on photos


Lynne Stamm said:

Nice historical background. I'm related to the Ellis, McElheny and Lamont families of Dryden.