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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher


Chapter III.
The First White Men in what is now Tompkins County—The Last of the Local Indians—The March of Civilization—Arrival of the First Permanent Settlers—and Perils of their Journey—The Route Taken—Locality of First Settlement—The Pioneers of Ithaca—Dates of Settlement in the Various Towns.

Probably the first white persons who visited this locality were missionaries, and an account is given of one who passed through here from the Susquehanna River as early as 1657, but whether others came or not is not recorded. Following this single missionary, or others if there were more, the SULLIVAN expedition and members of his army may properly be said to have been the first white men who set foot on the soil of the present county of Tompkins. There exists no evidence that any of the army remained, for as a body the troops marched to Catherine Town after the Indian villages were destroyed, and joined the main force, the entire command at once returning on the route through the Chemung, Susquehanna and Wyoming valleys.

The Indians, retreating before SULLIVAN's army, did not return from the western part of the State; or, if scattered families came back, it was to find the cabins they formerly occupied burned, their crops destroyed, their fruit trees cut down, and only desolation before them as they wandered from the site of one Indian village to another. Under such circumstances it is not to be wondered at that the spirits of the warriors were measurably broken and the desire to again make this region their home, to again build up their villages and cultivate anew their devastated fields, passed away forever. The few Indians who remained hereafter that memorable campaign against them, removed to the northern part of the State in 1790.1

From 1779 to 1788 there was no change. The few Indians who escaped SULLIVAN'S army and remained here, or who returned and brought families, cultivated their clearings in a half-hearted way, supplying their needs by hunting and fishing, for the forests were filled with game and the waters of Cayuga Lake and the streams flowing into it swarming with fish.

The first white persons intending to become permanent settlers were the eleven men who left Kingston, on the Hudson River in April, 1788. With two Delaware Indians as guides, they started out to explore the wilderness west of the Susquehanna River. All knowledge they possessed of the locality towards which they directed their steps was derived from Indians who had hunted in the dense forests which covered the entire western part of the State, and those adventurers started upon a journey supposed to be full of peril and replete with dangers incident to travel in an unknown and unsettled region. Something over a month passed before the party returned to Kingston, having examined only the country embracing Cayuga and Seneca Lakes and a few miles in each direction around these waters. They made no selection of lands and came to no decision to ever return to the localities they had visited. In April, 1789, however, three of those who had traversed the country the previous year determined to return, and they finally settled upon a lot of 400 acres, extending east from Tioga street in the present city of Ithaca. Within the valley upon this tract clearings were found from which the hazel and thorn bushes had been removed by the Indians, and which had been cultivated by them. Within these clearings and upon this tract of 400 acres, Jacob YAPLE, Isaac DUMOND, and Peter HINEPAW settled. By them the clearings were at once put under cultivation; corn was planted and, leaving a younger brother of one of the party to care for the crops, these adventurous men returned east to fetch their families to the new homes amid the almost unbroken forest, which they reached in September following. They brought with them a few articles of necessary household furniture, some farming utensils, and hogs, sheep, cattle and horses. No better history of these men and their settlement here can be given than is to be found in a lecture delivered by Horace KING, one of the most brilliant young men ever resident in Ithaca, on the 5th of April, 1847, reprints of which are now somewhat rare. He said:

The Yaple family was composed of Jacob YAPLE, his wife and three children, and John YAPLE, a younger brother, aged about twenty years. The DUMOND family consisted of Isaac DUMOND, his wife and three children, and John DUMOND and his wife who had then been lately married. The HINEPAW family was comprised of Peter HINEPAW, his wife and five children, the oldest of whom was about twelve years of age. In all there were twenty individuals.

The length of time occupied in their journey from Kingston hither, in the light of rapid traveling of this day, seems incredible. A month was consumed in reaching the point where the village of Owego is now situated, and from thence to Ithaca nineteen days. But a reference to the route pursued and to the manner of traveling explains it. From Kingston they crossed to the eastern branch of the Delaware, reaching it at Middletown, the southeastern township of Delaware County; there they constructed canoes, in which they descended the river to a little below the fork; then they crossed to the Susquehanna, and again making canoes, descended that river to Owego. Between that place and Ithaca there was no road of any description—unless a well-beaten Indian foot-path might be considered one—and therefore they were compelled to clear the way before them in order to journey onward. Having arrived at their place of destination, they immediately proceeded in their preparations for permanently remaining. In a short time three log cabins were erected, and the respective families took possession of their dwellings. The first built, which was occupied by HINEPAW, was situated on the Cascadilla Creek near the mill at the crossing of the stream by Linn street; the second occupied by YAPLE was on East State street where Jacob M . McCORMICK's house stands [now—1894— occupied by Miss Bell COWDRY]; and the third occupied by DUMOND was near the same spot.

The only settlements within hailing distance were at Owego, where three families had settled the year previous; at Newtown, where two or three families had located and at a point some four miles north of Cayuga lake, on its outlet, where there were also two or three families.

It must not be supposed that the pioneers had no communication with older settlements at the east. Acquaintances were moved to engage in the same enterprise of finding homes, and subduing and cultivating the land to fertility. Those imbued with this desire in their search for attractive locations, of course traveled routes leading, as far as possible, where friends might be found, and such were warmly welcomed at all times. They brought information from the east, and on their return carried word back from those who had made homes amid the primeval forest. Encouraged by reports received, other families began preparations for removal to this locality, and thus a current of emigration commenced to flow in this direction, which soon attained large proportions and aided materially in opening up and populating the area covered by the present county of Tompkins.

It was only natural that those who first reached here and made their future homes, should have felt enthusiastic as to the climate, soil and every element necessary to make a settlement desirable; and their reports induced a large number of persons from the east, relatives or friends of those who had gone before, as well as others, to move to the head of Cayuga Lake, the present site of Ithaca city, and also to surrounding neighborhoods within the present bounds of Tompkins county. (Further settlements on the site of Ithaca are noted in the history of the village and city in later pages of this work.)

Six years after the first settlement at Ithaca, in the year 1795, Capt. David RICH came from Western Massachusetts and settled in Caroline, and in the same year the widow of Francis EARSLEY, with ten children, emigrated to the same locality from Roxbury, Essex county, New Jersey.

In 1795, Isaac and John DUMOND, with Jacob and John YAPLE, all of whom lost their title to the lot they originally located upon at Ithaca, through the knavery or carelessness of their agent, who failed to pay taxes at Albany upon their land, removed to Danby and built the first house in that town. Dr. Lewis BEERS and Jabez BEERS came from Connecticut in 1807, bringing with them William R. COLLINS and Joseph JUDSON, aged respectively sixteen and fifteen years. COLLINS did not remain in Danby, but removed to Ithaca and in after years was a man of note in that place.

The first settlement was made in the town of Dryden in 1797 by Amos SWEET, who was followed in the next year by Ezekiel SANDFORD, David FOOT and Ebenezer CHAUSEN.

Enfield was first settled in 1804 by John GILTNER (or GELTNER) and was advanced in the following year by John WHITE, Peter BANFIELD and John APPLEGATE.

The first settlement in what is now Groton was made about the year 1796 by Samuel HOGG, at West Groton; Ichabod BROWN, John GUTHRIE and —— PERRIN, at Groton; and J. WILLIAMS, J. HOUGHTALING and W. S. CLARK near McLean.

The earliest settlement in the town of Lansing was made by Silas and Henry LUDLOW, brothers, in the year 1791, and Samuel BAKER and Solomon HYATT began improvements there in the next year.

The settlement of Newfield was begun by James THOMAS probably as early as 1800, and within a year or two afterwards two or three others settled there.

The first settlement in what is now the town of Ulysses was made in 1792 bv Abner and Philip TREMAINE (now "TREMAN").

The foregoing summary of the first settlements in the several towns of the county may be useful at this point for reference, while the subject is continued in detail in the town histories in later pages of the volume.

1 The pages of history tell us of the barbarities practiced by the red men upon the pioneers of New England. It is not, perhaps, strange that a knowledge of those barbarities which have scarcely ceased in the western world at the present day, should have led later generations of white people not only to regard their authors as merciless savages without one redeeming trait, but also to believe that the bloody deeds of the red men were committed without any material provocation. A more careful study of the Indian peoples will, however, indicate that such was not the case. While it is undeniable that the march of civilization cannot be stayed, and that the weaker must give place to the stronger in the world's progress, it is also true that the natives of the western world never failed to meet the first white comers to any particular locality with open arms and peace in their hearts. That the contest with all its horrors was inevitable, is undoubted; but in it each side took its share of the responsibility, and the untutored savages, their brains influenced by the rum of the white man, turned upon the latter the very guns for which they were deluded into giving up their birthrights. It was a struggle for supremacy and each side used whatever advantage it possessed to achieve victory, and met its foes according to its nature and circumstances.

Landmarks - Chapter IV

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
Thank you Carl Hommel.

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