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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

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


Chapter IV.
The Work of the Pioneers—What was Accomplished prior to County Organization—Beginning of the New County Government—The Financial Panic of 1837-8—Its Effects in this County—Recuperation—The War Period—Prompt Action in Ithaca—Filling the Various Quotas of the County.

The history of Tompkins county during the period between the time of the first settlements and the county organization is quite fully given in the several town histories in later chapters of this work. There will be found treated with especial care the deeds of the early comers in the various localities in laying the foundations of their future homes.

We learn therein that while progress generally during that period was steady, it is, on the other hand, true that the early opening of the more accessible and beautiful "Genesee country," as it was termed, served for a time to check the influx of settlers to this region. The natural course of immigration, moreover, seemed to be up the Mohawk valley and thence directly westward, which fact, combined with the extravagant reports of the beauty and richness of the western part of the State, produced a marked effect upon the inflowing tide of pioneers.

As an indication of the privations under which our forefathers lived, W. T. EDDY, from whose interesting reminiscences we shall draw, wrote as follows:

There is considerable said in these days about hard times, but let me relate to you, as it was told to me how Mr. EARL, the father of the brothers Isaac and Caleb that lived and were masons in the village quite a number of years. Mr. EARL, the father, then lived up the Inlet nine miles in the town of Newfield. He walked from his home to the residence of Judge TOWNLEY, in the town of Lansing, a distance of about eighteen miles, worked for Mr. TOWNLEY until he earned a bushel and a half of wheat, took it in a bag on his back, came to the mill on Cascadilla Creek, had it ground, and then carried it home to Newfield.

Mr. EDDY said of the second grist mill that it was owned by Joseph S. SYDNEY and was located on Fall Creek at Free Hollow near the bridge ; it was built in 1794. Mr. SYDNEY sold out and in 1802, built a grist mill on Cascadilla Creek not far from the depot of the E., C. & N. Railroad; he died there in 1815.

But the settlers of what is now Tompkins county were not idle in their new homes. We have already seen that a foothold was gained in various localities several years before the opening of the present century, and it is certain that all of those who had thus early located here, with the many others who followed them prior to the organization of the county, had made a remarkable change in the territory in question. Roads were opened, one of the first from the eastward, as early as 1791-92, over which traveled many of the pioneers. Others in 1804-5, 1807, in which year two important highways were opened, and others at a little later time, as hereafter described. Saw mills multiplied on the many streams and the rich pine forests were prostrated and the logs cut into valuable lumber to be sold or used at home in the construction of farm buildings, the cleared ground at the same time becoming susceptible to cultivation. Clearings appeared here and there in yearly increasing numbers, and the original log dwellings were soon superseded by more comfortable frame structures. Grist mills, sufficiently well equipped to do the coarse grinding which satisfied the hardy people, were soon running, and incipient manufactures and mercantile business sprang up.

Two years before the county organization Ithaca had its newspaper in the Seneca Republican, the forefather of the still-existing Journal. And there was legal business (where is there not where two or three human beings are gathered together?) for such attorneys as David WOODCOCK, Charles HUMPHREY, and A. D. W. BRUYN were in Ithaca before there was a county of Tompkins. The physical ills of the settlers were assuaged, let us hope, by Drs. John C. HOYT, A. J. MILLER, Dyer FOOTE, and Daniel MEAD in Ithaca, and two or three others in surrounding towns, before the county was formed; and church organization had been effected more than a decade earlier. These are all indisputable evidences of progress and thrift. Ithaca was as early as 1810 regarded as one of the most thriving and promising villages in the interior of this State.

The act of Legislature under which Tompkins county was organized was passed April 17, 1817, and constituted the new county from parts of Cayuga and Seneca counties. Its area has been twice changed; first on March 22, 1822, by the annexation of three towns from Tioga county. On the 4th of June, 1853, by enactment a small strip on the west side of Newfield was annexed to Chemung county. The act, however, was not to become operative until January 1, 1856. Before that time Schuyler was erected and this territory became a part of that county. Again on April 17, 1854, the town of Hector was taken off and annexed to Schuyler county.

The act of incorporation established the county seat at Ithaca, and contained provisions for the erection of court buildings, as described in the chapter on the bar of the county. The first principal officers of the county were as follows: First Judge, Oliver C. COMSTOCK, appointed April 10, 1817. Surrogate, Andrew D. W. BRUYN, appointed March 11, 1817. Clerk, Archer GREEN, appointed March 11, 1817. Sheriff, Hermon CAMP, appointed April 11, 1817; (he was succeeded by Henry BLOOM on the 26th of June, 1817.) District Attorney, David WOODCOCK, appointed April 15, 1817. (Justices of the Peace are given elsewhere.)

The machinery for the new county government was soon in successful operation. The public buildings were erected as provided for in the act of incorporation, and public improvements were actively prosecuted until they felt the check of the distressing financial stringency of 1836-7. Previous to that time two or three railroads had been chartered and one of them opened to traffic in 1834, amid general rejoicing. The Sodus Canal topic was uppermost in the public mind for a number of years during the period under consideration, while at the same time the agricultural element was steadily pressing forward toward the satisfactory condition it finally reached.

Slavery cast its dark shadow over this county until so recent a date, comparatively speaking, that it almost astonishes the most thoughtful of us when brought to fully realize the facts. The first quarter of the present century had almost expired before the last remnant of the nation's curse was expelled. The census of 1820 shows that in the territory now contained in Tompkins county, and the town of Hector, then a part of it, slaves were held as follows: Ulysses (then including the present towns of Ithaca and Enfield), two males and one female. Danby, two males and four females. Caroline (see history of that town), eighteen males and fourteen females. Hector, nine males. Dryden, Groton and Lansing, none. In the population of the town of Hector there were thirty free colored persons; in Ulysses, eighteen; Caroline, none; Danby, five.

In the disastrous financial revulsion and panic which swept over the entire country in 1836-7 Ithaca suffered severely, but not more so than most other similar places, and far less than some. During the early part of the first year named, and to some extent in 1835, the speculative fever began and soon rose to its highest pitch. Fabulous prices were paid for land and fictitious valuation thus created without any solid foundation. Of course most of this financial expansion was witnessed in and near by the village of Ithaca; but its effects were felt throughout the county. Suburban farms were laid out in village lots, and it has been stated that scarcely an acre of land within two miles of the village was purchasable for tillage. The speculators (and they embraced almost the entire community) saw visions of numerous banks, railroads branching out in every direction, canals filled with a continuous procession of laden boats, and above all, money without stint. In a number of the Ithaca Journal in July of 1836, is a report that a sale of sundry water power rights at Fall Creek were sold at auction and brought $220,000, and that "a parcel of the De WITT estate which was purchased last December for $4,676, sold at auction on the 6th [of July] for $52,929. A farm which was purchased last summer for $50 per acre, has recently been sold for $500 per acre, and the purchaser has been offered and declined an advance on his purchase." Usurious rates of interest prevailed everywhere and money was in active demand at exorbitant figures. This is explainable by the fact that many persons, influenced by the general speculative fever, were led to borrow funds with which they hoped to not only pay the heavy interest from their profits, but clear a competency besides; thus almost the entire community was drawn into the whirlpool. There could be but one ending to this. It was precipitated by the issue of President Jackson's well known "specie circular," and the crash was overwhelming to many.

Men were brought suddenly to realize that there were some things in the universe (one of which was the solid ground) that could not be purchased at depreciated prices with depreciated currency. Banks contracted their currency, a general suspension of specie payments fol lowed, and ruin was prevalent. The succeeding stagnation in Tompkins county is evidenced at least to some extent by the fact that while previous to 1837 there was various legislation relative to the incorporation of companies, inauguration of public enterprises, improving the charter of Ithaca village, etc., some of which went into effect almost yearly between that year and 1857 (a period of about twenty years), when legislation of this nature nearly ceased.

Recovery from this memorable panic was slow in this county, and to it may undoubtedly be credited in a large degree the extremely conservative methods of the business men during the next quarter of a century. But if the growth during that period was slow and business methods were conservative, that growth was healthy and built upon a solid foundation. The effects of this panic upon Ithaca and its immediate vicinity are described more in detail in the history of the village and city in later pages.

Again in 1857, at the time of the general bank suspension, the Merchants' and Farmers' Bank alone paid specie for its bills, but did it by gold drafts on Albany. The time at length arrived when the inhabitants of this county were called upon to share in the burdens, the terrors and the triumphs of the great civil war, the records of which are enrolled upon many brilliant pages. For this work a concise account of the events of the great conflict as they applied directly to the county must suffice.

Scarcely had the first roll of the drum been heard in the north when active operations were begun in this county. Volunteers came forward, many of them being members of the old De WITT Guard, and enroled their names, and on the 23d of April, only six days after the first call for troops, they met to the number of sixty-one, sufficient for a company, and elected the following officers: Captain, Jerome ROWE; first lieutenant, James H. TICHENOR; second lieutenant, William O. WYCKOFF ; first sergeant, William M. GODLEY; second sergeant, E. V. FULKERSON; third sergeant, Edward ATWATER ; fourth sergeant, Doctor TARBELL ; first corporal, Leonard ATWATER; second corporal, Clinton McGILL; third corporal, James A. DICKINSON; fourth corporal, George B. SHEPHERDZ. This company left for New York on the 3d of May, and by the 8th another company was filled and commanded by Captain John WHITLOCK, which left on the 9th for Elmira. These organizations joined the 32d regiment which left for the front on the 25th of June, 1861, and saw severe service during its term of three years. Military enthusiasm was at white heat. The Tompkins County Bank offered the governor $25,000, and J. B. WILLIAMS notified the governor that he would advance means to fully equip any volunteers raised in this county.

Meanwhile a committee appointed by the citizens of Ithaca on the 22d of April for the furtherance of military operations and particularly to raise a fund for the relief of the families of volunteers, had succeeded by May in raising nearly $9,000. As accessory to this committee the Ladies' Volunteer Association was organized on the 14th of June, and the 25th reported that they had received about $350 in cash and a vast quantity of supplies of various kinds. Miss Jane L. HARDY was secretary and treasurer of the association, and was conspicuous in all movements for the benefit of soldiers and their families; she is still living in Ithaca.

On the 7th of September, 1861, a mammoth mass convention was held in Ithaca, at which patriotic addresses were delivered by Daniel S. DICKINSON, Horatio BALLARD and others; the call for the convention was signed by ten or twelve columns of names in the journal.

In the summer of 1862, when the prospects in the field were looking very dark and there seemed to be doubt about securing additional volunteers, the governor appointed a large committee in each senatorial district of the State to take charge of raising a regiment in each district, to apply on the 50,000 volunteers required from the State. The names of the committee for this district were Lyman TRUMAN, B. F. TRACY, George BARTLETT, Ransom BALCOM, J. B. WILLIAMS, J. W. DWIGHT, and H. D. BARTO. The committee met in Owego on the 21st of July. To aid in the work the committee appointed town committees which were for Tompkins county as follows:

<BLOCKQUOTE>

Caroline—William CURTIS, John BULL, William TAFT, Epenetus HOWE, John J. BUSH.

Danby—W. A. MANDEVILLE, T. J. PHILLIPS, Josiah HAWES, Harvey D. Miller, E. L. B. CURTIS.

Dryden—Luther GRISWOLD, Smith ROBERTSON, Charles GIVENS, Thomas J. MCELHENY, W. W. SNYDER.

Enfield—W. L. BOSTWICK, Samuel V. GRAHAM, Joseph ROLFE, L. H. VAN KIRK, Henry BREWER.

Lansing—H. B. LORD, A. W. KNETTLES, J. N. TOWNLEY, David CROCKER, Albert BAKER.

Newfield—B. R. McALLISTER, C. C. COOK, Oliver PUFF, P. S. DUDLEY, Benjamin STARR.

Groton—William D. MOUNT, D. B. MARSH, H. K. CLARK, Charles PERRIGO, John P. HART.

Ithaca—J. L. WHITON, George D. BEERS, E. C. SEYMOUR, L. R. KING, B. G. JAYNE.

Ulysses—Lyman CONGDON, J. De Motte SMITH, Monroe STOUT, David Dumont, S. R. WICKES.

So prompt and efficient was the action of these committees that a regiment was soon filled, and another followed directly after the first one being mustered in early in August and the latter went to the front on the 15th of September. Both of these organizations performed heroic deeds on the battlefield and left many of their members among the honored dead in unknown graves where they fell, and in the hospital cemeteries.

In the prosecution of the work of securing volunteers in the summer of 1862 a great war meeting was held in Ithaca on the 25th of July, at which many well known men made speeches. Under the then existing call for 300,000 men the quota for Ithaca was 83; for Dryden, and Groton, 92; for Enfield, Ulysses and Lansing, 92; for Newfield, Danby and Caroline, 84.Town committees were appointed to enroll all who were liable to draft, preparatory to the draft incident upon failure to fill the call of July 2, 1862. The quotas necessary to be raised to avoid the draft were as follows: Caroline, 72; Danby, 70; Dryden, 154; Enfield, 58; Groton, 110; Ithaca, 212; Lansing, 100; Newfield, 92; Ulysses 104.Total, 972. Meetings were promptly held and a subscription started to raise a fund to pay each volunteer $100 bounty; nearly $15,000 were subscribed at once. This action had the desired effect, and was about the first of a series of measures for the payment of the liberal bounties that were afterwards given to volunteers.

Enlistments were now rapid and the 109th Regiment, with companies A, F, and G from Tompkins county, was mustered in on the 28th of August and left Binghamton on the 30th. Other volunteers froth this county previous to the time under consideration had joined the 76th Regiment, the 64th (mustered in the fall of 1861), and other organizations.

The 137th Regiment was raised in the 24th Senatorial District in the summer and fall of 1862 and mustered in at Binghamton September 25. Company D was largely recruited in Tompkins county.

On the 24th of March, 1862, a meeting was called in Ithaca to form a Loyal League. The attendance was large and enthusiastic. Wait T. HUNTINGTON occupied the chair, with A. M. HULL, secretary. The organization was effected, with Charles E. HARDY as president, and aided materially in various ways in the promotion of the Union cause. The 143d Regiment, in which companies D and I were almost wholly from Tompkins county, was mustered into the service October 9, 1862. The summer of 1863 was an exciting time. A call for 300,000 volunteers had been promulgated and a draft ordered for July in case the quotas were not filled, which were as follows; Ithaca, 228; Lansing, 94; Groton, 96; Dryden, 124; Caroline, 63; Danby, 51; Newfield, 83; Enfield, 54; Ulysses, 80; total, 873. The enrollment in the county was 5,379. The quota was not filled and the draft was held for this county in July. As is well known, this draft, with the commutation provision by which drafted men could pay $300 and be exempt from service, resulted in very little accession to the armies of the Union; the result was another call in the autumn for still another 300,000 men, to be followed by a draft on January 1 for quotas not filled. Under this enrollment the quotas were as follows: Ithaca, 110; Lansing, 47; Groton, 49; Dryden, 64; Caroline, 33; Danby; 25; Newfield, 41; Enfield, 27; Ulysses, 40; total, 436. Now the supervisors came forward and adopted resolutions offering $300 bounty to each volunteer under the call, and taking the necessary steps to provide the issue of $150,000 in bonds to furnish the funds. Although the quota of the county was not filled by the 1st of January, the time was extended for the draft and the necessary enlistments were made before the expiration of the extension.

Under the call for 500,000 volunteers issued July 18, 1864, the Board of Supervisors offered a bounty of $300 for one year men, besides the $100 offered by the government. Enlisting agents were appointed in the several towns and the work of filling the quota went rapidly forward. The quotas were as follows: Ithaca, 158, against which there stood a credit of 108; Lansing, 66, credit 18; Groton, 73; Dryden, 96, credit 6; Caroline, 50, credit 2 ; Danby, 40, credit 4 ; Newfield, 66; Enfield, 37, credit 17; Ulysses, 57, credit 18; total quota, 643; total credit, 173, leaving 490.These quotas were all filled by the 7th of September and the draft thus escaped.

The last call for troops was made on December 19, 1864, and the few that were lacking in the county were easily secured. The gross amount, of bonds issued by the county for war purposes was $217,085. Notification cation was published that of these bonds $113,371 would be paid on presentation at the county treasurer's office, on February 25, 1866. All these bonds have been since paid.

The military organizations which included Tompkins county men were the 32d, 64th, 109th, 137th, 143d, 179th (all infantry), and the 10th, 15th, and 21st cavalry. A few volunteers may have left the county to go elsewhere and enlist. The number of enlistments from each town will be found in the later town histories. The county may ever point with just pride to the career of her soldiers in the war for the preservation of the Union.

Landmarks - Chapter V

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
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