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Early Wayne County History
- It is sometimes difficult to realize that in the not so distant past the greater part of New York State was an Indian country. As late as 1755 an Iroquois chief said to Sir William Johnson, of that territory which had been his by right of possession for centuries: "The land that reaches down from Oswego to Schanandowana (Wyoming), we beg not to be settled by Christians." The Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1786) recognized the justice of the Indian claims to this region as their property, and provision was made for the purchase of it by the white invading settler. In the compromise of the conflicting claims of New York and Massachusetts to districts now in New York, a line was drawn from Pennsylvania to, and through, the present Wayne County, west of which, Massachusetts had the "preemption right," or the first right to buy land from the Indians, the rightful owners.
Wayne County was evidently the joint home of the Senecas and Cayugas, who used it more for their hunting and fishing grounds than for settlement. There is no evidence that the Jesuits ever had a mission in the county; it is probable they did not. Neither have we any record of the French wanderers making any attempt to establish a permanent camp within the district, although Sodus Bay must have been a desirable harbor for them on their lake journeys to Niagara and the points west. This region was fortunate in escaping most of the horrors of the early wars. The Six Nations broke their agreement to remain neutral in the Revolution, but the result was, as far as Wayne was concerned, to introduce it to the whites. Sullivan's raid, the precursor of Sherman's "March to the Sea," laid waste the towns of the Iroquois from Elmira, through the Genesee Valley, almost to Lake Ontario. The returning soldiers of this army "relieved the dark picture of their warfare with descriptions of the rolling uplands and rich valleys-the Canaan they had seen." Four years later the war closed and the great hegira to the "west" was on. One of the first great land purchases in the county, the Phelps-Gorham, came about through the tales of Major Adam Hoops, one of Sullivan's aides. These men bought from the Indians 2,600,000 acres for $5,000, and an annual payment of $500. Included in this was a "mill yard" in the section farther west than the Indians cared to sell, but which as a favor they threw in with the rest. The mill yard was a strip of land twelve miles wide, extending from Avon to the mouth of the river a mere 200,000 acres!
To attempt to trace the various lines, grants and reserves laid down or sold at the pre-Revolutionary period would take too many pages. The old "Preemption line," the boundary fixed by the States of Massachusetts and New York, beyond which the inhabitants of the former-mentioned State had the first right of purchase from the Indians, almost divided the present county in halves, and was located three miles west of Sodus Bay. The new survey, made necessary by the fraudulent or careless work of the original surveyors, fixed this line as running through Sodus Bay on the north from Seneca Lake. The correctness of this line was not questioned, but it left a section known as the "Gore" in early documents which added to the difficulty in assured possession of those lands purchased before the opening of the nineteenth century.
The first settlers of the region which is now Wayne County located along the Ganargwa River, which was natural, since it was not only a fine stream for water power, but was surrounded by very fertile lands. Moreover, the stream was the easiest highway from the main road, leading west. The first westward road was one coming from near Utica to Geneva, and, with the building of the Cayuga Bridge, in 1800, was the road chosen by nearly all of the westward travelers. This highway left the Wayne region somewhat isolated and the person wanting to locate here came by way of the set of streams and lakes Iying to the north of this road. But it was only a few years after, 1800, that the "New Road" came west, passing through the county, opening up the fertile Ganargwa lands.
The first permanent settlement was started by John Swift and Col. John Jenkins, March, 1789, about two miles from Palmyra. In May of this same year a small colony made up of the Stansell and Leatherby families located at the junction of Ganargwa and the Canandaigua Outlet, calling the place Lyons, from a fancied likeness of the place to the spot on the Rhone, where that great city had its site. Williamson, the owner of much of the Gore, had selected Sodus Bay as the point for a future commercial center, on the idea that the lake and the St. Lawrence would be the outlet for the products of all this north country. In 1794 he had roads cut from Palmyra to Phelpstown, and made bold statements concerning the town he was to build and the wonderful prospects it had. The town was surveyed by Joseph Colt in lots of a quarter acre; a hotel was built; $20,000 dollars was expended in the first two years in improvements; Sodus quickly passed from the doubtful class to the head of the towns of the region.
The British still retained their forts on the northern border after the Revolution and threatened an invasion of the territory which included the county. The Indians were also getting obstreperous, and the pioneers were somewhat worried. But Mad Anthony Wayne gave the tribes a thorough whipping and the British moved back into Canada in 1799, so that with the horizon cleared the work of settling the region went merrily on.
- Read more about it! . . . Summer Driftings Among the Lakes - a 19th century travelogue.
PLUS . . .
Each of these sections has different books on the same region:
- Town & County
- Native American
- Trains & Steamboats
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Copyright © 1996 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.