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David Eaton: Biography
Nathan Fay 1772
Chautauqua Grapes and Joseph Belknap Fay
   
EARLY HISTORY
OF
P O R T L A N D
   
An Address delivered at the Celebration
of our National Independence, in
Portland, July 3, 1858, by D. Eaton
   
Introduction
This thesis on the history of the town of Portland (NY) was read aloud 150 years ago today - July 3, 1858 - at the town's Independence Day celebration. The Censor newspaper in nearby Fredonia published the manuscript on Wed., Aug. 11, 1858.
Its author and orator was David Eaton, then age 76, and the eldest survivor of Portland's eight pioneer landowners from 1804-06.
In it, he documents and lauds contributions to the town's existence and subsequent growth by all but one citizen - himself.
David Eaton is my 3rd great-grandfather.
Upon David's death on Oct. 8, 1872 at age 90, Elisha Fay, David's lifelong friend and fellow pioneer, became the final survivor.
It is possible this essay's only other subsequent semi-public reading happened May 13, 1938. Mrs. Monti-rose Legters, read it to attendees of a meeting of the Portland Historical Society, according to the Dunkirk Evening Observer of May 16.
Credit is due to the grand Fenton History Center in Jamestown, for preserving an edition of the original newspaper all these years.
None of its words have been changed; 150-year old grammar and punctuation has been preserved, but long paragraphs have been broken-up for ease of reading
[ ... ] spaces indicate words missing where the newspaper had been folded for 100+ years, obliterating random words and the punch line to one joke.
As a documentary chronology, it is fairly-dry in its reading. But in the final 16 paragraphs, Eaton writes from his heart, not just his memory. He laments that, perhaps, when the 100th anniversary of the town is celebrated in 1905, "some antiquarian may pore over the old musty records," then the multitudes will return to their real lives "and think no more of us."
Things like this website do not permit that to happen. For if we do not know and understand where we came from, how will we know where we're going?
David Eaton Arnold
Big Flats, NY
July 3, 2008
Text
Near the close of the last century, Joseph Ellicott, agent of the Holland Land Company, surveyed the Holland Purchase into townships; and in doing so, he must have run the east and west lines of the town, and one line through it, being the line between the fourth and fifth township and probably some of his hands cut the first tree ever felled by civilized man within the town. At a very early day, however, Judge Paine cut a new road through the town, and several wagons with immigrants passed through, and settled in Painesville, Ohio. This road was merely underbrushed, wide enough to enable a team to pass, and was for several years called Paine's road; but it was the only one in use up to 1807, when a public highway was laid out through the town by the Commissioners of Highways.
And while this survey was in was in progress, a gentleman on horseback might have been seen, riding through the woods in various directions, probably passing over the very ground on which we are now assembled, intently examining the timber, the soil, the rank herbage that everywhere covered the ground, the streams and springs of water, and nothing, in fact, seemed to escape his notice.
Who could that horseman be? And what was his object, in wandering thus in the wilderness for several days in succession, with no companion but his horse and his dog?
It was Capt. James Dunn, the first settler of the Town of Portland. He was examining the land with a view to purchase. And he did purchase about eleven hundred acres of the very cream of the town. When he returned to his family, he like all the settlers of a new country, had a great deal to say in praise of his location, he told his wife they would always have fine pasturage for their cows; for the land along the lake was covered with the richest herbage, but was so broken and uneven that would never be settled; for no one would take it as a gift.
Thus while he made a good selection for himself, he was greatly at fault in his estimate of the lake shore land, as the smiling farms all along our northern border will attest.
The next year, 1805, he built a small log house, a mere shanty, and moved his family to their home in the wilderness. His family at that time consisted of himself, his wife, and six children, eight persons in all. The same number that […..] community of near 2000 inhabitants.
The first house stood on the east side of the road leading from school house No. 8, near its junction with the main road; but there was no road at that time. The next year he built a larger house, near where David Dunn now lives, and opened a tavern, it being near Judge Paine's road.
In 1806, Nathan Fay, with his family, settled on the farm now owned by Lincoln Fay; Elisha on the farm where he long resided; Nathaniel Fay on the farm now owned by Franklin Fay; Peter Kane and family on the farm now owned by Mrs. Leech; John Price and family on the Dr. Wilbur farm; Benjamin Hutchins and family on the farm now owned by the heirs of the late George W. Arnold; and your humble historian on the spot where he now resides.
Of these eight persons who made the first purchase of land in the town, two only are now living, to wit: Mr. Elisha Fay and myself.
Of the females living here at the time, not a solitary one remains. But Mrs. Warren Couch, now a resident of this town, was a resident of the county as early as 1806. Mr. David Dunn, who was a member of the first family that settled in the town, but a minor at the time, now lives on his father's homestead, and has the honor of being that mysterious personage "the oldest inhabitant." I must not omit to mention Mr. John Fay, who was here, a minor at the time, and who I am happy to see among us on this occasion, though he now resides in adjacent town.
Between 1806 and the commencement of the war in 1812, the following persons purchased land and settled in the town viz: David Joy, Rufus Perry, Austin Klump, Thomas Klump, Perry Hall, Leonard Vibbard. Peter Ingersoll, Parsons Taylor, Erastus Taylor, Jared Taylor, Andrew Kelsey, Calvin Barnes, Jeremiah Peter, David B. Granger, Wilder Emerson, Elijah Fay, Daniel Barnes, William …, James Parker, John Quigley, William Hutchins, and Jonathan Burtch.
Of these twenty-two persons only two remain among us, viz: Parsons Taylor and Elijah Fay. Of the married ladies who were here at the commencement of the war, Mrs. Elijah Fay and Mrs. Eaton alone remain.
Of the unmarried ladies who were here then, I can bring to mind only Miss Lydia Barnes, now Mrs. Fay, Miss Fatima Barnes, now Mrs. West, and Miss Harriet Klump, now Mrs. Andrews.
At the commencement of the war there were about 30 families in the town. During the war, Hiram Fish, James Barnes, Hollis Fay, Herman Ely, Benjamin H. Jordan, and Lemuel Munson purchased land and settled in the town, and perhaps others.
A few families left during the war, and fled to the interior, beyond the sound of the British canon, and away from the noise and tumult of frontier life. After the close of war, in 1815, emigrants again flocked into the town, and in a few years, little openings and log houses made their appearances in all parts of the town.
Surrounded as we now are, by schools and churches, railroads and good common roads, literary, political and religious privileges, and all the conveyances and luxuries of life, even down to Holloway's pills and Dickens' Household Words, and all the surroundings of modern civilization, it is difficult, nay impossible, for any one at the present day, to form in his imagination a true picture of pioneer life. And it is not in my power to re-produce that picture; but I will do the best I can.
*   *   *
Take one instance of many:
A man would come here from Massachusetts or Connecticut, and after looking round for a while, pick out a lot to suit him, and then he must post off to Batavia for his article, that is to enter a contract for his land. He would then return, put up a log house, and then repair to his former home, and bring his family, if he had one, if not, marry a wife, and fetch her to his wilderness home, there to share his troubles, double his joys, and cook his potatoes. All this made a good summer's work for him.
After providing a necessary stock of provisions for the winter his strong arm would then begin to level the forest, and by the next spring he would have quite an opening.
As the virgin soil produced all kinds of crops in abundance, from that time he had no lack of provisiyns (sic), but a surplus to spare to new comers.
Now let us just look into one of those log houses, for a few minutes.
You go up to the front door, for the reason that there is no other door in the house, and knock; it will not be opened unto you, however, but you will hear a voice saying "come in," you lift the latch and enter and are saluted by a hearty "good morning, sir;" and the warm salutations, and cheerful countenances of all the inmates cause in your bosom a thrill of joy, such as is never felt in the parlors of the rich and voluptuous.
But let us examine a little further. In one corner you see a nicely made bed; it looks neat and clean; under it is a truckle bed for the children, very nice indeed. But examine a little closer and you will find the bedstead is made of round poles, with the bark peeled off, and firmly bound together with basswood bark instead of a bed …tools used in its construction being an ax, an auger, and a jackknife.
Now look at the table; it is a slab split from a whitewood log, and one side made as smooth as it well could be with a broad ax, and four legs inserted in as many auger holes complete the establishment.
Instead of chairs, you see stools made in the same manner as the table, only on a smaller scale. But call again if you please, about 12 o'clock, and you will see that table covered with a clean white cloth, and set with clean plates, knives and forks; and you will be invited to sit down and partake of as nicely cooked a venison steak as was ever set before a guest in Taylor's celebrated saloon in the city of New York.
But you may possibly get no bread with it, and perhaps no potatoes; for in those primitive times, we had sometimes one article of food, sometimes another, but often only one at a time; the only kind of fruit in our bill of fare being mandrakes. In the snow [… ] corn as a substitute for bread. But such as we had, we always gave with a hearty good will to the stranger that was within our gates.
A gentleman, having gone through this regular profess, and got his family snugly enclosed in a fashionable log house, set out with fashionable furniture, must need [to] have some pigs.
So he started off one day and bought a couple of pigs, brought them home and shut them up in a close pen, till they should get a little wonted. But being rather short of feed for them, he let them loose a little too soon. For if the pigs found such good picking in the woods, and were so well pleased with their liberty, that when night came, they thought it would hardly pay to return to their scanty fare at home, but concluded to take lodging in a hollow log.
Early the next morning started off with two of his little boys in search of his pigs. After wandering round for a while, he found two pigs, busily engaged in picking up beech nuts; and calling his boys he said, "come boys, here they are, come and help drive them home."
The boys came, but said, "why Pa, these ain't our pigs." "How do you know these are not our pigs?" said the father. "Because I know they ain't," said the boys together. "Why yes they are," said the father, "whose can they be if they are nor ours?"
As the boys could not answer this question, they were compelled to help drive them home, but they kept uttering to themselves all the way, "I know these ain't our pigs." And so it turned out. For in a few days, another person came and claimed them, and he was forced to give them up.
This little incident convinced me, that children are in general, more honest than grown people, that whatever else may totally depraved, little children certainly are not. They are more like the kingdom of heaven.
*   *   *
In 1806 the town of Chautauque was organized, and was coextensive with the present county. Those who came here before that time, lived in the town of Batavia. The first town meeting was held at the Cross Roads, this being the original name of Westfield, as Canadaway was for Fredonia. Westfield and Fredonia being modern innovations, I shall use the original names.
At this town meeting, the late Gen. John McMahan was elected the first Supervisor, and James Montgomery, now living in the town of Westfield, and who is happily present on this occasion, the first Town Clerk.
In 1807, the town meeting was held at the same place, but by this time, the settlers at Canadaway and vicinity had become quite numerous, and every voter turned out, so that they got a vote to have the next meeting held at Canadaway; or, as they boasted, they carried the town meeting home with them.
Before another year came round, however, the town was divided, and the town of Pomfret was organized, and was, I believe, identical with the present second Assembly District of the county. - The western part retained the name of Chautauque, and the town meetings were then held at Mayville.
In 1807, the election was held the first day at the Narrows of Chautauque Lake, and the second day at the Cross Roads, and the third day, in the forenoon, at Canadaway, and in the afternoon at Dea. Holmes, in the present town of Sheridan.
As this was a warmly-contested election, it is probable that nearly every voter turned out, and yet only about sixty votes were polled.
In 1814, the town of Portland was organized, and contained the present towns of Portland, Ripley and Westfield. In 1816, the town of Ripley was organized, comprising the town of Ripley and all that part of Westfield lying west of Chautauque Creek.
In 1829, the town of Westfield was organized and the Portland then was reduced to its present dimensions.
The first school taught in the town was in a small building belonging to Capt. Dunn, and was taught by Miss Anna Eaton.
The first school house built in the town stood on the opposite side of the road from where the stone school house now stands. It was quite a small log house, and was used only a few years, the site not proving convenient for all that wished to attend the school.
In 1811 a new one was built where Mr. Turk now lives, and a school was kept in it regularly for several years. Prior to the year 1814, no schools were established by law, but whenever the people of any neighborhood could agree to build a school house, and agree on a site, they went to work in earnest and built one, without any tax, or any compulsory process, but each one did or gave what he pleased; and the teachers were paid by voluntary subscription.
In 1814 a school law went into operation, commissioners and inspectors of common schools were elected, and the town divided into districts.
The district at the Cross Roads was made No. 1, and No.'s 2, 3, and 4, followed on the main road, and extended to the east side of the town. No.'s 3 and 4 were the only ones that came within the limits of the present town, and they have retained their numbers to the present time. All the other districts have been formed from these two.
New school houses were built as new districts were formed and schools have been kept … regularly to the present time. In those early times, little was taught except reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic. But those branches, with the exception of arithmetic, were more thoroughly taught than at the present day.
I think we had more good readers and spellers, in proportion to the numbers, than we do now. In arithmetic and other branches, our modern schools excel.
In one of those early years, a Mr. Drury was employed in district No. 3, to teach a summer school. He got along very well during the summer, but when the peaches began to get ripe, he was greatly annoyed by his scholars eating peaches in school. He found it necessary to put a stop to it, and gave strict orders to have no more peaches eaten in school.
Most of the scholars readily complied. But, one day, he caught a young man, or rather a large boy, by the name of Price, with his head down on the desk, eating a peach. He immediately called him out, and, assuming all the dignity of a pedagogue of the olden time, demanded to know why he ate a peach in violation of the rule. Poor Price said, "I didn't eat it, I sucked it."
This set the scholars to laughing, which, together with the ludicrous appearance of the culprit, completely upset all his pedagogical dignity, and he was forced to join in the laugh, and let the boy go unpunished.
Years rolled on, Price became a man and went West. Drury settled down in the town of Westfield. After some ten or a dozen years, chance once more brought them together, Price, in a friendly manner, offered his hand, but Drury didn't know him. Price told him his name. "O," said Drury, "you are the boy that sucked the peach."
I come now to say a few words on the religious aspect of pioneer times. The first sermon ever preached in the town, was by the Rev. John Spencer, at the house of Capt. Dunn. His hearers did not exceed half a dozen in addition to Capt. Dunn's family. He preached in the town occasionally for several years, sometimes on the Sabbath, but more frequently of a weekday evening, and a traveling minister would sometimes stop and preach an evening lecture.
But the first regular meetings for religious worship on the Sabbath were held at the house of Peter Ingersol, on the McKenzie farm, on the spot where a broken-down shed may now be seen.
Mr. Amasa West, then a preacher at the Cross Roads, but afterwards a preacher, took the lead in these meetings; some one would read a printed sermon, and a small choir of singers would perform that part of the service, in the real Billings style of music; and sung such good old tunes as Ocean, Lenox and Bridgewater, and others of that stamp.
There {sic} meetings, were, in general, conducted with order and decency, and were well attended. They were continued, with some interruptions, for a number of years, and were the germ from which has sprung the present Congregational Church in the town.
At one of these meetings, a gentleman not remarkable for his literary acquirements, but whose organ of self-esteem was pretty well developed, was requested to read from the Bible. He opened the book at the sixteenth chapter o Luke, and when he came to the fifth verse, he read thus: "So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, how much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, a hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, take thy bill and sit down quickly, and write swiftly. Then he said to another, and how much owest thou? And he said, a hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, take thy bill and write - furious," hesitating a little at the word.
A smile might have been on the face of most of his hearers, but nothing was said and the service proceeded. But sometime during the week, a singing school was held in the log school house, and before the singing commenced, as a young man was engaged in writing the notes to a piece of music, this same gentleman, after looking over his shoulder a while, said, "What, Tom, can you write music?" "Yes," said he, "I can write furious."
This was too much for the risible muscles, and being no longer under the restraint of a religious meeting, a roar of laughter made the old log house ring again.
But the gentleman never knew that the laugh was at his own expense, but supposed they were laughing at Tom all the while.
In 1916, Mr. William Dunham moved into the town and settled near the lake shore, and immediately commenced holding Methodist meetings; at first at his own house, and afterwards at different places along the main road. These meetings were continued with but few interruptions for many years, and may be considered the germ of the present Methodist Churches, and Mr. Dunham the father of Methodism in the town.
The first Baptist Church was formed about the year 1919, by Elder Wilson. Elder Charles LaHatt became pastor of this church in 1823, and continued in that relation to the time of his death, in 1850.
He was the only clergyman who has lived and died among us. He did not, indeed, die in the town, for he died away from home; but his home was in the town, his funeral was attended in the town, and his grave is with us.
The first person born of white parents in the town was the late George W. Dunn. The first death that occurred among the settlers, was the wife of Mr. Nathan Fay, and she was the first person interred in yonder ever-green cemetery.
The first person interred at Brockton, was Mrs. Williams, wife of Ebenezer Williams.
The first frame building erected in the town, was a barn, built by Peter Ingersol, on the McKenzie farm. It is standing there yet, with a new coat on, and on new sills.
The first frame house was built by Jeremiah Potter, near the spot where Daniel Bowdish now lives.
A mail route was established through the town as early as 1805, and perhaps earlier. James McMahan was appointed the first postmaster in the county. The mail carrier went on foot from Buffalo to Erie and returned once a week, and carried the mail on his back. After a few years, the mail becoming too heavy, it was carried on until some years after the close of the war when […] established the first line of stage coaches.
In 1814, Calvin Barnes was appointed the first Postmaster in the town of Portland, and kept his office where Joshua S. West now lives. In 1818, the first steam boat was launched into the waters of Lake Erie - the old Walk-in-the-Water. This event has no necessary connection with the history of Portland, but I mention it because it was an event in which the people felt a great interest.
*   *   *
A few words to my fellow pioneers, and I have done.
We, my friends, are the relics of a former generation. We came here with strong arms and true hearts; full of vitality, full of ambition, full of hope. We did not despise the day of small things. We have been graciously spared to see the present time, while most of the companions of our youth have fallen, one by one, like autumnal leaves, and are gone the way of all the earth.
Perhaps we may sometimes feel, as Dr. Franklin did in his old age, "as though we were prodding ourselves into the company of posterity, when we ought to be allowed to sleep." But when I look around this assembly and observe the hundreds of happy faces before us, I cannot believe that these consider us intruders; I feel sure that we are not unwelcome guests on this occasion. And in your name, I thank them for this expression of their kindness.
But we can be with them but a little longer. A few more rolling years and we shall be gone; and less than another half century, our very names will be forgotten.
Perhaps, when the people of this town shall assemble, on the fourth of July, in the year 1905, to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the first settlement of the town, perhaps, I say, on that occasion, some antiquarian may pore over the old musty records, and dig out some of our names from among the rubbish; but it will only be for that, or some similar occasion; and then the multitude will return to their farms, their merchandise, and their work shops, think no more of us, and the world will go on as busily and merrily as ever.
But what of that? Millions and millions of our race, have lived, died, and enjoyed, and not a trace remains to show they ever lived. Only a few of the best of men, and some of the greatest rascals that ever lived, have had their names inscribed on the pages of history. All the rest have died, and must continue to die and be forgotten.
We have lived in an eventful age. Many and great are the changes that have taken place since we first came to Chautauque.
We have seen the power of steam successfully applied to the propulsion of boats; and those floating palaces are now plying on all the navigable waters of the globe.
We have seen the waters of Lake Erie and the Hudson river united by a canal, which, though perhaps undervalued at present, was at the time a gigantic undertaking.
We have seen the slow plodding stage coach give place to the whizzing locomotive, with a train of princely cars attached, and whirling through the country with a velocity almost incredible and truly astonishing.
We have seen the telegraph wires stretched over the country, and the very lightnings of heaven compelled to do our errands for us. And even now two national steamers are engaged in an attempt to lay a cable across the broad Atlantic; and we are, every day, expecting to hear of the final success of the enterprise, or of a second failure.
We have seen, not only our own little town, but our county, our beloved county of Chautauque converted from a dense forest in a vast fertile field, and teeming with more than fifty thousand inhabitants.
Ride through the country, in any direction you please, and fields of waving grain and grass, and cattle upon a thousand hills, every where meet the eye.
Surely, goodness and mercy have followed us all our days.
Let us, then, be thankful for the past, enjoy the present, and be hopeful for the future, trusting in Him, who takes care of sparrows, and who clothes the lilies of the field.
Let us not be over-anxious to drain the cup of life to the very dregs, nor, like some old persons, pretend to be anxious to depart. But let us wait patiently all the days of our appointed time. And, at last, having had our feast of life, and enjoyed it with a relish, let us cheerfully rise from the table and give place to others.
- end -
July 3, 2008