JEFFERSON COUNTY, NEWYORK

HISTORY of the TOWN of CAPE VINCENT

Visited by S. W. Durant & H. B. Peirce, 1878


Cape Vincent:

Both Lyme and the territory of Cape Vincent were erected from Brownville in 1818, and Cape Vincent was cut from the town of Lyme on April 10, 1849. The name was derived from the principal village which had been named for Vincent LeRay, son of LeRay De Chaumont.

The first town meeting was held on May 15, 1849 when the following officers were elected: Frederick A. Folger, supervisor, John W. Little, town clerk; W. H. Webb, superintendent of schools; Jacob Beringer, Augustus Awberton and Barney W. Payne, justices of the peace; E. Clement, Collector; John H. Lawton and A. A. Gray as assessors; Buel Fuller, commissioner of highways; and Francis A. Cross, as overseer of the poor.

Members of the Assembly when Cape Vincent was a part of Lyme were: John B. Esselstyne, 1822-23; Jere Carrier (Alexandria), 1829; Otis P. Starkey, 1836.

GRENADIER ISLAND:
Fox, Carlton and Grenadier Islands belong to the township. Up to 1819, islands of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence were not patented, although they were included in the great Macomb contract. In 1792, five years before there was any permanent settlement made in Jefferson County, a negotiation concerning the purchase of the island was made between Patrick Colquihoun of London, and William Constable, who controlled the interest in the Macomb purchase at that time. No agreement was reached and in 1803, Samuel English and Hezekiah Barret petitioned the legislature of New York for the grant of Grenadier Island, which they supposed belonged to the State. A good title could not be given until the national boundary line had been agreed upon. In 1819, the boundary line was agreed upon and soon after the islands were patented. A survey made in 1823 showed that Grenadier Island contained 1,290 acres. John Mitchel may have been the first settler.

Basin Harbor was often visited by French explorers more than one hundred years before the settlement of the county, as they journeyed west. LaSalle and Count Frontenac long before that. During the War of 1812, Richard M. Esselstyn sent his family to Sacket's Harbor and en route they stopped overnight at Grenadier Island.

The disastrous expedition of General Wilkinson, who left Sacket's Harbor with several thousand men, late in 1813 with the capture of Montreal his objective, proved to be ill advised. While the initial departure was calm and smooth on the water, towards evening a stiff breeze developed that turned into a gale within two hours. The end result was a wrecked fleet and an enormous loss of ammunition and supplies. It was four days before all of the army that survived reached Basin Harbor. Some of the boats were driven to Wolfe Island, some to Chaumont Bay and still others on to Kingston. On the morning of October 27, the shores of the mainland were strewn with broken and sunken boats. General Wilkinson encountered problems on his way to Cape Vincent from Grenadier Island as he engaged in a small fight with the British near Clayton. Below Ogdensburgh there was another minor battle. The remainder of the flotilla went into winter quarters on the banks of Salmon River in the middle of November. The causes for the disaster were credited partly to the weather, partly due to military generals and much more to whiskey. General Wilkinson was subsequently courtmartialed and removed from command.

(For additional information, see: Grenadier Island Land Management Private Trust)

CARLTON ISLAND:
Fox Island had no historical commentary but Carlton Island, which is a little smaller than Grenadier Island, (1,274 acres) was considered the most beautiful of all of the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence. Old land titles show that territory was reserved by the State of New York when it made the cession to Alexander Macomb.

In October 1786, Mathew Watson and William Guilland purchased the military county warrant which had been issued to William Richardson, a Revolutionary sergeant; he had located the right on Carlton. If Carlton Island had become a part of Canadian territory, it was conditioned that another portion of land would be granted elsewhere. Watson bought out Guilland. One of his children lived to inherit the property, that is Margaret Watson came into final possession of it and she sold it to Charles Smyth. Prior to the sale, she had married Jacob TenBroeck. Unfortunately, the sale and title was brought to the attention of the State legislature in 1821 and it was learned that the title to the land covered by the military bounty was no good. The British held the island when Richardson sold his right, and continued to hold it until it was surrendered and the beginning of the War of 1812. By special legislation the title was made a legal one and on March 2, 1821 and act was passed that directed a patent to be issued for the amount of land that was designated as the original military bounty, which was 500 acres on the west end of the island. Charles Smyth purchased the remainder in 1821 and became the proprietor of the whole territory. At the time of the survey in 1823, there was a 30 acre tract of old and highly improved land known as the King's Garden on the south shore.

Original settlers were called squatters. When Avery Smith and Abijah Lewis were on Carlton in the lumber business around 1822, residents became permanent and trade was lively. There was a post office, a school and James Estes had a tavern. Four dwelling houses were standing around old chimneys. Professor Shumway was a teacher and justice of the peace; David Briggs had a shoe shop; Abijah Lewis, James Wood and a Mr. Shaw had stores. As many as 10-15 lumber vessels would be at anchor in the bays. Populations estimates were 150-200 persons. Eventually, the island was divided into farms. The island was considered the first settled territory of Jefferson County.

At the head of Carlton Island were the ruins of an old fort; they were extensive and on a rocky promontory, about 50 or 60 feet above the water. It had eight massive stone chimneys. The fort was built on the arc of a circle and included a six foot deep ditch around it that was 22 feet wide.

Pieces of wrecked vessels could be seen on a still day at the bottom of the river. There was a sunken dock on the west side and a small distance in the rear were the broken graves of the soldier's cemetery.

When Charles Smyth gained possession of the island, many of the burial places were still marked by carved wood, mostly oak. When Hough published his History of Jefferson County in 1854, he found only one grave that was indicated by a head stone: J. Farrar, D. 23 Fy, 1792. Many curious relics were found in that area and the oldest coin was dated 1696. Origins of the fort remain cloudy. Fort Carlton in 1796, was defended by a small British guard and six cannon. In 1812, when Cape Vincent learned the news that a war was brewing against the British, Abner Hubbard, an old Revolutionary War soldier, living at Millen's Bay, authorized himself and several of his neighbors to capture the post. During the night they crossed the river and demanded surrender - two women and three invalid men surrendered. The following day the fort was destroyed and the prisoners were taken to Sacket's Harbor.

TIBBITTS POINT:
At the head of the St. Lawrence, Tibbitts Point took its name from Captain John Tibbitt of Troy. He received a patent for 609 acres of land, which was surveyed in 1799. The first lighthouse and dwelling were built in 1827. The second tower was built in 1854.

SETTLEMENT OF CAPE VINCENT:
The man who built the first log house in Cape Vincent on the mainland was Abijah Putnam, about two miles below the railroad depot in 1801. He founded a village there and named it Port Putnam. In 1804, he sold his property to John Macombs and Peter Sternberg from central New York. Plans and improvements were begun immediately. However, the site was subsequently abandoned through the influence of Mr. LeRay. He had a piece of ground surveyed in 1811 on Gravelly Point and named it Cape Vincent after one of his sons. Millen's Bay was then known as Hubbard's Bay; Clayton was called French Creek; Depauville was Cat Fish Falls; Dexter was Fish Island and Carthage, Long Falls.

Settlers at Port Putnam and down the river prior to the War of 1812 were: Putnam, Macombs, and Sternberg; Jonathan Cummings, Daniel Spinning, Elnathan Judd, Norman Wadworth, John B. Esselstyn, who came in 1803 and was prominent in the town for many years. Other early settlers were: Eddy Cole; Caleb Lobdell, Avery Smith and another family of the same name; Mr. Phelps, William Hollenbeck, Charles Gillett, Orison and Zimri Butterfield; Daniel Nicol, Abner Hubbard, Samuel Brittain and a Mr. Dodd. As late as 1815 there were only seven house on the site of Cape Vincent village. Settlers came in by the State Road and only one cabin was built on the route between Chaumont and the St. Lawrence River for at least fifteen years. That log cabin was occupied by Mr. Soper and his family. Two deer licks were on property owned by John Grapotte and Mrs. Pool.

First settlers on the site of Cape Vincent Village were: Holieb Phelps, Richard M. Esselstyn, John Mathews, Uncle Nash, Eber Kelsey, Dr. Ainsworth of Vermont, Nathan Lake and a man named Preven, all there in 1812.

Elnathan Judd came in 1809 and settled on a farm where his son Philetus succeeded him. Richard M Esselstyn arrived in Chaumont as a surveyor in 1801. The following year he returned to Claverack, NY where he was born and returned to Jefferson County in 1806 where he settled with his brother, John B. on a farm below Port Putnam. He served as county clerk during the War of 1812; he died of yellow fever at Utica, NY on October 2, 1822. Dr. Ainsworth was the first physician who settled in that part of the county. Eber Kelsey came from Leyden in 1809 and with the aid of 22 men cleared a tract of 50 acres on the site of Cape Vincent. He built a house, barn, tavern and wharf and became a permanent resident. John B. Esselstyn, one of the very first pioneer settlers, settled in 1803. Six years later, he and his brother, Richard M. built a store and began trade. In other parts of the town prior to and about 1820, other settlers were: Michael Van Schaick, John Vincent, Willard Amsworth, Joseph Cross, Dr. Sacket, Dr. Brewster, Benjamin Estes, Captain Caton and Captain Merritt. Merritt sailed the schooner "Appollonia" from the port but on its last voyage it was struck by lightning about 30 miles off Mexico Bay. It sunk quickly but the crew managed to get out a small boat and escape.

The first large schooner built at Cape Vincent was the " Merchant", its ironwork being done by Samuel and John Forsyth. It made a trip to the head of Lake Ontario and back in three days with cargo. Other very early settlers were: Ira Hodley, James Borland, Abner Rogers, James Buckley, Oliver Pool, Jacob Bedford, Philip and Abner Gage, Fuller, Green, Hassler, Converse, Pigsley, Holman, Marshall, Van Husen and Hoff.

THE FRENCH SETTLEMENT:
The portion of Cape Vincent settled primarily by French and German residents later, was originally settled by Americans. They were: Jacob Van Nostrand, Aaron Whitcomb, Samuel F. Mills, Phineas and Asahel Powers and Thomas Shaw. Shaw came from New Jersey and on his way was offered a plat of ground within the later upper limits of New York City for $100 an acre. He thought he could do better in Jefferson County and did not purchase in New York City.

LeRay's influence brought a colony from France which gave its name to the settlement. After the French came the German settlement. American families gradually sold their farms to the French or Germans. The colonies were both Roman Catholic in faith and for years the services were conducted in both languages and in the same building.

DISTINGUISHED FRENCH FAMILIES:
About 1818 a number of educated French came to Cape Vincent victims of the reverses of Napoleon the First; they found it necessary to flee from their native land but they had no connection with the French colony mentioned above. Among those who came were: Peter Francis Real and his son-in-law, General Rolland; Camille Arnaund, Jermaux and Pigeon. Peter Real was a count and chief of police under Napoleon. Pigeon was a secretary of Count Real while in America and an avid student in astronomy. It is noted that some of the finest instruments of that age of science were brought to Cape Vincent from France. The count lived in a hired house for about two years and then built at the head of Gouvelle Street; it became known as the " cup and saucer" dwelling as it resembled those articles of sewing society comfort. At the time, there may have been a plan to bring Napoleon from St. Helena to Cape Vincent with the said house as his home. His death in 1821 ended the speculation. Astronomy equipment was taken back to France when the exiles returned after the death of Napoleon. Louis Peugnet was an officer in Napoleon's army.

WARREN SETTLEMENT:
Warren Settlement was a wilderness in 1825 when Shepherd Warren and brothers James and Asa, began a clearing. Soon Edwin Tuttle joined them and it became the Tuttle and Warren neighborhood. William Johnson was one of the first settlers and took the place of Wheeler. When Joel Torrey moved into the settlement in 1831, there were only four families and no road except that used by the lumbermen. By 1832, nearly all of the white oak had been cut and between 1832 and 1834, Joel Torrey, James and Christopher Irving took out the pine. Of the original pioneers, only Rodolphus Cook, Ira Stewart and Shepherd Warren stayed on. John Howard came in 1832; after him were: John F. Torrey, Charles Linnell, Simeon Adams, Samuel Linnell, Thomas Tarbell, Harry Kilbourn and Rufus Linnell.

On June 18, 1843, the Union Burial Ground Society was formed with trustees: Levi Torrey, Daniel Cromwell, Erastus Warren, Samuel Linnell, Jr., J. A. Williams and Abram Whitcomb. Levi Torrey was made president.

The first schoolhouse was built in 1833, made of hewn pine logs and stood on the west corner of the road. Its first teacher was Phebe Lightle.

THE SETTLEMENT OF ST. LAWRENCE:
The St. Lawrence region was occupied later than 1825, when Stephen Johnson came from Depauville and opened the first store. A Miss Lawrence of New York owned a large tract of territory in the neighborhood and when the post office was established in 1848, Lawrenceville was sent to Washington as an appropriate name. However another post office in the state had the same name so " St." was put in front of the Lawrence. The village was originally called St. Oars' Corners, then Rogers' Corners, because James Rogers built the first tavern, then Gotham Corners and finally Crane's Corners, until the mail route was established. Early setters were: Lewis St. Oars, M. Gardinier, Hiram Britton, John Potter, John Minard, Jacob St. Oars, Silas Mosier, Eli Wethey, Horatio Humphrey, Hamilton C. Wallace, Samuel Dillen, Jerome Wethey, Daniel Corse, Charles Cummins, Dyer Pierce, Curtis, Wheeler, Campbell and Carpenter.

The first grist mill of Cape Vincent was built on Kent's Creek. Negotiations were begun for a site early in 1803 between R. M. Esselstyn and LeRay. The Esselstyn brothers and Henry Ainsworth were the only merchants for many of the first years.

THE WAR OF 1812:
When war was declared on June 18, 1812, General Jacob Brown wrote to Governor Tompkins in that same month, that in his opinion a strong detachment should be sent at once to Cape Vincent in order to keep Kingston, which was well fortified, in as much alarm as possible. Less than three weeks after the war was declared, a troop detachment from Jefferson County and a considerable force under Colonel Belinger were on the ground. John B. Esselstyn, who later became a colonel, was in command of the militia.

There were drafted militia - some from the Mohawk Valley - stationed at Cape Vincent and also a body of riflemen of the company of Captain Benjamin Forsyth. A detachment of light artillery and dragoons were among the defenders on this frontier. During the winter of 1812-13 a line of sentinels was established on the shore and on the ice, fourteen miles in length. One Corporal Dean went to Wolfe Island, fell in love with a young lady by the name of Button, of Button Bay which was named for her father.

The soldiers' barracks stood as one building on the corner of James Street and Broadway and the other at the foot of James Street. A building that was later used for a schoolhouse on Murray Street was used as a hospital. The barracks, a store that belonged to Henry Ainsworth, another store of J. B. and R. M. Esselstyn, two or three small vessels that had been built there, the house of Major Esselstyne, which stood below Port Putnam, several barns and considerable lumber, were all burned by the enemy at different times during the war. The house and barns of Dr. Avery Ainsworth in Please Valley were fired and destroyed by Native Americans. General Wilkinson's army, and troops encamped there, burned a large quantity of staves that belonged to the Esselstyns; they were burned to cook their messes and for warmth. In an effort to recoup their financial losses, the Esselstyns petitioned Congress for remuneration for $630.25. Others, such as Eber Kelsey went directly to Albany to seek payment for services done and supplies furnished to American soldiers. Among the items he specified was the use of the schooner " Neptune" for 31 days in transporting troops and munitions of war. He was paid but $2 per day and felt it should have been $3. Captain Siger and Lt. Johnson requested payment for furnishing hay and other necessaries to a detachment of light artillery. Captain Mead claimed for damage done by a detachment of light dragoons in the amount of $71.00.

On August 23, 1813, Major Esselstyne was taken prisoner on the State Road near Chaumont while escorting several relatives and friends to a place of safety. He was removed to Canada where he was held for about two weeks and then exchanged for a British officer of equal rank.

There are a number of accounts of those in the War of 1812, the Patriot Excitement and the Great Rebellion; a great many men from Jefferson County were accounted for in all of the wars.

There were many fires in the area over the years - saw mills, grist mills, foundry, the railroad warehouse, grain elevator, the steamer " Watertown", buildings on Broadway and Market streets and the burning of the "Wisconsin" off the shore of Grenadier Island on May 21, 1867. It was a steamer that belonged to the Northern Transportation Company and on a third trip, bound for Chicago. About 100 passengers, including the crew and five more passengers from Cape Vincent, made up the list. In a flash fire that occurred on board in the middle of the night, 24 persons perished.

The first ferry was established by Abijah Putnam, founder of Fort Putnam. It extended from there across the big bay to Wolf Island. About 1809, a second ferry was begun from Gravelly Point to Hinckley's Point on the same island. Eber Kelsey ferried from Cape Vincent side for many years and Samuel Hinckley from the other. For ten years, Peter Sternberg controlled a ferry from Carlton Island to Wolf Island. Row boats and scows were used until 1847 when a small steamer, called the " Farmer", made trips to and from Kingston, according to freight and passenger demands. The first ferry boat from Clayton was a little steamer called "The Wren", which ran daily in 1868 for two seasons.

THE CUSTOM HOUSE:
The custom house district of Cape Vincent was organized on April 18, 1818. Prior to that date, Cape Vincent was only a port of entry in charge of a deputy, with Sacket's Harbor as headquarters. In June of 1812, Elijah Fields, Jr., a deputy collector at Cape Vincent, seized two schooners and their cargoes with the belief that they were engaged in smuggling. The Ontario was released for lack of sufficient evidence but the Niagara and its load was sold. John B. Esselstyn was the first collector who served for four years in that post before any salary was established, and then it was $250 a year.

THE BUSINESS OF CAPE VINCENT:
Lumbering was an important commodity traded in 1809 and during 1810, two hundred thousand staves were imported from Genesee and Niagara counties. Square timber was also an important trade item and arks were built for the Montreal market. The Esselstyns and Murray were prominent in the lumber trade until it was broken up by the War of 1812. Between 1820 and 1825 that trade was revived at Carlton Island and rafts were numerous. Vessels built in the town were numerous and the first one was completed in 1819. The railroads, brought in later, ran iron ore into Cape Vincent daily.

A banking business was carried on for many years by Otis P. Starkey, whose successor was L. S. Hammond.

The first telegraph line to Cape Vincent was built in 1856 and the money for it was raised by subscription. It was abandoned and Joseph Owen built another line in 1864 assisted by A. F. Smith.

The Cape Vincent Gazette was begun by Paul A. Leach and the first number was dated May 8, 1858.

In 1836, by an act of the legislature, the right to construct the Rome and Cape Vincent railroad was awarded. It failed after a few months of struggle. Nine years later, plans for another railroad were made and in 1848 work was begun at Rome; the last rail laid was in the spring of 1852. The first train appeared in April of 1852 and regular trains began to run in May of 1853.

SCHOOLS:
Schools were in existence from the settlement time of the town. Before 1820, F. R. Hasler, projected a normal school, but failed to see it established.

The Union Library, organized on August 24, 1824, was of value for many years but discontinued. The first trustees were: Gideon Sacket, John B. Esselstyn, Daniel Smith, Stockwell Osgood, Philip George, Zebulon Converse and Roswell T. Lee.

RELIGIOUS SERVICES:
Richard M. Esselstyn conducted the first religious services in his own home; he preached the sermon and Deacon Kindall provided the prayer. Prior to 1820, missionaries came into the settlement and both Mr. Avery and Mr. Flint were long remembered. The first Sabbath school was begun on July 30, 1820, with J. B. Esselstyn and Buel Fuller as managers. R. M. Esselstyn was the superintendent and Mr. Ellis was the teacher. The Auxiliary Female Missionary Society of Cape Vincent was begun before that of any church and not far from the date of the first town Bible Society. Members were: Charity Esselstyn, Jane Forsyth, Hannah Ainsworth, Sally T. Rogers, Delia Esselstyn, Cynthia Rogers, Clarissa Esselstyn, Lydia W. Brewster, Hannah P. Esselstyn, Mrs. Corchran, Rebecca Johnson, Abigail Smith, Lucy Kelsey, Tryphena Buckley, Sally Fuller, Jemima Merreitt, Lydia Lake, Lucinda Chapman, Jane Pator, Lois Hubbard, Mary Hubbard, Laura C. Kelsey, Sarah S. Kelsey, Emily Hibbard and Phebe Green.

The Presbyterian church began its formal existence on March 2, 1823 at the house of Oliver Lynch. Rev. Noah M. Wells of Brownville, moderated the meeting. Original members were: Oliver Lynch, Abraham Morrow, Matilda Lynch, Jane Forsyth, Mary Forsyth, Cynthia Rogers, Hezekiah H. Smith and Amarillis Mills. Oliver Lynch and Abraham Morrow were chosen elders and deacons. On June 25, 1824, the church was received into the presbytery of St. Lawrence. It was on that date that Charles G. Finney, an eminent revivalist was taken under its care as a candidate for the gospel ministry. In 1824 a large meeting of this body was held in the village. On February 13, 1832 the First Presbyterian Society was organized with: Simon Howard, Henry Ainsworth, Michael Myers, R. T. Lee and James Buckley as trustees. They began the church building in that year with a stipend from Mr. LeRay of $400 and a lot. It was unfinished until 1840. Rev. Jedediah Burchard was the first minister in 1824. Other later pastors were David Smith and Lucius Footer before 1830. Rev. Chittenden, Robins and Leonard preached before 1839; T. C. Hill in 1840; H. H. Morgan in 1842; Hugh Carlisle in 1845; F. J. Jackson, 1849; A. Crocker, Jr. in 1854 and many others after.

The first religious services were Episcopalian and conducted by Richard Esselstyn. St. John's Parish was organized on January 25, 1841 while Rev. John Noble was the rector. The lot for the church building was a gift by Otis P. Starkey and was a full acre of land. The first interment in the parish cemetery was that of Jonathan Howland who died the same year of the organization at the age of 60 years. The building was erected in 1841 and consecrated June 2, 1842.

The first society of The Christian Church was formed by Elder Jason McKee who was then a resident of Stone Mills in the town of Orleans, in the fall of 1833. Shepherd Warren and wife, Edwin Tuttle and wife, Joel Torrey and wife, Simeon Adams and wife, William Torrey, F. O. Torrey, and Addison Howard were its first members. Shepherd Warren and Joel Torrey were the first decaons and Simson Adams the first clerk.

The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized several years after the above. A class was formed around 1820 and the first conference appointment was Seth Green in 1827.

The first Methodist class was formed with Morris Cornwell and wife, Christopher Treadwell and wife, and Mrs. Jeremiah Newville as original members; organized later than 1840, it continued until August 17, 1868 when the Second Methodist Episcopal church of the town of Cape Vincent was begun.

Records for the Catholic church show that the church building at Cape Vincent was dedicated in June, 1858, with Bishop McCloskey officiating. The church building at French Settlement was given by Mr. LeRay to the society.

Two visits were made to the town by Mormon elders in 1833 and 1848.

The first cemetery was on the farm of John B. Esselstyn (the Hasler farm) and no trace remains. The graves were plowed over. In 1820 there were not 25 graves in the village cemetery.

The Masonic Lodge, No. 344, F. and A. M., were instituted on July 10, 1822 by Isaac Lee. A petition was made to the Grand Lodge of the State of New York in December 1821 and signed by 16 residents and among them was Count Real. Masters of the Lodge until 1831 were: J. B. Esselstyn, Z. Converse, Philip P. Gaige, D. W. Slocum, G. S. Sackett, Zebulon Converse, C. Wright. Its last meeting was held May 26, 1831. Lodge No. 293 was formed July 28, 1853 with ten members.

This ends the early history of Cape Vincent and the firsts.


Information transcribed and contributed by volunteer M. Sapienza. © 2015.



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