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The earliest settlement of Clayton was in 1801-02 by a man named Bartlett, at Bartlett's Point about one mile from Clayton Village. Smith & Delamater, land agents of Chaumont had placed him there to keep a ferry to Gananoque, Canada, but after a year or two it is said he set fire to his house and left. The town is watered by French Creek and the Chaumont River. It is bounded on the north by the St. Lawrence River and on its border the head of the Thousand Islands, many of them in sight at various points in the town. Among the most important islands opposite Clayton are Grindstone, Washington, Bluff, Abels and Hemlock. These islands with Wellesley Island (off Alexandria Town) were claimed by the St. Regis Native Americans early and leased by their agents to British subjects for terms of years. The survey of 1818 revealed they belonged to the United States Government and in 1823, they were patented by the State in an agreement with Macomb. That move led to difficulties that became known as the "War of Grindstone Island." A quantity of pine timber had been cut and prepped for rafting, which was claimed by the patentee, but those who had possession refused to give it up. A detachment of militia from Lyme under Captain S. Green was called upon; the timber had mostly been passed into British waters, and after some firing, the party in charge of the timber dispersed. A militia man was accidentally killed by the discharge of his own gun. The issue of the timber became a subject of litigation and was finally settled by arbitration.
A saw mill had been built in the vicinity per a verbal agreement which became a subject of dispute between Mr. LaFarge, the proprietor, and the lumberman. The lumberman resolved that he would not comply with the terms demanded nor allow others to enjoyed the fruits of his labors. Early one morning, not long after, the timbers of a saw mill were seen floating in the bay but no one seemed to know how they got there and the act was blamed on spirits which were often brought in quantities to the village of Clayton to be smuggled into Canada.
Penet's Square Corners proprietors, on the Bay of French Creek, near Clayton, anticipated that the property would possess value as the site for a village so the process of creating lots was begun. Expectations of the proprietors were never realized as no village ever existed in that location.
In 1799 there was a single log hut in the town at French Creek, probably occupied by some timber thieves who plunder the frontier without restraint for many years before anyone showed title. Nathan Ford, a pioneer of Ogdensburgh, wrote a letter to Samuel Ogden, on 27 December 1799, warning of the injury to the townships if the lumber continued to be harvested by thieves. He also wrote to Gouverneur Morris on 16 July 1800, with his concerns that the thieves had not been brought to justice. The lands were not in Ford's jurisdiction so he could only offer advice on the matter. In the portion of the town within Penet's Square, there continued to be more plundering after the tract was settled because there was no resident agent or acknowledged owner.
In 1803, Smith & Delamater, the land agents, came in but stayed only long enough to attend to their business. In 1816, Nathaniel Norton, Jr. a merchant previously at Russia, NY, came in as agent of C. H. and E. Wilkes, owners of 12,000 acres of Penet's Square which adjoined the village of Depauville. Norton had become so eccentric that his friends had his affairs placed in the hands of a comptroller. In a sly move, Norton convinced the comptroller that he was not eccentric and his control of the property was restored.
In 1817, Phineas Osborn, father of Thomas S., Schuyler, and Phineas A. Osborn, came from Herkimer County and settled three miles northwest of Depauville, in an area known as Elm Flat. Schuyler lived in Depauville beginning in 1832.
In 1818, Jerry Carter settled near Clayton Centre. He came with his father, who was considered a good hunter and storyteller of his hunting expeditions.
James D. Gloyd came in 1819, with his father, Amos, and settled on Lot No. 39, near James D. Gloyd's property. The Gloyds were from Vermont. In 1820, Adam Fry came from Denmark in Lewis County, NY and settled on a farm later owned by George Hawes. He became a continuous resident of the town and lived with his daughter, Mrs. Diana Thompson. Gaylord Enos came in 1824 from Herkimer County and settled on a farm later occupied by William Baxter. His first 50 acres were purchased from Depau and as he continued to improve the land, he made additional purchases and built a fine house on the farm.
Other early settlers were: Jerry Carter, Joseph Adams, Daniel Abbey, William Thompson, J. Wilson Wright, Thomas Faire, E. M. Winslow, Alfred Fox, Luther Brown, A. Buskirk, Solomon Ingalls, Hosea Randolph, ___Dixon, Amos Richards, James Bothel, ___Davis, Major Abiatha Joy, James Rankin, Thomas Fetterly, the last nine were soldiers from 1776. Thomas Fetterly was born in Montgomery Co., NY in 1764 and enter the service at age fourteen. He was a waiter in the officer's mess and had the honor of waiting on General Washington on several occasions. He moved to Clayton in 1837 and died there in 1841. His brother, Peter Fetterly, father of Mrs. L. Staring, served in the War of 1812, as a regular soldier at Ogdensburgh, and one of Mrs. Staring's sons lost his life in the Civil War.
Clayton embraces two-fifths of Penet's Square and was detached from Orleans and Lyme as a separate town by the State Legislature on 27 April 1833. The first town meeting was held at the house of Isaac L. Carter on June 4, 1834. Clayton was named in honor of Hon. John M. Clayton, United States Senator from Delaware. Those elected at the first town meeting were: Hubbell Fox, supervisor; B. F. Faxton, clerk; Gurdon Caswell and Stephen Martin, justices of the peace; Jesse Noyes, Abram Burdick, Bariah Carpenter, Jr., assessors; Caleb Closson, James Barney, overseers of the poor; Samuel P. Payne, Lloyd B. Farrar and Elkanah Corlin, commissioners of highways; Alfred Fox, John Consard, Jr., and Joseph Mason, commissioners of common schools; Josiah Farrar, David Baker and B. F. Faxton, inspectors of common schools, Erastus Warner, collector; Erastus Monroe, T. Haskill, Sydney Spencer and Eldridge G. Tilton as constables.
The War of 1812 and General Wilkinson's disastrous expedition are covered in another township and will not be repeated here.
The first name awarded to Clayton was Cornelia and the post office was named as such in 1823. In 1831 the name was changed to Clayton and retained by that name until the present time. On ancient maps the creek was called Damas Creek but generally best known as French Creek. The first permanent settlement made with the limits of the village was by General William H. Angel in 1819; he began the lumber business and opened the first store in that place in the same year. He brought a few thousand bricks from Sacket's Harbor and built a small structure which he covered with boards. Store stock consisted of a miscellaneous assortment of raftsmen's provisions, among which was whiskey, a staple. The inventory of the store was traded almost exclusively for lumber.
In 1820, Martin Herrick and Stephen Wetherbee settled and in 1821, Mr. Merrick, who brought his family. He had a wife and two daughters; Lucy married Dr. Amos A. Ellis and Eliza died in 1823. Herrick built the first log house in the village in 1821, which was on the later raft yard of Thomas Rees. Col. James Smith, a custom house officer, built the first frame house in 1824. Originally 20 by 28 feet, it was occupied by Dr. Ellis and his family but improvements and additions were made so that it belied its primitive beginnings. A tavern was commenced by a transient and completed by Hiram Davis prior to 1820. The first school house in the village was a small stone building in 1825 and teaching began in that year. Episcopal Methodists in 1840 erected the first church.
Early settlers of Clayton village were: John Rector, James F. Angel, R. G. Angel, Chauncey Pierce, Mrs. Thomas M. Reade, Aaron and Luther Eddy, Dr. Amos Ellis, Mrs. Louisa C. Cary, Henry Elliott, father of William, Daniel Porter, William Johnston, Stephen D. Johnson, Perry Casell, and John Johnston.
Clark W. Candie surveyed the village in 1824 and it was resurveyed by Oliver Child in 1833. An interesting article was prepared by E. C. Bancroft, A. O. Blair, E. G. Merrick, J. A. Brewster and T. M. Reade; they formed a committee that was appointed to prepare a census and collect some historical data and statistics of the village. Their work was published in the Watertown Eagle on 20 March 1835.
First industrial operations at Clayton of any magnitude were begun shortly before the War of 1812. On February 3, 1812 a contract between LeRay and Richard Cummings (of Canada), and Noadiah Hubbard of Champion, was signed which allowed Hubbard to take from certain lots in the vicinity of French Creek as much timber for rafting as they wanted by paying $35 per thousand feet for squared yellow pine timber; $50 per thousand feet for white oak and $80 per thousand for white and yellow pine spars. A large number of laborers and several teams were employed by the first party during the spring and early in the season, 12,000 to 15,000 feet of pine, 1,000 feet of white oak and 21 masts were ready for market in addition to a large quantity that was cut and left in the woods. Captain Hubbard was drafted with his company of minutemen for the War. However, the raft got as far down as Louisville where it was seized and detained and became a total loss to the American owner.
The lumber business continued to be the most important commercial and industrial feature of Clayton. Names of those who participated in the lumber business were: Smith & Angel, Martin Herrick, Smith & Merrick, E. G. Merrick & Co., Merrick, Fowler & Esselstyn and Thomas Rees. Rees employed anywhere from fifty to one hundred fifty men.
With lumber so available it is not surprising to learn that shipbuilding began in Clayton in 1832 by Smith & Merrick who sometimes employed a hundred men. Between two and four vessels were built there annually for a total of from 75 to 100, including most of the famous steamers of the old Ontario and St. Lawrence Steamboat Company lines. Business began in Clayton about the time that the burdensome tonnage duties on the lakes had been removed partially by the Hon. Joseph Hawkins of Henderson who represented the district in Congress. From that time there was no limit to the size of the vessels but that of the locks of the Welland Canal. The first vessels built in Clayton were the Jesse Smith and Horatio Gates, begun by Captain Pickering. George Weeks completed them for Smith & Merrick in 1830. Weeks continued building for that firm and built steamers and schooners in large numbers.
Thomas Rees, Harrison Persons and A. P. Barker and Simon G. Johnson were all builders of schooners and steamers at Clayton. It is stated that the aggregate tonnage of all the vessels and steamers was about 40,000 tons at a cost of two million dollars. Johnston stayed on in Clayton to build but John Oades and Fowler & Esselstyn moved to Detroit, Michigan to pursue their shipbuilding work. In order to secure the privileges of a coasting trade with Canada, which were granted to vessels built on British soil only, a shipyard was established by Fowler & Esselstyn at the foot of Wolf Island in Canada, about five miles above the port.
Clayton experienced a great fire on June 6, 1856, which slowed business development. It began in a building that housed the clothing store of L. D. Davidson, next to A. F. Barker's brick block and burned through Thomas Rees' warehouse. Businesses that were destroyed were: L. D. Davidson clothing store; E. L. Haws shoe shop; John Johnston dwelling and store; Dr. Amos Ellis drugstore; Hale & Dean general store; Perry Caswell boots and shoes; William Delany clothing store; John Keating clothing; R. G. Angel & Co. general store and one other building, occupant unknown. The total loss was about $25,000 but only an insurance of $6,000 was in place to cover the losses.
In addition to the aesthetic beauty of Clayton's location, some of the best fishing for muscalonge, black bass and pickerel made it a well known fishing locale. The hotels of Clayton were well known by tourists and among them was the Walton House for entertainment, good management and cuisine and agreeable accommodations. S. D. Johnston was the proprietor and a popular host. Ranked second in popularity was the Hubbard House which offered many of the same qualities that made the Walton House well known.
Clayton had four churches: the Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Protestant Episcopal and Roman Catholic. Clayton also enjoyed a well managed graded school and an ably edited weekly newspaper as well as a lodge of Free and Accepted Masons and a Temperance Reform Club. Business included three drygoods stores, by S. H. Johnson, George McKinley & Co., and H. S. Barker as proprietors. Two clothing stores and five general stores of D. C. Porter, H. C. Rees and W. W. Angel were the most extensive. There was the drugstore of Dr. Amos Ellis and one other kept by E. D. Burton which was in Captain M. Halpin's stone block. There was one boot and shoe store of Perry Caswell, two jewelry stores and other business and mechanical shops. There was a grist mill, foundry, sawmill, two planing mills and other industrial businesses; the shipyard operated by S. G. Johnson; an extensive rafting and lumber forwarding business of Thomas Rees; and a private banking house of Barker & Grant. There were four resident ministers; three physicians; two lawyers; one dentist and one photographer.
Clayton became incorporated on April 17, 1872 by a vote of the citizens in an act passed by the State Legislature on April 20, 1870. It was in 1855 that there were two school districts. The post office established in 1821 had General William H. Angel as the first postmaster. The first edition of the newspaper, The Clayton Independent, was issued on November 1, 1872 by J. R. Beden and William D. Clark.
The Clayton Rural Cemetery Association was formed in 1855. The first trustees were James F. Angel, Henry Esselstyn, V. A. Benjamin, Luther Eddy, A. R. Calvin, Thomas Rees, John Cary, A. M. Brush and John W. Fowler. Angel was chosen as president, Calvin as vice-president; Esselstyn as treasurer and Benjamin as secretary.
The village is located on Chaumont River abut six miles above Chaumont Bay. Named in honor of Francis Depau, an importing merchant and capitalist of New York, who had purchased fifteen lots in Penet's Square. The first name was Catfish Falls and the creek above it was called Catfish Creek. The first improvements were begun by Simon and Jared White who were trespassers to get out lumber. But, they were warned off by an agent and left a large amount of hewn timber that rotted on the ground. The two men moved to Three-Mile Point on Chaumont Bay, where they started in May 1817 to go west in a small boat. The details of their misadventure is related elsewhere in the town histories and will not be repeated here.
In 1816, Nathaniel Norton Jr., a merchant from Russia, NY, came in as an agent of C. H. and E. Wilkes, who owned 12,000 acres of Penet's Square and adjoining Depauville. Shortly thereafter, David and Nathaniel Holbrook came with their father, and under contract with Alexander LeRay, built a rude saw and gristmill. When payments were not made, the premises were sold in 1824 to Stephen Johnson and Peter Martin, who had located as merchants and lumbermen. At that time there were only two or three log houses and the crude mills mentioned.
The first house was built by John Smith, who had come from Massachusetts in 1818. Nathaniel Norton had previously built a shanty. Peter B. Beadle, agent/clerk for Stephen Johnson was the first storekeeper with a small stock of goods and a few barrels of whiskey. Peter Martin was also an early merchant. David and Nathaniel Holbrook built the first mills. In 1824 Stephen Johnson built the stone mils, later destroyed by fire in 1851. John W. Ingalls and William Huntington each of whom had married a daughter of Stephen Johnson, later built mills. A man named Winthrop kept the first tavern in 1820 near the hotel. That building housed the first school which was taught in 1820. In 1825, the first church building was erected by the Episcopal Methodists.
Early settlers of the village were: Schuyler Osborn, Erastus Wright, Dr. William and Mrs. Clarissa Frame, Luke E. Frame, M.D., John M. Mount who was the father of John and Hiram, Gaylord Enos, the father of Mrs. William Baxter, Addison Manville, John Norton who was the son of Nathaniel Norton Jr., Amos Otis, father of Levi C. Otis, Leonard Vincent, Deacon Charles L. Linnell who was the father of George D. Linnell, Hezekiah and L. K. Patchen, Jonathan Hall, who was the father of Foster V. Hall, Squire Spencer and John O. Spencer.
Depauville grew to have three general stores with proprietors: Byron Fox, Ferry & Lowe and Cady & William McDonald. The village had one tailor and two shoe shops, three millinery stores, a grist mill a sawmill, three blacksmithies and wagon shops, a cheese factold, post office, two churches (Methodist Episcopal and Baptist) and a well managed school. It had one resident physician and two ministers and the two justices were Alfred Fox and E. J. Seeber.
First settled in 1802 by Amariah Howe, he was joined by other early arrivals: Daniel Gross, Lewis Jones, Anthony Lince, Samuel Johnson, William Wells and others. Their principal endeavor was rafting. The first adult death in Clayton occurred in 1804, Mrs. Olive How, who was buried on the island.
The early religious history of Clayton, due to destruction of records, is difficult to trace. A Methodist society was organized in the south part of the town on 20 December 1833 with Silas F. Spicer, Amos Reynolds, Willis Howard, James H. Fuller and Amos Sillett as trustees. They built a church and after many years of service in that capacity, it was turned into a barn on the Seeber farm. The group removed to Perch River.
In 1835 a Congregational church was formed with members from Clayton and Orleans; it was headed by Rev. Marcus Smith of Watertown.
In 1838 a Union church was built of stone at Depauville and owned jointly by the Baptists, Universalists and Congregationalists. The building was later owned by the Free Will Baptist Society which was formed on March 20, 1829 by Elder Amasa Dodge of Lowville, having a total of 14 members. A society was organized on August 26, 1841 with Nahum D. Williams, Phineas A. Osborn and Helon Norton as trustees. In 1834 a Union church was built of stone. It became a shared facility with other religious groups in the village. A Methodist class was organized at Depauville in 1821. Meetings were held at first in private dwellings and then in the old frame school house until about 1823 when a church was built on the lot. The society was formed on November 25, 1834 with Martin Spicer, Abel F. Law, Caleb Closson, Wareham P. Case and Timothy O'Connor as trustees. The third Methodist Episcopal church of Clayton was there as early as 1834 and in 1835, a small class was formed with Perry Caswell as class leader. It was not until 1840 that a society was organized. Early members were: Jane C. Merrick, J. N. Fowler and wife, Perry Caswell and wife, Fairfield Harford, Uri Raymond and wife, Susan Ingerson, Edward Kellogg, John Wilson, Anson Fowler and wife and others. First trustees were: E. C. Merrick, John N. Fowler, Perry Caswell, John Wilson, Fairfield Harford, Woodbridge C. George and Adonijah Brush.
The first Baptist Church of Clayton was organized on October 6, 1840 with D. D. Calvin, Henry Hurlburt, Henry Walt, E. Busnell and A. R. Calvin as Trustees. Constituent members were: James D. Gloyd, Lucinda Gloyd, Henry Walt, Edward Burchel, Frances R. Burchel, Abiatha Joy, Almira Shela, Hela Carpenter, Olive Carpenter, Sarah Smith, Cyrus Noyes, Lyman Fox, Mrs. L. Fox. Mrs. D. D. Calvin, John Cook, Henry Hurlburt and Mrs. C. Noyes.
The Christ Protestant Episcopal Church of Clayton was organized on 10 August 1868 with Rev. Henry R. Lockwood of Syracuse as rector. Their first meeting included: John Johnston, Lyman E. Phillips, Charles M. Marshall, F. M. Brush, A. M. Brush and George W. Seymour.
The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Clayton and Orleans was formed on March 11, 1841 with Henry Haas, Valentine Baldcuff and Nicholas Lehr as trustees.
The Evangelical Association of Clayton was organized on December 21, 1841, with about 50 members. First trustees were Valentine Dorr, Andrew Baltz and John Haller. First pastor was Rev. Ch. Hummel.
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church was organized in 1842 with Rev. Francis Guth as pastor. Early members were Patrick Cantwell and family, Thomas Brennan and family, Thomas Delaney and family and Joseph Thibault and others.
Dr. Amos Ellis began his practice as a physician for 42 years in Clayton. A native of Jefferson County, he was born at Brownville on January 9, 1810. He studied with Dr. Walter Welch at Adams and began practice in 1833 and was a member of the Jefferson Co. Medical Society.
Dr. William Frame located at Depauville in 1822 where he practiced until his death in September of 1847. He was educated in Herkimer Co., NY and began his medical practice in Russia, Herkimer co., in 1804. His son, Dr. Luke E. Frame of Depauville, studied under his father and graduated from the Geneva Medical College in 1844. Dr. Solomon V. Frame, son of Dr. Luke E. Frame, became a physician of Clayton and was a graduate of the Buffalo Medical College class of 1863. Another son, Dr. Silas Wright Frame, was a resident physician of Belleville and a graduate of Bellevue Hospital Medical College in 1875.
Among the prominent early settlers of Jefferson County was John Johnston. He was born in Watertown on September 11, 1816 and in 1830 moved to Clayton from Cape Vincent. In 1846 he was appointed by Polk as deputy collector of customs but removed in 1849 by reason of the change in administration. Pierce appointed him again in 1853 and he continued during that administration and that of Buchanan. In 1861, political change removed him from the post. He occupied a number of posts and in 1874 was the Democratic candidate for member of the assembly but due to the large Republican majority, he was defeated in the district.
This ends the early history and firsts of Clayton.
Information transcribed and contributed by volunteer M. Sapienza. © 2015.
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