HISTORICAL NOTES ON JEFFERSON COUNTY

Gleaned from the Watertown-Re-Union Newspaper

Transcriber's note: There was a series of what was supposed to be 12 articles on early Watertown; unfortunately Numbers 7 and 8 in the series are missing. We do not know who the author was as the newspaper was silent on both the series and the writer. Most of the articles concluded with the letter "M", but apparently the author was a resident of Watertown, NY from a very early date as evidenced by his or her recollections.


Part 1, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12


January 16, 1873, Part 1:

No. 1 - Incidents of the First Settlement of Watertown

It was in the year 1799 that the first white man came to Watertown with a view of selecting a farm for his own use, on which to locate his family, he was DAVID COFFEEN. Nicholas Low, of New York, was the owner of the township and Silas Stow was his agent. His office was in Lowville. He gave Mr. Coffeen a writing that he might select any lot in No. 2, afterwards named Watertown. The next day he gave JOB WHITNEY just such a writing. Coffeen and Whitney both selected the same lot, No. 7, on which the business part of the city is now built. They did not see each other till they got back to the Land Office--Whitney got back first. While Mr. Stow was filling out a contract for him, Mr. Coffeen came in. On being asked which lot he had selected, Mr. Stow, who had a bad memory, said he was just making out a contract of the same lot to Mr. Whitney. Both parties showed their papers. The land agent saw he had got into a bad fix and said that to the one who would give up his claim to that lot, he would give a deed for fifty acres of any other lot he might select. Whitney yielded his claim and then, instead of taking a deed of fifty acres, he took a contract of the next best lot in the town--great lot No. 8. The west line of the lot where is now Mechanic Street and extending up the river one mile, and back across State Street, there being 400 acres in the lot. In the fall of 1802 he gave up his contract to EZEKIEL JEWETT and took another contract of what was long called the poorest lot in the whole town--the cedar swamp just east of Cold Creek, where he lived to be an old man. David Coffeen, on his way back to the Land Office, took another view of the Long Falls and of the land where is now West Carthage, and finally concluded to locate there. Hen then sold his contract of the Watertown lot to his brother, HENRY COFFEEN, who, with a friend of his, ZACHARIAH BUTTERFIELD, were the first settlers in Watertown.

In the year 1800, Mr. Coffeen built his first log house, where is now the Security Bank, and Mr. Butterfield built about 40 feet, just north of the corner of Washington Hall block. It was in this house that the first woman was born, in 1801, in the town--POLLY BUTTERFIELD. She is still living in the town of Rodman, the wife of ___Moody. It was also in this same house that the first wedding took place in 1802, SALLY, the eldest daughter of Henry Coffeen, was married to ISAIAH MASSEY the first practicing physician in the town. She died at Lockport in September last.

The first religious meeting of any kind held in Watertown village, was at the house of HART MASSEY in March 1801, on the first Sunday after his arrival with his family. Mrs. Massey, by a wise forethought, had her arrangements all matured the day before, and the few neighbors all invited in. Mrs. Coffeen, the wife of the first settler in the place a good devoted Methodist, was always ready to give her assistance in conducting the meetings, as well as to tell her experience. The first male church member who took part in this and all other prayer meetings, and at funerals, was JESSE DODGE, a Methodist. He was the first practical miller in the place. The first sermon was preached by THOMAS WHITE of Rodman in the unfinished corner room of the frame building just erected, where Washington Hall now stands, using the joiners workbench for his pulpit. He was a Methodist.

In 1804, the "old school house on the hill," (since pulled down to fill up the flat) where now stands the Universalist church, was built in which religious meetings were held till the Court House was built and occasionally for a number of years after. The first sermon preached in the new school house was by EDMUND LUFF of Sackets Harbor, an Englishman who claimed to be what is called a "restorationist"; while preaching he fainted away, when MRS. DRESSER the mother of JOHN G. DRESSOR, with one of those every large fans of that day, commenced fanning him while someone went after water, and some after wine; but before either party returned, he had revived under Mrs. Dresser's vigorous use of the fan. He soon after reascended to the pulpit and continued his discourse. If we remember rightly his text was Malachi 4th chap. 1st verse. The latter part of the verse is frequently repeated. The first person who was first hired to preach here was a Congregational Missionary from New England, by the name of LEAVENWORTH--he was engaged for one year. He preached in the School House on the hill, and taught school on weekdays. He lived in the house now occupied by MR. SWEENY on Washington Street. He was a well educated man, a good preacher and teacher, but of a rather aristocratic turn, which did not suit the hardworking pioneers, most of whom still lived in their plain log houses. A missionary by the name of COOK is believed to be the next who preached here. He taught a singing school weekday evenings. The first Court in the county of Jefferson was required to be held on the first Tuesday of December, 1805, but whether then held or not, cannot now be determined. The first on record is June 17th, 1807, SMITH THOMPSON, justice. The judge's seat was a curiosity, it was of large dimensions, very imposing in appearance and of superior workmanship. The base was raised one or two steps from the floor on which was erected a solid semi-circular armchair or throne of state, and when occupied by the presiding judge looked like what the old picture books represent as a monarch seated on his throne; the more so as our judge had a constable standing most of the time, one on each side of his chair, with his long black wand of office in hand, the top of which did not just reach the cornice of the back...What became of it is not certainly known, but it is believed to have been transferred to the Court House...

Incidents of the First Settlement of Watertown - No. II - Issue Jan. 16, 1873, p. 4: I recollect being at the raising of the old Court House in 1807. WM. SMITH, architect, WM. RICE and JOEL MIX builders. The frame was unusually heavy. All the able bodied men for miles around and from the adjoining towns, were invited to the raising. They turned out promptly and in great numbers. In fact there were more men than could get hold of the work at once. After all the bents were put together and before trying to raise the, someone, either one of the committee or one of the builders, called the multitude to order, directed their attention to the heaviness of the work before them, of its dangers, and of the great importance of every man's doing his duty, that no man would be allowed to give any orders but the master builder, that all precautions and preparations had been made to ensure safety, that the men were expected to go to work in silence, and with a will, obeying orders and Mr. Rice who was a very large man, of commanding appearance with his square in hand mounted a pile of boards and gave his orders. Mr. Mix and the other workmen were his aids to see that his orders were obeyed and the braces, studs and other materials were on hand as they were needed. By the use of following poles at each end of each bent as it was raised, the whole frame was raised without accident. While the raising was going on a table of boards was put up near by, long enough to give all the men standing room on each side, the table was loaded down with provisions by the old men, women and children and all were invited to help themselves, which was done with a will, as many of them came from far and all were hungry.

The first sermon preached in the old Court House was by Elder Puffer, an itinerant Methodist preacher. It was in a large room on the lower floor. His sermon was peculiar in that it was largely made up of texts of scripture which he would quote from memory, always giving he book, chapter and verse, a practice he adhered to through life, though it did not take well with his hearers.

Incidents of the First Settlement of Watertown - No. III - Issue Jan. 23, 1873, p. 6:

Among the first and most essential of the needs and conveniences required by the first settlers of this town were sawmills and grist mills, the first to convert the huge trees of the dense forest into boards and other lumber for building purposes, and the grist mills to grind the wheat and corn into flour and meal for food. In point of time the first sawmill was built by JACOB BROWN at Brownville on Philomel Creek, which then emptied into Black River between the cotton factory and the village. That was in 1800. In the fall of 1801 he built a small gristmill at the same place. In the fall of 1800, HART MASSEY and his brother, DANIEL, came on from Vermont to see the highly praised Black River Country, and on the way called at Mr. Low's Land Office at Lowville. Silas Stowe, the agent, anxious to provide facilities and inducements for the settlement of this town, then entered into a contract with HART MASSEY to locate at what is now Burrville, and there build a saw and grist mill. Mr. Stowe was to furnish the mill irons and mill stones and whatever was needed besides the labor, the timber and supervision of the work, and when the mills were built they were to be owned in common by both parties. According to contract, the mills were built in the summer of 1801, and when about ready for the grinding apparatus, DAVID BURR, a practical miller, came along and was so well pleased with the mills and the location that he bought them and put them into operation at once. It was not until the fall of 1802 that JONATHAN COWEN built his mills on Black River in this city, where is now Shead & Graves' mill. The sawmill was where it is now the bridge, leading to the Island.

Before the erection of the grist mills at Burr's Mills, as the place was then called, and Cowan's Mill in this place, the supply of flour was obtained from Kingston, in Canada, being brought in a large Durham boat to Brownville, which boat was, as the result proved, very fortunately brought by JACOB BROWN from the Mohawk River by the way of Oneida Lake and Oswego, and so following the lake shore, to the mouth of the Black River; and with two or three hired boats brought the family, some essential household goods and a large supply of provisions. In the meantime before the mills were ready for grinding, the few families then living here were obliged to resort to various expedients to prepare their corn for cooking.

In the public Square, just in front of where the Arcade entrance now is, was a hollow stump, that by a little fixing up and making a solid bottom to it made a good large mortar. A suitable pestle of hardwood attached to a spring pole over it, enabled the different families to pound their corn and thus prepare it for cooking. Another way was to boil their corn in a weak lye of wood ashes till the hull of the kernel would become loosened. It was then put into clear cold water and rubbed with the hands, when hulls would rise and be poured off. The corn was then put to boil in clear water till soft. It was quite a common dish for the evening meal either in milk or with maple sugar or maple honey, and it was quite a favorite article of food with most people, and is still used occasionally by some of the old families of this county.

JONATHAN COWAN was a millwright but not a miller. Before his mill was ready for grinding he engaged from some of the older settled parts of the state a practical miller, Mr. JESSE DODGE, who proved to be in every way competent and trustworthy, so much so that when JOSEPH CLARK's mill on the Pamelia side of the river was ready for use, Mr. Dodge was employed to run it and attract customers, as he had already acquired the name of "the honest miller", and a few years later THOMAS LOOMIS of Brownville engaged him to put his mill in first rate working order, where he stayed till his age disqualified him for the labor required.

With the exception of Mrs. Henry Cofeen, Mr. Dodge was the first Methodist in the town. He soon acquired great popularity for his piety, his humility and is great kindness of heart, and till the arrival of other qualified persons he was called to conduct all funeral services. An old gentleman, now living in town, who knew him well, being one of a party where the subject of total depravity was being discussed, said that however the doctrine might apply to mankind in general, yet he must always except one man, and that was JESSIE DODGE, "the honest miller".



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