Slavery in the Genesee Country (Also Known as Ontario County) 1789 to 1827
Anne, E., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History
Slavery in the Genesee Country (also known as Ontario County) 1789 to 1827
This paper is not an exhaustive study of all the slaveholders and slaves in "The Genesee Country". Rather, its main focus is on the slaveholders and slaves in Ontario County. Ontario County was originally that part of New York State lying west of Seneca Lake. On the north it was bordered by Lake Ontario and on the south by Pennsylvania. This large county was formed from Montgomery County in 1789 and soon became known as "The Genesee Country". Over the next few years other counties were formed from Ontario County beginning with Steuben County in 1796, Allegheny County in 1806, Chatauqua County in 1808, and so forth. In spite of these county divisions, the area lying west of Seneca Lake continued to be known as "The Genesee Country".
Because of the scope of this subject I have, for the most part, limited this paper to the discussion of the slaveholders and slaves listed in the Ontario County census of 1800 and 1810. However, I have discussed some well-known slaveholders who, for unknown reasons, were not included in the above mentioned census. These men include William Helm, Robert Rose, William Fitzhugh, and John Shekell. William Helm was not listed in the Ontario County census, but we can document the fact that he did live first in Sodus, and then in Bath, New York. Likewise, Robert Rose was included in this paper because he was a very prominent slaveholder who was connected primarily with the Geneva area. Similarly, evidence exists that William Fitzhugh and John Shekell were prominent slaveholders in "The Genesee Country." On the other hand, a few slaveholders not included in the census, but mentioned in early articles or histories, were excluded from this paper because the information about them was very scanty. Clearly, more research is needed on this subject in order to give us a more complete picture.
The slaveholders and slaves who came to "The Genesee Country" faced many challenges. Some of them were able to surmount these challenges -- others were not. Some of the slaves lived to see the abolition of slavery in this state -- others died in bondage. All in all, whether slaveholder or slave, these people changed the fabric and texture of life in "The Genesee Country."
The Genesee Country began to attract slaveholders and other immigrants as early as 1789. While many types of people came to the Genesee Country for various reasons, the fertile soil and navigable waterways proved especially attractive to the southern slaveholder and the New England farmer. For instance, for the southern slaveholder whose plantation was suffering from soil exhaustion, the fertile and virgin soil of the Genesee Country promised a new beginning and an opportunity to maintain his station in society. Likewise, for the New England farmer who was barely managing to eke out a living on rocky soil, the fertile lands offered an opportunity for a better life.
Although many people were eager to make a new beginning in this region, they hesitated because of the Indian threat that still existed in 1789. This fact was illustrated by the 1790 census which listed only 1,075 inhabitants in all of Ontario County. However, by the summer of 1797 the Seneca Nation accepted an invitation from financier, Robert Morris, to meet at Big Tree at Geneseo to consider selling their lands west of the Genesee River. Three thousand members of the Seneca Nation came to Big Tree where for the last time, they were treated as a sovereign people by the white men.(2) The renown Seneca orator, Cornplanter, spoke the opening words at the council. Faithful to his reputation, he gave a dignified and moving oration, which befitted a great but dying nation. Once the preliminaries were underway, the Indians apparently decided to make the best of the situation, as the Council at Big Tree lasted one month and cost the land speculator, Robert Morris, $15,000 in food and liquor.(3) However, once the treaty was signed, the Indians outwardly accepted their fate and most of them wandered off to a reservation located near Niagara, New York.
Once the Indian threat was over, the Genesee Country experienced an explosion of growth. In addition to having the Indian danger removed in 1797, immigrants benefited from a bill passed in the State legislature which authorized a lottery to finance the construction of a number of turnpikes. One of these turnpikes connected Albany with the Genesee Country. This main route caused migration from the East to increase dramatically. For example, during the winter of 1797-98 five hundred and seventy sleds, filled with settlers bound for western New York, passed through Geneva.(4) In addition, another main road had been pushed through Pennsylvania, northward over the Alleghenies, and westward across southern New York to the Genesee River. This principal artery connected the Genesee Country with the South, thereby providing an entrance for many slaveholders to the region.
Regardless of which route was used, immigrants passed through a primitive wilderness that was full of wildlife, which included potentially dangerous bears, rattlesnakes, wildcats, and wolves. Yet, in spite of the dangers, the chance for economic advancement far outweighed every other consideration. Fertile lands beckoned, and the profit to be made was evident when a man could buy a one hundred and fifty acre farm for $250 and the same year sell $1200 worth of cider from the former Indian orchard.(5) However, not only in former Indian orchards could a profit be found. Almost everywhere the soil required only slight cultivation to yield the most ample returns.
Besides it fertile soil and navigable waterways, the Genesee Country offered a superior quality of timber. In the year 1800 there was a great variety of oak, hickory, black walnut, chestnut, ash of different kinds, elm, butternut, basswood, poplar, pines, and thorn trees. In addition, the Genesee Country had fruit trees by the thousands, which produced apples, peaches, plums, and cherries. Also, bushes and vines yielded large quantities of mulberries, grapes, raspberries, huckleberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and strawberries. Plus, game of all types including deer, elk, beavers, otters, martins, minks, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, and bears was abundant. Moreover, the birds in the game category included: wild turkeys, pheasants, partridges, pigeons, and a variety of water fowl. Equally important, fish filled the lakes and rivers. Salmon, salmon-trout, white and yellow perch, sheep-heads, pike, suckers, and eels were there for the taking. With all of these attractions, it was only a matter of time before the full brunt of immigration took place.
Since the State of New York after the Revolution was in need of immediate funds, the legislature decided to parcel out large portions of the Genesee Country to influential speculating concerns. Many of these concerns were backed by European capital. The men that were hired to sell the land for these large speculating concerns were known as land agents. The land agent, like most salesmen today, worked on a commission basis. The owner fixed a minimum price for his land, and of this price, the agent received a fixed proportion -- commonly two and one-half percent. However, any amount above the stipulated basic price was divided equally between owner and agent. This was the agent's real reward. Therefore, it was clearly to the agent's advantage to obtain as much for the land as possible. Since the agent earned his commission only upon the money he gave to the owner, his commissions were greatly reduced in economic recessions. Thus, efforts at collection served to keep the agent forceful and vigilant. Since many of the land agents were supplied with funds from their European-backed employers, they were able to finance the clearing of streams and harbors, build roads, erect grist and saw mills, lay out model farms, and establish villages. Although there were many influential land agents in the Genesee Country, none left as great an imprint on this region as Charles Williamson, land agent for the English based Pulteney Associates. His connection with the South, combined with his persuasive manner caused a number of prominent slaveholders to move North.
Although Williamson was deeply involved with influential Southerners, he was not a native of this country. He was born in Scotland in 1757 and later became a British officer during the Revolution. Captured on his way to America, he served time as a prisoner-of-war in Boston. While in Boston he wisely increased his knowledge of American affairs. Consequently, upon his return to England this knowledge became quite useful, as many influential men were curious about this new country across the sea.
One of the men who sought him out was Sir William Pulteney, the land speculator. Taking into account Williamson's knowledge of this new country, Pulteney appointed Williamson as his land promoter in the Genesee Country. Accordingly, in 1791 Williamson and his family departed from Great Britain for a northern port in the United States. During their passage severe weather conditions arose and the ship was blown off course. As a result, Williamson and his family docked at Norfolk, Virginia. From Norfolk, Williamson moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he soon became associated with several influential men in the business world. Furthermore, in other areas of the South, Williamson became well-known in such prominent aristocratic circles as the Washingtons, the Fitzhughs, the Carrolls, and the Dorseys.
These wealthy planters, in the early 1790's, were well aware that the soil in parts of Virginia and Maryland was near exhaustion. Even then, much of the population and trade had moved inward. Tidewater fields could no longer compete with the newly cleared fields of central, southern, and northern Virginia.(6) For many decades the Tidewater regions of Virginia and Maryland had produced tremendous amounts of tobacco, and inasmuch as the tobacco plant required very fertile soil there was always a need for additional land. Because the tobacco plant required constant attention from the time it was planted in March until the cured leaf was packed in October,(7) slaves were deemed a necessary part of the plantation. Likewise, because the price of slaves was high and the cost of land low, planters were tempted to skim the top soil and move on to new lands. Contributing to this tradition was the custom of paying the overseer for crop production. Furthermore, because of the planting of only one crop, the soil quickly became exhausted and tobacco fields were abandoned and new ground was cleared. Moreover, thinking of the future and the necessity for more ground, wealthy planters continued to purchase tremendous amounts of land. For instance, William Fitzhugh of Stafford County, Virginia, owned over 50,000 acres.(8)
Plantations as large as this were not an unbroken unit. They were separated by great woods; therefore, planters and their families often lived in isolation. Consequently, visitors were a welcome sight, and hospitality became a hallmark of the South. In addition to their good manners, the wealthy planters also placed much emphasis on education and social position. Plus, the great majority of them admired English literature, fashions, and the old aristocratic ways. Thus, when the prominent Englishman, Captain Charles Williamson, presented the economic opportunities that awaited them in the Genesee Country they were eager to listen.
While we do not know if Charles Williamson personally contacted the planter, William Helm, or if Helm learned of the Genesee Country through one of Williamson's pamphlets, the southern slaveholder decided to visit the Genesee Country. After viewing it, Helm became convinced of its great possibilities and decided to move to the North. After returning to Virginia and selling his estate for approximately $40,000(9) he began to prepare for his journey.
Leaving his wife and children behind, it was the middle of May, 1796, when William Helm, his slaves, his overseer, Barsly Taylor, and another white man by the name of Davis began their journey. Although no detailed description has survived of the Pennsylvania wagon they used, the usual Pennsylvania wagon of that time was painted red and blue, had broad wheels, a white fabric hood, and a convex wagon box. Its capacity was approximately eight tons of freight. As may be expected, the white people rode in the wagon along with all the food and supplies, while the slaves walked. Afraid that perhaps some of his slaves might get lost, Helm hung a large bell on the wagon which he hoped would guide them through the wilderness.(10) Traveling north through Maryland they reached Pennsylvania where they probably took the Northumberland Road, which had been built a few years earlier by Charles Williamson. This road took them into New York State. According to William Helm's former slave, Austin Steward, roll call was taken each morning, and if any slave failed to respond he received a lashing. After roll call breakfast was eaten and the day's march was begun. Helm and his party averaged approximately twenty miles per day, and at night they camped, with the slaves sleeping in tents. Originally their destination was the outlet of the Genesee River. Austin Steward does not say whether they miscalculated or changed their plans, but instead of arriving at the outlet of the Genesee they came to Charles Williamson's dream city at Sodus Bay (Point). After the twenty-day journey, Williamson's $5,000 tavern, managed by Moses and Jabez Sill, must have seemed like a palace. According with the times, only the whites went in the tavern. The Negroes stayed outside.
After resting for a few days, Helm purchased and settled in what was then Huron Township, Lot. No. 114, which contained one hundred and twenty-eight acres.(11) Clearing the land was the first task and one source states that the slaves were forced to clear the land without horses. This is a possibility as Mr. Davis who came North with Helm was required to return the team to the South.(12) We can only imagine what it would be like to clear an almost unbroken wilderness of huge timbers and immense underbrush with primitive tools. Slaves, unaccustomed to this type of labor, and weak from hunger, collapsed under the strain. In addition, many died because of the severe winter. Provisions became very scarce and eventually there was little corn left and none to be bought. Slaves, not allowed to hunt for game or fish, were on the verge of starvation. In desperation, they gathered up all the old bones they could find, broke them up as fine as possible and boiled them. This broth sustained their life. Finally Helm, on his second attempt, was successful in obtaining a boatload of provisions which saved everyone from starvation and gave them renewed strength to pursue their labor. Shortly after Helm's fresh beginning, his brother, Thomas, and his common-law wife and two children arrived at Sodus. Once his brother arrived, and after his farm became established, William Helm left for Virginia and shortly returned with his wife and seven children. Upon returning to Sodus, for unknown reasons, he left his brother, Thomas, in charge of his farm and William purchased property in Bath.
Bringing some of his slaves from Sodus with him, William purchased a large tract of land near the village, a large grist mill, two saw mills, and two farms. One farm which was located east of the village he named "Maringo", and the other located north of the village he named "Epsam". In addition, he bought a large home and a lot in the village.(13) Helm's large investments soon became profitable. For example, since he owned the only grist mill around for miles, his services were in great demand. In addition, his saw mills processed great quantities of lumber, and his distillery did a fantastic business. Yet, in spite of all his wealth, one of his slaves, Austin Steward, reported that he slept on the floor with no pillow and no blanket during the cold winter nights.(14) In addition, Steward reported that each slave belonging to Helm was allotted one peck of corn or meal per week. During Helm's prosperous years his eldest daughter, Jenny, was married in an elaborate wedding ceremony to her cousin, John Fitzhugh. As fate would have it, this same John Fitzhugh would in the near future lead John Nicholas and Robert Rose on their successful expedition to the Genesee Country.
However, these happy and prosperous times would be short-lived. First, Helm's wife died. Next, he remarried only to be divorced by his second wife who received a good share of his estate in alimony. As a result of the loss of a large part of his estate, Helm became obsessed with gambling. As in his past experiences with gambling, he began to lose tremendous amounts of money. Frantic, he began to sell his slaves at great sacrifice.(15) Moreover, reports circulated that Helm supplied every lawyer in the area with slaves either by purchase or hire. In the end Helm became so poor that he lived with one of his slave women and was supported by public charity.(16) His abhorrence of physical labor and his love of gambling combined to bring about his downfall. A broken man at the end -- he died a pauper.
Another acquaintance of Charles Williamson was Colonel Peregrine Fitzhugh. Mr. Fitzhugh was an aristocrat from the Chesepeake Bay area of Maryland. He was the son of William Fitzhugh who had previously held the commission of Colonel in the British army. During the last two years of the American Revolution, Colonel Peregrine Fitzhugh served as an aid-decamp to General George Washington. His active service included assisting Washington with his duties, transmitting orders, and collecting information. In addition, he was one of Washington's life guards during the war.(17) This prominent Marylander hoped to salvage some of his fortune by moving to the fertile lands of the Genesee Country; for, as early as 1796 Isaac Weld, a visitor from the South to Bath, New York, reported that the counties from which the Fitzhughs came were "overgrown with yellow sedge." Soon most of the northern portion of Virginia was destitute of verdure.(18)
While accounts vary as to exactly what year Peregrine Fitzhugh arrived at Geneva and/or Sodus, we do know that it was between 1796 and 1800. It is also know that he came over Williamson's Northumberland Road. This caravan rumbling through the wilderness must have been an exotic scene. Headed by a Pennsylvania wagon drawn by twenty-seven horses,(19) this caravan included Fitzhugh and his family, plus thirty-to-forty slaves. Camping only two nights along the way, it took them five weeks to travel from the shores of Chesepeake Bay to the northern Genesee Country. Upon arrival, clearance of Fitzhugh's large land purchase at Sodus began. During this time, Peregrine Fitzhugh and his family resided in Geneva. By 1803 the land had been cleared and was ready for cultivation. While no records could be found of the type of food that was planted, in all probability it was corn or wheat because they were the main agricultural products of the area. Once he became an established resident, Colonel Fitzhugh quickly became the leading citizen at Sodus Point. However, his prominence there was to be short-lived, as disease and isolation took its toll on Fitzhugh and his slaves.
By the time of his death in 1810 most of his slaves had been given their freedom. Although the reasons are unclear, many of these manumissions were probably given out of respect for his father-in-law and regard for his wife.(20) Several of the freed slaves settled on Pulteney lands near the Bay on ten, fifteen, and twenty acre lots that had been previously laid out by Charles Williamson. At one time there were eighty former slaves living on these lands. In spite of all this activity many years ago, today nothing remains of Colonel Fitzhugh's ambitious enterprise.
In contrast there still remain today the aftereffects of the John Nicholas/Robert Rose expedition. Married to the daughters of Gavin Lawson of Williamsburg, Virginia, these southern aristocrats were persuaded to move from Virginia to the Genesee Country by their relatives Colonel Peregrine Fitzhugh, his brother William Fitzhugh, and a cousin of these two brothers, Colonel John Fitzhugh. In addition, John Nicholas visited the region in 1801 before the final move. During this visit he saw the advantages of the region and agreed with his relatives that there was a good possibility of increasing his wealth in the Genesee Country. Consequently, he purchased a large farm at the White Springs near Geneva. While he could see some inconveniences in moving to the North, the advantages of the region far outweighed the disadvantages of remaining in soil-exhausted Virginia. To ensure success, Nicholas sent advance parties to raise unnamed crops two to three years before the families actual arrival.(21)
Because John Nicholas felt the move to be "a most disagreeable undertaking,"(22) he understood when his slave, Mingo, begged him to bring along his "wife" and children who lived on an adjoining plantation. Sympathizing with his slave, Nicholas purchased Mingo's "wife", Nancy, and all her children and brought them with Mingo to New York.(23) At the time of the purchase, Mingo and his family became the property of Anna Cary Nicholas, who at the time was eleven years old.
The wagons and family slaves, led by Colonel John Fitzhugh traveled over the Northumberland Road to Ithaca, and then by water to Geneva. The families took a different route, first going to Philadelphia and then Albany. One of the original participants of this expedition, Gavin Lawson Nicholas, was nine years old when the journey began. He recorded his memories of the trip north when he was eighty-two. While we must take into consideration possible memory lapses, following is a paraphrased account of that momentous journey:
The name of our plantation was "Hampstead". It was located in Stafford County, Virginia. We had been three years getting ready for the trek. Even though it was unusual to begin a journey on Sunday we did so, as everything was ready on that day.
There were two stage coaches with four horses each, a driver and a postilion riding one of the leaders, and a coach with four horses, driver and postilion. The two wagons were made at "Hampstead" by our own slaves from timber cut on the place, and the hubs of the wheels were made from locust trees near the house. After our arrival in Geneva, they were sold to Levi Stevens and ran on a stage line from Albany to Geneva.
In the first stage was my grandmother, Mrs. Janet R. Rose and her son Gavin Tawson Rose. Also in that first stage was John N. Rose and Henry Rose. Henry was in the arms of his colored nurse, Phyllis Kenney. Phyllis later died on the Carter Road during the trek.
In the other stage was Mrs. Lawson who was the mother of Mrs. Nicholas and Mrs. Rose. Margaret Rose, Mrs. Lawson's sister, also rode in this stage along with their Negro maid Susannah Dunkinson.
In the coach road my grandmother, Mrs. Anne Nicholas and her children, Ann, Jane, George, and Robert C. in the arms of his Negro nurse, Alice Bowman. my two grandfathers, John Nicholas and Robert Rose, plus George H. Norton (Nicholas's nephew) were on horseback with two lead horses. My great-grand-father, Gavin Lawson, and Gavin Lawson Nicholas (who gave me these details) were in a light four-wheeled carriage with two horses and a driver.
Four four-horse wagons for the slaves and their baggage, plus about seventy-five slaves came north over the A1leghenies, led by Colonel John Fitzhugh.
The men and women who were able, walked. The invalid women and small children rode in the wagons. Everyone went for about half-mile together; then, the whites turned to the right and the blacks to the left, and we did not meet again until we met in Geneva about the middle of November.(24)
While accounts vary as to the exact amount of land owned by John Nicholas and Robert Rose, we do know that Rose purchased D. Alexander Coventry's "Fairhill" estate of 1600 acres on the east side of Seneca Lake. Originally this property was part of a large military tract established after the Revolutionary War as a reward for men who had served in that war. After purchasing "Fairhill," Robert Rose changed the name to "Rose Hill." Arriving at Geneva in 1803, Rose did not build on the property until 1809. Since certain areas of his property were very marshy and typhoid and malaria were rampant, it is probable that the slaves had to clear the area before a permanent settlement could be made. However primitive his early beginnings, once Rose became settled in the area, he was able to continue a lifestyle not unlike his former life in Virginia. For example, even though elected three times to the State Legislature, a member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1821, and a representative of the Geneva district for six years in Congress, Rose still managed a prosperous sheep, cattle, and grain farm.
Numerous slaves worked on his large farm, and, while it was never proven, there were reports that Rose mistreated his slaves. For example, the Geneva Gazette editorial of November 5, 1828, reported that around the year 1809 Rose was in the process of constructing his new home. During this construction, he directed one of his slaves to attend to his brick kiln. Since it was Sunday, the slave -- Henry, objected to working. The following Monday while Henry was at work, Rose approached him with a loaded gun in his hand and ordered him into the kitchen. Frightened, the slave began to run. Rose aimed his gun and shot Henry in the back, wounding him severely. The bullet was reported to have been removed by a Dr. Henry, a physician and surgeon of Geneva.(25) In spite of these charges, Rose continued to play an active role in the social, political, and religious life of Geneva. The descendant of an Episcopal rector, Rose was a pillar of Trinity Episcopal Church of Geneva, serving as one of its vestrymen.
Robert Rose retained his old and infirm slaves until the final New York emancipation. However, he emancipated some of his other slaves. For instance, he freed two slaves in 1815, six in 1816, two in 1822, and one in 1825.(26) According to the newspaper articles of his day, Rose was a frugal man and enjoyed an aristocratic lifestyle until his death on November 24, 1835.
His brother-in-law, John Nicholas, also enjoyed prosperity and social prestige. A lawyer by profession, he had retired from practice by the time he arrived in Geneva. Yet, due to his education and influence, after only two years in Geneva he was appointed the first Judge of the Ontario County Court of Common Pleas. In addition, he was an active Democrat and was elected to the New York State Senate from 1806 to 1809. His realm of influence also extended into the religious life of the village. Like his brother-in-law, Robert Rose, he was extremely active at Trinity Episcopal Church in Geneva. In addition to his financial support of the church, he served as one of its first wardens.
John Nicholas was also heavily involved in agriculture, and his farm at the White Springs proved to be very profitable. Most important, from White Springs came the pure water that was pumped into the center of the village of Geneva via log pipes ten to twelve inches in diameter with a two-inch bore. While it is not known if Nicholas' slaves constructed any of the log pipes, we do know that the year before he arrived at Geneva he registered twenty slaves with the local Justice of the Peace.(27)
When he purchased his farm, Nicholas knew that the farm tenancy system was profitable; therefore, he used this method to increase his wealth. While we do not know about the day-to-day operation of the Nicholas farm and/or his tenancy system, there is general information about the farm tenancy system in the Genesee Country. Looking for a way to relieve the burden of taxes, many of the landed gentry adopted the farm tenancy system. Generally, the landlord would advertise the land for lease. Some of the posted notices would offer a farm for so-many years rent free in return for the erection of a barn, a house, and the planting of an orchard. Others offered a few years of free cash rent with the stipulation that the tenant would pay annual rent in the form of specified number of bushels of wheat per so many acres. If the rent was not paid, dispossession generally took place immediately. Even in that situation that landlord was at an advantage as inevitably his land had been improved by the tenant and thereby had increased in value. With the influx of new settlers coming to the region, new customers soon appeared. Another advantage of the farm tenancy system was that it required little supervision. An occasional check on the tenant was all that was necessary. Next, there was no problem of labor because the tenants provided their own labor; and finally, the landlord was not required to supply room and board.(28)
With these numerous enterprises John Nicholas and Robert Rose were able to rediscover the prosperous life they had enjoyed in Virginia. They brought to the Geneva area education, wealth, social status, and many slaves. These slaves would constitute the beginning of the Afro-American community of Geneva. Thus, because of their wealth and influence, Nicholas and Rose would alter the social and cultural life of Geneva for many years to come.
Except for a street named in his honor at Rochester, New York, and his gravestone in what was once the town of Williamsburg, New York, there remains no trace of William Fitzhugh's presence in the Genesee Country. Born in Calvert County, Maryland, in 1761, he and his brother, Peregrine, enjoyed many advantages as being the sons of Colonel William Fitzhugh. Colonel Fitzhugh was an aristocrat who held a commission of Colonel in the British army. At the beginning of the conflict between the American colonies and England, the elder Fitzhugh retired from the British army at half pay and encouraged his two sons, William and Peregrine, to take commissions in the "rebel" army.
Not too many years after the War was over, William Fitzhugh began hearing of the lands available in New York. His brother, Peregrine, had recently moved to the village of Geneva and had made a large land purchase at Sodus. Knowing that the Fitzhugh fortune was based on land, upon its acquisition and retention or sale, Fitzhugh, along with his friends and business associates Charles Carroll and Nathaniel Rochester, decided to inspect these widely advertised lands.
The decision was made to leave Hagerstown Maryland, in the fall of 1800. Riding horseback, followed by a mounted Negro slave leading a pack horse to carry their baggage, they set out for Williamson's headquarters at Bath, New York. Bringing a letter of introduction from his brother, Peregrine, Fitzhugh and his party arrived at the Agency House in Bath in September, 1800. Realizing their great wealth, and the influence they could make on the wilderness, Williamson gladly accompanied them along the Williamsburg Road to the forks of Canaseraga Creek and the Genesee River. Seeing the possibilities of the area, Fitzhugh and Carroll jointly purchased 12,000 acres at approximately $2.00 per acre on the eastern slopes of the Genesee River and the flats of the creek. After returning home, Fitzhugh began to long for the Genesee Country; consequently, he started to make annual trips over the Alleghenies to inspect his future home and investment.
During the years before the final move, members of the Fitzhugh family built a home at Hampton Corners. This home was located approximately one-half mile outside the Village of Williamsburg. Named "Hampton" after the squatter John Hampton who lived there, the residence was magnificent. To ensure his social status and also perhaps because it would make him feel more at home, Fitzhugh's new home was designed in the old southern colonial style. This large three-story frame building, with piazza, was supported by massive pillars around the front and sides. For many years this grand house was a landmark at the junction of the Dansville and Geneseo roads.(29)
With his home completed, William Fitzhugh in 1817 made his final journey north. After his arrival, in spite of the growing sentiment against slavery, he registered seven slaves in the town of Groveland. What is most interesting is that he registered no adult slaves -- only children. These children which included five males and two females, ranged in age from one year to sixteen years. Immediately, questions arise such as: "Where were their mothers?" "Due to their age, how could they have had economic value?" William Fitzhugh, who knew the answers to these questions, died eleven years after slavery was abolished in New York State. At the time of abolition, a number of those youngsters were still children. We can only speculate as to what became of them.
On the other hand, John Shekell, one of the lesser-known slaveholders left a record in the family Bible of what became of his slaves after he had given them their freedom. John, was a farmer from Frederick, Maryland, and the owner of at least three slaves named Nath, Rose, and Lucy. He came to what was then Sulfur Springs, now Clifton Springs, in 1800-01. After living there for several years Shekell decided to give his slaves their freedom. In addition to their freedom, John Shekell gave each of his slaves five acres of land and made provision for their maintenance as long as they lived. In keeping with his benevolent attitude these former slaves were buried with the Shekell family in the Clifton Springs cemetery which had been donated earlier to the village by John Shekell.(30)
In addition to John Shekell, other Shekells came to the region. According to the Ontario County census of 1810, Thomas Shekell had five slaves registered in Farmington, along with Richard Shekell who had registered two slaves during the same year. In addition, Benjamin Shekell also came to the Genesee Country with his slaves. According to the book, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve, Benjamin traveled by horseback via Williamson's Northumberland Road to the Genesee Country. When he arrived at The Geneva Hotel he learned that the land agent Charles Williamson was in Sodus. Accordingly, he continued on to Sodus and after talking with Williamson agreed to purchase land near John Shekell at Clifton Springs. This Shekell family left a lasting imprint on Clifton Springs and even today some of their descendants reside there.
Another man who emigrated to the Genesee Country from Maryland was Daniel Dorsey, who had formerly been a captain in the Maryland line during the Revolution. The date of this southern planter's arrival is unclear but we do know that he had a large family which included a wife and many children; plus, approximately forty slaves. Dorsey purchased one thousand forty-eight acres of land adjoining the village of Lyons on the south. When Dorsey first arrived, Indians were camped in large numbers in the vicinity. Consequently, he traded with them using some of the goods he had brought from the South. In addition to being a trader, Dorsey owned saw mills and was very active in other fields. For example, in the field of politics he was a member of the New York State Assembly and in the legal arena he was Judge of the Ontario County Court.
Besides all of these duties, Dorsey was also deeply involved in his church. A devout Methodist, he attended many camp meetings in the area. More important, his barn was the site of the first meeting of the Methodist Genesee Conference.(31) The presiding officer of that meeting was the Reverend Francis As-bury, the first Methodist bishop in America.
In the book, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve, the author states that Daniel Dorsey gave all his slaves their freedom because he found slave labor to be unprofitable in this region. Unfortunately, the author does not elaborate on the subject. Daniel Dorsey died in 1823, four years before slavery was abolished in New York State. He was survived by his wife, five sons, and seven daughters.
Another slaveholding family to emigrate to the Genesee Country was the Bealls. These brothers, Archibald and Zebedee, came from Frederick County, Maryland, in 1800 and settled on lands north-west of Phelps, New York. Each brother owned his own slaves.
Archibald Beall owned numerous slaves which included a set of twins; and while we do not know if he issued any writs of manumission for his slaves, we do know that many of them were buried on his farm.(32) One of his slaves, John Countee, was a grave digger in the Old Cemetery on Main Street in Phelps before and after abolition. Accordingly, John buried friends and former slaves, as records indicate that many Negroes were buried in the south-west corner. John lived to an advanced age in a small house on his former master's original farm, and Archibald and his wife both died at Phelps.
On the other hand, Archibald's brother, Zebedee, resided only a short time in Phelps. He probably would have stayed permanently except for the fact that the anti-slavery movement was becoming a powerful political force. Fearing the abolishment of slavery, he returned to Maryland with his most valuable slaves. His departure must have been a scene filled with grief because he separated three children from their mother and a wife from her husband.(33) This husband, Phillip West, was one of Archibald's slaves. When his wife was taken from him, Phillip, who had formerly possessed a happy disposition, began to drink to excess. He continued this drinking until he died in 1830. Phillip West was buried in the Old Cemetery in Phelps.(34) John Countee, Archibald's former slave, was probably the grave digger.
Two other brothers that came from Maryland were the Ferguson brothers, Robert and David. They, like the Beall brothers, brought several slaves with them. One of these slaves was Will Riley who was reported to be a skilled teamster. He also was married to an oriental girl that belonged to the Shekells who were mentioned earlier in this paper. The connection is interesting because Will and his wife had several children. One of these children became the wife of the grave digger, John Countee, on the Beall homestead.
While I know of no record on how Robert Ferguson treated his slaves, apparently David Ferguson had problems with at least one of his slaves as the Canandaigua Repository of 1810 reported the following advertisement:
"Ran away...from the subscriber, on the 20th ult. A likely Negro girl named Linda Moody, 18 years old, about 5 feet 6 inches high. Two of her fingers on the right hand are considerably burnt. She took a variety of clothing with her. Any person who will return said girl shall receive a liberal reward."
D.B. Ferguson, Phelps
January 16, 1810(35)
It is not known whether or not his runaway slave was ever found, but a few years later David Ferguson returned to Maryland and later became the Mayor of Baltimore.(36)
In contrast, former Maryland slaveholders Valentine Brother and Henry Brother lived out the remainder of their lives in the Genesee Country. According to one source, Henry Brother owned six slaves in the Town of Seneca in the year 1800. He was an early surveyor and granted an invaluable service to the early settlers.(37)
In regard to Valentine Brother, the Ontario County census of 1810 states that he was a resident of Phelps and owned five slaves at that time. However, Rodney Squire Lightfoote who is knowledgeable about local history, feels that this is probably inaccurate because one of his ancestors purchased Valentine Brother's home. Brother's home was located at the corner of Leet Road and Number Nine Road in the Town of Seneca. This home is still standing today at the same location. According to Mr. Lightfoote, the extension that was added on to the house was to be used for the slaves, but that fact was never accomplished, as Valentine Brotner freed his slaves before it was finished or used.
In addition to being a farmer, Brother was one of the first assemblymen of Ontario County. Besides being interested in politics, he was also heavily involved in "Old Number Nine Seneca Presbyterian Church." This church, which still stands today, is a magnificent structure. Its unusual name comes from the fact that it is located in the old Number Nine Township survey. For a period of time Valentine Brother served as treasurer and as superintendent when the first house of worship was built. In addition he was clerk of the first meeting and was re-elected to serve as Clerk of the Board of Trustees until his death in 1820.(38) He is buried in the "Old Number Nine" graveyard behind the present church, along with other slaveholders.
Although there were a few slaveholders in the Town of Seneca, there were also many others dispersed throughout the Genesee Country. Following is a listing of the slaveholders and the number of slaves listed in the Ontario County census of 1800 and 1810. Most of the descriptive material about individual slaveholders was obtained from the book, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve. To avoid repetition, I will not name the slaveholders already discussed earlier in this paper. Year: 1800 VILLAGE: CANANDAIGUA Slaveholder: Number of Slaves Thomas Morris 1 An attorney. First representative in Congress for all the region west of Seneca Lake. Son of financier and land agent Robert Morris. Like his father he over-traded in land. In 1803-4 he retired to New York City where he practiced law until his death. Dudley Saltonstall 1 First practicing lawyer in LeRoy. Admitted to practice in the Court of Common Pleas of Ontario in 1795. He abandoned his profession, and in 1808 emigrated to Maryland and then to North Carolina where he died. Moses Atwater
1 An attorney and physician 1791 - Settled at Canandaigua. 1795 - Added to the bench. 1799 - Vestryman - St. Matthew's Church 1801 - Received 52 votes for delegate to the State Convention. This was the first general election for all the region west of the Genesee River. Israel Chapin (General) 1 Associate of Oliver Phelps. Chosen to explore the region. 1789 - Arrived at Canandaigua. Deputy Superintendent of the Six Nations. 1791 - Opened and supervised the first town meeting of Canandaigua. Town Supervisor until 1795. John Clarke 1 A tanner and currier. He manufactured the first leather in the Genesee Country. The hides were from the cattle that were used to furnish beef for the Indians at the "Big Tree Treaty" at Geneseo. 1799 - Officer at St. Matthew's Church Martin Dudley
1 Lived in Canandaigua in 1790 and in 1803. Benjamin Wells 1 1789 - Arrived at Canandaigua with his father-in-law, General Israel Chapin. 1791 - Town officer at Canandaigua. 1799 - Church officer at St. Matthew's Church. Benjamin Cole 1 VILLAGE: MIDDLESEX (AUGUSTA) Philemon Baldwin
2 VILLAGE: LIMA (CHARLSTON) George Ford
1 VILLAGE: GENESEO William Wadsworth
3 Successful farmer and brother to businessman and land agent James Wadsworth. VILLAGE: PALMYRA Reuben Starks
1 VILLAGE: PHELPS Gabriel Clarke
1 VILLAGE: TOWN OF SENECA Gideon Brockway
1 Burben Brockway
1 Gideon Ball
1 Herman H. Bogert 2 1797 - Began practice of law in Geneva. Thomas Powell
2 He came from London and was connected with a hotel known as the "Thatched Cottage", which was a resort of statesmen, etc. Consequently, Williamson hired him as landlord for his new hotel at Geneva. He eventually moved to Schenectady. Elijah H. Gordon 1 Judge of Ontario County. Second postmaster at Geneva. Trader in furs. Walter Grieves 3 Early merchant at Geneva. Established first brewery. Employed by Charles Williamson during development of Sodus. A colonel in the War of 1812. First postmaster at Geneva. Polydore B. Wisner 2 Lawyer at Geneva. Early District Attorney. 1798 - Trustee of the Presbyterian Society in Geneva. 1805 - Elected to Assembly. John Woods
1 Early landlord and also early mechanic at Geneva. VILLAGE: SODUS John Perine 3 Early magistrate and supervisor of Canandaigua. 1801 - Appointed supervisor of the District of Sodus, which embraced all of the present Towns of Sodus and Lyons. He died in Michigan in 1836. Evert Van Winkle
3 Came to Lyons very early, along with forty other people. First town or district meeting was held at his home in Lyons. He was also employed by Charles Williamson as a surveyor. Samuel Nelson
1 1799 - Town officer, District of Sodus. John Riggs
2 George Ker
1 Samuel Manning
2 VILLAGE: SPARTA Samuel Mills (Reverend)
2 1795 - Arrived from Connecticut. Joined with Thomas Morris and others in purchase of 10,000 acres of land in Groveland and Sparta. Purchased land at a bad time and lost money. Settled near Colonel Fitzhugh. Mills' house burned to the ground with all his furnishings. The family barely escaped. He was a traveling pastor among new settlements until his death soon after 1800. His wife returned to Connecticut. Year: 1810 VILLAGE: CANANDAIGUA John C. Spencer 1 Early pioneer. In the mid-1800's, there was a portrait of him at the Canandaigua Court House. Moses Atwater 1 Information mentioned earlier. Charles Cameron 1 He came with Charles Williamson on his first trip to this country from Scotland. He explored the wilderness with him and kept his account books. He was a merchant at Bath before coming to Lyons. In addition, he was principal local agent for Charles Williamson and also one of the earliest merchants at Canandaigua. Israel Chapin 1 Information mentioned earlier. Thaddeus Chapin
1 Son of General Israel Chapin and second merchant at Canandaigua. He owned a large farm near the village, and was Treasurer of Ontario County. He was also Trustee of the First Congregational Church at Canandaigua. VILLAGE: FARMINGTON Thomas Edwinson
7 Jacob Cost 1 William Hanna, Sr. 2 Hezh. Beggarly 4 Prisilla Orme