The Disasters of 1799
From the Mexico Independent
Probably nothing occurred in the earlier days of the town which created as much consternation and sorrow as the lake disasters in 1799. The drowning of so large a proportion of the settlers of the infant settlement discouraged the survivors, and kept away a large number who intended to come the same year.
The accounts of these calamities in the Gazetteers of the present day are very conflicting and erroneous. In 1799 Vera Cruz (which included Mexico Point and Texas,) was quite a promising place. Mr. Scriba had put up a hotel, store, and about six houses, the cellars of which are still discernible.
Up the creek and a few rods south of Texas Hotel stood the grist and saw mill. The last remnant of the old dam went off in a flood many years ago, and no ruins are now seen upon the site of the old mills. Further down and near a point Mr. Scriba had selected for a park for the future city; Captain Geerman an Welcome Spencer started in the schooner after provisions. They did not return, and after a few weeks great alarm was felt for their safety.
Lights were reported to have been seen on Stony island, and it was thought they might have been driven there in a gale. A conference was held at Vera Cruz, and it was concluded to send a party in pursuit. Mr. Spencer (father of Welcome), who lived at the time on the John Tiffany place, Mr. Wheaton, Green Clark and Mr. Doolittle, all of whom lived near the Lamb school house, and Nathaniel Rood, who lived just east of Richard Hamilton's present residence. were the persons selected to go.
Their search was fruitless, and on their return they encountered a great storm, and were driven towards Port Ontario. A man on the beach saw the boat coming, and when within a few rods of the shore it was upset, and all were drowned. Wheaton was a very active man, and hung to the boat for some time, and it was thought he would save himself; but no aid could reach him, and a heavy wave finally washed him off.
Clark's body was afterwards found on the shore near Sandy Creek. Capt. Geerman and Welcome Spencer were never heard from. It was supposed the schooner must have capsized, as some of its contents were reported to have been found floating near Sacket's Harbor. It is not true, as reported in some of the papers of that day, as well as in nearly all the Gazetteers of the present day, that but a single inhabitant ( Benj. Winch) was left in the settlement. Calvin Tiffany, Phineas Davis, Colonel Parkhurst, Colonel Hamilton, Mr. Fairfield and others survived. No similar calamity occurred in 1801, as stated.
Our authority for the above statement is Mrs. Sarah Davis, of this village, who died recently. The victims, except Geerman, where her nearest neighbors, and her memory of all the particulars was most perfect and vivid. She said the feelings produced in this vicinity cannot be expressed.
The lake had swallowed up almost half of the male settlers, and the survivors were left in a wilderness, with a long, cold winter before them, and famine staring them in the face. Sherman Hosmer came as early as 1806, and others came so early that they heard these events related many times by those who were here when they occurred; and all agree substantially in the account given above.