What People Say
The Early History and Conditions of Oswego - The Early Oswego Fleet - The Tradesmen of Long Ago - Interesting Reminiscences.
To the Editor of the Palladium:
Sir: - The summer of 1816 was known as the cold summer. Flour advanced from six to fourteen dollars a barrel, and John Bennett, living east of the river, said he wintered his family the following winter on turnips.
Of the vessels navigating the lake, I recollected the Alpha, Sophia, Betsy, Blackbird, Jane, Bull Dog, Rambler, Ploughboy, Oswegatchie, Merchant, Traveller, Morning Star, Julia, New Haven, Henrietta, Ontario, Minerva, Hunter, Mary, Fair American, Charles and Ann, Niagara, Oswego, Ariadne, Sloop Geneva and Acadia. Of the early steamboats there were the Ontario, Frontenac, Queenston, Great Britain, and among the old vessel masters, Hubbel, Hubbard, Knapp, Chapman, Estes, Holmes, Mayo, Vorce, Johnson, Cherry, Morrow, Kerr, Tyler, Theophilis Pease, Barzillai Pease, (not related), John T. Trowbridge, Elias Trowbridge, Miles, Buel, Dominic, Daniel, Abraham and Robert Hugunin, Whitney, Shannon, Rodgers, King, Sweet, Bouquet, Bush. Hubbel died early. The vessels in port displayed their colors at half mast at his burial as a token of respect. Bush died lately, as you know.
I think J.T. Trowbridge and Joseph Whitney were both in Dartmoor, England prison when the American prisoners were fired on. Whitney afterwards joined the U.S. navy, and was on board the Peacock at the capture of L'Espevier. He came to Oswego and sailed with B. Pease on the Oswego, and the next season had command of the Julia, which had sailed from Niagara in the fall of 1810, commanded by Capt. Charles Snow, and was lost with all on board. She drifted on shore near Pultneyville and was refitted by her owner, Matthew McNair.
Whitney afterwards commanded the steamers Queenston and Great Britain. He married a sister of Robert Cooley. She is living I think in Lewiston. James King was an Englishman, and to escape the press gang enlisted in the British transport service, and was present at the capture of Washington and also at the Battle of New Orleans. He came to Oswego by way of the St. Lawrence on board the Oswegatchie, Capt. Holmes. He married a daughter of Zenas Gould, rose to be a master and was lost with his vessel, I think, entering the harbor of her home. The Julia, Fair American and Charles and Ann had a place in the U.S. fleet under Commodore Chauncey.
The custom house and post office occupied a humble building at or near the corner of Water and Seneca streets; and over the door was a painting of a schooner said to represent the Diana which had been commanded by Captain Hubbel. I think she was known in the Navy as the Hamilton and was lost.
Judge Nathan Sage was the collector and postmaster, with Jonathan Demming as deputy in both offices. Barnet Mooney was first judge, I think, P.D. Hugunin and E. Hawks as associates and James Adams (1816-1819) county clerk. Among the lawyers were Aaron Burr, Wight, Popple, Beach, Grant and Fisher. Of the doctors, Colton, Coe, east of the village, Deadotus Clarke, and Squires, west. Merchants, A. Bronson, E. Bronson, W. Dolloway, Davis, Crocker, Hooker, Falley and some few others, as well as Bills, Seth Bronson & Co.
Forwarders, McNair, Hugunins, T.S. Morgan, Wentworth, Henry Eagle, Townsend, Bronson & Co. Davis and Wight were justices of the peace; Hart, constable; Asa Dudley, constable and collector, afterwards sheriff; Dudley Cooper Carrington, tin smith; Cooper, Baker, cabinet and chair makers; Carter, Masters, blacksmiths; Cooley, Mix, Perkins, tailors; and Aldrich, Larkin and Collins, ship carpenters. Baldwin, Gooding, caulkers; Edmund Hawks, tanner; Sutton, whip sawyer; Eli Parsons, Woods and McNair, tavern keepers; Eli Stevens, Manwarring, shoemakers; Moses Stevens, hatter; Daniel, Abraham, Peter D., Robert, Hiram and Leonard Hugunin; Mr. Burt and sons William, Bradner, Joel, George, Benjamin and James.
Captain E. O'Connor who had been a captain in the Army of the Revolution as Col. Eli Parsons had been a lieutenant. he gained his colonelcy under Shay in what was known as Shay's Rebellion. Both were, however, enrolled on the pension list as Revolutionary pensioners, the government throwing the cloak of oblivion over their opposition.
Among the boys at the time were Henry A. Foster, student with lawyer Popple; Cole, student with Doctor Coe; Hiram and Leonard Hugunin, William and John Van Horne, Lewis Falley and A.S. Baker, clerks to Dolloway; Moses P. Hatch, John Fitz, Ephraim Reed, John and Matthew McNair to McNair; George Demming to Crocker & Bronson; Carlos Colton with Townsend, Bronson & Co., Hamilton Colton, Rensselaer and Edmund Bills, E.H. Shepard, James Dudley, William Smith and Timothy Demming with Cooley & Mix; Philo Stevens, William and George Squires with Eli Stevens; John Mudd with Capt. Peace; Joel Tyler with Capt. Miles.
The boulevard was along the shore of the lake. On moonlight nights in summer young people were often engaged in trolling in and outside the river, which in winter they occasionally indulged in a sleighride out west as far as Rice's (Rice Creek or Three Mile Creek) who furnished methaglib, current wine, doughnuts and apples. Sometimes they went up the river as far as Capt. T. Pease's in Minetto, the evening spent in murth and hilarity. One in the past time said, "I come to the place of my birth; I sought for the friends of my youth; I said, 'Where are they?' and an echo answered me, "Where are they!"
So inquiring often for acquaintances and associates, I learn that while some remain to this day, the greater part are fallen asleep. It was after an absence of twenty-five years, I returned to visit Oswego, and was as much surprised at its advancement as was an old lady resident of Detroit, who came down the river in 1816, bringing her brass kettle and hatrchet, expecting to be compelled to cap out, as she had done it an earlier visit. I found the fort rebuilt, the harbor improved, canal made, churches erected and fine residences everywhere, with abundant accomodations for a largely increasing business.
I look back with pleasant recollections upon that portion of my life spent at Oswego, and although I have passed fifty years in agricultural pursuits on on farm, I realize that the knowledge acquired there has had its value. Today completes my seventy-fifth year, and in this lengthy communication I have no doubt satisfied you that I am a garrulous old man, unwilling to let you go. I will conclude with furnishing you a communication from your old and honored citizen, Hon. Alvin Bronson:
"Some twelve or fifteen years ago a Sir Francis Bond Head took in Oswego in his route to England. I gave him a drive over our small city. Observing my apparent age, he said, 'Can you walk?' I replied, 'That is my habit,' and in a long walk I found him very inquisitive and communicative. Whenever he saw a fine building he would inquire the income of the owner. I said, "With us, we have a passion for fine houses without much regard to the income of the owner.'
He replied, "According to my recollection, in England the practice is to devote a fifth or sixth of the estate in our dwellings, or an equal portion of our income to rent.' he remarked he was disappointed in the appearance of our city. 'It is elevated and beautiful. I had the impression it was low and level.' I replied, 'I think you got the impression from one of our national poets. I can quote the lines, but forget the author.
'When wild Oswego spreads her swamps around,
And Niagara runs with thundering sound.'
(See Goldsmith's Traveller. )
"Yes, he said, 'undoubtedly that is the way I acquired it.'"
Early in the War of 1812, there arrived at Oswego, a young gentleman of good address and pleasant manners proclaiming that his object was to take part in the war, and that part was nothing less than to annihilate the British naval force then organizing in Kingston. He proved to be William Cooper, brother of James Fenimore Cooper of Cooperstown, the subordinate officer in our Navy. I think the gentleman attached to this brig Oneida about three or four years previously at Oswego who had since acquired literary fame as a novelist and historian of our Navy.
This young patriot set resolutely to work to construct what he called a floating battery, which resulted in a floating wooden structure, a cross between a boat and a barn, more barn than boat. he had the address to prepare an armament of four brass cannon of small caliber from the Navy Department.
He acquired fame in advance of his battle but fame of an unenviable character. All called him crazy on the subject of this battery. the subject was matured and the nondescript structure floated and drifted down the lake into Mexico Bay, where it soon fell to pieces, whether on shore or in the lake, history does not say. The constructor returned unharmed and dismissed the enterprise with a string of rhymes, to which he was addicted.
Our hero, failing in the war, succeeded better in rhyming. One of our citizens, a physician nand something of a wag, Dr. Benjamin Coe, met Cooper in the narrow Water Street where the two brothers, Moses and Eli Stevens, had established their occupation with a boot and shoe shop. Coe challenged Cooper to give Moses and Eli a dare as he called it. He set himself to work and in a few minutes produced the following:
On Moses and Eli
All materials may rely,
Both for hand and forefoot for a cover;
With a single muskrat skin,
Taken out with a at-skin
They contrive both for under and over.
First Moses the hair,
With skill and with care,
Worked into a hat for all weather,
And not the pelt
We know hath oft dealt
Out in shoes most excellent leather.
Now, my dear sir, if out of all this you can cull anything of interest to yourself I shall be glad, only requesting Mr. Bronson to permit you to appropriate what he said. What I have written you will be imperfect. I do not understand the rules of grammar, punctuation, orthography, etc., so my work will not bear criticism. today completes my 75th year. I am averse to labor to send it to you with all its interlinings and other defects.
Sheldon C. Townsend.