The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Oct. 7, 1897

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The first day we reached the boat on the Mohawk (River), and the next day moved up the river and found a large number of Irishmen digging the canel across from the Mohawk to Wood Creek, a distance of two miles. We passed the carrying place and entered Wood Creek, two other boats being in our company, and were three days in reaching Oneida Lake, the water being low in some places, and all hands dragging the boats, one after another, over the shoals.

My brother, Heman, then two years old, fell overboard. He had on a red dress, and we could see him in the water, and soon got him out. Where Wood Creek empties into Oneida Lake, the boat struck a log and I fell into the water and was helped out by my father. We reached the lake at evening and at 2 o'clock a.m. reached Rotterdam (now Constantia). The next day we reached Threee River Point, where lived Esq. Bingham, who professed to be a pilot, and the next morning he took charge of our boat to conduct it down Three River Rift (opposite the present Village of Phoenix. In going down, the boat struck a rock in the middle of the river, and whirled around across the stream, the bottom upon the rock. The upper side sunk, and the boat filled with water washing off many light articles which never were recovered. All the goods were thoroughly drenched except the upper drawer of the bureau, in which were the writings. The family were fortunately were placed upon the shore previous to reaching the rift, and staid in a fisherman's camp opposite the boat, where we remained three or four days through a tremendous northwest storm. After the storm a light boat came along and helped get our things out and our bost righted. We then came down the river, and at Oswego Falls found a carrying placed of about a mile, thence down the river to the lake and along the shores of father's lot.

It was October 6th, 1797, at 2 o'clock p.m., we arrived at Four Mile Creek, and father said: "This is our land," and turned the boat towards the shore. I got to the bow and when the boat touched the shore, I jumped and said "I'll be the first to take possession."

The goods were taken out upon the beach and the boatmen went back. It was a beautiful day and the first business was to open the goods and spread them out to dry. Not a bush had been cut towards a clearing, but father had borrowed at the garrison (Fort Ontario) in Oswego a tent, 7 x 10 feet, which he raised for a temporary shelter a few rods back from the beach. Towards night the wind blew hard off the lake and it began to lighten and thunder, and a little after sundown it rained and stormed very hard, while we, a family of ten, crept into the little tent and staid all night.

The next day, father went back about thirty rods from the shoreand cut some logs and made a pen 7 x 10 feet and placed the tent on top and put some boards or pieces of boats he found on the lake shore across, making a chamber for the boys. Soon afterward we built of poles 12 feet long, a pen about 6 feet high and made a roof by putting hemlock boughs on the rafters, and the family moved into it. About that time, mother and one of the children were taken sick with fever and ague. The boatmen who left us the day we landed were to have returned in three weeks with provisions for the winter, but did not return for six weeks. We had a little bag of flour, about twenty pounds, and father caught a salmon and took another one from an eagle.

That was all the provisions we had. Father went to Oswego and bought, for $6, a barrel of flour which had been under water and was wet and mouldy; no light bread could be made from it, and it made the children sick when they ate it. When the boatmen returned (probably about November 20th), they helped father build a log house, 16 x 18 feet, covered with bass-wood bark, about 100 rods back from the lake, and then the family moved in, drawing our sick mother upon a sled, as winter had already set in. After we had moved in, the boatmen said we must name the village, and they drank wine and named it Union Village.

Arvin Rice also related that the following hymn was also sung on this occasion:

"Where nothing dwells but beasts of prey,
Or men as fierce and wild as they,
He bids the opressed and poor repair,
And builds them towns and cities there;
They sow the fields and trees they plant,
Whose yearly fruit supplies their want;
Their race grows up from fruitful stocks,
Their wealth increases with their flocks."

In February 1798, my brother Horace died, aged about one and one half years. During the winter, my brother Joseph, aged 14, and myself cleared about 4 acres, and in the spring some corn and potatoes were planted, and a pair of oxen and a heifer were brought from Whitestown. Once during the summer, the cattle strayed away and were gone some three weeks. On the 4th of July, 1798, Joseph and I went to the fort at Oswego and returned home at dusk. Lois, aged 10, and Ira, aged seven, had been sent to hunt for the cattle and had not returned. We searched till late in the evening, but did not find them; the next morning we went out again, and as we called they answered. They had spent the night lying between the roots of two large birch trees. During the first winter, but one family remained at Oswego, and a man by the name of Hudson lived up the river about a mile, and hunted through the winter. From Oswego west to Big Sodus Bay, thence south to the Seneca River and down the river to Three River Point and thence to Oswego, there were only two or three families and they were at the Point and the Falls.

In the fall of 1798, the children were all taken sick with lake fever, and father, who was of feeble constitution, was sick for three months. In 1799, the family were well and some progress was made in clearing. For two years we pounded corn in a maple log for our bread and pudding. In 1800, the family were all sick again. About this time, the bears began to trouble us by catching calves and pigs. We also suffered for lack of clothing, and the ticking of our beds and pillows was cut up, the feathers being emptied into barrels and boxes. Wild game and fish were then plenty and we began taking grain to the mill to be ground, sometimes to Sodus Point, or to Ellisburg in Jefferson County and once to Oswegatchie, now Ogdensburg. Once father and mother and one child started to go to Oswego in a log canoe, and there being a south wind hoisted a sail. When they were about a half a mile out, the wind shifted and the canoe was turned bottom upwards; they got upon the canoe and a boat went after them, so they arrived safely at home. The first plow my father had was made by a Mr. Church, and when I was about 15 years old, I walked up to Van Walkenburg's (probably near Fulton) and carried the plow share to be repaired. For ten years after our first arrival, there was no opportunity for school, and then it was at Oswego, three miles from our home.

In 1798, the townships of Hannibal, Lysander and Scipio (now Cicero) were organized into one town, and Asa Rice, my father was Supervisor. He reported fifteen inhabitants and the valuation of taxable property at $1,500. He continued (as) Supervisor until 1806. The first marriage in the town was of Augustus Ford and my sister Damaris Rice, in the year of 1800.

On one occasion, Arvin set a trap for a rabbit or a fox, and on going to it found caught therein a large wild cat, which flew at him as far as the chain would allow. The little stick he had was not sufficient, and he had to bring large stones from the lake and stone it to death. The wild cat was very vicious and would have done him serious injury if it had been able to reach him. Another time, he was washing his hands in the house, when someone yelled, "There is a bear." He took down the gun and stepping out saw the bear up yonder hill, some 30 rods away. He thought he would shoot anyway and raising the gun fired it. The bear turned his head a little, but kept on and went over the fence. Arvin walked up to the fence and found the bear which soon died from loss of blood. It seems that the bullet had struck a little above the tail and had passed lengthwise nearly through the body.

In 1804, a small schooner named the Fair American was built at Oswego by a Mr. Wilson. Either Arvin or his brother Joseph drove an ox team and drew timbers for it across the the river on the ice every day, except Sundays, in the month of March. For ten years after the arrival of the family, there was no opportunity for schooling. However, Arvin was determined to acquire some form of education. He worked two seasons to save up enough money to pay his way to a school in Constableville in Lewis County. He was over 21 years of age, when he set out on foot and walked all the way to Constableville, a distance of over 60 miles, to enroll in the school. At the start of the school session, he was one of oldest ones there and was at the bottom of the class.

However, at the end of the term in the spring, he was at the top of the class. Once the school term was over, he once again set out on foot and walked all the way back home.

In 1809, Arvin acquired 100 acres of land on Lot 58 on the outskirts of the future Village of Hannibal. In May or June of that year, he commenced clearing the land starting at sunrise and working as long as he could see at night. He constructed himself a log cabin on what is now Oswego Street approximately where Virginia Goodale currently resides. He also erected the first barn, set out the first orchard and used the first iron plow in the area.

Arvin was a volunteer in the War of 1812, and in later years, was considered an authority on local involvement in that conflict. Unfortunately, his accounts were either not written down or if they were, lost in the ensuing years. However, it is natural to assume that he may have been one of the defenders of Oswego during the seige by the British. After the war, Arvin became prominent in local affairs. When the towns of Granby and Oswego were set apart from the rest of the Hannibal Township in 1818, it was through his efforts that the name, Hannibal, was retained. He served as Justice of the Peace in 1829, and Hannibal Town Supervisor during 1829-30. He was elected New York Assemblyman representing Oswego County in 1838. He again served as Hannibal Town Supervisor in 1840. When the Oswego County Agricultural Society was organized in Oswego on February 1, 1840, he was elected its first Vice-President.

Arvin Rice was a strong vigorous man. He was earnest in the cause of temperance and other matters of public welfare. He was a strong anti-Mason. He was of an independent mind and passionately believed that no man should be a slave to another. Therefore, it was only natural that he would have ties to the Abolitionist Movement. It is said that his house was a station on the Underground Railroad and that a certain old gray horse he had, knew well the road to Oswego on the darkest night.

Arvin lived a rich full life reaching the ripe old age of 92 before his death in 1878.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Arvin Rice was a young eleven year old boy when his father Asa Rice moved his family from Whitestown, Oneida County, to a lot in the wilderness he had acquired located on the shore of Lake Ontario three miles west of the Village of Oswego in what was then the Military Township of Hannibal. He gives an extensive description of their journey which started on September 26, 1797, and is described here in his own words.
Date of Original:
Oct. 7, 1897
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Oct. 7, 1897