Tuesday, November 20, 2012

M’Cluer Notes of 1828, 1829, and 1831

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2000


Among the Heman M’Cluer papers in the recent acquisition from Mr. and Mrs. Tom Young are three items of special interest, all notes that M’Cluer prepared to be used in the assessing process. They are for 1828, 1829 and 1831, and they give us some invaluable information not previously available, as well as raising new questions to be looked into.

               Of the three lists, those for 1828 and 1831 appear quite similar; that for 1829 is different. M’Cluer used small notebooks. Two  (1828 and 1829) are about 4 by 6 1/2 inches. The other (1831) is 3 1/4 by 8 inches. On each page in all three, he inked in a series of columns. In 1828 and 1829 the column headings are repeated at the top of each opening (two facing pages). In the 1831 list, the columns are there, but the headings are given only at the top of one opening.

               The nine 1828 headings are for: Owners’ Names / Residency / Part of Lot / Lot Number / Township Number / Range Number / Number of Improved Acres / Total Number of Acres / Buildings on the Property and Personal Assets. The headings in the 1831 booklet are the same, but the 1829 list is different in several ways. 1829 has only six columns because, as the third column heading indicates, all entries are for part of Lot 14, Township 6, Range 12. (Those are the sections and subsections of the original Holland Land Company survey. Lot 14 is the original Hezekiah Barker farm holding, where the center of today’s Fredonia lies.) Because he was concentrating only on the Village, there was no need for M’Cluer to have columns for other Townships or Ranges.

               Another difference is in the alphabetizing. The 1828 and 1831 lists are in reasonably alphabetical order. That is, all the names beginning with A are first, then the Bs, etc. (In 1828 M’Cluer missed entering the E names, catching himself after three F names. He then entered the Es and then went on to the rest of the Fs.) No attempt was made to keep strict alphabetical order within the initial letter so that the 1828 “A” entries are: Allen, Aldridge, Adams, Abel, etc. This was standard practice in all Pomfret assessment rolls throughout the 19th Century, and there is a reason for it.

               The 1829 list however has no alphabetical order: Walker, Barker, White, Hewes, Thompson, etc. The order is, in a sense, geographical, beginning on East Main Street (Squire White), then to Eagle Street (Edward Hewes), East Main Street (Henry Bosworth, James Mullett, Benjamin Walworth), “Church Street” (John Crane). In other words, M’Cluer’s sequence as he wrote out his notes was the property he visited in order, although apparently not house-to-house as a Census-taker might proceed. It may have been a matter of getting permission to enter a piece of property, or having to come back at another time.

               There is one other, very important difference between 1829 and the other two. In 1828 and 1831, Heman M’Cluer was an Assessor; in 1829 he was not. Since its earliest days, Town of Pomfret inhabitants had met annually to elect their Town officials, including Assessors. At the Annual Meeting held at the Fredonia Academy in April 1828, they voted to have three assessors: Joseph C. Truman, Ezra Williams and Heman M’Cluer. In 1831 it was Wilbur Gifford, Russell Fitch and Heman M’Cluer. But in 1829 the names were William Willcox, Thomas Osburn and M. W. Abell. M’Cluer, who held other positions -- in 1830 he was one of the Commissioners of Highways -- held no elective office in 1829.

               There are many things to be learned from the M’Cluer material. That he was not an Assessor in 1829, suggests that elected assessors sometimes “contracted out” part of their assignment. Indeed, there is a great deal about this early assessing process that we may begin to understand that will be helpful to local historians and genealogists who use these sources frequently.

               We know there were usually three Assessors elected each year in this period. How did they decide on which portion of Pomfret each would cover? Did they elect one of their number to be “Chief Assessor”? Since M’Cluer made his notes just on the then small Village when he was not an elected Assessor suggests that the elected officials may have parceled out parts of their “assignment” to others to help them in their work. As to those assignments, in 1828 M’Cluer made entries for property in Range 12, Township 6, Lots 1,2,8,9,14,15,26 and 31 (i.e.,the Village of Fredonia) as well as all but three of the 65 lots in Township 5. The other two Assessors covered Range 11 (then within Pomfret) with some duplication of M’Cluer’s coverage in Township 5, Range 12.

               We can imagine M’Cluer, then, in 1828, making a recording form in columns, as we see with the 1829 notebook, and making his entries at each piece of property he came to. Once that was done, he must have gone through the process again, but this time scanning his field notes for all names beginning with A, entering them in a second notebook, then entering the Bs, etc. The result would be the 1828 notebook we now have.

               That explains the arrangement in the assessment roll itself. In fact, by comparing M’Cluer’s 1828 notes with the final version of the 1828 Assessment Roll, we find M’Cluer’s entries for any initial letter copied as a block exactly from his notes followed by the same letter entries provided by the other two Assessors. In other words, what we think of as alphabetizing is primarily a geographical arrangement within each letter of the alphabet.

There is another aspect of M’Cluer’s assessment notes still to be considered, the fact that they include no assessments.

               The first version 1829 list and the second stage versions of 1828 and 1831 all make note of the number and kinds of buildings and their sizes, something the final versions, the assessment rolls themselves, do not do. In their place are the assessed valuations. This makes clear the processes these officials went through. They, or their hired agents, made tabular field notes within their assigned areas, and then copied those notes into roughly alphabetical order. Those second versions were conflated into one complete roll by copying each letter in turn from the three sets of notes, but leaving off the building descriptions. In their place was entered the assessed valuation of the land and the buildings on it.

               What we don’t know is if each Assessor assigned his own valuation. Probably not, because then it would have made more sense for M’Cluer to provide himself with an extra column in which to enter the dollar amount. That means the assessed valuation was arrived at by a group decision, or it was left to someone else to translate lot and building size into dollar equivalents. Which alternative is the correct one remains to be determined.

               There are some other aspects of these three sets of notes that need consideration. We have seen that M’Cluer’s 1828 entries were copied verbatim into the final version, only substituting the valuation in place of the building and lot descriptions. For example, where M’Cluer had an entry in his notes for Merrit Allen on the northwest part of Lot 31, Twp.5, Range 12, with 23 acres, 10 of them “improved,” and a frame house; the final version has exactly the same, except that in place of the frame house statement was substituted “$152” as the value of the real estate.

               Not only were his notes copied verbatim, it is quite clear he was the copyist. (They are all copies, by the way. The “original” was deposited with the County Clerk and a hand-written copy retained.) The handwriting of the final version is definitely M’Cluer’s throughout, including some personal idiosyncracies, such as retaining the old-fashioned long “s” (that looks like an “f” without the crosspiece) in the middle of words, and spelling “Bosworth” phonetically as “Bozworth.”

               The 1829 notes must have been recopied into alphabetical order and then handed over to  whichever of the elected Assessors he was working for. Therefore without knowing the order of M’Cluer’s alphabetical entries, they cannot be compared to the final version in the same way as we did with the 1828. We do see, however, that most of M’Cluer’s entries have been supplemented by others. For example, M’Cluer noted that within the small area he was assigned to canvass, Hezekiah Barker had 30 acres, 18 of them improved; that was combined with someone else’s records to give Barker a total in the final version of 1829 of 80 acres, 35 improved. There are other modifications. Where M’Cluer had Asa Pierce on 1/16 acre, the final record was amended to read “Pierce & Mulford 1/16 acre.”

               The 1831 notes present a more complex problem. We know that in 1831 M’Cluer was once again one of the elected Assessors. His notebook entries for 1831 look exactly like those for 1828. They are “alphabetized” and they fill 16 pages, just like the 1828 notebook. (1829 covering just part of Lot 14 used four pages.) The difference -- and the problem -- is the relationship between the 1831 notebook entries and the final version.

               It is clear from the handwriting that M’Cluer did not write out the 1831 roll as he had in 1828. More significant are the number of discrepancies between M’Cluer’s notes and the final version, such as his entry for William Bond with land in the northwest part of Lot 14; the roll has the southern part of Lot 22, Twp.5. There are many, many M’Cluer entries that don’t show up at all in the 1831 roll such as M’Cluer’s entry for the Carleton Todd Estate, which the roll omits altogether. M’Cluer’s own property he described as 17 acres, 12 improved. The 1831 roll describes it as 2 acres!

               There are always last minute alterations when property changed hands between the time of the first “survey” and the final version written out in August. (Assessors were elected in April and must have done their preliminary canvassing in the four months following.) However, these discrepancies seem much greater than the norm, such as with the 1828 roll. What is even odder is that many of M’Cluer’s 1831 entries are matched, not in 1831, but in the 1832 Assessment Roll, when he was not an Assessor. His notebook cover is clearly marked “Assessment of S.E. part of Pomfret -- By H. M’Cluer 1831,” so we must assume that’s when he made his entries. Certainly, these are not the limited “subcontracting” entries we saw in 1829, and they would hardly be done a year ahead of time anyway. So how can we account for this? Consider just a few examples of the problem. Where M’Cluer had the Carelton Todd Estate of 1/4 acre, and the 1831 roll had no entry, 1832 has the widow, Mary Ann Todd with 1/4 acre.  Where M’Cluer had Harvey Coats with 1 1/3 acres, 1831 gives him 120 acres, but 1832 has 1 1/3. And most dramatic of all, M’Cluer’s 17 acres with 12 acres improved is given in 1831 as 2 acres, but in the 1832 Assessment Roll as 16 acres, 12 improved.

               There is one possible explanation for these discrepancies. These copies of the early Pomfret assessment rolls were retained by the Town Clerk and passed on, no doubt, to each new clerk in turn. It was not until 1867 or 1868 that the sheets for 1811 through 1823 were brought together and bound into a single volume. Those for 1824-1867 were bound into exactly matching volumes. In the volume containing the assessment rolls for 1824-1832, some were bound in backwards, and the first leaf of the 1829 roll somehow got bound in at the end of the 1832 roll. If we remember that some of the title pages are missing as well -- true, for example for 1826, 1827, 1829, 1830, 1831 and 1832 -- then perhaps the rolls for 1831 and 1832 were reversed. That is certainly something to be examined in detail and, perhaps, corrected thanks to this gift of M’Cluer’s papers.

               However, there is much more to be gleaned from these papers as a closer look at those 1829 notes will show.                What follows is an alphabetized “translation” of M’Cluer’s 1829 original. It is reproduced here, because it is the shortest but gives a good indication of the kinds of information he recorded. The spaces between entries on a line represent progression from one column to the next in his original. Although the standard form asked for how many acres the property entailed, followed by how many acres were “improved” (i.e., cultivated or built on), M’Cluer sometimes omitted one of  the measurements, probably when the structure on it took up most of the lot.

               In his original, most structures were designated by an initial letter such as H, B, sometimes W. H. These can be read as House, Barn and Woodhouse. One interesting omission is any reference at any time to what might have been written as O.H. Whether omitting mention of a privy was out of delicacy, or because no house, shop or office could be without one, is not clear. Nevertheless, that and a well or similar water supply were two amenities that can be pretty much taken for granted for almost all the property being described. In the “translation” that follows, conjectural entries are put in square brackets with a question mark. An entry followed by a colon means the entry after the colon was written above the first. This was almost always “2 St” or something similar to indicate that the structure was two stories high, significant in a Village with a majority of one-story structures and important in determining property values.

               One of the most interesting -- and unique -- bits of information M’Cluer provides is the dimensions of almost all the lots and structures listed. He used a dot or period between the numbers which is here given as an x, such as House 18 x 26, i.e., a House 18 feet wide by 26 feet deep. Sometimes he wrote an entry like “40 sq.” That could mean 40 square feet or 40 feet square, and surely the latter must be the case. For example, Buckland Gillet’s barn is described as “20 Sq.” A structure that was something like 5 feet by 4 feet would hardly be called a barn, so it must mean a square building, 20 feet on a side. These bits of shorthand are used in all three lists.

               The 1829 list given here in alphabetical order with the “shorthand” expanded is a good example of the details available to us now in all three lists. The “M,” “NE,” and “SM” (Middle, Northeast and South Middle) kinds of entries are M’Cluer’s rough approximations of where, in the 360-acre Lot 14, this particular piece of property lies.



T. G. Abel            M           6 acres                 5 3/4 acres          House 69x61: 2-stories   Tavern                  Woodhouse 70 feet         2 Barns 30x40                    Shed

John Barker        NE          5 acres                 2 acres                 1/3 House

Henry Bosworth               M           1/3 acre               1/3 acre               House 24x34: 2 stories    Barn 12x28                              Shop 14x24                        Woodhouse

Nathaniel Barret, See: John Crane

Leverett Barker  M           3 acres                 3 acres                 House 28x38: 2 story brick            Barn 26x36:Woodhouse & K(itchen?)                  T[anning?] H[ouse?]       

               Shop 20x28: 2 stories                     House 24x32

Obed Bissel         EM         4 rods    Shop 20x30

Albert Bissell (Hull)           EM         10 rods                 House 18x34: 2 stories

Hezekiah Barker               30 acres               18 acres               House 30x40: 2 stories   

               Old House 20x30              Woodhouse        Barn 30x42          Shed     

               C[arriage?] House 28x30

[Barber, See: Stockwell & Barber, all crossed out. Joshua Turner inserted]

Ephraim Beardsley           WM       1/3 acre               1/3 acre               House 26x34: 2 stories

Winsor Brigham               SM         3/4 acre               3/4 acre               House 18x26       Barn

[Barker Lot, See: Gillis & Hart]

[R. Buck, See: Wm. A. Hart]

John Crane          EM         1/10 acre             1/10 acre             Office 16x26       Personal $750.00

               Savage (?) lot: 1/14 acres (?)        House    Barn  [See: Stephen Savage]

John Crane         )

                           >  M          1/4 acre               House 60x30       Smut [house?]

Nathaniel Barret  )

Pearson Crosby EM         8 rods    House 26x34: 2 stories

[Elllis Doty, crossed out, See: S. Stevens]

Douglass & Robbins        SE           5 acres                 Still House 40 feet square: 2 stories

               Mill 30x50:2 stories          Barn 28x120

Henry C. Frisbee               EM         1/4 acre               1/4 acre               House 24x34: 2 stories   

               Woodhouse 16x32           20x30 Office: 2 stories & Lot 20x45

Thomas Gillis      (?)M       1 1/2 acres          1 1/2 acres          House 20x32: 2 stories    Woodhouse etc. 16x32    Barn 8x24            Shop 16x20

Gillis & Hart (Barker Lot) 8 rods    Shop 16x18

Buckland Gillet   EM         1 acre    1 acre    House    Woodhouse        Barn 20 feet square

               1/2 Shop

Edward Hewes   1/4 acre               1/4 acre               House                   Barn 28x30

Seth W. Holmes (?)          E             7/16 acre             House 20.29       Barn 20x30

[Hammon ? See: Micah J. Lyman]

[Hart, See: Gillis & Hart]

Edward Howard                EM         3/4 acre               3/4 acre               House 20x32

[Howard, See: Norton & Howard]

William A. Hart or R. Buck             WM       3/4 acre               3/4 acre               Shop

A.     W. Kinsley           M           30x45    1/30 acre             House 27x37: 2 stories                   Spafford House

Micah J. Lyman (Hammon?)        M           5 rods                   Store 24x32: 2 stories

E. H. Mulford     EM         1/2 1/2 1/16       3 Houses & Lots Tavern House

               3 story House                    House                   2 Barns

James Mullet      EM         1/3 acre               1/3 acre               House 30 feet square 20x25: 2 stories

               Barn 19 feet square

Stephen May      EM         1/6 acre               1/6 acre               House 20x24       Woodhouse

Orren M’Cluer    EM         1/4 acre               1/4 acre               House 18x24                      K[itchen?]               Woodhouse        Personal $200

M’Cluer & Walker            EM         1/5         Store 20x40: 2 stories                     Barn 20x30

James Mark        1/4 acre               House    Shop 20 feet square

Edward H. Mulford          SM         2 3/8 acres          2 3/8 acres          House

James Norton    EM         1 acre    1 acre    House 16x22

Norton & Howard            EM         3 acres  3 acres  Shop: 2 stories   Saw mill

Amos Palmer      EM         16 (?)     16 (?) House 10x26           Barn       1/2 Shop

Asa Pierce           EM         1/16 acre             1/16 acre             House    Tavern   Barn &c.            


John Pierce         M           1/20       1/2 House 22x32: 3 stories

Arnold Russel     M           1/4 acre               1/4 acre               House    Barn 18x20          Woodhouse

[Robbins, See: Douglass & Robbins]

Spafford, See: Kinsley

P.H. &  G. Stephens         EM         4 acres                 4 acres                 House 30x26: 2 stories

Stephen Savage [M          1/4 acre               1/4 acre: all crossed out]  1/12 acres

               [House 20x34: crossed out]          [Barn 20 feet square: crossed out]

Thomas W. Stephens      EM         1/4 acre               House 16x30       Shop 26x36: 2 stories

               Barn 18x20

S. Stevens           EM         1/4 acre               Store 26x36: 2 stories

[Stockwell & Barber: crossed out] WM    1/6 acre               1/6 acre               Blacksmith

               Shop      House 20x30: 2 stories

Isaac Thompson              EM         1/4 acre               1/4 acre               House

Chauncey Tucker              M           18x45    Office frame (?)

Carlton Todd Estate        M           1/4 acre               lumber

Joshua Turner    EM         1/2 acre               1/2 acre               House 20x38                      Shop 16x28

               ? 3 rods ground

[Joshua Turner, See: Stockwell & Barber crossed out]

Lewis B. Walker EM         60 by 132             All           House    New House 24x34: 2 stories

Benjamin Walworth         EM         3 acres                 3 acres                 House 24x32: 2 stories    Kitchen               Woodhouse        Barn frame

Squire White       EM         17 acres               12 acres               House 26 feet square: 2 stories    Barn 22x32               Office 14x16

Alpheus Winchester         EM         1 1/2 acres          1 1/2 acres          House 20x32      

               Barn & Other 26x28         Bake House 18x20

[Walker, See: M’Cluer & Walker]

Nathan Webster               EM         3/8 acre               House 20x2

Elijah Webster                   EM         3/4 acre               House 18x30                      Woodhouse                       Barn 20x30          Shop 20x40


               What, then, have we learned that was not known before, just from a few of the 1829 entries?

               The very first entry in this alphabetized version is Thomas G. Abell’s  large hotel (where 1 Park Place now stands). M’Cluer tells us that the 69 by 61 foot, two-story “house” is a tavern, that is, an Inn. On the six-acre lot are also to be found a long Woodhouse (stoves in every room?), two good-sized barns (customers’ horses), and a shed (wagons and buggies). This is the property that Hezekiah Barker sold to Thomas Abell (the elder) on 9 May 1814.

               In 1880, Levi Risley wrote a reminiscence of the Village as he remembered it in 1821. In referring to Abell’s Hotel, he said, “The log tavern of Hezekiah Barker was removed for this building [Abell’s] in about 1815.” It was not torn down, but “removed.” What became of that 1808 log house/inn was never mentioned by Risley or anyone else since that time. However, if we look down to M’Cluer’s entry for Hezekiah Barker, we find that his property (what was left of the original farm) contained a two-story House, 30 by 40 feet and the “Old House” 20 by 30 feet. We know that the two-story house was built as 21 Day Street (today’s Post Office stands on its foundations), so the “Old House” must have been moved across the Common, then a grassy, treeless square, perhaps to the 23 or 25 Day Street location to serve as temporary living quarters while the grand new house was going up.

               What the Leverett Barker entry tells us is that his property included the two-story brick home erected in 1821 at Day and East Main streets (today’s Barker Museum). Besides the house itself, there was a barn, a woodhouse, and a separate kitchen. That explains the traces of the back kitchen including the outside stairs still visible in the foundations under the Museum. (There is also the original well in the side yard, now under the Belden Gallery of the Museum.)

               Leverett Barker’s property also included the small, wooden house he had built in 1811 for himself and his bride, Desire, daughter of Hezekiah and Sarah Barker (no relations). That stood at 21 East Main Street along with the two-story Leather Shop (19 E. Main Street) set back a bit from the street, and the Tannery behind them. (Those buildings burned in the fire of 1868.)

               The combined John Crane/Nathaniel Barrett entry refers to a long building divided into shops or apartments. The “Smut” notation refers to its common name, “the Smut House.” The Fredonia Censor of 8 February 1871 explained “Starr’s store [32 West Main], Palmer’s meat store [30 West Main] and the buildings torn down to make room for Maynard’s store [34 West Main] were together known as the Smut House from having been built with the proceeds of the sale of a patent for a smut machine [to remove the smut or fungus from wheat]. The first floor was occupied as dwellings and in the second story the Censor was printed [in 1822].” The Censor of 18 February 1880 added that it was “the largest house covered with shingles, at the time it was built.”

               Note that M’Cluer did not mention that it was two stories high, perhaps because it was such a well-known structure. He did give the dimensions, however, an impressive 60 feet along Main Street. Quite a contrast with its neighboring shops of 14 and 16 feet frontages.

               The E. H. Mulford entry describes his Tavern at 2 West Main and a building at 6 West Main. (The enterprising Mulford then built a connecting section at 4 West Main to create the rambling Union Hotel described in M’Cluer’s 1831 notes [not given here] as a single structure, 65 by 30 feet, that is, 65 feet fronting on Main Street, west from the Water Street corner.)

               The Chauncey Tucker entry  (“18 x 45 office frame”) probably means he had the framing up for what would become his office. This is corroborated by the fact that he is not included in the final 1829 Assessment Roll, but only in that for 1830 when his office must have been completed.

               The Squire White entry is particularly interesting because it helps clarify the one photograph (ca. 1855) that we have of his home. This 1829 entry tells us that the main house was two stories, square, 26 feet on each side and with a 14 by 16 foot office. The office would be the smaller wing to the left in the photograph. (Dr. Daniel D. Reiff pointed out in his Architecture in Fredonia:1811-1872 (p.20) and in the revised version, 1811-1997 (p.32) that the small wing to the left was probably the original log cabin of 1809, improved and sided to blend in with the new main section.) Not only does this add to our knowledge of the main house, it also helps date the right-hand wing in the photograph (kitchen?) as post 1829.

               From this sampling of M’Cluer’s notes we can see how much we have learned about the pioneer inhabitants of Fredonia, what the Village looked like (indeed, it should be possible to construct an accurate, scale model from these notes, if we wished) and how the assessing process worked.

               A fitting description of the gift by the Youngs of that little black box and its contents is one once applied to poetry, “infinite riches in a little room.” 

Thomas McClintock, David Eason, and Low Miniger

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2003


The year 2029 will be the 200th Anniversary of Fredonia’s incorporation. However, long before 1829 -- December 1803 -- the first recorded settlers were here, breaking ground and preparing the way for all that has followed. Who were these brave people we should be honoring next month? Thomas McClintock, David Eason, and Low Miniger.

               Karen Livsey’s Western New York Land Transactions, 1804-1824 and Young’s History of Chautauqua County give some of the details. In 1803, McClintock took articles on Lots 8 (the one Zattu Cushing later wanted), 14, and 20 in Township 6, Range 12 (most of today’s Village of Fredonia). Eason settled on part of Lot 20 near today’s Risley Street bridge, and Low Miniger near where Temple and Matteson streets intersect.

               When they arrived, they had very little means to procure what they needed and there being no other settlers in the area, everything had to be created from scratch. They set about erecting some form of shelter and establishing themselves so that they could survive, each building a log cabin on his land.

               At the time, the only road -- a primitive one following an ancient Indian trail -- ran about where Route 20 is today to West Sheridan, then dipped sharply south along today’s Elm Street, to avoid the gulch at Canadaway Creek, instead crossing the creek at a shallow ford on the flats below today’s intersection of Union Street and Eagle Street. McClintock built there on the flats.

               The Holland Land Company files have preserved several letters between McClintock and the office in Batavia reporting on progress and asking for improved roads and other assistance. Finally, the three decided to move further west. In effect, they turned in their contracts in exchange for new ones on what seemed like more promising land in Portland and Westfield.

               That gave Zattu Cushing the opportunity to article Lot 8, the one he had originally hoped for, and Hezekiah Barker to take Lot 14 instead of a lot in Portland that he had originally considered. Cushing built a log cabin next to the road on the heights overlooking the creek while Barker moved into McClintock’s abandoned cabin on the flats below. Those are the names -- Cushing and Barker -- we think of today as our Village’s Founding Fathers. As the first permanent settlers, they were, but let us not forget those who went before and prepared the way: Miniger, Eason, and McClintock.

Major John Joseph Skinner

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2000


               In our last newsletter we told the story of the rise and fall of the Cascade Hamlet, Joseph Skinner’s dream. That account focused on the building and its occupants. In this follow-up article, we want to tell you more about the builder himself and the legal and economic difficulties he went through.

               John Joseph, son of John and Sarah (Kennedy) Skinner of East Windsor CT was born on 25 March 1772. On 24 April 1794 he married Phoebe Maria Bull. A daughter, Sally Paine Skinner, was born in 1796 and a son, St. John Bull Lawrence Skinner, on 4 December 1797. After Phoebe’s early death, Joseph (as he was known) married Amelia Richardson on 14 January 1805. Of that marriage, Phoebe Bull Skinner was born in 1805; Eugene Franklin Skinner in1807 (he lived only eight months); and another Eugene Franklin Skinner, born 13 September 1809. (He later founded the city of Eugene OR.) By 1809 the family was living in Essex NY. Amelia (Richardson) Skinner died in March 1810 leaving Joseph Skinner with four children aged from their teens down to six months. They were still living there when the War of 1812 broke out.

               During the Battle of Plattsburgh in September 1814 Major Skinner fought as part of the militia while his older son, St. John, 16, served with Aiken’s Volunteers. This was a group of some 20 boys who scouted the woods to report on British troop movements. They constituted a rifle company, fighting at the village bridge on 6 September and, in what was probably the most significant battle of the war, a major engagement on 11 September. Major Skinner was briefly captured by the British at one point, but managed to escape.

               At what point Joseph Skinner came to Fredonia, why he did so, and whether he came alone or with the children — or some of them — is still unclear. He first appeared in local records in 1818, although he may have arrived earlier. On 19 March 1818 Hezekiah Barker sold what became the Cascade Hamlet lot just west of the Main Street bridge to Joseph Skinner of Pomfret for $20.00, so he was legally resident here by that date. On the following 27 June he mortgaged his half interest in another lot to Richard Sanger of Whitestown, Oneida County, for $200 (although there is no record of Skinner buying the half interest in the first place).

               That second parcel was known as the Still Lot. It was a triangular piece on the north side of Main Street, west of the bridge, directly opposite the Cascade Hamlet lot, with a frontage of 165 feet on Main Street. Around 1812 it had an ashery on it run by James Mark. By 1816 it had a distillery run by Daniel Warren. Barker sold the lot with the distillery to its operators, Jesse Holly and Daniel Warren in May 1816. However, Warren defaulted on his payments and by May 1817 the distillery was gone. It was after that that Skinner acquired his half interest.

               We know that Skinner had been building the Cascade Hamlet during this period, with the frame going up in August 1819. On 4 October he mortgaged the property for $300 to “Walter Smith and Jacob Ten Eyck Merchants,” payment with interest due in April 1820; on the 14th he sold it outright to “St. John Bull Lawrence Skinner of Plattsburgh” for $440. St. John was then 21 years old.

               It was almost three months later, December 1819, that the first occupant William Hart took up residence in the Hamlet. Although Joseph Skinner apparently paid off the mortgage on the Cascade Hamlet lot, courtesy of his son, he was not able to do so for the Still Lot. On 24 January 1820 Richard Sanger advertised that Skinner’s half interest was to be sold at auction in Whitestown. In the following September, St. John Skinner took a one-year mortgage for $350 on the Cascade Hamlet lot.

               Since St. John Skinner is consistently described as “of Plattsburgh,” these must be his father’s plans that he was carrying out as the nominal owner of the property. However, Joseph Skinner must have been doing more than just trying to find tenants for his Hamlet. The records of Fredonia’s Masonic Forest Lodge show a payment to him of $22.50 “To 18 Days work in finishing Hall,” that is, some interior carpentry on the new Masonic Hall at today’s 9 East Main Street. The entry adds “Endorsed Porter & Skinner a-c July 3, 1820.”

               Whatever the Major was doing turned out to be not enough. By May 1821 he had been imprisoned as an insolvent debtor and his creditors were notified by the required newspaper advertisements that his “estate” would be “assigned” pursuant to the Act of 7 April 1819. Following the standard procedures of the time, Skinner petitioned to have his “estate” assigned for sale to satisfy his creditors and free him from jail. On 8 August 1821 Judge Zattu Cushing, presiding over the hearing, accepted the testimony offered and freed him. Joseph Skinner’s name, which had disappeared from the assessment rolls, once again appeared paying the taxes on the Cascade Hamlet in 1822 and 1823. The assessed valuation went from $200 to $300, an impressive increase indicating things seemed to be going well for the Hamlet enterprise. It was early in 1823 that the occupants and their leader, Joseph Skinner, felt confident enough in their status to form the Cascade Hamlet Mechanic Society. Another sign of confidence was St. John Skinner  “of Plattsburgh” buying from Hezekiah Barker a small lot just below the Hamlet lot, giving Barker a mortgage for the purchase price of $72.00. That was late in September 1823. Joseph Skinner built a tannery there. A description of the property in a later deed indicates that the tannery was built onto the Hamlet, which means it was attached to some of what had been intended as living quarters: “being the same lots on which the Cascade Hamlet and the tannery attached thereto stand. . . .”

               This all suggests a growing sense of confidence in the Major’s enterprise. Indeed, according to Young’s History, Skinner was elected to the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in April 1823, which certainly argues for a sense of permanency. That leads to the question of whether he had any family with him. A standard biographical sketch of Joseph’s younger son, Eugene F. Skinner, says he “was favored with particular attention by his father, and when he attained the age of fourteen years was taken to Albany, Green county, Wisconsin, among relatives who were all interested in his welfare.”

               Eugene turned 14 on the 3rd of September 1823. If he had been living with his father, we might have expected this greater involvement in the community and positive economic signs to guarantee his remaining here. We do not know, but the move to Wisconsin strongly suggests that he had been left in someone else’s care since 1818, perhaps St. John’s. Eugene’s older half brother had married in 1820 and he and his wife had three daughters born to them. If this is an accurate picture of the state of affairs in 1823, why would not Eugene’s father, a vestryman and an involved local citizen, have taken his son, no longer a baby, to live with him, unless he still had concerns about his financial future? If that was Joseph Skinner’s motivation, he was right. No matter the apparent signs of good times ahead, in May 1824, St. John and his wife Phoebe Mooers, had to sell the Cascade Hamlet and tannery lots to David J. Matteson of Fredonia for $925.00 plus the mortgage with interest still due Hezekiah Barker. Whatever the positive signs had been, they had failed to materialize.

               That should have been the end of Joseph Skinner in Fredonia, but it was not. The new owner, David Matteson, paid the annual taxes on the Cascade Hamlet in 1824 and 1825. There is no mention of the property in the 1826 or 1827 assessment rolls, which merely means that the assessor, or clerk, didn’t bother indicating the name of the property next to the name of whoever was paying on it. In fact, The Fredonia Censor of 25 May 1887 reported that the Hon. David M. Bennett of Watertown had been a student at the Fredonia Academy “over 60 years ago” [1826-1828] and that his father had been “one of the owners” of the Cascade Hamlet. The Assessment Roll for 1826 does show an Alden Bennett paying on a lot of the appropriate size in the appropriate place (Lot 14, Twp.6, Range12). The A’s and the beginning of the B’s are missing for 1827, but the property reappears in 1828, assessed to “Lester & Skinner - Hamlet.” Skinner may well have continued to manage the operation in the intervening years and, perhaps for a time after 1828 as well. There is no entry in the 1829 or 1830 rolls; David Matteson is back in 1831; and thereafter, nothing. When Levi Risley returned to Fredonia in 1833 he found the Hamlet “deserted and going to ruins,” so we may imagine that Major Joseph Skinner had left Fredonia somewhere between 1828 and 1831. The Old Major died in Hawkesbury Mills, Canada, on 4 January 1844, in his 72nd year, leaving us with the memory of a brilliant though flawed venture, and a street whose name is the only permanent memorial to his Hamlet.

(Note: Most of the essential information about the Skinner family was generously provided by Keith A. Herkalo of Plattsburgh NY.)