Harvey and Tom: Pioneer Feuds in Fredonia
By Douglas H. Shepard, May 2013
The earlier accounts of our first settlers very properly emphasized their strength, independence and hard work. After all, it was those qualities that helped them survive through difficult times and establish the community we now take for granted. However, in the process, other aspects of their characters and personalities were ignored or omitted. Some records do still exist that can help round out the pictures we have formed of those pioneers who came before us.
Those first settlers may have been independent, but they also lived in a community with “rules” of attitude and behavior that were intended to be observed. One of the best examples is found in the mini-communities that were the local church congregations. One of the earliest organized in Fredonia was the First Presbyterian Church. Its December 1819 organization included electing nine trustees to the local ruling body, the Session, one of whom was Harvey Durkee.
The Session met regularly, usually with the pastor as chairman. It routinely “examined” (i.e. interviewed) newcomers seeking to join the church, and it also prepared letters of dismissal for those moving on and hoping to be able to join a Presbyterian church in their new location. One of the most difficult tasks the Session was often faced with was acting as a kind of jury when charges of misconduct were brought before them.
They had a guide which, in effect, dictated the course of every inquiry into what was possibly sinful or at least un-Christian behavior. That guide was based on the instructions given by Jesus as reported in Matthew 18:15. “If another member of the church sins against you.” The first step is to “go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” Unstated, but clear, is the consequence that no one else needs to know about it. However, “if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Again unstated, but clear, is the hope that this visitation will have its effect and solve the problem. However, “if the member refuses to listen to them [the other witnesses], tell it to the church.”
Here the implication is that the “church” would hear the complaint and, acting as a court or a jury, make a judgment. The passage goes on to say “and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In modern terms, the offender will be cast out from the church and shunned.
There are more than enough examples to illustrate how this procedure worked in local practice, and it is these example that also paint unexpectedly vivid pictures of the real people who were our pioneers.
On 16 June 1825 Fredonia’s Presbyterian Church Session met. Among the items on its agenda: “In consequence of information laid before the Session, voted that Mr. Wentworth be cited to appear before the Session in one week from to day [sic] at 2 o’clock P.M. at this place to answer certain charges alledged [sic] against him.” (Note the quasi-legal tone of the language. We will see more of that.)
Session met on 23 June then adjourned to 28 June when the real action took place. The charges involved trouble between Wentworth and Dr. Crosby.
Wentworth was a cooper by trade. His barrel-making shop was one of the first at the Cascade Hamlet in 1819. Dr. Orris Crosby was a recently licensed physician, who settled in Fredonia in 1818 with his uncle, Eliakim Crosby. They opened a drug store and Dr. Crosby began his medical practice.
The church records are the clerk’s retelling of Wentworth’s testimony. (Some modern punctuation has been added to clarify the account.)
“He [Wentworth] states that the little boy living with Dr. Crosby came into his shop and that he, Mr. Wentworth, told this boy in reference to some difficulties existing between the children of Dr. Crosby and his [Wentworth’s] child which had also made some impression upon the minds of the other members of the two families and led to some unpleasant speeches — that from the oldest to the youngest of Dr. Crosbies [sic] family were iniquitous with the exception of Dr. Crosby himself. This boy then, it seems, went immediately home and told the family of Dr. Crosby that Mr. Wentworth had just said they were all liars from the oldest to the youngest. Dr. Crosby then came to Mr. Wentworths [sic] shop in a great passion — abused Mr. Wentworth, would not listen to Mr. Wentworths [sic] repeated requests to be calm, but continued shaking his fists in Mr. Wentworths [sic] face and calling him hard names. Mr. Wentworth, after having required Dr. Crosby to leave his shop in vain, stooped down for the purpose of taking a hoop shaving and whipping it around Dr. Crosbies [sic] legs until he should leave the shop, and Crosby, supposing him, Mr. Wentworth, to be getting a hoop pole for the purpose of beating him, Dr. Crosby struck & kicked him [Wentworth] & pushed him over in a very dangerous situation and fell upon him and struck him again. [The hoops were made from green hickory or white oak saplings, shaved to bend tightly around the barrel staves.] Which in this situation Mr. Wentworth struck Dr. Crosby once, when he came to a determination to strike him no more. Mr. Wentworth then released himself from Dr. Crosby — arose — and told Dr. Crosby he, Mr. Wentworth, should not strike him, the Dr., again and if the Dr. wished to strike him to strike on. Dr. Crosby then became pacified and soon settled the difficulty so that the two families are now living on terms of friendship. Mr. Wentworth during this affair once or twice called Dr. Crosby a damned rascal or something to nearly the same amount.”
Later the clerk records the Session’s verdict that “Mr. Wentworth manifested an improper spirit in making to the boy the statement he did — in making preparations to whip Mr. Crosby with the hoop shaving — and above all in using profane language.”
There was an odd follow-up to this tangled incident. Soon after, Wentworth heard from someone that “Mr. Caple [Kapple] was about to bring a charge against him, Mr.Wentworth, founded on this difficulty. Mr. Wentworth thought as the difficulty was amicably adjusted between him and Dr.Crosby, and as Mr. Caple was not connected with the church, that he, Mr. Caple, was interfering where he had no concern.” Apparently Wentworth and some other men were working at “Mr. Page’s house” — probably the home of William Page, the Presbyterian minister — when Mr. Caple showed up.
[Thomas Kapple first appeared in Fredonia records in 1809. He had a small tannery about at today’s 117 West Main Street and a shoe shop about at 132 West Main Street along with shoemaker Adam Merrill. By 1825 he was farming near the intersection of Seymour Street and Webster Road. Kapple, a strong Temperance man, had brought charges against Elias Gilbert that were judged by Session on 7 April 1825, so he was no stranger to the group.]
The Session record of 28 June 1825 describes the Kapple-Wentworth confrontation. “Mr. Wentworth asked Mr. Caple rather abruptly whether he, Mr. Caple, was going to bring the charge of which we have been speaking against him, Mr. Wentworth, before the session. Mr. Caple replied he was. Mr. Wentworth called him, Mr. Caple, a little dirty puppy. [At the time, Wentworth was 60; Kapple was 22.] Mr. Caple then told Mr. Wentworth that he was a drunkard and a thief and would any time forfeit his work for a dollar — and repeated the charge — Mr. Wentworth told Mr. Caple to go out of the house and not hinder the workmen by his talk. Mr. Caple refused to comply on the ground that the house was not Mr. Wentworths [sic]. Mr. Wentworth insisted upon Mr. Caples [sic] leaving the house — as the house was then under his care — Mr. Caple continued to refuse — Mr. Wentworth told Mr. Caple not to continue his abusive language. Mr. Caple did not desist. But called him hard names. Mr. Wentworth then pushed Mr. Caple into the entry where Mr. Caple took a board and attempted to strike Mr. Wentworth. Mr. Wentworth told Mr. Caple not to strike and came near him, Mr. Caple. Mr. Caple then laid his hand upon Mr. Wentworths [sic] shoulder when Mr. Wentworth shoved Mr. Caple out of the front door and cuffed his ear for tearing Mr. Wentworths [sic] shirt.”
What did Session make of all this? “In the affair with Mr. Caple Session think Mr. Wentworth manifested an unchristian spirit — inasmuch as he should feel offended with Mr. Caple for designing to bring a charge against him which Mr. Wentworth should have brought himself.” Session added that with Kapple, as with Dr. Crosby, non-church members, they will stand “before another tribunal.”
Session may have left it to a higher tribunal to deal with Thomas Kapple, but he, Thomas Kapple, was not done. On 1 September 1825 — only two months further on — the clerk noted that “Whereas Mr. Kaple has circulated reports respecting Mr. Harvey Durkee [long-time Deacon and member of Session] impeaching his veracity and his character as a Christian and as these reports are believed by many and are frequently made the subject of conversation by men out of the church to the injury of Mr. Durkees [sic] reputation and the reputation of the church — therefore voted that this case be attended to upon the ground of public fame.”
On 7 September a three-man committee was appointed to meet with Deacon Durkee and Kapple, and on 13 October the committee was ready to report. “Your committee attended to the business of their appointment and succeeded in bringing about a happy settlement between the two families.” What follows is almost as tangled a tale as the Kapple-Wentworth encounter. In outline, what had happened is that Durkee told Kapple that Mr. Moore had told him (Durkee) that Kapple had said he would have Durkee in jail within four weeks. The problem was that Moore had immediately thereafter told Durkee that what he had just said wasn’t true. So it was true that Moore had said it, but Durkee deliberately concealed the fact that he knew Kapple hadn’t said it. The committee went on to give its opinion “that Dea [Deacon] Durkee is censurable for saying to Mr. Kapple that Mr. Moore told him that you (Mr. Kaple) said you would have me in jail in four weeks when at the same time he, Dea Durkee knew Mr. Kapple did not say any such thing.”
And then there was the pig. He, Mr. Kapple, had a pig which was allowed to run loose, much to the annoyance of certain parties. Deacon Durkee’s son apparently decided to take things into his own hands and shut the pig up in a hollow stump. “The inquiry was then made of Deacon Durkee whether he shut Mr. Kapples [sic] pig in the stump, and whether he suffered it to remain there after knowing of the circumstance. Deacon Durkee answers that he did not shut the pig in the stump and that when he learned the pig was there he ordered his son to release it though he thinks it would have been just to have confined any pig that did as much mischief as this had done and whose owner refused to confine it.”
The upshot of all this was that Durkee acknowledged his faults and accepted the verdict of Session. In fact, long after the dust had settled, in November 1832, Thomas Kapple was admitted into full membership in the Fredonia Presbyterian Church and found himself sitting in apparent harmony in Session with his fellow Deacon, Harvey Durkee.
For those readers with a need for closure, in August 1831 charges were laid against Uriah Wentworth,“first for the neglect of public & private worship. 2d Profanation of the Sabbath in going fishing. 3d Gambling at various times. 4th Profane swearing.” Wentworth never appeared to face the charges and on 23 January 1832 Session learned that he, Mr. Wentworth, “had left the country” and was subsequently dismissed. As to the other participant in these accounts, it, the pig, was never heard from again.