Thursday, June 13, 2013

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.

Mapping Early Dunkirk

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2013


                       In his History of Chautaqua County in 1875 (p. 304), Andrew Young describes the early settlement of today’s Dunkirk and notes that he had the original account “orally given to the writer by one of its early and most distinguished citizens, as well as one of its principal business men,” no doubt referring to Walter Smith. That summary account explained that in 1816 or 1817 a group of the earliest settlers “sold or assigned their [Holland Land Company] contracts to Elisha Jenkins, of Albany, as trustee for a company composed of Isaiah and John Townsend, DeWitt Clinton, and ____Thorn, who bought 1,008 acres of land, a part of the present site of the village of Dunkirk, and took a deed from the Holland Land Company. About 40 or 50 acres they surveyed into village lots.” That survey of 40 to 50 acres seems to have resulted in a map that no longer exists. Although the Dunkirk map of 1834 seems to be the earliest extant, there is clear evidence that an earlier map or maps existed. Further evidence can be found in the assessment rolls of the period.

                       Because what is now the City of Dunkirk was originally part of the Town of  Pomfret until November 1859, the property there was assessed along with all the others in the town. Although there were minor variations, by and large each year’s assessment roll presented the owner’s or occupier’s name in roughly alphabetical order, usually followed by the property’s location, using the Holland Land Company’s Lot-Town-Range system. The approximate acreage was given, as well as the assessed valuation and the amount of tax to be paid. For example, beginning with the assessment roll for 1816, we find landholders in what is today’s Dunkirk listed along with all the others in Pomfret, distinguished only by the number of the particular Holland Land Company lot or lots that each landholder occupied. For the “Dunkirk” area, that was Lots 17 and 18, 23 and 24, and part of 29. It is in the roll dated 23 June 1817 that we find the first reference to what the assessors called the “Dunkirk Association.” That group, whose names Walter Smith provided to Young, had land on Lot 29 (165 acres), 24 (300 acres), 18 (300 acres), and the North part of 23 (90 acres). That made an (overestimated) total of 855 acres. The “1008 acres” in Walter Smith’s account probably represents the final total when the property was sold off years later.

                       It should be noted that the area directly touching the shore of Lake Erie at the bay has had various names. According to Lewis H. Morgan in his League of the Ho-De-No-Sau-Nee or Iroquois (1901 Edition, Vol.II, pp.127-128) the Seneca called Dunkirk Ga-na-da-wa-o, that is, running through the hemlocks, no doubt taken from the name of the creek: Ga-na-da-wa-o Ga-hun-da, the river running through the hemlocks. As the white settlers later said, Canadaway.  In October 1807 “Theron Strong & Co.” contracted for the west half of Lot 18 and all of Lot 19, which the 1810 assessment roll counted as 324 acres. On 23 April 1808 the road which years later became part of Central Avenue, was surveyed beginning at what was then known as “Strong’s Bay on Lake Erie.”  Strong was there in 1810 but gone by 1811. Timothy Goulding, who located near Point Gratiot in 1808, persuaded his brother Luther and brother-in-law Solomon Chadwick to settle near him. Chadwick was one of those who sold to the Dunkirk Land Co., referred to by the Pomfret assessors as the “Dunkirk Association.” The fact that the “Dunkirk” term is used in the assessment roll dated as of June 1817 indicates that whoever renamed Chadwick’s Bay did so well before the 1818 date usually given. Although the village that was being formed was called Dunkirk, the general area, as seen in entries in James Holly’s Day Book about 1820, was referred to as “the Bay,” or, later, “Garnsey’s Bay.”

                       The previously mentioned pattern of assessment roll entries for the Dunkirk Association appears in 1818 and 1819. In 1820 two “Village lots,” 1/5 acre each were added to make a total of 906 2/5 acres. What that means is that they were not being located according to the Holland Land Company system but by another locating system. That system may have only been in the planning stages, because it is not until the 1822 assessment roll that the two lots are further described as “Village lots 18 & 19.” Later evidence suggests they were the two corner lots at Front Street and Center Street (today’s Lake Shore Drive and Central Avenue). The fact that the Town assessor could specify their locations in that way shows that somebody has made a map of some kind, dividing the land into units which have been assigned numbers. The assessors are here recognizing that a “Village” is being formed and that its design and interior configuration are being planned. (In 1824 through 1826, and again in 1831, the assessors used the term “Dunkirk Company” in place of “Dunkirk Association.” The differing usage does not seem to reflect any change in ownership or status.)

                       The roll for the following year, 1823, is even clearer. Interfiled with all the other Pomfret landholders are six “Dunkirk” residents with street addresses: John Beggs had lots 11 and 12 on Front Street; John Bond was at 7 Center Street; Ellis Doty had property on Front Street, perhaps a wharf; William Gifford had the same; William A. Lynde had 2 and 4 Center Street; and John Langdon had 6 Center Street.

                       Subsequent rolls show additional locations. For example, in 1826 Benjamin Day, Non-resident, had number “15 Front Street” as well as the “Lynd house Main street” which may have been the locals’ name for Center Street. It was in that same year, 1826, that Walter Smith and his partner, George A. French, opened a store in Dunkirk. The assessment roll for 1827 shows French with properties at 9 and 10 Front Street, 24 Front Street, and 1 Buffalo Street, the last apparently his home site. However, his store partner, Smith, went him one better. For $10,000 he bought an entire undivided half interest in the Dunkirk Land Company’s property, the “1008 acres” of 1817.

                       For the next ten years, from 1826, the area experienced a real estate boom. In 1832 Smith had a three-mile long raceway dug from Canadaway Creek, supplementing the supply from Crooked Brook, to a mill pond and dam powering a grist mill to serve the growing community, and soon after a saw mill.

                       Following, in 1833, Smith pulled off a major coup. Young’s History (p.304) summarizes the event very clearly. “In or about 1833, Mr. Smith sold out his half interest to men in the city of New York at a large advance above the cost; and, for less than half of the sum received, he bought of the [Dunkirk Land] Company the other half.” The man representing the New York City buyers was Russell H. Nevins, a prominent real estate developer and broker in New York City who had recently been President of the New York Stock Exchange. As part of the transfer a map was drawn to accompany the deed. There is a copy of a map dated 1834 which shows the property in Dunkirk which was part of the transaction. It was endorsed by Smith and certified. “Know all men by these presents That I, Walter Smith of the town of Pomfret in the County of Chautauque Do hereby declare this to be one of the copies of the Map mentioned and referred to in a conveyance of even date herewith from myself Walter Smith and Minerva his wife of the first part to Russell H. Nevins of the second part of an undivided half part of certain lands in the said town of Pomfret particularly described in the said conveyance. In Witness whereof I have hereto set my hand and seal this sixth day of November in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirty four.”

                       The Smith-Nevins map records the village plat as Smith had “inherited” it from the original developers. It would be immediately familiar to any Dunkirk resident today: a rectangular grid made up of numbered streets running east and west crossed by named streets running north to south. Because it would be familiar, its oddities are not immediately apparent.

                       The rectangular street grid is plunked down immediately adjacent to the curving shoreline of the Bay. Nowhere is there any concession to that U-shaped northern edge, nor of the then significant Crooked Brook cutting across the village plat from the southeast to the northwest. No streets following old Indian paths, no animal trails or natural geographic contours. This was a village plan worked out, not on the ground, but on someone’s work table.

                       There are several other oddities to be noted. Within its limits, the original designers strove for symmetry. (The one exception was the large mill site, at the southwest corner of their plat, which Walter Smith later enlarged.) The village was designed with two halves more or less equal, divided by a street they named “Center” or “Centre,” animal names in the east part, bird names in the west. Underlining this desire for symmetry was the setting aside of a large block — bounded by Buffalo (today’s Washington), Fifth, Elk (today’s Park), and Sixth streets — for a “Parade” ground (today’s Washington Park). West of Center Street was a mirror image block at Swan, Fifth, Eagle and Sixth streets intended for a “Cemetery” (later the Academy block and today’s Middle School).

                       This early plan had fewer named streets than were later added. East of Center Street were only Buffalo, Elk, Deer, and Lion. To its west were only Eagle, Swan, Dove and Robin. Today’s narrower streets in between were not shown yet. That allowed for larger lots on each street. Those lots were all assigned numbers, which will need some clarification as well. For some reason, perhaps because they were seen as the most desirable, the lots on the south side of Front Street at its eastern edge, between Lion and Deer, were marked A, B, C, D, E, F. Those on the north side of Front Street were G, H, I, J, K, L. The rest of the lots on Front Street were given numbers beginning again on the south side at the west corner of Deer Street with 1 through lot number 42 at the corner of Robin Street. That sequence picked up again on the north side of Front Street, at the west side of Deer Street, with lot 43 through lot number 84 at Robin Street. The lots on north-south streets were treated more traditionally. Beginning at the north end, odd-numbered lots 1-79 were on the east side of each street, even-numbered lots 2-80 on the west side.

                       There is another map, almost identical to the Smith-Nevins one. That is the “Burr map” probably dating from 1836, although it is most likely merely a reprint from an 1834 or 1835 original.           David H. Burr was a well-known, well-respected cartographer. His Atlas of New York State of 1829 was very highly regarded. In 1834 he issued a “new and elegant map of the State of New-York. . . . It is intended to embellish the new map with correct plans of the principal cities and villages in the state” according to The Fredonia Censor of 12 March 1834.                        In July 1896 The Grape Belt had a “Souvenir Harbor Issue” which noted that the original lighthouse was “marked on the original map of Dunkirk made by David H. Burr some years before the Doughty map of 1838 was made. Upon this map, generally known as the ‘Johnson Map,’ the latitude and longitude [of the lighthouse] are given. . . .” There seems to be some confusion here. A map of the Dunkirk plat, made by Elisha Johnson in 1828 to accompany a property deed, was reputedly filed at Liber 544 Page 452, although the county clerk finds no map with this deed. Elisha Johnson was a well known surveyor and engineer. He was born in Chautauqua County, probably in Harmony, and settled in Rochester in 1817. The “Johnson map” was copied for the transfer of property between Walter Smith and Russell H. Nevins in 1834 as well as by David H. Burr.

                       The differences between the Burr map and the Smith-Nevins map are small but interesting. Burr includes specific details about the sizes of the lots on the various streets. Also a few lots are color-coded blue or red. Since there is no legend with this map, we can only speculate what the colors mean and whether they are original with the map-maker.

                       The only significant difference is that the tail race from the sawmill site west of Swan and below Sixth Street includes another mill building about at West Second and Mullett streets. This probably was what Canon Chard was referring to when he wrote in his history of Dunkirk that Smith “also built and operated a saw-mill near Mullett Street.” It stands on the lot that the Burr map labels “Mill Lot No. 2.”

                       Through 1835 and 1836 the Dunkirk settlement grew as the real estate boom continued. In 1836 the New York City proprietors had a new map drawn to document the “terminus of the New York and Erie Railroad” as the map legend reads. In fact the map claimed to be a “Map of the Town of Dunkirk” although “Village” would be more accurate.

                       By this time many more streets had been added to the plan, including some streets where the mill pond had been. The only remnant was a flour mill on the west side of Robin Street just below Third Street. There were also stark differences with its predecessor. An entirely new numbering system was in place. It was a single sequence assigning numbers to the street blocks, not the individual lots on a street, beginning at the upper west side. Number 1 was assigned to the lot north of West Sycamore Street and west of West Point Avenue. The sequence ended at the upper east side in the 700s. There were also numbers for individual lot line measurements.

                       One of the added streets was Water Street. It lay one block north of Front Street, with one “stub” marked as West Water Street west of the Bay and another marked East Water Street east of the Bay. Apparently the plan was to fill in the shallow lakefront and run Water Street straight across. The map has dotted lines showing the proposed location and the north end of each named street has a small dock or pier extending north from its Water Street location. There is a copy of the 1836 map in the Dunkirk Historical Society’s collection that was saved from the fire of 1924 and seems to be identical, except it does not show the proposed middle section of Water Street. It is not clear if this is an earlier or a later version of the map. There are other, almost identical, copies of this map in which East Water Street is named and West Water Street is shown but not named.

                       Each of these maps is known as the “Doughty” map. In order to record the expected terminus of the New York & Erie Railroad at Dunkirk, surveyor Henry P. Benton was sent in 1836 to survey the village area again. Henry Parker Benton was a well-known surveyor and civil engineer living in Angelica NY. In 1819 he had been one of the Deputy Surveyors of the Delaware and Kickapoo lands in Indiana and, in the same year, of the Big Miami Reserve in Ohio. Although the 1836 map credits Benton with the surveying, he apparently worked under the personal supervision of New York City surveyor Edward Doughty, whose son Samuel S. Doughty proudly wrote in his biography of his father, Edward Doughty, His Life, Time and Friends (p.25), “When the Town of Dunkirk was selected as the western terminus of the Erie Railroad, my father was employed to go there, and lay out the City, which it was thought would grow to be a great business centre. He took with him a theodolite, for which a large price was offered, and he sold it to the Engineers of the Railroad Company. That instrument was the best I ever handled and the comparisons made subsequently, were very unfavorable to other theodolites.”  From the Dunkirk field notes, the proprietors, Nevins, Townsend & Co., had the two well-known New York City surveyors, Edward and Samuel S. Doughty, draw the definitive map that had been surveyed with that very superior theodolite.

                       The map was certified by Russell H. Nevins as part of a deed dated 13 March 1838. Earlier, on 7 January 1838, Nevins and the other “Proprietors” had met in New York City and agreed to a plan for the sale of lots in the part of Dunkirk they owned. Walter Smith and E. Lord were appointed a committee to plan how the property was to be divided in light of an earlier grant to the Erie R.R. Co. That grant gave one fourth of the lands to the railroad company, provided the rails actually reached Dunkirk within six years. The plan Smith and Lord devised was for the other three-fourths to be divided into shares for each proprietor, for which the 1836 map was intended to be the guide.

                       It is ironic that soon after the 1836 map was drawn, the Village of Dunkirk was triumphantly declared incorporated on 5 May 1837, at the same time that the bank panic and business failures of 1837 caused the real estate market to collapse, almost closing down Dunkirk in the process. It seems clear that the New York City investors, at least, thought the railroad’s arrival would save them, otherwise the subsequent deeding and the division into shares of 1838 would make no sense.

                       There was some encouragement from the Federal Government. A map of the Dunkirk harbor was drawn with the official title of Map of Dunkirk Harbor, showing the works erected by the United States and the plan of those projected for its further improvement, together with the changes of outline of shore caused by their erection up to Sep. 30th 1838.

                       This map, which focused on the shoreline and the Bay, incorporated one drawn by a Lt. T. S. Brown in 1835. Actually these “improvements” had begun in 1827 with the building of the first breakwaters to improve harbor access. The harbor map does show a few of the streets closest to the shore: part of Water Street and all of Front and Second streets, although none is named. There are ten lots marked off at “East Water Street,” two at the center point of the Bay, and three at “West Water Street.”  The other 1838 map is an interesting contrast to the Federal Government’s version. That showed a few of the streets as they were on the ground. The Nevins map of 1838, on the other hand, showed what the developers then intended. That included abandoning the full Water Street but adding six piers to the waterfront. For the first time, lots within the blocks were shown and numbered. In the matter of symmetry, the square that had been for a cemetery was now a “Donation to endow an Academy” (today’s Middle School block), balanced again by “Washington Square” (today’s Washington Park) to the east. In addition, with the Village now incorporated, the block between Eagle and Lark streets south of Fourth Street was set aside for the Town Hall, and here too, to its west between Swan and Canary, was a Lot for a “Public Ground” balanced to the east between Buffalo and Fawn by a matching “Public Ground.”

                       These were all significant changes, no doubt, but looking closely at any one in this series of early maps, many copies of which belong to private collectors, we can see where it all started with a simple street grid, once mapped and now recovered from the assessment rolls, beginning back in 1817.

The Beginnings of the Fredonia Shakespeare Club

By Douglas H. Shepard, about 2008


            My original intention was to describe what Fredonia was like when your club was begun and then talk a bit about how the club itself got started and who the founders were. However, that turned out to be much too long a presentation, so what I would like to do is start in the middle, with the founders themselves.

            Unfortunately, the earliest records are missing. When your club had its Golden Anniversary in October 1935, there was an account in The Fredonia Censor describing the event and quoting “from research notes gathered by Miss Bickers and used by her in her anniversary talk.”  In the 1930s, the Censor had begun a series of columns called “Histories of Fredonia Clubs.” The series began with an account of the DAR by Ruth Steger. When the Shakespeare Club had its anniversary meeting, the Censor’s account was made part of that series. Although Ruth Steger wrote most of the columns, a few were done by other people, and since the one for the Shakespeare Club is unsigned, it’s difficult to know who actually wrote it, which means “can the account be trusted”?

My impression, for what it’s worth, is that it can. This is how the article begins: “The Fredonia Shakespeare Club yesterday afternoon celebrated the golden anniversary of its founding with a birthday party held at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. C. D. Sessions in Central Avenue [that was Chauncey D. and Clara B. Sessions at 80 Central Avenue] with its president, Mrs. Hugo L. Wolfe, as hostess.”

            Miss Alice J. Bickers of Liberty Street, the speaker of the afternoon, reviewed the club’s 50 years of existence under the title “Looking Backward.” There were some guests at that event including two charter members from 1885: Mrs. George M. Newton and Mrs. Herbert Miner.

After some opening remarks “Miss Bickers then gave her historical talk….The club’s brilliant history taken from research notes gathered by Miss Bickers and used by her in her anniversary talk, is printed herewith as this week’s chapter.”

The article goes on, “‘The Fredonia Shakespeare Club was organized in 1885,’ says a typewritten note attached to a file of programs. ‘The object of the organization is the study and discussion of the writings of Shakespeare, together with the writing and reading of papers by the members of the society, connected with and suggested by this study.’”

In other words, when Miss Bickers gave her talk in 1935, there was this typewritten note in the files. It is no longer there.  The file for the Shakespeare Club at the Barker Museum is made up almost entirely of printed programs giving the names of the officers and members that year and the topic or topics for that year. One interesting point is the list of strict guidelines by which each assignment is to be approached.

There were two lists. The first is headed: ANALYSIS FOR USE IN THE PREPARATION OF PAPERS ON THE VARIOUS PLAYS. Which is followed by: “Chronological proofs, external and internal; Outline of plot; on what does it turn?  Condition of text as to correctness. What of the title? Its rank as compared with other plays of the same period? How long a time is comprised in the action? Analyze the two central characters.” And so on.

The second list is headed: QUESTIONS BY THE WAY, FOR CONSTANT USE IN THE STUDY OF THE PLAYS, which begins with, “Read one scene, then review, any member being called upon for explanation. Point out and give full explanation of: All classical and mythological allusions, All scriptural allusions and parallels, All figures of speech,” etcetera.
            This gives you a taste of how the Club was structured at the beginning. In the file there are also a few printed menus for the annual banquet and a typed copy of the club’s more modern constitution somewhat different than the earlier version. That early version is in the oldest of the programs in the file, one for 1890-91. There is nothing earlier than that, so that any record of the first five years of the club’s existence is lacking. It is possible that having printed programs only began in 1890 except for one thing. The printed program has a typo on the first page. That page lists the calendar of regular meetings followed by “Plays to be Studied during 1889-’90,” which should read 1890-’91. That suggests the Secretary set up the copy of the new program using the previous year’s as a guide and inadvertently repeated the previous year’s date. So maybe there were earlier programs. If so, they are no longer in the file, or perhaps never were.

The 1935 article explains some of this. “Formation of the club is known to have been started in 1885 but the organization was not completed and the club did not settle down to work until 1886.” Then follows a list of the twenty original charter members: Mrs. S. B. Smith, Pres., Mrs. M. T. Dana, Vice Pres., Miss Clara A. Lester, Sec., Miss Nellie Shaw, Treas. And so on.

Miss Bickers’ talk continued pointing out that the emphasis was always on work and participation. “Founded as a study club, the members originally were known as a class and the assigned work as a lesson.” And that is particularly significant. I will come back to it in a moment.

There is nothing more in the 1935 article about the beginnings of the club. Luckily, however, there is more information available, outside the Shakespeare Club’s file. By 1905, the Club was listing “Honorary Members” in its programs, and one of the names in the list was Miss Ella Lapham, to whom we should pay some attention. Ella Caroline Lapham was born in 1852, the daughter of Arioch and Sylvia (Smith) Lapham. I found them first as a young couple in the 1850 Census in Greenwich OH where he is identified as a “merchant.” By 1860 they are in North Collins where he was farming, living in the household of Humphrey and Deborah Smith, who were probably Mrs. Lapham’s parents.

Ella must have gone through the usual local schooling, and in 1871 she entered Vassar, graduating in 1876. In May 1875, while she was still at Vassar, Julia Ward Howe who had founded the A.A.W., the Association for the Advancement of Women, in 1873, visited and spoke on the topic “Is Polite Society Polite?” 

After Ella Lapham graduated from Vassar she lectured and taught in her specialty, English Literature with an emphasis on the Elizabethan Age. By the early 1880s the Laphams were living in Fredonia about where St. Joseph’s Church is today on East Main Street [the former Taylor house at today’s 145 East Main], and in October 1883 Ella became Secretary to the National AAW group at their meeting in Baltimore where Julia Ward Howe was once again made President.

From the scanty evidence including some remarks in her obituary, it looks as though Ella Lapham may have become the sole breadwinner, tending to her ailing parents. That included giving lectures for a fee. In May 1884, Ella Lapham announced through the Censor that she would be offering a course on “the Life and Literature of the Elizabethan age” beginning in the early Autumn of 1884. The topics were to be English homes and customs, the time and contemporaries of Elizabeth, Sidney and Raleigh, Spenser, Hooker, The dawn of the drama, Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Ben Johnson [sic] and Bacon. “It is her intention to repeat the course at Lockport, Jamestown and other places in their vicinity, where classes of twenty or more can be formed.”

Unfortunately there was some difficulty getting enough participants to sign up, so that the series was put off until January 1885. In the meantime, Miss Lapham went to Baltimore in October 1884 to attend the Association of which she was Secretary. In its issue of 17 December 1884 the Censor noted that she hoped “to begin her class in English literature early in January” and on the front page, in the “Woman’s Work” column was a long section giving some details.

“The subject of these lectures has been discussed by the women generally, but no publication has as yet been made. A number of women are going to embrace the opportunity of hearing these lectures, but not as many as one would expect in a town of Fredonia’s population. Some have remarked that the price was too high; perhaps so, but how easily this difficulty could be overcome, if all the Women who are at all interested in literary work would attend bringing one. Or for instance, if twenty-five from each church would become interested, the entire course could be had for the nominal price of one dollar.”

The next notice was in the Censor of 7 January 1885 that “Miss Lapham will open her course of parlor lectures at her house, on Tuesday, Jan.13th, at three P.M.  Tickets for the course, $3.00, to be obtained of Miss Nellie Shaw.” And here we leave Miss Lapham for a few minutes and turn our attention to the money lady, Miss Nellie Shaw. Helen M. Shaw, always referred to as Nellie, was born in 1859, the younger daughter of Merrill H. and Almira Shaw. He was a physician who may not have been too successful. He had a practice in Silver Creek by 1850, then in Charlotte where Nellie was born, then Buffalo by 1870.

Nellie must have had the usual schooling as she grew up. In 1877 she entered the Fredonia Normal School, graduating in 1880 in the Advanced English curriculum. At that time, the whole Shaw family moved to Fredonia, living at 66 West Main Street. Nellie was very active in the Fredonia Presbyterian Church. There is an item in March 1883 about a meeting of the Young People’s Association of the church, meeting at the residence of Mrs. C. M. Howard, the Fredonia Watch Company people, where Nellie was elected Vice President. However, in September she took a position teaching in Oil City, coming home for the holidays and attending Mrs. Howard’s New Year’s reception. She remained here and took on the task of selling tickets for the series of lectures Miss Lapham was to give at her East Main Street home. And the lectures finally were given. On each Tuesday, for ten weeks beginning in mid-January of 1885, the women met.

What happened next was described years later by Nellie Shaw. Ella Lapham died in June 1917. Nellie — by now she was Mrs. S. A. Jennings living in Larchmont NY — wrote to the Censor expressing her sorrow at the news of Miss Lapham’s death. She then added “Well do I remember the day that I sat on the porch of her home on east Main street talking over ‘clubs.’ I proposed to her that she start a Shakespeare Club in Fredonia. She responded ‘I cannot do it, Helen, I have too much to do now and beside, I am not well enough acquainted in the town — but if you will organize the club I will do everything in my power to help, excepting to take office.’ Being her intimate friend and knowing the literary work that she had commenced, I acquiesced. And, yet, before leaving her, I urged again. She at last said ‘if there is to be a Shakespeare Club in Fredonia you will be obliged to organize it.’

“The next morning, after our talk, I made out a list of charter members, and called on each in her home. My first visit was at Mrs. Dana’s. She was so cordial in acceptance, that I was encouraged to proceed. Miss Carrie White, now Mrs. George Newton, was next who responded gladly as did Mrs. Rolph and Mrs. Samuel Smith.

“The first meeting was held in our house on Main street. There, the constitution and by-laws were drawn up. Miss Lapham guiding and giving advice generously and heartily.

“Intending a visit to Chicago, I could not accept an office, and, while there, lost my membership by breaking one of the rules, which I helped to formulate. The rule was to report on the preparedness or unpreparedness two weeks before the reading of the paper assigned. I was to have been the reader, and I am sorry to say, I did not report.

“The above was the beginning of the Fredonia Shakespeare Club, which has flourished so many years (since 1885) and, of which I am proud to be the founder. Your truly, Helen Shaw Jennings.”

So there you have it. The beginnings of your club by Nellie Shaw under the guidance of Ellen Lapham, which explains a great deal. It explains why the membership was set at 20, the required size for Miss Lapham’s talks and the ideal size for a seminar; why the group was originally referred to as a class and the assigned work was called a lesson; why Miss Lapham, never a member, was made an Honorary Member; and why the group’s calendar was an academic one, beginning in the fall. Just as with Miss Lapham’s lecture series, each member had to pay a fee (tuition) and, as a further safeguard, visitors could be from outside but not Fredonia residents. There would be no freeloading by those who might want to learn at no charge. And it explains those guides to analyzing the plays, exactly what you would expect for a class of beginners, except in this case, curiously enough, there would be no teacher to guide you.

You may remember that the 1935 article said that the Club started in 1885 but it didn’t settle down to work until 1886. As Huckleberry Finn said about Pilgrim’s Progress, that statement was interesting but tough. It would be nice to narrow down just what “settle down to work” in 1886 meant.

It may be possible to do that. The first mention of the Shakespeare Club in The Fredonia Censor was a passing reference in the issue of 24 February 1886. However, there is an item in the issue of March 3rd reporting that the Club had had its 6th meeting at Mrs. Greene’s the previous Wednesday. “The object of this club is the thorough study of Shakespeare and his plays. The requisite number, twenty, have been chosen. The members hope to make the meetings a success. The President, Mrs. Samuel Smith, is doing all she can to make it a beneficial study.”

First I should explain that the meeting at Mrs. Greene’s meant today’s Barker Historical Museum building which had only recently begun to house the Barker Library. The Library was opened in February 1884, using the “main room” and the “wing.” The rear rooms downstairs, all of  the upstairs rooms, and part of the cellar remained the property of the Greenes in residence for another three years.

Since the Club met once a week, counting back from the 6th meeting on 24 February means the first meeting took place on 20 January 1886. That makes sense. Ella Lapham gave her course of ten lectures from 13 January to 17 March 1885, inspiring her “treasurer,” Nellie Shaw, to suggest a Shakespeare Club be formed.

Unfortunately, we don’t know when Nellie made her suggestion. When she got together with Mrs. Dana, Carrie White, Mrs. Rolph and Mrs. Samuel Smith at her home on Main street with Miss Lapham there to guide them, a constitution and by-laws were worked out, surely not at one sitting. After that, with the number 20 agreed on, there must have been many discussions of whom to ask and reports on who was considering joining and who refusing.

It looks as though the summer intervened and then the holidays. Finally the preliminaries were completed and on 20 January 1886 the Club had its first formal meeting. It is not likely that there had been time to prepare papers to be read. Instead, as the Censor of 17 March 1886 reported, the Club invited Miss Lapham to give her course of lectures once again, this time under its auspices, at the Library beginning on 23 March 1886. The last of the ten lectures, one on Bacon, took place on 25 May and at that point, as the Constitution stipulated, there was to be a summer recess.

            In October 1886, the first of the regular annual cycles began, apparently what the note meant by “settling down to work,” the first of an astounding, unbroken sequence of meetings of your Club over the last 120-plus years. Although my account here does seem to describe what had been thought to be lost, it is still a thin, skeletal description at best of the real origins of your Club. So in closing I will presume to go one step further and remind you that 2010 will be the 125th anniversary of your founding. One, or several, or all of you could take this skeleton I’ve offered you and flesh it out.

Why not write a real history of your Club including full biographies of those twenty founding members, plus Miss Lapham. Vassar has a full file on her and there are plenty of local sources that could be used for the other women. There must be children, grandchildren and great grandchildren somewhere, perhaps with memories, family stories, correspondence, photographs.

It would be a wonderful thing if you could finally put into your file the true history that has been missing for so long. So that is my assignment for you. After which I can only say, in the spirit of your origins, this class is dismissed.


George A. French

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2013


            The anti-slavery activity of Dunkirk’s George A. French was cited in the Jamestown Morning Post July 18, 1923 in a story by Palmer K. Shankland. George A. French, son of Asa and Jane French, was born in Massachusetts in August 1798. The family moved to Fredonia by 1810. The Pomfret census for that year lists “A. French” in a family of four: one male 10 to 15, one male 16 to 25, one male 26 to 44, and one female 26 to 44. The other boy is probably the Asa French who died on 1 March 1826, age 25.

            Young’s History (p.471) notes that Asa French was the first blacksmith in the village with his home and shop on the corner of today’s West Main and Chestnut streets across from Richard Williams’ inn. Jane died on 14 January 1813, age 41, and Asa promptly married Mary Spencer on 28 March of that year.

            Whether it was a motivating factor or not, after Jane died in 1813, Asa gave up the West Hill location and moved to Sheridan. In 1814 he was in the east part of 61-6-11 (at Scott’s Creek?) and in 1815 he had 100 acres in the southwest part of 54-6-11. The size of his parcel suggests he was farming, perhaps combining it with blacksmithing.

            Although their property was in Sheridan, Asa and Mary continued as members of the Fredonia Congregational church, which changed to Presbyterian in 1817, at which point church discipline caught up with him. In October 1817 a pre-trial hearing was held by the Session to consider charges against Asa French for behavior and acts during the previous summer and fall. Specifically, he was charged with “1st an intemperate use of ardent spirits. 2nd an attempt to secure in a clandestine manner a deed of a certain building lot in the Village of Fredonia which was in the possession of James Mullett, Esq.  3rd Absenting himself from publick worship on the Sabbath and at other seasons.  Names of the witnesses  Henry Abel, Asa Seymour, Richard Williams, Mabel How, Thomas Abel.” (It is significant that at least two of the witnesses against him had been neighbors, Williams, on the corner of Chestnut Street, and Seymour, just off Main Street on Seymour Street.)

            In December Asa appeared before the group and made his confession. However, in August 1818 he again was charged and again appeared, confessing to intemperance and absence from Public Worship. In December 1818, when the same charges were raised again but without French’s answering to them, the Session voted to have him removed. When nothing was heard from him by May 1819, the Session voted to notify the Presbytery in Buffalo. Once their reply was received, the Session met on 21 September 1819 and voted to excommunicate him.

            At this point, George French was 21 and his younger brother 18. One would predict that with that kind of family background, their future looked less than promising. For George, that was far from the case. The assessment rolls show Asa French still in Sheridan with some 95 acres in 1819, reduced to 35 acres in 1820 when George is listed with the other 35 acres on Lot 54. By 1821 Asa’s name disappears from all records and George has all 70 acres on Lot 54, which continues into 1826.

            In addition to farming, George must have worked on or for a merchant during this period since he had enough experience to be able to join with young Walter Smith in opening a store in Sinclairville in 1824. Smith, then just 24, had been apprenticed to Jacob TenEyck in Cazenovia in 1815 and proved so able that TenEyck bankrolled him when he opened a store of his own in Fredonia in 1819, when Smith was all of 19 years old. (Smith had purchased the store and ashery of Joseph and Ralph Plumb, who had gone bankrupt.)  In 1825, the Baptist minister Joy Handy joined them as French, Handy & Co. (The “& Co.” was Walter Smith.) That partnership was dissolved in 1828.

            Although the Sinclairville store was robbed in 1825, George A. French must have done well enough that on 23 May 1826 he and Walter Smith announced their new partnership in a store in Dunkirk. The assessment roll for 1827 shows George A. French with properties listed as 9 & 10 Front Street (1/3 acre), 1 Buffalo Street (¼ acre), and 24 Front Street (1/16 acre). It seems to be the 1 Buffalo Street (Washington Avenue) location that was French’s Dunkirk home, noted only as “house” or “Dwelling” in the assessment rolls through 1844. In 1850 it is referred to in parentheses as the Pemberton House.

            George A. French was elected Town Supervisor in 1830 through 1833. On 14 November 1831 French’s wife, Sophia Risley, died and on 25 December 1832 he married Mrs. Sally (Hudson) Day of Dunkirk. She had been a founding member of the Dunkirk Presbyterian Church in 1830. In 1834 he joined. In 1835 he was one of twelve leading citizens who organized the Dunkirk Academy, which opened on 23 September with George A. French as one of the three Trustees.

            The village of Dunkirk was incorporated in 1837 with Walter Smith as it first president. However, the panic of 1837 devastated the village’s economy, with many businesses forced into foreclosure. It was in May of 1837 that “George A. French & Co.” announced themselves as successors to “J. Beggs & Co.” which probably included the docks at the foot of Buffalo Street and Center Street.

            In 1838 French was elected to the NY State Assembly and again in 1840 and 1841. The assessment rolls continue to show him as a prosperous property owner in addition to the important local power he had become. That was his status in September 1851, when he is recorded as receiving a telegraph message from Silas Shearman, an active member of the Underground Railroad in Jamestown, requesting urgent help in retrieving a re-captured refugee slave. The published account of this incident referred to French as “a prominent and zealous Abolitionist.” Shearman knew that “George A. French would arouse the friends of anti-slavery in the vicinity of Dunkirk and … would give him every possible assistance.” If it were not for this one recorded episode, we would have little record that French had been anything but a popular, successful local businessman.

            French’s second wife, Sally, had died on 8 March 1851 some months before the dramatic incidents described. On 8 January 1852 he married Sarah A. Stillman of Wethersfield CT, possibly related to The Rev. Timothy Stillman of the Dunkirk Presbyterian Church. For some reason, French apparently sold his properties. His name disappears from the assessment rolls, although he is still in Dunkirk at the time of the 1860 Census. He died in Fredonia on 29 January 1865 and was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.

            The record of George A. French’s children is not entirely clear, although there are records for at least four. The 1850 Census, the first to list all family members’ names, shows a daughter, Ann, eight years old. The family is omitted from the 1855 Census for some reason and there is no later mention of Ann in any of the public records.

            The Fredonia Censor of 6 January 1841 reported that Delia French “daughter of George A. French,” married Silas Seymour on 23 December 1840. Francis A. French married Juliett Spencer on 11 September 1843, according to The Fredonia Censor of 20 September 1843. According to his obituary in The Fredonia Censor of 13 November 1895, it was Francis who built and occupied the house at 504 Central Avenue. Walter S. French (1826-1894) is listed in the Forest Hill Cemetery records as a son of Sophia (Risley) and George A. French.

Aaron Kellogg

By Douglas H. Shepard, 2013


            Aaron Kellogg and his work in this region’s anti-slavery society were cited in Bates, Samuel P., History of Erie County, Warner Beers and Co., Chicago, Illinois, 1884. Kellogg was born in Clinton NY on 8 October1799  to Amos and Rachel (Porter) Kellogg, the third of eight children.  His father died in 1806, but the family seems to have remained in Clinton. Aaron was still there when he married Eliza Dodge Shaw of Trenton NY on 12 February 1824. There is an Aaron Kellogg in Ellery NY in 1830, but that seems to be another man with a family of six, including four daughters. Aaron and Eliza had three children of record: Warren (b.1825), Sarah (1828), and Aaron William (1844). The 1840 Census finds the family in North East PA, a family of five including one boy and two girls, perhaps one a domestic. Aaron’s obituary reads in part that he was born in Clinton, Oneida Co. and “came to Erie, Pa.,” suggesting he moved directly to Erie from Clinton. There were a number of Kelloggs in North East at the time, which may explain the move.

            Nelson’s Biographical Dictionary lists Aaron Kellogg as having a “general store,” although no specific date is given. Beginning in 1849 he was running the Franklin Paper Mill in North East, and he did so until his tenure expired. Aaron Kellogg was involved in Erie County politics fairly early. He was a founding member of the local Antislavery Society and his name is listed in the Abolitionist party slate in 1844, 1848, and 1852.  There are other Kelloggs there involved in the anti-slavery movement, such as George Kellogg, who ran on the Abolitionist ticket in 1842, and Quaker Josiah Kellogg, whose home was a noted stop on the Underground Railroad.

            In 1854 Aaron and his son Warren bought the Red Castle works, a woolen mill in Laona NY owned by Gorham and Fletcher. A large wing was added to the three-story building and a larger 17 foot overshot wheel was installed. The new enterprise was called the Willow Dale Mills.       Aaron Kellogg died on 28 January 1859 and the mill was continued with Warren Kellogg in charge. In 1861 Willard McKinstry and his brother-in-law, A. P. Durlin, leased it, probably to insure a supply of newsprint for their Fredonia Censor. They had it until 1865 when it was “sold to W. D. [Warren D.] Kellogg and P. B. Alexander.”  Eliza lived with her son Warren and his wife Mary until her death in 1891.