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Kate Gleason (1865-1933) by will endowed the History Divi 
sion of the Rochester Public Library as a memorial for 
Amelia Brettelle, her teacher of history in the public schools. 
To expand the usefulness of the bequest even beyond gather 
ing historical records, and to encourage a forward look through 
the past, part of the trust provides for the Kate Gleason Fund 


Rochester The Water-Power City 










Assistant City Historian, Rochester, New "York 


Cambridge, Massachusetts 






THIS HISTORY of Rochester represents a remarkable municipal achieve 
ment. Under the laws of the state of New York, the towns and cities of 
this state are required to appoint town or city historians. The city of 
Rochester long ago met this requirement; the appointee to this office 
and the persons whom he selects to assist him in his duties are paid 
from municipal funds, which form a part of the budget of the Rochester 
Public Library; the City Historian and the Assistant City Historian 
are civil servants, with tenure similar to that of other civil servants 
under the civil service laws. They are free to pursue their work in the 
true scholarly spirit, and they have met at all times with the most cordial 
support of the public authorities. The present volume represents if not 
a unique, at any rate a most striking, achievement, the preparation of a 
history of an important American city on the basis of careful research, 
exact scholarship, and expert judgment all provided for by municipal 
funds. It was undertaken by Dr. McKelvey when he first assumed his 
post as Assistant City Historian; it has been pushed forward in the midst 
of other duties; and its completion is a notable landmark in the history 
of American historical writing. 

Yet more than this can be said. Not only the preparation, but also 
the publication, of the work is a municipal enterprise. An eminent 
citizen of Rochester, Miss Kate Gleason, left some years ago a fund in 
memory of her teacher of history, Miss Amelia Brettelle, to be used for 
the establishment of a department of history in the Rochester Public 
Library. With the gracious encouragement of members of her family, 
and with the legal approval of the proper municipal authorities, the 
Surrogate s Court, the Corporation Counsel, and the City Council, the 
use of a portion of this fund was made possible in connection with the 
expenses of publication. Miss Gleason was herself one of the most 
devoted friends of her native city; and it seems peculiarly appropriate 
that she should thus have a part in a permanent record of its early years. 

I am glad to pay tribute here to the industry, good judgment, and 
wide knowledge which Dr. McKelvey has brought to the completion of 
the manuscript. He has made the story not only interesting in itself, 
but also a part of the larger story of American history in general; he 
has, with remarkable insight and assiduity, recreated the life of the 
city in its formative period, and maintained the broad perspective 


which is essential to an understanding of the story. His book deserves 
to be read not only by those who are interested in Rochester, but also 
by those who are interested in the growth of urban living in America. 
Throughout the execution of this task, the City Historian s office 
owes much to the cordial collaboration and support which it has always 
received from the Director of the Rochester Public Library, Dr. John 
A. Lowe. He has, from the outset, encouraged and believed in the 
scholarly function which that office ought to perform; and he has done 
much to make its performance possible. 

City Historian 


ROCHESTER S DEVELOPMENT athwart the major east-west population 
and trade highway of the second quarter of the nineteenth century 
not only accounts for many of its features but also links the local story 
with main trends in American history. Analysis of the forces playing 
within the evolving urban scene at the Genesee falls affords distinctive 
rewards, both to the student of social history and to the citizen in 
terested in his local heritage, for within the space of a short half- 
century a neglected backwoods site was transformed into a thriving 
industrial city which ranked seventeenth in size in the nation at the 
mid-century and had already attained a measure of cultural self- 
sufficiency. The peculiar influence of its falls site, the advantages and 
limitations of its valley hinterland, as well as those of its first great 
trade artery, the Erie Canal, the flood of Americans surging westward, 
swollen toward the end of the period by a fresh stream of immigrants, 
the sweep of religious wildfire these and many other factors condi 
tioned the community s development and add interest to its story. 

Fortunately, the unprecedented rapidity of its early growth stimu 
lated sufficient interest in the town s history to prompt a versatile 
editor and politician, Henry O Reilly, to write the lengthy and cred 
itable Sketches of Rochester, published at Rochester early in 1838. 
This pioneer city historian depicted Rochester as sailing down the main 
stream of American life, an interpretation shared by Mrs. Basil Hall, 
who found the Genesee mill town of 1827 "the best place we have yet 
seen for giving strangers an idea of the newness of this country." 
Alexander MacKay, another British visitor (who studied law for a time 
in the office of a local judge), declared near the mid-century, "There is 
no other town in America the history of which better illustrates the 
rapid progress of material and moral civilization in the United States 
than that of the city of Rochester." Whether correct or not, these 
opinions animated a long succession of collectors and chroniclers whose 
labors have been of invaluable assistance to the present historian. 

These fairly abundant materials have facilitated a selective treatment 
of the subject. The object has been to use only those details, events, 
and personalities which help to fill in the essential features of the com 
munity pattern and to move the story along. An effort has been made 
to keep both the chronology and the setting clearly in mind in the treat- 


ment of each event and to depict action where possible in terms of 
familiar residents or recognizable groups. Many important personalities 
have no doubt been neglected, as it would be impossible even to number 
all who contributed to the city s development. Yet the role of the 
individual was much more important in the Water-Power City than 
in its industrial and institutionalized successor, prompting an effort 
here to recount enough of the activities of a limited number of Roches- 
terians to give the city s story some of its proper human flavor. Not 
only the life-span of many of the pioneer villagers, but the primary 
community trends, as well as the changing national environment, helped 
to terminate the city s first growth cycle in the mid-fifties, facilitating 
its study in one volume as the "Water-Power City." 

Within the larger unity of the Water-Power City s development, 
five successive stages appeared. Thus it was on a retarded frontier, 
surrounded by deep forests, penetrated only by rough roads and haz 
ardous waterways, that the village was born in 1812. It was a hamlet 
of small, boarded shacks, warmed by crude fireplaces, clustering around 
a couple of primitive lumber and grist mills, which became, in the 
decade following its incorporation in 1817, America s first boom town. 
It was a town of freshly painted white houses, sprawling astride a river 
whose falls turned a hundred rumbling millstones, which fed the long 
rows of canal boats that glided slowly across an impressive stone aque 
duct bearing the products of a fertile valley toward eastern markets* 
It was the bustling residents of the emerging Flour City who worried 
about the recurrent fires, the occasional plagues, and the uncertain 
market; who complained of muddy streets, poor water, and an ineffi 
cient police; who debated conflicting religious doctrines, sought im 
proved educational facilities, and expressed themselves in boisterous 
political campaigns, crude rollicking amusements, and violent journalis 
tic blasts. It was the children of these residents who, with newcomers 
from the East and from across the Atlantic, brought about recovery 
from the first major depression by developing fresh fields of enterprise, 
adjusted themselves to a more sober rate of growth as well as a more 
respectable code of mores, and finally settled down at the raid-century 
amidst the larger opportunities and more complex problems of the 
developing Flower City. 

Rochester BLAKE 

June i, 1944 


MY FIRST OBLIGATION is to the citizens of Rochester whose interest in 
the community s history has fostered this study. Perhaps the attention 
given to local traditions more than a century ago, when Rochesterians 
could still remember their early boom days, has itself grown into a fond 
tradition. At all events the invitation received just eight years ago to 
study and write Rochester s history opened a most agreeable assignment, 
and I must express my gratitude for the hearty welcome and the gen 
erous opportunity for independent study thus afforded. 

Continued residence in a city such as Rochester inevitably breaks 
down some of the detachment which a scholar desires to maintain 
toward his subject. Nevertheless, thanks to my upbringing in consecu 
tive Methodist parsonages in central Pennsylvania, I early enjoyed a 
fairly intimate living acquaintance with a half-dozen towns and cities 
ranging from a small village the size of Rochester in the early iSao s 
up through all the successive stages under study an experience of 
great assistance in the effort to visualize the community s growth. To 
the background for comparison thus provided, later pursuit of local 
history in Pennsylvania and of urban history in Chicago have added 
perspective for the study of Rochester. Much to be desired, however, 
is the familiar and understanding view generally denied to the stranger. 
I am therefore especially grateful for the cordial associations enjoyed 
with members of the Rochester Historical Society and other organiza 
tions whose roots reach into the city s past, for to some extent these 
friends have relieved me of the handicaps of the outlander. 

I am, of course, heavily indebted to a long list of collectors and com 
pilers who labored to amass the records upon which this account has 
been in considerable part constructed. Starting more than a century ago 
with Henry O Reilly, the work of assembling and preserving documents 
was continued by such men as George H, Harris, Howard L. Osgood, 
William H. Samson, and Edward R. Foreman, to mention but a few. 
Several choice files of letter and other documents in the Rochester, 
Scrantom, Reynolds, Weed, O Reilly, Selye, Clarke, and Schermerhorn 
collections, as well as many smaller in volume, have supplied intimate 
details, revealing much of the character of Rochester during successive 

I have enjoyed convenient access to most of these materials, housed 


today in the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library. 
The resources of the Division have been enriched by the deposit there 
of the bibliographic materials gathered during the past half-century by 
the Rochester Historical Society and the Reynolds Library. Special 
thanks are due to my associates on the Public Library staff, Miss Emma , 
B. Swift, Mr. J. Gormly Miller (now on leave in the armed services), 
and others who have patiently assisted in the progress of this study. 

Generous aid has been received from those in charge of the local 
history archives at the University of Rochester, the Wood Library at 
Canandaigua, and the Ontario County Historical Society library at the 
same place. Mr. R. W. G. Vail and Miss Edna L. Jacobsen of the 
New York State Library, the late Mr. Alexander J. Wall of the New 
York Historical Society in New York, and Mr. Robert W. Bingham 
of the Buffalo Historical Society have provided valuable assistance, and 
a very special service was rendered by Dr. Philip Bauer of the National 
Archives in procuring photostatic copies of manuscripts in private hands 
in Washington. Numerous individuals have kindly shown me rare manu 
scripts in their possession, and several extensive private collections have 
been opened to my inspection, notably that of Mr. George Skivington, 
containing among other items a voluminous file of Greig papers, that of 
Mrs. Buell Mills comprising the papers of Freeman Clarke, the Eli sa- 
beth Selden Spencer Eaton letters of Mrs. Elizabeth Selden Rogers in 
New York City, and the Schermerhorn collection in possession of Mrs. 
Rudolph Stanley-Brown, Washington, D. C. 

I have profited considerably from unpublished studies conducted at 
the University of Rochester and elsewhere in various aspects of Roches 
ter s history. These are referred to in the appropriate connections below, 
but I must mention here especially the master s thesis of Mr. Whitney 
Cross, now archivist at Cornell University, the master s thesis of Mr. 
Earl Weller, now Director of the Rochester Bureau of Municipal Re 
search, and the doctor s thesis at Harvard University of Dr. Donald W. 
Gilbert, now Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of Economics at 
the University of Rochester. The careful, intensive work of these and 
other students has greatly assisted my efforts to cover the whole range 
of the community s history down through 1854, Possibly my heaviest 
indebtedness in this respect is to the members of the National Youth 
Administration project who prepared an excellent index of the Rochester 
papers from the first issues to far beyond the period studied. 

Many kind friends have assisted with suggestions and criticism, 
although, of course, responsibility for the final product must rest on 
my own shoulders. Professor Dexter Perkins as City Historian and 
Dr. John A. Lowe as Public Librarian have been in touch with this 
study from its inception and have provided much encouragement. Pro 
fessor Perkins, Dr. Aaron Abell of Nazareth College in Rochester, and 


Professor A. M. Schlesinger of Harvard University have each read the 
entire manuscript and proffered constructive criticisms. I am especially 
grateful to Professor Schlesinger not only for his careful perusal of this 
manuscript but also for his thoughtful mentorship over a period of 
several years in the broader study of urban history. Dr. Arthur C. 
Parker, Dr. Glyndon Van Deusen, Dr. Bert J. Loewenberg, Dr. Rolf 
King, Dr. William A. Ritchie, Mr. Arthur Bestor, Jr., and Mr. Arthur 
Pound have each read special portions of the manuscript and contrib 
uted valuable suggestions. Aid has been given from time to time by 
Mr. Alexander M. Stewart, a specialist in the French period, Mr. 
Morley Turpin and Major Wheeler Case, steeped in the lore of the 
pioneers, and Mr. Walter Cassebeer, careful student of local architec 
ture. Much more than secretarial assistance has been rendered at varied 
stages of this project by Miss Annie H. Croughton, Miss Harriett Julia 
Naylor, Miss Ruth Marsh, and especially Miss Dorothy S. Truesdale, 
whose painstaking work, including frequent checking of documents, has 
helped not only to eliminate disturbing errors but also to fill in spacious 
gaps in the story. The index has been prepared in large part by Miss 
Jean Dinse, to whom I am duly grateful. To my wife, Jean Trepp, I 
owe sincere gratitude for much patient forebearance, many repetitious 
auditions, and unfailingly tactful criticism during the several years of 
the study s progress. 


A word or two should be added in regard tg my sources. The inclu 
sion of a bibliography seems unnecessary in view of the full character of 
the footnotes. Perhaps many of the notes are much too full, but it has 
seemed wise, where a development can best be traced through scattered 
newspaper accounts, to supply a full list, although the incident to which 
the citation is attached may be described specifically in only one or two 
references. Readers who are interested in an over-all view of the area s 
historical literature are referred to the author s "A History of Historical 
Writing in the Rochester Area/ Rochester History, April, 1944. 



Nature Carves a Choice Urban Site. Local Antiquities and Clashing 
Empires. The Occupation of the Genesee Frontier. Pioneer ways 
Partially Outgrown. 

A Bridgehead, a Mill Town, or a Lake Port. Colonel Rochester s 
Settlement. The Hazards of War. 


Peaceful Growth on the Lower Genesee. The Incorporation of 
Rochesterville. The Canal Assures Leadership to Rochester. 


The Struggle for Independence. The Market Town on the Genesee. 
The Canal Brings a Boom. America s First Boom Town. 

V. ORGANIZATION OF THE BOOM TOWN: 1817-1828 . . .108 
Early Civic Problems and Regulations. Rudiments of Culture. De 
nominational Rivalries. 

Village Folkways in Transition. Rampant Political Journalism. 

VII. CREATING A CITY: 1829-1834 163 

Way Station for Westward Migrants. The Hesitant Assumption of 
Urban Responsibilities. Religious Revivals and Repercussions. 

Years of Growth: 1834-1837. Years of Adversity: 1837-1843. The 
Uphill Road to Recovery: 1840-1850. 

Toward Civic Complacency. Divided Responsibility. Public and 
Private Educational Advances. 

Religious and Humanitarian Trends. Domestic and Social Life. 
Political and Journalistic Achievements. 


Economic Turning Points. Civic Perplexities. Social and Cultural 

INDEX 367 


I. Colonel Nathaniel Rochester at the age of seventy, portrait by Horace 
Harding, 1822. Courtesy of the Rochester Historical Society Frontispiece 

II. The Main Falls of the Genesee, viewed from, the northeast, by Captain 

Thomas Davies, about 1760. Courtesy of the University of Rochester 48 

III. The Main Falls, viewed from the northwest in 1816, by Charles A. 
Lesueur. Reproduced from Dessins de Charles A. Lesueur executis 

aux Etats-Unis de 1816 a 1837 (Paris, 1935) 49 

IV. i. James Geddes survey map of the proposed canal east of the 
Genesee, 1809. Extract reproduced from Laws in Relation to the Erie 

and Champlain Canals, I, f. 38 .80 

2. Rochester in 1815, as shown in the Field Notes of Lemuel Foster, 
surveyor of the Rochester end of the proposed road to Batavia. Cour 
tesy of the Rochester Historical Society 80 

V. i. View of the Main Falls and Village, 1830. Reproduced from an 

engraving in the Gem (Rochester, Nov. 13, 1830) 81 

2. View of the First Aqueduct from the east. Reproduced from Cad- 
wallader Golden, Memoir . . . of the New York Canals (New York, 
1825), f. p. 291 81 

VI. i. Enos Stone: Pioneer landowner on the east bank. Courtesy of the 

Rochester Historical Society 144 

2. Hamlet Scrantom: Pioneer resident in the village. Courtesy of the 
Rochester Historical Society 144 

3. Abelard Reynolds: Postmaster, owner of Reynolds Arcade. Cour 
tesy of the Rochester Historical Society 144 

4. Dr. Levi Ward: Patron of cultural enterprises. Courtesy of the 
Rochester Historical Society 144 

VII. The Courthouse Square at Rochester: Basil Hall s "camera lucida" 
sketch of 1827. Reproduced from Hall s Forty Etchings (Edinburgh, 
1829) 145 

VIII. Map of Monroe County, created in 1821. This map was prepared be 
fore final determination of the southern boundary of Rush . following 160 

IX. i. Jonathan Child: Merchant, temperance advocate, first mayor. 

Courtesy of the Rochester Historical Society 176 

2. Reverend Joseph Penney: Presbyterian pastor. Courtesy of the 
First Presbyterian Church 176 

3. Everard Peck: Publisher, church leader, university trustee . .176 

4. Henry O Reilly: Editor, politician, humanitarian . . . .176 


X. i. Dr. Chester Dewey: Educator and scientist 177 

2. Judge Samuel Lee Selden: Jurist and promoter . . . .177 

3. Lewis H. Morgan: Father of American anthropology . . .177 

4. Frederick Douglass: Negro publisher and lecturer . . . .177 

XL Interior view of Reynolds Arcade, 1851. Reproduced from "The Agri 
cultural Society Fair," Illustrated American News, Supplement (1851) 240 

XII. Banquet scene in Corinthian Hall, 1851, Illustrated American News, 

Supplement (1851) 241 

XIII. Three advertisements from the Directory of 1851-52 .... 256 

XIV. Rochester from the west, 1853. Reproduced from a lithograph made 
by D. W. Moody from a drawing by J. W. Hill Courtesy of the 
University of Rochester 272 

XV. View of Rochester from Mt. Hope, 1854. Reproduced from an en 
graving by Felch, who followed with some modifications an 1849 
drawing by E. Whitefield, Courtesy of the University of Rochester 273 

XVI. Map of Rochester, 1851, surveyed and drawn by Marcus Smith and 
B. Callan. Reproduced from a rare wall map. Courtesy of the 
Rochester Historical Society 320 





IF EVER a town s site was prepared and its character largely deter 
mined by the varied actions of an ever-abundant water supply, it 
was the Rochester of a hundred years ago. So well was this site 
designed for a milling and trading center that in 1812, when permanent 
settlers arrived in the wake of the first great wave of westward migra 
tion across New York State, few traces of earlier habitation remained. 
Neither the successive Indian invasions nor the pioneer farmers who 
eventually displaced them found the lower Genesee the ideal spot for 
settlement. Yet the character of the city which ultimately developed, 
predetermined in many respects by the waterfalls, was considerably 
influenced as well by its human antecedents influenced negatively by 
the absence of previous local achievements, and positively as the lore 
of earlier days stirred the imagination of numerous residents. The fasci 
nating evidences of the city s geologic foundations and the pageantry of 
the valley s human background still prompt Rochesterians to seek the 
roots of their history in the hazy antiquities of the beautiful Genesee 


It was approximately two hundred million years ago, near the end of 
the Paleozoic Era, the third great interval of geologic time, that the 
Genesee region emerged from the retreating sea waters which had long 
covered much of what is now the eastern part of the United States. 
A deep covering of rock strata had been slowly built up, layer upon 
layer, over the igneous or volcanic rock base. 2 Thus elevated, the Genesee 

1 This summary account is based on the researches of Professor Herman LeRoy 
Fairchild, whose many excellent articles have been well summarized with profuse 
illustrations in his Geologic Story of the Genesee Valley and Western New York 
(Rochester, 1928). Thomas G. Payne, The Genesee Country: A Field Guide to 
Various Natural Features which Reveal the Geologic Past (Rochester Museum of 
Arts and Sciences, Guide Bulletin, No. 5, Rochester, 1938), presents a more recent 
comprehensive survey of the subject and provides an excellent geologic map of 
the Genesee region. See also Chris A, Hartnagel, "Before the Coming of Man," 
Alexander C. Flick, ed., History of the State of New York (New York, 1933-37), 
I, 28-39. 

2 Charles S. Prosser, "The Thickness of the Devonian and Silurian Rocks . . . 
along the . . . Line of the Genesee River," Proceedings of the Rochester Academy 


region stood exposed during the one hundred million years of the 
Mesozoic, or fourth, geologic era, permitting the untiring forces of 
nature gradually to disintegrate the upper strata and transport the par 
ticles in shifting streams down the "Ontario/ Ohio, and Susquehanna 
valleys, until a great plain was formed practically at sea level. A lux 
uriant foliage of sub-tropical verdure spread over this region, and the 
first mammals appeared. 

The great continental uplift at the beginning of the Cenozoic or last 
geologic era elevated the plain to form the Appalachian plateau, thus 
starting anew the erosional cycle. In due time the first Genesee River 
formed, modeling for itself a comfortable rolling valley in which to 
meander sluggishly northward through the course of present Irondequoit 
Bay toward the westward flowing Ontarian River. A warm climate nur 
tured a rich vegetation not greatly different from that of today. 

The scene changed radically when, approximately half a million 
years ago, a climatic shift started the formation of the great ice sheet 
which spread out in a southwesterly direction from the Labrador region. 
The advance of the glacier continued until it had pushed beyond the 
southern border of New York State. Many thousand years later during 
the glacier s slow retreat, when numerous and significant transforma 
tions were being made in the old Genesee Valley, the site for the city 
of Rochester was finally carved out. 

A succession of twenty glacial lakes formed between the southern 
highlands and the retreating ice dam. The thick sedimentary deposits 
spread over these temporary lake beds (composed of silt gathered by 
highland streams from the south, till brought by the glacier from the 
north, and the rich limestone particles scraped up from the broad 
dolomite outcrop that stretched across the northern portion of the state) 
provided the Genesee Country with the basis for its proverbial fer 
tility, 8 its wealth of clay, sand, gravel, and peat deposits. 4 

Among the more prominent landmarks left by the retreating ice mass 
were the smooth, oval-shaped, clay blisters formed under the melting 
ice sheet the curious ridges which are scattered across southern Monroe 
County and eastward towards Syracuse, the world s most remarkable 
drumlin formation. On Rochester s immediate southern border appears 
another striking glacial remain the string of pinnacle-shaped hills, 

of Science, II (1892), 49-104. Prosser reviews in detail the findings taken from 
the many deep wells drilled in the valley from time to time. 

3 "Soil Survey of Monroe County, New York," U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, 
Bulletin, Series 1933, No. 17 (Washington, D. C., 1938) ; see also similar surveys 
for Livingston County in 1908, Ontario County in 1910, Steuben County in 1931, 
and Wayne County in 1902. 

4 Clifton J. Sarle, "Economic Geology of Monroe County and Contiguous Ter 
ritory," New York State Museum $6th Annual Report: 1002 (Albany, 1904), pp. 
r 75-r 106. 


known as kames, formed at the points where numerous glacial summer 
streams emptied into the pent-up Lake Dawson during a long period 
when the balance between sun and snow stranded the glacier s southern 
edge over the site of Rochester. The waters of Lake Dawson found a 
shallow but broad outlet eastward past the site of Fairport and Newark 
towards Montezuma, whence they flowed more swiftly to a junction 
with the Mohawk Valley thus channelling a course later followed by 
the Erie Canal When the retreat of the Syracuse lobe of the glacier 
opened a lower outlet through the Oswego and Mohawk valleys, the 
waters of Lake Dawson escaped, and a new level was found in Lake 
Iroquois, the last of the great glacial lakes. 

At varied intervals during its retreat the glacier dropped sufficient 
deposits to block the pre-glacial drainage valleys* notably at Portage- 
ville and at Rush, compelling the Genesee at each of these points to 
carve new post-glacial channels. The diversion at Rush forced the 
cutting of the lower Genesee gorge by a succession of waterfalls, des 
tined finally to play a significant role in the growth of the city. This 
great carving operation started during the period when Lake Iroquois 
covered the northern portion of the site of Rochester. After plunging 
over the hard ledge of dolomitic limestone (known today as the Lock- 
port Escarpment or Big Ridge which extends east and west as a resistant 
outcrop and forms the cap rock for the great Niagara cataract), the 
Genesee spread out over a broad delta dropping the rich deposits which 
form the loose soil of Greece and Irondequoit. At the same time a long 
east-west sandbar formed a half mile or so off shore, the Little Ridge 
which later attracted so much admiration and speculation from the 
travelers along the Ridge Road. 

The further disintegration of the great ice dam finally permitted the 
escape of part of the waters of Lake Iroquois through the St. Lawrence 
channel, then depressed below sea level, thus creating an elongated 
Gilbert Gulf which reached into a portion of the bed of present Lake 
Ontario. The Genesee was forced to extend its channel through its old 
delta and to cut a new gorge in the formerly submerged rock strata. 
A second great falls began this carving process some distance north of 
the present lake shore, cutting fairly rapidly back through the soft shale 
and sandstone strata, digging a deep chasm and slowly gaining on the 
first cataract which was only with difficulty eating its way s6uthward 
through the Lockport ledge. In the task of digging out this 2OO-foot 
thick ledge of dolomite limestone the upper layers were in time stripped 
back, forming the series of low cataracts, for many years described as 
the upper falls, a half mile south of the main falls. The division of the 
lower falls into two successive cascades was caused by the presence of 
two resistant layers of rock, the upper one some twenty feet above 
the lower. 


The progressive disintegration of the glacier had meanwhile removed 
the great weight depressing the land mass of Lower Canada, and a 
slanting uplift occurred^ just sufficient to entrap a portion of the old 
Ontarian Valley and form, Lake Ontario, which finally assumed its 
present boundaries approximately ten thousand years ago. As the great 
lake slowly filled, its waters crept up the deep Genesee gorge to the 
foot of the lower falls and invaded the parallel old Genesee Valley to 
form Irondequoit Bay. Surface erosion on the old delta cut the many 
gullies which now add charm to Durand-Eastman Park, while the river 
slowly deposited its burden of silt in the submerged gorge until an ideal 
shipping channel was seriously clogged. The slanting uplift which cre 
ated Lake Ontario served as well to bottle up several fresh water reser 
voirs on the streams south of Rochester and sufficiently dammed the 
shallow Genesee to make the river navigable for fifty miles south of 
the upper rapids at Rochester. 

The slight tilting of the rock strata likewise obstructed the northward 
drainage of the lands east and west of the river. The outcropping ledges 
forced the streams to seek an east or west course, following in some 
places the channels of earlier glacial rivers, thus providing ideal canoe 
trails for the Iroquois and early white traders and opening natural 
routes for the cross-state canals, railroads, and highways of a later day. 
In many places deposits of glacial drift blocked these streams, forming 
vast swamp areas, though gradually in the course of centuries most of 
the swamps were filled in by vegetation advancing in successive soil- 
building stages: 6 The triumph of the forest invasion was widespread, 
but occasional peat bogs endured long enough to entrap specimens of 
man s huge predecessors, the mastodons. A sycamore swamp and salt 
lick remained to fringe the western limits of man s first settlement at 
the Genesee falls, contributing a health hazard which was only in part 
offset by the abundant water supply thus assured. A heavy primitive 
forest of "maple, beach, ash, oak, elm, basswood, hickory, chestnut, 
cherry, pine, poplar, butternut, black walnut and sycamore" 7 covered 
most of the site of present Rochester, while a thick pine grove spread 
over adjoining Irondequoit, providing fuel and lumber for the early 

5 Paul A. Stewart and William D. Merrell, "The Bergen Swamp: An Ecological 
Study," Proceedings of the Rochester Academy of Science, VIII (1937), 209-262. 

6 C. A. Hartnagel and S. C. Bishop, "The Mastodons, Mammoths, and Other 
Pleistocene Mammals of New York State," New York State Museum Bulletin 
(Jan.-Feb., 1921), pp. 34-39. Five separate mastodon remains have been un 
covered and fairly reliably identified within the area of Monroe County since 1830. 
The most notable find was the nine-foot tusk dug up by Genesee Valley Canal 
workmen at the corner of Plymouth and Caledonia Avenues in 1837, 

7 Florence Beckwith and Mary E. Macauley, "Plants of Monroe County, New 
York, and Adjacent Territory," Proceedings of the Rochester Academy of Science, 
III (1894), 13- 


villagers. And when eventually the log and frame structures were out 
grown, a supply of limestone was available a few feet under ground, 
either as a solid foundation for the taller buildings, or as the rough 
building materials used in the early mills and other stone structures. 8 
Scarcely could a more fortunate combination of natural advantages 
have been assembled had an All-wise Providence set itself the task of 
preparing a site for Rochester! The moving force throughout these 
successive geologic ages had been the area s abundant water supply, 
operating in varied forms and manifold ways, and it was more than 
fitting that the chief dynamic force available on man s arrival should 
be the water power of the several Genesee falls. But the experience of 
successive human invasions was to demonstrate that the site had been 
so designed as to attract only an advanced commercial and industrial 
settlement, such as the New England migrants of the early nineteenth 
century were to build. 


For a period of several thousand years primitive red men are sup 
posed to have wandered about the Genesee Country, though few indi 
cations of their activities remain in the Rochester area. Later waves of 
more advanced Indian cultures swept over the region, and the first 
Europeans made their appearance, playing minor roles in the widespread 
struggles of contending empires, but the chief contribution made by 
these varied peoples to Rochester s development proved to be the manner 
in which their rival enterprises cancelled each other and thus postponed 
stable beginnings. 

Three generations of diligent archeologists have finally woven the 
scant traces of local Indian occupation into a fascinating story. 9 A few 
camp sites, found along the bluffs of the lower Genesee gorge and about 

8 Herman LeRoy Fairchild and J. Foster Warner, "Building Stones of Roches 
ter," Rochester Historical Society, Publications, XII, 133-138. 

9 William A. Ritchie, The Pre-Iroquoian Occupation of New York State (Roches 
ter: Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, 1943), presents a well correlated 
account of the prehistory of the State, the product of many years of intensive 
excavation work and careful laboratory study of early camp sites and collections. 
Ritchie lists the contributions of most of his predecessors in local archeological re 
search, but only three need mention here: Arthur C. Parker, whose "The First 
Human Occupation of the Rochester Region," R. H, S., Pub., X, 19-48, is an ex 
cellent summary article to which is appended a bibliography of Dr. Parker s numer 
ous writings on this subject; George H. Harris, whose contribution of the first 
fifteen chapters of William F. Peck s Semi-Centennial History of the City of 
Rochester (Syracuse, 1884), pp. 11-96, represents only the first fruits of researches 
which continued until Harris s death in 1893 (see his unpublished MSS at the 
University of Rochester) ; and Lewis H. Morgan, whose League of the Iroquois 
(Rochester, 1851) has been described as "the first scientific account of an Indian 
tribe ever given to the world." 


Irondequoit Bay tell of hunting and fishing activities in this area by 
the earliest-known Archaic peoples, whose successive cultures have been 
pieced together with the aid of a host of bone, chipped or polished 
stone, and copper implements recently excavated at larger stations dis 
covered elsewhere in western and central New York. 10 Old local tradi 
tions .of scattered mounds in the Irondequoit vicinity (unfortunately 
explored before the development of techniques for the interpretation of 
artifacts) have now been substantiated by the excavation of several 
small burial mounds in the Genesee Valley and one near the mouth of 
Irondequoit Bay. This invasion of Hopervellian "Mound Builders" and 
kindred peoples from the Ohio area is marked by new handicraft 
products, including pottery and pipes of clay and stone. 11 A later wave 
of migrants, equipped with a Woodland culture, known as the Owasco, 
left its distinctive pottery, pipes, bone tools, and stone hunting equip 
ment at several small camp and village sites in the Genesee Valley and , 
along the shores of Manitou Ponds and Irondequoit Bay. The settle 
ment on a knoll overlooking the Genesee on the present University of 
Rochester River Campus may have belonged to this occupation, as did 
the camp site more recently discovered during building operations on 
Albermarle Street. 12 

Still another Indian migration brought the Iroquois into this area 
approximately a century and a half before the arrival of the first white 
men. The Iroquois, who seem to have absorbed many of their Owasco 
predecessors, from which culture they took over numerous elements, 13 
had a virile, warlike character and developed an unusual talent for 
organization. To their staunch tribal loyalties, a new tie was added 
when five of the tribes scattered across New York State joined in the 
famous League of the Iroquois, a defensive alliance designed to estab 
lish peace and security throughout this region. The League encouraged 
trade but likewise freed the home guard for more distant military 
adventures, both activities being facilitated by the central geographic 
position of these tribes and the excellent interior canoe routes of upper 
New York State. The earliest knowledge of the Iroquois to reach the 

10 Ritchie, Pre-Iroquoian Occupation, pp. 235-310. 

11 Ritchie, Pre-Iroquoian Occupation, pp. 112-227; George H. Harris, "Ab 
original History of Irondequoit/ newspaper clipping, Harris MSS, No. 8$, Roch. 
Hist. Soc. 

^George H. Harris MSS, Univ. of Rochester; William A. Ritchie, "Some Al- 
gonkian and Iroquoian Camp Sites Around Rochester," N. Y. State Archeological 
Association, Researches and Transactions, V, 3 (1927), pp. 43-49. Much larger 
sites, explored during the past decade in the western and southern parts of the 
State, demonstrate the sedentary nature of Owasco life in large fortified villages 
where deep storage pits, still containing corn and beans preserved by charring, 
have been excavated; see Ritchie, Pre-Iroquoian Occupation, pp. 29-102. 

15 Ritchie, Pre-Iroquoian Occupation, pp. 26-29, 41-46- 


first white men on the St. Lawrence and the Hudson was of their 
aggressive warlike character, reports which came from the bitter rivals 
of the League. 14 

The Iroquois tribe which settled in the Genesee Country, known to 
the white men as the Senecas, built its villages on the hilltops in the 
neighborhood of the upper Genesee and on the highlands around the 
western Finger Lakes. Although, in accordance with Indian custom, 
new locations were chosen every decade or so, the Senecas in the course 
of more than four hundred years in the valley apparently never estab 
lished a village closer to the site of Rochester than that found by 
La Salle fifteen miles south, at Totiakton (Rochester Junction) on 
Honeoye Creek.- Nevertheless, the lower Genesee-Irondequoit area was 
a favorite hunting preserve, with several well-marked trails connecting 
traditional camp sites, such as that overlooking the Indian landing on 
Irondequoit Bay, 15 where hunting, trading, and war parties frequently 
stopped overnight. 


Although the Senecas did not attempt to build in the Rochester area, 
they were successful in keeping it free of permanent white occupation 
for nearly two centuries after the first visitor, fitienne Brule, crossed 
the upper Genesee in i6i5. 16 This region did, however, witness a share 
of the strife of these crucial years when the Iroquois, the French, and 
the English were vainly contending for dominance dominance not on 
the battlefield alone, but in trade and religion as well. 17 

So far-reaching was the power of the Iroquois at the mid-seventeenth 
century 18 that the French sought to reach a workable understanding 
with them. A group of zealous missionaries and venturesome traders 
visited central New York in 1656 and again a decade later, erecting 
bark chapels and surveying the possibilities for trade. Most of these 
visitors came over the canoe routes from the east, seldom if ever reach- 

14 George T. Hunt, The Wars of the Iroquois: A Study in Intertribal Trade Re 
lations (Madison, 1940), pp. 13-37. 

15 Memoranda on interviews with old settlers, Harris MSS, No. 182, 65 A, 78, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. 

16 George B. Selden, "tienne Brule": The First White Man in the Genesee 
Country," R. H. S., Pub,, IV, 83-102. Brul6 spent a part of the next year as a 
captive in a Seneca village, probably on the southern border of present Monroe 

17 The succession of able students who have labored in this field is a long one: 
William M. Beauchamp of Albany, General John S. Clark and the Reverend 
Charles Hawley of Cayuga, 0. H. Marshall and Frank H. Severance of Buffalo, 
George H. Harris, William Samson, Nathaniel S. Olds, and Alexander M. Stewart 
of Rochester. The most detailed and painstaking chronology of these events is 
found in Mr. Stewart s "Early Catholic History in the Rochester Diocese," Catholic 
Courier, supplement, Oct. 25, 1934. 

18 Hunt, Wars of the Iroquois, 


ing the Rochester area, but in the fall of 1656 Father Joseph Chaumonot 
visited the Seneca village on Boughton Hill, and in 1668 the Jesuits 
returned to established missions for a few years in four villages on the 
southern border of Monroe County, that of Father Jacques Fremin at 
Totiakton being their nearest approach to the site of Rochester. 19 

The first European visitor to the lower Genesee-Irondequoit area 
must have arrived between 1650 and 1655, if we may judge from the 
improved detail respecting this region shown on the Sanson map of 
the latter date. 20 The first recorded visit was that of Galinee and 
La Salle in August, i669- 21 La Salle, endeavoring to open a trade route 
into the interior, followed the Indian trail from Irondequoit south to 
Totiakton and returned on two later occasions but failed to open a 
route up the Genesee. An account of the last of these visits is preserved 
in Hennepin s journal: 

After some few Days, the Wind coming fair, Fathers Gabriel, Zenobe, and 
I went on board the Brigantine, and in a short time arriv d in the River 
[Irondequoit Creek] of the Tsonnontouans [Senecas], which runs into the 
Lake Ontario, where we continu d several Days, our Men being very busie 
in bartering their Commodities with the Natives, who flock d in great num 
bers about *us to see our brigantine, which they admir d, and to exchange 
their Skins for Knives, Guns, Powder and Shot, but especially for Brandy, 
which they love above all things. In the meantime, we had built a small 
Cabin of Barks of Trees about half a League in the Woods, to perform 
Divine Service therein without interruption, and waited till all our Men 
had done their Business. M. la Salle arriv d in a Canou about eight Days 
after. 22 

When these varied missionary and commercial overtures failed to 
win the cooperation of the Iroquois, whose trade with Albany was then 
becoming profitable, the authorities in New France adopted sterner 
methods. Thus in July, 1687, Denonville s punitive expedition arrived 
off Irondequoit Bay, where approximately three thousand French and 
Indian allies landed on the beach. Narrowly escaping ambush on the 

19 Stewart, "Early Catholic History"; N. S. Olds, "The Jesuits and Their Mis 
sions in the Genesee Country," R. H. S., Pub., IV, 121-131; Charles Hawley, 
"Early Chapters of Seneca History: 1656-1684," Cayuga County Historical Society, 
Collections (Auburn, N. Y., 1884), III, 22-89. 

20 Frank H. Severance, An Old Frontier of France (New York, 1917), I (Buffalo 
Historical Society, Publications, XX), 6-7; part of Nicholas Sanson s map of 1656 
is reprinted as Plate II (p. 396) in the fine collection of ten early maps of the 
New York region appended to William M. Beauchamp s History of the New York 
Iroquois (Albany, 1905). See also Plate 20-B in Charles 0. Paullin, Atlas of the 
Historical Geography of the United States (New York, 1932). 

21 Louis P. Kellogg, ed., "The Journey of Dollier and Galinee: 1669-1670," 
Early Narratives of the Northwest (New York, 1917), pp. 177-188. 

^Father Louis Hennepin, A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America 
(Reuben G. Thwaites edition, Chicago, 1903), p. 101. 


march inland, the army succeeded in burning several bark villages and 
destroyed many acres of corn at the cost of more French than Seneca 
casualties. 23 Although the havoc wrought within those two weeks was 
soon remedied by the Senecas, relations with the French were not re 
paired for several years. 

The British at Albany, secretly rejoicing over the results of the new 
French policy, hastened, on the outbreak of war in Europe a year later, 
to enlist the Iroquois in an attack on New France. 24 Albany fur traders 
pressed their enterprises more vigorously, 25 and occasional scouts fol 
lowed Wentworth Greenhalgh, who in 1677 had been the first to ride 
horseback over the Indian trails into the Genesee Country. 26 For more 
than a decade the British enjoyed an undisputed advantage in western 
New York, yet by the turn of the century French missionaries and 
traders were able to resume their visits. A Canadian, Louis Thomas de 
Joncaire, long held captive by the Senecas, became, as an adopted 
member of that tribe, the chief promoter of French interests. 27 Fleets 
of canoes loaded with furs again made their way from Irondequoit or 
Sodus Bays toward Quebec, while Seneca young men took an increasing 
part in the traffic with tribes on the western lakes. 28 French sloops 
appeared on Lake Ontario. 29 In 1702, Madame Cadillac and several 
female associates, en route to join their husbands in the new post at 
Detroit, were the first white women to pass the mouth of the Genesee. 30 

The British and French rivalry in this area came to a head when 
both factions attempted to establish a trading post at Irondequoit. The 
French were the first to arrive, as the six Albany traders who visited 
the bay in 1716 discovered. Five years later the British sent their 
Indian interpreter, Laurence Clausen, with Captain Peter Schuyler and 

28 Chevalier de Baugy, "Journal of the Expedition of Marquis de Denonville 
against the Iroquois: 1687," tr. by Nathaniel S. Olds, R. H. S., Pub,, IX, 3-56; 
Marquis de Denonville, Narrative of the Expedition . . . against the Senecas in 
1687, tr. by 0. H, Marshall (New York, 1848) ; George B. Selden, "Expedition of 
the Marquis de Denonville against the Seneca Indians: 1687," R- H. S., Pub., IV, 

24 New York Historical Society, Collections (1869), p. 393. 

25 "Mr. [Cadwallader] Colden s Memoir on the Fur Trade," E. B. O Callaghan, 
ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Al 
bany, 1853-58), V, 726-733; A. H. Buf&ngton, "The Policy of Albany and English 
Westward Expansion," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, VIII, 327-366. 

28 "Wentworth Greenhalgh s Journal of a Tour to the Indians of Western New 
York," O Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History qf New 
York, III, 250-252. 

27 Frank H. Severance, "The Story of Joncaire," Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub. f IX, 

28 H. A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada (New Haven, 1930), pp, 50, 53, 85. 
^Ernest Cruickshank, "Early Traders and Trade Routes in Ontario and the 

West: 1760-1783," in William H. Samson Note Book, III, 113-131, Roch. Hist. Soc. 
80 Severance, An Old Frontier, I, 198-200. 


a party of eight men to build an English trading post. 31 Apparently 
neither venture had much importance, for the French decided to con 
centrate their attention on a new fort at Niagara, while the British 
attempted to do the same at Oswego. Laurence Clausen made frequent 
visits to the Indian villages and spent the winter of 1737-38 among the 
Senecas, negotiating the lease of a tract six hundred square miles in 
area at Irondequoit, including the site of Rochester, in an attempt to 
head off possible French claims. 32 An itinerant English smith, traveling 
among the Seneca villages for extended periods during these years, 
offered little competition to the resident smiths and visiting priests of 
the French, whose more vigorous western policy, together with the 
leadership of the younger Joncaires, won increasing support, particu 
larly from the western Senecas on the upper Genesee. 88 

The French, playing the more active role on the Niagara frontier 
during the first half of the eighteenth century, wrote the journals that 
provide the earliest descriptions of the Genesee falls. In spite of several 
previous visits by Europeans to this area, no description of the falls 84 
was published prior to 1 744, when Father Pierre de Charlevoix issued 
his Histoire de la Nouvelle France, including an account of his visit 
to North America in 1721. Charlevoix tells of an exploratory voyage 
along the lake shore from Irondequoit Bay westward, made in May of 
that year, but confesses that he did not enter the Genesee and did not 
learn until later of its remarkable succession of cascades. 85 The descrip 
tion he gives, received as he says from a trusted officer (Joncaire), 86 is 
reasonably accurate and no doubt provided the information for Bellin s 
Map of the Lakes of Canada, included in the same volume. Here the 

81 Charles H. Mcllwain, ed, An Abridgment of the Indian Affairs . . . Trans 
acted in the Colony of New York . . . by Peter Wraxall (Cambridge, 1915), pp. 
113, 119-120, 138-139* 1445 N. Y. Hist. Soc., Coll (1869), pp. 482-487; O Cal- 
laghan, Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York, V, 632-633, 641- 
642, 666. 

82 New York Assembly Journal (1737), P- 705; Severance, An Old Frontier, I, 
334-342. The deed has been located by Mr. Morley B. Turpin, until recently archi 
vist of the University of Rochester Library, hi New York Colonial MSS at Albany, 
endorsed "Land Papers/ 1 vol. 13, p. 91. 

88 Severance, An Old Frontier, I, 303-332. 

M A bare mention of the Genesee falls was attached as a note to Father 
GalineVs map of 1670, where he reports, apparently from hearsay: "Here is a 
cataract where there is good fishing for barbues." The map of Father Raffeix, pre 
pared in 1688, shows a longer Genesee but does not indicate the location or other 
wise mention the existence of any falls. See copies of these maps and a discussion 
of their content in N. S. Olds, "From LaSalle to Indian Allan," R. H. S,, Pub., 
X, 65-73. 

36 Pierre de Charlevoix, Journal d un Voyage . . . dans L Amiriqut Septen- 
tfiannale, Histoire de la Nouvelle France (Paris, 1744), V, 330-331. 

86 Samson Note Book, VI, 175. William Samson gives George Harris credit for 
this identification. 


river is named the "Casconchihagon" and is described as "a river un 
known to geographers, full of falls and rapids." 37 

Seven years later Father Francois Picquet found time during a mis 
sionary journey along the lake shore to visit the falls. After his Indian 
companions had killed forty-two rattlesnakes discovered at the foot of 
the lower falls, the good Father made the pioneer first-hand observa 
tions as recorded in the Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses (later abridged 
and translated by O Callaghan) : 

The first [falls] which appear in sight in ascending [the Genesee] resemble 
much the great Cascade at Saint Cloud, except that they have not been 
ornamented and do not seem so high, but they possess natural beauties which 
render them very curious. The second, a quarter of a mile higher, are less 
considerable, yet are remarkable. The third, also a quarter of a league higher, 
has beauties truly admirable by its curtains and falls which form also, as at 
Niagara, a charming proportion and variety. They may be one hundred and 
some feet high. In the intervals between the falls, there are a hundred little 
cascades which present likewise a curious spectacle; and if the altitude of 
each chute were joined together and they made but one as at Niagara, the 
height would, perhaps, be four hundred feet; but there is four times less 
water than at the Niagara Fall which will cause the latter to pass, forever, as 
a Wonder perhaps unique in tfce World. 38 

As the British were destined to triumph in their far-flung struggles 
with the French, it was fitting that the first sketches of the Genesee 
falls should be made by one of their officers, Captain T. Davies of the 
Royal Regiment of Artillery. 39 It is probable, but not certain, that 
Davies accompanied the Prideaux- Johnson expedition which effected 

37 Charlevoix, Journal d un Voyage, V, 409. An excellent account of the early 
maps descriptive of this area may be found in Severance, An Old Frontier, I, 6~io. 

88 E. B. O Callaghan, ed., Documentary History of the State of New York 
(Albany, 1850) , I, 284. Varied measurements are given for the Genesee falls. Henry 
O Reilly, Settlement of the West: Sketches of Rochester, with Incidental Notices 
of Western New York (Rochester, 1838), p. 89, gave the measurements of the 
lowermost falls as 84 feet, the next as 25 feet, and the main falls as 96 feet. The 
U. S. Geological Survey maps of 1931 show the distances between the water level 
at the respective dams as 97 feet for the lower, 42 feet for the next, and 90 feet 
for the upper, while the Rochester Gas and Electric Company measures its water 
heads as 94 feet, 28 + I S> & n d 92 feet respectively. The volume of water is like 
wise variously measured, but the Surface Water Survey made by the U. S. Depart 
ment of the Interior in 1939 gives an average discharge of 2,655 cubic feet per 
second below the lower Genesee falls, as against 190,800 for the Niagara River at 
Buffalo, which makes Father Picquet s comparison appear far fetched, though no 
doubt the Genesee flow has decreased more than has the Niagara in the intervening 
two centuries. 

89 E. R. Foreman, "Casconchiagon: The Great River," R. H. S., Pub., V, 140- 
146, where the sketches were reproduced for the first time. See also George Moss s 
note on Davies, Pub. of the R. H. S. (1892), p. 55. See Plate II, No. i. 


the capture of Fort Niagara in I7SQ. 40 The unlucky French commandant, 
Captain Francois Pouchot, unable to believe that the cause of New 
France was lost, returned to Europe to write, in his Memoir Upon the 
Late War in North America, of the strategic importance of occupying 
the Genesee Valley. 41 But the French never again enjoyed that prospect. 


The triumph of the British did not immediately alter the situation 
on the lower Genesee, The widespread Indian uprising of 1763, proving 
that the tribes were still a force to be reckoned with, prompted the 
British to woo their support and that of the French in Canada by a 
tolerant observance of many old traditions. 42 Thus the fur trade, as well 
as the administration of affairs in the western country, was centered in 
Canada as before, while the Proclamation Line of 1763 clearly reserved 
the Genesee Country together with most of trans-Appalachia as Indian 
territory. To be sure, the Senecas and their Iroquois brothers no longer 
held the balance of power between two great empires, and they missed 
the powder, rum, and other supplies allowed them by rival commissaries 
during the preceding half-century of intermittent warfare. 48 Neverthe 
less, the westward migration, already thrusting against the tribes in the 
more accessible Ohio Valley, did not as yet disturb the Senecas. The 
population movement was, if anything, in the opposite direction as the 
British sought the release of white captives from the Seneca villages, 
though the small party of soldiers sent to Irondequoit for that purpose 
in 1764 met with little success. 44 The Genesee Valley retained much of 
its primitive forest life, amply meriting the Indian name Gen-nis-he-yo, 
signifying beautiful valley. This the youthful captive, Mary Jemison, 
found so agreeable that she was content to rear her part-Indian children 
in native fashion, stubbornly refusing to leave her Genesee bottom 
lands near Gardeau 45 

40 Sir William Johnson Papers, III, 49-50, 61, 63; R. H. S., Pub., IX, 187-191. 
The army of more than 2000 soldiers, not counting several hundred Indians, 
pitched camp at Irondequoit on July 2nd, remaining until the 4th in order to 
cook a supply of provisions and for other purposes. A Royal Regiment of Artillery 
accompanied the expedition and was stationed at Niagara for several years there 
after. Severance, An Old Frontier, II, 276, 281-282. 

41 Capt. [Francois] Pouchot, Memoir Upon the Late War in North America 
. . . 1755-1760, 3 vols. (Paris, 1781), tr. by F. B. Hough, a vols. (Roxbury, Mass., 

^Clarence W. Alvord, Mississippi Vattey in British Politics (Cleveland, 1917), 
I, 170-171, 216-228. 

^O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, pp. 353-354 ; Alvord, The Mississippi Valley, 
I, 185-187. 

** George H. Harris, "The Markhams of Rush," Livingston County Historical 
Society, Pub. (1916), pp. 51-61. William Markham, whose son later settled as a 
pioneer on the Genesee, was one of the members of this 1764 expedition. 

45 James E. Seaver, Mary Jemison, edited with commentary by Charles D. Vail 
(New York, 1925), pp. 58-62, 92-93, 369. 


Even the Revolutionary War did not immediately affect the lower 
Genesee although its outcome was to have far-reaching consequences 
for the area. The Senecas and the scattered Indian agents in this region 
were naturally loyal to the Crown. 46 Indeed, as the Revolution was, at 
least in part, a result of the conflict between the settlers frontier and 
that of the Indian and fur trader, it did not require much urging to stir 
up a fight between the Indians and the settlers. Raiding parties, organ 
ized by the Tories and Indians at Niagara, occasionally stopped at 
John Butler s encampment near the Genesee falls en route to Kanade- 
saga (Geneva) or to the upper Genesee, from which points they could 
more easily ravage the frontier settlements of the Mohawk and Susque- 
hanna Valleys. 47 In reply, the Sullivan-Clinton expedition marched into 
the Genesee Country in the summer of 1779, pillaging forty-two Indian 
villages and laying waste their orchards and cornfields. 48 The army 
turned back after burning the Genesee Castle near present Cuylerville, 
while many of the tribesmen flocked north during the hard winter that 
followed to seek refuge on the lower Genesee. Still more refugees gath 
ered about the old French fort at Niagara until new villages could be 
built, notably on Buffalo and Tonawanda creeks. 49 

The final blow to the tribesmen came when the British negotiators 
at Paris, frankly desiring an early peace settlement, recognized that the 
Sullivan and the Clark expeditions together had established the claim 
of the United States to all the territory south of the Great Lakes. 50 
The Canadians, unable to see the justice or necessity for this concession, 
refused either to communicate the terms to the Indians or to abandon 
the posts along the border. 51 For more than a decade they conspired to 

46 Alexander C. Flick, "The Loyalists," History of the State of New York, III, 
327-343; Howard Swigget, War Out of Niagara (New York, 1933), pp. 3-58. 

47 Ernest Cruickshank, The Story of Butler s Rangers (Welland, Ontario, 1893), 
pp. 65-66; Swiggett, pp. 193-196; Albert H. Wright, "The Sullivan Expedition; 
Contemporary Newspaper Comments and Letters," MS, Roch. Hist. Soc., pp. 7-59. 

^Alexander C. Flick, "The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign of i779" History of ^ 
the State of New York, IV, 187-216. 

49 Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham s 
Purchase t and Morns Reserve (Rochester, 1851), p. 413. 

* Definitive Treaty of Peace with Great Britain signed at Paris, Sept. 3, 1783, 
Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of 
America (Washington, 1931), II, iSa-^j Edgar W. Mclnnis, The Unguarded 
Frontier (New York, 1942), pp. 87-106. See also Alexander C. Flick, The Suttivan- 
Clmton Campaign in 1779 (Albany, 1929), p. 16. 

M A. C. McLaughlin, "The Western Posts and the British Debts," American 
Historical Assoc., Annual Report for 1804 (Washington, 1895), pp. 413-444; C. W. 
Butterfield, Washington-Irvine Correspondence (Madison, Wis., 1882), pp. 192-193, 
413-416; A. L. Burt, The Old Province of Quebec (Toronto and Minneapolis, 
1933), PP- 329-356; S. F. Bemis, "Canada and the Peace Settlement of 1783," 
Canadian Historical Review, XIV, 1933. PP- 265-282; Samson Note Book, IV, n- 
29. William Samson reviews the literature on this field and copies some unpub 
lished letters supplied by E. Cruickshank. 


maintain their hold on the Great Lakes basin and to monopolize its 
rich trade possibilities. 62 The Indians, suspicious of American intentions 
and disillusioned by British neglect of their interests, began to plot the 
formation of a great Indian confederation which they hoped might form 
a semi-independent buffer state, extending from the Iroquois territory 
west to the Mississippi. 53 But the young republic, negotiating separately 
with the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix in 1784^ and with the other tribes 
as opportunity arose, gradually established its authority, thus preparing 
the way for the ultimate extinction of most of the Indian land titles. 55 


The conquest of the Genesee frontier, as dramatic as any in the 
annals of the westward movement, was fortunately accomplished with 
out further bloodshed. Conflicting state claims, rival groups of specu 
lators, and impatient settlers contended with one another and with the 
retreating Indians, yet a semblance of order was maintained. Trade 
routes were opened; farms and village sites were cleared and occupied 
with such despatch that within a remarkably short period a stable and 
prosperous community emerged. Indeed, pioneer conditions were almost 
outgrown on the Genesee frontier before permanent settlers appeared in 
sufficient numbers on the lower Genesee to develop the resources of 
its falls. 

Jurisdiction over the Genesee Country was claimed by both Massa 
chusetts and New York, based in the former case on the Common 
wealth Charter, and in the latter on an interpretation of the grant to 
the Duke of York, supported by a succession of Indian treaties and the 
logic of the geographic situation. 50 After the breakdown of an attempted 
mediation under the Articles of Confederation, the threat of a separate 
state movement, 57 similar to that in Vermont, prompted a negotiated 
settlement at Hartford, Connecticut, in i786. 68 The agreement, as finally 

^Douglas Brymner, Report on the Canadian Archives: 1888 (Ottawa, 1889), 
pp. S9-6i; the same, 1890 (1891), pp. 97~i75; Joseph Brant Letters in Henry 
O Reilly Mementos, V, 77-82, MSS, N. Y. Hist. Soc.; D. G. Creighton, The Com 
mercial Empire of the St. Lawrence: 1760-1830 (Toronto, 1937), pp. 131-141. 

58 American State Papers, Indian Affairs (Washington, D. C., 1832), I, 8-9. The 
Indian suspicions are well revealed in a number of letters to and from Gen. Philip 
Schuyler in 1783, Letters of Gen. Schuyler, III, No. 153, MSS. 

54 Franklin B. Hough, ed., Proceedings of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs 
. . . in the State of New York (Albany, 1861), pp. 32-66. 

55 Jay P. Kinney, A Continent Lost A Civilization Won (Baltimore, 1937). 

56 Howard L. Osgood, "Title of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase," Pub. of 
R. H. S. (1892), pp. 19-34. 

57 This interesting though abortive movement awaits scholarly treatment. See 
the "Note Books" and MS collections of Samson, Osgood, Conover, and O Reilly 
in the Rochester Historical Society. 

68 A copy of this treaty, on file at the University of Rochester, was made 
from the Book of Deeds, No. 22, located in the office of the Secretary of State of 


ratified by both legislatures during the following year, recognized 
New York s jurisdiction but secured for Massachusetts the preemption 
title to all the land west of a line that practically followed the course 
of Seneca Lake. 59 

Meanwhile, the rich character of the Genesee Country, as reported 
by the men of Sullivan s army and other early visitors, 60 had aroused 
the interest of avaricious speculators, as well as foot-loose pioneers, and 
the invasion was already under way. 61 New York s concern for the 
preservation of peace with the Indians and for the maintenance of its 
jurisdiction prompted the legislature in 1783 to create a Commission 
of Indian Affairs with sole authority to conduct or supervise all nego 
tiations for the cession of Indian lands within the state. 62 

Nevertheless, an influential group of New York speculators hastened 
to establish friendly relations with several of the tribes. In order lo 
dodge the letter of the law, a 999-year lease was drawn and the signa 
tures of forty-seven chiefs secured at Kanadesaga on November 30, 
1787, granting a limited title to all the territory west of the old Line 
of Property of i768. cs In their haste to establish a claim, John Living 
ston and Dr. Caleb Benton, leaders of the New York Genesee Land 
Company, as this group was called, failed to secure the signatures of 
several of the leading sachems. The disgruntled chiefs, when discussing 
their predicament with Canadian friends at Niagara that winter, were 
persuaded to sign a new lease, predating it so as to cancel the Livingston 
lease, and granting the same territory on similar terms to the Niagara 
Genesee Land Company, as the John Butler and Samuel Street associa 
tion came to be known. 64 Both of these speculations disregarded the 

New York. Thomas C. Amory, Life of James Sullivan (Boston, 1859), I, 164, 
quotes Sullivan s report on the Hartford negotiations. (Copied in Osgood, "Note 
Books" II, #14.) 

59 The issues raised by the two surveys of the Preemption Line are most thor 
oughly discussed by George S. Conover, "Kanadesaga or Geneva," I, 326-347; 
II, 126-135. In this MS history of early Geneva, copies of which may be found in 
several leading libraries, Conover edits a valuable collection of Col. Hugh Maxwell 
letters, written during the first survey of 1788, as well as a long letter of Benjamin 
Ellicott, the second surveyor of 1792, describing the methods followed in making 
that final survey. Conover does not accept the Orsamus Turner (Phelps and 
G or ham s Purchase f p. 247) charge of fraud against the first surveyors. 

e Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 130, 133-134; A. H. Wright, 
"Newspaper Accounts of the Sullivan Expedition," MS, pp. 202-204; George S. 
Conover, Journals of the Military Expedition of . . . John Sullivan (Auburn, 
1887), PP- 59~6i, 74-75, 142, 218. 

01 Conover, "Kanadesaga," I, 283-286, quotes from the Rev. Samuel Kirkland s 
diary for 1786 and 1787. 

02 Hough, Proceedings of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs, pp. g-ion. 

63 Hough, pp. 119-128. See the lengthy footnote on these pages. 

64 E, A. Cruickshank, ed., Records of Niagara (Niagara Historical Society, 
No. 41, 1900), pp. 60-62; O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, pp. 126-130. 


Massachusetts preemption right, while apparently each group calculated 
on the possibility of establishing a separate state or province if the cir 
cumstances should prove favorable. 65 

But a third group of speculators, organized in New England by 
Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, was destined to secure the coveted 
lands. Phelps and Gorham determined to acquire a legal title, and, after 
considerable difficulty, successfully persuaded the Massachusetts Legis 
lature in May, 1788, to sell them the preemption claim to the entire 
area for 300,000 in Commonwealth securities to be paid in three equal 
annual installments. 66 Oliver Phelps, as the active leader of the com 
pany, hastened west to negotiate with the tribes. Having already come 
to terms with Livingston and his associates, promising them a number 
of shares in return for aid in the negotiations, Phelps soon discovered 
that he must likewise conciliate the Niagara speculators. 67 When that 
had been accomplished and the chiefs finally assembled at Buffalo Creek 
early in July, new difficulties appeared. 

The Indians were determined not to part with any of their lands west 
of the Genesee; indeed, only the argument that the earlier lease, if not 
superseded, would deprive them of the whole territory induced them to 
sell the eastern third of their land. 68 But the economic plight of the 
tribes proved an equally important factor. Annual payments, the chiefs 
apparently reasoned, would take the place of former benefits received 
for military services, while provision could be made for smiths to repair 

65 Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 106-110. 

^Osgood MSS, II, No. 19, Roch. Hist. Soc. Osgood has copied extracts from 
the Massachusetts Senate Journals, vol. 8, for 1787-1791 relating to the negotia 
tions over these western lands. See his "Title of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase," 
Pub., R. H. S. ( 1892), pp. 34-36. 

6T Hough, Proceedings of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs, p. 449, and 
passim; Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 13 7-1141; Rev. Samuel Kirk- 
land, "Journal of 1788," MS. See the copy made by Conover, "Kanadesaga," I, 
317-321, from the original in the State Library; Conover includes additional evi 
dence of collusion, I, 315-317; see John Butler s attempted vindication, John 
Butler to Sir John Johnson, 1790, Colonial Office Records, "Canada" Q 46, pt. 2, 
quoted in Blake McKelvey, "Historic Aspects of the Phelps and Gorham Treaty 
of July 4-8, 1788," Rochester History, I, No. i, pp. 21-22. Samuel Street Cor 
respondence, MSS, University of Rochester, starting with Oct. 20, 1788-Aug. 22, 
1789, affords ample evidence of close collaboration, at least after the event. An 
important letter of March 10, 1789, confesses that Street has been unable to col 
lect funds from his Niagara associates for the payments due on his shares because 
of fear of losing favor with the Canadian authorities. This pressure later prompted 
Butler s attempted vindication and called forth the statement by William Johnston, 
the interpreter, whose inability to recall some of the details reveals that the state 
ment probably was not prepared until just before its submission in 1790, The de 
sire to present a clean record may have caused Butler and Johnston to forget the 
activities of the Niagara Genesee Land Company in which Butler at least was 
interested. See Johnston s statement in Cruickshank, Records of Niagara, pp. 60-64. 

es Hough, pp. 160-171. 


their arms and utensils; further, it would be very agreeable to have a 
sawmill to cut boards for better houses and a gristmill to relieve them 
of much labor and stimulate larger crops. 69 Oliver Phelps eagerly agreed 
to build mills for their use in return for an additional mill plot, gen 
erously laid out twelve by twenty-four miles in size, on the west side 
of the river at the falls. Thus, when the treaty was completed, the site 
of Rochester indeed practically the whole of Monroe County was 
included in the 2,6oo,ooo-acre cession, and the Indians were to receive 
as their payment 2,100 in New York currency and 200 annually 
forever not forgetting the mills to be erected for their convenience 
at the Genesee falls. 70 


With the title assured, Oliver Phelps hastened back to his temporary 
headquarters near the Indian village of Kanadesaga. There the task of 
surveying the tract and dividing it into townships was pushed forward, 
and the northern shore of Canandaigua Lake was chosen as the site for 
the principal village. Plans for roads to the east, generally following 
the main Indian trails, initiated the work of chopping out the essential 
highways. 71 The problem of dividing the townships among the associated 
speculators and of collecting funds for the first payment to Massachu 
setts called Phelps back east, but before departing he delegated the task 
of building the mills at the Genesee falls to Ebenezer Allan, granting 
him a hundred-acre lot on the west bank at the upper fall for the job. 72 

Allan was an energetic and colorful representative of the frontier. 
Despite earlier escapades as a Tory ranger during the last years of the 
Revolution, Allan s trading activities among the Indians and his mar 
riage to the Seneca lass, Sally, had brought him the nickname "Indian," 
while his efforts to assist the States in establishing peace with the Indians 
had won the confidence of several leading Americans. Shortly before 
Phelps s arrival, Allan had squatted on the rich bottom lands west of 
the Genesee near the site of Scottsville, where he was already improving 
a small farm, having added Lucy Chapman, his first white wife, to a 
growing household which numbered two daughters by Sally, his own 
sister and her husband, Christopher Dugan, as well as Lucy s parents 

69 A Brief Sketch of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of 
Friends to . . . Indians of the State of New York (Philadelphia, 1879), p. 7- 
Cornplanter, in a letter of 1791 to the Philadelphia Friends, said in part: "Brothers: 

The Seneca Nation see that the Great Spirit intends they should not continue to 
live by hunting. They look around on every side and enquire, c Who is it that shall 
teach them. . . ." 

70 McKelvey, "Historic Aspects of the Phelps and Gorham Treaty," pp. 17-18, 
quotes the deed and the appended bond of Oliver Phelps. 

71 Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 163-164; Conover, "Kanadesaga," 

72 Morley B. Turpin, "Ebenezer Allan in the Genesee Country," R. H. S., Pub., 
XI, 327, quotes the original articles of agreement. 


and married sister. A strong personality assured Allan the leadership 
over this the most considerable settlement in the Genesee Valley in 
1788, while his many associations with the Indians made him a fit 
choice for the pioneer miller at the falls. 73 

Allan knew the Genesee Country well enough to realize the advan 
tages of the proposed mill site. The promise of growing settlements to 
the southeast and the expected trade with the Indians sharpened his 
enthusiasm for the venture. In the spring of 1789, between planting and 
harvest, time was found to ride down to the falls and plow out a 
primitive raceway. A half-acre lot in the center of present downtown 
Rochester was cleared of trees, and by early summer a crude sawmill 
stood ready to cut the lumber for a more substantial gristmill, though 
it was the middle of November before fourteen able-bodied white men 
could be assembled to raise the heavy timbers. Tradition reports that 
a trading vessel made a timely visit to the mouth of the Genesee, un 
loading a keg of rum to add zest to the occasion. Allan sold his farm 
that fall for the fair price of $2.50 an acre, thus securing funds for the 
new enterprise, and in the spring of 1790 moved with his growing 
family, already including Lucy s baby son, Seneca, down to the mills 
at the falls. 74 

Difficulties began to appear soon after Allan took his stand at the 
extreme outpost of the Genesee frontier. Aside from a small Indian 
settlement overlooking Irondequoit Bay, the nearest neighbors in 1790 
were Israel and Simon Stone at the site of Pittsford, John Lusk at 
Irondequoit Landing, the Shaeffers on Allan s old farm at Scottsville, 
and possibly the Tory trader, William Walker, at the mouth of the 
river. 75 Several miles further south settlers were arriving in greater 
numbers, though they seldom visited the mills at the falls. 76 Prospects 
for trade with the Indians failed to develop, partly because of the dire 
poverty of the tribesmen, but chiefly because the great distance separat 
ing their village from the falls had made this aspect of the enterprise 

78 Turpin, "Ebenezer Allan," pp. 313-338. Mr. Turpin has reassessed Rochester s 
much abused pioneer. Earlier judgments by Turner (Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, 
pp. 405-406), Seaver (Mary Jemison, pp. 79-92), Jane Marsh Parker (Rochester, A 
Story Historical, Rochester, 1884, pp. 47-50) , and Harris (in Peck, Semi-Centennial 
History, pp. 76-80) emphasized Allan s failure to conform to the Victorian , code 
of the nineteenth century. It is worth noting that all these writers used the stories 
dug up in 1821 when Seneca Allan s claim against the property of the loo-acre 
tract was stimulating a search for evidence to disprove Seneca s mother s dower 
claims! See Troup, Letter Book No. 7, MS, pp. 8-9, I x89~i9o, 195-198, 209-215, 
265-267, 316-317, 477, 506; also Rochester Letters, MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

74 Turpin, "Ebenezer Allan," pp. 325, 327-328; Blake McKelvey, "Indian Allan s 
Mills," Rochester History, I, No. 4, 2-8. 

75 Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 410, 4x3-414^ O Reilly, Sketches 
of Rochester, pp. 243-245. 

76 "Journal of William Berczy," R> H. S., Pub., XX, 183-184, 212, 214. 


Illusory from the start. All hope of correcting the situation by nurturing 
Indian agricultural communities was meanwhile held in abeyance by 
the preoccupation of the chiefs at numerous council fires where the 
proposed Indian confederation was under discussion. 77 While the pioneer 
corn-cracker at the falls stood idle, Allan turned again to trading ex 
peditions up the Genesee and down the Susquehanna. 78 In Philadelphia 
he renewed a business acquaintance with Robert Morris and ultimately 
found there a purchaser for his mill tract. 79 

A stream of settlers from New England was beginning to flow 
toward the Genesee Country, though not in numbers sufficient to sup 
port the vast speculation of Phelps and Gorham. Their land office, 
opened at Canandaigua, the first in the country to be established in 
the midst of the territory to be developed, provided articles of sale in 
lieu of deeds to those unable to make more than a small down payment 
on the lands. 80 The first survey, when completed, marked off 103 town 
ships in rectangular plots, some thirty of which were sold or contracted 
for as units, while most of the rest were allotted to the company as 
sociates, although few of these Yankee speculators were able to make 
the payments necessary to retain their lands. 

Indeed, Phelps and Gorham, with their first payment to Massa 
chusetts due in January, 1789, had already been forced to surrender 
their claim to the territory west of the lands ceded by the Indians and 
to ask for an adjustment of their remaining obligations. The depreciated 
state securities in which they had contracted for payment had jumped 
in value, partly because of Hamilton s fiscal policy, and the company 
which had bought on the margin, hoping to meet its obligations from 
the return on sales at advanced prices, was forced to liquidate all un- 
assigned assets. Accordingly, in August, 1790, the unsold portion of the 
Phelps and Gorham Purchase was conveyed to Robert Morris of Phila 
delphia for approximately $i5o,ooo. si Financially, the New England 
speculators just about broke even, but Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel 
Gorham, who had reserved the Canandaigua township and other tracts 
for themselves, and several of the associates (notably the Wadsworth 
brothers, James and William), who had been able to make payments 
on their lands, emerged with valuable estates. 82 

Robert Morris, meanwhile, was so extensively involved in land 

77 American State Papers, Indian Affairs, I, 1-643, deals with negotiations 
with the Indians from 1789 to 1800. 

78 Turpin, "Ebenezer Allan," pp. 329-333. 

79 Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, p. 243. Morris consulted Allan s opin 
ion on the value of the Genesee Country before making his purchase of Phelps 
and Gorham. 

80 Conover, "Kanadesaga," II, 100-101, 110-112. 

81 0sgood, "Title of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase," pp. 42-44. 

82 Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 163-240, 324-344. 


speculations in all parts of the country that his Genesee purchase ap 
peared but a minor venture. Almost before he became aware of its value, 
his agent in England disposed of the entire property for an even third 
of a million dollars a quick profit of 100 per cent on the investment, 83 
Nevertheless, Sir William Pulteney and his English associates could 
well afford to pay twenty-six cents an acre for land in the Genesee 
Country, even though many of the choice northern townships had 
already been staked out by the Phelps and Gorham interests. The 
Pulteney Estate, as it was henceforth called, was placed under the 
management of Captain Charles Williamson, a naturalized Scot, who 
quickly developed unusual skill as a land promoter, distinguishing him 
self and his backers from the majority of speculators who as land 
brokers reaped their profits without taking a constructive part in de 
veloping their territories. 8 * 

Indeed the possibilities of the vast estate appealed to Williamson s 
bold imagination. When a second survey revealed that the site of Geneva 
and the major part of Sodus Bay lay within the boundaries of the tract, 
villages were quickly planned for these two locations. But Williamson, 
operating chiefly from populous Philadelphia and Baltimore, rather 
than from Boston, saw the Susquehanna, not the Mohawk, as the 
proper gateway to the Genesee Country. Before the end of 1793, he 
had planted two towns on this southern trade route: Bath on the 
Conhocton near the head of rafting possibilities down that branch of 
the Susquehanna, and Williamsburg at the junction of Canaseraga 
Creek with the Genesee. A road was opened through the mountains 
almost due north from the site of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to 
Williamsburg, thus greatly shortening the overland route to market. 
Groups of immigrants were brought in and provided with cabins and 
stock. Gristmills, taverns, and schools were built with such a generous 
use of the funds of his English backers that Williamson was displaced 

88 The Pulteney Estate, as the area was later known, was not Robert Morris* 
only speculation in Western New York. For a brief account of his many interests 
here, see Conover, "Kanadesaga," II, 119-123. "The Narrative of Thomas Morris," 
Historical Magazine (Second Series, 1869), V, 370-384, and Henry O Reilly s edi 
torial notes, ibid., pp. 368-388, afford a good idea of the activities of Thomas in 
negotiating with the Indians and conducting varied land speculations for his father 
and himself. In the Osgood MSS; Phelps and Gorham Papers, MSS, Univ. Roch,; 
Morris Letters in the Henry O Reilly Collection, MSS, N, Y, Hist. Soc.; and Robert 
Morris Papers, N. Y. Public Library, are materials available for a more careful 
study of, this subject than has yet appeared. See however, Charles F. Milliken, 
"Thomas Morris," R. H. S., Pub., VII, 41-53. 

84 Helen Cowan, "Charles Williamson: Genesee Promoter: Friend of Anglo- 
American Rapprochement," R. H. S., Pub., vol. XIX, passim; Osgood, "Title of the 
Phelps and Gorham Purchase," pp. 44-51, traces the estate transactions and notes 
the succession of agencies, A good brief bibliography is appended to this article. 
Paul, D. Evans, "The Pulteney Purchase," N. Y. State Hist. Assoc., Proceeding 
XX, 83-104. 


from his agency in 1801. Nevertheless, within a brief decade this color 
ful Scot had made the Genesee Country one of the most popular goals 
for westward migrating Americans. 85 


Although events conspired to retard its development, the lower 
Genesee was not entirely neglected during this period. Early in 1791, 
Ebenezer Allan, having found the mill seat too quiet for his energetic 
temperament, left it in charge of his brother-in-law, Christopher Dugan, 
until the next year, when the property was conveyed to Benjamin 
Barton, a Philadelphia associate of Robert Morris. 86 In the brief interval 
between their purchase of the unsold portion of the Phelps and Gorham 
estate and the arrival of advice from England concerning its sale, the 
Morris associates devised plans for a trading town on the east bank of 
the Genesee at the lower falls. A plat was drawn for a town named after 
ancient Athens, 87 but this visionary scheme was soon forgotten, and 
even Allan s mills across the river were abandoned late in 1794, when 
the prospects for the development of the area reached their lowest ebb. 
Several factors operated to postpone the planting of permanent settle 
ments on the lower Genesee. The possibility of an Indian uprising con 
tinued to threaten the Genesee frontier until news arrived of Wayne s 
victory at Fallen Timbers, and the grievances of the Iroquois were not 
adjusted until the Pickering Treaty was signed at Canandaigua on 
November 11, I794. 88 Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor John G. Simcoe, 
zealously defending the claims of Upper Canada merchants to complete 
domination over the fur trade, refused to permit American boats on 
Lake Ontario, thus effectively blighting trade prospects on the lower 
Genesee. 89 Though Jay s Treaty set aside that policy in 1794, the posts 
at Oswego and Niagara were not surrendered until August, 1796.* 
The development of a Genesee trading port was then quickly under- 

85 Helen Cowan, "Charles Williamson," pp. 145-176, 227-250. 

86 Copy of a deed from Allan to Barton, Mar. 21, -1792, Henry O Reilly Doc., 
No. 2492, Rochester Hist. Soc. Allan s price was 500 in New York currency, about 
$15 an acre, including improvements. Allan, disappointed in land and trade ven 
tures on the upper Genesee, finally moved on to make a fresh start in Canada in 
1794. See Turpin, "Ebenezer Allan," pp. 330-338; Fred C. Hamil, "Ebenezer Allan 
in Canada," Ontario Historical Society, Papers and Records, XXXVI, 83-93. 

87 See the photostat copy of the town plat in Rochester Hist. Soc. The original 
was found attached to the MS deed in the County Clerk s Office in Bath, New 
York. See also Samuel Street to Oliver Phelps, March 10 and 23, 1789, Street 
Correspondence, Univ. Rochester. 

88 Report of the Treaty with the Six Nations at Canandaigua, 1794, Timothy 
Pickering Papers, No. 60: 198-241, MSS, Mass. Hist. Soc.; Chapin Correspondence 
in Henry O Reilly Western Mementos, N. Y. Hist. Soc., X, 72, 76, 88, 92 ; Turner, 
Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, p. 167. 

80 Turner, pp. 315-324; E. A. Cruickshank, ed., Correspondence of Lieutenant 

Governor John Graves Simcoe (Ontario Hist. Soc., Toronto, 1924), III, 20; V, 65. 

90 Samson Note Book, IV, 23-27, assembles evidence concerning this surrender. 


taken. Gideon King, Zadock Granger, and several families from Suffield, 
Connecticut, located on the west bank at the lower falls in the winter of 
1796-97. At least while the surveyors were busy laying out the tract, a 
bustling activity characterized King s Landing. Town lots were marked 
off, several log houses erected, a dock and a sailing vessel built. Ship 
ments of potash in exchange for salt from Oswego gave promise of a 
bright commercial future for Fall Town, as the landing was sometimes 
called. 91 A rival trading center, known as Tryon Town, appeared a few 
miles east at the old Indian landing on Irondequoit Bay, 92 while a new 
miller, Josiah Fish, was stationed at the upper falls by Charles William 
son who had by this time acquired title to Allan s hundred-acre 
tract. 93 

As the Genesee falls acquired a reputation for natural beauty, oc 
casional travelers en route to Niagara turned aside to view them. One 
early visitor, the Comte de Colbert Maulevrier, was not too favorably 
impressed in 1798 by the accommodations at the mill, where he was 
forced to share a room with seven others, "both men and women, and 
five or six in the adjoining room all sleeping close together in feather 
beds on the floor." The hospitable miller had, it seems, given shelter 
to several families on their way to Canada who were awaiting the arrival 
of a schooner which already maintained frequent communications be 
tween York (Toronto) and the Genesee. Colbert de Maulevrier, after 
visiting the several falls, enjoyed a drink of grog at King s Landing 
"where the boats have unloaded for the last two years," but observed 
that "sickness carried off five of the new settlers and the news of their 
deaths kept several families from coming here from Connecticut." * 

In 1800 the English traveler, John Maude, found the sawmill in ruins 
and the gristmill "almost entirely neglected." The one evidence of local 
enterprise that impressed Maude was the bridge over Deep Hollow 
gully, for the erection of which Gideon King and Josiah Fish had 
"collected all the men in the neighborhood, to the number of one hun 
dred, and in two days at the expense of $475 the bridge was completed," 
thus opening the road on the west bank from the mills to the landing. 
But Maude was surprised to find Simon King, "the only respectable 

91 [Charles Williamson], Description of the Genesee County, Its Rapidly Pro 
gressive Population and Improvements: In a Series of Letters From a Gentleman 
to His Friend (Albany, 1798) ; R. H. S., Pub., IV, 335-346. 

M A. Emerson Babcock, "The City of Tryon and Vicinity," R. H. S., Pub., 
I, 112-149. 

98 Charles Sholl to Charles Williamson, Sept. 4, 1797, Osgood MSS, Roch. Hist. 
Soc.; Peter Sheffer s testimony concerning the Allan mill, Mar. 24, 1845, MS, 
Rochester Letters, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

94 Comte de Colbert Maulevrier, Voyage dans I Interieur des Etats-Unis et au 
Canada, Gilbert Chinard, ed. (Baltimore, 1935), pp. 44-45; see R, W. G. Vail s 
translation of the local portion, R, H, S., Pub., XIV, 159-165. 


settler in this Township" and the proprietor of 3000 acres, content to 
live in an "indifferent log-house." &5 


The lower Genesee thus failed to keep pace with developments else 
where in the Genesee Country, to which as a whole the early travelers 
could scarcely give sufficient praise. 96 The fearful pall of the "Genesee 
fever" which hung over the region in the early nineties began to lift 
as the cleared fields were extended, the rich bottom lands drained, and 
more substantial houses provided. 97 The interior settlements had not 
been seriously affected by either the Canadian or the Indian threats; 
in fact, land speculators there expressed concern lest the adjustment 
of these difficulties and the opening of new regions to the west and in 
Canada might depress the demand for Genesee lands. 98 A Western 
Inland Lock Navigation Company was chartered in 1792 to improve 
and join the natural water routes provided by the Mohawk and Finger 
Lakes rivers. Boats started to push their way slowly along this primitive 
canal late in 1795, although the construction work was not completed 
until 1802." By that date improvements in the Susquehanna route were 
already in progress, 100 while the old Genesee Road was being rebuilt 
by the Seneca Turnpike Company. 101 In spite of the great difficulties 

95 Oliver Phelps to Justin Ely, Sept. 9, 1797, Phelps and Gorham Papers, 
photostats at Univ. Rochester; John Maude, Visit to the Falls of Niagara in 1800 
(London, 1826), pp. 106, 109, 113. After the death of Gideon King and several 
others in 1798, his wife, Ruth, returned to Connecticut with her two younger boys, 
but other members of the settlement carried on at the landing until after Simon 
King s death in 1805 when several of them moved to farms along the Ridge. 

96 "Foreign Travelers Notes on Rochester and the Genesee Country before 1840," 
R. H. S., Pub., XVIII, Part I. 

97 Edward G. Ludlow, Observations, on the Lake Fevers and Other Diseases of 
the Genesee Country in the State of New York (New York, 1823) ; O Reilly, 
Sketches of Rochester, pp. 91-104, quotes Ludlow and other early authorities at 
length. See also R. H. S., Pub., XI, 346-347. 

08 Robert Troup to Charles Williamson, Nov. 6, 1794, Osgood MSS, No. 303, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. See also Paul D. Evans, "Holland Land Company," Buffalo Hist. 
Soc., Pub., XXVIII, 227. 

"Conover, "Kanadesaga," III, 730-7375 "The First Report of the Director 
and Engineer of the Inland Lock Navigation Co." (1796), Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., 
II, 157-180; J. S. Grant, "Early Modes of Travel and Transportation," Cayuga 
Hist. Soc., Collections, VII (Auburn, 1889), 91-111. 

100 D. T. Blake to Charles Williamson, Baltimore, July 28, Aug. 14, 1802, Osgood 
MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

101 Benjamin DeWitt, "A Sketch of the Turnpike Roads in the State of New 
York," Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge (1807), II, 190-204. 
DeWitt notes that turnpike roads already (1806) stretch across the state from the 
Massachusetts line through Albany and Utica to "Canandarque," a distance of 234 
miles, and as soon as the Ontario and Genesee Turnpike Co., capitalized at $175,000, 
completes its road to Black Rock, the state will be crossed by a road 324 miles 
in length! See also, O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, pp. 170-175. 


which faced the boatmen and wagoners, trade was flowing in steadily 
increasing volume over the eastern 102 and southern routes to the neglect 
of the lower Genesee. The markets were in the East, and thither likewise 
went the payments on the land and for the equipment and supplies 
which could not be provided on the frontier. 

Travelers marveled not only at the number of heavy sleighs of 
produce headed eastward, 108 but also at the almost unending succession 
of vehicles of all sorts with which the settlers were moving west. 104 The 
migration gained momentum as the nineteenth century dawned. The 
1,075 persons accredited to the Genesee Country in 1790 increased to 
17,006 by 1800, and to 75,160 by i8io. 105 Before the last date six 
counties were organized, court houses and jails erected in Canandaigua, 
Bath, and Batavia, while in addition to these towns a dozen other vil 
lages developed sufficient community life to support churches, schools, 
and even libraries, 106 not to mention the taverns and stores which vied 
for the trade of travelers and farmers alike. 107 By 1810 there were five 
village papers printed west of Lake Seneca, a slight foretaste of the in 
vasion of country printers soon to occur. 108 A few "melancholy facts" 
were observed amidst the general progress by one of the older editors, 
who lamented "that political zeal has recently usurped the empire of 
patriotism, and the acquisition of property [has] become almost the 
sole object of pursuit." 109 

It required a frequent rallying of Zion s forces to battle these trends, 
as well as to overcome many crude pioneer habits. When the Reverend 
John B. Hudson, a Methodist lay preacher, started his missionary labors 
on the New York frontier in 1804, he found the southern Genesee 
pioneers still living for the most part in log houses covered with bark 
roofs. He reported "whiskey and Sabbath desecration . . . notoriously 

102 W. G. Mayer, "The History of Transportation in the Mohawk Valley," 
N. Y. State Hist. Assoc., Proceedings, XIV (1915), 214-230. 
108 Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., VI, 185. 

104 Col. William A. Bird, "Early Transportation Between Albany and Buffalo," 
MS, Buffalo Hist. Soc. 

105 N. Y. State Census (1855). Compiled from tables on p. xxxiv. The figures 
represent the successive population for the entire area west of the Preemption 
Line, though by 1810 the western portion was not always considered a part of 
the Genesee Country. 

100 Blake McKelvey, "Early Library Development In and Around Rochester," 
R. H. S., Pub., XVI, 12-15. 

107 Augustus Porter, "Narrative of the Early Years," Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., 
VII, 277-322; Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, passim; Blake McKelvey, 
"On the Educational Frontier," R. H. S., Pub., XVII, 3-8. 

108 Milton W. Hamilton, The Country Printer, New York State, 1785-1830 (New 
York, 1936), pp. 54, 88, 258, 301. See especially the map on p. 87. See also William 
H. Samson, "Studies in Local History," Rochester Post-Express (1907-1908), No. V. 
(Scrapbook in Roch. Hist. Soc.) 

109 Ontario Repository, Dec. 26, 1809. 


prevalent" among the inhabitants, who were "certainly not noted for 
morality, and still less so in regard to religion." no Deists and infidels 
appeared to surround him, though he may have exaggerated his dif 
ficulties, for the labors of fellow Methodists had made some headway 
around the Finger Lakes, where their first camp meeting gathered five 
thousand persons on the lake shore near Geneva in 1805. In 1810, when 
the Genesee conference was formed, four extended circuits were organ 
ized to serve the scattered Methodists of the Genesee Country. 111 

Several other denominational groups had likewise shouldered the task 
of developing religious traditions along the Genesee. Episcopal mis 
sionaries had visited the region as early as 1797, and at least one of 
their pastors was continuously in residence after 1801, although an 
organized effort to establish Episcopal churches did not occur until 
i8n. 112 The Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists were more 
successful. The first, able to organize a Presbytery at Geneva in 1805, 
numbered already three charges west of Seneca Lake, to which two 
others were soon added. 113 When the Baptist missionary, John Colby, 
passed through the northern portion of the Genesee Country in 1810, 
he found Congregational and Baptist churches in almost every village, 114 
which was scarcely surprising in view of the predominantly New Eng 
land origin of these settlers. 115 A brick meeting house appeared at Bloom- 
field in i8o9, 116 and by this date travelers were describing several of the 
villages as "very pretty" or "handsome," marvelling at the number of 
their elegant frame houses and quaint cottages, sparkling under fresh 
coats of white paint. 117 

By the end of the decade Canandaigua, Geneva, and Buffalo each 

110 [J. B. Hudson], Narrative of the Christian Experience, Travels and Labors 
of John B. Hudson (Rochester, 1838), pp. 102-106, 127. 

111 [Hudson], Narrative of the Christian Experience, pp. i33-i34> I43-J44J 
Francis Asbury, Journal of the Rev. Francis Asbury (New York, 1821), III, 225- 
226, 292-293; F. G. Hibbard, History of the East Genesee Conference of the 
Methodist Episcopal Church (New York, 1887), pp. 16-19. 

m* Fifty Years: Semi-Centennial Commemoration of the Diocese of Western 
New York (Buffalo, 1888), pp. 17, 18-19. 

118 James H. Hotchkin, A History of the Purchase and Settlement of Western 
New York and of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Presbyterian Church 
in That Section (New York, 1848), pp. 79~8o. 

1U [John Colby], The Life, Experience and Travels of John Colby, Preacher of 
the Gospel (Rochester, 1827), pp. 92-93. 

115 James H. Dill, Congregationalism in Western New York (Rochester, 1859), 
pp. 1-5. 

116 T[homas] C[ooper], A Ride to Niagara in 1809 (Rochester, 1915), P- 14- 

117 John Melish, Travels in the United States of America in the Years 1806, and 
1807, and x8op, 1810, and 18x1 (Philadelphia, 1812), p. 519; Duke de la Roche- 
foucault Liancourt, Travels through the United States of North America in the 
Years 1795, 1706, and 1707 (London, 1800), I, 264; Comte de Colbert Maulevrier, 
P- 43- 


boasted upwards of one hundred houses, 118 and numerous smaller ham 
lets were scattered along the stage road 119 between them or southward 
toward Geneseo and Bath. Several Indian settlements remained in the 
area, possibly the most frequently visited being that at Canawaugus, 
overlooking the Genesee River where the state road crossed west of 
Avon. 12a But the settlers were beginning to feel themselves to be a part 
of an established community. Already they were represented by seven 
delegates in the assembly at Albany and one in Congress. In spite of 
their New England origin, or because such a large portion of the settlers 
had come from the Jeffersonian districts of western Massachusetts, 
Connecticut, and Vermont, 121 the political sentiments of the area gen 
erally favored the Jeffersonians, although Canandaigua, Bloomfield, and 
a few other towns were staunchly Federalist. 122 Signs of the crude 
frontier days were disappearing from the wide swath cut in the forest 
by the settlers as they advanced across the state, and the time had at 
last arrived for a permanent advance into the lower Genesee. 

118 Horatio G. Spafford, Gazetteer of the State of New-York (Albany, 1813), 
pp. 141, 152, 200. See also Robert Munro, "A Description of the Genesee Country 
[in 1804]," O Callaghan, Documentary History of New York, II, 679-69 !. 

119 In 1807, John Metcalf was licensed to operate a stage between Canandaigua 
and Buffalo. N. Y. Assembly Journal (1819), p. 106. 

120 Duke de la Rochefoucault Liancourt, I, 290-291; Ctooper], Ride to Niagara f 
p. 14; Frances Wright, Views of Society and Manners in America by an English- 
woman (New York, 1821), pp. 147-159. 

121 William W. Campbell, ed., The Life and Writings of DeWitt Clinton (New 
York, 1849), PP- IO 3> IQ 8) no, in. 

12S Lockwood R. Doty, History of Livingston County (Jackson, Mich., 1905), 
pp. 276, 280; Ontario Repository,, May 10, 1803, May 9, 1809; John T. Horton, 
James Kent: 1763-1847 (New York, 1939), pp. 130-133. 




THE RAPID GROWTH of the Gcnesce frontier, although previously 
channeled in other directions^ was destined to play a vital role 
in developments at the falls. The flow of surplus produce over 
the eastern and southern trade routes was suddenly checked when the 
Embargo and Non-Intercourse Acts stopped exports and glutted the 
Atlantic markets after 1808. As the laws were not rigidly enforced 
against trade with Canada, the produce of the Genesee soon found a 
new outlet down the river and over the lake to the north. 1 The ad 
vanced stage of the interior settlements thus provided attractive com 
mercial opportunities for a trading town on the lower Genesee. Several 
enterprising villages quickly appeared, though the contest for priority 
which ensued was not to be terminated until tlie hazards of a frontier 
war and the charting of a new trade artery gave the advantage to 


Unlike many pioneer villages in the valley, born of the farsighted 
plans of paternal promoters, Rochester was a product of the functional 
relationship between its choice site and the trade requirements of the 
surrounding settlements. The lower Genesee did attract several efforts, 
by determined pioneers who threw their best energies into the task of 
building the much desired trading port, yet circumstances intervened 
to check these ventures. Meanwhile, the growth of neighboring settle 
ments, the opening of new roads, the building of a bridge at the falls, 
and the persistent increase in the volume of exports finally set the stage 
by 1812 for the appearance of a combined milling and trading town on 
Allan s original mill lot. Fortunately a wise proprietor, able to harmonize 
the conflicting interests on the lower Genesee, arrived in time to en 
courage and direct the eager settlers who rushed in to take their stand 
at the falls. 

X A comparable stream of American settlers was attracted by a liberal land 
policy into Upper Canada, not closed to immigrants from the States until 1815. 
Marcus L. Hansen, The Mingling of the Canadian and American Peoples (New 
Haven, 1940), pp. 89-90, 95-100. See also note 17, below. 


The retarded development of the lower Genesee as compared with 
many parts of western New York in the early iSoo s was matched by 
the slow growth of settlements in the adjacent territory. The area of 
present Monroe County contained less than 100 scattered pioneers and 
surveyors in 1790^ numbered 1192 settlers in 1800, and boasted only 
4683, or scarcely seven per square mile, in i8io. 3 The majority of these 
were located in the southeastern portion where they formed the town 
of Northfield in 1794, renaming it .Boyle in 1808; but a goodly number 
had already settled west of the river in the town of Northampton, 
organized in 1797 and renamed Gates after its southern and western 
portions had been cut off in r8o8. 4 These Monroe County pioneers were 
widely and sparsely scattered, yet sure evidence of their resolve to 
subdue the surrounding forest and establish permanent communities 
was afforded by the roads they were opening and the ten or more schools 
already provided for the children of the area by i8io. 5 

The vital relation between these neighboring settlements and the im 
pending developments at the falls appeared with the agitation for a 
bridge across the lower Genesee. It was in 1807 that Calvin Freeman, 
a pioneer settler on the Ridge twenty miles west of the river, petitioned 
for a bridge at the falls and a state road along the Ridge westward from 
the Genesee to Lewiston. Though he had labored with other pioneers, 
four years before, in building the bridge where the old state road 
crossed the river at Avon, few supporters for the new route could now 
be found in LeRoy, Batavia, Buffalo, or Black Rock, all located on that 
first highway. Freeman, however, collected many signatures at Lewiston 
and in the log cabins scattered along the trail following the Ridge from 
that place to the Genesee. 6 Settlers east of the river, notably those at 
Pittsford and Perinton, drafted similar petitions and sent Enos Stone 
to Albany to press the proposal before the legislature. It required all the 
weight they could muster to counteract the arguments of their southern 
neighbors, who described the region as "a God-forsaken place 1 in 
habited by muskrats, visited only by straggling trappers, through 

2 James L. Barton, Early Reminiscences of Western New York (Buffalo, 1848), 
p. 45. The census figures of 1790 are here broken down and assigned to the town 
ships as of 1820. It is impossible to get an accurate figure for the Monroe County 
area, but only 66 were located definitely within this area, while most of the 166 
listed in the townships straddling the southern boundary were doubtless living well 
south of the line. 

8 N. Y. Census (1855), p. xxiv. Monroe County had approximately 144 per 
square mile in 1855 at the close of its water-power era, and 654 in 1940. 

4 Albert H. Wright, "Old Northampton in Western New York," R, H. $., Pub., 
VII, 287-288, 303-306, 315; Ontario Repository, Jan. i, 1811. 

5 Blake McKelvey, "On the Educational Frontier," R. H. S., Pub., XVII, 5-6; 
Wright, "Old Northampton," pp. 337-34Q, 346-353. 

6 Pioneer Association Record Book, MS, p. 149, Roch. Hist. Soc,, letter from 
Calvin Freeman in newspaper clipping of Oct. 12, 1869. 


which neither man nor beast could gallop without fear of starvation 
or fever and ague!" 7 Finally the bridge bill passed, directing Ontario 
and Genesee Counties to raise $12,000 for the purpose, and work started 
in 1 8 10 on a wooden bridge at the point where Main Street crosses 

Roads as well as bridges were needed if the area s advantages were 
to be developed. The west river road, opened by the early pioneers from 
Scottsville north to King s Landing during the nineties, was a round 
about approach, emphasizing the importance of the old state road which 
by-passed the lower Genesee, and a new east-west highway seemed a 
major necessity. Apparently it was in 1805 that the pathmasters of the 
old town of Northfield laid out a new route from their chief settlement 
(Pittsford) to the old Indian Landing trail and northwestward to the 
fording place over the Genesee. But not until the state took over this 
road in 1812 was the marshy stretch between Culver s and the new 
bridge made passable for vehicles. 8 

With the road and bridge assured, Enos Stone, a relative of several 
of the founders of Pittsford, moved with his wife and infant son into a 
one-room shanty on the east bank of the river overlooking the ford, 
where he commenced to clear the land acquired by his father from 
Oliver Phelps at 44 cents an acre two decades before. 9 Isaac W. Stone, 
arriving with his wife and five children in the same year, 1810, purchased 
a five-acre lot overlooking the site of the proposed bridge and erected a 
crude tavern to accommodate the workmen and chance visitors. 10 


But the lower Genesee was not designated for a simple bridgehead, 
nor for an overnight tavern-town, and its more vigorous early settlements 
sprang from the growing river trade. Unfortunately (in the eyes of 
pioneer traders) the succession of falls and rapids seriously obstructed 
the river as a commercial route, compelling a long portage from the 

7 Henry O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, pp. 247-249; Ontario Repository, 
May 23, 1809. 

8 Northfield Town Records, Supervisors Meetings, MSS in Pittsford, N. Y., 
Town Hall; Orsamus Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 427-429; 
Campbell, DeWitt Clinton , p. 112; Edwin Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," 
Scrapbook, pp. 1-2, Roch. Hist. Soc. See also Col. Nathaniel Rochester s Memorial 
to the Legislature, 1812, MS in Canandaigua, in which it appears that the original 
road to the bridge may have followed the direct route of Monroe Avenue, changed 
before it was opened to the East Avenue route by a group who desired to locate the 
bridge just above the main falls, a move Col. Rochester stopped only after the 
road was partly opened, thus explaining the indirect approach to the bridge. 

9 "Reminiscences of Enos Stone," in Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 
424-425, 584; John Kelsey, The Lives and Reminiscences of the Pioneers of ( 
Rochester and Western New York (Rochester, 1854) , pp. 7-9. 

10 Turner, p. 585; Annah B. Yates, "Early Rochester Families," No. LIV, 
Rochester Post-Express, July 22, 1911. 


upper rapids six miles over a rough road to King s Landing or four 
miles further to the river s mouth. 11 The wide bow in the river joined 
with the steep right bank at the lower falls to favor the western side as 
a portage route, while the advantage of a shorter carry from the rapids 
east to the Irondequoit landing, where John Tryon s store still enjoyed 
a moderate trade, 12 was offset by the sand bar which already restrained 
lake vessels from entering the bay. Thus it was on the west bank of the 
river that the trading settlements developed, though a peculiar com 
bination of circumstances made it difficult to determine the most favor 
able site for the future town. 

While the landing below the lower falls doubtless offered great ad 
vantages, the high mortality among the Kings and the Grangers who 
struggled for almost a decade to establish Fall Town turned newcomers 
to rival sites, 13 notably to the dry west bank at the mouth of the river. 
William Hincher, with a son and seven daughters, had located there 
in the winter of 1792, building a log house which occasionally afforded 
shelter to travelers; 14 but it was in 1805, when Samuel Latta arrived 
as first customs agent for the Port of the Genesee and land agent for 
the Pulteney Estate properties in the area, that trade prospects bright 
ened. A wharf was constructed, a store and additional cabins appeared, 
and fifty town lots were laid out and priced at ten dollars each in order 
to attract settlers to the village named Charlotte. 15 

Though the customs receipts for 1805 totalled only $22.50, a rapid 
increase occurred when the Embargo shunted trade down the Genesee. 
Shipments, valued at $30,000 in 1806, jumped by 1808 to $100,000 
worth of wheat, pork, whiskey, and potash. Fifteen schooners and open 
boats, capable of carrying from twenty-five to seventy tons each, tacked 
back and forth between the various American and Canadian lake ports 
at the latter date. 16 Several lake boats were built on the lower river in 

11 Horatio G. Spafford, Gazetteer of the State of New York (1813), p. 136. 

^Tryon Account Books (1800-1805), MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. The entries under 
the names of 122 customers show a frequent sale of lead, powder, salt, potash, 
lye, "clove water," tobacco, and whiskey, the last being the most frequent article 
of sale. See Ontario Repository, July ii, 1809, for an announcement of the sale 
of the "late John Tryon s" estate of 315 acres in Boyle which mentions a warehouse 
on Irondequoit Creek, and two partially improved farms equipped with dwelling 
houses, barns, a distillery, and orchards containing, over 300 apple trees. See also 
A. Emerson Babcock, "The City of Tryon and Vicinity," R. H. S., Pub., I, 117-118. 

13 See above, p. 24. 

14 Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 410-413; O Reilly, Sketches of 
Rochester, p. 244; Emma M. P. Greer, "Home Builders of Old Charlotte," R. H, S., 
Pub., XI, 245-248. Mrs. Greer quotes a journal of Donald McKenzie, husband of 
one of Hincher s daughters. 

"Campbell, DeWitt Clinton, p. 113; Greer, "Home Builder," p* 250. See the 
town plat of Charlotte, Greer, p. 244. 

16 Greer, "Home Builders," p. 248; T[homas] C[ooper], Ride to Niagara, p, 32; 
Augustus Porter, "Early Navigation on the Lakes," Buffalo Hist, Soc., Pub., VII, 


these years/ 7 and an active commerce developed between Tryon Town 
and Latta s wharf, as the produce of the interior settlers was trans 
ported from Irondequoit Landing in shallow boats, poled along the 
shore and into the Genesee, for transfer to lake vessels. 18 

By 1 8 10, the village of Charlotte with its nineteen houses had at 
tracted the interest of several enterprising merchants. 19 One arrived with 
"a handsome assortment of dry goods and groceries/ 7 which he proposed 
to exchange for pot and pearl ashes and white oak staves, while two 
rival forwarding companies established warehouses and announced rate 
schedules for their schooners to both Queenstown and Montreal. 20 
Jonathan Child, destined to figure prominently in Rochester s early his 
tory, opened a store at Charlotte and advertised a quantity of window 
glass. 21 John Mastick moved down from Canandaigua to open a law 
office, and James Wadsworth purchased a central lot in the village. 22 

The growth of trade stimulated renewed activity at several other 
points on the lower Genesee. When the seven Hanford brothers from 
Rome, New York, took up the work at Fall Town, a store was opened, 23 
and trade prospects soon made Hanford s Landing a serious rival to 
Charlotte. 24 Curiously enough, the Guide in the Wilderness, edited in 
1 8 10 by Judge William Cooper of Cooperstown, listed "the first falls of 
the Genesee, where there is a fine harbour for ships of two hundred tons" 
as one of the most favorable town sites left undeveloped in the state. 25 
The power resources of the area attracted some attention. Though the 

317-322. On June 3, 1812, Joseph Ellicott wrote in his Letter Book: "I learn 
that those who have any flour to carry to Canada from the mouth of the Genesee 
River find no difficulty in carrying it whenever they choose. I begin to be of the 
opinion that non-intercourse and embargo is all Stuff! Stuff! Stuff! Stuff! Stuff!" 
Buffalo Hist, Soc.,,P&., XXVI, 148. 

17 Porter, "Early Navigation," p. 322; E. P. Clapp, "Travel, Trade and Trans 
portation of the Pioneers," MS, Roch. Hist. Soc., passim, mentions the Jemima, 
Isabella, Genesee Packet, and the Clarissa as built on the lower Genesee or Iron 

18 Clapp, "Travel, Trade and Transportation," pp. 84-85, goff. 

19 Spafford, Gazetteer, p. 77 ; Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, pp. 514- 


20 Ontario Repository, Jan. 9, Oct. 16, 1810, Jan. i, Apr. 23, 1811. 

21 Ontario Repository, Sept ri, 1810. 

22 Ontario Repository, Mar. 19, 1811; "Deeds from Genesee County Records," 
I, 234, Monroe County Court House. 

^Ontario Repository, Jan. 23, 1810. Frederick Hanford advertised a "well chosen 
assortment of Dry Goods, Groceries, Hardware, and Crockery. Also Iron Hollow 
Ware and Pot Ash Kettles; Window Glass, Sole Leather, Shoes, etc." 

24 Ontario Repository, Dec. 18, 1810; P. P. Dickinson, "Steamboat Hotel," 
Samson Scrapbook, No. 52, pp. 11-12, Roch, Hist. Soc.; William F. Peck, Land 
marks of Monroe County (Boston, 1895), p. 69. 

25 Judge [William] Cooper, A Guide in the Wilderness, or the History of the 
First Settlement in the Western Counties of New York (Dublin, j8io), p. 31, 


mills at the upper falls, abandoned in 1804 when Josiah Fish moved 
away, stood in ruins, a half mile further north Charles Harford, an 
Englishman of considerable means, erected a mill in 1808 on the west 
bank overlooking the main falls. Built at a cost of one thousand dollars 
and operated by a tub wheel, the small mill served the neighborhood s 
moderate needs until 1810 when Harford, discouraged by the difficult 
portage from the rapids above and to the landing below, 26 sold his 
2oo-acre mill site to Thomas Mumford of Cayuga Bridge and Matthew 
and Francis Brown of Rome. 27 Another settlement had appeared by this 
time on the west bank at the upper rapids where boats coming down 
the river were sometimes forced to unload. A tavern operated by Isaac 
Castle served travelers for a few years, but the site, ambitiously desig 
nated Castle Town, failed to justify the hopes of its promoter, James 
Wadsworth. 28 

The lower Genesee still had the appearance of a neglected wilderness 
when, in the summer of 1809, Midshipman James Fenimore Cooper, 
sailing westward on Lake Ontario with a half-dozen companions, was 
driven by a sudden squall to seek shelter in the mouth of the river. The 
hungry crewmen were creating near-famine conditions wherever they 
landed on the sparsely settled shore between Oswego and Niagara. Near 
the Genesee they found a small log hut where they procured some bread, 
milk and two pies. The next day, after buying a sheep for a half eagle 
from a settler further inland, they rejoiced when a shift in the wind 
favored a renewal of their journey. 29 

A more experienced traveler, Thomas Cooper, from Pennsylvania, 
judged Allan s old location, which he found that spring in "perfect 
ruins," as "the best site for a mill I ever saw," while Harford s location 
was likewise described as a "perfectly secure mill seat." The grandeur 
of the natural amphitheater created by the falls roused this visitor s 
enthusiasm, but the chief activity observed on the river was that of a 
half-dozen men fishing in the gorge below the lower falls. 80 

That there was something more than good fishing at the Genesee falls 
was evident from the increasing interest shown in the region. Wheat, 
which commanded only 12^ cents a bushel in produce at Geneva, sold 
for 31 cents in cash at Charlotte. 81 DeWitt Clinton, intensely interested 

^Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, p. 584; T[homas] C Cooper], Ride to 
Niagara, p. 28. Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," p. 2, gives a description of this 

27 Turner, p. 592. 

28 Turner, p. 580; R. LaRue Cober, Castle Town: An Historiette of Southwest 
Rochester (Genesee Baptist Church, Rochester, 1935). 

28 James Fenimore Cooper, Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers 
(Auburn, 1846), II, 1317-134. 

80 T[homas] C Cooper], Ride to Niagara, pp. 27-33. 
81 Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, p. 503. 


in such matters, was careful to note on his visit in July, i8io ; that 1,000 
barrels each of flour, pork, and potash, and 100,000 staves had already 
been shipped that season to Montreal. 32 A week or so later an anonymous 
visitor remarked that "the timber of this country must be carried down 
the St. Lawrence; it never will pay for transportation to the Atlantic by 
any other route." ** 

Information of this sort prompted James Wadsworth to inquire in 
1810 about the possibility of purchasing the mill seat at the upper 
falls. 84 Wadsworth already had large interests in the commercial po 
tentialities of the lower Genesee. In his wide ranging land speculations, 
the founder of Geneseo had acquired a 6o,ooo-acre tract only six miles 
west of Fall Town, as a handbill of 1809 announced, 35 and he saw 
clearly that a mill town of considerable importance was destined to 
arise at the falls. 


But the choice site the zoo-acre mill lot so lightly given to Ebenezer 
Allan two decades before had already fallen by a queer stroke of 
chance into the hands of three Maryland speculators. Williamson s pro 
motion of the Pulteney Estate had prompted Charles Carroll, William 
Fitzhugh, and Nathaniel Rochester to journey northward in 1800 along 
the Susquehanna and Williamson s road to view the Genesee Country. 
They came again in 1803, carefully selecting several large tracts, chiefly 
in the southern part of the territory, but just before concluding their 
second visit a friend at Canandaigua persuaded them to examine the 
mill seat on the lower Genesee. Though the sawmill had already been 
washed out by the flood of 1800, and the gristmill suffered from neglect, 
the three prospectors saw the potentialities of the site and j@intly signed 

82 Campbell, DeWitt Clinton, p. 113. 

88 Samson Scrapbook, No. 40, p. 95, quoting a letter printed in the Albany 
Ballance and State Journal in 1811, but dated from the mouth of the Genesee, 
July 27, 1810. 

84 Turner, p. 587: "I wish that tract of 100 acres could be purchased of the 
Maryland gentlemen. The Bridge and Mill seat render it very valuable indeed." 
Three years previous, Wadsworth had already noted the possibilities for trade at 
Fall Town: "I could now purchase to be delivered at Fall Town, TO,OOO bushels 
of wheat at 50 cents. It could then be ground and sent to Montreal for 75 cents 
per barrel. Our field ashes which are now wasted, would be an object of con 
siderable consequence." Turner, p. 581. 

85 "Vessels of 200 tons, sail from Lake Ontario up the Genesee river to the 
lower falls; this place is called Fall-town Landing, and is only six miles from the 
tract now offered for sale. A barrel of flour can now be sent from Fall-town 
Landing to Montreal for one dollar, and a barrel of pot-ashes for one dollar and 
a half; these prices will be reduced, as the business of transportation increases. 
Most articles of American product command as high prices at Montreal as at 
New York." Samson Scrapbook, No. 51, p. 100. 


a contract for its purchase at $17.50 an acre. 86 Content with their specu 
lative ventures, these gentlemen forthwith returned to their Maryland 
homes to await a time when the advancing settlers would increase the 
value of their holdings and make the neighborhood congenial to their 
womenfolk. 37 

When in 1810 Colonel Rochester, already in his fifty-ninth year, 
finally determined to move to the Genesee Country, it was to the settle 
ment at Dansville, conveniently located on the southern trade route, 
that he led the way. A caravan of three great Conestoga wagons, two 
carriages, and numerous saddle horses transported his wife and eleven 
children, as well as several slaves and other servants, over the long, 
tedious journey to the frontier. Rochester s commercial and industrial 
affairs in Hagerstown had qualified him for similar projects in Dansville, 
and there he soon had a flour mill, sawmill, paper mill, stillhouse, black 
smith s shop, and village store in full operation and the work of clear 
ing a 45o-acre farm well started. 88 In the midst of these activities 
Colonel Rochester thought at one time of withdrawing from the lower 
Genesee venture, but after due consideration he found time to make 
occasional visits to the falls, forty miles down the valley to the north. 89 
It was fortunate that he could spare this attention, for neither of his 
partners had as yet migrated from Maryland, 40 and developments were 
progressing so rapidly on the lower Genesee that further neglect of the 
mill lot might have given the advantage to one of the rival town sites. 41 

* [Nathaniel Rochester], "A Brief Sketch of the Life of Nathaniel Rochester," 
R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 305-313. See also the collection of materials on Colonel 
Rochester and his family assembled in R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 355-388, A copy of the 
contract for the purchase of the loo-acre tract, signed Nov. 8, 1803 (MS in On 
tario County Historical Society, Canandaigua, N. Y.) is printed in Rochester 
History, I, No. 4 5 21-22. The best account of Col. Rochester s part in the founding 
of the village is that of Howard L. Osgood, "Rochester: Its Founders and Its 
Founding," R. H. S., Pub., I, 53-70. 

S7 Charles Carroll to Col. Rochester, Williamsburgh, July 8, 1817, Rochester 
Letters, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. Carroll recalls that it was "the want of money" 
rather than the "expectation we were to settle" at the falls that prompted the 
sale of the zoo-acre tract in 1803 by the Pulteney agent, Col. Robert Troup. 

88 Ontario Repository, Dec. 26, 1809; Sept. 4, 1810; Apr. 7, xSix; Aug. 13, 
1813; Rochester Letters, 1807-1813; OntaHo Messenger, Aug. 10, 1813. 

m Col. Rochester to Charles Carroll, Dansville, 1811, quoted in R. H. S., Pub., 
I, 63. 

^Carroll and Fitzhugh had in ( i8oo jointly purchased 12,000 acres of land 
on Canaseraga Creek in the towns of Groveland and Sparta, to which they moved 
in 1816. Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, p. 365; Osgood, "Rochester: Its 
Founders," pp. 55-56. 

41 Wm. Fitzhugh to Col. Rochester, Washington Co., Md., Oct. 18, 1812, 
Rochester Letters. Fitzhugh, from distant Maryland, felt secure in the advantages 
of their site: "The public road and the Bridge at the Falls of the Genesee will 
greatly add to the value of our Interests there . . . and although improvements 
are making near it its natural advantages are so great it can receive no material 
Injury from them." 


Enos Stone was already at work building a crude sawmill on the east 
bank near the upper falls when Colonel Rochester rode down in 1811 to 
survey the 100 acres into town lots. The construction of the bridge was 
delayed for the want of suitable boards, but the progress of Stone s saw 
mill promised one solution, while the plans of the Brown brothers for 
the reconstruction of Harford s mills foretold an abundance of timber 
for the houses of the prospective settlers as well as an ample supply of 
flour for their ovens. 42 Colonel Rochester accordingly engaged Enos 
Stone to serve as agent for the lots advertised for sale in the Canandaigua 
papers that fall. 43 

A southern rather than New England inspiration for the town ap 
peared in the generous provision for highways and their gridiron pattern, 
as well as in the absence of a public common. 44 Two broad streets were 
staked out, each six rods wide. One of these, appropriately named 
Buffalo Street, extended westward from the bridge, while the other ran 
north and south, crossing the former at a main four corners a short 
distance from the bridge. Quarter-acre lots on these business streets were 
offered at $50 each, except for the choice northwest lot at the Four 
Corners which was priced at $200. Several additional streets, each four 
rods in width, were laid out, and $30 asked for lots on these back streets. 
Five-dollar down payments secured the lots to prospective buyers, on 
condition that a house or shop 20 by 1 6 feet in size be erected by 
October, 1812, for only those ready to put their shoulders to the wheel 
of progress were wanted in the projected village. 45 One large central plot 
was reserved for a court house, indicating that Colonel Rochester had 
the future possibilities of his settlement in mind, while the section along 
the river south of the bridge was left undivided until plans could be 
perfected for an improved raceway and the mill lots surveyed. 46 

Enos Stone proved an admirable choice as local agent for the new 
settlement. Lacking the resources to develop his own holdings east of 
the river, he wisely concluded that the value of his land would be 

42 Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, p. 593. 
^Ontario Repository, Aug. 20, 1811. 

44 See the plat of Rochesterville, Plate III, No. 2. 

45 Letter from Rochester to Enos Stone, Dansville, Aug. 14, 1811, in Turner, 
p. 587. 

46 Rochester had numerous predecessors as town planners in Western New York. 
It is therefore interesting to compare his plan with those of Williamson for Geneva 
and Bath; Phelps for Canandaigua, and Joseph Ellicott for Batavia and Buffalo. 
That for Buffalo was the most ambitious and reflects the influence of the plan 
for Washington, D. C., with which Ellicott had some association, hut all save 
Rochester were built around a public square. All the plats provided spacious 
house lots and broad main streets to permit the easy movement of horsedrawn 
vehicles. See Turpin C. Bannister, "Early Town Planning in New York State," 
New York History, XXIV (April, 1943)* I9 i-i92j Survey of Annin and Barton 
of the Geneva Plat, about 1795, MS in Steuben County Clerk s Office, Bath, N. Y. 


greatly enhanced by a thriving village on the opposite bank. Moreover, 
the work of constructing his sawmill, building a second frame house, 
and tending a six-acre corn patch kept him engaged at the upper falls, 
where he was sure to be available in case prospective settlers should 
appear. 47 Indeed, many land hunters, scouting for favorable locations 
throughout western New York, Ohio, and Indiana Territory, were 
prompted by the threat of war on the more exposed frontier to visit 
the Genesee falls, where Enos Stone interested several of them in the 
advantages of Colonel Rochester s projected village. 48 Abelard Reynolds 
was on such a scouting expedition when he stopped at the falls en route 
to Charlotte early in 1812. Despite the encouraging prospects of pre 
viously visited town sites, none impressed Reynolds so favorably as this, 
and before returning east two lots were contracted for. 49 Thus, by the 
end of the settlement s birth year, a dozen lots had been disposed of by 
Colonel Rochester and his agent. 50 

Though a few settlers of respectable means were to locate at the falls 
during the early years, central figures in the pageantry of Rochester s 
development were the humble miller, Hamlet Scrantom, and his family. 
Indeed, Scrantom was sufficiently characteristic of his fellow townsmen 
to merit the honor later conferred on him as the pioneer settler. 51 Born 
in Durham, Connecticut, he had migrated with other pioneers to Turin, 
New York, but the heavy snows of the Black River Country prompted 
him to seek a new home on the Genesee. After a visit to the falls in 
March, i8i2, 52 at which time he contracted for a house lot and made 
arrangements to occupy a cabin already under construction, Hamlet 
returned to fetch his family from Turin as soon as the winter drifts 
should disappear. 53 It was the 2oth of April before the start could be 
made, but finally the heavy wagon was loaded with provisions and 
household articles and covered with a linen cloth for protection. 
Mrs. Scrantom climbed aboard with her two daughters and four sons, 
while her husband started the two oxen and the lead horse on the 
175-mile journey to their new home. 

Passing through the flourishing village of Canandaigua on the ninth 

4T Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," p, 2 ; O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, p. 350. 

48 Enos Stone to Nathaniel Rochester, Sept. 13, 1811, Oct. 31, x8u, Dec. 19, 
1 8 it, June 30, 1812, Rochester Letters. 

49 Abelard Reynolds, "Autobiography," Rochester Post-Express, Sept. 23, 1884; 
Kelsey, Lives and Reminiscences, pp. 57, 100. 

50 Nathaniel Rochester s Cash Book for Sale of Lots in the loo-Acre Tract, MS, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. 

51 Pioneer Assoc. of Rochester, Record Book, and Scrapbook. Hamlet Scrantom 
was elected first president of this "organization on its establishment in 1847 ; Kelsey, 
Lives and Reminiscences, p. 9. 

^Nathaniel Rochester s Cash Book. 

188 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Turin, Apr, 18, 1812, R. H. S., Pub., 
VII, 172-173, 


day, Hamlet Scrantom no doubt read with concern editor James Bemis s 
forebodings of war with Canada, while his wife possibly yearned for 
one of the straw bonnets in Miss Peck s shop near the schoolhouse. 54 
But they continued their journey, and on the eleventh day the weary 
migrants drew up at the rapids opposite Castle s tavern and were soon 
ferried across to the west bank. The next day, May ist, Scrantom and 
his sons tramped through a light snow down to the upper falls, where 
they found their cabin home standing roofless in the center of a swampy 
and desolate five-acre clearing. The framework of the bridge was suf 
ficiently completed to permit them to cross to the east bank, where 
Enos Stone, eager to engage an experienced miller for his almost com 
pleted sawmill, provided temporary shelter in his abandoned shanty. 
By July 4th, the Scrantoms were able to move into the new cabin (on 
the site of the Powers Building), the first permanent residents in Colonel 
Rochester s settlement at the falls. 55 


Disquieting news of the outbreak of hostilities had reached the Genesee 
scarcely two weeks before. 56 The prospect of war had long been a subject 
of bitter controversy. The bold policies of frontier Republicans had 
generally carried the majority in recent elections, sending the War Hawk, 
Peter B. Porter, to Congress as representative for the Western District 
in i8io/ 7 yet popular sentiment was by no means united in approval of 
war. The widespread activities of the Friends of Peace found support 
in Ontario County, with several settlers on the lower Genesee taking 
part in the agitation. 58 As the threat of hostilities increased, interest in 
the traditional militia days revived, 59 but the political repercussions 
proved unfavorable for the Jeffersonian-Republicans, who lost to the 
Federal-Republicans in November, i8i2. 60 

54 Ontario Repository, Apr. 21, 1812; Hamilton, The Country Printer, pp. 72- 
73, 83-84, 258. 

^Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," pp. 1-2; Edward R. Foreman, "First 
Families of Rochester and Their Dwellings," R. H. S., Pub., IV, 349-35*- 

86 Ontario Repository, June 30, 1812. 

m Ontario Repository, Jan. 28, 1812. In spite of, his oft-repeated disapproval of 
the war talk, Bemis prints at length the speech of Congressman Porter in Washing 
ton on Dec, 30, 1811; Dictionary of American Biography, XV, 99-100. 

68 Ontario Repository, Sept. 15, 1812. Ezra Patterson and Oliver Culver repre 
sented Boyle in a Peace Convention in Canandaigua pn Sept. 10, 1812. See also 
W. H. Goodman, "The Origins of the War of 1812: A Survey of Changing In 
terpretations," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XXVIII (Sept., 1941). 

m Myron Holley to George Newbold, Aug. 20, 1807, MS at TJniv. Roch.; Ow- 
tario Repository, Jan. 30, 1810; Barton, Early Reminiscences, pp. 56760. 

60 Ontario Repository, Dec. 22, 1812. Despite the efforts of the Federalists to 
appropriate the name "Republican," the Jeffersonians were successful in retaining 
that title. 


On the lower Genesee the Federalists had generally held the majority. 61 
Only in the May, 1812, election of state legislators did the Jeffersonians 
carry the town of Boyle, 156 to I52. 62 Six months later the vote was 
reversed, 224 to 92, and the Federalists likewise carried Ontario 
County, 3250 to 2229. The town across the river turned Federalist, 44 
to 23, although the staunch Jeffersonians of Genesee and Niagara 
Counties retained reduced majorities. 63 Indeed, in face of shifting 
fortunes of war, the exposed settlements near the Niagara maintained 
their Jeffersonian allegiance, while the Genesee settlers, impatient for 
the renewal of peaceful trade, joined with the Federalists of Canandaigua 
and Bloomfield in agitating for peace. 64 

Despite the war s outbreak, activity at the Genesee falls increased as 
the summer of 1812 advanced. The workmen returned to finish the 
bridge, and with the building of a log causeway over the marshy stretch 
of the road to Pittsford, a highway to the east was at last available. 
Young Jehiel Barnard, a tailor from Rome, claimed the honor of being 
the first new settler to use this improved road in September, 1812, but 
the traffic was soon greatly augmented. 65 Scrantom kept busy sawing 
boards for the bridge and for several lot holders who were endeavoring 
to get their houses built within the prescribed time limit, though ap 
parently none of the other first families arrived before the next spring. 
Scrantom s oxen were kept equally busy dragging logs to the mill and 
hauling heavy loads to and from the landing below the falls. 60 Abelard 
Reynolds, the first to complete a frame house on the loo-acre tract, 
brought his family from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in February, 1813, 
opening the village post office and pioneer saddlery on the site later 
occupied by the Reynolds Arcade. 67 

The accommodations afforded by Isaac W. Stone s tavern on the east 
bank and by Enos Stone s shack and other pioneer buildings soon proved 
inadequate for the number of workmen and prospective lot buyers con 
gregating at the falls. The Scrantoms took in boarders at $1.75 a week, 

61 Ontario Repository, May 10, 1803, May 9, 1809, May 8, 1810. 
02 Ontario Repository, June 2, 1812. 
68 Ontario Repository, Dec. 22, 29, 1812; Mar. 9, 1813, 

64r Ontario Repository, May 13, June 22, 1813; May xo, Nov. 29, 1814; Feb. 14, 
May 9, 1815. 

65 Moses Atwater to Samuel J, Andrews, Canandaigua, Oct. 28, 1812, Atwater- 
Andrews Letter, 1812-1814 (Rochester, 1914). For Barnard s claim see Scrantom, 
"Old Citizen s Letters," p. 2 ; Amy H. CrougMon, "The Scrantoms and Barnards 
in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., IX, 237. 

66 Hamlet Scranton, Day Book, pp. 39-45. Scrantom sawed a total of 35,827 
feet for Enos Stone up to Dec. 29, 1812. Isaac W. Stone, Abelard Reynolds, Cobb, 
Hanford, Marshall, Oliver Culver, and Carter were other names in his lumber ac 
count for 1812. Scrantom received 8 shillings a day for the services of his team 
of oxen. 

67 Amy H. Croughton, "Historic Reynolds Arcade," R. H. S,, Pub., VIII, 97-99; 
Abelard Reynolds, "Autobiography," Rochester Po$tExpre$s r Sept. 23, 1884. 


especially after the completion of their frame house in December pro 
vided more comfortable facilities. 68 James Wadsworth came down in 
August, 1812, stopping for twelve days in the Scrantom cabin/ 9 and in 
September Colonel Rochester and his lady visited the settlement, 
prompting Mrs. Scrantom to bustle about and prepare tea for her 
guests. 70 Young Francis Brown, too busy reconstructing the Harford 
mill to complete his large house overlooking the main falls, was a fre 
quent guest. 71 Moses Atwater came over from Canandaigua to examine 
the mill seat on the east bank at the main falls. 72 Galloping messengers of 
the military forces stationed along the frontier brought moments of 
worried excitement, but an unusually heavy winter served practically 
to isolate the tiny hamlet. 

Except for the threatening appearance of British war vessels off the 
Genesee late in i8i2, 73 the danger of invasion did not appear as a real 
menace to the settlement at the falls that year. The marauding bear or 
the coiled rattlesnake still provided more imminent hazards. 74 Neighbor 
ing Indians frequently occasioned uneasy thoughts to lonely housewives 
who could not forget the events of the frontier of their childhood, though 
the numerous youngsters in the settlement had already found some of 
the Indian games to be great sport, notably that of sliding down the hill 
overlooking the main falls on long strips of bark. 75 The most serious 
effect of the war on the struggling community during the first winter 
was the extent to which the scant food supplies were drained off to feed 
the army. 76 Wheat rose to a dollar a bushel, and even at that price 
Scrantom had to drive sixteen miles, from one farmhouse to another, in 
search of five bushels to meet the needs of his busy household. 77 Fortu- 

68 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Rochester, Feb. 7, 1813, R. H. S., 
Pub., VII, 177. 

69 Hamlet Scrantom, Day fiook, p. 44. 

70 Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," pp. 26-27. 

71 "Old Citizen s Letters," p. 3 ; Turner, Phelps and Gorham s Purchase, p. 593. 

72 Atwater-Andrews Letters, Moses Atwater to Samuel J. Andrews, Canandaigua, 
Oct. n, 1812, and passim. 

7a Rear Admiral Franklin Hanford, "Visits of American and British Naval Ves 
sels to the Genesee River," R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 41-42; Ontario Repository, Sept. 15, 
Oct. 6, 1812. 

74 Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," pp. 14, 23-24, 35-36; R. H. S., Pub., XI, 
348-35i The settlers contributed their share of enlistments to the army on the 
Niagara. See letters to Col. Rochester from his sons, William B. and John C. while 
on military service, Aug. i8i3~May, 1815, MSS, Univ. Roch. 

75 Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," p. 58. 

76 Augustus Porter to Col. Rochester, Nov. 16, 1812; Underhill and Seymour 
to Col. Rochester, Dec. 10, 1812, Rochester Letters, Roch. Hist. Soc. Blanket 
orders for as much flour as he can deliver at Buffalo are here sent to Col. Roches 
ter at Dansville. 

77 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Rochester, Feb. 7, 1813, R. H. S., 
Pub., VII, 177. 


nately a good hunting season helped to tide the community over until 
spring. 7 * 


The succeeding year (in spite of a taste of both victory and disaster 
on the more-exposed frontier) brought continued growth to the falls 
settlement. On June i6 ? 1813, Sir James Yeo, "commodore" of the 
British squadron of eight vessels, anchored off the mouth of the Genesee 
and seized "between four and five hundred barrels of flour, pork, etc. 
together with a large boat laden with 1,200 bushels of corn destined for 
our troops at Niagara." 79 George Latta, younger brother of Samuel and 
clerk in charge of these government stores, was courteously provided 
with a receipt for the spoils. A force of militia arrived the next day in 
time to shout defiance at the departing fleet, and no injury was suffered 
by the villagers during the overnight occupation, but the prospects of 
Charlotte were seriously clouded, prompting many of the settlers to flee 
inland. 80 Nearly three months later a running skirmish occurred off 
the Genesee between the rival Ontario fleets, with ten American vessels 
under "Commodore" Isaac Chauncey in pursuit of Yeo s smaller 
squadron. Unfortunately the greater speed of the Canadians prevented 
Chauncey from duplicating Perry s decisive victory on Lake Erie the 
previous day. 81 American confidence, already stimulated as General 
Dearborn and his successors carried the fighting across the Niagara 
into Canada, was greatly enhanced by these naval engagements. 

Back on the Genesee the demand for supplies boosted prices, attract 
ing merchants from more exposed situations to the settlement at the 
upper falls where a spirit of optimism held sway. 82 Loads of produce 

78 Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," p, 58. 

79 Ontario Repository, June 22, 1813. 

^Hanford, "Visits of American and British Naval Vessels," pp. 42-45. 

^Ontario Repository, Sept. 14, 1813; Hanford, pp. 46-53. Chauncey had two 
ships, one brig, and seven schooners with a total tonnage of 2402, and 865 men, 
but he could only throw a broadside of 1288 Ibs.; while Yeo with two ships, two 
brigs, two schooners, and 770 men could throw a broadside of 1374 Ibs., according 
to Theodore Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812 (6th ed.; New York, 1897), pp. 

^Abelard Reynolds to William H. Moseley, Jan. 14, 1813, quoted in The His 
torical Magazine and Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquities, History and 
Biography of America, III (1859), *$6. "I should be pleased to see you at this place 
[Rochester] whenever it may suit your convenience, and I think for an enter 
prising young man there is no place within the scope of my knowledge, that pre 
sents greater advantages than this, and as soon as the War is over, none in my 
opinion will advance more rapidly in importance. Truly it is now, rather a for 
bidding place in its appearance. I live in a log hut, and there are some half a 
dozen within a half a mile of me. Mr. Ely from Pittsfield is here and thinks of 
erecting a mill, the water privileges being very extensive, perhaps no greater water 
power in the State. Indeed, we feel that this will ultimately be an important sec 
tion of our country. I have only to repeat, I would recommend you to come hither 
as soon as you get through with your studies." 


arrived by wagon from the east and by boat from the farms up the 
valley. 83 Several new houses appeared at the falls, and Abelard 
Reynolds worked long hours to fill the militia orders at his saddlery. 84 
When Silas O. Smith, formerly located at Hanford s Landing, erected 
a store at the Four Corners, Ira West, formerly at Bloomfield, moved 
in to take charge. 85 Francis Brown got his mill in operation and ac 
cumulated 4000 bushels of wheat at $1.25 in anticipation of rising 
prices. Hamlet Scrantom was able to write home with considerable 
optimism on December 2, 1813: 

The Village is flourishing beyond all calculation, property has risen one 
half, that is the lots. Last year at this time I had one Neighbor in the village, 
now I have ten, that is, there are eleven families, all compact, every lot on 
the main street is taken up & a number of back lots & there must be at least 
twenty houses built next summer. There is a number of men of large prop 
erty have bought here, every kind of mechanical business is good & money is 
plenty. ... 

The people are very industrious here & continue to put up buildings. In 
a few days we have to raise a very large store-house for Capt. Brown, 3 
stories high on an eight foot stone wall, calculated to require one hundred 
men to raise it. ... 

If there is any mechanic among you that wishes to come to the western 
country I can recommend this place. . . . 

Possibly some one may come on this winter, if that is the case & you can 
procure a smaU keg of oysters for me I should be glad, they are brought 
here every winter but bear a high price. 86 

But before the end of the month the disastrous retreat of the Ameri 
can forces, the capture of Fort Niagara, and the burning in quick suc 
cession of Black Rock and Buffalo spread misery and terror throughout 
the frontier. 87 The settlement at the falls was swollen for a time by 
refugees, but the pell-mell flight soon carried most of them further in 
land, together with some of the villagers themselves. Scrantom reloaded 

^Charks Carroll, Journal and Observations of Chas. Carroll of B[elle View] 
on a Tour to examine the distilleries & paper Mills of the Eastern States (1814), 
Rochester Letters. "Boats of 300 Barrels burthen go from Hermitage to the falls 
of Genisee." Pioneer Assoc. Record Book. In 1850 Gideon Cobb recalled that m 

1813 he had piloted a boatload of fruit from Irondequoit to Sackett s Harbor, 
and in the succeeding winter operated a four-ox team hauling provisions to and 
from the mouth of the river and the settlement at the bridge. 

* Abelard Reynolds, "Autobiography," Rochester Post-Express, Sept. 23, 1884. 
85 R. H. S., Pub., X, 196, quotes from the reminiscences of Silas 0. Smith; see 
his obituary in Peck s Scrapbook, p. i. 

86 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Rochester, Dec. 2, 1813, R. H. b., 

^^James^Idsworth to Mr. Richardson and Col. Rochester, Geneseo, Jan. 3, 

1814 MS, Univ. Roch.; Robert W. Bingham, The Cradle of the Queen City (Buf 
falo, 1931, Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., vol. XXXI), pp. 3i8-337- 


his ox cart and moved his family to a cabin in the hills southeast of the 
village where he had recently bought a small farm, while Captain 
Isaac W. Stone of the local militia sent his children to Bloomfield, safe 
in the interior. However, as the village was soon crowded with militia 
gathering from near-by settlements for the march to Niagara, courage 
revived. 88 

Sure progress was made even during these troubled days. Huldah 
Strong, who had accompanied her sister, Mrs. Reynolds, when Abelard 
moved his family to the falls early in 1813, gathered the children of the 
neighborhood together late that year in the pioneer school, meeting 
part of the time in the room over Jehiel Barnard s tailor shop. 89 Plans 
were laid in December for the construction of a district schoolhouse the 
next spring, but Silas 0. Smith, who cleared the lot back of his store, 
where the court hoijse and school were to be erected, earned the privilege 
of raising a crop of wheat there that summer, and the construction of 
the schoolhouse of Gates District No. 2 had to wait the harvest. Never 
theless, the fall season found the settlement well equipped for its educa 
tional responsibilities. 90 

The room over Barnard s tailor shop likewise housed the first re 
ligious meetings when the Reverend Daniel Brown rode over from 
Pittsford on several occasions to conduct Baptist services. 01 The first 
physician, Dr. Jonah Brown/ 2 and the first lawyer, John Mastick, 03 
settled at the falls during these years, as did the first blacksmith and 
toolmaker, James B. Carter. Hamlet Scrantom, seeking a rest from 
the long hours and heavy labor of the sawmill, erected a bake oven 
and established a grocery or dram shop to supply the accommodations 
so characteristic of frontier villages. 

. East of the river land speculation was the order of the day. Several 
attempts to buy portions of Enos Stone s farm were unsuccessful, 
though Abelard Reynolds, by trading an improved farm on the Black 
River for the zoo-acre forest lot adjoining Stone on the northeast, 
secured at $5 an acre land that was later to prove of great value. 94 
South of Stone the river lots, divided into 3 2 -acre plots, were disposed 
of at from $8 to $30 an acre, and here Scrantom and Carter acquired 

88 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Rochester, Dec, 26, 1811, R H S 
Pub., VII, 182-184. * " 

89 Blake McKelvey, "On the Educational Frontier," R. H. S., Pub., XVII, 8-9. 
^McKelvey, "Educational Frontier," pp. 9-10; Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham 

Scrantom, Rochester, Dec, 2, 1813, Jan, 24, 1815, R. H. S., Pub., VII, 180, 190, 

91 Annah B. Yates, "Early Rochester Family Records," No. XXIII, Rochester 
Post-Express, Dec. 3, 1910. 

92 Betsey C. Corner, "A Century of Medicine in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., 
XIII, 322-324; Kelsey, Lives and Reminiscences, p. 19, 

* Ontario Repository, Dec. 6, 1814; John D. Lynn, "Life and Times of John 
Mastick," R. H. S., Pub., VII, 118-121. 
w Reynolds, "Autobiography." 


valuable titles. 95 Moses Atwater of Canandaigua purchased 32 acres on 
the river north of the Stone farm, paying $1000 for the plot with its 
command of the water rights on the east bank at the main falls, but 
his plans for its development were deferred by the war. 96 Atwater 
was so enthusiastic over the venture that he wished to form a company 
able to invest "20 thousand dollars or more in real property contiguous 
to those falls." 97 It seemed desirable to acquire the tract between his 
site and the bridge, but the best offer Enos Stone would make was 
fifteen acres at $150 an acre not including the one-acre lots at the 
bridge already valued at $1000 each.* 8 Atwater, kept busy with the 
affairs of the newly established bank in Canandaigua as well as with his 
judicial duties at the county seat, was impatient for the arrival of his 
Connecticut associates in the mill-site venture, urging them to bring 
along their daughters to join his own, as "we have a good school" in 

There was a crisis in Rochester s affairs at this time of which the 
settlers had no inkling. As several of the lot holders were completing 
their payments, the approaching necessity for registering the deeds 
prompted the proprietors to search their own title. It was quickly dis 
covered that the several previous transfers had not been carefully re 
corded, and frantic letters were exchanged between the principals. 100 
William B. Rochester journeyed to Albany and then to New York in 
an attempt to trace down the witnesses to the various transactions in 
which the hundred-acre tract had been involved. 101 After much labor, 
however, the necessary affidavits were collected and the title was 
properly secured, admitted, and recorded in the Genesee County 
records. 102 

Fortunately the actual settlers knew nothing of these legal difficulties; 
they were sufficiently worried by the uncertain military developments 

95 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Brighton, Jan. 24, 1815, R. H. S. 
Pub., VII, 189. Scrantom had bought at $8 an acre, paying $100 extra for the im 
provements which included twelve acres cleared and fenced besides a small log 
cabin. But already the value had jumped to $30 an acre for the unsold river lots. 

96 Moses Atwater to Samuel J. Andrews, Oct. n, 28, Nov. 21, 1812, Atwater- 
Andrews Letters. In addition to the mill seat, the associates bought three adjoining 
lots along the river to the north at approximately $10 an acre, making a total 
investment of $1856. 

OT Same to same, Jan. 29, 1813. 

08 Same to same, Mar. 27, 1813. 

w Same to same, Mar. 30, 1813. 

1<K) Charles Carroll to Col. Rochester, Jan. 7, 1814; William Fitzhugh to Col. 
Rochester, Apr. 6, 1814, Rochester Letters. 

10:1 William B. Rochester to Col. Rochester, Albany, June 20, 1814; same to 
same, New York, June 27, 1814, Rochester Letters. 

102 Joseph Fellows to Col. Rochester, Geneva, Aug. 20, 1814; Jan. 16, 1815, 
Rochester Letters. 


on the none too distant frontier. As the snow melted up the valley and 
the ice-choked river brought the first flood to the new settlement early 
in i8i4, 108 the people became fearful of the military activities the 
spring might unleash. Captain Stone set off for Albany to petition for 
a company to be stationed at the mouth of the Genesee, for without 
such protection the settlers "do not think it safe to go on with building 
here next summer." 104 


Unless the war could be quickly terminated of which there was 
little prospect courageous action would be necessary to save the 
settlement from disintegration. Already Colonel Rochester, in a canny 
appeal to both the timid and the bold, had advertised his mills and 
farm at Dansville for sale, declaring his desire "to remove toithe Village 
of Rochester, at the Falls of the Genesee River." Though a favorable 
price was received for the safe interior location, before Rochester could 
complete arrangements to move to the falls, another milling enterprise 
was launched there, prompting the Colonel to locate instead at Bloom- 
field, nearly twenty miles southeast. 106 

The new mill was that of Josiah Bissell and the Ely brothers, recent 
arrivals from Massachusetts. Displaying an energy that was long to 
characterize their efforts, these young men not only opened the second 
store at the Four Corners, 106 but leased water privileges at the upper 
falls, where they repaired Allan s old raceway and erected a sawmill as 
well as the store in five weeks time. 107 Early in 1814 they acquired from 
Fitzhugh and Carroll (then making a long delayed second visit to the 
falls) 108 an additional lease granting permission to erect a gristmill 
on the improved mill race. 109 

108 Flood Committee, Flood Conditions in the Genesee River (Rochester, 1905), 
PP. 4~5- 

104 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Rochester, Feb. 19, 1814, R. H. S., 
Pub., VII, 185. 

106 See his advertisement, Ontario Messenger, Aug. 10, 1813. Scrantom in a 
letter to his father, Feb. 19, 1814, reports that Rochester received $24,000 for his 
Dansville properties. He paid $12,728 for his isy-acre farm at Bloomfield, which 
provides a clear contrast between improved land values along the state road and 
the $5 to $12 an acre asked for unimproved land in the Rochester area. See On 
tario County Deeds, Liber 24, p. 123, cited in R. H. S./ Pub., Ill, 382; also 
Rochester Letters. Rochester s letters to and from Endress and Opp of Easton, Pa., 
discuss the sale of the remaining portion of his Dansville estate in 1813 and 1814. 

106 Ontario Repository, Dec. 7, 1813. Hervey Ely advertised in addition to his 
stock of "Dry Goods, Hard Ware, Groceries, Crockery, & Glassware" a "handsome 
assortment of mahogony and gilt frame looking glasses." Ontario Repository, Dec. 
13, 1814. Hervey Ely to Col. Rochester, Mar. 12, 1823, Rochester Letters. 

107 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Rochester, Dec. 2, 1813, R. H. S., 
Pub., VII, 178. 

108 Charles Carroll, Journal, Rochester Letters. 

109 Elisha Ely to Col. Rochester, Pittsfield, June 24, 1814, Rochester Letters, 


The Ely mills, together with those of Francis Brown at the main falls 
and Stone s sawmill across the river, promised an adequate supply of 
lumber and flour until the return of peace, for the danger of invasion 
had checked improvements at the falls. Colonel Rochester reported 
"not more than three or four houses building" on the lots previously 
contracted for, and only one additional lot sold during the year. 110 The 
scarcity of provisions became less acute as the army contractors ran 
short of funds, prompting merchants to question their credit. 111 More 
than one impatient settler declared, "If we do not have a peace im 
mediately we shall have a long, bloody and ruinous war. If the Enemy 
has the compleat [sic] command of Lake Ontario the inhabitants of 
this part of our Country will be placed in a very desperate situation." 112 

Indeed, 1814 brought the threat of invasion directly to the lower 
Genesee, but through courage and good fortune possible disaster was 
avoided. Captain Isaac W. Stone successfully recruited a company of 
fifty men, and two cannon were hauled from the arsenal near Canandai- 
gua to defend the Genesee settlements. One of these, an eighteen- 
pounder, was taken to the mouth of the river, while the other, a four- 
pounder, was mounted at Deep Hollow bridge, surrounded by breast 
works, and pretentiously designated Fort Bender. A local Committee 
of Safety organized a patrol on the lake shore to warn of the enemy s 
approach. 113 

These preparations had scarcely been completed when Commodore 
Yeo s squadron, greatly strengthened during the winter, arrived off 
Charlotte on the evening of May i4th. With the American fleet still 
undergoing repairs at Sacketts Harbor, the community was left practi 
cally to its own defense. The pioneer tavern keeper had by this time ac 
quired the title of colonel, while the youthful millers, Francis Brown 
and Elisha Ely, served as captains. Thirty-odd men and boys were 
mustered from the village and equipped with powder from the Ely 
brothers store. Additional militia gathered from the neighborhood, and 
Colonel Stone, mounted on a white horse, endeavored to station his 
forces about the mouth of the river in such fashion as to disguise their 
weakness. Yeo s demands for the surrender of all military supplies were 
three times rejected on the first day, but an attempt to entice one of the 
gunboats up the river was frustrated by the premature discharge of the 
cannon, which precipitated a brief bombardment and the safe with- 

I10 0sgood, "Rochester: It s Founders," R. H. S., Pub., I, 67-68. 

1U Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Brighton, Jan. 24, 1815, R, H. S., 
Pub., VII, 189. 

113 Moses Atwater to Samuel J. Andrews, Canandaigua, July 8, 1814* Atwater- 
Andrews Letters. 

113 Ontario Repository, Mar. 29, 1814. Hamlet Scrantom, Oliver Culver, Frederick 
Hanford, and Samuel Latta were named to this committee by a public meeting at 
Isaac W. Stone s tavern on Mar. 14. 


drawal of the gunboat. The stout hearts and bold front shown by the 
local militia possibly delayed action, affording time for the arrival of 
reinforcements from the interior on the second day, when General 
Porter hastened over to take charge. Commodore Yeo, unwilling to risk 
ambush for so small a prize, finally "hoisted sail and stood down the 
lake" on the third morning. 114 

The militiamen returned to their homes, full of pride over their 
achievement, but in succeeding months these same courageous settlers, 
scattered in their lonely cabins, began to exaggerate the extent of their 
danger/ 15 Even the arrival of Chauncey s re-enforced fleet in September, 
with a force of 3000 on their way to strengthen the Niagara defenses 116 
(where the fort was still held by the British), failed to dispell the gloom 
accentuated by the death of Colonel Stone when returning from military 
duty in the West a few weeks before. 117 The villagers became resigned 
to seeing the "lake shore . . . scourged in the spring." 11S 

Rumors of peace had too obvious a relation to the deep-felt desires 
and speculative interests of every settler to receive credence as the 
villagers prepared themselves for winter quarters on the Genesee that 
year. Unusually heavy snows blocked the roads, delaying the irregular 
mails from Canandaigua. Thus it was the middle of February, iSij, 119 
before the news arrived that a treaty of peace had been signed the 
previous December. The end of the war promised a new day for the 
village at the falls, and Silas 0. Smith rushed from the small group 
gathered about the postrider to get his pistol and start the general 
celebration by firing from the steps of his store a rapid fusillade which 
soon brought out the last stragglers to hear the good news. 120 

^Ontario Repository, May 17, 1814; Hanford, "Visits of American and British 
Naval Vessels," R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 55-64, 

115 No doubt the eighty thousand residents of Upper Canada were as much 
perturbed as were the sixty thousand in western New York. 

116 Hanford, p. 64. 

117 Reynolds, "Autobiography," Rochester Post-Express, Sept. 23, 1884. 

118 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Rochester, Jan. 24, 1815, R. H. S., 
Pub., VII, 189. 

119 Ontario Repository, Feb. 21, 1815. The news of peace reached Avon by ex 
press mail on Feb. 17. British and American flags were soon hoisted over all 
public buildings along the state road, 

m Scrantom, "Old Citizens Letters," Scrapbook, Roch. Hist. Soc,, p. 16, 






























THE NEWS of peace brought a surge of activity about the lower 
Genesee, Not only did the prospects of Colonel Rochester s settle 
ment instantly revive, but enterprise reappeared at Charlotte and 
Fall Town, while new settlements sprang up on the east bank of the 
river. An intense rivalry developed as many of the more vigorous 
personalities of western New York directed their energies toward the 
promotion of towns and mill-sites on the lower Genesee. 1 Settlers 
trooped in, not as farmers, but as artisans and mechanics, eager to 
locate in a thriving village. The essential functions of community life 
were quickly provided at several of the lower Genesee settlements. 

But the upper falls, by interrupting the downward flow of Genesee 
produce and supplying power for the milling of marketable products, 
gave a decided advantage to Rochester. The roads, converging at the 
bridge, brought increased activity, enabling the settlement to look 
forward hopefully toward early incorporation. The attempts of jealous 
rivals to deflect commerce and retard the growth of the village were 
frustrated when the projected state canal was routed across the Genesee 
at this point. Before the end of the decade, Rochester had become a 
sizable village, ranking as one of the chief towns west of Albany, though 
it did not as yet suspect the boom growth that was to characterize the 
next period. 


The shouting and gunplay over the news of peace quickly dispelled 
the last traces of gloom at the Four Corners. The Ely brothers painted 
their newly completed gristmill a dull red, and as soon as the spring 

1 Micah Brooks to Col. Rochester, Albany, Nov. n, 1815, Rochester Letters, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. While attending the public sale of lands for taxes in various parts 
of the state, Brooks writes: "I find the Speculators run hard upon Ontario con 
sidering it to be valuable Land there will be none Sold in that Township West 
of Genesee River at the village of Rochester but a great number of Lots will be 
sold in the Township on the East side of the River," 


thaw cleared the raceway their four pairs of millstones began to turn 
out an improved grade of flour. 2 Running late into the night, the Red 
Mill, as soon distinguished, afforded a convenient gathering place for 
those who sought relaxation after sundown around a flagon of whiskey 
from the newly established distillery nearby. 8 The rumble of the mill 
stones, mingling with the clangor of Carter s anvil across the street and 
with the sound of the hammers of Abelard Reynolds workmen, busy 
enlarging his house into the first tavern on the west bank, 4 provided a 
cheerful welcome to Erastus Cook, the first silversmith/ to Horace and 
George Sill, the first booksellers, 6 and to a half-dozen other merchants 
laden with fresh supplies from Albany or Montreal. 7 

The development of community life was marked by the appearance 
of several pioneer institutions. Tuneful melodies occasionally drifted 
down from the second story of Barnard s tailor shop where choristers 
frequently gathered, 8 replacing the religious and educational activities 
which had already moved from that accommodating loft to more suitable 
quarters. The first religious society was organized in August when six 
teen charter members formed the pioneer Presbyterian church in the 
schoolhouse. 9 Two months later an even more significant ceremony 
united Jehiel Barnard and Delia Scrantom in the first wedlock joined 
in the settlement. 10 Death was reaping its toll, but the stork more than 
repaired such losses. 11 The community was taking root; thirty-two 
additional lots were disposed of by the proprietors, 12 while a census of 
the inhabitants in December, 1815, showed a total of 33i. 18 Thus en- 

2 Ontario Repository, Feb. 7, 1815; Maude Motley, "Romance of Milling," 
R. H. S., Pub., X, 174-176. 

s Motley, pp. 174-176; Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Jan. 24, 1815, 
R. H. S., Pub., VII, 190. 

4 Abelard Reynolds, "Autobiography," Rochester Post-Express, Sept. 23, 1884. 

* Edwin Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," Scrapbook, p. 5, Roch. Hist, Soc. 

6 Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters"; Ontario Repository, Feb. 27, i8 x6, an 
nounces a supply of Mrs. Hafland s new novel, The Sisters, as available at the 

7 Ontario Repository, Apr. 5, Aug. i, Oct. 24, 1815. Umbrellas appear for the 
first time in these announcements. 

8 John D, Lynn, "Life and Times of John Mastick," R. H. S., Pub., VII, *aa. 

9 Charles M. Robinson, First Church Chronicles: iSi^iois (Rochester, 1915), 
pp. 11-24; Orlo J. Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism in Rochester," 
R. H. S., Pub., XII, 246-247. 

10 Edwin Scrantom, "The First Wedding in Rochester," R. H. S,, Pub., VI, 313- 
3 iS. 

11 Edward R. Foreman, "The First White Child Born in Rochester," R. H. S., 
Pub,, VI, 317-327* In addition to the three children born to Mrs, Josiah Fish in 
Allan s old mill, five other children were born in the families at the bridge by 

^Howard L. Osgood, "Rochester: Its Founders and Founding," R. H, S., Pub., 

A Directory for the Village of Rochester (Rochester, 1827), p. 91. 


couraged, the settlement gathered for its first Christmas Ball in the 
assembly room of Henry Skinner s new house at the Four Corners on 
Monday, the 25th, at three o clock. 14 


From the start Rochester included within its orbit the activities at 
the eastern end of the bridge and those of Frankfort, a half mile farther 
north on the west bank at the main falls. The scattered settlers had fre 
quently rallied as one community during the war years, and although 
peace brought an increased incentive to independent development, their 
unity was never seriously threatened. Thus, Hamlet Scrantom, after 
residing alternately at both ends of the bridge, moved down to the main 
falls in 1815 to take charge of Brown s rebuilt gristmill. 15 

Francis Brown provided a vigorous leadership to the Frankfort settle 
ment. The Scrantom family lodged in Brown s large house overlooking 
the public square which had been laid out in the New York tradition 
as the center of the development. Here the proprietor and his workmen 
boarded together until, in 1816, the young bachelor married a daughter 
of Daniel Penfield, leader of the settlement a few miles east. 16 The road 
from the bridge was improved, and, with both a sawmill and a gristmill 
running overtime, new settlers were attracted and a general store 
opened. 17 Soon, a separate schoolhouse being required, Gates District 
No. 10 was formed. 18 Dr. Matthew Brown, Jr., arrived from Rome at 
this time and with his younger brother organized the Genesee Manu 
facturing Company to develop the water power of the main falls. 19 The 
company undertook the job of opening Brown s race, which had to be 
dug much of the way through the limestone ledge that formed the brink 
of the gorge. The first section, seventy-four rods in length, was com 
pleted late in 18 1 6 at a cost of $3,872.96, providing the "hydraulic 
power" which ultimately attracted a group of enterprising millers to the 
west bank at the main falls. 20 Even before the race opened, a cotton 
factory was erected and equipped with spindles from Massachusetts; 

14 Invitation sent to Mrs. Abelard Reynolds, Dec. 16, 1815, Harris MSS, Roch. 
Hist. Soc. 

15 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, June 3, 1815, R. H. S., Pub., VII, 
190-192. Scrantom reports that with the aid of two helpers he was able to grind 
50 to 150 bushels a day. His earnings now amounted to $450 or $500 a year for 
himself and his son, Elbert. 

16 Motley, "Romance of Milling," p. 172; Turpin C. Bannister, "Early Town 
Planning in New York State," New York History, XXIV (April, -1943) , 186-195. 

17 Ontario Repository, Oct. 18, 1814. A store opened in Frankfort during the 
war advertised a quantity of liquors, teas, American factory ginghams, grind 
stones, and a few books including several copies of the Edinburgh Encyclopedia. 

18 Blake McKelvey, "On the Educational Frontier," R. H. S., Pub., XVII, 10. 
u Ontario Repository, May 28, Dec. 10, 1816 ; see Dr. Brown s obituary, Demo 
crat, Dec. 30, 31, 1851. 

of the State of New York in Relation to the Erie and Champlain 


the timely arrival of several trained operatives made it possible to start 
work the next spring. 21 

East of the river speculative ventures gave place to practical develop 
ments with the return of peace. Samuel J. Andrews, brother-in-law of 
Atwater of Canandaigua, arrived to take charge of their joint enterprise 
on the Genesee in 1815, erecting the first stone building in the settlement 
at the top of the hill overlooking the bridge (corner of St. Paul and 
Main streets). There the pioneer store on the east barik opened in 
1816. Andrews likewise found time to supervise the construction of 
mills at the main falls and to lay the foundations for a fine home over 
looking the river halfway to the bridge. 22 The work of clearing the land, 
improving the roads, and erecting these and other buildings attracted 
additional settlers. Soon the community at the east end of the bridge, 
included within the town of Brighton as set off from Boyle in 1814, 
organized Brighton District No. 4, and erected a small schoolhouse 
where Clinton and Mortimer streets cross today. 28 


The dominance of the Rochester settlement over these close neighbors 
and the surrounding territory was favored in a limited respect by its 
post office, the records of which likewise provide a rough measure of the 
community s growth. Before Reynolds appointment as postmaster late 
in 1812, residents of the lower Genesee had frequently gone to Canan- 
daigua, Bloomfield, or Avon for their letters. 24 Though a post office 

Canals (Albany, 1825), I, 3i5-3 i6. Matthew Brown, Jr. and Francis Brown in a 
report to Myron Holley give the following figures: 

Men s labour 1535 days at 62 J^ cts. $959 37 

Team s labour 312 do. 50 cts. 156 oo 

Do. by contract, 100 oo 

Mason s work by contract, laying dry wall, 55 oo 

Blacksmith s bills, repairing tools, &c. 142 43 

13 kegs of powder, at $14 182 oo 

Tools worn out and destroyed, say 25 oo 

Use of carts and waggons, 40 oo 
Subsistence for men at i6s. per week, the 

common price for boarding, 435 oo 

Subsistence for teams at i6s. per week, 90 oo 
Add for work done by contract, on a part of 

the canal, the nature of the work the same, i>3oo oo 

Superintending six months, say 383 39 

Amount of the whole expenditure, $3,868 19 

21 John Kelsey, Lives and Reminiscences of the Pioneers oj Rochester and 
Western New York, pp, 41-43. 

23 R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 226-228; X, 185; XI, 284. 

28 Blake McKelvey, "Educational Frontier," p. 10. 

u Ontario Repository, July n, Oct. 10, 1809, July 3, 1810. A dozen or so let 
ters for residents in Boyle are advertised by the postmasters of the above villages 
on these dates. 


opened in Boyle [Pittsford] in iSn 25 served the settlers at the falls 
for a time, the office on the site of the Reynolds Arcade soon became 
the chief postal depot for this area. Mail collections for the last quarter 
of 1813 amounted to only $10.37, a nd a year later to only $19.40, but 
the same period in 1816 brought in $171.93, nearly an eightfold growth 
in two years. 26 One third of the receipts 2T went to the rider who carried 
the mail by horseback from Canandaigua to Rochester irregularly before 
1815, when semi-weekly deliveries and soon a stage wagon were in 
troduced. 28 

Rochester s central position was moderately strengthened by road 
construction during these years. A Rochester Turnpike Company was 
organized to improve the highway from Canandaigua, while repairs on 
the road west to Lewiston were likewise undertaken. 29 The East River 
Road, opened northward from the bridge over Honeoye Creek to the 
bridge at Rochester, connected the latter village with the older settle 
ments to the south. Despite a grant of authority to open a road from 
Rochester to Batavia and the application for a state road to the head 
of the Allegany River, 30 for several years Rochester s only route to the 
southwest was by way of Scottsville and the old state road. The condi 
tion of these forest highways, obstructed by innumerable stumps and 
miry bogs, was accepted as a matter of course by the villagers who 
used them to tap the commercial resources of the hinterland. The scat 
tered farmers eagerly made the best of the facilities available. 31 

Meanwhile, the more important local trade artery of the day the 
Genesee River was depositing an enlarged volume of produce on 
Rochester s doorstep. Logging and rafting down the river had increased 

25 Ontario Repository, Oct. 22, 1811 ; Charles H. True, "Pittsford Town Records," 
R. H. S., Pub., VIII, 125. 

20 AbeIard Reynolds, Post Office Receipts, MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

27 E. R. Foreman, "Post Offices and Postmasters of Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., 
XII, 56, 57. Until 1816 the rates on domestic letters were: "For each piece of paper 
of which a single letter or letter packet may be composed, under forty miles, 8 
cents; under 90 miles 10 cents; under 150 miles, 12 YT. cents; under 300 miles, 17 
cents; under 500 miles, 20 cents; over 500 miles, 25 cents." For thirty years after 
1816 the rates were: "For each letter weighing less than half an ounce, if carried 
less than 300 miles, 5 cents; over 300 miles, 10 cents; each additional half ounce, 
double rates; drop letters delivered from the office where posted, 2 cents." 

28 William F. Peck, Semi-Centennial History of Rochester, pp. 92-93; Carrier 
Receipts, 1814, 1815, MSS, Reynolds Coll. 

29 N. Y. Laws of 1814, ch. 199; Laws of 1815, ch. 31; Ontario Repository, 
May 2, Aug. i, 1815; Daniel Cruger to Col. Rochester, Marcellus, N. Y., Apr. 3, 
1815, Rochester Letters, tells of a second turnpike company incorporated to open 
a road from Skaneateles to Palmyra, whence a road already extended to Rochester. 

30 Ontario Repository , May 2, 1815; Mar. 25, 1817. 

81 E. P. Clapp, "Trade and Transportation in Western New York," MS, Roch. 
Hist. Soc., pp. 143-144, tells of a Chili farmer who recalled the early sixteen-mile 
trips to market made with a yoke of oxen and 32 to 35 bushels of wheat, return 
ing in 20 weary hours. 


steadily during the war years, while the renewal of Canadian trade 
emphasized by the sudden jump in the price of wheat to $2.50 a bushel 
in 1815 and of flour to $15 a barrel further stimulated the growth of 
river commerce. 82 By 1816 Rochester was recognized as the principal 
grain market of western New York, where, despite the "cold summer" 
of 1816 and the tedious labor of plowing, harvesting and threshing, 
wheat was becoming a major crop. 83 Frequent advertisements by lower 
Genesee merchants for ashes and staves likewise encouraged the flow of 
these forest products down the river. 34 

So profitable had this water traffic become that partially enclosed 
scows now made their appearance among the open rafts. Provided with 
a low cabin at both ends and with cleated running boards along the sides 
for the "shovers" to walk with their poles, these Durham boats, pat 
terned after those on the Mohawk, 85 made frequent round trips during 
the Genesee high-water seasons of spring and fall. By 1820 the number 
of such boats, staffed by regular crews of from four to seven boatmen, 
numbered eight or ten. 86 Except during the dry season, these well-built 
craft were able to make their way down from Mount Morris, occa 
sionally even from Dansville, over the rapids above Rochester to unload 
just south of the upper falls. No settlement on the New York frontier, 
except Buffalo, had a better trade feeder, 87 while Buffalo lacked an easy 
means for transhipment to Eastern or Canadian markets. 

Rochester s major trade asset of the day was not the river but the 
vast lake a few miles north. The Canadian market was not only greatly 
expanded, but its merchants, enjoying empire preference abroad, were 
not as yet ready to enforce mercantile restrictions against American 
producers inland. Canada s interior merchants, faced with the sudden 
decline in their share of the fur trade, were eager to participate in the 
growing lumber and produce trade. 88 Soon a fleet of sixty sailing craft, 
probably none of them much over a hundred tons capacity, were busily 
engaged in the commerce of Lake Ontario. 8 * In 1818 an average of 
fifteen vessels a day passed down the St. Lawrence during a six weeks 
period. 40 The Genesee port, outlet for the growing produce of a rich 

82 Clapp, "Trade and Transportation," p, 13. 

88 Clapp, "Trade and Transportation," pp. 135, 142 ; Sophia Webster Lloyd, 
"Recollections of Pioneer Life in Western New York," MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

84 Ontario Repository, Apr. $, May i, Oct. 24, Nov. 28, 1815. 

85 Clapp, "Trade and Transportation," pp. 38-48. 

86 Clapp, "Trade and Transportation," pp. 150-152. 

87 N. Y. State Conservation Comm., Report on the Watershed of the Genesee 
(Albany, 1912), pp. 14-18. 

^Creighton, Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence: 1760-1850, pp. 172-174. 

89 Clapp, "Trade and Transportation," p. 135; Capt. James Van Cleve, "Remi 
niscences of Early Sailing on Lake Ontario," MS, Buffalo Hist. Soc. 

40 Van Cleve, "Reminiscences," p. 65; Laws in Relation to the Erie and Cham- 
plain Canals, I, 473. 


valley, made an increasing contribution to this commerce, in which 
boats of local construction played a part. 41 Even from the southeast, 
merchants were bringing the produce of the older towns of the Finger 
Lakes to the Genesee and other lake ports rather than pay the heavy 
freight rates for the long haul to Albany. 42 Genesee shipments were, as 
a result, bounding upward in the first years of peace, 43 to the great 
benefit of each of the lower Genesee settlements. 


The thriving commerce brought new life to both Charlotte and Fall 
Town, where several of the merchants who had withdrawn during the 
war now returned. The old Hanford store at the landing was reopened 
by two of the younger brothers, 44 while Frederick Hanford associated 
himself with Oliver Culver in trading activities between Brighton and 
Fall Town, soon engaging a fleet of five boats in the enterprise. 45 Gideon 
King s younger sons, Bradford and Moses, who had been taken back to 
Suffield by their widowed mother two decades before, now returned as 
young men to build homes on the Ridge and promote the sale of their 
remaining lands. 46 The prospect of a settlement on the opposite bank 
prompted Frederick Hanford to seek control of the ferry on the lower 
Genesee in 1818, but meanwhile he was not neglecting to make judicious 
investments at the upper falls. 47 

As the fortunes of Charlotte at the river s mouth had been more 
seriously injured by the war, few of its earlier merchants returned. 
George Clinton Latta was a notable exception first as the local repre 
sentative of the firm of Bushnell and Latta, and later on his own 
account directing many of the trading operations of the lower Gene- 
see. 48 Samuel Currier, former tavern keeper at Charlotte, served for a 

41 Hosea Rogers, quoted in R. H. S., Pub., IX, 101-103; Annah B. Yates, "Early 
Rochester Family Records," No. XLVII, Post-Express, May 27, 1911; Van Cleve, 
"Reminiscences," .pp. 150-151, Van Cleve gives the names of five sailing vessels 
built on the Genesee in 1818. 

42 Ontario Repository, July 14, 1818; Hibernicus [DeWitt Clinton], Letters on 
the Natural History and Internal Resources of the State of New York (New 
York, 1822), p. 160. 

^Ontario Repository, Jan. 7, 1817; Aug. n, 1818. Nearly 5,000 barrels of 
flour were shipped from the Genesee in the last two and a half months of the 
1816 season, while 21,000 barrels were shipped during the first half of the 1818 
season. * 

^Ontario Repository, Sept. 12, 1815. 

45 Oliver Culver Papers, MSS, Nos. 4, 8, University of Rochester; see the 
sketch of Culver s career, Union, Aug. 16, 1852. 

46 Telegraph, Nov. 28, 1818; Sept. 4, 1821. 

47 Ontario Repository, May 28, 1816; Mar. 17, 1818; Genesee County Deeds, 
Liber II, 418, 434-440. 

^George Clinton Latta Papers, MSS, Univ. Rochester; R. H. S., Pub., XI, 
248-250; "Reminiscences of George C. Latta," in Annah B. Yates, "Early Roches 
ter Family Records," Nos. XLVI-XLVII, Post Express, May 20, 27, 1911, 


time as a boat captain, though his discouraging record of burying six 
wives in almost as many years not only drove him to apparent suicide, 
but revealed the numerous hazards that still surrounded the lower 
Genesee settlers. 49 Frequent lake storms occasionally caught one or more 
of the small schooners far from port with disastrous results for their 
crews, 50 yet the trade of the lake and of the lower Genesee enjoyed 
steady growth. 51 

Even more marked was the increasing strength and number of the 
lower Genesee settlements. Old Northampton and Northfield, long since 
renamed Gates and Boyle respectively, had by 1817 been broken into 
nine townships. West of the river, Gates was already backed by Riga, 
Ogden, Parma, and Murray; while on the east side, in place of Boyle 
stood Brighton, Pittsford, Perinton, and Penfield; still the process of 
township reorganization was scarcely half completed. 52 The story was 
one of rapid growth. The area of these townships, later organized as 
Monroe County, which in 1810 had contained but 4,683 persons, num 
bered 11,178 by 1814, and more than doubled during the next five years, 
reaching 27,288 by 1820. Gates on the west bank of the Genesee num 
bered 2,643 * n 1820, while Brighton had 1,972, not counting a settle 
ment of Indian families still encamped along the ridge between the bay 
and the river. 58 Together these two townships had enjoyed a threefold 
growth since the close of the war. 54 


The chief advantage from the lower Genesee s commercial and popu 
lation growth was to be derived not at the rival shipping docks, nor at 
the crossroads settlements scattered round about, 65 but at the upper 
falls. There much of the grain was turned into flour, the logs into 
building materials, while other products of the valley were prepared for 

49 Dorothy S* Truesdale, "The Marriages and Bereavements of Captain Samuel 
Currier," R. H. S., Pub., XVII, 201-203. 

60 Repository, Nov. 7, 14, 1815, The JuUa was wrecked off Pulteneyville on 
Oct. 24, and all lives lost. The newly developed "safe and convenient harbor at 
Pultney Ville" had proved beyond her reach when the storm broke. Repository, 
Apr. 4, 1815; Tekgraph, Oct. 3, 1820. 

51 Repository, Jan. 7, 1817; Leonard Stoneburner, Shipping Accounts, Autograph 
Letters, Roch, Hist. Soc. ; Chilton Williamson, "New York s Impact on the Cana 
dian Economy," New York History, XXIV (1943), 43, passim. 

62 R. H. S., Pub., VII, 303-320; VIII, 126-127. 

58 Harris MSS, No. 6$A, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

54 N. Y. Census (1855), pp. xxiii-xxiv. 

155 It is worth noting that as late as -1820 the large townships of Penfield and 
Riga each exceeded the population of Gates, and that the millers on Irondequoit 
Creek in the first named town were still confident rivals of Rochester. N. Y. Cen 
sus (1855), p. xxiii; Grace Raymond, "Penfield Pioneers," MS; Lucy F. Gay 
"Pioneer Life in Riga," MS, Roch, Hist. Soc. 


distant markets. Farmers and merchants, coining in from the surround 
ing territory to unload, made the village an ideal market town, and 
many merchants from the older Genesee settlements quickly transferred 
all or part of their activities to this more favored location. Soon village 
incorporation was achieved, and the fundamental community functions 
were provided. The eleventh-hour challenge of a new rival at the lower 
falls was lightly tossed aside when the Erie Canal was routed across 
the Genesee at the upper falls. 

The actual details of its incorporation were possibly the easiest and 
simplest of the many steps necessary to the establishment of the village. 
The application for a village charter, made to the legislature early in 
1817, was formulated by a local committee and carried to Albany by 
Colonel Rochester himself. 56 On March 2ist the act passed, incorpo 
rating the village of Rochesterville in the County of Genesee. 57 A gener 
ous tract of 655 acres on the west bank of the Genesee, including Colonel 
Rochester s hundred acres, the two hundred acres of Frankfort, and 
room for expansion north, south, and west, was set off within Gates 
township for the new village. Though the existence of an earlier Roches 
ter post village in Ulster County may have prompted the adoption of 
the name Rochesterville, the settlement, which had for some time used 
the shorter name, continued to do so in non-legal affairs. Among the 
approximately seven hundred residents, possibly a hundred adult males 
(who had lived in the county during the preceding six months as free 
holders to the value of twenty pounds, or as renters to the value of 
forty shillings, and who had been rated and paid taxes to the state) 
assembled at the schoolhouse on the first Monday of May, 1817, to 
choose the seventeen village officers specified in the charter. 58 

Unfortunately, Rochester s incorporation was marred by an unhappy 
but spirited village quarrel. The general rejoicing which greeted the 
news of incorporation stopped suddenly when the merchants prepared 
a slate of candidates excluding all mechanics. Some of the latter angrily 
rallied their fellows behind a ticket dominated by their own candidates, 
and in the election which followed the mechanics as workmen were 
then known carried the day. 59 It was the merchants 7 turn to feel in- 

^Roswell Babbit in behalf of the Village Incorporation Committee to Col. 
Rochester, Rochester, Jan, 23, 1817; Enos Pomeroy to Col. Rochester, Rochester, 
Mar. 20, 1817, Rochester Letters. 

B7 N. Y. Laws of 1817, ch. 96. 

m W. Earl Weller, "The Development of the Charter of the City of Rochester: 
1817-1938," M. A. thesis, Univ. Roch. (1938), pp. 13-17; Records of the Doings 
and Votes of the Inhabitants of the Village of Rochester, May 5, i8 i7. 

59 Records of the Doings ... of the Inhabitants ... of Rochester, May 5, 
1817. The trustees elected were Daniel Mack, William Cobb, Everard Peck, Jehiel 
Barnard, and Francis Brown, and at least Brown could hardly be classed as a 


dignant, and rumor said that they were discharging the mechanics 
responsible for the opposition. News of the untoward development, 
soon reaching Colonel Rochester on his Bloomfield estate, prompted a 
letter full of sound advice to Dr. Matthew Brown: 

I would rather have sacrificed $500 than that such an event should have 
happened. ... I have constantly endeavored to impress it on the inhabitants 
to harmonize among themselves as well as with the inhabitants of the neigh 
boring village of Carthage in order to make it all one place. ... It will be 
pleasing to the enemies of Rochester, and you know she has a great number 
who envy her growing consequence. I must entreat that you and Esquire 
Mastick will endeavor to heal the wound before it becomes an ulcer. 60 

Apparently the threat of strife was averted and harmony restored, 
for the progress of the settlement continued. The close accord which 
had drawn the two settlements west of the river into one village was 
matched by a like cooperation with the developments at the east end 
of the bridge. There Enos Stone at last agreed to sell the central portion 
of his farm minus a dozen choice lots already disposed of to Elisha 
Johnson of Canandaigua. 61 

Johnson, who with his partner, Orson Seymour, paid $10,000 for the 
eighty-acre purchase, moved his family to the falls in May, iSiy. 62 
Soon the tract was surveyed into village lots with a gridiron street plan 
and a Main Street leading down to the bridge where it joined with 
Buffalo Street on the other side. Though a petition for the inclusion of 
the eastern settlement within the Rochesterville limits produced no 
action from the legislature, possibly because of its location in a separate 
county, 63 pther measures of cooperation were steadily advanced. Thus 
Elisha Johnson s plan, calling for a wing dam to assure a steady supply 
of water for his east side raceway, was soon revised by agreement with 
the Rochester proprietors to extend the dam across the river so as to 
serve both the east and west races at the upper falls. * Work on the joint 
projects ultimately cost Johnson and Seymour $12,000 and laid the 
foundation for later disputes, but meanwhile the settlers on both sides 

60 Col. Rochester to Dr. Brown, May 9, 1817; Brown to Rochester, May 15, 
1817, MSS, Ontario Hist. Soc., Canandaigua, N. Y. 

61 Ontario County Deeds, Liber 28, p, 98; Ontario Repository, Feb. 10, 1818, 
Johnson and Seymour advertise 220 village lots and 40 water rights for sale; 
"Elisha Johnson" in Post Express, Apr. 14, 1893; Aug. 25, 1894. See Osgood Col 
lection, MSS, III, 50. 

^Elisha Johnson to Col. Rochester, Rochester, May 16, 1817, Rochester Let 

68 Ontario Repository, Jan. 20, 1818. The petition, dated Dec. 9, 1817, was 
signed by Samuel Andrews and William Atkinson representing East Rochester, 
and John Mastick and Libbeus Elliott for Rochesterville. 

04 Elisha Johnson to Col, Rochester, Rochester, May 16, 1817; Rochester Let 


gathered for a picnic on July 4, 1817, blasting rock from the Johnson 
race as a practical celebration of the day. 6 ; 5 


There were many reasons for rejoicing at the upper falls that year. 
Within the past eighteen months more than a score of stores and other 
shops had located in the village, while new ventures had been launched 
by several of the earlier arrivals. A tannery, a brickyard, and the 
Weekly Gazette, Rochester s first paper, all made their appearance in 
i8i6. 66 A new gristmill was constructed east of the river on Johnson s 
race by young William Atkinson in 1817, while Colonel Rochester s 
second son, John, took charge of a sawmill on the west bank. 67 Already 
a second bookstore, opened by young Everard Peck from Connecticut, 
was displaying a sideline of wall paper. 68 An enterprising drygoods 
merchant must have been filling numerous orders for the white paint 
that provided the sparkling appearance noted by travelers. 6 * 

A group of variously trained professional men were attracted to the 
village by the prospect of growing up with the community. Thus a 
young medic from the East described Rochester as "a delightful village 
. . . surrounded by woods, [containing] many elegant buildings . . . 
and rapidly increasing but no place for me. There are eight physicians 
in the village, six more than it can support." 70 Somebody should have 
advised Dr. Collar that several of his professional brethren were pre 
occupied with town-lot speculation and other village affairs. Neither 
Dr. Matthew Brown nor Dr. Levi Ward found much time for the care 
of the sick, while Dr. Frederick F. Backus was busy with the establish 
ment of the first drug store. There was still ample room for enterprising 
professionals in Rochester, as young Moses Chapin, a law student from 
the East, demonstrated when he put up his shingle in spite of the six 
lawyers already located in the village. 71 

^Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," Scrapbook, Roch. Hist. Soc., p. 30. 

66 Ontario Repository, Jan. 2, May 12, Apr. 23, June 18, Dec. 3, 1816. 

67 R. H. S., Pub., X, 180; John C. Rochester to Col. Rochester, Nov. 7, 1817, 
Rochester Letters. 

68 Ontario Repository, Apr. i, 1817. 

69 Frances Wright, Views of Society and Manners in America, p. 165; Ashley 
Samson in Rochester Daily Union, Mar. 29, 1855, reminisces of his first visit to 
Rochester in 1817: "I came upon quite a cluster of neat-looking buildings, mostly 
painted white . . . surrounded on all sides by dense forests, many of the dwelling 
houses being without cellars or underpinnings, resting upon blocks of wood." 

70 William B. Collar to his parents, Wyoming, N. Y., June 7, 1817, typed copy, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. 

71 Oswald P. Backus, Jr., "History of the Monroe County Court," R. H. S., 
Pub., IV, 198; "Frederick F. Backus," in F. B. Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the 
Graduates of Yak College (New Haven, 1912), VI, 520-521, and "Moses Chapin," 
VI, 376-378; Rev. A. G. Hall, A Discourse Delivered at the Funeral of Moses 
Chapin (Rochester, 1865); [Henry M. Ward], "Dr. Levi Ward, Jr.," Memorials 
of a Grandparent and Parents (n.d.). Though generally refer*e4 to a? Pr. 


So bright were the prospects of Rochesterville that the aged proprietor 
was becoming impatient to make the long-deferred removal to the falls. 72 
The contrasting trends in land values must have impressed Colonel 
Rochester, for the Bloomfield estate he had bought in 1814 for $12,000 
was assuming the character of a frozen asset, while the No. i lot in the 
village, sold to Henry Skinner in 1811 for $200, already exceeded 
$12,000 in value when purchased by Azel and Russell Ensworth in Jan 
uary, 1817. The Ensworths soon erected a fine new tavern on their 
choice lot at the Four Corners, providing accommodations for the 
numerous travelers now brought to the village three times a week by 
the Canandaigua-Lewiston stage. Not only the regular stage wagons, 78 
but also a variety of one-horse dearborns, Dutch or light Jersey wagons, 
slow but sturdy ox carts, and great covered wagons were transporting 
travelers and settlers westward in an ever increasing stream. One esti 
mate placed the number of families that crossed Rochester bridge in the 
summer of 1816 at one thousand. 74 

Since the necessity for keeping in close touch with these develop 
ments brought the proprietors on frequent visits to the falls, the desire 
for a free hand in their projects prompted a division of the joint hold 
ings in the summer of 1816, Rochester, Fitzhugh, and Carroll each 
received fifty-odd lots from the unsold portion of the tract, together 
with an equal share of water privileges, while each agreed to contribute 
to the expense of building and repairing the raceway and dam in pro 
portion to the number of mills to be erected on his lots. 75 

A congenial but diversified community life was taking shape. The 
modest frame structure, erected early in 1817 by the Presbyterians, 
supplied the first meeting house, facilitating the work of the pioneer 
resident pastor, the Reverend Comfort Williams, who had arrived the 
year before. 76 Episcopal, Quaker, Baptist, Methodist, and Catholic resi 
dents held services from time to time, though only the first three groups 
established regular societies before the end of 1818, by which date a 
Sabbath school and missionary society had also appeared. 77 The first 

Ward, Jr., during the twenties, the Jr. is not used in this account, and the same 
holds for Dr. Matthew Brown. 

" Ontario Repository, Jan. 30, Feb. 27, 1816; Rochester Letters for i8 i6 and 

78 John M. Duncan, Traveler through Part of the United States and Canada in 
1818-1819 (Glasgow, 1823), II, 5-6, gives a description of a stage wagon on the 
Genesee Road. Dr. Azel Ensworth obituary, Democrat, May 8, 1854. 

74 Lieut. Francis Hall, Travels in Canada and the United States in 1816 and 
1817 (London, 1818), pp. 194-195. 

75 Agreement dated, July 6, 1816, and deed of partition, Aug. 13, 1817, Roches 
ter Letters. 

70 Robinson, First Church Chronicles, pp. 23-25; Dexter, Graduates of Yak, 

VI, 233-234; Charles M. Williams, The Rev. Comfort Williams [Rochester, 1910]. 

7T Annah B. Yates, "First Church Chronicles," R. H. S., Pub., I, 211; Orlo J. 


local Masonic lodge organized in the summer of i8i7, 78 about the same 
time that the first village band formed. 79 Evening parties lasting from 
six to eleven and afternoon teas (in one instance forty ladies gathered 
to welcome an out-of-town sister) supplied social pleasures, particularly 
agreeable during the winter season when good sleighing added to the 
merriment. 80 Occasional weddings afforded more festive ceremonies, as 
when young Gerrit Smith, just out of Hamilton College, came to 
Rochester to marry Wealthea Ann Backus, daughter of Hamilton s 
president, who was stopping at the time with her brother, the leading 
physician and sole druggist of the village. 81 


The first visit of the Ontario, pioneer American steamboat on the 
Great Lakes, 82 early in April, 1817, brought a fresh surge of enthusiasm 
to the lower Genesee settlers. The visit was hailed as the promise of a 
new day for the trade of the area, yet there must have been a feeling of 
concern among the Rochester merchants who rode or strolled down to 
the lower falls on that occasion. However one proceeded, it was a long 
jaunt down from the bridge, or back again, and would travelers and 
shippers continue to make the trip? The fortunes of Fall Town and 
Charlotte, dimmed by the war, had remained dependent upon Rochester, 
through which their trade with the interior settlements must necessarily 
pass. But now a new settlement appeared on the east bank at the lower 

Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XII, 
247-248; Henry O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, pp. 290, 291. 

78 O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, p. 316. 

79 Scrantom, "Old Citizen Letters," Nos. 2-8, Scrapbook, Roch. Hist. Soc., 

PP- 3-7) 8-9. 

80 Esther Maria Ward to Mrs. Mehitabel Ward, Rochester, Feb. 10, 1817, 
"Diaries and Letters of Esther Maria Ward Chapin: 1815-1823," pp. 21, 25, 233, 
typescript, Roch. Hist. Soc. "We on Friday had a pleasant party of about forty 
five who came in at six and retired at eleven. ... I have formed some very 
pleasant acquaintances since I have been here altho I have not been out at all. 
We think of visiting Mrs. Bond one evening this week. It is very lively in Rochester 
at present and Mr. Smith thinks it will not be consistent with his business to 
visit Bergen this week, altho S. wishes it very much. If my parents have no 
objection to my spending a fortnight or three weeks longer in Rochester I shall 
feel grateful for the indulgence. If they think it will not be consistent I shall with 
pleasure evince my gratitude for their indulgence so far in cheerfully submitting 
to their wishes by returning to Bergen whenever they may think proper." 

8l Octavius B. Frothingham, Gerrit Smith (New York, 1878), p. 27. 

82 Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., XXIV, 296. The Ontario was built in Sacketts Harbor 
late in 1816, about the same time the Canadians were building the Frontenac, and 
both claimed the honor of being the first steamboat on the lake in 1817. A year 
later the Walk-in-the-Water appeared on Lake Erie. Capt. James Van Cleve, 
"Reminiscences of Early Vessels, Steamboats and Propellers on Lake Ontario," 
Harris Coll., No. 185, contains an .extract which describes the Ontario as no foot 
deck, 24 foot beam, 8% foot depth of hold, two masts and side wheel engine. 
See the sketch of the boat by Van Cleve, its clerk for several years after 1826. 


falls, and its promoters boldly predicted a great future for their town, 
named after ancient ^Carthage, 

Despite its tardy development, the east bank of the Genesee at the 
lower falls possessed real advantages as a town site. The river flats in 
the gorge above the second cataract of the lower falls offered convenient 
mill sites on the eastern side of the river, while a suitable harbor was 
available on the same side (a half-mile south of Fall Town across the 
gorge) thus bringing the dock within reasonable reach of the mills. The 
extension of the state road north along present Franklin and St. Paul 
Streets, together with the newly opened road along the old Indian trail 
from Irondequoit Landing, provided excellent trade connections with 
the more populous settlements to the southeast. Indeed, it was from the 
older towns of Ontario County that the promoters of Carthage hailed, 
and their confidence in the future of the settlement as an independent 
rival of Rochester, which it might soon hope to overshadow, was stimu 
lated by the favorable prospects of Lewiston, similarly located by former 
Canandaiguans at the head of lake shipping on the Niagara River. 88 

A land company, formed by Elisha B. Strong and several Canan- 
daigua associates, undertook the Carthage development on a tract of 
one thousand acres overlooking the lower falls. Elisha Johnson, busy 
with his own development at the upper falls, was engaged to lay out 
the town plat early in 1817. With the construction of a warehouse at 
the river s edge as well as a tavern and store on the bank above already 
begun, 84 Strong moved down from Canandaigua to assume active leader 
ship of the settlement, erecting a sawmill and a gristmill at the brink 
of the second cataract. 85 As additional settlers arrived, Brighton District 
No. 8 was organized, and a school opened in rented quarters. 86 

Yet it was thought the settlement could only achieve its full destiny 
by bridging the deep gorge and routing the Canandaigua-Lewiston 
traffic over the river at this point. Accordingly the founders of Carthage 
organized a bridge company late in 1817 to undertake the bold project 
as a direct challenge to Rochester. 87 Unfortunately for Carthage, the 
bridge proved more of a problem than its promoters had foreseen, and 
meanwhile, before it could be put to the test, an even more daring under 
taking, the long debated Erie Canal, was decided upon and routed across 
the Genesee at Rochester, thus assuring that village commercial su 
premacy in the area. 

88 Susan H. Hooker, "The Rise and Fall of Carthage," R. H. S., Pub., II, 205- 
208; E. H. Hooker, "Memories of Carthage," R. H, S., Pub., XI, 231-235. 

8 * Ontario Repository, Mar. n, 25, May 20, Aug. 5, Sept 9, 1817. 

^Hooker, "Memories of Carthage," p. 233; Kelsey, Lives and Reminiscences, 
pp. 38-39; Dexter, Biographical Sketches, VI, 281-282. 

86 School District No. 8, Carthage, Minute Book, Apr. 8, iSiy-Oct. 3, 1843, MS, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. 

87 Ontario Repository, Dec. 16, 1817, 



Talk of a western water route had been recurrent in New York for 
nearly a century before the ambitious canal was undertaken. As early 
as 1724, Cadwallader Golden in a report to the king on the Indian trade 
had remarked on the network of creeks and rivers that facilitated canoe 
trade between the Hudson and the Great Lakes. 88 More or less specific 
proposals for the improvement of these routes had appeared from time 
to time, 89 and the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company s projects 
of the last years of the eighteenth century had sought to join and im 
prove the upper branches of the Mohawk and Oswego Rivers. 90 But it 
was not until the westward movement scattered settlers across the state 
that the idea of an artificial waterway direct to Lake Erie appeared. 91 
When the legislature in 1808 authorized a preliminary canal survey, the 

88 Cadwallader Golden, "Memorial Concerning the Fur Trade of the Province of 
New York," 1724, The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada (London, 
1747), Section II, pp. 33-35- 

89 In 1768, Gov. Sir Henry Moore suggested to the assembly the advisability 
of improving the Mohawk in order to facilitate the fur trade. The petitions of 
Christopher Colles from 1784 to 1786 involved the improvement of the Mohawk, 
Wood Creek, and Onondaga River route to Lake Ontario. In 1786, Jeffrey Smith 
introduced a resolution also aimed at the improvement of this route. A few years 
later Elkanah Watson, on a journey to Seneca Lake, was inspired by the idea of 
a canal connecting the Onondaga salt springs with Wood Creek and the Mohawk. 
In January, 1791, Gov. George Clinton recommended the improvement of the 
Mohawk and a survey was made. Gen. Philip Schuyler was instrumental in pushing 
through the chartering of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Co., and thought 
that the charter should extend to Seneca Lake. Gouverneur Morris about 1800 
urged a water communication with Lake Erie, probably by way of Lake Ontario, 
although it has been asserted that he referred to an overland route. Noble E. 
Whitford, History of the Canal System of the State of New York (Albany, 1906), 
I, 20-32, 51-54; Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., II, 232-240. 

90 "The Inland Lock Navigation Company: First Report of the Directors and 
Engineer" (New York, 1796) in Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., II, 157-180. 

91 Gouverneur Morris suggestion for the overland route is open to doubt. In 
1792, the Rev. Francis Adrian Vanderkemp in a letter to Col. Adam G. Mappa, 
dated Kingston, July 13, refers in flowery language to the possibility of water 
communication from the Hudson to Lake Erie apparently by means of a 
series of canals connecting natural streams and creeks. "Extracts from the Vander 
kemp Papers," Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., II, 39-41. Philip Schuyler and William 
Weston, engineer for the Inland Lock Navigation Company, are asserted to have 
"frequently talked of water communication by means of canals as far as Lake Erie, 
keeping the interior so as to avoid Niagara Falls" as early as 1797. Jesse Hawley 
claimed that he first suggested the overland route in 1805, but it was 1807 before 
his first essay on the subject appeared in the Commonwealth at Pittsburgh, Pa., 
and Oct 27 of that year when the first of his essays in the Genesee Messenger of 
Canandaigua appeared. A few months later, in the legislative session of 1807-1808, 
Joshua Forman introduced a resolution for a, survey of a^n pverland route. Whit- 
for<* ? I, 51-57. 


overland route was only included as an afterthought in the assignment 
given James Geddes, the surveyor. 92 

On his return from the survey of a possible route around Niagara 
Falls to connect Lakes Erie and Ontario, Geddes in December, 1808, 
tramped over the snow-covered hills east of the Genesee, seeking the 
water summit that an overland canal skirting south of Lake Ontario 
would have to cross. Much to his surprise, the problem was not one of 
a summit but of the deep Irondequoit Valley. 98 Even here he was 
excited to find a series of strange gravel hills which could, he thought, 
be bridged together to carry the canal from the Genesee level east to 
Palmyra, from which point a natural channel had been prepared by 
some kind Providence. The survey revealed what appeared to be a 
fortuitous succession of levels, permitting a gradual descent from Lake 
Erie to the Genesee, to the Montezuma Marshes, to the Mohawk, and 
finally to the Hudson. 94 It presented a breath-taking opportunity which 
quickly took hold of the legislature, and a commission was created in 
1810 to follow up the preliminary study. 95 When DeWitt Clinton, one 
of the commissioners, came west that year, full advantage was taken of 
the occasion to make careful observations of trade prospects on the 
lower Genesee. 90 

Though the War of 1812 shelved the canal project for the time, it 
likewise provided such a profitable market for the products of the 
Genesee that the return of peace and the loss of army orders intensified 
the demand for a trade outlet. The stream of new settlers in 1815 
created a local market for food and other provisions, while those areas 
enjoying easy access to the Canadian market notably the vicinity of 
Oswego, the lower Genesee, and Lewiston 87 experienced a rapid com 
mercial growth; yet neither market promised a secure trade. The heavy 
charges of one hundred dollars for freighting a ton of produce by wagon 
or sled from Buffalo to Albany a fifteen- or twenty-day trip under 
favorable circumstances excluded all but the most valuable articles 

92 Laws . . . in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, I, 13-38; Dictionary 
of American Biography, VII, 204205. > 

w Laws . , . in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, I, 28-29, 36-38. 
See the Geddes map, Plate III, No. i. 

M The Niagara escarpment west of the Genesee and the strange hills (drumlins 
and pinnacles) east of that river, as well as the remarkable natural channel east 
of Palmyra, began to attract increasing speculation at this time, but the correct 
explanation was not discovered until the mid-thirties, and the glacial theory ex 
pounded by Professor Louis Agassiz in the late thirties was not applied locally for 
another half century. See above, pp. 1-7. 

55 Report of the Commissioners appointed by . . . the Senate and Assembly of 
the State of New York . . . to Explore the Route of an Inland Navigation from 
Hudson s River to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (N. Y., 1811), 

^Campbell, DeWitt Clinton, pp. 112-113. See above, pp 34-3$. 

07 Spafford, Gazetteer of the State of New York (Albany, 1824), pp. 188-189, 
281-282, 386. 


from such traffic, denying an eastern market to the increasingly abun 
dant products of forest, field, and orchard. 98 

A storm of petitions descended upon the legislature in 1816, not only 
from such hardy western settlements as Geneva, Canandaigua, Bloom- 
field, Avon, and Buffalo," but also from the Mohawk Valley and from 
New York City as well. 100 Several regional conventions assembled to 
rally support for the canal, as when the leading merchants of the Genesee 
Country convened at Canandaigua for this purpose in January, 1817, 
with Colonel Nathaniel Rochester of Bloomfield as secretary. 101 The 
belief that the future of the state demanded the speedy construction of 
a trade artery into the West was gaining control of the legislature, and 
there no longer remained any doubt that the canal should extend over 
land to Lake Erie rather than by way of Lake Ontario. The growing 
strength of the interior settlements as well as the bloody conflict with 
Canada had settled that issue. Finally on April 15, 1817, an act author 
izing the construction of the Erie Canal became law. 102 

Less than a month after its own incorporation, Rochester, thus re 
ceived what was in effect its economic charter. To be sure, the canal 
act did not determine either the exact route or the full extent of the 
projected trade artery, but geology had taken care of Rochester. Scarcely 
any other point on the entire route of the canal was so definitely fixed 
as the Genesee crossing. Geddes in his preliminary surveys and again 
in 1816 had located the crossing between the upper and main falls. 108 
Later attempts to find a suitable point for a crossing near the more 
populous state road settlements twenty miles further south were des 
tined to fail. 104 The forty-mile course of the Genesee through its wide 
flood plain south of Rochester made it impossible either to take the 
canal through the river at the latter s level without digging a deep and 
costly canal ditch, or to cross on an aqueduct at a sufficient height 
without building a long and impracticable embankment across the 
valley. Indeed, the only point where an aqueduct would be feasible 
was just below the upper falls; and if the crossing was to be made at 
the river level with the aid of a dam, as proposed in 1816 (and later 
effected in the Barge Canal), it would have to be located between those 

88 Hibernicus [DeWitt Clinton], Letters on the Natural History and Internal 
Resources of the State of New York, pp. 25, 27-29. The thought that the export 
of grain would relieve the necessity of converting that product into liquor was 
a weighty argument among those who sought a general moral uplift. 

99 Laws . . . in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, I, 119-122; Ontario 
Repository, Jan. 23, 1816. 

100 Laws . . . in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, I, 122-141, passim. 

101 Ontario Repository, Jan. 14, 1817. 

102 Laws . . . in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, I, 273-278, 358- 

10S Laws . . . in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, I, 28-29, 36-38, 
map facing pp. 38, 42-46, 145, 212-213. 

104 Laws . . . in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, I, 452-453. 


falls and the rapids two miles south. 105 If ever the canal should be com 
pleted so far west, Rochester was assured the advantages of the new 
trade artery. 

The villagers themselves had not required even this assurance, so 
great was their confidence in the future of Rochester. The old forest 
trees were rapidly being cleared away, the swamp lands drained, 106 and 
building activities were progressing on all sides. The hundred-odd houses 
of 1816 increased to around 250 houses and shops within three years 
without satisfying the demand. 107 Colonel Rochester himself contracted 
for the erection of several two-story, four-room houses, approximately 
twenty by thirty feet in size and equipped with large double fireplaces. 
With the construction cost averaging $300 per house, the builders were 
usually glad to receive land or lumber in payment. 108 Several lumber 
mills were kept busy sawing the logs on shares in lieu of cash. 10 * Among 
other millers, Hamlet Scrantom, now in charge of the Red Mill, 110 kept 
the great millstones running day and night in an effort to handle the 
increasing product of the valley. The exports from the Genesee grew 
in proportion. 111 

But the skies were not always clear, and early in November, 1817, 
they were more than overcast. Several days of heavy rain up the valley 
produced swollen streams and converted the Genesee into a rushing 
torrent which swept down ominously upon Rochester. Though the vil 
lagers rallied to the task of throwing up an embankment along the 
raceway in an effort to secure the lowlands at the west end of the bridge 
from inundation, several buildings were quickly carried away. The Red 
Mill of Ely and Bissell was damaged, John C. Rochester s sawmill 
undermined, the head of Johnson s raceway torn out, and a flood of 
several inches depth spread over the flats back of the principal stores. 
Fortunately, the low west end of the bridge was saved, and altogether 
the damage proved to be less than at first expected. 112 

News of the flood spread quickly, while dissension as well as false 

***** Laws , . . in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, I, 61, 145, 212-213. 
106 Doings ... of the Inhabitants ... of Rochester, June 10, 1817. 
10T Francis Hall, Travels in Canada and the United States, p. 190; Frances 
Wright, Views of Society, p. 165. 

108 Contracts between Rochester and Nathaniel Bingham, Sept. 10, 1818, and 
between Rochester and Willis Kempshall, Dec. 29, 1818, Rochester Letters. See the 
floor plans attached to these contracts. 

109 Col. Rochester to Lyman Wait, lease, Oct. i$, 1818, Rochester Letters. 

110 Hamlet Scrantom to Abraham Scrantom, Jan. 24, 1819, R. H. S., Pub,, VII, 192. 
lu Ontario Repository, Aug. H, 1818. Since the previous Apr. i, the Port of 

Rochester had shipped 21,567 barrels of flour; 1,158 barrels of ashes; 569 barrels 
of pork; 158 casks of whiskey; and 120,000 double butt standard staves. 

112 Enos Pomeroy to Col. Rochester, Rochester, Nov. 5, 1817; John C. Rochester 
to Col. Rochester, Nov. 7, 10, 1817, Rochester Letters, 


rumors threatened to do more serious injury than had the turbulent 
Genesee. Charles Carroll, writing from Williamsburg up the valley, 
blamed the flood on the Johnson dam, which had been raised a few 
inches higher than originally intended. "We have," he advised Colonel 
Rochester, "already in public estimation sustained irreparable injury 
by the report of the destruction. . . . And the more we suffer in the 
eyes of the Public, the better for Brighton. I have learnt enough of 
Yankees to dread & fear their wiles & offers. You are too honest and 
unsuspicious." m 

But neither Colonel Rochester nor the villagers were disheartened. 
Indeed, both natural misfortunes and outside opposition served to weld 
a stronger community spirit. Thus, when repeated attempts to secure 
a bank charter were blocked, 114 Colonel Rochester frequently supplied 
the desired credit. On one occasion, when Ely and Company sought to 
raise $20,000 for expansion, Colonel Rochester, much against the advice 
of his former partners, endorsed the note. 115 A similar unfaltering enter 
prise characterized the other principal men of the village. When a fire 
with which the local bucket brigade could not cope destroyed the Brown 
mills together with a stock of 4,500 bushels of wheat in May, 1818, 
the work of reconstruction was immediately undertaken. Despite an 
estimated loss of $17,000, the village rallied to the support of Francis 
Brown and Company, and by the next January the millstones were 
again in operation in a four-story stone structure the largest in the 
settlement. 116 The pioneer cotton factory, less successful in raising credit, 
suspended activities, 117 but cash was usually available when loads of 
grain, ashes, or lumber approached the village, or when the holder of a 
favorite lot finally consented to name his price. Indeed, the steady rise 
in lot values, in contrast with the trend in some older settlements, 
provided a sure sign of vitality. 


The village was rapidly attaining a position of considerable influence 
in western New York. A second weekly newspaper, established in 1818, 
sought its main circulation among the scattered settlements up the 
valley. 118 A lower Genesee campaign for a new county with its seat 
at Rochester was blocked for the time, 119 but in the political flux which 

1U Charles Carroll to Col. Rochester, Williamsburg, Nov. 6, 9, 1817, Rochester 

114 Ontario Repository, Dec. 26, 1815, Dec. 16, 1817. 

115 Articles of agreement between Nathaniel Rochester and Hervey Ely, Elisha 
Ely, and others, Aug. i, 1817, Rochester Letters. 

^3 Ontario Repository, May 5, 1818; Rochester Telegraph, Jan. 19, 1819. 

117 j omi Kelsey, Lives and Reminiscences, pp. 41-43. 

118 Ontario Repository, Feb. 24, 1818, gave the first announcement of Peck s 
intentions; the first issue was the Rochester Telegraph, July 7, 1818. 

119 Ontario Repository, Jan. 24, Dec. 26, 1816, Sept. 30, Oct. 21, Nov. 4, n, 
Dec. 16, 23, 1817, Jan. 6, 13, Sept. 8, Nov. 24, Dec. 15, 1818. 


followed the disintegration of the Federalist party, 120 the Rochester 
interests, by throwing their support to such "regular" and "independent" 
candidates as favored the village, were able to control the election of 
Ontario and Genesee assemblymen. 121 Colonel Rochester, as a staunch 
Jeffersonian, stirred the ire of neighboring Federalists, 122 but the inter 
ests of his village, despite its Federalist leanings, 123 were doubtless safe 
guarded in Democratic Albany by the proprietor s partisanship. 

Though Rochester s economic position was assured, in other respects 
the village could not yet rival several of the older settlements of western 
New York. The public buildings, academies, and elegant churches that 
graced Canandaigua, Buffalo, and Geneva, and to a lesser extent Bath, 
Geneseo, and Batavia, were lacking in Rochester, as were the occasional 
great houses surrounded by spacious gardens and blooming orchards 
which told of the comforts already enjoyed by a few families in these 
villages and in Bloomfield, Groveland, and other favored agricultural 
areas. 124 But these structures would come in time. Indeed Samuel J. 
Andrews, Dr. Matthew Brown, and Dr. Levi Ward were already build 
ing comfortable houses and surrounding them with broad gardens. 125 
Most of the scattered log cabins with their mud and stick chimneys had 
disappeared, and the early frame shanties had been moved back to 
serve as stables, giving place to well-built houses and shops equipped 
with brick and stone fireplaces. 

Rochester could not yet boast the distinguished personalities that 
attracted comment from visitors at several of the other villages. 126 
Nevertheless, more than a half dozen of her residents, including the 
first minister, had enjoyed the benefits of a college education, 127 and 
these as well as many others were to be heard from in time. In fact, 
the village had much the character of a community that was yet to be 
heard from. 

When Colonel Rochester finally moved to the falls in the spring of 
1818, his stooped figure and white hair, tell-tale signs of his sixty-six 
years, marked him as the oldest inhabitant. 123 Two or three of his neigh- 

120 Ontario Repository, Apr. 29, 1:817. 

m Ontario Repository, Apr. 28, 1818. ^Ontario Repository , Apr, 2, 1816". 

^Ontario Repository, May 10, 1814, May 9, 1815, May 7, 1816, 

124 Frances Wright, Views of Society, pp. 24-25; Osgood Coll. Ill, No. 84, Roch. 
Hist. Soc., describes several of these "great houses." 

125 R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 226, 277; VI, 131, 

126 Frances Wright, Views of Society, pp. 127, 130; Hibernicus [DeWitt Clinton], 
Letters, pp. 216-219. 

127 Dr. Frederick F. Backus, Moses Chapin, Joseph Spencer, Elisha B. Strong, 
Dr. Levi Ward, and the Reverend Comfort Williams were Yale graduates, while 
Elisha Johnson and Ashley Sampson held degrees from Williams and Middlebury 

128 Nathaniel Rochester, "Autobiography," R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 312. 


bors had reached their fifties, and a few more their forties, but four- 
fifths of the men of the village were well under that age. 129 The number 
of children found in Gates and Brighton by the Federal Census of 1820 
did not yet equal their proportion in western New York as a whole or 
in the older villages, but one out of every four citizens of the two 
lower Genesee townships fell in the most vigorous age group, sixteen to 
forty-five years, a larger proportion than in any of the surrounding 
communities. This contrast becomes even more striking when it is noted 
that in the lower Genesee townships fully 57 per cent of this vigorous 
age group were men, as against 52 per cent in the Genesee Country as 
a whole. 130 Doubtless the settlers did not regard the scarcity of women 
as a cause for rejoicing, but, paradoxical as it may sound, it signified 
the community s vibrant growth. 

To a considerable extent Rochester was the creation of the vigorous 
youth of western New York. Approximately one half of the merchants 
and artisans who located at the falls between 1813 and 1818 came from 
earlier Genesee Country settlements. Of 60 persons associated with the 
village during these years, 23 had previous Genesee residences, 10 
hailed from central or northern New York, 5 from the vicinity of 
Albany, 15 directly from New England, one each from Pennsylvania, 
Canada, and Germany, while the previous locations of the others is not 
known. Several of those who came directly to Rochester from the East 
were relatives or former neighbors of Genesee Country pioneers who 
were either themselves moving to the village or wished to make invest 
ments there under the watchful eyes of their friends. 

But if Rochester was a child of the Genesee Country, it was by the 
same token a grandchild of New England. 131 Of the 60 men considered 
above, at least 54 were born in that section. The contribution from the 
South in the sizable Rochester families and the 27 Negroes, including 
9 slaves, living in Gates and Brighton in 1820 just sufficed for the 
development of a diversified community pattern. 132 

Although Rochester was by no means the leading settlement in west 
ern New York in 1818, it had in spite of its youth become a thriving 

129 The names and dates of 75 men resident at Rochester before 1820 together 
with their previous residence and place and date of birth have been compiled as a 
basis for this and other generalizations below. 

180 U. S. Census (1820). Calculations from the data given. 

181 Elizabeth Turner, "The Settlement of Western New York before 1825," 
M.A. thesis at Univ. Roch. in 1934. Miss Turner examined the records of 234 
groups of settlers in the Genesee Country and found that 103 came from New 
England, 73 from New York, $ from abroad, and 53 from Pennsylvania, New 
Jersey, and Maryland. Most of the Southerners, as she discovered, located in the 
Steuben County settlements. 

1S2 The information concerning these early settlers has been gathered from 
many sources including The Pioneer Association Records; KLelsey, Lives and 
Reminiscences; Annah B. Yates, "First Church Chronicles." 


village in what was still essentially a village world. "Populous and 
opulent" Canandaigua had in three decades developed an elegance and 
charm that captivated all visitors, yet it numbered scarcely 2000 citi 
zens and had only 350 houses and shops in i820. 138 Geneva, Ithaca, and 
Utica, each with upwards of a thousand residents, as well as Bath, 
Batavia, and Oswego of more modest proportions, were all incorporated 
villages with established institutions. 134 Buffalo, in spite of its destruc 
tion in 1813, had been quickly rebuilt and already contained around 
300 buildings, while the township as a whole totalled 2095 inhab 
itants. 135 Indeed, west of the city of Schenectady, with its 500 houses 
and shops and 3939 inhabitants, only Canandaigua, Utica, and Buffalo 
in New York State exceeded Rochester in population. Even the capital 
city of Albany, proudly entering upon its third century, had but 2000 
buildings and 12,630 citizens, 136 although it stood tenth in size among 
the cities of the country. 

Against this background, 187 Rochester s growth in six years to 1049, 
and to 1502 two years later when the Federal Census enumerated the 
residents on both sides of the river, was creditable as well as gratifying. 188 
Everard Peck, proprietor of the Rochester Telegraph, the recently estab 
lished second weekly, viewed the increase in population with pleasure 
and boldly predicted that it might safely be expected to continue and 
even double in another decade. 189 Colonel Rochester, with similar opti 
mism, settled himself comfortably in the large house built by Dr. Ward 
and leisurely began to set out some young pear trees in the garden over 
looking the river, one block from the Four Corners. 140 

188 Frances Wright, Views of Society, pp. 127^130; Spafford, Gazetteer (1824), 
pp. 80-82. 

134 Spafford, passim. 

186 Spafford, pp. 67-68. 

186 Spafford, pp. 15, 16; U. S. Census (1820). 

137 The village background extended throughout the country, in which only 
5 cities had Upwards of 25,000 inhabitants, with New York at the top boasting 
only 123,706. There was not a city in the country with over 10,000 which could 
not be reached by ocean going vessels, and there were only u such cities. Among 
the interior settlements only St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, Lexington, Louis 
ville, and Chillicothe exceeded Canandaigua in size 1 

188 R. H. S., Pub., X, 262; Tekgrtph, Oct. 3, 1820. 

189 Telegraph, Oct. 3, 1820; see Peck s obituary written by Thurlow Weed, 
Albany Evening Journal, Feb. 21, 1854, quoted in part by William F, Peck, 
Semi-Centennial History, pp. 664-665. 

140 Enos Pomeroy to Col. Rochester, Nov. 5, 1817, Rochester Letters; Edwin 
Scrantom, "Reminiscences of Nathaniel Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 316. 


THE BOOM TOWN: 1818-1828 

BEFORE Colonel Rochester s pear trees could produce their first 
fruit the prospects of the village were radically transformed, 
and the orchard had soon to be uprooted. The modest develop 
ment anticipated by the local optimists of 1820 fell far short of that 
which actually occurred when the Erie Canal channelled the increasing 
flood of westward migrants through Rochester. The town s growth 
during the twenties proved as great a surprise to the villagers them 
selves as to everybody else, for never before had America witnessed 
the phenomenon of such a town springing up almost overnight in the 
midst of a forest. 1 The boom town was soon to become a standard 
feature of the westward movement as the great migration poured 
through various focal points in its rush across the continent, and many 
a louder and more protracted boom would be heard, but meanwhile the 
experience left its mark on Rochester. 

There was something gangling and disjointed not quite callow, but 
certainly not urbane about the village during the decade of its most 
rapid growth. Rival factions with conflicting standards and divergent 
interests quickly gained a foothold, and the settlement was distracted 
for several years by bickering internal quarrels. The unprecedented 
expansion prompted an early assertion of local aspirations for autonomy, 
giving the town something of the character of an aggressive intruder 
among older communities. "Froth & puffing is the order of the day," 
declared one recent arrival from Yale, who regretted in 1818 to find 
that, "Connecticut maxims & habits are reversed." 2 Yet the "mush 
room" continued to grow. Almost giddy from the stimulus of the canal, 
Rochester preened itself as a representative of the new West. Two 
more decades were to pass before this strain in its early character was 
completely outgrown, though the end of the twenties brought the first 
efforts at self-discipline. 

1 Rochester s growth from 331 in December, -1815, to 1049 in September, 1818, 
may have had earlier precedents, but the town s increase to 7669 in December, 
1826, and to 9207 in 1830 achieved a rate of growth for which there was no previous 
exampte. See Social Statistics of Cities, U. S. Census (1880), vols. XVIII, XIX. 

2 Joseph Spencer to Elisabeth Selden, Rochester, July 9, 1818, Elisabeth Selden 
Spencer Eaton Letters, courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth Selden Rogers, New York City. 



If the settlers at Rochesterville in 1820 failed to anticipate the re 
markable growth that lay ahead, they were none the less determined to 
free themselves from dependence upon neighboring rivals. Canandaigua 
in particular seemed to obstruct Rochester s path, for its leaders envied 
the mill town s rising influence. The issue was first joined in the struggle 
for a separate county, but it appeared in other respects as well, notably 
in the protracted effort to establish the Bank of Rochester. Unfortu 
nately, the close harmony of local interests, which characterized the 
drive for the county, disappeared in the more complex battle for the 

The campaign for a separate county was stubbornly blocked for five 
years while charges of "selfish local interests" and "ambitious lawyers" 
flew back and forth between the rival settlements. 8 The agitation started 
in January, 1815, when Francis Brown, even before the news of peace 
arrived, gave notice of an application for a lower Genesee county to be 
established within three years, or as soon as the area should number 
15,000 residents. 4 A subscription circulated in 1816 pledged $6,722 for 
the necessary county buildings, 5 and public meetings convened repeat 
edly at Christopher s and Ensworth s taverns to agitate the cause. Three 
separate delegations bore petitions for the new county to Albany from 
the Ontario towns of Brighton, Pittsford, Henrietta, Perinton, and Pen- 
field, and from the Genesee County towns of Gates, Riga, Parma, Ogden, 
Murray, and Sweden. 6 

To the enterprising settlers on the lower Genesee, the logic of their 
demand seemed clear. Now that two bridges had been built and others 
were in prospect the river no longer appeared a dividing line. Indeed, it 
had long since become by virtue of its facilities as a trade artery and 
power source as well as its flood hazard a powerful unifying force. 
Moreover, the inconvenience of travel over difficult roads thirty or forty 
miles to the respective county seats was becoming more of a handicap 
as the volume of land and other legal transactions multiplied. With 
the growth of affairs in the two large counties, activity so crowded their 
offices that two or three days no longer sufficed for a visit to court. 

8 Ontario Repository, Sept. 30, Oct. ax, Nov. 4, 1817; Jan. 6, Nov. 24, Dec. 15, 
i8i8j The Penny Preacher, Sept. 6, 1842. 

4 Ontario Repository, Jan. 24, 1815. 

c "Subscription for the Court House & Gaol, December 18, 1816," Rochester 
Letters, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

* Ontario Repository, Dec. 26, 1815; Dec. 16, 23, i8i7;^Sept. 8, 1818; Rochester 
Gazette, Sept. 19, 1820; Rochester Telegraph, Nov. 28, 1820; "Petitions for the 
Division of Genesee & Ontario Counties," ( i8i6, 1817, 1818, 1819, 1820, MSS, Roch. 
Hist. Sob.; Howard L. Osgood, "The Struggle for Monroe County," R. H. S., Pub., 
HI, 127-136. 


A fair consideration of the welfare of the lower Genesee settlements 
seemed to require the immediate location there of a properly equipped 
county seat. 7 

But the issue became entangled with regional and political jealousies. 
Neither Canandaigua nor Batavia wished to see its sphere of influence 
reduced, and already the voting strength of these wide-spreading 
counties was a matter of concern to the fairly evenly matched Clin- 
tonian, Bucktail, and Federalist factions at Albany. 8 Though a division 
of these two vast counties would ultimately be necessary, Avon s aspira 
tions to become the seat of a long county straddling the Genesee from 
the lake southward to Steuben, and Palmyra s similar dream of pro 
viding the seat for another long county bordering the lake from Sodus 
Bay to Irondequoit conflicted with Rochester s plans. 9 Canandaigua 
and Batavia appealed for delay, and meanwhile their judges made an 
earnest effort to clear their dockets by conducting court from sun-up 
until dusk with the hope of demonstrating an ability to perform their 
functions promptly. 10 

The weight of numbers postponed the new county, but the same 
factor ultimately gave Rochester the victory. Early in 1819, when the 
election of state representatives was fought out in Ontario on this issue, 
the anti-divisionists won by a small majority. 11 Yet even in this contest 
the sentiment for division dominated the growing townships bordering 
the river and the lake, and by uniting them behind a demand for three 
new counties the Rochester divisionists soon outweighed the opposition 
of Canandaigua and Batavia. 12 Already in 1820 the area of the proposed 
new counties numbered a total of 68,000 settlers as against 53,000 in 
the reduced territory of Ontario and Genesee. The problem of agreeing 
upon a partition of towns between the projected counties remained, 
and here again numbers favored Rochester. 13 

Yet only by mustering all its strength did Rochester triumph. Elisha 
B. Strong of Carthage, won over from an earlier hostility to the proposed 
county, 14 journeyed with Colonel Rochester to engineer the final cam 
paign in Albany. After many discouraging delays the legislature acted 

7 Jesse Hawley to Col. Rochester, Canandaigua, Aug. 2, 1817 ; William B. 
Rochester to Col. Rochester, Albany, Mar. 27, 1817, Rochester Letters. 

8 Matthew Brown to Roswell Babbitt, Albany, Jan. 30, 1819, Autograph Letter 
Coll., Roch. Hist. Soc.; Osgood, "Monroe County," p. 127; Alexander Flick, ed., 
History of the State of New York (New York, 1933-37), VI, 44-53. 

9 Osgood, "Monroe County," pp. 130, 133-135. 

10 Osgood, "Monroe County," p. 134. 

11 Ontario Repository, Apr. 13, May 4, 1819. 

12 Col. Rochester to Abelard Reynolds, Albany, Jan. 9, 24, Feb. 2, 7, 13, 1821, 
Rochester Letters. 

18 N. Y. State Census (1855), p. xxxiii. 

^Ontario Repository, Apr. 13, 1819. E. B. Strong was on the anti-divisionist 
ticket in 1819. See above p. 62. 


on February 20, 1821, to create Monroe and Livingston Counties, defer 
ring the organization of Wayne another two years. Named after the 
President, who had recently skirted the area, 15 Monroe County secured 
its original claim and portions of Caledonia, Rush, and Mendon on the 
south a territory of 607 square miles, slightly larger than any of the 
other new counties. This region, despite its delayed settlement, con 
tained 27,288 residents, and by 1825 exceeded reduced Ontario. 16 

The achievement of local autonomy set the stage for keen party 
rivalry. The traditional Republican sentiment of the larger towns west 
of the river assured victory over the old Federalism of the eastern 
townships. But as the Federalist party was rapidly disintegrating, many 
of its local leaders joined the Republicans in time to share in the 
appointments. Thus Elisha B. Strong became the First Judge of the 
Court of Common Pleas, and Elisha Ely was commissioned Surrogate. 
John Bowman, a staunch Republican from Clarkson, received another 
judgeship, while Colonel Rochester was chosen County Clerk. Though 
such a division proved scarcely satisfactory to the more confirmed 
partisans, indignation centered on the appointment of Timothy Childs 
from Canandaigua as District Attorney over the heads of local as 
pirants. 17 This early instance of localism was soon forgotten, however, 
for the rapidly growing community felt prone to extend a generous 
welcome to able newcomers. 

The location of a county seat at Rochester attracted a group of 
enterprising lawyers, whose presence quickened the political, social, and 
intellectual life of the community. Ashley Sampson, a graduate of 
Middlebury, had studied law in the East and practiced briefly in Pitts- 
ford before moving to Rochester in iSig. 18 Vincent Mathews, the first 
lawyer admitted to the bar of Ontario County in 1790 and already a 
veteran jurist and legislator from western New York, was among those 
prompted in 1821 to locate at Rochester, where he soon became a 
respected leader of the profession. 19 James K. Livingston hastened west 
from Dutchess County, and Daniel D. Barnard from Canandaigua; 
young Addison Gardiner of Manlius, passing through Rochester on his 
way to Detroit, determined to hang his shingle here instead and invited 

15 Col. Rochester to Abelard Reynolds, Albany, Feb. 17, 20, 1821, Rochester 
Letters. The act became a law on Feb. 23, 1821. 

ie N. Y. State Census (1855), pp. xxxiii, xxxiv, 277. 

1T Col. Rochester to D. E. Evans, Rochester, May 17, 1821, Rochester Letters; 
Telegraph, May 15, 1821 ; "Elisha Ely," in Kelsey, Lives and Reminiscences, p,p. 90- 
92; Timothy Childs obituary, Rochester Republican, Dec. 14, 1847. 

18 Samson Note Book, X, 359-360, Roch. Hist, Soc. 

19 William B. Rochester to Col. Rochester, Bath, Feb. 4, -1821, Rochester Letters; 
Henry O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, p. 322; see obituary in Democrat, Sept. 24, 


his friend, Thurlow Weed, to follow Mm. 20 Not only did a distinguished 
bar quickly gather, but also a plenitude of aspiring politicians & cir 
cumstance soon abundantly evident. 

While the political pot was beginning to boil, the essential county 
functions were hastily provided. Three sites were offered for the court 
house two east of the river but that formerly set aside by Rochester, 
Fitzhugh, and Carroll was duly accepted as the most central and con 
veniently located. 21 A contract was let for the erection of the county 
buildings, 22 and in the meantime the first session of the Court of Com 
mon Pleas convened in May in the newly added loft of Ensworth s 
Tavern at the Four Corners. 23 Apparently the judicial functions were 
organized none too soon, for "an alarming increase in petty crimes and 
misdemeanors" prompted the selection of a grand jury to inquire into 
the activity of the "grocery and dram shops in the village." ** Indeed, 
it proved necessary to occupy a section of the county jail before that 
structure was completed. 25 Finally in September, 1822, an attractive 
stone court house with Greek Revival facades stood ready for use. 28 

The early twenties witnessed an even more crucial battle for inde 
pendence in the financial field. Albany again provided the scene for the 
conflict in which leading Canandaiguans soon became involved. Though 
a strong anti-bank sentiment in the legislature delayed action, after 
repeated reversals the movement for an independent Rochester bank 
was finally carried to success by the joint pressure of local merchants 
in quest of capital and Eastern investors seeking a market for their 

The campaign for a Rochester bank grew out of an increasing need 
for credit. After the first unsuccessful appeal for a charter, filed late 
in 1815, representative villagers petitioned each succeeding legislature, 
but the dominant political faction at Albany, believing that the depre 
ciated state of the paper circulated by the existing banks could be 
remedied by limiting the number of such institutions, rejected every 

20 Thurlow Weed, Autobiography (Boston, 1883), I, 91-92, 95-100; "Daniel D. 
Barnard," Dictionary of American Biography, I, 617; Addison Gardiner: In 
Memoriam (Rochester, 1883). 

21 Telegraph, Mar. 6, July 3, 1821 ; Osgood, "Monroe County, pp. 135-136. 

22 New York Assembly Journal, 1825, pp. 179, 222. Josiah Bissell, one of the 
contractors, received $200 relief for losses incurred in removing stone from the site. 

28 Oswald P. Backus, "History of the Monroe County Court," R. H. S., Pub., 

IV, 193-196. , . . ,, 

24 "History of the Monroe County Court," p. 199- Backus is quoting apparently 
from the grand jury report. 

25 Telegraph, Dec. 25, 1821. 

^Backus, "Monroe County Court," p. 196; Directory of the Village of 
Rochester (Rochester, 1827), p. 124. 


application. 27 Frustrated in this effort, Rochester merchants had to 
resort to Canandaigua, Utica, and Geneva banks, an inconvenience the 
more serious as the volume of business increased at the falls. 28 The 
visionary leaders of Carthage made an unsuccessful bid for a branch 
of the United States Bank in i8i8, 29 and shortly after the organization 
of the county it was suggested that a branch of a neighboring bank 
might be located at Rochester, thus obviating the objections of politi 
cians to the creation of a new institution. Both the Ontario Bank in 
Canandaigua and the Bank of Utica hastily applied for this privilege, 
rallying the support of their respective Rochester friends. 30 

The rival petitions split the village into hostile camps. The simulated 
good feeling under the dominant Republican banner, which had elected 
Colonel Rochester to the legislature in 1821, disappeared in the face 
of a frigid January storm of resurgent factionalism. Personal and group 
antagonisms, stubborn political animosities, theological differences, and 
the backwash of economic misfortune 31 joined to produce a bitter 
quarrel, revealing that the village had yet to develop an urbane self- 
restraint. ft 

Colonel Rochester s white hairs bristled at the thought of a Canan 
daigua branch in Rochester. His own relations with the Ontario Bank 
had never been too friendly, resulting partly, as he supposed, from 
jealousy of his growing village. 82 Rebuffed on one or two occasions, 
Colonel Rochester had turned to Eastern sources for his funds, to 
Hagerstown, Baltimore, and New York, and he had early become a 
stockholder and director of the Bank of Utica. As a branch of that 
institution would, he was convinced, provide the desired banking serv 
ices without meddling in community affairs, the Rochester family and 
their associates supported its application. 38 

Colonel Rochester quickly identified the supporters of the Canandai- 

27 Ontario Repository, Dec. 26, 1815; Dec. 16, 1817; New York Senate Journal 
(1816), pp. 157-158. See also Robert E. Chaddock, The Safety Fund Banking 
System in New York State (National Monetary Comrn., Washington, 1910), pp. 

** Telegraph, Dec. 17, 1822; Assembly Journal (1824), ,p. 87. 

29 Levi H. Clarke to Joshua Stow, Carthage, Mar. 17, 1818, "Memorial to the 
President and Directors of the Bank of the U. S.," R. H. S., Pub., II, 222-231. 

80 Telegraph, Feb. 19, 1822; "Petition of the President and Directors of the 
Ontario Bank for a Branch at Rochesterville," signed by N. Gorham, Dec. 12, 
1821; "Petition of the Inhabitants of Rochester to have a Branch of the Ontario 
Bank established in the Village," signed by 84 villagers, Jan. 18, 1822 ; "Petition 
for the removal of the Utica Bank s Canandaigua Branch to Rochester," signed 
by 22 villagers, Jan. 10, 1822, Rochester Letters. 

81 See below, pp. 85, 127, 130-131. 

82 Col. Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, May n, 1824, Rochester Letters. 
88 Rochester Letters, 1814-1824. See especially N. T. Rochester to Col. Rochester, 

Rochester, Marl 5, 1822. 


gua branch as New England-Federalists. Unfortunately, they greatly 
outnumbered the aged Colonel s backers, in spite of the increasing 
ramifications of his family ties. 34 From the angle of the opposition, the 
Rochester clan itself appeared a major grievance, for it was becoming 
difficult to turn about in the bustling village without stumbling over a 
member of the proprietor s family. But it was not so difficult, in the 
Colonel s opinion, as to avoid a Yankee bristling with Presbyterian 
virtue and shrewd schemes for fat profits. Had he not, the old man 
reflected, given a hand to more than a few of these villagers when 
adversity overtook them in the early days? And now, in place of 
gratitude, they supported his inveterate opponents in Canandaigua! 35 

The fate of the proposed branches soon became entangled in state 
politics. An effort to conciliate both factions coupled the rival applica 
tions in one bill, which at first made rapid progress. When Canandaigua 
Federalists proposed, as a concession to Republican sound-money doc 
trine, to require both banks to redeem the paper of their existing 
branches before making the intended removal, the amendment speedily 
passed. But Colonel Rochester saw the measure as a stratagem designed 
to discourage the Utica Bank from moving its Canandaigua branch 
under conditions which would redound to the advantage of the Ontario 
Bank. The Colonel decidedly preferred a further postponement of the 
issue, and on his recommendation the bill was defeated at the third 
reading. 36 

The outcome proved not unwelcome in Rochester, where the desire for 
an independent bank continued strong. 37 Meanwhile, Colonel Rochester 
sounded out the possibility of securing a branch of the Manhattan 
Company of New York, 38 while E. B. Strong developed an agency for 
the Ontario Bank, serving Rochester in an informal private banking 
capacity. 89 

The campaign shortly revived, and "nine several petitions of sundry 
inhabitants of the County of Monroe" greeted the next legislature. 40 
Colonel Rochester, giving place in the assembly to his Republican friend, 
Judge Bowman, cooperated in drafting a bank charter which named a 
suitable board of commissioners to supervise the sale of stock and the 

84 See below, pp. 139-140. 

S5 Hervey Ely to Col. Rochester, Mar. 12, 1823, Col. Rochester to A. Douglas, 
Rochester, May n, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

86 Col. Rochester to E. B. Strong, Albany, Feb. 25, 1822, Rochester Letters; 
Assembly Journal ( 1822), pp. 436-437. 

87 N. T. Rochester to Col. Rochester, Rochester, May 5, 1822, Dr. M. Brown to 
Col. Rochester, Rochester, Mar. 9, 1822, E. B. Strong to Col. Rochester, Rochester, 
Mar. n, 1822, Rochester Letters. 

88 Daniel Penneld to Col. Rochester, New York, Apr. 30, 1822, Rochester Letters. 

89 Col. Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, May 15, 1824, Rochester Letters. 
40 Telegraph , Dec. 17, 1822; Assembly Journal (1823), pp, 31, 262, 350. 


election of directors. Despite the appearance in Albany of Josiah Bissell, 
an opponent of all banks, bearing a petition to that effect from a number 
of his friends, 41 the bill made some progress before dying in committee. 42 
Back in Rochester the smoldering factional jealousies obstructed the 
selection of a legislative agent to renew the campaign. Finally, a youth 
ful journeyman printer associated with Everard Peck on the Telegraph 
was suggested, and with some trepidation Thurlow Weed was sent to 
Albany as the bank committee s "legislative solicitor." 4S 

Weed, who had already won his spurs as a Clintonian editor, soon 
became engrossed at Albany in negotiations between the Clinton, Adams, 
and Clay supporters over state and national issues not, however, for 
getting the Rochester bank. Despite the Bucktail faction s general hos 
tility to banks, except of course good Republican ones, Weed s efforts 
in behalf of the Rochester bank prospered as long as he did not insist on 
Clintonian control, and he did not make such a demand. Probably his 
Rochester friends did not anticipate early results, as they failed to 
forward their revised bill, naming a Clintonian board of directors in the 
charter, until after the earlier draft, under the watchful care of Judge 
Bowman, was reported out of committee. 44 Even after this initial slip, the 
Rochester Clintonians, confident that their numerical advantage assured 
control, directed Weed to support the measure as it stood. 45 The legisla 
ture obliged by shelving the renewed petitions for Ontario and Utica 
branches in Rochester and passed the Bank of Rochester bill, entrusting 
the organization to a group of commissioners headed by Colonel 
Rochester. 46 Weed received due honors upon his return, and the state 
was to hear more from this fledgling politician, 47 but the bank affair 
had not yet ended. 

Rivalry over the bank s control increased in intensity with each step 
in its organization. When the subscription books were opened at the 
Christopher House, the $250,000 in capital stock provided for under 

41 Assembly Journal (1823), p. 514; J. Spencer to Col. Rochester, Albany, 
Feb. 19, 1823, Rochester Letters. 

42 Assembly Journal (1823), pp. 378, 742, 797, 91$; J. Spencer to Col. Rochester, 
Albany, Feb. 19, 1823, Rochester Letters. 

48 Glyndon G. Van Deusen, "Thurlow Weed in Rochester," Rochester History 
(April, 1940), pp. 5-6; Weed, Autobiography, pp. 104-107. 

44 John Bowman to Col. Rochester, Albany, Mar. 8, 1824, Rochester Letters; 
Matthew Brown to Thurlow Weed, Rochester, Jan. i, 1824, E. B. Strong to 
Weed, Clyde, Jan. 26, 1824, Weed Papers, Univ. Rochester. 

45 E. Pomeroy to Weed, Rochester, Jan. 23, 26, Feb. 4, 1824, Weed Papers; 
Van Deusen, "Thurlow Weed," pp. 6-10. 

^Telegraph, Mar. 16, 1824; Assembly Journal (1824), pp. 87, 184, 236, 279, 
486, 603, 658, 741, 909, 967, 980, 997-998. See also Chaddock, Safety Fund Bank 
ing System, p. 245. 

47 Weed, Autobiography , pp. 106-107, 157-162. The Rochester committee raised 
a total of $1000 to defray the expenses of their solicitor in Albany. 


the charter was oversubscribed fivefold. 48 Many came prepared to enter 
applications for friends unable to attend, and Colonel Rochester him 
self had a pocket full of out-of-town applications, together with their 
first cash payments, not to mention proxies. 49 It would be necessary for 
the commissioners to scale down many, if not all, subscriptions, and 
the villagers awaited the outcome with anxiety. 

Among the considerations weighed by the commissioners was the oft- 
expressed desire to bring Eastern capital into the village. 50 Erasmus D. 
Smith, Judge Bowman, and Matthew Brown, as well as Colonel 
Rochester, had collected applications from investors in New York, 
Albany, and Troy, 51 while Abraham M. Schermerhorn of Cherry Valley, 
a candidate for the post of cashier, was eager to secure a block of stock. 
Judge E. B. Strong s request for 400 shares doubtless cloaked a Can- 
andaigua investor, and the same suspicion attached to other subscrip 
tions. Though the commissioners were reluctant to admit any capital 
which might be used in the interests of Rochester s old rival, they did 
grant large blocks of stock to such Eastern investors as Dr. Russell 
Forsythe of Albany, Alanson Douglas of Troy, and others in New York 
City. Several Eastern applications and many from older Genesee 
Country settlements were rejected, while most local applicants received 
only a fraction of their subscriptions. 52 

Any apportionment was certain to give offense, but the outburst of 
indignation which greeted the work of the commissioners exceeded in 
fury all previous disputes. It was immediately noted that Douglas and 
Forsythe, who together held a controlling block of stock, were Bucktail 
friends of Bowman and Rochester and had apparently entrusted their 
proxies to that faction. The Rochester Telegraph printed a bitter attack 
on the commissioners by E. B. Strong 5S to which Colonel Rochester 
answered with heat in the Monroe Republican. 54 A remonstrance, signed 
by twenty-one villagers, declared "their intention to withdraw their 
business from the institution while it remained under the control of 
Nathaniel Rochester and John Bowman." 65 Many who refused to sign 
this violent attack nevertheless attended a dinner to Samuel Works, 

48 Telegraph, May 4, n, 1824. The subscription reached $1,500,000. 

49 Rochester Letters, April and May, 1824. 

150 E. Pomeroy to Weed, Rochester, Jan. 23, 26, 1824, Weed Papers. 

sl john Bowman to Col. Rochester, Albany, Mar. 8, -1824, Philip Kearny to 
Col. Rochester, New York, Apr. 24, 29, May i, 1824, Rochester Letters. Erasmus 
D. Smith, of Hadley, Mass., who arrived in Rochester about 1822, must be dis 
tinguished from E. Darwin Smith who came from Madison County in 1828. The 
former was Democratic in politics and the latter, a judge, was an Anti-Mason and 
a Whig until 1848 when he likewise became a Democrat. 

62 Col. Rochester to Ira West, Rochester, May 17, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

63 Telegraph, June 15, 29, 1824. 

54 Col. Rochester to D. Sibley, Rochester, July 31, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

55 Remonstrance to R. Forsythe, May n, 1824, Rochester Letters. 


leader of the remonstrants, 56 while a new petition was circulated for the 
establishment of a Canandaigua branch at Rochester. 57 

Concerned over the safety of his investment, Alanson Douglas 
hastened westward from Troy in an effort to moderate the conflict by 
voting his stock in person and conciliating, if possible, some of the less 
violent opponents. A mixed board of directors included Matthew Brown, 
Levi Ward, Enos Stone, Frederick Bushnell, and James Seymour from 
among the less truculent Clintonians, balanced by E. D. Smith, John 
Bowman, Charles H. Carroll, Abelard Reynolds, and Jonathan Child as 
supporters of Colonel Rochester. Benjamin Campbell and Abraham 
Schermerhorn were added as large independent stockholders. Colonel 
Rochester became president with the understanding that he would re 
tire at the end of the year, and Schermerhorn was engaged as cashier at 
a salary of $1500 with an allowance of $200 for house rent until a 
banking house could be provided. 5 * 

Unhappily the election of officers served to inflame rather than 
appease the opposition. Sharp words were exchanged even between 
members of the same church, 69 and the rival Rochester weeklies gave 
free expression to bitter charges and counter-charges. 60 The quarrel 
clouded the celebration of Independence Day when many of the more 
unrelenting opponents of Colonel Rochester, the orator of the day, re 
fused to attend. 81 

Despite Colonel Rochester s expectations, the clamor failed to die 
down. It provided, instead, a convenient issue for agitation by the 
People s party, organized locally that fall by Clintonian friends of 
Thurlow Weed, whom they sent to the legislature, 62 The Bucktails were 
widely defeated, although Judge Bowman, with Genesee County sup 
port, won a seat in the state senate. 63 Bowman, however, was becoming 
uneasy over the violent criticism suffered as a result of his connection 
with the Rochester bank, while Douglas and other Eastern stockholders 

150 Col. Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, May u, 15, 17, 1824, Rochester 

BT Telegraph, June 29, 1824. 

58 Col. Rochester to A. M. Schermerhorn, Rochester, June 3, 1824, Schermer 
horn to Rochester, June 16, 1824, Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, July 2, 1824, 
Rochester Letters. 

59 Col. Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, July 16, 1824, A. Douglas to 
Rochester, Troy, Aug. a, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

60 Telegraph, June 15, 1824; A. Douglas to Col. Rochester, Troy, July 10, 1824, 
Rochester Letters. 

61 Col. Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, July 6, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

62 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 157-^162; Van Deusen, "Thurlow Weed," pp. 8-xo; 
Dkon Ryan Fox, The Decline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York (New 
York, 1919), pp. 288-301. 

68 Monroe Republican, Nov. 18, 1823. 

of (he Country betwvr 
tlir OSJfEMgB 


GENESEE, 1809 






began to regret their investments in a community ruled by such violent 
jealousies. 64 Colonel Rochester himself desired an early retirement from 
his thankless position. The} agreed, however, that the stability of the 
institution required their faithful adherence until the enterprise should 
be securely launched. 65 

The bank weathered the storm of its first months more successfully 
than might have been expected. Perhaps there was something to the 
Colonel s contention that the more reckless speculators, by voluntary 
abstention, freed the bank from embarrassing burdens at the same time 
that substantial friends were encouraged to exert themselves in its 
behalf. 66 Actually the bounding growth of the village was chiefly re 
sponsible for the bank s thriving condition. A central property was ac 
quired, equipped with a house adequate for the bank, the cashier s 
family, and the directors office, with a stable in the rear backing on 
the Court House Square. 67 Schermerhorn proved both a reliable cashier 
and a conciliatory influence a valuable addition to the village. 68 

Yet the wide success of the Clintonians or People s party promised 
trouble for the Bank of Rochester in the forthcoming legislature. The 
application for a rival bank might succeed, Douglas feared, or a hostile 
branch might be permitted to locate in the village, or an investigation 
might be ordered which could result in a revocation of the charter. 69 To 
head off these contingencies, Douglas disposed of some of his stock, 
while Bowman and Rochester decided to resign as directors. In a last 
effort to save the institution from complete opposition control, the 
Bucktail faction hoped to name a president to balance the Clintonian 
directors. Colonel Rochester persuaded his son-in-law, Jonathan Child, 
to become a candidate and lined up what promised to be a majority in 
his behalf. A hopeless division pccurred, however, when the directors 
met, preventing a choice until Schermerhorn switched his vote to 
Dr. Levi Ward, thus giving him a bare majority. 70 

64 A. Douglas to Col. Rochester, Troy, Nov. 18, 1824; J. B. Varnum to Col. 
Rochester, New York, Aug. 30, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

^ 5 A. Douglas to Col. Rochester, Aug. 2, Nov. 18, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

66 Col. Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, July 16, Dec. 16, 1824, Rochester 

67 Col. Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, July 2, 1824, Rochester Letters. 
The property, 66 by 165 feet, cost with improvements $3400, a sharp advance from 
the $50 valuation on the lot a decade before. 

68 Biographical Directory of the American Congress (Washington, 1928), p. 1498; 
see his obituary, Rochester Daily Union, Aug. 27, 1855. 

69 A. Douglas to Col. Rochester, Troy, Nov. 18, Dec. 31, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

70 Same to same, Troy, Nov. 18, Dec. 31, 1824, Col. Rochester to Douglas, 
Rochester, Dec. 16, 1824, Rochester Letters; Telegraph, Dec. 28, 1824. For an 
account of Jonathan Child s career, see Kelsey, Lives and Reminiscences, pp. 67-68 ; 
Barton s Obituary Scrapbook, p. 224, Roch. Hist. Soc. 


It was a bitter experience for the aged proprietor to see a member of 
Ms family "sacrificed to gratify a few enemies to me and to the Bank." 71 
Possibly the shift in leadership helped to defeat the almost successful 
application for a Merchants , Millers and Mechanics Bank for 
Rochester when the legislature met the next spring. 72 As the year rolled 
around, most of the Colonel s friends among the directors were re 
moved/ 3 and the new board promptly named that "malignant, black- 
spirited rascal/ 74 Judge Strong, to the presidency 75 a total victory for 
local Clintonians in a year during which they were riding high through 
out the state. 

Nevertheless, the original object of the Colonel s efforts almost for 
gotten in the heat of the struggle had been won. The bank, despite its 
Clintonian managers, was entirely independent of Canandaigua or other 
outside control. Indeed, the town had, by 1825, outgrown its old fear 
of domination from that quarter, and the new political rivalry between 
Clintonian and Bucktail Republicans had taken its place. The struggle 
over the bank had assumed a factional aspect as well, but fortunately 
by the mid-decade the quickening activity in Rochester pressed other 
concerns to the fore. Though the bitter conflict continued to reverberate 
through the life of the village, a new spirit of general enthusiasm was 
soon called forth by the official opening of the canal. 


The commercial activity of the village had been increasing at a 
steadily accelerating pace for several years. Unable to gauge either the 
rate or the extent of the advance, many of the pioneers stumbled and fell 
out of step, adding a personal element to the local economic struggle. 
"The inhabitants of this village," one resident declared in 1818, "are 
half of them no better than bankrupts, & the rest can hardly pay. In 
one word, this place is a mushroom." w Unlike an urban scene where a 
man blames himself or the system for his reverses, and unlike the 
traditional village where all appear to suffer or prosper together in the 
grace of God, in Rochester it was a man s neighbor who broke his 
contract and was turned out or given a hand, and in either case the 
circumstances were remembered. There seemed to be many grievances 
to remember as the river, the canal, and the resulting commercial 

n CoL Rochester to Douglas, Rochester, Dec. 16, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

72 Assembly Journal (1825), pp. 24, 943, 977, 986. 

73 Dr. Anson Colman to his wife, Rochester, July 17, 1825, Colman Letters, 
Univ. Rochester. 

74 Col. Rochester to Douglas, Rochester, July a, 1824, Rochester Letters. 
73 Tekgraph, July 19, 1825. 

76 Joseph Spencer to Elisabeth Selden, Rochester, July 9, x8i8, E. S. S. Eaton 


revolution buffeted the town forward. With limited horizons, few 
realized that there would be ample room for them all and for many 
more besides in the expanding city soon to emerge. 

The village was rapidly outgrowing its frontier days. The newcomer 
now seldom invited his neighbors over for a house raising; instead, a 
builder was hired or, more probably, a place rented for a year or two 
until a firm foothold could be secured. Nevertheless, the friendly 
cooperative spirit of pioneer days still appeared on numerous occasions 
in the early twenties. Thus, in 1821, when a fire broke out one February 
evening in the cooper shop of Benjamin James, the snowbound vil 
lagers not only enjoyed their battle against the flames, unsuccessful 
though it was, but gathered as for a lark the next day and rebuilt the 
shop on an enlarged plan, making it possible for James to employ 
twenty-five journeymen coopers for the rest of the winter. 77 

No doubt the camaraderie was most evident after a heavy snowfall 
when the sleigh bells jingled 7S and great logs blazed in the fireplaces 
of the scattered homes and public houses. The seasons and the elements 
still played vital roles in the life of Rochester. Not only did the snow 
drifts of one season and the miry bogs of the next directly affect the 
general welfare, but the power-giving Genesee remained a treacherous 
benefactor which might at any moment snatch back the wealth and in 
fluence it had bestowed. For years the river presented a constant 
hazard, particularly to the millers, whose dependence on its energy 
placed them within easy reach of its fury. 79 The bridge at Rochester 
was frequently threatened and occasionally damaged, 80 though it never 
suffered the fate of the successive bridges at Avon and Carthage. 81 

No other local catastrophe during the decade quite equalled the fall 
of the great bridge at Carthage. The hopes and fortunes of the pro 
moters of that lake port had to a considerable extent been tied to the 
bold project of bridging the gorge. Property valued at $15,000 had been 
pledged to the state in order to secure an advance of the necessary 
building funds. For nine months the workmen labored under the skilled 
direction of Ezra Brainard, the architect in charge, until, early in 
February, 1819, the structure stood completed. 82 Soaring 718 feet from 
bank to bank, 190 feet above the water, with the chord of its single 

i 1 Rochester Gazette, Feb. 13, 1821. 

78 Rochester Gazette) Nov. 14, 1820. 

79 William Fitzhugh to Col. Rochester, Hampton, Apr. 9, 12, 1823, Rochester 

^Dorothy S. Truesdale, "Historic Main Street Bridge," Rochester History 
(April, 1941). 

81 New York Laws of 1803, ch. 89 ; Laws of 1806, ch. 172 ; Laws of 1807, ch. 99 ; 
Laws of 1817 1 ch. 104; Laws of 1821, ch. 247. 

82 Telegraph, Oct. 27, 1818, Jan. 12, 1819; Ontario Repository, Dec. 16, 1817; 
Feb. 2, 1819. 


arch measuring 352 feet, the Carthage bridge surpassed all rivals in 
its day, 63 and many curious travelers came to view the marvel. 84 For 
fifteen months creaking stages and heavily loaded wagons jolted safely 
across, though not without sending shivers up and down the spines of 
their passengers. The bridge withstood the ravages of two winters, but 
finally, almost without warning, its Gothic arch gave way under the 
pressure of the heavy framework, and the timbers tumbled apart into 
the gorge. 85 

The crashing bridge carried down with it the visionary plans for 
the village of Carthage. 86 Foreclosure of their properties by the state 
was postponed on the agreement of the proprietors to build a second 
bridge. 87 But the new structure proved much less pretentious, while its 
difficult approaches, which required travelers to descend to the flats 
above the second falls, restricted its use. Washed out by the spring 
flood of 1827, it was scarcely missed even by the remaining settlers in 
that vicinity. 85 Moreover, the possibility that the canal would be 
diverted to a terminus at Oswego, which would have been a boon to all 
Ontario ports, finally disappeared in 1821, when contracts were signed 
for work on the western district of the Erie. A briefly considered plan 
to extend a branch of the canal from the east end of the aqueduct north 
to the Carthage landing did not materialize, 89 though an inclined plane 
was constructed to facilitate the transport of goods and passengers up 
the steep bank from the dock. 90 Many of the more energetic settlers 
had quickly removed, some of them to Rochester, and the hamlet, re 
named Clyde, 91 contented itself with the trade it was able to secure as 
one of the lake ports for the growing town at the upper falls. 

^Herman Haupt, General Theory of Bridge Construction (New York, 1861), 
pp. 144-146. This interesting study describes the famous Schaffhausen bridge of 
Switzerland, with which the Carthage bridge was frequently compared, but which 
had been destroyed in 1799. O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, p. 385. 

84 "Letter from an American Traveler/ Telegraph, Aug. 17, 1819; [Frances 
Wright], Views of Society and Manners in America, pp. 163-164; "General 
Brown s Inspection Tour of the Lakes," Buffalo Hist. Soc., Pub., XXIV, 299-300. 

85 Directory of the Village of Rochester (1827), pp. 133-134. 

^"Memorial to the President & Directors of the Bank of U. S. for a Branch 
at the Village of Carthage," Mar. 4, 1818, L. H. Clarke to Joshua Stow, Carthage, 
Mar. 17, 1818, R. H. S., Pub., II, 222-232. 

87 "Petition for Remission of Loan of $10,000," from Elisha Strong and L. H. 
Clarke, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc.; Senate Journal (1820), pp. 183-184; Letters to 
Henry O Reilly, Sept. 16, Nov. 12, 1834, O Reilly Doc., Roch. Hist. Soc., relate to 
his appointment in 1834 as state agent for the disposal of the remaining prop 
erties under this old bond. 

88 Rochester Observer, Apr. 14, 1827. 

89 Laws of the State of New York in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, 
I, 511-512. 

"Journal of a Trip to Niagara in 1822," MS, Univ. Rochester. 
n Telegraph, June 22, 1819. 


The fall rains and spring thaw up the valley provided annual threats, 92 
but for many years no flood brought such damage to the village as that 
of 1817. It was not so much the actual property destroyed as the injury 
to the morale of the community that made this flood significant. The 
fact that Elisha Johnson, by raising the dam above the height of 
previous works of this character, had turned the flood onto the Rochester 
lowlands proved a cause of bitterness, 93 only partly allayed when the 
location of the court house definitely fixed the hundred-acre tract as 
the center for the new town. Meanwhile, Ely, Bissell, and Ely brought a 
suit for damages to their mill property against Elisha Johnson as the 
builder of the dam. By agreement, the suit was submitted to E. B. Strong 
and Ashley Sampson as referees, who recommended a withdrawal and 
the institution of a new suit to recover from all the parties concerned 
in the dam. The indignation of Rochester, Fitzhugh, and Carroll thus 
unexpectedly involved knew no bounds. The jealousies developing in 
the struggle over the bank were fanned to a point where the hostile 
factions could scarcely communicate with one another. 94 As soon as the 
Red Mill lease expired, Rochester offered the property for sale; 95 the 
Ely brothers and Bissell promptly transferred most of their enterprises 
east of the Genesee. It was not entirely by chance that Clinton Street 
was laid out on the east side, for political and economic differences were 
increasingly identified with the natural rivalries of the opposite banks 
of the river. 

Yet dissension failed to check the growing village. The river, bearing 
an increasing harvest down from its fruitful valley, likewise supplied 
power to process the goods for distant markets. More substantial mills, 
several important new industries, many accessory handicrafts, a group 
of commodious taverns, and a multitude of merchants quickly trans 
formed the falls settlement into the leading market town of western 
New York even before the influence of the canal became clearly 

Despite its occasional fits of temper, the Genesee was Rochester s 
oldest and most reliable friend. The valley rapidly filled with enter 
prising settlers from the East, whose produce readily followed the water 

92 The Genesee drainage basin covers 2446 square miles, more than four times 
the area of Monroe County, but only a small part of the county lies in the Genesee 

^William Fitzhugh to Col. Rochester, Hampton, Apr. 8, Sept. 9, 1819; Charles 
H. Carroll to Col. Rochester, Williamsburg, Oct., 1819, Rochester Letters. 

94 H. Ely to Col. Rochester, Rochester, Nov. 20, 1822; Mar. 12, 1823, Rochester 
Letters, Ely apparently failed to receive replies from Carroll and Fitzhugh, while 
Ely himself delayed for half a year a reply to Col. Rochester. 

95 Telegraph, July 10, 1821. 


drainage. 96 Products characteristic of frontier days, such as logs, ashes, 
staves, and whiskey, constituted the major exports, 97 but a few pro 
gressive farmers specialized in breeded cattle and sheep, 98 while others 
were experimenting with new varieties of wheat in quest of seed adapted 
to the area." The stimulus of high prices over a period of years after 
1813 joined with the succession of favorable growing seasons, beginning 
with 1819, to produce increasingly abundant crops. 100 

The river quickly developed a colorful commercial life. Docks ap 
peared at favorable points, and among other boats the Shove-a-head 
made regular weekly round trips for several months in 1820. Heavy 
loads of staves, ashes, corn, and whiskey floated down to Rochester, 
while lighter loads of merchandise were poled slowly back to Geneseo. 101 
In 1822 it was estimated that "more than 10,000 bbl. of flour with 
large quantities of pork and potash and many other articles of country 
produce were carried down that river to ... the largest market town 
in the state west of the capital." 102 

The proportions of this trade emerged most strikingly in the export 
statistics of the Genesee Port. Despite adverse circumstances the volume 
of these shipments increased steadily down to the mid-twenties. The 
flour export jumped from 20,000 barrels in 1 8 18 to 67,467 in 1820, when 
it represented 55 per cent of the $375,000 valuation put on the exports 
of that year. 103 An average of fifteen schooners and two steamboats 
called each week during the busy season, while the collector reported 
a total of 316 visits in 182 o. 104 Local as well as Oswego and Canadian 
forwarding companies delivered the produce to distant markets and 
filled Genesee orders for foreign merchandise. 109 Several small schooners 

96 H. G. Spafford, Gazetteer of the State of New York (1824), pp. 287, 326. By 
1821 Livingston and Monroe counties together boasted of 157,000 acres of improved 
farm land. 

9T U. R. Hedrick, A History of Agriculture in the United States (Albany, 1933), 
pp. 134-164. 

98 L. W. Hopkins to Col. Rochester, Geneseo, Oct. 12, 1812, Rochester Letters; 
Wheatland Agricultural Society, Record Book (1822-1827), MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 
The first funds raised by this society in 1822 went to the purchase of a bull for 
use on the members farms. 

99 Rawson Harmon, Jr., "The Several Varieties of Wheat and Their Respective 
Value," N. Y. State Agricultural Society, Transactions for 1841 (Albany, 1842), 
II, 254-256. 

100 William Garbutt in N. Y. State Agricultural Society, Transactions for 1844 
(Albany, 1845), IV, 99-101, Elizabeth Turner, "The Settlement of Western New 
York," MS, M.A. Thesis, Univ. Rochester (1934), pp. 102-104. 

101 Gazette, June 13, 1820. 

102 Senate Journal (1823), pp. 81-82. 

103 Assembly Journal (1820), pp. 925-927. 

IQ4> Gazette, June 13, July 15, Oct. 10, 1820. Marine lists were printed each 
week in this and other local papers. Telegraph, Jan. 16, 1821. 
105 Monr oe Republican, June 21, 1821. 


were built in the Genesee during the decade, chiefly by the Rogers 
brothers, whose activities at Carthage helped to make that port the 
favored Genesee landing. 106 

Rochester, becoming more conscious of its character as a trading and 
export town, sent petitions to Albany and Washington, urging the im 
provement of the channel and the erection of a lighthouse at the mouth 
of the river. 107 News of impending tariff restraints on trade with Britain 
brought an immediate remonstrance from Colonel Rochester, who de 
clared that such a measure would do "great injury to the 300,000 settlers 
of the Genesee Country," many of whose land titles depended upon 
their ability to make annual payments and whose only commercial out 
let was through Montreal. 103 

That the St. Lawrence was not a safe trade outlet for Rochester soon 
became evident, yet for a time a profitable commerce was enjoyed. 
Although satisfactory improvements of the harbor were delayed until 
the close of the decade, 109 a lighthouse appeared on the west bank in 
i822. 110 The flour exports mounted to 130,000 barrels by i823, m but 
declining prices, occasioned in part by a flooding of the Montreal market 
with both Canadian and American produce, were already reducing 
Rochester s trade balance. The Canada Trade Act of 1822, restricting 
the participation of American boats in such commerce, served an addi 
tional warning. Canadian shippers could still carry Genesee food products 
to Montreal free of duty, and the exports of lumber and potash in 
American bottoms continued to mount, but gloom would have settled 
over the village had not the rapid progress on the canal promised a 
remedy. 112 

Rochester was a mill town by birthright, however, and the upsurge 
of its economic activity definitely preceded the arrival of the canal. 
Already in 1821 the village contained four flour mills and seven saw 
mills, while seventeen others operated in the near vicinity. Logs com 
prised the chief raw material, processed in part by eight asheries near the 
village and forty-four in the county. 113 Most of the rural settlers im 
proved the long winter months by cutting staves for the Rochester 

106 George H. Harris, "Early Shipping on the Lower Genesee River: Reminis 
cences of Captain Hosea Rogers," R. H. S., Pub., IX, 101-105. 

107 Assembly Journal (1820), pp. 925-927; Jesse Hawley to Col. Rochester, 
Canandaigua, Aug. 2, 1817, Rochester Letters. 

108 Col. Rochester to Henry Clay, Rochester, Apr. 8, 1820, photostat letter at 
Univ. Rochester. 

109 Telegraph, Mar. 25, 1823; Anti-Masonic Enquirer, May 18, 1830; Rochester 
Republican, July 5, 1830. 

110 Telegraph, Feb. 13, 1821, Feb. 5, 1822; Rochester Directory (1827), p. 135. 

111 Spafford, Gazetteer (1824), pp. 190-191. 

112 D. G. Creighton, The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence: 1760-1850 
(Toronto, 1937), pp. 190-193, 234-240; New York Senate Journal (1823), p. 397. 
1X3 Telegraph, Sept. 4, 1821, Jan. 3, 1822. 


coopers to assemble into barrels for the millers and distillers, who 
shared the task of preparing the increased supply of grain for market. 114 
Bark and hides from up the valley kept a local tannery busy and sup 
plied raw material for the saddlers and shoemakers whose products were 
in demand on the expanding frontier. 115 A paper mill as well as a woolen 
and a cotton factory operated on a small scale; several triphammer 
shops and blacksmith forges, dignified as iron foundries, produced and 
repaired the necessary metal tools. 116 "Slightly exaggerated" reports of 
rich coal and iron deposits along the Genesee further stimulated local 
optimists. UT 

Enterprising Yankees filled the streets about the bridge with shops 
of varied pretensions. Upwards of fifty "general merchandizing establish 
ments" advertised their arrival before 1825, though many quickly dis 
appeared. 118 More permanent stores specialized in books, hats, shoes, 
fish, hardware, and drugs, 119 but next to the general store in popularity 
stood the humble but hospitable grocery. 120 Hamlet Scrantom, again 
tiring of the arduous labors of milling, re-opened such an establishment 
in 1821. The entries in his cash book reveal that the villagers dropped 
in occasionally for potatoes, apples, candles, crackers, and cheese, or 
possibly eggs, salt, and bitters; but tobacco, cider, and most of all 
whiskey served as the primary attractions. Indeed, seven barrels of the 
last article, bought wholesale at 25 cents a gallon, kept Scrantom in 
stock for several months, enabling him to fill his grocery shelves with 
the barter traded in by his various customers. One artisan called with 
eight pairs of shoes to settle his account, and within a month Scrantom 
had disposed of them at $1.50 a pair. Ice cream and soda water were 
added to his line in i823, 121 possibly in an effort to meet the ingenuity 
of some close rival among his forty-odd merchant competitors, whose 
versatility kept the commercial life of the village in constant flux. 122 

114 Telegraph, July 4, 27, Sept. 5, 1820; Jan. 3, Dec. 31, 1822; "E. Pomeroy s 
Report on Rochesterville s flour product," Dec. n, 1819, Rochester Letters. 

115 Telegraph, Mar, 7, 1820; June 5, 26, Aug. 7, Nov. 6, 1821; "Asa Weston s 
Contract to build a Tannery for Colonel Rochester," Aug. 17, 1818, Rochester 

116 Telegraph, Feb. 2, 16, 1819; May 30, 1820; Feb. 19, 1822; Feb. 25, Apr. 15, 
"1823; May 25, June 27, 1824; Assembly Journal (1823), pp. 734-735; Colonel 
Rochester to A. Douglas, Rochester, Dec. 16, 1824, Rochester Letters. 

117 Telegraph, July 23, 30, 1822; Hibernicus [DeWitt Clinton], Letters on the 
Natural History and Internal Resources of the State of New York (New York, 
1822), pp. 37, 99^102. 

118 Newspaper Index, Roch, Pub. Library. 

119 Telegraph, Oct. 3, 1820; Monroe Republican, Dec. ii, 1821. 

120 Telegraph, July 28, 1818, July 17, 1823. 

121 H. ScrantonVs Day Book, MS, II, 54-102, Roch. Hist. Soc,; Telegraph, 
Oct. 14, ai, 1823; July 27, 1824, 

12a Spafford, Gazetteer (1824), pp. 190-191, 


The usual array of skilled artisans filled the village with activity. 
In 1820 William Reynolds, the postmaster s oldest boy, opened a 
barber shop, the second in the village. 123 It was a good way to keep tabs 
on one s rapidly changing neighborhood in which tailors, hatters, 
clothiers, and milliners catered to personal needs; tallow chandlers, 
bakers, chair- and cabinetmakers supplied necessary household articles; 
while wheelwrights, saddlers, and coachmakers served the never-ending 
procession of travelers. Every week or so a new advertisement appeared 
in the rival papers, a new sign was hung in Buffalo or one of the lesser 
streets. 124 Carpenters, brick- and stonemasons, painters, and plasterers 
were busy filling the gaps in the settlement, while neat wood and brick 
houses, painted white with green Venetian shutters, spread over the 
stump-infested environs. 125 

The building industry topped all others in activity, just as the promo 
tion of town lots excelled as a source of profit. In the twelve months 
preceding June, 1823, one church, nine three-story brick buildings, and 
a hundred and fifty houses of various dimensions were erected a 
25 per cent growth in one year. 126 Still the accommodations proved in 
sufficient for the throng of newcomers, though the number forced to 
camp in their wagons during the first weeks after their arrival was not 
as great as a few years before. 127 Thurlow Weed discovered that no 
decent house could be rented short of twelve shillings a week with the 
result that the youthful journeyman and his family found shelter with 
his hospitable employer, Everard Peck. 128 Fortunately for Weed, Peck s 
recently completed brick dwelling on Falls (Spring) Street was one of 
the most comfortable in thoi village. 129 The new three-story brick house 
erected on that same quiet street in 1823 for Colonel Rochester cost 
$850, exclusive of a $600 frame addition later attached. Said to be the 
work of a recently arrived architect, Captain Daniel Loomis, the 
Rochester house showed a conservative interpretation of the Post 
Colonial style popular at the time. 13Q 

In greatest demand was the modest two-story frame house of four 
rooms built around a central chimney. Colonel Rochester, who put up 
several of these, rented them at from eighty to one hundred dollars a 

Republican, June 26, 1821. 

124 Newspaper Index. 

125 Telegraph, July 20, 1819; June 28, 1825; Blake McKelvey, "British Travelers 
to the Genesee Country," R. H. S., Pub., XVIII, 30-33. 

126 Spafford, Gazetteer, pp. 189-190. 

127 Edwin Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," p. 29, Scrapbook, Roch. Hist. Soc. 
M8 Addison Gardiner to Thurlow Weed, Rochester, Oct. 8, 1822, Weed Papers; 

Weed, Autobiography, p. 97. 

129 "The Peck House," R. H. S., Pub., IX, 66. 

130 Rochester Letters, Sept. i, 1823; Nov. 13, 1825; Walter H. Cassebeer, 
"Architecture in Rochester," R. H. S,, Pub., XI, 288. 


year, or granted a half-year lease to an artisan agreeing to paint or 
plaster the dwelling. 181 With subdivision taking place on all sides, lots 
on the outskirts of the hundred-acre tract, originally priced at twenty- 
five dollars a quarter-acre, were now divided into three or four house 
lots at two hundred dollars each. Dr. Matthew Brown, Abelard 
Reynolds, Charles H. Carroll, son of Rochester s former partner, and 
Frederick Hanford engaged in town-lot promotion west of the river, 
while Elisha Johnson, Samuel J. Andrews, Ashbel Riley, Josiah Bissell, 
and several others were similarly employed on the east side. 132 Colonel 
Rochester, having purchased an additional tract south of the one 
hundred acres, appraised his remaining town lots in 1825 at $ioo,ooo. 133 
The valuation placed on the real estate properties of Gates and Brighton 
reached $386,597 and $378,793 respectively in 1824, increasing to $665,- 
700 and $598,200 a year later. The two small townships, added together, 
considerably exceeded other townships in the state west of Albany, 
both in their total valuation and in value per acre. 184 


The rapid construction of the Erie Canal inevitably quickened the 
town s economic activities. The prospect of a new and sure market en 
couraged expansion in the milling and commercial fields, while the 
state expenditures on the waterway, supplying an abundance of ready 
cash, spurred local enterprise. Almost without realizing it, Rochester 
had become, if only for a few brief years, the boom town of America. 185 

Interest in the canal became more lively as the work progressed. The 
opening of the central stretch through Utica in the fall of 1820 dispelled 
skepticism concerning its practicability. 186 Work on the great embank 
ment, designed to carry the canal over the deep Irondequoit valley, 

131 Rochester Letters, Apr. 19, 1819; Apr. 7, July 28, Oct. 16, 1823. 

182 Levi Ward Coll. MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc.; Telegraph, May 25, 1824. Most issues 
of the local weeklies carried advertisements of lots for sale, ranging, where the 
price was mentioned, from sixty to two hundred dollars each. 

ias Charles A. Dewey, "Nathaniel Rochester, " R. H. S., Pub*, III, 274; Charles 
H. Carroll obituary, Rochester Union and Advertiser, July 24, 1865. 

134 Assembly Journal (1825), p. 190; David H. Burr, Atlas of the State of New 
York (New York, 1829). The statistics included by Burr are from the 1825 state 
census. Seneca township which included the village of Geneva had 24,676 acres 
of improved land and was valued at $1,139,032; Utica in New Hartford township 
had 19,696 acres of improved land and a real property valuation of $1,030,602; 
Canandaigua with 18,208 acres of improved land came next with $746,969 in 
re al property; Buffalo township had 5,664 acres of improved land and a valua 
tion of $683,847; but Gates, which came next in value, had only 3,108 acres of im 
proved land and was one of the smallest townships in area west of Albany. Brighton 
had only 7,945 acres improved. Their combined total area was 49,600 acres, less 
than many other towns, including Buffalo. 

185 Rochester Directory (1827), p. 137. 

186 Telegraph, Oct. 3, Nov. 14, 1820. 


brought a surge of activity to the area in the summer of 182 1. The letting 
of the contract for the Genesee aqueduct that autumn gave Rochester 
final assurance of the canal crossing and released the energies of many 
who had been awaiting that decision before developing their prop 
erties. 137 

The construction of the aqueduct was a bold undertaking for the 
day, and numerous difficulties were encountered. The first contractor, 
William Brittin, fresh from his experiences as builder of the new state 
prison at Auburn, brought along some thirty convicts to relieve thje 
labor shortage at Rochester. Unfortunately, numerous escapes occurred, 
causing great alarm, and the convict camp had to be displaced by free 
labor enrolled from newly arrived Irish immigrants. 138 Additional delays 
occurred when Britain s death forced the letting of a new contract and 
when river ice destroyed the partially completed piers during the 
winter. Meanwhile, the sandstone quarried at Carthage proving un 
suitable for capping purposes, a more durable stone was brought from 
Cayuga, increasing the outlay for the completed aqueduct to $83,000 
by September, i823. 189 But already the 8o2-foot massive stone aqueduct, 
spanning the river on eleven Roman arches, was attracting favorable 
comment from visiting engineers, fully justifying Rochester s pride in 
the longest stone bridge yet built in America. 140 


Canal traffic became an important factor in the affairs of Rochester 
long before the great trade artery officially opened in 1825. A few river 
boats passed through the feeder and along the canal to Pittsford after 
July, 1822, making an overland connection with vessels on the com 
pleted central section several miles further east, but the stretch over 
the embankment was not ready until fall. 141 Shipments east started in 
considerable volume in the spring of 1823, though it was October before 
boats could use the aqueduct to cross to and from the main part of the 
village. Rochester joyfully seized the occasion to celebrate the comple 
tion of its aqueduct and the beginning of unobstructed water com 
munications with Albany and New York. 142 The canal was opened 
westward to Brockport early the next spring, 143 and something of the 

187 Telegraph, Oct. 15, Nov. 26, Dec. 10, 1822; Monroe Republican, Sept. 4, 1821. 

188 Telegraph, July 31, Aug. 7, Sept. 25, Oct. 30, -1821; Assembly Journal (1824), 

pp. 517-519- 

139 Telegraph, Sept. 9, 1823 ; Laws in Relation to Erie and Champlain Canals, 
II, 66, 100-102, 166-167, 567-568; Assembly Journal (1824), pp. 5*5-5i9 981-984. 

140 A. Duttenhofer, A Study-Journey through the United States (Stuttgart, 1835), 
R. W. G. Vail, tr., quoted in R. H. S., Pub., XI, 358; XVIII, 92. 

141 Telegraph, Oct. 2, Nov. 13, 1821; Oct. 15, 1822; Laws in Relation to Erie 
and Champlain Canals, II, 102. 

^Monroe Republican, Oct. 7, 1823; Telegraph, Oct. ax, Nov. n, 1823. 
143 Telegraph, Apr. 27, 1824. 


character of its early trade appeared in the Monroe Republican s weekly 
report of November 4th: 

Arrived since our last: 75 tons Merchandize, 9 do. Castings and Furniture, 
226 bu. Grain, 1572 Bbls. Salt; 288 bbls. Flour, 15 Ashes, 18 Oil from Brock- 
port, 1 6 Cords of Bark, and many passengers. 

Cleared same time 56 Boats with: 2000 bbls. Flour, 219 bbls Ashes 92 
Salt 1 8 Pork, 42 Oil 51 Tons Merchandize, 9000 feet lumber and many 

Rochester s preparations for the canal trade centered around the 
construction of a series of slips or basins for dockage purposes. On the 
east side, Gilbert s and Johnson s Basins already facilitated the load 
ing of boats at the mills along Johnson s race. Across the river, a half- 
dozen basins eventually reached into the millyards near the raceway 
and into potential commercial centers a few blocks further west, thus 
extending the area of business activity in a broad band through the 
northern part of the hundred-acre tract and the western section of 
Frankfort. 144 Child s Basin at the west end of the aqueduct, extending 
to the north between present Exchange and Aqueduct Streets, quickly 
became the most active dock in town, making it necessary to limit the 
time a boat could tie up at one of the adjoining mills or warehouses. 145 

Shipments over the canal began to mount soon after the route was 
opened to Albany. The first ten days of traffic in 1823 saw 10,540 
barrels of flour loaded at Rochester, 146 and year after year the opening 
weeks in March or April presented a scene of intense activity. Transport 
costs to Albany dropped from the $60 or $100 per ton charges for the 
wagon haul, to a maximum of $10 a ton by boat, thus enabling the 
canal to capture the old freighting business and part of the lake trade 
with Canada, as well as stimulating the shipment of goods formerly con 
sidered unmarketable. 147 Rough totals for the shipments from Rochester 
in 1823 and 1826 chart the rapid growth of the local canal trade: 64,000 
barrels of flour rising to 202,000; 1,200 barrels of pork to 7,000; and 
52,900 gallons of whiskey to i35,ooo. 148 

By the late twenties, when the early canal traffic ran at full flood, an 
average of around thirty-five boats drew up daily at local docks. 149 In 

144 Rochester Directory (1827), p. 122; Edward R. Foreman, "Canal Basins in 
Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XI, 367-368, 

145 "Child s Basin Rules and Regulations," MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

146 Telegraph, Mar. 6, 1823. 

i-tr ii V. Poor, The Influence of Railroads in the Creation of Commerce (New 
York, 1869) ; see also Percy W. Bidwell and J. I. Falconer, History of Agriculture 
in the Northern United States (2nd ed., New York, 1941), pp. 180-183, 

148 Rochester Directory (1827), p. 115. 

149 Whitney R. Cross, "Creating a Citj: The History of Rochester from 1824 to 
1834," M.A. Thesis at Univ. Rochester, 1936, pp. 60-61. Several of the local papers 
gave daily lists of the arrivals and departures of canal boats as well as lake craft. 


1827 the shipments east from Rochester reached a total value of $1,200,- 
ooo, two-thirds of it in flour, and merchandise valued at $1,020,800 was 
brought back from Eastern ports to fill the shelves of Rochester stores. 150 
The village enjoyed a full and overflowing share of the canal s ad 
vantages. For several years the tolls gathered by the local collector ex 
ceeded the collections at any two other ports, excluding Albany, and 
sometimes equalled those levied at the capital on all westbound traffic. 151 

The canal gave an immediate spur to Genesee River trade. 152 The 
feeder provided a convenient link between the two water routes, and 
for several years after 1825 chiefly served this purpose. The rapids 
south of the village still presented an obstruction to boats during the dry 
season, and a concerted drive by river interests failed to persuade the 
legislature to authorize the dredging of a channel through the rift. 153 
Nevertheless, the river trade developed to such a point that a shallow- 
bottomed steamboat was constructed in 1824 for passenger service, 
though it proved more useful for tugging barges. 154 By 1827, about five 
million feet of sawed lumber came down the river annually, in addition 
to the logs floated down in great cribs to make possible nearly double 
that output from the sawmills of Rochester. 155 At one time more than 
forty such cribs were tied up above the Johnson dam waiting for high 
water to flood them over the dam to the lumber yards below. 156 

The commercial opportunities afforded by the canal called for new 
tributary highways. Advocates of state roads fanning out from Rochester 
petitioned the legislature in 1823 and succeeding years. As the power 
to tax unsettled land adjacent to the roads was sought without success, 157 
the most practicable methods of connecting an isolated territory with 
the growing market town proved to be the formation of turnpike com 
panies. Accordingly, the Rochester and Portage Turnpike Company, 158 

150 Rochester in 1827 (Rochester, 1828), p. 139. 

151 Senate Documents (1827), No. i66E. Rochester s tolls collected in 1826 
$85,779.17, when Albany took in $120,335, and Buffalo only $19,558- Buffalo did 
not exceed Rochester until 1838, when Buffalo s tolls reached $202,890 to Rochester s 
$195453. Senate Doc. (1839) > No. 27. 

152 R. Grant, "York Landing," Livingston Co. Hist. Soc., Proceedings (1891), 
pp. 45-So. 

158 Senate Journal (1823), pp. 25, 81-82, 232-233, 580; Assembly Journal (1823), 
pp. 514, 644; Assembly Journal (1824), pp. 947, 999, 1029, 1181; Assembly 
Journal (1825), pp. 422, 444, 474. 

^Livingston Journal, July 28, 1824; Edward R. Foreman, "Shipping on the 
Upper Genesee," R. H. S., Pub., IX, 304-308. 

155 Rochester in 1827, p. 139. 

156 E. P. Clapp, "The Travel, Trade and Transportation of the Pioneer," p. 119, 
MS of 1907, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

157 Assembly Journal (1823), pp. 602, 682; Assembly Journal (1824), pp. 36, 
87, 641; Assembly Journal (1825), p. 633. 

158 Senate Journal (1825), pp. 336, 351-352; Assembly Journal (1825), pp. 844, 


the Rome and Rochester Turnpike Company, 159 and the Rochester to 
Lockport Road Company were chartered and funds gathered for their 
construction. 160 

Frequent travel over the network of highways that now surrounded 
Rochester kept them in fair shape except during the muddy season. By 
the summer of 1822 a daily stage wagon rattled back and forth between 
Canandaigua and Rochester carrying as many as ten passengers in 
addition to the mail bags, 161 and though less frequent stages followed 
the other roads, the taverns at the falls prospered. By 1826 two daily 
stages left Rochester for Albany by the rival Canandaigua and Palmyra 
routes, a daily stage left for Lewiston by the Ridge Road, another for 
Buffalo by way of Scottsville and Batavia, a second to Batavia by way 
of Chili and Bergen, and still another through Henrietta and Avon to 
Geneseo. 162 With fares of $ l /2 cents a mile, these companies did a thriv 
ing business, despite the competition of twelve packet boats on the 
canal (charging only iy 2 cents a mile), for the six or eight miles per 
hour covered by the stages compared favorably with the three and four 
miles of the packets. 168 "At a moderate calculation," one editor esti 
mated, "there depart daily the round number of 130 persons from this 
village" he did not venture to guess the number of arrivals. 164 


Economic activities within the village assumed new proportions in 
the mid-twenties. Though capital from the East became increasingly 
available, local enterprise retained control. The building trades boomed, 
real estate values soared, and milling ventures appeared in numbers 
that prompted the first effort to conserve water power. 

Two closely related major industries created by the new trade artery 
were the boatyards, which quickly appeared along the canal at the 
eastern and western limits of the town, and the local forwarding com 
panies, which soon dominated the carrying trade. The abundant lumber 
supply, including pine from the highlands around the southern edges of 
the Genesee Valley, made Rochester the favored boatbuilding center 
for the Erie. The many individual boatbuilders of the early twenties gave 
place by the end of the decade to six well-organized boatyards where 
standardized packet and freight boats, worth from $800 to $1200 each, 
were turned out by the score every year. 165 

In like fashion individual boatmen were quickly displaced by the 

159 Senate Journal (1825), pp. 633, 840, 907, 1180. 

100 Senate Journal (1825), pp. 496, 947; Senate Journal (1827), pp. 613, 687, 703. 
161 Jed Baldwin to his daughter, Pittsford, Oct. 9, 1822, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 
162 Rochester Directory (1827), pp. 131-132. 

163 Directory, p. 131 ; Cross, "Creating a City," p. 65. 

164 Rochester Album, May 16, 1826. 

^Rochester Daily Advertiser & Telegraph, Sept. 19, 1829, 


more efficient boat companies. Freight and packet lines made regular 
calls at the various canal ports where their agents collected shipments 
for prompt dispatch. 166 By 1827, the Pilot Line, owned by Jonathan 
Child, scheduled 34 freight boats drawn by 180 horses with regular 
stops between New York and Detroit. Five other companies active on 
the canal at that time were owned principally by Rochester men, raising 
to 1 60 the total number of boats operating out of Rochester. In the 
spring and fall the usual charge was one dollar a barrel for carrying 
Rochester flour to Albany, but rates frequently fell off during summer 
months when competition for freight became sharp. 167 

An obvious classification of local industries would distinguish those 
engaged in processing the products of the valley for export abroad from 
those which converted an easily imported material into articles for sale 
on the frontier. Most industries of the first variety were established be 
fore the canal opened a more reliable market, greatly increasing their 
importance. Chief among these in 1827 were the seven flouring and 
nine lumber mills, the two distilleries, and numerous asheries, with such 
accessory shops as the fourteen coopers among others provided. 168 The 
size and equipment of two new mills, completed the next year, attracted 
wide attention and promised to establish a reputation for Rochester 
flour. 169 

Shops belonging to the second industrial category had likewise ar 
rived prior to the canal, but with improved facilities for importing 
bulky raw material these establishments began to resemble small fac 
tories. More than a score of ironworking shops were noted by the first 
Directory, at least two of considerable size. An iron foundry on Brown s 
Race turned out millstones, ploughs, and castings of various sorts, 170 
while a nail factory was already equipped to cut out its product "by 
machine as in Birmingham." 171 Scythes, axes, and guns were among 
other articles produced for sale up the valley and on the expanding 
frontier. The defunct cotton factory, reestablished and equipped with 
30 new power looms and 1400 spindles, gave employment and "the 
advantages of a school five evenings a week" to f eighty children in an 
attempt to supply the active local market for shirtings, sheets, and other 
cotton goods. 172 

Several industries likewise developed to convert valley products into 

166 Telegraph, Dec. 10, 1822 ; Sept. 14, 1824. 

167 Rochester Directory ( 1827), pp. 116-117. 

ie8 Directory (1827), pp. 118-119; see above, pp. 87-90. 

169 Directory (1827), pp. 117-118; W. B. Knox to Lemuel C. Paine, Rochester, 
Aug. 3, 1829, MS, Autograph Letters, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

170 Cross, "Creating a City," p. 83. 

171 Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Travels through North America (Philadelphia, 1828), 
I, 170-172 ; Telegraph, Apr. 6, 1824. 

172 Monroe RepubUcan, Dec. 13, 1825; Directory (1827), pp. 114, 115, 118, 120. 


articles for the local market. Such were two small woolen mills which 
bought from Genesee sheep growers and sold to Rochester tailors, and 
the oil mill which pressed the seed of neighboring flax fields. Brickyards 
turned out 8,000,000 bricks in 1828; one pail factory annually manu 
factured 25,000 wooden buckets; a window-sash factory, operated by 
water power, and a lengthy ropewalk were notable additions; while 
three tanneries contributed a valuable if slightly odoriferous ac 
tivity. 173 

It was, however, the commercial rather than the industrial revolution 
that was transforming Rochester, although the enterprise of numerous 
merchant craftsmen gave promise of again changing the village, like 
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati before it, 174 into one of the new manufacturing 
centers of the West. Meanwhile, probably no more than four or five 
of the 134 "manufactories" listed in the first Directory employed over 
a half-dozen journeymen or other workers, and apparently only forty 
or so used the hydraulic power of which the villagers boasted. Most of 
the 423 laborers listed in the Directory were unskilled workmen com 
mon to any community. The flour and lumber mills gave direct employ 
ment to less than one hundred men, 175 The importance of these major 
industries lay in the fact that the commercial revolution, by opening a 
vast market for their products, provided Rochester with a favorable 
trade balance which greatly strengthened its financial position. The 
town at the same time became a favorite market place for farmers and 
tradesmen up the valley and for a time throughout the expanding 
Northwest as well. 176 

By the mid-twenties Rochester boasted "five extensive and excellent 
hotels, each . . . capable of accommodating between fifty and seventy 
persons," reported an English traveler who could not find, an empty 
bed in the place. After an uneasy night on a sofa, he breakfasted at the 
Mansion House on "a variety of meats, pies, cakes, tarts, etc. ... in 
company with about 100 persons of fashionable appearance and genteel 
address." 177 No less impressive were the Ensworth Tavern at the Four 
Corners/ 78 the "Coffee House" or Merchants Tavern on Exchange 

m Directory (1827), pp. 119-120; Monroe Republican, Dec. 13, 1825; E. R. 
Foreman, "Rochester Ropemakers," R. H. S., Pub., VIII, 299-301 ; L. D. Baldwin, 
Pittsburgh: The Story of a City (Pittsburgh, 1937), pp. 145-153. 

174 Baldwin, Pittsburgh, pp. 218-230. 

175 Directory (1827), pp. 114-115, 119-^120. A rough idea of the numbers em 
ployed in the various shops may be secured by comparing the number listed un 
der the different occupations with the number of such establishments: 3 tanneries 
and 29 tanners; 7 mills and 20 millers; 6 printing offices and 31 printers, etc. 

176 R. H. S., Pub., IV, 242. 

177 E. A. Talbot, Five Years Residence in the Canadas, including a Tour through 
Part of the United States of America (London, 1824), pp. 337-338; Telegraph, 
Nov. 3, 1818; May 25, 1824. 

178 Powers Commercial Fire Proof Building: A Directory (Rochester, 1871), p. 5. 


Street overlooking the canal, 179 the McCracken Tavern in Frankfort, 180 
and the Farmers or Brighton Hotel east of the river on Main Street 181 
Less pretentious hostelries accommodated country folk, while ambitious 
plans for three magnificent new hotels were already projected. The 
United States Hotel on Buffalo Street, the Rochester House on Exchange 
Street, south of the canal, and the Eagle Hotel on the site of Ensworth s 
Tavern at the Four Corners promised new standards of elegant com 
fort. 182 

But the four-and-one-half story Arcade, erected by Abelard Reynolds 
in 1828, was the pride of the town, fully balancing the large Globe 
Building erected by Elisha Johnson at the other end of the bridge only 
the year before. 183 As Postmaster Reynolds secured most of the neces 
sary capital from Albany and New York City, giving mortgages on the 
Arcade and other property as security, his backers were naturally con 
cerned that the $30,000 building should be adequately insured and that 
the 7 per cent interest payments should be made promptly. 184 Although 
skeptics expressed fear that Rochester had outdone itself, the store 
fronts not required for the post office were soon occupied, while the hotel 
and office rooms above proved much in demand. If any witness doubted 
the town s growing consequence, he could do nothing better than visit 
the Arcade, mount its successive stairs to the turret over the roof, and 
there enjoy a pleasant view of the thriving settlement. 185 

New uses for local property boosted land values and stimulated a 
greater concern for insurance. When the newly appointed street com 
missioner took a census of houses late in 1827, he found a total of i,474, 
of which 352 had been built that season. 186 Agents of Eastern companies 
had written numerous fire policies before 1825, when the first local 
company was chartered, 187 but the chief insurance in the early days had 

179 George B. Sage, "An Important Historic Place in Rochester, -1825," MS, 
Roch. Hist. Soc.; The Northern Traveller: Containing the Route to Niagara, 
Quebec, etc. (New York, 1826), pp. 75-79- 

180 Edward R. Foreman, "The Old North American Hotel," R. IJ. S., Pub., 

VI, 343-345- 

181 Telegraph, Aug. 8, 1820, May 25, 1824; Samson s Scrapbook, No. 52, p. 10. 
1S2 Scrantom, "Old Citizen s Letters," pp. 55~57J Rochester in 1827, pp. 142, 

149; Jesse W. Hatch, "Memories of Village Days," R. H. S., Pub., IV, 236-244. 
18 Rochester in 1827, p. 142. 

184 Reynolds Papers, 1826 to 1834, Nos. 178, 184, 187, 1Q4 2 8, 210, 214, Roch. 
Hist. Soc. 

185 Henry Ibbotson, "A Journey from New York to Buffalo, 1829," MS, 
Courtesy of Joseph D. Ibbotson, Winter Park, Florida ; G. M. Davidson, Traveller s 
Guide Through the Middle and Northern States (Saratoga Springs, 1837)5 P- 250; 
see below, p. 203. 

188 Rochester in 1827, pp. 138-139. Some doubt is thrown on these figures by the 
enumeration of only 1300 non-public houses in 1834. 

187 Assembly Journal (1825), pp. 25, 8p, 225, 493? ?2? 537> 54 1 S 6 7> 74 


been the green lumber out of which most of the houses were built. 188 
However, with a few lots reaching the giddy value of $151 a front foot, 189 
and with real property soaring above $i ? ooo ; ooo in total valuation and 
paying a rent of $97,000 in 1827, fire insurance became a recognized 
part of the annual budget. 190 Indeed, by that date active agencies of eight 
insurance companies had located in the growing town. 191 

The desire for additional capital continued unabated. The resources 
of the Bank of Rochester were in such constant demand that interest 
on its stock advanced from 9 to n per cent in 1828. lfl2 Repeated re 
quests for a second bank besieged Albany, 198 while Colonel Rochester 
turned again to the United States Bank at Philadelphia to secure, if 
possible, a branch for the village. 194 Though a second banking institution 
was not provided until 1829, much Eastern capital ventured into the 
community, as in the case of the Reynolds Arcade, when the enterprise 
of a local merchant or an association of partners assumed the initiative. 
In 1827, however, when a group of Boston capitalists offered to invest 
fifty thousand dollars in a cotton factory 195 under circumstances which 
might have led to the absentee proprietorship then developing Lowell, 198 
Rochester s leaders gave no encouragement, and nothing came of the 

When Rochester took stock of its assets in the first Directory of 
1827, a feeling of independence and self-confidence resulted from the 
valuation placed on the Genesee s "hydraulic resources." Estimating the 
water flow as twenty thousand cubic feet per minute in dry seasons, and 
multiplying by the 28o-foot fall, the author calculated that Rochester 
had 12,875 horsepower constantly at hand, equal to $9,718,270 in 
hydraulic energy each year. 197 Though only a small portion of this 
natural resource was tapped at the time, 196 steps to safeguard it from 
injury were being considered. The diversion of Genesee water into the 
canal between 1822 and 1826 considerably depleted the power available 

188 "Ashley Samson s Reminiscences," in Rochester Daily Union, Mar. 29, 31, 
Apr. 5, 7, ii, 13, 1855- 

w *Nile$ Register, Apr. 28, 1827, p. 160. 

1&0 Assembly Journal (1827), pp. 687, 725, 918. 

191 Rochester in 1827, pp. 138, X48- J X49. 

192 Tekgraph, Nov. 17, 1828. 

198 Album, Mar. 21, 1826; Oct. 16, 1827; Feb. 5, Mar. 11, 1828; Tekgraph, Nov. 
10, 17, 1828. 
* 1M R. M. Patterson to Col. Rochester, Jan. 14, 1827, Rochester Letters. 

195 Rochester in 1827, p. 141. 

196 M. T. Parker, Lowell: A Study of Industrial Development (New York, 
1940), pp. 59-79; Constance M. Green, Holyoke, Massachusetts: A Case History 
of the Industrial Revolution in America (New Haven, 1939), pp. 18-66. 

197 Rochester in 1827, p. 140. 

198 Samson Scrapbook No. 51, p. 9. In 1828 a total of 3400 horsepower was re 
ported available at the four races at the upper and main falls. Cf. Chapter I, note 38. 


during the dry summer months, but a concerted protest from local 
millers prompted the Canal Board to make restitution. 199 With the 
arrival of Lake Erie water through the canal from the west, Rochester s 
hydraulic advantages from the tumbling waters of the Genesee seemed 
assured. 200 


It was from another stream tumbling through Rochester in these years 
that the village derived its greatest advantage the stream of westward- 
migrating Americans. The Erie channelled the main current of New 
York-New Englanders through the market town at the falls. 201 A suf 
ficient number of these migrants stopped over long enough to give 
Rochester the bustling atmosphere that characterized later boom towns. 
An almost reckless optimism held sway. The skeptical or disillusioned 
were quickly bought out and enabled to resume their march westward. 
The constant danger that this vital energy might flow beyond, leaving 
the town stranded in its wake, prompted the publication of a consider 
able quantity of literature in the settlement s behalf. Yet so plentiful 
and unceasing was the flood of newcomers during the twenties that the 
problem aroused little concern. 

Rochesterians were confident enough from the start, but in the mid- 
twenties they began to see the future of their town through rose-colored 
glasses. Outgrowing its earlier rivalry with Canandaigua and Utica, 
Rochester sought comparison with Albany and Troy in the East and 
with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the interior. 202 Moderate men admitted 
it was impossible to predict what a single decade would bring, 203 but 
for a brief season Rochester appeared to be "a place of enchantment, 
and [you] can scarcely believe your own senses, that all should have 

199 Telegraph, Nov. 16, 1824; July 5, 1825; Assembly Journal (1824), p. 658; 
Assembly Journal (1825), pp. 393-395, 541, 646; Memorial of the Owners of 
Water of the Genesee River at Rochester, January, 1853 (Rochester, 1853), pp. 
13-14. Hervey Ely received $1500 damages from the state in 1826, whether for his 
own or for the losses of all complainants is not clear. 
, * Album, Nov. 10, 1825. 

201 In earlier days this migration had followed two main routes: westward over 
the old State Road through Canandaigua, Avon, Batavia, etc., and southwest by 
way of Olean and the Ohio. S. R. Brown, The Western Gazetteer or Emigrant s 
Directory (Auburn, 1817), had urged that provisions be secured at Auburn for the 
southern route; but by 1825 Olean s days as an emigrant dispatch port were over, 
according to Chester A. Loomis, A Journey on Horseback through the Great West 
(Bath, n.d.). 

202 A. T. Goodrich, The Northern Traveler (New York, 1826), pp. 74-78; Al 
bum, May 16, 1826. "If the country adjacent continues to improve as fast as it has 
done for ten years past, by the year 1835 Rochester will have outstripped Albany." 
That goal was not achieved, however, until the seventies. 

208 Joseph H. Nichols, "Diary," MS, Aug. 21, 1825, copy in Samson Note Book, 
XI, 96, Roch. Hist. Soc. 


been the work of so short a period," observed Justice Story in 
while Mrs. Basil Hall described it in 1827 as "the best place we have 
yet seen for giving strangers an idea of the newness of this coun 
try." 205 

This surging growth continued throughout the first ten years of the 
settlement s villagehood. The 1049 inhabitants of 1818 became by local 
count 9489 at the opening of i828. 206 Though the advance proved less 
striking in the decade of the twenties, even the 512 per cent increase of 
that period (contrasting with 804 per cent for 1818-1828) exceeded the 
rate of growth of all other communities measured over the full decade. 207 
Buffalo was Rochester s closest rival, gaining 313 per cent during the 
twenties, but Lowell, which sprang practically from zero in 1822 to 
6474 by 1830, emerged as the unrivalled boom town of the 1825-1835 
period, only to be surpassed in turn by Mobile in the decade of the 
thirties. 208 Never before had incorporated villages mushroomed at such 
rates. 209 

Pride in this remarkafcle growth early gained expression in the local 
press. The letter of an American traveler, who wrote from Pittsburgh 
to the New York Evening Post in 1819 after an extended jaunt through 
the West, was republished locally: 

As much as has been said about the sudden growth of the towns west of 
the Allegany, yet nothing I have heard of or seen in the valley of the Missis 
sippi can boast of so rapid growth as the village of Rochester favored by 
nature in its location with beauty and grandeur in the cataracts of the 
Genesee. , . . I shall venture to say that when the neighboring wood is cut 

204 William W. Story, ed., The Life and Letters of Joseph Story (Boston, 1851), 
I, 478. Justice Story s home town, Salem, Mass., with its clipper ships sailing to 
all comers of the globe, had scarcely exceeded Rochester s growth in two full 

205 Una Pope-Hennessy, ed,, The Aristocratic Journey (New York, 1931), pp. 


206 Rochester in 1827, p. 138. The lack of statistics for 1817 forces a use of the 
1818-1828 period, but these local counts are not entirely satisfactory, especially in 
view of the fact that the Federal census of 1830 reported a population 282 less 
than claimed in 1828. Nevertheless, as the local census counted an additional 
1329 residents in "improvements" on the outer fringe of the village, practically 
all of them newcomers, who were an integral part of the growing settlement not 
to be annexed for several years, the 804 per cent increase cannot be far off. The 
1828-1830 period was one of stagnation and hard times. 

207 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, VIII, 506; U. S. Census, 1820 and 1830. 

^ B Hunt s Merchants Magazine, VIII, 506; Parker, Lowell, pp. 68-69; Gene- 
see Farmer, Aug. 25, 1832, p. 267. A contemporary description of Lowell in Roches 
ter concludes with the observation: "No place in the United States, if we except 
Rochester in our own state, has increased in value and population with such 

200 The only possible predecessors were Washington, Cincinnati, and Louisville, 
but each of these had required from 15 to 20 years to grow from 1000 to 9000, 


open to -Lake Ontario, this town will be the resort of every tourist, and 
Rochester . . . will stand unrivalled in the west. 210 

Curiously, the projected canal with its potential bearing on Rochester s 
future was not even mentioned in this lengthy description. 

Astonishment at Rochester s growth characterized the reaction of 
visitors throughout the twenties:* 11 And when Horatio Spafford, strug 
gling with the manuscript of his second Gazetteer of New York State, at 
tempted to record the town s statistics, he found each count out of date 
before it reached the printer, and finally compromised by including 
data for 1820, 1822, and 1823 ^ a happy solution from the historian s 
point of view. Spafford, an experienced observer, knew what to expect 
from forced improvements which wither on the morrow, yet he could 
not help rejecting his own skepticism in Rochester s case: 

Though it must be admitted that the growth has been rapid, almost be 
yond example, even in our own country, of all others the best supplied with 
such examples, yet, on a fair and candid examination of its great natural and 
artificial advantages, it must [likewise] be admitted that Rochester has by 
no means yet reached its maximum. 213 

Spafford s difficulty in getting the town to pause for a portrait found 
a parallel four years later when Everard Peck attempted to bring out 
a second Directory. A local census had been ordered by the trustees, who 
had discovered that mounting census statistics helped to stimulate lot 
values. 21 * Many pertinent data were gathered to add to the historical 
and descriptive material in the first Directory issued the year before, but 
unfortunately it proved impossible to compile a suitable list of names, 
occupations, and residences so rapidly was the community growing, 
moving in from the East, moving on westward, and shifting about. 
Accordingly, Rochester in 1827 appeared in February, devoid of a 

210 Telegraph, Aug. 17, 1819, 

211 P. Stansbury, A Pedestrian Tour of Two Thousand Three Hundred Miles in 
North America (New York, 1822), pp. 92-93: "The beU tolled from a gothic spire 
as I entered the populous and fast increasing town of Rochesterville [in the 
autumn of 1821]. . . . In short all we beheld causes the mind to recur to the 
scenes of Babel. . . . From one point I counted eighteen houses in the act of 
building." "Journal of a Trip to Niagara in 1822," MS, Univ. Rochester: "Roches 
ter ... has sprung up in the last 8 years and is rapidly improving. During the 
last year there were more than 100 houses built." R. H. S., Pub., XVIII, 26, 32, 
36, 38, 88, 90, 93-94. 

212 Spafford, Gazetteer, pp. 189-191. 
21S Spafford, Gazetteer, p. 190. 

214 Jesse Hawley to Abelard Reynolds, Feb. 15, 1827, Autograph Letters. "Our 
village census seems to give a great spring to business relating to real Estate in and 
about the Village in the rise of Village Lots and preparations for extensive 
building next season." 


directory of residents, a memorial in more than one respect to the 
feverishly growing community. 215 


The westward migration, already reaching into the upper lake country, 
was at the same time filling in many gaps between the Genesee settle 
ments. Monroe County increased in the twenties from 27,288 to 49,855, 
Livingston from 21,006 to 27,729, Genesee from 18,578 to 26,008, Erie 
from 10,834 to 35,719, and even old Ontario enjoyed a moderate in 
crement. 216 Michigan Territory grew from 8,896 to 31,639, and a great 
portion of the newcomers arrived by way of New York State after 
1825 by the canal through Rochester. 217 In fact, many of these western 
settlers hailed directly from the Genesee Country, where they had sold 
their improvements to more substantial migrants from back East. 218 

The Reynolds family played characteristic roles in this movement. 
Abelard, the Rochester postmaster, soon attracted his brother, Albert, 
to the Genesee Country, but a commercial speculation in Bloomfield 
proved ill-advised, prompting Albert to head west in an unsuccessful 
effort to dispose of his goods in a frontier market. When Abelard, having 
stood bond along with a Rochester associate, was pressed for payment, 
he set out himself for Ohio to recover the goods and make the best of a 
bad speculation. Instead, losing track of his brother and the goods, 
he enjoyed an extended exploratory journey through Ohio and the 
Illinois country. Though greatly impressed, particularly with the latter 
region, Abelard returned with the conclusion that "after all, perhaps 
there is no place which combines a greater profusion and more interest 
ing variety of benefits than Rochester." Albert turne d up later in 
New Orleans, where another brother likewise sought his fortune, while 
a sister, married to an erstwhile resident of Rochester, moved west to 
Illinois; but none of the family prospered so well as Abelard, who ac 
quired valuable land holdings in the village ^nd eventually netted a rich 
reward. 219 

The places of those who moved on westward were quickly seized by 
newcomers from the East. Indeed, so many newcomers arrived that 
often families wishing to settle could not find sufficient accommodation. 
The one hundred or so new buildings erected annually in the early 
twenties jumped to 352 in 1827, yet the demand continued. The first 

215 Rochester, 1828. See the advertisement on the back of the title page. 

216 N. Y. Census (1855), pp. xx, xxi, xxiii. The statistics are for 1820 and 1830. 

217 George W. Fuller, Economic and Social Beginnings of Michigan (Lansing, 
1916), pp. 73-74, 469-475; C. R. Tuttle, General History of the State of Michigan 
(Detroit, 1876), p. 674. 

218 Detroit Gazette, Nov. 13, 1817. "It is said that Twenty-five families from 
one county (Genesee) in the State of N. Y. have recently arrived with the in 
tention of settling at the River Raisin." 

219 Reynolds Papers, MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc,, especially Abelard Reynolds to 
Albert Reynolds, May n, 1828; July 4, 1845. 


Directory listed 1169 boarders against 1137 householders, and while 
many of the former resided at the numerous taverns, the great majority 
lodged in private dwellings which generally comprised but four rooms 
and an attic. When the local census taker counted 1664 families in the 
village at the close of 182 7, he found but 1474 buildings of all sorts. 220 
The resulting congestion contributed alike to the outward extension 
of the village and the mounting lot values. House rents soared until one 
observer declared that even New York City homes could be leased 
more reasonably; 2SL only the opportunity to take in boarders saved 
many renters from eviction. 

But if the center of the town with its stores, churches, hotels, and 
private dwellings "all in motion creeping upwards," and its streets 
"crowded with people, carts, stages, cattle, pigs, far beyond the reach 
of numbers" seemed astonishing, it was as nothing in Basil HalPs 
opinion compared with the suburbs where "small houses and large and 
handsome ones" were being erected in the midst of stumps almost in 
the shade of the virgin forest. 222 

As inclusion within the village limits promised added respectability 
to outlying improvements, agitation for an extension of the boundaries 
was recurrent. Elisha Johnson especially wished to include his East 
Rochester development within the corporation, 223 and in April, 1823, 
the village officially spanned the river, adding about 357 acres on the 
east bank to its west-side acreage of 655, and increasing the population 
to an estimated 3700 by that June. 224 New demands for annexing the 
improvements springing up on the southeastern and southwestern 
borders of the village brought results when 226 acres were added, 225 
Spacious as an area of 1238 acres at first appeared, new houses and 
streets were constructed on the outskirts, and in 1827 a local census 
found 1329 living "without the bounds, but on village allotment within 
the proposed lines." ** Though ardently desired by many citizens, re 
newed expansion waited upon the grant of a city charter in I834- 227 


New England Yankees, seasoned by a longer or shorter residence in 
New York State, comprised the predominant village stock. The small 

^^ Rochester in 1827, pp. 138-139. 

221 Telegraph, May 1 6, 1826. 

222 Basil Hall, Travels in North America in the Years 1827 and 1828 (Edinburgh, 
1829), pp. 36-38. 

228 Telegraph, Jan. 14, Apr. i, 1823. 

^Telegraph, Apr. 29, 1823; W. Earl Wetter, "The Expanding Boundaries of 
Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XIV, ^75-i77J Spafford, Gazetteer (1824), pp. 189- 


225 Weller, "Development of the Charter ... of Rochester," M.A. thesis, 

Univ. of Roch., pp. 176^177. 

226 Rochester in 1827, p. 138. 

227 Advertiser, Dec. 28, 1830. 


number from Maryland and Pennsylvania would have been lost from 
view, save for a sprinkling of colored folk, had not their Episcopal 
predilection been supported by many Yorkers of long standing. A half- 
dozen Dutch names in the first Directory represented a still older New 
York strain, neither Yankee nor Episcopal in spirit, but equally proud 
of its American tradition. 228 A few families, hailing directly from Ger 
many or Scandinavia, served as the advance guard of a migration only 
just beginning. 229 Larger but less distinguishable groups arrived from 
England and Scotland, possibly after a stopover in Canada or the 
East, 230 yet less than one out of twelve villagers of 1825 were classed 
as aliens. 231 

The most noticeable foreign group was the Irish, many of whom had 
come as canal laborers. Several of their families settled about the log 
cabin erected in 1817 by Rochester s Irish pioneer, James Bowling, on 
the river road to Carthage. Six years before that road was renamed 
St. Paul Street in 1829, the community known as Dublin 282 a colorful 
if troublesome suburb gained inclusion within the corporate limits. 
Though the Irish became the butt of many jokes in neighborhood 
taverns, some of the good-natured humor reverberating in the pages 
of local weeklies, 283 several young Irishmen of talent rose to positions of 
leadership. At least two Irish Catholic Fathers served their growing 
flock in Rochester during the twenties. 234 When the first daily paper 
appeared late in 1826, a young Irishman, Henry O Reilly, arrived from 
New York as editor. 285 O Reilly joined with his fellow countrymen in 
organizing a local Hibernian Society, a mutual benevolent organiza 
tion which sought also to encourage naturalization and a full assumption 
of the responsibilities of citizenship. 286 

228 Mrs. E. A. Handy, "The Dutch in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XIV, 65. 

1229 Herman Plaefflin, Hundert jdhrige Geschichte des Deutschtums von Rochester 
(Rochester, 1915), pp. 22-24; R. B. Anderson, The First Chapters of Norwegian 
Immigration (Madison, 1895), pp. 62-70. Lars Larson, a member of the Nor 
wegian settlement that located at the western edge of Monroe County in 1825, 
moved to Rochester the next year to engage in canal boatbuilding, and soon his 
home became a center for Norwegians migrating westward. Album, Jan. 3, 1826, 
gives a contemporary account of their plight. 

230 Marcus L. Hansen, The Mingling of the Canadian and American Peoples 
(New Haven, 1940), I, 99-107. 

^Alburn, Jan. 17, 1826. That is the percentage for Gates and Brighton, 
credited with 674 aliens in a total population of 8566. 

2fi2 K. J. Dowling, "Dublin," R. H. S., Pub., II, 233-237; Samson Scrapbook, 
No. 41, p. 63. 

288 Telegraph, May 25, 1824. 

284 F. J. Zwierlein, "Catholics of Early Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 190-192. 

285 E. R. Foreman, "The Henry O Reilly Documents," R. H. S., Pub., IX, 124- 
125; Dictionary of American Biography, XIV, 52-53. 

286 Advertiser, July i, 1828. Fifteen names appeared on the committees con 
nected with the organization of this society in Rochester. 


Rochester s new settlers were but a small contingent of the migrants, 
both native and foreign, heading westward over the canal. 237 In Utica it 
was observed: 

Scarcely a boat from the east passes without a number of families on 
board, with their household goods and farming utensils, bound to the 
"Genesee Country," "Ohio" or the "Michigan Territory." There is no method 
of ascertaining the number of this description of passengers on the canal, 
for they pay no toll, and are not reported to the Collector s office: but some 
estimation may be formed of the amount when it is known that wagons with 
emigrants are literally swept from the roads, formerly the great thoroughfare 
to the west. It is not uncommon to see from 30 to 40 women and children 
comfortably stowed away on one of the large covered canal boats, as chirp as 
a flock of black-birds. 238 

"As chirp as a flock of black-birds" was scarcely the best metaphor, 
since people seldom tear up their roots and bundle them into carpet 
bags in so light a mood. Many doubtless reached Rochester after setting 
out on a vaguely planned migration westward, but others followed the 
lead of friends or relatives. The mail bags were full of advice to pro 
spective migrants. Occasionally a stranger would address a local editor 239 
or Colonel Rochester himself, asking "whether it would be advisable for 
a young man (of respectable character & who can bring the best recom 
mendation) to remove to Rochester to engage in Business of any Kind 
and what particular business would be the most advantageous?" 240 
Or a letter from the mill town to the home folks would read in part: 

You will perhaps be surprised to receive a letter from me from this place. 

. . After I wrote you I stayed some time in New York, but could find no 
stand. ... I concluded to try my luck elsewhere, and accordingly came to 
this place and have been very fortunate. I have rented a new store . . . 
[which] will be ready to occupy in about two weeks; when I shall put into 
it a good assortment of groceries & provisions and try my luck. ... I tend 
store . . . until it is done, at the rate of $16 a month.* 41 

Great as was the influx of newcomers, the growth of Rochester 
sprang in part from the pioneers. With the ratio of birtts to deaths 

237 Assembly Documents (1827), p. n; David M. Schneider, The History of 
Public Welfare in New York State (Chicago, 1938), pp. 130-139; Joseph Picker 
ing, Inquiries of an Emigrant (London, 1832), p. 52. Pickering gives detailed ad 
vice on the facilities available for English emigrants at New York, Albany, and 
along the Erie Canal to Lockport, based on his own trip in 1824. Album, May 9, 
1826. The first full season on the completed canal saw crude shacks erected at 
Buffalo to shelter them until boat passage to the West could be secured. 

238 Telegraph, May 25, 1824. 

259 Daniel McGlashen to Thurlow Weed, Albany, Nov. 7, 1823, Weed Papers. 

240 Thomas Shriver to Col. Rochester, Sandy Mount, Md., Feb. 15, 1824, Roch 
ester Letters. 

241 A. Kasson to Andrew Root, Rochester, May 25, 1826, Autograph Letters, 


better than two to one, 343 births were recorded in 1825, approximately 
a third of the increment that year. Though it was frequently remarked 
that no native had yet reached maturity, 242 the youngsters of the early 
days were growing up. In the summer of 1824, Hamlet Scrantom s third 
son, Edwin, took over the editorship of the Republican, successor to the 
Gazette on which he had served as apprentice a few years before. 243 
In January, 1827, the young editor sat down and wrote a letter full of 
the balmy spirits of the town to his representative at Albany, none other 
than Abelard Reynolds, pioneer saddler and postmaster: 

Business goes on, and briskly. There is an usual quantity of wheat bought 
. . .; hammers clink, carts rattle, streetmen bawl, boys halloo, and cryers 
cry "hear ye," &c. Lawyers and doctors are thick as ever. Idlers and dandies 
strut as usual. The theaters, museums, pictures and other curiosities [are 
attended] about as abundantly as formerly, and men "in the full fruition of 
unrestrained liberty," pass to and fro, gathering substance and leaving "pomp 
and circumstance" behind them. The streets are crowded, now tis sleighing, 
from one end to the other. I counted a day or two since 150 teams in and 
about the streets of Buffalo, Carroll, and Exchange. Your business at the 
P. 0. goes on as usual. ... I saw [your clerk] Stoddard collecting a few 
days since and I thought he made a good fist at it. Money was never more 
scarce than now, when every merchant seems making remittances. But it will 
be better. The canal will open in less than two months and that will create 
a new era in the affairs of men and things. How does the business of legisla 
tion suit you? Methinks you are somewhat lost. You could easier tell a man 
whether his ticket was a blank or a prize than rise on the assembly floor. . . . 

Enos Stone sold upwards of 100 acres of land near where he lives, not 
including Ms present homestead, to Messrs. Peck, Bissell and Riley, for 
$35,000. They are apportioning [it] into village lots. Stebbins and Cuyer . . 
are selling off lots. ... I bought two lots there for $200 each. They will 
now rise. They are selling rapidly. . , . F. H. Cuming has sold his brick 
house to A, Samson for $3,500. . . . 

Had you as soon send me your name for the note I spoke to you of? My 
brother [Elbert] will secure you. ... I will remember it, as I ought, in 
gratitude. I call upon you with reluctance, but aware as I am that not the 
least injury can or shall come on you. I shall be proud to consider you a 
friend and one indeed. Please draw a note for 12 months jointly and severally 
for $200, sign and send to me, and much oblige your very 

Grateful Friend, 

E. Scrantom 244 

The reply proved equally revealing of the spirit of Rochester s 
founders, for in the midst of much reckless optimism there ever re- 

242 Album, Jan. 17, 1826. 

248 Hamlet Scrantom, Journal, entry of July 27 and Aug. 2, 1824, MS, Roch. 
Hist. Soc. 

244 Edwin Scrantom to Abelard Reynolds, Rochester, Jan. 27, 1827, Edwin 
Scrantom Letters, MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 


mained a desire for restraint. The request for a loan was granted after 
security was received, but a note of warning was sounded: 

I have always had the utmost confidence in the ultimate success and con 
sequences of our Village, the numerous opinions to the contrary notwithstand 
ing. There is however in all human events, a point beyond which we ought 
not, we cannot go, and such I am fearful is the extravagant land speculations 
now going on in Rochester. The present purchasers will no doubt make 
money by their operation, but that a reaction will be the final result of this 
persevering, chimerical project there cannot remain a doubt, and how far 
that will effect, and impede the flourishing condition of our famous village 
it is difficult for me to predick. 245 

Only a few months later Abelard Reynolds put such doubts aside 
and embarked upon the construction of the Arcade, the most extensive 
and elegant commercial structure in western New York in that day. 248 

245 Abelard Reynolds to Edwin Scrantom, Albany, Feb. 3, 1827. 

246 Amy H. Croughton, "Historic Reynolds Arcade," R. H. S., Pub., VIII, 97-99. 




TRADITIONAL ATTITUDES and conflicting aspirations complicated the 
establishment of Rochester s civic and institutional functions. 
Though economic factors exerted their influence, the most im 
portant developments arose from the increased complexity of the com 
munity s affairs. Repeated efforts to establish in Rochester the close- 
knit village patterns familiar in the communities back East met scant 
success. Before it could be properly groomed according to Yankee 
standards, the growing settlement was to burst the civic and cultural 
as well as the economic buttons off its ill-fitting village frock and emerge 
as the strutting "Young Lion of the West." 


The village quickly discovered the urgent necessity for a careful 
regulation of its affairs, but the lack of precedents for such forthright 
action as the problems of the community demanded seriously handi 
capped the authorities. Villages simply had not grown up so rapidly, and 
it seemed unwise to assume the increased powers the town s size and 
activity required. Nevertheless, numerous Yankee mores were in 
corporated in the bylaws, though experience usually forced their 

The original charter of 1817 provided a form of government similar 
to that of other recently incorporated villages modelled on the New 
England town. 1 Chief authority resided in the town meeting, which 
elected seventeen officers (including five trustees), voted necessary 
taxes not to exceed $1000 a year, and exercised other limited powers. 
The trustees had authority to adopt bylaws regulating fire hazards, 
nuisances, streets, markets, and some forty related matters of public 
concern. A village president presided over the meeting of the trustees as 
well as those of the "freeholders and inhabitants qualified to vote for 

1 Weller, "Development of the Charter ... of Rochester," pp. 13-24. See also 
John F. Sly, Town Government in Massachusetts: 16201930 (Cambridge, 1930), 
pp. 93-103; Ernest S. Griffith, History of American City Government: The Colo 
nial Period (New York, 1938), pp. 75-125. 


members of assembly." 2 Scarcely more than one hundred were eligible to 
attend the public meetings in 1817, yet their number approached one 
thousand by 1823 a result of the town s growth and the more liberal 
state franchise. 

The board of trustees hastened at its early meetings to adopt the 
customary village regulations. Thus the first bylaws declared that the 
public highways should neither be cluttered with building materials nor 
used for the racing of horses. Fines were prescribed for permitting hogs 
or cows to run at large or for throwing dead animals into the streets. 
The fire hazard prompted the requirement that each house should be 
equipped with a fire bucket, that chimneys and stove pipes should be 
kept clean. No hunting or firing of guns and no daylight bathing in the 
river or mill races were tolerated within the village limits. Licenses 
were required to sell liquor or slaughter animals within the bounds. 3 

Several of these problems soon demanded further action. The in 
habitants voted $350 for general expenses and necessary village im 
provements, such as books for the village records, fire hooks and ladders 
to supplement the efforts of the bucket brigade, and a ditch to drain 
the swamp back of Christopher s tavern. 4 A secure pound was needed 
for stray cattle pending the collection of fines against the owners. 5 Early 
in October the trustees appointed a fire company to replace the un 
organized citizens bucket brigade; similar action created a citizens 
night patrol six months later. 6 But before the village could function 
satisfactorily it required an official seal, and the proper symbol for an 
enterprising town appeared to be an arm and a hammer. 7 


The simple solutions and modest expenditures of the first year soon 
proved inadequate. Not only did each of the above functions quickly 
develop into a major village activity, but new problems pressed for 
solution. As the time and energy required of the various officers made 
some compensation desirable, fees were prescribed for most services, 
while an honorarium of $10 a year was provided for each trustee. The 

2 The constitution of 1777 limited the electorate to male inhabitants of one 
year s residence in one county who possessed a freehold valued at 20 or rented 
a tenement for 40 shillings and paid taxes to the state. 

3 "Records of the Doings of the Trustees of the Village of Rochester," MS, 
June 2, 1817, Film copy in Roch. Pub. Library. 

4 "Records of the Doings of the Inhabitants of the Village of Rochester," MS, 
June 10, 1817, Film copy in Roch. Pub. Library. 

6 "Doings of the Trustees," July -31, 1817. 

6 "Doings of the Trustees," Oct. 9, 18-17; May 7, 1818. 

7 "Doings of the Trustees," Oct. 9, 1817. The Village Seal remained authorative 
until 1834, when the newly established City Council adopted in its place the 
official seal of the Mayor s Court. See (Edward R. Foreman) "The Official Seal of 
Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XI, 34*-343- 


tax voted for the second year reached the $1000 statutory maximum. 8 
Minor revisions in the bylaws were voted from time to time, but not 
until 1824 was a basic amendment of the charter seriously urged, 
though it did seem fitting to drop the "ville" from the town s name in 

I822. 9 

The fire hazard proved to be the most urgent village concern. The 
burning of Francis Brown s mill early in 1818 10 spurred the inhabitants 
to vote the purchase of a "fire engine" a hand pump attached to a 
tank fed by the bucket brigade. 11 When the first real test came in 
December, 1819, the stream of water could not reach the second story, 
and by morning several buildings near the Four Corners, including the 
first newspaper office, had gone up in smoke. 12 The trustees promptly 
ordered householders to provide one fire bucket for every two fireplaces 
and a ladder sufficient to reach the top of the building. A small shed 
housed the fire engine on the public square until that site was chosen 
for the courthouse, when a new location was selected in the meadow 
between the Reynolds and Christopher taverns. A lane, opening into 
Carroll (State) Street, provided access to the public "reservoir" fed by 
a log "aqueduct" which carried the overflow of the Red Mill thirty rods 
north to a central water trough for the use of both fire fighters and 
thirsty horses. 13 

The record of a half-dozen fires in 1821 was reduced by vigilant care 
during the next year, 14 but by 1823 it became evident that one gasping 
hand pump would no longer suffice. The inhabitants convened that 
December to consider the trustees recommendations for two new en 
gines, a length of leather hose, and a set of ladders mounted on wheels. 
Though advocates of economy cut the order to one new engine and a 
ladder truck, 15 a second fire company soon appeared, engendering fric 
tion which called for the appointment of a fire chief two years later. 
More vigorous action waited upon further amendment of the charter. 18 

The character of several early fires roused suspicions of incendiarism, 
suggesting the need for an efficient police. As the citizen s patrol was 
not giving full satisfaction, many of its members sought realese from 

8 "Records ... of the Inhabitants," May 4, 1818. 

9 "Doings of the Trustees," Jan. 8, 1823; N. Y. Laws of 1822, Ch. 192. 

10 Ontario Repository, May 5, 18x8; Rochester Telegraph, Jan. 19, 1819. 

11 "Records ... of the Inhabitants," May 4, 1818. 

12 Telegraph, Dec. 7, 1819. 

18 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 9, 1819, May, June 22, 1820; "Records . . . 
of the Inhabitants," Dec. 20, 1819, Nov. 29, 1820, May 7, 1821 ; Charter, By-Laws 
and History of the Rochester Fire Department from 1817 to 1882 (Rochester, 

14 Newspaper Index, Roch. Pub. Library. 

15 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 12, 1823; "Records ... of the Inhabitants," 
Dec. n, 1823, Jan. 3, 1824; Telegraph, Feb. 17, 1824. 

"^History of the Rochester Fire Department, p. 37. 


their thankless responsibilities. Accordingly in December, 1819, the 
inhabitants voted $80 to employ a night watch for as many months 
as the fund would allow. 17 Similar appropriations in successive winters 
apparently achieved preventive results, for no major offense was re 
ported in the village until August, 1821, when a suspected burglar was 
frightened away from Hart and Saxton s store at the Four Corners. 18 

The creation of Monroe County with its seat in Rochester and the 
construction of a jail at a cost of $3674 10 focused attention on the 
crime problem. At least thirty criminal sentences were handed down to 
various major and minor offenders within the county by the Circuit 
Court in 1823 and i824. 20 Popular concern over a convict force laboring 
on the aqueduct increased the expenditure for the night watch to $200, 
permitting the employ of four watchmen in 1823. 21 Escapes from the 
jail and from the convict camp added to the anxiety. 22 One local editor 
declared that "probably no place in the Union the size of Rochester is 
so much infested with the dregs and outcasts of society as this village." w 
Following a popular fad of the day, a group of citizens petitioned the 
legislature for authority to establish a "stepping mill" in the village, 24 
though nothing came of that proposal. As it no longer appeared safe to 
dispense with a watch during the warm months, a Vigilant Society, 
formed by a score of young men, volunteered to make the nightly 
rounds during the balmy season at no expense to the town. 25 It was 
rapidly becoming evident that additional outlays could not long be 

Centers for the disorderly elements appeared in the numerous gro 
ceries and gaming rooms, prompting the suggestion that the village strike 
this evil at the source by refusing or limiting licenses. 26 An attempt in 
1817 to collect fees from the groceries proved so ineffective, however, 
that fines had to be levied two years later on those operating without 
permits. 27 In 1823 grocery licenses were standardized at $10 a year, 
and $25 fees were collected for each billiard table and ninepin alley. 
For $10 a showman acquired permission to perform in the village for 

17 Telegraph, July 28, 1818; "Records ... of the Inhabitants," Dec. 20, 1819. 

18 Telegraph, Aug. 21, 1821. 

19 William F. Peck, History of the Police Department of Rochester (Rochester, 
1903), p. 29. 

20 Telegraph, Mar. 23, Sept. 14, 1824; Jan. 25, Feb. 22, 1825. 

21 "Records ... of the Inhabitants," June 24, 1822. 

22 Monroe Republican, Sept. 25, 1821; Rochester Daily Advertiser, Dec. 18, 

^Tekgraph, Feb. 10, 1824. 

24 N. Y. Assembly Journal (1824), pp. 585, 684; Schneider, Public Welfare in 
New York State, pp. 150-155. 

25 Telegraph, Mar. 16, 1824. 

26 "Doings of the Trustees," Aug. 19, Sept. 5, 1826. 

^"Doings of the Trustees," Jan. 4, 1819; May 4, 13, 1820; July 6, 1821. 


one week or less. 28 The conviction that billiard tables and ninepin alleys 
contributed to the increase of crime and pauperism impelled the trustees, 
in 1825, to refuse all licenses and to resort instead to the practice of 
fining those who maintained them at the rate of three dollars a month. 29 

Public health precautions became more necessary with the commu 
nity s growth. As some of the swamps that originally covered much of 
the village site failed to dry up after the removal of the forest, many 
drains had to be dug. 30 The reputation of the Genesee Country for fever 
and ague spurred the drainage program, which became still more urgent 
as the better houses acquired cellars or basement kitchens. A regulation 
of 1823 directed that these must be kept dry. 31 When a case of smallpox 
appeared that year, the trustees paid for the patient s care in an isolated 
house east of the river, ambitiously designated as a "hospital" in the 
village records. 32 Rigid regulations about the disposal of refuse and the 
building of necessaries helped in a measure to keep disease under con 
trol, except for the usual epidemics of whooping cough and measles 
among the children. 33 But the popular demand for the construction of 
a sewer down Buffalo Street had to await a grant of larger tax powers. 84 

A closely related problem was that of supplying fresh water. An old 
Indian spring proved sufficient until the summer of 1820, when several 
private wells were dug. The demand for public wells, put off by an in 
creased flow at the spring that fall, 35 soon reappeared and with it came 
an abortive attempt to form a Rochester Aqueduct Association. 38 Mean 
while, encouragement to those who extended the use of private wells to 
their neighbors failed to relieve the village of dependence on enter 
prising water carriers. 37 

Among the requirements of the expanding community was a new 
burial ground. The rise in land value about the original plot, donated 
by Rochester, Fitzhugh, and Carroll, on Falls (Spring) Street, prompted 
the sale of that area and the purchase of a larger tract some distance 
out on Buffalo Street. Removal of the existing graves was financed out 
of the surplus, and still a sufficient balance remained for the purchase 
of a public hearse to carry the dead to their last resting place in proper 

28 "Doings of the Trustees," July 5, 1823. 

29 "Doings of the Trustees," May 16, 1825. 
^"Doings of the Trustees," May 4, 1820; June 30, 1826. 

81 "Doings of the Trustees," Feb. 5, 1823. 

82 "Doings of the Trustees," Oct. n, 1823; July 6, 1824; "Records ... of the 
Inhabitants," Nov. 16,11824. 

88 Telegraph, July 23^ Aug. 13, 1822. 

84 "Doings of the Tr^tees," July 4, 1824. 

85 "Records ... of the Inhabitants," Dec. 6, 1820. 

**Tekgraph, Dec. 17, 1822; Nov. n, 1823; Assembly Journal (1823), pp. 733, 
748; Assembly Journal (1824), p. 24. 

87 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 12, 1823; June 30, 1826. 


state. The upkeep of the cemetery seemed assured from the sale of 
grave lots. 38 

Reconstruction of the Rochester bridge was a task the village hoped 
the newly formed county would undertake. After considerable agitation 
the legislature in 1823 granted the county authority to raise $14,000 
for that purpose, but when the village learned that one-fourth of the 
cost was to be levied against its property valued at barely one-tenth 
of the county s total a loud remonstrance occurred. 39 Delays ensued 
until authority for a modified plan of reconstruction arrived, enabling 
Elisha Johnson, the east-side promoter and engineer, to commence work 
under a $6,000 contract shortly after the spring freshets in 1824. But 
Johnson s plan of extending the eastern abutment out to the original 
first pier brought protests from several west-side millers who feared the 
aggravation of river floods. Finally, by excavating from the river bed 
sufficient stone to compensate for the narrowed channel, the issue was 
temporarily side-stepped, and after considerable Inconvenience the 
bridge reopened in December. 40 

The condition of the streets presented a most baffling problem. Since 
funds were lacking for street improvement, all that could be attempted 
in the early twenties was to provide for sidewalks. To this end the trus 
tees in January, 1822, ordered property owners on the commercial sec 
tions of Buffalo and Carroll Streets to construct 12 -foot walks in front 
of their properties. A railing with suitable hitching posts was to be 
erected near the outer edge, and the job was to be completed by May 
loth. Though the time had to be extended a month and fines levied 
against two delinquents, the improvement was a boon to the village that 
summer. The only outlay by the trustees was $150 for the crosswalks 
at the Four Corners. 41 Sidewalks were ordered extended along several 
of the lesser streets the next year, a regulation applied east of the river 
in i824. 42 The only other street improvement during these years pro 
vided oil lamps at both ends of the bridge, to be lit on dark nights in 
order to safeguard late travelers from plunging into the river. 43 

^"Doings of the Trustees," Oct. 18, 1821; Jan. 18, 1822; "Records ... of the 
Inhabitants," May 7, 1821. The new cemetery was located on the site now occu 
pied by the Rochester General Hospital. 

39 Monroe County Supervisors, "Proceedings, Oct. 12, 1822," Proceedings, 1822- 
1849 (Rochester, 1892), p. 27; Assembly Journal (1823), pp. 522, 735; "Doings 
of the Trustees," Apr. 3, 1823; David H. Burr, An Atlas of the State of New 
York (New York, 1829), plate 45. The total real property valuation for the 
county in 1825 was $4,478,820, while Brighton and Gates added up to $1,263,900, 
not all in the village, of course. 

40 Dorothy S. Truesdale, "Historic Main Street Bridge," Rochester History, III, 
no. 2 (April, 1941), 5J Telegraph, Jan. 4, 1825. 

* x Telegraph, July 17, 1822; "Records . , . of the Inhabitants," June 24, 1822. 
* 2 "Doings of Trustees," Feb. 5, 1823, May 18, 1824. 
43 "Records ... of the Inhabitants," Jan. 3, 1824. 



The need for more adequate civic functions, resulting in large part 
from the town s rapid growth, inspired frequent demands for a city 
charter. 4 * Several of the trustees, burdened with increased civic responsi 
bilities, were heartily in favor of municipal status, notably Dr. Matthew 
Brown, whose years of service on the village board, together with his 
activities as the chief proprietor of Frankfort, had made him an out 
standing Village Father. However, those who feared to delegate the 
taxing power to a group of aldermen dominated the public meeting held 
in December, 1825, when some three or four hundred citizens gathered 
to consider the issue. 45 An application was reluctantly endorsed for a 
revised village charter, dividing the town into five wards for the election 
of officers, raising the tax limit to $2,000, and extending the powers of 
the trustees. 46 

The issue provoked a degree of levity on the part of one local editor 
who did not view the community s bounding growth with too much 

Although Rochester is in point of business the first village in the state, 
we are too young to ape the fashions or merit the name of a city. Our streets 
are neither paved nor lighted, we have no markets, no shipping, no theatres, 
or public gardens, no promenades for exquisites, and our aldermen would 
experience a great scarcity of turtle. Besides, as was remarked by one of the 
speakers at the meeting, "while Buffalo, & Brooklyn, & Utica are striving for 
city charters, to become a city can be considered no great trick." 47 

The more Rochesterians thought about it, the more they were con 
vinced that to become a city was not their object rather they desired 
a better village. When news arrived that the revised charter had passed 
the legislature, the same editor commented: "Heretofore, disorder has 
bid defiance to wholesome law, but the presumption now is, that a new 
state of things will take place." ** Twenty-four village officers had to be 
elected from the several wards, and it was desirable, the editor con 
tinued, "that good and able men be chosen," since their authority now 
extended over a total of fifty-nine specific matters. That the object of 
improving the village, both physically and morally, had not been for 
gotten was evident from the inclusion of the power to build sewers as 
well as to regulate the sale of "spirituous liquors." 49 

Whatever the desires of the villagers, Rochester was rapidly develop- 

*** Telegraph, Dec. 28, 1824; Mar. 8, Apr. 26, 1825. 

48 Monroe Republican, Dec. 20, 1825. 

46 N. Y. Laws of 1826, Ch. 140; Weller, "Development of the Charter ... of 
Rochester," pp. 26-38. 

47 Album, Dec. 27, 1825. See also, Griffith, American City Government, pp. 413- 
417, passim, for evidence of the hold of the town-meeting tradition among 
migrating Yankees. 

48 Album, Apr. u, 1826. 

49 Weller, "Development of the Charter ... of Rochester," pp. 31-33; An Act 


ing the proportions and the problems of a small city. With a population 
nearing seven thousand in the summer of 1826, all rivals in the state 
west of Albany were surpassed not only in numbers but also in the 
urgency of village affairs. The newly elected trustees, all save Matthew 
Brown, who was chosen president, being inexperienced, soon found 
themselves overburdened with pressing problems. In place of the lei 
surely meetings held once every two or three months during previous 
years, the trustees gathered for busy sessions every week or so and 
sometimes twice a week. For this extensive public service they received 
the modest reward of $15 a year, yet the dignities of the office were 
still eagerly sought by leading citizens. 50 

The trustees first task was to formulate a policy respecting groceries 
and theatrical performances. The specific control over these affairs 
granted by the charter prompted early applications for licenses, and the 
former device of laying the petitions on the table would not suffice 
while the press was calling for action. 51 With a new theater in process 
of construction, supported by local capital, and a traveling performer 
requesting leave to exhibit his caravan of living animals in the old 
circus building, 52 the prospect that other showmen would soon visit the 
most thriving town west of Albany forced a decision. 

Unfortunately the trustees were scarcely in agreement themselves. 
After an attempt to ban theater licenses was voted down, two to one, 
a modified ordinance fixed the annual license fee at $150 and levied 
fines of $25 against the management and $5 against each performer for 
every unauthorized performance. 53 Unable to afford a year s license, the 
proprietor of the new Rochester Theater determined to defy the law. 54 
A suit to collect the prescribed penalties ended, after much argument, 
in a compromise, permitting the operation of the theater Monday 
through Friday at $30 a week. 55 The village was not as completely 
protected from questionable influences as some desired, 56 but pleasure 
was expressed over the fact that "many who are in a measure non 
residents among us may contribute to the improvement of our Village, 
and thereby Lighten the tax on the actual residents." ^ 

of Incorporation of the Village of Rochester, Together with the By Laws <$ 
Ordinances of the Board of Trustees (Rochester, 1826). 

50 The new board was comprised of Matthew Brown, president, William 
Brewster, Vincent Mathews, John Mastick, and Giles Bolton. 

51 "Doings of the Trustees," May 18, 1826; Album, Apr. 25, 1826. 

52 Monroe Republican, Mar. 7, n, Apr. 4, 1826; Album, Apr. 25, 1826; "Doings 
of the Trustees," May 23, 1826. 

^"Doings of the Trustees," June i, 3, 1826; Act of Incorporation and By- 
Laws (1826), pp. 27-29. 

64 Monroe Republican, June 13, 1826. 

55 "Doings of the Trustees," July 6, 8, 10, Dec. 12, 1826. 

56 "Doings of the Trustees," Aug. 19, Dec. 5, 1826. 
*i Album, Apr. 25, 1826. 


Ordinances against billiard tables and other gambling devices and 
for the regulation of groceries produced a similar division of opinion. 58 
The community had grown to the point where the number of travelers 
and other strangers thronging the taverns, eager to relax around billiard 
tables or to purchase whiskey even on the Sabbath, made it difficult 
for the respectable villagers to maintain all the civic regulations. It 
proved particularly difficult to enforce the Sabbath closing rule on gro 
ceries or to subdue the canal boatmen who passed through Rochester 
on that day. 59 Groceries were now encountered at almost every turn. 
In 1827 nearly a hundred licenses were granted, netting, together with 
the occasional fines, a considerable sum for the treasury. 60 The issue was 
destined to arouse more positive action in the years ahead. 


Meanwhile, other problems pressed for attention. The destruction of 
half a dozen or so buildings each year in the mid-twenties kept the fire 
hazard constantly before the trustees. 61 The second ordinance adopted 
under the new powers in 1826 prescribed more stringent regulations of 
fireplaces and other heating arrangements and directed the fire wardens 
to make periodic inspections. 62 When two wardens reported the existence 
of numerous substandard flues in their wards, the village attorney 
brought suit against their owners, prompting householders to employ 
chimney sweeps, 63 Under the direction of Fire Chief Samuel Works, the 
fire companies were reorganized, but the conviction that the major im 
provement needed was a new fire engine finally led the inhabitants to 
vote $1000 for its purchase. Everard Peck ; journeying to New York 
and Philadelphia in search of the best model, returned in October, 1827, 
with an engine purchased at the latter place for $716 and three hundred 
feet of leather hose for $216. A third engine company quickly formed, 
and the villagers gathered at nine o clock one fall morning to witness 
a demonstration of their fire-fighting equipment on Mumford s Meadow 
above the main falls. 64 A more tragic demonstration occurred two months 
later when Peck s paper mill caught fire, resulting in the first Rochester 
fireman s fatality and the loss of the building. 65 

Increased activity marked several other civic functions. The night 
watch was enlarged to ten men in 1827, each patrolling his ward for 

68 Ordinances (1826), pp. 27, 31, 33. 

* Telegraph, Mar. 8, 1825; Rochester Observer, Mar. 17, 1827, July 22, 1828. 

60 "Doings of the Trustees," May 8, 23, 1827 ; and passim. 

61 The Newspaper Index lists 19 homes, shops, and mills destroyed during 1825, 
1826, and 1827. 

62 Ordinances (1826) , pp. 20-24. 

^"Doings of the Trustees," June 31, 1826; Dec. 4, 1827. 

64 "Doings of the Trustees," May 29, July 3, Oct. 23, 27, 1827. 

65 James H. Kelly, History of the Rochester Fire Department, p. 38; Telegraph, 
Dec. 22, 1827. 


half the night and receiving $10 a month for the service. 66 The trustees 
subsidized the digging of half a dozen private wells, making them avail 
able to public use, and opened two others at central points on public 
property. 67 The complaints of numerous renters prompted an ordinance 
directing the construction of stone vaults under the necessaries required 
on all occupied properties; and the trustees further stipulated that a 
peck of lime must be dumped into each vault once a month. 68 Among 
those fined for maintaining pig sties was Russel Ensworth, whose hog 
pen back of his tavern at the Four Corners was declared a public 
nuisance. 69 Though health expenditures occasionally proved necessary, 
a board of health was not appointed until January, 1828. The over 
abundance of peddlers and the frequent employ of lads to cry out the 
wares of new merchants prompted licensing regulations which limited 
the number and required the use of a bell instead of a horn as less 
likely to frighten passing teams. 71 

A new problem developed as numerous teamsters crowded the streets 
of the thriving market town with loads of hay, grain, and other produce. 
Every attempt to prescribe the points at which such wagons should 
stand while awaiting buyers brought protests from lot owners, 72 and the 
only acceptable stand for market wagons appeared to be near the west 
end of the bridge. 73 The desirability of establishing a public market 
there was further emphasized by complaints concerning the two slaugh 
terhouses located within the town with inadequate sewerage facilities. 74 
Elisha Johnson, who had but recently completed the reconstruction of 
the central bridge, proposed that a market be erected at its northwest 
corner extending out over the river to the first pier, thus providing 
ample room near an abundant supply of water for cleaning the stalls. 
A committee, reporting in favor of this plan, recommended that the 
bridge piers be extended seventy feet down the river to support the 
market. 75 The inhabitants, quickly approving the recommendation, au 
thorized an expenditure of $iooo. 76 

In more than one respect the market proved to be a focal point in 
the town s development. With its construction a bold step was taken in 
advancing private property rights and street shops out over the river. 

66 "Doings of the Trustees," Nov. 20, 1827. 

67 "Doings of the Trustees," June 30, July 10, Dec. 12, 1826; Aug. 7, 14, Dec. 4, 

68 Ordinances (1826), pp. 24-25, 31. 

69 "Doings of the Trustees," Sept. 5, 1826. 

70 "Doings of the Trustees," Sept. 28, 1826; Apr. 17, Jan. 15, 1828. 

71 "Doings of the Trustees," June 19, July 10, 1826; July 10, 1827. 

72 "Doings of the Trustees," Sept 5, 12, 26, 1826. 

73 "Doings of the Trustees," Aug. 14, 1826. 

74 "Doings of the Trustees," July 29, Aug. 19, 1826. 

75 "Doings of the Trustees," Sept 5, 19, 1826. 

76 "Records ... of the Inhabitants," July 8, 1826; Advertiser, July 8, 1828. 


The village paid Charles H. Carroll $200 for his riparian rights to the 
site, thus prejudicing its case against other encroachments soon made 
from the east bank. 77 Though it was nearly half a century before the 
river was blotted from sight in Main Street, the process of joining the 
two parts of the town was considerably hastened by the market building. 

The market provided a fiscal turning point as well, for the $1000 
authorized would not even -cover the contract cost, compelling the 
trustees to negotiate their first sizable loan. Before the work was com 
pleted the expenditure reached $3000, and, denied the necessary assess 
ment, the trustees sold market stock to cover the outlay. 78 All the avail 
able stalls were leased before the structure opened early in May, 1827, 
requiring a clerk to supervise the market s affairs. With huckstering and 
butchering in other parts of the town prohibited, Rochester acquired a 
central mart for the convenience of the butchers and produce merchants 
of the surrounding territory. 79 Its standing as a market town was meas 
urably enhanced. 

Less striking perhaps, but more extensive and necessary, were the 
street and sewer developments launched under the second charter. The 
Buffalo Street sewer, started in 1824, was pressed forward with vigor 
in the summer of 1826.* Though little more than a shallow ditch with 
flagstone sides and capping, 81 the sewer diverted surface water from the 
backyard cesspools which were proving to be undesirable neighbors to 
the public wells. By the end of 1827, more than a mile and a half of 
sewers or drains had been constructed, and a discharge opened into the 
river below the bridge.* 2 The expense, as in the case of the sidewalks, 
fell on adjacent property holders, though not without frequent protests 
from those who preferred the simple methods of the past. 88 Approxi 
mately two miles of additional sidewalks were constructed in 1827, but 
scarcely a beginning had yet been made at the task of paving the 
streets. 8 * 

Authority to proceed with further street improvements was finally 
granted by an amendment to the charter early in i828. 85 Mill Street 
(renamed Exchange Street because the busy commercial activity near 
the canal had forced the migration of many mills to the main falls 

77 Truesdale, "Main Street Bridge," pp. 7#. 

78 "Doings of the Trustees," Oct. 28, 31, 1826; Jan. 23, 1827. 

79 "Doings of the Trustees," May 2, 5, 29, 1827. 

80 "Doings of the Trustees," July 10, 1826. 

81 "Doings of the Trustees," May 8, June 19, July 20, 1827. The specifications for 
these sewers varied; one called for a ditch^ one foot in width lined to a height of 
1 8 inches and covered at least 15 inches above the capping. A contractor en 
gaged to construct a slightly larger sewer at the rate of $11 per rod. 

82 Rochester in 1827, pp. 139, 144. 

88 "Doings of the Trustees," Aug. 17, 1827. 

84 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 26, 1827; Rochester in 1827, p. 139. 

85 N. Y. Laws of 1828, ch. 120; "Doings of the Trustees," Jan. 15, 1828. 


where a new Mill Street was kid out) was forthwith extended south 
through Colonel Rochester s old pear orchard to the boundary of the 
village, 86 Court Street was opened from Exchange Street eastward in 
line with the new bridge that had been erected by subscription south of 
the aqueduct in 1826, connecting on the east side with the two roads 
to Pittsford.* 7 Several new sewers were opened, and rock broken in the 
jail yard was dumped into the more obvious mud holes which had 
brought the town an unpleasant notoriety. 88 Labor for such repairs came 
from male residents, each required to give two days a year and an 
additional day for every $300 in real property within the limits. 89 

The sprawling growth of the town compelled the trustees to correct 
the duplication of street names in 1828.^ Other changes marked the 
shifting functions of varied areas. Falls Street was renamed Spring 
Street because the blasting of the upper falls to facilitate the free flow 
of the river under the aqueduct had left the main falls at the other end 
of town the only obvious cataract in the village. Aqueduct Street was 
laid out through the old mill yard, terminating at the western end of 
that massive stone structure. River Street on the east side (which con 
tinued north as Market Street and Clyde Street) was renamed St. Paul 
Street in recognition of the imposing second Episcopal church being 
erected on its route. Finally, at the close of the year, it was considered 
appropriate to place street signs at prominent corners for the conven 
ience of strangers seeking their way about. 91 


Closely related to the emerging civic functions were the public and 
private schools and other agencies designed to provide the community 
with cultural facilities. The booming twenties witnessed the establish 
ment of many such institutions, and as the decade advanced the narrow 
village horizon of several of the early organizations was considerably 
broadened. Yet the increased size and complexity of the community 
made the accomplishments appear small and inadequate until, in the 
thirties, a powerful quickening of spirit brought fresh vitality to many 
local societies. 

The common district schools represented the community s earliest 
public efforts in the cultural field. Unfortunately, as the district schools 
sprang from the decentralized township authority, the occasional efforts 
of the village or the state to supply educational leadership produced 

86 "Doings of the Trustees," July 8, 15, 1828. 

87 "Doings of the Trustees," Aug. 12, 1828. 

88 Rochester Gem and Ladies Amulet, Mar. 27, 1830. 
^"Doings of the Trustees," June 17, 1828. 

90 "Doings of the Trustees," July 15, 1828. Court, Franklin, and Washington 
streets had each appeared in duplicate. 

91 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. n, 1828. 


few results during the decade. The rapid increase in the number of 
children of school age in the village, by overcrowding the school build 
ings, aggravated the problem of dealing with those unable to pay the 
small tuition fees. 92 The long fight to convert these humble institutions 
into useful community agencies started during the twenties, but real 
achievements waited upon the bolder inspiration and larger resources 
of later decades. 

The four district schools operating within the settlement at the start 
of the decade doubled in number before its close, but their enrollment 
increased much more rapidly. Already in 1821 Gates Districts 2 and 10 
In Rochester numbered 190 and 75 scholars respectively, while east of 
the river Brighton Districts 4 and 8 reported 137 and 78 children in 
East Rochester and Carthage. 93 These would have been large enroll 
ments indeed for the one-room schools of the day had all sought to 
attend each of the three or four terms offered during the year. By 1827 
when the children of school age within the village were approaching the 
two thousand mark, the eight or ten district schools were luckily supple 
mented by a similar array of private institutions, yet the educational 
achievements remained far from satisfactory. 94 

Gates District Number 2 (to be renamed Rochester Number i in 
1835) early encountered a serious problem of overcrowding. Though 
the trustees were instructed by a district meeting in May, 1820, to 
enlarge the building, no authority to raise the necessary fund was 
granted. When an adjourned meeting reconsidered the problem and 
voted instead that an additional room should be rented, again no funds 
were provided, so that a third meeting was necessary before a $20 
assessment was voted for this purpose. The trustees were authorized to 
admit scholars unable to pay tuition as long as the payments collected 
from the others would meet the expense of hiring the two teachers. 95 

A popular educational reform of the day promised for a time to solve 
Rochester s problems. The Lancastrian School Society of New York 
City had recently opened a large school where each teacher supervised 
a dozen or so student-monitors engaged in training two hundred or 
more pupils. The opportunity to provide schooling to all children with 
great economy hi teachers salaries appealed to the advocates of better 
school facilities who met at Ensworth s tavern to discuss the pro 
posal. 96 Yet a charter for such a society, incorporating Gates Districts 

93 Telegraph, Dec. 28, 1819. 

93 "Common School Returns from the Towns of Gates and Brighton for 
1820/21," MS, N. Y. State Library, photostat copies, Roch. Pub. Library. 

94 Rochester in 1827, pp. no, 138; Assembly Journal (1824), Appendix A, pp. 
10-11; Journal (1825), Appendix B, p. n. 

95 "Records of Gates School District No. 2" (1820-1847), May 6, Sept. 29, Oct. 
9, 1820, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

96 Telegraph, Sept. 26, Oct. 31, Nov. 7, 1820; Album, Jan. 16, 182-1. 


2 and 10 and Brighton Number 4 as a union school, though submitted 
to the legislature by Colonel Rochester in 1821, failed of adoption, and 
the first attempt to unify the educational facilities of Rochester came 
to naught. 07 

Blocked in that direction, Gates District Number 2 faced increas 
ingly difficult problems. The tax voted in 1824 rose to $100, half of it 
earmarked for building repairs and a stove. The teacher, now aided by 
a regular assistant, shared the niggardly state funds which supplemented 
the tuition fees paid by some of the pupils. Overcrowding became more 
critical, and though a resolution favoring a new building was lost in 
1826 when a division of the district was proposed, the relief afforded 
by that action a year later proved only temporary. So serious was the 
wear and tear on the flimsy structure that the trustees determined in 
1826 to restrict its use to school purposes. Several years rolled by before 
the problem was forthrightly attacked. 98 


The Influx of settlers brought a group of young men eager to serve 
for a season or two as village schoolmasters. When their services were 
not required in the district schools, the more energetic established 
private schools, several of which flourished for successive years. None 
of the first crop survived the twenties, yet for a time they provided 
much of the elementary and all of the secondary education available 
in the village. 

Late in 1818 the pioneer "female academy" of Rochester opened on 
Mill (Exchange) Street, a short step from Colonel Rochester s home 
stead, with Miss Maria Allyn as sole instructor. The girls enrolled gave 
such a creditable account of themselves at quarterly public examinations 
that the school enjoyed a ready patronage for several years." Appar 
ently better times had arrived for many of the villagers, enabling them 
to pay the fees of five dollars each term. Thus in 1820 Hamlet Scrantom, 
with his boys apprenticed to various local tradesmen, not only decided 
against keeping boarders that summer, but sent Hannah and Jane to 
the academy. Colonel Rochester s youngest daughter, Cornelia, likewise 
enrolled. 100 

It is doubtful whether Miss Allyn s academy merited such a designa- 

97 "Bill to Incorporate a Lancastrian School in Rochester," MS ; Col. Rochester 
to Abelard Reynolds, Jan. 24, Feb. 7, 1821, Rochester Letters. 

98 Brighton District No. 2, "Record Book," May i, Oct. 30, 1824, May 6, 1826, 
MS, Roch. Hist. Soc.; A. Laura McGregor, "The Early History of the Rochester 
Public Schools," R. H. S., Pub., XVII, 37-41. 

"William F. Peck, Semi-Centennial History of Rochester (Syracuse, 1884), pp. 
299-300; Telegraph, Mar. 30, Aug. 10, 18-19; Aug. 29, 1820; Apr. 2, 1822. 

100 Hamlet Scrantom to his father, July 8, 1820, Samson Note Book, IX, Roch. 
Hist. Soc.; Nathaniel Rochester s receipt for $5 paid for Cornelia, one term under 
Maria Allyn, Aug. 4, 1819, Rochester Letters. 


tion, but facilities for the higher instruction of young men appeared 
during the fall of 1820. The Telegraph welcomed the school of Mr. 
Forman as offering "the higher branches of education/ 7 adding that "the 
want of a school of this description has long been felt in this neighbor 
hood." 1M An advertisement announced courses in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, 
French, English, philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic, and geography, as 
weH as reading and writing. 102 Two additional teachers, P. P. Fairchild 
and Thomas A. Filer, were associated with this school. Evidently the 
demand of tradesmen for clerks and apprentices still attracted the older 
boys of the village into vocational channels, for nothing further is heard 
of Mr. Forman, while Fairchild and Filer soon shifted into the more 
promising field of select schools for girls. 103 

Other ventures followed in quick succession. A graduate of Middle- 
bury College selected Rochester for a grammar school in i82i, 10 * two 
years before the Quaker schoolteacher, Silas Cornell, arrived with a pair 
of globes and a complete set of maps of the world. 105 In 1825 the 
Reverend Comfort Williams offered to give college preparatory lessons 
in his home. 106 Writing academies for adults ran frequent advertise 
ments, 107 as did evening schools ready to accommodate those desiring 
lessons in fencing, the use of the rifle, surveying, architecture, music 
and dancing. 108 

The failure of most of these private schools to continue active beyond 
a few months did not result from a lack of children of school age, but 
from the inability of the majority of parents to pay the fees. 109 The 
continued inflow of settlers and the arrival of the families of the canal 
builders increased the number of children unable to pay even the modest 
rates demanded by the district schools. To meet this situation, several 
young matrons of the village joined early in 1821 to open a charity 

101 Telegraph, Aug. 8, 1820. 

102 Telegraph, Aug. 8, 1820. 

^Telegraph, Dec. 5, 1820, Apr. 23, May 21, 1822, Dec. 23, 1823. Filer is listed 
as a teacher as late as 1827 in the first village Directory. Cornelia and Louisa 
Rochester attended this school in 1821 and 1822, paying $3 for tuition each quarter 
and $o cents for wood for the season. Nathaniel Rochester, receipt, Rochester 

104 Telegraph, Aug. 7, 1821. 

105 Telegraph, Nov. n, 1823. 

106 Tekgraph, Mar. 8, 1825. 

107 Telegraph, Apr. 2, 1822; Dec. 23, 1823; Dec. 28, 1824. 

108 Telegraph, Jan. 20, Nov. 23, 1824; Monroe Republican, Oct. 4, 1825. 

109 Peck, Semi-Centennial History, pp. 300-314. George S. Riley, author of the 
chapter on Rochester schools, lists many school teachers as active here between 
1818 and 1830, but the names of at least a score of them do not appear in any 
of the Directories. Most of them were young ladies whose energies were no doubt 
soon diverted into the home. Only a few names reappear as school teachers in 
successive Directories:; most persistent were Thomas Filer, Zeenas Freeman, Mrs. 
Darrow, and Mrs. Emily Hotchkiss. 


school in which they proposed to take turn about as instructors. 110 Their 
success during the first year was so encouraging that the ladies organized 
a Female Charitable Society to carry on the school and other services 
designed to ameliorate the condition of the town s poor. The school soon 
acquired regular teachers and moved to North Washington Street, 
where it attracted fifty or sixty indigent children each season. 111 

A similar attempt to extend educational rudiments to poor children, 
especially those forced to labor during the week, gave rise to the Sabbath 
school movement, which started locally with a class numbering thirty 
youngsters who gathered in the chapel on Sunday afternoons during the 
warm season of 1818. The project resumed the next summer, and again 
in 1820, when three classes were held in the district schoolhouses. A 
total of two hundred scholars assembled that August for the first Sab 
bath school graduation service held in the village. 112 Four such schools 
operated in 1822, providing instruction in reading and writing to over 
three hundred pupils on a non-sectarian basis. But the construction of 
churches by the various denominations soon supplied more congenial 
meeting places, and the non-sectarian character of these schools quickly 
disappeared. 113 

Still unsolved was the problem of providing more advanced instruc 
tion. The Directory of 1827 lamented the absence of an "institution of 
learning ... an edifice built for science." It seemed humiliating no 
doubt to describe the Monroe Academy at Henrietta, ten miles south 
of Rochester, as the leading school in the county. 114 Canandaigua and 
Geneva academies or schools farther east were the resort of the more 
favored young men. Colonel Rochester s youngest son, Henry, spent 
three years at Geneva Academy, where he first met Isaac R. Elwood 
and other lads destined to head for Rochester after graduation. 115 
While several leading Rochesterians responded to an appeal from the 
Geneva Academy for financial support, 116 the village, in the opinion of 
the first Directory, should plant its own "academic grove" and thus 
supply a proper "retreat for the muses" within the village limits. 117 

Agitation for a local academy rapidly gained ground. The assistance 

110 Esther Maria Ward Chapin, "Diaries and Letters," pp. ii8L, typed copy, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. 

111 Amy H. Croughton, "The Rochester Female Charitable Society," R. H. $., 
Pub., IX, 68-69. 

112 Rochester Gazette, May 30, Aug. 15, 1820. 

113 Telegraph, June 2$, 1825 ; "A History of the Sabhath Schools of Rochester," 
The Penny Preacher, Nov. 13, 1842. 

114 Rochester Directory (1827), p. 137. 

115 "Recollections of Henry E. Rochester," Harris Papers, No. 85, Roch. Hist. 
Soc.; Blake McKelvey, "On the Educational Frontier," R. H, S., Pub., XVH, -13-16. 

Album, Feb. 14, Mar. 7, 1826. 
117 Rochester Directory (1827), p. 137. 


offered by the state Regents provided encouragement. 118 Accordingly 
in 1827 the trustees of Brighton Districts 4 and 14 asked permission 
to incorporate a union school, and this time the legislature readily gave 
its consent. Shortly after a three-story building was completed at a cost 
of $7500 on a lot secured from Enos Stone, 119 Professor S. D. Moore 
opened the school with forty scholars in August, 1828, attracting an 
enrollment of two hundred by the end of the quarter. Though tuition 
charges ranged between one and five dollars per quarter, the attendance 
grew to an average of three hundred for the second term. 120 By the 
close of its first full year the High School, as it was proudly named, 
was able to report a larger total number of students than any of the 
fifty-four other academies in the state. Most of this enrollment was in 
the elementary division, representing a swollen district school conducted 
on the monitorial system, but at least thirty-seven were classed as 
academy students, which was an encouraging start, and the Regents 
granted the school $240.89 to assist in providing suitable instruction. 121 


If some Rochesterians in the twenties desired an "academic grove" 
for the village youth, others urged facilities for the intellectual life of 
adults. Two of the book stores maintained by local printers provided 
circulating libraries, while the occasional lists of books advertised for 
sale or circulation indicated a plentiful supply, particularly under the 
category of "Religion and Morality." 122 A debating society, which met 
regularly once a week in Filer s school room during the winter of 
1820-21, probably disappeared before Dr. Levi Ward called interested 
citizens together at the Mansion House in the spring of 1822 to form 
the Rochester Library Company. 123 That library was apparently soon 
taken over by the book store of E. F. Marshall, where it accommodated 
members able to subscribe five dollars a year, but a "Forum where 
there is much debating & spouting, and which is more respectable than 
the old debating society" continued for a time. 124 The interest aroused 
at a special series of chemistry lectures given by Professor Amos Eaton 
of the Troy Polytechnic Institute in the fall of 1826 prompted the 
"Chemical Class," as it was called, to collect funds for a permanent 
library. Again Dr. Ward played an active part in the organization of 

118 Album, Aug. 22, 1826. 

119 N. Y. Laws of 1827, ch. 70. 

120 Observer, Feb. 27, 1829. 

121 N. Y. State Regents Reports, 1829 and 1830, see tables. 

^Telegraph, Sept-Oct, 1818; June i, 1819; Apr. 2, 9, 1822; Nov. 26, 1823. 

123 Telegraph, Dec. 5, 1820; Apr. 2, 1822; Monroe County Clerk s "Miscellaneous 
Records," I, 53. 

^EKsabeth Spencer to Joseph Spencer, Rochester, Jan. 30, 1823, Elisabeth 
Selden Spencer Eaton Letters, courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth Selden Rogers, New York 


the resulting Franklin Institute, which enrolled about seventy members 
and collected three hundred volumes. 125 

Since the facilities of these early libraries belonged to those able to 
pay the prescribed dues, many readers were excluded. Young Henry 
O Reilly, who had enjoyed the use of a Mechanics Library in New York 
City a few years before, took the initiative in forming an Apprentice s 
Library in 1828 designed to serve the increasing number of young men 
of that class in the village. The new organization was promptly invited 
to share the room of the Franklin Institute, located at that time in the 
Court House, and the Reverend Joseph Penney welcomed the joint 
membership at the dedication of the new room in December, 1828, 
with an appropriate address on "Knowledge is Power." 128 

Before the Franklin Institute was split asunder by the furor of the 
Antimasonic controversy it performed another service for the village by 
ordering a portrait of DeWitt Clinton, the great patron of the canal, 
to be painted by George Catlin in New York. A most unfortunate acci 
dent marred this civic gesture when the artist s younger brother, who 
brought the painting to Rochester, was seized by cramps and drowned 
while swimming in the river below the falls, 127 

Earlier evidences of artistic interests in the village included exhibits 
by visiting painters at local taverns, while several portraitists advertised 
their services. 128 A studio was maintained for a year or two by a "por 
trait and ornamental" painter, Daniel Steele, who shortly found himself 
arraigned before the local court as a common cheat. 129 The most influen 
tial local artist, J. L. D. Mathies, maintained a gallery in conjunction 
with William Page of New York for several months in the mid-twenties. 
Mathies operated a soda fountain, sold musical instruments and provi 
sions, and finally became a tavern keeper, but in the midst of his varied 
activities he was ever ready to bring out his palette when occasion 
offered. His most noteworthy achievement was a portrait of the aging 
chieftain, Red Jacket. It was especially fitting, now that the tribesmen 
had removed from their last settlements within the county, 130 that a 

^Telegraph, Aug. 18, 1826; Advertiser, Oct. 25, 1826; Blake McKelvey, 
"Early Library Developments In and Around Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XVI, 
20-29; "Amos Eaton," Dictionary of American Biography, V, 605-606. 

^Advertiser, Oct. 28, Dec. 3, 5, 1828. 

127 Clifford M. Ulp, "Art and Artists in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XIV, 29-30; 
Observer, Sept. 26, 1828; National Cyclopedia of American Biography, III, 270. 

128 Telegraph, Dec. 10, 1822; Dec. 23, 1823; Oct. 12, 1824; Monroe Republican, 
Mar. 7, 1826. Messrs. M Laughlin, Harding, Cable, and Ladd were among the 
early visiting artists. 

^Monroe Republican, Aug. i, 1826; Advertiser, July 18, 1828; Democrat, 
Oct. 2o r 1840. 

lao William H. Samson s notes on the "Red Jacket" portrait, MSS, Roch. Hist. 
Soc.; Harris Papers, No, 65 A. The last Indian community in the county resided 
on the Sutton farm until the close of the twenties. 


portrait of their great orator should for many years grace the parlor 
of the Clinton (or Mansion) House. Indeed, that tavern, at least during 
the proprietorship of its artist-manager, provided a favorite resort for 
visiting artists. 131 


The community acted much more promptly and energetically in the 
development of its religious institutions. In place of the one modest 
frame church of 1818, the village ten years later boasted three hand 
some stone edifices and two of brick as well as three frame churches in 
temporary service, while two new stone buildings were already under 
construction. This considerable material progress manifested in a sig 
nificant way the community s determination to establish its beliefs and 
traditions on a solid footing. The diversity of institutions likewise dis 
played a keen rivalry between and within the various sects, reflecting 
the community s economic and cultural cleavages. Though mutual ob 
jectives tended to draw the various church leaders together, differences 
in temperament and method frequently thrust them apart. Not until the 
end of the decade were these emotional powers redirected so as to 
become powerful driving forces behind a series of contemporary reform 

For several years the First Presbyterian Church was the dominant 
religious organization. Its simple frame building on Carroll Street cor 
dially sheltered other church societies as well as the first Sabbath school 
and an occasional concert. 132 The Reverend Comfort Williams, the only 
resident pastor in the settlement until December, 1820, with a Yale and 
Andover training, ranked as one of the educated and respected clerics 
of western New York. 133 The congregation, growing from the sixteen 
founders of 1815 to ninety in 1821, included many of the more forceful 
of the increasing number of Yankee residents: Josiah Bissell, the Ely 
brothers, Dr. Frederick Backus, Moses Chapin, Dr. Levi Ward, and 
Everard Peck among others. 

But the strong personalities of these men, stimulated by the dynamic 
community of which they were a part, made it increasingly difficult for 
them to worship in the same church. A few withdrew in 1818 to help 
found the Brighton Congregational Church, and the following year 
several others joined with the settlers at the lower falls to form the 
Carthage Presbyterian Society. Before the next division, the pastor him- 

131 Ulp, "Art and Artists in Rochester," pp. 30-31, 40; Telegraph, June 10, 1823; 
July 5, 1825; Rochester Republican, July 4, 1826, Feb. 9, 1830; Advertiser, Dec. 
13, 1828; July 27, 1830. 

132 Charles M. Robinson, First Church Chronicles: 1815-1915 (Rochester, 1915), 
PP. 31-33. 

^Robinson, pp. 21-41; [Charles M. Williams], The Reverend Comfort Wil- 
Uams: First Settled Pastor in Rochester (Rochester, 1910). 


self, disturbed over disputes witMn Ms flock, tendered Ms resignation 
and retired to manage a small subdivision on the southeastern outskirts 
of the village. 134 

The difficulties within the First Church sprang in part from the 
attempt to make Congregationalists into Presbyterians. A similar inter 
nal struggle marked the development of most churches of these closely 
allied sects on the New York frontier proving that the famous Plan 
of Union had not produced a complete union in spirit. 135 Nevertheless 
the strength of First Church was maintained and enhanced by the grow 
ing community. Its second pastor, the Reverend Joseph Penney, with a 
warm Scotch-Irish heart and a keen intellect trained at Dublin and 
Glasgow, was able to lead the congregation forward to the task of 
building a spacious stone church on a central plot back of the Court 
House. 136 For several years after its completion the new church re 
mained the most pretentious structure of its kind in the town, having 
cost, including an elaborate heating equipment, nearly $16,000. 

At least one other church enjoyed rapid progress. Since both the 
Yorkers and the Southerners were Episcopal in tradition, Colonel 
Rochester saw to it that the church lot set aside by the proprietors 
went to this group. A frame structure was accordingly erected in 1820 
on Fitzhugh Street near the district school, facing the public square 
where the Court House was soon to be constructed. The Reverend 
Francis H. Cuming 137 became the first settled pastor, and a thriving 
congregation following Low Church ritual enrolled, in addition to the 
numerous Rochester clan, such outstanding villagers as Elisha Johnson, 
Silas O. Smith, Enos Stone, John Mastick, Samuel J. Andrews, and 
William Atkinson. A tower capped with a spire and equipped with the 
first bell in the village added a touch of charm to the community. 138 
St. Luke s congregation soon felt strong enough to erect a handsome 
Gothic edifice built of stone at a cost of $10,000. Hamlet Scrantom 
proudly assumed the duties of sexton shortly after the new building 
was occupied in the fall of 182 s. 130 

134 Rev. Orlo J. Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism in Rochester," 
R. H. S., Pub., XII, 247-249; Robinson, First Church Chronicles, pp. 30-42. 

135 James H. Dill, Congregationalism in Western New York: Its Rise, Decline 
and Revival (Rochester, 1859), pp. 5-10; James H. Hotchkin, A History of the 
Purchase and Settlement of Western New York and of the Rise, Progress and 
Present State of the Presbyterian Church in that Section (New York, 1848), pp. 


136 Robinson, First Church Chronicles, pp. 42-61; Price, "Protestantism in 
Rochester," pp. 248-249; Directory (1827), pp. 125-126; Nat. Cy. Am. Biog., VII, 

137 Annah B. Yates Scrapbook, p. 175; Rev. Henry Anstice, Annals of St. Luke s 
Church (Rochester, 1883), pp. 11-19. 

138 Philip Stansbury, Pedestrian Tour . . . in North America, p. 91. 

138 Rev, Henry Anstice, Centennial Annals of St, Luke s Church: 1817-1017 


While these two sects dominated the village, several others struggled 
for a footing. The first to secure a house of its own was the Friends* 
Society, whose simple frame meeting house on Fitzhugh Street, com 
pleted in 1822, served as the headquarters for several Quaker groups 
in the county, numbering approximately six hundred by 1828, nearly 
half of them within the village. 140 A local Catholic society, organized in 
1820 as the third Roman Catholic church in the western part of the 
state, soon purchased a lot at the corner of Platt and Frank Streets, 
where in 1823 a modest chapel appeared, forerunner of St. Patrick s 
Cathedral. Service was provided occasionally by the Reverend Patrick 
Kelly of Auburn until a local priest arrived and put up temporarily at 
the Mansion House. 141 

The Methodists and the Baptists, in spite of a slow start, enjoyed 
a vigorous growth toward the end of the decade. After six years of 
worship in the Court House or one of the school buildings, a Wesleyan 
society, incorporated in 1820, succeeded in erecting a small brick church 
east of the river. Abelard Reynolds became an outstanding member, 
and the rapid influx of settlers moving west from the back country of 
New England and from the north country in New York swelled its 
congregation until expansion appeared necessary. 142 The first attempts of 
the Baptists to support a resident pastor proved discouraging, but after 
several years boarding around in public or private halls their society 
acquired temporary possession of the old frame church on Carroll 
Street 143 

The leaders of these several denominations made frequent efforts to 
work together when mutual interests were involved. The early Sabbath 
school movement, the Female Charitable Society, the local temperance 
and missionary societies, and the Bible Society all began as cooperative 
ventures, though sectarian rivalries ultimately caused duplication in 
most of these activities. 14 * Even after the Sunday schools became sec 
tarian, a Monroe County Sabbath School Union, organized in 1825, 
successfully brought most of the leaders and many of the scholars to 
gether on special occasions. Thus, 700 scholars gathered on Johnson s 

(Rochester, 1917), pp. 16-20; Price, "Protestantism in Rochester," pp. 250-253; 
Rev. R. Bethel Claxton, Parish Memories of Forty Years (Rochester, 1860) ; 
Hamlet Scrantom, Journal, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

140 John Cox, Jr. and P. E. Clapp, "Quakers in Rochester and Monroe County," 
R. H. S., Pub,, XIV, 97-99; Price, "Protestantism in Rochester," p. 253. 

141 Rev. F. J. Zwierlein, "One Hundred Years of Catholicism in Rochester," 
R H. S. r Pub., XIH, 191-194. 

142 Price, "Protestantism in Rochester," p. 256. Rev. D. W. C. Huntington, 
"Historical Sermon, Early Rochester Methodists," Evening Express, Dec. i, 1877. 

143 Price, pp. 254-255; Rev. A. H. Strong, "Historical Sketch," Centennial 
Celebration, First Baptist Church: 1818-1018 (Rochester, 1918), pp. 6-13. 

144 Henry O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, pp. 292-309. 


(Washington) Square and marched across the aqueduct to First Church 
for graduation exercises on October 4, 1826. This gathering comprised, 
however, only a portion of the village membership of 910, while the 76 
schools in the county reported a total of 3030 scholars that year. 145 

The Monroe County Bible Society proved the most successful of the 
other mutual enterprises of the twenties. After its first organization at 
Ellsworth s tavern in 1821., the society enlisted energetic support from 
most of the churches., though a decision to purchase sixty Bibles for 
distribution to local Catholic families may have caused some unre 
corded friction. The distribution program was taken up with vigor in 
1825 when Elder Josiah Bissell became agent. A survey of families 
lacking Bibles within the county , revealing that 1200 Bibles were 
needed,, spurred the collection of funds for their purchase. The agent s 
report for the year showed a total of 2700 Bibles, Testaments, and 
tracts sold or given away that season. Three years later a second drive 
undertook to place the Word of God in every home in the county. 146 


The Bible furnished a common heritage, but the variations in its 
interpretation were almost as numerous among the villagers as among 
Eastern theologians whence indeed most of them came. The battle for 
religious dominance in western New York had broken into the open at 
Canandaigua a few years before, with the Reverend Henry U. Onder- 
donk defending High Church principles against the attack of a neigh 
boring Presbyterian divine. 147 Onderdonk had made two early attempts 
to establish clergymen of his persuasion at Rochester, but the first, 
receiving little encouragement at the falls, had moved on to Buffalo 
and the other to Detroit. By the time Rochester was ready for an 
Episcopal clergyman, Onderdonk had left for New York, and a Low 
Churchman received the call. Despite his more moderate ritualism, the 
Reverend Francis Cuming soon found himself in frequent and open 
disagreement with his Presbyterian neighbors. 148 

The struggle of the Presbyterian and Episcopal societies for leadership 
in the village continued throughout most of the decade. Each chose a 
central site near the Court House and hastened to erect a handsome 
stone edifice; it was perhaps unfortunate that the two buildings should 
practically face each other across Fitzhugh Street, Each must have its 
belfry, but the Christopher Wren spire on First Church overshadowed 

145 Monroe County Sunday School Union, Second Report (Rochester, 1826) ; 
The Penny Preacher (Rochester, 1842), pp. 75-76. 

146 "Monroe County Bible Society Record Book," 1821-1881, MS, Roch. Hist. 
Soc.; American Bible Society, Ninth Report (New York, 1825), pp. 24, 55-58; 
Telegraph, Apr. 10, 1821; Feb. 15, Mar. 29, 1825; Observer, Apr. 28, 1827. 

14T Henry U. Onderdonk, An Appeal To the Religious Public (Canandaigua, 

148 Anstice, Annals of St. Luke s Church, pp. 7-20. 


the square Gothic tower across the street. If the Presbyterians erected 
the larger edifice and bedecked it with a tower clock (though the works 
were not installed for some time), St. Luke s provided the first organ 
in town. 149 As new residents were eagerly approached by both groups, 
accusations of proselytism flew back and forth. 

Possibly a half-conscious reluctance to see Rochester overburdened 
with institutions, when one or two had always sufficed in villages back 
east, helped to sharpen local sectarian rivalries. Fears of inadequate 
support proved illusory, however. The Presbyterians were strengthened 
by a constant stream of Yankees from Connecticut and western Massa 
chusetts, and while many newcomers, having shed their sectarian ties 
on leaving home, remained indifferent, others responded to the emo 
tional appeals of Methodist and Baptist camp meetings. 150 The Episco 
palians, accustomed to leadership in New York State, felt perturbed 
over the more rapid advance of others. The Reverend Francis Cuming 
of St. Luke s proved especially sensitive to criticism from the Presby 
terians across the street. Thus an allusion to "churchmen" who appeal to 
"divine right ... to demonstrate the truths of their beliefs" prompted 
the young rector to stalk out of his neighbor s church during the dedica 
tion of the new building. 15 - 1 

A heated altercation in pamphlet form between the rival parsons 
provided release to pent-up feelings. Each side doubtless enjoyed its 
theological vindication. What fault can one find, asked the Presby 
terian divine, in a doctrine that refuses to substitute means for the end 
and gives attention to the primary end of rendering "men who are 
beings prone to sin and subject to misery, good that they may be 
Happy"; the Yankee, at least, felt confident of ultimate salvation "by 
grace through faith." 152 But, replied the Yorker across the street, "what 
can be more gratifying to the pious soul than to enter the sanctuary 
and behold . . . both minister t and people approaching the throne of 
grace" through a devout performance of the sacraments together, for 
since the latter works are the correct means to the end of salvation, 
what better counsel than to give them dutiful attention? 153 

14fi Anstice, Annals, pp. 21-24; Robinson, First Church Chronicles, pp. 50-54. 

150 David M. Ludlum, Social Ferment in Vermont: 1791-1850 (New York, 
1939) > PP- 3-^2. Not all Yankees were Congregationalists, and in the back country 
of Vermont and other New England states from which so many of the Genesee 
settlers came, a "Puritan Counter-Reformation," led by Baptist, Methodist, and 
UniversaMst, as well as Congregationalist parsons, had been battling against a 
strong element of agnosticism since the early years of the century. 

1KL Rev. Joseph Penney, Sermon Preached at the Opening of the New Presby 
terian Church in Rochester, October 28, 1824 (Rochester, 1824) ; Rev. Francis H. 
Cuming, A Note Addressed to the Reverend Joseph Penney (Rochester, 1824). 

ic2 Penney^ Sermon, pp. 3, 9. 

153 Rev. Francis H. Cuming, The Church Perfect and Entire (Canandaigua, 
1825), pp. 10, 19. 


With the current straggle over the bank and that between the Repub 
licans and the People s party splitting the community on almost the 
same lines, it must have been a relief to have all differences aired at 
once. Possibly it was at this time, when feelings were at their height, 
that "the minister across the way" was described from one pulpit as 
"no other than the Evil Spirit himself wrapped up in a cloak." 1M But 
while such stories lingered on in tavern gossip, the mutual interests of 
these two dominant churches soon brought them into closer collabora 
tion. Indeed, the Reverend Cuming himself attracted criticism the next 
summer from a parishioner who wrote with mild indignation to his 

I was at his Church this evening and a real Presbyterian sermon he gave 
us it was an hour long and offered Salvation on such terms as few people 
of sense would accept of there is no use in Clergymen requiring more of 
us than the God of Nature has endowed us with abilities to perform. 155 

There were, it seemed, many in the village, both among the respecta 
ble and among those thronging the groceries and the circus booths, who 
did not choose salvation on the terms then offered. Incomplete church 
enrollments for 1827 claimed less than half the 1664 families found 
in the village late that year. 156 Critics and disciples of Tom Paine packed 
the Court House in 1828 to hear Benjamin Offen, the New York shoe 
maker-deist, debate a local Methodist parson, but several years passed 
before a society was formed. 157 The great majority were simply not 
concerned with the debate between faith and works. Nor were they 
much disturbed over the damnation of infant souls, although a small 
monthly paper, issued for a brief season, repeatedly attacked that tenet 
and everlasting punishment. 156 The argument brought a prompt reply, 159 
and indeed there was no escape from the theological dilemmas of the 
day, as an occasional Universalist, Free Will Baptist, or Hicksite 

164 Carl David Arfwedson, The United States and Canada in 1832, 1833, and 
1834 (London, 1834), p. 305. Arfwedson, a Swedish traveler, recounts several un 
savory tales of the Presbyterians of Rochester, where he found them the dominant 
sect, but they atppear to have been reported to him by a former communicant. 

155 Dr. Anson Colman to his wife, Rochester, July 17, 1825, Colman Letters, 
MSS, Univ. Rochester. 

156 St Luke s had 113 families and First Presbyterian, by far the largest, 278, 
while the Baptists numbered 100 and probably none of the others greatly exceeded 
the last figure. Claxton, Parish Memories, p. 12; Robinson, First Church 
Chronicles, p. 61; Centennial Celebration, First Baptist Church, p. 7. 

15T Price, "Protestantism in Rochester," p. 242 ; Democrat, Feb. 6, 1835 5 Albert 
Post, Popular Freethought in America, 1825-1850 (New York, 1943), pp. 148-149. 

158 The Testimony of Jesus Christ and a Study of Divinity, June, i825-April, 

159 Rev. J. Sellon, Sermons on the Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment (Can- 
andaigua, 1828). 


Quaker drifted into the settlement long enough to deliver a sermon 
or two. 160 Rumors were current of a strange new prophet, Joseph Smith, 
who had lately appeared a few miles east at Palmyra. 161 But all this 
disputation did not seem vitally related to the affairs of the thriving 

Meanwhile, new theological disputes appeared, engendering sufficient 
explosive energy, coupled with other factors, to split the two dominant 
church societies and lead to the establishment of offspring congregations. 
The sermon of a young Andover student, the Reverend Joel Parker, 
delivered in the Presbyterian church on the merits of evangelical evi 
dences of salvation stimulated the revolt led by Elder Bissell against 
Penney s more orthodox Calvinism. The issue had been raised by reports 
of the "shower of refreshing" descending upon the churches of Oneida 
as a result of the Finney revivals there in 1824 and 1825. Both Parker 
and Bissell, as spiritual kinsmen of the great revivalist who was creating 
dissension among theologians in the East, helped to make Rochester a 
crucial battleground in the struggle between Old and New School Pres- 
byterianism. The split in the Presbyterian fold supplied the first evi 
dence of that struggle in Rochester. 162 

The seceders, however, animated by sectional as well as doctrinal 
differences, could not agree on a location for their new church home. 
After meeting for a time in the old frame building, one faction chose a 
site on Fitzhugh Street opposite the Quaker Meeting house, while 
Bissell and Ely, whose land holdings lay east of the river, led another 
group to a site on (East) Main Street. 163 During the later years of the 
decade, while the second and third Presbyterian societies were busily 
engaged in constructing their respective brick and stone edifices, a 
similar offshoot occurred from the Episcopal society. Apparently the 
split, led by S. J. Andrews, William Atkinson, E. B. Strong, Elisha 
Johnson, and other east-siders, was based less on High Church-Low 
Church differences than on sectional and personal rivalries. The first 
choice of the new group, the brilliant Low Churchman, Charles P. Mcll- 
vaine, was bitterly attacked in a letter from the Reverend Henry 
Onderdonk in New York as willing to work closely with the Presby- 

160 Advertiser, Sept. 10, 1829; Price, "Protestantism in Rochester," pp. 253-254, 
258, 272; Tallcut Patching, A Religious Convincement and Plea (Rochester, .1843). 
This autobiographical account of a troubled soul which wandered from one belief 
to another while its distraught owner sought his living in various parts of western 
New York after 1815 throws much light on the theological dilemmas of the day. 

161 Gem, Sept. 5, 1829, Dec. 25, 1830; Advertiser, Apr. 2, 1830; T. Hamilton, 
Men and Manners in America (Philadelphia, 1833), pp. 264-265. 

162 Gilbert H. Barnes, The, AntisUvery Impulse: 1830-1844 (New York, 1933), 
PP. 3-io ; "Joel Parker," D. A. B., XW, 231. 

16S Price, "Protestantism in Rochester," pp. 249-250; G. B. F. Hallock and 
Maude, Motley, A Living Church (Rochester, 1925), pp. 1-13. 


terians. 1 * 4 Onderdonk had his way with the bishop, in spite of the 
evident preferences of the vestry of newly organized St. Paul s, for the 
church erected in 1829 incorporated High Church ritual in its ambitious 
Gothic structure, which boasted the tallest spire in western New York, 165 


These bitterly resented defections had nevertheless several fortunate 
results. The rapid growth of the town presented opportunities for the 
expansion of church memberships which the existing institutions, despite 
the ambitious proportions of their buildings, would not have been able 
to meet. Moreover, the sharp rivalry between St. Luke s and First 
Presbyterian softened and gradually disappeared as the number of 
strong churches increased and other issues surged to the fore. Old de 
nominational rivals, beginning to feel a new kinship, gave attention to 
their mutual interests as church people. Earlier professions of tolerance 
gained reality, at least within the recognized Protestant fold, as the 
churches turned their guns on the unregenerate members of the com 
munity, whose activities were proving a mortification to the more 
respectable elements. 

Thus Rochester church folk, abandoning their village quarrels and 
striding forward to face the problems of a thriving market town, sought 
to remake that town in the traditional village image. The fervor engen 
dered by the Finney revivals in central New York had repercussions in 
Rochester, spurring renewed attacks on the theater and the circus, the 
groceries and the billiard rooms, and "other mirthful enterprises" where 
the young lose "the pure and solid enjoyments that mingle with a life 
of conformity to reason and conscience, aided by the light of piety and 
religion." 166 Temperance advocates appeared, impelling the Ontario 
Presbytery, which included the Rochester churches, to adopt a total 
abstinence resolution in 1827 despite strong opposition from several 
ministers who "desired to treat their friends politely." 167 

Most determined was the campaign for a quiet observance of the 
Sabbath. The issue became increasingly apparent after the opening of 
the canal (indeed the great revival which swept across upstate New York 
during the late twenties had some of the characteristics of a counter- 
reformation to the social effects of the commercial revolution brought 
by Clinton s big ditch), yet local agitation for a law to close the locks 
on Sunday, though widely supported throughout the state, especially by 
those stirred to action by the great revival, gained little headway in 

164 [Charles P. Mcllvaine], Reverend Mr. Mcllvaine in Answer to Reverend 
Henry U. Onderdonk (New York, 1828) ; D. A. B., XII, 64. 

165 William B. Knox to L. C. Paine, Rochester, Aug. 3, 1829, Autograph Letters, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. 

166 Rev. Joseph Penney, The House of Mirth (Rochester, 1830) , pp. 14-15 ; 
Barnes, Antislavery Impulse, p. 7. 

167 U. P. Hedrick, History of Agriculture in New York, p. 285. 


the legislature. 1 * 8 Similar agitation to stop the mails on that day met 
a like fate and aroused indignant opposition in Rochester. A group call 
ing themselves the Friends of a Free and Liberal Conscience, under the 
leadership of the Hicksite Quaker, E. F. Marshall, and the High Church 
man, S. G. Andrews, met in Christopher s long room during 1828, and 
voted four hundred strong against such "fanatical" measures.* 69 Never 
theless, local ordinances supplied some of the desired regulations, such 
as prohibitions against the blowing of boat horns and the transaction of 
commercial affairs on the Sabbath, though the enforcement of these 
rules proved difficult. 170 

Forthright efforts to secure a correct observance of the Sabbath 
appeared when Elder Bissell and several Rochester and Auburn asso 
ciates organized a six-day stage company. Boldly incurring an expense 
of $60,000, these men equipped their line with new stages and fresh 
horses, and engaged reliable and temperate drivers who undertook to 
keep a schedule of stops between Albany and Buffalo by way of Roches 
ter at such speed as to make up for the day of rest. The line proved a 
lively competitor to the old stage company for several years, earnestly 
endeavoring to persuade all good Christians to boycott its Sabbath- 
breaking rival. 171 

Meanwhile the Female Charitable Society afforded increased activity 
to young matrons who were finding new leisure from household duties. 
Funds collected at annual charity sermons in the various churches 
assisted the one-hundred-odd "benevolent ladies in ... softening the 
pangs of grief, soothing the despair of affliction, assuaging the pains of 
sickness, wiping the widow s eyes, and warming and educating her 
orphans." Pitifully small sums they were, ranging between fifty and 
seventy dollars a year, including members dues, but through the 
practice of loaning "articles of clothing, bedding, etc. during periods of 
sickness," the volunteer visitors, each charged with a specified district 
of the town, were able to extend their friendly aid throughout the 
community. 172 

The "Signs of the Times," as reviewed by Joel Parker in a Thanks 
giving sermon in 1828, were encouraging indeed. He saw "evidence 
that the secular advantages" with which the community had been 
favored "are to be sanctified by a moral influence." He rejoiced that 

of the State of New York in Relation to the Erie and Champlain 
Canals (Albany, 1825), II, 577-578; Assembly Journal (1825), pp. 633, 1149; 
Observer, Mar. 17, 1827; July 22, 1828. 

ie9 Observer, Feb. 8, 1828; Album, Feb. 12, 1828. 

170 Rochester in 1827, p. 107. 

171 O J ReiUy, Sketches of Rochester, p. 313 ; Album, Mar. 18, 1828 ; Josiali Bissell 
to Gerrit Smith, Rochester, Apr. 28, 1830, Gerritt Smith Papers, Syracuse Uni 

1TO Amy H. Croughton, "Rochester Female Charitable Society," pp. 68-71. 


"the increase of wealth is enabling a host of good men to devote time 
& money, and influence to the advancement of sound morals & pure 
religion." 17S Look, he advised Ms hearers^ at the Bible Society, the tract 
societies., the missionary cause, the Sabbath schools, the temperance 
societies^ and the Antimasonlc organizations. Alas, he felt it necessary to 
devote a major part of Ms sermon to that last cause, thus helping to 
stoke the fires of a new controversy which was rapidly disrupting the 
work in Rochester of the other agencies he mentioned. Doubtless he 
would not have hesitated had he realized the effects of his discourse, for 
there was an intensity of conviction behind the social codes of the day 
wMch brooked no compromise. Only from the resistances of an In 
creasingly complex community could the citizens learn an urbane 
tolerance, and in some fields it was to be a long hard lesson. 

17S Joel Parker, The Signs of the Times (Rochester, 1828), pp. 6ff. 



MOMENTUM of its growth contributed an inevitable turbulence 
and disharmony to the society and politics of early Rochester. 
-*- Dissimilar population elements and the boisterous life of the canal 
distorted the simple village pattern of the early twenties, giving rise to 
a keen struggle for leadership. Rival weekly and daily papers provided 
free vent to the contending factions and helped to focus attention on 
the possibility of achieving dominance through political channels. The 
chance emergence of a dramatic issue in the Antimasonic controversy 
disrupted earlier associations and produced a new alignment of forces. 
In the resulting turmoil, Rochester (which had started the decade with 
a battle for its independence) emerged as the focal point in a new po 
litical movement. Unfortunate events disclosed bitter factional jealous 
ies, and only with great reluctance was the necessity for accommodating 
individual interests to the community s welfare recognized. Indeed, the 
lesson was imperfectly mastered during this decade of the town s most 
rapid growth. 


The quaint New England village life of early Rochester and the 
Colonel s effort to introduce Southern patriarchal features were alike 
forced to retreat before the steady influx of new elements during the 
mid-twenties. At times the animated life of the taverns, thronging with 
out-of-town merchants and travelers, and again the commotion pro 
vided by the new breed of canallers eager for diversion, threatened to 
overshadow the activities of the settled villagers. But the rapid increase 
of the number of energetic townsmen, whose dashing manners had 
an undeniable respectability, strengthened the permanent fibers and 
broadened the pattern of local society. In several respects the interests 
and activities of the various elements coincided, and the community 
soon found itself provided with many of the social facilities of a prosper 
ous town. 

During the early twenties Rochester doubtless appeared a welcome 
haven to lonely migrants from New England. The town s social circle 


had not yet crystallized, and newcomers enjoyed easy access to Its 

fellowship. At least one stranger described the social setting with 

I arrived here with unfavorable prejudices; knowing as I did the sudden 
growth of the place, I expected as a natural consequence, that individuals 
were congregated here from every part of the U. S. with no other similarity 
in their views than a determination to make money. . . . But I have been 
agreeably disappointed the people are primarily from New England and they 
appear to have brought with them the hospitality, the courtesy, and the 
enterprise of that "much loved land." No little foolish jealousies interrupt 
social intercourse or the harmony of the festive circle nor has modern 
Refinement substituted cold heartless formality for confidence and good will. 

The evening after I arrived there was a CotUlion party. I was invited . . . 
and never have I beheld a more brilliant assemblage of ladies. Grace, dignity 
and affability shone resplendent from the faces of the "fair spirits." Soon 
. . . the dance exhibited the female form moving light as zephyrs with grace 
and dignity in every motion. . . . The room was splendidly illuminated and 
fancifully decorated with evergreens. ... I leave the village tomorrow, not 
without regret. 1 

A cordial welcome awaited newcomers in most new Western villages, 
yet Rochester was among the first to produce such a fullness of life in 
Its very first years. Canandaigua and other older towns excelled In 
charm, but a spirit of wanderlust did not assure access to their es 
tablished circles. In Rochester all turned out to join the sleighing on 
the first favorable evenings, for which everybody had been waiting 
impatiently for many dreary weeks. The number of weddings attended 
by one local diarist revealed abundant jollification on that account, 
while the arrival of a relation or old neighbor from the East frequently 
provided occasion for festivities. 2 

With promising young merchants, mechanics, clerks, law and theology 
students stopping across the way, Rochester seemed almost a maiden s 
paradise. 3 A young girl s autograph book, in which she collected verses 
expressing the good wishes of numerous beaux and fond elders, quickly 
became a recipe book in which muffins, ginger cookies, elderberry wine, 
toothache remedies, and crochet patterns crowded out the poetry 
apparently without destroying the lively spirits. 4 Village housewives saw 
little need to break their backs when younger sisters or cousins were 

only too eager to come on from the New England hills to visit the 


1 Rochester Gazette, Jan. 2, 1820. 

2 Esther Maria Ward Chapin, Diary, 1819^1823, typed copy, Roch. Hist. Soc. 
3 U. S. Census (1830), p, 40. Although Rochester numbered 2351 girls under 

20 years to 2119 boys, the ratio was reversed above that age with 1266 men 20 
to 30 years as compared with 1009 young women, and 743 to 533 respectively 
in the 30 to 40 age group. 

*Miss Nabby Baldwin s Book, 1826-1832, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 


bustling town and demonstrate their domestic proficiency. If necessary, 
a house girl could be engaged at one dollar a week, though there was 
sure to be difficulty in keeping her beyond a few months. In the course 
of a year one young matron turned out fifteen shirts, three corsets, seven 
nightcaps, eight nightgowns, three petticoats, ten slips, six gowns, two 
Van Dykes, one quilted bed cover, and one great coat, not to mention 
numerous kerchiefs and other items. Time could still be found for an 
occasional concert or lecture in addition to the regular church services 
and charity society meetings; visits to a nearby relative or at the 
home of a neighbor across the river would fill a day or two each week; 
or a quilting bee would help pass a lonesome evening while a young 
husband attended court or engaged in other affairs. 5 If the mud was 
deep in the streets the full-skirted matron might have to go to the 
quilting bee in a barrow, but get there she would.* "From dancing too 
much," Mrs. Vought suffers "of the rheumatism occasionally," reported 
the wife of Joseph Spencer, the Rochester representative at Albany in 
1823. "I am afraid I [too] shall be getting dissipated," Elisabeth 
Spencer added, as she decided not to attend a third concert by the Rollo 
family, "great and loud singers . . . better than Miss Davis the singing 
Miss from Dublin." 7 

Practically every home had a garden, and the ripening of early 
vegetables was eagerly awaited in the springtime. Scattered fruit trees 
were in bud, beginning to yield as the decade advanced. Everard Peck 
advertised a supply of garden seed at his book store, while itinerant 
nurserymen peddled young sprouts, including rose bushes and grape 
vines. 8 Colonel Rochester brought a trained gardener from the East to 
set out a tree nursery behind his new home on Spring Street. 9 Meanwhile, 
the village enjoyed the plentiful supply of fresh fruit brought in with 
the loads of hay or grain from the older farms up the valley. 10 

Each season had its choice delicacies and favorite activities, its special 
domestic pleasures of interest to all. Possibly the calving of the faithful 
milk cow gave the greatest thrill to the numerous inquisitive youngsters. 
Even more bustle and excitement accompanied the annual butchering, 
and young Dr. Colman, off for a special course in an Eastern medical 

5 Esther M. W. Chapin, Diary. 

6 Anonymous reminiscences, in Peck Scrapbook, III, n, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

7 Elisabeth Selden Spencer to Joseph Spencer, Rochester, Jan. 30, 1823, Elisabeth 
Selden Spencer Eaton Letters, cjpurtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth Selden Rogers, New York 

8 Rochester Telegraph, Oct. 21, 1823; Feb. 10, 1824; Blake McKelvey, "The 
Flower City: Center of Nurseries and Fruit Orchards," R. H. S., Pub., XVIII, 

*Ebenezer Frost to Col. Rochester, Apr. 18, 1826; John J. G. Frost to Col. 
Rochester, Troy, July 20, 1826, Rochester Letters, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

M U. R. Hedrick, The History of Agriculture in New York State (Albany, 
1938), P. 384- 


school, wrote back with concern in November, 1831, lest his wife, 
Colonel Rochester s daughter, Catherine, delay too long the task of 
killing the family hogs, for good care should be taken to smoke the 
hams before the weather became too cold. u There were enough of these 
simple rustic chores to keep the settled members of the community 
fairly occupied until kte fall when the families could gather for their 
annual Thanksgiving feasts 7 grateful for past blessings but hopeful that 
the months ahead would not bring too many days on which it would be 
difficult to keep warm before a blazing log fire. 12 

The tedious winter months frequently provided opportunity for a 
business trip to New York, possibly leaving time for a call on the old 
folks in the New England hills. Young relatives or old neighbors from 
Yankeeland supplied congenial companions on the return journey, 
many of whom were destined to find Rochester an agreeable residence. 
The womenfolk who kept the home fires burning through the cold 
season occasionally gained a respite during the late summer for a visit 
to a Western cousin. Husbands were sure to be more agreeable to such 
journeys when thoughts of a renewed migration westward disturbed 
their dreams. Esther Maria Ward Chapin enjoyed such a trip, taking 
thirteen days for the leisurely drive with her young cousin and Mother 
Ward to Marietta on the Ohio by way of Buffalo and Erie. After a brief 
visit in which the relative merits of Marietta and Rochester were com 
pared, to the latter s advantage in a social though not a business sense, 
the party returned without more serious mishap than being caught in 
a shower. 1 * 

As might be expected, family jealousies tended to develop. It was 
perhaps inevitable that they should follow political and economic lines, 
but in Rochester they quickly acquired a sectional character as well. 
Colonel Rochester s arrival in the community had been welcomed by 
his Yankee townsfellows,*but when his numerous offspring filtered in 
from neighboring settlements, the semblance of a clan soon became the 
object of much ill feeling. 14 The aged Colonel delighted to gather his 
growing family about him for an annual picnic at his homestead over 
looking the river. With his twelve children, three sons- and two 
daughters-in-law, and upwards of a dozen grandchildren, these parties 
formed the outstanding social affairs in the village. 15 Doubtless a few 
of the more distant in-laws were included, such as the Reverend Francis 
Cuming of St. Luke s, whose sister was now the wife of Thomas Hart 

11 Dr. Alison Colman to Ms wife, Philadelphia, Nov. 28, 1831, Colman Letters, 
Univ. Rochester; Scrantom Journal, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 
^Esther M. W. Chapin, Diary. 
M E. M. W. Chapin, Diary, June i8-July 31, 182 !. 

14 Dr. Anson Colman to his wife, Boston, Jan. 17, 1825, Colman Letters. 

15 "Descendants of Colonel Nathaniel Rochester," R. H. S,, Pub., Ill, 341- 


Rochester, But many received no invitation, and sufficient resentment 
against the proprietor developed to cause a slight disturbance in 1824. 
The next year, when the bitterness over the struggle for control of the 
bank as well as in the political conflict had reached its height, the 
disgruntled element sought to place the proprietor s picnic in the shade. 
Some 400 invitations were sent out for a Grand Public Ball on that 
day, but as only fourteen or fifteen couples appeared the demonstration 
was discredited. 16 With the Colonel s removal the next year to his new 
and less conspicuous homestead, these family gatherings doubtless ap 
peared less objectionable to the great majority of the townsfolk, many 
of whom had family groups of their own sufficient to absorb their 
attentions. 17 

Even the favored homes had their misfortunes as the fever and ague 
and many other ailments made undiscriminating visitations to every 
household, frequently carrying off a vigorous member. 18 Seventeen 
doctors already served the lower Genesee settlements in 1821, when the 
Monroe County Medical Society was formed with authority under state 
law to appoint officers charged with supervising the local practice of 
medicine. By 1827 the number of licensed doctors in the village had in 
creased to twenty-five, a high ratio of about one doctor to 320 inhabi 
tants. 19 Numerous herbs and roots were in favor, as well as various 
patent cures, but "drastic emetics" proved the chief reliance of fever 
sufferers seeking to throw off their periodic fits. Fever and consumption, 
as loosely defined, accounted for most .deaths among adult persons, 
though bowel complaints and accidents were becoming more frequent. 20 

While most doctors boasted some training, usually under an older 
physician back East, the many prevalent diseases frequently proved 
baffling. Anson Colman, seeking further light, traveled east late in 
1824 to attend a course of lectures and demonstrations at the Boston 
Medical School and Hospital. Leaving his patients in care of an as 
sociate, Dr. Colman nevertheless took pains to write his young wife 
that winter, advising her to be sure to have the children and her "Pa" 
and "Ma" (Colonel and Mrs. Rochester) bled if attacked during his 
absence, for, he reminded her, "bleeding is the grand remedy in almost 

M Dr. Anson Colman to Ms wife, Rochester, July 9, 1825, Colman Letters. 

17 See below, pp. 333, 363. 

18 Esther M. W. Chapin, Diary. 

19 Betsy C. Corner, "A Century of Medicine in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., 
Xm, 322-334- 

20 Rochester Tek graph, Oct. 9, 1828. Of 29 deaths recorded in September, 6 
were attributed to bilious fever, 6 to bowel complaints, 4 to brain and other 
fevers, 2 to measles, and i each to old age, consumption, inflammation of the lungs, 
inflammatory fever, dysentery, and drowning. Rochester Republican, Jan. 26, 1830. 
Of 170 deaths during the previous year, 86 were among young children; 31 of 
the older persons were reported killed by consumption and 25 by fever. 


all of our winter complaints." 21 As that remedy, however 3 did not give 
full satisfaction^ a medical association was formed to assure its members 
a "mutual improvement in medical knowledge. 5122 The appearance 
of several small medical treatises written or at least published in 
Rochester during these years further indicated concern over health 
problems. 23 

The practice of sending for the minister by the same lad who brought 
the doctor was justified by experience. Fatalities were high among 
children, and few of those who survived died of old age. The burial 
records of St. Luke s Church during this period reveal twice as many 
deaths in the prime of life, 20 to 40 years, as among all over 40.^ Vital 
statistics for the month of September, 1828, show that 15 of the 29 
deaths occurred among children under 10, and 12 between 20 and 40 
years. Again, 86 of the 170 burials for 1829 were children under 10, 
and only 12 had reached 60 years. 25 But this situation characterized 
most American communities of the day, and many Rochesterians met 
it, like devout Christians elsewhere, with the determination not to per 
mit one of these afflictions to slip by without gaining the fortitude and 
humility of spirit it was meant to teach. 26 Rochester mourners had a 
great advantage over more isolated sufferers in the numerous calls from 
friendly neighbors, for such visiting early became a major activity of 
charitable-minded young matrons. Thus, even bereavements helped to 
develop the community ties of the village. 


The charming community life of early Rochester was not unlike that 
of many another village, except for the added excitement and cordiality 
born from the half-conscious realization that all were engaged together 

21 Dr. Anson Colman to Ms wife, Boston, Dec. 5, 1824, Colman Letters. 

^Corner, "Medicine in Rochester/ pp. 333-334; Rochester in 1827 (Rochester, 
1828), p. 146. 

23 David Rogers, The American^ Physician; Being a New System of Practice 
Founded on Botany (Rochester, 1824); John G. Vought, A Treatise on Bowel 
Complaints (Rochester, 1823) ; Elijah Sedgwick, The Plain Physician (Rochester, 
1827) ; Daniel J. Cobb, The Family Adviser (Rochester, 1828) . 

^Annah B. Yates, "Early Records of St. Luke s Church," R, H. S., Pub., V, 


^Telegraph, Oct. 9, 1828; Roch. Republican, Jan. 26, 1830. Vital statistics for 
September, 1940, with a population thirty times as large, reveal only a tenfold 
increase in deaths. Of the 299 deaths, only 24 were children under ten (8 per cent 
as compared with 51 per cent in 1828), only 38 fell between the ages of fifteen and 
fifty, while in were over seventy and another -126 over fifty at the time of death 
(79 per cent over fifty as compared with 7 per cent over forty in 1828). See 
Rochester Health Bureau Bulletin, September, 1940. Of course a correction for age 
distribution would modify this striking contrast, and yet, aside from the decreased 
birth rate, a major cause for the wide disparity in the age distributions of the, 
two periods is the contrast in death rates noted above. 

26 Esther M. W. Chapin, Diary. 


in what might be described as a "town raising." But clouds on the 
horizon already threatened to darken the sunny days. By the close of 
the decade the disharmonies of a boom town had seriously disturbed 
the earlier peaceful scene. A description of the village, written in 1824 
by Harvey Fish for preservation in the corner stone of the First Presby 
terian Church, declared in part: 

In 1821 it pleased the Lord to favor this little church with a refreshing 
from His presence. At that time some of the first men and lawyers became 
hopefully the children of God. . . . Since then the number of those who are 
wicked and scoffers has increased faster than that of those who fear God. 
Hence there are many among us who are swearers, drunkards, extortioners, 
Sabbath breakers, deceivers, liars and who work all manner of iniquity. Col 
lectively, the inhabitants may be called a liberal benevolent people. 27 

Hundreds of transients and the great number of more or less un 
settled residents who crowded the "tenements" and boarding houses 
were forced to seek diversion in public places. This was the class best 
known to the traveler, whether native or foreign. Every bustling New 
York village has its supply of "inhabitants who frequent the taverns 
every evening, part dandy, part horse-jockey, and part gentleman," one 
traveler observed disdainfully, adding that "they do not interrogate a 
stranger as the Yankees do, but rather put on the airs of a city barber 
towards a country gentleman." 28 The daily throng of drivers who 
brought loads of grain, bark, firewood, hay, or other produce in from 
the surrounding farms and the canallers awaiting the departure of their 
boats added still other elements to the scene. Probably few places in the 
mid-twenties attracted a more turbulent concourse than the Genesee 
market town at the height of its boom. 29 

Facilities for the accommodation and entertainment of these groups 
were quickly provided, as the multiplication of groceries indicated. The 
first years of canal activity hi Rochester gaw an increase of commercial 
amusements as well as the opening of a public bathhouse equipped to 
supply .a hundred baths a day. Dancing masters offered instruction in 
social graces, and the Monroe Garden, "nicely ^fitted up with booths and 
gravel walks and ornamented with shrubs and flowers," supplied an 
open-air resort. 30 The taverns provided dining and drinking rooms, 
billiard tables and ninepin alleys at all seasons, while their ballrooms, or 
long halls, served for dances and acrobatic performances. 81 

The appearance and activity of the central part of the village radically 

27 Democrat & Chronicle, April 27, 1871. 

28 Letter signed "A. B.," reprinted from the Utica Sentinel in the Telegraph, 
July 16, 1822. 

29 "Major Noah, A Peep at the West," Telegraph, June 28, 1825. 

30 Jesse Hatch, "Memories of Vfflage Days," R. H. S., Pub., IV, 235-247; 
Telegraph, May 10, 1825. 

81 Hatch, "Memories of Village Days"; Telegraph, July 8, 1823. 


altered during the decade. For several years the horse trough in front 
of the Ensworth tavern at the Four Comers and the water fountain 
and circular trough in the mill yard at the southwest end of the bridge 
had appeared fit symbols of the village Efe 7 attracting teamsters to the 
heart of town. But by the dose of the period the heavy produce wagons 
were left standing farther out or taken directly to the mills and ware 
houses. By this time the wooden tavern at the Four Comers had been 
removed to a rear lot, and an elegant brick hotel was in process of erec 
tion on the site; though the fountain in the mill yard remained ** the 
horse trough disappeared from its central corner. Reynolds Arcade, the 
Globe Building, and many lesser structures presented a fairly con 
tinuous Kne of store fronts, at least on the north side of Buffalo and 
Main streets and around the comer on Carroll and Mill streets, soon to 
be renamed State and Exchange. 

A fashionable attire was becoming respectable in more than one sense. 
The dandy of the early twenties became the successful business man 
of a few years later, almost without altering his garb. On special oc 
casions he might don a high stock, a blue broadcloth coat cut swallow 
tail, a buff-colored vest decked with brass buttons, a pair of uncreased 
mouse-colored trousers which nearly covered the white stockings, and 
shoes sporting a pair of shiny buckles. Tailors hailing from New York 
or Philadelphia were ready to accommodate gentlemen with the latest 
fashions, 33 while the number of millinery shops catering to "females" 
drew comment from Basil HaH. 34 Even matrons among the settled 
residents found pleasure in a promenade along the new pavements which 
added dignity as well as comfort to the growing town. 35 "A spirit of 
obtaining the fashions," as one traveler observed, "seems to prevail 
among all classes, from the steeple top to the shoe string." M 

The eagerness with which the church societies followed the latest 
architectural design in their new Gothic edifices, even, in the case of 
St. Paul s, importing stained glass rosettes for the windows, 37 made it 
difficult to condemn fashion as such. "Rochester was made up of young, 
dashing, generous people," Thurlow Weed later recalled. 38 Lotteries 
enjoyed an almost unquestioned respectability as convenient devices for 
raising educational and charitable funds, 39 and it was proving difficult 

32 See the map of Rochester, 1833, 

* Telegraph, Oct. 3, 1820; G. B. F. Hallock and Maude Motley, A Living 
Church, the First Hundred Years of the Brick Church in Rochester (Rochester, 
1925), p. 204. 

34 Basil Hall, Travels in North America in the Years 1827 and 182$, p. 156. 

85 Reminiscences of the i82o s," Peck Scrapbook, III, n, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

** Telegraph, July 16, 1822. 

37 Roch. Republican, June i, 1830. 

^Thurlow Weed, Autobiography, pp. 99-100. 

39 Generous space was devoted to lottery advertisements in the early papers, 
the most frequent being the New York State Literature Lottery. 


to regulate or expel other agencies which played an active part in the 
vigorous social Hfe. 

Almost without realizing it, Rochester had blossomed forth as a 
leading "bright spot" of western New York. 40 The occasional concerts 
welcomed to the meeting house at the beginning of the decade 41 con 
tinued, while traveling animal shows, panoramas, and at least one 
theatrical troupe performed in the various taverns before 1825, the 
year in which the Rochester Circus appeared on Mill (Exchange) Street. 
The first dramatic season was perhaps that of March, 1824, when a 
group of actors from the Albany and New York theaters visited 
Rochester and performed "How to Die for Love" and other plays in 
Christopher s Long Room. 42 The construction of the circus building 
a year later afforded more adequate facilities for a second dramatic 
season, though the disorderly character of the crowd in the pit roused 
frequent complaints. 43 The museum of wax figures exhibited in the 
village in 1821 made occasional return visits, attracting much attention 
to its Temple of Industry, in which twenty-six moving figures demon 
strated as many different employments. 44 A permanent museum opened 
in 1825, when J. R, Bishop, whose museum of wax figures, panoramas, 
and other novelties had been located for a time in both Canandaigua 
and Buffalo, removed finally to Rochester, where the educational value 
of his displays won continued support. 45 

The year 1826 brought a burst of dramatic activity on the Genesee. 
Two theatrical companies bid for dominance, each opening in new 
quarters during the year and presenting numerous performances despite 
the heavy license fees exacted by the trustees. H. A. Williams, who 
enlisted the support of local citizens in erecting a new building on 
Carroll Street, enjoyed much popular favor. 46 The frequent appearance 
of an able star, such as Robert G. Maywood from the Chatham Garden 
Theater in New York, attracted a more respectable audience and 
enabled the Williams theater to continue after the failure of its rival. 

Public sentiment soon divided over the merits of these activities. 
Most of the Yankee Presbyterians strongly disapproved of the theater, 
but Hamlet Scrantorn, pioneer resident and now sexton of St. Luke s, 

40 George M. Elwood, "Some Earlier Public Amusements of Rochester," R. H. S., 
Pub., I, 17-27; Nellie E. Bitz, "A Half Century of Theater in Early Rochester," 
M. A. thesis, Syracuse University, 1941, typed copy, Roch. Pub. Library, 

41 R. H. Lansing, "Music in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., II, 135-138- 

42 Telegraph, Mar. ( i6, June i$, 1824. 

^Monroe Republican, Sept. 27, Oct. u, Nov. 15, 1825; May 30, 1826. 

^Telegraph, Jan. 2, 1821; July 27, Nov. 9, 1824. 

45 Ontario Repository, Dec. 12, 1820; Telegraph, Jan. 2, i&2i, July 27, 1824; 
Advertiser, Oct. 16, 1827. 

^Elwood, "Public Amusements of Rochester"; Bitz, "Theater in Early Roch 
ester," pp. 15-30. 









eagerly noted in Ms diary the visits of a circus and frequently attended 
the offerings at the new theater. 41 The rising attorney, Frederick 
WMttlesey, a graduate of Yale and Litchfield, delivered an address to 
Thespis in verse at the theater s opening at which "The Honeymoon" 
and "The Poor Soldier" were presented. Almost unknown among the 
performers was "Little Billy" Forrest, destined, years later, to acquire 
distinction as a comedian. A fairly active dramatic season enlivened 
the village that year, especially after a practicable licensing arrangement 
was reached with the trustees. At least one actor of the first rank, 
Edmund Kean, stopped over during a visit to Niagara Falls long 
enough to take part in the "Iron Chest/ 3 then playing at the Rochester 
theater. 48 "Fortune s Frolick," "William Tell," "Robinson Crusoe," 
"Kenilworth," "Macbeth/ 5 "Sweethearts and Wives/ 5 were among the 
varied offerings. 

But the company failed to overcome the community s growing 
hostility. Several charitable matrons, learning how to be stiff-necked as 
well, declined an offer of a benefit performance for the Female Charitable 
Society. Denied a respectable patronage, the theater struggled along 
with such audiences as it could attract. In an effort to gratify local 
interest, Charles S. Talbot, Rochester s leading actor in 1827, wrote 
and produced "Captain Morgan, or the Conspiracy Unveiled/ attracting 
crowds for several nights by his lively account of the current Morgan 
scandal, but that issue proved too serious for light treatment. Successive 
troupes, shortening their Rochester visits, hastened westward in search 
of a more favorable response. 49 One editor, complaining that inhabitants 
"within gun-shot of the theatre have been compelled to hear till mid 
night or after, reiterated peals of hooting, howling, shouting, shrieking, 
and almost every other unseemly noise," demanded that the village 
refuse to grant further licenses. 50 Though no such ordinance appeared in 
the trustees 7 minutes, the first attempt to establish a permanent local 
theater was defeated. 51 

The greater favor enjoyed by animal shows resulted, in 1827, in a 
free license for the local exhibit of the "animal automatons" as well as 
"the Grecian Dog Apollo," noted for his mathematical skill. Tippoo 
Sultan, "the great hunting elephant from India," was hailed as the 
leading member of a Grand Carnival that visited Rochester in 1823, 
and five years later the learned elephant, Columbus, said to weigh 
8120 pounds, lumbered in on his own power for a two-day visit. 

47 Hamlet Scrantom, Journal, Sept. 2-1, 1825; May 15, June 26, July i, 1826. 
^Monroe Republican, July 18, 1826; Harold N. Hillebrand, Edmund Kean 
(New York, 1933), p. 271. 

49 Charles S. Talbot, Captain Morgan, or the Conspiracy Unveiled (Rochester, 
1827) ; Bitz, "Theater in Early Rochester," pp. 29-57. 

50 Album, Jan. 8, 1828. 

51 Elwood, "Public Amusements of Rochester," pp. 17-27. 


Equestrian performers provided the more usual features of these visiting 
animal shows. Tickets costing from 25 to 50 cents were eagerly pur 
chased by the numerous wagoners in from the lonely life on the scat 
tered farms. 52 


But if Rochester was a place to write home about, the noncommercial- 
ized opportunities for amusement and excitement were chiefly re 
sponsible. The falls and the river gorge provided choice views and in 
teresting strolls on all occasions, 53 and no closed season checked fishing, 
although bathing within the bounds was now tabu even after dark. 54 
A lively scene usually appeared around the mill yards and canal basins, 
particularly at Ely s basin at the morning or evening hour of the packet 
boat s arrival or departure. Numerous unusual building operations at 
tracted attention: a steeple going up here, a four-story tavern over 
there, a great stone mill on the very brink of the gorge, a market actually 
straddling the rushing torrent of the river. Even the Sabbath became 
more animated as the clanging of the increased number of church bells 
called out streams of communicants, resplendent in a Sunday best that 
was ever adding new frills and ruffles. 55 

On special occasions the busy community paused to celebrate a local 
or national achievement or to honor a visiting celebrity. Farmers from 
miles around would not miss the thrill of the Rochester crowds on 
such days. The annual Fourth of July celebration, with the Rochester 
band proudly leading the parade and local parsons or attorneys supply 
ing the necessary pabulum, usually concluded with a banquet at a 
leading tavern. 56 Regulations against the use of firearms within the 
bounds were relaxed to permit Captain Benjamin Brown s Rifle Brigade 
or the local detachment of Irish Volunteers to fire the traditional 
salutes. 57 The local band and the militia companies made frequent con 
tributions to the life of the town in their annual military balls, and on 
one occasion the bands of neighboring towns visited Rochester to take 
part in a musical display. 58 

^Telegraph, July 8, 1823; Nov. 16, 1824; Advertiser, July 30, 1828; "Mr. 
Champh n s Benefit," MS program of a performance in Rochester on Oct. 25, 1825. 
See also R. W. G. Vail, "Random Notes on the History of the Early American 
Circus," Amer. Antiquarian Soc., Proceedings, vol. XXXIII, new series, part I 
(April, 1933) > PP- 116-185. 

53 Joseph H, Nichols, Diary, MS, copied in Samson Note Book, XI, 96, Roch. 
Hist. Soc. 

^Rochester Directory (1827), p. 100. 

55 William B. Knox to Hon. L. C. Paine, Rochester, July n, Aug. 3, 1829, MS, 
Autograph Letters, Roch. Hist Soc.; "Reminiscences of J. L. H. Mosier," Union 
and Advertiser, Feb. 12, 1884. 

56 Monroe Republican, June 21, 1821 ; Gazette, July n, 1820. 

57 W. C. Case, "Rochester s Citizen Soldiers," R. H. S., Pub., XIV, 233-237. 
^Scrantom Journal, Feb. 22, Mar. 28, 1826; Feb. 22, 1827. 


More formal pageantry and still greater excitement marked the local 
reception of General Lafayette on his American tour. It was on June 7, 
1825, that the "Nation s Guest" arrived by canal boat, escorted by a 
flotilla of twelve flag-bedecked packets crowded with Rochesterians who 
had gone out to meet the venerable general. The village thronged with 
double its normal population as an estimated ten thousand lined the 
bridges over the canal and other points of vantage along the route, 
eager to take part in the joyful acclamation, 59 To Lafayette and his 
companions it must have been just a continuation of an already over- 
prolonged tour, 60 but to the villagers it afforded an occasion for thoughts 
of the republic and its foreign friends, of its principles, and especially of 
its remarkable history. In similar spirit, the community undertook a 
general illumination, hanging lanterns at every door, on a December 
evening two years later in honor of the defeat of the Turks. 61 

Of course the celebration most directly related to local affairs was 
that marking the official opening of the canal. Plans for the occasion 
had long been discussed throughout the state, and as each community 
along the canal desired a share in the festivities, a triumphal journey 
by Governor Clinton, its faithful champion, was agreed upon. News of 
the official completion of the canal, sounded eastward from point to 
point by a succession of widely spaced cannon, reverberated through 
Rochester at 10:20 on the morning of October 26, i82S. 62 The town s 
reception of the official party the next afternoon proved spirited despite 
a steady rain. The two local companies, now boasting an artillery, ap 
peared in dress uniform, supported by rifle companies from Rush and 
Penfield. Services in the spacious Presbyterian church which stood at 
the very edge of the canal preceded a bounteous dinner at the Mansion 
House. A special Rochester boat, named the "Young Lion of the West," 
laden with barrels of Rochester flour and other products, joined the 
procession as it continued the slow journey to New York. A ball in 
Colonel Leonard s assembly room and a "brilliant illumination" of the 
village with lanterns at every door and candles at many windows fittingly 
concluded the local celebration that evening. 63 

A celebration of special interest was that of local members and friends 
of the colored race who paraded on July 5, 1827, rejoicing over the 
final grant of freedom to all Negroes in New York State. A colored pastor 

69 Telegraph, June 14, 1825. 

60 A. Levasseur, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825 (New York, 1829), II, 

2 l5~2l6. 

^Scrantom Journal, Dec. 22, 1827. The great naval battle of Navarino had 
occurred two months before. 

^Monroe Republican, Nov. i, 1825. 

63 Monroe Republican, Nov. i, 15, 1825; Cadwallader D. Golden, Memoir . . . 
of the Celebration of the New York Canals (New York, 1825), pp. 166-168, 191- 
192, 198, 299-300; Scrantom Journal. 


with a Methodist license took part in the festivities, and soon the first 
African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized and a building 
dedicated the next year, though not in time for the second independence 
day. 6 * 

But the event destined to serve as a climax to the sometimes reckless 
pageantry of the boom town was Sam Patch s leap over the main falls. 
Patch had earned a reputation for daring feats in the East, both in 
New England and New Jersey, and his spreading fame as a cataract 
jumper prompted an invitation to demonstrate his skill at Niagara in 
the fall of i829. 65 After two successful jumps there, one from a perch a 
hundred feet above the water, Sam could not hesitate over the Genesee. 
Indeed, he successfully performed the jump from a rocky ledge at the 
brink of the main falls early in November, and the plaudits of a small 
crowd encouraged him to announce a last jump for that season a week 
later over the same falls. Sam s laconic remark that "some things can 
be done as well as others" was picked up and passed along as a fit motto 
by Ms admirers as preparations for a gala occasion advanced. A plat 
form, erected on Brown s Island overlooking the falls, increased the 
height above water to 120 feet, and on Friday, November 13, a great 
throng gathered from the town and the country round, lining the natural 
amphitheater of the gorge to see the widely advertised spectacle. 
Whether or not Sam had relaxed his self-control at a tavern before 
hand, the bold jumper apparently lost his customary poise in the 
descent. With arms whirling he struck the water with a great splash 
and failed to reappear in its swirling eddies. 

Rochester gained wide fame from Sam s last jump, and Patch became 
the subject of much doggerel verse, winning a place in the folklore of 
the young republic, but it was a chastened and thoughtful populace that 
quietly dispersed from the falls that day. 66 


The politico-economic rivalries of the early twenties were but mild 
forerunners of the journalistic outbursts soon to occur. Rochester s sud 
den rise had made it the publication center of western New York, at 
tracting a dozen aspiring editors and publishers who displayed little 
restraint in their struggle for leadership. The rapidly shifting political 
scene placed a premium on aggressive ingenuity, while the growing in 
tensity of moral compunctions provided the dynamics for righteous 

64 R. H. $., Pub., VII, 134; Advertiser, July 7, 1828; Observer, Sept. 12, Oct. 3, 
1828; Observer, July 7, 1828. 

65 Gem, Sept. 19, Oct. 3, 31, 1829. 

^Gem, Nov. 14, 1829; Samson Notebook III, ist item; XI, 215-216; XVT, 44. 
Samson has collected many of the poems and other references to this exploit, rang 
ing down through the years in widely scattered publications too numerous to list 


crusades. Contending loyalties drove old friends in diverging directions, 
or brought former enemies together, producing violent conflicts which 
displayed the immaturity of the boom town. 

The rival journalists of the early years had each enjoyed a generous 
political or factional backing. A. G. Dauby, a Republican brought from 
Utica by Colonel Rochester to establish the pioneer weekly Gazette, 
soon became a respected member of St. Luke s. Derrick and Levi Sibley, 
who bought out that paper in 1821 and renamed it the Monroe Re 
publican, were men of the same stamp. 67 Everard Peck of the Telegraph, 
a Yankee Presbyterian with Federalist antecedents/ 8 early entrusted 
the politics of his paper to Thurlow Weed ? whose skill in drawing the 
Clinton and Adams factions into the People s party of 1824 upset the 
former Bucktail majority and made the Telegraph the leading paper in 
western New York at the mid-decade, enabling it to venture on a semi- 
weekly edition. 69 

The rapidly shifting scene, both in the village and the state, soon 
raised complications. The breach between Governor Clinton and Presi 
dent Adams severely tried Weed s political strategy on the Telegraph, 
acquired in 1825 in partnership with Robert Martin, a recent arrival 
from Albany. 70 Another newcomer, Daniel Sprague, established the 
professedly non-partisan Album late that year, 71 while the conciliatory 
temperament of young Edwin Scrantom, who took over the Republican 
at this time, 72 may have accelerated the shift of some of its more re 
spectable backers into the Adams camp. Indeed, the differences between 
these papers gradually became less distinct until the Telegraph ab 
sorbed the Republican early in 1827, launching finally a daily edi 
tion. 73 

The reputation of the booming town had meanwhile attracted a new 
and ambitious journalistic venture, the Daily Advertiser, in 1826. When 
Luther Tucker and Henry C. Sleight of Jamaica, Long Island, chose the 
Genesee canal port as the site for a daily paper, there was scarcely a 
precedent for such an undertaking in any interior settlement. 7 * Never- 

67 Gazette, May 30, iSao-Feb. 13, 1821; Monroe Republican, August, 1825- 
Aug. i, 1826. 

68 Telegraphy July, i8i8-Jan. 4, 1829. 

69 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 95-111, 157-162; Telegraph, Dec. 10, 1822, Oct. 19, 
Nov. 30, 1824. 

70 Weed, Autobiography, p. 202; Telegraph, Sept. 6, 1825. 

71 Album, Nov. 10, i825-Oct. 3, 1826; Oct. 8, i827-July 22, 1828. 

72 H. Scrantom, Journal, July 27, Aug. 2, 1825. 

73 Daily Telegraph, May 3, 1827; June-November, 1828. 

74 Frequent reference to the Advertiser as the first daily west of Albany re 
quires modification, for a short-lived Cincinnati daily had recently suspended, 
while the National Banner of Nashville was alternating between a daily and semi- 
weekly program. See Winifred Gregory, ed., Union List of Newspapers (New York> 
1937) 5 New York Evening Post, Oct. 31, 1826. 


theless, Rochester s prospects appeared favorable, and Luther Tucker, 
the active member of the firm, moved to Rochester that fall, bringing 
with him as editor Henry O Reilly, a twenty-year-old Irish immigrant 
whose ten years hi New York had been marked by a precocious advance 
in the printer s trade. The new paper, designed as a commercial journal, 
independent in politics, attracted favorable notice in Eastern journals, 
further stimulating village growth. 75 

The Daily Advertiser quickly became involved in local political quar 
rels. The volatile personality of its young editor would have made an 
indifferent attitude unlikely, even without the explosive forces which 
then animated the village, but the developments themselves amply 
justified the paper s increasing partisanship. The same forces prompted 
the launching of several new weeklies, advocates of one or another 
aspect of local controversies. Such was the Rochester Observer, started 
in 1827 to agitate for moral reform, pledging its profits to the missionary 
cause. 76 A Paul Pry 1 1 appeared briefly during the succeeding year, 
badgering the editors and readers of the Observer. The Anti-Masonic 
Enquirer established early in 1828, endeavored to make political and 
journalistic capital out of the discomfiture of the Masons, while the 
Craftsman 79 appeared a year later in their defense. Possibly no town 
of its size in the country surpassed Rochester in the number of its 
journalistic offerings in the late twenties. 

As the enterprise of the six printing offices and thirty-one printers 
employed in the village in 1827 was not wholly absorbed by these news 
paper ventures, several operated bookstores and lending libraries, and 
Everard Peck had in addition a prosperous paper mill. 80 The different 
firms eagerly undertook the publication of broadsides and pamphlets, 
while books that gave promise of attracting buyers were patiently 
turned out, a few pages a day. si Everard Peck, the most energetic, 
printed at least thirty books and pamphlets before 1827. His first book, 
The Whole Duty of Woman, 82 appeared in 1819, two years after Dauby 
had issued the eight-page Constitution and Proceedings of the Charitable 

75 Henry O Reilly, "American Journalism," R. H. S., Pub., VI, 279-290; Mary B. 
Sleight, "Henry C. Sleight," R. H. S., Pub., VI, 273-279; Edward R. Foreman, 
"O Reilly Documents," R. H. S., Pub., IX, 123-145. 

76 Observer, Feb. 17, i827-ept. 19, 1832. 

77 Craftsman, Oct. 13, 1829. 

7S Anti-M asonic Enquirer, Mar. 4, 1828; Sept. 15, i829-Nov. i, 1831, when it 
was renamed the Inquirer. 

79 Craftsman, Feb. 10, i829~February, 1831. 

80 Album, Dec. 25, 1827. 

81 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 95-96. 

82 Donald B. Gilchrist, "The First Book Printed in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., 
IX, 275-280. The fuU title is The Whole Duty of Woman: A New Edition, with 
Considerable Improvements to which is added, Edwin and Angelina: A Tale 
(Rochester: Printed and sold by E. Peck & Co., 1819). 


Society, the first pamphlet printed in the village. 83 Peck started a series 
of almanacs in 1820, introducing Oliver Loud as a new and able 
philomath in 1822 and illustrating the months with a unique series of 
wood cuts depicting rural life. 84 At least a dozen sermons and as many 
religious tracts, two medical handbooks, three pamphlets dealing with 
civic affairs, eight school books, and one novel were printed in these 
years by Peck and his rivals. 65 Aside from the sermons and the 
pamphlets, the first book to be written in Rochester was probably 
The Columbian Arithmetick, prepared by a local schoolmaster, Thomas 
A Filer. 86 

The year 1827 brought a sudden increase in local publications. A score 
of Rochester imprints that year contrasted with the half dozen or so in 
previous years. Eight daily and weekly papers attained circulations of 
more than 1000 copies in a few cases. 87 For three years the Rochester 
presses literally hummed with activity as the printers reaped war profits 
from the raging journalistic battles which burst forth over the abduction 
of William Morgan. 

Masonic societies appeared among the earliest institutions brought 
by the settlers into the Genesee Country. The first lodge in the area 
was organized at Canandaigua in 1792,^ and several others were in 
stituted before a movement developed in 1815 for a lodge at Rochester. 
Though the application remained unanswered by the Grand Lodge, of 
which DeWitt Clinton then served as grand master, until June 5, 1817, 
Wells Lodge, No. 282, speedily perfected its organization at the Mansion 
House in the settlement s first year of villagehood. Less than two years 
later a second lodge, Hamilton Chapter, No. 62, Royal Arch Masons, 
formed in the village, while a third appeared in 1826 on the eve of the 
outbreak of the Morgan controversy. 89 By that date, nine lodges 
flourished in the county and many more in the surrounding territory. 

The Rochester lodges attracted a varied membership, including many 

83 [Edward R. Foreman], "Check List of Rochester Publications," R. H. $., 
Pub., V, 176; Douglas C. McMurtrie, Rochester Imprints: 1819-1850: in Libraries 
Outside of Rochester (Chicago, 1935), pp. 13-19. 

84 Blake McKelvey, "Early Almanacs of Rochester," Rochester History, January, 
1941. Peck s almanac started as a modified version of the Andrew Beers series 
issued in Canandaigua, Utica, etc. for several years previously; but starting in 
1822 the almanac, finally named the Western Alamanack in 1824, was distinctly 
a local product. 

85 Foreman, "Check List," pp. 175-181; McMurtrie, Rochester Imprints. 
^Thomas A. Filer, The Columbian Arithmetick (Rochester; Everard Peck, 

1826), Univ. Rochester. 

87 Album, Apr. 4, 1826; Democrat, Jan. 4, 1837. 

88 W. H. Mclntosh, History of Ontario County (Philadelphia, 1876), p. 63. 

89 John B. Mullan, "Early Masonic History in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., VII, 


leaders of the community. In fact, the lodges were almost alone in 
bringing together men of opposing parties and rival sects Abelard 
Reynolds, Vincent Mathews, William Atkinson, Jonathan Child, the 
Reverend Francis Cuming, the Reverend Comfort Williams, Elisha 
Ely, Azel Ensworth, and E. B. Strong among others. 90 There were ap 
parently fewer Presbyterian than Episcopalian Masons and fewer 
Clintonians than Bucktails, though notable exceptions (DeWitt Clinton 
himself) stood out. Very likely the organization s growing influence had 
much to do with the gradual rapprochement between Bucktail Republi 
cans and Clintonians in western New York after 1825. 

Among those admitted to Wells Lodge in Rochester was a middle- 
aged stone mason destined to play a central role in the violent Anti- 
masonic outburst soon to occur. William Morgan, a migrant from 
Virginia who had recently seen Ms brewery in York (Toronto) across 
the lake go up in smoke, was attracted to Rochester in 1822 by the 
opportunity for employment on the aqueduct. 91 Full of wit and socia 
bility, Morgan gained many friends and rapidly advanced through the 
successive Masonic degrees, but as his economic achievements proved 
less gratifying he soon moved his family to Batavia where rents seemed 
more reasonable. The idea of cashing in on his Masonic secrets was ap 
parently first conceived early in 1826 when he approached Thurlow 
Weed with such a proposition. Rebuffed on that occasion and disap 
pointed in an application for employment on a new Masonic hall in 
LeRoy, Morgan was again offended by his failure to gain admittance 
to the Royal Arch Chapter in Batavia. When the plan to publish the 
secrets of Masonry was revived, David C. Miller, publisher of the 
Republican Advocate in Batavia, agreed to undertake the job. 92 

Widespread jealousy of the fraternal advantages enjoyed by the 
Masons and repeated criticism of their secret oaths assured the Morgan 
revelations a sensational reception. News of the venture spread quickly 
through the scattered lodges, and when efforts to dissuade Morgan and 
Miller failed, a copy of the completed portion of the book was secured 
by stealth and brought to Rochester for examination. Robert Martin, 
Weed s Masonic partner on the Telegraph, rushed it to the General 
Grand Chapter in New York, where he received instructions to return 
the copy and assume an indifferent attitude in an attempt to ride out 
any storm its publication might create. But the advice came too late to 
head off the efforts of neighboring Masons to discipline their renegade 
member. 98 

^Thomas G\idd<m t ^History of Hamilton Chapter No. 62, Royal Arch Masons 
(Rochester, 1879), PP* 3~ 2 S- 

** Dictionary of American Biography, XIII, 188-189. 

^Robert D. Burns, "The Abduction of William Morgan," R. H. S., Pub., 
VI, 219-221; Weed, Autobiography, pp. 212-213. 

93 Burns, "William Morgan," pp. 222-230; Weed, Autobiography, pp. 215!!. 


Rochester Inevitably became the center of the popular outburst which 
followed Morgan s disappearance. Indignation mounted as the story 
was gradually pieced together that fall: how he had been abducted from 
Batavia by Ontario Masons to face trumped-up charges in Canandaigua, 
and how after Ms release there he had been spirited through Rochester 
in the early morning of September ijth and lodged In a magazine of 
old Fort Niagara, from which he disappeared forever a few days later. 94 
At least two Rochester Masons, Burrage Smith, a grocer, and John 
Whitney, a stone mason, were actively involved in the abduction, 
although their names did not Immediately become known. 95 

Many good Masons, innocent of any participation In the affair and 
confident that their brothers had simply persuaded Morgan to seek a 
new home abroad, resented the popular condemnation of their society, 
Others, less ignorant of the circumstances but persuaded that Morgan 
could have received no more than his deserts, sought to protect the 
good name of the organization by aiding the active culprits to flee the 
country. 96 By coincidence, a group of Rochester Masons chartered the 
Ontario for a trip to Lewiston to take part In a Masonic installation 
which occurred in the midst of the affair. Young Edwin Scrantom, a 
member of the party, apparently gained but an inkling of the predica 
ment which faced the western Masons after the refusal of their Canadian 
brethren to receive Morgan. Some, better acquainted with the facts, 
could see no reason why the threatening informer, Edward Giddins, 
should not be paid the bribe he demanded for silence. 97 

Initiative in the search for the guilty persons was early assumed by 
committees of correspondence appointed at indignation meetings in the 
various towns. The Batavia and Canandaigua committees were the first 
in the field, but Bates Cooke of the Lewiston committee and Samuel 
Works, Hervey Ely, Dr. F. F. Backus, Frederick Whittlesey, and 
Thurlow Weed of the Rochester committee quickly assumed leader 
ship. 98 As the details of the crime began to emerge, the reluctance of 
some Masons in key positions to prosecute their brethren became more 
apparent, sharpening the popular indignation against the order. Never 
theless, a trial of three persons accused of participation in Morgan s 
abduction from Canandaigua was staged at the Ontario Court House 

54 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 2-1 5ff.; Henry Brown, A Narrative of the Anti- 
Masonic Excitement (Batavia, 1829), pp. 29-34, 38-43; Robert Morris, LL.D., 
William Morgan, or Political Anti-Masonry (New York, 1883), pp. 55-112. 

95 Burns, "William Morgan," pp. 228-229. 

96 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 242, 245-247. 

97 Trial of P. Whitney, T. Shaw, N. Beach, William Miller and 5. M. Chubbuck 
for the Abduction . . . of WWam Morgan before the Special Court at Lockport, 
Feb., 1831 (Lockport), pp. 31 and passim. 

98 Brown, Anti-Masonic Excitement, pp. 60-64; Weed, Autobiography, pp. 225, 


in January, 1827. The heaviest snow of ten years blanketed the country- 
side ; blocking many of the roads, yet the case attracted such a crowd 
that half the visitors could not find beds in Canandaigua." Over one 
hundred witnesses were examined, and convictions were finally secured, 
though popular wrath mounted when it was learned that the evidence 
uncovered had only substantiated misdemeanor charges and that sen 
tences ranging from one month to two years had closed the trail. 100 

The potentialities of the controversy became more evident as the 
year advanced. Despite open threats against several witnesses, which 
strengthened suspicions that Morgan had met a violent end, 101 a con 
vention of investigating committees at Lewiston gathered additional 
evidence. Yet new attempts at court action were frustrated in one way 
or another, and the flight of some of the suspected Masons, including 
Whitney and Smith of Rochester, fanned resentment against the order. 102 

The first prescriptive measures against all Masons gained little favor, 
however, since popular concern still centered on Morgan s fate. Though 
scattered meetings in rural communities during the early spring rallied 
voters against any and all Masons who stood for public office, the 
Rochester committee, apparently worried lest such a move split the 
Clintonian party and destroy its scant majority in the county, en 
deavored to head off the movement. Their fears seemed justified when 
Dr. Backus, a committee member whb had long served as village 
treasurer, was defeated in May, 1827, by a BucktaU Mason. Neverthe 
less, the committee hesitated to launch an open political venture, though 
the proposition was frequently considered that summer. 103 In similar 
fashion the first murmurings against Masonic parsons wholly innocent 
of the crime helped to rally sober men to their defense. 104 Yet deep-seated 
emotions were being stirred up and reputations were being staked on 
one side or the other, seriously aggravating the controversy. The Genesee 
Country gained a new sobriquet, the "Infected Area," and distant ob 
servers began to fear the spread of the malady. 105 


In Rochester the issue quickly became the center of a bitter politico- 
journalistic quarrel. At least twelve editions of Morgan s Illustrations of 

99 Advertiser, Jan. 5, 1827; L. W. Sibley to A. Reynolds, Jan. 5, 1827, Reynolds 
Papers; Brown, Anti-Masonic Excitement, pp. 74-88. 

100 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 231-237, 241-242; Brown, Anti-Masonic Excite 
ment, pp. 84-89; Morris, Wittiam Morgan, pp. 113202. 

101 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 243-248. 

102 Weed, pp. 242-243, 249, 299-300; Brown, pp. 221-224. 

103 Weed, pp. 242-243, 249, 299-300; Brown, pp. 221-224. 

104 Weed, p. 249; Brown, pp. 239-244. 

105 Charles McCarthy, "The Antimasonic Party: A Study of Political Anti- 
masonry hi the United States, 1827-1840," Am. Hist. Assoc., Annual Report, 1902, 
I, 372ff. 


Masonry were brought out in the village during 1827, while four other 
Antimasonic publications added to the profits of local printers that 
year. 106 Thurlow Weed was restrained by Ms partner and the clients of 
the Telegraphy though Ms early outspoken editorials on the abduction 
had made him a prominent member of the local Morgan committee. 101 
O Reilly on the Advertiser, while urging a vigorous prosecution of tie 
guilty, attempted to steer a moderate course, declaring that "for our 
part we can by no means follow the fashion of some editors in branding 
societies with the guilt of a few." loe An exchange of views between these 
rival editors became sufficiently bitter to cause O Reilly to seek a less 
contentious post in the East, but news that Weed had sold his interests 
in the Telegraph and proposed to remove to Utica prompted the young 
Irishman s hasty return. 109 The issue, it appeared, was acquiring dis 
favor, as public opinion $wung against the agitators during the late 

But the September lull disappeared when the full fury of the storm 
burst a month later. Despite Weed s failure to receive encouragement 
in Utica, the Rochester committee determined to ran an Antimasonic 
slate in the fall elections, and a Monroe County convention gathered 
at Rochester for that purpose in September. Although several leading 
Clintonians refused to lend their names to the cause, the opportunist, 
Timothy Childs of Rochester, consented to accept the convention s 
nomination to the legislature, adding it to his earlier endorsement by 
a local Bucktail faction. There seemed, nevertheless, little hope for 
victory against the regular Clintonian candidates until the "infected 
region" was again inflamed by the rumor that Morgan s body had at 
last been found on the shore of Lake Ontario. 110 

A body had indeed washed up near the outlet of Oak Orchard Creek 
early in October, more than a year after Morgan s final disappearance. 
A hastily organized coroner s jury failed to identify the corpse, which 
was duly buried before Dame Rumor linked it with the missing victim 
of Masonry. At that suggestion the Rochester committee sprang into 
action, quickly uncovering the grave for a second inquest at which 
numerous witnesses, including the unfortunate "widow," were ex 
amined. The body was now proclaimed to be that of the long-lost 
Morgan. 111 But scarcely had the Antimasonic forces buried their martyr 

106 Foreman, "Check List," pp. 181-184. 

107 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 210-212, 213-214. 

^Rochester Mercury, Jan. 23, 1827. This is the sole remaining issue of the 
short-lived weekly edition of the Advertiser. 

109 Luther Tucker to Henry O Reilly, Rochester, Sept. 19, 1837, O Reilly Docu 
ments, No. 2447, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

110 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 299-302; Observer, Oct. 20, 1827; Album, Oct. 23, 

111 Album, Oct. 30, 1827; Brown, Anti-Masonic Excitement, pp. 167-176. 


in state at Batavia when the widow of one Timothy Monro, drowned 
in the Niagara five weeks before, laid claim to the corpse. Weed re 
ceived assurance from the leading Antimason of Lewiston that the body 
could not possibly be identified as Monro, 112 yet a second Rochester 
committee, headed by Jacob Gould, 113 collaborated with others in staging 
a third inquest which upset the former findings and pronounced the body 
that of Monro. 

Readers could take their choice, declared Daniel Sprague of the 
Album, but they must know that it was now purely a political question. 
Editor O Reilly of the Advertiser branded the renewed agitation of the 
Morgan question as an unprincipled attempt to inflame the public 
solely for political ends. 114 Apparently the findings of the third inquest 
came too late to reverse the trend, for the Antimason, Timothy Childs, 
won his legislative seat. 115 Moreover the fortunes of the new political 
faction were greatly enhanced by the national election one year off. 

Indeed, the rising tide of Jacksonian sentiment was giving a new 
significance and imparting a new intensity to political struggles through 
out the land. Though his paper was still restrained by its Eastern 
backer from taking a partisan stand, O Reilly himself assisted in organiz 
ing a local Jackson committee, and at daybreak on January 8, 1828, a 
military salute was fired from the Rochester bridge in commemoration 
of Jackson s victory at New Orleans. 116 Sprague of the Album, abandon 
ing his non-partisan stand, gave space to lengthy endorsements of Clay s 
American System and bitter attacks on General Jackson, occasionally 
pointing a scornful finger at "that little fellow" who, as editor of the 
Advertiser, was so sympathetic to the Masons and so appreciative of the 
theatrical troupe which had recently visited Rochester. 117 Frederick 
Whittlesey, Scrantom s successor on the Republican, was diverted by 
his Morgan committee associates from earlier Jacksonian leanings into 
the new Antimasonic party. 118 Only Robert Martin of the Telegraph 
remained steadfast to the formerly dominant Clintonians, vainly seeking 
to disparage the Antimasonic uproar. Martin s embarrassment over 
Clinton s split with Adams and growing favor for Jackson was removed 
by the Governor s death in February, 1828. Thereupon the Daily 
Telegraph stood forth as the leading administration paper, rallying 
the support of the established villagers, especially after the Rochester 

132 Bates Cook to Thurlow Weed, Lewiston, Oct 24, 30, 1827, Weed Letters, 
Univ. Rochester. 

118 Kelsey, Lives and Reminiscences, pp. 64-66; obituary in Union and Advertiser, 
Nov. 18, 1867. 

114 Advertiser, Nov. 3, 6, 1827. 

^Alburn, Nov. 6, 20, 1827. 

118 O Reilly Documents, No. 376. 

117 Album, Nov. 27, Dec. 18, 25, 1827; Jan. 15, 1828. 

118 Anti-Masonic Almanack for 1828 (Rochester: Edwin Scrantom, 1827). 


family was finally brought into the Adams fold by the President s timely 
appointment of William B. Rochester as minister to Guatemala. But 
Martin and his friends could only hope that the Antimasonic infection 
would not prove fatal" 9 

The virus of Antimasonry seemed to operate locally much after the 
fashion of the well-known fever and ague. New victims of the malady 
frequently wandered about as if dazed, failing to recognize old friends; 
or they might suddenly be prostrated by fits of self-righteousness, such 
as that experienced by Edward Giddins, a Niagara Mason whose con 
fession was prompted by a refusal of his Masonic brethren to pay 3000 
for Ms silence. Coming to Rochester late in 182 7, Giddins cooperated 
with Edwin Scrantom, now an ex-Mason, in publishing an Anti-Masonic 
Almanack in which the Giddins confession and an account of the abduc 
tion, replete with all the gory details, crowded out the customary- 
proverbs and rustic wit as well as allusions to the weather. Over ten 
thousand copies of the inflammatory almanac, illustrated by scurrilous 
wood cuts, were peddled far and wide by zealous party agents. 120 

The time seemed at last ripe for the launching in February, 1828, of 
Weed s Anti-Masonic Enquirer, a weekly devoted almost exclusively 
to the establishment of a new political order free from the evils of 
Masonry. Possibly the limited number of advertisements appearing in 
the Enquirer reflected the hostility of the merchant class to the Anti- 
masonic crusade, though several devoted supporters stood by, notably 
Elder Bissell whose land holdings and six-day stage line were frequently 
advertised. Generally three of the four pages were available for lengthy 
speeches and sermons attacking the Masons, extended accounts of the 
successive trials and abortive court actions which were still dragging 
on, extracts from distant papers commenting favorably on the agita 
tion, and any other items the diligent Enquirer could uncover con 
cerning the abuses of Masonry. 121 However much it offended the sensi 
bilities of moderate men, the weekly propaganda sheet was providing 
Weed with "a reputation not much behind that of the great protestant 
reformer," or at least that was how his Antimasonic friend in the legis 
lature, Timothy Childs, put it. 122 


The agitation was bearing its fruit bushels of knotty little spites, the 
bitter products of the Antimasonic inquisition. When open political 
lines appeared for the first time in the village election of 1828, the Anti- 

119 Telegraph, Jan. 28, i828-February, 1829 ; McCarthy, "Antimasonic Party," 
Am. Hist. Assoc., Report, 1902, I, 367-559. 

120 Anti-Masonic Almanack for 1828. 

121 Anti-Masonic Enquirer, Mar. 4, 1828, and a score of other issues to Dec. 2, 

122 Timothy CMlds to Weed, Albany, Mar. 27, 1828, Weed Letters. 


masonic ticket, to the surprise of many, carried the day. 133 The lodges 
were called upon to surrender their charters, 124 and a legislative in 
vestigation of the case was demanded by Timothy Childs. Several new 
trials were instituted (that against the Reverend Francis Cuming of 
St. Luke s was apparently groundless) f 3 * while the confessed accomplice, 
Giddins, remained free to plan an even more invidious Almanac for 
I829. 126 Charges that Weed had received $2400 from the friends of Clay 
to finance Ms paper and that he had described the body tossed up by 
the lake as "good enough Morgan until after the election/ 7 prompted a 
suit for libel against Tucker and O Reilly. Though the suit was never 
brought to trial, the redheaded Irishman, O Reilly, could never after 
forget the bitterness of that season. 127 

The Antimasons displayed fertility in the development of new appeals. 
Fourth of July celebrations, previously non-political, in 1828 featured 
open attacks on Masonry as un-American and anti-democratic. 128 The 
contrary views of the Advertiser were dismissed as the "opinions of our 
foreign editor," although O Reilly secured his naturalization papers 
that July. 129 The pulpit, or at least a number of zealous clerics, rallied 
to the task of identifying Masonry with irreligion, intemperance, and 
other flagrant evils of the day. 130 A large painting, depicting the ritual 
istic sacrifice of Morgan in a Masonic ceremony, appeared in the new 
Exchange Building on the Rochester bridge. 131 The occasional resigna 
tions of Masons seeking escape from persecution were hailed as con 
fessions of guilt, and such individuals were joyfully welcomed as re 
pentant sinners into the Antimasonic fold. 132 Finally a new political 
weekly, the Monroe Democrat, was launched with the obvious design of 
confusing unwary Democrats by its attacks on Jackson. 133 

But the struggle proved in many respects a typical three-cornered 
political contest with the ablest strategist favored to win. Weed and 
O Reilly each received advice from state and national leaders, and each 

^Enquirer, May 6, 1828. 

124 Enquirer , Apr. 15, 29, 1828. 

- 125 Enquirer, Apr. 15, Oct. 7, 1828; Advertiser and Telegraph, July 28, 1829. 
The Reverend Cuming resigned at this time because of embarrassment over the 
Morgan issue. 

126 Anti-M asonic Almanack for 1829. 

127 Advertiser, June 18, 30, July 4, 1828 ; "Good Enough Morgan," MS, O Reilly 
Documents, Nos. 2110-2116; Weed, Autobiography, pp. 319-320, 350354. 

v^LeRoy Gazette, July 10, 1828 (Samson Scrapbook, No. 45, p. 93) ; Morris, 
William Morgan, pp. 249-308. 

129 Telegraph, Sept. 9, 1828; O Reffly Doc., No. 663. 

130 Joel Parker, Signs of the Times, pp. 11-16. 

131 Enquirer, July 15, 1828. 

^Enquirer, Oct. 20, 1829; Aug. 10, 17, 1830 (on Nov. i, 1831, the Enquirer 
became the Inquirer }] Dec. 27, 1831; Rochester Daily Democrat, Mar. n, 1834. 
133 Monroe Democrat, Sept. 2, 1828. 


endeavored to woo the Cllntonlan faction. 154 The Clintonians, how 
ever, appeared to hold the upper hand during the summer. When they 
staged a "Great Republican Meeting" in Christopher s long room late 
in June, so large was the crowd that it became necessary to adjourn to 
the Court House yard where fifteen hundred congregated in Rochester s 
first open air mass meeting. The aged proprietor, serving as chairman, 
indignantly repudiated Jackson, declaring that Republicans would not 
support "the election of a chief magistrate for military renown only/ 
for that, he declared, would be "fatal to our freedom." Congressman 
Daniel D. Barnard condemned the Antimasonic agitation of Weed and 
Clay as an effort to split the Adams forces. 135 Local Jacksonians likewise 
staged a Republican Meeting, though it was not as well attended as that 
of the Adams supporters. 13 Meanwhile the Rochester Morgan com- 
mittee called a state Antimasonic convention and, failing to agree with 
the former Clintonians on a candidate for governor, nominated South- 
wick for that post and Timothy Childs for Congress but switched at the 
last moment from Clay to Adams for president. 137 

The election brought together some strange bedfellows. Colonel 
Rochester now found himself working again with Elisha Ely and 
William Atkinson, and he could at last greet Elisha B. Strong with 
some cordiality. St. Luke s members rejoiced in the strength of First 
Presbyterian, and both smiled benignly at the Methodists and Baptists 
and over the growth of Second and Third Presbyterian churches and 
St. Paul s, for were they not practically all good Adams men some of 
them a little overzealous about the evils of Masonry, but Adams men 
none the less? 13S 

The contest became more intense and bitter as the election ap 
proached. When the Jackson- Van Buren supporters bought out Henry 
Sleight s interest in the Advertiser in September, enabling it to step forth 
as the unrestrained spokesman of that party, the deal was made the 
occasion for an Antimasonic handbill in which Weed and his associates 
accused Tucker, Gould, Bowman, Gardiner, and other local Jacksonians 
of raising $1500 to bribe the electors of Monroe County a charge not 
publicly retracted until eight months after the election. 139 Public ad- 

134 B. SMdmore to Weed, New York, Aug. i, 1828; A. Erwin to Weed, Nash 
ville, Tenn., Feb. 23, 1828, Weed Letters; William B. Lewis to O Reffly, Nashville, 
July 30, 1828; E. Croswell to O ReiUy, Albany, Apr. 7, 1828, O Reilly Doc. 

135 The Great Republican Meeting in Rochester (Rochester, 1828) ; Album, 
July 8, 1828; Advertiser, July 2, 1828. O ReiUy attributed Colonel Rochester s 
conversion to the Adams camp to the latter s appointment of William B. Rochester 
to the Panama and Guatemala mission, reasoning which added to the bitterness of 
that campaign. 

136 Album, June 17, 1828. 

"^Enquirer, Oct. 21, 1828; Weed, Autobiography, pp. 302-307, 353-354. 

138 Telegraph, Oct. 18, 1828. 

139 Handbill, Oct. 10, 1828; Advertiser, Oct. 16, 1828; O Reilly Doc. No. 2110. 


dresses to the electors by Matthew Brown, Timothy Childs, and Thuriow 
Weed appeared in prominent five-inch columns of bold type in the 
Enquirer, while the first local use of Sare headlines 140 sharply dif 
ferentiated the political and typographical ingenuity of that sheet from 
its more conservative rivals which still sandwiched their traditional 
six- and eight-pica editorials in among the more legible advertisements. 
Jackson supporters, not known as Masons, were derided as "Mason 
Jacks," while Masons were challenged to wear their leather aprons. In 
retaliation, Weed and his aides were followed by Jacksonians carrying 
large shears and razors a burlesque of the alleged shearing of the 
corpse to make it look like Morgan. 141 Heated tavern arguments fre 
quently became violent, and a local blacksmith broke Frederick Whit- 
tlesey s nose in a fracas at the polls. 142 

When the Rochester vote was tallied, the political success of Weed 
and his associates became clearly evident. Not only had the rural 
sections swung almost solidly to the new party, but Gates and Brighton, 
the two Rochester townships, were safely in the Antimasonic fold. 
Childs was sent as the first Antimason to Washington and the party 
increased its strength at Albany. 143 Yet despite the Genesee vote, 
Van Buren was elected governor, and New York gave the majority of 
its electoral support to the victorious Jackson. 

Those who supposed that the controversy would subside after the 
election were soon disillusioned. 144 Weed s consummate political skill 
was, if possible, even more evident in the re-shuffling of forces following 
the election than during the thick of the battle. Thus, while local 
Jacksonians were busy negotiating a, consolidation of the Telegraph 
with the Advertiser^ Weed collected new subscriptions for his Enquirer 
from among the old readers of the Telegraph and the now defunct 
Album, whose editor soon joined the new party. For the first time the 
Antimasonic paper secured numerous advertisements. 146 And while 
O Reilly was in Washington seeking local appointments for staunch 
Jacksonians such as Elwood and Gould, but thereby offending the old 
Republican postmaster, Abelard Reynolds, 147 Weed threw his support 
to such moderate Jacksonians as his former friend, Addison Gardiner, 

I4f >Enqwrer, Oct 21, 28, 1828. 

141 "Reminiscences of Darius Perrin," Post-Express, Aug. 20, 1892. 

143 T w Barnes, Memoir of Thuriow Weed (Boston, 1884), pp. 30-3-1. 

^Enquirer, Nov. n, Dec. 2, 1828. 

*** Brown, Anti-Masonic Excitement, pp. 228-239; Dixon Ryan Fox, The De 
cline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York (New York, 1919), pp. 337-351. 

^Advertiser, Dec. 5, 1828; Jan. 29, 1829. 

^Enquirer, Dec. 2, 1828; and subsequent issues. 

147 Enquirer, Apr. 6, 1830; Abelard Reynolds statement (photostat), Reynolds 
Papers, No. 787; Petition to retain Reynolds, Reynolds Papers, No. 728, 



thus securing the appointment of judges and other local officials who 
would in time become more congenial to his leadership, 148 

Meanwhile the crusade against Freemasonry continued. The issue 
invaded a meeting of the Rochester Presbytery in February, 1829, and 
pastors affiliated with the organization were called upon to renounce 
their vows or surrender their churches. 149 Apparently St. Luke s made 
no such request, but Francis Cuming tendered his resignation in order 
to safeguard the parish from obloquy. 150 A new weekly, The Craftsman, 
started with the avowed purpose of opposing the inquisition, made little 
headway against the prevailing tide. 151 

Finally, in a determined effort at conciliation, the ten lodges in 
Monroe County, "after deliberate discussion and anxious reflection . . . 
unanimously arrived at the conclusion that Public Opinion at this time 
unequivocally calls upon them to renounce their Masonic rights." 152 

It is not to be disguised [their announcement continued], that this con 
cession has cost us a considerable effort, particularly while smarting under 
the lash of persecution and proscription; but appealing as we do to the 
justice of an enlightened community it is due to the dignity of the tribunal 
before which we are thrown to stifle the suggestions of private grief at the 
shrine of public duty. . . . That a virtuous indignation should have been 
roused by the commission of the offense in question, was both natural and 
laudable ... but the evil to which this feeling has been liable is to con 
found the innocent with the guilty. . . . Under its baleful influence Reason 
seems to have lost her empire and Charity to have resigned her seat. . . . 

Our appeal is to the Friends of Peace and Good Order; and if the waters 
of strife are to be poured out, without reserve, embittering all the relations 
of life if an unrelenting crusade is to be carried on against a numerous and 
respectable portion of our fellowmen, merely on account of their speculative 
opinions the responsibility will not rest upon us. 

Seldom have more lofty sentiments emerged from a bitter quarrel. 
While touches of melodrama were present together with some political 
chicanery, it was not to be denied that the villagers who signed the 
address William B. Rochester, Vincent Mathews, Jacob Gould, and 
Robert Martin among others displayed a maturity of spirit unknown 
to the Rochester of a few years before. Several cubits had been added 
to the stature of the community during the decade of intermittent 
internal strife and booming growth. Perhaps the fact that the rate of 

148 Weed, Autobiography, pp. 337-340. 
^Enquirer, Feb. 24, 1829. 
^Advertiser, July 28, 1829. 

151 The Craftsman, Feb. 10, 1829. 

152 Address of Freemasons of Monroe County to the Public on Returning their 
Charters (Rochester, 1829), 


its physical expansion was already tapering off helped to contribute to 
the increasing sobriety, but rarely would Rochester again be stirred to 
the excesses of the controversy of 1827 and 1828. 

To be sure, the Antimasons could not so readily drop their advantage. 
The return of the charters was hailed as a triumph for that party and 
held up as a goal to be sought by more distant communities into which 
the party now advanced with expanding ambition. 153 Even in Rochester 
the issue was not permitted to rest, and in the legislative campaign of 
1829 charges of complicity in the Morgan case were again leveled at 
any who dared oppose the Antimasonic candidates. Jacob Gould was 
singled out on this occasion for the alleged offense of diverting Masonic 
charity funds to the abductors in order to assist their escape. 154 Gould s 
suit against Weed for the slander ultimately secured a judgment of 
$4OO, 155 but meanwhile that political genius had won his local campaign 
for a legislative seat at Albany and was seldom thereafter to return to 
the mill town on the Genesee. 156 

r, Mar. 28, Apr. 7, 1829; Feb. 16, 1830; Weed, Autobiography f , 336- 
349!.; McCarthy, "Antimasonic Party," pp. 391-456; Ludlum, Social Ferment in 
Vermont j 1701-1850, pp. 86-133. 

^Enquirer, Oct. 6, 13, 20, 27, 1829. 

155 Enqwrer, Sept. 20, 27, 1831; Inquirer, Dec. 6, 1831; Mar. 13, 1832. 

156 Enqwr er, Nov. 17, 1829; May n, 30, July 6, 1830. 



1829-1834 * 

THE EARLY THIRTIES presented Rochester with two major and ex 
tremely complicated situations: a sharp decline in its rate of 
growth and inadequate institutions. Fairly successful adjustments 
were made within the next five years, although the community s at 
tention was more constantly focussed on yet another matter: the moral 
responsibilities and social behavior of its members. The westward sweep 
of religious wildfire, kindled in central New York in 1824, reached 
Rochester by the end of the decade, displacing the Antimasonic furor of 
the late twenties with religious and social ferment. If much of the 
evangelistic ardor of these years was spent by 1834, when Rochester, the 
Flour City, emerged as the economic capital of a flourishing region, the 
community had at least begun to sense new democratic and humani 
tarian opportunities. 


By 1829, Rochester had to a considerable extent realized the early 
commercial advantages of its site. The stream of migrants brought by 
the canal continued to sweep westward, creating new boom towns further 
inland. Yet the population sources of the East were by no means ex 
hausted, and large migrations were just beginning to stem from Europe, 
so that, in losing its early position as the leading market town of the 
Northwestern frontier, Rochester became a major provisioning station 
for the ever swelling westward movement. Though the unprecedented 
rate of its earlier population increase was not maintained, as soon as 
the shock of its slower pace was absorbed, healthy growth returned. 

The disillusionment of 1829 proved in many respects the dominant 
factor in the town s history during the period. Not only was the problem 
of achieving a stable community complicated by social and spiritual 

l l am here borrowing the title of an unpublished M.A. thesis written at the 
University of Rochester in 1936 by Mr. Whitney R. Cross, archivist of the Western 
New York History Collection at Cornell University. The occasional references 
made below to his "Creating a City: The History of Rochester from 1824 to 
1834," do not adequately suggest my considerable indebtedness to his excellent 
study for its factual and suggestive survey of the period. 


stresSj but the process of scaling down inflated property values proved 
a slow and painful experience. Many residents were prompted to pull 
up stakes and resume the march westward. Nevertheless, all vacancies 
were quickly overcrowded by newcomers bringing varied skills and fresh 
optimism, Moreover, the rapidly shifting scene further hastened the 
development of an urban economic pattern. 

The limits of Rochester s geographic horizon first began to appear 
when the boundless opportunities of the Mississippi Valley and upper 
Great Lakes country developed in the early thirties. The multiplica 
tion of steam vessels on these two great water routes 2 quickly over 
shadowed the canal and river facilities of Rochester. Attempts to im 
prove the latter resulted, and a revival of Lake Ontario s trade occurred, 
but the brighter prospects of several Western river and lake ports could 
not be denied. 3 The opening of the Welland Canal in 1829 and the 
completion that year of the Oswego Canal provided an alternate water 
route to the West, though its challenge to the Erie was not immediately 
felt. 4 Not only did the migrants from the East as well as the overflow 
of that section s capital and enterprise push on past the Genesee mill 
town, but many of Rochester s residents and some of its capital also 
joined the trek. 

Local papers gave frequent notice to this surging movement. From 
Buffalo came a graphic account in 1833: 

Canal boats filled with emigrants, and covered with goods and furniture, are 
almost hourly arriving. . . . Several steamboats and vessels daily depart 
for the far west, literally crammed with masses of living beings to people 
those regions. Some days, near a thousand thus depart. Hundreds and hun 
dreds of horse wagons arrive every spring and fall with emigrants from our 
own state. 5 

2 James L. Barton, Lake Commerce (Buffalo, 1846), pp. 6-8. A steamboat 
association was formed in 1833, employing n steamboats valued at $360,000 on the 
lakes west of Buffalo. Herbert and Edward Quick, Mississippi Steamboatin : A 
History of Steamboating on the Mississippi and Its Tributaries (New York, 1926), 
pp. 100-104, and passim. 

& Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXVI (1852), 633-634. None of the lake ports 
quite equalled Rochester in population by 1840 but all of them grew more rapidly 
during the thirties: Buffalo from 8,668 to 18,213; Detroit from 2,222 to 9,102; 
Cleveland from 1,076 to 6,071; and Chicago from a few foresters to 4,470. On 
the other hand, the river ports, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and New 
Orleans, were already well ahead of Rochester and enjoying a vibrant growth, 
while St. Louis jumped from 6,694 to 16,469. Rochester, it should be noted, grew 
from 9,207 to 20,191 during the thirties. The U. S. Census gave the total popula 
tion of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan in 1830 as 1,470,018, and by 1840 
it had grown to 2,893,783. 

4 D. G. Creighton, The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence, 1760-1850, 
pp. 247-252 ; Noble E. Whitford, History of the Canal System . . . of New York, 
chap, vii, "The Oswego Canal." 

5 Genesee Farmer, June 9, 1832. 


Never before [the same observer wrote a year later] has there been such 
a crowd of emigration to "the great west" as during this spring. It seems as 
though the whole eastern country was pouring out its millions for Ohio and 
Michigan. . . . 

I have this spring seen great numbers of good, substantial people from 
Ontario, Seneca, Livingston, and the central counties of Western New-York, 
who are emigrating to the west with their families , more than I have ever 
known before. They say that they find no difficulty in selling their farms, and 
at good prices too. 6 

The call of the West was echoing through Rochester in these years. 
Occasional meetings discussed plans for Rochester colonies in Michigan 
or Illinois/ and although local papers neglected to describe the de 
partures, an astounding number of residents did pull out for the West. 
Approximately 70 per cent of those listed in the village directory of 
1827 moved on before the next directory list appeared in 1834. The 
migrants were most numerous among the boarders, as only 22 per cent 
of that group remained, in comparison with 36 per cent of the house 
holders. Yet so rapid was the influx of new arrivals from the East that 
the total number of names increased from 2,306 to 3,213, while the 
population mounted from 9,489 to 12,289 during the same period. 8 Even 
a conservative estimate, heavily weighting the size of the families of 
those who remained, would class approximately three-fourths of the 
Rochesterians of 1834 as newcomers within the previous five years. 

Back of the rapid turnover was not only the persuasive call of the 
West but a widespread disillusionment among the villagers. Those with 
out property were the first to move, stimulated no doubt by the slack 
employment during winter months when the canal stood idle. With the 
desire to escape one s creditors spurring migration, local justices found 
themselves overburdened with suits for the collection of small debts or 
the detention of defaulters. Over 700 such unfortunates were "confined 
to the jail limits" in 1828.* 

The task of bringing suit was frequently more troublesome than 
the debt justified. In an attempt to devise a more effective scheme for 
collecting loans, a group of creditors formed an association to compile 
and publish each week a list of the names of small debtors. Aroused 
and indignant at this prescriptive scheme, a large protest meeting 
organized a Committee of Equal Rights and Exact Justice to battle the 
"Shylock Association," as the opposition was dubbed. When the com- 

6 Genesee Farmer, May 18, 1833. See also Barton, Lake Commerce, pp. 7-8. In 
1833 the steamboat association which operated n boats out of Buffalo carried 
42,956 persons west and 18,529 back to Buffalo. 

7 Craftsman, May 5, 1829; Observer, Aug. n, 1831; Gem, May 14, 1836. 

8 Rochester Directory (1827), (1834). Out of 487 names taken from various 
sections of the 1827 Directory, only 29.6 per cent were found listed in 1834. 

9 Craftsman, Feb. 24, Mar. 10, 1829. 


mittee quickly enrolled 225 citizens into a Mutual Association pledged 
to fight for the abolition of imprisonment for debt and for a curb on 
the use of due bills in wage payments, 10 the sixty "Shylocks" hastily 
disbanded, private charity wafs stimulated, and more attention given to 
the distribution of poor relief as the community awoke to the economic 
facts of the situation. 11 

Though the conflict was a local expression of a state-wide con 
troversy, 12 the bitterness of the struggle in Rochester was increased by 
the slowing tempo of the community s growth. The use of due bills, 
which generally shaved the recipient s real wages by a discount of 20 per 
cent, was partially restrained for a time. 13 Still greater success marked 
the agitation against imprisonment for debt a policy as difficult to 
administer as its effect was unfortunate. Thus 628 small debtors were 
committed to jail in Monroe County during 1830 for sums totalling 
$6399. Court charges added another 20 per cent to the bill, not counting 
the expense for the 130 who served an average of three and a half days 
in jail. Of the list, 53 were held for debts under two dollars, and 148 
for debts between two and five dollars; the plaintiffs relented in 181 
cases, paying the charges themselves; only 43 were found able and 
willing to settle their obligations in full. 14 Such a record hardly recom 
mended the system to public favor. The combined agitation of the 
Mutual Association and several local editors helped to speed the state 
wide campaign toward successful legislative action in 1831, curtailing 
the imprisonment of debtors for sums under fifty dollars. 15 

While the brunt of the recession was borne by the poor, several of 
the more substantial citizens were also pressed to the wall. Active land 
speculation in the Genesee had not only inflated values but also saddled 
many with pledges they could not make good. Numerous lots on the 
east side at the main falls and at Carthage Landing were sold for taxes 
in i830, 16 and although but three in the village suffered that fate, prices 
tumbled 50 per cent in cases where investors attempted to consolidate 
their holdings. 17 Foreclosure actions, which had numbered only five 

10 Minutes and Proceedings of the Mutual Association of the ViUage of Rochester 
together with Us Constitution and a List of Members of the Shylock Association 
(Rochester, 1829). 

^Advertiser, Dec. 28, 1830; Jan. n, 183-1. 

^Richard W. Leopold, Robert Dale Owen: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard 
University Press, 1940), pp. 85-99; Alice J. G. Perkins and Theresa Wolfson, 
Frances Wright: Free Enquirer (New York, 1939), pp. 245-270; Fox, Decline 
of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York, pp. 352-359. 

13 See below, p. 220. 

^Craftsman, Feb. 9, 1831. 

^Advertiser, Jan. 22, 27, Mar. 27, Dec. 28, 1830; Jan. i, 1831; Rochester 
Republican, Feb. 2, 1830; Jan. 31, 1832; Rochester Observer, Jan. 29, 1830. 

16 List of Lands to be Sold in April, 1830, for Arrears of Taxes (Albany, 1829) . 

17 A. Reynolds to Ezra Platt, Rochester, Sept. 6, 1831, Reynolds Papers. 


between 1825 and 1828^ jumped to tMrteen in 1829; continuing to 
mount until they reached forty-nine in iSj^. 18 These were county 
figures, but most of them involved properties of considerable value in 
the Rochester vicinity. Even the mightiest were humbled, as J. M. 
Schennerhorn, younger brother of Abraham the banker, noted in a letter 
to Ms wife: 

Times have been distressing here in all respects, business is yet hard, losses 
and failures not uncommon William Atkinson and Elisha Johnson have 
failed, the former for $60,000 or $80,000 and the latter in consequence of 
endorsements for him Many others [losses] are looked for & [some] have 
failed but they are of no great consequence My losses have increased a 
little lately Economy will have to be the order of the day with us. ... 
Peaches are very plenty and very fine here. 19 

In a limited respect Rochester s economic doldrums were self-imposed. 
Not only had the speculative ardor of the mid-twenties overshot the 
mark, but the reactions proved equally excessive. One editor com 
mented in the summer of 1832, after the scourge of cholera had been 
added to the town s misfortunes, "When we pass through the streets of 
our once flourishing village, we are generally met by men (if we happen 
to see anybody) with long faces." The chief evil, he felt ? was not the 
disease itself but the "Cholera Sermons" in which the clergy described 
the disease as a sign of God s wrath sent as a chastisement upon the 
worldly townsfolk. "Consternation/ 7 he added, "seized the inhabitants 
and . . . hundreds fled." 20 Fires and floods, in part a result of the 
lack of precaution, further added to the tale of woes. Nevertheless, 
courage slowly returned and necessary readjustments in rents and lot 
values were gradually made, so that one visitor in the early thirties 
could report that "the town is rallying." 21 


That it was a case of gloom and hardship in the midst of plenty, 
most travelers through the blooming Genesee agreed. 22 An early dis- 

18 "Notices of Pendency of Actions in the 8th District," Monroe County Court 

19 J. M. Schermerhorn to his wife, Rochester, Sept. 22, 1832, Schermerhorn 
Letters, photostat copies secured by the Roch. Pub. Library through the courtesy 
of Mrs. Rudolph Stanley-Brown, Wash., D. C. See also Herbert B. Howe, 
Jedediah Barber (New York, 1939) , pp. 142-148. 

20 Liberal Advocate, Aug. 18, Sept. 15, Oct. 6, 1832. 

21 Adam Ferguson, Practical Notes Made during a Tour of Canada and Parts 
of the United States in 1831 (Edinburgh, 1833)) P- *75- "Rochester has been sub 
ject to fluctuations in its progress for some years back, and capitalists have been 
supposed to retard it by demanding extravagant prices and rents for house-lots 
and buildings. This, however, must soon cure itself, and already, I am told, the 
town is rallying." 

22 R. H, S., Pub., XVm, 1-117; Genesee Farmer, Apr. 21, 1832. 


covery that only the Imaginary and none of the town s real advantages 
had been lost brought renewed courage. The commercial facilities were 
limited, but they might be improved; the flour market was subject to 
fluctuations, but Its profits were frequently quite large; real estate was 
not the bonanza It had first appeared, but returns were forthcoming as 
soon as homes or shops were erected ; and meanwhile a steady stream of 
migrants crowded the taverns and provision stores with customers. Only 
enterprise and credit were needed, and they soon appeared in con 
siderable abundance, 

The improvement of Its commercial facilities was one of Rochester s 
constant concerns. Appeals for aid sent to both the state and federal 
authorities finally prompted the latter to undertake improvements at 
the Genesee Port in 1829. Two log piers nearly half a mile in length 
were constructed, providing a 1 2-foot channel sufficient to accommodate 
the largest boats on the lake. 28 The state had its hands full keeping 
the Erie in repair, and in 1833, when flood damage made it necessary 
to reconstruct a section of the canal east of Rochester, the opportunity 
was seized to reline the aqueduct. As the stone of the original structure 
had already begun to disintegrate, the need for a new aqueduct ap 
peared, but that improvement and the desired enlargement of the entire 
canal were put off for several years. 24 

The one new development in Rochester s transport facilities during 
the period was the construction of a horse railroad connecting with the 
lake port at Carthage. Agitation for such a line, started in 1825, pro 
cured a suitable charter in 1831, when the $30,000 capital of the 
Rochester Canal and Railroad Company was quickly subscribed by 
prominent east-siders. Elisha Johnson built the short three-mile line 
commencing at the east end of the aqueduct and following Water and 
St. Paul streets north to the settlement at the lower falls. 25 The opening 
of the road on September 27, 1832, afforded a gala occasion. Excited 
villagers vied with each other for seats at 12 J^ cents in one of the horse- 
drawn "pleasure carriages" or crowded into the more numerous open 
cars built to carry produce. The Rochester Band, packed into one of 
the open cars, supplied musical accompaniment, but the beauty of the 
gorge, appearing through the trees from time to time as the cars skirted 
the edge of the cliff, and the thought that Rochester at last had con 
venient access to Its lake port provided sufficient justification for high 
spirits. A "sumptuous entertainment prepared in Mathies* customary 

23 Anti-Masonic Enquirer, May 18, 1830; Apr. 12, 1831; Edwin A. Fisher, "En 
gineering and Public Works in the City of Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XII, 231. 

^Assembly Documents (1833), vol. II, no. 26, p. u; no. 36, p. 9. 

^Monroe RepubUcan, Dec. 20, 1825; Anti-Masonic Enquirer, Feb. 15, Mar. 29, 
1831; Advertiser, Mar. 30, 1831; Roch. Republican, Aug. 21, 1832; Senate Journal 
(1831), pp. 44, 54, 148; Assembly Journal (1831), pp. 346, 469. 


style at the Clinton House 17 climaxed the celebration. 26 The line was 
finally completed the next spring when two inclined plane sections were 
ready for use, facilitating access to the docks in the gorge. 27 

Several other railroad schemes were already under consideration. 
The merchants across the river, observing the progress of the Carthage 
Hne ; began to lay plans for a Rochester and Charlotte Railroad Com 
pany, though the protests of east-siders delayed the grant of a charter 
until 1835, when the scheme was abandoned. 28 Meanwhile, two more 
ambitious projects were being formulated, one to connect with Dansville 
and the Susquehanna valley ; and another to head southwest through 
Batavia to the Allegheny River. When the Dansville and the Tonawanda 
companies were incorporated in 1832, most of the stock was quickly 
subscribed in Rochester, but various factors led to the abandonment 
of the Dansville project, while construction of the Tonawanda line did 
not commence until the fall of 1834.^ 

More immediate commercial gains were secured by improving several 
of the old highways and other trade facilities. A new plan increased the 
efficiency of local road labor, but efforts to secure additional state roads 
for the area were defeated, although the Buffalo road out of Rochester 
through Churchville was at last designated as a post road. 30 While 
agitation for a canal up the Genesee Valley made little headway, small 
sums were provided for river improvement. 31 A company, organized to 
build and operate a steamboat on the river above Rochester, launched 
the Genesee hi 1834. Unfortunately, as in the case of its predecessor on 
the river and similar experiments on the canal, the services of the 
steamer were of brief duration. 32 River boatmen had to be content 
with improved keelboats, but meanwhile they made certain that the 
dams and bridges which were constructed from time to time should 
not obstruct their path. 33 

Commercial prospects on the lake improved somewhat after the 
modification of the British corn laws in 1831 and the opening of the 

28 Gem, Sept. 25, 1832; Rock. Republican, Oct. 2, 1832; J. M. Schermerhoni to 
Ms wife, Rochester, Sept. 27, 1832, Schermerhoni Letters. 

2* Advertiser, Feb. 21, 1833. 

^Assembly Journal (1832), pp. 109, 348, 466; Senate Journal (1833), PP- 101, 
118, 129; Assembly Journal (1835), pp. 102, 284, 343, 864. 

^Senate Journal (1832), pp. 51, 102, 129-130, 133; Assembly Journal (1832), 
pp. 41, 51, 68, 113; Advertiser, Feb. 19, Mar. 14, 1831; May i, 1832; Feb. i, 
1833; Sept 30, 1834; Inquirer, Aug. 20, Sept. 17, 1833. 

30 The Revised Act of the Legislature on Highways and Bridges (Rochester, 
1829) ; Assembly Journal (1831), p. 45; (1833), pp. 234, 256, 807; (1834), pp. 247, 

389, 545- 

31 Senate Documents (1834), No. 55, pp. 10-11. 

^Assembly Journal (1834), pp. 259, 922, 982, 1017; Craftsman, May 29, 
1830; Democrat, June 30, 1835. 
^Assembly Doc. (1834), No. 115* 


Welland Canal. Exports from the Genesee reached the high total of 
$807^710 in 1833, mostly heading westward to supply the new settle 
ments on the frontier. The weekly calls of four steamboats operating 
on Late Ontario at this time provided excellent service, more, ap 
parently, than the trade could long support. 34 Indeed, the farms and 
mills of the West soon captured Rochester s provision market in that 
region, and Lake Ontario trade, despite the modification of the Ameri 
can tariff after 1832, failed to keep pace with the growing activity on 
the upper lakes. 35 Canal shipments, on the contrary, continued a steady 
rise, except in 1832, when the restraints applied by a shipping monopoly 
produced a slight decrease. 36 Rochester maintained its leading position 
as a toll collector, second only to Albany, and in 1830, when the Canal 
Board moved to increase the toll charges, local shippers took the lead 
in a successful campaign to defeat the proposal. 37 The argument that 
trade would be diverted to Montreal was persuasive at this time and 
again in 1833 when it prompted a 25 per cent reduction in tolls on the 
Erie. 38 

Rochester was chiefly interested in the canal as a flour transport, for 
that article still comprised the canaPs leading eastbound cargo, equal 
ling all others in value in i833, 39 with Rochester as the major source of 
these shipments. Local merchants early ventured into the carrying 
trade. Boatyards appraised at $25,000 turned out craft to the value of 
$80,000 a year by 1833, when investments in boat lines totalled $74,000, 
requiring a capital of $136,000 for their operation. 40 

An attempt to coordinate these various Rochester interests resulted 
in the organization of a canal boat combine in 1832. The major ob 
jectives were to control the flow of western wheat and to prevent cut 
throat competition between rival boat lines. Protests were soon heard, 
both from Eastern millers who could not get adequate supplies of wheat, 
and from Western grain growers forced to sell at prices fixed by the 
combine. The farmers of Monroe County were particularly outspoken, 
complaining that they were forced to accept the prices offered by 
Rochester millers since forwarders would not carry their wheat to 
Eastern markets. Wheat prices in Rochester fell 12 to 1 8 per cent below 

34 George H. Harris, "Early Shipping on the Lower Genesee River: Reminis 
cences of Captain Hosea Rogers," R. H. S., Pub., IX, 105; Directory ( 1834), p. i 
and adv. 

above notes 2 and 4; Frank W. Taussig, The Tariff History of the United 
States (8th ed.; New York, 1931), pp. 89-108. 

^Assembly Doc. (1831), No. 38, p. u; (1833), No. 36A. 

^Advertiser and Telegraph, Apr. n, 1830. 

^Assembly Journal (1833), p. 559 ; Assembly Doc. (1833), No. 320. 

^Timothy Ktkin, A Statistical View of the Commerce of the United States of 
America (New Haven, 1835), P- 577- 

^Directory (1834), P- * 


normal, whether because of the monopoly, or the inflow of western 
wheat, was not clear. The boat lines, however, lost an estimated $12,000 
in revenue, thus disrupting the combine and defeating the first attempt 
to stabilize the price of lour and assure Rochester millers a monopoly 
over the industry. 41 

Despite wide fluctuations in the price of flour ** and the consequent 
insecurity of such investments, milling had become the dominant in 
dustry, vying with real estate as a basis for social position if not for 
profits. The wheat resources of the Genesee, already supplemented by 
the rapidly increasing supplies of Western grain, 43 doubled the flour 
output of Rochester between 1826 and 1833. The 300,000 barrels 
shipped in the latter year comprised nearly a third of the flour carried 
down the Hudson that season, establishing Rochester s preeminence in 
the state, though larger quantities of flour were still produced in the 
vicinity of both Baltimore and Richmond. 44 Eighteen mills, equipped 
with a total of 78 run of stones, assured the town a large cash return. 
If a major share went to the farmer for his wheat, it was frequently 
spent in Rochester stores. Four millraces provided a total of 3,400 
horsepower to the numerous mills and other establishments, though only 
a fraction of the potential energy was as yet developed. 45 

There was more than gold in the heavy barrels rolled out of Rochester, 
for they spread the growing reputation of the Flour City. The attention 
given by frequent visitors to the new large mills at the upper falls, 
notably the Hervey Ely null on the east side and the Beach mill across 
the river, helped to enhance the fame of Rochester flour. 46 The leading 
local millwright, Robert M. Dalzell, equipped these huge establishments 
with machinery developed some years before in Pennsylvania. 47 The 

^Assembly Doc. (1833), No. 320; Rock. Republican (extra), Sept 1832; 
Genesee Farmer, Oct. 6, 1832; Advertiser, Jan. n, Feb. u, 1833. It is interesting 
to note Oliver Culver among the protesting farmers, while the millers and for 
warders involved in the combine included E. B. Strong, Benjamin Campbell, 
Hervey Ely, Charles J. Hill, T. H. Rochester, and Jonathan Child among others. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XIH, 290; XV, 520; XXX, 236. Tables of 
flour prices in New York, Rochester, and Baltimore show fluctuations within 
each year of $i or more, and a decline of from $8 to $4 per. bbl. during this period. 

^Advertiser, Feb. i, 1832. Shipments from the West mounted from 4,000 to 
185,000 bushels between 1829 and 1831. 

^Directory (1834), P- *j Hunt s Merchants 3 Magazine, XVIII, 223; Charles B. 
Kuhlmann, The Development of the Flour-Milling Industry in the United States 
(Cambridge, 1929), pp. 43-58. Baltimore was without question the leading flour 
market, but apparently Rochester milled as much as if not more than was pro 
duced by mills within the immediate vicinity of either Baltimore or Richmond. 

45 Samson Scrapbook, No. 57, p. 9, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

48 "Foreign Travel Notes on Rochester and the Genesee Country Before 1840," 
R. H. S., Pub., XVIH, 31, 46, 48, 97, 99, 107-108. 

4T Kuhlmann, Flour-Milling Industry, pp. 96-98; Dictionary of American Bi 
ography, V, 48. 


grain was carried up in biickets from the canal boats to the top of the 
four- or five-story mills, whence it descended through the successive 
stages of cleansing, grinding, cooling, sifting, and packing until the 
product rolled out in sealed barrels onto the docks without once having 
been touched by the miller s hand. There was something almost magical 
about the mills of Rochester or so it appeared even to travelers from 
Europe in the early thirties. 48 

A few marked changes developed in the secondary industries of 
Rochester. The asheries were giving place to more economical uses for 
the depleted forests; 49 one cotton factory closed down as cheap products 
began to arrive from the mills of New England, but a carpet factory of 
considerable size was established in the Globe Building, and a second 
cotton factory struggled along for a time; ^ two or three sawmills be 
came furniture factories and a carriage factory was established; 51 the 
tanneries expanded with the increased activity of stock fanners up the 
valley, while one large slaughterhouse was equipped to handle 75 head 
a day in i832. 52 Possibly the largest of several machine shops, producing 
tools for farm or factory use, was that advertised by Matthew Brown 
in 1830 as equipped with five fires, two trip hammers, two grindstones, 
water-power bellows, a power machine shop, and a furnace boasting the 
greatest blast in the state. By 1833 the metal industry was turning out 
products valued at $80,000, including fire engines and, in 1834, grain 
cutters as well. 53 

The opening of two large and elegant hotels made Rochester a 
favorite stopping place for the increased number of merchants journey 
ing to and from the expanding West. 54 For a short time the Eagle Tavern 
at the Four Corners and the Rochester House overlooking the canal at 
Exchange Street ranked as the best west of" Albany, though by the mid- 
thirties Buffalo was to capture that distinction from Rochester. The 
renovation of several older taverns and the operation of two as "temper 
ance houses" assured travelers of a wide choice of accommodations. 55 
But local merchants, eager to reap profits from the passing throng, pro 
tested violently when auctioneers from New York invaded the town, 

48 Watt Stewart, "A Spanish Traveler Visits Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XVIH, 

48 Gem, May 4, 1833; Democrat, Jan. n, 1843. 

^Roch. Republican, Aug. 18, 1829; Advertiser, Mar. 5, 1832; Mar. 19, 1833; 
Democrat, Dec. 9, 1834. 

^Advertiser and Telegraph, Mar. 26, 1830. 

^Advertiser, Mar. 12, 1832; Directory (1834), p. i. 

^Advertiser, Dec. 25, 1830; Genesee Farmer, Mar. 3, 1832; Directory (-1834), 
p. i; R. H. S., Pub., XVIH, 108, no. 

**Gem, July 2, 1831; Advertiser, May n, 1830. 

^Advertiser, June n, 28, 1832; Roch. Republican, July 3, 1832, Sept. 27, 1836. 


slashing prices in order to dispose of their surplus stock quickly. 56 
Though efforts to curb the practice met with some success 7 the reputa 
tion of the town for abundant supplies of cheap goods was meanwhile 
enhanced, and with the increased local output Rochester s function as 
a provision station for westward migrants was established/ 7 


But these varied enterprises were embarrassed by shortages of credit. 
The Bank of Rochester, declaring an extra dividend of 10 per cent in 
1828 (a total of 19 per cent on its capital that year), candidly withdrew 
its objections to the chartering of a second bank* Many residents com 
plained that one bank could not handle a quarter of the business of the 
village, forcing resort to banks in Canandaigua or further east. 58 When 
a charter was finally secured for the Bank of Monroe, the institution, 
allowed a capital of $300,000, speedily organized with Abraham Scher- 
merhorn, just back from a business trip to London, as president. 59 
New England investors supplied most of the capital, but considerable 
blocks of stock were subscribed in Canandaigua and other New York 
towns. 60 The new bank, leasing the choice corner rooms in the new Eagle 
Hotel at the Four Corners, thus acquired the most favored site in town. 

Even the new bank did not long satisfy local demands. Disappoint 
ment was expressed when the Bank of the United States located a 
branch in Buffalo instead of Rochester, though William B. Rochester 
was named a director of that branch. 61 Applications for a Mechanic s 
Bank were repeatedly defeated in the legislature by a failure to secure 
the necessary two-thirds vote, 62 but a charter was granted for a savings 
bank established by the directors of the two local banks for the con 
venience of those able to lay by small sums from their earnings. 63 
Rochester investors cooperated in establishing banks at Geneseo, 

** Advertiser, June 24, 27, 1828; Feb. n, 15, 1831; Rock. Republican, Jan. 19, 
Feb. 16, 1830; Assembly Journal (1831), pp. 202, 222; Assembly Doc. (1831), 
No. 151 ; Fred M. Jones, Middlemen in the Domestic Trade of the United States: 
1800-1860 (Urbana, Illinois, 1937) , pp. 35-43- 

57 Gem, Aug. 13, 1831; Directory (1834)- Kearney s City Clothing Emporium 
and Alling s Boot and Shoe Store, both on Exchange St., advertised large stocks 
of ready-made articles for the speedy accommodation of clients unable to await 
the services of a tailor or shoemaker. Their products were the cheap and crude 
articles produced in the East for rough wear as laboring clothes, not the ready- 
made clothes of a later date. 

58 Telegraph, Nov. 17, 1828. 

59 Advertiser, July 30, 1828; Enquirer, Apr. 28, 1829; Advertiser and Telegraph, 
Oct. 31, 1829; Jan. 5, 1830. 

60 Assembly Doc. (1833), No. 89, pp. 40-42; Directory (1834), pp. 6-7. 
^Advertiser and Telegraph, Sept. 21, 1829; Roch. Republican, Oct. 13, 1829. 
^Assembly Journal (1831), p. 232; (1832), pp. 252, 726; (1833), p. 5*7- 
^Assembly Journal (1831), pp. 226, 630; Roch. Republican, Mar. 2, 1830; 

Advertiser, Dec. n, 1830; Feb. 4, 1831, 


Batavia, and Lockport in these years, and some local funds drifted west 
to Detroit in search of advantages there, though the Flour City s needs 
were by no means satisfied. 64 

Popular attitudes toward banks were still strongly flavored with 
politics. The struggle between the Jackson forces and the Second Bank 
of the United States tended to rally all anti- Jackson groups around that 
institution, yet the probability that increased advantages would fall to 
local banks on the dissolution of the Bank of the United States swung 
the two banks of Rochester (as well as several in New York City and 
elsewhere) to Jackson s side, 65 Local Jackson forces and the bankers as 
well supported Van Buren s attempt to secure a sound state banking 
policy through the safety fund law of i829. 66 On the other hand, all 
Rochester interests joined in protest against the legislative resistance to 
appeals for additional banks in the western counties. The Jacksonian 
Advertiser in 1833, after a review of the record of the six banks west of 
Canandaigua (whose total capitalization of $1,150,000 had to serve a 
population of 400,000), concluded that "it is the duty of the Legislature 
to double the capital of the West at once." 

Let us not be told [the editor continued] that this increase of capital will 
produce over-trading and end in the bankruptcy of the banks. Such an argu 
ment may do for many of the older and interior counties of the state where 
there is little to carry to market and where all things are stationary. . . . 
Experience has satisfied us that they have no application here. The resources 
of this country are not half developed. Everything in the west is on the road 
to improvement. Capital creates business, and here business sustains itself 
and produces profit to those who carry it on. Look at the fact that in 1820 
there was not $250,000 in these nine counties. In 1829, 30 and 31 it was in 
creased to the sum above mentioned [$1,150,000]. We were then told by 
interested bankers at the east that we should be ruined, and bankruptcy of 
the banks -would follow. They are now all in a sound state, have made 
enormous profits, and we do not believe their whole losses have amounted 
to $20,000. . . . 

At Buffalo we notice applications for more bank capital. It is needed let 
them have it. B. is a great place and is constantly increasing. Her business 
would soon be doubled if she had capital proportionate to her resources. . . . 

In Rochester, too, we understand more capital is to be applied for. It 
should be cheerfully accorded. Rochester is the Manchester of the West. 
Give her capital. Her enterprise will ensure a good result. 67 

64 Advertiser, June 10, 1830; Nov. 26, 1833. 

65 J. G. Bennett, "Diary of a Journey through New York," Folio 19, MS in 
New York Public Library; R. C. H. Catterall, The Second Bank of the United 
States (Chicago, 1903), pp. 164-168. 

66 Advertiser and Telegraph, Sept. 16, 1829. See also Robert E. Chaddock, The 
Safety Fund Banking System in New York: 182^-1866 (National Monetary 
Commission, Washington, 1910), pp. 259-273. 

67 Advertiser, Nov. 26, 1833. The article continued in part: "We cannot dismiss 


Though Rochester s aspiration for additional banks was not gratified 
for several years, credit stringencies were partly alleviated by the Canal 
Board s practice of depositing the tolls in local institutions. Thus the 
deposit of $280,955 in the two Rochester banks in 1832 added con 
siderably to the funds available for circulation and contributed to bank 
profits. 68 Dividends of 10 per cent were normal during these years 
despite the uncertainty in many pkces concerning Rochester s future 
prospects. 69 Deflation in real estate, or rather in lot speculation, was not 
matched in other fields. The loans and discounts of the Bank of Monroe 
reached $713,946 in 1832, and when the New York Life Insurance 
Company reported its loans in the area to be well above par, the com 
pany s president observed that "the advancing improvement of the 
country, and its prosperity, must add daily to that security." 70 

The healthy character of Rochester s affairs became apparent as the 
gloom of the early thirties disappeared. A desire for more accurate in 
formation concerning the town s industrial activity caused the Franklin 
Institute to appoint a Committee on Manufactures late in i828, 71 and 
statistical summaries of at least suggestive value appeared from time to 
time. At the close of 1831 the investment in local manufacturing enter 
prises was placed at $511,000 and their product for the year at $1,875,- 
ooo. 72 Two years later these figures had increased to $609,143 and 
$2,105,239 respectively. Postal receipts practically doubled between 
1826 and 1834; private dwellings numbered 1,300 at the latter date, 
representing a gain in size, stability, and probably in numbers, over 
the- 1,4 74 houses and shops of iSay. 73 Those individuals who had put 
their funds into productive enterprises, such as Abelard Reynolds with 
his Arcade, were now able to raise additional funds from Eastern in- 

this subject without expressing our regret at the bad consequences which have 
attended the sparing, reluctant manner in which the legislature has hitherto 
chartered capital. What has been the effect? The capital of the state has pre 
sented a scene of management to procure these charters, & little else concerning 
the great interests of the state could obtain consideration. The stock chartered has 
been a bone of contention among our citizens whose avarice has been tempted 
by high premiums. Charter a sufficient amount to absorb the surplus capital, & 
it sinks to par value where it ought to be, & the contention ceases. Legislative busi 
ness would move on with its usual purity." 

^Assembly Doc. (1833), No. 4, p. 9; (1834), No. 4. 

69 Assembly Doc. (1833), No. 89, p. 72. 

70 Assembly Doc. (1833), No. 69, passim, No. 209, pp. 18, 19, 28. 

71 Advertiser, Nov. 19, 1828; Board of Manufacturers of Rochester, "Secretary s 
Account," Jan. 29, 1830, Charles Perkins Papers, MSS, Roch. Pub. Library. Ten 
of the twelve members paid $1.66 each to meet the bill for a six-month advertise 
ment in the New York Gazette inviting correspondence on the business prospects 
of Rochester. 

72 Roch. Republican, Dec. 27, 1831; Nov. 6, 1832. 

73 Directory (1834), P- 2 - No figure for private dwellings is available for 1827. 


vestors for the purchase of undeveloped lots at depreciated values. 74 
Moreover, the appearance of the business quarter improved rapidly as 
the old heavy fronts were torn out and "rebuilt in the light and tasteful 
manner of the city." 75 Rochester was rapidly assuming the character 
of the Flour City. 


The second important task of the period was to develop agencies to 
cope with the growing civic problems. Though reluctance to assume 
urban status was dwindling, economic, political, and religious distrac 
tions delayed the acquisition of a city charter until 1834, occasioning 
many temporary adjustments of the town s functions. The halting and 
uncertain management of its affairs contributed to the confusion of 
Rochester s formative years, measurably retarding its growth; never 
theless, civic and political independence was achieved by the mid- 

Agitation for a city charter, first defeated in 1826, revived late in 
1828 to continue unabated until finally successful six years later. 76 
That it was not a presumptuous desire was evident from a comparison 
with other cities, for the Genesee mill town had in 1827 passed the 
8000 figure at which Pittsburgh and Cincinnati gained cityhood in 
1816 and 1817 respectively, while many others attained that status with 
smaller numbers. The New York legislature, however, had but recently 
defeated Brooklyn s application, despite its larger size, 77 and there was 
little disposition to grant Rochester the favor while its own citizens were 
divided on the matter. A public meeting strongly indorsed the applica 
tion in 1829, but the protests of the opposition, who not only cherished 
the traditions of the New England town, but also feared larger taxes, 
caused the legislature to defer action. 78 

Meanwhile the trustees, confronted with numerous and insistent 
problems, were forced to attack them with the limited powers at hand. 
The streets continued to present the most serious difficulties. Sidewalks 
were ordered extended from time to time; assessments provided for new 
sewers; and the draft of citizens for labor on the streets continued. 
Typical specifications called for sewers eighteen inches square with stone 

74 Reynolds Papers for 1831 and 1832. It was at this period that Abelard 
Reynolds extended his holdings on Corn Hill and other promising sections of 
Rochester s outskirts. 

75 Advertiser, May n, 1830. 

76 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 16, 1828; Feb. 28, 1829; Advertiser and 
Telegraph, Nov. 19, 1829; Mar. 25, 1830. 

77 Ralph F. Weld, Brooklyn Village: 1816-1834 (New York, -1938), pp. 39-53. 

78 "Doings of the Trustees," Mar. 3, Nov. 17, Dec. 22, 1829; Assembly Journal 
(1832), pp. 331, 337; John F. Sly, Town Government in Massachusetts (Cam 
bridge, 1930), pp. 104-124. 









sides and the bottom and top of planks; the depth of course depended 
upon the lay of the land, for a slight pitch was necessary to Insure 
drainage. 79 Nearly two miles of such sewers and three miles of sidewalks 
were constructed by 1834, when a few blocks of macadam paving ap 
peared around the central Four Corners. 80 

The emergence of an urban center was suggested by several additional 
improvements. The first action numbering the houses on the four prin 
cipal streets occurred in December, 1829; 81 a renewed drive to compel 
lot holders to sweep the streets in front of their properties once each 
week started that year; S2 and in November, 1830, the first street lamps 
appeared. The bridge lamps of an earlier day had probably vanished, 
as seven lamps were now ordered for the various bridges^ together with 
eight others to be erected at the two major intersections east and west 
of the river. Though the number of these oil lamps doubled a year later, 
the appropriation for their maintenance was cut off in the spring of 
1833 when a desire for economy gained sway. 83 

A problem which required renewed attention was that of increasing 
and safeguarding the town s water supply. Scattered public and private 
wells comprised the chief source of drinking water, and the trustees were 
frequently called upon to install a pump in a newly dug well or to drain 
and clean one that had become foul. 84 The opening of four mineral 
springs within the limits raised the community s hopes until the water 
proved better suited for use in public bath houses than for drinking 
purposes; 85 As household needs increased, Elisha Johnson, Rochester s 
outstanding engineer, drafted a plan for supplying the community with 
fresh water. After some hesitation, application was made to the legis 
lature in 1834 for authority to organize a water company. 86 Such power 
was indeed granted under the city charter of that year, but meanwhile 
renewed petitions for public wells received favor. 87 

A more insistant aspect of the problem was the lack of adequate water 
resources for the fire fighters. The small reservoirs frequently con 
structed at strategic corners consisted of wooden hogsheads buried where 
rain water would keep them reasonably filled, or open basins rilled by 

79 "Doings of the Trustees," June 14, 1831. 

80 Henry O Reilly, Sketches oj Rochester, pp. *379-*s8o. 

81 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 8, 1829. 

^"Doings of the Trustees," May 19, 1829. The original ordinance passed on 
Dec. 10, 1828, had of course not been enforced during the winter. Advertiser, 
May 17, 1832. 

^"Doings of the Trustees," Nov. 16, 1830; Nov. 22, 1831; Apr. 30, 1833. 

^"Doings of the Trustees," May 26, June 16, Sept. 15, 29, 1829; Feb. 9, 1830; 
Aug. 9, 1 6, 1831. 

85 Rock. RepubUcan, Sept. 4, 1832; Enquirer, May 25, 1830. 

^"Doings of the Trustees," Jan. 3, 1832; Assembly Journal (1834), P- S3. 

87 "Doings of the Trustees," June 4, 1833. 


"aqueducts" of hollow logs leading from a raceway or some other 
abundant water supply. 8 Although even such modest reservoirs supplied 
a fairly satisfactory makeshift in summertime, they were of little use 
during winter months or dry seasons. Only good fortune saved the 
town from a serious conflagration in December, 1831, when several 
wooden buildings just north of the Mansion House were destroyed. As 
the fire companies exhausted the available water supply before the 
flames approached the old tavern, only a shift in wind saved that 
favorite community center and probably the central part of town 
as well* 8 

No one denied that the fire hazard was the major community concern. 
The bucket brigade was not abandoned until 1829, when the citizens, 
relieved of the necessity for keeping fire buckets, assessed themselves to 
purchase a new engine in Auburn. Three years later Rochester had its 
own manufacturer of fire engines, and by 1834 the town was equipped 
with six engines and one ladder company. 90 Lively conflicts frequently 
occurred when one company crossed the path of another as they 
hauled their engines to the scene of a fire. 91 Their best efforts usually 
sufficed only to check the spread of the blaze. 

Organized fire prevention started when each ward appointed five 
wardens, empowered to inspect all structures and to report faulty flues 
or other dangerous conditions. 92 Nevertheless, the seven fires of 1831 
were followed by sixteen in 1832.^ Fines against church sextons who 
failed to ring their bells on the outbreak of a fire were replaced in 1833 
by rewards for those first to sound the alarm. 94 But all agreed that the 
fire hazard would never be brought under control until an adequate 
supply of water was made available in all parts of town. It was 
therefore somewhat of a surprise when the greatest fire of Rochester s 
short history broke out on the night of January 25, 1834, directly 
over the river. All the wooden buildings that had crept out along 
the north side of the bridge went up in flames, with a property loss of 
nearly ^loOjOoo, 95 

Included in that holocaust was the bridge market which had occupied 
much of the trustees time and thought since its erection five years 

^"Doings of the Trustees," June 30, 1829, Jan. 10, May 25, June 30, 1830; 
Nov. 27, 1832. 

^Rack. Republican, Bee. 20, 1831. 

90 "Doings of the Trustees," July 7, Aug. n, 1829; OcL 5, 1830; Nov. 29, 
1^32; Jan. 19, June 4, 1833; Advertiser, Dec. 20, 1831. 

&1 Advertiser, June 6, 1832. 

^"Doings of the Trustees," July 12, Dec. 20, 1831. 

83 Roch. Republican, Jan. 17, 1832; Advertiser, Jan 7, 1833. The property 
destroyed in 1831 was estimated at $43,750 and that of 1832 at only $13,377. 
Insurance covered over two-thirds of these losses, 

94 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 2, 10, 1833. 

95 Gem, Feb. i, 1834; "Doings of the Trustees," Jan. 27, 1834. 


before. The rentals from its numerous stalls had early promised a hand 
some return on the investment, spurring the village to buy up the 
market stock. When the last installment was paid off in 1830, the town 
looked forward to a revenue of approximately 1,000 a year. 96 Petitions 
for a second market at the point where Buffalo Street crossed the canal 
were denied, though a supplementary market equipped with two large 
butcher stalls was provided in Frankfort. 91 With the sale of fresh fish 
or meat in other parts of town rigidly prohibited, throngs of eager 
customers made the bridge market a community asset. Plans were drawn 
for a new market shortly after the fire, but disagreement over its 
location postponed construction; in the meantime several of the market 
men erected temporary stalls on the old bridge site. 98 

The trustees took early action to provide hay scales in front of the 
Red Mill where the great loads brought in from surrounding farms 
could be weighed and quickly disposed of without obstructing the 
streets." Official wood measurers and leather inspectors were appointed 
to saf eguard these thriving activities a regulation which was especially 
useful in the case of the wood dealers whose daily loads supplied practi 
cally all the available fuel. 100 

Meanwhile, as the need for economy was balanced against the greater 
fire hazards of the winter months, the town watch was reorganized each 
November and discontinued in March. A captain of the watch, ap 
pointed to assure efficiency, kept his five assistants on duty throughout 
the night only on New Year s eve. 101 When the "watch room" in the 
Court House was required for other uses in 1833, the watch fees were 
advanced from $8 a month to fifty cents a night to enable the men to 
find their own beds. 102 

The old battle over licensing regulations continued, with those favor 
ing prohibitive fees gradually gaining the upper hand. After a public 
debate of the issue hi 1829, grocery licenses, which had ranged between 
5 and $12 the year before, increased to between $12 and $25. During 
the great revival of 1831 the fee again advanced to $30, and to $40 a 
year later when it was provided that only applicants of good character 
should be given licenses. 103 Despite the anomalous admission that good 

96 "Doings of the Trustees," Mar. 30, Apr. 30, 1830. 

97 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 30, 1828; Feb. 3, Mar. 27, May 26, 1829. 
^"Doings of the Trustees," July 7, 1829; Apr. 30, 1830; Jan. 27, Feb. n, Mar. 

19, 1834. 

""Doings of the Trustees," June 30, July 7, -1829; Mar. i, 1831. 

100 Assembly Doc. (1832), No. 23; (1833), No. 91; Rock. Republican, Jan. 31, 

101 "Doings of the Trustees," Nov. 15, 1831; Nov. 27, 1832; Mar. 26, Nov. 19, 
Dec. 31, 1833- 

102 "Doings of the Trustees," Dec. 2, 1833. 

103 "Doings of the Trustees," May 6, 12, 1829^ May 6, 1830, May 5, 7, 
May 10, 15, 1832. 


men might engage in the sale of liquor, the reform represented a victory 
for the forces of Zion, evident in the smaller number of licensed 
dealers. 104 In similar fashion license restrictions decreased the number 
of theatrical performances and excluded gambling devices, though the 
town remained open to animal shows and like exhibits. 105 

The most serious problem that confronted the community was the 
cholera epidemic of 1832. Concern began to mount in June when news 
arrived that the plague had reached Montreal. The trustees, reluctant 
to interfere in ecclesiastical matters, rejected an appeal by local clergy 
men for a day of public fasting to ward off divine wrath; 106 instead the 
defunct board of health was reorganized and Dr. Colman sent to 
Montreal to study the character and treatment of the disease. While 
there, he conferred with Canadian physicians and joined a New York 
delegation in case observation, but Dr. Colman s report that the con 
tagious character of the malady was overemphasized failed to dispel 
fears at Rochester. 107 Numerous sanitary precautions were hastily taken 
and incoming lake vessels inspected. It was over the canal from the 
East, however, that Rochester s first cholera victim arrived early that 
July. 108 

Soon the ravages of the dread plague spread terror and death through 
the community, sorely trying the spirits of the most courageous. Ap 
proximately one thousand fled the town, and many who had no place to 
go kept within doors, so that normal village functions were neglected. 
Some papers suspended publication, while the editor of the Advertiser, 
who had bravely carried on, was sorrowfully compelled to bury his 
own wife, an early victim of the scourge. 109 Neighboring bath resorts 
seized the occasion to advertise the healthful character of their establish 
ments. 110 In the general exodus two members of the board of health 
tendered their resignations. During the first month following the out 
break fifty-seven deaths were ascribed to cholera and by the middle of 
July the toll reached eleven in one day. m 

Fortunately, several heroic leaders emerged, causing the spirits of 

104 Observer? May 29, 1829 ; Ebenezer Griffin, An Address Delivered at Roches 
ter before the Monroe County Temperance Society at their Annual Meeting, Jan. 4, 
1831 (Rochester, 1831), p. 9, The 99 licenses of 1828 were reduced to 60 in 1830, 

105 "Doings of the Trustees," passim. 

106 "Doings of the Trustees," June 20, 1832. 

107 "Doings of the Trustees," June 25, 26, 1832; Dr. Anson Colman to Dr. 
Matthew Brown, Montreal, June 27, 1832, Colman Letters, Univ. Rochester; 
Rock. Republican, Aug. 7, 1832. 

108 Advertiser, June 19, 21, 26, 1832; Observer, June 20, 1832; Liberal Advo 
cate, Jury 14, 1832. 

109 jRoc&. Republican, Aug. 7, 1832; Liberal Advocate, July 26, 1832. 
110 JRoc&. Republican, Aug. 14, Sept. 4, 1832. 

XL1 JR<?cfe. RepubUcan, Aug. 21, 1832; July 12 to Aug. 12 57 deaths; n died on 
Aug. 15- 


the town to rally. Colonel Ashbel W. Riley, appointed to fill a vacancy 
on the board, assumed personal responsibility for hunting out new 
victims. When efforts to save them failed, the fearless Colonel placed the 
dead in coffins and buried the majority himself. Constable Simmons 
assumed charge of an improvised hospital in an old cooper shop where 
homeless patients were given shelter and the scant treatment available. 13 ^ 
The Rochester board of health courageously took charge of a boatload 
of immigrants which had lost five out of fifty-six passengers before 
reaching the village, but when fourteen more died at the hospital, in 
dignation was expressed against the health authorities of eastern towns 
who had refused to permit the boat to stop within their territories. The 
practice of New York and Albany philanthropists who provided im 
migrants free but crowded passage on canal boats bound for the West 
was roundly condemned as contributing to the spread of the dis 
ease. 113 

Repeated efforts were made to dispel the fear and consternation which 
cast a blight over the community. The pious assumption that only the 
dissipated would suffer soon proved false as victims appeared among 
the most respectable/ 14 but the attempt to give reassurance by showing 
that the deaths of July, 1831, had slightly exceeded those of the 
same month in I832, 115 lost its effect when the number of daily fatalities 
mounted in August. Small consolation was afforded by reports of the 
plague s ravages in other cities, though news that the situation was 
improving in Montreal came as a good omen for the early relief of 
Rochester. Indeed, after the peak of eleven deaths on August i$th, the 
number of new cases gradually declined, and the townsfolk began to 
breathe more easily early in September when the last fatality was, 
reported. 116 A total of 118 victims and approximately 400 cases had been 
recorded in the village, but the board of health took the optimistic view 
that only one out of thirty had been attacked while less than a fourth 
of these had died, many of them transients, so that the community could 
be justly thankful that most of its 12,000 citizens remained in good 
health. 117 

The town rallied quickly from its affliction, determined to meet future 
hazards with greater confidence. When an epidemic of smallpox threat 
ened late that year, the board of health took prompt measures to pro 
vide free vaccination. 118 And the next spring when a general state of 

112 Liberal Advocate, Sept. 22, 1832. 
^Rock. Republican, July 31, 1832. 

^Rock. Republican, Aug. 21, 1832; WEilliam] Pitkin to Dr. Powell Morgan, 
Rochester, Aug. 16, 1832, MS, Collected Letters, R. P. L. 
n5 Rock. Republican, Aug. 14, 1832. 
116 Rock. Republican, Sept. u, 1832; Gem, Sept. 15, 1832. 

117 Rock. Republican, Sept. n, 18, 1832. 

118 "Doings of the Trustees," Nov. 27, 1832; Advertiser, Dec. 31, 1832. 


good health was reported, the villagers paused to honor those who had 
rendered faithful service during the emergency. 11 * 

While the trustees generally found themselves overburdened, several 
important functions were beyond their control. The division of re 
sponsibility with the county in respect to poor relief and the construc 
tion or repair of bridges proved a source of inefficiency and delay. 120 
More serious was the lack of effective control over the district schools. 
Rochester likewise felt the need for improved local courts M1 and for a 
new jail, but these were the province of the county. Indeed, the village 
was still but a minor portion not as yet even an autonomous sub 
division of the county which numbered 49,862 inhabitants in 1830, 
only a fifth of them in Rochester. 

The growing complexity of the county s affairs appeared in the size 
of its expenditures as well as in their character. Special assessments for 
roads and bridges were debated at practically every meeting of the 
supervisors. The county taxes, which amounted to $17,490 for con 
tingent expenses in 1829, advanced to $21,500 by 1833, without in 
cluding numerous special assessments and other items, but the county s 
real property valuation rose even more rapidly, exceeding $8,000,000 

by 1835.^ 

Problems of poor relief were aggravated by the combined effects of 
the recession, the ravages of cholera, and the increasing number of 
destitute immigrants. As the supervisors refused to abolish the vague 
distinction between town and county poor, duplication of effort re 
sulted. Thus 390 persons received county relief within Gates and 
Brighton townships during the fiscal year 1832-1833 when 462 were 
assisted directly by these townships, while 168 from the same area were 
sheltered for a time in the county 4 poorhouse erected at Brighton in 
1826. The great majority of "cases" were attributed to intemperance, 
and approximately one third were of foreign birth. Admission to the 
poorhouse required a health certificate, and for this and other reasons 
Monroe County had the lowest per capita poorhouse admissions in the 
state. 123 Approximately a tenth were children, some of them cholera 
orphans, others abandoned by parents migrating westward. An apparent 
lack of enterprise among the immigrants, many of whom had been 

119 Gem, May 4, 1833. 

120 "Doings of the Trustees," Jan. 15, 1833. 

m Assembly Journal (1831), pp. 175, *37; (1832), pp. 251, 356; (1833), pp. 
150, 172, 972^973- 

^Proceedings of Board of Supervisors (1821-1849), pp. 76, no, 115, 142; 
Rock. Republican, Oct. 20, 1829. 

123 Samuel CMpman, Report of an Examination of the Poor Houses, Jails, etc. 
in the State of New York (Albany, 1834), pp. 36-38; Inquirer, July 31, 1832; 
Assembly Doc., (1831), No. 66E. 


parish poor in their home countries across the Atlantic, prompted the 
adoption of a labor stint on the 47-acre poor farm. Whether or not 
inmates were thus spurred to seek employment, the farm produce helped 
to keep the weekly per capita budget down to 59 cents. 124 

Possibly the most urgent problem before the supervisors was the 
construction of a new jail. Though permission to raise $5,000 for that 
purpose had been secured from the legislature in 1828, the county 
treasurer died insolvent shortly after the funds were collected, and his 
bondsmen escaped payment. A grand jury which examined the old jail 
again in 1830 condemned the arrangement that crowded debtors, de 
tention cases, and felons together around one narrow and poorly heated 
corridor. 125 When authority to raise another $5,000 was granted, a site 
was chosen on the southern tip of the island formed by the river and the 
Rochester and Montgomery race. A stone wall, constructed by the con 
victs along the southern edge of the island, afforded protection from 
floods, considerably benefitting the town as well, but the funds proving 
insufficient, a second assessment was required to finish the $12,000 jail 
in I833. 126 Built on the cell-block pattern of Auburn prison, the new 
jail, a model in its day, attracted favorable comment from numerous 
visitors. Its facilities were soon to be overtaxed, however, and even be 
fore the building was finished the inmates, numbering 279 in 1832-1833, 
began to arrive/ 27 

The civic function which most urgently called for responsible village 
supervision was that performed by the scattered district schools. County 
inspectors with scant authority bad been appointed, but the school dis 
tricts within the village limits were seriously baffled by the situation, 
for the problems in Rochester differed from those of the outlying town 
ships. Though Gates and Brighton together numbered 4085 children 
between 5 and 16 years of age in 1834, only 2490 of them attended 
public school during the year. Elsewhere in the county the attendance 
exceeded the number of children, a statistical result made possible by 
the enrollment of transients, many of whom were not present when the 
school census was taken. The still greater number of transients in 
Rochester s shifting population must have made the failure of the town 
schools even more serious than the figures revealed. 128 Only a central 
school authority could hope to cope with the problem, and that waited 
upon the grant of a city charter. 

Though the situation was alleviated by numerous private schools, 

124 Assembly Doc. (1831), No. 66E; (1833), No. 38; Advertiser, Oct. 12, 1832; 
Inquirer, Oct. 22, 1833; Assembly Doc. (1834), No. 73> P- 23. 

i* 5 Craftsman, Jan. $, 1830; Assembly Doc. (1831), No. 18. 

^Assembly Doc. (1832), No. 13. 

127 Chipman, p. 37. 

128 "Annual Report of the Commissioners of Common Schools," Assembly Doc. 
(1834), No. 9A. 


the absence of regulation and the fleeting character of these ventures 
decreased their usefulness. The Female Charitable Society s school was 
more stable ? and two additional charity schools under church auspices 
supplemented the work of the Sabbath schools, yet many children es 
caped formal instruction. 129 In order to make up for inadequate school 
ing among the older boys, an Institute for Practical Education was 
established where poor lads could earn their support in the intervals 
between classes. 130 The Rochester Institute, in line with a reform popular 
at the time, functioned for nearly two years with success until a sudden 
drop in the price of the barrels, which the boys turned out in the ad 
joining cooperage, deprived the school of its major income, bringing 
the experiment to an untimely end. 131 

The most forthright attempt to provide a school adapted to the needs 
of the growing town was made by the trustees of Brighton Districts 4 
and 14 under the special charter granted by the legislature to the 
Rochester High School in 1827. Unfortunately the construction cost ex 
ceeded the fund available by $3000, and as popular opposition fore 
stalled an additional tax, the trustees, after three fairly successful years, 
determined to lease the building. 132 When the Reverend Gilbert Morgan 
reopened the school as the Rochester Seminary in 1832, a staff of nine 
teachers attracted over 300 scholars and provided Rochester with one 
of the best schools in western New York. Most of its 350 students in 
1833 were enrolled free of charge from the two Brighton districts in 
lieu of rent, but 106 were graded in the higher branches or special 
classes where they paid fees totalling $1681 for the year. Though the 
Regents contributed $318.46, the largest grant made to any academy in 
the state, the combined funds failed to cover the salary budget. Difficult 
times lay ahead. 133 


While demands for a city charter came from many sources, numerous 
political complications delayed action. As the center of Antimasonry, 

^Observer, Jan. 9, 1830; Blake McKelvey, "On the Educational Frontier," 
R. H. S., Pub., XVI, 30-34. 

130 Assembly Journal (1832), pp. 68, 279, 532; Assembly Doc. (1832), No. 2, 
13. See also Gilbert H. Barnes and D. L. Dumond, eds., Letters of Theodore 
Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimke Weld, and Sarah Grimke (New York, 1934), pp. 
i7n, sin, 56-57, 70. 

*** Rock. Republican, July 26, Sept. 6, 1831; Advertiser, Nov. 17, 18, 1831; 
Inquirer, Apr. 3, May 8, 1832. 

^Advertiser and Telegraph, Feb. 2, 4, 1830; Assembly Journal (1831), pp. 47, 
100, 252; Advertiser, May 3, Sept 4, 1832. 

133 "Annual Report of the Regents," Senate Doc. (1833), No. 70; Catalogue of 
the Officers and Students of the Rochester Seminary (Rochester, 1833) ; W. J. 
Gifford, History of the Development of the N. 7. State High School System, Aim. 
Report of N. Y. Education Dept. for 1919 (Albany, 1922), pp. 101-103; Mary 
B. A. King, Looking Backward (New York, 1870), pp. 127-128. 


Rochester enjoyed no special favors from the Regency-controlled 
legislature, and although that body stood ready in 1832 to grant a city 
charter similar to those of Buffalo and Utica, it would not agree with 
Rochester s carefully laid plans to safeguard local autonomy. Hence 
the charter was postponed another two years. 

The political balance in Rochester remained so close in the early 
thirties that every measure was carefully examined for partisan implica 
tions. John C. Spencer, a brilliant Canandaigua attorney, was invited 
to draft a charter for Rochester in the hope that an outsider with 
moderate National Republican leanings would be unaffected by local 
rivalries. But soon after the charter was submitted early in 1832 
complications began to appear. As Spencer had by this time joined 
the Antimasonic party, Ms draft was suspect as far as the two Jack- 
sonian trustees were concerned. One veteran trustee primarily in 
terested in an adequate charter. Dr. Matthew Brown, Antimason though 
he was, sought to incorporate necessary Democratic amendments in 
order to speed the charter s adoption. The same sentiment, evident at 
a public meeting, finally sent the slightly modified Spencer draft to 
Albany, accompanied, however, with petitions both supporting and 

* "fli. 

opposing its passage. 

Political considerations found renewed expression in the legislative 
debate. Though the general practice of the day called for a recorder 
appointed by the governor and justices chosen by the aldermen, the 
proposed charter provided for the local election of all officers. As the 
recorder normally sat with the aldermen, the Regency jealously guarded 
its indirect vote in the Rochester council by reinserting the customary 
provision. The Antimasonic minority, unable to block this revision, did 
force a compromise which sheared the recorder of influence in the 
council. Many opposed the charter because of the increased taxing au 
thority conferred on the council, and accordingly the original draft, 
fixing $8000 as the maximum annual tax, was revised, reducing the 
general maximum to $5000, with additions for specified purposes. 
Buffalo and Utica, each with smaller populations, permitted the $8000 
maximum, but Rochester felt relieved to hear of its charter restraints. 
Although these modifications were accepted by the opposing factions, a 
deadlock occurred over the selection of local justices, defeating the 
charter at the last moment. 135 

Rochester was not prepared for this blow. Arrangements for local 

134 "Doings of the Trustees," Jan. 17, 31, Feb. 7, 14, 15, 21, 1832; Advertiser, 
Feb. 3, Mar. 16, 1832; "John C. Spencer," Dictionary of American Biography, 
XVII, 449-450- 

135 Assembly Journal (1832), pp. 331, 337, 414, 724, 829; Senate Journal (1832), 
PP. 33i, 354, 362, 373, 396; Rock. Republican, Apr. 10, -1832; Advertiser, Apr. 26, 
27, 30, 1832. 


elections had already been made by the trustees, a map of the expected 
city tract was completed, and the county assessors were calculating town 
schedules which exempted Rochester property from Brighton and 
Gates. 136 Since Buffalo had gained a charter without difficulty, the 
locally dominant Antimasons were held responsible for obstructing 
Rochester s aspirations. The reaction did not counterbalance other in 
fluences that November, but the next May and again in November the 
Antimasons lost all contests in Rochester/ 37 Despite renewed applica 
tion for a slightly modified charter, disagreement over the selection of 
justices again blocked passage. 138 This time the Antimasons sought to 
make political capital out of the Regency s refusal to allow the "filthy 
mechanics" of Rochester to elect their justices; 139 many citizens, how 
ever, impatient for the greater services of a city government, suspected 
the obstructionists of being chiefly concerned to protect their properties 
from the burden of city taxes. 

As the demand for a charter could no longer be denied, a sufficient 
number of votes was secured in April, 1834, to pass the bill almost as 
originally submitted two years before. Not only were the justices to be 
appointed, but the recorder had his customary powers, and an $8000 
tax limit was reinserted. 140 Under the new definition of Rochester s limits 
4,819 acres were included within the bounds, practically four times the 
former village area. 141 Though few citizens were added by this annexa 
tion, since undeveloped subdivisions comprised the outlying portions 
of the city tract, the population had now reached i2,252. 142 

The organization of the first city government {Drought the local 
political struggle to a head. With popular interest in the Morgan con 
troversy flagging, the Antimasons sought a new grievance, as their fight 
over the charter illustrated. Elsewhere in the state close ties were de 
veloping between this faction and the National Republicans or Clay 
supporters, while in Rochester they were drawn together by the 
temperance issue as well as by a common desire to see the new taxing 
power placed in moderate hands. An anti- Jackson or Whig ticket was 
accordingly named to oppose the "Mortgage Party [who] are pre 
paring for a desperate conflict." "Whiskey," one editor declared, runs 

138 "Doings of the Trustees," Apr. 26, 1832, Oct. 29, 1833 J Proceedings of the 
Board of Supervisors (1821-1849), pp. 91, 99. 

"^Advertiser, Nov. 23, 1832; May 7, 1833; Inquirer, Nov. 12, 1833. 
188 "Doings of the Trustees," Jan. 9, Feb. 22, 1833; Senate Journal (1833), 
pp. 91, 118, 175, 180, 193, 198, 265, 308, 326. 

139 Democrat, Mar. 27, 1834. 

140 Assembly Journal (1834), PP- 4*j 77) *66, 816; Senate Journal (1834), pp. 
241-242, 321. 

141 Advertiser, Dec. 28, 1830,* Rock. Republican, Nov. 6, 1832; W. Earl Weller, 
"The Expanding Boundaries of Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XIV, 175-178. 

142 Directory (1834) , p. 5. See the Elisha Johnson map included in the directory. 


like water in Dublin [lie Irish quarter]. We intend to be ready for 
them," 14 * 

The WMgs proved successful electing a full skte of aldermen^ who 
proceeded to name Jonathan Child, son-in-law of Colonel Rochester, 
first mayor. At a celebration held on Brown s Island overlooking the 
falls/ 44 the "Lord Mayor" and old Judge Strong, their bitter differences 
of the previous decade forgotten, delivered speeches, and many cold 
hams were consumed, together with much hot coffee, as one opposition 
paper scornfully noted. The new aldermen should recollect,, remarked 
the Liberal Advocate, "that times have changed; and that [the] somber 
cloud that overshadowed this region during the visitations of Finney 
and Burchard is nearly dissipated." But the same editor was soon 
forced to report that "the work of regeneration has commenced a war 
of extermination against Barber poles and tavern signs" 145 


The city of 1834 with its newly acquired charter, its 1300 houses 
scattered out over a wide area, its mill wheels rambling again with 
renewed optimism, reflected still another influence the stirring re 
ligious revivals of the early thirties. It was not without point that a 
Scottish visitor 146 of 1831 described Rochester as the "perfect example 
of progress from stumps to steeples," for that was the era s outstanding 
cycle of achievement. Fourteen steeples called attention to some ele 
gant structures by 1834, but it was the new dynamic spirit rather than 
the growth of institutional equipment that characterized and animated 
the community during the early thirties. 

Rochester s position as the outstanding community of the Northwest 
during the kte twenties attracted several worthy clerics. Joseph Penney 
was respected for his learning; Henry J. Whitehouse at St. Luke s was 
loved for his modest piety, while the impassioned sermons of Joel 
Parker were making Third Presbyterian the focal center of stirring 
events. Oliver C. Comstock, a former congressman, provided the Baptist 
Church and the Sunday School Union with able leadership, while Glezen 
Fillmore, brother of the only Antimason to reach the White House, 
was building up the Methodist congregation to fill the largest church in 
town. 147 Yet it was from the fervid response of lay members that the 
revival movement developed, and no doubt the gloomy aftermath of 

143 > emocra ,t f Apr. 29, 1834. 

i** Democrat, June 10, 14, 1834. 

145 Uberal Advocate, June 14, 21, 1834. 

146 Adam Ferguson, Tour of Canada and . . . the United States, p. 173. 

147 "Joel Parker," Dictionary of American Biography, XTV, 231; "Henry J. 
Whitehouse," National Cyclopedia of American Biography , XI, 33; "Oliver Com 
stock," Biographical Dictionary of the American Congress (Washington, 1928), 
p. 837. 


Rochester s boom greatly contributed to the emotional outburst. For a 
time the movement seemed to be an advanced phase of the politico- 
journalistic furor of 1828 and 1829, but its energies, turning toward 
ideological rather than partisan reforms, produced more far-reaching 
social than political effects. 

Curiously enough, it was the foolhardy leap of Sam Patch which 
touched off the emotional powder keg in Rochester. News of the spread 
of revivals in the East and of a "refreshing shower 7 at Lima up the 
valley had brought joy to local zealots and, together with the powerful 
preaching of Joel Parker, had stirred enthusiasm for Bible distribution, 
temperance, and Sabbath reform. Annual "concerts of prayer" were 
held in the Court House Square, 148 yet mirthful activities retained their 
hold in Rochester until the Sunday following Patch s fatal leap, when 
Elder Josiah Bissell admonished the members of the Third Presbyterian 
Sunday School for taking part in the tragedy. An awful feeling de 
scended upon his hearers as he warned that all who by their attendance 
had encouraged the jumper would be held accountable at the Last 
Judgment. 149 With the misfortunes besetting the Masonic brethren for 
their thoughtless participation in secret and evil associations fresh in 
mind, dire punishments were to be expected for this new offense. It did 
not require an active imagination to connect the unaccountable languor 
in Rochester s economic affairs with divine displeasure. 

Fired with almost fanatical convictions, Elder Bissell emerged as the 
dominant personality in the community. Not only was he a patron of 
the Observer, that unrivalled mouthpiece of local religious zealots, but 
he was one of the moving spirits in the Antimasonic agitation, as well 
as the founder and chief backer of the six-day stage company and the 
six-day packet line. The chief pillar in the Third Presbyterian Church 
and the most active member of local Bible and tract societies, BisselPs 
influence proved far-reaching. 150 Early and large investments in east- 
side property had brought rich returns, but he overextended his re 
sources in the "Pioneer" stage and packet ventures. 151 With the slump 
in real estate values at Rochester, Bissell faced a critical financial 
prospect. Yet obstacles in one field only prompted him to plunge more 
boldly in new directions. When his six-day stage failed to secure the 
mail contract, a widespread campaign was organized to induce Congress 
to stop the mails on the Sabbath. 152 And when that measure was de 
feated, conferences were held with church leaders in New York and 

148 Observer^ Mar. 3, 1827. 

149 King, Looking Backward, pp. 117-118; Joseph Penney, House of Mirth. 

150 "The Bissells, Father and Son," R. H. S. } Pub., VI, 333-335; Monroe County 
Bible Society Record Book, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

151 Observer, Feb. 22, Aug. 22, 1828; Craftsman, Apr, 21, 1829. 

^Gem, Dec. 12, 1829; Observer, Nov. 26, Dec. 12, 1828; Jan. 15, 1830; Crafts 
man, Mar. 23, 1830. 


Philadelphia at which plans for a national Christian Party were dis 
cussed, attracting the interest of certain Antimasons who already felt 
the need for a more popular national issue. 153 

Yet BisselFs personality was too volatile to provide the community 
with stable leadership. Moreover, he made enemies too readily. 154 Not 
only the unregenerate tavern folk and worldly-wise readers of the 
Craftsman, but respectable church people were frequently antagonized 
by his outspoken condemnation of all who patronized the seven-day 
stage even on weekdays. Pioneerism the policy of dealing only with 
strictly Christian enterprises could be carried too far, as those who 
organized an anti-Pioneer ball at a nearby Chili tavern apparently felt. 155 
When the Reverend William James of the Second Presbyterian Church 
ventured to ride on the regular stage instead of the Pioneer Line, thus 
incurring BisselFs disfavor, a controversy full of portent for Rochester 
developed. Disturbing the relations between James and his parishioners, 
Bissell advised the pastor, formerly his close friend, that his flock de 
sired a change. 156 But Joseph Penney of First Church rose before the 
Presbytery to protest against such intermeddling. He would not, he 
declared, sit by silently and watch William James, who "does not draw 
well in BisselPs harness," be replaced by the Reverend Asa Mahan from 
Pittsford, for that would give the zealous Elder "an obedient team 
Mahan and Parker." 157 Such autocratic control must be avoided, Penney 
declared, adding, 

I regard [Elder Bissell] as an active man, prosecuting everytMng lie com 
mences with untiring zeal and energy. But there is no distinction with Mm in 
Ms beneficial or injurious purposes, all are the same if he has enlisted in 
them; they are pursued with the same spirit, right or wrong. ... I do not 
impute his measures to wicked motives; but to a willful course, deprecated 
by many, lamented by all, and perverting the influence of the church. 158 

So acrimonious did this controversy become that the pastors involved 
soon sought other charges. James was the first to leave, followed shortly 
by Parker who removed to New York where he became a central figure 
in Finney s Free Church movement. 159 Joseph Penney enjoyed a visit to 
his old home in Northern Ireland. William Wisner was brought from 
Ithaca to take the Second Church, and Charles G. Finney was per- 

^Craftsman, Mar. 3, 10, 1829; J. G. Bennett, "Diary," Folio 19. 

154 Observer, Mar. 12, 20, 1829. 

155 Observer, Jan. i$, 1830. 

156 Ferdinand Ward to Henrietta Ward, 1830, Clarke Letters, in possession of 
Mrs. Buell Mills, Rochester, N. Y. 

187 Marian was later first president of Oberlin College. "Asa Mahan," Dictionary 
of American Biography, XII, 208-209. 
158 Craftsman, Mar. 9, 1830. 
139 Observer, June 18, 1830; Gilbert H. Barnes, Antislavery Impulse, pp. 3-16, 



stiaded to come from New York to fill the Third Church and try to 
revive harmony within the Presbyterian fold at Rochester. 160 

Fiimey s reputation was already well established. His remarkable 
successes in central New York five years before had been repeated at 
Philadelphia and Boston and finally in New York itself. To his earlier 
a new measures/ 7 such as the "anxious seat" and the "Holy Band," had 
been added a vision of "disinterested benevolence" and practical Christi 
anity which was finding abundant expression in the social causes backed 
so generously by the rich Tappan brothers in New York. 161 Rochester 
likewise had its patron of moral reforms in Elder Bissell, sometimes 
compared with Arthur Tappan/ 62 and it was at BisselPs home that 
Finney was entertained. 

Tall and grave in appearance, with a dynamic spirit and logical 
argument, Finney soon commanded the respect of sober church folk 
in Rochester. Laymen were pleased by his simple solution of the old 
doctrinal debate over the relative merits of faith and works. "Genuine 
faith/ he declared, "always results in good works and is itself a good 
work." 163 Four short weeks after Ms arrival, the Observer rejoiced that 
"Christians of different denominations are seen mingling together on 
the Sabbath and bowing at the same altar in the weekly prayer meet 
ings." 164 Indeed, the work of regeneration was "refreshing" the entire 
community as Finney, preaching three sermons each Sabbath and con 
ducting four or more services during the week, visited the different 
Presbyterian churches in turn and sometimes the Baptist and Methodist 
chapels as well. The JBoly Band of his assistants enlisted the coopera 
tion of pastors from neighboring villages, while the fiery young zealot, 
Theodore Weld, came on from the East to lend aid. 165 

Positive results soon began to appear. Finney s unclerical garb and 
lawyer-like arguments disarmed many determined skeptics, while stu 
dents at the High School became distracted by an irresistible concern 

. Republican, July 26, 1831; Josiah Bissell to Rev. C. G. Finney, 
Rochester, Sept. 15, 1829, photostat in BIssel autograph folder, R. P. L. For the 
Reverends Parker, Wisner, and Mahan, see Letters of T. D. Weld, pp. son, 6gn, 7gn. 

161 Barnes, Antislavery Impulse, pp. 1-28. Perhaps unwittingly Finney was 
carrying forward the line of reasoning advanced by Jonathan Edwards several 
decades before when he sought to harmonize Calvinist doctrine with the new 
evangelistic trends of the Great Awakening of his day; see Ola E. Winslow, 
Jonathan Edwards (New York, 1940), pp. 292-312, espec 308-309. 

162 Bennett, "Diary," Folio 19. 

163 Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion (6th ed., New York, 
zS&S)* PP. 7-15- Although this and later quotations are from a series delivered in 
New York a few years later, Finney s doctrines were already clearly elaborated 
before his first arrival in Rochester. See the brief report of his Rochester sermon 
on "Faith and Works" in Observer, Nov. 12, 1830. 

^^ Observer, Oct. 15, 1830. 

165 Observer, Oct. 22, 29, 1830; Jan. 7, 1831; Gem, Apr. 16, 1831. 


for their souls. So great was the assemblage on one occasion at First 
Church that the weight of the balconies spread the walls, releasing one 
of the rafters and causing a stampede for the doors. 166 The work con 
tinued without interruption, however, until some four hundred new 
families were drawn into the fold. 167 The converts included several 
destined to play vital roles in the town s history: Samuel D. Porter, a 
young man who emerged as a leading reformer during the forties, Alvah 
Strong, who soon became a chief pillar of the Baptist Church, and later 
of the University as well, and young Henry B. Stanton, destined to 
marry Elizabeth Cady and himself play a prominent role in the years 
ahead. 168 


A major result of Finney s preaching was the fresh stimulus imparted 
to numerous humanitarian activities. His equalitarian faith that all 
men can be saved not only gave reassurance to many individuals pre 
viously baffled by Calvinist determinism, but also gratified the psycho 
logical needs of others suffering from the hardships of Rochester s first 
recession. Preoccupation with worldly affairs was branded, together with 
other forms of selfishness, as a major sin. But Finney, never content 
with the passive repentance of sinners, regarded conversion as merely 
the beginning of a Christian life. Charity, temperance, tolerance, and 
humility were held up as the true evidences and proper works for 
Christian men. Though his arguments presented little that was new 
or especially profound, backed by Ms evangelistic fervor, they released 
and coordinated the moral energies of a community already throbbing 
with optimistic individualism. 169 

The temperance movement had previously gained considerable head 
way. With at least four local temperance societies organized in the late 
twenties, crowds attended the annual meetings of the Monroe County 
Temperance Society at the Court House. 170 Early in 1830 it was an 
nounced that ten professed Christians of Rochester, though "busily 

166 Advertiser, Oct. 9, Dec. 24, 1830; H. Pomeroy Brewster, "The Magic of a 
Voice," R. H. S. r Pub., IV, 280-282 ; King, Looking Backward, pp. 119-127. 

^Observer, May 31, 1831; "Bradford King Diary," Oct-Dec., 1830, MS, 
University of Rochester. See Robert S. Fletcher, A History of OberUn College 
(Oberlin, 1943), pp. 17-24, for a fuH account of this revival. 

168 Rev. Augustus H. Strong, "Historical Sketch," Centennial Celebration: 
First Baptist Church (Rochester, 1918), pp. 12-13; "H. B. Stanton s Recollec 
tions," Samson Scrapbook (Studies in Local History), pp. 27-28, Roch. Hist. 
Soc.; Letters of T. D. Weld, pp. Sin, 69-71- 

169 C. G. Finney, Lectures to Professing Christians (New York, 1837), pp. 
410-425; Barnes, Antislavery Impulse, p. n; Ralph H. Gabriel, The Course of 
American Democratic Thought (New York, 1940), pp. 32-38; Carl R. Fish, 
The Rise of the Common Man (New York, 1927), pp. 1-12; Merle Curti, 
The Growth of American Thought (New York, 1943), pp. 310-313. 

170 Observer, Sept. 25, 1829; Jan. 8, 1830, 


engaged in worldly affairs, were ready to talk in favor of every good 
object , particularly temperance." m Colonel Riley, Jonathan Child, 
Levi Ward, and E. F. Marshall, the Hicksite Quaker, took a prominent 
part in the agitation, supported most zealously by Samuel Chipman, 
editor of the Observer, and spokesman for Josiah Bissell. 172 When a 
meeting in February discussed the dire plight of the unemployed poor, 
the Observer, regretting that "the principal cause . . . intemperance" 
had not even been mentioned, admitted that "the poor are no less 
deserving our attention and assistance because they are reduced to 
wretchedness and want by legalized Drunkard Manufactories. " 173 

One local zealot, rejoicing that "the value of tavern stands in 
Rochester and its neighborhood has declined during the last three years 
due to temperance societies," added, "Indeed, it has become so 
unfashionable to drink that people are ashamed to be seen calling for 
liquor at the bars of our public houses. Four years ago the situation 
was the reverse!" 174 After the earnest appeals of Finney and Weld it 
was reported that, while twenty of Rochester s confirmed drunkards had 
met death during the year as a result of the vice, twenty-one others 
had signed the pledge. 175 When numerous liquor dealers sold out or 
dumped their stock, half the groceries on the east side joined the 
temperance band. 176 A full-time agent was appointed to distribute 
temperance tracts, while Everard Peck issued the first Temperance 
Almanack in the country in 183 1. 177 Yet the extreme position of total 
abstinence advocates aroused sufficient resistance to defeat a first at 
tempt to prohibit all licenses. 17 * The issue reappeared suddenly in 
September, 1833, when a local constable was killed by an angry 
drunkard. 179 For a time new licenses were refused and the issue over 
shadowed all others in the first city election. Meanwhile, the Monroe 
County Temperance Society s affiliated organizations within the county 
had grown to twenty, totalling over 3000 members. 180 

Several other reform movements appeared in Rochester during these 
years. The Observer sponsored an Anti-Tobacco Society, apparently 
with little success, in 1829; 181 an anti-war lecture was delivered by a 
representative of the Massachusetts Peace Society, 182 while antislavery 

171 Observer, Feb. 26, Mar. 5, 1830. 

172 Craftsman, Sept. 29, 1830. 
J 7 * Observer, Feb. 19, 1830. 

174 Griffin, Address Delivered at Rochester, p. 9. 

175 Observer, Jan. 7, 1831. 

176 Observer, May 21, 1830. 

177 Observer, Oct. 15, 1830; Temperance Almanack for 1831, 1832, 1833, 1834. 
Printed by E. Peck, Rochester. 

178 Liberal Advocate, Apr. 21, May 19, 1832. 181 Observer, Oct. 23, 1829. 
Inqwrer f Sept. 17, -1833. ^Inquirer, Aug. 6, 1833. 
180 Enquirer, June 14, 1831. 


agitation began to receive local attention in 1833.^ Likewise from the 
East came a new concern for depraved females, stimulating the organiza 
tion of a Moral Reform Society, and prompting the Reverend William 
Wisner to denounce the double standard. 184 A controversy destined to 
stir the community in later years first appeared when several women 
ventured to speak out in weekly testimonial meetings ? rousing the 
criticism of conservative elders. 185 Yet a choice "Circle" of zealous men 
and women, meeting frequently at sunrise prayer services, nurtured a 
strong spirit of perfectionism and a desire for "deeper works of grace." 186 
A Boatmen s Mutual Relief Society, organized by canallers seeking to 
better their lot, 187 received less attention than the Boatmen s Friend 
Society, an organization sponsored by those who wished to improve the 
morals of the "canaille." Inspired by the example of the Seamen s Friend 
Society in the East, a Bethel chapel was proposed, only to be deferred 
by the combined opposition of boatmen and forwarders. 188 

Renewed zeal activated the Sabbath schools and missionary societies. 
The seventh annual convention of the Monroe County Sunday School 
Union crowded the Court House with delegates from in schools, 28 of 
them reporting classes throughout the year. Over 1,000 teachers gave 
instruction to more than 15,000 children and to some 5,000 students 
above 16 years of age. The 20 schools in Rochester numbered 400 
teachers, 2,000 students, and an estimated 5,000 children. 1 * 9 The work 
of the missionary societies appeared in the mounting sums raised for 
that purpose. Elder Bissell, the most active local agent of the American 
Board of Foreign Missions, reported the receipts for six months in 1829 
as $325.57, while a similar period in 1831 brought in $574.6o. 190 Local 
interest in the cause was stimulated from time to time by the letters of 
Delia Stone, daughter of Isaac W. Stone, who had left for the Sandwich 
Islands in 1827, two years before a Rochester publisher brought out the 
first translation of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John in the 
Hawaiian language. Home missions likewise attracted support as funds 
were raised to send pastors among the Indians and into the new settle 
ments of the West 191 

183 Advertiser, Nov. 16, 29, Dec. 21, 1833; The Rights of Man, Apr. 26, 1834. 

184 Observer, Nov. 9, 1833 ; Rev. William Wisner, The Importance of Keeping 
the Heart (Rochester, 1834). 

185 Observer, Jan. 20, 183-1. 

186 Elisabeth Selden Spencer Eaton to Lieutenant Amos Eaton, Rochester, 
Apr. ii, 16, 20, 23, 1833; Feb. 22, 1834; Elisabeth Selden Spencer Eaton Letters, 
courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth Selden Rogers, New York City. 

187 Observer, Dec. 29, 1830; Jan. i, Apr. 7, 1831; Liberal Advocate, Apr. 21, 1832. 

188 Observer, Aug. 6, 1830; Liberal Advocate, May 19, T832. 

189 Seventh Report of the Monroe Sunday School Union (Rochester, 1831). 

190 Observer, Sept. 11, 1829, July 14, 1831. 

191 Observer, Oct. 13, 1829; Apr. 2, 1830; Edward R. Foreman, "Hawaiian Bible 
Printed in Rochester/ R. H. S., Pub., XIV, 316-31:8. 


A renewed attempt developed in the early thirties to provide Rochester 
with a suitable institute for the edification of adults. Though the 
Franklin Institute of the mid-twenties, split asunder by the Antimasonic 
controversy, struggled along in a moribund fashion until i833, 192 most 
of its leaders withdrew in June, 1829, to found the Rochester Athenaeum. 
When the aged Colonel Rochester became the Athenaeum s first presi 
dent, a hall on the second floor of the Arcade was made available by 
Abelard Reynolds. 193 A favorable charter, secured from the legislature, 
permitted the collection of funds for a library through annual five 
dollar fees. The dues unfortunately restricted the membership, which 
numbered only 130 in 1834, but a library of some 400 volumes, a news 
paper exchange that secured the current issues of most Eastern papers, 19 * 
and frequent meetings afforded some opportunity for the intellectual 
development of favored townsmen. An affiliated organization, known 
as the Young Men s Society, was formed in 1833 and welcomed to the 
rooms of the Athenaeum. Dr. Levi Ward, the town s leading patron of 
educational projects, became president of the Athenaeum sometime after 
Col. Rochester s death, and several of the latter s 84 books were pre 
sented to that institution. The inventory of Elder BisselFs estate re 
ported 128 volumes plus 29 school books. Judging from the titles ad 
vertised by the two local bookstores and Moore s circulating library, not 
to mention the output of the local press, interested townsmen did not 
lack reading material. 196 

To each of these activities the Finney revival brought increased 
popular support. The twin virtues, charity and temperance, prospered, 
but their less favored sister, tolerance, developed a distorted character. 
Yet Josiah Pierson was moved to rejoice over the signs of the millennium 
evident in the new cordiality between several of the Protestant churches: 

The minor points, on which the Christian world 

Were set at variance, much, in former days, 

Had all grown obsolete. No Methodist, 

Nor Presbyterian, now, nor Churchman, high 

Or low, nor Covenanter Baptist none 

Qaim d preference for his creed. The antique phrase, 

"Denomination" long had been expung d, 

And "friends," and "enemies" describ d the whole 

Of the great family of man. 196 

192 Advertiser, Nov. 29, 1833. 

103 Craftsman, June 23, 30, 1829. 

194 Advertiser, Jan. 16, 1832. 

1&5 BIake McKelvey, "Early Library Developments," R. H. S., Pub., XVI, 29-31. 
I am indebted to Mrs. Alice T. Sutton for checking the inventories of numerous 
early Rochesterians in the Surrogate s Court. 

196 Rev. Josiah Pierson, Millennium 3 A Poem in Five Books (Rochester, 1831), 
p. 67. 


The battle line between truth and error was being reformed to take 
advantage of America s cultural contours. Thus the Observer, having 
exhausted the possibilities of the old disputes between faith and works 
and over the merits of revivals, decided in the summer of 1830 to seek 
new issues on which the principal Protestant churches could unite. 197 
Controversies of the sort were at hand, for the Universalist and Uni 
tarian heresies had now reached Rochester. Despite frequent attacks on 
their doctrines, these small dissident groups leased the Court House for 
services on the Sabbath until the Antimasons, capturing control of the 
board of supervisors, terminated the arrangement, 198 Possibly the large 
contribution of Connecticut and western Massachusetts to the city s 
population the fact that seven of the thirteen college graduates living 
in Rochester in 1830 were Yale men while none hailed from Harvard 
may have accounted in part for the unpopularity of the Unitarians, 
though the chief attack came from those who felt little more sympathy 
for the scientific stirrings at Yale. After struggling along for a time, 
the Unitarian society shortly dropped from view. 199 

The Observers ire was most frequently roused by the thriving con 
gregation at St. Patrick s. A lengthy article on "Popery," signed "Re- 
publicus," stimulated an indignant reply from the Reverend Michael 
McNamara, printed in the Advertiser, asking the identity of "Re- 
publicus" so that the issue could be discussed frankly in the open. The 
Observer reprinted the reply together with a second article by "Re- 
publicus," and a regular column of "Posers for Papists" ran for several 
months; but Father McNamara did not deign to take further public 
notice of his anonymous adversary. 200 The growth of the Catholic society 
continued unabated, supported as it was by the increasing number of 
Irish and German townsfolk. A stone church in the Gothic style soon 
replaced the earlier modest chapel. 201 The cooperation of the resident 
priest was welcomed from time to time in the temperance societies, 
while in 1832, when cholera threatened the town, the Reverend J. F. 
McGerry, successor to Father McNamara, joined with the other clergy 
of the village in a day of fasting and prayer. 202 

Perhaps the most explosive battle of the period was that fought by 
the Observer against the succession of worldly-wise editors who strug- 

197 Observer, May 28, June n, 1830. 

358 Craftsman, Mar. 10, 1829; Advertiser, Oct. 31, 1829; Observer, Nov. 5, 
1830; Pitt Morse, Sermons in Vindication of Universalism in reply to . . . Joel 
Parker of Rochester (Watertown, 1831). 

199 Rev. Orlo J. Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism in Rochester," 
R. H. S., Pub., XH, 257-291. 

200 Observer, Apr. 16, 1830; also subsequent issues. 

201 Enquirer, Sept. 15, 1829; Advertiser, Sept. 16, 1829; Directory (1834), p. 9. 

202 Advertiser, June 21, 1832; Rev. Frederick J. Zwierlein, "One Hundred \ ears 
of Catholicism in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., Xin, 194-197. 


gled for a foothold In Rochester. The literature of "Bobby" Owen and 
"Fanny" Wright was circulating through the area, endangering the 
minds of the young, as the Observer warned, expressing joy when 
Orestes A. Brownson gave up the attempt to establish a Fanny Wright 
paper in nearby LeRoy. 203 Rochester soon had Its own papers of this 
variety, and though most were fleeting, one or another of them proved 
a fairly constajit annoyance to the pious editors of the Observer. The 
first, Plain Truth? 4 was published semi-monthly during the summer of 
1828 by the booksellers Marshall and Dean, but its attempts "to un 
mask the frauds and crimes committeed under the guise of Bible, mis 
sionary, and other religious societies" quickly brought its downfall. 
The Spirit of the Age, published by two editors from Canandaigua, was 
advertised as semi-literary and semi-reform in character, while the re 
vived Paul Pry featured striking bits of gossip best printed anony 
mously. 205 

More important was the Craftsman, founded and maintained as a 
defender of Masonry, but equally valiant in championing other un 
popular causes. The editor, Elijah J. Roberts, crossed swords not only 
with the Observer, but also with O Reilly on the Republican. The latter s 
desire to see the Antimasonic controversy die after the surrender of the 
local Masonic charters was not shared by Roberts, who demanded a 
complete vindication of the fraternity. Friction developed again when 
the Republican and the Craftsman each accused the other of turning 
the Mutual Association and the imprisonment-for-debt issue to political 
ends. 206 In any case, O Reilly emerged as the local Jacksonian leader, 
while Roberts, having failed in his successive tussles with Weed of the 
Anti-Masonic Enquirer, Chipman of the Observer, and O Reilly of the 
Republican, left for Buffalo in 1831 at the end of a two-year struggle. 207 

Disapproval of the fanaticism engendered by revivals found expres 
sion in a public meeting at McCracken s Inn in January, 1831. Between 
six and seven hundred persons gathered to protest laws against "hunting, 
fishing, sporting and playing" on the Sabbath, as well as the additional 
restraints advocated by the Pioneers. The Friends of Liberal Principles, 
claiming -an increase in numbers over similar gatherings in earlier years, 
condemned the practice of imprisonment for debt, the requirement of 

203 Observer, Sept. 17, Nov. 26, 1830; see Leopold, Robert Dale Owen, pp. 65- 
102; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Orestes A. Brownson, A Pilgrim s Progress 
(Boston, 1939). 

^^ Album, Apr. 8, 1828; Craftsman, Mar. 31, 1829. 

205 Craftsman, Mar. 31, Oct. 13, 1829. 

206 Craftsman, Sept. 24, Oct. 13, 1829. 

207 Observer, June 5, 1829; Enquirer, June 15, 1830; Advertiser, Jan. 27, 1830; 
Democrat, Jan. 10, 1843; Hamilton, The Country Printer, pp. 294-295. After two 
struggling years in Buffalo, Roberts moved on to Detroit where he enjoyed a more 
successful career. 


religious oaths in legal matters, and warned against the far-reaching 
activities of Bible and tract societies. 206 The proposed National Christian 
Party was branded a threat to the liberties of the people. 200 But the 
death of Josiah Bissell a few months later 21 removed the chief Rochester 
proponent of the more extreme reform measures, while the conclusion 
of Finney s revival at the same time provided a sorely needed breathing 
spell for both sides. 

Yet the MI was not of long duration. The more strictly political 
journals, preparing for the coming election, sought to avoid controversy 
with the Observer, which continued its crusade unabated, but a new 
paper, the Liberal Advocate, invaded the town early in 1832 as an 
avowed foe of "sectarian dogma and prejudice." 211 Obediah Dogberry, 
the editor, coining from Palmyra where his Reflector had roused much 
criticism, proceeded to court opposition in Rochester. Warning was 
given of an attempt to treat the community to a "second edition of the 
Finney excitement." A new revival had indeed started, and a fresh 
attack upon groceries prompted Dogberry to declare his support of 
"temperance in all things including opinions/ 3 lamenting its absence 
from this "gospel hardened" town. 212 Heaping scorn upon the Observer 
for advising Christian maidens not to endanger their eternal happiness 
by marrying unbelievers, Dogberry blamed the protracted meetings for 
distracting attention from civic and commercial affairs. On the other 
hand, religious minorities attracted his forbearance, and when a report 
reached Rochester that Joseph Smith, Dogberry s former neighbor 
in Palmyra ? had been coated with tar and feathers, the Liberal Ad 
vocate protested. 213 

The fires of evangelism and the tempers of its opponents burned less 
intensely after the cholera epidemic of 1832. Though a new "shower" 
fell on the Methodist church with the visit of the Reverend Jedediah 
Burchard, 214 and similar revivals "refreshed" communities round about, 
the Liberal Advocate rejoiced in January, 1833, that 

our own "City of Mud" [giving that unhappy cognomen a new twist] has 
for some weeks been free from any . . . showers. . . . Backsliding is be 
coming the order of the day. . . . The nerves of our citizens have become 

208 Proceedings of the Friends of Liberal Principles and Equal Rights in Rochester 
January, 1831 (Rochester, 1831) ; see also Leopold, Robert Dale Owen. 

209 Craftsman, Mar. 3, 10, 1829. 

210 Roch. Republican, Apr. 12, 1831; Observer, Apr. 7, 21, 1831; Henrietta 
Bissell to the Rev. C. G. Finney, Rochester, Apr. 16, 1831, photostat in Bissell 
autograph folder, Roch. Public Library. 

211 Liberal Advocate, Feb. 23, 1832 ; Albert Post, Popular Freethought in America, 

P- 59- 

212 Liberal Advocate, Mar. 3, 1832. 

213 Liberal Advocate, Mar. 10, 24, Apr. 7, 14, 28, 1832. 

214 Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism," p. 260. 


quite tranquil. . . , Upon the whole we congratulate our friends, readers and 
borrowers, and the whole world besides, upon the universal happiness which 
on every hand surrounds us. 215 

Unfortunately, backsliders and borrowers were good omens for 
neither the Observer nor the Liberal Advocate. The former, in straitened 
circumstances by 1833, sold out and moved to New York, while the 
Liberal Advocate continued for another brief year, threatening de 
linquent subscribers with the publication of their names in a "black 
list" ^ Dogberry enjoyed a parting blast at Rochester s "over ambi 
tious church edifices" on which, he declared, more funds had been 
lavished than were collected in taxes. 217 The First Presbyterian had lost 
a worthy pastor with the departure of Joseph Penney, Dogberry con 
ceded; St. Luke s would doubtless be able to pay the debt on its en 
larged building, but St. Paul s had already been foreclosed and re 
organized as Grace Church, and the Third Presbyterian had been sold 
to the Baptists, who, together with the Methodists and the Catholics, 
were growing in numbers; still another schism was developing at the 
recently established Free (Presbyterian) Church, where the Reverend 
Luke Lyons was vainly attempting to revive the excitement of a few 
years before with a fresh use of the old "new measures." 21S 

With the demise of the Liberal Advocate Rochester s vocal champions 
of rationalism disappeared, but the victorious forces of evangelism con 
fronted a much sturdier foe, the materialism of returning prosperity. 
Even the devoted Ferdinand Ward, youngest son of Dr. Levi Ward, just 
back from theological study at Princeton and soon to carry the Word of 
God to India, felt baffled by the emerging city: 

Indeed I never saw our city so lively as at present. But you may ask, where 
is Religion? Alas it is hid Christians have forgotten that they are not 
their own and world world is the controlling object of thought and action. 
I have preached three times since my return, but nothing would induce me 
to remain during the winter. 21 * 


Happily the distraught townsfolk were able to maintain some of the 
color and vitality of their social life even during the height of the suc 
cessive revivals. Though the new theater was converted into a livery 
stable, the old circus remained, featuring animal shows and varied ex- 

215 liberal Advocate, Jan. i, 1833. 

^Advertiser, Dec. 30, 1833; Liberal Advocate, Mar. 22, 1834. A similar de 
cline marked the free thought movement in the East; see Leopold, Robert Dale 
Owen, pp. 119-120. 

217 Liberal Advocate, Mar. 31, 1832; Apr. 6, 1834. 

218 Liberal Advocate, Apr. 6, July 7, 1834. 

219 Ferdinand Ward to Mrs. Freeman Clarke, Rochester, 1834, Clarke Letters; 
Barton, Obituary Scrapbook, p. 16. 


hibitioDs, and in September, 1830, a troupe of actors from the East ? in 
cluding young Louisa Lane, future wife of John Drew, played for several 
nights before Rochester audiences. Programs of sacred music were 
occasionally presented by the leading churches, while the band gave 
frequent concerts. 220 The outstanding event in the art field, the display 
of William Dunlap s painting of the Crucifixion, evoked lengthy com 
ments on its artistic merits. Citizens were urged to pay the admission 
fee of 25 cents; Sunday school children were admitted Iree. The declin 
ing number of groceries and grog shops cleared the way for soda foun 
tains at which the more respectable could seek a refreshing drink. 221 

As in earlier years, the simple domestic chores, the everyday affairs of 
the canal, the mills, the market place, and the taverns overshadowed 
the commercialized amusements. Hamlet Scrantom, now advancing in 
years, still set Ms hens and took a special interest in the arrival of a new 
calf. 222 Most householders tended their gardens, though "the difficulties 
we had last year with Dr. Ward s fowels [sic] and occasionally the in 
trusion of pigs and cows among the vegetables" led to greater reliance 
on the public market. 223 The occasional arrival from Michigan of a 
barrel of radishes packed in ice, or some like novelty, suggested the 
future possibilities of the produce trade, but generally farmers on the 
edge of town, not yet a mile distant from any house, supplied house 
hold demands. 

These everyday aspects of Rochester s life found their best chronicler 
in young Edwin Scrantom, who had literally grown up with the town. 
Early in 1829 he established a quaint little publication, the Gem, 
dedicated to the literary and domestic interests of the community. 224 
In the course of a year its first thirteen subscribers increased to over 
five hundred, 225 permitting the editor to enlarge its size, and include 
occasional engravings of romantic scenes. Though he paused from time 
to time to deprecate the intensity of local political and religious dis 
putes, Scrantom was ever ready to describe the pageantry about him. 
On one occasion he reported: 

220 O > ReiIly, Sketches of Rochester, p. 317; Gem, Sept 25, 1830; Advertiser, 
Apr. 26, May 5, 10, 1830. 

221 Gem, Aug. 14, Oct. 30, 1830; William Dunlap, A History of the Rise and 
Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (originally printed in 1834, 
republished in 1918, Frank W. Bailey, ed.), pp. 354-355. Dunlap had paid three 
earlier visits to Rochester. 

222 EL Scrantom, Journal, April, May, 1830, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

223 J. M. Schermerhorn to his wife, Charleston, S. C., Mar. 21, 1833, Schermer- 
horn Letters. 

224 Gem, 1829-1843 (known as The Gem and Ladies 1 Amulet from Jan. 10, 
1835, on). The Gem followed an earlier periodical, the Western Wanderer and 
Ladies Literary Magnet, of which but one or two issues were produced in Febru 
ary, 1829. 

225 Gem. Dec. 26, 1829. 


We were present when the water was let into the CanaL It was an interest 
ing sight to hundreds who had been waiting for the event. There were in 
scores, boatmen with their painted hats and everlasting coats, marching to 
and fro, making remarks upon the canal, &c. There were also, the impudent 
drivers with hats turned up before, and whips tip d with plenty of silk. 5 
There were groupes of second hand captains . . . together with various 
other groupes, that seemed all interested in the filling up of the big ditch. 3 
We could see that many a rusty bugle had been brightened for the coming 
season. . . . The dealers in small wares, that line the canal in the summer 
season, were all in motion, brightening up their cook-rooms, and buying up 
a stock.* Among this class, a variety of kegs and bottles made glad the 
hearts of the wanton and inveterate. 228 

Several more ambitious efforts were made to exploit the local scene 
for literary ends. The Gem printed "The Warrior Chief/ a frontier tale 
set in the Rochester area but lacking other interest. 227 The cool recep 
tion accorded two early attempts by traveling actors to dramatize local 
subjects for their Rochester audiences discouraged further efforts in 
that field. 228 Worthy of note, however, was the lengthy Rochester: A 
Satire written in verse in the Scottish brogue by James Mathies, brother 
of the town s colorful art patron and tavern keeper. Rochester was most 
unfortunate in the early death of the youthful bard, who 

Being indispos d and in the dumps, 
Ane night I strolTd amang the stumps, 
I saw gay steeds wf spotted rumps 

Performing Circus, 
And lads and lassies round in clumps, 

Real bonny smirkies. 229 

The most important use of the Rochester area in fiction was Lawrie 
Todd by the Englishman, John Gait. The story, although written with 
out careful study of the setting, caught some of the spirit of the early 
years. Yet it attracted scant notice in Rochester during the thirties, 
for the town was scarcely old enough to romanticize its pioneers. 230 

The activities of its frontier days were being displaced by new 
amusements. Despite the protest of Sabbath reformers, horse cars 
carried many a gay party down to Carthage on that day, while lake 

226 Gem, Apr. 16, 1831. 

227 Gem, Dec. 12, 1829. 

228 The first dramatic season had concluded in 1826 with a "new melodrama 
. . . written in this village, The Vale of the Genesee, or Big Tree Chief, 5 " Roch. 
Republican, June 13, 1826. C. S. Talbot s Captain Morgan has already been noted, 

P- 145- 

229 James Mathies, Rochester; A Satire; and Other Miscellaneous Poems 
(Rochester, 1830). 

230 John Gait, Lawrie Todd (New York, 1830); Advertiser, Jan. 7, 1833; Jane 
M. Parker, "Lawrie Todd," R. H. S., Pub., IV, 223-227. 


excursions were occasionally enjoyed. The North Rochester races pro 
vided excitement for three days late in 1832, and on another occasion 
a group of boisterous young men took a "boat ride" over the snow- 
covered streets of the village. Frequent visits to nearby Monroe and 
Avon Springs supplied variety, if not always the health and entertain 
ment advertised. 331 

Travel for health and diversion was becoming a definite part of the 
program of those who could afford it. Saratoga, Florida, and even 
Europe loomed on the horizon, though barely a half-dozen Rochesterians 
journeyed so far in this period. Before setting out for St. Augustine in 
the late fall of 1832, J. M. Schermerhorn prepared his will. On the 
leisurely trip down he visited his friends, Finney and Weld, in New 
York, and on reaching St. Augustine, Florida, was pleased to find, 
among the twenty-two Americans stopping there, three clergymen who 
said grace at every meal and provided religious instruction at all times, 
resulting in the happy conversion of two of the guests. Journeying back 
by horseback, he stopped in Charleston long enough to write his wife 
asking her to pray for that wicked city. 232 

Dr. Anson Colman, after earlier medical studies in Boston, Phila 
delphia, and Montreal, spent several weeks in the medical centers of 
London and Paris. There he marvelled at the remarkable development 
of public museums, galleries, and charitable institutions, as well as at 
the deplorable lack of individual comforts. The cheapness of life and 
the congested living arrangements astounded him, while other features 
impelled him to advise his pastor, Dr. Whitehouse, never to come to 
Paris, as "he would see so much of the vice and hypocrisy of this 
country as to depress his spirits for the rest of his life." Yet his foot 
loose brother-in-law and companion, Nathaniel T. Rochester, be 
coming "travelling mad," was soon out of reach in Italy or Germany, 
forcing the impatient doctor to return alone. 233 

Rochester seemed a welcome haven to its returning citizens. "Never 
in our country . . . will it be possible to rear and sustain the im 
mense institutions" of Paris or London, declared Dr. Colman without 
regret, though he had found sermons and "food fit for man" at the 
latter place. The comforts of his Rochester home were much more 
agreeable, and he could not understand his wife s pleasure in a trip 
down the St. Lawrence to Quebec and by stage through the Eastern 
states to Baltimore. The cares of his household taking the children to 
school, directing the activities of three household servants, attending 

281 Liberal Advocate, Mar. 3, May 25, Oct. 13, Nov. 3, 1832; Rock. Republican, 
Aug. 14, Sept. 4, 1832. 

232 J. M. Schermerhorn to Ms wife, October, i832-April, 1833, Schermerliorn 

283 Colman Letters, January-May, 1833. 


all the meals in order to maintain a properly ordered family proved a 
strain when added to Ms growing practice. He vowed never again to 
consent to the unnecessary absence of Ms wife. 284 

Few townsfolk were so fortunately situated as the members of the 
Rochester clan after the settlement of the will left by the aged pro 
prietor, who passed away quietly at his Spring Street home in May, 
1 83 1. 235 Yet many others enjoyed comfortable circumstances. House 
hunting no longer presented the discouragements of the early days, for 
builders had begun to catch up with the more moderate population 
growth. J. M. "Schermerhorn, debating the respective merits of two 
comfortable residences with four rooms on both floors and a front and 
back stairway, advised his wife not to order a piano from the East as 
one could be rented for a time in Rochester. 236 Drafty fireplaces were 
giving place to Franklin stoves, and the more particular housewives, 
refusing to admit stove pipes into their parlors, were insisting if trust 
can be placed in a furnace advertisement on a coal furnace in the cellar 
from wMch the whole house could be heated by hot air. 237 

The great majority shared few of these comforts. Even when the 
Chemung Canal tapped a new coal supply, bringing the price down 
from eleven to five dollars a ton, 238 workmen who made at best only 
four or five hundred dollars a year could not afford the luxury of a 
furnace or a house of more than four rooms. A workman could get a 
dollar a day for seasonal labor on neighboring farms, wMle skilled 
mechanics could expect something better in town, but the demand of 
boat caulkers for two dollars a day in 1831 was considered unreason 
able. If one had a grown daughter to hire out as a domestic, five to 
seven dollars a month could be added to the family income, and of 
course garden space was generally available. The town averaged slightly 
more than one cow and two pigs to each household. 239 

In the transition from village to city the problem of the working day 
began to emerge. Thus in 1833, when the carpenters, among others, 
sought to limit their hours to ten a day, 240 many warned that idleness 
and intemperance would result. Mechanics were still primarily ap 
prentices or hired men, walking to and from work with the boss and not 
infrequently boarding at his house. A few journeymen s associations 

Letters, Jan. 18, Apr. 22, Oct. 13, 1833. 

235 Rock. Republican, May 17, 1831; Enquirer, May 24, 1831; Charles A. Dewey, 
"Nathaniel Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., Ill, 276. 

286 J. M. Schermerhorn to his wife, Rochester, Sept. 7, 1831, Schermerhorn 

237 Genesee Farmer, Jan. 26, 1833. 

*** Genesee Farmer, Jan. 26, 1833. 

239 Joseph Webb to his family in England, Rochester, Oct. 26, 1833, typed copy, 
Roch. Hist. Soc.; Advertiser, Mar. 17, 1831; N. Y. Census (1835). 

240 Advertiser, Apr. 9, 1833; Democrat, Apr. 18, 1834. 


were organizing on Eastern models, but the girls in the local cotton 
factory showed no inclination to follow the lead of their striking sisters 
in Lowell. 241 The Court House bell and the tower clock installed in the 
First Presbyterian Church in 1831 provided the first public time 
standards other than Old Sol, except on the Sabbath when the "solemn 
ding donging of the several church bells" contributed a sober orderli 
ness. 242 

An excellent view of the bustling town was preserved by an observant 
citizen, possibly Edwin Scrantom, who stationed himself in the ob 
servatory over the Arcade at daybreak one June morning in the early 
thirties. The "venders of eatables" and the "milkman s cart" first 
appeared, quickly followed by "an heterogeneous mass of men, all 
wending their way to market." Soon the mechanics and the merchants 
walked briskly to work. "About seven, the various buildings sent forth 
their representatives to breakfast. Then could be seen the yet slumber 
ing clerks reclining upon the boxes outside the doors, or stretched at full 
length on the counters during the absence of their employers." About ten 
arrived the creaking farm wagons, loaded with "wheat, corn, oats, apples, 
potatoes, butter, cheese and every thing that we poor cits could not 
live without." Amidst the hubbub of "bartering and bargaining, buying 
and selling" appeared several ladies bedecked with "formidable head 
pieces and popish sleeves," for it was the fashionable hour for a 
promenade. "The clink of the hammer was suspended for a time . . . 
when the bell rang for twelve" bringing out the "mechanics en masse, 
preparing for dinner." About one, "the merchants and gentlemen of the 
profession were seen with a hurried step" heading for home, whence 
they returned an hour later "with each his cigar half smoked and com 
menced the business of the afternoon with all the zeal imaginable." A 
few beggars scurried from door to door, and at three several "exquisites, 
disguised with sugar-loaf hats, frizzled hair, tights, eau de Cologne, 
and black gloves," strolled to dine in accordance with the "European 
taste." The hours from three to five were filled with "noise and con 
fusion, bustle and business. Ladies, dandies, gentlemen, children, dogs, 
horses, carts, wagons, trucks, stages . . . kept alive the streets." At 
five the farmers began to leave and the school children came bounding 
along the streets. At six everybody hastened to supper except those 
who were impatiently waiting for the postman to sort the mail. The 
author of "A Day in the Observatory" eagerly joined the latter group. 243 

Yet, despite its bustle, Rochester was remembered as a quiet and 
orderly town by one young prodigal who found himself in a giddy whirl 

241 Advertiser and Telegraph, Nov. 20, 1829; Liberal Advocate, Mar. 22, Apr. 6, 


242 Gem, Aug. 13, 1831; Liberal Advocate, July 21, 1832. 

, June 26, 1830. 


at Detroit a few years later. 244 Yankee traditions, aided by the business 
recession and the successive religious revivals, had subdued the Genesee 
boom town of the mid-twenties, and the community was ready to assume 
its urban responsibilities with a sober mien which could not, however, 
hide from view the city s youthful vigor and inexperience. 

244 Old Reub to Frances M. Fox, Detroit, May 18, 1834, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 



1834-1850 * 

THE NEWLY-ESTABLISHED CITY enjoyed several years of surging 
optimism before the nation-wide depression of the late thirties 
brought renewed hardships. Earlier preoccupation with political 
and religious matters gave way to an increased interest in the town s 
economic activities. With few exceptions the outstanding personalities 
were practical men of affairs. Matthew Brown, Levi Ward, and Abelard 
Reynolds carried on for several years, but younger men were pressing 
to the fore: Jonathan Child, Jacob Gould, Elisha Johnson, Hervey Ely, 
Abraham Schermerhorn, James Seymour, Samuel L. Selden, Henry 
O Reilly, and a host of new arrivals and sons of the founders. Dark 
days lay ahead for most of these men, several of whom left Rochester 
before the end of the period. Fortunately those who remained, together 
with many able newcomers, successfully guided the Flour City through 
its protracted depression, enabling the community to achieve a measure 
of economic stability by the mid-century. 

YEARS OF GROWTH: 18341837 

As Rochesterians became aware of the necessity for improving their 
transport facilities, the enlargement of the Erie Canal, the improvement 
of the Genesee port, the opening of a new canal up the valley, and the 
construction of several new railroad lines emerged as major objectives. 
Though local enterprise hastily shouldered a portion of the burden, gov 
ernment aid was sought for work on the river and canal. With federal 
funds already contributing to harbor improvements at Buffalo and 
Oswego, it appeared only fitting that nearly $50,000 from the same 
source be expended during the decade on an extension of the pier at 
the mouth of the Genesee and the provision of a pier light, thus en 
abling Rochester to maintain an active lake trade. 2 

1 As in the previous chapters, I am again indebted to several unpublished 
master s theses at the University of Rochester for careful surveys of these years: 
Herbert A. Norton, "Prosperity and Adversity: A History of Rochester, 1834- 
1839" (1938) J George M. Fennimore, "The Growth of a City: A History of 
Rochester, 1839-1843" (1938) ; Allan Gleason, "History of Labor in Rochester to 

1884" (1941). 

2 Rochester Daily Democrat, Mar. 27, 1835; Rochester Republican, Apr. 18, 
June 27, 1837; July 17, 1838. 


The city s commercial prospects, however, were more closely tied 
to the Erie Canal, which already began to develop serious flaws. Not 
only was the sandstone of the much-boasted aqueduct crumbling under 
exposure, causing serious leaks and threatening the safety of the whole 
structure, 3 but the seventeen-foot channel proved too narrow for the 
passing of boats, with the result that one-way traffic was enforced, stall 
ing long lines of waiting boats along the canal on both sides of the river. 
The owners of the principal boat lines, led by Jonathan Child and 
represented by Henry O Reilly as agent in Albany, boldly recommended 
a new aqueduct. 4 Many advocates of economy urged the merits of a 
wooden trunk built on the old piers (as in the Mohawk aqueducts 
further east), while others favored a pond-crossing behind a dam sure 
to be adequate in case of an enlargement of the entire canal. 6 After 
prolonged debate, a new stone aqueduct was determined upon, to be 
located just south of the old structure but turned at an angle so as to 
improve the approach from the east. Renewed delays held up construc 
tion until insistent demands, expressed in frequent memorials and at a 
canal enlargement convention at Rochester in 1837, finally brought 
action that year. 6 

An even more protracted agitation urged a canal up the Genesee 
Valley. When the project was first proposed in the early twenties, 
Rochester gave only mUd support, but a growing desire for trade con 
nections with the Ohio Valley and the hope of reaching a coal supply 
quickened the Flour City s interest. 7 The possible advantages of a rail 
road were discounted, despite the economy of construction, 8 since the 
proposed artery was to carry heavy freight for which the light railroads 
of the day were scarcely adapted. Support for the Rochester and Olean 
canal developed in New York City, aroused by the recent completion 
of the Pennsylvania State Canal and Railway, joining Philadelphia with 

8 Assembly Documents (1836), No. 9, quoting a state geological report on the 
stone of the aqueduct. 

4 Jonathan Child, et al. t to Henry O Reilly, Rochester, Feb. 14, 1834, O ReiUy 
MSS, N. Y. Hist. Soc.; Democrat, Feb. 22, 1834. 

5 Assembly Doc. (1834), No. 55, pp. 7, 8; Assembly Journal (1834), pp. 170, 
929, 1036; James Renwick, Report on the Mode of Supplying the Erie Canal with 
Water from Lockport to the Cayuga Marshes (Rochester, 1846). 

6 Assembly Doc. (1836), No. 65, 99; Assembly Journal (1837), pp. 282, 305. 

7 Whitford, History of the Canal System of New York, I, 708-727; As 
sembly Journal (1825), pp. 200, 921; (1827), pp. 21, 306; Republican, Dec. 29, 
1829; Jan. 19, 26, 1830; Advertiser, Jan. 7, 1831; Senate Doc. (1834), No. 55; 
Assembly Doc. (1836), No. 140. 

8 Advertiser, Jan. 7, 1831, A canal would cost $10,000 to $12,000 a mile and a 
railroad only $3,000 to $5,000 as then estimated; actually the construction cost of 
the Genesee Valley Canal, the Tonawanda, and the Rochester and Auburn rail 
roads averaged approximately $27,000, $17,000, and $23,000 per mile respectively, 
as calculated for their completed portions in 1843. See Hunt s Merchants Magazine, 
XH (1845), 382; Xni (1845), 58-59- 


distant Pittsburgh. A careful survey in 1835 estimated the cost of con 
struction at $1,824,000, and despite hesitation the work finally com 
menced two years later. 9 

While the fate of these improvements still awaited state action, 
Rochester capital boldly pressed forward with the construction of the 
railroad to Batavia. Jonathan Child, Abraham Schermerhorn, and 
Frederick Whittlesey became prominent backers, with Elisha Johnson 
as construction engineer. A single track line, built of two parallel 
timbers, each mounted with a light strip of metal, and held in place by 
cross ties every ten feet, advanced over the 32-mile route at an average 
first cost of $10,000 a mile. 10 Five years after the grant of its charter the 
road opened with two wood-burning engines brought by canal boat from 
the East. Unfortunately the gala celebration on May ir, 1837, was 
clouded by the somber reports of bank suspensions throughout the 
land. 1 * 

Charters for other rail lines in the Rochester area, sought during 
these years, 12 included two on the southern border of the county, 13 but 
the rail project of chief interest to the city after the Tonawanda, was 
that proposing to connect Rochester and Auburn. Though Canandaigua 
and Geneva investors eagerly demanded action, jealousy over the 
route coupled with the objections of canal interests enforced delay. 
Even after the continuous agitation following the first survey in 1830 14 
secured the necessary legislation in i836, 15 construction dragged, post 
poning completion of the first section between Rochester and Canandai 
gua until September, i84O. 16 


Fortunately Rochester was throbbing with more than future trans 
port projects in the mid-thirties. Despite the imperfect character of their 
facilities, trade on both the canal and lake boomed, while stage lines , 
increased in number and popularity. Boat lines supplied a major field 
for local enterprise, with $315,000 of Rochester capital invested in 
nineteen such companies in 1835, though only one, the Pilot and Traders 

9 Senate Journal (1834), pp. 106, 260; (1836), pp. 287, 453, 461. 

10 Report upon the Tonawanda Rail-Road Company t Exhibiting its Present 
Situation and Future Prospects (Rochester, 1837). 

"u-Roch* Republican, May 9, 16, 1837; Edward Hungerford, Men and Iron 
(New York, 1938), pp. 41-47. 

^Assembly Journal (1834), pp. 60, 268, 300, 343, 892, 1003; (1836), p. 95; 
Assembly Doc. (1836), No. 91. 

13 Elisha Johnson to P. Sampson, Batavia, Mar. 29, 1836, Autograph Letters, 
Roch. Hist. Soc. 

14 Republican, Sept. 28, 1830, Sept. 13, 20, 1831; Democrat, Mar. 20, Dec. 20, 
Dec. 30, 1834. 

15 Democrat, Mar. 3, Dec. 23, 1835; Jan. 4, May 3, 17, June 7, 1836. 

16 Republican,- June 13, July 4, 1837, Mar. 27, July 12, Oct. 16, 1838, May 7, 
14, June 18, Aug. 3, 1839; Advertiser, Sept. n, 1840. 


line of Jonathan Child, was owned entirely in the city. 17 Six yards kept 
these lines supplied with new boats, while some twenty forwarding 
companies, frequently operating in conjunction with a boat line, com 
peted for Rochester s trade, but the city no longer provided their chief 
headquarters. 18 

The Genesee lake port enjoyed a marked increase in tolls, which 
mounted from $884.48 in 1834 to $59,116 in iSjd. 19 Genesee tariff 
receipts exceeded those of all but one other lake port, 20 yet the shipping 
activity could not compare with Oswego s large export trade or Buffalo s 
still larger traffic on the upper lakes. 21 Nevertheless, the 400 arrivals of 
lake boats in 1836, landing a cargo valued at $235,701 (including 
200,000 bushels of wheat) and carrying away articles worth $209,844, 
while but a fraction of Buffalo s commerce, served the Flour City well as 
a supplement to the canal. 22 

Rochester s shipments over the Erie still ranked first in value west 
of the Hudson, totaling $3,518,335 in 1837, though in tonnage Buffalo, 
Rome, and Montezuma exceeded the Flour City. 23 Rochester s tolls 
likewise excelled, but this fact proved less significant, since most of its 
shipments paid for the long haul to Albany, whereas Buffalo s wheat 
was usually consigned to the Rochester mills. Yet the steady increase in 
its toll receipts afforded a sure indication of the city s stable growth. 
Although the first depression year brought a slight decline, it did not 
equal that at other ports. 24 Flour, valued at just over $2,000,000 in 1837, 
exceeded the total value of all other exports and comprised a good 
fourth of the flour shipped down the Hudson. Next in importance came 
merchandise, furniture, ashes, and wheat, revealing the extent to which 
Rochester drew its products from the Genesee Country. Only mer 
chandise, coal, iron, and sundries arrived from the East in sizable 
quantities. 25 

The limited character of Rochester s commercial prospects became 
apparent as those of Buffalo expanded. Many Rochesterians were 
drawn to Buffalo by its more rapid growth in the early thirties. Such 
migrants in 1835 included Hamlet Scrantom, Rochester s aging pioneer, 

17 Henry O Reilly, Rochester in 1835: Brief Sketches (Rochester, 1835), p. 10. 
^Democrat, Nov. 21, 1836; Jan. 4, 1837. 

lfi Democrat, Feb. 9, 1835; Nov. 21, ,1836; Jan. 4, 1837; Report upon the 
Tonawanda Rail-Road, p. 13. 

^O Reilly, Rochester in 1835, p. n. 

21 Senate Doc. (1838), No. 35, Stmt. loB. Buffalo lake shipments including 
both loadings and unloadings for 1836 were valued at $3,404,612, and those of 
Oswego at $2,089,204. 

22 Report upon the Tonawanda Rail-Road, p. 13; Democrat, May 12, 1834; 
July 7, 1835; Jan. 4, 1836; Jan. 4, 1837; Apr. 28, Dec. 4, 1841. 

23 Senate Doc. (1838) , No. 35, Stmt. 8. 

24 Henry O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, p. 242. The tolls had increased from 
$164,247 in 1834 to $190,036 hi 1836 and fell to $179,083 in 1837. 
^Senate Doc. (1838), No. 35, Stmts. lA, iB, 8. 


whose tMrd son, as editor of the Gem, judiciously weighed the advantages 
of both places: 

Weil BUFFALO is quite a place after all It is true you hear none of the 
clatter of the vast variety of machinery, of which Rochester is so proud, nor 
are her streets so densely crowded with the wagons and horses of agricultural 
visitors; but all the peculiar features of a great commercial place are here 
developed. The forest of masts the schooners, ships and steamboats 
which line her docks, give her an air of greatness which Rochester can never 
put on. 28 

Nevertheless, Edwin Scrantom and two of his brothers continued to re 
side in Rochester. 

The flour mills, numbering twenty-one by 1835, with ninety-six run 
of stone, comprised the most important of the numerous manufactories 
of the city. Occasional fires cleared the ground for the construction of 
larger mills, thus increasing the number of millstones and the potential 
capacity, though the number of mills remained fairly constant. The 
annual output approached 500,000 barrels during the late thirties 
second to Baltimore, the leading flour market with upwards of 600,000 
to its credit. 27 But flour held a more conspicuous place in the economic 
life of Rochester than in that of Baltimore, third largest city hi the 
country according to the 1840 census, and a sense of pride developed as 
Rochester s millers gained wide recognition. 


"The principal capital is borrowed in the flouring business in this 
place/ 7 declared the sister of Judge Samuel Lee Selden in 1838 when 
urging her husband to abandon his military career and turn to milling 
in Rochester. Silas O. Smith, she reported, was willing to rent half of 
his flouring mill, containing eight run of stones, at $1500 a year, to a 
partner who would likewise supply half the operating capital, possibly 
$5000 to start with. Only two years as a miller s assistant would be 
required to learn the business, "a drudgery which might not be so fine 
for one . . . accustomed to command," the Judge thought, but once the 
initiatory process were completed he and his friends could easily raise 
the necessary capital. Indeed the prospect appeared so favorable that 
Mrs. Eaton proceeded to select a suitable bouse, standing in the middle 
of a lot on State Street, surrounded by fine fruit trees, with a barn, 
woodhouse, and hen coop in the rear, which she learned would be for 
rent in the spring at $200 a year. 28 

However, as the city s leading publicist, Henry O Reilly, declared 

26 Rochester Gem and Ladies Amulet, Sept. 9, 1837. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, IV (1841), 194-195; O Reilly, Rochester in 

*835, PP- 5-6- 

^Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Dec. 8, 1837; Jan. 31, Feb. 
5, Apr. 27, 1838, E. S. S. Eaton Letters, courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth Selden Rogers, 
New York City. 


in 1835, "The flouring business, although it is that for which Rochester 
is at present most celebrated, is by no means of such importance to the 
real welfare of the city as the other branches of manufactures." Twenty- 
five different industrial categories, with a total capitalization estimated 
at least to equal that of the flour mills, upwards of $500,000, supplied 
the bustle that ranked the Flour City next to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati 
among the interior industrial centers of I835. 29 To the cooper shops, 
lumber mills, and boatyards were added cabinet, furniture, and carriage 
factories, whose products found ready sale throughout the area. The 
carpet factory, destroyed in the bridge fire of 1834 but rebuilt the next 
year, gave employment to forty-odd persons, one of the largest labor 
forces in the city. 30 Two woolen mills and an increased activity among 
sheep raisers, who reported flocks numbering 600,000 in the Genesee 
Country in 1835, made Rochester an important wool market with 
Aaron Erickson as its leading merchant. 31 Two large tanneries, several 
leatherworkers, and twenty boot- and shoemakers provided profitable 
employment and easily marketable articles, as did a paper mill and 
numerous printing establishments. Twenty-two tailors produced to order 
while three large "emporiums of fashion" solicited the trade of busy 
travelers on Exchange Street. 32 Increased coal, supplied by way of the 
Erie and Chenango Canals, spurred the expansion of foundries and 
trip-hammer shops, and a hollow-ware factory made its appearance. 88 
One firm, a loose joint-stock association, headed by Lewis Selye, who 
undertook to raise a capital of $100,000 in 1835, began the manu 
facture of railroad cars, fire engines, and eventually locomotives and 
other machinery for the expanding industries of the area. 84 

Considerable ingenuity was revealed in the economic developments 
of the period. Some forty inventions by local mechanics were registered 
in the patent office before 1837. Thus the problems of weighing canal 
boats, propelling them by steam, threshing and mashing grain, pumping 
water, preserving hides, and pegging shoes, all received attention, while 
a locally-invented stump extractor, marketed at $75, gained wide use 
in the area, 35 Rochester editors, particularly those of the Genesee 

^O Reilly, Rochester in 1835, pp. 6-9; [Michael H. Jenks], "Notes of a Tour 
Through the Western Part of the State of New York, 1829-30," The Ariel, 1829-30. 
80 O Reilly, Rochester in 1835, pp. 6-9; Genesee Farmer, V (1835), 79. 

31 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XVI (1847), 104-^105; N. Y. Census (1835); 
Monthly Genesee Farmer, 1TL (1838), 60. 

32 Henry O Reilly, "Rochester at the End of 1836," Democrat, Jan. 4, 1837; 
Rochester Directory (1838). 

^Democrat, Sept. 22, 1835; Apr. i, 1840, 

34 MS, Everard Peck folder, Autograph Letters. 

85 Rochester Post Express, Jan. 29, 1894; see Osgood Collection, MSS, III, No. 
65. Roch. Hist. Soc., for a list of 65 early inventions patented from western New 
York; A. D. Jennings, MSS. 


Farmer, gave frequent advice to farmers on crop rotation, the use of 
fertilizers, and the merits of varied root and horticultural crops. 36 A 
seed store and several small nurseries appeared in the mid-thirties. After 
the demise of a Monroe County Horticultural Society, which held several 
annual fairs in the city, a Genesee Valley Horticultural Society, or 
ganized in 1839, carried on the effort to develop the area s resources. 87 

Agitation for improved labor conditions likewise appeared. The desire 
of workingmen for a standardized ten-hour day was voiced by the 
Journeymen Carpenters and Joiners Society and by the Journeymen 
Masons, who argued that the system had already been adopted in Troy, 
Utica, and Buffalo. But a Builders 5 Association successfully resisted the 
demand, contending that the short winter days compensated for the 
longer hours demanded in summer. 38 Meanwhile a Cooper Union Society 
sought to protect its local market by warning fellow craftsmen else 
where that the output of Rochester barrel factories had already de 
pressed local wages. 39 

The constant stream of immigrants and migrating Americans made 
an organized stand for either wages or hours extremely difficult. 
Standards were more dependent upon the balance between supply and 
demand. Thus, farmers in the vicinity could get workmen for eight or 
twelve dollars a month and their keep, except during the harvest season 
when a dollar or more a day was demanded. But it proved hard to hold 
such helpers. In the city or on the canal, when a job had to be com 
pleted quickly or steady labor was necessary, wages sometimes reached 
$1.25 or better a day. Clerks with some responsibilities could expect 
$400 to $500 a year, and regular male teachers about the same. 40 

Among the sixteen principal cities, Rochester afforded employment to 
20 per cent of its citizens, well above the average, particularly in in 
dustry and trade. Clerking became a major occupation as the stores 
exceeded two hundred by the end of the decade, representing an in 
vestment comparable to that in industry. 41 Manufacturing and trade 
together employed 2916 persons; commerce and navigation, 759; and 
agriculture, 236 within the city limits. 42 Mercantile and industrial es 
tablishments lined Buffalo, Exchange, State, Front, and Main streets or 
crowded about the millraces and canal basins. 48 Stumps still dotted the 

^Genesee Farmer, IV (1834), 41; VII (-1837), 247; IX (1839), 31. 

37 Genesee Farmer, IX: 26; Blake McKelvey, "The Flower City," R, H. S., Pub. t 
XVIII, 125-130. 

** Advertiser, Apr. 9, 1833; Jan. 17, 1835; Democrat, Apr. 18, 1834; Mar. 9, 
Apr. 30, 1835. 

89 Republican, July 26, 1836. 

^Ephraim Lacy, "Lacy Farm Account Book" (Caledonia, 1849-1852), MS, 
Roch. Pub. Lib.; Advertiser, Apr. 2, June 28, 1844. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, TV (1841), 484-485; N. Y. Census (1845). 

42 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, VH (1842), 339. **N. Y, Census (1835). 


cleared fields on the outskirts, but ambitious "improvements" received 
the attention of William A. Reynolds, the Schermerhorn and the Mo 
Cracken brothers. Colonel Ashbel Riley, and young Josiah W. Bissell, 44 
as well as most of the earlier promoters. Except for James S. Wadsworth, 
Charles Perkins, and John Greig, who now began the development of 
subdivisions, practically all of the realtors were personally resident at 
Rochester so that a major portion of the profits derived from the 
rising lot values remained in the city/ further stimulating its growth. A 
brisk sale of city lots continued through 1836, including business loca 
tions and water-power rights as well as home sites a sure sign of the 
town s prosperity. 45 


The one factor which never appeared sufficient to meet the needs of 
the community was its bank credit. The experience of those who in 
corporated the Rochester City Bank in 1836 matched that of the two 
earlier banks, when the capitalization, fixed at $400,000, was over 
subscribed fivefold, 46 yet the application for a mechanics bank was 
again rejected, compelling Rochester to stretch its banking capital of 
$1,050,000 a long way. 47 Fortunately the canal board continued to de 
posit between $200,000 and $300,000 annually in local banks. 48 Eastern 
capitalists, notably John Jacob Astor, extended credit which frequently 
reached considerable proportions. The New York Life Insurance Com 
pany loaned over $100,000 on bonds and mortgages in Monroe County 
during 1835 and $213,063 on other terms, 49 while the organization by 
Levi A. Ward and Jacob Gould of the Monroe County Mutual Insurance 
Company in 1836 provided an additional credit source. 50 The small 
individual savings deposited in the Rochester Savings Bank totalled 
$100,000 in i83S. 51 When distribution of the surplus treasury funds 
by the federal government was finally handed on to the counties by New 
York State in January, 1837, Monroe got $142,976.81 as its share. 52 

^Genesee Farmer, VI (1836), 79; Benjamin Barton Letters, MSS, Univ. Roch.; 
"James Wadsworth/ D. A. B., XIX, 308-309. See the extent of the undeveloped 
subdivisions kid out on the map of 1833. 

^Republican, Jan. 12, Sept. 6, 13, 20, 1836; Charles Perkins Papers, MSS, 
R. P. L. See also the "Greig Papers/ MSS, in the hands of George Skivington, 
Scottsville, N. Y., and Neil A. McNalTs "James S. Wadsworth," MS, Cornell Univ. 

** Democrat, Dec. 14, 1835,* Mar. 15, June 3, 28, 1836; Republican, July 5, 

47 Assembly Journal (1834), PP- ", 59 J Assembly Doc. (1836), No. 66; Re 
publican, Feb. 16, 1836. 

^Assembly Doc. (1836), No. 4. 

49 Abelard Reynolds bond to John Jacob Astor, Feb. 10, 1835, for $25,000, MS, 
Autograph Letters; Assembly Doc. (1835), No. 284. 

60 Assembly Journal (1836), pp. 187, 5455 Senate Journal (1836), p. 247; Re 
publican, Mar. 20, 1838. 

tj Feb, 8, 1836. 5 * Democrat, Jan. 17, 1837. 


Despite constant complaint that these facilities were inadequate for 
the city s needs/ 3 many Rochesterians could not resist the temptation 
to use some of their funds in distant speculations. Abelard Reynolds, 
whose Arcade and other local Investments had proved so fortunate, was 
caught up by dreams of a vast fortune and joined with an old New 
England friend located at Utica in two ambitious projects In the mid- 
thirties. A considerable amount of Rochester and Utica capital was thus 
sunk in a Maine land speculation and the Hinsdale town-site promotion, 
which burst like many another glossy bubble when the expected trans 
port facilities in the latter case the Genesee Valley Canal and the Erie 
Railroad were diverted. 54 But the misfortunes of Reynolds and his 
friends were matched by those of investors throughout the country In 
1837 as gloomy reports came in from all sides. 


The panic of 1837 and the depression which followed were national 
and international in scope, and though Rochester experienced numerous 
hardships, its suffering was not as grievous as that of Buffalo and many 
another city. 55 It soon became apparent that Rochester had. profited by 
the earlier check in 1829.^ The healthy revival of the mid-thirties had 
not yet burst the bounds of reason. Except for a few overventuresome 
individuals and the half dozen who joined the Reynolds speculations, 
Rochesterians escaped the worst effects of the early years of the de 
pression. However, as deflation and gloom persisted, many at first able 
to back water were eventually drawn over the falls. The rapid succession 
of two protracted periods of hard times helped to transform the fearless 
"Young Lion of the West" of the twenties into the more cautious if 
more stable city of the late forties. 

The financial crisis of the early spring of 1837 found Rochester banks 
in a fairly secure position. A state investigation failed to find any fault 
in the management of the Bank of Rochester, and while the president 
and cashier of the Bank of Monroe were reproved for purchasing paper 
at a discount with funds borrowed from their bank, the institution itself 
proved to be sound and well managed. 57 Early reports of bank dif 
ficulties elsewhere were greeted as political grievances against Van 
Buren s fiscal policies. Public meetings, assembled in Rochester to agitate 
for the safety fund banking amendment then before the legislature, 
voiced strong objections to the suggestion that stockholders be held to 

58 Democrat, Feb. 12, Mar. 3, 1837. 

M Reynolds Papers, 1834-1840, MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

55 Democrat, Apr. 3, May 20, 29, 1837. 

56 Republican, May 2, 1837. 

57 Extracts from the "Report of the Bank Investigating Committee," Democrat, 
June 6, 1837. 


full liability. , M Local Whigs rivaled their fellows elsewhere in damning 
the Specie Circular as the principal cause of the country s woes. 50 

But, as word of failures in New Orleans, Buffalo, New York, and 
London arrived in quick succession, it became evident that a disaster 
of major proportions not simply a political crisis was in the offing. 60 
Despite an attempt to exploit the crisis for political ends, a large public 
meeting, convened by representative Democrats and Whigs acting 
together, expressed nonpartisan concern that steps should be taken to 
restore confidence in the currency composed chiefly of bank notes. 61 
That the difficulty was not simply an evidence of divine wrath appeared 
certain on the arrival of "astounding" news from New York of Arthur 
Tappan s failure. 62 The legislature hastily concluded its long debate 
over banking policy and passed the revised Safety Fund Banking Act. 63 
A sense of relief developed when news arrived of a general suspension of 
specie payments in New York and Buffalo. Rochester banks quickly fol 
lowed suit, while the state legislature acted to remove the danger of a 
loss of bank charters through such action. 64 Many a nervous chuckle 
must have been heard in the crowded taverns of Rochester over the com 
forting advice from New York that if the country really was bankrupt 
it could take the benefit of the act and cheat John Bull out of "one 
hundred million" and then set to work devising ways to go on again. 65 

Unfortunately, the financial difficulties were not to be so easily recti 
fied, while commercial stagnation soon loomed as a still greater evil. A 
group of responsible merchants expressed confidence in the Rochester 
banks, thus helping to allay fears of their collapse, but scant relief was 
provided to those seeking currency or credit. 66 The sale of Genesee 
Valley Canal stock attracted few buyers, bringing work on the project 
to a temporary halt. 67 Forwarders began laying up their boats, boat 
yards closed down, and orders for wheat were cancelled. 68 Edwin 
Scrantom found plenty of time between customers at his recently opened 
dry goods store to confide to his diary on May 16: "Difficulties thicken 
and prospects darken. We anticipate new horrors." The next day 
brought "Ditto, Ditto, Ditto" from the despondent storekeeper. The 

58 Democrat, Mar. 2, 3, 7, 1837. 

59 Democrat, Apr. 6. 1837. 

60 Democrat, Mar. 27, Apr. 3, 1837; Chaddock, Safety Fund Banking System, 
pp. 292-309. 

61 Democrat, Apr. 26, 27, 28, 1837. 

62 Edwin Scrantom, Diary, May 5, 1837, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 
68 Democrat, May 6, 1837. 

64 Democrat, May 9, 13, 1837; E. Scrantom, Diary, May 12, 13, 1837. 

65 Democrat (Extra), May 12, 1837. 

66 Democrat, May 15, 1837. 

67 Democrat, May 15, 1837. 

68 Democrat, May 4, 1837; Freeman Ckrke Letters (1837), MSS, in hands of 
Mrs. Buell Mills of Rochester. 


succeeding entry contained a bitter attack on Van Buren as the prin 
cipal cause for the nation s misfortunes, but when a month passed 
without a local failure, additional and less personal causes were sug 
gested. Overspecuiation in Maine, Michigan, and other wild lands, in 
shipping lines and similar ventures, was blamed, as well as the govern 
ment, and the crop failure in the South appeared as a serious misfortune 
for that area, though consolation was found for Rochester in the pros 
pect of higher flour prices. 69 


Indeed, after the first period of uncertainty, prospects in Rochester 
began to brighten. Flour prices in New York mounted sharply until they 
exceeded ten dollars a barrel, returning handsome profits to local millers. 
As the canal trade recovered from its summer slump, city flour shipments 
that fall exceeded all previous figures. 70 The loss of a portion of the 
Rochester product, when two huge storehouses in New York were broken 
open and the barrels emptied into the streets by hungry flour rioters, 
dealt a severe blow to a few millers, but the prospect of larger gains the 
following* year diverted public attention. 71 Hervey Ely, owner of the 
leading mill, declared "there is room for as much again more" milling 
in Rochester. The failure of a large dry goods store, operated by two 
"Scotch sharpers," afforded joy to Edwin Scrantom, while two other 
failures, one a "theatregoer" and one a "cheat," brought little sorrow 
to their competitor. 72 Despite the suspension of specie payments, eighty 
Rochester firms agreed to accept local bank notes at par, and the 
shortage in small notes was alleviated when the common council 
issued $10,000 in small notes or shinplasters, 73 paid out for labor on the 
streets by the heads of some three hundred needy families. 74 Construction 
work on the Genesee Valley Canal and the two railroads eased the pres 
sure of unemployment, though the steady stream of westward migrants 
left no available job empty for long. 75 Mixed feelings greeted the 
decline in trade union activity, while an unorganized strike of Genesee 
Canal workmen against wages of 75 cents for labor from sun to sun 
was quickly defeated. 76 

69 E. Scrantom, Diary, May 2-June 2, 1837- 

Roch. Republican, July i, Nov. 4, 1837. See the varied tables showing 
fluctuations in commodity prices during these years, Walter B. Smith and A. H. 
Cole, Fluctuations in American Business: 1790-1860 (Cambridge: Harvard Uni 
versity Press, 1935), pp. 63-64, passim. 

"O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, p. *3&5. 

^Elisabeth S. Spencer to Captain Eaton, Rochester, Dec. 8, 1837, E. S. S. Eaton 
Letters; E. Scrantom, Diary, July 12, Oct. 24, 1837. 

78 Democrat, May 15, 23, June 6, 1837. 

74 Democrat, June 15, 20, 1837; see below, p. 244. 

76 Genesee Farmer, VII, 118; Democrat, May 31, 1837. 

76 Democrat, June 24, 28, July i, 4, 1837; Allan Gleason, "The History of 
Labor in Rochester to 1884," p. 5, M. A. thesis, Univ. Roch. 


A series of unfortunate events added to Rochester s hardships that 
year. When the Genesee jumped its banks in March and again in 
October, inflicting considerable damage, the great flood of two years 
before was recalled, depressing the spirits of those who had endeavored 
to dismiss the constant flood danger as but a rare experience. 77 Among 
several destructive fires, one leveled most of the stores in an entire block 
and narrowly missed Scrantom s establishment, while another burned 
out upwards of sixteen separate shops housed in the Globe Building. 78 
The activity of a group of land sharpers, promoting a town site, named 
Ontario, on the east bank of the river at its mouth, and selling lots with 
water-power rights and other advantages sadly lacking on the marshy 
plot, disappointed several Philadelphia buyers and gave Rochester a 
bad name in the East. 79 Finally, the arrival of ninety destitute Norwegian 
immigrants just before the canal closed that winter crowded the home 
of Lars Larson and seriously taxed his ability to find shelter and jobs 
for Ms countrymen, though several proved useful in the Larson boat 
yard. 30 

Rochester hastened to put the depression behind. Local merchants, 
leading in the call for a bank convention in the fall of 1837, sent fre 
quent petitions to Albany, demanding repeal of the law which au 
thorized the suspension of specie. 81 Rochester banks were among the 
first to resume payment in April, 1838.^ Action promptly followed, 
seeking the extension of the Bank of Rochester charter and the establish 
ment of new banks, but the legislature was absorbed in debate over the 
free banking measure of 1838, which sought to break the monopoly 
enjoyed by incorporated banks. 3 When finally adopted, that law, dis 
carding many of the safety fund principles, prescribed simplified pro 
cedures for the organization of new banks. 84 The Bank of Western 
New York was promptly established in August with stock to the 
amount of $295,000 subscribed, but the first large operation, in the 
bonds of a Georgia lumber company, proved an unfortunate specula 
tion, as events later disclosed. 85 Continued efforts to expand the city s 
credit facilities led to the extension of the Bank of Rochester charter in 

77 Genesee Farmer, V, 384; Democrat, Mar. 15, Oct. 23, 27, 1837. 

78 E. Scrantom, Diary, June n, 1837; Republican, June 20, 1837. 

79 Democrat, June 6, 1837; Peck Scrapbook, p. 3, Roch. Hist. Soc. 
^Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America to 1860 (Northfield, 

Minn., 1931), pp. 107-108, 203. Dean Blegen cites three letters written from 
Rochester and other first-hand accounts of this migration. 

^Assembly Journal (1838), pp. 126, 747; Republican, Nov. 21, Dec. 12, 1837. 

82 Democrat, Apr. 10, 1838. 

^Senate Doc. (1838), No. 44; Assembly Journal (1838), p. 360; RepubUcan, 
Apr. 2, May 7, 1839. 

84 Chaddock, Safety Fund Banking System, pp. 369-386. 

85 Ely vs. Sprague et al., Clarke s Chancery Reports, I, 351-357; L. A. Ward 
to Freeman Clarke, Rochester, Sept. 15, 1838, Clarke Letters. 


1839 and the establishment of three additional free banks in that and 
the succeeding year: the Commercial Bank ? the Farmers 1 and Mechanics 5 
Bank, and the Exchange Bank. 86 

Unfortunately, Rochester s speedy revival In 1838 was premature. 
When Scrantom and Ms partner, amazed at the profits shown by an in 
ventory in March ? 1838, decided to tear down their old store and re 
build a four-story exchange, the end of the year brought serious em 
barrassment. Though Edwin gathered fifteen guests around his Thanks 
giving table that November, and subscribed for $1000 of the new Com 
mercial Bank s stock, the January inventory caused alarm. With affairs 
in such an involved state that tie partners could not settle up, their 
creditors proved reluctant to foreclose. The only alternative was to 
carry on, prompting Edwin to borrow from his friend, Shakespeare, for 
a diary entry: "That either makes us or foredooms us quite." The 
partners gained a new appreciation of the treacherous character of the 
circulating medium, which consisted of depreciated Michigan and 
Canadian paper, worth possibly 25 per cent, Eastern bank notes of 
varied merits, and the personal notes of their neighbors, hard either to 
refuse or to redeem. The end of the year found "business dull, dull, dull, n 
and Scrantom added, "Let the world wag." The partners secured another 
extension of their loans but determined this time to add no additional 
stock.* 7 

Many were much less fortunate. The unusual prices received for flour 
in 1837 started a boom in wheat, afflicting millers and forwarders who 
bought at high prices with huge losses when flour tumbled from $11 to 
$4.50 a barrel in little more than a year. Though the quantity of 
flour reaching the Hudson over the Erie increased between 1837 and 
1839, the value dropped from $8,456,082 to ^^S^QiP- 88 In &e face 
of such rapid fluctuations it was not long before many of the leaders were 
humbled. Jonathan Child, the first mayor, and Charles J. Hill, soon to 
be elected to that office, both suffered huge losses in i839. 89 The number 
of foreclosure proceedings begun in 1838 and 1839 totaled 311,** while 
many of the less substantial simply became "runaways," possibly taking 
a few hundred in cash secured from their latest creditors. 91 

86 Hunt s Merchants 1 Magazine, IV (1841), 47M79- 

87 E. Scrantom, Diary, Mar. 20, Apr. 14, May 19, Nov. 29, Dec. 8, 1838; 
Jan. 4-12, 18, Nov. 18, 1839; Feb. 8, 18, 1840. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XIII (1845), 290; XV (1846), 520; XVIII 
(1848), 223. 

**E. Scrantom, Diary, Nov. 18, Dec. 28, 1839; Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her 
husband, Rochester, Dec. 25, 1839, Feb. i, 1840, E. S. S. Eaton Letters, courtesy 
of Mrs. Elizabeth Selden Rogers, New York City. 

^Les Pendency Cases, Chancery Records, A & B, Monroe Co. Court House. 

91 E. Scrantom, Diary, Nov. 18, Dec. 15, 1839; O Reilly Doc. No. 1778, Roch. 
Hist. Soc. 


Amidst the gloom of the early forties, the depression provided a dis 
illusioning experience. Confidence In one s neighbors was shaken, and 
"a scheming, gain-pursuing spirit" appeared. 92 It frequently occurred 
that close associates did not hesitate to make sharp bargains at one 
another s expense, as when Abraham Schermerhorn forced an early 
foreclosure of the Eagle Tavern in 1839, acquiring that valuable site 
and principal hotel for $700 above the mortgage of $50,000, although 
another interested party, then absent from the city, offered $6,000 
when asking for a resale. 98 One man s loss in such a situation provided 
another s gain. Indeed it soon appeared to Edwin Scrantom that the 
only prosperous business was that of auctioneer, selling out his neigh 
bors 7 estates for a commission. 94 

The successive months of 1841 were full of gloom in Rochester. A 
blow-up occurred in the City Bank that summer, resulting In the ouster 
of the president and cashier on charges of misuse of funds, while the 
Bank of Western New York closed when its losses in Georgia lumber 
were revealed. 95 The Commercial Bank, checked In its attempt to operate 
on non-liquid assets, successfully held its head above water, 96 but the 
Farmers and Mechanics Bank, with a capital of $100,000, of which 
only one-quarter was paid in, succumbed early in i842. 97 Business 
failures totaled more than $150,000 in I84I, 98 turning the public interest 
from bank charters to bankruptcy legislation and proposals for a stable 

Many other factors contributed to Rochester s hardships. From the 
start of the crisis the citizens had turned to government both for aid to 
the destitute and a reduction of taxes, though of course neither demand 
was fully satisfied. Delay in the completion of transport improvements 
joined with fire and flood losses to prolong the town s economic suffering. 

Poor relief had been supplied by the townships prior to 1837 when 
the council voted its first hundred dollars for a soup kitchen. The 
extensive program of street paving, launched a few years before, was 
continued with the hope that unemployment would be eased thereby. 
Though seventy citizens petitioned that all public improvements in the 

92 [J. B. Hudson], Narrative of the Christian Experience, p. 164. 
^Gardiner vs. Schermerhorn et al., Clarke s Chancery Reports, I, 101-106. 

94 E. Scrantom, Diary, July 20, iS^o-Aug. 13, 1844; ? Canfield, "Cash. Book," 
MS, Roch. Hist. Soc., records several foreclosure sales of ^842 and 1843. 

95 E. Scrantom, Diary, June 13, i84i-Jan. 29, 1842; Democrat, Mar. 16, 17, 
Apr. 8, 1841. 

86 Ely vs. Sprague et aL, Clarke s Chancery Reports, I, 351-357. 
97 E. Scrantom, Diary, Jan. 29, 1842; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, VI (-1842), 

"Democrat, Dec. 7, 1841. 

"Democrat, Jan. 22, 1840; July 19, 1841. 


city be suspended and the taxes reduced, an opposing memorial stressed 
the commercial necessity for improving the main highways leading into 
the city and urged the merits of a penal workhouse where young criminals 
could be taught industry and led to reform. 100 After much hesitation the 
council sold stock for an almshouse, spending the money on other im 
provements, however. Some rock was broken for the streets, and the 
steep hill at the east end of the main bridge was partially graded down. 
Direct relief aided as many as 327 families, totaling 1,389 persons, 
1,064 of them foreigners, in 1839-40, though the sums distributed 
averaged barely five dollars a person for the entire year. 101 

Increasingly insistent demands for public economy finally called a 
halt to the mounting levies of the mid-thirties, but instead of cutting ex 
penditures at the same rate, an ingenious plan was devised to pay for 
the improvements with small notes or shinplasters to be redeemed from 
the special assessments collected when the improvements were completed. 
By the end of 1837 a total of $51,000 had been distributed in this fashion, 
and while some notes were redeemed the next year, more were issued, 
so that the close of 1840 found nearly $52,000 in shinplasters out 
standing. 102 A determined effort to redeem these notes in the next two 
years sharply contracted the circulating medium on which the trading 
community depended, increasing the reliance on due bills issued by 
private employers. Meanwhile, despite the economy pledges of its 
officials and despite the publication in 1843 f a five-column list of 
properties to be sold for delinquent taxes, the city still faced a floating 
debt of approximately $40,000 in i844, 103 

A similar struggle for economy developed in the legislature with more 
disastrous effects on Rochester, which stood to benefit from the major 
state outlays of the period. Indeed the work on the aqueduct and the 
Genesee Valley Canal between 1837 and 1842 helped greatly to moderate 
the local effects of the depression. Most Rochesterians favored an 
energetic prosecution of these public works, 104 but eastern Democrats 
urged retrenchment and sought to curb the powers of the Whig ad 
ministration of Governor Seward to borrow for canal improvements. 
Fortunately the new aqueduct had been completed before the economy 
party gained ascendancy, stopping all further construction in March, 
1842. Not only was the annual expenditure of several hundred thousand 

100 Donald W. Gilbert, "Government and Finances of Rochester," MS, Univ, 
Roch., pp. 67, 87-94; Common Council Proceedings, Apr. 17, 1838; Economy 
Committee Report, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

101 Gilbert, "Government and Finances," pp. 90-94; see below, p. 255. 

102 Democrat, May 15, 1837; Feb. 27, 1841; Gilbert, "Government and Finances," 
pp. I53-I55- 

^Advertiser, Apr. 25, 1843; Democrat, Feb. 19, 29, 1844. 
104 Senate Doc. (1838), No. i; O Reilly Doc., Case III, Box i; Hervey Ely to 
Thurlow Weed, Rochester, Apr. i, 1841, Weed Letters. 


dollars in Rochester and the Genesee Country discontinued, but the 
expected trade advantages were postponed. The severity of the recession 
In Rochester during 1842 and 1843 no doubt reflected the drastic 
economy efforts at Albany. 105 

A series of natural events conspired to add to the city s misfortunes. 
More than a score of destructive fires broke out in 1840 and again in 
1842^ while the number doubled in 1843, when the activity of an in 
cendiary was suspected. With a considerable portion of the milling and 
other industrial equipment thus destroyed, residents began to question 
the wisdom of economy in the fire department. 106 Meanwhile the long 
series of bumper crops in the Genesee came to an end during the severe 
drought of I84I/ 07 The snow storms of the next winter broke all previous 
records for the depth of their drifts and the duration of bad weather, 
but the following winter promptly established a new record, recalling 
the snowbound winters of Vermont and enforcing long seasons of busi 
ness stagnation. 108 

Warm summer evenings had peculiar hazards of their own. The pro 
tracted depression, with its reduced wages, prolonged working hours, 
and renewal of the due-bill system, had revived labor agitation, and the 
Court House Square afforded a convenient setting for these activities. 
When the Mechanics Benevolent Association held a mass meeting 
there in March, 1842, the Journeymen Cordwainers 7 Society cooperated 
in the parade which followed, carrying posters roundly condemning 
due biHs. 109 Though popular sympathy was aroused, the practice con 
tinued, prompting a second mass meeting on the evening of June 14, 
I843. 110 J* M. Schermerhorn, realtor, looking down from his comfortable 
hotel suite across Buffalo Street, feared that the mob of two or three 
thousand would get out of hand and start wrecking the town. The shout 
of "fire, fire," coming through the open window as he sat writing to his 
wife, added to his concern. 

It was only a few months since Hervey Ely, the miller, had lost his 
Greek Revival mansion on Livingston Park, and the homes of James K. 
Livingston and Selah Mathews, two of Ely s endorsers, were likewise 
sacrificed. Several other mansions changed hands that year, m but 

105 Nelson J. Beach, Who Buttt the Canals? (Rome, 1852) ; Samuel B. Ruggles, 
Vindication in 1849 of the Canal Policy of New York of 1838 (New York, 1849) 
Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XIII (1845), 58-59 ; WMtford, History of the Canal 
System, I, 167-172. 

106 Newspaper Index, Roch. Pub. Library. 

107 Rochester Evening Post, Sept. 4, 1841. 
1<)S E. Scrantom, Diary, Mar. 15-29, 1843. 

109 Advertiser, Mar. 22, 26, 1842. 

110 Roch. Republican, June 20, 1843. 

111 J. M. Schermerhorn to his wife, Rochester, Jan. 17, June 14, 1843, Schermer- 
hora Letters, MSS in possession of Mrs. Rudolph Stanley-Brown, Washington, 
D. C., photostat copies in Roch. Pub. Library. 


Mrs. Ely was able to "appear happy" in less pretentious quarters in 
MumforcPs Block, assisting her husband in the slow struggle to recoup 
Ms fortune, while J. M. Schermerhorn, encouraged the next spring by 
finding "business much improved/ 5 determined to build some more 
cheap houses on the Reynolds tract (which had recently fallen to him 
through Abelard s embarrassment) for quick sale to the newcomers 
expected to arrive that summer. m 


As the depression was primarily a financial panic with far-reaching 
commercial repercussions/ 13 Rochester with its fairly secure banks could 
hope for recovery as soon as the commercial Hfe of the nation regained 
its vitality. Persistent efforts to improve the local trade arteries achieved 
some results, but it soon became evident that Rochester s future lay in 
its industrial potentialities. 114 A concerted drive for their development 
first appeared in the late forties. 

Meanwhile, several of Rochester s ablest leaders sought the im 
provement of transport facilities. Not only were such men as Henry 
O Reilly an d Hervey Ely prominent in the fight for the canal s enlarge 
ment, but Jonathan Child, James Seymour, and Abraham Schermerhora 
invested heavily in railroad ventures, while Elisha Johnson, the engineer, 
took an active part in several of these enterprises. After building the 
Tonawanda and assisting in the formulation of plans for other railroads 
in the area, Johnson became a construction engineer on the Genesee 
Valley Canal, assuming the difficult task of extending that artery over 
the highlands south of Mount Morris. Unfortunately, the major dif 
ficulties encountered, together with the withdrawal of state support, 
brought this latter project to a standstill, prompting Johnson, like many 
of his fellow Rochesterians of the early forties, to seek a new fortune 
in more distant ventures. 115 

The Erie Canal, despite the disappointment of those who advocated 
its early enlargement, was still Rochester s major trade artery. While 
its commercial burden fluctuated from year to year, the upward trend 
continued, particularly for eastbound produce, which increased twofold 
during the forties. Cargoes hailing from the West increased rapidly and, 
after 1846, greatly exceeded the state s produce in tonnage; ue western 

112 Same to same, loc. cit., Nov. 7, 1843 ; May 14, 1844. 

113 Reginald C. McGrane, The Panic of 1837 (Chicago, 1924) . 

114 Michel Chevalier, Histoire et Description des Voles de Communication aux 
Etats-Unis (Paris, 1840), pp. 13-14. 

115 Democrat, Sept. 30, 1834; Rock. Republican, Jan. 24, Apr. 18, 1837; 
Rochester Union and Advertiser, June 30, 1866. 

116 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, IV (1841), 481-482; XXVII (1852), 1155 
XXXV (1856), p. 359- 


wheat surpassed New York s in tonnage by i84i. UT These years also 
witnessed a proportionate decrease in the number of packets and line 
boats with facilities for carrying passengers, as compared with the 
number of scows and other freight boats. From one-half, the former fell 
to one-fifth of the total number of boats within ten years. 118 Boat cargoes 
increased from an average of 41 tons in 1841 to 49 tons in 1844 and 
to 76 by the mid-century, reflecting the shift to the heavier freight 
boats. 119 

Rochester continued to enjoy a large share of this trade. The com 
pletion of the imposing new aqueduct at a cost of $445,347 in 1842 
provided the city with a secure two-way crossing. 120 Fortunately the 
deeper cut and improved locks at Lockport were likewise completed after 
a short delay, facilitating a more adequate flow of Lake Erie water to 
and beyond Rochester and postponing for a time the danger that 
Genesee water would have to be diverted from the mills in order to 
keep the canal supplied. 121 The prospect that the western end of the 
canal would fall into disuse and that east- and westbound traffic would 
be diverted by way of Lake Ontario and the Oswego Canal was thus 
avoided, although the latter route s portion of the total trade did 
increase. 122 

Rochester successfully preserved its vital trade artery, but rapid shifts 
marked the development of its trade. Local canal tolls, after hitting 
an all-time high of $248,210 in 1840, fell off in succeeding years as toll 
rates were reduced, while Buffalo s through shipments increased and her 
tolls climbed rapidly until they more than doubled the Rochester receipts 
after 1844^ Shipments by the canal fluctuated sharply in both size and 
value. From the relatively high figures for 1837, when the 45,288 tons 
shipped east reached a value of $3,518,335, the trade dropped irregularly 
to 42,415 tons in 1844, valued at only $2,024,449 largely because of 
the sharply reduced flour prices. Buffalo s trade experienced a twofold 
growth during the same period and continued to increase its lead over 
Rochester, while Oswego bounded past, but shipping figures at these 
rival ports represented transshipments, whereas those of Rochester 
measured the output of the mills and in the late forties the augmented 
factory product as well. Thus, while ashes fell to a fifth of their 1837 
value by the mid-century, and flour barely held its own, Rochester s 

Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXVIII (1853), 481. 

^ Hunt s Merchants? Magazine, XI (1844), I 4 2 - The total number of canal 
boats in the state in 1844 was given as 2,126, with 40 per cent of them classified 
as undecked scows and the total valuation placed at $1,526,000, 

m Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXVII, 115. 

:m Whitford, History of the Canal System, 171, 960; Democrat, Apr. 5, 21, 1842. 

121 Whitford, History of the Canal System, p. 960. 

122 Whitford, History of the Canal System, p. 1062. 

123 Whitford, History of the Canal System, pp. 910, 1062, 1064; Senate Doc. 
(1845), No. 115, Stint, i; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XLII (1860), 118. 


total advanced 30 per cent. After 1844 flour dropped from two-thirds to 
one-half of the total valuation. 324 But a still more noticeable shift oc 
curred in the relation between shipments and landings, for by 1848 the 
latter showed an excess value of $600,000, doubtless reflecting a gain 
in the city s merchandising activities in the interior. 125 

A contributing factor in Rochester s fluctuating canal trade was the 
sudden rise and fall in lake shipments. These reached a total of $654,700 
in 1 84 i, 12S when the European demand for breadstuff s revived the 
Genesee s languishing exports, but dropped to a third of that figure by 
I847- 127 The trade would increase, many argued, as soon as the abandoned 
Carthage railroad was replaced by a west-side steam line to the Charlotte 
docks, but construction was delayed for several years. 128 Occasional 
appeals for reciprocal trade with Canada ran counter to the more per 
sistent desire for protective tariffs. 129 The arrival and departure of two 
steamers (and frequently an equal number of schooners) each weekday 
during the busy season in 1842 provided a lively activity 1SO which con 
tinued, from year to year, though the Genesee stop became relatively 
unimportant as the trade of Oswego and Sacketts Harbor, not to 
mention Buffalo and other western ports, greatly outstripped that of 
Rochester. 131 

The large commercial advantages expected from the Genesee Valley 
Canal never materialized, though traffic over this route did get under 
way when the first stretch of the canal opened to Mount Morris in 
September, 1840. Only fifty-two miles were completed when the 
Stop Law postponed further construction. 132 The canal, as it stood, 
served little more than the normal valley settlements which had formerly 
boated the river free of charge, but the expenditure of upwards of 
$1,500,000 in the valley had greatly stimulated enterprise. The tonnage 
on the Genesee Canal increased from 26,892 in 1841 to 65,077 in 1844 
and 89,804 in 1850, while the tolls mounted over the same period from 
$9,927 to $19,641 and $27,675. 133 This trade averaged far below its an 
ticipated volume, however, and although work resumed on the upper 
section in 1847, after a stoppage of five years, the prospect of reaching 

124 Senate Doc. (1838), No. 35, Stmt. 8; (1845), No. 115, Table 3; Assembly 
Doc. (1850), No. 140, Stmt. 3. 

125 Raymond Scrapbook, p. 98. 

126 Democrat , Dec. 4, 1841. 

127 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XVIII (1848), 491-492. 

:L28 Democrat, Apr. 28, Dec. 4, 1841; Jan. 10, July 6, 1842; Advertiser, Jan. 18, 


129 Republican, May 17, 1842; Mar. 19, 26, July 2, 1844; Democrat, Oct. 25, 
1849; Raymond Scrapbook, p. 27. 

13G Democrat, July 6, 1842; Advertiser, July 13, 1843. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XVIII (1848), 491-492; XXIV (1851), 217; 
J. L. Barton, Commerce of the Lakes (Buffalo, 1847). 

^Advertiser, July 23, 1840; Hunt s Merchants 1 Magazine, XIII (1845), 58-59. 

1S3 Whitford, History of the Canal System, pp. 1062, 1066. 


the coal fields and tapping the trade of the Ohio Valley appeared far in 

the future. 

Rochester s two main railroads proved less disappointing, chiefly 
because less was expected of them. The single-track Tonawanda line 
had been constructed with such economy that it soon closed for repairs. 
Though the road s receipts in 1839 totaled $50,210, the major portion 
came from passengers, who increased markedly in 1843 when completion 
of the Attica and Buffalo Railway made the Tonawanda attractive to 
through travelers, sustaining a schedule of two trains daily. 134 Un 
fortunately the Buffalo line drained off much of Genesee County s 
produce, previously carried by the Tonawanda to Rochester, and no 
effective competition for the canal s freight developed for many 
years. 135 

Meanwhile, work on the Auburn line progressed rapidly. With a 
depot erected on Mill Street and a bridge thrown across the Genesee 
in 1839, the company was able with the aid of a state grant to reach 
Canandaigua in 1840 and Auburn the following year. 136 New England 
capital eagerly absorbed the forfeited local stock 13T when the cost of the 
full 78 miles mounted to $1,727,000, or $22,141 per mile, more than 
double that of the Tonawanda but slightly under the average for New 
York railroads of the day. 138 Again, the passenger service attracted 
chief attention, 90 per cent of the revenue of 1843-44 coming from that 
source. 139 Indeed the merchants of Canandaigua found it necessary to 
convene a public meeting and circulate petitions in order to persuade the 
Auburn and Rochester to run one freight train a week in i84i. 140 

The two Rochester lines became useful links in the chain of railroads 
stretching across the state in these years. With the Auburn line finished, 
rail connections extended over these several lines from Albany to 
Rochester and on to Batavia, and to Buffalo by January, 1843. Barring 
accidents, it was theoretically possible to reach New York in a day and 
a night from Rochester by rail and Hudson River steamer, a trip pre 
viously made with good luck in a week. 141 

"^Advertiser, Feb. 21, Apr. 28, 1840; Democrat, May 7, 1841; Apr. 27, July i, 
1842; Jan. 17, 1843; Hunt s Merchants 1 Magazine, IX (1843), 482. 

136 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, IX (1843), 482. 

^Roch. Republican, May 14, July 16, Aug. 13, 1839; Democrat, Aug. 3, 28, 
1839; Advertiser, Apr. 13, 30, June 15, Sept. ri, 1840, Nov. 4, 1841; Hungerford, 
Men and Iron, pp. 48-55. 

^Democrat, Dec. i, 1848. 

138 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, X (1844), 476-477. 

189 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XII (1845), 382. 

140 Democrat, Nov. 19, Dec. 4, 1841; Albert Lester to Henry O Reilly, 
Canandaigua, Dec. i, 1841, O Reilly Doc., No. 1260. 

141 Abelard Reynolds to Fabritus Reynolds, Rochester, Sept. 10, 1841, Reynolds 


However, the various companies, supported in considerable measure 
by local capital, felt little disposed to facilitate such rapid travel. 
Hotelkeepers and merchants at Utica ? Syracuse^ and especially at 
Rochester desired schedules that would assure them an ample overnight 
clientele. Their injury would have been great indeed, had the speeding 
cars deprived them at one blow of the 50,000 through passengers a year 
which the stage lines had previously scattered along the route. 142 Yet 
the definite advantages to be gained through a mutual use of rolling 
stock prompted the Auburn and Rochester to make such an agreement 
with the Auburn and Syracuse in 1842. Two years later a more ex 
tensive pooling of the freight, passenger, mail, and "emigrant" cars 
was achieved by the five adjoining lines running between Rochester 
and Albany. 143 The latter year likewise saw the Tonawanda tracks ex 
tended despite many protests into the Mill Street station. An able en 
gineer, Charles B. Stuart, undertook the reconstruction of this line in 
1844, enabling it to carry the heavier cars and engines of the Eastern 
roads, 144 

While these several railroads as yet shared little of the area s heavy 
commerce, they exerted a considerable influence upon its economic life. 
Unprecedented opportunities for the profitable investment of private 
funds, far beyond the resources of the area, attracted new capital from 
the East, greatly stimulating the demand for labor and supplies. A new 
land use appeared, and the Auburn and Rochester paid out $170,028 for 
its narrow right of way between 1837 and i842. 145 When car and ma 
chine shops were demanded, Rochester hastened to supply them. 146 

The old stage companies, hard pressed, quickly abandoned the cross- 
state business. Their last-ditch fight to retain the mail contracts ended 
when the railroads provided cars in which the mail could be sorted en 
route. 147 Rochester, however, still enjoyed the services of six stage 

Merchants Magazine, X (1843), 476-477, XII (1845), 382. 

143 "Articles of Agreement between the Auburn and Rochester Railway and the 
Auburn and Syracuse Railway respecting the joint use of certain properties, 
April 19, 1842"; "Articles of Agreement between the Auburn and Rochester, the 
Auburn and Syracuse, the Syracuse and Utica, the Utica and Schenectady, and 
the Mohawk and Hudson Railway companies for the joint use of freight, passenger, 
mail and emigrant cars, 1844," MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

^Democrat, Feb. i, 5, Apr. 30, Nov. 18, 1844,- Charles B. Stuart, "Report on 
the Tonawanda Rail Road, Sept. 27, 1843," Stuart s Railroad Reports (New York, 

145 "Statement of Disbursements of the Auburn and Rochester Railway to 
Jan. i, 1842," MS, Roch. Hist. Soc.; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XI (1844), 
76-77, 172 ; Democrat, May 7, -1841. The early railroad dividends were usually 7 
per cent per annum. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XII (1845), 382. 

147 Henry B. Gibson to Henry O Reilly, Canandaigua, Apr. 21, 1841, O Reilly 
Doc., No. 856, 


companies in 1844 14S as Improved stage lines were extended north and 
south. The decrease in packet service on the canals closely reflected rail 
road competition, though the immigrant traffic was only partly lost. 
With the provision of more comfortable cars and coaches fitted with 
sleeping accommodation, the total number of travelers increased two 
fold during the forties. 149 Fares received from the more than 150,000 
passengers who passed through Rochester in 1849 provided handsome 
returns, enabling local railroads to pay dividends of 7 or 8 per cent 
annually. 150 

Nevertheless, the railroads appeared as modest enterprises when com 
pared with the canal. The regular payroll of the Auburn and Rochester 
included thirteen names aside from the president in 1840, requiring a 
monthly outlay of but $475. By 1844 the number of employees had in 
creased to 137, reaching 287 by 1848, while the Tonawanda averaged 
84 and 93 in the same years, not including construction labor. 151 
These workmen, scattered in the various towns from Auburn to Batavia, 
operated a total of 25 locomotives and 150 freight and passenger cars 
in 1848 a small labor force indeed compared with the canallers who 
manned the 4,ooo-odd boats which made 7,262 visits to Rochester that 
year. 152 Scarcely 4,500 tons of freight were carried out of the city by 
railroad in 1.846, when the canal boats loaded 100,803 tons. 153 The 
average canal season lasted only 225 days during these years, but the 
pioneer railroads likewise closed down for weeks at a time, notably dur 
ing the heavy snows of 1842 and 1843, and for extensive repairs each 
spring. 154 Their prosperous months proved to be April through October 
when four-fifths of the receipts were gathered. 155 

Constant efforts to strengthen these early railroads somewhat im 
proved their commercial facilities. Though the Tonawanda road bed was 

148 [Humphrey Phelps?], Phelp s Travelers Guide through the United States 
(New York, 1848), .pp. 23-26. 

14S Ole Munch Raeder, America in the Forties. The Letters of Ole Munch Raeder, 
tr. and ed. by Gunnar J. Malmin (Minn., 1929), pp. 1-95 Hunt s Merchants 
Magazine, XXH (1850), 567. 

150 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XX (1849), 550; XXII (1850), 567; Democrat, 
Apr. 12, Sept. 4, Oct. 13, 1848. 

151 "List of Persons necessary to operate the Auburn and Rochester Railway 
between Rochester and Canandaigua and their Salaries" [1840], MS, Roch. Hist. 
Soc.; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XII (1845), 382; XX (1849), 550. 

^Hunt s Merchants 3 Magazine, XX (1849), 550; Whitfield, History of the 
Canal System, p. 961; "Weighlock Report," Raymond Scrapbook, p. 199. Yet 
the steady employment at $1.25 a day enjoyed in the car repair shop, and espe 
cially the regularity of the payments, coming on the first day of every month 
without fail, impressed Charles Howland, a recent migrant from New England; 
see his letter, quoted in R. H. S., Pub., XXI, 84-85. 

153 Senate Doc. (1847), No. 90, Stmt. 2. 

154 E. Scrantom, IMary, Mar. 23, 1843. 

155 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XX (1849), 222. 


rebuilt in tie mid-forties, before the end of the decade its managers de 
termined to replace the old strip-iron rails with the new T-rail already 
installed on the Auburn line at a cost of $10,000 a mile and financed 
in part by a state loan of $4oo,ooo. 156 The ten-mile*an-hour average 
speed, with an occasional spurt that reached fifteen, astonished local 
travelers of the early forties, but by the mid-century Rochesterians had 
become accustomed to speeds of from twenty to twenty-five miles an 
hour. 157 Freight engines hauling twenty-five cars occasionally pulled out 
of the city. 15 Though fatal accidents proved frequent (trains jumped 
the tracks in the area at least twenty-one times during the forties), 159 the 
more normal mishap resulted from the blazing sparks scattered by the 
engines, which consumed some 23,000 cords of wood a year. 160 When 
complaints against the service increased, a local railroad guide advised 
travelers to "avoid all words of controversy with the Railroad Men, and 
do not give them any unnecessary trouble. Their duties are many times 
arduous and vexatious, and you may often find them out of humor. 
Should they misuse you, report them at the end of their Road." 161 
Unfortunately there was no authority to appeal to when porters from 
rival hotels started fighting over a passenger s baggage at the depot 
on Mill Street. Harriet Beecher Stowe marveled in 1842 that passengers 
were not crushed daily in the crowds swarming around the cars with the 
engines puffing steam and sparks up under the high roof. 162 

Several other railroad projects interested the Flour City during the 
forties. A proposed direct line to Syracuse, feared by the canal interests 
and the Auburn line, failed to gain legislative approval until iSso. 163 
Though a charter was secured for a railroad to Lockport, rivalry be 
tween the canal and Ridge Road routes delayed its construction until 

Still another railroad, the New York and Erie, was destined to have a 
considerable effect on Rochester s commercial position. Financial dif 
ficulties halted construction in 1842, but a few years later, when its 

^Democrat, Aug. u, Oct. 3, 6, Nov. 27, 1848; Raymond Scrapbook, p. 91; 
Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXI (1849), 167. 

* 57 Hunt s Merchants Magazine,. XXII, 568; Seymour Dunbar, A History of 
Travel in America (Indianapolis, 191$) HI, 1051, 1054. 

158 Advertiser, Apr. 28, 1848. 

159 The Newspaper Index lists 32 fatalities during the forties and many less 
serious injuries. 

160 Raymond Scrapbook, p. 69; Democrat, July 7, 8, 1842; Jan. 17, Sept. 6, 

161 Advertiser, Dec. 2, 1848; Dewey s Albany and Buffalo Railway Handbook 
(Rochester, 1849). 

^Genesee Olio, Nov. 4, 1848; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Life and Letters of 
Harriet Beecher Stowe (Boston, 1897), PP- 107-108. 

1GB Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXI (1849), 163-171. 
164 Freeman Clarke Letters. 


advance through the southern portion of the Flour City ? s hinterland 
recommenced; plans were laid to construct a line southward along the 
river with the hope of persuading the Erie to run its main line into 
Rochester. While the Avon line failed to achieve that purpose, the Erie 
completed its 445-mile line in 1851, the longest yet built in America, 
providing a southern connection between New York City and Lake 
Erie. 165 Nevertheless, despite the Erie s success in tapping a coal field 
and opening a vast area, the real commercial achievements of this and 
other railroads still lay in the future. Travelers from abroad were chiefly 
surprised at the flimsy construction of these New York railroads as 
compared with those of England and the continent. 165 


Rochester s failure to achieve major improvements in its commercial 
facilities proved a severe handicap in the race with more advantageously 
located cities. The new railroads, however, strengthened its position of 
leadership in the northern portion of the Genesee Country, and while 
many of its citizens, discouraged by the protracted hardships of the 
depression, moved on, a sufficient number of newcomers arrived to give 
Rochester a 92 per cent growth in the ten years following its incorpora 
tion and an So per cent growth during the forties. The most rapid in 
crease came in the years prior to the depression, yet nearly one thousand 
arrived during each of the seven lean years, and growth was slightly 
accelerated in the late forties. 167 

Nevertheless, it seemed clear to a hasty observer in 1843, J. W. Scott, 
Hunt s authority on urban growth, that Rochester s palmy days had 
passed. 168 Smaller cities further west, such as Cleveland, Detroit, 
Milwaukee, and Chicago, were experiencing Rochester s earlier boom 
days, and many of the latter s residents felt attracted by the expansive 
atmosphere tiiey had known so well. Western cities of Rochester s class 
Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Louisville and the two leaders,. Cincinnati 
and St. Louis, recovering quickly from the sharp hardships of 1837, 
bounded far ahead, supported by the commercial opportunities at their 
respective docks. 169 Even Oswego appeared to Scott as destined to out 
class Rochester, while Maumee (or Toledo) seemed to hold the 
greatest promise, with Chicago alone offering a challenge. 170 Rochester- 

165 C. R. Babbit to Henry O Reilly, Painted Post, Aug. 16, 1841, O Reilly Doc., 
No. 1729; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, X (1844), 562-563; E. H. Mott, The 
Story of Erie (New York, 1908), pp. 94-109, 483. 

WQ Genesee Farmer, IX (1839), 322; Letter of German Immigrant (1848), 
Wisconsin Magazine of History, Sept., T937, pp. 72-73. 

ie7 Democrat, Aug. 20, 1835 ; July 31, 1840 ; Nov. i, 1850 ; Advertiser, Sept. 6, 1845. 

388 J, W. Scott, "Internal Trade of the United States," Hunt s Merchants 
Magazine, IX (1843), 31-47- See also Raymond Scrapbook, p. 134. 

169 U. S. Census (1840), (1850). 

170 Scott, "Internal Trade," pp. 39-46. Other forecasts saw Cincinnati and 


lans reluctantly gave up their proud title, "The Young Lion of the 
West." Elisha Johnson, Henry O Reilly, and James Seymour were but 
a few of the more prominent citizens drawn away by the prospects of 
one or another of Rochester s rivals. 171 

That a surprising number of the city s residents moved on Is revealed 
by a comparison of successive directory lists. A sampling of 400 names 
In the 1838 directory, only 166 of which reappeared In the list of 1844, 
suggests that approximately 60 per cent had left, so that barely a 
third of the more numerous adult male citizens of 1844 could boast five 
years residence within the city. Again, only 221 of a sampling of 500 
names in the 1844 directory reappeared in the 1849 listing, indicating 
that approximately 55 per cent departed during the more favorable 
years of the late forties. Though the turnover may not have been so 
rapid as that of a decade before^ the actual number of migrants was 
much larger. 172 

Fortunately for the city s future the stream of newcomers more than 
filled all vacancies. A few were still arriving from New England, but 
Germany was almost as well represented^ while Great Britain and her 
possessions (especially Ireland) accounted for more than a fifth of the 
population. Though the foreign-born comprised nearly a third of the 
city s population in 1845, the majority were of New York State origin, 
hailing generally from the older communities of western New York. 173 
The enterprise of the Genesee was centering more definitely at Rochester. 
Monroe County as a whole continued Its steady growth, greatly exceeding 
its near neighbors, yet the city, increasing more rapidly, comprised 
more than a third of the county s population by i845. 174 

While Rochester s growth did not offer the encouragement to specula- 

St. Louis as the giants of the future, outranking even New York within another 
half -century. Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XIX (1848), 383-386. 

^EvnVs Merchants Magazine, XVH (1855), 46-52; Edwin Scrantom, "Old 
Citizen s Letters," p, 15, Scrapbook, Roch. Hist. Soc.j Advertiser, Dec. 14, 1840, 
May 18, 1847. See also L. B. Swan, Journal of a Trip to Michigan in 1841 
(Rochester, 1904), in which visits to former Rochesterians are recounted. 

172 Rochester Directory (1838), (1844), (1849-50). Approximately 70 per 
cent departed in the n-year period after 1838 as compared with approximately 
80 per cent in the previous n years, judging from the directory comparisons made 
by Miss Dorothy S. Truesdale. Occasional letters to the folks at home or to 
former friends in Rochester and frequent marriage and death notices in local 
papers indicate that at least those whose Rochester ties were to this extent main 
tained had been attracted by Western urban sites and commercial prospects rather 
than by the cheap farm lands of the interior. Genesee Farmer, VII ( 1837), n8j 
E. B. Elwood to Henry O Reilly, Toledo, Ohio, Dec. 8, 1842, O Reilly Doc., No. 
1672 ; Newspaper Index. 

173 New York State Census (1845). 

174 New York State Census (1845); Andrews Scrapbook, B, p. 86, Roch. Hist 


tors afforded by many Western towns, it proved sufficient to justify 
Investments. Many inflated property values had to be scaled 
down, but if the titles had been acquired in the early thirties the losses 
were only fictitious in character. Thus a i69-acre farm on the north 
western edge of the city sold in the realtor s darkest year, 1841, for 
three times its purchase price of i83o. 175 Edwin Scrantom knocked down 
numerous properties at lively auction sales in the Arcade Hall during 
these years. On one occasion seven town lots netted a total of $5191, 
while in 1844^ when values were beginning to rise, a commercial lot on 
Buffalo Street brought $500 a front foot. 178 

J. M. Schermerhorn, among others, found that only by improving 
Ms properties could their values be maintained. "Rents are exceedingly 
low," he informed his wife, "for dwelling houses especially but I must 
submit to the times." 1T7 Many residents held a different view of the situa 
tion. A series of ten articles, signed by "FrankHn" in the Workingman s 
Advocate in 1840, attacked the rentals demanded for small stores and 
cheap houses. Tenements and houses that did not cost $1000 demanded 
$150 in annual rents, he declared, while mansions valued at $5000 
could be rented for ?SOQ, and the only remedy for the poor was to move 
out to the country. 178 A large body of citizens gathered in public protest 
two years later, and though the demand for additional houses remained 
brisk, rents did come down 20 to 30 per cent 179 Some 265 new houses, 
two-thirds of them of wood, were erected in Monroe County, the great 
majority in the city, during 1840, but they averaged less than $1500 
apiece. 180 Yet one Greek Revival mansion commanded as much as $7000 
when sold at forced sale, 181 while visitors remarked at the spacious dwell 
ings of numerous Rochesterians. 182 

As the city continued its encroachments on the surrounding farms, 
an additional 304 acres was brought within the limits, chiefly in the 
annexation of grounds for a new cemetery on the southern border of 
the city. 183 Yet ample room for growth still existed within the corporate 

175 Otis Farm folder, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc.; see Smith and Cole, Fluctuations 
in American Business, pp. 53-58. 

176 Rochester Daily Sun, July 4, 1839; Democrat, July 2, 1842; Apr. i, 1843; 
Aug. i, 1844; Advertiser, Mar. i, 1844. 

177 J. M. Sdhermerhorn to his wife, Rochester, Mar. 29, 1843, Schermerhorn 

178 Workingman s Advocate, Feb. 11-28, 1840. 

179 Democrat, Apr. n, 1842; J. M. Schermerhorn to his wife, Rochester, Mar. 
14, 1843, Schermerhorn Letters. 

180 U. S. Census (1840), p. 129. 

181 J. M. Schermerhorn to his wife, Rochester, Jan. 17, 1843, Schermerhorn 

182 Sir Charles LyeH, Travels in North America in the Years 1841-42 (London, 
1845), I, 17; see below, pp. 299-300. 

183 W. Earl Weller, "The Expanding Boundaries of Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., 
XIV, 178, 181. 


bounds. Thus a total of 17,658 bushels of potatoes grew on 250 city 
acres, and 4,884 bushels of corn on another 166 acres in 1844, when the 
city numbered 1,503 milk cows and 2,627 hogs. Few cows or truck 
gardens appeared within the four central wards, but the 154 farmers 
resident in the city cultivated broad fields in the outlying wards and 
adjoining towns. Their milk, butter, cheese, and vegetables made a 
sizable contribution to the local produce market 184 

The fundamental city pattern was already taking shape. 185 Not only 
were the major roads that had converged on the bridge in the earlier 
days now fully developed and most of the cross streets within the 
radius of one mile clearly laid out, but settlement was pressing outward 
along each of the chief highways. The improvement of five of these 
arteries by plank road companies after 1848 accelerated the outward ex 
tension of residential areas, which were served in a measure by two 
competing omnibus lines in the late forties. 186 The river still provided 
the major dividing line, though four bridges as well as the aqueduct 
and railroad bridge facilitated communication, enabling the population 
on the east side almost to match that on the west bank by iSso. 187 The 
Erie and the Genesee Valley canals likewise segregated various portions 
of the city, while the railroad promised to have a similar effect. 


The forties also witnessed the further development of Rochester s 
industrial pattern. Forced to admit that "in every kind of business save 
manufacturing it [Buffalo] far surpasses Rochester," "* the water-power 
city s potentialities as a manufacturing center were increasingly stressed. 
Milling still dominated the scene, for new leadership as well as new 
markets and raw materials were needed before flour s preeminence 
could be challenged, but these requirements began to appear by the 

The suspicion that the Rochester flour industry had reached its maxi 
mum girth was gaining weight. 18 The grain fields of the West over 
shadowed those of the Genesee, and while enough wheat arrived to 
enable Rochester to grind and ship 35,194 tons of flour by canal in 1844, 
the same year saw 91,927 tons of flour from western mills loaded on 
canal boats at Buffalo. 190 Rochester s 4oo,ooo-barrel shipment by canal 
that season increased nearly 50 per cent the next year, despite a .decline 

184 N. Y. State Census (1845). 

185 City Map of 1845-46. 

^Advertiser, July 9, 1842; May 9, 10, 1848; Democrat, July 7, 1848; Dec. 6, 
1850; Freeman Clarke, Day Book, MS. 

i* 7 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXV (1851), 136; Sun, June, n, 1839. 

188 Elisabeth S. Spencer to E. S. S. Eaton, Rochester, Oct. 6, 1845, E. S. S. Eaton 

189 Rural New Yorker, Aug. 29, 1850. 

190 Senate Doc. (1845), No. 115, Stmt 2; Advertiser, Nov. 28, 1844. 


in the number of mills, yet the profits failed to show a proportionate 
gain since the price had tumbled to barely four dollars a barrel. 181 Prices 
mounted during the next two years, because of crop failures in Europe ? 
boosting Rochester s canal shipments to 631,574 barrels, while the total 
product of local mills approached 700,000 barrels. But other milling 
centers likewise benefited. Baltimore and Oswego each handled more 
flour than Rochester although they did not mill it all and new flour 
producers in the West were greatly stimulated. 192 

The chief drawbacks to flour milling were the rapid price fluctuations 
and the large investments tied up annually with little better than a 
gambler s chance of a fair return. The hazards of the situation increased 
when grain was bought at a distance, forcing the miller to rids: his 
funds during the slow shipment to Rochester as weH as during the 
period required for the delivery of flour to market. The late forties saw 
Rochester millers relying more largely than for several years on Genesee 
wheat. Fortunately, the output of Monroe and Livingston Counties 
stood second and third in the nation, sufficient to keep the mills fairly 
busy, had Rochester been able to secure the whole of it; 19S however, 
competing millers up the valley again enjoyed a thriving business, now 
that the Genesee Canal provided a means for export. When in 1844 the 
cost of the raw material was taken out, the receipts from Rochester flour 
totalled but $108,444, which had to be divided between the owners and 
employees of eighteen mills. 194 It was not surprising that a rapid turn 
over should occur. Only two millers of 1834, Allcott and Ely, remained 
actively engaged in the business a decade later. 195 

Despite the greater respectability which milling retained, numerous 
able young men, such as Lewis Selye and Seth C. Jones, gave their at 
tention to the various foundries and machine shops. As the iron de 
mands of the railroads and other enterprises increased, the value of 
these products surpassed that of lumber and other forest articles. Eleven 
iron foundries, employing from five to forty-five men each, turned out 
products weighing 2,890 tons in 1846. Machine shops, connected with 
several of these foundries, employed 759 men in 1848, valuing their 
product at $748,ooo. 196 Edge tools, household fixtures, stoves, steam 

m Advertiser, Nov. 28, 1844; Nov. 24, 1845; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, 
XIII (1845), 290, XV (1846), 520. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XVIII (1848), 306-307; XXII (1850), 204, 
328; XXm (1850), 51:; Democrat, Dec. 14, 1848. 

193 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXV, 87; U. S. Census (1850) ; Percy W. Bid- 
weD and John L Falconer, History of Agriculture in the Northern United States: 
1620-1860 (2nd ed.; New York, 1941), pp. 237-240. 

m N. Y. State Census (1845); Roch. Republican, July 20, 1847. 

195 Directory (1834), (1844). 

W6 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XVII (1847), 46-52; Raymond Scrapbook, 
pp. 88, 197, 200; New Genesee Farmer, IV (1843), 32; The Western Almanac 
(1846), adv. on back cover. 


Much criticism centered upon the city s undeveloped power re 
sources. It could not be denied that the twenty-odd mills and the 
numerous other establishments making use of the Genesee s power 
scarcely tapped a fraction of Its energy. Though a few of the mills at 
the main falls, installing the recently invented turbines in the place of 
older water wheels, reached down over the edge of the gorge to gain 
the benelt of a ten- or twenty-foot water head, the rest of the power 
of the ninety-six-foot cataract remained undeveloped, while the large 
resources at the lower falls were almost entirely neglected. 203 A survey 
in 1845 found scarcely a thousand men employed in the various mills 
and factories operated by water power, with only one-sixth of the city s 
potential power developed a sharp contrast to the situation at Lowell, 
Utica, and other less favored fall towns. 204 

The agitation for industrial expansion achieved some results. While 
the thriving sheep herds up the valley possibly accounted for the sk 
small woolen factories of the mid-forties, 205 Lowell s cotton factories, 
current ^rmbols of industrial enterprise, focused greater interest on the 
effort to establish a new cotton factory at the brink of the main falls. 
Seth C. Jones, who had grown up with the city, joined forces with a 
merchant-weaver from the East, enabling the Jones Mill, with 150 
workers, to overshadow the smaller Genesee Cotton Mill, a survival 
from the previous decade. Together they turned out some six thousand 
yards of cotton cloth a day, importing their raw material by canal 
from New York. Not only was the local market supplied, but cotton 
goods found a modest place in the city s exports. 206 It was not without 
significance that the first record of a factory whistle in Rochester was 
the provision of a bell on the top of the Jones cotton mill. 201 

A considerable revival occurred among local boatbuilders as the repu 
tation of Rochester boats spread along Western canals. With the output 
of 56 boats in 1845 increasing to more than 100 the next year and to 
233 and 221 in the two succeeding years, the valuation averaged around 
$1500 a boat, affording employment to 450 men. The enlargement of the 
canal east of Syracuse and the failure to complete the work from that 
point to Rochester prompted the removal of several boatyards to Syra 
cuse for the construction of large line boats, but the remaining companies 
continued to supply one of Rochester s major industries. 208 

A number of special articles were produced in expanding local fac- 

208 Democrat, Feb. 8, 1844; Aug. 22, 23, Sept. 6, 1845. 

^Democrat, Sept. 22, 1845. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XVII (1847), 50-52. 

206 Republican, Nov. 24, 1846; Democrat, Feb. 22, 1848; Raymond Scrapbook, 
pp. 42, 88, 198; Assembly Doc. (1850). 

207 Democrat, Oct. 21, 1848. 

208 Daniel W. Brown to Charles Perkins, Rochester, Feb. 27, 1847, Perkins 
Papers, MSS, R. P. L.; Raymond Scrapbook, pp. 25, 65, 87, 258. 


tories. After the burning of Ms first carriage works, James Cunningham 
erected a large factory in 1848, soon extending Ms sales into the West. 209 
The Rochester Scale Works turned out many useful articles, some of 
them of local invention, wMIe water and suction pumps were manu 
factured in the city. 210 Water-driven machinery found its way into other 
shops, notably the several large printing establishments. 211 

Unfortunately the campaign for an industrial city was hampered by a 
growing fear lest the water power of the Genesee be diverted. The canal 
improvements at Lockport had facilitated an increased passage of Lake 
Erie water through the gap, but sedimentation on the long level stretch 
east of that point checked the flow before it reached Rochester. In 1845 
and 1846 local millers became alarmed when the river below the canal 
feeder began to run dry. The demand of the Genesee Valley Canal upon 
the river s resources promised to aggravate the situation. 212 

Numerous petitions were sent to Albany requesting relief. Hervey Ely 
and Jacob Graves, both good Whigs, took the lead in protest against the 
results of Democratic economy, but it was more than a political question. 
A state-sponsored investigation during the dry season in October, 1846, 
reported 3,120 cubic feet a minute drawn from the river for the Erie, 
wMIe the Genesee Valley Canal required 9,060 cubic feet, leaving but 
5,860 for the mills, wMch normally consumed double that quantity. 
Spurred to clear the channel west of Rochester, the canal board explored 
the possibility of converting the small lakes south of Rochester into 
reservoirs for the replenishment of the river during dry seasons. A dam 
in the upper Genesee gorge above Mount Morris was likewise considered. 
Yet the damage claims of local millers were rejected at an open hearing 
in Rochester, and no effective means appeared to compensate for the 
increasing demands of the Genesee Canal. In the meantime irreparable 
damage to Rochester s industrial aspirations resulted from the protracted 
discussion of the threat to its water power. 213 

In similar fashion the credit resources of the community suffered 
from a conservative and hesitant policy. The short term extensions of 

^^ Democrat, May 19, 1848; Nat. Cycl. Amer. Biog., XX, 329. 

210 Raymond Scrapbook, p. 197; Democrat, Apr. 12, 1842; Sept. 24, 1849; Ad 
vertiser, June 28, 1848; Genesee Farmer, XI (1850), 90. 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XVII (1847), 48-52; Democrat, Feb. 14, Apr. 
20, 1844; Jan. 20, 1846. 

212 William Reynolds to Abelard Reynolds, Rochester, Aug. 17, 1846, Reynolds 
Papers; Memorial of the Inhabitants of the City of Rochester Interested in the 
Water of the Genesee (Rochester, 1846). 

213 Daniel Marsh, Report on the Diversion of the Water of the Genesee River 
(Rochester, 1847) ; "Canal Board Report on the Diversion of the Waters of the 
Genesee," Assembly Doc. (1848), No. 172; "Report of the Canal Board on Honeoye, 
Conesus, and other lakes," Senate Doc. (1850), No. 40; Memorial of the Owners 
of Water of the Genesee River at -Rochester (Rochester, 1853). 


the Bank of Rochester charter were considered most unfriendly on the 
part of the legislature, but the final expiration of the charter in 1847, 
removing 225,000 from local circulation, was not offset as it might easily 
have been by the organization of a new free bank. 214 Though Rochester 
banks developed a reputation for stability after 1842, critics stressed the 
need for a more venturesome support of new industries. The contraction 
in bank note circulation was overcome by 1844, yet local credit facilities 
did not begin to compare with those of Buffalo. 215 Indeed, the city s 
banking capital of $1,1 60,000 in 1849 gave it a rank of twenty-sixth 
among the cities of the nation and presented a serious handicap to the 
aspiring industrialists of the city seventeenth in population. 216 Fortu 
nately the situation improved late in the forties when Freeman Clarke, 
an able young banker, formerly engaged in numerous enterprises west 
of the city, located in Rochester and strengthened its ties with capitalists 
both in Buffalo and the East. 217 


Though much was expected from the banks and the waterfalls, more 
fruitful developments occurred in three humble industries which re 
ceived little attention from the advocates of an industrial city and still 
less benefit from the waterfalls. Much of the leadership and capital 
came likewise from new sources, frequently from the East or from 
Europe. While several of the new ventures soon disappeared, prom 
ising beginnings occurred in the shoe, clothing, and nursery fields 
during the forties, laying the foundations for expansion in the next 

Numerous shoemakers, long active in Rochester, first began to or 
ganize along industrial lines during the early forties. Shoemakers 
"boarding houses" appeared where the apprentices sewed the shoes by 
hand, yet the shoe merchant still took his measurements directly from 
the customer s feet, cutting the pattern and often the leather himself 
before dispatching the job by runner to the boarding house. Shoes left 
on the hands of these merchant-craftsmen gradually accumulated stocks 
available to customers unable to wait for a fitting, but it was not until 
1842 that the tanner, Henry Churchill, and the shoemaker, Jesse W. 
Hatch, joined in a partnership with the avowed object of producing 
ready-made shoes. The arrival of an expert English shoe cutter the next 
year enabled Hatch to advertise approved styles and standard sizes at 
prices considerably below those asked by the older shoe merchants, 
notably Jacob Gould and Oren Sage. The successful entry a year later 

*** Advertiser, May 16, 1845; Democrat, Apr. 23, 1847. 

^Hwnt s Merchants? Magazine, IV (1841), 476-479; Democrat, Sept. 17, 1842, 
Nov. 20, 1844; Directory (1844), pp. 24-26. 

***Himfs Merchants Magazine, XXI (1849), 458,* U. S. Census (1850). 
217 Freeman Clarke Letters. 


of robbers who removed over one hundred pairs of shoes supplied a 
unique advertisement of Hatch and Company s facilities. 22 * 

By the end of the decade ten fairly well established shoe firms em 
ployed upwards of 500 workmen in Rochester, paying an estimated 
$75,000 in annual wages and double that amount for materials. Approxi 
mately 175,000 pairs of shoes were turned out in 1848. Hatch and 
Company on State Street, now one of the larger firms, specialized in the 
Congress Shoe and various styles popular among the ladies. 21 * 

The clothing industry experienced a similar transition from custom 
tailoring to the production of the ready-made articles displayed in the 
"emporiums of fashion" on Exchange Street. Myer Greentree, a recent 
arrival from Germany, was possibly the first merchant tailor in Roches 
ter to produce standard patterns, while the increasing number of 
German- Jewish immigrants supplied workmen to sew the garments cut 
by their enterprising countryman. By the mid-century no less than 
thirty establishments engaged in the manufacture and sale of clothing, 
though the majority, as small shops, were generally operated by two or 
three families who took most of the sewing to their homes. Eighteen of 
the shops clustered in the low wooden structures that lined the northern 
side of the main bridge. It proved an advantageous location for the 
display of the city s new industrial specialty, which soon employed an 
estimated 1,800 persons and turned out a product valued at $400,000 
in I848. 220 

While no power-driven machinery had yet appeared in either the shoe 
or clothing factories, in other respects the break with old handicraft 
traditions was apparent. A bonnet shop, employing some thirty girls in 
1843, even more closely resembled a factory, while a glove and whip 
factory employed sixty-two others. 221 Several breweries recovered from 
the more temperate thirties, 222 and each of six large brickyards averaged 
a million bricks annually, 223 speeding the replacement of the old frame 
buildings in the central portion of the city. 

Signs of a new day for Rochester appeared on every hand at the 
mid-century. The organization of a steam engine factory, ready to fur- 

218 Jesse W. Hatch, "The Old-Time Shoemaker and Shoemaking," R. H. S. } 
Pub., V, 82-86; William H. Samson, "Studies in Local History," Scrapbook, LI, 
LVI; Democrat, July 4, 1844. 

219 Democrat, June 2, 1848. These statistics were provided by "a gentleman who 
is largely engaged in the business and conversant with its conditions and extent 
throughout the city." However, the figures appear out of proportion to the smaller 
figures in the N. Y. Census of 1855. 

220 Democrat, June 16, 1848; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XX (1849), 347- 
348. See the caution regarding these figures in the preceding note. 

221 Democrat, Feb. 16, Mar. i, 1844; June 16, 1848. 

222 N. Y. Census (1845) > Plate No. 27, 3. 

223 Raymond Scrapbook, p. 198. 

238 CITY 

a for the faltering power of the Genesee^ 234 and the estab- 

of the Rochester Gas Light Company ; with its promise of 
Rochester out of the dark, 225 gave assurance for the city s 
future, further developments in each of these fields were em- 

by the difficulty of importing coal. One of the most interesting 
ventures of the day was that of Samuel L. Selden, an ingenious lawyer 
to perfect a machine for the manufacture of lead pipe. 
Despite repeated discouragements^ Selden worked away, hoping to pro 
duce a cheap pipe that would carry either water or gas or the newly 
invented telegraph lines and thus win the vast markets foreshadowed 
by these rapidly developing services. Before a satisfactory machine was 
designed in Rochester, however, other inventors had made progress, 
defeating local efforts to capture that field. 226 

Though not suspected at the time, Rochester s future was to be more 
closely identified with its budding nursery industry ? product of the 
Genesee Country s fertility rather than of its water power. Indeed, 
despite a growing reliance on raw materials brought from a distance, 
the city s dose ties with its Genesee hinterland were still jealously 
guarded. When Western wheat began to supersede that of the Genesee, 
renewed emphasis was pkced on livestock, and attention was given to 
a more varied crop program. 227 The decline in the productivity of some 
fields spurred the use of fertilizers, and with the appearance in the late 
thirties of a favored species of mulberry tree, the Chinese Morus multi- 
cauls, supposed to thrive in the soil and climate of up-state New York, 
thousands of seedlings and silkworm eggs were peddled through the 
valley by Eastern nurserymen. 228 Yet the craze departed as quickly as 
it had appeared, and the most determined growers were able to produce 
only a few yards of silk doth for display at the annual agricultural 
fairs of the early forties. 229 

More striking displays of fruit and flowers were sent to the annual 

224 Western Almanac and Franklin Calendar (Rochester, 2846), back cover adv.; 
Raymond Scrapbook, pp. 197, 198, 200. 

225 F. J. Leerburger, "The Development of the Gas Industry in Rochester to 
1906" (1940), typescript, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

m EIsabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Dec. 18, 25, 1841, Jan. n, 
1842, E. S. S. Eaton Letters; Samuel L. Selden to Freeman Clarke, Freeman Clarke 
Letters, 1842-43; Nat. Cy. Am. Biog., IV, 154. 

227 N. Y. State Agricultural Society, Transactions (1844), IV, 99-101. WilKam 
Gaxbutfs report on his careful farm records of the previous twenty years is of 
great value. Less than a fourth of his 2oo~acre wheat farm was planted to wheat 
in 1842, while his cattle numbered 300 sheep, 30 hogs, 15 cows, and 8 horses. An 
income of $2200 to $5200 minus $1200 to $1600 expenses during the thirties was 
now down to $1578,02 minus $1204 in 1842. 

228 Genesee Farmer, V (1835), 15; VH (1837), 2, n, 22 , 155, 194, 380; VHI 
(1838), 240, 330. 

Farmer, VIII, 115; Republican, Jan. 13, Aug. 29, 1843. 


fairs by the rapidly developing nurseries of Rochester. Discouragement 
over losses in the mulberry fad helped to persuade William Reynolds 
and M. B. Bateham to lease their nursery on SopMa Street in 1839 to 
their young manager, George Ellwanger. Reared In a German vineyard 
but with four years experience in Rochester, Ellwanger soon joined in 
partnership with a recently arrived Irishman, Patrick Barry, who had 
served Ms apprenticeship at the leading nursery of the day, that of 
William Prince on Long Island. By October, 1840, Ellwanger and Barry 
were ready to announce the establishment of their Mount Hope Garden 
and Nurseries on a seven-acre plot in the southeast portion of the city. 
Asa Rowe s nursery on the northwestern edge of town, and Samuel 
Moulson s on the northeastern outskirts, covered larger areas and adver 
tised extensive selections, but Ellwanger and Barry, diligently turning 
aH profits into the business, were able to double their holdings by 1844 
and import a fresh stock of seedlings from Europe. 280 

The nursery business proved a happy find for the Flour City. The 
canal gave Rochester nurserymen an eight-day advantage over Hudson 
Valley competitors in supplying the Western market, where the demand 
was expanding most rapidly. Despite the northern location, which inured 
the plantings to rigorous climates and assured the hardihood necessary 
to survive transplantation, the moderating influence of Lake Ontario s 
seldom-frozen waters provided a saf eguard against the severe cold spells 
which sometimes afflicted Eastern rivals. The slow-sailing vessels on the 
Atlantic protected the American market from easy exploitation by Euro 
pean horticulturists, while fresh plantings, brought directly to Rochester 
from abroad, as George Ellwanger did in 1844 and succeeding years, 
offered an escape from the diseases which were infecting some older 
nurseries. Moreover, the nurseries afforded a profitable use for fields 
adjoining the city and helped to stimulate a revival of fruit culture in 
western New York. 231 

These developments were only faintly suggested in 1843 when the 
state fair met at Rochester. A ten-acre plot on State Street one mile 
north of the Four Corners had been fenced in for the exhibits, and the 
public houses and private homes of Rochester were filled to overflowing 
by visitors from all parts of the state. Canal boats, trains, and stages 
converged on the city, and soon every wheeled vehicle within a radius 
of fifty miles appeared to have joined the procession, so that the streets 
were jammed with shouting drivers. Ex-President Van Buren, Governor 
Seward, and Daniel Webster were on hand, attracting 20,000 around the 
speakers platform, while others thronged the cattle yards or attended 

230 Blake McKelvey, "The Flower City: Center of Nurseries and Fruit Orchards," 
R. H. S., Pub., XVIII, 129-136. 

231 McKelvey, "The Flower City," pp. 129-136; Democrat, Sept. n, 1840; July 
1 6, Sept. 2, 1841. 


the plowing natch held on the eastern outskirts of town (near the 
present site of the Women s Campus of the University of Rochester). 
Though James S. Wadsworth from up the valley presided with Henry 
O ? ReMy as recording secretary, the latter, having already removed to 
Albany, attended as a visitor, and few of Rochester s earlier leaders 
were in evidence. Grain prizes were awarded, E. S. Beach and Company 
receiving a medal for their superfine flour, but more interest was shown 
in the cattle show and in the horticultural exhibit, which surpassed any 
previously held at the state fairs. New interests and new blood were 
evidenced when young Ellwanger and Barry captured the first prize for 
their floral exhibit, featuring dahlias and roses and a hundred other 
potted flowers, 232 

By the mid-century local nurseries had taken firm root. A keen com 
petition for prizes developed at the annual exhibits of the Genesee 
Valley Horticultural Society, usually held at Rochester in collaboration 
with the Monroe County Agricultural Society. Several new nurseries 
were established on the city s outskirts by seedmen from the East or 
from Europe, and young Josiah W. Bissell joined with another Roches- 
terian, Horace Hooker, in the development of a nursery on the old 
Canandaigua road (East Avenue). Yet Ellwanger and Barry maintained 
their leadership by expanding their grounds to nearly one hundred acres 
and more especially by introducing for the first time in America the 
new varieties of dwarf fruit trees then being developed in Europe. 
Barry, on one of the partners frequent visits to the continent, made a 
special study of the methods of pruning for fruitfulness, and by the 
mid-century their orchards and display gardens were gaining recogni 
tion as the best in America. 233 

In the midst of the growing concern lest the wheat and other products 
of the vast prairies of the West inundate the Genesee, the nurserymen 
of Rochester were able to offer a new activity for neighboring fanners. 
The prospect of invading the English market with cheese and meats 
cured in the old Irish fashion was frequently considered, especially 
after the lowering of the British tariffs, 234 while numerous petitions 
asked that New York State produce be given preferential rates on the 
canal, 285 but popular interest centered in the expanding orchards of the 
area. The verdant nurseries and blooming orchards that bordered 
Rochester on all sides made it a model community in the eyes of 
mid-century romanticists, naturalists, and utilitarians alike. When the 

282 N. Y. State Agricultural Society, Transactions, HI (1843), 19-28; Adver 
tiser, Sept. 25, 1843- 

^McKelvey, "The Flower City," pp. 134-144. 

384 N. Y. State Agricultural Society, Transactions, IV, 238-242; Genesee Farmer, 

vn (1846), 39. 

^Hwnfs Merchants Magazine, XII (1845), 81; Genesee Farmer, VI (1845), 
147-148; VII, 8o-i. 




state fair visited the city again in 1851 an unprecedented throng of 
iGOjOOo taxed the city s facilities to the limit, while the horticultural 
displays prepared under the supervision of Lev! A. Ward surpassed any 
previously held in America, with Ellwanger and Barry taking most of 
the prizes. 22 * 3 It would only be a few years before visitors would remark 
that a "Flower City" was rising to supersede the old "Flour City." aT 

236 McKelvey, "The Flower City," pp. 143-145. 

237 Dewey Scrapbook, General Information, III, 93, a letter of 1860, Roch. 

Hist. Soc. 



MODIFICATIONS In Rochester^ civic spirit and institutional ac 
tivity matched the striking changes in economic outlook during 
the forties. The same depression which chastened so many 
adventuresome members of the community curbed the optimism with 
wMch the newly established city faced several of its problems in the 
mid-thirties. If economy and caution gained respectability as private 
virtues, they became at the same time hard and fast civic standards. 
Unfortunately the increased number and complexity of the city s prob 
lems made retrenchment difficult. Every such effort merely aggravated 
the situation. The establishment of varied semi-public institutions some 
what relieved the public authorities, though the community s fiscal 
burden was not so much reduced as made more palatable. The develop 
ment of a public school system and the provision of several state and 
county institutions hastened the transition from a community dominated 
by individuals to a city of varied institutions and organizations the 
urban pattern Rochester was rapidly assuming at the mid-century. 


A healthy spirit of optimism characterized the mid-thirties when the 
newly established city girded itself for the tasks ahead. The assumption 
of full municipal responsibilities had been deferred so long that major 
problems were at hand. Leading men of affairs eagerly assumed public 
office. An astounding number were called briefly into civic service as 
aldermen, fire wardens, school trustees, and the like. Unfortunately a 
sharp disagreement over the ends to be attained added fuel to existing 
political rivalries, discouraging the efforts of the less partisan. The 
democratic tradition that the honors of office should be passed along 
resulted in short terms, usually completed before a firm grasp of the 
community s problems was acquired. As the years passed, more and 
more of the numerous candidates enrolled from those having some in 
terest to gain or safeguard, and by the mid-forties the concern for 
reduced taxes had gained dominant representation. 

The first city election saw the triumph of the new Whig and temper 
ance forces. The council included among its ten regular and assistant 


members such estimable citizens as Dr. Frederick F. Backus, Colonel 
Ashbel RHey, and Thomas Kempshall, who promptly elected Jonathan 
Child mayor. Despite the previous attempt to reduce the tax limit from 
$S,ooo to 15,000^ the council found it necessary to exhaust all revenue 
sources. Before the year was out a total of $i 8,690 had been expended 
on the various community functions. The most extensive outlays were 
for street improvements, fire-fighting equipment, and general govern 
mental expenses a foretaste of developments soon to occur in these 
fields. Small special levies supported the schools and the poor, yet the 
council s restraint was evident both in its refusal to approve a compre 
hensive sewer plan and in its failure to use the authority granted by 
the charter to raise $20,000 for the construction of a public water Astern. 1 

A major resolve of the first council was to check the flow of liquor, 
which had become a public scandal in the eyes of the more respectable 
elements. Yet, despite the long agitation for this reform, the Whigs 
pledged to its adoption had been elected by slim majorities, impelling 
the council to make some concessions. Four liquor licenses were accord 
ingly issued on payment of forty- and fifty-dollar fees. The compromise, 
however, represented such a drastic reduction from the hundred-odd 
licenses granted at more reasonable rates in previous years that the 
opposition forces gained an easy victory at the next election. The only 
successful Whig was the venerable Dr. Matthew Brown, whose long 
public service during village days assured wide support. Hie other new 
councilmen included such distinguished Democrats as James Seymour 
and Isaac R. Elwood, as well as two grocers personally interested in 
liquor permits. 2 

The adoption of a more lenient license policy precipitated the dra 
matic resignation of Mayor Child. Under the charter the mayor was a 
weak executive, appointed by the council and charged with the execu 
tion of its ordinances, with scant discretion or authority of his own. 
In order, however, to assure some continuity in the official personnel, 
the mayor s term carried over six months after the expiration of the 
council which selected Mm, and Jonathan Child thus found himself 
obliged to sign the numerous licenses granted by the second council. 
The only alternative was to tender his resignation, which he accordingly 
did in a lengthy address that marked the high point of local temperance 
agitation for many years. 3 

1 Donald W. Gilbert, "The Government and Finances of Rochester, N. Y." 
(Ph.D., thesis, Harvard Univ., 1930), Tables I and II. I am deeply indebted to 
this scholarly and painstaking study for statistical information on fiscal matters 
used in this section and elsewhere. 

2 Henry O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, pp. 264-266; Gilbert, "Government and 
Finances," pp. 142-143; Rochester Observer, May 29, 1829. 

s Rochester Daily Democrat, June 27, 1835; Common Council Proceedings, 
June 23, 1835 (hereafter C. C., ProcJ. 


Otter problems pressed for action, and after choosing as mayor 
Jamb Gould, a prominent Democrat and prosperous shoe merchant, 
the council proceeded with vigor to its duties. Most urgent was the need 
for street and sewer improvements, and within a year Buffalo Street 
was macadamized, several others were partially improved, and many 
sewers repaired, at a total cost of $35,980.* Although assessments on 
adjacent property owners and loans negotiated at the banks with the 
anticipated payments as security met these charges, when the total 
expenditure soared to $59,673, the issue of economy became dominant, 
enabling the Whigs to capture six seats in the third council. 5 

Economy, however, was more easily advocated than achieved. When 
plans for a new Buffalo Street sewer, with stone walls five feet Mgh and 
three feet apart, were approved, the project was rushed to completion 
in an effort to correct the unsanitary conditions that threatened to 
blight the city^s principal street. Yet the $4,000 expended on this sewer 
proved scarcely half the cost of the fifty acres acquired south of the 
city for Mount Hope Cemetery, while a new public market was con 
structed during the year. 6 These outlays, added to the normal expenses, 
compelled the council to boost its general tax levy to $15,000, almost 
double the legal maximum, and to fund its various floating debts at 
$i5,ooo. T Abraham Schermerhom, chosen mayor at the expiration of 
Gould s term, resigned after two months when the gathering clouds of 
the depression required his attention at the bank. Thomas Kempshall, 
his Whig successor, full of the optimism of local millers that year, 
proceeded so vigorously with street improvements, aided by the Demo 
cratic fourth council, that he was sent to Congress the next fall. 8 

The confidence which animated the business community that winter 
took hold of the civic authorities. When the bank suspension threatened 
a shortage both of small notes and of funds to continue the public works, 
the city fathers boldly came to the rescue. At the suggestion of Henry 
E. Rochester, prominent Whig, the Democratic council issued $6,000 
in shinplasters to be paid for labor on the public streets and secured 
against local assessments. Before the end of the year, over $50,000 was 
expended from this source, considerably aiding the unemployed, while 
useful improvements included the grading of Main Street hill just east 
of the bridge, the repair of the bridge itself, seriously damaged by the 
great flood of 1835, ^ e construction of Andrews Street Bridge above the 
main falls, and the resurfacing of several streets in the central district. 

Gilbert, Table HI-i, part 4. 

6 Gilbert, Table I-i. 

*C. C, Proc., Dec. 20, 1836, June 26, 1838, Jan. 8, 1839; Democrat, June 9, 
July 28, 1836; Jan. 4, 1837. 

7 Gilbert, Table Vm, pt i, Table XL 

* Democrat, Mar. 8, 1837; Rock. Republican, Nov. 13, 1838. 


When Elisha Johnson became mayor that January, he could congratu 
late the city upon the "enlarged views" of Ms predecessors, noting that 
the one major improvement still needed was a public water works. 9 

But as 1838 with Its deflated flour prices brought gloom to the com 
munity, the popular attitude toward municipal expenditures began to 
change. The Democratic council was turned out, and Mayor Johnson 
sounded a note of caution. 10 Nevertheless the Whigs, who took over the 
council and finally the mayor s post (to which they named Thomas H. 
Rochester) and all other offices as well, could not muster the courage 
to apply the knife. Indeed 3 a generous outlay on the streets and for fire 
apparatus seemed in line with the new Whig emphasis on internal Im 
provements. Under their auspices the city s expenditures exceeded 
$100,000, both in 1838 and 1839, while the gross debt was pushed up 
to $126,000 by the latter date. Partisan criticism was drowned under 
the mounting clamor of the Log Cabin campaign, and meanwhile the 
benefits derived from these unprecedented outlays were eagerly enjoyed 
until after the election when, suddenly, a drastic reduction In municipal 
expenditures was achieved. 11 


Dissatisfaction with the municipal services gained frequent expres 
sion in charter revisions during these years. Neither the repeated 
amendments nor the extensive outlays of the late thirties produced very 
suitable results, however, and a feeling of disillusionment or distrust 
developed, heightened, no doubt, by the general gloorn of the depres 
sion. The caution and complacency which marked the forties was re 
lieved only in a few services, such as the public schools, by vigorous 
efforts toward reform. Elsewhere, the absence of an effective leadership 
greatly retarded the growth of Rochester s civic functions. 12 

Most of the charter amendments, which occurred almost annually 
after 1836, sought a redivision of authority among the various officials. 
The position of the mayor was gradually improved, first by the grant 
of an annual stipend of $400 in 1838, second by the provision for his 
popular election made in a state law of 1840 applying to all cities, next 
by the grant of a limited veto power in 1844, and finally, in 1847, by 
the power to appoint police officials. These changes modified the previ 
ously dominant authority of the council, while the creation of a separate 

9 Democrat, May 15, 1837; C. C. Proc., May 23, Sept. 19, 1837; Gilbert, op. cit., 
151-154; O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, pp. 268-270, *38o. 

10 Roch. Republican, Mar. 27, 1838; Democrat, Mar. 8, 1838. 

11 Gilbert, Tables I-i, XI-i; see below. 

12 Rochester s limited achievements in the civic field contrasted more strikingly 
with local cultural and economic developments than with civic accomplishments in 
comparable American cities, yet even in the latter comparison Rochester appeared 
hesitant and retarded during the mid- and late-forties. See John A. Fairlie, Munici 
pal Administration (New York, 1910), pp. 81-86, passim. 


board of education likewise reduced the aldermen s prerogatives. But 
the frequent addition of new functions and the steady increase in the 
city s taxing authority maintained the influence of the council, though 
the gradual provision for 129 separate elective officers by tie mid- 
century revealed Rochester s growing distrust of its representative 
body. 13 

Distrust was likewise displayed in the attempt to earmark the various 
revenues and to fix by charter the amounts to be expended on the dif 
ferent services. Despite the inability of any of the successive councils 
to live within the prescribed fiscal limits, authority for increased taxes 
was only reluctantly granted. At no time was the taxing power suffi 
cient to enable the city to operate on a strictly legal basis. The tax 
limit advanced from $8,000 to $20,000 during the city s first decade, 
reaching $28,000 by the mid-century, but both the tax levies and the 
normal expenditures exceeded these limits severalfold throughout the 
period. 14 

A major handicap was the lack of long-term, responsible leadership. 
The election of a fresh slate of aldermen every year produced inefficien 
cies only slightly mitigated by occasional second-termers, while the 
overlapping term of the mayor proved to be more a handicap than a 
benefit, especially in the early years, when the political allegiance of the 
council shifted almost annually. The creation of a superintendent of 
public works and other administrative officials presented an opportunity 
for increased efficiency, but in practice these officials were likewise 
replaced every year by inexperienced men. A charter amendment in 
1837 provided two-year overlapping terms for the aldermen in an effort 
to secure more continuity, and two or three local party leaders sought 
repeated election to their former posts. Yet the only men to serve six 
consecutive years in any city office were the Democratic recorder, Isaac 
Hills, and the Whig alderman, Lewis Selye. Unfortunately, the value 
of the dower turnover in the forties was lost as the number of aldermen 
increased to eighteen and the total number of officials topped one 
hundred. 15 

Small wonder that Rochester s civic developments were occasionally 
halted and thrown into reverse amidst the babble of opinion produced 
by the hundred-odd aldermen who presided over the city during its 

13 W. Earl Weller, "The Development of the Charter of the City of Rochester, 
1817 to 1938" (M. A. thesis at the Univ. Roch., 1938). I am greatly indebted to 
this thesis for accurate and specific information concerning the successive pro 
visions affecting the early charter law of Rochester. See also W. E. Weller, "The 
Expanding Charter Life of Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XII, 75-82. 

14 Gilbert, Tables I, H, VII, and VEDE; Weller, "Development of the Charter," 
pp. 77-78- 

M William Peck, Semi-Centennwl History of Rochester (Syracuse, 1884), pp. 
184-199, presents full lists of most of the municipal officials for each year. 


first fifteen years. Yet at least a dozen among the fifteen mayors of 
the period would appear in any list of its leading citizens. Their 
democratic ardor and individual resourcefulness piloted the community 
through many difficulties, performing several of its functions very 
creditably after the standards of the day. 

The improvement and maintenance of its streets remained the city s 
most burdensome problem. The krge expenditures in this field during 
the late thirties, overshadowing all other outlays^ had greatly improved 
the condition of the central streets, giving Rochester a fair name in 
this respect among cities of its class by 1840. Some headway was also 
made with a campaign to line the streets with shade trees. 16 Unfortu 
nately, the marshland over which much of the city had been built 
provided a poor base for the macadam surface then in use. Great ruts 
quickly developed after each wet season, requiring extensive and costly 
repairs. Though an experiment with wooden blocks on State Street 
seemed to promise a satisfactory solution, a few years of heavy use 
proved discouraging. 17 

The council, appropriating several hundred dollars each spring for a 
thorough cleaning of the streets, generally depended upon the adjacent 
property owners to keep them in shape through the rest of the year. 
Yet they were frequently described in the public press as "in the most 
filthy condition possible." 1S Inadequate drainage remained a major diffi 
culty, but whenever a drive started for extensive repairs, an opposing 
demand for economy appeared. As a result, the city s outlays for street 
maintenance and improvement averaged only $16,000 annually during 
the forties, barely sufficient to keep the earlier improvements in con 
dition. 11 * 

The city s sidewalks, bridges, and sewers were similarly neglected. 
Efforts to compel property owners to build and keep their sidewalks in 
repair met with indifferent success. 20 Shopkeepers in the center of town 
frequently obstructed the walks with produce or building materials, 
while the task of removing such impediments as outside stairways and 
signposts required constant vigilance. 21 The condition of the bridges 

16 Rochester Gem and Ladies Amulet, Apr. 30, 1836. 

^Rochester Daily Advertiser, Mar. i, 1839; Democrat, Aug. 21, 1839; July 30, 
1846. New York and Philadelphia had likewise experimented unsuccessfully with 
wooden blocks a few years before, and street paving remained an unsolved prob 
lem in most American cities at the mid-century. See George W. Tillson, Street 
Pavements and Paving Materials (New York, 1900), pp. 11-13. 

18 Democrat, July 12, 1839; Jan. 24, 184$; Aug. 25, 1846; Rock. Republican, 
Apr. 4, 1848. 

10 Gilbert, pp. no, 118, Table HI, part 4; Democrat, Feb. 27, 1841; Jan. 24, 

20 Langworthy Scrapbook, II, i, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

^Democrat, Apr. 15, 1848; Roch. Republican, Apr. 4, 1848; Advertiser, Apr. 19, 
June 5, July 28, 1848. 


repeated complaints, with only the newly constructed Clarissa 
Street bridge giving full satisfaction. Several fatal accidents occurred 
late passers fell through gaps in the planking, while a broken 
axle or an injured horse was a frequent result of hurried passages over 
one or another of the four river bridges or the more numerous canal 
crossings. 22 The condition of the sewers was, if possible, even more de 
plorable, In 1848 Mayor Joseph Field condemned the failure of earlier 
officials to prepare a sewer plan or keep a sewer map showing the 
exact location of these essential drains, yet no remedy was provided 
at the time. 23 The unsatisfactory character of several of the sewers 
was disagreeably evident at numerous points, particularly during 
wet seasons when many cellars were flooded. The cost of an effective 
remedy forestalled such action, though new sewers were occasionally 
built. 24 

The sixty oil lamps scattered about the city during the mid-forties 
gave such a dim light that one humorous critic praised them for guard 
ing late travelers from the danger of stumbling over the lamp posts. 25 
At times the council felt impelled to stop the expenditure for oil, which 
averaged about $400 annually. In 1848, however, when several of the 
community s more enterprising businessmen established a gas company, 
the argument that "Troy is about to emerge from darkness" by the use 
of gas prompted the Rochester council to approve a limited experiment 
with twelve open-flame gas lamps. Sixty lamps were provided the next 
year, increasing the cost to $1,019, but Rochester could at least boast 
of being one among the half-dozen American cities enjoying gas lights 
before the mid-century. 28 

Several minor problems required action by the city fathers. Though 
Mayor Johnson recommended the construction of a city hall in 1838, 
the first attempt to bring the scattered offices together was not made 
until 1846, when two floors were rented in Everard Peck s building near 
the Court House. 27 The council acted more promptly after the burning 
of the bridge market in 1834, possibly because the outlay for the new 
market on Front Street was to be recovered from the anticipated stall 

Mar. 25, Apr. 4., 1835; Feb. 10, 1840; Feb. i, July 14, 1843; Jan, 
24, 1845. 

23 Gilbert, pp. 226-228; Advertiser, Oct. 21, 1848. 

24 Democrat, Oct. 24, 1848; Jan. 31, 1849. Nevertheless, Rochester s sewers did 
not compare too unfavorably with those of most other American cities, except 
for Boston, where a model sewer system had been installed in the twenties. See 
Fairlie, Municipal Administration, pp. 247248. 

25 R, H, S., Pub., XI, 39- 

28 Frank J. Leerburger, "The Development of the Gas Industry in Rochester," 
MS, Roch. Hist. Soc.; Rock. Republican, Mar. 28, 1848; Advertiser, Nov. 14, 
1848; Genesee Olio, Oct. 21, 1843; FairHe^ Municipal Administration, p. 282. 

27 C C. Procv Max. 8, 1838; Raymond Scrapbook, p. 16, Roch. Hist. Soc. 


rentals. Both the new city market, costing $35 7 ooo ? and the hay scales 
procured at a cost of $10,000 in 1843 were sound investments, netting a 
substantial return before their abandonment several years later. 28 The 
outlays on Mount Hope Cemetery were similarly justified by the returns 
from lot sales not to mention that project ? s merits from the viewpoint 
of long-range civic planning. 

The authorities displayed little foresight in connection with the pro 
posal that the Falls Field on the east bank overlooking the main falls 
be acquired and preserved as a public promenade. 29 While neglecting 
that marvelous opportunity to safeguard one of the area s natural beau 
ties, the council gave some attention to the six public squares donated 
to the city by various promoters. Several hundred trees were set out on 
these plots during the forties, apparently with less regard for their 
beauty than with the hope of stopping the ball games and militia re 
views which disturbed nearby residents. Franklin Square frequently 
accommodated a political rally, but the prevailing theory of park usage 
appeared in the regulation which restrained anyone from opening the 
gates or otherwise trespassing on the public squares without written 
permission from the superintendent. 30 

The most serious instance of civic complacency was the failure to 
make any provision for a water system. Authority to raise funds for 
this purpose, granted in Rochester s first city charter, spurred study of 
the problem. Mayor Johnson presented a detailed plan in 1838 for a 
public water works to be constructed section by section as needed, with 
the total capital cost of $150,000 spread over a period of years and the 
water rates pledged for the payment of the bonds. The savings enjoyed 
through a reduction in the excessive fire insurance rates would, Johnson 
argued, more than cancel the individual s water payments, leaving the 
health benefits and other assets as clear gain. 31 But the possibility of 
tapping a fairly steady flow of water at one or another of the rock 
ledges that could be found a few feet underground almost anywhere 
within the city favored a general reliance on private wells for domestic 
use. Accordingly, although most cities of its class developed public water 

28 Gilbert, Tables I and VIII. The clerk at the hay scales took in $130.50 during 
December, 1844, for weighing 522 loads of hay, see Democrat, Jan. n, 1845. 

29 O Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, p. *38i. 

^Raymond Scrapbook, p. 56; Samson Scrapbook, No. 65, p. 20, Roch. Hist 
Soc,; Genesee Farmer, VIII (1847), 27; Ordinances of the Common Council of 
the City of Rochester (Rochester, 1844)* ch. iii, sec. 22. Except for the New Eng 
land village commons, forerunners of such public squares as Rochester boasted, 
the city park had scarcely appeared in America at the mid-century. Philadelphia 
had one, but New York City did not acquire Central Park until the fifties. See 
Fairlie, Municipal Administration, pp. 262-263. 

^Elisha Johnson, Report of the Mayor to the Common Council of the City 
of Rochester on the Subject of Supplying the City with Water (Rochester, 1838). 


yearSj 82 Rochester contented itself with the numerous 
available surface water. 

The city paid dearly in mounting fire losses for this economy. The 
occasional fatal injury of a victim trapped in a flaming building added 
to the SQHJ record of property losses, which reached such a point by 
the mid-forties that they were said to exceed the per capita losses of 
every other city in the country. 33 By good fortune the flames never broke 
completely out of control. Apparently no single fire destroyed as many 
as a score of buildings, yet a half-dozen was not an unusual toll, while 
frequently a series of adjoining shops or an extended rookery was 
entirely consumed before the flames could be checked. 34 Several of the 
principal mills and factories, taverns and business blocks, homes and 
churches were among the structures lost, though the most frequent 
victim was the backyard stable. 5 The annual damages averaged around 
f 8o y OQO during the mid-forties, increasing as the decade advanced until 
two dry months in the late summer of 1849 brought a succession of 
fires whose ravages equalled the previolis annual average. 80 

Insurance rates mounted until the estimated annual premiums 
reached $20,000. But when the city council (investigating a proposal 
that a municipal insurance company be established in order to reap 
a benefit from these outlays) discovered that still larger damages were 
collected each year, the project to insure Rochester was shelved as a 
bad risk. 3 * 7 When the enlargement of several underground reservoirs 
and the redoubled efforts of the firemen failed to check either the in 
creasing fire losses or the mounting insurance rates, William A. Reynolds 
installed one of "Hubbard s patent Rotating Engines" in the Hydraulic 
Building ready, in case of fire, to pump water from the raceway through 
iron pipes under Main Street into the $100,000 Arcade Building where 
a private watchman stood guard at all times. 38 

The volunteer fire companies had meanwhile increased to ten, with a 
total enrollment of approximately three hundred men. The companies 
frequently staged colorful parades, one club sporting red shirts and 
skull caps while another wore blue sailors middies. The annual fire- 

82 Johnson, Report of the Mayor, pp. 4-5; J. N. Lamed, History of Buffalo 
(New York, 1911), I, 156-159; n, 269; Bessie L. Pierce, A History of Chicago 
(New York, 1937) , I, 352-353 J Fairlie, pp. 273-274. 

33 Democrat, Feb. 15, 1845; The Newspaper Index lists 13 fire fatalities during 
the forties. 

w Advertiser, Nov. 3, 1842; Rock. Republican, Nov. 7, 1843; Democrat, July 3, 
16, 1845; Aug. 21, 1846; June i, 1848. 

85 Rock. Republican, Jan. 7, 1840; Feb. 29, 1848; Democrat, Feb. 18, 1846; Jan. 
ii 1849. 

35 Advertiser, Oct. i, 4, 13, 1849. 

37 C. C. Proc. f Aug. 7, 1838. 

^WflMam A. Reynolds to N. Gray, Esq., Rochester, June 8, 1850, Wm. A. 
Reynolds Letter Book, MS, R. P. L. 


men s reviews supplied excitement as each company strove to pump a 
stream of water higher than its fellows/ 8 but they never gave entire 
satisfaction at the scene of a fire. Despite the election of responsible 
foremen, riots occasionally broke out between rival companies. 40 The 
Ever Ready Neptune Bucket Company No. i, a group of lads of six 
teen and seventeen years, 41 was not the only company to display in 
subordination when its ambitions for better equipment were disregarded. 
A temperance campaign among the firemen prompted sixteen to take 
the pledge, while arrangements were made to distribute hot coffee 
instead of beer and brandy at the fires, 42 yet the fires continued to rage. 

The council devoted considerable attention to the fire companies. A 
new engine was purchased from Lewis Selye every two or three years, 
a hose company was organized and equipped, and fire houses were pro 
vided for each of the ten companies by the mid-century. 43 So elaborate 
had the equipment become by 1843 tnat a visitor from Buffalo felt 
constrained to recognize the superiority of the Flour City s fire depart 
ment, though he kept discreetly silent about the sixteen miles of water 
pipes that facilitated the work of the Buffalo fire companies. 44 While 
the city s expenditures in this field rose from an average of $3853 
during the late thirties to $5836 during the late forties, the fire losses 
increased much more rapidly. 45 The five fire alarms sounded one April 
day in 1846 provided unusual excitement, but the big Main Street fire 
of 1849, which destroyed an entire block on the north side between 
St. x Paul and Clinton streets, was the largest fire to date, inciting much 
criticism. One editor noted that Boston, four times the size of Rochester, 
suffered fire losses that September barely 5 per cent as great as those of 
Rochester chiefly because of Boston s efficient water works. 46 

Reluctance to face the real issue continued, as most property owners 
seemed ready to take their chances with the fire hazard rather than pay 
the taxes necessary for a water system. When, however, the losses in 
creased, reaching most of the leaders, resentment flared against suspected 
fire bugs and those who sounded false alarms so frequently that the 
efficiency of the fire companies was impaired. 47 Though rewards were 

^Democrat, May 25, 1839; Advertiser, Aug. 20, Nov. 5, 1841; Sept. 22, 1843. 

40 Rochester Daily Sun, July 10, 1839; Democrat, Jan. 31, 1842; C. C. Proc., 
July 3, 1845; "Reminiscences of J. L. H. Hosier," Union and Advertiser, Feb. 12, 

**- Ever Ready Neptune Bucket Co. No. i Minute Book, 1837-1839, MS, Roch. 
Hist. Soc.; Advertiser, Feb. 3, 1842. 

^Democrat, Jan. 2, 17, 1843- 

^Democrat, Aug. 5, 1834; Advertiser, Dec. 14, 1842; June 18, 1847. 

^Advertiser, June 29, 1843; Lamed, History of Buffalo, I, 156-159* 

45 Gilbert, Government and Finances, pp. 81-82, Table II-i, 

46 Advertiser, Apr. 13, 1846; Sept. 28, 29, Oct. 4, 5, 1849. 

47 Advertiser, May 12, 1840. 


offered for the detection of such offenders and other precautions re- 
doubled, the results proved discouraging. By the mid-century the hungry 
flames had consumed the congested Dublin Castle, Ann Street tenement, 
and other dilapidated rookeries hastily erected during the boom twenties, 
as well as many more reputable establishments, including the historic 
Mansion House and St. Paul s Episcopal Church, the most elegant in the 

city. 48 


As responsibility for a wide variety of civic functions was loosely 
distributed between city, county, and state authorities, many services 
were neglected, or poorly performed, or left to charitable agencies. 
Public health gained little attention until near the close of the period; 
the poor and the unfortunate received occasional but indifferent assist 
ance; only the handling of lawbreakers displayed decision. The prob- 
* lems in each case were becoming more complex and insistent, with urban 
rather than village solution foreshadowed, though the increased desire 
for economy delayed their realization. 

After the close of its boom days, Rochester was generally able to take 
pride in the good order and restraint of its citizens. Under the terms of 
the first city charter, three regular night watchmen, a captain of the 
watch, and five constables sufficed to guard the city, particularly the 
lamp and watch district. The night watchmen soon increased to seven, 
arousing the protests of economy advocates, though the value of a 
prompt report of fires was appreciated. 49 Each watchman, provided 
with a special hat, symbol of his authority, received a modest allowance, 
while the constables kept the fees collected in their capacity as petty 
court officers. With the city s growth these police services expanded, 
prompting a transfer of their supervision to the mayor in i847. 5a The 
cost increased from $451 in 1834 to $3,953 fifteen years later, though 
Rochester had by that date only one full-time watchman on day duty. 51 

The city s changing character appeared in its police records. Convic 
tions for criminal offenses in Monroe County increased in number from 
slightly over forty each year in the early thirties to one hundred by the 
mid-century. The county exceeded its "mean or true proportion" of con 
victions over a period of years in the thirties, rivalling New York and 
Albany for the unwanted distinction of possessing the highest criminal 
ratio in the state. Assault and battery proved tbe most frequent charge, 

48 Advertiser, July 17, 1845; Democrat, July 3, 1845; Aug. 21, 1846; Rock. 
Republican, May 5, 1844; July 27, 1847. 

49 Rock. Republican, Mar. 6, 1836; Democrat, June 28, 1837. 

50 Ordinances of the City of Rochester and Amendments to the City Charter 
(Rochester, 1848), pp. 129-131. 

51 Gilbert, Table EL 


but less violent social offenses, as keeping a bawdy house or selling 
liquor without a license, accounted for an increased number of con 
victions/ 2 

The Watch Books were filled with the records of petty offenders. As 
the number of questionable strangers requiring the surveillance of the 
guard now regularly increased during the summer months, it no longer 
seemed possible to depend on volunteer watchmen at that season. Thus 
the thirty-odd arrests during the winter months in the late thirties 
doubled with the return of warm weather. These numbers rose as the 
forties advanced, despite the more favorable times 3 but the increase was 
not so rapid as the city s growth, and an actual drop occurred in the 
number of vagrants confined in jail overnight for the want of a home. 58 
Those booked on charges of drunkenness not listed as an offense in the 
thirties exceeded all others a decade later, suggesting that many of 
the shiftless misfits, who in earlier days had sometimes moved on 
toward the not too distant frontier, were by the mid-century acclimating 
themselves after a fashion to urban life. 

The county jail, now completely surrounded by the city, was forced to 
expand in order to accommodate its inmates, 728 of whom were com 
mitted in 1849 as against 435 five years before. Fortunately, from the 
housing viewpoint, the terms were short, for the jail cells numbered sixty, 
with seven rooms for females and special cases, though double these 
numbers were frequently confined, 54 A rock pile within the jaU yard and 
road repair in the vicinity supplied labor for the convicts, while the 
services of a chaplain and a physician were occasionally provided. 55 One 
observer in 1838 praised the cleanliness and discipline found in the 
Rochester jail and commended the plan for an inmates library, but 
the jail s most famous prisoner, William Lyon Mackenzie, leader of 
the Canadian Rebellion, blasted petulantly against the damp marshy 
surroundings and intolerable restraints of what he dignified as the 
American Bastille, 56 

52 , Senate Doc. (1838), No. 65; (1848), No. 193; (1850), No. 195. Of 63 con 
victions in 1834, only 2 kept a bawdy house, while in 1847 that charge accounted 
for 12 out of 72, and in 1849, 6 out of 101, with 17 committed for selling liquor 
without a license at the latter date. 

53 Watch Books (1836-1838), MSS in Roch. Hist. Soc.; Democrat, Aug. 10, 
1839; Oct. 27, 1841; Apr. 18, 1845; Apr. 7, 1848. 

M Advertiser, Sept 30, 1844; Jan. 20, 1849; Jan. 9, 1850; Roch. Republican, 
Jan. 25, 1849; Monroe County Board of Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1840 
(Rochester, 1892), p. 16$. 

^Monroe County Board of Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1840, pp. 129, 141, 
192, 214-215, 248, 260, 279, 295. 

56 William Wood to Henry O Reilly, Canandaigua, Jan. 14, 1840; William L. 
Mackenzie to Henry O Reilly, Rochester Jail, 9 letters, O Reilly Doc., Roch. Hist. 
Soc.; Charles Lindsay, The Life and Times of WUUam L. Mackenzie (Toronto, 
1862), quoted in Samson Scrapbook, No. 51, p. 72; Democrat, Dec. 28, 1843. 


Despite the obvious exaggeration In Mackenzie s complaints, the jail 
house scarcely answered the needs of the increasing number of home- 
boys gathered in by the officers. Agitation for a correctional institu 
tion to care for these lads prompted the state in 1849 to open the 
Western House of refuge, the fourth institution of its kind in the country ? 
on Rochester s northwestern outskirts. 57 

A grand Jury found it necessary in 1839 to recommend special ceEs 
for the segregation of women in the jail. 58 Occasionally a woman was 
committed on a charge of thievery, but more frequently the watch 
would bring in one "Jane Van Buren, 3 "Cornelia Sherman," or some 
other Negro or white lass puHed out of bed with a nameless male who 
generally escaped into the night. Repeated attempts were made to dose 
"Mrs. Brown s" or "Mrs. Smith s" disorderly house. Between 10 and 
20 per cent of all local arrests involved women, one of them being 
found in the street in man s clothing and another "having a red face." ** 
Efforts to curb the activities of these wayward women continued with 
little success throughout the period, and not until the mid-century was 
a Home for the Friendless provided by charitable folk desiring to 
meliorate the situation. 60 

Meanwhile, two sensational crimes stirred the community to its 
depths. The first murder occurred in October, 1837, when William 
Lyman, treasurer of the Carthage Railroad, was robbed and killed, 
apparently by eighteen-year-old Octavius Barron, who was quickly 
apprehended, tried amidst great excitement, and finally hanged in the 
jail yard. 61 A second murder took place in the city before Barron s execu 
tion, several others were reported during the forties, 62 occasional jail- 
breaks were effected, and two minor riots developed, 63 but none of these 
events roused the excitement produced by the alleged seduction of a 
sixteen-year-old girl by her pastor. Popular discussion of the flimsy 
evidence failed to subside, even after the conviction of the accused, 
while testimonials prepared by both sides for the Bishop kept the case 
before the public for several months. 64 

w Western House of Refuge, First Annual Report (Albany, 1850). 
K Rock. RepubKcan, Aug. 28, 1838; Sun, July i, 1839. 

59 Watch Books, 1838. 

60 Seventh Ann. Rept. of the Rochester Home for the Friendless (Rochester, 

91 Rock. Republican, Oct. 31, 1837; June 12, 1838; William F. Peck, History 
of the PoHce Department of Rochester, N. Y. (Rochester, 1903), pp. 72-78. 

^Democrat, Apr. 16, 1842; Mar. 16, 1847; Roch. Republican, Apr. 4, 1848; 
Advertiser, Aug. 25, 1848. 

** Democrat, Jan. 4, 1844; Advertiser, June 10, 1846; Roch. RepubHcan, Oct. 
5, 1847- 

^The Volunteer, July 24, 1841; Democrat, July 24, Dec. 31, 1841; Jan. 19, 
1842; Roch. RepubKcan, July 27, Sept. 21, 1841; Oct. 10, 1843; Elisabeth S. S. 
Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Dec. 31, -1841; Jan. 19, 1842, E. S. S. Eaton 
Letters, courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth Selden Rogers, New York City. 


A more serious problem was that of the poor folk forced to beg for 
bread during the dark years of the depression. As forthright action ap 
peared necessary, plans were drawn for a workhouse where the "indolent 
poor," as they were described^ could receive correctional treatment. 
Bonds sold to finance the institution enabled purchase of a lot, but 
nothing further was accomplished, 65 Meanwhile, when the aid given 
through public work projects in the early years of the depression was 
shut off by the economy drive, resort was made to direct relief pay 
ments, which never fell below $5,000 a year during the forties and 
mounted slowly to $13,420 by the close of the decade. 68 The overseers 
of the poor, who distributed this fund, generally in the form of outdoor 
relief , faced constant attack both from humanitarians and from economy 
advocates. 67 Though the sums were modest enough, neither viewpoint 
predominated; thus the per capita cost of city relief rose from 24 cents 
in 1834 to 37 cents in 1837, falling to 27 cents in 1846, yet by the mid- 
century, chiely because of the hardships resulting from the cholera 
epidemic, the cost had turned upward again. 68 

Despite its many flaws, the county almsfaouse located in Brighton, 
a mile south of the city, provided a measure of relief. After an abortive 
movement in the late thirties to sell the old site and develop a new 
institution, several additions were built to accommodate the overcrowded 
population. 69 A succession of fires in 1842 and 1846 not only cost several 
lives but also greatly increased the congestion in the remaining quarters 
until the rebuilding operations were completed. 70 Cholera reaped a rich 
harvest among the inmates in 1849. Yet th fi institution continued to 
operate throughout the period, and in 1847 its officers reported one 
marriage, 18 births, and 75 deaths among the 1,178 enrolled during 
the year. 71 Though provisions raised on the farm helped to keep down 
the expenses of the large family, which averaged over two hundred a 
day, a total of $13,017.80 was expended for maintenance that year, 
showing a 20 per cent increase over 1846, occasioned chiefly, it was 
explained, by the larger number of immigrants requiring assistance. 72 

The most successful institution established during the period was the 
Rochester Orphan Asylum. Leadership came from a group of charitable 
women who opened a temporary asylum on April i, 1837, in a small 
house on Sophia Street, starting with nine children transferred from 

^Papers on the Workhouse (1838), MSS, Roch. Hist. Soe; Democrat, July 14, 
Sept. 24, 25, 1839. 

66 Gilbert, Tables II and HC. 

67 C. C. Proc., Oct. 10, 1843; Democrat, May 16, 1845. 

68 Gilbert, pp. 88-93- 

69 Democrat, Mar. 20, Dec. 3, 23, 1836; Jan. 14, 1841. 

70 Roch. Republican, Feb. 22, 1842; Democrat, Mar. 2, 1846; July 30, 31, 
1849; Supervisprs, Proceedings: 1821-1840, p. 261. 

71 Roch. Republican, Feb. 8, 1848; Advertiser, Jan. 12, 1849, Jan. n, 1850. 

72 Advertiser, Dec. 3, 1847; Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1849, p. 355. 


the almshouse. Soon a charter was secured and larger quarters ? accom 
modating some thirty youngsters, were occupied in CornhilL The gift of 
a more favorable site in the southern part of the city spurred a drive 
for funds, and after much earnest labor, particularly by the wives of 
Chester Dewey and Thomas H. Rochester, a new home facing Hubbell 
Park stood ready for its young occupants early in i844. 73 While this 
institution was beginning its long and useful career, supported largely 
by charitable Protestants, local Catholics were busy raising funds for 
the Rochester Catholic Asylum for girls back of St. Patrick s Church. 
The asylum opened in 1842, and three years later the Sisters of Charity 
arrived from Emmetsburg, Maryland, to take charge, supporting the 
institution in part by annual fairs. 74 Rochester thus equipped itself 
with two creditable orphan asylums before the mid-century. 

Though occasional insane persons were lodged in the jail when they 
became troublesome, or if destitute in the almshouse, for the most part 
these unfortunates, as well as the deaf, dumb, and blind, depended 
upon the care given by their family or church friends. The state pro 
vided some relief in 1845 when the State Lunatic Asylum at Utica ad 
mitted a limited number from each county on payment of the pre 
scribed $20 annual fees. A similar provision for the reception of deaf, 
dumb, and blind pupils at the New York Institution prompted Monroe 
County to send five there in 1845 an d si x * Utica. But Rochester was 
credited with thirty-five such folk by the State Census that year, when 
the county totalled 140, and neither public charity nor medical science 
was prepared to give them much attention. 75 


In many respects the most neglected of community affairs was public 
health. Only in times of emergency did the city become actively con 
cerned, and then the measures adopted seldom proved effective. The 
lack of a public water system remained a serious handicap, greatly 
complicating the sanitary problem. No real progress could be hoped for 
while the economy advocates were in the saddle. 

Under the charter s health provision, small outlays were made to 
combat a minor cholera epidemic in 1834, but the board soon became 
inactive. A campaign to see that all cellars and outhouses were properly 

73 Assembly Journal (1838), pp. 312, 708; J. M. Schermerhorn to Ms wife, 
Rochester, Dec. 21, 1841, Oct. 24, 1843, Schermerhorn Letters, in possession of 
Mrs. Rudolph Stanley-Brown, Washington, D. C., photostats, Roch. Pub. Library; 
The Orphan s Souvenir (Rochester, 1843). 

74 Margaret Frawley, "A History of Charitable Institutions in Rochester,** MS, 
Roch. Hist Soc.; Democrat, Oct. 13, 1841; Mar. 18, Nov. 28, 1844; May 29, 1845; 
Mar. 21, 1848. 

T5 N. Y. State Census (1845); Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1840, pp. 310, 
311, 314- 


limed started under Its authority in 1839* and several years later the 
board s advice was sought on the regulations to be applied to slaughter 
houses. 76 Yet only the news of the spread of cholera through Europe 
in 1848 awakened the authorities in Rochester. The revitalized board 
of health, directing hotels and lodging houses to report all sick travelers, 
hastily made plans for a city hospital. 77 Warnings were sounded 
against the numerous grog shops, and a drive started that fall was 
renewed the next spring to clean up the gutters, drains, and canal basins, 
as well as private cellars, wells, and cesspools. 78 Despite an epidemic of 
dysentery the board rejoiced the next May to report a year of exception 
ally good health/ 9 but June brought the first attack of the dread scourge. 

As in 1832, Rochester was woefully unprepared to cope with a 
serious epidemic. When the protests of neighbors against the location 
of a city "hospital" in the Fif th Ward prompted its removal to the Eighth 
Ward in the spring of 1849, residents in the latter area responded by 
applying the torch. Though an award of $500 sought the identity of 
the incendiary, repeated efforts to find another suitable building failed, 
and the community was fortunate at the last moment to secure a 
temporary shelter for its first cholera victims some distance north of the 
town overlooking the gorge. There, many hoped, the lake breezes would 
dilute the dangerous cholera vapors. 80 

For some reason the first onslaught of the plague early in June 
slackened toward the close of the month. Renewed confidence stimulated 
protests against the official cancellation of the customary celebration of 
the Fourth, but when the fatalities multiplied in July and August, 
popular indifference disappeared, causing many to flee the city. 81 The 
sale of fresh fruit and vegetables was prohibited, and frantic complaints 
indicted the several disreputable shanties and rookeries where the in 
habitants appeared to die like flies. The torch was put to Brown s Block 
on Main Street soon after five died there in six days, while the board of 
health found the tenements of the Shamrock House on Market Street 
"so foul in every part as to be unfit for the habitation of human beings. 

Democrat, Apr. 9, 1835; Jan. 4, 1837; July 3, 6, 1839; Rock. Republican, 
June 18, 1839; Advertiser, July 21, 1845. 

77 Advertiser, Jan, 29, Apr. 25, Dec. 12, 1848. Public health boards elsewhere 
likewise depended upon recurrent epidemics for popular support; see FairHe, 
Municipal Administration, pp. 157-158. 

78 Advertiser, Dec. 12, 1848, May 31, June i, 1849. 

79 Democrat, May 22, June 8, 1849; Raymond Scrapbook, pp. 179-^180, 228-229. 

80 Democrat, Apr. 30, 1834; Apr. 18, 27, 1848; July 13, 21, 1849; Jan. 10, 
1850; Advertiser, Apr. 25, 1848; June 8, 15, 27, July 13, 1849; Betsey C. Comer, 
"A Century of Medicine in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XIII, 358-359- 

S1 Alfred G. Mudge to Lewis Selye, Rochester, June-September, 1849, MSS, 
Autograph Collection, Roch. Hist. Soc.; Advertiser, June 8, 20, July 18, 1849. 


. * . He is that any of the wretched group escaped." 82 The 

of deaths attributed to the plague (Including twenty-four 
was 1 6 1, the great majority of them Irish and German im 
migrants crowded together in unsanitary hovels. Yet one of the victims^ 
Dr. Wilson D. Fish, fell in the course of professional duty, and a suf 
ficient number of fatalities occurred throughout the city to make the 
epidemic a terrifying ordeal to the 35,000 inhabitants. 84 

In face of this emergency the city fathers hastily loosened the purse 
strings. Following an expenditure of $85 on public health in 1843, the 
economy-minded community had avoided further outlays of that sort 
until 18485 when $465 was expended. The next year saw the outlay in 
creased tenfold; with most of the $5095 going into the makeshift hospital 
where transient and other destitute cholera victims received free treat 
ment. Nevertheless, soon after the last case had cleared up and the 
arrival of cold weather dispelled fear of the plague s renewal, the 
hospital closed and the community slipped back into its more comfortable 
disregard of sanitary ordinances. 85 

If a spirit of lassitude characterized many of its servkes 3 the city at 
least achieved a remarkable record of economy. The policy first gained 
effect in 1840, when the total outlays were cut from $109,788 to $56,768 
a 50 per cent economy per person. As the public services could not 
accommodate themselves to such a drastic reduction, a steady though 
moderate rise brought the outlay up to $86,845 by 1844. Democratic 
Mayor Isaac Hills declared in 1843 ^ at "there is but one view on this 
subject, that this community cannot sustain the weight of taxation," yet 
his own outlays brought a new increase.* 6 Local Whigs, abandoning 
their policy of internal improvements, sought to outdo the economy 
Democrats, and under their auspices during the late forties, despite 
moderate advances in the total outlays, the per capita expenditures 
were brought down to $2.66 by 1849, well below the $3.42 of 1844 and 
less than half the $5.80 of iS^g. 87 

A growing proportion of the outlays came from regular tax sources, 
and while these appeared to bear with increasing weight upon local 
property, the hardship was not so great as the figures implied. The tax 
rate per $1,000 in 1835 was $4.58, mounting gradually to $10.24 by 
1849, while the local assessment rate fell during the same period from 
$8.6 1 to $2. 63 . 8S But these figures reveal only half the story, since the 

** Advertiser, Aug. 30, Sept. 15, 1849; Jan. 5, 1850; Raymond Scraphook, pp. 
173, 228-229. 

^Democrat, Dec. 12, 1849. 

94 Advertiser, Aug. 28, 1849; Jan- 5> 1850; Democrat, Dec. 12, 1849. 

** Democrat, Mar. 19, 1850; Advertiser, Oct. 4, 1850; Gilbert, Table H 

88 C. C. Pr&c., Mar. 10, 1843; Gilbert, pp. 109-112, 114-118, 153-156. 

87 Democrat, Jan. 22, 30, 1844; Gilbert, Table I. 

88 Gilbert, Table IX. 


inefficient work of the fifteen assessors, chosen annually with few 
reflections, had practically stabilized Rochester s assessed valuation 
throughout the period. After the rise from $3,010,000 to 14,432,000 be 
tween 1835 &d 1840, the assessed valuation advanced slowly to $5,073,- 
000 by 1850 an increase of 70 per cent during the fifteen years, as 
compared with a population growth more than twice as large. That some 
thing was awry with the standards of the assessors appeared the very 
next year, when the valuation suddenly doubled. 88 

The economy advocates likewise achieved a sharp reduction of the 
municipal debt. The great activity of the late thirties had accumulated a 
net debt of $126,339 by 1839, or $6.68 per capita. By dint of rigid 
economy and a generally increased tax levy, this debt was reduced to 
$123,538 or $5.14 per capita in 1843, when Rochester was accredited 
with the second lowest per capita debt among the seventeen principal 
cities of the Union. As the retrenchment program had then barely 
started, further economies cut the debt to $66,676 in 1850, or $1.83 
per capita. 90 

Only a polite disregard of the taxing restraints imposed by the charter 
made this achievement possible. Though added revenue sources appeared 
from time to time, the annually increased tax levies showed little rela 
tion to the charter provisions; indeed, at no time did the latter approach 
the sums collected. The $20,000 limit under the 1844 charter advanced 
by varied amendments to $28,000 in 1849, and by a new charter in 1850 
to $35,000, yet the tax levies for these years were $33,000, and $50,880, 
and $70,063 respectively. 91 These levies did not, however, include the 
miscellaneous taxes, whose gross declined sharply, chiefly because of 
reduced activity in the field of public improvements. As a result the 
per capita tax showed a slight rise, while the per capita local assess 
ments trended in the opposite direction sufficiently to stabilize the 
burden. 92 

Never again would the dream of the budget-balancers be so closely 
approximated as at the mid-century. The city fathers were still content 
to draw their water from shallow, backyard wells, sending their house 
keepers out to sweep the gravel streets, and their sons to fight the re 
current fires with gasping hand pumps. Some doubts appeared con 
cerning the adequacy of these provisions, especially after the destruc 
tion wrought by the successive fires and epidemics of the late forties. 
The city of Troy, frequently praised in Rochester for the enterprise 

89 Gilbert, Table I; Democrat, Jan. 9, -1841; Feb. 19, 1845. 

90 Leroy A. Shattuck, Municipal Indebtedness (Baltimore, 1940) , p. 15, quoting 
from the U. S. Magazine and Democratic Review, XII (1843), 212; Gilbert, 
Table XI. 

51 Weller, "Development of the Charter," pp. 77-78, 83-84; Gilbert, Table VIH. 
** Gilbert, Table DC. 


of its ventured to pile up a debt nearly ten times that of 

the Flour City without checking the courage of Its smaller population, 
was past Rochester in municipal improvements as 

m so many other respects at the mid-century. 1 * 3 The need for a new 
policy in Rochester appeared only too evident, yet it was most fre 
quently argued that the real negligence resided in the county and state 
authorities. Quite unjustly the quaint little courthouse served as the 
chief butt for local critics. 94 


As a matter of fact, despite the additional functions assumed by the 
city, the county remained the big brother in local government. Re 
sponsibility for the city streets and schools was readily surrendered by 
the county authorities; who found the administration of those affairs in 
the remaining towns sufficiently burdensome. Indeed, the supervisors 
would gladly have surrendered other responsibilities as well, notably 
that of building and repairing the numerous bridges, for each town had 
its pet bridge project, though none wished to be taxed for that of its 
neighbor. The debate over the reconstruction of the main bridge at 
Rochester became so protracted that the city finally, in 1837, proceeded 
with the task itself. The supervisors, who ultimately paid most of this 
bill, assisted with frequent repairs of that bridge as well as those at 
Court and Clarissa streets and at Carthage, yet on each occasion the 
initiative had to be assumed by the city. 95 

The jealousies which naturally developed between the various towns 
over the location of a road, a bridge, or an institution flared into the 
open at the semi-annual and special meetings of the supervisors. The 
representation of the city, because of its more rapid growth, increased 
from three to five during the mid-thirties, but later demands for 
additional supervisors were resisted by the towns, fearful lest the city, 
which numbered three-eighths of the county s population by the mid- 
century, would dominate the board. There was, however, little prospect 
of such domination at the time, for not only were the five Rochester 
supervisors easily outvoted by the eighteen country members, but also 
the ablest leadership generally came from the latter group chiefly, no 
doubt, because of the frequency with which many townsmen sought 
and secured reelection, in contrast to the rotation of office practiced 
in Rochester. The city, fortunately, derived some benefit from the situa 
tion, for several of these officials were drawn more closely into 
Rochester s affairs by their frequent visits on county business, some 
ultimately making it their residence the most notable example being 


^Arthur J, Weise, Troy s One Hundred Years (Troy, 1891), p. 345; Lamed, 
History of Buffalo, passim. 

** Democrat, May 15, 1841; Dec. 13, 1849; Aug. i, 1850. 

95 Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1840, pp. 129, 146, 148, 159, 164, 166-167, 194. 


the removal of Hiram SIbley from West Mendon to Rochester after a 
brief term in the mid-forties as county sheriff. 96 

The growing jealousy between the city and the surrounding towns was 
accentuated by the popular demand for economy. Though the first two 
decades witnessed a steady advance in the assessment valuations of the 
several towns, until the county s total reached $15,661,769 in 1841, each 
of the next half-dozen years saw a reduction in the figure reported by 
practically every town and the city wards as well. By the mid-century 
the total valuation fell more than $2,000,000 below that of a decade 
previous. 91 " As landowners displaced land promoters in positions of 
authority, the county as well as the city attempted to retrench. Perhaps 
it was only a coincidence that Nathaniel T. Rochester, having long since 
returned from Ms dashing European excursion of the early thirties, was 
now writing out his full middle name, Thrift, when signing official re 
ports in his capacity as Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, a position 
he held throughout the forties. 

The increasing volume of official business presented a serious problem. 
Though both plans were suggested, neither splitting the county in two 
with the river as a dividing line nor making the city an independent 
county offered a prospect of efficiency or economy. 98 It was found 
expedient, however, to divide the county into two districts for school 
supervision and into three assembly districts for polling purposes." An 
early demand for a new courthouse, prompted by the inadequacy of the 
existing structure, was put off when various outside accommodations 
became available. Thus, the county in 1835 acquired possession of 
Dr. Elwood s small building, located on one corner of the courthouse 
plot, and twelve years later took over the similar building of Vincent 
Mathews on the other corner; 1<M> yet these additions and the construc 
tion of a fireproof clerk s office in 1836 only deferred the day when a 
new courthouse would be a positive requirement. As the forties drew to 
a close the supervisors were forced to take action. The first plan called 
for a modest structure to cost only $30,000, but popular indignation at 
such short-sighted economy soon prompted a revision of plans, and by 
the mid-century a quite substantial courthouse, surmounted by a dome, 
was in process of erection on the old site. 101 

96 Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1849, passim; Hiram W. Sibley, "Memories of 
Hiram Sibley, 7 R. H. S., Pub., II, 127-134- 

^Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1849, pp. 248, 395, passim. The city s assess 
ment total was not reduced, but the slow advance was in effect a reduction when 
the increased area and population were considered; see above, p. 259. 

98 Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1849, pp. 279, 281-282; Advertiser, Oct. 17, 

1843; Dec. u, 1845. 

99 Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1849, .p. 275; Advertiser, Nov. 21, 1845. 

100 Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1849, pp. 141* 142, 37& 

101 Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1849, p. 163; Democrat, May 15, 1841; Dec. 
13, 1849; Aug. i, 1850; Advertiser, Mar. 28, 1850. 


No the most distinguished public leadership was that provided 

by a group of able judges who presided over the community s legal 
Three Democrats, Samuel L. Selden, Ashley Samson, and Patrick 
Bucban, served successively as First Judge of the County Court during 
the thirties and forties, and while the rapid increase in litigation fre 
quently congested their dockets, the Community enjoyed the benefit of 
their even-handed justice. 102 Appeals were nevertheless increasingly 
numerous, and thanks to Thurlow Weed s early friendship, the able 
Democrat, Addison Gardiner, served as a Rochester representative in 
t}ie Eighth District of the State Circuit Court during most of the 
thirties. When the pressure of increased business compelled the appoint 
ment of a vice-chancellor for this growing district in 1839, ^ e leading 
Whigs Frederick Whittlesey, secured the appointment, holding it until 
the constitutional revision of 1846. Under the new arrangement, which 
transferred Monroe County to the Seventh District, Samuel L. Selden was 
elected as the Rochester member of its four-man panel. Addison Gardiner 
was at the same time elected to the state s highest tribunal, the Court 
of Appeals, where he served with ability until i8s6. 103 

Hie long terms of these judicial officers were matched by few other 
officials during the period, the district attorney and the county treasurer 
being noteworthy exceptions. The election of Lewis Selye to the latter 
office in 1847 brought into the county service an able executive, who 
soon placed its financial affairs on a sound basis. With an effort to 
coEect back taxes, renewed after a long lapse during the depression 
years, 104 the county girded itself for a more vigorous performance of its 
functions in the years ahead. 

There was an incentive other than glory to attract able men into local 
t office, since the fees frequently added up to handsome sums. Thus the 
clerk of the chancery court in 1837 averaged ten dollars on each of the 
99 bills recorded that September and calculated upon an income of 
$6ooo. 105 In the case of the judges, whose position redounded to their 
reputation as lawyers, a direct advantage was likewise evident. When 
in 1847 an effort to place such essential posts as that of the district at 
torney, the county clerk, and the judges on a regular salary basis 
raised the salary of the First Judge from $500 to $1500, an outburst of 

ia2 Advertiser, Nov. 22, 1843; I^ ec - 9> 1848; Raymond Scrapbook, p. 24; Judge 
P. G. Buchan, "Memoirs and Sundry Writings," Buchan Scrapbook; Samson Note* 
Book, X, 5S9-36o. 

103 Peck, Semi-Centenmdl History of Rochester, pp. 366-377 ; Addison Gardiner: 
In Memorwm (Rochester, 1883). 

104 Democrat, Oct. 26, 1848. 

105 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Nov. 17, 1837, Jan. 19, 
1842, E. S. S. Eaton Letters. "Judge" Selden s private law practice, which oc 
cupied but part of his attention in 1841, netted him $1200 for the year. 


criticism brought the figure down to $1000, considered more in line with 
the standards of a democratic community . aos 

Only when an ambitious man saw an opportunity to build up a 
political following through the retention of office was an effort made 
to break down the tradition of rotation. This situation developed in the 
post office at an early date, as the successive incumbents played an active 
part in local politics, each seeking to block the campaign that soon 
developed for Ms removal. Yet the potentialities of this and similar 
Federal posts for political influence were small, and although the local 
Democratic minority was doubtless strengthened by control of the post 
office for twelve out of sixteen years during the period, the volume of 
patronage proved meager indeed. Local judgeships likewise fell for the 
most part to Democrats, but this had the effect of removing some of 
the party s ablest leaders from political activity. The direction of Whig 
forces by Thurlow Weed from distant Albany received support locally 
from Frederick Whittlesey, though both were chiefly concerned with 
state and national politics. It was not until the mid-forties, when Lewis 
Selye emerged as the guiding spirit in local Whig circles, that the com 
munity began to enjoy a measure of the leadership lacking since the 
death or withdrawal of the early village fathers. 107 


Education was the civic field in which Rochester made its most 
creditable advance during the period. The county gradually surrendered 
full control to the city, and the latter, spurred by emerging democratic 
forces, achieved real progress in the development of a public school 
system during the mid-forties. Moreover, the community enjoyed the 
services of several private academies. The enterprise of a few able edu 
cators, generously backed by interested citizens, not only provided the 
youth of the city with advantages comparable to those of other cities, 
but also helped to supply facilities for the edification of adults in line 
with nation-wide trends at the mid-century. 108 

Yet these achievements must have seemed far in the future to the 
small group of public-spirited citizens who advocated educational re 
forms in lie mid-thirties. Dissatisfaction with the old district school 
system had been one of the arguments for a city charter, 109 and that docu 
ment gave a measure of control over the districts to the common council. 
Nevertheless, that body, preoccupied with other affairs, found little 

^ Assembly Doc. (1840), No. 21; Supervisors, Proceedings: i82i-i84g, p. 344. 
1<n "See the numerous letters to Lewis Selye scattered through the Autograph 
Collection, MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

108 Sidney L. Jackson, America s Struggle for Free Schools (Washington, 1941). 

109 Democrat, Feh. 19, 1834. 


for Its duties. Though five school Inspectors were ap- 

polntedj the district trustees remained directly responsible for each 
It was only at their request that the council occasionally 
levied an extra tax for repairs or for a new building. Indeed, the council 
itself, lacking the power to levy a general school tax, could only recom 
mend to the county supervisors the sums desired sums usually calcu- 

just to match the state funds. 110 

Occasionally a district mustered courage to attack Its own problems. 
Thus old Gates District No. 2 7 now renamed Rochester No. i, responsible 
for the most densely populated area of the city, renewed earlier efforts 
to secure a new building. As a major reason for delay had been the fear 
that a later revision of the district boundaries would deprive many 
property holders of their investment in the school, a bill was introduced 
at Albany to obviate tMs danger. 111 Finally in May, 1835, despite the 
defeat of its bill, the district voted to proceed with the construction of a 
stone schoolhouse at a cost of $3000 on the old site facing the Court 
House. Hie two-story building stood ready the next year, but its four 
roomSj though the most spacious In the city, soon proved inadequate. 
The council, however, rejected the district s request In 1838 for a $2500 
special assessment to build an addition in the rear for the use of the 
girls, granting instead an extra $200 for maintenance. 112 

Though none of the other twelve districts formulated such ambitious 
plans, similar difficulties obstructed each attempted reform, thus giving 
rise to a determined campaign for a revision of the entire system. A Com 
mittee for Elevating the Standards of Common School Education, 
organized at a public meeting in September, 1836, delegated A. C. Pratt, 
local author of popular lyrics, to study the problem and agitate for 
improvements throughout the county .^ Spurred to action, the super 
visors created a County Board of School Visitors, naming Dr. White- 
house, rector of St. Luke s, as chairman and Henry O Reilly as vice 
chairman. 314 Correspondence with educational reformers in the East and 
an exhaustive study of the local situation laid the groundwork for a suc 
cession of public meetings at the Court House late in i838. 115 With 
Dr. Maltby Strong, a public spirited physician, presiding, Dr. White- 

no Supervisors, Proceedings: 1821-1849, p. 202. 

311 Assembly Doc. (1835), No, 117. 

122 Gates District No. 2, Minute Book, May u, 1835; May, 1838; May, 1840; 
MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

***Rock. Republican, Nov. 15, 1836; Democrat, Dec. 6, 1836; Jan. 4, 1837. 

*** O Reilly Doc., No. 2289-2290. 

<m Jackson, Free Schools. The voluminous notations and bibliography which 
crowd the last hundred pages of this volume attest the ramifications of the move 
ment for free schools throughout the Northeast. The struggle in Rochester, com 
plex as it was, seems to have been much simpler in character than that depicted 
here for New York and New England. 


house read the committee s report, recommending the creation of an 
independent board of education with power to appoint a superintendent, 
who in turn should be responsible for the selection of teachers and the 
general administration of all schools. The support of all common schools 
on a free basis by a city-wide tax and the purchase of a supply of school 
books recommended by the American Society for the Diffusion of Useful 
Knowledge were likewise proposed. 

There could be no doubt that the situation demanded drastic action. 
Of the 4064 children In the city between the ages of five and sixteen, the 
committee found only 1569 registered in the district schools. Another 
1362 were cared for in the numerous select schools and those maintained 
by charity, yet more than one thousand attended no school whatever, 
and many of the enrollees attended irregularly, or for very short terms. 
The report likewise endorsed public aid for the advanced Instruction of 
able but poor youths. While this last recommendation after a heated 
debate was voted down, the major portion of the report was enthusi 
astically adopted. 11 

As It required more than the approval of a citizens meeting to put 
these reforms Into effect, an enlarged committee, comprising three mem 
bers from each ward, was created to urge the program upon the au 
thorities. Additional men of ability Ashbel W. Rlley, James Seymour, 
Selah Mathews, and Frederick Starr among others were thus drawn 
into the campaign. A series of letters signed "Y. Z." urged the reform 
in the press. 317 Although the economic hardships suffered by the com 
munity distracted attention in 1839, the agitation was continued by 
Drs. Whitehotise and Strong. 1 " The school inspectors likewise recom 
mended action, 119 and early in 1840 the campaign gained renewed vigor 
when the newly established Workingman s Advocate took up the cause. 120 
A second report, prepared for the committee by George Arnold, a local 
banker, discovered a considerable waste of funds through the inefficiency 
of the district schools, while the County Board of Visitors, led now by 
James S. Wadsworth, recommended the appointment of a county school 
superintendent and the maintenance of free schools throughout that 
area. 121 Frequent sermons and public addresses rallied support. Op 
ponents attacked the principle of taxing one man to educate the chil 
dren of another, labelling it undemocratic, but arguments stressing the 
community s need for an informed electorate proved more persuasive. 122 

316 Rock. Republican, Oct. 9, 1838; Advertiser, Dec. 5, 1838. 

117 Advertiser, Dec. 5, 6, 7, n, 15, 27, 1838. 

118 Advertiser, Jan. 16, Nov. 7, 1839. 

115 Advertiser, Mar. 21, 1839; Democrat, Sept. 7, 1:839. 
120 Workmgman s Advocate, Feb. 5, 13, 15, 1840. 
321 Democrat, Jan. T, 1841. 

^Democrat, Jan, 23, Feb. 8, Nov. 4, 1840; Jan. 12, Feb. 13, 16, Nov. 22, 
1840; Genesee Farmer, VIII (1838), 40. 


The relation between Ignorance and crime was emphasized by 

(FRelly, likewise urged that free schools, in view of their success 
in Providence and other Eastern communities, 128 could no longer be 
considered an untried experiment 

Finally in May, 1841, the le^slature passed an amendment to the 
city charter providing for a board of education and a system of free, 
tax-supported, common schools. Despite the last-minute attempt of the 
city council to gain these powers for itself , an elective board was created 
with two members to be chosen from each ward. The board was to name 
the superintendent and to determine the funds needed, and as long as 
these remained within six times the sum provided by the state, the 
council was to levy the necessary tax. Any additional outlays would, 
however, require approval of the council, which thus retained an effective 
restraint over the program s expansion. 12 * 


Rochester, with one of the pioneer free school systems, was closely 
observed by educational reformers during the forties. The first board, 
including men active in the campaign, as Henry O Reilly and Levi A. 
Ward, promptly chose the latter as president and selected Isaac Mack, 
a public spirited Whig and custom miller, as superintendent. 125 Two new 
districts were organized, the construction of several new school build 
ings was undertaken, and the enrollment more than doubled by I842. 128 
Within three years, nine new buildings were erected at a total cost of 
$28,000, the registration at the fifteen schoolhouses amounted to 4,246, 
while forty-four teachers received an average of $257.47 in I844. 127 
Hie program of studies included, in addition to the three R s, such sub 
jects as algebra, history, geography, botany, grammar, geometry, book 
keeping, and natural philosophy. Though an effort to equip school 
libraries developed, the purchase of school books was left to the 
parents. 12 Several unfortunate disciplinary cases attracted much at 
tention, but the superintendent was more concerned over the irregularity 
of attendance, which he felt indicated the failure of parents to give full 
support to the experiment. 129 

Despite their many flaws, the public schools of Rochester became 
useful community centers by the mid-forties. A class in vocal music, 
organized by a volunteer teacher, proved so well trained in 1846 that 
a public recital prompted the board to appropriate $25 for this instruc- 

Doc., No. 2290; Democrat, Dec. 30, 1840. 
* M Democrat, June n, 1841. 
328 Advertiser, July 9, 1841. 
"^Democrat, Apr. u, June ai, 1842. 

327 Democrat, June 30, 1843; Feb. 12, 1844; Advertiser, Apr. 12, 1844; Board 
of Education, 2nd Annual Report (1844), appendix. 

328 Bd. of Ed., 2nd Annual Report, pp. 10-12, 32. 

129 Bd. of Ed., 2nd Annual Report, pp. 15-17,* Advertiser, June 7, 1844. 


tion, and soon two music teachers were engaged part-time. 130 Occasional 
evening classes accommodated young mechanics whose circumstances 
did not permit their attendance at the regular hours, but these facilities 
never satisfied the needs of this group, estimated to number sixteen 
hundred in i84i. lsl The schoolhouses supplied convenient meeting places 
for newly organized religious societies, while the small library maintained 
in each building was made available for community use on Saturday 
mornings^ when each principal was required to serve as librarian. 112 

The proper maintenance of these various structures demanded con 
stant attention. Wood for the school stoves, previously received from 
the parents, had to be purchased and cut at the order of the board, 
though the teachers remained responsible for making their fires and 
keeping the buildings properly swept and ventilated. While occasional 
outlays for a new bell or for repairs of the white-washed school fences 
or the teachers rostrums were required, the superintendent stoutly de 
nied frequent charges that these expenditures represented an attempt to 
maintain palatial structures. 133 

Unfortunately the demand for economy, which obstructed so many 
civic functions during the late forties, inevitably retarded the educa 
tional advance. After the defeat in 1844 of Superintendent Mack s recom 
mendation that a high school be established for the "talented and am 
bitious youth of our city/ 7 long delays ensued before his successors were 
able, near the mid-century, to organize creditable senior departments in 
a few of the larger schools. 134 The board, answering the frequent demands 
for economy with a denial that it had any plans for instruction in "the 
abstract sciences" or "the dead languages," affirmed its belief that a 
"knowledge of the simpler elements of the various common sciences" 
would redound to "the great and permanent good of the entire com 
monwealth." ^ 

Spurred by repeated attacks on the free school system during the late 
forties, the board considered several proposed economies, such as the 
abandonment of separate classes for girls and the separate school for 
Negroes. In each case, however, the social problems involved aroused so 
much discussion that action was delayed. 186 Instead, salaries were re 
duced and other minor economies effected in a desperate effort to keep 
the expanding school program within the limits of the less generous 

130 Bd. of Ed., Proceedings, Aug. 2, 1847. 

131 Bd. of Ed., Proceedings, Dec. 3, 1849; Democrat, June 21, 1841. 

132 A. Laura McGregor, "The Early History of the Rochester Public Schools," 
R. H. S., Pub., XVH, 51-52 ; Democrat, Mar. 5, 1846. 

133 McGregor, "Rochester Public Schools," 52-55. 

184 Bd, of Ed., Proc. f Feb. 2, Dec. 7, 1846; Aug. 28, 1848. 

135 Bd. of Ed., Proc., Sept. 7, 1846. 

136 Bd, of Ed., Proc., Aug. 6, 1849; J* 31 - I 4j 1850; Democrat, Aug. 10, Sept. 7, 
Nov. 10, 16, 20, 1849. 


appropriations of the late forties. Superintendent Belden R. Me Alpine 
was able in 1847 to make the ironic boast that, among the eleven prin 
cipal free-school cities, Rochester ranked fourth in the percentage of 
children attending, first in the average number of pupils per teacher, and 
last both in the average salaries and in the average cost per pupil. 1ST 
Because of the continued growth of the city, the number of school 
buildings had to be increased to eighteen by 1849, enrolling 5,655 pupils 
for varied terms under the charge of fifty-two teachers. The funds avail 
able that year totalled $16,620.30, or barely three dollars per pupil. 138 
These figures represented an advance, however, over the extreme 
economy of the previous four years, resulting in part, no doubt, from 
the earnest agitation of the Monroe County Teachers 7 Association under 
the leadership of Dr. Chester Dewey. 139 With the success in 1849 of the 
campaign for free schools throughout the state, Rochester s pioneer 
efforts in this field received legislative endorsement. 


One persuasive argument against a tax-supported high school was the 
group of private academies which vied with each other for the com 
munity s favor during the forties. 140 Several of them, dating from the 
thirties, had enjoyed a promising growth before the city school system 
was successfully organized. Although private in character, they enlisted 
the energies and loyalties of citizen sponsors, and fond traditions 
strengthened their hold upon the community. 

The most important of these academies was indeed almost a public 
institution in spirit and activity. The Rochester Seminary, successor to 
the ill-fated High School of 1827, though operated as an incorporated 
academy under the control of a board of trustees, continued during 
the thirties to provide primary instruction to the children of the two 
districts which had erected the building. Evidence of the growing interest 
of the community hi practical and scientific subjects appeared in 1836 
when the classical-minded Reverend Gilbert Morgan, called to the 
presidency of the Western University of Pennsylvania, 141 was replaced as 
principal by Dr. Chester Dewey, a graduate of and for a time professor 
at Williams College and one of the country s half-dozen pioneers in 
physical and natural sciences. 142 

13T Bd. of Ed., 6th Annual Report (1847), pp. 9-10. 
138 Democrat, Mar. 9, 1850. 

138 Democrat, Sept. 17, 18465 Feb. 23, 1848; Gilbert, "Government and Finances," 
Tables II, in, part 3, W, part i. 

140 Advertiser, June 4, 13, 14, 16, 1845. It is interesting to note that Dr. Dewey 
and several others interested in the academies as teachers or trustees favored a 
public high school, while most of the opposition came from the economy-minded 
political leaders. 

141 Democrat, Aug. i, 1835. 

142 Ethel McAllister, Amos Eaton: Scientist and Educator (Philadelphia, 1941), 
pp. 173-174, passim. 


When the Seminary reorganized as the Rochester Collegiate Institute 
in 1839, its ties with the school districts were completely severed/ 41 
though a small juvenile department continued until 1842. With the ad 
ditional space thus made available for laboratories, it was early dis 
covered that the chemistry experiments should be held during the last 
period of the day ? lest escaping odors or occasional accidents disturb the 
other classes. Geological and botanical specimens, in which Dr. Dewey 
took particular delight, were gathered in abundance from the gorge and 
the nearby swamps, while the work of the biology class was greatly 
facilitated in 1848 when a specially prepared eyeglass arrived for the 
school s double microscope. 

Dr. Dewey believed that learning could best be acquired through 
analysis and demonstration, rather than by dull memory work. 144 One 
observer noted with interest that the youthful orators at the public 
examinations chose to deliver quotations from Adams, Clay, Webster, 
and other contemporary figures, in place of Demosthenes, Cicero, or 
Burke, popular in his own youth. 145 Not only the academic scholars, 
averaging around 150 boys annually and paying from twenty to twenty- 
five dollars in tuition, but the entire community as well profited from 
the educational leadership of Dr. Dewey and the Collegiate Insti 
tute. 146 

The Institute met increasing competition in one field, as several 
female seminaries gained a foothold in the city, and in 1841 the girls 
department was abandoned. The first female seminary had been started 
nearly a decade before by the Black sisters and Sarah Seward, three 
graduates of Emma Willard s seminary in Troy. The ktter soon took 
charge, moving the school in 1835 into a fine new building on Alexander 
Street. 147 The choice residential quarter in the Third Ward, disturbed 
over the removal of the seminary, gave an eager welcome to Julia Jones 
and the Doolittle sisters, rallying to form a stock company which suc- 

143 Democrat, Feb. 25, May i, 1839. 

144 N. Y. Regents, Reports ( 1848), pp. 168-169; (1849), pp. 164-167. 

145 Democrat, Apr, 22, 1845. 

146 Blake McKelvey, "On the Educational Frontier," R. H. S., Pub., XVII, 27- 
28; Charles W. Seelye, "A Memorial Sketch of Chester Dewey," Rochester 
Academy of Science, III, 182-184; Dictionary of American Biography, V, 267-268; 
Martin B. Anderson, Sketch of the Life of Chester Dewey (Albany, 1868). 
Dewey s influence is happily revealed in a letter from Elisabeth Selden Spencer to 
Captain Amos Eaton, Rochester, Dec. 8, 1837: "Prof. Dewey has commenced a 
course of private Lectures on Geology, to a class of about twenty or more ladies, 
married & unmarried, who meet every Saturday afternoon at Mrs KempshalPs 
house, Aunt Susan, Eliza, & myself attend them, they are only just commenced. 
... we intend to open your box of minerals and examine them." Elisabeth Selden 
Spencer Eaton Letters. 

147 Advertiser, Apr. u, 1832; Feb. 20, Mar. 19, 1833; Democrat ^ Mar. 27, 
1834; Oct. 23, 1835. 


cessfuUy opened the Rochester Female Academy on Fitzhugh Street in 
May ? i836. 148 Still a tMrd seminary was established during 1839 in 
Dr. Lev! Ward s old home on St. Paul Street by Mary B. Allen, formerly 
head of the girls 7 department in the High School. 14S 

A friendly rivalry developed between these three schools, each 
catering to girls between twelve and sixteen years of age but occasionally 
admitting younger children. Miss Seward accommodated a few out-of- 
town girls, charging $140 a year for board, room, and tuition. Regular 
day pupils paid $8 or $10 each quarter, with extra charges for training 
in such leisure arts as music and painting. 

The program of studies varied to suit the convenience of the teachers 
and their pupils, who averaged around a hundred at each school. The 
class records kept by the Female Academy reveal that in 1839 twelve- 
year-old Mary Buell studied Blake s Natural Philosophy for three 
months, the first two volumes of Pierce s Universal History for six 
months, Watts on the Mind for nine months, as well as six months of 
French. The next year Mary continued her French, devoted three 
months to Smith s Arithmetic, and six each to Smellies 7 Philosophy, 
Burritt s Astronomy, Newman s Rhetoric, and the last two volumes of 
Pierce s History. The third year was devoted to Davis 3 Algebra, Smith s 
Physics, Lincoln s Botany, Robbins Universal History, and some more 
French. Some of Mary s schoolmates read Wayland s Moral Philosophy, 
Paley s Theology, Kane s Elementary Christianity, Alexander s Evi 
dences of Christianity, Goodrich s United States History, among other 
books. The work was carried on by individual rather than dass assign 
ments, and apparently the subjects depended in part on the texts 
available. 150 

The spell cast over each school by its mistress usually proved the 
dominating influence. Thus the diminutive Araminta Doolittle, noted 
for her charming poise, endowed her girls with a polished dignity and 
self-restraint that assured them absolute command in the drawing 
room. 151 Miss Seward s and Miss Allen s girls proved equally recogniz 
able, as the former s cheerful disposition indulged a "rather wild set," 
while the forthright piety of the latter, as interpreted by the girls of 
the Seminary on Allen Street, where it located in 1844, played as sig 
nificant a part in the emerging urban society as the decorum of the 
Third Ward girls. 152 

Republican, Feb. 13, 1838; Jane H. Nichols, Rochester Female 
Academy: An Historical Sketch: 1837-1912 (Rochester, n.d.), pp. 6-12. 

149 Mary B. Allen King, Looking Backward, pp. 168-188. 

150 Rochester Female Academy, Class Books, 1837-1842, MS, Roch, Hist. Soc. 

151 Alice L. Hopkins, A Reminiscence of Miss A. D. Doolittle and the Roches 
ter Female Academy (Rochester, n.d.)> p. 5. 

lffi *E. S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Dec. 29, 1837; Sarah C. Eaton 
to K S. S. Eaton, Troy, Sept. 13, 1838; E. S. S. Eaton Letters; Roch. Republican, 


The younger sisters of these seminary gMs were accommodated in the 
late thirties by "no less than a dozen (perhaps there are more) select 
schools/ 7 as one observer noted, adding that "an educated young 
woman needs only a suitable room and some apparatus, and then begins 
operation at once." 15S Their tuition ranged between three and six 
dollars each quarter, slightly above the charges at the district schools 
before 1841, yet the feeling that a respectable miss would not receive 
proper treatment in the common schools assured many of the select 
schools annual enrollments of a dozen or so girls. A few advertised as 
"infant schools," revealing the influence of Robert Owen s New Lanark 
experiment 154 The Young Ladies Benevolent Society of St Luke s es 
tablished a charity school for infants in 1833, while the school of the 
Female Charitable Society gave increased attention to younger chil 
dren. 155 

Other church schools of the period foreshadowed a new parochial 
trend. Three years after St. Joseph s Catholic Church provided a school 
for its German children in 1836, the Irish at St. Patrick s followed suit, 
while the German Lutheran and the second German Catholic churches 
provided schools soon after their establishment. Supported for the 
most part by the parishes benefitted, these schools compared with the 
charity schools at St. Luke s and of the Charitable Society except in 
the basic language and the brand of religion dispensed. Though the 
arrival of the Sisters of Charity at the Catholic Orphan Asylum in 1845 
marked a new beginning in Catholic education, the attempt to establish 
a College of the Sacred Heart at Rochester in 1848 met failure, and no 
further parochial developments occurred before the mid-century, 156 

Meanwhile, the free school program of 1841 considerably reduced 
the field of activity for charity and select schools alike. Not only did 
the improved common schools with enlarged enrollments find it possible 
to classify their pupils into departments, but in many cases they 
separated the boys from the girls. Some of the earlier teachers of select 
schools were attracted into the public schools, as was Emily Hotchkiss, 
by the good salaries of the early forties. However, as Superintendent 
Mack complained, "many [parents continued to] withdraw their chil 
dren from the public schools with the belief that their morals are better 

Nov. 19, 1839; King, Looking Backward; G. B. F. Hallock and Maude Motley, 
A Living Church: The First Hundred Years of Brick Church, p. 181. 

i^Roch. Republican, Nov. 19, 1839. 

^Observer, May 14, 1830; Democrat, Apr. 22, 28, 1834. 

155 Henry Anstice, Annals of St. Luke s Church, p. 34 J R- H. S., Pub., IX, 

156 Rev. Frederick Zwierlein, "One Hundred Years of Catholicism in Rochester," 
R. H.S., Pub., XIII, 200-211; Aaron Abell, "Elementary and Secondary Catholic 
Education in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XVI, 133-137. 


protected in private schools" or for "aristocratic^ distinctions." " 7 By 
1845 the thirty-three private schools and seminaries of 1840 were re 
duced to sixteen, while their 1226 pupils had dwindled to 622, most 
of the latter attending the higher schools. Yet reductions in the salaries 
of public teachers prompted several^ among them Miss Hotchklss, to 
reopen select schools* and a snail number continued into the fifties. 158 

Private and incorporate! academies reached the height of their 
popularity and influence in the Rochester area during the forties. Several 
select and grammar schools, discouraged by public school competition, 
added more advanced subjects in an endeavor to hold their pupils for 
longer periods. Mrs, Elizabeth Atkinson, widow of the pioneer miller, 
converted her select school into the Atkinson Female Seminary in 1841, 
continixi&g in a modest fashion until her marriage in 1848 to the noted 
revivalist^ Charles G. Finney.* 59 Mr. Miles s grammar school on Ann 
Street added a few sciences and equipped itself with the first gymnastic 
fixtures advertised in the city, thus prolonging its life for several 

Rochester young folk found increasing opportunities for academic 
instruction in neighboring institutions. A half-dozen academies struggled 
along for varied periods in the smaller villages of Monroe County, the 
most successful being the reorganized Monroe Academy in Henrietta, 
the Brockport Collegiate Institute, which rivaled that of Rochester, and 
the Clover Street Seminary. The last of these, established in Brighton 
by Cdestia A. BIoss, a former teacher in Rochester and author of Bloss 
Ancient History, proved especially popular among those eager to return 
for weekends at home by stage or canal boat. 161 New academies in LeRoy, 
East Bloomfield, and Lima vied with the older institutions in Canandai- 
gua, Geneva, and Utica for the patronage of other Rochester young 
folk/* 2 

The state census of 1845 S ave Monroe County a high rating in school 
attendance. There were then 432 scholars in the academies of the 
county, as compared with 1,422 in private and select schools, and 
14,849 in the common district schools. Only 30 from the entire county 
were enrolled in college; yet they almost equalled the number of gradu 
ates resident in Rochester. Seven other counties in the state reported 
more children of school age, and nine had more sons in college, but only 

157 Bd. of Ed,, 2nd Annual Report (1844), P- *6. 

358 Bd. of Ed., Ann. Report (1845), pp. 10-12; (1847), pp. 9-10. 

^Democrat, Jxme 10, 1841; Apr. 7, 1842; Nov. 21, 1848. 

** Democrat, Aug. 29, 1848. 

^ Joseph B. Bloss, W A Full History of the School," Rochester Post-Express, 
Feb. 10, 1894. 

162 McKelvey, "Educational Frontier," pp. 28-31; Clarissa Reynolds letters to 
her parents from Miss Sheldon s school in Utica, 1841-42, Autograph Letter Col 
lection, Roch. Hist. Soc. 















t I 




five exceeded Monroe either in the number of academy scholars or in 
common school enrollment 1 * 8 

Another class of private schools offered varied opportunities for adults. 
"Writing professors 77 frequently advertised a course of fifteen evening 
lessons guaranteed to provide ladies and gentlemen with an elegant 
handwriting or a knowledge of bookkeeping, 164 Music and dancing 
lessons were likewise available from time to time. Mr. P. Thomas made 
more than one visit ? engaging rooms in the Mansion House, where the 
ball room remained popular until the destruction of the favorite old 
tavern by fire. "It matters not/ 7 he advised the public, "how well a 
person can dance a cotillion or contra dance, still they cannot join in 
the waltz, nor yet in the more graceful Spanish dances." 165 More prosaic 
was the projected Mount Hope Agricultural and Horticultural School, 
but the abortive attempt to found an agricultural college at Wheatland 
in 1846 ended with an equally unsuccessful effort to reestablish it near 
the Ellwanger and Barry nurseries in Rochester. 166 Meanwhile, despite 
several attempts to found a full-fledged college, the mid-century rolled 
around ere the dream was realized. 167 

Fortunately the intellectual needs of adult citizens received the atten 
tion of varied societies. The functions of collecting a library, maintain 
ing a reading room, arranging lecture courses, and providing facilities 
for discussion and debate were sufficiently public in character to insure 
that whenever one society faltered another appeared to carry on. Thus, 
when both the Athenaeum and the Young Men s Society of the early 
thirties declined, a new organization, known as the Mechanics Associa 
tion, was formed by sixteen young men in February, 1836. With young 
William A. Reynolds as president, more than one hundred members 
soon enrolled, and a library of around fifteen hundred books slowly 
accumulated. For more than a decade the association, despite frequent 
changes in location, afforded its members an opportunity for reading 
and discussion. 168 

The voluminous output of numerous printers and the enterprise of 

163 N. Y, State Census (1845), recapitulation, i and 2. The number of known 
college men resident in Rochester did not exceed two score at any one time 
during the forties, but the evidence is too scattered to be conclusive. See F. DeW. 
Ward, Churches of Rochester (Rochester, 1871), for the educational background 
of the successive ministers. 

164 Advertiser, Dec. 14, 1838; Nov. 19, Dec. 4, 1840. 

^Advertiser, Mar. 27, 1832; Dec, n, 1833; Oct. 6, 1846; Democrat, Sept 25, 
1839; Feb. 17, 1847- 

^Genesee Farmer, VII (1846), 7; VIII (1847)* 10. 

167 See below, pp. 293-295. 

168 The Charter, Constitution and By-Laws of the Mechanics Literary Associa 
tion of the City of Rochester (Rochester, 1843) ; Blake McKelvey, "Early Library 
Developments in and around Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XVI, 32-33 


several bookstores supplied further range for literary tastes. Private 
libraries were Increasing in size, though perhaps few rivaled that gath 
ered by the much-travelled Dr. ABSOH Colman ? which included 426 
at the time of Ms death in 1837. Yet the number able to enjoy 
such facilities was limited. The want of an institution that would offer 
"intellectual and moral attractions to counteract the vicious allurements 
to which the young men of this city are largely exposed" was emphasized 
by the startling report of the community s first murder. Under the vig 
orous leadership of Henry O Reilly a new organization was formed in 
1837, known as the Young Men ? s Association, and two thousand books 
were coEected for a reading room, ambitiously designated the City 
Library 169 

It proved an appropriate moment for such a development, since the 
lyceum movement was just then spreading into the West. 170 The Ameri 
can tour of the Honorable James S. Buckingham in 1838 played a minor 
part in the development, for despite that travelers moderate talents as 
a public speaker, his efforts to defray the cost of his tour by lectures on 
Egypt and Palestine revealed the latent demand. 171 After assisting Buck 
ingham with his appointments in western New York, O Reilly found 
himself acting as talent agent for neighboring young men s societies and 
occasionally invited speakers to Rochester from Buffalo or New England. 
One of the most popular of these, the "Learned Blacksmith/ Elihu Bur- 
ritt, made repeated visits. 112 

Under the enthusiastic leadership of Henry O Reilly, the Association 
became a focal center of the community. The moribund Athenaeum 
soon determined to merge with the new society and elected the latter s 
officers to its board. Reorganization was quickly effected under the name 
Athenaeum and Young Men s Association, with O Reilly as president, 
whEe a membership campaign enrolled more than 500 dues-paying 
members and enlarged the book collection to nearly 4ooo. 173 Busts of 
Franklin, Clinton, Washington, Napoleon, Cicero, Demosthenes, and 
Homer added dignity to the reading room. 174 With ambitious plans for 

Brief Report of the Rise, Progress and Condition of the Rochester 
Athenaeum and Young Men s Association (Rochester, 1840), p. 5; Mrs. Alice T. 
Sutton, who has searched the inventories of twenty-five Rochesterians mentioned 
frequently in these pages, finds thirteen which recorded libraries, numbering from 
108 to "about 600" and averaging 235. These were of course exceptional or selected 

170 Weld, Brooklyn Village, pp. 233-245. 

171 Letters to and from J. S. Buckingham in 1838 and 1840, O Reilly Doc., Nos. 
954, 1640. See also J, S. Buckingham, America, Historical, Statistic, and Descriptive 
(London, 1841), in, 46-97. 

^Advertiser, Nov. 15, 1839; ^ ar - l6 > 1841; Letters to and from EHhu Burritt, 
1838-1843, O Reilly Doc., Nos. 1486, 1637-1639. 

1TS O Reilly Doc., No. 2174; Democrat, Feb. 22, Aug. 5, 1839. 
1T4 ReiDy Doc., No. 2174. 


the erection of an Athenaeum and library building, O Reilly took an 
option on a centrally located property, but the darkening shadows of 
the depression discouraged further action, and the project was aban 
doned. 175 

The Association s major problem was that of enlisting adequate lead 
ership. Though resigning as president in 1840, O Reilly continued to 
devote much attention to the affairs of the Association until Ms removal 
to Albany in 1842. For a time Dr. Chester Dewey carried the burden 
of arranging the lecture programs and supervising the care of the library, 
but mounting difficulties closed the reading room for a full year in 1845. 
After a sale of some books enabled the officers to free the library from 
debt, new rooms were opened over the Museum on Exchange Street in 
1847. An active lecture program that year revived plans for consolida 
tion with the Mechanics Association, which had continued in a modest 
fashion as a library and debating society throughout the decade. 176 

Unexpected advantages resulted from the union of the two societies 
under the name Athenaeum and Mechanics 7 Association. William A. 
Reynolds, long the most active leader of the smaller group, saw an 
opportunity to benefit the community and at the same time develop bis 
property back of the Arcade by erecting a spacious lecture hall in what 
was practically the city s population center. When Corinthian Hall, 
built at a cost of $12,000, opened in the summer of 1849, the Association 
could look ahead to a period of prosperity during which the proceeds 
from popularly attended lectures would maintain a serviceable library. 
The book collections of the parent organizations were joined and moved 
into new rooms in the Reynolds Arcade, providing a library not un 
worthy of comparison with those of other small cities of the day. 177 But 
it was in the facilities afforded by Corinthian Hall that adult Roches- 
terians saw an opportunity to enjoy the edification supplied by the 
increasing number of traveling lyceum lecturers at the mid-century. The 
arrival of Richard Henry Dana in 1849 proved a good omen for the 
future. 178 

1T5 O y Reffly Doc., No. 2218. 

176 Democrat, Mar. 3, 1840; Feb. 20, 1841; Apr. 24, 1845; Jan. 12, 19, 28, 
Apr. 20, 1847,- Advertiser, May 16, 1841; Apr. 22, 1844; May 5, July 9, 1847. 

17T McKeIvey, "Early Library Developments," pp. 39-42; Advertiser, June 26, 
28, 1849 ; July i, 1850 ; Wm. A. Reynolds, "Works Street Building Account Book" 
(1848-1861), MS, R. P. L. 

178 Democrat, Jan. 4, 1849; Rock. Republican, Aug. 23, 1849. 




DESPITE the turbulent economic environment and the urgent civic 
problems of Rochester s first urban decades, her citizens enjoyed 
increased opportunities for social expression. In many respects 
developments here proved more gratifying than in either the civic or 
economic fields. Indeed, by the mid-century the city was to achieve a 
fair degree of cultural fullness and self-sufficiency. 

Religion still supplied the chief cultural dynamic, and while much 
energy was consumed in institutional organization, sufficient remained 
to give force to numerous humanitarian movements. The latter were 
called forth, at least in part, by the new urban environment, in which 
varied social traditions and new group aspirations contended for domi 
nance. The rivalry found vent in political, journalistic, and institutional 
struggles and occasionally in disorderly outbursts. Among the host of 
newcomers, many with professional training arrived to fill the places left 
vacant by some of the earlier settlers, enabling Rochester to share in 
the cultural florescence of the East. But if many older settlers moved 
on, others remained, and the late forties saw them basking for the first 
time in reminiscences of the city they had helped to build. 


The vibrant religious activity of the early thirties continued to ani 
mate the life of Rochester. Repeated revivals joined with old and new 
doctrinal disputes and with fresh cleavages over social problems to raise 
up new churches, new sects, and new humanitarian movements. At the 
same time several of the older institutions, enjoying increased stability, 
developed a tendency toward conservatism. A new link was forged 
between the religious and educational functions in the city when the 
Baptists finally succeeded in establishing both a college and a theological 
seminary at the close of the period. 

The fifteen churches of the mid- thirties represented the major group- 
activity (excepting the family) in the newly-established city. Not only 
did the regular Sabbath morning and evening sermons generally fill 


an hour or so each, but Sunday afternoon sermons were not unusual, 
though adult Bible classes provided substitutes in a few cases. 1 The 
numerous Sabbath schools enrolled 2200 pupils in 1839, and 2875 in 
1848 when 300 teachers rendered volunteer service. 2 Regular mid-week 
prayer meetings and, at least in the case of the Methodists, testimonial 
class meetings proved customary, while special religious organizations 
consumed additional time. The Reverend George Beecher, third son of 
Lyman Beecher and a recent arrival from Lane Seminary, complained 
in 1838 that the number of church cares obstructed his efforts to "main 
tain a clear and abiding view of Heaven." Nevertheless, regretting to 
see family worship neglected, Beecher spurred himself to perform a 
weekly stint of twenty pastoral calls and to maintain two weekday 
classes for the religious instruction of eighty children. Fortunately, he 
enjoyed the cooperation of several pious elders and found time to gather 
with other Protestant pastors every Monday morning for fellowship 
and prayer. 3 

The evangelical spirit which had swept the community in the early 
thirties, routing old Calvinists and deists alike, had failed to achieve 
lasting dominance. Perhaps economic recovery, by supplying a more 
tangible justification for optimistic individualism, relaxed the need for 
humanitarian sublimation and spiritual stays. At any event, resurgent 
doctrinal disputes disturbed the harmony achieved among the leading 
Protestant churches during Finney s revival. The Presbyterians, the 
most numerous sect in Rochester, were particularly distraught. The two 
younger of their four societies, Third and Free Church, suffered from 
internal strife. Still another, Bethel Free Congregation, led out from 
First Presbyterian by Elder John F. Bush in 1836, nourished a small 
company who enjoyed freedom of discussion with respect to the moral 
and political issues of the day. 4 

The local situation reflected the growing division among Presbyterians 
throughout the nation. Divergence of opinion over the slave question, 
rivalry between Lane Seminary and Oberlin College, differences of tem 
perament between Eastern and Southern orthodox Calvinists on the one 
hand and such men as Finney, Weld, and Gerrit Smith on the other 

1 J. M. Schermerhorn to his wife, Rochester, July, 1838, Schermerhorn Letters, 
courtesy of Mrs. Rudoph Stanley-Brown, Washington, D. C., photostat copies in 
Roch. Pub. Library; The Christian Mirror (Rochester, 1847), I: 9-10, 26-27. 

2 Rochester Daily Democrat, July n, 1839; Rochester Daily Advertiser, Nov. 14, 

3 Biographical Remains of the Reverend George Beecher (New York, 1844), 

PP- 53-76. 

4 Rev. Orlo J. Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism in Rochester," 
R. H. S., Pub., XII, 281; J. M. Maurer, "The Central Presbyterian Church," 
Rochester Post-Express, May 4, 1894; A Century with Central Presbyterian Church 
(Rochester, 1936), pp. 1-6. 


all were more or less directly mvoKred. 5 In this larger struggle for control 
of the churchy the conservative Old School element prompted the Gen 
eral Assembly to adopt the Exscinding Act of 1837 which practically 
read out of the fold the strongly evangelical synods of western New York 
and northern Ohio, 18 

Efforts to heal the breach, though unsuccessful, put a check to the 
more radical trends in Rochester. George Beecher, a delegate to the 
General Assembly at Philadelphia in 1839, prayed devoutly that the 
slavery question and other differences among the brethren might be 
overcome/ When the Old School Assembly refused to readmit their 
erstwhile rivals, a separate New School Assembly was formed by the 
exscinded churches^ but the Rochester pastors held aloof from both 
assemblies for several years. 8 Staunch advocates of orthodoxy emerged, 
such as Tryon Edwards of First Church and Albert G. Hall who in 
1840 was called to Third Church, already well established in its second 
stone building and adhering to conservative CaMnist traditions. 9 
Beecher felt inclined after his return from Philadelphia to expound the 
doctrine of "entire sanctification" but stoutly denied that he had swung 
over to the Oberlin camp. 10 When, at his father s suggestion, Beecher 
resigned Ms charge at Brick Church, the warm spirit of his successor, 
James B. Shaw, was held in check by Edwards and Hall. A Fifth Pres 
byterian Church, established in the interim by the moderate school, 
became Fourth Church when the radical Free Church dissolved. Yet 
Mrs. Atkinson, the school teacher widow of an early miller, who "em 
braced Mr. Finney s views of Sanctification" (and later the revivalist 
himself as Ms second wife) , persuaded many of her friends to read and 
ponder the doctrines of the Oberlin Evangelist. Other free spirits, find 
ing themselves in the minority at Bethel, withdrew in 1841 to found 
the First Congregational Church, with strong antislavery and other 
Oberlin sentiments. 11 

Revivals had been recurrent in the area throughout these years, and 
when Charles G. Finney visited Rochester briefly in 1840, 1841, and 

5 Gilbert H. Barnes, The Antislavery Impulse: 1830-1844 (New York, 1933), 
pp. 162-163, and passim. 

6 Rev. James M. Hotchkin, A History of Western New York and of the Rise, 
Progress and Present State of the Presbyterian Church (New York, 1848), pp. 222- 

7 Biographical Remains of the Reverend George Beecher t pp. 79$. 

8 Hotchkin, History of Western New York, pp. 241-252 ; History of the Rochester 
Presbytery (Rochester, 1889), pp. 31, 43-56; Democrat, May 25, Aug. 9, 1839. 

9 "Tryon Edwards," National Cyclopedia of American Biography , XIV, 155; 
Third Presbyterian Church, "Annals from Record Books," MS in Roch. Hist. Soc. 

^Biographical Remains of the Reverend George Beecher f pp. 79!!. 
11 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Feb. 8, 17, 1840, E. S. S. 
Eaton Letters; Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism," pp. 282-283. 


1842 the forces of evangelicalism regained ascendancy. The aloof stand 
of Edwards and Hall could not stop the "refreshing shower" brought to 
Bethel by Finney and to Brick Church by Jedediah Burchard. 12 The 
Methodists and Baptists eagerly opened their doors. Possibly the re 
markable results, notably those of Finney among lawyers and business 
men, resulted in part from renewed hardships in the economic sphere. 
Thus Abelard Reynolds, having recently washed his hands of unfortu 
nate land speculations, assured Ms daughter that he was "struggling to 
expiate my former delinquencies" in spiritual matters. 18 

Fervid revivals continued to uplift the city during the mid-forties. 
Levi A. Ward rejoiced in March, 1843, to &&& "protracted meetings" in 
progress in twelve city churches, while the pious realtor, J, M. Schermer- 
horn, wrote Ms wife that several of the churches are "very much filled 
up" though "Christians are considerably exhausted from the long pro 
tracted efforts, being 7 or 8 weeks." Brick Church had to "resort to the 
Galleries for seats to supply all the applicants" at the annual rental 
that spring, for "never did pews find so ready and rapid a market." M 

Warm revivals and fresh accessions to the population were chiefly 
responsible for the organization of several other new churches. Indeed, 
most of the established denominations enjoyed an active growth, possi 
ble exceptions being Bethel Church, wMch continued primarily as a 
Sabbath school, and St. PauFs, the east-side Episcopal parish. Mis 
fortune dogged the latter s path, with doctrinal disputes, a scandal 
involving one of the pastors, two destructive fires, and perennial financial 
difficulties closely following one another. St. Luke s was more fortunate, 
as the friction of Antimasonic days disappeared during the ministry of 
Dr. Henry J. WMtehouse, and healthy growth prompted the first steps 
in 1845 to organize Trinity Church, the tMrd Episcopal society in 
the city. 15 

The First Baptist Church, stimulated by the refreshing revivals of 
Elder Jacob Knapp in the late thirties, was led with increasing skill and 
devotion by Deacons Oren Sage and Alvah Strong and by the Reverend 
Pharcellus Church, whose efforts to harmonize the free and orthodox 
wings of his flock proved eminently successful. Second Baptist, organized 
in 1834 for the east-siders, took over the spacious home of Third Pres 
byterian, becoming the first church in Rochester to admit Negroes to 

12 E. S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Jan. 25, 31, Feb. 15, 1842, E. S. S. 
Eaton Letters; Schermerhorn Letters, July 21, 31, 1841; Edwin Scrantom s Diary, 
Mar. 4, 21, 1842, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

^Abelard Reynolds to Clarissa Reynolds, Rochester, Mar. 15, 1842, and 
Reynolds Letters in Roch. Hist. Soc., passim. 

14 Schermerhorn Letters, Mar. 14, 29, 1843. 

15 Rev. Henry Anstice, Centennial Annals of St. Luke s Church, pp. 26-36; 
Rev. Louis C. Washburn, Historical Sketch of the Episcopal Church in the City 
of Rochester, N. 7. (Rochester, 1908). 


the body of pews. 16 When the large Methodist church on Buffalo 

Street was destroyed by fire in 183,5; ^ e officials promptly voted to 
rebuild. Soon the largest auditorium in the city, able to seat two thou 
sand said to be the largest Methodist chapel in the country, opened 
for usej and a rapid succession of pastors struggled under the burdens 
of a numerous congregation and a heavy debt. 17 An African Methodist 
Church^ organized in 1834, proved more enduring than its predecessor 
of I828, 38 while an East Society of the Methodist Church, first estab 
lished in 18365 reorganized as St. John s Church in 1842, the same year 
that another Methodist society moved in from Cobb s Hill schoolhouse 
to become the Alexander Street Methodist Church. Meanwhile, a group 
of German Protestants, organized as the Zion Lutheran Society in the 
early thirties, erected a church and opened a parochial school in iS38. 19 

Apparently the most rapid growth was enjoyed by the Catholics who 
benefited directly from the swelling stream of German and Irish immi 
grants. Popular hostility subsided somewhat after the demise of the 
Observer v though much ill feeling developed when the Young Men s 
Society debated the influence of Catholicism in America. 20 So rapid was 
the expansion of St. Patrick s congregation that Bernard O Reilly, the 
priest in charge, readily cooperated with the Redemptorist missionary, 
Father Joseph Prost, in the establishment in 1836 of a German Catholic 
Church, later known as St. Joseph s, With a membership of six hundred 
at the start, the new church survived the hard years after the departure 
of Father Prost in 1838 and, assisted by missionary funds from the 
Leopold Foundation in Europe, completed a new building on Franklin 
Street by 1846. A second German Catholic church, St. Peter s, had 
already been erected on the west side, and the three large Catholic 
parishes, each equipped with a stone church and parochial school, 
possibly ranked second only to the Presbyterians in numbers by the 
mid-forties, 21 

Doctrinal and personality difficulties disturbed many of these churches, 

16 Centennial Celebration; First Baptist Church: 1818-1918 (Rochester, 1918), 
pp. 10-20; Charles M. WMams, Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Second Baptist 
Church (Rochester, 1909) ; "FharceBus Church/* Dictionary of American Biography f 
IV, 104. 

17 Rev* M. Tooker, Poems and Jottings of Itinerancy in Western New York 
(Rochester, 1860), pp. 143-144; Elijah Hebard, "Autobiography," MS in Roch. 
HisL Soc. 

18 Democrat, Aug. 27, 1834. 

1& Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism," pp. 278-279, 280, 283-284. 

w Democrat, Jan, 12, Feb. 18, 1835. 

21 Roch. RepubUcan, Aug. 22, 1843; July 28, 1846; T. W. MuOaney, Four Score 
Tears: A History of Catholic Germans in Rochester (Rochester, 1916) , pp. 40-41 ; 
Rev. F. J. Zwierlein, "One Hundred Years of Catholicism," R. H. S., Pub., XIH, 


though not so seriously as in the case of the Presbyterian. A group of 
zealous opponents of slavery formed a new Wesleyan Methodist Society 
in 1843, Just a year after several doctrinaire liberals seceded from Zion 
Lutheran to found Trinity Evangelical. A small band of Free-Will Bap 
tists, who held occasional meetings during the late thirties, did not 
formally organize until I845. 22 Both the Orthodox and the Hicksite 
Friends continued their separate societies, the former led by Silas Cor 
nell and the latter by Isaac Post and Elihu F. Marshall among others. 23 

Two groups of religious dissenters reappeared in Rochester during 
the period. The Unitarians, renewing their efforts to establish a church, 
rejoiced in the late thirties over the arrival of Myron Holley, a fellow 
communicant whose long career in the Genesee Country had won him 
wide respect. But Holley s death in 1841 dealt a severe blow to the 
society, and although it successfully dedicated a building in 1843, 
public sentiment proved sufficiently hostile to exclude its pastor, the 
Reverend F. W. Holland, from the ceremonies in honor of Myron 
Holley. 24 Possibly the fact that most Rochester Yankees hailed from 
Connecticut and western Massachusetts, rather than from the Boston 
area, contributed to the feeble state of Unitarianism in the city. A suc 
cession of Universalist pastors, serving a small flock in Rochester as 
well as outlying charges, published the Herald of Truth in the late 
thirties, a struggling weekly which was renamed the Western Luminary 
in 1840. Lack of support prompted a removal of the paper to Buffalo 
in the mid-forties when the local pastors likewise moved away. 25 

Even less popular, if possible, was a small group of deists and free 
thinkers. Some one hundred assembled at the City Hotel on January 
29, 1835, to celebrate Paine s birthday, and the next year a local 
gathering heard the famous Boston "infidel," Abner Kneeland, stopping 
off on his route westward. When friction between this group and the 
Free-Will Baptists over use of the Court House prompted the super 
visors to close the doors on Sundays, the Society of Free Enquirers 
continued their meetings for several years in a grocery. Two freethought 
weeklies, The World as It 1$, launched by Dr. Luke Shepard in 1836, 
and the New York Watchman, brought to Rochester by Delazon Smith 

22 Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism," pp. 278-279) 283-284. 

^Thomas C. Cornell, Adam and Anne Mott (Poughkeepsie, 1890), pp. 129-132, 
174, 198; John Cox, Jr., and Percy E. Clapp, "Quakers in Rochester," R. H. S., 
Pub., XIV, 106-108; "Isaac Post," Dictionary of American Biography, XV, 117. 

^Rev. F. W. Holland to Gerrit Smith, Rochester, 1844, Calendar of Gerrit 
Smith Papers in Syracuse University Library, General Correspondence, I, No. 899 
(Historical Records Survey, WPA, Albany, 1941) ; Elizur Wright, Myron Holley 
and What He Did for Liberty and True Religion (Boston, 1882), pp. 311-312. 

^Theodore D. Cook, Memoir of Rev. James M. Cook (Boston, 1854), pp. 77- 


in 1838, barely survived their birth years ? and the disciples of Tom 
Paine dropped from view by the mid-forties. 28 


Despite the never-ending organizational problems, so fervid were the 
religious energies of the community that older reforms prospered^ while 
mew sects and new humanitarian movements appeared. Though most 
of these movements were national in scope, Rochester s part in them 
frequently proved extensive. The pacifist agitation of the mid-thirties 
and the campaign for spelling reform afforded noteworthy exceptions, 27 
but otherwise the Flour City maintained its reputation as a hotbed of 
"isms." Curiously, Jacksonianism, which Edwin Scrantom considered 
"worse than any other few, not excepting rhumatfem," enjoyed less 
success locally than in most parts of the country. 28 

Among the earlier religious activities maintained with vigor through 
out these years were foreign missions, local Bible distribution, and the 
campaign for Sabbath observance. The increasing number of Roches- 
terians in foreign missions kept interest in the work alive and helped 
to broaden the community s horizon. 29 Local efforts in this field attracted 
praise in 1843 when the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign 
Missions gathered at First Church to survey the work of the year. 80 
Hie Monroe County Bible Society periodically renewed its attempt to 
place a Bible in every home, employing full-time agents on three occa 
sions, when the distribution extended over two-year periods. Nearly 
two thousand Bibles were disposed of by the close of 1840, and four 
thousand more by the end of 1846, while the budget for the last three 
years of the decade totaled $i3,ooo. 31 

Less gratifying were the achievements of the Sabbath reformers. The 
reversals suffered by "Pioneerism" in the early thirties embarrassed the 

^Democrat, Feb. 6, 1835; Mrs. MariHa Marks, ed. y Memoirs of the Hfe of 
David Marks (Dover, New Hampshire, 1847), pp. 354-356; Albert Post, Popular 
Freethought in America, pp. 60, 64-65, 

27 Ebenezer Mead, War. Inconsistent with the Prindpks of the Gospel (Albion, 
N. Y., 1835) J Genesee OKo, Mar. 25, Apr. 8, 22, 1848. 

28 Scrantom, Diary, July 17, 1837. 

29 Among the Rochester missionaries may be mentioned Miss Delia Stone, 
Mr. and Mrs. S. A. Webster, Rev. Nathan Benham, Miss Isabel Jane Atwater 
[White], Dr. Henry De Forest, Prof. George Loomis, Miss Fanny M. Nelson 
[McKinney], Miss H. EKzabeth Wright, Rev. Henry D. Rankin, and Rev. Grover 
S. Comstock. Their fields included Africa, China, Burma, Siam, Syria, and the 
Sandwich Islands. Democrat, May 22, 1835; July 12, 1839; Rock. Republican, 
Mar. 16, 1847; Sept. 27, 1849; Advertiser, Oct. i, 1847; June 28, 1848; Raymond 
Scrapbook, pp. 25, 217, Roch. Hist. Soc.; Price, "One Hundred Years of 
Protestantism," pp. 265-266. 

30 Democrat, Sept. 13, 14, 15, 1843. 

81 Rock. Republican, June 4, 1839; Democrat, Dec. 28, 18485 Raymond Scrap- 
book, p. 193; Monroe County Bible Society Record Book, pp. 42-55, MS, Roch. 
Hist, Soc. 


movement for several years, moreover the Increased activity of the city 
made the old standards of a quiet Sabbath difficult to maintain. Hie 
issue reappeared in 1841 when the farmers of nearby Gates complained 
against the desecration of their Sabbath by city dwellers, prompting 
several Rochester churchmen to call a convention at Bethel Church 
to consider the problem. 32 Memorials were adopted, urging the State 
to close the canals on that day and demanding the enforcement of 
existing regulations. Hope was expressed that if the canals closed, the 
railroads would follow suit, but the legislature quietly tabled the 
Rochester resolutions along with those from other parts of the State. 8 * 
Many of the increasing number of reform agents, eager to get about the 
country quickly to their numerous appointments, were finding it desir 
able to travel on the Sabbath, and the agitation lost its force. 34 

An active Moral Reform Society held frequent meetings during the 
mid-thirties, enrolling some two hundred members pledged to combat 
licentiousness and shun loose male as well as female companions. But 
the number of expulsions increased after the first six months, and in 
terest lagged when the leaders banned a free discussion of the issues 
involved. Sermons on the double standard were scheduled, but the 
society soon dropped from view. 35 

No doubt the agitation of the temperance reformers aroused the most 
interest. Though Mayor Child s dramatic resignation in 1835 termi 
nated the first effort to limit the grant of grocery licenses, the several 
temperance societies soon redoubled their activities. A female temperance 
society was especially active, soliciting total abstinence pledges with 
such diligence that Monroe became one of three counties to secure 
pledges from 9.6 per cent of the population in 1839, when the state 
as a whole averaged but half as many. 86 The hardships of the depression, 
with its heavy burden for relief, prompted O Reilly, Peck, and Child to 
draw up a balance sheet, which credited the city with $946 in license 
fees in 1840 as against $9,000 paid out for public relief, $6,000 in pri 
vate charity, $65,000 squandered on liquor, another $65,000 lost in 
wasted labor time, and $5,000 in property damages, or a total of 
$150,000 on the debit side. 37 A grand jury, after an examination of 

^Democrat, Nov. 12, 1841. 

33 Democrat, July 20, 21, 22, 23, 1842; Penny Preacher, July 21, 22, 1842; 
Senate Doc. (1844), Nos. 66, 119. 

34 Penny Preacher, Sept. 10, 1842. 

35 Moral Reform Society, Minute Book, 1836-1837, MS, Roch. Hist Soc.; 
Advertiser, Nov. 9, 1833; Rochester Daily Sun, June 27, Nov. 21, 1839. 

38 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, December 31, 1841; Jan. 25, 
1842, E. S. S. Eaton Letters; John A, Krout, "The Genesis and Development of 
the Early Temperance Movement in New York State/ N. Y. State Historical 
Assoc. Quarterly Journal, XXI (1923), 93-94- 

37 Democrat, Jan. 21, 1841. 


the jail inmates in 1842, finding that the great majority attributed 
their fall to liquor, declared that the crime cost should be added to 
the account. 85 

Frequent meetings rallied the temperance f orces. Reformed drunkards, 
touring the country under the auspices of the Washingtonian Society, 
visited Rochester in 1843 an d succeeding years, a canal boatmen s con 
vention at Bethel Church indorsed the reform, and varied temperance 
societies of young men, young women, and Hibernians collected a total 
of sis thousand teetotal pledges in the county within a period of eighteen 
months, while at least 500 drunkards were reported saved during the 
same period. 3 

The more ardent reformers, impatient for results, soon turned from 
the strategy of individual pledges to that of legislation. When the legis 
lature, reluctant to assume responsibility, compromised with a local- 
option provision in 1845, a Western New York Temperance Convention 
met in the Methodist Chapel and promptly urged no-license policies on 
local authorities.* Fourteen hundred women, bemoaning their lack of 
the ballot, petitioned voters to safeguard their welfare at the polls, and 
candidates pledged to a no-license policy carried the city the next May, 
though the police were soon baffled by the number of liquor dealers 
operating without licenses. 11 As opinion gradually reacted against drastic 
measures, license candidates triumphed at the polls in April, i847- 42 
"Rochester is disgraced! Shame! Shame! Tell it not in Bath. . . . 
Buffalo and Albany keep dark I 37 mourned a local editor who soon 
pointed to the mounting crime statistics as progeny of "Liberty and 
License." 43 Yet it was no longer possible even to collect license fees 
from most dealers, and in 1849, when seventy licenses were issued, 400 
other liquor dealers were reported in the community. 44 

Several leaders of these older reform movements became interested 
in new humanitarian causes. Myron Holley, who replaced Josiah Bissell 
as the stormy petrel of Rochester in the thirties, was not only an Anti- 
mason, strict Sabbatarian and temperance advocate, but an opponent 
of slavery, and a free churchman turned Unitarian. At his early death 
the banner of righteousness was carried forward by William C. Bloss, 
a reformed tavern keeper who championed most of the above causes 

88 Penny Preacher, Oct. 15, 1842. 

39 Democrat, Apr. 24, Aug. 10, 1843; Aug. 14, Nov. 27, 1844; O Reilly Doc., 
1006, 1007, 1727, MSS, Rod*. Hist. Soc.j The Story of Sammy the Sailor Boy, 
by a Bethel Man (Rochester, 1843), pp. 134-135. 

^Democrat, Oct. 23, 24, 1845. 

^Advertiser, May n, 18, 20, 1846; Democrat, June 9, 1846. 

^Advertiser, May 21, 1846; Democrat, Feb. 24, 1847; Genesee OUo, Mar. 27, 
Apr. 28, 1847; Raymond Scrapbook, p. 15. 

48 Genesee OUo, Apr. 28, Sept, 4, 1847. 

^Democrat, Mar. 16, 1849. 


and women s rights as well. 45 Each new movement attracted some fresh 
blood, but, once enrolled, most of the reformers Samuel D. Porter, 
Isaac and Amy Post, and Frederick Douglass among others gave 
generous support to every cause. Though curious crowds usually swelled 
the thin ranks of the reformers at their repeated "conventions/ 7 most 
RochesterianSj if interested at all, inclined to follow the more moderate 
leadership of such men as Henry O Reiily, Levi A, Ward, and Dr. 
Chester Dewey. 

Interest in the plight of the slave gained active expression locally 
during the mid-thirties. The organization of the Rochester Anti-Slavery 
Society in 1833 and the launching at the end of the year of William C. 
Bloss s Rights of Man preceded by a few months the formation of a 
Monroe County Anti-slavery Society. 46 Addresses by young EL B. 
Stanton and the zealous Theodore Weld roused sufficient excitement to 
alarm moderates and practical politicians, who called a public meeting 
at the Court House to indorse Henry O Reilly s resolutions censoring 
the abolitionists and declaring the issue to be one for solution in the 
South. 47 The issue of slavery in the District of Columbia could not be 
dodged, 48 however, and the fears of the politicians seemed justified a 
few years later when Myron Holley established the Rochester Freeman, 
advocating resort to the ballot box. That appeal split the small band of 
Rochester reformers into two factions, with such local Quakers as Isaac 
and Amy Post adhering to Garrison s nonpolitical policies, while Samuel 
D. Porter, Silas Cornell, and others supported the Liberty Party, The 
handful who favored political action staged frequent public meetings 
but achieved insignificant results at the polls. Indeed in 1844, a short 
month after candidate James G. Birney addressed a public gathering in 
Rochester, the party secured but 93 local votes. 49 

The problem had not only moral and political but also practical 
neighborhood aspects, since a small but respectable group of Negro 

45 A Conversation in which the Order of the Sons of Temperance Is Defended 
(Rochester, 1846); Sons of Temperance "Black Book" (1848-1852), MS, Roch. 
Hist. Soc.; Roch. Republican, June 14, 1849; Calendar of Gerrit Smith Papers; 
Myron Holley Letters, O ReiUy Doc., Nos. 2461-2477; Post-Express, Sept. 23, 1893. 

46 Rochester Dotty American, Nov. 16, Dec. 30, 1833 ; Democrat, July 23, Aug. 4, 
1834; Rights of Man, Apr. 26, May 10, 24, June 7, 21, July 4, 1834. 

47 Democrat, June 16, 1834; Sept. 24, 26, 1835; O Reilly Doc., No. 3oe; Barnes, 
The Antislavery Impulse, p. 85. 

^Democrat, Mar. 4, Sept. 24, 1835. 

49 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Jan. 28, 1838, E. S. S. Eaton 
Letters; Myron Holley to Gerrit Smith, Jan. 12, June i, 1839; Mar. 9, 20, 1840; 
George W. Pratt to Gerrit Smith, Dec. 16, 1844, Calendar of Gerrit Smith Papers; 
Myron Holley to James G. Birney, Rochester, Jan. i, 1840, D. L. Dumond, ed., 
Letters of James Gillespie Birney: 1831-1857 (New York, 1938), I, 518-519; 
Amy H. Croughton, "Anti-Slavery Days in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XIV, 
120-126; Rochester Freeman, June 12, 1839. 


residents suppled a local setting for the larger controversy. As many 
as 360 Negroes lived in the city in 1834, among them Thomas James 
and Austin Steward, both men of some ability. 50 A separate school had 
already been provided for their children, though in most unsatisfactory 
quarters^ but the efforts of Levi A, Ward in 1841 to secure a new build 
ing for this purpose proved unsuccessful. Occasionally a Negro child 
attended one of the district schools until, in 1845, the council put an 
end to that practice. When Frederick Douglass located Ms North Star 
at Rochester in 1847, ^ e school question presented a difficult problem, 
and despite the efforts of many friends the policy of segregation re 
mained a cause of complaint until the mid-century, with less than a 
third of the sixty-odd Negro children on the school rolls. 51 

Possibly the chief accomplishment of the Rochester abolitionists 
during the forties was the respectful hearing they enjoyed. While their 
two early weeklies had quickly disappeared, and Henry O Reilly s effort 
to establish the moderate antislavery Citizen in 1843 me * disaster/ 2 
Frederick Douglass, backed with English capital, proved more success 
ful with Ms North Star in 1847, soon renamed Frederick Douglass 9 
Pa^er. 63 A state convention of Negroes gathered in the city in 1843, 
the year in wMch Douglass paid Ms first visit, and three years later 
an antislavery convention met peaceably in Rochester. New friends were 
won to the cause and funds collected at an antislavery bazaar held at 
Concert Hall in 1849. Rochester s newly elected Whig representative 
in the legislature, L. Ward Smith, grandson of Dr. Levi Ward, declared 
Ms sympathy for the Negro, promising to do what he could in behalf 
of the slave. 5 * Friendly aid was occasionally given to slaves fleeing from 
the South, chiefly by a few members of the Wesleyan, Congregational, 
Quaker, and Unitarian churches; yet the community remained largely 
indifferent to the issue. 

An increasing participation of zealous women in these reform move 
ments gave birth to still another agitation, that for women s rights. The 
early activities of the Female Charitable Society and of several public 
and private school teachers had received local approbation, and in 1842 

50 Rights of Man, Apr. 26, 1834; Thomas James, Wonderful Eventful Life of 
Reverend Thomas James (3rd edL; Rochester, 1887) ; Austin Steward, Twenty -two 
Years a Slave and Forty Years a Freeman (Rochester, 1857). 

^Advertiser, Mar. 24, 1832; Feb. 28, 1833; July 2, 1841; Jan. 17, 1850; 
Democrat, Jury 12, 1841; Dec. 14, 1849; Mar. 29, 1850; Croughton, "Anti-Slavery 
Bays," p. 130. 

^CXReilly Doc., No. 1063, 1521. 

63 Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Hartford, Conn., 
1882), pp. 322-328; North Star, Apr. 14, 1848; June 13, 1850; Frederick Douglass 
Paper, Aug. 19, 1853; Aug. 31, 1855; Apr. 25, 1856; Jan. 16, 1857; Douglass* 
Monthly j April, May, 18595 July, August, 1862. 

54 Democrat, Aug. 23, 29, 1843; Mar. 28, 1846; Nov. 4, 1848; Advertiser, Jan. 15, 


when Abby Kelly came to Rochester to address an a&tislavery conven 
tion, her ability to hold the audience for three-quarters of an hour was 
noted with respect. 55 Nevertheless, when the Ladies Temperance Society 
formed in 1841, and the Young Ladies Temperance Hope Society the 
next year, many whose interests appeared threatened expressed the 
opinion that women s place was in the home. 56 

The women, however, were not to be turned back so easily. Their 
new freedom of expression, enjoyed on an equal footing with the men 
folk in the numerous revivals, in the Sabbath schools and other church 
societies, had quickened their spirits. When the American Female Moral 
Reform Society staged a convention at Rochester in 1843, although 
Pharcellus Church presided, several ladies ventured to take part in the 
discussion. 51 News of the rebuffs received by sister reformers at various 
temperance and antislavery conclaves roused local resentment, and a few 
weeks after the first woman s suffrage convention met at Seneca Falls 
in July, 1848, a second convened at the Unitarian Church in Rochester. 58 
For the first time a woman, Mrs. Abigail Bush, was elected chairman, 
while Amy Post, Rhoda De Garmo, and Mrs. Roberts likewise well 
known for their earlier activity in local temperance and antislavery 
agitation assumed active roles. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady 
Stanton, both related by marriage to Rochester families, joined with 
other visitors in the discussion, as did several men, including Frederick 
Douglass and Daniel Anthony. 59 

Popular reactions to these sessions varied. One editor derived amuse 
ment from the resolution that the word "obey" should be stricken from 
the marriage vow, while another remarked that "Verily, this is a pro 
gressive era! " 60 Specific local action resulted from Mrs. Roberts report 
on working conditions in the city, revealing that seamstresses worked 
fourteen and fifteen hours for from 31 to 38 cents a day, although their 
frugal board cost $1.25 to $1.50 a week. Two weeks after the close of 
the convention a meeting of seamstresses in Mechanic s Hall organized 
a Women s Protection Union, choosing Mrs. Roberts as president. Equal 
rights with men, wages in cash, and regular hour and piece rates com- 

55 Democrat, Aug. 27, 1842; Scnermerhorn Letters, Aug. 29, 1842; National 
Cyclopedia of American Biography, II, 323. 

56 Rock. Republican, Jan. 29, 1839; Democrat, Nov. 26, 1841; Feb. 17, 1844; 
Advertiser, Apr. 30, 1846. 

57 Democrat, Sept. 8, 1843. A local Female Moral Reform Society continued 
active for some years, see Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Aug. 26, 1846, 
E. S. S. Eaton Letters. 

^Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al, History of Woman Suffrage (New York, 
1881), I, 67-76. 

59 Stanton, Woman Suffrage, pp. 75-79 ; Cornell, A dam and Anne Mott, pp. 
138, 145-46; Advertiser, Aug. 3, 1848; Democrat, Aug. 2, 3, 4, 1848. 

60 Advertiser, Aug. 3, 8, 1848; Democrat, Aug. 4, 1848. 


prised the chief demands. Little is known of the Union s accomplish 
ment^ but at least the issue was kept before the public by occasional 
meetings that year. 61 

Other reforms of the forties received less attention. The anti-tobacco 
campaign enlisted few supporters, while tobacco-growers, cutters, and 
cigar makers increased in number, 62 A local Prison Discipline Society, 
organized in 1847, helped to secure the establishment of the Western 
House of Refuge at Rochester in 1849.^ Sympathy for famine sufferers 
in Ireland and for the cause of Irish independence inspired frequent 
collections, while Rochesterians only thinly disguised their active par 
tisanship during the Canadian Rebellion of 183 y. M Mixed feelings 
greeted the agitation by Albert Brisbane of the Fourier Phalanx, which 
readied Rochester in the spring of 1843 wten the gloom of the depres 
sion still darkened the dky. Fourier s communistic scheme won a hearing 
at a series of lectures in Mechanic s Hall. Several societies quickly 
organized in the area, and sites were purchased at Manchester, Sodus 
Bay, Clarkson, and North Bloomfield. A convention of Fourier sympa 
thizers held at Rochester in August, 1843, formed the American Indus 
trial Union to coordinate their various endeavors. Charges that the 
movement was anti-Christian were denied, but economic and social 
difficulties within the societies soon brought disaster, and the movement 
lost its force locally after I845. 65 

As scriptural references generally provided the most telling arguments, 
authority for each of these causes was sought in the Bible. Indeed, 
interest in the successive reforms (if distinguished from their accom 
plishments) seemed to vary in proportion to their religious inspiration, 
and certainly no other movements stirred the excitement created by the 
appearance of two new sects. Joseph Smith had already led his Mormon 
followers farther into the West, though interest in the fortunes of this 
unusual sect, born at nearby Palmyra only a few years before, continued 
throughout the period. 68 Smith s claims were remarkable enough, but, 
true or false, they did not threaten the foundations of society, as was 
the case, first with the predictions of the Millerites, and later with the 
occult powers of the Fox sisters. 

^Advertiser, Aug. 3, 1848; Democrat, Aug. 18, Sept. 2, 25, 1848. 

62 Rock. Republican, Dec. 22, 1846; Feb. 16, July 20, 1847; Democrat, Feb. 9, 


^Democrat, Jan. 22, 1844; Feb. 4, 1847. 

64 Democrat, Feb. 15, 1847; Aug. 31, 1849; Feb. 21:, 18^0; Rock. Republican, 
June i 1847; Advertiser, Aug. 14, 1848; Common Council Proc., Nov. 13, 1838. 

65 Roch. Republican, Apr. n, Sept. 5, Nov. 7, 1843 ; Democrat, Apr. 7, 18, 20, 
May 18, Aug. 23, 29, 1843; June 25, 1845; American Industrial Union: Articles of 
Confederation (Rochester, 1844). 

66 Advertiser, July 20, 28, 1842; Mar. 3, 1847; Nov. 17, 1849; Democrat, 
Aug. 5, 1844; United States Statistical and Chronological Almanac (Rochester, 
1845), p. 42, 


The doctrine of William Mfller, based on an interpretation of OH 
and New Testament prophecies, created a stir in Rochester as elsewhere. 
Miller s writings reached the city in the late thirties/ 7 and by the spring 
of 1842 j when many earthly fortunes had reached their lowest ebb ? local 
confidence in the rapid approach of the Second Coming was sufficient 
to open a camp meeting under a great tent on the eastern edge of the 
city. Three of Miller s close brethren arrived with a supply of Second 
Advent books, and large crowds began to gather. 68 High winds capsized 
the tent on two occasions, yet it served well the purpose of propagating 
the doctrine throughout the area that fall. When a convention of Miller- 
ites assembled at Talman Hall the next spring, a goodly representation 
gathered from the city and the surrounding towns to plan the proper 
ceremonies for Christ s Second Coming, now definitely expected some 
time during the current Hebraic year which would end on March 21, 
1844. As the fateful year advanced, many converts applied for baptism, 
and the Reverend Joseph Marsh kept busy at his office in the Reynolds 
Arcade answering questions, assembling copy for the Voice oj Truth, 
and otherwise preparing for the ascension of the saints. 69 Many citizens 
breathed more easily when the last day of the appointed year passed 
without event, yet popular excitement revived when a new calculation 
advanced the date to October 22nd. A large crowd gathered in Talman 
Hall on the evening of the 2ist and again the next day, making prepara 
tions to greet their Lord with song and prayer. Fresh converts were 
baptized and great confidence was expressed in the impending event. 
The papers the next day, preoccupied with the approaching election, 
failed to report the disappointment of the Millerites, but the latter s 
faith proved resilient when soon a new date was set for 1847. Even 
after that year had likewise safely passed, a group of Second Adventists 
gathered for a baptism in the Genesee below Andrews Street Bridge, 
though the ceremony now attracted only a small crowd/ 

Already a new religious sensation was at hand, the mysterious knock- 
ings by the spirit friends of the Fox sisters. Rumors of strange occur 
rences at Hydesville reached the city in the late spring of 1848, and 
when Mrs. Leah Fish, a local music teacher, brought her sister Kate, 
the youngest Fox girl, to live with her in Rochester, the rappings 
recommenced. The zealous Quaker reformers, Isaac and Amy Post, in- 

67 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Nov. 7, 1839, E - S. S. 
Eaton Letters. 

68 Advertiser, Mar. 21, 1842; Democrat, June 10, 17, I9> 2 3> 24, 28, July 4, 5, 
n, 12, 13, 1843; D. A. B., XII, 641-643- 

69 Democrat, Mar. 9, 13, 23, 1844; Jane Marsh Parker, Rochester, A Story 
Historical, pp. 251-254. Mrs. Parker, as a daughter of Rev. Marsh, the Millerite, 
had many family traditions at her disposal. See also Clara E. Sears, Days of Delu 
sion (Cambridge, 1924) , pp. i33~*37 140-141^- 

Democrat, Oct T 18, 19, 23, 1844,* Advertiser, Oct. 21, 1845; Sept. 19, 1848, 


trigued by the possibility of communicating with the spirits of their 
departed friends, became early converts. Despite the meager and cir 
cumstantial information vouchsafed from the other world, the possibility 
of such communication proved startling enough to attract several 
followers. Soon the spirits, desiring a wider audience, specifically de 
manded a public demonstration in the newly opened Corinthian Hall. 
The request was granted on November 14, 1849? as a crowd of some 
four hundred persons gathered to watch the world s first public per 
formance of spirit mediums. 71 

When the knockings responded as advertised, the incredulous audience 
named a committee of citizens to investigate and report the true cause 
of the sounds at an adjourned meeting the next evening. However, the 
first committee had to admit its inability to detect fraud, and a second 
committee likewise failed, prompting skeptical members of the third and 
now crowded audience to demand a thorough investigation. A new 
committee, including several distinguished physicians among other citi 
zens, secured the assistance of three ladies, who examined the girls in a 
private room, removing their clothes and interviewing the spirits while 
the girls stood on feather pillows in their bare feet. When the third 
committee reported that no natural source for the sounds could be 
detected, a surge of indignation swept the crowded hall and some angry 
skeptics attempted to storm the platform. Fortunately the girls escaped 
injury, and the conflict was transferred ta the press. 72 D. M. Dewey 
sold 30,000 copies of his pamphlet, History of the Strange Sounds or 
Rappings, while, among numerous explanations, Professor George 
Loomis of Lima Seminary attributed the rappings to vibrations from 
the falls/ 3 Others took the matter more seriously, notably the aged 
Abelard Reynolds, who was greatly impressed by this additional evi 
dence of a life after death. 74 A band of devoted followers soon enrolled, 
though few tears were shed when the Fox sisters left for New York the 
next spring. Isaac Butts, the caustic editor of the Advertiser, dismissed 
the knockings as another of Rochester s recurrent "Humbugs." 75 


Despite the sensational performances of the spiritualists and an in 
creasing acceptance of the idea of progress, 76 the late forties witnessed 

71 Franklin W. Clark, "The Rochester Rappers," MS of 1930, in Roch. Hist. 
Sec.; Adalbert Cronise, "The Beginnings of Modern Spiritualism In and Near 
Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., V, 1-22. See also two long Lemuel Clark letters, 
Nov. i, Dec. i, 1848, edited by Wheaton P. Webb, New York History, XXIV 
(April, 1943), 228-250. 

72 Cronise, "Beginnings of Modern Spiritualism," pp. 9-11. 

78 Advertiser, Jan. 17, 1850; Rural New Yorker, Feb. 7, 1850. 

74 Reynolds Papers, 1850-1852. 

75 Advertiser, Apr. 30, May 3, 1850; Diet. Amer. Biog., Ill, 378379. 

76 Genesee Olio, Apr. 19, 1849, p. 69. "The man who doubts in human progress 
commits the unpardonable sin. To doubt progression is to blaspheme God. * 


a conservative trend within several of the leading denominations. A half- 
dozen new churches appeared, Increasing the total number to thirty-five 
by the mid-century, but only two, the Universalist Church erected in 
1847, and the Berith Kodesh Synagogue organized the following year, 
represented the permanent establishment of new sects in the city. 7T 
Rochester clerics were less outspoken than many of their brethren else 
where either in opposition to or support of the Mexican War. 7 * Local 
economic revival enabled several of the congregations to balance their 
budgets, reduce their debts, in some cases even to enlarge their buildings, 
so that the community became known for its handsome churches and its 
distinguished pastors. If some of the evangelical romanticism of its early 
religious activity disappeared, a new sobriety and appreciation for both 
educational and institutional values emerged. 79 

Religious customs tended to conform to the urban environment. Two 
small papers, The Closet 3 and its successor, The Christian Mirror, 
mourned the increased neglect of family worship and the absence of 
old devotional stand-bys on the parlor table. The attendance at the 
midweek meetings proved discouraging, except during revival periods, 
and the frequency, duration, and intensity of the revivals decreased in 
the larger city churches during the late forties, 80 Too many other activi 
ties engrossed the bustling city, impelling one aging pioneer circuit rider, 
who marvelled at how "villages and cities have sprung up, and occupy 
the hunting grounds of the aborigines, 7 to wonder at the effect on the 
Christian citizen. 81 

Doctrinal issues nevertheless retained some potency. Despite the 
moderation of the nominally New School Presbyterians of Rochester, 
the Reverend Lewis Cheeseman tried to establish an Old School church 
in the city; yet the venture quickly disintegrated when Cheeseman 
received a call to Philadelphia. 82 When the controversy between High 
and Low Church Episcopalians revived over the leanings of Dr. E. B. 
Pusey and his Oxford followers toward Catholic forms, Henry W. Lee 
denounced such trends from the pulpit at St. Luke s. On the oilier hand, 
John Van Ingen stood forth in St. Paul s as the High Church leader of 

77 Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism," pp. 288-291; Rabbi Horace J. 
Wolf, "A History of the Jews of Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., II, 19-1-196. 

78 Advertiser, May 28, 1846; Aug. 21, 1847; Rock. Republican, Aug. 24, 1847; 
C. S. Ellsworth, "The American Churches and the Mexican War," Amer. Hist. 
Review, vol. XLV (January, 1940). 

79 Raymond Scrapbook, p. 21, newspaper clipping of 1847. 

80 The Closet (Rochester), 1846-1847; The Christian Mirror (Rochester), 1847- 

81 Tooker, Poems and Jottings, p. 113. See also [J, B. Hudson], Narrative of the 
Christian Experience, Travels and Labors of John B. Hudson (Rochester, 1838), 
pp. 163-164. 

^William C. Wisner, A Review of "Differences between Old and New School 
Presbyterians" "by Rev. Lewis Cheeseman (Rochester, 1848). 


the diocese, though he was cautious about introducing the disputed 
rituals. 83 Indeed, with Rochester emerging as a focal center of the con 
troversy, became so strained at St. Paul s that it proved diffi 
cult for members to discuss religious questions in harmony. J. T. Andrews 
confided to his Weather Book on one occasion that "a bell [thought to 
be concealed under a deacon s robe] was heard tinkling in the service 
after the manner of the Papists." Yet the incident was soon forgotten 
when the installation of a fine organ costing $1400 and a bell weighing 
3065 pounds enabled St. Paul s, rebuilt after the fire and renamed 
Grace Church, to face the future with composure. 8 * 

The Catholics likewise encountered difficulties. Outside hostility, 
though less outspoken than in many communities, frequently burst 
forth. The labors of a Bible Society agent among newly arrived Germans 
in 1848 prompted thirty-six families to proclaim their renunciation of 
Catholicism and organize the Emanuel Reformed Church with the 
Reverend L. Giustiniani, a thorn in the side of faithful Catholics, as its 
first pastor. The next year, when Father Bernard O Reilly refused to 
proceed with a funeral service until all Odd Fellow badges should be 
removed, several members of that newly formed lodge withdrew. 85 Yet 
the rapid growth of the three Catholic churches continued unchecked, 
and the newly reorganized St. Mary s erected an edifice in 1847. When 
the Diocese of Buffalo was set off from that of New York in 1847? 
Father O Reilly became vicar-general, and three years later he jour 
neyed east as Bishop of Hartford. 8 

Father O Reilly was only one of several Rochester pastors of the 
period whose abilities brought high honors. Both Joseph Penney and 
his successor at First Church, Tryon Edwards, became college presidents, 
while Henry J. Whitehouse was called from St. Luke s to accept the 
Episcopate of Illinois in 1844. Drs. Church, Luckey, Mclllwaine, Hol 
land, and Van Ingen never achieved such rank, though Dr. Lee did 

83 Rev. John V. Van Ingen, A.M., The Preacher, An Ordained Witness of Re 
vealed Truth (Rochester, 1845) ; Remarks upon "The Papal Aggression" Occasioned 
by the Discourses of the Rev. H. W. Lee at St. Luke s Church (1851) ; Memoir of 
John Visger Van Ingen (n.d., n.p.) ; Charles W. Hayes, The Diocese of Western 
New York (Rochester, 1904), I, 181-187. 

84 J. T. Andrews, Weather Book, Jan., 1849, Jan., May, 1850, MS, Roch. Hist. 

85 Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism," p. 294; Raymond Scrapbook, 
pp. 193-194; Ray A. BiHington, The Protestant Crusade: 1800-1860 (New York, 
1938), p. 308. When Giustiniani withdrew to repeat his work elsewhere, the 
church, assuming a less obtrusive role, continued a modest development. 

* Advertiser, Sept. 2, Dec. 22, 1847; Sept. 5, 1850. Despite the persistence of 
much suspicion and ill-will, Rochester escaped the more extreme expressions of 
anti-Catholicism that appeared in New York City and elsewhere during the forties 
under the banner of the American Republicans or the Native Americans ; see Louis 
Dow Scisco, Political Nativism in New York State (New York, 1901), pp. 15-83. 


become a bishop in 1854^ but all were outstanding leaders of their 
denominations, and one of Dr. Church s publications anticipated the 
doctrine of the unity of natural and spiritual law. S7 Possibly none of these 
regular pastors was more highly respected throughout the community 
than Dr. Chester Dewey 3 whose readiness to supply any vacant pulpit 
each Sabbath did not seem to dimmish despite the increased burdens 
of the Collegiate Institute. Indeed, Dewey symbolized the union between 
piety and learning that was fast becoming the ideal of Christian Roches- 
terians, and many rejoiced in 1850 when Williams College awarded 
him an LL.D., his third such honor during the decade. 88 

With the merits of a trained clergy gaining fuller recognition, various 
denominational leaders in the city coveted the advantages of a seminary 
in Rochester. As early as 1826; when the support of local Episcopal 
churches had rallied to the aid of Geneva College, regrets were expressed 
that the institution could not be located at Rochester. 4 Local Methodist 
support was similarly called upon for the development of Genesee 
Wesleyan Seminary at Lima after iS^i The Presbyterians had early 
given support to Hamilton College, and when the former Rochester 
pastor, Joseph Penney, became its president in 1833, Rochester friends 
pledged themselves to pay Ms salary. But again the arrangement did 
not satisfy local aspirations, and a movement started at First Church 
in 1845 for the establishment of a Presbyterian college at Rochester. 91 

First conceived as a University of Western New York and later as a 
University of Rochester, the project gained wide support throughout 
the area in 1846. Dr. Dewey endorsed the movement, a charter was 
secured from the legislature, and a board was appointed to raise the 
$120,000 considered necessary to establish the university. Pharcellus 
Church, pastor of First Baptist, F. W. Holland the Unitarian, and 
Samuel Luckey the Methodist, as well as the Mechanics Association, 
lent support with the understanding that the college would not be 
strictly denominational in character. Yet fear that the seventeen Pres 
byterians on the Board would dominate the institution and that the 
theological branches would crowd out scientific subjects, coupled with 

87 Price, "One Hundred Years of Protestantism," p. 302; Pharcellus Church, 
Antioch or the Increase of Moral Power in the Church of Christ {Boston, 1843) j 
"Henry W. Lee," Nat. Cyc. of Amer. Biog., Ill, 469. Rev. Samuel Luckey, as 
Presiding Elder of the Rochester District, suppled stable leadership to the rapidly 
moving Methodist pastors from 1842 until his death in 1869; see T. W. Herring- 
shaw, Encyclopedia of American Biography (Chicago, 1898), p. 603. 

88 Advertiser, Aug. 24, 1850; Henry Fowler, The American Pulpit (New York, 
1856), pp. 49-67- 

89 Telegraph, Feb. 7, 1826; Monroe Republican, Feb. 14, Mar. 7, July 4, 1826; 
Advertiser f Jan. 21, Apr. 26, 1831. 

90 Advertiser, Mar. 12, 1831, Nov. i, 1832; Mar. n, Apr. 2, 1833. 

91 Advertiser, Dec. 16, 1833 J Harvey Humphrey, Autograph Letters, Roch. Hist. 
Soc., Dec. 26, 1844; Democrat, Jan. 23, Mar. n, 1845. 


the difficulties Presbyterians were already encountering in their effort to 
maintain Lane ? Western Reserve, and Oberlin in the West, led finally 
to the abandonment of the Rochester venture. 92 

Local aspirations for an institution of college rank soon reasserted 
themselves, however. Rochester Catholics, disappointed in the late 
thirties when the Redemptorist foundation which they had sought was 
located at Pittsburgh, and when Buffalo became the center of the new 
diocese, turned eagerly to plans for the location of a Catholic college 
on the Mumford estate overlooking the river at Court and South St. 
Paul streets. The College of the Sacred Heart opened in September, 
1848, with the object of preparing its boys "chiefly for the ministry/ 7 
but the untimely death that fall of its head, Father Julian Delaune, 
formerly president of St. Mary s College in Kentucky, forced the insti 
tution to close its doors. 93 Thus the field remained open to the Baptists, 
possibly the weakest of the five leading sects in the city. 

The final establishment of a university at Rochester was curiously 
related to the evangelistic forces that had stirred the city for two 
decades. The same Elder Jacob JKnapp who had enlivened the spirits 
of the First Baptist Church in the late thirties was a decade later 
troubling the intellectual waters at Madison University, the reorganized 
Baptist Literary and Theological Institution at Hamilton in central 
New York. Disturbed over the local controversy and dismayed by the 
difficulty of securing financial support in a somewhat isolated neighbor 
hood, several of the faculty and trustees considered the possibility of 
removal to Rochester. A conference at the First Baptist Church in 
September, 1847, won endorsements for the proposed removal both from 
the pastor, Pharcellus Church, one of Madison s trustees, and from his 
leading deacons, Oren Sage and Alvah Strong. John N. Wilder, a Madi 
son trustee from Albany but well-known in Rochester after frequent 
visits at the home of his sister, the first wife of Everard Peck, volun 
teered support. Western New York Baptists generally favored the 
proposal, and many Rochesterians, previously identified with the abor 
tive plan of 1846, rallied to the new project. 94 

The determined resistance of Hamilton residents finally secured a 
court order, stopping the removal plan, but Rochester s desires for a 
college could not be checked this -time, and in March, 1850, a charter 
was secured from the Regents for a new University of Rochester. The 
great majority of the trustees of the new institution were Baptists, but 

92 Rock. Republican, July 14, Nov. 24, Dec. 8, 29, 18465 Jan. 5, 19, 1847; 
Democrat, Jan. 18, Feb. 8, 24, 1847 ; Jesse L. Rosenberger, Rochester and Colgate 
(Chicago, 1925), pp. 13-21. 

93 Democrat, May i, 1848; Zwierlein, One Hundred Years of Catholicism, pp. 
207-208 ; Mullaney, Catholic Germans in Rochester, pp. 26-30. 

94 Rosenberger, Rochester and Colgate, pp. 46-98; Jesse L. Rosenberger, Roch 
ester, the Making of a University (Rochester, 1927), pp. 


Everard Peck, Frederick WMttlesey and William Pitkin, three of the 
city s eight trustees, represented other denominations, while the sixteen 
non-Rochesterians on the board helped to give the venture a broad 
character. An earnest appeal for $100,000 to launch both the university 
and a theological seminary prompted a non-Baptist correspondent, 
possibly Chester Dewey, to conclude a letter of support with the sugges 
tion, "Let not sectarianism paralyze our efforts as it did two years ago. 1 
Proclaiming the Christian, but unsectarian, character of the university, 
its leaders promised that instruction would be given in "all the branches 
of science and learning which are taught in the most approved universi 
ties." The United States Hotel on Buffalo Street was leased for temporary 
quarters, and a faculty of five college and two seminary professors, each 
to receive $1200 a year, assembled. Five of them came from Madison 
University, while E. Peshine Smith (one of Rochester s first Harvard 
men) and the venerable Dr. Chester Dewey were respected residents. 
When the institutions officially opened to about sixty students on 
November 4, 1850, John N. Wilder, President of the Board of Trustees, 
noted the general objection to the location of colleges in cities, but 
expressed the hope that, although (excepting Columbia in New York 
City) Rochester University was the first so located, the enterprise 
would prove the wisdom of the choice. 95 


Rochester s struggle to secure a university prompted an ironic jibe 
from neighboring Syracuse. "No peacock ever swelled into larger pro 
portions/ 5 declared the Syracuse Star, "or strutted about in a more 
complacent and happy air, than our Rochester neighbors assume when 
they talk of c our position, our location/ our advantages. . . . What 
adds to the exceeding richness of all this, is the fact that the [Rochester] 
editors actually believe what they say." Isaac Butts of the Advertiser, 
rejoining with a few digs at the village just then applying for its first 
pair of long trousers, admitted that his own townsfellows had cause to 
be proud. 96 Frequent visitors were obligingly laudatory. "The entrance 
to Rochester, from the West, is impressive," remarked WiUis Gaylord 
Clark in an exuberant mood, "and when you are once rattling over its 
pavements and through its long streets, you fancy yourself in New York 
or eke in Philadelphia." 9T Mrs. Eliza Steele, the novelist, declared that 

^Rosenberger, Making of a University, pp. 17-43; Raymond Scrapbook, p. 259. 
Another Rochester lawyer, Alfred G. Mudge, attended Harvard Law School a 
few years ahead of E. P. Smith, but the latter was apparently the first native to 
enter Harvard; Yale was much preferred. 

96 Advertiser, Nov. 22, 1847. 

97 Lewis G. Clark, ed., Literary Remains of the Late Wiltts Gaylord Clark 
(New York, 1844), pp. i74~i75- 


our admiration were the private dwellings, which 
IE beauty are seldom equalled in our cities." m 

A improvement in domestic comforts characterized the period. 

"The population growth of the forties enabled builders 

to catch up with the demand for houses, and while modest frame 
cottages proved numerous, a goodly number of Greek Revival 

and "Ornamental Gothic" villas graced the more desirable 
streets* The eleven-room Elmwood Cottage of Captain Robert Harding, 
built in the new Gothic style in a rural setting on Genesee Street at a 
cost of |2,3oo 3 provided a striking contrast to Silas O. Smith s dignified 
Woodside, erected in the popular Greek Revival fashion on Pittsford 
Road (East Avenue) on the other side of town." More extensive than 
either was Grove Place at the eastern end of Main Street, acquired 
in 1839 by Samuel L. Selden, who paid $20,000 for the mansion and 
its twenty-acre estate. Here the Ward and Selden families congregated 
in a rambling homestead which slowly extended in several directions on 
functional rather than stylistic lines, 100 Other imposing mansions or 
villas occupied favored sites on the roads leading north and south on 
both sides of the river and on Pittsford Road and Buffalo Street. 101 

But most of the elegant residences appeared in the sheltered part of 
the Third Ward, separated from the principal business district by the 
Erie Canal. Charming post-Colonial houses alternated with the more 
pretentious fagades of such Greek Revival mansions as that of Jonathan 
Child on Washington Street. A skilled architect from New England, 
Hugh Hastings, designed several of the classical mansions, including the 
elegant Whittlesey residence opening on Fitzhugh Street. That street 
as well as Sophia (Plymouth) and Washington, running parallel, Spring 
and Troup at right angles, and Livingston Park overlooking the section, 
provided a congenial center for culture and refinement. 103 Two elegant 

08 E. R. Steele, A Summer Journey (New York, 1841), pp. 46-47; Sir Charles 
Lyel, Travels in North America, I, 17. For an excellent discussion of dwelling 
standards throughout pre-Civil War America, see Edgar W. Martin, The Standard 
of living in 1860 (Chicago, 1944), pp. 83-172. 

m Both are still standing in 1945, the first as a Spiritualist church and the latter 
as the home of the Rochester Historical Society. Genesee Farmer, February, 1846, 
p. 42- 

1<M> Henry M. Ward, Memorials of a Grand Parent and Parents (Rochester, 
1886), pp. 21-23; Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to Captain Eaton, Rochester, Dec. 2, 
1839, Aug. 18, 26, 1846, E. S. S. Eaton Letters. 

101 "Grove Place is decidedly delightful- Judge Chapin s place [on Caledonia 
Square] is still more exquisitely beautiful" "The three or four places: Grove 
Place* Mr. Smith s pkce, Mr. Chapin s & Lorimer Hill [the Freeman Clarke man 
sion on Lake Avenue] are as inviting and lovely as the country affords any 
where." E. S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Aug. 18, 26, 1846, E. S. S. 
Eaton Letters. 

1<r2 Walter H. Cassebeer, "Architecture in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XI, 290- 
295; Charles F. Pond, "History of the Third Ward," R. H. S. 9 Pub., I, 71-81. 


seminaries opened there during the period, and several of the principal 
churches as well as the University stood only a few blocks distant. It 
was in the Third Ward that a visitor of 1847 saw the "splendid man 
sions" he found lacking in Buffalo, more preoccupied with trade. 108 

Spacious as some of these houses appeared, they were generally over 
flowing with residents. Large families proved the rule, so much so that 
J. T. Andrews was provoked on one occasion^ when shouts from the 
street disturbed Ms Sabbath rest, to record in his Weather Book that 
"Rochester [is] terribly infested with children." 104 Indeed, 22 per cent 
of the city s population fell between the ages of five and sixteen in 1845, 
and men no longer outnumbered women. 105 Edwin Scrantom was glad in 
April, 1844 (when six youngsters crowded Ms small house on Sophia 
Street), for the opportunity to move into more spacious Willowbank 
on the western edge of the city, three-fourths of a mile from the central 
bridge. The good house and barn surrounded by one hundred fruit trees 
on a lot an acre and a half in size cost him $2500, but the Scrantom 
family had at last acquired an established position in the commu 
nity. 10 * 

A high rate of mortality, especially among infants, helped to keep 
most families within bounds, though not without exerting a profound 
influence upon the survivors, as the doleful and dripping verses of 
Marcia Webster and other poets of the period reveal. 107 When the 
mortality rate per 100 mounted from 1.98 in 1845 to 2.66 in 1847, 
blame was placed on the abnormal prevalence of disease throughout 
the country, a condition indicated by the advance of Boston s rate from 
2.26 to 3.13 during the same period. Of the 737 deaths recorded by the 
City Sexton in 1847, m t of a population of 28,000, those of three years 
or less numbered 333. 10S The next year one editor observed "nine funerals 
in the city one day last week, all of children under eight years of age." 109 
Levi A. Ward, one of old Dr. Ward s tMrteen children, eleven of whom 
reached maturity, saved only six of Ms own twelve children, while Edwin 
Scrantom saved five out of ten. Little wonder the community took such 
a sentimental interest in its lovely Mount Hope Cemetery. 110 

103 New York Herald, Sept. 15, 1847. 

104 J. T. Andrews, Weather Book, August, 1847. 

105 j^ Y. Census (1845) . A century later only 16 per cent of the city s popula 
tion in 1940 belonged to the 5 to 16 age group and women now definitely out 
numbered men. Also see above, p. 137, note 3. 

loe E. Scrantom, Diary, Apr. 4, 1844; W. A. Campbell, "A Chronicle of 
Architecture and Architects in Rochester" (multigraphed paper, 1939) , Roch. 
Hist. Soc. The present-day "Willobank" is the second on this site. 

107 "A Tale of Mount Hope," by Marcia Webster, Raymond Scrapbook, p. 23, 
also pp. 54, 59, 66, 74, 107; Rochester Gem, 1829-1843, passim. 

IDS Raymond Scrapbook, p. 22. See also pp. 105-106, and note 20, p. 140. 

109 Genesee Olio, Sept. 9, 1848. 

110 Alexander Mackay, The Western World (London, 1850), HI, 112. 


WMe numerous diseases brought appalling hazards, an increasing 
of practitioners straggled to check such ravages. The com 
munity in i 44 contained thirty-one "practicing physicians" and four 
teen dentists, several of whom enjoyed a wide reputation. Dr. John B. 
Elwood, reputed to be "the best operator in the city/ successfully re 
moved "a stone the size of a hen s egg from Mrs. HertelPs bladder in 
% of an hour" in 183 7. m Equally noted were Dr. Edward G. Munn for 
Ms deft work on the eye, Dr. W. W. Reid as an expert in adjusting dis 
located hip bones, Dr. Horatio N. Ferm as a dental surgeon, and young 
Dr. Edward Mott Moore as a careful student of the latest medical and 
surgical discoveries. Dr. F. F. Backus, beginning to advance in years, 
reported in 1849 on the 712 births he had assisted during the previous 
seventeen years and, recalling an experiment with the use of ether many 
years before, greeted the new methods for the safe use of anesthetics 
with praise. 112 

Though not as contentious as the city s eighty-four lawyers ("Every 
lawyer seemed to be a judge," one observer reported, and bustled about 
with "an air of defiance on his brow"), 113 the doctors could not always 
agree. Those trained in the standard medical colleges, and therefore 
entitled to display an M.D., were bitterly attacked by Dr. Justin Gates, 
the local exponent of th Thompsonian or Botanic system. The average 
M.D. killed twenty patients by bleeding and poisons before he learned 
caution, Gates declared, while the followers of Thompson used only 
vegetable remedies. Although the Rochester Medical Truth Tetter and 
Monthly Family Journal of Health, issued by Gates in 1844, soon dis 
appeared, the science of homeopathy enjoyed wide confidence for a time, 
and the followers of the eclectic school, a new protest against traditional 
medicine, established the Central Medical College at Rochester. 114 Each 
of these groups had something to contribute, but much to learn, and the 
same held true of Woodland Owen s Guide to the Preservation of the 
Teeth, in which the use of a small brush with bristles in three rows, tooth 
powder, and elbow grease was recommended. 115 

Each year brought its additional conveniences for those who could 

111 E. Scrantom, Diary, June 15, 1837; Schermerhorn Letters, Nos. 55, 60. 

112 Betsy C. Comer, "A Century of Medicine in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., 
Xin, 342-352; "Dr. William W. Reid," in Howard A. KeUy and Walter L. 
Burrage, Dictionary of Amer. Medical Biography (New York, 1928), p. 1026; 
"Dr. Edward Mott Moore," D. A. B., XIII, 119-120. 

133 Mrs. CM. C. F.] Houston, Hesperos: Or Travels in the West (London, 1850), 
I, 104. 

114 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Aug. i, 18, 1846, E. S. S. Eaton 
Letters; Betsy C. Corner, "Rochester s Early Medical School," R. H. S., Pub., 
VH, 141-152. 

115 W. Owen, A Guide to the Preservation of the Teeth (Rochester, 1842) ; 
H. J. Burkhart, "Centennial History of Dentistry in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., 
XIH, 385-288, 294. 


afford them. Private carriages increased in number, as the growing size 
of the city sent new customers to the Cunningham factory, where an 
elegant carriage could be had for $350 in cash, with possibly a small 
allowance on an old rig. Additional rooms were frequently added or a 
spacious veranda in the rear where the children could safely play in 
winter. English, girls, much in demand as companions for a brood of 
young children, could usually be found if a family agreed to keep one 
from ten until eighteen. 11 Ornamental trees and box hedging, as well 
as fruit trees and flowers, were becoming essential outdoor accessories, 
while a visit to one of the local nurseries provided an agreeable spring 
time chore. Sanitary wooden pumps replaced the open buckets in back 
yard wells, and improved sewers decreased the cistern problem, but the 
outdoor necessary remained, supplemented perhaps by the chamber 
maid. Though washing machines appeared as the latest novelty in 1843, 
that distinction went a few years later to Bates 7 Patent Chamber Shower 
Bath. It was no longer necessary, the advertiser declared, to bathe in 
a washtub in the kitchen, for the new shower bath could be set up in a 
bedroom or parlor; already the patrons of Blossom s Hotel enjoyed this 
convenience. 117 

The standard of domestic comfort fell sharply with the arrival of 
cold weather. The better homes, which had formerly boasted a fireplace 
in each downstairs room, were in some cases bricking them shut, as the 
new parlor stoves, or more rarely a hot-air furnace in the cellar proved 
sufficient, though many clung to the traditional "blazing hearth," despite 
the scorn of stove advertisements. With the price of wood rising from 
two to five dollars a cord, closing the fireplaces, which consumed as much 
as ten cords each during the winter, promised relief at the chopping 
block, yet coal for the furnace proved no less expensive, costing five 
dollars a ton in the late forties, 118 It was much simpler, J. M. Schermer- 
horn decided, to take a suite at the Temperance House, where all of 
these problems were solved for you, although that arrangement had its 
disadvantages, as he discovered when the "Band of Music in the Ball 
Room" continued until a late hour and with other distractions delayed 
his retirement until eleven and sometimes even till midnight. 119 

Most Rochesterians enjoyed few of these conveniences. The attractive 
appearance of Rochester, described on one occasion as the "handsomest 

116 Mrs. Silas EL Smith to Mrs. Freeman Clarke, Rochester, Mar. 29, 1837, 
Clarke MSS, courtesy of Mrs. Buell Mills, Rochester; Schermerhorn Letters, 
June 7, 1843. 

117 J. T. Andrews, Weather Book, passim; New Genesee Farmer, May, 1840, 
p. 69; Democrat, Sept. 20, 1843; Genesee Farmer, June, 1848, p. 161; Advertiser, 
Mar. 26, 1846. 

i* 8 New Genesee Farmer, October, 1840, p. 145; November, 1842, p. 173; 
Andrews Weather Book, March, -1848. 

119 Schermerhorn Letters, Nov. 30, Dec. 21, 1842; Jan. 17, 1843. 


city in the Union, with two exceptions, New Haven and Richmond," **> 
caused many to overlook its less seemly features. A small Negro quarter 
was developing west of High Street, scarcely a stone s throw from the 
elegant homes of the Third Ward where many of these folk found 
employment. 121 Scattered old rookeries, rambling structures hastily 
thrown up during boom years to house the increasing number of poor 
folk, stood scattered about, neglected until the number of cholera 
fatalities in 1848 exposed their wretched conditions. 122 Some of the 
worst of these tenements were being cleared away, generally by fire, 
as in the case of the so-called Dublin Castle in which seventy-five poor 
Irish families had been crowded, 123 but the cheap two- or three-room 
cottages on the outskirts, into which the poor were moving, while made 
attractive enough on the outside by coats of white or yellow paint and 
vegetable or flower gardens, provided meager quarters for the large 
families of the day. One observer described many of the new houses 
erected in 1842 as "noble structures of 16 feet square." *** Frequently 
lacking a cellar or cistern and poorly plastered if at all, their advantages 
over the log cabins of the past proved few indeed. 125 A Franklin stove 
might provide more heat than the drafty fireplaces, and a lard lamp 
better light than the traditional candle, 128 but no doubt it afforded great 
consolation to be able to elect a president said to have been reared under 
less favorable circumstances. 

The contrasts between the three hundred pretentious residences and 
the six thousand less substantial houses were possibly more striking 
than other differences in domestic standards. One traveler found that 
"provisions at Rochester are as good and plentiful as in any city in the 
Union New York not excepted," while others commented on the 
abundance of meats, fruit, and vegetables available in season. 127 The 
bountiful breakfasts of pioneer days had given way to a lighter fare, 
with hot cornbread as the staple, but other meals lost none of their 
weight. Even on a fast day, J. T. Andrews noted that his housekeeper 
served potatoes, fish, beefsteak, liver, bread and butter, pickles, pie and 
cake. The favor shown by continental immigrants for fruit and vege 
tables appeared a community hazard during the cholera epidemic, yet 
the product of the many backyard gardens remained of large importance 
to most families. A series of lectures by Sylvester Graham stimulated a 

120 Raymond Scrapbook, p. 134. 

121 Democrat, Aug. 27, 1834; N. Y. Census (1845), plate 27, i. 
^Raymond Scrapbook, pp. 173, 228-229. 

323 Samson |prapbook, No. 41, p. 63. 

124 Advertiser, Mar. 15, 1842. 

125 Workingman s Advocate, Feb. u, 28, 29, 1840. 

126 Genesee Farmer, October, 1849 > May, 1850. 

127 Houston, Hesperos, I, 108; New Genesee Farmer, August, September, Oc 
tober, 1842, pp. 120, 136, 148. See also Martin, Standard of Living, pp. 11-82. 


new interest in dietary matters, while the development of a commercial 
ice industry made possible an advance in health standards, though the 
effect on the average household was probably slight 128 

The tables maintained by the leading hotels were popular among 
residents and travelers alike. Grace Greenwood, who "love[d] to visit 
Rochester/ though the absence of "old familiar faces" of her school 
days proved depressing, stopped frequently at the Eagle Hotel, which 
she described as a "home-like sort of a place" with a good table. 
Schermerhorn found the fare at the Temperance House a bit too fine 
for his taste. 129 Banqueting out generally provided the high point of any 
and all celebrations, whether on Independence Day, the visit of a 
celebrity, or the printers annual commemoration of Franklin s birthday. 
A wide selection of a half-dozen roasts, an equal number of boiled or 
broiled meats, oysters and fish in varied forms, a dozen pastries and 
other desserts topped off with fruit enabled local printers to give due 
honor to the "First American" in 1847. A year later the pioneer settlers 
of Rochester, gathering to relive the scenes of the past, were not satis 
fied until a selection of vegetables was added to the printers menu. 130 


But "the principal charm of Rochester," said Alexander Mackay, 
after describing the beauty of its gorge and the remarkable energy of 
its commerce and industry, "is in its social circle, which is intellectual, 
highly cultivated, hospitable, frank and warm hearted."- 1 ? 1 Horace 
Greeley declared that "Rochester is the most republican city of our 
State the least pampered by distinctions of class or prejudices of 
sect." 132 Another observer noted "less show of expensive equipage and 
foolish style of living in Rochester than in any other place of the size 
within my knowledge." On further inquiry he learned that "the aristoc 
racy, or the scrub nobility, were very limited," and that "the mechanics 
and small tradesmen are ... the moving spirits of the city." 133 

Rochester s social elite still functioned much as an enlarged family 
circle, with its hospitality checked only by the facilities of the largest 
mansions. The young folk kept a succession of gay parties running 
through each January and February in the numerous big houses, and 

^Advertiser, Sept. 15, 1849; Andrews Weather Book, April, 18475 E. Scrantom, 
Diary, Jan. 3, 1840; Samson Scrapbook, No. 51, p. 27. Ice was generally regarded 
as a household luxury prior to 1850, but found increased use in the brewing 

129 Grace Greenwood, letter of Aug. i, 1849, Raymond Scrapbook, p. 132; 
Schermerhorn Letters, Nov. 30, 1842. 

130 Raymond Scrapbook, pp. 30, 71; Democrat, Dec. 3, 1840. 

131 Mackay, The Western World, III, 113. 

132 N. Y. Tribune (1849), Raymond Scrapbook, p. 137. 

133 "Opinions of Rochester: 1848," Syracuse Star clipping, no date, Raymond 
Scrapbook, p. 56. 


no doubt the lists of guests if combined would have supplied a tentative 
social register. The old custom of gathering at four in the afternoon 
was giving way to the evening party which sometimes continued until 
midnight, but the guests still attended as family delegations rather than 
in couples. 1 4 If a promising young clerk, such as Cyrus F. Paine, earn 
ing four hundred dollars a year, wished to court his boss s daughter, he 
might escort her to midweek prayer service without offense, or they 
might join the family in an apple-paring match or in a song f est around 
the piano in the sitting room. On one occasion Cyrus confided to his 
journal that he had "sat with EL in the parlor! 3 135 Young Paine was 
benefiting from the recently adopted seven o clock closing hour. 
Although agitation for this practice had started in 1841, when a Clerk s 
Association argued that "that hour [9 P.M.] is altogether too late to 
afford us the means to enter into the society of those whose restraining 
influence would at once refine our manners and purify our hearts," yet 
it was December, 1848, before the reform was achieved, and then only 
for the winter months. 186 

Less circumspect perhaps, but more full of zest, were the midwinter 
balls of the military units and volunteer fire companies. Indeed these 
festive occasions, usually held at the Eagle Hotel and sometimes number 
ing as many as thirty dances, easily overshadowed the more exclusive 
mansion parties. 137 . Third Ward daughters might be kept at home, but it 
proved difficult to restrict the freedom of the young men. More than one 
city father was finding the control of his sons a serious problem one 
which a year at sea or in a distant academy did not solve. Mothers 
could not always choose their daughters-in-law, and at least one parent, 
a respected deacon of a leading church, was held blameworthy by a close 
friend for not following "the Word of God s Truth" and applying the 
rod when necessary j 188 

The younger members of some of the leading families made one 
dramatic effort in January, 1847, to reestablish their social ascendency 
by a costume party at the home of Mrs. William EL Greenough, where 
the elite gathered to the number of seventy-six. The gala affair prompted 
two young and dashing newcomers hi Rochester, Leonard and Lawrence 
Jerome, to bring out an amusing account in prose and verse of The 
Fancy Party in which the costumes and the personalities were generously 
puffed up. But the "unsoaped" had their spokesman as well when a 
second pamphlet followed with a satirical account of The Great Upper- 

134 Elisabeth S, S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Aug. 2, 1839, E - S. S. Eaton 
Letters; Andrews Weather Book, January-February, 1846; January-February, 

136 Cyrus F. Paine, Journal, MS in Roch. Hist. Soc. 

136 Advertiser } Oct. i, 1841, Nov. 30, 1848. 

187 Miscellaneous Programs and Invitations, MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

^Schennerhonx Letters, Dec. 21, 1842. 


crust Party. Illustrated with a series of grotesque woodcuts, the second 
and more facetious account burlesqued the show ? demonstrating that 
Rochester had developed a lusty sense of humor and was fully able 
to put its "scrub nobility" in its place. 1 9 

Indeed, social activities were becoming more numerous and more 
animated as the years advanced. Thaiiksglving remained a family day, 
but New Year s Eve celebrations expanded into community affairs, with 
scores of friends marching the rounds together, visiting the homes where 
candle displays assured a cheery welcome. The liberal supply of 
"champaigne" served at several houses in 1841 prompted the organiza 
tion of a temperance party at a local hotel the next New Year s Eve, 
with the invitation, extended to the public generally, signed by "Santa 
Clans," who described himself as "the universal friend of children." 14 
Christmas remained a quiet religious day, highlighted by a sermon and 
a family feast. St. Nicholas was already filling the stockings of good 
children, and the appearance of Rochester s first Christmas tree in 

1840, erected in front of the newly established Lutheran Church by a 
small group of Germans, provided a sparkling omen of a new trend. 141 
Andrews Street hill continued to attract young coasters, some sporting 
new store sleds, while skating on the ice within the sheltered trough of 
the aqueduct became popular during the late thirties. The jolly sleigh 
rides of earlier days increased in number, until hi 1843 as many as 
fifteen hundred sleighs were counted in the city during a single day. 142 

Summer months offered new attractions as well. Citizen committees 
prepared weeks in advance for the proper celebration of each successive 
Fourth, now a joyous holiday, rich with democratic ceremony. Visiting 
military or fire companies eagerly joined the ever-extending ranks of the 
paraders, and although efforts to curb the use of firecrackers and to 
reduce the consumption of liquor generally proved futile, the city was 
fortunately spared the more serious accidents of neighboring celebra 
tions. 143 The arrival of volunteer firemen from Cobourg across the lake 
prompted the first torchlight procession in 1848, the same year that 

139 The Fancy Party (Rochester, 1847) ; The Great Upper-Crust Party (Ironde- 
quoit, 1847) ; Arthur C. Parker, "The Funny-Bone of Early Rochester," R. H. S., 
Pub., XI, 135-139- 

140 The Penny Preacher, Dec. 13, 1842; Union Grays Record Book, Jan. i, 

1841, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

141 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Dec. 25, 1839, E. S. S. 
Eaton Letters; Advertiser, Dec. 29, 1840; George Ellwanger s Scrapbook. 

142 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Nov. 28, 1839, E. S. S. 
Eaton Letters; Andrews Weather Book, Dec. 2$, -1847; Schermerhorn Letters, 
Dec. 21, 1842 ; Rossiter Johnson, "The Grandest Playground in the World," R. H. S., 
Pub*, VII, 77; "Reminiscences of J. L. H. Mosier," Union and Advertiser, Feb. 12, 

^Democrat, July 6, 1839; July 6, 8, 1842; Advertiser, June 15, 20, 1840; 
July 5, 10, 1845; E. Scrantom, Diary, July 4, 1837. 


another colorful parade demonstrated local sympathy for the French 
revolution. 144 At least forty-one visits by traveling circuses occurred 
during the period, one of them in 1846 displaying eighty-two horsemen, 
two elephants^ and numerous other animals. The famous clown, Dan 
Rice, made Ms first appearance that year, and the following season, 
when P. T, Bamum arrived to arrange a fitting reception for General 
Tom Thumb, a local editor, observing that dollars rather than dimes 
were being carted away, declared that Rochester had gone "circus-mad." 
But the city had as yet seen nothing to compare with the caravan of 
elephants and camels that tramped through its streets in i8so. 145 
Perhaps the most sensational event of the period was the balloon as 
cension, staged by Lewis A. Lauriat, widely advertised to take off from 
State Street on September 8, 1836. Though the initial attempt ended in 
failure, almost in riot, when the disappointed crowd was thrown into 
confusion by the collapse of the grandstand, Lauriat redeemed himself 
a few days later; yet another decade passed before Rochester again 
witnessed a balloon ascension. 146 

Organized sports did not begin to appear until near the mid-century, 
but outdoor amusements were meanwhile developing. The aldermen of 
1836 considered it necessary to ban kite-flying, shooting, and swimming 
within the city limits, and a decade later added ball-throwing to the 
Hst. 1 * 7 As there were no restraints on fishing, Edwin Scrantom took his 
wife and son for an outing on Irondequoit Bay during which they 
caught "forty fine fish." 148 When in 1849 a Sportsman s Club formed, 
624 pigeons rewarded one day s hunt in the newly prescribed hunting 
season. 140 Two cricket clubs, organized in 1847, staged occasional 
games, 150 and much popular interest attended a horse race on the ice at 
Kelsey s landing in January, 1846, but local track fans had to resort to 
Buffalo for their sport until 1849, when annual three-day trotting 
matches with sulkies, climaxed by a race between the two local 
favorites, Jack Rossiter and St. Lawrence, for purses ranging from 
$100 to $500, attracted crowds of more than two thousand to the 
Carthage track, renamed the Rochester Union Course in i8so. 151 

144 Raymond Scrapbook, pp. 63, 79, 173; Democrat, May 5, 9, 1848. 

145 Democrat, July 15, 1833; Sept. 8, 1846; June 22, Aug. 6, 1847; Genesee 
OUo, June 16, 1847; May 3, 1849; Andrews Weather Book, July 1,^1846; May, 
July, 1850. 

^Rock. Republican, Sept. 6, 13, 27, 1836; Aug. 17, 1847; Democrat, July i, 
Aug. 13, 1845; Dorothy S. Truesdale, "Mr. Lauriat and His Balloon," H. H. S., 
Pub., XVIII, 203-205. 

^Ordinances (1836), pp. 16-17; (1848), p. 45. 

148 E. Scrantom, Diary, June 18, 1838. 
^Roch. Republican, Dec. 27, 1849; Democrat, Mar. 27, 1841; Nov. 21, 1849. 

**Rock. Republican, Aug. 28, 1847. 

^Advertiser, Jan. 12, 1846; Aug. 18, 1847; Dec. 3, 1849; May 10, Oct. 21, 24, 


Driving was a favorite relaxation for those able to afford a carriage, 
while horseback riding supplied exercise to young and old alike. A visit 
to the docks, the mouth of the river ; a neighboring village, or a distant 
friend s home provided agreeable outings. 1 "" More extended trips were 
eagerly welcomed when business or poor health supplied an excuse. One 
was sure to encounter numerous Rochesterians in New York City, 
Schermerhorn discovered, while O Reilly had the same experience in 
New Orleans. Levi W. Sibley, Edwin Scrantom s partner, wrote from 
Georgia, another from Texas, and several from both Florida and Cali 
fornia, reporting varied experiences. European travel was becoming more 
frequent, and one favored resident of the Rochester area enjoyed a visit 
to the Holy Land. 153 

Though extensive travel remained beyond the means of most 
RochesterianSj agreeable substitutes were at hand. An excursion on 
the small steamer, Paul Pry, from Carthage around into Irondequoit 
Bay, a cruise on the lake, or a ride on the steam cars might prove ex 
citing, 154 while a leisurely stroll on Falls Field to view the main falls, 
to marvel at the number and size of the mills with which man had sur 
rounded its foaming torrent, and perhaps to enjoy a drink at one of the 
provision stands located there in fair seasons, provided relaxation on 
the Sabbath or other holidays. The old Museum on Exchange Street, 
now displaying at the door two monster oyster shells brought from the 
South Pacific, continued to attract the curious. 155 

Promenading along Main and Buffalo or State and Exchange streets, 
where a few plate glass store fronts began to appear at the mid-century, 
afforded ladies the new joys of window shopping. A local editor warned 
that these streets would never rival Broadway in fashion as long as 
some merchants encumbered the walks with empty boxes or hung their 
awnings so low that a five-foot lady could not pass under them upright. 
When, however, the stores and factories closed, "between sundown and 
nine in the evening, Main Street, from State to the east side of the 
river," declared one observer, "presents a fair and full miniature of 
Broadway in New York by the throng of people passing to and fro. So 

152 Elisabeth S. S. Eaton to her husband, Rochester, Aug. 18, 31, 1846, E. S. S. 
Eaton Letters; Andrews Weather Books, passim; New Genesee Farmer, February, 
1840, p. 25; "Mineral Springs of Monroe County," Assembly Doc. (1838), No. 200. 

153 E. S. S. Eaton Letters, 1837-1841 ; Schermerhorn Letters, July i, 1841, Aug. 23, 
1842; Q Reilly Letters, New Orleans, Feb. 13, 1835, L. W. Sibley to Henry 
O Reilly, Savannah, Dec., 1841, K. H. Van Rensselaer to O Reilly, San Antonio, 
Texas, 1839, O Reilly Doc,; David Millard, A Journal of Travels in Egypt . . . 
and the Holy Land (Rochester, 1843). 

154 Volunteer, June 19, 1841; Roch. Republican, Aug. 4, 1846; D. S. Curtis to 
O ReiUy, Buffalo, Apr. i, 1842, O Reilly Doc. 

155 Houston, Hesperos, I, no; "Reminiscences of Hosier," Union and Advertiser, 
Feb. 12, 1884. 


dense is the crowd that one is compelled to elbow Ms way along." 156 
A variety of social organizations added another feature to the life 
of the city. Though Masonic lodges did not reappear in Rochester until 
the late forties, several societies of Odd Fellows were meanwhile formed, 
despite considerable hostility. Numerous religious, humanitarian, and 
trade organizations provided outlets for social energies; 15T yet perhaps 
the most colorful activity was that of the various military units. Five 
Wei-organized companies of citizen soldiers emerged during the period 
from earlier bodies: the Rochester Union Grays, the Williams Light In 
fantry, the Irish Volunteers, the German Grenadiers, and the City Cadets. 
In addition to their frequent drills, dress parades, temporary encamp 
ments, and excursions to distant military reviews, an armory maintained 
in the Market Building attracted a stream of curious visitors for many 
years. 158 The Mexican War enlisted the volunteer service of several 
score of these militiamen. The fortunes of seventy-odd Rochesterians 
under Captain Caleb Wilder, who ultimately crossed the Rio Grande, 
suffering a few casualties, helped to counteract local opposition to the 
war. 15 A public demonstration, celebrating a series of American vic 
tories, attracted several thousand citizens to the court house square on 
one occasion. Yet the Mexican War failed to stir the interest previously 
aroused in Rochester by the so-called Patriot s War across the Canadian 
border. 16 * 

Foreign-born citizens were becoming sufficiently numerous to support 
benevolent as well as church and military societies. Scottish residents 
early established a local branch of the St. Andrew Society and assembled 
several score of their countrymen at each yearly banquet, 161 while the 
annual St. Patrick s Day celebration of the Irish became a colorful event 
in the life of the city. The Repealers, or the Friends of Ireland, organized 
locally in 1841, held * enthusiastic meetings at which small sums were 
gathered in the early forties for the cause of Irish independence. When 
the potato famine of the mid-forties turned popular attention to the 
more urgent need for relief, a fund of $2,647.06 was raised in May, 1847, 

136 Genesee Olio, Sept 23, 1848; Raymond Scrapbook, p. 56; Fredrika Bremer, 
The Homes of the New World: Impressions of America (New York, 1853), p. 581. 

^Democrat, June 20, 1849; Advertiser, Oct. 7, 1841; June 24, 1848; Sept. 5, 
1850; Directory (1847), pp. 9-26; Thomas Gliddon, History of Hamilton Chapter, 
No. 63, Royal Arch Masons (Rochester, 1879), PP- 25-30. 

158 Union Grays, Register of Visitors to the Armory, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc.; 
Wheeler C. Case, "Rochester s Citizen Soldiers," R. H. S., Pub., XIV, 238-257. 

159 Rock. Republican, Feb. 23, Apr. 20, May 4, June 29, July 6, 13, 1847; 
Democrat, Feb. 25, May 4, 1847; Aug. 25, 1848; Advertiser, July 18, Aug. 2, 1848. 

<*Roch. RepubUcan, Dec. 19, 26, 1837; Jan. 2, 9, 16, 23, Apr. 24, June 5, 
July 10, 1838. 

^Anti-Masonic Inquirer, Dec. 13, 1831; Democrat, Feb. 13, 1844; Dec. 2, 1850. 


for that purpose. 162 By the late forties local German societies likewise 
appeared, giving expression to gymnastic, musical, and other native 
interests. Though the first performance of the German band in 1848 
did not attract universal favor, the opening of a "Turn Verein" hall that 
fall provided a center for the cultural development of this important 
immigrant group. 163 

With a widening horizon and an increasingly urban character many 
of Rochester s earlier restraints were relaxed, giving fuller scope to 
the rising common man. Albert G. Hall warned Ms flock at Third 
Church against the dangers of the theater, the novel, mixed dancing, 
and the modern styles of women s dress but to little avail. 16 * Though 
amusements associated with gambling remained illegal throughout the 
period, their suppression became increasingly difficult. A public meeting 
to protest the ordinances proscribing billiard tables and ninepin alleys 
incited larger gatherings by those supporting the regulation, yet the 
overseer of the poor received a steady revenue in the fines collected from 
gambling houses. 165 

As further evidence of increased urbanity, patrons of the drama 
finally achieved the establishment of a permanent theater by the end 
of the period. The long gap between visits from theatrical troupes, fol 
lowing the brief visit in 1830 of the youthful Louisa Lane, 166 ended in 
1835 when the Charleston Players secured a license from the briefly 
victorious Democrats. 167 That and another brief engagement were fol 
lowed by a four-week dramatic season in 1837 when a troupe from 
Buffalo endeavored to establish a branch theater in Rochester. But, 
despite much Shakespeare and some local color, the attempt failed, and 
O Reilly was compelled to report one theater converted into a livery- 
stable and the circus building closed. 168 A new and more promising 
venture appeared in 1840, when Edwin Dean, manager of the Eagle 
Street Theater in Buffalo, leased and remodelled Concert Hall on 
Exchange Street, opening with a talented company. His wife and 
daughter, Julia, destined to win wide approval a few years later, 

162 Roch. Republican, Mar. 22, 1842; June T, 1847; Democrat, Mar. 20, 1843; 
Feb. 15, 1847; Advertiser, Aug. 14, 1847; O Reilly Doc., No. 1727. 

163 Genesee Olio, Sept. 23, Oct. 7, 18*48; Peck, History of Rochester, pp. 481-496. 

164 Rev. A. G. Hall, A Sermon on the Seventh Commandment (Rochester, 

165 Democrat, Feb. 20, 25, Mar. 10, 1843; Jan. i, May 21, 23, 1845; "Report 
of the Committee on Grievances," no date, probably 1839, MS, Hist. Soc. Roch. 

166 Advertiser, Sept 9, 1830. 

167 Democrat, July n, 16, Aug. i, 1835. 

168 Democrat, Sept. 9, 1835; Mar. 2, 14, 21, 1837; O Reilly, Sketches of Roches 
ter, p. 317. 


J. B. Rice, soon to become influential as a theater manager in Chicago , 
and Mrs. Rice, daughter of William Warren, the talented comedian of 
the Boston Museum, comprised the leading stock characters, supporting 
such visiting actors as Edwin Forrest, Joseph Parker, and Mrs. McClure ? 
who ultimately remarried in Rochester and made the city her home. A 
wide selection of plays included Shakespearean dramas, many light 
farces 3 spectacles such as "Cherry and Fair Star," and numerous melo 
dramas as "Nick in the Woods," as well as the oft-repeated "Forty 
Thieves" and "Children of Cypress." A special performance entitled 
"Sam Patch in France/ 7 written and played by the popular Dan Marble, 
made amusing use of a locally famous character. 169 

Despite its auspicious beginning and creditable offerings, the Dean 
Theater soon encountered difficulties. The return visits of the revivalist, 
Charles Finney, in the early forties strengthened the ardor of the 
theater s opponents. Even the Workingman s Advocate, which had af 
forded generous advertising space for a time, became more critical. 
With the demise of that paper the theater was forced to rely largely 
upon bills posted conspicuously on the bridge. For two or three years 
interested Rochesterians shared with devotees of the theater in Buffalo 
the occasional services of the struggling company, but the death of his 
wife and the desire to give Julia a wider range of audiences, coupled with 
local hostility 3 finally prompted Dean to close the theater in 1842 
or i843. 170 

Yet the city continued to enjoy a varied assortment of entertainments. 
Not only was Concert Hall frequently in use, but Irving Hall in Smith s 
Arcade and the ballrooms of the Morton House and other hotels pro 
vided accommodations for temperance plays, moral exhibitions of 
"Pilgrim s Progress" and "The Reformed Drunkard" among other 
subjects designed to cultivate pious tastes, concerts by local and visiting 
choral societies, and public lectures. The balcony of the Eagle Hotel 
afforded a convenient concert stand for the Adams Band or one of its 
three rivals of the late forties. The happy combination of band music 
and ice cream was discovered at church festivals as well as at the City 
Gardens located in the northwest outskirts and Palmer s Garden on the 
east side, where a fireworks exhibit or other entertainment generally 
supplied additional amusement. 171 

The Academy of Sacred Music, organized in 1835, the Mechanics 

169 WorUngmarfs Advocate, Jan. 13, 17, Feb. 18, 26, Mar. 7, 31, 1840; Adver 
tiser, Nov. 27, Dec. 22, 1841; Nellie E. Bitz, "A Half -Century of Theater in Early 
Rochester," M. A. thesis, Univ. of Syracuse, pp. 63-76, 159-160. 

1TO Bitz ) pp. 70, 77-85; Rock. Republican, July 19, 1842; Advertiser, Dec. 22, 
1841; Jan. 15, Aug. 5, 9, 1842; George M. Elwood, "Some Early Public Amuse 
ments in Rochester," R. H. $., Pub., I, 28-31; "Julia Dean," D. A. B., V, 170. 

171 Democrat, July i, 1842; June 19, 1843; May 30, 1844; June 28, 1845; Ad 
vertiser, May 30, 1849. 


Musical Association, started two years later, the Harmonic, and other 
choral societies maintained active programs under the direction of 
successive church organists, notably Robert Barron, who arrived from 
Boston in the early forties. 372 Perhaps the first distinctly Continental in 
fluence was that brought by the Rainer family, which paid a first visit 
in the spring of 1840, returning in the fall two years later, and intro 
duced jodels ? Tirolese dancing, and other German arts to Rochester 
audiences. 173 

A new impetus was given to local music developments in 1843 when 
Mason and Webb of the Boston Academy of Music conducted a series 
of classes at the First Church. At the close of the twelve-day course, local 
teachers of vocal music and choir members in attendance voted for the 
return of their Eastern mentors a year later, thus forging a vital cultural 
link between the Flour City and Boston, the music capital of the day. 
The Rochester Music Festivals, the first organized outside Boston, were 
repeated annually for many years, remaining under the tutelage of 
Mason and Webb until the mid-century, and it was through this channel 
that English and German influences were received. 174 Another contact 
with Europe was provided, moreover, when Henry Russell, the English- 
born ballad singer, resident in Rochester in the mid-thirties, journeyed 
eastward and abroad, for the reports of his achievements brought joy 
to local music lovers. 175 Local talent gained wider recognition as Miss 
Marion McGreggor s reputation spread. 176 Distinguished visiting per 
formers of the period included Ole Bull, the violinist, the Hutchinson 
Family, the Swiss Bell-Ringers, "Christy s far-famed band of Ethiopian 
Minstrels," and the juvenile prodigy, Theodore Thomas. 177 

The welcome accorded these musical artists prompted a rapid ex 
pansion of the city s entertainment facilities. Minerva Hall opened on 
the east side in 1845, and the old theater or concert hall reopened the 
next year as the Dramatic Saloon. 178 Though the latter venture proved 

172 Democrat, Jan. 7, 1836, Aug. 18, Sept. 6, 1842; Jan. 26, 1843; July 9, 1844; 
May 29, 1845; Rack. Republican, May 15, 1838; July 27, 1841; Nov. 3, 1846. 

173 Democrat, May 29, 1840; Aug. 26, 1842. 

i Democrat, Sept. 7, 1843; Aug. 23, 1844; Sept. 8, 1845; Sept. 22, 1848; I am 
obliged to Dr. Rolf King of the University of Rochester for access to an unpub 
lished article studying the German influences on music in Rochester during this 
period. See also John T. Howard, Our American Music (New York, c. 1930), pp. 

ITS "Henry Russell," Nat. Cyc. of Amer. Biog., V, 249. 

176 Democrat, Feb. u, 1842. A visitor from Boston said of Miss McGreggor, 
"The citizens of Rochester may well be proud of her as I assure them they would 
not find her equal between their city and ours." 

177 R. H. Lansing, "Music in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., II, 137-143; Adver 
tiser, June 18, 1844; "Ole Bull," Nat. Cyc. of Amer. Biog., IV, 234; "Hutchinson 
Family," X, 26-27; Rolf King, "Theodore Thomas* First Visit to Rochester," 
R. H. S., Pub., XVIII, 211-215. 

178 Advertiser, Oct. 29, 1846; Sept. 29, 1847; Sept. 27-30, 1848; Bitz, pp. 90-98. 


unsuccessful, a new effort at the close of 1848 finally established a per 
manent theater in the Enos Stone Building on the site later occupied by 
Cook s Opera House on South Avenue. With the hall decorated by Colby 
Kimball and lighted by seventy-five gas burners supplied by the 
recently established gas company, accommodations for one thousand 
were advertised. The theatrical company of Thomas Carr and Henry 
Warren, whose support was shared by Buffalo, journeyed back and forth 
between the two cities, while Eastern stars stopped over occasionally 
for brief seasons during theatrical tours, among them Julia Dean, now 
enjoying a national reputation. 179 Meanwhile, the opening of a new 
Concert Hall on State Street, the provision of a Turner hall for the 
German societies, and finally in 1849 tk e construction of the large and 
imposing Corinthian HaU by William Reynolds supplied Rochester with 
ample facilities for cultural improvement and entertainment. 180 

Rochesterians greeted with special favor the occasional arrival of 
portrait painters. Grove S. Gilbert, who made his home in the city after 
1834, was "the artist of Rochester," as Grace Greenwood (and many 
another observer) declared, regretting that he should squander his 
talent on portraits. Some forty Rochester families cherished his sympa 
thetic portrayals of favored relations, 181 and much was added to the 
dignity and elegance of numerous Rochester mansions by the impressive 
oil portraits by Gilbert, Colby Kimball, Alva Bradish, and Thomas 
LeClear among several others. 182 Those who could not afford such a 
luxury were accommodated after 1841 by visiting daguerreotype artists. 
Eugene Sintzenich, who conducted such a studio in the forties, was 
brought to the city hi 1839 by Abelard Reynolds to decorate the walls 
at the entrance of the Arcade with murals of Niagara, an operation 
which attracted an untiring crowd of onlookers. 188 The girls academies 
and private students afforded additional support for several of these 
artists and their numerous associates, who joined in a Rochester As 
sociation of Artists in 1843. Murals for the theaters, opened in 1840 and 
1848, and interior fresco work for some of the new stores supplied oc 
casional employment, but art remained a very precarious livelihood. 184 

Despite the lack of a suitable gallery, numerous exhibits were suc 
cessfully held, usually in the accommodating Court House. Colby 

179 Democrat, Apr. 4, 1848; Feb. 5-16, 1849; Advertiser, Dec. 12, 1849; Jan. 10, 
1850; Bitz, pp. 99-110. 

18a Elwaod, "Some Early Public Amusements," pp. 31-44. 

181 Grace Greenwood, letter of Aug. i, 1849, Raymond Scrapbook, p. 132. 
"Paintings of Grove S. Gilbert," R. H. S., Pub., XIV, 54-60. 

182 Clifford M. Ulp, "Art and Artists in Rochester," R. H. S., Pub., XTV, 31-33; 
Democrat, Sept. 3, 1840; "Thomas LeClear," D. A. B., XI, 86-87. 

183 Sun, June 20, 1839; Gem, June 26, 1841. 

^Democrat, Oct. 3, 1843; Feb. 17, 1844; Advertiser, Feb. 17, 1844. The As 
sociation urged the establishment of an academy of art. 


Kimball felt It necessary, when displaying Ms portraits there in 1836, to 
add a live alligator for attraction, but later exhibits of historical paint 
ings, sacred paintings, miniatures, and European paintings followed 
without such supports. 1 * 5 Works by noted artists of the day were oc 
casionally exhibited at a leading hotel in the course of a tour by the artist 
or his agent, and some such arrangement brought Benjamin West s 
"Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple" to Talman s Hall for a brief 
showing in 1843, while the same artist s "Death on a Pale Horse" 
provided the subject for a public lecture two years later. 186 Traveling 
artists, stopping long enough to make a sketch of the aqueduct or 
the falls, readily displayed samples of their work, At the same time 
the growing art collections of New York and other cities attracted 
Rochesterians on their numerous journeys, though J. T. Andrews was 
disappointed to find that Hiram Powers "Greek Slave," which he had 
gone out of his way to see, was such an "improper exhibition." "The hu 
man form," he concluded, "looks better dressed than undressed." 187 

No doubt the properly groomed matrons Andrews was accustomed to 
drive about town eagerly followed the "Latest Paris Fashions" as re 
ported in the Gem or one of the other local papers. Straw bonnets with 
a white ribbon or a curled ostrich feather hanging from the side of the 
wide brim were in fashion in 1840. Velvet or satin robes decorated with 
lace distinguished the well-to-do woman from one of modest means who 
covered her shoulders and back with a shawl fitted to the season. The 
plain house dress of calico or wool gave place on occasion to a Sunday 
or party dress with tight sleeves, low and frequently square neck, tight 
waist, and flounced skirts with an occasional sign of a bustle. Light 
shades of green or blue were preferred, and the high top shoe colored 
"ashes of roses" or some other appropriate tint and decorated with 
numerous buttons marked the respectable lady, though, as the Reverend 
Hall complained, the trend in fashion was such that a young man could 
no longer distinguish the virtuous from the vile all copied the latest 
Paris or London fashion plate. 188 


As in the religious and social fields, so likewise in politics and journal 
ism Rochesterians were learning to express themselves more moderately 
and at the same time with greater success. A vigorous group of printers 
encouraged the efforts of numerous writers whose effusions, while not 

185 Democrat, June 10, 1837; Aug. 27, 1839; Dec. 7, 1843; Advertiser, Aug. 5, 


186 Rock. Republican, Apr. 18, 1843; Advertiser, Nov. 12, 1844; Sept. 23, 1845; 
"Benjamin West," D. A. B., XX, 6-9. 

187 Andrews Weather Books, August, 1847. 

IBS R ev< A. G. Hall, Sermon on the Seventh Commandment; Democrat, Oct. 16, 
1840; Feb. 6, 1841; Gem, June 12, 1841, and passim. 


displaying literary talent, gave evidence of the city s increased maturity. 
The history and traditions of the area provided the most congenial 
subjects, although a close tie to some religious or political objective 
usually appeared. 

National politics, only indirectly related to local problems and aspira 
tions, assumed the character of the favorite American sport. The emo 
tions aroused proved less intense than during the early thirties, but the 
election returns continued to express popular feelings rather than opin 
ions, while political strategy and fanfare developed apace. 

Rochester failed to develop political leadership comparable to that 
previously supplied by Thurlow Weed. Indeed, that strategist, confident 
of Ms hold on Rochester Whigs, was busy cultivating leaders in other 
areas of the state. Weed s local influence, based on his continued suc 
cess, found expression through Frederick Whittlesey, his close friend, and 
George Dawson, his disciple, who served as editor of the Democrat from 
time to time between 1836 and 1846, when Alvah Strong, another 
Rochester friend of Weed, assumed charge. The repeated defeats suf 
fered by local Jacksonians discouraged successive leaders. Luther Tucker 
turned to agricultural journalism in 1839; Henry O Reilly hung on for 
a time as postmaster but finally followed Tucker to Albany in 1842, 
where as first editor of the Atlas he helped to split the Democrats of 
New York state. Thomas H. Hyatt, who succeeded to the Advertiser 
and the Republican in 1839, struggled along with the aid of a succession 
of faltering partners until 1845 when Isaac Butts took over. No 
Rochester man of this period enjoyed state or national prominence in 
the political field. 1 * 9 

The absence of outstanding leaders did not detract from the demo 
cratic pageantry which increased with each election. The Hickory 
dubs, active in the Jackson campaigns, reappeared in 1836 in behalf 
of Van Buren, but the newly formed Whig party brought together 
enough Antimasons and old Clintonian and Adams men to poll a small 
majority in the city. 190 The discouragement of local Democrats was 
mitigated by the national victory, and their county treasurer, Luther 
Tucker, reported a balance of $10.91 out of the campaign fund of $503 , 191 

1S9 Professional and economic fields attracted Rochester s ablest men throughout 
this period. Timothy CMIds, despite eight years in Congress, exerted little influence, 
though Frederick WhittleseyJ who served two terms in Congress and eight years 
as vice-chancellor of the circuit court, left a creditable record, as did several other 
judges and many of the Rochester editors whose careers took them to Albany, 
Buffalo, Detroit, or New York in later years. See Peck, History of Rochester, pp. 
343-379; Advertiser, May i, 1839; Oct. 9, 1845; Democrat, Jan. 9, Dec. 8, 1846; 
O Reilly Doc., No. 2430; Weed Papers, 1834-1846; "George Dawson," Nat. Cyc. 
of Amer. Biog., H, 204; "Isaac Butts," D. A, B. 3 III, 378-379. 

**Roch. Republican, Oct. 18, 25, Nov. i, 15, 22, 1836. 

191 The Republican Central Committee to Luther Tucker, Treasurer, 1836, 
O Reffly Doc. 


Unfortunately the national patronage contained seeds of dissension, 
soon discovered when the principle of rotation replaced John B. Elwood 
by O Reilly as postmaster and Jacob Gould by James Smith as collector 
of the port. 192 

It was in the election of 1840 that politics gained its most colorful 
expression. The Democrats, who had temporarily captured the city 
council in 1837, suffered the odium of the depression and the unpopu 
larity of Van Buren s currency policy. The leaders, divided over the 
tariff and the Canadian question as well as the bank, were uncertain 
whether the platform should contain the principle of a the greatest 
good for the greatest number" or that of "equal rights and individual 
freedom." 193 The Whigs adroitly side-stepped all of these issues by 
switching at the last moment from Clay to Harrison, and with the glee 
ful construction of the city s first Log Cabin early in April, 1840, the 
local party prepared to ride roughshod over any arguments the opposi 
tion could muster. 194 

No other campaign in the city s first half-century engendered the 
interest aroused in 1840. Tippecanoe clubs appeared in each ward, 
countering the efforts of Loco Foco clubs. Ward, city, and county rallies 
followed each other in rapid succession, with appropriate addresses by 
local leaders. The rival editors, Dawson and Hyatt, vied in heaping in 
vective upon each other. The Whigs staged an impressive parade, with 
numerous floats from up the valley helping to extend the line of march 
two miles in length. 195 When finally the polls closed, an unprecedented 
total of n 3 303 votes had been cast in the county, approximately four- 
fifths of all eligible voters. Again the Whigs proved victorious,- though 
their majority in the city numbered only 317. The Whigs as usual 
enjoyed a much larger margin in the county, and this time they cap 
tured the state and nation as well. 196 

But the Whigs were bitterly disappointed when, after Harrison s 
early death, Tyler parted company with Clay and Weed. Though 
O Reilly was soon replaced by Samuel G. Andrews as postmaster, many 
local Whigs criticised the latter s political qualifications. 197 There was, 
however, much rejoicing among all factions of the party when Clay 
received the nomination in 1844. Clay clubs erected Ash poles to vie 
with the Hickory poles of the Democrats, and one of the former, stand 
ing two hundred feet high in front of the Eagle Hotel, bore its huge 
flag by day and lantern by night high above all the buildings in town. 

192 Sun, June 22, 1839; O Reilly Doc., Nos. if, 316. 

193 O Reilly Doc., Nos. 1057, 1229, 1581-1585. 
ld4 Democrat^ Apr. 7, 16, 27, 1840. 

195 Democrat, Sept. 9, 1840. 

196 Democrat, Nov. 7, 21, 1840. 
"^Democrat, Jan. 20, 29, 1842. 


Both parties staged conventions and outdoor rallies, though the leaders 
sewn realized that too many speeches might lose the election. Opinions 
were by no means harmonious in either camp, since both enrolled ad 
vocates of protection for infant industries and reciprocity with Canada; 
both desired a stable currency and more banks. Clay was roundly con 
demned as a card player by the Democrats, who gleefully employed the 
criticism, previously leveled at Van Buren, to the discomfiture of the 
Whigs, prompting some of the latter to swing to Birney and the Liberty 
party. However, Folk s stand on Texas roused still less support in 
Rochester, where, despite a sharp drop in the vote, the Whigs again 
carried each ward, chalking up a city majority of eighty-eight over 
the combined opposition. 198 

Though the Democrats could rejoice over state and national victories, 
disharmony appeared when Polk favored a conservative Democrat, 
Henry Campbell, for local postmaster, spurring the Van Buren faction, 
known as the Barnburners, to convene a separate caucus. By 1848 the 
latter, ready to bolt, joined the Free Soil party at Utica and Buffalo 
conventions. 199 The Republican and the Advertiser, swinging quickly to 
the new party, left the regular Democratic ticket poorly supported in 
the fall campaign. Rough and Ready clubs were organized for General 
Taylor by his Whig supporters, but enthusiasm waned on all sides, 
enabling the Whigs to win by a plurality in the smallest total vote of 
the decade. While a general illumination of all Whig houses in the city 
marked the celebration, and some five hundred Thanksgiving dinners 
were distributed to poor families by the Young Whigs, a strange spirit 
of lassitude was lamented by the Democrat. 200 


Politics absorbed a fair portion but by no means all of the energies of 
Rochester editors. New publications were frequently launched, occasion 
ally with non-political objectives, but as it required more than the in 
come from a few hundred subscribers to put a new paper on its feet, 
many of these ventures proved ephemeral. The two leading dailies, the 
Advertiser and the Democrat, enjoyed rich advertising profits. As each 
square of sixteen lines or less brought in seventeen dollars a year, an 
average of nearly five hundred advertisers assured a stable income, ena 
bling the publishers to run the same advertisements in their weekly edi 
tions (the Rochester Republican and the Monroe Democrat respectively) 

198 Democrat, Aug. 31, Sept 17, Oct. 18, Nov. i, 7, 14, 19, 1844; Advertiser, 
Oct. 28, 1844; O Reilly Doc., No. 1735. 

i* 9 Democrat, July 22, 1845, Aug. 12, 1848; Rock. Republican, June 15, 22, 
Sept 7, Nov. 30, 1848; Advertiser, Aug. 8, May n, 1848. The confused pattern 
of Democratic politics in New York State at this time is admirably set forth in 
Stewart Mitchell, Horatio Seymour (Cambridge, 1938) , pp. 46-120. 

200 Democrat, Nov. 16, 17, 1848; Advertiser, Nov. 15, 1848; Raymond Scrap- 
book, p. 70. 


at nominal rates. New weeklies, struggling for a foothold, had to battle 
this virtual monopoly, and with the exception of the vigorous Daily 
American, only the religious and agricultural papers prospered. Neverthe 
less, so numerous were the ventures and so successful the leaders that 
the Warsaw New Yorker praised Rochester for having the largest pro 
portion of readers and advertisers among New York state cities in 
1847 _ 

The failure of the leading papers to expand their four-page editions 
provided a strong incentive for new ventures. Occasionally the pub 
lishers themselves brought out new papers for special purposes, as 
when the Democrat issued the Rochester Daily Whig in 1840 and the 
Clay Bugle in 1844 as campaign sheets. The Workingman s Advocate, 
outgrowth of a printers strike in 1839, endeavored to follow a non- 
partisan line, but the Log Cabin campaign of 1840 proved a poor time 
for impartial journalism, as the Daily Sun and the Evening Express 
likewise discovered. The Workingman s Advocate (the only paper in 
the city willing to print theatrical advertisements) struggled along under 
varied names until, as the Western New Yorker, it was purchased and 
discontinued by the Democrat in 1843. The American, established in 
the mid-forties, enjoyed greater success and, under the energetic 
management of the Jerome brothers and the editor, Alexander Mann, a 
staunch Clay supporter, soon challenged the Democrat s leadership of 
local Whigs, especially after the departure of Dawson in i846? 2 Mean 
while, the Jeffersonian in 1842 and the Daily Courier in 1848, repre 
senting two of the numerous factions among the Democrats, were 
quickly absorbed by the Advertiser, though in the latter case the Hunker 
owners of the Courier, among them Samuel L. Selden, took over the 
Advertiser after its brief excursion as a Free Soil paper in i&^S. 203 

More than a score of fleeting ventures sprang from one or another 
reform movement. Five temperance and four antislavery papers appeared 
briefly, but only Frederick Douglass North Star, started in 1848, en 
joyed long life. The Volunteer and Mackenzie s Gazette, advocates of 
Canadian annexation; the Watchman, published in 1841 by the skeptic, 
Delazon Smith; the Voice of Truth and its Adventist successor, the 

201 Quoted in Advertiser, Aug. 5, 1847. See also Advertiser, May 24, 1839; Mar. 
4, 1848; Democrat, Mar. 19, 1840; Paul Benton, "Rochester Journalism/* R. H. S., 
Pub., XI, 108-110, 113-114. 

202 When the postmaster transferred the "list of letters uncalled for at the 
office" from the Advertiser to the American in 1848, the editor of the former paper 
wagered $100 that the circulation of the American was the smallest in the city, but 
unfortunately the investigation, if ever actually made, was not reported. Ad 
vertiser, Mar. 4, 1848. For an account of Leonard Jerome, grandfather of Winston 
Churchill, see Dorothy S. Truesdale, "Leonard W. Jerome," R. H. S. ? Pub., 
XVIII, 205-209. 

203 Peck, History of Rochester, pp. 356-358, 363-364* 


Harbinger; and the Medical Truth Teller afforded characteristic ex 
pressions of the humanitarian currents of the period. 204 

Meanwhile the Genesee Farmer and the Rochester Gem, both dating 
from village days, enjoyed varied fortunes. The Gem, though pur 
chased in 1834 by Shepard and Strong of the Democrat, remained a 
non-political purveyor of literary romanticism until its demise in 1843. 
The Genesee Olio of 1847 represented a second and lively but short 
lived venture in the same field. Much more constant was the patronage 
of the Genesee Farmer. When in 1839 its owner, Luther Tucker, pur 
chased the Cultivator in Albany, proposing to move his Farmer there, a 
New Genesee Farmer appeared in Rochester. Backing for the New 
Farmer came from a local seedsman, Michael B. Bateham, and most of 
its successive editors and proprietors were connected with the seed 
and nursery business. A True Genesee Farmer of 1843 failed to take root, 
and the Genesee Farmer dropped the "New" from its title in 1845 * n 
the midst of one of its many transfers. The late forties found it in the 
hands of Dr. Daniel Lee, who likewise became editor of the American. 2 5 

Several important innovations marked the publication industry. The 
increased capacity of the new "cylinder" presses introduced in the 
mid-forties stimulated output but caused much hardship among the 
printers mostly young men who received an average of seven dollars 
for a week of six ten-hour days and the efforts of the typographical 
union failed to improve the situation. 206 While political correspondents 
appeared for the first time during the campaigns of the forties, local 
papers could not rival those of the East during tense elections, when 
as many as two thousand copies of Albany and New York papers were 
distributed hi Rochester. The opening of telegraph connections with 
Albany in June, 1846, brought the news of the world more quickly 
to Rochester, enabling each of the dailies to feature "By Telegraph" 
columns, though opportunities for independent reporting were but 
slowly developed. 207 

204 North Star [Frederick Douglass? Paper], Apr. 14, 1848; June 13, 1850; Aug. 
19, 1853; Aug. 31, 1855; Apr. 25, 1856; Jan. 16, 1857; Mackenzie s Gazette, June 22, 
1839; Feb. 29, Oct. 3-1, 1840; Harbinger, June 23, i84Q-June 15, 18505 June 19, 
i852-June n, 1853; "Delazon Smith," National Cyc. of Amer. Biog., XI, 502. 

^Harriett J. Naylor, "Rochester s Agricultural Press," R. H. S., Pub., XVIII, 
182-188. Tucker, Bateham, Moore and several of the other Farmer editors were 
later prominent on scattered agricultural papers in other areas. 
, 206 Frederick Follett, History of the Press of Western New York (Rochester, 
1847); Workingman s Advocate, Oct. 19, 31, Nov. i, 1839; Advertiser, Sept 18, 
1848. Longhand notes by J. W. Benton, a local printer, written on a copy of 
Follett s pamphlet and dated 1850, tell of Rochester s three cylinder presses, one 
Adams 1 improved press, and two job printing presses, all driven by steam, besides 
twenty hand presses and three card printing machines. 

^Advertiser, June 12, 1846; O Reilly Doc., No. 803, 1652, 1653; Peck Scrap- 
book, p. 7. 


The increased facilities of local publishers spurred the production of 
books and pamphlets. A few school texts and books of general interest 
were republished in Rochester, but religious tracts and other materials 
of special interest proved more numerous. In addition to thirty-four 
bound volumes of weekly and monthly papers of magazine size, as many 
as one hundred and fifty pamphlets numbering from eight to a hundred 
pages, and thirty-six larger books written or compiled by local authors 
rolled off Rochester presses during the period. Most numerous among 
the pamphlets were sermons, while the seven successive city directories 
issued before the mid-century comprised the largest single category 
of books. 208 

Of special interest was a group of moral tales and fictional accounts of 
life in Rochester. The Story of Sammy, the Sailor Boy by a "Bethel 
Man" 209 spun a pious tale designed to call forth the better nature of 
canal boatmen. The more sinful activities and desperate end of John C. 
Chumasero s villains were no doubt intended to point a similar moral, 
though the vigorous author, a local Democratic judge, tarried so long 
over the awful crimes in the saloons and brothels and over the sharp 
practices of fraudulent merchants and greedy landlords that the final 
triumph of virtue and justice appeared frequently as an afterthought. 
Chumasero cast his scenes in Rochester, possibly in an effort to circum 
vent the popular prejudice against idle fiction, and the same locale served 
Joseph Boughton, whose brief account of The Conspiracy, or Triumph of 
Innocence resembled in incident if not in vigor the Judge s Mysteries of 
Rochester, The Landlord and Tenant, and Life in Rochester, or Sketches 
from Life? 


Most noteworthy of all Rochester s early literary efforts were those 
which turned back to the history and traditions of the area. Indeed, the 
city s history provided an intimate community experience. Curious 
travelers constantly inquired about the town s origin and growth, and 
every hack driver and tavern keeper had ready answers. After the first 
Directory prodded local recollections to good effect in 1827, the story 
of Rochester s growth became the city s most persuasive publicity theme. 
It therefore seemed good for business in 1835 (when the state census 
provided comparative data) to survey local achievements of the year, 

208 Edward R. Foreman, "Check List of Rochester Publications," R. H. S., Pub., 
V, 193-222; Douglas C. McMurtrie, Rochester Imprints: 1819-1850 (Chicago, 


209 Story of Sammy, the Sailor Boy by a Bethel Man (Rochester, 1843). 

210 John C. Chumasero, The Mysteries of Rochester (2nd ed.; Rochester, 
1845), The Landlord and Tenant (Rochester, -1845), Life in Rochester, or Sketches 
from Life (Rochester, 1848) ; Joseph Boughton, The Conspiracy or Triumph of 
Innocence (Rochester, 1845). 


and editor O Reilly found Ms account of "Rochester in 183 5," as printed 
in the Advertiser in demand for the rival Democrat as well. m 

When a second annual survey at the end of 1836 met a similar re- 
ception 3 O Reilly felt encouraged to enlarge his researches in order to 
produce a full-length Mstory of the city. 212 The size of the project grew 
as the work advanced, and although generous assistance came from 
several friends, notably Dr. Chester Dewey who wrote at least one 
chapter, the burden on his time and energy prompted O Reilly, full of 
the impatience of a journalist, hastily to compile his material within the 
course of a year. Yet, despite limitations in style and integration, the 
48o-page Sketches of Rochester, with Incidental Notices of Western 
New York proved a worthy achievement. No other interior city could 
boast such a full account of its growth or such a detailed description of 
its assets and characteristics. 213 When the local publisher, William Ailing, 
hesitated at the last moment to print the book in Rochester, the manu 
script was rushed to New York by sleigh in five days and nights in 
order to secure the assistance of Harper Brothers. 214 An excellent map 
and numerous engravings, many of them by Alexander Anderson, father 
of wood engraving in the United States, made from drawings by J. T. 
Young of buildings and scenes about the city, added both to the excel 
lence of the book and to its value as a record of Rochester in the late 
thirties. Favorable notice in a half-dozen eastern papers helped to 
dispose of the i5oo-edition, encouraging O Reilly to plan a second and 
enlarged volume. 215 

An outburst of historical reminiscence greeted O Reilly s book. Old 
settlers, digging though their trunks, called unsuspected records to his 
attention. In a new position as postmaster, the erstwhile historian found 
time to go through James D. Bemis private file of the Repository, 
started at Canandaigua in 1803, and forthwith decided to broaden the 
scope of his study to present a full account of the settlement of western 
New York. Overwhelmed by the opportunities, 216 O Reilly called scat- 

211 Advertiser, Aug. 18, Nov. 12, 16, 20, 24, 26, 1835; Democrat, May 4, 1836. 

212 Democrat, Dec. 7, 1836; Jan. 4, 1837; Genesee Farmer, Sept. 9, 1837. 

218 The one possible exception was Worcester, Massachusetts, many times the 
age of Rochester and not generally considered an "interior" city. However, William 
Lincoln s History of Worcester (Worcester, 1837), which appeared a year before, 
while more successful as a chronicle, did not compare with the Sketches of Roches 
ter in the range of material included. Indeed, in this respect O Reilly was decades 
ahead of such contemporary and much abler historians as Bancroft and Motley. 

214 O Reilly Doc., No. 935-946. The imprint reads Rochester: Published by Wil 
liam Ailing, 1838. 

2L5 Roch. Republican, May 29, 1838; O Reilly Doc., No. 2158-2166; Mantle 
Fielding, Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers (Philadelphia, 
n.d.), p. 8. 

216 The papers of Jesse Hawley, General Chapin, John Greig, Joseph Efficott, 
among others, were examined. See also the author s "A .History of Historical Writ 
ing in the Rochester Area," Rochester History, April 1944. 


tered friends to Ms assistance. Orsamus Turner, a fellow Democratic 
journalist in Lockport, and Frederick Foliett, a printer in Batavia, both 
helped to collect the reminiscences of aging pioneers. But when O Reilly, 
deprived of his post office in 1842, removed to Albany in quest of larger 
journalistic opportunities, these projects were temporarily suspended. 211 

Not so the community s interest in its biographical records. The 
popularity of the Life of Mary Jemison, the White Woman of the 
Genesee provided a capital example. Four editions of Seaver s book had 
already appeared elsewhere before two new editions were brought out 
in Rochester in 1840 and 1841, while O Reilly s plans for still another 
edition were frustrated by his removal from the city. 218 The publication 
by William Ailing of the Narrative of the Christian Experiences, Travels 
and Labors of John B. Hudson, a Methodist elder who had served many 
parts of the Genesee Country, represented another response to the 
biographical interest 21 * 

In 1840 the reorganized Athenaeum and Young Men s Association, of 
which O Reilly was then president, staged the first semi-centennial 
celebration held in the city at the Methodist Chapel in honor of the 
pioneers on the lower Genesee fifty years before. The main feature of 
the ceremony proved to be the "Ode in Commemoration of the Settle 
ment of Western New York" by W. H. C. Hosmer of Avon, whose fre 
quent historical poems, notably Ms "Yonnondio" of 1844, enjoyed a sub 
stantial reputation in the area. 220 Before O Reilly finally laid aside his 
late Rochester interests, materials for a biography of President James 
Monroe and a history of Indian affairs attracted his attention, though 
both projects were soon sidetracked. 221 Local Indian lore likewise ab 
sorbed the attention of a brilliant young attorney, Lewis H. Morgan, 
whose studies of Iroquois customs buttressed his defense of their 
property rights. 222 A more strictly historical character marked the re 
searches of Orsamus Turner and Frederick Follett, now independent 

217 Orsamus Turner letters to O Reilly, 1839-1843, and James D. Bemis letters 
to O Reffly, 1841-1843, O Reilly Doc., No. 1286, 1804. 

218 Elmer Adler, "The Persistent Reblossoming of Mary Jemison," R. H. S., 
Pub., Ill, 120-123; O ReiUy Doc., No. 1419, 1420. 

219 [J. B. Hudson], Narrative of the Christian Experiences, Travels and Labors 
of John B. Hudson (Rochester, 1838). 

220 Workingman s Advocate, Mar. n, 14, 1840; Advertiser, Mar. 16, Dec. 24, 
1840; Nov. 30, 1844; Gem, Oct. 31, -1840; "William H. C. Hosmer," National Cyc. 
of Amer. Biog., VIII, 200. 

221 O Reilly Doc., No. 1033, 1024, 2321. 

222 Bernard J. Stern, Lewis Henry Morgan: Social Evolutionist (Chicago, 1931), 
pp. 9-20. Though Stern states that Morgan remained in Aurora until 1850, the 
appearance of his name in the Rochester Directories 1845-46, 1847-48, 1849-50, 
with a change in street address between the first and second listing, would seem 
to establish his Rochester residence. See the bibliography of Morgan s writings in 
Stern, pp. 202-210, for evidence of his activity even during these early years. 
See also Morgan Letters, MSS, Univ. Rochester, 


of O Reilly s direction, and the latter s History of the Press of Western 
New York provided a valuable record of local pioneer laborers in that 
field. 228 

The organization of the Pioneer Association of Rochester expressed 
the newly discovered kinship among old residents. When all who had 
located at the falls before or during 1818 assembled at the Court House 
on the afternoon of September 16, 1847, a society was formed, honoring 
old Hamlet Scrantom, now back in Rochester, as president. At the 
pioneers jubilee held two weeks later in Blossom s Hotel, sixty-one 
aging pioneers gathered around heavily laden tables to share reminis 
cences of the early days. Several had traveled back from Buffalo and 
other neighboring places in order to attend, while others had spent a 
considerable portion of the intervening three decades amid distant 
scenes, but for most of them Rochester was home. As they recalled the 
details of its growth from a struggling hamlet into a busy and attractive 
city, they could not but feel a sense of pride in the achievement. 224 

The Pioneers banqueted again in succeeding years but never with so 
large a turnout. Though content at first to recall and compare notes 
among themselves, a more serious concern for the preservation of their 
records soon appeared. Early Genesee Country pioneers who had located 
in the city after 1818 petitioned for inclusion, and finally in 1850 the 
society was renamed the Pioneer Association of Western New York. 
Many distinguished patriarchs, former leaders of the area, gathered for 
the jubilee that year, at which Orsamus Turner, now the recognized 
successor to O Reilly as historian of western New York, read a paper. 225 

If some of Rochester s old men were already dreaming of the past, 
many of her young men were seeing new visions. News of the discovery 
of gold in California brought a surge of excitement here as elsewhere 
at the close of 1848. "Gold bright, virgin, glittering gold may be had 
in California for the digging," one editor commented, spurring several 
of his readers to join the gold rush. 226 A Rochester company, formed 
with a capital of $7500, sent fifteen young men forth as "diggers," 
pledged to share the proceeds of the first year with their backers. Among 
the first to go was Nathaniel Rochester, twenty-five-year-old grand 
son of the city s founder, and a few months later his brother, John, 
sailed from New York with forty-five other young Rochesterians on 
the Empire City. Though several contracted the dread "Panama fever" 

223 Frederick FoUett, History of the Press of Western New York (Rochester, 

224 Pioneer Assoc., "Minute Book of the Steering Committee," MS, Roch. Hist. 

225 Ibid.; Raymond Scrapbook, p. 9; Orsamus Turner s Holland Purchase had 
appeared the year before, and his Phelps and Gorham s Purchase was already in 

226 Roch. RepuMcan, Dec, 28, 1848. 



while crossing the isthmus, finally in November, 1849, the second 
Rochester party, minus two casualties, arrived at San Francisco, where 
they learned the sad news of young Nathaniel s deatK a few weeks 
before. His brother, John, had already seen enough to be ready to re 
turn home, while others quickly followed, but many determined to make 
their fortunes on the new frontier. 227 

Charles S. Biden, one of the Rochester adventurers, wrote a sprightly 
series of letters under the jaunty title "Glimpses of the Elephant," in 
which the affairs of Rochester folk in California were blithely reported. 
"Several Rochester people will greet you by the boat that brings this 
letter, and many more next fall," predicted Biden early in 1850. Yet, as 
he watched twenty more Rochesterians land from one boat on its arrival 
at San Francisco that July, he wondered if it were true that "All 
Rochester is coming." Enough arrived to justify the opening of a 
Rochester House overlooking the Golden Gate, and several former 
Rochesterians found useful places in the new community, though no 
great strikes were reported. One young doctor, Elisha Ely^ found farming 
more lucrative, and two former members of the Monroe County bar, 
R. A. Wilson and H. H. Haight, became judge and governor respectively 
in their adopted state, while Biden himself shortly emerged as editor of 
the San Francisco Evening Picayune. 228 Yet most Rochester emigres 
were soon glad to get back home, for that was what the relatively com 
fortable and congenial city on the banks of the Genesee had at last 

227 Democrat , Jan. 21, 1849; Raymond Scrapbook, p, 74. 

228 Genesee Farmer, Mar., 1849, PP- 67-72 ; Rural New Yorker , January, March, 
1850; Raymond Scrapbook, pp. 141, 201-212. 




THE EARLY FIFTIES revealed new democratic vistas and brought to 
fruition many of Rochester s youthful aspirations. The measure 
of achievement experienced in several fields matched the fullness 
of years enjoyed by the scattered pioneers who remained. Fresh ventures 
interested their sons, already in the prime of life, who shared with able 
newcomers the direction of the city s economic, civic, and cultural 
affairs, while vigorous younger men rose to positions of influence. Un 
precedented prosperity and new comforts were enjoyed, but the hard 
ships of the unfortunate and the problems of increased congestion were 
becoming evident. Fresh skills and more diversified habits and tastes 
appeared among the growing population, which already included large 
numbers from abroad. The influx of more cosmopolitan cultural pat 
terns foreshadowed the end of the Yankee city of the water-power era. 


With economic stability achieved during the late forties, expanding 
opportunities and rising values characterized the early fifties. The water 
power of the Genesee turned more wheels than ever before, and the 
canal trade reached a new peak, yet more rapid developments occurred 
in other directions. An increased reliance on steam, the rise of corporate 
capital and its stride toward monopoly, the efforts of labor to organize, 
and the expanding national markets were to be some of the long-range 
economic features of the city s mid-years, but their appearance in the 
fifties helped to delimit Rochester s water-power era, dominated as it 
had been by impulsive individual adventures, a labor supply flowing as 
freely as the water resources of the Genesee, and the favorable trade 
balance provided by flour exports. The economic pattern of an indus 
trial city was taking shape, and while the community lost control over 
its trade routes, the security of its banks as well as of industrial and 
real-property investments permitted an aggressive use of surplus capital 
in distant fields. 

Despite the progress of long-desired transport improvements, Roches 
ter barely held its own as a commercial center. All the ports of entry 
on the Great Lakes, except Chicago, collected larger customs revenues, 


and the steamboat services at eight American lake ports greatly ex 
ceeded those at the Genesee. 1 When the Admiral and the American, 
two new steamers running between Rochester and Toronto in 1852, 
failed to enjoy sufficient patronage, the construction of the Rochester 
and Lake Ontario Railway was urgently pressed, yet the opening of that 
line to freight traffic in 1854 left the problem unsolved. The exports for 
May, June, and July that year totalled $149,591, we ^ above those of 
1847, but still far below the standards of Rochester s rivals. Though 
much was expected from the proposed reciprocity treaty with Canada, 
the absence of a major export article relegated the Genesee port to a 
position of secondary importance in the expanding lake traffic of the 
day. 2 

A source of discouragement was the slow progress of the canal s en 
largement and the halting extension of the Genesee Valley Canal, neither 
task being completed until the early sixties. Nevertheless, as canal trade 
continued to increase in volume, the value of articles shipped out of 
Rochester reached $8,402,530 in 1854, four times the value of ten years 
before and nearly double that of the mid-century, 3 yet the increase 
proved much more rapid at Buffalo and Oswego.* Syracuse boatyards 
still enjoyed an advantage in the construction of the larger boats 
accommodated by the improved eastern locks, but Rochester, with 
fourteen yards producing a total of 130 boats averaging above $1,300 
each in 1852, continued to supply the western canals. 5 One builder was 
glad to sell his boatyard for $18,970 the next year, making way for a 
railroad carbarn, yet the industry gave employment to 261 men in 1855 
and turned out a product valued at $341,500, far above that of any 
other boatbuilding center in the state. 6 

More gratifying were the numerous railroad improvements. The 
Rochester and Lake Ontario Railway, built between 1852 and 1854, 
the Rochester and Genesee Valley Railway, completed to Avon during 
the same years, and the Rochester and Niagara Falls Railway, finally 
opened to Lockport in 1853, all became vital commercial links in time. 

1 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXVII (1852), 105; XXVIII (1853), 753-754- 
2 Rochester Daily Union, Nov. 27, 1852; Aug. 3, 5, 1854; Rochester Daily 
Democrat, Feb. 16, 1853^; Hosea Rogers Papers, MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc.; Israel D. 
Andrews, Report of Israel D. Andrews on the Trade and Commerce of the British 
North American Colonies t and upon the Trade of the Great Lakes and Rivers 
(Washington, 1854), pp. 75-76. Though 487 clearances in 1851 were credited with 
a tonnage of 212,794, only 429 tons of steam vessels and 57 tons of sailing vessels 
were locally registered as most of the trade with Canada had to be conducted in 
Canadian bottoms. See above, p. 223. 

* Assembly Doc. (1855), Vol. 4, No, 95, Stint. 3; (1851), Vol. 3, No 56, Stmt 
3; Senate Doc. (1845) > Vol. 3> No. 115, Table 3. 

* Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXTV (1851), 229; XXXIV, 609. 

s Union, Nov. 26, Dec. 3, 1852; Samson, Scrapbook No. 51, pp. 7-9- 

* Democrat, Jan. 12, Feb. 26, 1853; N. Y. Census (1855), p. 357. 


Indeed the city was so keenly interested in the valley railroad, looking 
to it as a potential coal carrier, that the municipality itself invested 
$300,000 in the project. When construction stopped at Avon, local indig 
nation spurred the authorities to sell control of their stock, in return for 
a guarantee on the investment, to Freeman Clarke, who was rapidly 
emerging as the leading banker and railroad financier in the city. At 
least the Avon line provided a connection with the Erie system, then 
reaching out in various directions to dominate the trade of the upper 
Genesee Valley, and a measure of competition was thus offered to the 
newly organized New York Central. 7 

The consolidation of the nine lines running between Buffalo and 
Albany, achieved in 1853, proved to be the most significant commercial 
development of the period. Bitter opposition to the act authorizing the 
merger expressed Rochester s concern over the possible effects of the 
monopoly. 8 However, local stockholders in the earlier companies wel 
comed the generous stock transfer, and although the huge capitalization 
of $23,085,000 staggered the imagination, word that the first month s 
income amounted to $600,000 gave reassurance. The effects of outside 
monopoly control appeared when freight rates on flour advanced late 
that fall, though moderate reductions were soon allowed. Expressing 
pleasure over the improved service, one editor who had opposed the 
merger became a staunch exponent of its advantages. 9 The expected 
competition between the old Auburn and Rochester Railway and the 
newly completed Rochester and Syracuse line was forestalled, as well 
as that between the Tonawanda and the Lockport roads west of the city 
much to the relief of their respective stockholders but Rochester, 
as the focal junction of these various branches of the Central, profited 
from their unified operation. 10 

Despite their wider extension and increased efficiency, the railroads 
contributed modest trade benefits as compared with the canal. The 
freight proceeds of local lines amounted to barely a fourth of the pas 
senger income in iSsi, 11 and while the total freight carried by the 
New York Central increased 60 per cent during its first year, passenger 
traffic likewise mounted. 12 The eastbound railroad freight delivered at 

7 Democrat, Mar. 10, 1851; Feb. 24, 26, Mar. 4, 10, May 2, 3, 1853 ; , Union, 
Mar. 3, 1854; Freeman Clarke Letters, for 1851-1854, MSS, courtesy of Mrs 
Buell Mills; Samson Scrapbook, No. 51, pp. 8-9; Andrews, Trade and Commerce, 
pp. 242-244. 

* Union, Feb. 25, Apr, 16, 30, 1853; Advertiser, Mar. 22, 1853. 

8 Union, Sept 27, Nov. 25, 1853; Democrat, Mar. 24, 1853. 

10 N. Y. Central Railway Co, Agreement of Consolidation (Albany, 1853); 
Edward Hungerford, Men and Iron; The History of the New York Central (New 
York, 1938), pp. 56-90. 

11 Assembly Doc. (1851), Vol. 3, No 45. 

Merchants Magazine, XXX (1854)5 


Albany in 1852 scarcely equaled a twelfth that discharged by the canal, 
yet the canal board became alarmed over sharper competition the next 
year. 13 Meanwhile the canal s facilities provided an effective check on 
railroad freight rates; indeed the simplest means for cutting them fur 
ther seemed to be that of the advocates of reduced canal tolls. Small 
reductions and other changes occurred in 1851 and again in 1854, effect 
ing a drop in the tolls collected at Rochester to barely half those of 1844, 
though the tonnage was nearly three times as large. 14 The Rochester 
weighlock passed 9,504 boats in 1852, accrediting them with a cargo of 
750,000 tons ; possibly a seventh of it loaded at Rochester. 15 

Several other significant developments marked Rochester s economic 
activity in the early fifties. Flour exports actually fell off slightly as the 
increased output of Oswego, St. Louis, and other rivals flooded the 
market and challenged Rochester s preeminence. 18 With the extension 
of the Genesee Valley Canal making additional demands on the river s 
water resources, successive dry seasons in 1851 and 1852, further de 
pleting the water power available at Rochester, forced the city s develop 
ment in other directions. Long wet seasons in 1853 and 1855 struck 
additional blows by seriously damaging the wheat crop and turning 
Genesee farmers to other products. Monroe County s corn acreage in 
1855 doubled that of 1845, while wheat fell off a fifth, yet corn exports 
likewise declined as that product was increasingly marketed in the form 
of bacon and pork. 17 The growing importance of the numerous secondary 
industries of the previous decade provided a more balanced and stable 
economy but gave rise to new labor and urban problems. 

Though a third attempt to establish a board of trade did not occur 
until 1854, when again it was only briefly successful, 18 the chief object 
of the earlier board, the development of new industries, advanced apace. 
Various metal industries greatly expanded their output, increasing 
Rochester s canal shipments of ironware fourfold between 1844 

^Hunt s Merchants Magazine XXIX (1853)) II 9- 

14 Assembly Doc. (1855), VoL IV, No. 95, Stmt. 3 ; Senate Doc (1845), Vol. Ill, 
No. 115, Stmt 2; Whitford, History of the Canal System, pp 958-962. 

15 Union, Dec. 31, 1852; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXIV (1851), 189-191. 
Eastbound freight on the canal greatly exceeded the Mississippi s exports in flour 
and other cereal products, though it could not rival the latter s tonnage in other 

16 C. B. Kuhlmann, Development of Flour Milling Industry in the United States 
(Cambridge, 1929), pp, 56, 62, 83-85; Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXIV (1851), 
229, 262, 301. 

17 N. Y. Census (1855), pp. 277-281; N. Y. State Agricultural Society, Transac 
tions (1854), XIV, 492-496; Genesee Farmer, Jan 1854, p. 14; P. W. Bidwell and 
J. I. Falconer, History of Agriculture in the Northern United States (2nd ed.; 

York, 1941), pp. 3 2 9~334fi- 

Union, Apr. 26, 29, 1854; Dec, 15, 1855. 


1854.^ The $250,000 shipments of the latter date represented, however, 
but a fraction of the output of local metal-working shops, which num 
bered 35 and gave employment to i ; 2io, 20 for their chief market remained 
in the area itself. One of the foundries, that of Woodbury, Booth and 
Pryor, advertised as the largest manufacturer of stationary steam en 
gines in the state, boldly offered a substitute for the failing power of 
the Genesee. This factory occupied an entire floor of the imposing 
four-story Novelty Works, located at the western edge of the business 
district with convenient access to both the railroad and the canal The 
Novelty Works, which likewise housed the thermometer shop of George 
Taylor and the refrigerator factory of Smith, Badger and Company, 
stood as a symbol of the emerging industrial city, and it proved fitting 
that one of its steam engines should be installed in the large Ely mill, 
pride of the late thirties, helping to keep the old millstones in operation 
during seasons of low water. 21 

More than a score of factories employed upwards of fifty men each. 22 
Two edge-tool shops, four furnaces, ten machine shops, two stove makers, 
one car factory, one agricultural implements plant, one paper mill, one 
chair factory, and two cotton factories were outstanding. The chair 
factory with 250 employees apparently had the largest labor force, 
though several of the "factories" reported in the Census were doubtless 
branches of one establishment and more than one may have had still 
larger numbers of employees. The Seth Jones Cotton Mill, with 175 
tending its 6,000 spindles, had possibly the most costly factory, repre 
senting a capital of $100,000, though the gas company s investment 
was 50 per cent greater and with 24 employees produced a product 
valued at $65,109 in 1855. A small perfume factory employing seven 
men was nevertheless the largest of its kind in the state, while the city 
likewise led in carpenter tools, shoe pegs, boats, and machine tools. 28 

A major problem confronting most of these industries was the limited 
coal supply. Jonathan Child and other members of the Rochester clan, 
watchful of the community s interest, had started the import of Lehigh 

19 See note 14 above. 

20 N. Y. Census (1855), pp. 330-344. 

^Democrat, Jan. 7, 1853; Rural New Yorker, Feb. 7, 1850; Union, May 13, 
1854; Peck, History of Rochester, pp. 615-617. 

22 Legislative provision for limited liability corporate charters in 1848 (N. Y. 
Laws of 1848) prompted the incorporation of the Rochester Gas Light Company 
in 1848, the Jones Cotton Mill Company and the Journeymen Boot and Shoe 
Manufacturing Company in 1849, the Rochester Boot and Shoe Manufacturing 
Company in 1851, the Rochester Printing Association in 1852, the Rochester Brick 
and Tile Manufacturing Company and the Fairman s and Willard s Machine Tool 
Manufacturing Company in 1853, and the Rochester Iron Works Company in 
1854, as we U as numerous other corporations not engaged in manufacturing. See 
the Monroe County Clerk s "Docket of Incorporations," Court House. * 

23 N. Y. Census (1855), pp. 3306.; Union, May 25, 1854. 


coal on a commercial basis from Philadelphia in the late forties, selling 
directly to the foundries from the canal boats. Roswell Hart, entering 
the business in 1850, opened a coal yard where a surplus stock was 
kept available for stove and fireplace use, a market which was greatly 
stimulated the next year when the first anthracite arrived over the Erie 
and Genesee Valley railroads from Scranton. 24 Increased demands, bal 
anced against the limited quantities and the long and expensive supply 
routes, quickly boosted the price from around $5.00 to $7.00 a ton. 
The recently established gas company imported a cheap grade of coal 
by boat from Ohio, paying $4.50 a ton wholesale. The community 
anticipated more adequate supplies after completion of the canals link 
ing Wilkes-Barre with the Erie by way of Seneca Lake, but meanwhile 
Rochester s industrial prospects were considerably embarrassed. 25 

Fortunately, neither the shoe nor the clothing shop suffered any 
check from this quarter. Four thriving tanneries provided an abundant 
supply of leather, while two shoe peg factories made Rochester the 
leading producer in the state of this essential article. The recently 
invented sewing machine, displayed at the State Fair at Rochester in 
1851, attracted the attention of Jesse W. Hatch, one of the city s chief 
shoe merchant-manufacturers. After several discouraging experiments, 
a modified Singer machine, adapted to the task of sewing shoe uppers, 
was introduced late in 1852 or early the next year into the factories 
of Hatch and Company and Sage and Pancost, two of the first shoe 
firms in the country to make a practical use of the sewing machine. 
When, two years later, Jesse Hatch patented a die for cutting soles, 
the rapid development of the industry in Rochester was assured. Phila 
delphia, Boston, Lynn, and, in New York State, New York and Troy 
produced larger numbers of shoes at the mid-fifties, yet the mechanical 
developments applied by two of Rochester s seven shoe firms were out 
standing, while the total number of their employees was exceeded locally 
only by the machine shops and possibly by the clothing workers. 28 

The Rochester clothing industry, for some reason overlooked by the 
state census of the mid-fifties (possibly because it could not properly be 

24 Union, Aug. 18, Sept. 10, 1852 ; Peck, History of Rochester, p 241. The de 
velopment of a monopoly among the firewood dealers emphasized the importance 
of this competing fuel supply; see Union, Feb. i, 1853. 

25 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, XXXIII (1855)) 323-329; Homer E. A. Dick, 
MSS, Roch. Hist. Soc., No. 51, 56; Republican, Dec. ?, 1848. 

26 Jesse W. Hatch, "The Old Time Shoemaker and Shoemaking," R. H. S , Pub., 
V, 79-95; Advertiser, Feb. 21, iStfi; May 27, 1852; Union, Dec. 6, 1855; N. Y. 
Census (1855), pp. 387-390; Blanche E. Hazard, The Organization of the Boot 
and Shoe Industry in Massachusetts Before 18*75 (Cambridge, 1921)5 pp. 65-96. It 
is interesting to note that Isaac Merritt Singer first developed his mechanical 
skill while employed in a Rochester tool shop some two decades before, and that 
a working model of a sewing machine invented by an unnamed mechanic was 
exhibited in the city in 1835; Democrat, Dec. 10, 1835. 


classified under the category of "tailors") } was undergoing revolutionary 
changes as the introduction of the sewing machine disrupted the trade. 
The number of "vest makers," "pants makers/ 1 and "tailoresses" men 
tioned in local directories in the early fifties suggests something of the 
growth and specialization which made Rochester one of the five princi 
pal clothing cities of the country by the end of the decade. 27 Yet the 
transition from the putting-out system to the factory remained far from 
complete, and most of the work was still performed in the crowded 
homes and boarding houses of the German- Jewish immigrants who were 
to contribute much to the growth of this industry. 28 

As the number of factory workers and other wage earners increased 3 
labor agitation revived, producing a concerted trade union movement in 
1853. When the blacksmiths, tin-plate makers, machinists, and iron 
workers organized their respective unions that spring, each achieved 
small gains/ such as the 25-cent daily wage increase secured by the 
machinists. 29 Several building trades likewise organized that year, the 
carpenters and joiners winning a 20 per cent increase in wages. 30 The 
importance of the local printing industry appeared with the organization 
of a typographical union which soon became affiliated as Local No. 15 
of the national union. 31 When numerous seamstresses gathered in April 
to complain of the inadequacy of their wages of 50 cents a day, public 
opinion won them a voluntary 25 per cent advance, but the women, 
determined to defend their own rights, established Rochester s first 
clothing workers union a month later. 32 A tailors 5 association likewise 
formed, though few of its activities gained notice in the press. 33 Violent 
disturbances marked the efforts of immigrant canal laborers to secure 
an advance in rates and full payment of wages due; however, the or 
ganization and demonstrations of the barbers, the cigar makers, and 
the employees of a local harness shop were peaceful enough. 3 ^ Appar 
ently the most thoroughly organized strike of the period occurred in 
March, 1854, when fifty carpenters paraded from one construction job 
to the next, endeavoring to persuade all of their fellows to throw down 

27 U. S. Department of Commerce, The Men s Factory Made Clothing Industry 
(Washington, 1916), pp. 9^10; TJ. S. Census (1860), HI, 377-378, By iS6o Monroe 
County was credited with 42 men s clothing firms employing 1555 as over against 
the 1047 employed by 67 shoe firms in the county, and the value of the product 
was nearly twice as large. 

28 Isaac A. Wile, The Jews of Rochester (Rochester, 1912), pp. 8-12. 

Advertiser, Mar. g, 26, 1853; Union, Apr, $, 1853, See above, pp. 202, 211, 

80 Advertiser, Apr. 7, 23, 1853; Democrat, Mar. 22, 1854; Union, Apr. 5, 1854. 

^Advertiser, Mar. 21, 1853; Democrat, May 9, 1853. 

Advertiser, Apr. 7, 27, 1853; Democrat, May 7, 1853 ; Mar. 30, 1854. 

88 Advertiser, Apr. 19, 1853. 

84 Advertiser, May 3, 1853; Union, Nov. 21, 1853 j May i, 1854; Democrat, 
Mar, 22, 1854. 


their tools. Unionism remained in its infancy^ but the days of apprentice 
labor were passing. 35 

Other aspects of the city s economic life presented problems of a 
different sort, notably those growing out of a search for new markets. 
Several of the metal industries as well as the boatyards and furniture 
factories were developing markets in the West, where the expanding 
nurseries likewise sent most of their plantings. The constant stream of 
westward migrants helped to solve the market problems of the shoe and 
clothing firms by direct purchase at local stores^ while a sufficient num 
ber stopped over long enough to keep real estate in a thriving condition. 
The city s slackening interest in the flour trade, as well as in the rail 
roads and other transport lines, freed enterprise and capital for distant 

The Rochester nurseries were rapidly emerging as the largest in the 
country. Ellwanger and Barry, trebling their acreage during the early 
fifties, made extensive purchases of new stock from the leading horti- 
culturalists of Europe. The value of their imports reached a peak of 
$9,657 for forty-one consignments in 1854, when already the young 
fruit and ornamental trees, growing in close, even rows over their 400- 
odd acres, were .gaining repute throughout the West. 36 Neighboring 
orchards, restocked by the several local nurseries, began to flood Roches 
ter with fruit. Nearly half a million bushels of apples were grown in 
the county in 1855, exceeded in the state only by the product of nearby 
Wayne County. With apples selling for 25 cents a bushel in the streets 
of Rochester during the fall of 1852, several canal boats, one loaded 
with 1,100 barrels, set out for a round-about trip to Boston. A new 
grape culture was developing along the steep hills overlooking several 
of the lakes southeast of Rochester, while cherries and pears as well as 
peaches and plums became increasingly abundant. 37 Little wonder the 
Genesee was still frequently alluded to as "perhaps the finest agricul 
tural valley in the United States." w 

The thriving nurseries revived a speculative interest in real estate. 

55 Democrat, Mar. 22, 1854; Allan Gleason, "The History of Labor in Roches 
ter," M. A. thesis, Univ. of Roch., passim. 

36 Ellwanger and Barry, "Invoice of Imports from Europe, 1854-1885," MS 
book in Ellwanger and Barry office; Blake McKelvey, "The Flower City: Center 
of Nurseries and Fruit Orchards," R. H. S., Pub., XVIII, 142-149. 

87 Union, Sept. 14, Nov. 9, 1852; Rural New Yorker, Nov. 22, 1856; N. Y. 
Census (1855), pp. 277-281; N. Y. State Agricultural Society Transactions (1864), 

pp. 125-144- 

38 William Chambers, Things As They Are In America (Philadelphia, 1854), 
p. 10 1. Strictly speaking, most of the fruit orchards did not develop within the 
watershed of the Genesee Valley, yet they belonged to the Rochester hinterland 
generally described as the Genesee Country, 


Not only were home developments on the city s outskirts vying with 
the nurseries for choice locations, but also the popular desire for trees 
and shrubs called for more spacious grounds. Continued population 
growth helped to account for this healthy expansion. The number of 
dwelling houses increased to 7,408 by 1855, when the families numbered 
8,557 and the population 43,877, a 20 per cent growth during the half- 
decade, 39 Though no longer rivaling the size or rate of growth of many 
another western city (Buffalo s vitality was especially embarrassing), 
Rochester took pride in its greater proportion of elegant stone and brick 
homes. Already the favorite claim was voiced that there is "no city in 
the country (perhaps in the world) where so many citizens own their 
homes" as in Rochester. 40 The stimulus to real estate values was matched 
by the social results evident on all sides. "Follow out the shaded streets 
as they lead in all directions from the central localities," one editor 
recommended, "and you are reminded step by step of the interest and 
healthy stimulus of OWNERSHIP. You read it in the neatly-swept 
paved, gravelled, or planked sidewalk, in the well-cared-for shrubbery 
and flower plots, in the general provident aspect of things, as plainly 
as if This is Mine 1 was written over the gateway." 41 

The improvement of the central part of town likewise progressed. 
The new courthouse, the remodeled Smith s Block, rivaling the enlarged 
Reynolds Arcade valued at $100,000, and other improvements prom 
ised to make Buffalo Street the pride of the business district as soon 
as a new block of brick stores should be completed on the old Chicken 
Row site, acquired by the Rochester Savings Bank for $16,000 in I853. 42 
The "rich and handsome finish given to the new stores on Main Street" 
across the river, where "the immense salesrooms are ornamented with 
stucco work in the most beautiful style," told both of elegance and of 
prosperity. 43 

Old properties frequently changed hands. One mill, equipped with 
six run of stones, sold for $20,000, while another with four run brought 
$16,000. A store block on State Street, part of the estate of the late 
Dr. Anson Colman, sold for $16,000, and J. W. Bissell acquired the 
Minerva Block on the corner of St Paul and Main Streets for $60,000. 
With the transactions of one week in June, 1853, totaling $173,000, 

89 N. Y. Census (1855), pp. 8, 236; Patrick Barry, The Fruit Garden (New 
York, 1852), p. 179. 

40 N. Y. Census (1855), p. 236; Union, Aug. 17, 1852; Dewey Scrapbook, Gen 
eral Information, III, 93. 

41 Union, Aug. 17, 1853. 

42 Advertiser, Sept. 4, 1851; Union, Aug. 17, 1852; Democrat, Jan, 19, 1853; 
Wm. A. Reynolds to N. Gray, Rochester, June 8, -1850, W. A. Reynolds Letter 
Book, MS, R. P. L,; Copy of Assessment Lists of First Ward properties, 1847, 
1851, Mortimer F. Reynolds Papers, R. P. L. 

43 Democrat f Apr. 28, 1853, 


the owners of the Eagle Hotel advanced their asking price $50,000 in 
a year s time. One editor noted that "Capitalists are still investing and 
operating extensively in real estate, and the rise in city property seems 
to be nearly equal to that witnessed in a speculative era." M The city s 
assessed valuation more than doubled during these years, surprising 
many property holders at their ability to pay the increased taxes.* 5 

Rochester banks greatly benefited from the steady advance in real 
and other property values. The inadequate banking facilities of former 
days had been only partly relieved under the Free Banking Act, though 
two new banks replaced the Bank of Monroe after its charter expired 
in 1849. As the banks no longer felt compelled to tie up a major portion 
of their resources in wheat for the millers, profitable investments more 
frequently occurred in distant fields. Handsome returns were usually 
forthcoming in these years of national prosperity, and the Commercial 
Bank, after announcing a 20 per cent dividend in 1853, increased it to 
50 per cent the next year, prompting one editor to praise the cashier, 
George R. Clarke, for achieving a record "perhaps unequalled in the 
history of banking." ** Complaints against exorbitant interest rates and 
the lack of small change took the place of earlier fears for the security 
of the banks. 47 Despite the establishment of a loan association and a 
Sixpenny Savings Bank, three private bankers conducted profitable 
operations, supplementing the services of the six regular banks, whose 
total capitalization now reached $1,380,000; yet credit continued to 
demand high rates. 48 

Meanwhile significant developments occurred under the general in 
corporation law of 1848. The advantages of limited liability stock 
companies stimulated increased investments, and three new insurance 
companies, three new plank road companies, two mutual benevolent 
associations, and a building and loan association, as well as a half- 
dozen industrial corporations and two telegraph companies, were or 
ganized in the city. The local capital structure thus became more 
flexible; enterprising entrepreneurs depended less on the banks, and 
the opportunity appeared to develop large companies capable of aspir 
ing to monopoly control over various industries. 48 

44 Union, Nov. 29, 1852; Democrat, Jan. 17, 1853; Alfred Ely, "Real Estate 
Ledger," 1851-1857, MS, Roch. Hist. Soc. 

45 D. W. Gilbert, "Government and Finances of Rochester," Table I. The as 
sessed valuation rose from $5,073,000 in 1850 to $11,511,000 in 1853? and 
$12,046,000 in 1854, See Board of Supervisors Reports. 

46 Union, Apr. 7, 1854. 

^Democrat, Jan. 22, 1853; Assembly Doc, (1851), No. 9; (1855), No. 10. 

^Samson Scrapbook, No. 42, p. 73; Roch. Directory (i853~54)j PP- 36-38; 
Rochester Six-Penny Savings Bank Books, MSS, Courtesy of Miss Lois Badger, 

49 Monroe Co. Clerk s "Docket of Incorporations"; Legislative Doc. (1920), 


Rochester s outstanding response to these new opportunities for 
capital investment occurred in the field of telegraphy. The enthusiasm 
of Henry O Reilly had first attracted the interest of several Roches- 
terians to the new invention in the mid-forties, when local capital 
backed the first lines built across Pennsylvania and throughout the 
Ohio Valley. 50 Rochester men likewise joined Utica investors in building 
other lines across New York State. 51 Unfortunately, as the numerous 
early lines erected under the Morse patent failed to discover a formula 
for peaceful cooperation, bitter conflicts over territory and patent rights 
ensued. Meanwhile the success of the new House patent presented an 
opportunity for still another system of telegraph lines, Judge Samuel L. 
Selden, previously associated with O Reilly, took the lead in organizing 
the New York State Telegraph Company, of which Levi A. Ward, his 
brother-in-law, was chosen president, and Isaac R. Elwood, secretary, 
while Freeman Clarke became one of the directors. Construction started 
in 1850, chiefly with the support of Rochester capital, but competition 
from the rival Morse lines soon convinced Selden, Clarke, and Elwood 
that real profits could only result from an extension west of Buffalo. 
The energies of Hiram Sibley were enlisted in the project of an enlarged 
company, the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing and Telegraph 
Company, organized in 1851 to absorb the older concern and extend 
new lines under the House patent into the West. Other Rochesterians 
joined the venture, including Henry S. Potter, whose $10,000 payment 
entitled him to the office of president, Isaac Butts of the Union, ex- 
mayor Isaac Hills, and Judge Addison Gardiner, among a dozen others. 
When construction westward began the next year, careful plans were 
formulated for a far-flung system under unified management at 
Rochester/ 2 

The Rochester interests, however, were not the only ones concerned 
with the development of a telegraph empire in the early fifties. The 
Magnetic Telegraph Company of Morse and Amos Kendall, linking 
seaboard cities, was soon to be absorbed in the American Telegraph 
Company of Cyrus Field and Peter Cooper, who were already striving 
to cable the Atlantic. The Ezra Cornell lines operating in New York 
State on the Morse patent were reaching out westward, as were both 

No. -127; Charles M. Haar, "Legislative Regulation of New York Industrial 
Corporations: 1800-1850," New York History, XXII (1941), 191-1965 Shaw 
Livermore, "Advent of Corporations in New York," New York History, XVI 
(1935)* 286-298. 

^Telegraph Papers, O Reilly Doc.; James D. Reid, The Telegraph in America 
(New York, c* 1886), pp. 152-1551!; Carleton Mabee, The American Leonardo: 
A Ltfe of Samuel F. B. Morse (New York, 1943), pp. 288, 296-314 

51 Reid, pp. 300-316. 

52 Reid, pp. 462-470; Freeman Clarke Papers, 1849-1852; "Hiram Sibley," 
Dictionary of American Biography, XVII, 145-146. 


the Morse-Kendall southern lines and the House southern lines, while 
the several companies organized by O Reilly already held the field in 
a loose fashion. The Rochester capital in several of the latter companies, 
particularly in the Lake Erie Telegraph Company, enabled Sibley to 
negotiate a lease of that line to the New York and Mississippi Printing 
Telegraph in 1854, which proved to be the first decisive step in the 
rapid process by which Sibley and Cornell, who soon joined forces, 
drew most of the interior lines into one vast monopoly under the 
Western Union name after 1856. O Reilly, whose court battles had staved 
off a patent monopoly, clearing the way for the rise of such new com- 
panies as the Western Union, suffered with several other Rochesterians 
a total loss of earlier investments, while a few of Sibley s associates of 
1851 failed to hang on long enough to share in the fabulous rewards of 
the years just ahead, but Rochester was nevertheless emerging at the 
mid-fifties as the telegraph capital of interior America. 53 

It was not without significance that most of these leaders, while risk 
ing their funds in distant ventures, continued to make Rochester their 
home. O Reilly and other venturesome men of the forties had moved on 
when opportunities in Rochester appeared slim, but the business com 
munity had now gained a stability and integration which combined 
with other factors to make the city appear a satisfactory headquarters. 
The big families of the period the Seldens, the Wards, the Smiths, the 
Clarkes, the Reynolds, the Elys, the Chapins, the Strongs, and of course 
the several branches of the Rochester clan having grown up with the 
city, had intermarried and become an integral part of the community. 54 
Vigorous individuals, such as Lewis Selye, Daniel Powers, Seth Jones, 
Isaac Butts, George Ellwanger, Patrick Barry, Samuel Wilder, Aaron 
Erickson, Isaac R. Elwood, D. Alonzo Watson, Hiram Sibley and the 
Churchill brothers were coming to the fore. 55 Less conspicuous names, 

38 Reid, pp. 462-470^.; Mabeej pp. 322:338. See also Dexter Perkins, "Henry 
O Reilly," Rochester History, January 1945. 

54 There were of course several distinct Smith, Ely, and Strong families, unaware 
as yet of possible common ancestors in colonial days. But the marriage ties between 
the Wards, Seldens, Chapins, Smiths, and Clarkes, and the alliances established 
by four daughters of King Strong of Pittsfield, Mass., linking the Reynolds, 
Brown, Gibbs, and Remington families, soon rivalled the ramifications of the 
Rochester clan. See George EL Ward, Andrew Warde and His Descendants: 1597 
igio (New York, 1910), pp, 141, 224-227, 322-327, 422-423; Benjamin W. Dwight, 
The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong (Albany, 1871), pp no, 
911-913, 1347-1348, 1363-1364, 1369* 

55 All but Wilder and Watson, both recent arrivals, and Powers have been 
noted frequently above; see "Daniel Powers," D. A. B. t XV, 157-158. It is perhaps 
worth noting that all but two of these individuals, and members of five of the 
older families here mentioned, appeared in the list of 47 Rochesterians with in 
comes of $10,000 or more in 1863 despite the low returns from real estate that 
year. See Union and Advertiser, Feb. 4, 1865. 


as John Jacob Bausch, George Taylor, and Henry Michaels, appeared 
among other recent arrivals. Most of these men were long to be identi 
fied with the city they had made their home. 

Quite different experiences awaited the great majority of Rochester s 
residents, for the migration into the West continued at flood tide. Only 
34 per cent of a sampling of over four hundred names in the 1849-50 
Directory reappeared in the Directory of 1853-54, representing, if this 
rough estimate may be accepted, a slight acceleration over the drifting 
population of the previous five-year period. Clearly the community s 
economic pattern did not as yet offer sufficiently attractive opportuni 
ties to the rank and file to hold their allegiance in face of the frequent 
advertisements of labor shortages on western railroads and other 
projects. 56 Western lake ports Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, 
and especially Chicago were gaining on such river giants as Cincinnati 
and St. Louis, but they still had far to go, and the canal port on the 
Genesee continued to look down on several of them. 57 

Apparently the most restless of Rochester s citizens were the Irish, 
who numbered 7002 in 1855, the largest foreign group. The stream of 
newcomers from abroad was ever increasing, and the State Census of 
1855 revealed that 44 per cent of the city s population was foreign-born. 
The American-born children of immigrant parents (there were about 
5,000 in this category in 1850 when the foreign-born numbered around 
7,000) swelled the total of the foreign nationality groups to well over 
half the population. Scant records remain concerning the occasional 
Swiss, Norwegian, or Slav, but many of the Germans, whose 6,554 
representatives comprised the second largest foreign group, were finding 
congenial employment in the shoe and clothing industries; the favorable 
opportunities for acquiring a small home of their own proved especially 
attractive to this group, soon to become the largest single nationality in 
Rochester. Native-born Rochesterians, if those born in the county are 
included, numbered 14,554, and another 9,934 hailed from other parts 
of the country, chiefly from New York and New England. However, as 
many of these were the children of foreign-born parents, the formerly 
dominant Yankee stock, though still supplying much of the leadership, 
faced innumerable adjustments as Rochester headed into the more cos 
mopolitan years ahead. 58 

56 Rochester Directory (1849-50), (1853-54) J Genesee Farmer t September, 1850, 
pp. 201-202; Union, Dec. 29, 1852. 

57 Andrews, Trade and Commerce, pp. 613-812; Bessie L. Pierce, A History of 
Chicago (New York, 1937), I, 43-44. Chicago passed Rochester in population 
during the mid-fifties, as Buffalo had a decade before, but the other kke ports 
on the American side did not come up to Rochester in population until the mid- 
sixties. Toronto likewise trailed behind Rochester until the late sixties. 

58 James F. W. Johnston, Notes on North America (Boston, 1851), pp. 204, 
217; N. Y. Census (1855), pp. 105-111. The Swiss numbered 259, Norwegians 39, 



The growing complexity of urban life appeared in the urgent character 
of several of Rochester s civic problems. Mounting pressure for local 
improvements finally broke the economy restraints of the late forties, 
nearly doubling the tax levy, while the city ; s bonded indebtedness 
increased threefold. Yet several important public works were neglected, 
and institutional efforts to care for the increasing number of unfortu 
nates proved insufficient. The limited civic facilities were dramatically 
revealed during a renewed cholera epidemic in 1852, and again the 
next year by waves of destructive fires and juvenile delinquency. The 
task of assimilating thousands of immigrants, many in desperate circum 
stances, presented problems which, as in most urban communities of 
the day/ 9 proved much too complex for simple solution, with the result 
that civic achievements lagged far behind those in the economic and 
cultural fields. 

Mounting prosperity had already weakened the influence of local 
economy advocates at the mid-century. The first short-sighted plan for 
a new but modest courthouse fortunately gave way to a more adequate 
structure, designed to accommodate both city and county offices. The 
council undertook to pay $30,000 in addition to the $25,000 raised by 
the county, and before the job was completed in 1851 another $8,337 
had been added to the city s share. 60 A huge iron bell, six feet across 
the mouth, was soon installed in the belfry, from whence its sweet tones 
sounded morning, noon, and evening hours as well as fire alarms. With 
other major outlays in the offing, a thorough revision of the assessments 
was undertaken in order to secure a more adequate tax base. The new 
city charter of 1850 facilitated matters by providing for the election of 
seven assessors, one from each of five districts and two at large. Each 
property was to be appraised by the district s assessor and two others, 
thus assuring uniform standards. The result was a complete revision 
which more than doubled the city s assessment total, bringing it up to 
$10,000,000 in 1851, while another 25 per cent was added by the 
mid-fifties. 61 

The city streets continued to present the greatest fiscal burden. 

while the u Poles probably represented a fraction of the Slavs. See Norman T. 
Lyon, History of the Polish People in Rochester (Rochester, 1935), pp. 5-15. Un 
fortunately the United States Census of 1850 failed to complete its survey of 
Rochester and several other New York cities in time for inclusion in several 
statistical tables. A study of the manuscript records now in the Court House 
helps to correct the deficiency. 

B9 John A. Fairlie, Municipal Administration (New York, 1910), pp. 83-90, 

60 Democrat , Mar. 14, 28, 1850, Common Council Proceedings, Sept. 21, 1852. 

61 Democrat, Apr. 18, 1851; Rochester Charter (1850), Title 4, Sections 71-72. 


Despite the large expenditures in this field during the previous period, 
the marshy character of the soil necessitated a frequent distribution of 
gravel at a cost of around $io ; ooo annually. An experiment with Medina 
stone blocks, tried out on Main Street in 1851 (following their intro 
duction on Broadway, New York, two years before), proved so success 
ful that they were laid on Buffalo and State Streets the next year, but 
the initial cost was so much greater than for macadam that the city 
had to be content with the paving of a few central squares. Meanwhile, 
the failure of several of the plank road