A History of Rossie, NY
HISTORY OF ROSSIE [St. Lawrence Co., NY] By Herbert O. Johnson
In 1792 Alexander Macomb purchased of the state of New York, all of the town of Rossie and several hundred thousand acres more for 8 pence an acre. He failed to make good, however, and did not get a title. The first title was given to Daniel Mch. 3, 1795, and for four months he was the owner of the town, when he sold an undivided fifteenth. Between July 10, 1795, and July 24, 1804, Richard Harrison, Abijah Hammond, Wm. S. Smith, Wm. Constable, Robert Gilchrist, Theodosius Fowler, Francis Childs, Jonathan H. Lawrence and Jonathan Dayton were all interested in the lands of the town.
On July 24, 1804, all the heirs of Wm. Constable and the executors of his will signed a deed conveying to James Donatiaous Le Ray de Chaumont and Grace, his wife, gave a warranty deed to David Parish, covering the whole town of Rossie; the description in the deed was based on a map and survey made by Benjamin Wright.
In 1796, the state bought the land of the Indians and agreed to pay “at the mouth of the river Chazy” of Lake Champlain on the third Monday in August, 2230 pounds, 6 shillings and 8 pence, with an annual payment on the third Monday in August each year “forever thereafter” the sum of 213 pounds, 6 shillings, and 8 pence. For value received, the “Seven Nations or tribes of Indians” did “cede, release and quit claim to the people of the state of New York forever, all claim, right or title of them, the said Seven Nations or tribes of Indians” to lands within said State” thereby making good the title of the state.
In 1806, Ambrose Simmons, Oliver Malterner, Amos Kinney, Jr., Samuel Bonfy, Silvius Waters, Josua Sevens, Jerome Waldo, Geo. W. Pike, Benjamin Pike, Jr., Ebenezer Bemis and David Shepard made contracts for land in the town of Rossie, near the present village of Somerville. A part if not all of the men making a personal visit and locating their land that year, returning to their homes in Herkimer County late in the fall.
In 1807, Joseph Teall and Reuben Strayer purchased or rather contracted for all the eastern end of the town from where the Oswegatchie River crosses the town at Wegatchie. According to Highest History of St. Lawrence Co., the contract was made through George Morris a nephew of Gouverneur Morris, though the country records do not show that Gouverneur Morris owned any land in the town of Rossie. In 1810 they were given deeds to over 1600 acres, by David Parish. They came from Herkimer County, to Somerville in 1807 and Mr. Straighter made the first clearing the same year. It was about half a mile east of Wegatchie on the farm now owned by Mr. Henry Force.
The usual trials of pioneer settlers fell to the lot of those hardy men. It was no easy task to hew a farm from the forest and the first year there was little to live on except game and such provisions as they brought with them which could not have been very much. Through the first winter they all made small clearings and in the spring of 1808 crops were planted, most of the seed having been carefully saved from the little store brought with them from Herkimer County.
By 1809 the little community began to find life somewhat easier, roads had been built, one to Gouverneur; another from Somerville to Wegatchie and from there to Natural dam, where there was a grist mill. Mr Straighter built a sawmill at Wegatchie that year, and boards could be secured for doors and floors.
In 1810, David Freeman, James Straighter, Joseph Teall, Diamond Wheeler, Eli Winchell, Simeon Sevens, John Wilcox, and Daniel Wilcox, the latter unmarried, moved to the new country; several of them had been up the summer before and built log houses for themselves, so that all that was necessary to settle was a fire on the hearth and their few household goods in place. To start a fire on his hearth, one of the men, Mr. Freeman, walked half a mile to borrow a burning brand.
Because of the easier access probably no settlement had been started west of the Oswegatchie River previous to 1810; in that year, however, Mr. Parrish decided to open up the western end of the town.
It was, of course, known that Black Lake extended from the settlement near Ogdensburg to the boundary of Mr. Parish’s possessions in Rossie, and offered an easy route to the St. Lawrence River. Early in the spring of 1810, he sent Mr. Daniel W. Church, who had superintended the erection of a stone store for Mr. Parish in Ogdensburg, to the head of Black Lake to look for a water power. He found a very promising power on the Indian River about one-half mile above its junction with the Lake.
In the early summer of 1810 Mr. Church with seven men, one of whom took his wife as cook, boarded a Canadian bateau for the head of navigation on Indian River where a water power had been located. They landed just at sunset. Fastening their sail to poles, they made a tent for the married pair, while the rest of the party rolled themselves in their blankets and slept on the rocks by a fire they built. The next day, a two room shanty was put up with material they had brought with them. That was the first house in what is now Rossie village. It was on the island near where the old furnace now stands.
Some previous attempt to establish a settlement, or station at Rossie had been made, for the early settlers found a boat loaded with stone and sunk in Indian river, that had evidently lain there for many years, and at a point where the stone store was later built, an excavation had been made, as though some building was to be erected. Why, or by whom, no one knows. A theory plausible at least, is that it was done by the French Missionaries.
The Sulpitians erected a mission building on the point where the Oswegatchie River flows into the St. Lawrence at Ogdensburg in 1749. Many years ago the corner stone was found in removing the walls. On it was a Latin inscription which translated reads: “Francis Picquet laid the foundation of this habitation in the name of the Almighty God in 1749.”
There are many evidences that the Indians were numerous around Black Lake. Old Indian hearths, rude pottery and earthworks, implements of the chase and of warfare have been found all along its shores. It is quite probable that the Sulpitians desired to establish a mission station in the midst of the Indian homes.
No one will ever know for there is no known record French or English, regarding the boat load of stone in the bottom of Indian River, or the hole in the ground on its shore, nor can any one tell why it was abandoned. It may have been an unrecorded frontier tragedy. There were many such, whatever the cause. It no doubt delayed the beginning of Rossie’s history for many years.
The work on the saw-mill was begun the day following their arrival. Mr. Church says in an autobiography, “The first work we did was a saw pit and set the whip saws going and by night had a log hut of two rooms covered with the plant cut for the dam and flume.” By hard and well directed effort the mill was completed and ready to operate before winter.
It was quite essential to the prosperity of Mr. Parish’s tenants, and the improvement of his lands that some means of closer communication between the different sections he established. With this end in view, he engaged Mr. Crary, a surveyor of Antwerp, to run a line from Ox-Bow through Rossie to Ogdensburg, to determine the feasibility of building a road between those points. Mr. Crary reported such a road impossible. Mr. Parish at once wrote to Mr. Church, asking him to examine the ground and give his opinion. Mr. Church says, “I started one afternoon with one man and went through to Vrooman’s Chanity (shanty) where we stopped that night, and as soon as daylight in the morning, Vrooman with us, to show us the county line, we started and began our line as soon as we could see. We ran over a point of the ridge and down into the cedar swamp where the long crossway now is.” After a breakfast of raw pork and bread, they continued their line reaching a point near the Helmer farm at night and the next morning finished their survey. Mr. Church reported that the road could be built but at “considerable expense.”
During the winter of 1810 and 1811 Mr. Church built a bridge across the Indian River at the foot of “big hill” just above the present bridge. At the same time lumber was sawing at the new mill for contemplated buildings in Rossie, and also for a boat the “Genesee Packet” that was to be built in Ogdensburg. The next summer, 1811, a road was constructed on the line run by Mr. Church between Rossie and OxBow. This road connected with a road previously built from OxBow through Wegatchie to Somerville and completed a road from end to end of Mr. Parish’s possessions.
Rossie was made to feel the effects of the war of 1812 in various ways. While it was out of the path of soldiers, sent north both by the U.S. Government and by the State, and was far enough from the Canadian border to be free from the annoyance of foraging parties, it was nevertheless so near the seat of war on the northern frontier that it experienced the excitement and some of the hardships of actual war. On one occasion the able bodied men or a part of them at least, were ordered to pack two weeks rations, shoulder their muskets and march to Ogdensburg. It was a “hurry call” and the trip was made in one fatiguing day’s march, arriving late in the evening. The men camped that night and the next day were ordered to shoulder their muskets and march home again. They left their rations with the half starved soldiers camped there, some of whom were living on flour and water mixed and roasted over the campfire.
To the settlers from the Mohawk country who had experienced the horrors of Indian warfare during the Revolutionary war, a means of defence was a great and pressing necessity. Most of the able bodied men in the eastern end of the town gathered on a point in the road from Somerville to Wegatchie about three-fourths of a mile from the latter place, on what is now a part of the Teal farm to erect a block house. They worked frantically cutting and hewing timber, for the block house must be substantial and safe. So the timber was all squared that entered into its construction. It was finished in a very short time and the community breathed easier.
A small block house was started at Somerville, near the little creek that flows by the town, on the land now owned by John Salmon. This was of round logs and was never completed. It is not surprising that the war with its probable British and Indian alliance should send a thrill of fear through the inhabitants of that part of the town for most of them came from Herkimer County where the Indian allies of the British had committed the most villainous atrocities during the revolutionary war. The older settlers had passed through these horrors. Grandmother Malterner, the mother of Oliver and Geo. Malterner, and Mrs. David Freeman, had fled to a swamp with her little brood, during that awful period and from there had seen night illuminated, the torches being [thrown at] her own home and the houses of her neighbors, by their light had seen women and children carried off to captivity or torture or their heads split with a tomahawk; had seen the brains of infants dashed out on rocks. She had come within a second of death at the hand of an Indian warrior whose uplifted tomahawk was caught by another Indian as its sharp blade was about to descend upon her head. Her husband was a captive at Quebec, carried off by these same Indians.
Something like a panic prevailed upon the declaration of war. The sight of an Indian, no matter how innocent he might be, would send the people to cover. Before the blockhouse was finished, and while the men were at work on it, a young man by the name of Keeney came rushing through the settlement at Somerville saying, there was a party of Indians on the war path. Seizing a gun from its pegs in one of the houses he swore a magnificent oath that he would protect the settlers if he had to exterminate the whole tribe. Women ran screaming from their homes, some guarding their children, others leaving them in their fright; one woman dropped a child she was carrying and ran on. Grandmother Malterner cautioned silence, but silence was an impossibility in the frenzied state prevailing. She gathered some most valued possessions in a bundle, saw that the children were all together and started for the blockhouse collecting sons and daughters, including the infant that was dropped in the cornfield. The men hearing of the peril, started for their homes, meeting the fugitives on their way. At night all were safely fathered at the blockhouse where they remained for several days. It was the believe of the settlers, when the excitement was over, that Keeney saw no Indians, but was seeking a reputation for valor.
The same summer, 1812, Mr. Streeter’s saw mill at Wegatchie burned and its destruction was attributed to Indians. The incident came near causing another panic. Later it was found that the mill had been fired by a man living near who left the country the same night, never to return.
In 1813, Rossie village was captured by the British and was in possession of the enemy for about 24 hours. A gang of horse thieves and all-around toughs, deserters from both armies and vagabonds from both sides of the St. Lawrence, made their headquarters at Rossie, making raids in various directions, but chiefly into Canada, stealing horses and running them to the rocky ravines around Rossie where they were kept until there was a chance to sell them. Their raids became so frequent and so bold that the Canadian authorities determined to put a stop to them. With that end in view, Col. Frazier with a company of British regulars, came over by way of Morristown. The “invading army” surrounded Rossie village and captured it, but as no resistance was offered the battle was both bloodless and powderless. The force was divided, a part being left to guard the town, the balance were sent to hunt up the thieves. No captures were made, however, and the next day the soldiers marched back to Brookville. This ended the war so far as the town of Rossie was concerned.
The excitement of new business enterprises, the work of building mills, houses and roads, and the toil and moil of making productive homes in the wilderness, drove all thoughts of war from the people’s minds, and the routine of life was resumed as though there had been no interruption.
Until Jan. 1, 1811, Rossie was a part of the great unwieldy town of Russell which then embraced the present towns of Russell, Fowler, Pierpont, Pitcairn, Rossie and parts of the towns of Hammond and Fine.
In 1810, Benjamin Pike in behalf of the inhabitants of the section of the town bordering on Jefferson County, requested of the free holders that they might be set off from Russell, the intention being to annex themselves to Gouverneur. There seemed to be no objection to letting them go, as the following from the records of the town of Russell shows: “At a special meeting of the free-holders and other inhabitants of the town of Russell assembled on Tuesday, the first day of January, 1811, at the dwelling house of Moses A. Bunnell, in said Russell, voted to grant the request of Benjamin Pike, in behalf of the inhabitants of that part of Russell called Somerville that they be set off from Russell and annexed to Gouverneur.” The part so set off embraced the townships numbered 1, 2 and 7. Hammond, Killarney and Somerville of tract number 3. That is the present towns of Fowler, Rossie and part of Hammond. After the separation, it was decided to form a separate town instead of becoming a part of Gouverneur.
On January 27, 1813, a special act of the Legislature was passed incorporating the town of Rossie. In the act a day was named for holding the first town meeting. The day passed and no meeting was held. The following extracts from the records of the town gives the reason: “The proceedings of a town meeting held by the Justice of the Peace for the town of Rossie at the house of Reuben Streeter on Thursday the 16th day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirteen, agreeable to the statutes made and provided, In the case of neglect of the town in not choosing town officers at the legal time of holding town meeting, they not having been informed of their incorporation in time, we, the subscribers, Justices of the Peace in and for the County of Saint Lawrence, having met for the purpose above mentioned, have chosen and appointed the following persons as town officers for this year.” The following list of officers were named: Supervisor, Reuben Streeter; Town Clerk, Geo. W. Pike; Assessors, H.G. Berthrong, Jedediah Kingsley, Benjamin Pike; Commissioners of Highways, Simeon Stevens, Diamond Wheeler, Alvin Wight; Constable and Collector, Elias Teall; Overseer of the Poor, Samuel Bonfy and Silvius Waters; and “seventhly chose Reuben Streeter, Benjamin Pike, Silvius Waters and Ebenezer Parker overseers of the highways in the several districts in which they respectively live, and lastly do agree and appoint the next annual town meeting to be held at the house of Reuben Streeter, in said town.” Signed: Isaac Austin, Pardon Babcock and Diamond Wheeler, Justices of the Peace. Attested by Geo. W. Pike, Town Clerk. There follows a record of receiving and placing on file the oaths of office for all the chosen officials. Diamond Wheeler was evidently the only justice in the new town. Pardon Babcock and Isaac Austin were residents of Gouverneur and were of the first party of four men to visit Gouverneur with the intention of settling there. This was in 1805. Mr. Berthrong named as assessor was the first “inn keeper” at Rossie.
Mr. Streeter had moved to the block house shortly after its completion, it being the only house of any size in town. For many years the town meetings were held there.
The new town was named by Mr. Parish, Rossie, being the name of a castle in Scotland owned by his brother-in-law. His sister’s name was Rosa. Somerville was named from Somerville, N.J., which was familiar ground to some of the land holders of that time. Hammond was named from Abijah Hammond, who, with W.S. Smith owned large tracts of Macombs land, the other township forming the new town of Rossie. Killarney was doubtless named by McCormick, who was a native of Ireland.
When the town was formed, the settlers had made a good showing for that time, and their number on the first assessment roll showed a list of thirty-seven taxpayers, not all residents of the town, however, there were 499 ¾ acres of land cleared and 90,575 acres wild, the total valuation being at $183,754.00. The buildings did not show up very well, they were only valued at $2,990.00 which certainly could not be considered extravagant in the way of house building.
The assessment roll was for the present towns of Rossie, Fowler and Hammond. The greater part of the land cleared was in the vicinity of the present village of Somerville. There was a small settlement at Hailesboro in Fowler though not very much land was cleared. In Hammond, one man had established himself at Chippewa Bay and a hermit lived somewhere in the woods. At Rossie village a small clearing had been made around the mill. Of the 499 acres cleared, less than 100 lay outside the Teall and Streeter tract.
Throughout Northern New York, the first industry started was the sawmill, after which came the flour mill, then followed any thing that the proprietors looked upon as likely to enhance the value of their lands or help their tenants in their struggles with adverse nature. The pioneer found certain aspects of nature an enemy to be conquered. It was a far cry from a dense forest to waving fields of grain, yet the waving fields of grain were necessary to their prosperity, almost their existence. The one implement that he must have was the ax; a gun came next. He moulded his own bullets, made his own powder; with these implements and an iron kettle for his wife he was ready to face the forest. He had the hardihood, energy and good health that were sure winners. His first move was the erection of a log house with one or two rooms below and a loft above. The saw mills sometimes furnished boards for floors and partitions and sometimes they were split from pine logs. This is a description of the home of David Freeman, built in the summer of 1810, that has been handed down from generation to generation. It was built of square logs and contained two rooms on the ground floor about seven feet high. Above was one room at first, though later partitioned, about three feet high on the sides and seven or eight at the peak. At one end the chimney and fireplace was built. It was of stone and formed a part of the end of the house. It was rough and irregular, and the children amused themselves by climbing up its sides. It was very much like climbing stairs and from it they crawled through the little window into the loft. Inside there was more of an attempt at symmetrical lines. The stones were more smoothly laid and it was rudely plastered in places. The fireplace was wide and deep, almost large enough to set up a bed. From its capacious throat hung a pot-hook, a hook hung at the end of a chain just over the fire, the other or top end of the chain being fastened at the top or part way up the chimney. At the side of the fireplace was attached a crane. The boards in the floor were loose. Tradition says that the cracks in the walls were stopped with lime mortar, though more often clay was used.
All the houses were very much alike, except that some, most in fact, were made of round logs, instead of hewn timber. Baking was done in the kettles until the dignity of a brick oven was reached. This oven was built out of doors, so that baking day depended somewhat on the weather. Baking was quite an elaborate process. In the first place they must have “oven wood,” dry wood cut short and split fine. The fire was built several hours before the baking was to be done to get the oven hot. Once hot, the baking could be done without further fire. The result was far better bread than can be made in the modern stove or range, at least the old people used to say so.
The farmer must be a mechanic as well, for most of his farm tools and furniture he made with his axe, jack-knife, and sometimes if especially fore-handed, a draw shave. He made his drag, table, chairs, bedstead, put up shelves and made chests for the storage of linen. The only wagons were those in which they moved from Herkimer or wherever they came from. Those who had no wagons, used sleds. The runners hewed out of a “natural crook” selected with great care from some tree. Nevertheless, these hardy pioneers enjoyed life, enjoyed work, they liked to see the little clearing around the house grow larger acre by acre, the little patch of wheat, not enough for the year’s consumption, expand until there was a surplus, enjoyed telling how many acres of rye they had sown, and the corn, how luxuriantly it grew.
They read nature, not books, aside from bibles, there were not a hundred books in the town and only now and then a newspaper. They were up early enough to hear the birds in the morning; every bird’s voice was familiar to them. They were strong, healthy, hearty and could sleep, and the homely fare was enjoyed to the uttermost. The children were strong of limb, tanned and freckled by being always out of doors. Healthy from simple food and constant exercise. It was a pleasure to live.
The education of the children of the community commenced in 1811 when a Mr. Maynard opened a school in a little log house on the farm now owned by Wallace Emonds, about one mile west of Somerville. There were no school districts, in fact no school provided for except as the people subscribed for the purpose. The pioneers paid a certain amount for tuition and boarded the teacher a certain length of time, while he with a good birch rod and an English reader directed the young idea. The method of teaching was peculiar to the time, many things of a religious character were taught. The alphabet was memorized before any attention was given to the appearance of the letters. When the children reached the proper age, the multiplication table was committed to memory and then the youth learned to sing it. During the boy’s entire education until he got big enough to “lick the teacher” he was given frequent lessons in dancing to the tune whistled by the birch rod, as it cut the air in its descent on the home made woolen that clothed his sturdy form.
Not until 1815 was the matter of education taken up officially. On March 30th of that year, the town was divided into three school districts, number one, comprising the present town of Fowler, number two, all of Rossie from No. 1 to the Indian River, while No. 3 reached from the Indian River to the St. Lawrence. The little log school house of district number two was standing not a great many years ago, though all trace of it is gone now. It was near where the first school was taught by Mr. Maynard. On Mar. 31, 1814, a feeble cry was heard at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Williams. It was the first cry of just that kind that had been heard in the town and was a little baby boy’s protest against uncongenial surroundings. Because he was the first baby in the new town he was named “Rossie”—William Rossie Williams. His advent may have hurried the people of the town in their efforts to establish a better school system, for at the town meeting that year Reuben Streeter, James Howard and Noah Holcomb were named “commissioners of common schools.” No school meeting was held— all the school business being transacted by the above board and at regular town meetings. In 1816, it was voted, that three times the money shall be raised for the support of common schools that is allowed by the state. The records do not show the amount.
A wolf bounty of $5.00 was offered in 1855; there was also a fox bounty of 55 cents. It was ordered at town meeting that “hogs should not run at large” and that “cows should not run at large near any tavern or mill in the winter season.”
Until April 15, 1815, the town of Rossie extended from the present village of Fullerville to the St. Lawrence River. On that date, the town of Fowler was organized and with it went school district No. 1. The division took a goodly lot of territory but comparatively few inhabitants. Of the industries a saw-mill and grist mill at Hailesboro were all the new town possessed. It was a fortunate thing for the town of Rossie that David Parish was induced to invest in its real estate for he, and the others who followed, took a personal interest in their tenants, knew them all and were always looking after their welfare. David Parish was the second son of John Parish, an English gentleman who was a resident of Hamburg where he was interested in a Rothschild bank. David was educated with the expectation that he would continue his father’s business, but instead, he was employed by European capitalists to transfer certain credits from the Spanish colonies in Mexico to Europe. Mr. Parish located in Philadelphia where he met Robert and Gouverneur Morris, the Ogden families, so prominent in the history of Ogdensburg, LeRay de Chaumont and others interested in northern lands, and through them was induced to make large purchases. He never became a citizen of the United States, and the State Legislature on Nov. 8, 1808, passed an “enabling act” giving him permission to “purchase or take by descent any real estate within this state; and to hold and dispose of the same in like manner as a natural born citizen.” He built a fine place at Ogdensburg where he made his home most of the time until 1816 when he returned to Europe, where by investment in a concern that proved to be a corrupt institution, he lost heavily and died in 1826 possessed of but little property outside of his American holdings. He died intestate and without issue. His heirs were his father, John Parish, and his brothers, George, Charles, Richard and John. Being aliens they could not hold real estate in New York, except by special act of Legislature. Such an act had been passed, however, in 1817 allowing David’s brother George, who had acted as his agent since his return to Europe, to hold real estate, thus he inherited. The remaining heirs brought suit through the court of Chancery and obtained a judgment. The property was sold to the highest bidder by Peter Seton Henry, master in Chancery, and was purchased by Joseph Rossell, the confidential agent of the Parishes. The deed to Rossell was dated June 26, 1827, and on July 2, 1827, Joseph Rossell and Louisa, his wife, gave a deed of all the property to George Parish. For six days Mr. Rossell owned the property. Mr. Rossell came to this country to escape conscription in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and was often the only representative of the Parishes in this country. Until his disastrous speculation in Europe, David Parish was very wealthy. He with Steven Girard of Philadelphia, put up seven millions— almost half of a sixteen million dollar loan negotiated by the government in anticipation of the war of 1812-13 with England. He was generous, but practical in his generosity; aristocratic in the best sense of the word; energetic, painstaking and not discouraged by apparent failures. His brother George who succeeded him in management and finally in possession of the property in Northern New York, was a man with many of his characteristics. He, too, was educated for a commercial life, in addition to a finished literary course. He had traveled extensively and continued his trips to many lands while owner of Rossie. George Parish was born in 1781 and was about 35 years old when he came to America.
The difficulty experienced in settling the estate of his brother David, made George more careful. That there might be no trouble in case of his death, he executed a “Last Will and Testament” in which he bequeathed his property in the state of New York to Joseph Rossel of Ogdensburg in trust for his brother Richard, his heirs, etc. Mr. Rossel was further directed to “Devise and bequeath the estate aforesaid to competent trustees. He died very suddenly in Paris, Apr. 22, 1839, while preparing for an extensive journey in Asia, leaving as heirs, Richard Parish of Hamburg, John Parish of Bohemia, Charles Parish of Hamburg and Elizabeth Hamilton of Glasgow. His will was proved July 12, 1839, before Horace Allen, Surrogate of St. Lawrence County.
For the second time Mr. Rossel was in possession of all the Parish property in New York State. On Dec. 6, 1841, Mr. Rossel sold to George Parish all the land in Rossie. The deed recites the will of George Parish and further says “the said Richard Parish has authorized and directed the said Joseph Rossel to grant, sell, and convey to his son, George Parish,...all lands, etc...and in consideration of $228,000.00 conveys with other lands in the town of Rossie township of Somerville, the unsold residue of various lots amounting to about 1700 acres. This deed also covered all personal property, machinery, mines and minerals. On Dec. 31, 1859, another deed was given by Mr. Rossel wherein he conveyed “all real and personal estate of what nature and kind, whatsover. Whereof, the said George Parish, deceased, died seized or possessed or was in any way or manner entitled or interested, not otherwise conveyed.”
George Parish 2nd, a nephew of David Parish, was the last of the name to live in this country. He possessed the extensive ability of his uncles, managed the property in a way to keep values increasing, but was less inclined to make improvements that were not of direct benefit to his property. His pace was rather more swift than that of the previous owner. He kept quite extensive stables, maintained his house in great style, evidently was rather fond of display, though always easily approached. He gave himself no air of superiority in his contact with other men. There are four old lithographs in the Laidlaw house at Rossie that Mr. Parish had executed in Germany shortly after taking possession of the property in 1841,--one is of Victoria lead mine, one of the iron works at Rossie. He spent a great deal of his time in Europe and gave powers of attorney to different people to transact any business including the transfer of real estate. Joseph Rossel and his son John Francis, Charles R. Westbrook, Royal Phelps, Robert Gordon, Benjamin F. Butler (Maitland Phelps & Co.) were among those to whom such power was granted. About 1866 he was given the title of Baron VonSeftonburg by Austria and at once removed to that country, and so far as is known, no member of the Parish family has visited the United States since. He died in 1883. About 1899, a deed was given by Oscar Parish through his attorney, closing out the last little end of the Parish interests in this country.
For sixty years the Parish family took a personal interest in Rossie, spending their money freely for its betterment, entering into its history when it was a wilderness, watching and directing its growth until it became a prosperous, highly cultivated and well developed town, then leaving. They are as much a part of its history as its mines, mills or farms.
In 1812 iron ore was discovered at about a mile east of Somerville. Mr. Parish sent samples to Albany for assay. The assay proving satisfactory, enough ore was sent to give it a trial in a furnace. The furnace trial showed the ore to be of good quality, making a superior grade of iron. Mr. Parish in 1813, began the erection of a furnace at Rossie Village. Mr. James Howard, a brother-in-law of D.W. Church, and who had worked with Mr. Church in Ogdensburg, was placed in charge of the building operation. A Mr. Bempo, an English furnace man was made the first manager and conducted the first blast in 1815 which was a complete failure. Then began a series of costly experiments, lasting until about 1819, when Mr. Bembo gave it up and returned to England, no further work being done there for a number of years. Meanwhile Mr. David Parish had returned to Europe, 1816, and his brother George had assumed the management of the Parish property. In 1817 James Monroe, President of the United States, visited Rossie as a guest of Mr. Parish. The same year, the recorded vote in the town, for Governor, was Daniel D. Tompkins 14 and Preston King 5, making 19, the total number of votes cast in the town for Governor of the great state of New York.
Some time in the 20’s, Mr. Parish opened correspondence with a Mr. Call of New Jersey who was familiar with furnace work as practiced in Germany. He came to Rossie in 1822 or 23. Under his management a successful blast was made for Messrs. Keith, Marvin & Sykes, to whom Mr. Parish had leased the furnace for experimental purposes. Having demonstrated that the furnace was a success, they gave it up and it was leased to S.Fuller & Co. After three years, Mr. Parish bought the contract of Messrs. Fuller and made a long lease with Robert R. Burr of New Jersey. Mr. Burr gave up his lease in 1827 after having run the furnace for only two or three years. For ten years the furnace was idle.
In 1837, Mr. Parish built a new stack and in other ways enlarged and improved the property and May 12th the furnace was again blown in. In 1844, the furnace was again enlarged. Between 1837 and 1852, something over 17000 tons of iron was made. In 1848-9 a foundry and machine shop was built in connection with the furnace. The shop was devoted largely to material for railroad construction.
In 1844, George Parish, 2nd, a nephew of David Parish, became owner of the Parish interests in St. Lawrence County. He kept the furnace property until 1864 when he sold it and the iron mines at Keenes and Caledonia to Samuel W. Torrey, who in turn sold the property to the Rossie Iron Works, a corporation of which Mr. Torrey was made President. The furnace was blown out for the last time in 1867 and is now a somewhat picturesque ruin owned by Mr. John P. Crary of Rossie.
The furnace at Rossie was built to smelt the ores found at the Caledonia mine, which had been opened in 1812. For many years all the ore mined was hauled to Rossie usually by the tenants of Mr. Parish, he paying them from $1.00 to $3.00 per ton for hauling. Mr. Parish and his attorneys managed the mines until the property was sold in 1864, when Mr. Chas. R. Westbrook of Ogdensburg was given the management by the Rossie Iron Works. Mr. Westbrook was of an old Ulster County family, his ancestors having settled there in 1640. In 1883 his son, Charles S. succeeded him in the management which re retained until 1890, when Mr. Gregory P. Hart succeeded him and continued until the mine was closed in 1893.
The history of the mine would furnish a good ground work for the financial history of our country, its periods of activity and of depression being almost the same as the periods of financial prosperity and gloom. Until the 40’s all the ore mined was hauled to Rossie. Between that time and the building of the railroad in 1856, other furnaces had been built near by and used Caledonia ore. From 1868 to 1873, there was but little ore shipped until 1879, when another wave of prosperity struck the iron interests. In 1881-2, the hand drilling was mostly abandoned and the work was done with compressed air. A machine shop was built and a company store started under the management of Mr. Addison Cummings, a native of the town of Rossie. In 1887, shipments of ore stopped, and from then no work was done except to keep the mine free from water. In 1890, shipping was resumed in a small way, lasting until 1893, when everything, pumps, tracks and all machinery was taken from the mines and they were allowed to fill with water. The property was placed in charge of Mr. Victor Boulet, who had been in the employ of the company since 1868, coming from the “Grand Banks” where he had been a fisherman.
The Rossie Iron Works made application for a voluntary dissolution and Mr. Joseph P. Curtis was appointed receiver to sell the property. On Sept. 26, 1898, the property was sold, Mr. Chas. S. Westbrook and Mr. James M. Wells buying the mines and mineral rights. In 1900 Mr. Westbrook pumped out the Caledonia mine and sold to the Rossie Iron Ore Co., who have continued its operation since, first under the management of Mr. Rodie until 1904, when the present manager, Mr. Brimsmead assumed charge. He is a native of New York, a technical graduate with a wide practical experience, having been connected with mines in Missouri, Montana, British Columbia and South America. At present about 100 men are employed at the Caledonia Mine and they are raising about 200 tons of ore per day.
The first postoffice established in the town of Rossie was at Rossie village, May 16, 1816. It was the eleventh office in the county, the first having been established in Dekalb in 1806. Mr. Roswell Ryon was the first postmaster and was one of the supervisors of the town.
In 1828 a postoffice was established at Somerville, Solomon Pratt was the first postmaster being succeeded by Martin Thatcher, Ward P. Lewis, H.R. Albro, Chauncey B. Fell, Lyman Merriman, Gilbert Waid, Hiram Hall, Chas. Witt, J.B. Johnson, P.M. Crowley, A.A. Scott, John Brickley, and Geo. VanOrnum. In January, 1905, the postoffice was discontinued.
The postoffice at Spragueville was first established at the house of Alexander Wright on Shingle Creek, some distance from its present location. Later it was moved to Steels Corners, then to Spragues Corners. It was first named Shingle Creek then Keensville and finally Spragueville, its present name. Mr. Wright was the first postmaster, followed by Daniel Wilcox, Geo. F. Steele, Eben Gillet, A.M. Vedder, L.G. Draper, D.W. Sprague, Geo. Steele, D.W. Sprague, A.H. Johnson, and Frank Johnson, the present incumbent.
A good roads movement started June 8, 1812, when a company composed of David Parish, L. Hasbrouck, N. Lord, J. Rossel and others was incorporated with a capital of $50,00 and was known as the Ogdensburg Turnpike Co., for the purpose of making a turnpike road from Ogdensburg to Wilna. They turned the road over to the town in 1826. This road extended from OxBow to the Morristown line. The town maintained its own roads from 1826 to 1848, when the Gouverneur, Somerville and Antwerp Co. was formed to build a plank road from Antwerp through to Gouverneur. This road crossed the town of Rossie at Somerville, being only about 1-1/2 miles in the town. The company was incorporated Dec. 30, 1848. The road was finished in September, 1850. The directors were C.P. Egbert, S.B. VanDuzee, Gilbert Wait, N.L. Gill, Chas. Anthony and Martin Thatcher. Gilbert Wait and Martin Thatcher, the latter being treasurer, were both residents of Somerville. Jan. 23, 1850, the Hammond, Rossie and Antwerp Plank Road Co. was incorporated to build a plank road from Antwerp via Ox Bow and Hammond to Ogdensburg. From OxBow to the Morristown line it was in Rossie. Its directors were Ira Hinsdale, E. Brainard, Z. Gates, A.P. Morse and D.W. Baldwin. Mr. Baldwin was a resident of Rossie and manager of the Parish industries of the town.
The construction of the plank road through the town presented two difficult problems: one was crossing the long swamp about a mile out of OxBow and the other was the approach to Indian River. The swamp was soft and gave no secure foundation for a road bed. At Indian River, there was an almost perpendicular descent of over 50 feet. There was a standard grade established for plank roads, which must not be exceeded. This made it necessary to cut down the hill which was rock and fill from there to the river, a distance of about one-eighth of a mile and a fill of over forty feet at its greatest depth. Messrs. Frasier & Co. took the contract to build the road from OxBow to Rossie for $7,000. The approach to the Indian River cost all they had got for the whole road. The road was completed in December, 1850. After the plank was worn out, the company was permitted to gravel the road and maintain it as a turnpike, collecting the toll the same as before. In 1880 the company’s charter expired and the road was turned over to the town. Previous to 1854, when the railroad was completed from Watertown to Potsdam, crossing the town at Keenes, where a station was established, there had been two lines of stage coaches, running via Antwerp, Somerville and Gouverneur north, the other from Antwerp to Ogdensburg by OxBow, Hammond, Rossie and Morristown. Before the advent of the railroad, all produce was hauled to Albany or Troy.
In 1818 an element entered the town, destined to have a great influence in shaping its moral and industrial growth. In that year, came Robert Ormiston, William Faichney, James Dixon, James Fairbairn, Thomas Elliot, Donald McCarvie, James Henderson, Colon McLaren, James Douglass and Andrew Dodds, with their families. They sailed from Scotland for Quebec. From Quebec they sailed up the St. Lawrence as far as Prescott, where they met one of Mr. Parish’s agents who induced them to visit Rossie. They finally settled in the town between the Oswegatchie and Indian Rivers, now known as Scotch Settlement, Mr. Parish agreeing to clear three acres of land and build a log house for each family, and furnish a yoke of oxen for each two families, and give each a cow, provision and seed wheat for a year. In 1819 Robert Clark, Andrew Culbertson, John Henderson, Andrew Fleming, John Dodds, James Hobkirk, John Tait, James Ormiston, David Storie, Wm. Laidlaw and James Lockie, joined the little colony. John McRobbie, Thomas Turnbull, and his brothers Michael, Adam, Andrew and William, came in 1820.
In 1829 or 30 Joel Jepson who had moved to Rossie from Vermont, was planting corn. His little daughter, nine years old, was droppping it for him; she saw a peculiar looking stone, white and covered with cubes. She hit it breaking it into numberless cubes, and squares of a dark gray color. She had discovered the Victoria Lead Mine. No real effort was made to work the rich deposit until 1835, when on Dec. 11 Mr. Parish made a contract with Mr. Bliss T. Mash, to prospect for minerals in the town of Rossie, one of the conditions being that Mr. Parish was to get fifty cents a ton for all iron ore mined and seventy-five cents for all lead. Any lead mined was to be smelted at Rossie. The contract was for ten years. On May 12, 1837, two lead mining companies were incorporated, one was named the Rossie Land Mining Co., and the other the Rossie Galena Co. Both were to be capitalized at $24,000. The two companies worked on the Coal Hill vein. Some work was done by the Rossie Galena Co. in 1836 but no extensive operations were commenced until 1837, when both companies put an immense number of laborers at work. The smelting was done under a contract with Messrs. Moss and Knapp, whose furnace was on Indian River, something over a mile from the mine. They got $25 a ton, and all over 68 per cent, that the ore might yield in lead, giving them $28 a ton for smelting. Work was discontinued by both companies in 1840. The Victoria and Union veins had been worked by Mr. Parish. He also opened a mine on what was called the Robinson or Indian River vein, out of which he took 1,100 pounds of lead at a cost of $1,600. The two companies operating Coat Hill vein took out 3,250,690 pounds of metallic lead, the ore yielding 67 per cent on an average. After remaining idle for more than ten years, Mr. Parish, to whom the leased mine had reverted, made another lease to R.P. Remington, for ten years more. Mr. Remington was to pay a royalty of 1-12 of all lead mined. A stock company was formed Sept. 8, 1852, called the Great Northern Lead Co., capitalized at $500,000. The best machinery that could be procured was installed. They ran the mine about three years, with miners from Cornwall, England, when they were forced to close. The low price of lead and high royalty made it a losing venture.
In 1854 J.B. Morgan leased the mines running them with varying fortunes until 1868, when they were again closed. About this time the Parish interests in the town of Rossie were nearly all closed out. A. Pardee buying the mineral rights in the western end of the town and also buying about 365 acres of land at the Victoria and Union Mines. The mines were opened for the last time in 1875 under the management of Mr. John Webb, Mr. Pardee’s agent. The work only lasted about one year when the mines were finally closed. The mines and mineral rights still remain the property of the Pardee estate. Mr. Ara J. Moore of Dekalb being the present agent.
The advent of railroads, the invention of automatic machinery, and the concentration of manufacturing in large centers, were all factors in ruin of the small interior towns, even though they had water powers of great value. No town in St. Lawrence county was harder hit than Rossie. At one time the villages of Somerville and Rossie were the leading places in the county and Wegatchie had promise of being a manufacturing center of great importance. Rossie had its furnace, foundry and machine shop, saw mill, grist mill, oat-meal mill, though the latter was never much of a success. Now, there is a saw mill doing purely local work, a grist mill, grinding feed mostly, four stores, two hotels and two blacksmith shops.
Wegatchie had a furnace, saw mills, grist mill, spoke factory, woolen mill, and stone mill. Now there is a woolen mill owned and operated by H.K. Wright; one saw mill, a store, hotel, cheese factory and blacksmith shop. Somerville possessed in its days of prosperity two furniture factories, one carriage factory, two blacksmith shops, stores and two hotels. Now there is a blacksmith and carriage repair shop, one store and a hotel. The postoffice has yielded to the mail carrier and been abandoned.
There are five religious societies in town, one Catholic, one Presbyterian, and three Methodist. The Catholic society begins officially in 1816 when an attempt was made to build a church. The frame was raised but never enclosed. Previous to that, priests from Ogdensburg had visited the community with more or less regularity. By 1861 a church was completed. St. Patricks society was incorporated in 1872 with Thomas Kane and Thomas Spratt as the first trustees. The pastors have been Father Clark from Carthage, Fathers Harvey, Sherry, De Shannhae, McDonald, Rossiter, and Brown from Redwood, and Fathers Kelly, who built the present stone church, Fitzgerald, O’Neil, who died at Rossie in 1899, and the present pastor, the Rev. Father Crowley of Rossie.
The Presbyterian Society was organized in 1855. Andrew Laidlaw, William Allen, James Brodie, George Lockie and David McFalls, were the first trustees. The pastors have been John McGregor, James Gardiner, Alex. Adair, Wm. H. Robinson, Daniel A. Ferguson, John E. Beecher, Elias B. Fisher, John A. Pollock, Albro Green and Chas. G. Mitchell. They have a handsome church overlooking the Indian River. The Methodists at Rossie village have never built a church. Their first pastor was the Rev. Samuel Orvis appointed in 1844. He was followed by Henry Woodruff, J. Francis,, G.W. Plank, Samuel Griffin and P.M. Crowley. These pastors serving until 1854, when the church apparently ceased to exist until 1868, when it reorganized with A.T. Nicholas as the first pastor.
Wegatchie has a small Methodist organization served by the preachers located at OxBow. On Aug 16, 1845, the Methodist Episcopal Society of Somerville was organized with Hiram Hale, Orin Freeman, John Johnson Freedom Freeman, Augustus Preston and A.C. VanDyke as trustees. In 1846 a church was built. Silas Slater was the first pastor, followed by P.M. Crowley, C.C. Symes, J. Zimmerman, C.E. Beebe, J. Austin, L. Whitcomb, M.O. Kinney, S. Ball, D. Simmons, G.P. Kinney, S. Blackburn, C.W. Brooks, S. Boyd, H. Hesselgraves (1871), A.L. Smith, A.T. Tichols, J.G. Price, A.G. Woodard, W.P. Hall, B.M. Phelps, John Bragg, G.S. Hastings, A. Warren, T.H. McClanthan, and the present pastor, H. Hesselgrave.
The first Universalist Society of Somerville was incorporated in 1842 with Lyman Merriman, Alva Weeks and Wm. Ayres as the first trustees. For many years services were held with more or less regularity, being supplied from the St. Lawrence University at Canton much of the time. A church was built in 1846. The society has gone out of existence and a few years ago the church was sold.
The town of Rossie has good reason to be proud of her record in the war of 1861 to 1865. But few towns in this or any other state, furnished more volunteers for the same population than Rossie while the village of Wegatchie sent nearly one man to every six of her total population, to the front. Another direction in which the town takes great pride, is the character of the men sent to the county Legislature. Her supervisors have always been strong men, deeply interested in the town’s welfare. Mr. Reuben Streeter, the first supervisor, was a man of exceptionally strong character, wielding a greater influence during the town’s infancy than any other one man. He served as supervisor in 1813-14-16-17-18 and 29. Theodocius O. Fowler was elected in 1815. He was a resident of what was later the town of Fowler and was the first supervisor of that town. In 1819 and 1825, Ebenezer Martin was elected, and in 1820 Russell Ryan. Lewis Franklin followed Mr. Ryan holding the office until 1824. James Howard was elected first in 1826 and again in 1827. William Brown served one year, 1828. In 1830 Solomon Pratt was elected holding the office until 1832. He was again elected in 1835 and in 1845-6 and in 1852 he was appointed to fill vacancy, holding the office until 1854. Wm. Skinner was supervisor in 1833-4 and in 1836-7-8 Robert Clark held the office. Martin Thatcher was elected in 1839 and 1840; William B. Bostwick was elected in 1843, reelected in 1844 and again in 1858. H.V.R. Wilmot held the office in 1847-8, Zacheus Gates followed Mr. Wilmot in 1849 and in 1851 and 52, dying the latter year. R.R. Sherman served one year, 1855, followed by D.S. Baldwin, in 1856-7. From 1859 to 1863 James H. Church was supervisor. Thomas A. Turnbull served in 1864-65 and 66; again in 1870 he was elected, holding the office until 1874 and finally in 1878 he served one year. In 1867-68 and 69 Dr. David McFalls was the executive officer of the town. Abial E. Helmer followed Mr. Turnbull, holding the office during the years 1875-76-77-79-80-83-84-85 and 86. George McLear, a democrat, was elected in 1881 and again in 1882. John Barry was elected in 1887 and re-elected in 1888. In 1889, D.W. Church held the office for one year. From 1890 to 1891, James W. Marshall was supervisor. Dor. Fuller was elected in 1895, serving during the years 1896-7-8-9 and was re-elected in 1901. The May following he died. Mr. Marshall was appointed to fill the vacancy, and at the next town meeting he was elected for the full term, holding the office until 1905, when John Barry was again elected and is now supervisor.
There are many of Rossie’s citizens who are deserving of more than passing notice. Such men as Reuben Streeter, James Howard, the Churches and Turnbulls, James Marshall and many others who have identified themselves with all that meant progress, improvement, and honesty in the town’s affairs. The influence of such men will last as long as time and Rossie owes to them more than can be realized.
Mr. Streeter was of New England parentage, possessing all the traits that make a leader in pioneer life. His wealth was freely expended for the benefit of the community in which he lived. He gave the new town of Rossie its start in the direction of honest growth. His old age was clouded by the loss of property brought about by an unfortunate lawsuit. In the 40’s he left Rossie for Vermont, where he died.
Mr. Marshall was a native of the town. He was born at Spragueville, where his boyhood was spent. He had many things to hamper him, yet by force of character and the will to go ahead, he succeeded in becoming a man of influence in his town and a man looked upon by the Board of Supervisors, as one of the few men worthy of leadership. Of him, it can safely be said that he never knowingly did a mean thing or wronged any man.
The Churches were always identified with the town’s best interests. Daniel Church, son of Daniel Whipple Church and Dorothy (Wheeler) Church was born in the town of Canton, Sept. 17, 1809. His father was one of the first pioneers who settled St. Lawrence County and who in 1810 surveyed and laid out the road through the long swamp between OxBow and Rossie, a thing that had been considered impracticable. Daniel came from Morristown to Wegatchie in the town of Rossie in the year 1855, and engaged with his brothers, Louis and Howard, in the woolen business. In 1867, the factory was burned and rebuilt by Daniel the same year. This mill is still in operation and the little village is yet often called Church’s Mills, after the men who so long ago were active there. Mr. Church was of New England descent, his ancestor, Richard Church, being one of the first settlers of Hartford, Conn. The pioneer life which he had lived strengthened his sterling qualities and though he had very few advantages except of the most primitive sort, his natural desire for knowledge was so strong that he mastered many branches of science, without the aid of school or teacher and his ever widening range of useful information was a source of surprise even to his intimate friends. Modest, retiring, and unobtrusive by nature he was a fearless thinker and dared to investigate thoroughly the great questions of life and stood by his convictions sometimes almost alone. He hated sham and hypocrisy and inculcated honesty, charity, temperance economy and love of humanity, both by precept and example.
In 1848 he married Harriet Law Wheeler of Groton, Mass. Their four children are Martha Adams now Mrs. G.S. Conger, whose portrait will be seen in the group of Daughters of the American Revolution, Mary Hayward, who was lost at sea November 22, 1876; Daniel Whipple, a civil engineer in Chicago, Ill., and Harriet, now Mrs. A.W. Orvis. His wife died October 22, 1878, and five years later, the cares, toils and disappointments of life came to an end and Daniel Church entered into rest July 13, 1883.
Mary Hayward Church, second daughter of Daniel and Harriet Church, was born in Morristown, N.Y., July 20, 1851. Her childhood days were spent at Wegatchie, where the beauties of nature surrounding her helped to develop her innate artistic qualities and at an early age her fondness for drawing was displayed, her pet animals being always her patient models. Ella Turnbull, a natural artist, of Wegatchie, guided her first efforts and later she studied at the Gouverneur Wesleyan Seminary. In 1870 she entered Cooper Union in New York City, where she spent two years in honest, patient work, earning besides a diploma and two silver medals, the love and admiration of her co-workers and teachers. So much encouragement was given her that she decided to go to Europe to study in the great art galleries there. Her whole soul was filled with love of her chosen art, and her parents, with remarkable unselfishness and love, gave her the opportunity which in those days was quite uncommon.
November 15, 1873, the steamer Ville du Havre left New York harbor with nearly three hundred passengers on board. None with brighter prospects, purer and higher aims than Mary H. Church, then only 22 years old. In mid-ocean and at midnight, a sailing vessel, the Loch Earn, came gliding through the waters. There was a collision and this large steamer, the finest, strongest and most elegantly equipped on the ocean, in ten minutes sank out of sight; 226 people were lost, Mary H. Church being one of the number.
James H. Church, a brother of Daniel, was born in Canton. He learned the clothier’s trade in Antwerp and with his brother started the woolen mills at Wegatchie one of that village’s industries that still survives. The Churches trace their ancestors back to the 17th century, Samuel being born in Massachusetts some time in that century. His son, Nathaniel, was born at Hadley, in that state in 1704.
It is impossible to do justice to the men who made Rossie. Messrs. Pratt and Thatcher of Somerville, were two who deserve more than passing mention. Mr. Gilbert Wait for many years one of the town’s assessors, and so on for Rossie has been fortunate in having more than her share of strong men, such as give to communities a name that stands in history, not so much for great deeds as for sterling honesty.
[Entered as a data file in the O*C Genealogy BBS collection June 30, 1993.]
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