To give present-day descendants an idea of what life was like for the early pioneers in what is now Yates County, New York, the following quotes were selected from the History:
From pp. 34-37 — chapter on History of Yates County:
To those who understood the indications of good land, there was evidence enough that this was a country of abounding fertility. The pioneers judged this largely by the timber and the large and towering forest trees, with trunks almost as large at an altitude of fifty to sixty feet, as at the root, afforded an index of deep and excellent soil, which could not be misjudged.
Wild animals were for a time a source of fear and trouble to the early settlers. The wolf, a great coward by day, set up his frightful howl at night and made the deep recesses of the forest sound with his discordant chorus. During the first few years, and even as late as 1815, in the pine woods of East Barrington, there was a fastness from which the wolves made frequent raids on the sheep-folds of the farmers. Thousands of sheep were destroyed by these ravenous predators during the early years of the pioneer occupation. Only those who folded them with the greatest care could be secure of their flocks while the wolves remained. But they were hunted without mercy, and bounties offered for their scalps; and thus they were finally driven off to wilder and less inviting regions.
The bear was perhaps a still more common denizen of the woods, but less hurtful and less feared. This animal frightened more people than he harmed, but was not considered a pleasant companion in the woods. His attentions towards the civilizees [sic] were most directed to the swine, for which he had a remarkable fondness. It would not be difficult to fill a moderate volume with incidents relating to the raids of the bears upon the swine of the early settlers, many of them quite tragic so far as the animals, one or both, were concerned. Unlike the wolf, the bear often afforded savory food and sustenance for the flesh eating pioneers. It was in this way that Bruin often settled for the damages he had inflicted on the growing pork or corn field of the backwoodsman. David H. Buel informs the writer that tame bears were very common about the country, as cubs were often caught and kept as curiosities, but they were dangerous pets, and always required to be held by a chain to prevent casualties. Like most of the natives of the woods, they did not harmonize with civilization, and were crowded away by its advancing waves. Their exit is not deplored.
The deer were very common and sometimes troublesome, but furnished excellent food for the pioneer larder, which helped greatly in some instances to eke out the scanty supplies otherwise obtained. About the only damage these animals did was to the growing wheat in the fall. This was sometimes a little grievous, but the venison they supplied no doubt afforded ample compensation for that. The deer lingered in the country much longer than the wolf and bear.
Mr. [Charles] Williamson in his enumeration of the animals of the Genesee district, speaks of moose, deer and elk, but no tradition of these have come to the knowledge of the writer. He also speaks of beavers, otters, martins, minxes, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, and wild cats, many of which, said he, furnish excellent furs and pelts. Of game birds, he mentions wild turkies, pheasants, partridges, pigeons, plovers, heath fowls and meadow hen, besides waterfowl. Among the fish, especial note is made of salmon of two kinds, besides the varieties now so well known. That the salmon were plenty in the lakes and rivers of the country, while the Indians were the principal fisherman, is well attested, but that wild turkies abounded does not seem to be confirmed by the traditions that have come to the knowledge of the author.
The pioneers were not mistaken in their most sanguine and exalted estimate of the country. The sun shines on few better if any. But it was a savage wilderness, remote from the abodes of civilized life. Its wild estate required an incalculable amount of labor to subdue it and make it the pleasant abode of peaceful industry and social culture it has become. The obstacles before the early settlers were numerous and forbidding. The Indian left his trail a mere pathway through the dense and overhanging forest. He left also the wolf and the rattlesnake, and the mighty and deep-rooted forest itself to be removed, so that the sunshine of coming years might light up the beautiful meadows and waving grain fields that distinguish it as a land of rare beauty and overruning bounty. The early settlers found also the ague and fever, which was often worse than all the other discouragements and despondencies. Some of the richest lands were the worst afflicted with this scourge. The highlands of Steuben and Alleghany were even sought by some to avoid the sickly vapors which covered the fruitful and inviting region of the lakes to the northward. Their descendants in after years often expressed the most profound regrets at the loss of "what might have been" in the possession of rich lands, their fathers had shunned to escape the fever and ague. This scourge, too, though it lingered long in various localities, was finally quelled.
From p. 142 — chapter on Town of Barrington:
It was a region of very abundant game. . . . In 1807 a snow fell four feet deep in the month of April; and an immediate thaw, followed by a hard freeze, left such a crust on the surface of the snow, that wolves could run on it, while the deer broke through. The consequence was a terrific slaughter of the poor helpless deer by the ravenous wolves. A wolf would seize a deer, insert his nose into the jugular vein, suck up its blood and pass on in pursuit of another. The bodies of slain deer were thick in every direction.
The west side of the town was thickly infested with rattlesnakes. Joseph S. Finton relates that his brother and brother-in-law killed nine of these serpents in one half day. But badly as these creatures were feared they did but little actual harm, and were far less dangerous than the whisky [sic] bottles that were cherished so warmly by many of the early settlers. They had other foes to contend with more difficult to drive away than the snakes. Money was hard to get, and ashes were sometimes the best commodity they could sell. Peter H. Crosby states that he sometimes cut down trees, and burned them for no other purpose than to get the ashes to sell to raise a little money. It is not strange that people who stood their ground against these hardships, have held a goodly inheritance in the land since, and made it smile with plenty.
From pp. 209-10 — chapter on Town of Benton:
The character of the forest no doubt impressed the early settlers with the high quality of the soil that produced it. Mr. Buell still has twenty acres of original wood divested of its undergrowth, and finer timber cannot be found. The tall trees running from sixty to eighty feet, with trunks almost as large as at the base indicate a remarkable soil for trees to grow in. The prevalence of Sugar Maple, made the sugar making business every recurring spring, imperative, and never to be omitted until more recent years.
From pp. 370-71 — chapter on Town of Benton:
Distilleries in the earlier years were not generally large affairs, but they seem to have been rather numerous. Whiskey was one of the great forces of the age, and although its ravages were quite as appalling then as now, it was felt to be an indispensable lever in promoting the rugged industries by which the early improvements were made. "Chopping bees," "logging bees," and other "bees" were devices by which the early settlers aided each other largely in getting forward work, which single handed would have been hard to accomplish, and often impossible. Whiskey added nerve and social spirit to these cooperative labors, and without it, no such combined efforts could then have been possible.
* * * * *
About 1815, George Benton & Co. built an ashery half a mile south of Bellona, on land now owned by John J. Plattman. There were several of these establishments near Benton Centre, and other parts of the town, at various times. Potash was a large product for a considerable period. It was exported to England in large quantities, and before the period of canal transportation, was marketed to a large extent near Sodus.
From p. 551 — chapter on Town of Jerusalem:
The principal product for a number of years was pine shingles styled by the people north and east "Jerusalem Currency." The mints for the manufacture of this currency were common in the woods, and sturdy workmen applied themselves late and early in producing it, the shavings serving for fire and light. The outfit for one of these mints was an axe, a cross-cut saw, shaving knife and froe [sic], and a wood horse. The shingle maker could take them on his shoulder and establish himself in business anywhere in the woods. He had no license to pay and his shingles sold for one dollar per thousandan article now worth six dollars [in 1869-73]. For some years the best markets were Seneca and Phelps, until the Keuka Lake canal was opened. Then lumbermen from the east bought timbered land, standing trees and lumber, and paid the people currency they could carry in their pockets. This soon destroyed the shingle currency, and the once beautiful pine forests shortly became ugly looking clearings.
From pp. 1145-46 — chapter on Town of Starkey:
Concerning the privations of the early settlers in this town it is related that many were obliged to suffer letters directed to them to be returned to the dead letter office for the lack of the eighteen and three fourth cents to pay the postage. Simeon Royce carried straw on his back several miles to keep his cow alive. Another man living south of Big Stream going for Dr. Warner at night was treed by the wolves and had to remain in the tree till daylight appeared. Some lived for months almost entirely on roots and venison. Godfrey Shoemaker, to pay the debt of seven dollars had to allow the constable to sell a horse worth one hundred and fifty dollars. . . .
In 1816 an epidemic raged called a winter fever, which caused many deaths, and it is stated that at one time more people were sick than well. Dr. Warner, the principal physician, had more calls than he could attend to, but the people were so poor his profession could hardly support his family.
In those days the women would often plant and hoe corn, pull flax, rake hay and grain, and help in most sorts of out-door labor. The children, almost without exception, went bare-footed in summer, and the girls were glad to work out at house work or spinning. The industry and self-denial of all made a better day for their successors.
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