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Middlesex, New York, USA - 1892 - Middlesex

The town of Middlesex as at present constituted occupies a position in the extreme northwest corner of Yates County, and is therefore more remote from the county seat than any other of the county's subdivisions. Originally this town was a part of the district of Augusta, and as such embraced a much greater area of territory then was comprehended by Middlesex proper. The district was known as Augusta from 1797 until 1808, and than changed to Middlesex; but prior to the formation of Augusta the region was a part of the still older district of Canandaigua. This latter creation followed soon after the erection of Ontario County.

In 1789, by a deed executed July 15, Thomas Maxwell sold to Arnold Potter all of township eight of the second range (Potter), and all that part of township eight of the third range which lay east of Canandaigua Lake. The area of territory embraced in this sale was estimated at 35,040 acres, but in fact was 42,230 acres. The consideration paid Maxwell was £991, nine shillings, three pence. But there appears to have been some question regarding the validity of Arnold Potter's title from Maxwell, to settle and perfect which Oliver Phelps, in 1798, quit claimed to Potter the same lands at the express consideration of $10,000; but which consideration as a matter of fact is understood as not having been actually paid.

From the time of the purchase by Arnold Potter down to the year 1832, this region was almost exclusively called by the name of "Potterstown," in honor of its proprietor. In 1832 the territory was divided, and all of township eight of the second range, except one tier of lots on its west side, one half mile in width, was erected into a new town by the name of Potter. There was annexed to Potter from Middlesex, in 1856, six lots in the southeast corner of the latter. This was done for the accommodation of the residents in the locality so annexed, they finding it preferable to transact town and other business in the town of Potter.

While Middlesex is perhaps the most remote from the 'county seat of any of the towns of Yates, it by no means follows that it is a town of small importance. In common with some of the larger and wealthier towns, Middlesex enjoys the benefits of having its entire western boundary on the waters of Canandaigua Lake, in which respect it stands alone among the towns of, the county. A somewhat facetious remark concerning the general character and quality of the land in Middlesex was to the effect that nothing but "eagles and angels" could subsist there, but the changes and improvements of a half century and less have demonstrated the fact that this town possesses natural and acquired resources far superior to some of the more fortunately situated towns of the county. Vine Valley, so called, is a veritable Eden, prolific in its grape product to a remarkable degree, while along the entire lake front in the town both the fruit of the vine and the abundant yield of the farm mark this as a town of worth and wealth.

The principal elevations of Middlesex are Bare Hill and South Hill, both commanding heights, the former reaching nearly 1,000 feet above the lake, and the latter some 200 feet higher than its companion. Between these marked elevations courses the little stream known as Boat Brook, and in the valley of the brook is located the rich vineyard lands above referred to. The name Boat Brook is said to have been given this creek by the early surveyors of the town lands, who were in the habit of stationing their boats in its waters near its mouth. The name Bare Hill was given the north elevation by the pioneers from the fact that its summit was nearly or quite destitute of forest growth, while large stones, boulders and rocks were plentiful on every side. But there was a reason for this unusual condition of things, which reason rests in a very pretty and interesting, and possibly thrilling tradition, handed down from old Senecas to their children, and by the latter related to the white pioneer settlers. But the chief beauty and charm of the tradition to intelligent persons rests altogether in the absolute unreasonableness of the story. The myth has often been related and frequently published, but a history of Middlesex without the famous legend of Bare Hill would be faulty indeed. It runs somewhat as follows:

The Seneca tribe of Indians sprang out of the ground at Nundawao, the site of their oldest village near the head of Canandaigua Lake and on a high hill. In the course of time a mighty double headed snake or serpent made its appearance and extended its body entirely around the hill, threatening the Indians with total destruction. All were killed but two, an Indian warrior and his sister. At length the warrior had a dream, and he was told that if he would fledge his arrow with hair from his sister's head the charm would be secure and would prevail; and that he should shoot the arrow from his bow directly at the heart of the serpent, and have no fear from the two heads and their hissing tongues. He did as he was told, the arrow struck the heart, and the monster, uttering fearful hissing noises, rolled down the hill and into the lake. Here it vomited up all the Indians it had swallowed, and then disappeared beneath the water's surface never to return. Thereafter the Indian village was abandoned and its people betook themselves to Kanandesaga (Geneva). The tradition also has it that the trees of the hill were likewise destroyed by the snake, and that the multitude of stones were but the heads of the dead Indians. The Senecas in this extinct village called themselves Nundavvao, Nundawagas - People of the Hill. However doubtful may be the truth of the story, the fact admits of no question of an Indian occupancy in this region or on Bare Hill. There are yet discernible straggling evidences of an ancient fortification on the hill, while in the valleys below, and along the shores of the lake have been found abundant proof of the Indian presence; and it is asserted by well informed minds that in this town have been discovered evidences of pre historic occupation, by a race of people of characteristics different from the Indian's, and of a higher order of intellect and handicraft. But this is a subject that cannot be discussed here, for the evidences produced during the last half century throw no light upon the discoveries of earlier investigators.

The principal water course of Middlesex is West River, and in fact this is the only stream of importance within the town. It has its source in Ontario County, and enters Middlesex at its northeast corner; thence flows a generally southwesterly course across the town and into Italy, where it turns abruptly north and discharges into Canandaigua Lake. The village of Middlesex Center lies on West River, and near the geographical center of the township.

Arnold Potter made his purchase of the lands that now comprise Middlesex in 1789; and during the same year the territory was surveyed into ranges and farm lots by Perley Howe. The ranges run north and south, and the farm lots east and west. However, on two after occasions the lands of the town were re surveyed and re lotted. More than this, large tracts passed into different ownerships, and were surveyed and plotted according to their situation or as best pleased the fancy of their proprietors.

The early settlement of the town of Middlesex was not unlike that of other towns of the region. The coming of the Potter family to the vast purchase, and the offering of the lands for sale at exceeding low prices, had the effect of rapidly bringing settlers to the town even before the beginning of the present century; and although distant as it may have been from the first settled community occupied by the Friends, this locality was taken and improved generally earlier than the more accessible towns now called Barrington, Starkey, Western Milo and Jerusalem. Prominent among the pioneers of Middlesex were the families of John Watford, Benjamin Tibbetts, Michael Pierce.

John Watford was a Rhode Islander, and came to the Potter tract in 1789, and a few years later made his permanent home where now is the hamlet of Middlesex Center. His wife died in 1791, and was the first white person buried in the town. John Watford died in 1813. John, jr., and James Watford were the only children in this pioneer family.

Michael Pierce and his family also came from Rhode Island. He bought 40o acres from Arnold Potter, and both he and his wife died in the town, far advanced in years. Their children were Job, Thomas, Samuel, John, Sally and Lucina. Michael Pierce helped to survey the town.

Warham Williams, a native of Connecticut, was one of the pioneers of the town, settling first on lot 10, farm range four, but afterward moving to the Walford locality on the river. His first wife was Sarah Carr, who bore him three children: Huldah, Betsey and Anna. His second wife was Patty Cone, by whom he had seven children: John W., Oliver S., Lucy, Melinda, Eunice, Valona and Caroline.

The family of John Blair settled on Surveyor Perley Howe's lot, in the seventh range, in 1794. His wife died in 1805, and he in 1814. Their children were John, James, Nathan, Warren, Amy and Sally. John, James and Warren Blair served during the War of 1812-15.

In 1806 William Foster and family located on lot 7, range seven, and there lived to the end of his life. He had thirteen children, seven of whom grew to maturity, viz.: Alanson, William, Julia, John, Ira, Martin and Susan. Also in 1806 came to the town Daniel Hawley and family, and located on lot 8, range six, succeeding a still earlier settler, Henry Sprout. They had one son, Daniel, Br., who married Sarah Taylor. Of this marriage five children were born, viz.: Charlotte, Daniel, Abigail, Josiah and Thomas H. In the same year, 1806, came from Vermont the family of Asahel Adams and settled on West River. In this family were ten children: Betsey, Chauncey, John, Alta, Cyrus, Polly, Sally, Asa P., Lovell and Cynthia.

Several of the children of Samuel and Rachel Lindsley were among the early settlers in the town, and were afterward followed by their parents. The mother died in 1816, and the father in 1819. The children were Daniel, Samuel, Elizabeth and Benjamin, each of whom had a family in the town. Anson C. Lindsley, the descendant of this pioneer family, has been known as one of the most progressive farmers of the county. Cornelius Sawyer and his family settled on lot Do, range seven, in 1802, and there he lived and died. His children were Sybil, Betsey, Nancy, Olive, Thomas, Cornelius and Prescott. Andrew Christie came to the town in 1812, and occupied lands on which Rufus Galehad made a prior improvement. His children, by a second marriage, were Gilbert, Abigail and James. Thomas Reynolds and family came to the town in 1818, settling on the farm opened first by Nathaniel Weston. In the Reynolds family were ten children: Phebe, Eleanor, Joseph, William, Andrew and Angeline (twins), Sarah, Hannah, Daniel and Thomas. Gideon and Elizabeth (Shields) Salisbury were among the early settlers of the town, and in their family were ten children. James, Harrington and family came from Bennington County, Vt., in 1818, and located on lot 9, farm range eight. There were eleven children in the family, five of whom only, James, Arvin, Patience, Oliver and Olive, came to this town with their parents.

The locality commonly called Vine Valley, in the town of Middlesex, is not only one of the most interesting areas of the town, but it is one of the most fertile and productive districts, especially in the staples, fruit and grapes, in the whole Genesee country. By reference to the chapter in this work which relates to the vineyards and their products, the reader will learn something of the peculiar value of this valley as a grape producing region. Among the earliest settlers: in the valley was Hiram Collins, whose location was near the place afterward owned by Major Hixson. Another pioneer in the same locality, perhaps the first settler, was John McNair, whose farm was on the lake shore, afterward known as the Peters farm. Henry Fuller came into the valley in 1816, from Saratoga. The children in his family were Orrin, Mary Ann, Amanda, Harriet, Jane O. and Sarah. David Spike came in early and settled near the Fullers, but later moved from the town. Samuel Fisk was also an early resident in the same locality. In the same relation may also be mentioned David Sprout. John Smith, better known as "Captain" Smith, took up an early abode on Bare Hill, a location best suited to his peculiar character. He was a conspicuous figure in all sports in the community, and was not unknown in some discreditable performances, but crime was not charged against him. He was a rough, uncouth, boisterous fellow, but possessed a good heart and a warm friendship for all who treated him fairly.

In connection with the early and pioneer history of every town there must always be recorded the customary "first events." For those in Middlesex perhaps no more accurate account can be furnished than is found in the report of Edward Low to the County Historical Society, to which the writer is indebted for what follows, although it may be said that new names will appear in addition to those already mentioned in this chapter.

The report discloses that Michael Pierce settled in the town in 1791, followed soon afterward by John Blair, Chester Adams, Thomas and Joshua Allen and their two sisters, all blind persons, James Westbrook, Solomon Lewis, John McNair, John C. Knowles, Benjamin Loomis, Cornelius Sawyer, Daniel Lindsley, N. Weston, John Walford, Nathan Smith, and others whose names have already been mentioned.

The first justice of the peace, also postmaster, was pioneer Michael Pierce. William Bassett kept the first school in 1798. William Colbert was the first Methodist Episcopal preacher, conducting services at 'Squire Pierce's house as early as 1797, and continuing until a church was built. Daniel Lindsley erected the first frame house, while Chester Adams built the first frame barn. Elias Gilbert started the first saw mill and a Mr. Fisk the first grist mill, having horse power. Warham Williams was the pioneer landlord, and Davis Williams the first blacksmith. John C. Knowles was the first shoemaker. Seth Low married Lois Williams in 1803, the first event of its kind in the town, while to Samuel Pierce and wife was born the first white child, in 1792. Crab apple cider was made in 18o5 at Mathew Smith's primitive mill. Eli Foote was the first merchant. Daniel B. Lindsley built the first brick house. Finally, to bring as prominently as possible to the attention of the reader the names of the early settlers of this region, there is appended hereto a list of the persons resident in old Augusta township in 1798, who were enrolled as qualified to serve as jurors at that time. The list is as follows: J. Lane, A. Vought, J. Latham, William Bassett, N. Weston, J. Craft, Joshua Brown, William Hobart, J. Tucker, M. Holton, Moses Parsons, Abraham Lane, J. Sherman, G. Bates, P. Briggs, jr., Francis Briggs, Jabez French, J. Walford, E. Cross, David Southerland, Jesse Brown, Jonas Wyman, Warham Williams, Job Card, James Lewis, jr., H. Van Wormer, Rows Perry, John Sheffield, Chester Adams, Michael Pierce, John Blair, sr., Elias Gilbert, Benjamin Loomis, E. Craft, jr., Benoni Moon. But in explanation of the foregoing list it may be stated that Augusta, or even the original Middlesex township, represented a much larger area of territory than the present Middlesex; wherefore it is not to be assumed that all the persons just named were residents of the town within its present limits.

Middlesex has been since its earliest settlement a peculiarly agricultural township, and in the pursuit of husbandry has the success of the town become established. Half a century ago legitimate agriculture was the only occupation of the people, but within the last quarter of a century the farmer's mind and calling has been diverted somewhat into other channels of trade and following, in that the region bordering particularly on the lake has been turned from farms into extensive vineyards. For years the production of grapes and fruits has been far more pleasant and agreeable to the land owner, and, what is still better, more profitable. But this subject is made one of special and individual mention in one of the earlier chapters of this work, and therefore need not be pursued further in this connection.

The only settled locality in the town of any particular importance is that commonly called Middlesex Center; which, as its name indicates, is located in the geographical center of the town. But even the Center has never acquired a sufficient population to entitle it to a corporate municipal organization independent from the township at large. The Center has a population of perhaps 200 souls, and its business enterprises are confined to the neighboring saw and grist mills, the few mercantile stores, and other necessary appendages of the settlement, the blacksmith, harness, wagon, shoe and joiners' shops. But the Center has its well ordered and well governed school, and has had three organized church societies, the Methodist Episcopal, the Baptist and the Free Will Baptist.

The Methodists appear to have gained the first permanent foothold of any of the denominations in the town, their class having been formed as early as 1820, although preaching of this faith was conducted as early as 1797. The first meeting house of this society was built at Overacker's Corners in 1836, and at a cost of about $1,000. The leading members at that time were Samuel Fisk, Harvey French, Nathaniel Emory, Nehemiah Beers, Mr. Webb, Ezra Fuller, Jonathan Hawley, Jesse Kilpatrick, Cyrus Adams and others. This society gradually declined, and finally merged into others of more strength. The class at the Center was formed in 1820, with Nathaniel Emory and Durfee Allen among the first class leaders. The earlier members were Robert McNair and wife; Chauncey Adams and wife, the daughters of Warham Williams, and a few others. The brick church was built in 1841, costing $3,000, but the organization of the society was effected in 1839, by Abner Chase. The first trustees were David G. Underwood, R. E. Aldrich, Thomas Seamans, M. B. Van Osdol, D. B. Lindsley, John E. Wager, and Jabez Metcalf. The Middlesex circuit was formed in 1840.

The Baptist Church and society at Middlesex Center had their organization at about the same time as the society in Potter, and was in a measure an offshoot therefrom. The church at the Center was erected in 1840. The church and property of the society represent a value of about $6,000.

The house of worship of the Free Will Baptist Church at the Center was erected in 1840. It stands in the west part of the village. In the membership of this society are numbered some of the strongest and most influential men of the town.

Civil History. - As has already been mentioned in the early part of this chapter, the town now called Middlesex originally formed a part of the provisional district of Canandaigua, and as such formed an integral part of the original county of Ontario. At a little later period the territory of Canandaigua was redistricted, and to the part to which this township belonged was given the name of Augusta. There being another town in this State at that time called Augusta, it was deemed advisable to change the title of the new creation, and this district was in 1808 called Middlesex, but from its earliest settlement down to the formation of Potter, the district was commonly known as Potterstown. In 1823 the county of Yates was organized, principally from Ontario, and Middlesex, then including what became Potter, became a part of the new creation. Potter, as has been stated, was set off in 1832, since which time, except for the six lots of this town which was set off to Potter in 1856, there has been no change in the jurisdiction or territory of Middlesex.

The first town meeting in Augusta was held April 4, 1797, Arnold Potter presiding. These officers were elected: Supervisor, David Southerland; town clerk, Nathan Loomis; assessors, Benjamin Loomis, Joshua Brown and John Blair; commissioners of highways, Arnold Potter, Joshua Brown, Jabez French; constables and collectors, Jonathan Moore, Jesse Brown; overseers of the poor, Chester Adams, Abraham Lane. From this first town meeting to the present time the supervisors of Augusta, succeeded by Middlesex, have been as follows: David Southerland, 1798-1801; Arnold Potter, 1802, '04, '07; David Southerland, 1805, 'o6, 1808-14, 1816, 1828-30; Richard M. Williams, 1815, '17; Selden Williams, 1821,'22, 1824-27; James Christie, 182830; James Hermans, 1831, '32; Forest Harkness, 1833; Adams Underwood, 1834, '35; Daniel B. Lindsley, 1836, '37, '43, '44; Alexander Bassett, 1839, '40, '45, '49; Henry Adams, 1841, '42; Ephraim Lord, 1846; David G. Underwood, 1847, '48, '53; David Christie, 1850; John Mather, 1851, '52; Oliver S. Williams, 1854; Norman Collins, 1855; Richard H. Williams, 1856, '57; Oren G. Loomis, 1858, '59; Alexander Bassett, 186o, '61; Daniel Bostwick, 1862, '63; Thomas Underwood, 1864,'65,'71; James Stebbins, 1867, '68; John L. Dinturff, 1869, '70; Nehemiah Foster, 1872; Asahel H. Green, 1873-76; Marvin G. Washburn, 1877, '78; Sterlin N. Blair, 1879, '8o; Adams Dine-hart, 1881-83; Woodworth N. Perry, 1884; Lewis C. Williams, 1885, '86; Alden A. Adams, 1887, '88; Allen Loomis, 1889, '90; Lemuel T. Darling, 1891.

Of the justices of the peace prior to the time when the office became elective, but little appears among the fragmentary records of the town. In fact the records between 1810 and 1830 are missing. However, it is known that Michael Pierce was one of the early justices, as was also his son Job, the latter in 1821, and in 1833; Adams Underwood was justice in 1833 and 1838; Harvey French elected in 1833; Michael Van Osdol, 1834, '39 and '45; Ephraim Lord, 1836, '40, '52, '56, '6o and 64; Thomas Seamans, 1836 and '53; Oliver Harrington, 1838; James Christie, 1840; Lorenzo Hoyt, 1842; Eli Foote, 1842, '46, '53, '56, '61, '64 and '68; David Christie, 1844 and '48; Daniel Bostwick, 1846; William S. Bostwick, 1847; Henry Adams, 1847; John J. Johnson, 1848, '50, '55, '56, '58 and '62; Francis Crakes, 1849; John Cole, 1851; Rufus J. Adams, 1852; Edward Low, 1862; Sterling N. Blair, 1865 and '69; E. B. Lindsley, 1866; A. C. Vounglove, 1866 and '67; Levi B. Morey, by app't, 1869, elected 1870; David L. Hobart, 1869; Woodworth N. Perry, 187o, '71, '75; S. T. Sturtevant, 1871, '72, '78; Sterling N. Blair, 1873; Wesley Hagar, 1873; Samuel Foster, 1874; William C. Williams, 1875, '80, '84; William R. Marks, 1876; William Savage, 1877, '81, '85, '89; Bradford Clawson, 1877, '79; Damon Johnson, 188o; Harvey W. Tyler, 1882, '86, '90; E. S. Gates, 1883; Myron F. Hawley, 1887, '91; Bernard Walter, 1888.

History of Yates County, N.Y., Lewis Cass Aldrich, D. Mason & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., 1892

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