Saturday, October 12, 2013

Brownville, NY, pioneer at age 15 in 1799

THE NEW YORK REFORMER-- September 15, 1859

From our own Correspondent


Messrs Editor:

She was the daughter of SAMUEL BROWN, senior, who came to Brownville in the spring of 1799, with a large family of children, most of them grown; among whom was JACOB BROWN, who afterward became so well known as Major General BROWN, of the United States army.

The progenitors of the BROWN family were people of means and influence in England, and came to this country three years prior to the settlement of WM. PENN, deriving their title to a large tract of land in what is now known as Bucks county, in Pennsylvania, from the Duke of York. The grant of land to WM. PENN was in the near vicinity, and the boundaries were so confused that MR. PENN at one time, claimed that his manor covered their possessions.


The descent from this origin of the family was by GEORGE, JOHN, and SAMUEL -- all of them Quakers, or Friends, as they called themselves, and were farmers by profession. Her mother (ABI) was the daughter of JOSEPH WHITE, a celebrated preacher among the Friends, and was a woman of rare accomplishments, and of superior mind and intelligence as might be inferred from the character of her large family of children, as we have known them.

Birthplace of Hannah Brown Skinner Bucks County, PA
The family consisted of JOHN, (known as Judge Brown, late of Brownville), JACOB (General Brown), Mary (Mrs. NEWLAND, of Fishkill), BENJAMIN, SAMUEL JR. (Major Brown), HANNAH (Mrs. Skinner), WILLIAM (who was drowned in Niagara River, during the war of 1812, while paymaster in the army), ABI (Mrs. Musgrove Evans), and JOSEPH W. (General Brown of Toledo, OH)---of whom only the last, who was named after her grandfather, the Quaker preacher, and Mrs. SKINNER, the subject of our notice, are now alive.

Mrs. SKINNER's history was so interwoven for many years, with that of the BROWN family that it cannot well be separated, without destroying the interest, and, therefore we shall be compelled to keep them along together, and in effect give the history of the family while she remained under the paternal roof.

Some unfortunate land operations in which her father was engaged about the time of the closing up of the war of the revolution, together with a general and ruinous depreciation of continental money, served to overwhelm the family in embarrassments, from which they could see no hope of escape, only in the facilities which seemed to be offered to those who were willing to forego the comforts and conveniences of life, as they had been accumulated in long years of effort and care, for the hardships and privations of a new country, based upon a hope in the future of better days to come.

JACOB BROWN had accidentally become acquainted with RUDOLF TILLER, the agent of the Chassanis Company, while teaching school in New York city, in 1798, and with him visited his father's house when a bargain was concluded between the family and this agent for a large quantity of land to be located by JACOB after a personal examination of the tract which his agency covered. The result was a settlement at Brownville the next year.

Believing that it will be a matter of interest to the present and future generations to know something about the slow, toilsome and difficult process of "moving in", at that early day, I transcribe from the pages of a history, written as with the point of a diamond upon the impressible tablet of the memory of our subject, when she was at an age of all others most susceptible to impressions of pleasure and pain, and most alive to the enjoyment which is derived from things strange or new.

The party, as it was finally arranged for moving, consisted of two families--that of MRS. SKINNER's father, and the family of HENRY BROWN, who was his cousin, and who afterwards lived some little distance out of Brownville for a great many years.

They left home in wagons to Brunswick, NJ, where they took passage on board a schooner for New York city; they got aground in the Raritan River, where they remained for one tide.--It was in the month of April, 1799.

They staid a whole week in New York, waiting for the schooner, as it was so early that no vessels had got ready to ascend the Hudson. JOHN BROWN was living at that time in the city, un-married, but he provided quarters for the family. They were two days ascending the river to Troy, where they disembarked, and hired wagons to take them over to Schenectady, where they were obliged to stay five days, waiting for a boat to be finished, in which they were to ascend the Mohawk. They made arrangements there with a boatman to take them on to Oswego, with two open boats, one of which they afterwards purchased and kept, and which was of great use to them in visiting different ports on the lake and river St. Lawrence, for purposes of trade. They were ten days in poling through the swollen channel of the Mohawk to Utica; lying by nights, and tying up to the shore wherever night overtook them and occasionally going ashore in the day time, and running on foot to relive the men who were laboring to push the boats over some of the rifts and rapids of the stream.

The process of boating on the Mohawk River was exceedingly tedious, and it required a long succession of hard day's work pushing the boat by poles, which were placed one end in the water and the other against the shoulder of the boatman, each of the crew having a pole for that purpose. By this process the boat was propelled up the rapid places in the stream , so slowly, that sometimes it was quite difficult to decide whether they were gaining or losing, in their effort to overcome some rapid more difficult than the rest. We can hardly realize how slow and tedious it must have seemed to them who were day and night in their open boats for ten successive day in ascending from Schenectady to Utica, a distance which the ladies of the party could have walked in less than half the time.

River Bateau Boat
The banks of Wood Creek were quite full, and the navigation was impeded by trees which had fallen across the stream, and which had to be cut away before the boats could pass along to the channel. It took 24 hours to pass to Oneida Lake, and another day to cross it. Then they were one day at the carrying place, at Fulton, and they staid three miles below the Falls, with a family which had squatted there--letting them have some tea, as part compensation, which was very acceptable, as they could not purchase any in any of the stores of that region.

They reached the lake, at Oswego, in safety, and embarked in their open boats again, for their final destination. They hauled up to the shore one night 13 miles from Oswego, on the lake shore where there had been some families of fishermen, and they also staid one night in Henderson.
Pioneer journey from Bucks County, PA to Brownville, NY, April, 1799
Mrs. SKINNER describes the scenery of the boundless woodland on the shores of the Black River as seen from their little open boat, as they lay upon the bosom of the smooth water in sight of Pillar Point and the mouth of the river, without a sign of human existence in all the boundless prospect before them, and on either hand. She knew that her brother JACOB had prepared a rude shelter of logs, somewhere in that immensity of forest, but where, she could not guess, for no curling smoke could be detected, to certify the possible existence of human habitation. It began to be a time of great solicitude where they were to find a resting place that could be made to seem like home, and whether any other adventurers would ever find their way through these long and devious ways, and make settlement near enough to be neighbors.
Black River, Brownville NY, where Hannah and her family settled in 1799
JACOB BROWN had come in on foot, with some hired men by the way of "High Falls" and the Long Falls, on the Black River, and had got the body of a log house laid up, but the time of their arrival at the mouth of the river, though he had got no roof on yet,  nor any floor, doors or windows. The weather however, was very favorable, and by spreading the sail cloth of their boat across the upper timbers of their log pen, and hanging up a blanket in the door-way, they managed to protect themselves from the damp night air, while they slept in bunks raise a little off the ground. After a few days they got some barks, by peeling trees, and laid them down for a floor. There was a little convenience in this floor arrangement, for they took it up and carried it out doors to be swept, and then it was laid back again each strip in its appropriate place. Shortly after their arrival, the chanced to see a piece of pine plank floating along down in the river, which they secured, and from which they had a cross-legged table constructed, which was the first table of any kind that they had, and certainly answered the purpose very well, and which, on account of its antiquity, is still carefully preserved, at Brownville, by a lady who was connected with the family.---Mrs. SKINNER thinks now, that she never felt so rich in the acquisition of any other article of household furniture whatever, as she did when she had persuaded her father to make a couple of rude shelves for dishes, by driving wooden pins into auger holes made for the purpose, in the logs, on the inside of their house, and placing rough hewed shelves upon them. Her crockery was now arranged in order, after the most approved notion of good taste, instead of being huddled together in some corner of the room, or shut in one of the pine board chests which had served as packing boxes for their "plunder".
Display at Jefferson County Historical Society Paddock Museum

At the time of first arranging their rude log house, there was some danger to be apprehended from the contiguity of large pine trees to the house--as many as eight several trees of that description standing ever so near that they could reach the house, if they happened to fall that way, but in due time those trees were felled to the ground, and the danger removed.  Another cause of solicitude was suggested by the careful mother, viz: "JACOB, thee has got us all here, but if any of us should die, thee has got no boards to make us a coffin, nor a spade to dig our graves." Shortly after JACOB had occasion to go to Utica, and on his return on foot, he brought a spade all the way on his shoulder---thus removing so much of that evil.

But it must be remembered that their log house was only 20 feet square; that they lived there two whole years; that during some portions of the time they had from 10 to 14 men in their employ, to be fed and lodged in that small tenement, besides keeping open house for all the stray parties who were looking for land or surveying and when all this is considered, it will not be matter of surprise that house-keeping was reduced to a very simple round of duties, consisting for the most part of cooking and washing dishes. Baking bread was an important branch of the business of providing food for so many mouths, as will be appreciated when we say, that at one time they made up a barrel of flour into bread in 3 days.

HANNAH was at that time a finely developed, healthy girl, and worth a dozen drawing-room girls that have come upon the stage in later times. She was her mother's only reliable and available "help", as well as her companion. As an illustration of her capacity and courage, I may say, that in the summer of 1800, "French Cooper" was at Brownville, and spoke of the strawberries which he had seen growing in the old "French Road", near the place afterwards owned by ROSWELL WOODRUFF, in LERAY. HANNAH resolved to avail herself of some of those berries, and so procured DEA. BARTHOLOMEW's daughter SARAH, of about the same age as herself, viz: fifteen, and with her brother WILLIAM, who was then about 12 years of age, they found their way, by a line of marked trees, to the place designated, where they picked about a gallon of berries and returned before night, making, as JACOB afterwards told them the distance of seven miles each way. They had probably by this time began to feel the loss of all kinds of dessert, and as this was the first fruit of any kind they had had fresh, it was very highly prized, not only by the girls, by whose effort it had been procured, but by the entire family; and it was considered an act of some heroism to brave the difficulties and dangers of so long a line of travel, in the great forest which stretched off to the St. Lawrence and the north rivers, with the little experience they had had in the wilderness.

This Miss SARAH was her boon companion and trusted friend, and as they had very little other society, they were of course often together. Sometimes they visited together at Mr. HENRY COFFEENS, in this village, walking all the way through the woods and then returning to their several homes before nightfall. SARAH BARTHOLOMEW was keeping house for her father at that time, and before the arrival of Mrs. BARTHOLOMEW and the youngest children. She afterwards married a man by the name of SWAN.

In the Fall of 1801, HANNAH BROWN had an opportunity to go back to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on a visit, when she staid a year, and on her return met her brother JACOB, at Utica where he was married to a sister of Judge NATHAN WILLIAMS, but had not yet brought his wife here. She staid at Utica about 3 weeks, and when she found out that JACOB was coming through to Brownville on horseback, she persuaded him to allow her to accompany him, instead of waiting to come in a sleigh, by-and-by with Mrs. JACOB BROWN. BENJAMIN SKINNER was also of the party who was accompanying JACOB BROWN here, with the view of settlement as a lawyer, and it was the first acquaintance she had with him.

It was January, 1803, when they came through, by the way of Redfield and Adams to Brownville, with the snow fully three feet deep a part of the way, and in one instance, a distance of 13 miles, was through unbroken wilderness, without inhabitants. It cost them 4 days effort to accomplish the ride, as the road was new and rough, and without bridges, as well as covered with a heavy body of snow. They traveled all day the 3d day of their journey without food, until just at nightfall they reached a house 3 miles from Adams village where they got some supper, and then they came on to the village, where they stopped for the night. By this time HANNAH had become so chilled that she shook and trembled as if with the ague, which very much excited the sympathy of the hostess, who went to work with true womanly feelings of pity and love, warming blankets and enveloping her from head to foot in her bed until her blood flowed freely again, and she forgot in sleep the hardships of the way.

Her brother JACOB, whose judgment had been all the while opposed to her braving the severity of the season on horseback, over such roads, would frequently say, "Well, HANNAH, don't you wish you had staid at Utica?" but she had one invariable answer, for she longed for the society and companionship of that good Quaker mother from whom she had been separated a long year, and she was not sorry that she had made the effort.

It was not strange that her young traveling companion, Mr. SKINNER, should have formed a flattering estimate of her real character as it shone out in the after life. That acquaintance ripened afterwards, and in 1806 their destinies were united by a matrimonial alliance. Mr. SKINNER was the first lawyer in the county, and was a very valuable acquisition to the settlement at Brownville, as well as to the county. He built the house at Brownville village which has been the residence for many years of JOHN E BROWN. He was the first postmaster at Brownville, and held the office of County Treasurer...He was county clerk from February 2nd 1811 to February 28th 1813 when he went on to the farm in Pamelia, now owned and occupied by GEORGE WEBB, who is his son-in-law.

During the first term of his clerkship his family occupied the house in the village which was known as the Burchard house on the lot on Court Street now owned by L. HAYES Esq. and occupied in front by the "Cottage Block" and during the latter term of 5 years they occupied the house generally known as the Dyer Huntington house, which has now been for many years the residence of Mr. NEWCOMB, on Washington St.

During a portion of the war of 1812 they were on the farm, and from the fact the MR. SKINNER was attached to the cavalry company of militia, at Brownville, with whom he was frequently called to rendezvous for active service, it may be conjectured that she must have felt somewhat lonely in the seclusion of her home, and that there were times when the distant booming of cannon or the rattle of musketry must have sounded dismally in her ears. Her husband was the object of her constant solicitude by day, and the burden of her dreams throughout the long hours of the night. Her brother JACOB, who visited very largely in her sisterly affections, was occupying the post of danger, and great responsibility and although she was opposed on principle to the policy and theory of war, as being opposed to the spirit of the gospel of Christ and tenets of her Church and people, yet she could but feel a deep interest in the reputation of her brother as a military chieftain, as well as the final success of our country's cause.
General Jacob Jennings Brown, Hannah's Brother
She has lived to see that brief period of war subside into peace--that brother elevated to the position of commander-in-chief, at the seat of government, on the peace establishment, and afterwards cut down in the prime of his manhood and in the zenith of his reputations and well-earned fame---the large family to which she belonged fading away, one after another, until only her brother JOSEPH and JACOB's wife are left to share with her in the early sympathies of the times in which they lived and suffered together.

Very few women have had so large an experience of the vicissitudes of pioneer life, and fewer still have been spared to share with us in the fruition of their early hopes and expectations.

Her recollection is singularly exact, and full, of the events connected with her varying fortunes during a long life--in Pennsylvania--at Brownville--in Pamelia--and in this village.

Her brother JACOB was practically the head of the family; and particularly, after he became identified with the military history of our country, was he deservedly the idol of the family. There was a strong fraternal attachment existing between the General and this sister HANNAH, and perhaps he had not a friend on earth, besides his wife, whose approbation was so much coveted as hers, nor whose judgment, in many things was prized so much.

As a relic of the early years of our local history, she is left almost alone. Her well-furnished mind, retentive memory, and cheerful, happy disposition, have made her society seem indispensible to a large circle of admiring friends and acquaintances, who are watching with solicitude the time when she will also go hence, to be here no more forever.

                                A LINK IN THE CHAIN

Grave Marker of Hannah Brown Skinner "MOTHER". Watertown, NY