BEING A HISTORY OF THE
Family of Ebenezer
Seelye & Mehitable Todd
(title has been altered from the original to include and show respect to Ms. Todd, co-progenitor of this genetic line)
WHO CAME TO TIOGA COUNTY IN 1799
By Mrs. E. H. OWLETT, Wellsboro, PA (her own name not included or alluded to)
Press, Elmira, N. Y.
2004 Reprinted & Published online by Joyce M. Tice - Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
A PIONEER FAMILY
BEING A HISTORY OF THE FAMILY OF EBENEZER SEELYE and Mehitable Todd WHO CAME TO TIOGA COUNTY IN 1799
By Mrs. E. H. Owlett, Wellsboro, Pa.
In preparing this paper I have made free use of the earlier and later histories of Tioga county. I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to articles contributed to these histories by Hon. Charles Tubbs, of Osceola, and John L. Sexton, of Blossburg—Author.
During the Revolutionary War that portion of Pennsylvania now known as Tioga County was a vast and solitary wilderness. Into its forest depths no white man, save an occasional hunter, trapper, or scout, had ever penetrated. Nor was it the home of the red man.
Farm removed from warring factions, red or white, its peaceful beauty unstained by bloodshed; it awaited the coming of the home-making pioneer.
"But, although Tioga county on account of its wilderness condition and its remoteness from the scene of conflict was not included in this historic ground of the Revolution, it afterwards became the home and is today the resting place of many of the patriotic soldiers of that great struggle for liberty; who endured the privations of pioneer life in their wilderness homes with the same heroic fortitude which helped to win American independence." They came, not as adventurers seeking they knew not what, but bringing their families with them, to build homes for themselves and their posterity, and to enjoy the fruits of that liberty won at so great a cost.
In 1799 the tide of immigration into new and unclaimed lands, which had set in immediately after the Revolution, was still steadily rising. On every highway leading from New England, from New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, immigrant trains were moving always westwards. But even then, only one hundred nine years ago, the "far west" still meant to the New Englander central New York and Pennsylvania. The roads west of the Mohawk and, with few exceptions, of the Delaware, were little more than Indian trails. It was by blazed trails that immigrants found their way from place to place, traveling usually in bands, as the steepness of the hills and the dangers of the swamps and valleys were too formidable to be encountered alone. Some idea of what this tide of immigration meant to Pennsylvania is shown by the census returns of 1790 to 1800. During this decade the population of Pennsylvania increased nearly one hundred sixty-eight thousand souls. (McMaster’s History) And this at a time when each new home meant the subduing of the wilderness.
In 1799 only the first ripples of this rising tide had reached Tioga County. But two roads, besides the Indian trails, were to be found within its limits—the Surveyor’s road along its northern boundary cut through in 1787, and the Williamson road running north and south, cut through in 1792. The Surveyor’s road extended along the northern boundary of Pennsylvania from the Delaware River to the Tioga River, where Lawrenceville now stands. Explorers and land viewers from the East struck this road and followed it until they reached the Tioga, at the mouth of the Cowanesque. At this point they might turn south and follow up the Williamson road in the valley of the Tioga, or they might continue westward up the beautiful valley of the Cowanesque, or they might turn north, as many of them did, down the Tioga river to Painted Post, and thence on into the Lake region of central New York. Leading to Painted Post were other much traveled routes; from the Mohawk Valley, or up the Susquehanna and Chemung; so the old town of Painted Post became a sort of half way house or base of supplies for all the surrounding region, including the first settlers of Tioga County.
For this reason, a brief account of its settlement may not be out of place here. The land warrant in which the settlement known as Painted Post was situated comprised an extensive section reaching as far south as Lindley, near the boundary line of Tioga County. It was bought in 1790, by six proprietors, for eighteen cents an acre. One of these proprietors was Ephriam Patterson, of Connecticut, and among the earliest settlers was Judge Knox, of Eastern New York. In the spring of 1790 Colonel Eleazer Lindsley greatly increased the strength of the little settlement by successfully transporting thither from New Jersey a company of forty persons including four sons and five sons-in-law, with their families. One of the sons-in-laws was Capt. John Seelye, a native of Litchfield, Connecticut. This company, with their goods, was transported to the Susquehanna in wagons. At Wilkes-Barre the families and baggage were placed on seven ton boats and poled up the river, while the horses and cattle were driven along the trails. From this Colonel Lindsley the town of Lindley takes it name.
In a charming old history of Steuben County by Guy H. McMaster, published in 1853; from which these facts were gathered, is found the following description of the Painted Post "Hotel" of that day: "That ancient house of entertainment, or tavern, was composed of round logs, one story high, and if I mistake not, divided into apartments. This house was well patronized by travelers. All necessarily stopped here for rest and refreshment as well for themselves as for their horses. Fuller, the landlord was a good natured, slow, easy kind of a man. But his wife, Nellie, was a thorough going smart, good-looking woman, much admired by gentlemen generally. To the weary traveler nothing can be more agreeable than a pleasant, obliging landlady."
Thus in 1799 we find Painted Post quite a thriving settlement for this wilderness section. Passing on up the Tioga on the Pennsylvania side we find some fifteen or twenty families settled in the valley—among them such familiar names as Lose, Roberts, Mitchell, Niles, Inscho, Spencer, and Lamp—who had already laid the foundations for those broad and beautiful farms, some of which are still in the possession of their descendants. Two settlers had ventured up the Cowanesque, Reuben Cook, who with his family had settled where Nelson now stands, and William Holden, a bachelor, who had built his solitary cabin as far up as Osceola. James Strawbridge, our pioneer settler, had already been driven out of his holdings in what is now Deerfield Township, and "James Choice," "Mount Pleasant," "Delight," and other portions belonging to the Strawbridge tract, had returned to their original solitude. Such were the habitations of man in Tioga County in 1799.
It would be most interesting to those of the Seelye name in Tioga County if some authentic information concerning the early history of the family could be given. After much corresponding and reading of records, the writer has been ass yet unable to trace the ancestry of the family by other than a chain whose links are frequently missing and must be supplied by conjecture. Stated briefly, the chain thus woven is as follows: Robert Seelye, probably the first of the name in America, came from England in the fleet with Governor Winthrop. He registered his desire to become a freeman on the 17th of October, 1630, at Watertown, Massachusetts; was called Sergeant in 1636; Lieutenant in 1637; was second in command in attack on Pequot Fort and was wounded; on June 9th, 1639, was elected Marshall for colony of New Haven; died in New York about 1668. His children were John, Richard, William, Nathaniel and Obadiah. Nathaniel, his son (second generation), who was on the New Haven Colony, was appointed to lay out lands in Fairfield, Connecticut, in May 1674; was called Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain; was appointed sixth in command of Connecticut forces in an expedition against the Pequots; was killed in the Great Swamp Fight, Dec. 19, 1675. The Assembly granted his children two hundred acres of land. From this Nathaniel we may naturally assume the Connecticut Seelyes to have descended, especially as many of the family names appear in each succeeding generation.
Nathaniel’s children (third generation) were Nathaniel, Robert, Benjamin, Joseph, John, Mary, Sarah, Phebe and Rebecca.
The link representing the fourth generation has not yet been supplied. In the fifth generation we find the name of Justus Seelye, of Litchfield, Connecticut, who fought in the French and Indian War. From various sources we are led to conclude that he was the father of Ebenezer Seelye, the subject of this sketch. This brings us to the Children of Justus, (six generation)—Justus Jr., Ebenezer, John, Seth, Zedic, Nathaniel, Isaiah, Benjamin, Hannah and Phebe. Of these, Ebenezer is the subject of this sketch. John is the Captain John who settled at Lindley, New York, in 1790, many of whose descendants are in Tioga County; Benjamin was an early settler of Brookfield township, as was Luman, his nephew, son of Justus, Jr.; Phebe, who married Cornelius Goodspeed, of Whitehall, Vermont, was an early settler of Deerfield township, coming in 1813.
Passing back again to the first generation, we conclude that other sons of Robert Seelye, the first of the name, must have removed to Long Island, as from early records of Orange County we find that Samuel Seelye settled in the town of Goshen in 1721, and Ebenezer in the town of Cornwall, in 1749. Both were from Long Island and probably of the fourth generation from Robert. Among their descendants in Orange County, in 1765, are found Nathaniel, Nathaniel, Jr., Benjamin, and Zadoc. About 1795, Nathaniel Seelye, (Probably of the fifth generation) removed from Orange County, New York, to Chemung County, New York, and settled in Southport, where, in the vicinity of Seelye Creek, many of his descendants are still found.
His son, Nathaniel, Jr., removed to Osceola, Tioga County, in 1812, and many of his descendants are found in the Cowanesque valley.
Thus the heads of families from which the Tioga county Seelyes are descended may be given as follows: Of the Litchfield county, Conn., group are Captain John, Ebenezer, Benjamin, Luman and Phebe—whose common ancestor is probably Justus, fifth generation from Robert, the first of the line; of the Orange county group, Nathaniel, Jr. six generations removed from Robert, the first of the line.
Until more completely substantiated this genealogy must be regarded as suggestive rather than exact.
Ebenezer Seelye was born in Litchfield County, Connecticut, on the 26th day of May, 1756. He was probably the son of Justus Seelye, who fought in the French and Indian War, though this has not been authenticated. He was one of eight brothers, all of whom, according to tradition, were Revolution soldiers. Ebenezer Seelye enlisted in the Revolutionary Army at the age of nineteen, answering the first call for troops in April or May, 1775. According to his war record, obtained from the Adjutant General of the state of Connecticut, and also from the Pension Bureau of Washington, his term of service covered a period of nearly six years, including six enlistments. At the opening of the war he took part in the operations of the Northern Department, around Fort Ticonderoga. Later we find him in garrison at Fort Stanwix. He seems also to have been a member of the Eighth Regiment, which was raised January 1, 1777, for the New Continental Line, and recruited from Litchfield and other counties in Connecticut to serve throughout the war.
He must then have fought at the Battle of Germantown, Oct. 4, 1777, and taken part in the stubborn defense of Fort Mifflin, Mud Island, Pennsylvania, and Nov. 12th-18th, 1777 and endured the privations of winter quarters at Valley Forge. Later we find him a member of Sheldon’s famous dragoons, recruited largely in Litchfield County and said to have been the first regiment of cavalry to join the Revolutionary Army. It was commanded by Col. Elisha Sheldon, of Litchfield County, and its services at various times called forth the public thanks of Washington. One company of this Light Horse Brigade is described as presenting a superb appearance—all being mounted on dappled gray horses, with black straps and black bear skin covers. As this was a Litchfield company commanded by Major Talmadege, a Litchfield man, it seem probable that it may have been the one to which Ebenezer Seelye belonged. In the lists of recruits for Sheldon’s Dragoons Ebenezer Seelye is described as being five feet nine inches in height, with dark complexion, dark eyes and dark hair.
The spring of 1779 was a stirring time in Connecticut. General Tryon made three expeditions into that state, leaving devastation in his track. But probably no event of that year had so great an interest to Ebenezer Seelye, as one which took place in New Milford, Connecticut, where according to the records of the First Church, he was married on June 2nd 1779, to Mabel Todd of that place.
To the soldier boy of twenty-three and his young bridge life could not have been all sunshine, but we can imagine that even amidst "war’s wild alarms" that June wedding day had its own peculiar brightness. Perhaps this is the best place to give what is known of the early life of Mehitable (or as she evidently preferred to be called), Mabel Todd Seelye. Family tradition describes her as small and rather delicate in appearance, of quick ways and of a some what quick temper, especially when contrasted with the even temperament of her husband.
Of her girlhood home and family absolutely nothing seems to have been remembered, if once known, by her descendants in Tioga County. For this reason it has been particularly interesting to glean from church records, legal documents and the old burying ground of colonial New Milford the following facts: Mehitable Todd was the daughter of Dr. Jonah and Jane Todd. She was born on the 10th of August, 1756, and was one of a family of six children—Mehitable, Jonah, Lavina, Anna, Eli and Hannah. In 1771, Dr. Jonah Todd bought a home in New Milford, which is described by the man who sold it to him as "the whole of my home lot with my dwelling house and barn that stand thereon, containing about twenty acres and a half, be it more or less." At this time Dr. Todd was but thirty-eight years old, his daughter, Mabel, was fifteen, and his son, Eli, seven. Hannah was not yet born. The gates of the other children cannot be ascertained from the records. Twelve years later Dr. Todd died, being in his fifty-first year. In the old burying ground of New Milford may still be seen his tombstone, containing the following epitaph:
"Here lies the man that others tried to save.
Himself at last hath reached the silent grave.
In silent dust my body lies confined,
Until the resurrection call and judgment to mankind.
In health one moment, you may be
The next in eternity."
From deeds executed after Dr. Todd’s death we gather that his children were all still at home with the exception of Mabel Seelye, who was probably living with her husband at Litchfield. Two years after her father’s death, Lavina married Israel Baldwin, a school teacher, who died three years later, at the age of twenty-seven. Three years after his father’s death, Jonah Todd, the eldest son, is living at Phillipstown, Albany County, New York. In a deed executed by him he speaks of "the dwelling house in New Milford lately belonging to my honored father, Dr. Jonah Todd, deceased."
Eight years after her father’s death, Hannah Todd married Daniel Lines, of New Milford. As she was then but nineteen years of age, we conclude that she was the youngest of the family. To Eli Todd was deeded by all the other children their portion of the New Milford home. In the burying ground of New Milford is found the grave of the wife of Dr. Todd, who survived her husband twenty-nine years, being eighty-three at the time of her death. Also the grave of Eli Todd, who died in 1846, aged eight-two years—ten years after his sister, Mabel Todd Seelye, had been laid to rest in the Quaker burying ground at Knoxville,. Tioga County, Penna. This little story gathered from papers and inscriptions yellow with age, tells more eloquently than words can do, of the separation from all the heart holds dear which was inevitable in pioneer days. It is extremely doubtful that Mabel Todd Seelye ever saw again, after she left the state of Connecticut, those so closely associated with her early life.
Compiled from a manuscript in the possession of Mrs. C. G. Osgood, (Mary Josephine Todd), Wellsboro, Pa.
William Todd married Isabel Rogerson, Sept. 24, 1592. Resided at Pontefract, West Riding, Yorkshire, England.
William Todd, (son of William Todd and Isabel Rogerson) baptized June 29, 1593; married Katherine Ward, May 22, 1614 at Pontefract, West Riding England.
Christopher Todd (son of William Todd and Katherine Ward) baptized Jan. 12, 1617; married Grace Middlebrook; died April 23, 1686.
Extract from an old family record:
Christopher Todd, with his wife, emigrated to this country, being among the original settlers of New Haven Colony, in 1638. In 1650 he bought a lot in the "London Quarter," of Jasper Crane, where he lived for the rest of his life. This lot remained in the Todd family for a century. It is the lot on a part of which St. Thomas’ church, on Elm Street, now stands.
Mr. Todd was a farmer, miller and baker; he first hired then bought a mill long known as "Todd’s Mill." It stood on the site of Whitney’s gun-factory, at Whitneyville, a northern suburb of New Haven.
Samuel Todd (son of Christopher Todd and Grace Middlebrook) baptized April 39, 1645; married Mary Bradley Nov. 26, 1668; died Oct. 1724.
Jonah Todd (son of Samuel Todd and Mary Bradley) born Dec. 16, 1684; married Hannah Clark, April 20, 1709; died Aug. 24, 1730. Burial at New Haven; gravestone still there.
Leaving the record given above we were unable to race the next generation. As Litchfield county was settled partly by colonists from New Haven, among them Dr. Jonah Todd, we may reasonably conclude that be belonged to this family, especially as the names "Samuel" and "Hannah" appear among his children. We therefore continue the line as follows:
Johan Todd (probably grandson of Jonah and Hannah Clark), born 1733; married June __; died March 17, 1783.
Mehitable Todd (daughter of Dr. Jonah and Jane Todd), born Aug. 10, 1756; married Ebenezer Seeley June 2, 1779; died May 27, 1839, in Deerfield township, Tioga county, Penna.
At sometime after their marriage, Ebenezer and Mehitable Seelye went to live in Litchfield, Connecticut, where, after the disbanding of the army, in 1783, it would seem that the sword was exchanged for the plow-share and the tumults of war for the quiet life of a New England rural community. From the records of Litchfield County, we learn that Ebenezer Seelye bought one lot of land in 1787 and another in 1790, also that he owned one-fourth part of a saw mill. This land was situated in the northwest corner of Litchfield Township.
The soil of Connecticut was never famed for its productiveness and we can well understand how alluring to the vigorous young New England farmers were the unclaimed western lands so widely advertised in every New England hamlet. We have already seen that a Connecticut man was one of the proprietors of the township in which Painted Post was situated; also that Captain John Seelye, brother of Ebenezer Seelye, and a native of Litchfield, was already settled there. These facts serve to explain why, in the spring of 1795, Ebenezer Seelye, like many of his friends and neighbors, probably in company with some of them, decided to take uplands in the vicinity of Painted Post. When one stops to consider what traveling meant in those days, even in long settled communities, we wonder at the courage of the men who with their families could undertake such a journey. From McMaster’s History of the people of the United States we gather the following illustrations of the traveling facilities, and means of communication of that day.
"Men, who were, a hundred years or more ago, separated by three miles were to all intents and purposes much farther away and saw much less of each other than those who in our time are parted by three thousand miles. It was no uncommon thing for one who went of business or pleasure from Charlestown to Boston, or New York, if he were a prudent and a cautious man, to consult the almanac before starting out, to make his will, to give a dinner or supper to his friends at the tavern and there bid them a formal good-bye. While Washington was serving his first term, two stages and twelve horses sufficed to carry all the travelers and goods passing between New York and Boston, the two great commercial centers of the county. The conveyances were old and shackling, the harnesses made mostly of rope. After a series of mishaps and accidents such as would suffice for an immigrant train crossing the prairies, the stage rolled into New York at the end of the sixth day. John Quincy says that during such journeys travelers were called at three in the morning, made ready by the light of a horn lantern and a farthing candle, and went of their way over the worst of roads until ten at night. Often they were forced to get down and lift the coach out of a quag mire or a rut, and when New York was reached after a week’s traveling they used to wonder at the case as well as the speed at which the journey was made.
Such was the state of engineering that no bridge of any length had been undertaken in the states. The crossing of rivers was attended with much discomfort and danger. Even a trip from Brooklyn to New York was attended with risks and delays that would now be thought intolerable. Then, and indeed until the day thirty years later when the rude steamboats of Fulton made their appearance on the Ferry, the only means of transportation for man and beast were clumsy row boats, flat bottom scows, and two masted sail boats. In one of these, if the day was fine, if the tide were slack, if the watermen were sober, and if the boat did not put back several times to take belated travelers who were seen running down the hill, the crossing might be made with some degree of speed and comfort. It is amusing now-a-days to read of the new stage coach between New York and Philadelphia bout that time; advertised as "a luxurious conveyance, being a covered Jersey wagon" which promised to make the trip in three days. And again of another new public conveyance, advertised as the "Flying Machine"; being "a good wagon with seats on springs," which would perform the journey in the surprising short time of two days. The present century had long passed its first decade before any material improvement in locomotion became know.
Nor were means of communication by mail any better. Even the mail from New York to Philadelphia went out only five times a week and was carried in a pair of saddle bags by boys on horseback. In small country towns farm removed from the great post roads letters were often five weeks going a distance that would now be traversed in a single afternoon. In the mountains of New Hampshire and in the hill country of Pennsylvania, letters were longer in going to their destination than they are now in reaching Peking.
If such were the facilities of travel around New York, Philadelphia and Boston, it requires no great stretch of imagination to picture the hardships of a journey into western wilds. At the time they decided to make this venture, Ebenezer Seelye and his wife were in the prime of life, being about thirty-eight years old. Eight children had come into their home. Just what route was selected for the perilous journey can only be conjectured. No doubt they traveled in a company, as most of the immigrants found it prudent to do. Family tradition says they crossed the Hudson River on the ice. From that river to the Delaware fairly good roads were already in existence. In an early history of Orange County is found a description of one road which must have been of great service to the stream of immigrants from the east bound for New York and Pennsylvania. This history says: "As early as 1750, there were fairly good roads through Orange County to the Delaware." Much earlier than this there was a good traveled road extending from Esopus, now Kinston, in Ulster County, one hundred miles in length, to beyond the Delaware, In Pennsylvania." Along the Delaware River to the Surveyor’s road, along this to Tioga Point, now Athens, up the Chemung to Painted Post, may very probably have been the route taken.
In spite of the many hardships of these journeys made by immigrant trains, there must have been much in them that appealed to those primitive instincts still surviving in most of us. The camp fires, the sense of freedom, the quiet nights under the stars! Who among us but understands their charms? Whatever the perils or pleasures of the journey may have been, the little group in which we are interested reached their destination in safety. Perhaps wearied and travel-stained, they too, were cheered by the hospitality of "good wife Nellie" at the inn of Painted Post. A large tract of land was taken up and partially cleared by Ebenezer Seelye, near the present town of Lindley. But stories of the more fertile land in the valleys of the Tioga and the Cowanesque were not doubt often told around the evening fire; and when, in 1797, James Strawbridge (who, though compelled to leave his lands in the Cowanesque, had not abandoned title to them) offered Ebenezer Seelye a part of his claim, with improvement on it, for two dollars and fifty cents an acre, the offer was accepted.
Not caring to venture into the wilderness alone, Mr. Seelye offered the improvements to William Knox, if he would accompany him. (The Knox’s, it will be remembered, were among the first settlers of Painted Post). This offer was accepted by Mr. Knox and in the spring of 1798 he and his son William, caped upon and enlarged the Strawbridge clearing. They found their, as the "improvements" offered by Strawbridge, a log house, a partly cleared field enclosed with a log fence, and a nearly completed mill race. They remained all summer, returning to Painted Post for the winter. In the following spring, March 1799, the two families started for their new home in one of the most beautiful and fertile valleys of Pennsylvania.
Ebenezer Seelye had been four years upon his clearing at Painted Post, and one child, a son had been added to his family, making five girls and four boys, the eldest of the family, Betsey, being eighteen, the youngest, Eleazer, not yet four. William Knox had four children, three boys and one girl. The little company consisting of four adults and thirteen young people and children, proceeded with sleds drawn by oxen to what was then known as Beecher’s Island, now Nelson. The cows and other stock were driven with them. From Beecher’s Island they traveled on the ice up the Cowanesque to the Strawbridge clearing. For immediate use the log cabin was awaiting them. By starting in March they gained a long season in which to prepare for their first winter in so solitary a wilderness.
The Knox family located on the old Strawbridge clearing and the Seelye family about one mile east of what is now Academy Corners. Eleazer Seelye, the youngest of the family who came to Painted Post, says in a letter to the Agitator contributed in 1867; "My father erected a cabin of bark set against a large pine log and we lived in it for a year and a half. He then built a log house. In this we lived the first winter without a floor, there being no saw mill nearer than Painted Post." This log cabin home was located in a spot still suggesting its primitive beauty of over one hundred years ago—on a level stretch of ground leading to the river a short distance beyond. Around it lay a noble forest covering the plains and the high rounded hills, "its solitude unbroken save by the trawling of the water at the rifts, or perhaps the creaking of the sulky old hemlocks as the wind swayed their branches to and from." Only two human habitations in all the wilderness! But the forest was not destitute of population. Deer browsed in the thickets, wolves prowled about at night, bears were plentiful and catamounts often seen. There was no trouble to obtain food. Cows, hogs, and domestic fowls, were taken with them. It was as easy to kill a deer then as s sheep nowadays. The river supplied fish in abundance and corn and potatoes were hoed in between the stumps the first season. Although no description has come down to us of the log house built by Ebenezer Seelye during the second summer after his settlement in the Cowanesque valley, we may draw the picture of the typical pioneer home which cannot be far from the facts.
Architecture in the new countries confined itself to one general type—a single apartment on the ground floor with a chamber above. The house of the pioneer was usually about 20 x 26 feet, built on round logs chinked with pieces of split logs and plastered on the outside with clay. He floors were often made of split logs with the flat side up—puncheons as they were called. The doors were of thin pieces split out of a large log, and the roof of the same, sometimes covered—that is covered with a mixture of straw and clay. The windows were covered with glass, if that was obtainable, but oftener with thin cloth to exclude the cold but not light. The fire place was made of stone, and the chimney of sticks plastered with clay. On one side of the fire place was a ladder leading to the chamber above, on the other side shelves of split logs, for cooking utensils and dishes. Often there was also a shelf for books. In one corner was a bed and about the room the necessary table and chairs. Of course, there was always to be seen the spinning wheel and reel. Over head on wooden hooks fastened to the beams, were a number of things, rifles, powder horns, bullet pouches, hunting knives—the complete outfit of the hunter, trapper, and pioneer settler. Such a house was warm and tight. It harmonized with its uses and with its surroundings, and perhaps was in this respect more truly artistic than many pretentious modern structures. But whatever might be lacking, it had one feature that even our most complete homes of the present day are glad to imitate—the great roomy fireplace with its cheerful roaring logs. The winds might howl around the settler’s home, the snow fall thick and fast, but
"Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
Could quench the hearth fire’s ruddy glow."
After temporary food and shelter had been supplied, two imperative needs had to be considered by the pioneer before further progress towards civilization could be made. These were a grist mill and a saw mill. There are few tribulations of a new country, about which settlers are more eloquent that "going to mill." Often this meant days of travel through a wilderness, trackless, except for the blazed trail. Temporary expedients were often necessarily resorted to. In the letter of Eleazer Seelye referred to above he says: ‘For a grist mill we used a stump hollowed out by fire for mortar, and a spring pestle. In this we pounded our samp for bread and puddings for two years." And there were ten growing children in the family!
In the Steuben County history is a description of this primitive mill of the pioneer which will bear quoting: "The Plumping Mill was made after this wise: From the outer edge of the top of a pine stump auger holes were bored toward the center so as to meet in a point several inches below the surface. Fire was placed on the top of the stump which was sucked in, according to atmospherical laws, and burned out the conical block nicely, leaving a large deep bowl. This was scraped and polished and the mill was ready for the engine. The engine was a very simple one of about two feet stroke. From a crotched post a long sweep was balanced like the swale of any old fashioned well. A pole, at the end of which was a pounder, was hung from the sweep and your mill was made. The pioneer poured his corn into the bowl of the stump and, working the piston like one churning, cracked his corn triumphantly. Modern mills, with all their gorgeous red paint and puzzling machinery, are uncertain affairs at best, nervous as it were and whimsical, distributed by droughts and freshets, by rain and high winds, like rheumatic old gentleman. There is always a screw loose somewhere and their wheels need fixing almost as such as the wheel of government. But the sturdy old plumping mill was subject to no such whimsies, no more than the men to dyspepsia or the women to hysteria and tantrums. The reflecting citizen will duly honor the old Plumping Mill."
The letter to the Agitator further says; "After a while several of the settlers clubbed together and purchased a pair of mill stones about two feet in diameter, which we turned by hand. It was sometimes possible by this time to go to Addison to have the corn ground, as a mill had been erected there."
Mrs. Lois Carpenter, an aged granddaughter of Ebenezer Seelye now living at Academy Corners, tells the following story about going to Addison mill.
Reuben Howland, the sixteen-year old son of Dr. Eddy Howland, who settled the Cowanesque in 1803, was sent through the forest by a blazed trail to Addison with a grist. He led one horse and rode another, thus making it possible to carry more grain. Being detained at the mill longer than he expected, night overtook him some miles from home. With the matter of fact courage of the pioneer lad he tied his horses securely, wrapped himself in a blanket and crawled into a hollow log. Here he slept soundly until the rising sun awakened him. His mother, in the meantime, had spent the long hours of the night sleepless and in great anxiety and fear. She pictured him torn by the wolves or lying helpless from some injury. When in the early morning hours he arrived safely at home she ran to meet him, saying in her Quaker tongue, "My son, I receive thee as from the dead!"
The first saw mill on the Cowanesque was built just above Knoxville, by Dr. Eddy Howland in 1804. In 1810 a second mill was built by Ebenezer Seelye and Emmer Bowen, about a mile east of Academy Corners. This mill was operated for nearly thirty years. It had a flutter wheel and a single upright saw. By diligence and good management one thousand feet of panel white pine could be cut in twelve hours.
In 1811, Bethlehem Thompson, who had settled in the valley some years before, bu8ilt the first grist mill, a log structure, a mile above Knoxville. It was propelled by an over-shot wheel the water being conducted from Inscho Run in wooden troughs hewed out of pine trees. From this time on, the hardships formerly experienced in obtaining breadstuffs or lumber became a thing of the past in the Cowanesque Valley.
In March 1800, one year after their settlement on the Cowanesque, James Knox, the first male white child born in Deerfield township, was added to the family of William Knox; and in May of the same year a daughter was born to Ebenezer Seelye, Sally, the tenth and youngest child, she was the first female white child born in what is now Deerfield Township.
After 1800 settler began to come rapidly into the valley and it soon became necessary to provide a school for the children. The first schoolhouse in the Cowanesque Valley, if not the first in the county, was built in the summer of 1803. It was a log building 18 feet square and stood on what is now the old burying ground of the Loren Carpenter farm, at Academy Corners. The building was covered with a cobbed roof and floored with puncheons. The benches were split bass wood logs with legs. There was a fireplace of stone at one end. Among the list of children, we find mostly Seelye’s and Knox’s. There were Betsy, Anna, Lucina, Julius, Mehitable, Harvey, Laura and Elanson Seelye, and John, William and Betsy Know.
The settlers of Academy Corners were interested in education from the earliest days is shown not alone by the successful Academy which afterwards gave the town its name, but by many incidents of pioneer days. It is said that when Eddy Howland, Jr., was about twenty years old he and a brother went to Wellsboro to school fro some months. This was in 1828. They paid ten shillings a week for their board. Upon their return, the people of Academy Corners met and after due deliberation decided that a young man who had enjoyed such exceptional advantages as had Eddy Howland was the proper person to each their school. During the winter that he became teacher he had seventy pupils. Books were scarce and newspaper seldom seen. Often a family of six children would use on spelling book. The school master taught six days in the week, making the goose quill pens and setting the copies. He received twelve shillings a week, paid in produce. About this same time Harriet B. Wright taught a term of thirteen weeks in what is now Elkland. Her pay was one dollar a week, or, if money was scarce, one bushel of good merchantable wheat.
The next step taken by the settlers on the Cowanesque was toward some religious organization. The first church building in Tioga County was the "Quaker Meeting House of hewn logs built by Benjamin W. Morris, in Wellsboro. The second church building in the county was the Quaker Meeting House erected in Knoxville, in 1812. "This was a log building through the middle of which ran a movable partition which was raised and lowered, with much noise, by means of chains. On one side of the partition sat the men, on the other the women. During the hour of worship the partition was removed, but when there was business to transact, the cumbrous machinery was put in motion and each held a separate business session. The rules of the meeting were to sit an hour; if anyone felt moved to speak he or she did so, otherwise the hour was sat out in silence and ended with a general hand-shaking. Among the first members were Ebenezer Seelye and Mehitable, his wife (she had begun to write her name Mehitable by this time) Julius Seelye, there eldest son, and Joanna, his wife; Joseph Colvin, and Ruth, his wife, Emmer Bowen, and Huldah, his wife; Martin Bowen and Freelove, his wife. Freelove Bowen, Julius Seelye and Eddy Howland are mentioned as the most frequent speakers." (Tioga Co. History). Quaint names and quaint customs, but how perfectly they harmonize with the simple surroundings, so near to Nature’s heart!
"’Twas only a little church way out there in the pines,
Where you hear the thrushes singin’ an’ the blooms are on the vines,
Where the wildwood roses clustered with daisies white as snow
An’ the brown bees bent the blossoms in the days of long ago.
"’Twas only a little church without those steeples high
That seem to touch the windows of the blue and bending sky.
No style at all about it an’ all the week so still,
With only just the bird songs an’ the rattle of the rill."
When we remember their surroundings we sometimes wonder how the first settlers in Tioga County obtained the money with which to pay for their new lands unless they brought it with them. At first the only opportunity for acquiring money was in the hunting of wolves and panthers, for which bounties were given. It is said that many farms in Tioga County were largely paid for in this way. In a memorandum of the probable expenses of the County of Tioga for 1813 occurs an item of $300.00 for wolf and panther scalps. A little later, as saw mills began to be operated, crude structures though they were, most of them manufactured lumber in excess of the local demand, which was floated down the rivers to the lower markets of the Susquehanna and readily converted into cash. Eleazer Seelye says in his letter to the Agitator that it was six or seven years before his father began to raise wheat, rye and oats. In the meantime, the family dressed mostly in garments made of deer skins, wore coonskin caps, and moccasins of domestic manufacture. Yet prosperity attended their efforts and they were able at an early date to acquire possession of the land. A 1807, George Strawbridge, nephew of James Strawbridge and administrator of his uncle’s estate, came to Tioga County to attend to his duties. In Deed Book No. 2 of the Recorder’s Office of Tioga County, is recorded the deed by which one tract of the land belonging to Ebenezer Seelye is conveyed to him by James Strawbridge, through his administrator. He land is described entirely by water and trees, thus calling up a picture of its isolation and of its forest environment. "Beginning at a Water Beach on the bank of that branch of the Cowanesque called the Island Stream, thence so many perches north to A Chestnut Oak, thence, west so many perches to a White Oak, & etc., containing in all 266 acres, being a part of two tracts as surveyed to James Strawbridge by virtue and warrants Nos. 345 and 5,178. Consideration $666.00.
In 1818, we find another deed by which 88 acres, or one third of this tract, is conveyed by Ebenezer Seelye to his son, Julius Seelye, for $500.00. This deed indicates less isolation, as mention is made of Deerfield Township and the adjoining land of William Faulkner. But it, too, must still make use of stream and forest in describing the land. In succeeding wills and deeds we may trace this tract of land from Julius Seelye to Mary Seelye, great granddaughter of Ebenezer Seelye. At her death her administrator sold the farm to S. L. Ludlam, it having been for over a hundred years in possession of the Seelye family and the Seelye name. From other records we find that to each of his three remaining sons Ebenezer Seelye sold a farm, for an ample consideration. While to each of his six daughters, except the one that left the county, he gave a tract of land without any consideration whatsoever.
In the assessment list of 1812, thirteen years after coming into the county, Ebene3zer Seelye’s taxable property is listed as one-half saw mill, 466 acres of land, one horse, four oxen and three cows, the assessed valuation being $1,043, and his taxes $5.22. At that time only five other men in the county had an assessment value exceeding $1,000.00. These were Samuel Tubbs, $1,408.00; William Rathbun, $1,379.00; Richard Ellis, $1,147.00; Samuel W. Morris, $1,117.00, and Jacob Reep, $1,020.00.
A second part of the original tract acquired from the Strawbridge warrant by Ebenezer Seelye that deeded to his son Elanson, has always been and still is in the possession of the Seelye family. It is now the home of Mrs. Roby Taft, a great granddaughter of Ebenezer Seelye.
Of the houses which have from time to time been built upon the original 266 acres by different members of the Seelye family, two are still occupied. That of Mrs. Roby Taft is a handsome modern structure, not one feature suggesting the little log house from which it is descended; that belonging to Mr. S. L. Ludlam, built by Eleazer S. Seelye in 1853; is a commodious framed structure of less modern type, the substantial farm house of over fifty years ago.
Having followed the fortunes of this pioneer family until they are comfortably and happily settled in their new home, we naturally asked the question, but what of the children? Did life offer them in this wilderness any opportunities for usefulness, for advancement? Brilliant careers were not open to them certainly. But strange as it may seem to us who recall the remoteness of neighbors, the roughness of the roads, the seeing lack of all opportunities for social pleasure, life moved on in its larger events much the same as now.
"Lovers then loitered side by side
Down the path that looks on the brimming tide.
And youth and joy held the heart in thrall
Then, as now, in the forest tall."
From a poem by Mrs. F. E. Watrous
Among the first settlers to enter the Cowanesque after the Knox and Seelye families, was that enterprising your man, Bethlehem Thompson, who built the first grist mill on the Cowanesque, as described above. He located a farm and soon after married Betsey, oldest daughter of Ebenezer Seelye, as the time of her marriage about 21 years old.
In 1807 a young man by the name of Curtis Cady was among the first settlers of what is now Brookfield Township. He built one of the first log cabins in the then dense wilderness and took thither his wife, Anna, second daughter of Ebenezer Seelye. A few scattered facts give us some glimpses of his new home as the years go on. Here were born their twin daughters, the first white children of Brookfield Township. In this home was held, the first school of the township. It was taught by Asa Bushnell, in 1817. There were eleven pupils, four of whom were the Cady children. In 1818 a Methodist society was formed in the community, Curtis Cady being one of its first members and most enthusiastic supporters. His wife’s name is not on the church roll, perhaps because of her Quaker parentage. But she must have been in symp0athy with her husband, as in 1836 we find a successful series of revival meetings held in Curtis Cady’s home.
Lucinda, third daughter of Ebenezer Seelye, married Asa Douglass, about whom little is know.
In 1804, Luke Scott, a man who was destined to assist materially in the development of the new country, settled on the site of Knoxville. He engaged actively in lumbering, built the third saw mill in the valley on Troups Creek, and also engaged in merchandising. His daughter, Joanna, became the wife of Julius, eldest son of Ebenezer Seelye. They were married November 15, 1806, when he was but 19 and she only 18. To this union eleven children were born, most of whom have been actively identified, either directly or through their descendants with the later history of the county. Eleazer S. was County Commissioner from 1865 to 1872, during which time the first County House was built. He was also one of the originators, and a member of the stock company which built the Woolen Mills one mile east of Academy Corners, for many years an important commercial factor in the valley. This mill was operated until 1847, when it was destroyed by fire.
From Julius Seelye and Joanna Scott Seelye are descended many well known families of Tioga County. It has seemed to the writer that the pioneering energy of Luke Scott, and the calm good judgment of the Quaker ancestor may be traced as characteristics in many of their descendants of the fourth generation.
Mehitable, fourth daughter of Ebenezer Seelye married Ebenezer Guilbert. They left the county soon after their marriage, going farther west. Of their descendants nothing has yet been brought to light.
Harvey, the second son, married Fanny Beardsley, a school teacher and a seamstress, whose fine sewing is a family tradition.
Another pioneer whose coming was important in the annals of the Seelye family, was Ayres Tuttle, a Revolutionary soldier, who fought at Bunker Hill and who was the first permanent settler in what is now Westfield Township. In 1809 he located just east of the present limits of Westfield, and later bought a part of the Reuben Cook tract, now within the borough limits. Ayres Tuttle was a man of energy and enterprise. In 1810, shortly after his settlement, he erected a small grist mill on the river near the eastern boundary of the borough of Westfield, and later replaced it with a better mill, run by water and located further down the stream. He also opened his dwelling as a wayside inn, which he kept for a number of years. The first store in the township was opened by him. He exchanged merchandise for furs and deer skins; tanned the deer skins and made them into gloves and mittens; and subsequently built an "ashery" for making potash. He was for many years the principal merchant and dealer in the neighborhood; was known for many miles around, and (to quote from the early county history) "was all things considered, the leading citizen among the first settlers of Westfield." Into this center of activity his son, Sheldon Tuttle, introduced a young wife, Laura, fifth daughter of Ebenezer Seelye. We can imagine that she was supposed to have "married well" from a pioneer standpoi8nt, for in addition to all this worldly prosperity, her husband is spoken of as "an amiable Christian gentleman." Sheldon Tuttle and his wife occupied the farm for many years after his father’s death. In fact, he seems to have succeeded to his father’s position as leading merchant and citizen. The descendants of Sheldon and Laura Tuttle still live upon the homestead farm.
In 1803 there came to Deerfield Township one of its most interesting pioneers, John Howland. He was from Rhode Island and a direct de3scendant of the John Howland who came to America in the Mayflower. There accompanied him his wife, Lois Eddy Howland, his son, Dr. Eddy Howland, his son’s wife and family of five or six children, and a young daughter, Mercy, then only 11 years old. The Howland’s, father and son, took up a large tract of land, part of which is still owned by their descendants. They erected a saw mill in 1804 (one of the first in Tioga County, as stated above), established a store in 1814, and built a cider mill in 1817. John Howland is said to have raised the first tobacco in the Cowanesque Valley. They were Quakers in belief and true to the best in Puritan life and tradition. Mercy Howland was one of the early teachers in Deerfield Township, but at the age of 22 left that occupation to become the wife of Elanson, third son of Ebenezer Seelye. To this union 14 children were born. The list of Tioga County families descended from Elanson and Mercy Howland Seelye would be interesting, but too long for such an occasion as this.
One of the early settlers of Brookfield Township was the Rev. Samuel Conant, probably a Methodist minister. In those days the calling of a minister was no doubt edifying to those engaged in it, but it was not, strictly speaking, remunerative. A spiritual leader, like the members of his flock, were obliged to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. The Rev. Samuel Conant was, therefore, a shoemaker as well as a minister. Moreover, he was the first teacher in the fine new log schoolhouse build by the Brookfield settlers. Perhaps it was about this time that Eleazer Seelye, youngest brother of Anna Seelye Cady, came to pay a visit to his sister, after a long and difficult journey through the woods. However this may be, he met and loved the minister’s daughter, Mary Conant, and on July 20, 1820, made her his wife. She seems to have been one of the women whose price is above rubies as described by Solomon, "who looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness."
Miss Abbie Kelts, of Knoxville, furnishes an interesting sketch of her grandmother, Mary Conant Seelye. She says" "My grandmother had 11 children of her own and one adopted son, to whom she gave the same love and care as to her own. Not one woman in a thousand could do the work that grandmother did even if she wanted to. All her children were married and had homes of their own before death claimed her. For each of her six sons she made with her own hands, a feather bed, with pillows, sheets, pillow cases, comfortables and quilts, much of the cloth being woven at home. Her hands were never idle. It was her custom to knit or sew when driving any distance for business or pleasure. Once when it was necessary to make a pair of pants for some member of her family, and also necessary to drive to their farm in Troupsburg because the strawberries were ripe and had to be picked, my mother drove and my grandmother made the pants on the way, all but the button holes. When she could not sleep she would always knit, some times knitting a stocking foot after going to bed. When her hands were not busy her heard was. There were in her possession many letters of her own as well as family papers, which as she grew old weighed upon her mind. She did not like to leave them for others, perhaps strangers, to read, neither did she like to burn them. To her it seemed such a waste! Finally she hit upon the expedient of tearing them into little bits and making chair cushions of them." In pioneer days, "waste not want not" was a maxim well learned. She died at the age of 93, having been for over 80 years an active member of the Methodist church. Eleazer and Mary Conant Seelye had 54 grandchildren, and 81 great grandchildren. Eli Seelye, oldest son of Eleazer Seelye, is still living in Oshkosh, Wis., being in his 89th year. Samuel Seelye, the second son, died with the coming in of the present year, January 1st. He was 84 years old. Mrs. Augustus Woodbury, second daughter of Eleazer Seelye, is still living, in Knoxville, she is 85 years of age.
In 1825 there came into what is now Westfield Township James King and his wife, Roby Howland King, probably a sister of John Howland, as Roby is still a family name among the descendants of the Howland family. He cleared and improved a farm, upon which he lived until his death, in his 80th year. His eldest son, Prince King, married Sally, youngest daughter of Ebenezer Seelye. They also cleared and improved a farm, upon which they lived and died. William King, the youngest child of Prince and Sally Seelye King, is still living upon the homestead farm, which he has cultivated since attaining his majority.
In this sketch of a pioneer family little has been attempted in the way of personal description, as lapse of time and scarcity of family records precludes the accuracy of such efforts. The actors in the little drama of life here presented can be personally known only as their deeds speak for them. That Ebenezer Seelye and his wife were possessed of courage and resourcefulness, of energy, thrift and uprightness may be confidently asserted. In the face of the hardships incident to pioneer life, they were able to bring up and prosperously settle a family of ten children. Like their friends and neighbors, they and their children felled the forest, cleared the lands and planted homes where once wild beasts had roamed. They lived to see the wilderness into which they had come develop into a thriving and prosperous agricultural community.
Ebenezer Seelye is described by the few of his descendants still living who saw him as a quiet man, true to the principles of the Quaker faith which he professed. So much so, indeed, that he would never talk about the part he took in the Revolutionary War. To eager questions of children and grandchildren he would answer with a characteristic twinkle of his eye, "I am a Quaker, Quakers know nothing of war." It is because of this reticence that so little is known except from official records of the stirring scenes in which he must have taken part.
What influences in early or later life induced Ebenezer Seelye and his wife to adopt the Quaker Faith is not know. There were few Quakers in Litchfield County, Connecticut, and the Todd family are said to have been of the Church of England. Perhaps it was in part a reaction against those years of war and bloodshed that led him to choose the "Prince of Peace" as his commander.
In the Quaker cemetery at Knoxville lie the remains of Ebenezer Seelye and Mehitable, his wife. He died at the age of 81, she at the age of 83. Their 10 children grew to manhood and womanhood in Tioga County, married and gave to them 101 grandchildren, most of whom took an active part in the life of the community to which they belonged. Thus it is, perhaps, not an overstatement to say that the pioneer family of Ebenezer Seelye had somewhat to do with the development of Tioga County.
And now, lest in some mind arise the question, why take pains to record these "short and simple annals" of lives, in no way distinguished above their neighbors; whose virtues are plain and homely virtues of the average life in a rural community, whose faults even are in no sense dramatic or startling? Lest someone may ask the question, the following extract is given, adapted from the Discourse of Horace Bushnell, delivered at the Centennial of Litchfield County, Connecticut, in 1853.
"What we call History, considered as giving a record of notable events or transactions, * * * I conceive to be commonly, very much of a fiction. True worth is for the most part un-historic, and so are all the beneficent causes and powers included in the lives of simple worthy men. They are such as flow in silence like the great powers of nature. Therefore, if you ask who made this county of ours it will be no sufficient answer that you get when you have gathered up the names that appear in our public records. You must not go into the burial places and look about only for the tall monuments and titled names. It is not the starred epitaphs of the Doctors of Divinity, the Generals, the Judges, the Honorables, the Governors, that mark the springs of our success and the sources of our distinction. These are rather effects than causes. Round about the honored few are lying multitudes of worthy men and women under their humble monuments, or in the graves that are hidden by the monumental green that loves to freshen over their forgotten resting places; and in these, the humble good, lie the deepest, truest causes of our happy history. Here lie the sturdy kings of homespun, who climbed among these hills with their axes to cut away room for their cabins. Here lie their sons, who foddered cattle in the snows and built stone fence while the corn was sprouting on the hills. Here lie the good housewives, who, like Hannah, made coats every year for their children. Here lie the millers that took honest toll of the rye; the smiths and coopers, the district committees and school mistresses, the religious society founders and church deacons. They are men and women that made our country—the kings and queens of homespun from who we draw our royal lineage."