History of Sheshequin 1777---1902
C. F. Heverly
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THE Sheshequin Valley has several times been visited by great inundations. The first of these of which we have any record is mentioned by Sherman Day: "In 1771 there was an immense flood in the Susquehanna, and all the inhabitants (the Moravians and Indians) at Sheshequin were obliged to save themselves in boats and retire to the woods where they were detained four days." In the spring of 1784 occurred the notable "ice flood." The damage was particularly severe in the Wyoming Valley. Colonel Franklin says: "The breaking up of the Susquehanna river on the 15th of March, 1784, greatly distressed the inhabitants, who had been obliged during the time of war to remove and build their houses on the lowlands near the banks of the river. The uncommon rain and large quantities of snow on the mountains, together with the amazing quantity of ice in the river, occasioned by the uncommon inclemency of the winter season, swelled the streams to an unusual height--ten, and many place twenty feet higher then it had ever been known since the settlement of the country". Early in October, 1786, when the crops of corn and pumpkins were still on the ground, continuous rains produced a freshet which had seldom been equalled. Crops were swept away and the bosom of the river was covered with floating pumpkins. The loss was severely felt and many cattle died the succeeding winter for want of sustenance. For years this freshet was designated by the old inhabitants as the "Pumpkin Flood." Another great inundation occurred in the valley of Sheshequin in July, 1809, doing at that season of the year, great damage to growing crops. In 1842, Feb. 4 and March 5, the river again arose to a great height. The freshet of March 17, 1865, known as "St. Patrick's Day Flood," was the greatest, up to that time, known to the people along the Susquehanna. In the month of February an unusually deep snow had fallen, and as the weather continued cold for four or five weeks, other snows accumulated on the top of it. In the early part of March the weather became suddenly warm, the wind blew from the south, with frequent showers of rain and the snow melted with surprising rapidity. As the ground was frozen, the water all ran into the streams. Fortunately, the ice had broken up and gone down the river a few days before. Everybody along the river expected a flood, but when the water was at a height as great as ever had been known before and was still rising, great anxiety began to be manifested. Steadily at the rate of about four inches per hour, the water continued to rise until it reached a point, varying with the width of the river, from six to eight feet higher than ever known. Great damage was done--fences, houses, barns, cattle, horses, stacks of hay and grain, and piles of lumber were swept down the stream in a confused mass. The next great flood was on the 1st of June, 1889, which was surpassed by the freshet of March 1 and 2, 1902.
One of the main dependencies of the early settlers was the innumerable quantities of shad, which in their season were found in the Susquehanna, being of a superior quality and flavor. As soon as the ice went out of the river the shad started on their journey to the fresh water creeks, for the purpose of spawning, returning to the sea late in the season. They came in very large schools, and from time immemorial the natives of the forest had been in the habit of taking them in large quantities with their bush-nets. In taking these fish the settlers would select a cove on the point of an island free from rocks and large stones as "the drawing place" for their seine. There was good "pulling ground" at different points in the vicinity of Sheshequin. Sometimes 500 shad were taken at a haul. Judge Gore "salted down" a sufficient supply of these fish, which he sold to the settlers. The dams, which were subsequently thrown across the Susquehanna, have prevented the shad from ascending the river, thus depriving the people of a great luxury.
The memorable "Dark Day," of Total Eclipse of 1806 is thus recorded by Mrs. Perkins: "We remember while in Sheshequin, seeing the total eclipse of 1806, when the chickens went to roost, the cows went lowing home and the teacher and scholars ran home in dismay." 1816 was "The Year Without a Summer," for in every month there was a sharp frost. January was mild, as was February with the exception of a few days. The greater part of March was cold and boisterous, April opened warm, but grew colder as it advanced, ending with snow and ice winter cold. In May ice formed half an inch thick, buds and flowers were frozen and corn killed. Frost, ice and snow were common in June. Almost every green thing was killed and the fruit was nearly all destroyed. July was accompanied with frost and ice. In August ice formed half an inch thick. A cold northwest wind prevailed all summer. Corn was so frozen that a great deal was cut down and dried for fodder. The first two weeks in September were mild and the balance of the month cold with frost, ice forming to the thickness of half an inch. October was more than usually cold with frost and ice. November was cold and blustering with snow enough for good sleighing. December was quite mild and comfortable. The destruction of crops was so general that a famine almost resulted. Early settlers referred to this unfruitful year as "eighteen hundred and starve to death." A grand celestial phenomenon or Meteoric Shower, was exhibited in the heavens on the morning of Nov. 13, 1833. This beatiful and wonderful exhibition of "falling stars" was seen and is remembered by some of the oldest inhabitants.
OLD TRAINING DAYS.
A law was early passed, providing for the organization of the State Militia. An enrollment of each town or district was made and every able bodied man between the ages of 21 and 45 years was required to join a company and present himself on training days for drill. He was to become familiar with military tactics, so in case of war, the State could readily equip and put into the field an army of trained soldiers. The trainings were affairs of much interest. Officers appeared in their insignia of rank while the privates were dressed in their usual homespun garments and went through the manual of arms with guns or sticks. Marching was done to the music of the fife and drum. Patriotic airs, and liquor furnished on these occasions, created sufficient animation for a "warm time" and pugilistic exercises were frequently engaged in. There were usually two drills each year--company and regimental or battalion. The original Sheshequin company was formed in 1788 with John Spalding and Samuel Gore lieutenant. Two of the old militia captains, Wm. J. Lent and Abraham Gore, are still living. John Spalding and Franklin Blackman were promoted to battalion commanders.
HUNTERS, HUNTING AND SHOOTING MATCHES.
The early settlers, especially those back on the hills, were required to keep guns to protect their stock against the ravages of panthers, wolves and bears. None of the Sheshequin settlers made hunting a business, only as necessity required and as a matter of diversion. Deer were plentiful and easy victims to anybody who had a gun. Archibald Forbes, John Brink, Charles Forbes, George Merrill, Isaac S. Horton and Forbes Low were among those who enjoyed "the chase" and the crack huntsmen for deer and foxes. The usual mode of taking deer was by chasing them with dogs from the hills to the river where they were easily dispatched by experienced riflemen. Brink was a dead-shot and marvellously successful. Charles Forbes on two occasions killed two deer at a single shot. Low, who was the last of these old time hunters, killed more than 100 deer, and 40 foxes in one fall alone. When only smaller game was left Hunting Matches came in vogue. There were several forms of these. Some occupied only a few hours while others continued a week or more and sometimes the match would be for the best results during an entire season. A match often meant a contest between two sportsmen for half a day. In such a case the contestants usually took opposite directions in their quest for game, meeting at a given place and time. He who had the smaller amount of game either gave it to the winner or paid for a treat or supper. The hunting match affording the greatest satisfaction occupied about three days and had from ten to fifty participants on each side. There was a captain for each side and the score was computed by means of tables agreed upon. For instance a hawk or owl counted 100 points, crow 50, woodchuck 50, squirrel 10, blackbird 10, rats 10, etc. Usually only the heads of birds and ears, or tails of animals were brought in for the count. When the contesting parties met there was a test of skill as marksmen and sometimes in feats of strength and wrestling. David Horton was the man of iron nerve 40 and 50 years ago. He was not only the crack shot at the matches, but the little man of marvellous strength without an equal. In the Sheshequin matches the losing party paid for the supper or a stated number of gallons of milk punch. The Shooting Match was also a rather exciting affair. Upon announcement that a shooting match would be held at Mr. Blank's all the marksmen of the neighborhood would assemble and pay a 6-pence a shot at a turkey or goose, placed 20 rods off. The shooting was off-hand. If the marksman hit the fowl it was his, if he missed he paid another 6-pence and tried again. The practice of shooting at fowls was discontinued and a target used instead.
Physicians early located in Sheshequin. We find Dr. John Dorman practicing here in 1794 and ' 95, and Dr. Champion Scofield from 1794 to ' 96. They were followed by Dr. Adonijah Warner, who remained about a year and then located in Wysox. Dr. Joseph Westcoat, a Revolutionary soldier, practiced in Sheshequin and Ulster a number of years. Drs. Gillett, Hamlin, Way and Park have previously been mentioned. Dr. David Barber came in 1843.
SOME INTERESTING FACTS.
In the assessment of Ulster township (then including Sheshequin) made in 1813 by George Kinney, assessor, and Samuel Bartlett and Jared Holcomb assistant assessors, we glean the following facts: Highest valuation of those residing in Sheshequin--Obadiah Gore: $3,101; John Spalding, $2,476; Samuel Gore: $2,115; Avery Gore: $1,844; Ebenezer Shaw: $1,793; Jabez Fish: $1,364; Peter Snyder, $1,282; Samuel and Timothy Bartlett, $1,208; Samuel Marshall: $1,180; Isaac Horton, $1,115; Joseph Kinney, $1,083; Joseph Kingsbury, $1,031; Joshua Horton, $838; Wm. Snyder, $763; Matthew Rogers, $578; Benjamin Brink, $509. Persons were assessed with occupations as follows: Samuel Gore, justice of the peace: Wm. Snyder, shoemaker and tanner; Isaac Horton with a ferry; Obadiah Gore with a tavern and grist-mill; John Spalding with a grist mill; Peter Snyder, Obadiah Gore, Matthew Rogers and CalvinCarner with a distillery each. The first assessment, after the formation of the township, was made in the fall of 1820 by Thomas Marshall, assessor. His return showed a total valuation of $35,454; tax $177.27; number of taxables, 90; cows, 134; horses, 56; oxen, 39; the greatest number of cows, Avery Gore, 11; Avery Gore and Isaac Horton 4 horses each; highest tax, Avery Gore, $18.04, next highest, William Snyder, $14.
MEN OF MARK.
A number of Sheshequin's sons have distinguished themselves at home and abroad in the various callings of life. Two, Harry L. Horton and Orrin D. Kinney, have achieved great success in the field of finance and are reputed millionaires. Their first lessons in business were obtained in the little stores of their native town. The former, born July 17, 1832, was a son of Wm. B. Horton, and the latter, born July 3, 1845, a son of Maj. Horace Kinney.
The first child, born in Sheshequin of whom we have any record, was Simon, son of Joseph Kinney, Aug. 26, 1784. The next was Harry, son of John Spalding, Sept. 30, 1784. Both became men of distinction.
The first bride in the new settlement was Wealthy Ann, wife of Col. John Spalding.
The first death of which we have any record was that of Eunice, wife of Joseph Spalding, Dec. 6, 1790.
The first framed barn (1786) and framed house (1787) were built by Judge Gore. The second framed house was erected by Joseph Kinney.
Col. John Spalding was one of the jurors in the first case tried in Bradford county-the Commonwealth vs. John Head--Jan. 20, 1813. Daniel Brink was also one of the jurors at the first term of court in the county.
Drowning accidents and suicides have been from time to time been matters of deep sorrow, but the saddest fatality of all, was the burning of the house of Cornelius Hurley at East Ghent in the Spring of 1850 in which he, his wife and a child lost their lives.
Of the original families the Hortons have ever been the most prolific. At an election held in Sheshequin about 1870, there were 49 of the name who voted.
In making the enumeration of Sheshequin in 1880 G.L. Fuller found the
oldest and youngest person in the same family. They were Col. Franklin
Blackman and a great-grandson, a child of Harry Blackman.