The White Woman
The strange story of "The White Woman of the Genesee" has become part of the folklore of America.
The story begins on the sailing ship William and Mary,out of Londonderry, Ireland, and bound for Philadelphia.It is the Autumn of 1743. Aboard ship, Jane Erwin, wife ofThomas Jemison, gives birth to a girl child, She is namedMary. There are two older brothers.
The Jemisons settle in a fertile Pennsylvania valley inwhat is now Adams County. There two other sons are bornto them. In later years Mary recalled her girlhood on thefrontier as a happy time. She was only 15 when tragedystruck.
The child who was born on the ocean is a comely girl,fair skinned with chestnut hair and deep blue eyes. She isslender and small boned, hardly five feet tall, yet sturdy andnever ill.
On the night of April 4, 1758 Mary is sent to a neighbor'shome to bring back a horse the next morning. It is the timeof the long French and Indian war and although the redskinsare known to be in the region, Thomas Jemison elects notto take his family to the safety of a stockade only six milesaway.
On her way to the neighbor's, Mary has a vision-a white sheet seems to descend and catch her up, saving her from a doom that threatens others.
Returning home, she finds her father shaving an axe helvein the yard, her mother preparing breakfast, her two olderbrothers in the barn. There are guests, a neighbor, his wifeand their two children. The neighbor goes to take care of thehorse Mary has brought. Then a shot is heard, followed bythe dread Indian war whoop. Six Indians and four Frenchmen run out of the woods, surround the house and take captive everyone save the two boys, unseen in the barn.
Prodded by whips, the prisoners are driven into the woods.Along the way they see the body of the neighbor. That explains the shot. All day long they are marched through the woods without food or drink. On the second day of her captivity Mary sees some bloody scalps. Bred on the frontier, the girl knows she never will see her family again.
They reach Fort Duquesne, the site of Pittsburgh. Mary is given to two Seneca sisters who have lost a brother in battle. The weird adoption rite with its dervish-like dancing and screeching frightens the white girl. The Indian women name her Deh-gi-wanus which means "Two Falling Voices." They replace her tattered garments with clean Indian clothes.
The Indians paddle down the Ohio to another village. The sisters are gentle with Mary but she is forbidden to speak English aloud. She murmurs to herself the prayers her mother taught her. She learns the Indian language although she never becomes fluent in that tongue.
The tribe decrees that she marry a young Delaware. His name is Shenigee and he is tall, brave and kind. She learns to take care of the wigwam, to hoe corn and perform the other tasks of a squaw.
A baby, fair skinned, is born to her and she names himThomas after her father. Slowly the memories of her life inthe green Pennsylvania hills grow dim. She counts time bymoons rather than months; she tells the seasons by the changing leaves and by the ways of the animals. She takes up theIndian way of life and time heals the horror of her memories.
At the time of the harvest moon, her husband goes off on a long hunt. Her sisters implore Mary to join them in their new home on the Genesee, Little Beard's Town. Shenigee is to follow them after the winter hunting.
Mary and two Indian foster brothers set off on a 600-miletrek. The young mother, a nine-months old papoose strappedto her back, trudges through an almost pathless wilderness,fording streams, sleeping on the ground in a wet blanketin the cold rains. Footsore, cold and sometimes hungry, sheplods on until she reaches the Seneca stronghold.
She is to spend nearly all the rest of her long life in that pleasant valley beside the winding river.
She is safe and happy in her new home. Then a messengercomes in the Spring with sad news. Her husband is dead.
A Dutch trader, enamored of her blond beauty, tries tokidnap her. A chief of the tribe, in the trader's pay, is in theplot, but others warn Mary and she hides with her baby inthe reeds and in a cabin at Gardeau until the danger is past.
She marries again. Her new mate is Hiakatoo, six feet talland a famed and ferocious Seneca warrior thief. He is over60 and she is only 24. For more than 40 years, until he died,she never wavered in her loyalty to the big Seneca. To themwere born four daughters and two sons.
The Revolution changes her peaceful life in the Valley.The Senecas cast their fortunes with the British. The Toryleaders, the Butlers, and the Mohawk thief, Joseph Brant,stop at Mary's cabin and she pounds corn from dawn to duskfor her guests. Her husband is off to the wars.
In September of 1779 guns boom in the distance and terrorstrikes the Indian town. Sullivan's American army nears theGenesee and the Indians flee. Mary puts two young childrenon the back of an old horse, straps the baby on her back, bidstwo older children follow on foot.
In October she returns to the Valley and finds the villageand the crops destroyed by the invaders. She seeks shelter ina cabin with an old Negro and a young boy on the Gardeauflats near the Genesee High Banks and husks corn for herkeep. In the Spring she has her own cabin. Gardeau is to beher home for half a century. Now it's part of LetchworthState Park.
After the Revolution, white settlers began trickling intothe Valley. They learn the strange story of Mary's captivity.She is given a chance to rejoin her own people and rejects it.She knows and trusts the Indians. They are generous andgive her four square acres of land at Gardeau flats.
At the treaty of Big Tree in 1797 when the Senecas settledtheir land claims with Robert Morris, she drives a hard bargain. She tells Thomas Morris, representing his father at thecouncil fire, that she has tilled patches here and there on theflats and wants an extension of her tract. Morris, thinking itinvolves only a few acres, yields to her request. The WhiteWoman becomes the owner of 30,000 fertile acres, a veritableestate.
She gathers her children about her and tills her manyacres. She becomes a tradition, "The White Woman of theGenesee." She tells the story of her life to James Seaver, awriter, and he puts it into a little book, which has beenreprinted many times through many generations and hasnever lost its appeal.
Shy at first, she makes friends with the white settlers.When they are ill, she brews tea for them made from herbs.She tells them where the choicest wild berries grow. Whitechildren visit the bent little woman in her cabin and go awaywith gifts. She wields considerable influence with the Indiansand helps settle disputes.
Mary is an old woman now, no longer the little beauty who came to the Genesee so long ago. She walks quickly, her head bent forward because she has earned heavy weights from a strap bound round her forehead. Her hair is still curly but snow white, no longer golden. The tired eyes are still Irish blue. She speaks English with strange Irish and Indian idioms.
She wears a brown flannel short gown with long sleeves,the shirt reaching to her hips and tied in two places withdoeskin thongs. A blue cloth skirt is tied about her waistand her legs are encased in blue cloth leggings. She wearsbuckskin moccasins and rags in lieu of stockings. In coldweather she has a blanket over her shoulders and an ancientbrown woolen bonnet on her head.
She sleeps on skins on the floor of her cabin. She shunschairs and prefers to sit on a bench or on the floor. Sheholds her victuals in her lap or in her hand as she eats. MaryJemison does not take to the ways of her own people. Shehas lived the Indian way so long.
Her old age is full of woe. Her aged husband dies. Hersecond son, John, who has the features and the worst traitsof his father's race, in a drunken frenzy kills his olderbrother, Thomas, the pride of Mary's heart, the first bornshe has carried on her back to the Genesee. Later John kills another brother, Jesse, in a similar fashion before he himself meets an inevitable violent end. The bereaved mother raises voice against the sale of liquor to Indians.
She takes in a white impostor who claims to be a kinsman and tries to cheat her out of her land. In 1831 she sells her Valley holdings and goes to live on the Buffalo Creek Reservation. At the age of 89 she attends an Indian mission school and renounces paganism for Christianity. It was almost a death bed conversion, for Mary Jemison died within two months.
Until 1874 her bones rested in the reservation buryingground. Then, thanks to William Pryor Letchworth, theywere reinterred on his Glen Iris estate which today is a partof the park he gave the people of the state. A statue of thewhite girl who came to the Geuesee is at her grave. Nearbyis the cabin Mary built for her daughter in 1800.
The White Woman is not forgotten in the Genesee Country.
The Publick Universal Friend
It was in the year 1776 that the typhus spread through Rhode Island. It had been brought to Providence by British prisoners on the American ship of war Columbus.
The people called it "the Columbus Fever" and many diedof the plague. In April it reached the humble farmhouse atCumberland, 10 miles from Providence, where lived Jeremiah Wilkinson and his 12 motherless children. His Quaker wife had been dead some eight years.
Among the stricken was the eighth child, Jemima, a handsome, willful girl of 18. On her mother's death she had been put in the charge of her older sisters but soon she was dominating them. In that Spring of 1776 she had come under the spell of religious exhorters and kept to her room with her Bible, withdrawn from the world.
As the girl lay apparently near death and her family assembled at her bedside, she had a vision in which:
"She saw two archangels descending from the East with golden crowns upon their heads, clothed in long white robes . . . putting their trumpets to their mouths, proclaiming 'Room, Room, Room in the many mansions of glory for thee.'"
Then she rose from her bed, prayed and called for herclothing, announcing that her carnal existence had endedand that from this time forth she was neither man norwoman but the Publick Universal Friend, Christ's messengeron earth, destined to save sinners.
Thus began a ministry that was to last for more than 40years and to take this strange, magnetic woman, "who rosefrom the dead," to a far wild country amid the slender lakesof Upstate New York where her followers were to plant thefirst settlement west of the Genesee.
The Friend began her preaching career in her native Rhode Island. Boldly she attacked slavery in coastal towns that thrived on the slave trade with the West Indies. In Roxbury, Mass., she and her band were stoned from the streets amid cries of "heretic."
The unlettered country girl-evangelist gained convertsthroughout Southern New England. Meeting houses wereerected in New Milford, Conn. and South Kingston, R. I.While most of her following were humble farm folk, sheattracted some people of influence and standing. One suchwas James Parker, one time thief magistrate of Rhode Island,who became her close advisor. At one time she lived in theParker home. Another was William Potter whose familyname is preserved in Yates County.
The Friend preached a simple doctrine. She urged heraudiences to live chastely, deal justly, obey the Golden Rule,avoid bad company and ardent spirits. Her rule over herflock was nearly absolute. Her proclamation of 30 days fasting on bread and water in Connecticut was generally obeyed.But her insistence on celibacy broke up families among her adherents and in the end it was a prime factor in wrecking the sect she founded.
There was little of the spectacular about the Friend'screed, other than her claim to divine inspiration. She didborrow from the Bible two apocalyptical Witnesses, JamesParker, who professed to wear the mantle of Elijah, andSarah Richards, who "was the prophet Daniel operating inthese latter days in the female line." The pair served as herprime ministers.
According to Thomas Morris, Parker "before prophesying, would wear around the lower part of his waist a girdle, tied very tight, and when it had caused the upper part of his stomach to swell, he would pretend to be filled with prophetic visions which he would impart to the community!"
A visit to Philadelphia in 1782 was a milestone in theUniversal Friend's career. She was warmly welcomed by theQuakers who provided the church in which she preached.Jemima created something of a sensation in the City ofBrotherly Love and won a mixed reception from the public.The fashionable and sophisticated always were to scoff at theplebeian preacher. Humbler folk regarded her more kindly.In his old age a Philadelphian set down his youthful impressions of young Jemima Wilkinson, who in 1782 was inthe full bloom of her somewhat voluptuous beauty. Hewrote:
"She was beautifully erect and tall for a woman. Herglossy black hair was parted evenly on her pale foreheadand smoothed back beyond the ears, from whence it fell inprofusion around her neck and shoulders.
He remembered "her arched black eyes, darting as thoughto read the thoughts of people . . . her beautiful aquilinenose, handsome mouth and chin, all supported by a neckconformable to the line of beauty and proportion."
A connoisseur of feminine charms, the Marquis de BarbeMarbois who saw Jemima in Philadelphia, had this to say:
"This soul from heaven has chosen rather a beautiful body for its dwelling place and many living ladies would not object to animate those dead remains."
Not so flattering was the report from a Philadelphia correspondent to the New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine:
"She is about the middle size of a woman, not genteel inher person; rather awkward in her carriage; her complexiongood. Her eyes remarkably black and brilliant; her hair blackand waving with beautiful ringlets around the neck andshoulders; her features are regular.
"As she is not supposed to be of either sex, so this neutrality is manifest in her personal appearance. She wears no cap, letting her hair hang down. She wears her neckcloth like a man; her chemise is buttoned around the neck and wrists. Her outside garment is a robe, under which it is said she wears an expensive dress, the fashion of which is made to correspond neither with that of man or woman.
"Her understanding is deficient, except touching her religious fanaticism. She is very illiterate, yet her memory is verygood. She is artful in discovering any circumstances whichfall out among her disciples. On all occasions she demandsthe most extraordinary attentions that can be bestowed onher and one or more of her disciples usually attends on herand performs the most menial service.
"Her pronunciation is after the peculiar dialect of themost illiterate of the country people of New England. Herpreaching has very little connection and is very lengthy; attimes cold and languid, but occasionally lively, zealous andanimated."
During her lifetime people could not agree about Jemima Wilkinson. She was a contradictory personality and it is difficult at this distance in time to separate the false from the true. So much legend has grown up about the Friend.
The Philadelphia invasion was so successful that the Friend settled in nearby Worcester, Pa., while making frequent trips to her flock in New England. Her people were so widely scattered and vulnerable to persecution that Jemima began to dream of some sequestered wilderness where, without outside interference, she could found a new Jerusalem.
Sullivan's soldiers had come back from the wars with glowing tales of the richness of the Finger Lakes country in York State and in 1786 the Friend sent Ezekiel Shearman to investigate that region as a possible site for her colony. Shearman got as far as Kanadesaga (Geneva) where trappers and traders told him the Indians were too hostile to permit any settlement.
Despite his gloomy report, three other scouts were sentout the next year for the Genesee Country. The Friend didnot give up easily once she had set her heart and mind on aproject. The trio, Abraham Dayton, Richard Smith andThomas Hathaway, came back with an optimistic report.They had explored the Seneca Lake region around Kashongand were enchanted with it.
The Friend determined on moving to this promised land and in July, 1788, an advance guard of 25 left Schenectady by the water routes to pick the site of the new home for the faithful. A little west of the present dreamy village of Dresden on Lake Seneca, they heard the tinkle of falling water. It was Keuka outlet spilling over a ledge before it joined Seneca. The spot was idyllic. There in August they ended their search.
They made a clearing in the woods, built a few cabins,sowed 12 acres to wheat. They called their chosen place CityHill. It was the first settlement in all the Genesee Country,begun a year before Phelps and Gorham moved in on theirpurchase.
Spring of 1789 brought new arrivals, from New England and Pennsylvania. Sarah Richards came in June to take command. The Friend had started out from Pennsylvania for her colony but her carriage overturned in a swollen ford and she was hurled into the stream. She narrowly escaped drowning and, ill and shaken, returned to Pennsylvania.
The Winter of 1789-90 was a grim one for the little bandin the clearing. They lived on the provisions they hadbrought, the meager crop they had raised and the wild gameand vegetables of the countryside.
Still when the Publick Universal Friend arrived in theSpring of 1790 she found a colony of 250 industrious, orderlypeople, many of them Quakers, most of them capable farmersand mechanics. Jemima, happy to be away from critical cityeyes, was enraptured by the wild beauty of the landscape. Shewas only 32 and in the full prime of healthy young womanhood.
The society's land lay in "the Gore," the no-man's landbetween the true and false Pre-emption lines of the Phelpsand Gorham Purchase and there was difficulty about titles,which the Friend finally ironed out with Pulteney land agentCharles Williamson, The holdings of the society totalled14,000 acres.
The New Jerusalem began to take shape. The society built a grist mill, a log meeting house and later a frame house for the Friend. In a log room attached to the house Rachel Malin taught the first school in the region.
Jemima made friends with the Indians and was their advisor at the Canandaigua treaty council. They gave her a tribal name which meant "great woman preacher." But her efforts to convert them were rebuffed-often with biting sarcasm. When 500 Senecas, enroute to the Newtown treaty fire, encamped at the Friend's Landing on Seneca Lake, Jemima preached to them. The Indian preacher, Good Peter, then spoke in his own tongue. When the Friend asked to have his discourse interpreted, he said: "If she is Christ, she knows what I said."
The Friend fed the settlers Williamson had brought into the region but did not neglect to collect her bill. Many of her flock found lucrative employment with the land agent. Jemima got on well with the courtly Scot although she frowned on his sinful ways. And if the gallant land agent or his young henchmen eyed the undeniable charms of Jemima and her handmaidens, they were doomed only to frustration.
A mixed system of community and private enterprise prevailed in the colony. Private property was allowed complete freedom. Some of the more affluent owned their own land. Others contributed to a joint fund and each shared in profits according to the amount of his investment. The Friend professed merely "to maintain a family," which depended for support on voluntary labor and gifts. Of course as a spiritual being, she could not own temporal possessions. Needless to say, Jemima and her household always were amply provided for.
But all was far from serene at City Hall. Land values roseand some sought to sell their lands at a profit to outsiders.The Friend's unbending rule of celibacy caused desertions.Enoch Malin, brother of Rachel, eloped with the giddy ElizaRichards, sister of Sarah, right under the Friend's nose, fromthe Friends' own house.
James Parker, her right hand man, her "Elijah," ablest of her counselors, quarreled with the Friend and became her bitter enemy. The influential William Potter also quit the fold.
Four times Parker placed blasphemy charges against Jemima. The first time she escaped the minions of the law by digging her silver spurs into the side of her horse and galloping off into the woods. The second time, when an officer came to her house, her handmaidens roughed him up, even tearing his clothes, so that he beat a disorderly retreat. The third time, when a posse of 30 men surrounded the house, Jemima pleaded illness and they left, emptyhanded.
But finally she was brought to trial in Canandaigua before the old politician-judge, Ambrose Spencer. She was speedily acquitted and at the close of the trial, the Friend was asked to give a short sermon in the court room. Her talk so impressed the judge that he told the gathering:
"We have heard good counsel and if we live in harmonyand do what this woman has told us, we shall be sure to begood people here and reach a final rest in heaven."
The Friend had many troubles. Outsiders edged closer toher colony and coveted the fine land which her people hadcleared and cultivated. But with strife inside and pressurewithout, Jemima went her way serenely, preaching, praying,planting, nursing the sick, comforting the troubled. She became an expert horsewoman and delighted in riding overthe trails like the wind. On one occasion she was foundhandling a cross-cut saw like a veteran woodsman. She addeda wide brimmed beaver hat to her startling ensemble.
A mass of apocrypha clings to this extraordinary woman. Much of it sprang from malicious frontier gossip. For instance there's the oft-told tale that the Friend once announced that on a certain Sunday she would walk on the water of Seneca Lake. A crowd of the faithful gathered at the designated place. On the appointed hour Jemima swept grandly down to the lakeside in her coach, alighted and addressed the multitude:
"I cannot do this thing unless ye have faith that I can. Have ye faith?"
With one voice the answer came: "We have faith."
Then said the preacher: "If ye all believe I can do this, no evidence is needed." She drove away leaving them silent and humble.
And there's the story of the Friend catching a member of her flock peeking into her bedroom from a tree and sentencing the "peeping Tom" to wear a cowbell about his neck for six weeks.
Another offender against Jemima's rules was supposedly banished to Nova Scotia for three years and at the end of his exile returned dutifully to the fold.
The fame of Jemima spread. Like Niagara Falls, she became one of the frontier wonders, and curiosity brought notable visitors to her door. Sometimes they repaid her hospitality with mean and sneering accounts. The French Dukede Liancourt, who visited the Friend during his frontier tour, wrote that "her hypocrisy may be traced in all her discourses, actions and conduct, even in the very manner in which she manages her countenance."
An English tourist, Thomas Cooper, who visited the Friend in 1809 when she was ill and aging, ungallantly described her as "corpulent and masculine-featured." He wrote that "neither her voice or manner of tone bespoke much intercourse with the world and nothing with the polite part of it." He said "her conversation strongly savored of what seemed to me affected mysticism."
The social status of her visitors did not impress Jemimanor did their supercilious remarks shake her aplomb. She wastoo busy managing the affairs of her people.
She determined to move away from the greed and dissension of City Hill. In 1792 two of the richest disciples, Benedict Robinson and Thomas Hathaway, bought from Phelps and Gorham six square miles of Yates County near the Crooked (Keuka) Lake. The purchase was aptly named Jerusalem Town. The Friend and Sarah Richards picked the site of the new home.
Jemima moved into a house beside a brook in the "Valeof Kedron," now the Guyanoga Valley. The meetings wereheld there and two sections were added to the house at different times until it became a long, rambling structure. Cooperdescribed it as "a mean-looking frame building externally but clean and comfortable within."
In the meantime the faithful were hard at work building a grand big house for their leader on Shepherd's Hill, commanding a view of the distant blue radiance of the Crooked Lake. Into that two-and-one-half-story New Englandish, clapboard house with the fan windows above the fluted doorways and high-ceilinged, spacious rooms went five years of good workmanship and the best materials the frontier afforded. It was finished in 1814 and still stands, staunch and stately, on its hilltop.
There the Friend lived in a style that was the envy of thetoil-worn, poverty-pinched pioneer women who werebelievers." While Jemima taught simplicity of dress andmanners, in the Quaker tradition, and she herself wore thecurious ensemble hitherto described, she had elegant tastes.
Seven attractive handmaidens waited on her every wish.Among her personal belongings were many luxurious thingsdear to a woman's heart, things Jemima had hardly dare todream of in her penniless childhood. Her big, airy boudoirwas filled with such things-a mirror in an ornate frame; amedicine case of exquisite wood inlay, a silver salver, perfume bottles, a warming pan. Most of her belongings boreher crest, dominated by the letters UF with a cross betweenthem. Beneath was the all-seeing eye and under that thesymbolic chain of faith.
Despite the luxury of her new abode, the Universal Friendwas a sickly, aging woman while she occupied it. Time hadnot dimmed the fire of the black eyes but the raven hair wasdappled now with gray. Dropsy had cruelly bloated the oncegorgeous figure. The Friend could no longer dash on horseback over the hills and valleys of her realm.
So she ordered a fine carriage, an open coach with a crescent shaped body, with tapestry of burnished gold and theletters UF engraved on its back panel eight inches high. Thedistinctive body was custom built in Canandaigua. Thechassis came from Philadelphia. The British had used it during the Revolution to transport soldiers. Later it served as astage coach. Jemima had used it in Pennsylvania.
Now that once proud equipage, showing its age and itselegant tapestry rotted away, is a prized exhibit in the Historical Museum at Canandaigua, the gift of its last owner,Velma Remer of Penn Yan. For years the Friend's carriagehad a prominent place in Penn Yan parades.
After Sarah Richards died ("left time" in the society's language) in 1795, Rachel Malin succeeded her as high priestess.She also was the Friend's amanuensis and wrote down in herday book events of the colony and even the visions ofJemima.
Thomas Morris wrote that the Friend could neither readnor write; that she memorized the passages from Scripturewhich she quoted so fluently by having them read to her-which seems absurd. While she did sign documents with across and no specimen of her handwriting survives, thoseloyal to her memory contend that she did not sign her name because she was a reincarnated spiritual being-not a womannamed Jemima Wilkinson. That woman "left time" in 1776.
During her long last illness, the Friend did not relax herrule over her people. She saw that the barns were full, thecattle sleek, the fruit plentiful, that the grounds of her housewere well kept. An ominous note to this seeming Utopiawas the lack of children to carry on the colony-because ofthe Friend's decree of celibacy. The original members grewold and "left time." The handwriting was on the wall.
The Friend did not recognize it. To the last she preachedto her flock at the meetings in her house. Saturdays and Sunday were rest days, with Saturday the meeting day. Jemima insisted on punctuality at the meetings, which were conducted in the Quaker fashion. She wanted the congregation"to make as little stir as possible, gather in silence, not tospeak at all vocally except they be moved by the Holy Spiritor there be real necessity." Usually she was the first to speakand Rachel Malin followed.
On the cover of Rachel Malin's day book is written-andone imagines it was sprinked with tears:
"Twenty five minutes past two on the Clock, the Friend went from here."
Apparently the customary expression "left time" did notapply to the passing of the Publick Universal Friend.
Jemima Wilkinson breathed her last in her big house on the hill on the morning of July 1, 1819. It was on a Saturday, a meeting thy. She was in her sixty-seventh year.
The people held service as usual that day and they filed past the board on which the Friend rested-as if she had only fallen asleep. They were sure their leader would rise on the third day.
On Sunday, the second day, while the service was going on,according to a story often repeated in the land of vineyards,four strangers, two men and two women, in Quaker garb,drove up to the Friend's house in a carriage which seemedto have come from a far place. One of the women mountedthe horseblock in the yard and spoke to the assemblage aparable. She likened the colony to a flight of steps supportedby a single beam. Now that the main beam was gone, sheprophesied, the whole structure would collapse. The strangers climbed into their carriage and drove away.
After the third day, the body of the Friend was placed in a specially-built vault in the basement of her house, For an indefinite time-some say months-it remained there while the people waited hopefully. But this time Jemima Wilkinson did not rise from the dead as she had when she was a girl in Rhode Island.
Finally two men took the Friend from her house and buried her in a secret place. It is known only to the descendants of the two men who put her in the grave. One of those descendants is Rodney Pierce of Keuka. Arnold Potter of Penn Yan was another but that genial soul is gone.
In her will, which she signed with a cross, Jemima commanded her heirs, Rachel and Margaret Malin, to see to the employment and support of "her family" and to provide "assistance, comfort & support during natural life for all poor persons belonging to the Society of the Universal Friend."
Just as the strange woman had predicted the day after the Friend died, the structure fell apart after the main prop was gone. The Malin sisters struggled to keep the society together but were beset by disputes and litigation.
Margaret died in 1844 and Rachel in 1848. After that thesociety dwindled into extinction, Even the Friends' housefell into disrepair. At the close of the Civil War it wasbought by John Alcooke, an English Quaker, who plannedto turn it into a home for disabled war veterans. But he diedsuddenly in 1866 and left no heirs. The property revertedto the state and for many years it was neglected and forlorn.
Only a historical marker tells where City Hill stood andnot a headstone remains in its burying ground. Jemima's followers were buried under unmarked fieldstones, There are many such in the woods near the Friend's House in Jerusalem. Only two or three bear names and they were erectedafter Jemima "went from here."
In that romantic countryside where they were the first pioneers, the memories of Jemima and her people are kept alive and cherished. For there are many descendants of those men and women who wore the plain clothes and were followers of the Friend living in the bright, brisk village of Penn Yan and the surrounding region. Jeering at the Friend will bring hot resentment even today and the many objects associated with her are treated with a respect that approaches reverence.
For seven years the Friend's House of the massive hand-hewn timbers stood vacant. it was terribly run down. In 1949 Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Florance of Hornell purchased it for a Summer residence. They have restored it to its oldtime stateliness, On its hilltop the big house gleams in a coat of white,a shining landmark of the Lakes Country.
The Florances have carefully preserved the original redpine floors, the cherry stair railings, the balcony above thehall where Jemima preached; the fireplace bricks which werebaked on the premises. The past lives again as you see thethree great rooms, 10 feet high and 20 feet square; theboudoir that was Jemima's, the third story cubicles wheredwelt her pretty handmaidens, the outside crypt for the deadwhere vegetables now are stored.
And in Penn Yan's Oliver House, the home of the YatesCounty Historical Society, are many things that belonged tothe Friend and her colony. There is the bier board, the pineboard on which Jemima lay while her flock was waiting forher resurrection, Florance found it in the basement of theFriend's House. There is the broad-brimmed beaver hatJemima wore, along with her saddle, her whip and two baskets made by friendly Senecas for "the great woman preacher."
At Oliver House you see the Friend's clock made inBavaria in 1722, Jemima's medicine box and perfume bottles, two chairs that belonged to the Malin sisters and you read the "Death Book" of the society which Ruth Pritchard kept in her precise copperplate hand. After each name is written, "Left Time" and the date of departure.
But the greatest prize of all in Oliver House is not onpublic view, except on special occasions, It is securely cratedand locked in a safe. It is the portrait of the Friend that aCanandaigua artist painted in 1816 when Jemima was in illhealth and growing old. It is said that she never liked italthough it hung over a fireplace in her boudoir.
Only recently an unfinished canvas of Jemima by the same artist, J. D. H. Mathies, was uncovered in Scottsville. Mathies also did a rather well known painting of Red Jacket.
For years the Friend's portrait was the prized possession Arnold Potter who lived in a gracious yellow-coated mansion in downtown Penn Yan. In his lifetime he allowed only a selected few to gaze at the features of Jemima. He bequeathed his treasure to the Historical Society on condition that it not be shown publicly, save on special occasions, that it be kept in a safe place and never photographed.
The society had the painting restored and in July of 1957 it was dedicated and for an evening it hung in Oliver House where the public could gaze on it. Then it went into its crate and the locked safe.
We were flattered when one Summer's day the custodian ofthe portrait, the courtly Jay Barnes of Penn Yan, formercounty historian and a descendant of Ruth Pritchard whokept the "Death Book," unlocked the safe, unscrewed thefastenings of the crate and brought out the restored painting.
We looked upon a woman no longer young, no longershapely but a striking person nonetheless in her eccentriccostume. There is fire in the dark eyes, determination in thestrong chin and nose and an aura of magnetism about theFriend.
It is the face of a born leader. But it is not a patrician face. It is a plebeian face. After all Jemima Wilkinson was of the people-and proudly so.
Charles The Magnificent
Charles Williamson, the land agent, was a glamorous being and in his lifetime he had many loves. Most abiding of them was his affection for the Genesee Country.
And that was passing strange. For he was born a Scot, raised among the governing classes, had been an officer in the British army. He first came to America during the Revolution, a prisoner of war. A decade later he returned on a stupendous business mission.
An agent for a group of unsentimental British land speculators, his task was to sell and settle a million wilderness acres. While developing this frontier, he was expected to show a profit for his principals.
In the end the free-spending Scot was fired because of the red ink on the ledgers in London. Yet in a dozen years no man ever accomplished more on any frontier than did Charles Williamson in the Genesee Country. And he left the imprint of his energy and his personality deep on the land he had come to adore as a fond parent adores a beautiful and capricious child.
Some called him "Charles the Magnificent." He built roads where there had been only narrow Indian trails. He founded towns and developed others. He established schools and the first newspaper on the frontier. A born promoter, he spread afar the glories of the Genesee Country. His lavish promotions brought some important settlers, among them Nathaniel Rochester, father of the city that bean his name.
The land agent built a grand hotel at Geneva and launched ships on Seneca Lake. He even opened a theater on the backwoods square of Bath that presented the sophisticated French plays of Molière. He sponsored the first fair and horse races in Western New York. He was an early judge of Ontario County and was the father of Steuben County.
Williamson was of the stuff of which empire builders aremade. Always he operated on the grand scale. His energywas as boundless as his optimism and he was able to imparthis enthusiasm to others.
He was tall, slender, courtly, with ways that few men-andfewer women-could resist. Often he walked the primrosepath and 'twas said that in each of the land agent's threefrontier mansions a different lady ruled-and only one ofthem was his wife.
He was a vital figure of earth, this transplanted Scottish laird who wore lace cuffs, knee breeches, buckled shoes and a powdered wig, who was equally at ease in a settler's cabin and in a drawing room. No more gallant picture has come down to us out of the frontier past than that of "Charles the Magnificent," superb horseman, galloping over the frontier, his blue eyes alight with dreams and plans, his blue cape floating behind him in the wind.
* * *
In 1791 William Temple Franklin, grandson of Benjamin, crossed the ocean. As representative of Robert Morris, his mission was to interest British capital in the vast York State tract that Morris had acquired from Phelps and Gorham. It was important to the ruling Federalists and their leader,Alexander Hamilton, that British dollars be invested inAmerica-both for financial and political reasons.
Franklin made his sale-to the Pulteney Association ofspeculators, led by Sir William Johnstone Pulteney, thegreatest landowner in Britain, and a fellow Scot, PatrickColquhoun, who once had lived in Virginia. The price was26 cents an acre.
As New York State laws forbade aliens holding title to land, the Association had to find an agent who would go to America, take out citizenship in the republic, hold title to the land-until the bothersome law could be repealed-and live on and develop the purchase.
Their choice was 34-year-old Charles Williamson, a native of Balgray, Scotland, the son of the factor for the Earl of Hopetoun. The young man came from the same Scottish circle in which Sir William Pulteney, born William Johnstone, had been reared. Johnstone had gone to London, married a fortune and acquired a title.
Williamson had been a captain in the British army but had left the service and was on his way to America, without a commission but with a letter to Lord Cornwallis, the British commander, when his ship was captured by a Yankee privateer.
Technically a prisoner, Williamson spent the rest of thewar years in the home of Ebenezer Newell, merchant ofRoxbury, Mass. He became infatuated with the new countryand with the comely daughter of his host. He and AbigailNewell were married and, after the war, he took his brideto Scotland.
There the former captain was pretty much at loose ends until the Pulteney offer came up. He grasped at it, although the British speculators were not overly generous in their terms with their agent.
He took with him to America, two young Scots, John Johnstone and Charles Cameron. Both became his faithful lieutenants in building the frontier. With Abigail and their two children, Christy and Alexander, the land agent arrivedin Norfolk, Va., in the Autumn of 1791. He spent some time in Baltimore and Philadelphia, shaping his plans for opening up the vast tract that was now his in name.
During the Winter he visited the purchase, traveling byway of the Mohawk Trail and the waterways to Geneva. Hethrilled at the setting of the little town on Seneca Lake.Then he visited Canandaigua before going through thewoods to the Genesee River. The promise of the new landcaptured his imagination. Immediately he began plans for asouthern entrance to the domain he was to manage.
After the land agent had quartered his family at Northumberland, Pa., he hired scouts and woodsmen to cut a trail over the mountains from Northumberland to the Genesee. Led by that doughty frontiersman, Benjamin Patterson, the axmen blazed the trail, long known as the Williamson Road, past the present Blossburg along the Tioga to Painted Post, thence through the valley of the Conhocton past the site of Bath until they came to the place where the Canaseraga meets the Genesee River.
There at the western boundary of the Pulteney Purchase Williamson planned his first town which was to be "the capital city of the Genesee" and which he named Williamsburg after Sir William Pulteney.
John Johnstone and his sturdy men began building the "city" around a central square. By the Fall of 1792 Williamsburg emerged, a row of cabins, a store, a tavern, a mill, the agent's house and a great L-shaped barn that was the wonder of the frontier. Fifty two building lots had been taken.
Williamson was laid low by the Genesee fever but even the ague could not repress his buoyant spirit for long. There were financial worries, too. The Yankees wanted cash for all they sold. Williamson noted that his neighbor, James Wadsworth, at Big Tree was a "very pressing man." The Friends of Jemima Wilkinson's strange colony in the Lakes Country he found more co-operative.
Added to the land agent's cup of woe were Williamsburg's ill-chosen first settlers.
The London speculators had a rather medieval, six year share-crop plan for colonizing their Genesee lands. To this end, a former picture peddler, a pushing and plausible fellow, one William Berczy, had been engaged to recruit German farm workers for shipment to America. Instead of sturdy Saxon peasants born to the soil, he rounded up a motley crew of 60 men and women from the slums of Hamburg.
On their arrival in the New World, they proved their utter unfitness for frontier life. Put to work building roads, they were clumsy, unskilled with ax or saw. They were sullen and frightened by the wilderness, for they were used to cities. Finally 30 of the strongest made their way to the Genesee village John Johnstone had built.
Dissension marred their stay in Williamsburg. Berczy piled up debts against the company. He complained, with some justice, that the land agent had not kept his compact with the emigrants. The covenant called for houses, land, live stock and equipment for each settler. There were not nearly enough houses and half of the promised land had been preempted by Williamson. Few tools were available. It is unlikely the Germans would have used them anyhow.
Matters raced to a showdown that torrid Summer of 1793. The land agent was weary of the useless Germans and their complaints. They were not the type of settlers he wanted and he resolved to get rid of them. He was particularly irked by Berczy's assumption of authority which threatened his own prestige.
Justifying his action by Berczy's debts and errors in his accounts, along with refusal of the Germans to work on the land, Williamson summarily dismissed Berczy as a representative of the company and refused to transfer an acre to the Germans.
This ultimatum Williamson coolly delivered to a howlingmob at Williamsburg. He was driven to cover in a cabin andescaped bodily harm only through the intervention ofBerczy. Then he invoked the law. A sheriff's posse roundedup most of the feckless emigrants and marched them off toCanandaigua jail. They were convicted of defrauding theland company and made to pay off their fines in labor.Eventually most of them found their way to Canada. A pioneer experiment in colonization had been a complete failure.
Now free to proceed with his promotion schemes, Williamson in August of 1793 sent out broadsides advertising "the Williamsburg Fair and Races at the Great Forks of the Genesee," to be held two days in late September "for the sale and purchase of cattle, horses and sheep."
It was the first such fair ever held west of the Hudsonand it was a colorful show which attracted sporting gentryfrom the seaboard, along with yeomen of the frontier andsome wandering Indians.
As long as he was the agent, Williamson never neglected his first born, Williamsburg, but already he was building a new town in 1793. He picked the basin of the Conhocton River as the future commercial center of the Purchase, at the junction of his land and water highways and envisioned the products of the frontier floating down the lesser rivers to the Susquehanna and the great port of Baltimore. This new capital of the domain he would name Bath, after the English seat of his principal, Sir William Pulteney.
Among the Bath legends is the one of a band of axemenspringing from the two boats that had brought them up riverand, under the command of Benjamin Patterson and CharlesCameron, clearing Pulteney Square in the twinkling of aneye. The village was not built quite that fast but it was notlong before in the clearing, shadowed by mighty hills, thererose a tavern, the Agency House and a dozen log cabins. Thefirst newspaper on the frontier and the first theater camelater.
Two Williamson children died in one year. While Abigailwas still at Northumberland, Alexander died and the landagent wrote to his father in Scotland: "The loss of my childshows in the sharpest light the folly of all my ambitions."In 1793 the eight-year-old daughter, Christian, died, probably a victim of the Genesee Fever, and her grave was the first one dug in the settlement of Bath. She sleeps in the old Presbyterian Cemetery in the heart of the shire town.
His personal misfortunes did not deter Williamson's promotions. He inspired the building of roads and backed inn-keepers who opened stands on the new highways. He hoped to lure settlers of means, but most of the new arrivals had to be helped with gifts or loans of stock, tools and seeds. Williamson pushed through the formation of a new county which was named Steuben and he saw to it that his town of Bath was the seat. He was its first Member of Assembly and was often in Albany and New York, mingling with the influential and the socially elite. At home he was a master of the Masonic Lodge and a colonel of the militia.
He built at Bath the finest residence on the frontier, aframe mansion with wings, porches and elaborate gardensbeside a sparkling little lake which he called Salubra. ThereAbigail played hostess to celebrated visitors, among themFrench noblemen and the American politico, Aaron Burr.
In 1795, as a promotion stunt, Williamson laid out a racecourse at Bath and announced a fair, racing meet, barbecueand wrestling matches on a scale unheard of on any frontier.He sent out couriers with handbills which announced:
"There will be trusty and civil guides to meet and conduct gentlemen and their suites to the far-famed city on theupper reaches of the Susquehanna, in the land of crystallakes and memorial parks, located in the garden of the latelyvanquished Iroquois."
In August caravans rolled into Bath from all directions.Plantation owners with their Negroes, gamesters, jockeys,hunters, backwoodsmen, Indians, society ladies and pioneerwomen with calloused hands to the number of 2,000 assembled on the Pine Plains of Bath, awaiting the starting gun.
There were no pari-mutuel windows but large sumschanged hands. Williamson's Southern mare, Virginia Nell,raced Sheriff Dunn's New Jersey Silk Stocking, and lost. Thewives of the two owners wagered $100 and a pipe of wine onthe result and dumped the gold coins into the apron of athird lady who was the stakeholder.
There was a sprinkling of New Englanders among the Southerners, Scots, New Jersey and Pennsylvania pioneers who had settled in the basin of the Conhocton and they looked askance at the racing and the betting, the revelry in the tavern and the new theater. Jemima Wilkinson, the Universal Friend, regarded her neighbor Bath as a den of the devil.
The invasion jitters seized Bath in 1794 when a BritishIndian alliance seemed imminent. Colonel Simcoe, Britishlieutenant governor of Canada, did not like, among otherAmerican activities, Williamson's development of the portof Sodus. At that fine natural harbor the land agent wasbuilding docks and mills and dreaming of extensive tradewith Canada.
Although Britain had lost the Revolution, she still heldOswego and through alliances with the Indians, who wereon the warpath in the West, hoped to control the southernshore of Lake Ontario.
Simcoe sent an emissary with a detachment of soldiers to Sodus with an ultimatum to Williamson to desist from his Operations. The land agent had been warned of an attempt to kidnap him and so he went to the meeting with a sizeable guard and with Thomas Morris as an aide. The British agent turned out to be a former comrade in arms, Lt. Roger Sheaffe, but Williamson defied the British threat and nothing was settled.
Four days later, "Mad Anthony" Wayne's American troops defeated the Western Indians in Ohio and the threat to the York State frontier faded away.
Williamson then turned his attention to Geneva, where heplanned great things. He built a mansion on Mile Point andthen an elegant three-story hotel which cost $22,000 andwhich was called "the Astor House of the West." A famousLondon innkeeper was installed as manager.
The land agent launched a sloop on Seneca Lake, he built another mansion on Bluff Point and a mill beside the Keuka Lake outlet. He sought to develop a mill center at Lyons and named the settlement at the confluence of the Canandaigua Outlet and the Clyde River after the French city at the junction of the Rhone and Saone.
He settled a group of penniless emigrants from his native Scotland at the Big Spring (Caledonia) and took his pay for the land in wheat and provided for the settlers until they could sustain themselves.
At the turn of the century Williamson achieved in a measure one of his dearest ambitions-to induce wealthy Southerners to invest in his Genesee land. Peregrine Fitzhugh came from Virginia and settled on an estate overlooking Sodus Bay. Judge Daniel Dorsey of Maryland came to Lyons. And in 1800 three Maryland gentlemen came riding up the Williamson Road. They were Nathaniel Rochester, Charles Carroll and William Fitzhugh. Rochester bought land at Dansville; the two others near Geneseo. Later the trio was to acquire the One Hundred Acre Tract at the Falls of the Genesee on which downtown Rochester stands today.
But these important sales came too late to save Charles Williamson. The old men in London, as they studied the land agent's reports, grew increasingly uneasy. The frontier expenditures ran far in excess of the proceeds from land sales.
In 1801 Sir William Pulteney refused to honor further drafts for money and requested Williamson to withdraw from the agency. The agent was instructed to divide the holdings among Pulteney, Colquhoun and William Hornby and was offered 30,000 pounds and 12,000 acres for his services, if he would convey to the Association the entire tract.
Fast action was needed to transfer the title before expiration of a state alien land-holding act and Robert Troup of New York, a shrewd, self-made Federalist lawyer and no friend of Williamson, was engaged by the Association to secure the transfer. Williamson's wife, estranged from the land agent because of his affairs of the heart, balked at signing the necessary papers and yielded only two days before the deadline. By that time Abigail had left Bath and Williamson had installed in the mansion beside Lake Salubra Henry Thornton of Virginia and his beautiful, red-haired wife.
Finally a settlement was effected whereby Williamson was paid $89,000 in cash for his services and his creditors were satisfied. It must have wrenched him when he turned over his agency to the colorless Robert Troup and had to leave his "garden home" forever.
When he had come to the Genesee, it was a wilderness. A little over a decade later, he left it dotted with towns, linked with highways. There were schools, churches, an emerging commerce. The hand of "Charles the Magnificent" was written boldly over it.
Perhaps he tried to do too much in too short a time. Not all of his dreams came true, In 1791 he could not foresee the coming of the Erie Canal and of the Iron Horse, Williamsburg dwindled into a "ghost town," Bath became, not the metropolis of the frontier, but a stately county seat. Sodus Point never quite became the great port of the land agent's vision but a pleasant summer resort.
The land agent blazed a spectacular trail through the wilderness. He gallops through our early history, an engaging figure.
Charles Williamson died of yellow fever in 1806. He was stricken aboard ship and was buried in the sea. He had been bound for the West Indies-and some bold new venture.
The Wadsworths of Big Tree
In the Spring of 1790 two young men said farewell to their ancestral home in Durham, Conn., and set off for the wild Genesee Country and 2.000 newly acquired acres they had never seen.
Their names were James and William Wadsworth, names to be forever linked with the Valley of the Genesee.
James was 22, a graduate of Yale, who had taught school in Montreal. Already he was a polished man of affairs, at home in any society, of finely chiseled features and the bearing of an aristocrat. William was seven years older but he had seen much less of the world. He was more the rough-hewn type, bluff and vigorous, a born frontiersman.
The Wadsworths were of English stock. The first of the line in America, another William, had arrived in 1632 and was a founder of Hartford, Conn. His son, Joseph, attained fame one night in 1687. At a session of the Assembly, the charter of the colony was about to be surrendered to a royal governor when every candle in the room went out and in the darkness. Joseph grabbed the charter and hid it in a great tree that thereafter was known as the Charter Oak. He had saved the charter of Connecticut.
Another Connecticut Wadsworth, Jeremiah, was a commissary general in the Revolution, a Federalist and a friend of Washington and Hamilton. When the Massachusetts speculators, Phelps and Gorham, made their vast purchase of York State lands, he acquired 4,000 acres in the Genesee Valley.
Jeremiah Wadsworth, too old to settle on his purchase, offered his two nephews, James and William, one-half interest in the lands and told James he could have the agency of the other half if he would go to the Genesee. Both brothers decided to go and contracted for 2,000 acres for eight cents an acre.
The brothers went by different routes. William, with two hired men, the family Negress Jenny, an ox cart and three yoke of oxen, started across country for Albany. James, the businessman of the partnership, went to New York to purchase supplies before traveling by sloop from New York to Albany. Aboard he met a fur trader with a Teutonic accent. His chance acquaintance with John Jacob Astor ripened into a life-long friendship.
The brothers met at Albany. James made the rest of the trip by the waterways, William with the ox cart and oxen went through the woods. West of Whitesville he had to make his own road most of the way to Canandaigua, the headquarters of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase. There he and James were united again and the pair started out for their new home.
After camping overnight near the foot of Conesus Lake, they separated again, James going on horseback down the Indian trail to the Genesee and William by slower ox cart. William got lost in a swamp and had to spend the night there. Meanwhile James had found the chosen home site, just west of the present Geneseo village. It was the 10th of June, 1790.
The Wadsworths began building a log house and until it was finished all slept in the cart or on the ground. James again had business in Canandaigua the second night in the Valley and on the way home got lost-until he saw a light in a clearing. It was the candle Jenny was holding for brother William as he hewed planks for the new house.
The Wadsworths were in the Valley to stay. Soon they acquired 4,000 more acres. A few settlers drifted into the region and the Wadsworth settlement became known as Big Tree, the name of a Seneca chief and an Indian village.Out of it grew the present Geneseo.
The brothers became widely known on the frontier, James as a courtly, rather reserved man with a keen eye for land values and ability as a land agent and Bill as a practical farmer, a captain of the militia, popular with the pioneers.
In 1792 the French Duke De Liancourt while touring the frontier was an overnight guest of Bill at the Wadsworth cabin. What the Duke wrote in his journal about the first Wadsworth "manor house" was hardly complimentary.
He wrote of a "small log house as dirty as any I have everseen." Meat, vegetables and live poultry about the placeoffended the titled Frenchman's delicate nostrils and hefound his bed uncomfortable. But he was pleased at his host'sbluff courtesy. The Duke noted that while the Negro womanJenny was dressing Captain Bill's hair the next morning, anIndian brought in a barrel of whiskey and two settlers cameto talk about a land purchase. Then the captain's fine blackhorse was brought and he galloped away to muster at Canandaigua.
While Bill was running the farms and holding town offices, James was away much, selling lands. He visited London in 1796 and obtained from Sir William Pulteney the agency for large tracts in what is now Western Monroe County. On his return he began exchanging new Genesee lands for depleted farms in New England and in that way brought many settlers to Western New York.
For the rest of his life James Wadsworth was a land agent as well as a land holder. His commissions from sales of the Pulteney tract and other lands enabled him and his brother to increase their Valley holdings until they were operating one of the largest estates in America.
They established a farm tenancy system, which is still in operation on Wadsworth lands, the oldest in America. "Anti-rent wars" ended the reign of the patroons in the Hudson Valley but under the more lenient Wadsworth plan, there has been no such trouble in the Genesee Valley.
A feature of the system under which the tenant pays the taxes on the farm he works has insured stable tenants. Today on some Wadsworth farms the third generation of the same tenant family is living.
In times of adversity, such as the drought of 1806, the Wadsworths gave generous help to their people, as evidenced by this letter from James to Robert Troup, the Pulteney land agent:
"I am supporting three or four families and expect to be called on by more soon. My brother has been compelled to turn 50 fat oxen from our stables to preserve for poor families the grain they were consuming."
In 1804 James Wadsworth married Naomi Wolcott of a high-toned Connecticut family. His bride did not have to live in the log cabin which had failed to please the French Duke, nor in the little cobblestone house which succeeded it. Around 1800, the Home Place, now known as the Homestead, was built on the southern fringe of Geneseo. William Wadsworth never married.
The Wadsworths were progressive, pioneering farmers, operating on a magnificent scale. They raised hemp and flax on the moist river flats. They tried cultivating tobacco but found the climate was wrong. They grew corn until wheat became the great Valley crop. They even had their own brand of flour, a premium brand, ground in their own mills.
They imported Merino sheep and at one time they were called the greatest sheep farmers in the nation. They imported young mules from New England and after the animals matured, sold them to Southern tobacco growers. They bought Kentucky and Indiana cattle and fattened them for profitable sale. Their acreage multiplied as James pooled his land agent fees with the proceeds of the farms his brother managed.
James Wadsworth believed in order and attention to detail. He directed his farm agent to "frequently visit every farm, make suggestions to the tenants, see how they manage affairs, see that every farm has growing on it good and wholesome fruit; look to the compost heaps and manure, see that the premises are made conducive to health. Any shortcomings . . . you are to report to this office."
The brothers were active in local affairs. They gave the site of the court house and jail when Livingston County was formed in 1821 and were instrumental in seeing that Geneseo was made the shire town over the claims of Avon,Lakeville and ghostly Williamsburg.
William served several terms as Geneseo supervisor. In the War of 1812 he volunteered his services and was a major general of militia. When General Van Rensselaer was wounded at Queenstown, Wadsworth assumed the American command. Lack of reinforcements lost him the engagement. He was taken prisoner and came home on parole. His personal bravery and ability to handle men were never questioned.
James Wadsworth shrank from active politics although he exerted much behind-the-scenes influence. Unlike most wealthy men, he favored the Anti-Masonic movement and was proposed as that party's candidate for United States Senator and for governor. He discouraged the boom and his name was withdrawn.
His prime interest was in education and he may well be called one of the fathers of the common school system. He was a pioneer advocate of district school libraries. He supplied books and lecturers for such libraries out of his own pocket. He distributed tracts on educational matters at his own expense. He urged the establishment of teacher training schools.
He pushed enactment of the school library law in 1838, founded the Geneseo Athenaeum which became the present Wadsworth Library and induced his friend, John Jacob Astor, to build the fine Public Library in New York. He gave the land on which the cobblestone schoolhouse was built on Center Street in 1835. That building now houses the County Historical Center. During his lifetime James Wadsworth contributed nearly $100,000 to the cause of education.
Maj. Gen. William Wadsworth died in 1833, leaving his share of the vast family estate to his brother's children. Although not as intellectual as James or with the wide interests of his younger brother, the hearty arid energetic Bill was a significant figure of the frontier.
James Wadsworth, who had come to the Valley in 1790 and had lived in a log cabin, died in his Geneseo manor house in 1844, one of the greatest land owners in America. He left two daughters and two sons.
The bulk of the estate went to the sons, James S. and William W. Each founded a distinctive branch of the clan.
The Wadsworths have distinguished themselves in the nation's wars and political life, Few families have lived on the same land for so many years. The sixth generation of the family is living at the Home Place today.
The Wadsworths have been credited with founding in the Valley a way of life that is unique in the Upstate-with manor houses, tenant farms, fox hunts and long-held traditions.
It must be remembered that the pioneering brothers, James and William, did not come to the wilderness as landed gentry. They came as young pioneer farmers-in an ox cart-to the old Indian valley of the winding river. They gambled on the richness of the Genesee soil and won.
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