December 1989

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Harpending's Corners


Edwin N. Harris

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Stepping Back

We visited the village of my youth where we met some of its people. But the town existed well over a hundred years before these times, leaving me with curiosity and questions about its beginnings. Historians and other keepers of records have left the legacy that I borrow from for one enchanting chapter. The words of the great Roman orator of 2000 years ago urge us on.

Not to know what took place before one was born is to forever to remain a child, caring nothing for the memories of the past and hoping nothing for the destiny of the future.
—Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Earliest Days

The earliest known residents of the area were the Lamokan Indians, whose two and one half acre campsite was discovered about eight miles southwest of Dundee. It runs about 700 feet along the east bank of the stream that connects Lamoka and Waneta Lakes. (The 1925 to 1930 excavations of the campsite were carried out by Harrison L. Follett of the [then] Rochester Municipal Museum.)

Archæologists who made the first scientific excavations in 1925, and later ones in 1958 and 1962, gave these archaic people their name. They tell us that about 5000 years ago there drifted into our southern tier a semi-nomadic people, apparently from the west along the Great Lakes. Evidences of their existence have been found throughout Western New York but only in two or three sites found did they stay more or less permanently, living a subsistence culture of hunting, fishing and gathering.

In August of 1981 A. G. Hilbert, Historian, and a member of the Chemung County Historical Society, gave a talk at the Six Nation Schoolhouse (named for the original six European nationalities that settled in this area) near the Village of Tyrone in Schuyler County, to a group interested in the preservation of the old school, about these early Indian residents. From his notes we learn much more.

Amazingly here at Lamoka were found twenty-nine scattered but undisturbed grave sites yielding thirteen complete skeletons together with artifacts that to the local archæologists was like finding another King Tut's tomb. They found two different types of skeletons, giving a clue as to what happened to these ancient ones.

The oldest skeletons were of slender, long-headed, narrow-nosed people, with good teeth, no signs of unusual diseases, some arthritis, and general good health. The later burials were of a rugged, heavy-boned, broad-headed race. Both people were short, about 5'5" to 5'6" in height. Indications are that the slender people were the original Lamokans while the later ones are classed as Laurentians from the northeast who, spreading southward, conquered and absorbed the peaceful Lamokans. The Lamokans had the physical characteristics of the Shell Mound people of the southeast and the basket weaver of the southwest, while the swarthy Laurentians displayed traits of the rugged northern peoples, even showing some Eskimo characteristics.

At the Lamoka site of about two and one half acres the natural lime soil has preserved numerous bone artifacts of the culture. There were evidences that normally it was occupied by about two dozen people, but at times could have sheltered as many as 150 to 200. Evidence of pole and bark shelters were found, the largest 13' by 16'. It was mainly a subsistence culture; there was little evidence of food storage facilities. Tools were small—of stone, bone and antler. Their stone projectiles for hunting and warfare were small, so were probably used on darts and small spears that were thrown with the atlatl or throwing stick. No evidence of the bow and arrow was found.

Some fishing was done with barbless bone hooks, but mostly with nets, as over 8000 of the 9000 artifacts found on the site were net stones. There was no evidence of pottery, but ample evidence of fire-pit and hot-rock cooking. Small intense fires were built in pits about 14" in diameter and 16" deep. Flat rocks covering these pits were used for baking and roasting while liquid cooking was done by dropping hot rocks into perishable bark or skin containers. It is a mystery how they started their fires for no evidence of flint or fire drills has been found.

They were evidently not a warlike people although two of the skeletons did show projectile wounds, and there is little evidence of a ceremonial life though a few effigy carvings and some red ochre was found.

The finding of two different skeletal types at this and other Lamokan sites tell us a bit about the history of these people. Coming into Western Central New York from the west, they were met by an Algonquin culture from the Northeast Saint Lawrence area. Possibly driven south and westward by climate changes, this swarthy broad-headed and more warlike people we call the Laurentians, conquered and absorbed the slender Lamokans. The entire time period is estimated at from 3000 BC to 1500 BC.

For the next 1500 to 2000 years, New York State had many minor cultures that appeared, disappeared or merged, each contributing tools and a life style. Knowledge created the tendency to gradually change from a migratory subsistance life style of hunting, fishing and gathering to the more permanent culture associated with agriculture.

It was not until about the year 1000 that the Iroquois culture appeared on the scene, and another five to six hundred years before the Iroquois Confederacy became the political power that has become historic.

(A reference cited by Mr. Hilbert was The Archæology of New York State by William A. Ritchie, former New York State Archæologist.)

The Iroquois settled mainly in the northern section of central New York; used our Southern Tier as a hunting and fishing preserve, and as a buffer zone against the whites to the south. In general, southern Yates County and western Schuyler County had no Iroquois settlements except for isolated Seneca families.

Canandaigua was the "Chosen Spot" to the Senecas, and there with other members of the Six Nations, 1500 Senecas attended the Pickering Treaty Council in 1794 with Red Jacket the orator taking part in the proceedings. Nevertheless, the Senecas, the most powerful Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, gave Seneca Lake her name. They made her wooded slopes, where falling waters tumbled in the glens, their happy hunting grounds, and they held in awe the dull rumble of lake thunder that faded soon after the natural gas fields were opened in the 1930s. I am sure Red Jacket, the chief and silver-tongued lawyer-orator was no stranger to the Dundee area. He died in 1830, and his monument, cast in bronze by local artists, stands in Red Jacket Park, on Keuka Lake near Penn Yan.

The Sullivan-Clinton Raids

The Indians had become dependent on European guns, kettles, warm blankets and firewater. Early in the Revolution the British had promised these in abundance if the Indians would help punish the King's disobedient children, and in 1778 Tories and Indians terrorized settlements of the colonialists on the western frontier. Most notable were massacres at Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and Cherry Valley, New York.

Generals John Sullivan and James Clinton were ordered to strike back with a campaign to destroy and devastate Indian settlements in the Finger Lakes Region. Sullivan had a force of 2500 officers and men, Clinton 1500. At Easton, Pennsylvania, they assembled 120 boats, 1200 pack horses and 700 cattle.

In 1779 some of Sullivan's troops came up the east side of Seneca Lake, encamped at Kendaia (near today's Romulus) to viciously destroy the villages, fields, and orchards of the Indians living there, uprooting them from their favorite hunting grounds. The orchards grew near the Indians well-roofed houses. In the war of the Revolution the "keepers of the Western Door" lost their homeland forever.

After the Revolution and treaties the New York state government awarded bounty land to the soldiers and officers as compensation, and many came back to settle in what is now the Ovid and Lodi areas. Others that came included some of my ancestors: the Prices, Clarks, and Dillistins. By 1802 they began to cross Seneca Lake to Glenora and the west side. In The History of Yates County, edited by Lewis Cash Aldrich and published in 1892, we learn:

There is a tradition that the first permanent inhabitant was William Eddy. The east side of Seneca Lake was the route of General Sullivan in his expedition against the Indians, and was the first to be settled by the whites.

The settlers of the east side had noticed for some time a column of smoke ascending from a particular place on the west side. Their curiosity was excited, and a party was formed to investigate. On a bright Sunday moring the expedition paddled their canoes across to the Seneca landing, north of what is now Glenora. After landing, the familiar sound of a bell was heard. Following the sound it led them to a cow; and following the cow she led them to the cabin of William Eddy, the first settler of Eddytown (now Lakemont) and as believed, the first of Starkey.

Later in life Eddy became possessed with the delusion that he had a fortune waiting for him in his native country. He sold his property and returned to Ireland to find, like many other fortune hunters, that his fortune was but a myth. He ended his life in an almshouse and died a pauper.

The Cherry Valley Massacres of 1778 and 1780

Cherry Valley village lies sixty miles west of Albany and about sixteen miles south of the New York State Thruway, on old Route 20, still known as the Cherry Valley Turnpike. Excerpts of John Sawyer's History of Cherry Valley from 1740 to 1898, first published in 1898, illuminates the events that in part led to the savage Sullivan-Clinton campaign against the Indians which was followed by the influx of white settlers around Lake Seneca, just discussed.

Cherry Valley, at the time of the Revolution was recognized as the leading settlement west of Schenectady; though its population never exceeded 1000 people, it was the home of a greater number of men of prominence and ability and of more skilled mechanics than any other place in the state excepting New York… Probably no section of the country, outside of New England, sent so large a proportion of its inhabitants to join the patriot armies. The fact is even more remarkable when we consider that this settlement was the most exposed of any in the country, not only because of its nearness to the Tory settlement to the north, but also from its danger from Indian attacks on the west.

During the early days of the revolution there was little danger from either of these sources. The flight of the Johnsons and Butlers to Canada, prevented open hostilities on the part of the Tories, and the Indians had been so long on friendly terms with the settlers of the region around Cherry Valley, that although they had signed an alliance with the British, they hesitated to engage in hostilities against them.

The Battle of Oriskany, on the sixth of August, 1777, changed the friendly feeling of the red man into deadly hatred. Thenceforth they sought only to be revenged on the settlers of Tryon County, for the death of their brethren, who had fallen in that fierce conflict. Especially were they embittered against Cherry Valley as the home of Col. Samuel Campbell and Major Samuel Clyde, who had been officers high in the command in that battle.

The inhabitants of Cherry Valley had long besought the Provincial Government for protection. There were reports that the Indians, under their great Chieftain, Joseph Brant, were rendezvousing on the Susquehanna, where they had been joined by a body of Tories under Capt. Walter Butler, son of that Col. John Butler, who gained such an infamous notoriety from his participation in the Wyoming massacre.

The morning of the 11th of November, 1778, found the people lulled into fancied security by the positive assurance of Col. Alden, the commander of the garrison, who was soon to be killed and scalped, that no attack was intended. Soon after daylight a rider rode in to sound the alarm. Hard upon his heels came Butler and Brant with a savage army of about 500 Indians and 200 of Butler's Rangers. In a few hours forty-eight settlers were killed, of which sixteen were soldiers, and thirty to forty men, women and children were taken prisoners…Many buildings were burned.

A second attack on the village came on the 24th of April, 1780, when without warning, a party of seventy-nine Indians and two Tories descended on the ill-fated settlement. Eight of the settlers were killed and fourteen carried into captivity, and the settlement this time completely wiped out of existence; the fort, church, and the few buildings left after the first incursion being burned to the ground. Thus in a few hours were the results of the labors and struggles of nearly forty years destroyed.

The war had hardly ended when resettlement began. In 1988 I found Cherry Valley a charming village with unusual shops and friendly people, nestled in the small hills. The high point of my visit was the museum on Main Street, with its lore, artifacts, and diorama of the attacks of 1778 and 1780, all carefully explained by my guide, Ann Miller. It was there I bought John Sawyer's book that Mrs. Miller assured me was considered the most factual record we have.

© 1989, Edwin N. Harris
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