January 1996

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The Lawrence Family

at Cayuta Lake


Jeanne Bleiler

Prior to the American Revolution the vast western wilderness of New York was virtually untapped with the exception of a few scattered settlers and, of course, the Indians that settled in the beautiful wildlands. After the Revolution, New Yorkers and Europeans became interested in what lay to the west with an eye on capital gain. The Indians might well have been a problem, but Anglo-Saxon whites were far too clever and soon they obtained the area they desired.

After the Revolution, the Iroquois still held title to "new" New York, the territory west of the Property Line of 1768 running from Fort Stanwix to the head of the Unadilla River. But six thousand Indians could not hold back tens of thousands of land-hungry whites. The federal and state governments made peace treaties with the Iroquois, who had been weakened by the war. In the second Treaty of Fort Stanwix, in 1784, the Iroquois surrendered to the United States all their traditional claims to land west of Buffalo Creek.

In addition, the Senecas, Cayugas and Onondagas agreed to cede to New York State large tracts west of the property line. This cession was the first of a series negotiated between 1784 and 1790 in which various tribes of the Six Nations signed away most of their lands east of the Genesee River. Before the century closed practically all their claims to land in New York State had been surrendered. The members of the once-powerful Iroquois Confederacy had retreated to Canada or to a few small reservations.1

From the time of Dutch settlement in New York, the system for dispersing land was to sell the land in large tracts that could be then resold in smaller tracts by the buyer, or let to tenants for rent. The system of selling large tracts of land to wealthy speculators continued as New York began to distribute its unsettled wilderness. The tract of land that included the Cayuta Lake area and much of Schuyler County interested some capitalists of New York City. Their names were Royal Flint, Jonathan Lawrence, Robert C. Livingston, John Lamb, Methanthelom Smith, James Watson and John H. Watkins.

On August 4, 1791, John Watkins, a lawyer in New York City, and Royal W. Flint and…associates, applied to the commissioners of the land office for the ungranted land lying east of the Massachusetts Pre-emption, south of the Military Tract, west of Owego Creek, and north of the Town of Chemung as then laid out, estimated to contain 353,000 acres, for which they paid 3 shillings an acre. The proposition was accepted, a return made April 7, 1794, and a patent issued June 5, 1794, to John W. Watkins, who subsequently conveyed to his associates as their interests indicated.2

Jonathan Lawrence had for his portion of the purchase the area around Cayuta Lake and part of Oak Hill. He was a prominent Queens County businessman and had acquired great wealth. In fact, he found he could retire at age 34 and purchase the beautiful home of his great grandfather Thomas at Hell Gate.

Lawrence was active in the Revolution as a major of a brigade under Gen. Nathan Woodhull. He was a member of the Provincial Congress in 1775, helped form the first state Constitution and was a temporary senator from 1777-1783. During the course of the war, he lost most of his wealth as did others. He found it necessary to return to business. He was again able to gain wealth and at this time participated in the financial investment of the Watkins Flint Purchase in 1791-1794. Lawrence died in July 1803, and left his Cayuta Lake investment to his sons, Samuel and Joseph. Apparently he never attempted to make financial gains on the property.

Jonathan Lawrence married twice. His first marriage was to Judith Fish, the second to Ruth Riker. The sons who came to Cayuta Lake, Samuel, Joseph, and William, were from his marriage to Ruth.

Samuel Lawrence was born in 1773 and was the first son of Major Jonathan Lawrence and Ruth Riker. Apparently Samuel was the first Lawrence to see and explore the Cayuta Lake area. He was accompanied by a locally prominent man, Judge Phineas Catlin. They camped upon the shore of the lake. Samuel was a lawyer, judge of marine court, assemblyman, city clerk, registrar, presidential elector and congressman.

Joseph Lawrence was the fifth son of Jonathan and Ruth. He was born in 1783, and as an adult was a merchant in the East India Trade Co. He married Mary Sachett.

William T. Lawrence who was considered a wealthy merchant, was the youngest son of Jonathan. He was able to retire from business and move to his estate at Cayuta. I found it interesting that the book Famous Families states that he moved to a great estate on Cayuga Lake. The similar spelling of Cayuta and Cayuga may have been the reason for the book reporting his residence at the better-known lake. Cayuta Lake has several spellings. Today the most popular spelling is Kayutah.

William was a Tompkins County judge and a member of Congress. His wife was Margaret Muller. There were no children from this marriage.

Joseph and Samuel chose the sites for their homes and contracted with Samuel Winton, a well- known builder to erect their homes. David Beardsley and Elijah S. Hirman were partners in the contract. Bricks for the two houses were made from clay beds on the Hirman property. Hirman was also the mason who laid up the numerous fireplaces in the houses.

The two brothers came to Cayuta Lake from New York City in the fall of 1814. The details of their trip are as follows from Hon. Abraham Lawrence's contribution to the centennial history of the town:

…they passed from Hoboken, N. J. northward to Montgomery, on the Newburgh and Cohocton turnpike, following it west of the Delaware River, which they crossed at Cohocton and went thence through the famous "beech woods" to Great Bend on the Susquehanna, which they crossed and followed its north bank to Owego; thence passing up the Owego, Catatunk and Cayuta Creeks through the "Dutch Settlement" to Johnson's Settlement—the journey having occupied about two week's time. They remained there several weeks, as neither of their homes were ready for occupancy, and then, moved into the one intended for Joseph Lawrence. 3

Samuel and Joseph built their houses in close proximity to one another. Both of the original houses still stand. The Lawrence house which was the home of Joseph known as the Lake House, has seen little change, but the house of Samuel was changed and enlarged to become Fontainbleau Inn. It was situated well off the road with a long driveway leading to its front entrance.

The History of Four Counties has a lovely sketch of "Fontainbleau" as it looked in the 19th century. In the picture, the house was surrounded by beautiful trees and well kept lawns. The back entrance that faced the lake was as beautiful and impressive as the front. In a letter I received from Mrs. Adelaide Willett, a former owner of the Lawrence estate, she indicates that: "the home that is now standing—run as an Inn called Fontainbleau—is on the site of the original house, but has been so many times remodeled and changed it has no resemblance to the original."

Joseph had a short stay at Cayuta Lake. He experienced ill health and had to leave his new home, presently referred to as the "Lake House." He took his family back to Newtown, Queen's County to spend the winter. In the spring of 1817, he attempted to return but died enroute at Bloomingbury, Sullivan Co. His family never returned and after his estate was settled the property was sold out of the family.

It wasn't until 1825 that William T. Lawrence came to Cayuta Lake to build his house on the east side of the lake. A description of this house was written by Lawrence Beebe who had been born in the house:

It is a tradition that William T. Lawrence boasted that he was going to have the finest house upstate. He brought his skilled workmen from Albany and built from virgin timbers on the estate. Like all the Colonial homes situated near water, it had a land front and a water front, the land front reached by an avenue of beautiful elm trees, the water front with an open porch. The large columns on the land front extended above the second story and were hewn from single trees. The timbers [were] pegged together and leaded pane rose windows [were] in the gables. The house was heated by fireplaces which were capacious. An intricate system of bell pulls was installed to summon servants to any part of the house. Dutch ovens were provided in the kitchen chimneys, and a smoke room off the kitchen flue in the attic for curing meat, also a wine room in the basement.4

At the time that William Lawrence built his mansion, he was listed in the Genealogical Library in Chicago, Illinois, as the 15th wealthiest man in the country. Judge Lawrence died in 1859.

The home originally named Lawrence Villa, presently called White Gates, was sold out of the family after the death of his widow in 1877.

The home of Samuel stayed in the family the longest. The last Lawrence owning the house was Mrs. Henrietta Butler. Samuel, his wife Elizabeth Ireland and their eleven children lived there in summers. Some of their children died at very young ages and a family cemetery was established on a sheltered knoll near the house. Samuel died in 1837 and was buried in that family cemetery. The following appears in the family Bible.

Samuel, born May 23, 1773, died at his residence at Cayuta Lake, Town of Catharine, Chemung County, N.Y., October 20, 1837 at 25 minutes past 3 o'clock A.M. aged 64 years 4 months 27 days.

In his will, Samuel left the Cayuta Lake homestead to his youngest son Abraham and his youngest daughter Jane.

The Chapel

Abraham Lawrence was born on June 1, 1818, at the homestead on Cayuta Lake. He became a very distinguished member of the local citizenry. After attending Ithaca Academy and Geneva College, where he was graduated with honors, he lived at the Lawrence Homestead with his sister Jane. Abraham never married and left no descendants.

He served as Supervisor of the Town of Catharine in 1857, 1858, 1863, and 1864. In the later dates, he held the position of President of the Schuyler County Board. During a very hectic period in Schuyler County history, Abraham Lawrence was chairman of the commission responsible for the final location of the county seat. He was reportedly opposed to the removal of the county seat from Havana but he "served with dignity, grace and ability."

From July, 1864, to July, 1868, he served as president of the Second National Bank of Havana. A cashier at that bank became Abraham's brother-in-law when Jane Lawrence married Adam G. Campbell on October 17, 1868. Abraham served with Hon. John Magee of Watkins as a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1867. He voted for the Constitution to remain as it had been. Mr. Lawrence made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for Congress in 1870 against Milo Goodrich of Tompkins County. Several sources indicate there were foul practices employed by Mr. Goodrich but no indications of what it might have been were stated.

Unlike other members of his family, Abraham Lawrence didn't leave the area for winter refuge in New York City. He moved into the Montour House in Havana for his winters so that he wouldn't lose touch with the area and its people. He was the only Lawrence who was a true Schuylerite. He was noted locally as:

a most thoroughly read and intelligent gentleman of the old school, unassuming, polite and affable in his manners, and neighborly, accommodating and companionable, yet never undignified nor trifling in his intercourse with his fellow man.5

His tombstone states that his death occurred at the lake on December 18, 1878.

Jane L. Campbell lived with her brother Abraham at the Homestead during the summers and apparently left the area for the winter as had family members in the past. She did carry out the request of her brother Abraham to build a mortuary chapel near the family cemetery as a lasting memorial to their family.

The cornerstone of the chapel was laid in 1880. The beautiful external construction is from native stone quarried on the Lawrence farm. Stephen W. Burrell was one of the masons who worked on the construction of the chapel and the still standing adjoining stone fence. No mortar holds the stones of the fence together. The pattern of the slate roof must have required hours of tedious labor by the workmen. The windows are made of leaded glass with small flowerette designs inserted.

Jane Campbell dedicated the chapel to the children of Samuel Lawrence. Three marble plaques list their names: Jonathan, Samuel, John Ireland, Richard, Abraham, William, Horatio, Elizabeth, Cornelia, Ruth, Judith Margaret, and Henrietta Louise. Nine are buried in the adjoining cemetery.

A single cross adorns the roof above a small circular rose window at the entrance of the chapel. Inside is one large room with a small partitioned area that has a small stove. In earlier years, heat was sent through suspended pipes to warm the chilly congregation, but the pipes dripped on and stained the seats. Straight-back pews face a raised pulpit and a window. The small partitioned area was used by the choir and the rector to ready themselves for the service. The organ was made in Elmira.

The chapel was intended as "Practically and virtually a Chapel of Ease for the members of the Catharine Parish residing nearer to it than to the Parish church."

The chapel upon the death of Mrs. Campbell in 1891 was willed to her neice, Henrietta Richardson Butler. Jane had no children of her own by her marriage to Adam G. Campbell. Mr. Campbell died in 1873. Her sister Henrietta Lawrence Richardson died after only two years of marriage leaving a young daughter also named Henrietta. She married Dr. G. H. Butler of New York City. Henrietta inherited the estate also after Mrs. Campbell's death.

The owners of the chapel always entirely supported it and its rector from St. John's Parish in Catharine.

In 1904 Edward Cooley became the caretaker of the remaining Lawrence estate which consisted of the Lawrence Homestead, its orchards and gardens and the Lawrence Chapel and cemetery. Mr. Cooley and his wife lived in the tenant house and cared for the lawns and the chapel. They packed barrels of vegetables and fruits they had grown and harvested during the summer for shipment to Mrs. Butler in New York City. Several trips to the train station in Odessa were necessary to transport all the vegetables including unusual kinds like okra that Mrs. Butler liked. She paid Mr. Cooley $50 a month for his work. He planted many vegetables and his family was allowed to use or sell any of the harvest that remained after the fall shipments to Mrs. Butler.

Mr. Cooley also served as driver for Mrs. Butler when she resided at Cayuta Lake on her summer visits. In the spring he would bring Mrs. Butler and her "immigrant girls," whom she frequently brought with her to train as servants, from the station with the horse and wagon that had also come up from the city on the train. In the fall they would all go back again on the train.

The era of the Lawrence family at Cayuta Lake ended in 1924 when Mrs. Henrietta Butler died at her home at 964 5th Avenue, New York City.

Before her death, Mrs. Butler had seen to it that all family portraits and papers were destroyed. She also requested that Mr. Cooley, upon her death, destroy any additional portraits in the chapel or elsewhere. Claradell Johnson, Mr. Cooley's daughter, said that Mrs. Butler feared someone might claim the pictures or even try to claim lineage with the family.

Mrs. Butler did will 30 acres of lake property to Mr. Cooley, and he utilized the carriage sheds that had been situated across the road from the chapel to build cottages.

When Mrs. Butler died, the Lawrence property went to Adelaide Allerton, a niece of Dr. George Butler. In a letter she wrote, "I am not a member of the Lawrence family. Our association with Mrs. Butler began when she married my great Uncle Dr. George H. Butler. After Dr. Butler's death she was very alone and she clung to my mother and me."

Miss Allerton became Mrs. Willett. She sold the homestead and acreage to Leon Washburn and Omar Egan, but retained the chapel and cemetery until the fall of 1972 when she turned the chapel and its care over to the Chemung Historical Society. Ruth and Wesley Havens were caretakers of the chapel. Mrs. Havens was a daughter of Edward Cooley.

The Lawrence Family

In England, the Lawrence family was often referred to as Laurens, but the families that settled in the colonies took the Lawrence spelling.

In the early 1600's, Henry the Councillor (a Lawrence), Lord President of Cromwell's Council sent his cousins John and William of Albano, Hertfordshire to the New World. These brothers were of lineal descent from Sir Robert Lawrence who owned thirty-four manors in England during the reign of Henry VII, the revenue of which amounted to 6,000 pounds sterling per annum. John arrived in 1618 and William in 1623. Later in 1625 they sent for their younger brother, Thomas. By 1655, they had acquired a generous tract of land in Newtown, Long Island. Thomas purchased all of Hellgate Neck that extends along the East River from Hellgate Cove to Bowery Bay. This area was large enough to include four highly valuable farms.

All three were politically active in the area they settled. Thomas settled on his estate at Hellgate Neck and during the Leisler Administration was appointed Major Commander of Militia of Queens County. It seems that the Lawrences had the ability to get along politically under both Dutch and English Rule. Prior to English rule, John Lawrence held many offices and positions under Peter Stuyvesant. In fact, when the Dutch retook the city of New York, English Mayor John Lawrence was spared having his house and property plundered as had other officials because of the appeals of his Dutch friends. On August 12, 1673, Mayor Lawrence surrendered the city seal, the mace and magistrate's gowns to the Dutch. When the English regained control, Andros restored the city government to its English form. John Lawrence became deputy mayor.

The third son of younger brother Thomas was named John Lawrence. He had three sons by his marriage to Deborah Woodhill. One of them, John Lawrence again, married Patience Sachett. Among their children was Jonathan Lawrence. He married twice: first to Judith Fish and then to Ruth Riker. His second marriage produced seven sons: Samuel, Andrew, Richard, Abraham Riker, Joseph, John L., and William T. of whom Samuel, Joseph, and William came to Cayuta Lake.

© 1973, Jeanne Bleiler
Note: This paper was written in 1973 for an Elmira College class in New York State history taught by Dr. Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr. The chapel is still owned by the Chemung County Historical Society (although it is located in Schuyler County). It is rented for weddings and other occasions.


1- page 151 Ellis, Frost, Syret, Carman, A History of New York State. Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1967.

2 - page 26; 3 - page 595 Everts & Ensign, History of Four Counties, Phildelphia, J. B. Lippincott, 1879.

4 - page 92 Cleaver, Mrs. Robert, The History of the Town of Catharine, Schuyler Co., N.Y., Rutland VT, Tuttle Pub. Co., 1945.

5 - page 79 Corbett, John, Historical and Biographical Reminiscences of Schuyler (pub. in Watkins Express in 1889)

Lamb, Martha J., History of the City of New York, A.S. Barnes & Co., 1877.

Lawton, G. R., More Lawton Recollections, Journal, Schuyler Historical Society, September, 1972.

Marghereta, Arlina, Hamm, Famous Families of New York State, N. Y., London, G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1901.

O'Connor, Lois, White Gates a Glittering Mansion, Ithaca Journal, Nov. 5, 1959.

Van Rensselaer, Mrs. Schuyler, History of New York in the 17th Century, Vol. II, N. Y., MacMillan Co., 1909.

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