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VU 10

   

During 1990 Tony Fusco printed the following notes in the Lawton Issue, Volume III, number 3 and 4, page 45. It was submitted to him by Raymond Ouderkirk in January 1986.

NATHAN LAWTON, OF AUBURN, NEW YORK
1801-1892

In 1885, a newspaper reporter for the "Sunday Dispatch", of Auburn, New York, interviewed an elderly local citizenand wrote an article about his recollections of life in New York State over the prior eighty-four years.

The elderly local citizen was Nathan Lawton, who was born 14 October 1801, in the Town of Fairfield, Herkimer County, New York. Nathan was the son of Joseph and Abigail (Dawley) Lawton. During his long life, Nathan outlived three wives and remained a resident of the Auburn area until his death on 27 February 1892, at age 91.

According to Nathan Lawton, his grandfather, Oliver Lawton, was a veteran of the French and Indian War. During the1759-1760 period, Oliver had served under General Anthony Wayne and while returning to Rhode Island, through theMohawk Valley, Oliver had obtained a land grant from William Johnson. The land grant was evidently part of the"Royal Grant" that Johnson obtained from the Crown and which was confiscated by the Rebels during the American Revolution.
(This is almost assuredly incorrect. William Johnson did own the "Royal Grant." As he was a British sympathizer during the Revolutionary War, his lands were confiscated after the war, and sold to the public to help New York state pay off war debts. Oliver and Ann bought a portion of that land in 1789.)

Oliver married Ann Rathbun in Exeter, Rhode Island, on 24 October 1762, and eight children were born to them inRhode Island. At some point around 1789, the family migrated to the Town of Fairfield, New York, where Nathan indicates the original grant of land was given to them.

The 1820 Federal Census for the Town of Fairfield lists the family of Oliver Lawton together with four of their sons and their families.

#487 Oliver Lawton born 1739 over 45
769 George Lawton born 1769 26-45
767 David Lawton over 45
768 Benjamin Lawton born 1768 26-45
770 Joseph Lawton born 1770 26-45
(Some above birth years do not match ages.)

Tony further wrote an explanatory note that this page was an introductory to a story mailed to him byRaymond D. Outerkirk. The story, as published in Lawton Issue Volume IV, number 1, page 22 follows.

Auburn Sixty-one Years Ago (Written in 1885)
How It Appeared To Nathan Lawton Who Visited It At That Time

Then a Small Village With Less than 2,500 Inhabitants (1824)
The Early Settlers of New York
At the Grave of President Cleveland's Parents
Searching a Cemetery to Find Old Friends.

On a pleasant little farm just outside the city limits on the East Genesee street road resides Mr. Nathan Lawton, age eighty four years. Friday evening of the past week, the venerable gentleman was visited by a Sunday Dispatch reporter for the express purpose of obtaining personal reminiscences of events which have transpired under the aged gentleman's observation. Mr. Lawton, when asked to furnish the reporter facts with which to build an article, at first hesitated, as if fearful that he would be placed before the public in a wrong light. On being reassured, he related the following, and while doing so, appeared to greatly enjoy himself, as he lived the sad and pleasant parts of the past over again. He began by telling the reporter that he had resided in Auburn but a short time, comparatively speaking-only about twenty years.

Six weeks since he determined to go to the home of his youth-the town of Fairfield, Herkimer county-with the object of ascertaining if any of the associates of his boyhood days were still alive. If any such were found, he would, to use his own expression, have the pleasure of a visit, in which the stories of former days could be retold. For a man so advanced in years, Mr. Lawton is remarkably well-preserved and performed the journey without a mishap.

At Fairfield, all had changed. Nothing remained to remind him of former years. ( ) was the old academy and eventhis had been greatly altered by the many repairs that had been made upon it. Outside the little village, which is completely isolated from the world, the green fields and the pretty landscape views were the only things that reminded him in a forcible manner that he was in and near the little hamlet where eighty-four long years ago, he first beheld the light of day. Here and there he met an old acquaintance, but time had worked a sad change in their appearances. They were not the bright, happy young men of previous years. He beheld instead, old, decrepit men and women who were tottering about the streets, almost ready to fall into the grave. Not a resident was to be seen, who, at the time of his departure for this place, were termed old men. They had long ago been followed to the grave. A younger generation had grown up, but their faces were not familiar to the pilgrim visitor. Many people in the town recognized their former resident, greeted him warmly and endeavored to make him feel that he was a perfectly welcome guest.

Relatives and friends had long since been gathered in by that great havestor of all living things-death. The whitemarble slabs and granite monuments told too plainly where all that was mortal of them could be found. They had gone. To the visitor it seemed strange, why such large numbers had been taken by that fell destroyer and himself spared. It was a question he was unable to answer. While engaged in pursuing his search in the graveyards of Holland Patent, he suddenly stumbled upon the graves of the father and mother of President Cleveland. The remains of the worthy couple had long been mouldering in the cold bosom of Mother Earth. While living both had been known to the person, who at that time was engaged in reading their epitaphs inscribed on the tasty New Hampshire granite monument, placed there one year ago by the President. But few of the worthy family now reside in Fairfield or Holland Patent. In the little village of Boonville, there lives a brother of Grover Cleveland. He is a preacher and ministers to the spiritual wants of a small sized country congregation.

BACKWOODS LIFE

Perceiving that the old gentleman was somewhat saddened by the recollections of the many whom he had found deadand gone, the reporter asked him to relate some of the stories of the early settlers in this region. Complying, he stated that often in his youth he had seen people who had been scalped and shot by Indian allies of the British Government during the dark and trying days of the Revolutionary war. He mentioned in particular and old lady, "old Mrs. Schnell." She had been scalped and tomahawked by the Indians under Sir William Johnson. Yet notwithstanding the fearful injuries sustained, she lived to a good old age.

PHILO SMITH'S WOLF

Another story was related by Mr. Lawton. It was handed down to him by his grandfather. While telling the same, the old gentleman, who has an almost inexhaustible stock of anecdotes at command, laughed immoderately at times. The episode pleased him as well as the writer, who does not entertain the idea that he can tell it in a style one half as attractive.

A wolf had long been tormenting the early settlers of that vicinity, slaughtering sheep.Mr. Lawton termed the brute a "mean wolf"-a great deal meaner than General Putnam's wolf. A reward was offered for the capture of the troublesome nocturnal visitor. But this particular wolf was very cunning, more so than many of his brothers and managed to elude the watchful eyes of the men who were seeking to take his life. In the same neighborhood there lived a worthless sort of an individual named Philo Smith. Smith was very poor, unable to secure a cow-a recognized necessity in those days. He was a devoted Christian and a member of the Methodist Church. His poverty was due to laziness. Like all poor men he managed to keep a very large dog. One night after Smith and his wife had retired in the single room of their little cabin, the dog attacked the wolf whom he caught prowling around the premises. A savage fight was the result. The canine apparently realizing that he was getting the worst of the battle, started in the direction of the house. The cabin was reached and in the struggle that followed the door was forced open. Smith jumped from his bed and grabbed the wolf by one ear. The dog seized the other and he called to his wife, 'hurry here and help kill the pesky thing.'His wolfship was killed. The neighbors, to reward Smith, took up a collection and with the proceeds he purchased a cow. He at once mended his ways, amassed property and died a wealthy man.

AUBURN VILLAGE

Before the prison was built, Mr. Lawton came to Auburn as an apprentice in the employ of the firm of Gordon & Cheever, manufacturers of machinery for cotton mills. At that time Auburn contained less that 2,500 inhabitants. A cotton factory was established here. Mr. Lawton remained in Auburn but a short time, when he returned to Middleville, the headquarters of the firm. The free trade policy of the government ruined the business and the factory suspended operations. He then went to Little Falls, where for the next six months he was engaged in keeping the time of the workmen employed in the construction of the Erie canal. Many of the old Dutch settlers laughed at the idea of a boat's floating through the rocks of Little Falls. Many said they would die happy when such an event took place. The canal was built, and Mr. Lawton said he rode from Utica to Syracuse on the first boat that ever ploughed its waters-the Montezuma.

BEFORE THE CANAL

Previous to the construction of the canal, journeys had to be made to Syracuse and neighboring cities by means of horses and wagons. Once or twice a year tedious trips were made to Syracuse after supplies of salt. At that time there was but a small village at that point. It was called Salina and contained about five hundred inhabitants. Where the city now stands, at that time was but a little better than a mud hole. Auburn at that time, Mr. Lawton said, was a great deal larger than Salina, but at the time of his first visit here, he was not favorably impressed with the beauty of the settlement.

HARDSHIPS OF EARLY SETTLERS

Mr. Lawton remarked that his grandfather came from the State of Rhode Island. He first became acquaintedwith the great natural wealth of the country in this State, while en route through the same with GeneralAnthony Wayne. At the close of the Indian War, in company with several brothers, he traveled by means of ox teamsto the Mohawk valley country. After a great deal of difficulty, that land which they had purchased was located.Their crops on the first year were a total failure, by reason of a terrible snow storm in June. In order to obtain a supply of food, the ox teams had to be driven to Albany, where a supply of "Virginia corn" was purchased.

OLD DEEDS

On the occasion of his recent visit to the old homestead occupied by a brother, Mr. Lawton had the pleasure of looking over the old deeds and land grants of the property, given by Sir William Johnson to the settler from whom his grandfather made the purchase.

 

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