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This town was named from its principal village, and the latter from Vincent Le Ray, son of the landholder, who owned, at an early day, this town and many others in the county. It was erected from Lyme, April 10, 1849, embracing all west of a line running from the mouth of Little Fox Creek, N., 48¾° E., 646 chains; thence N. 57° E., 235-56 chains, to the town of Clayton. The first town meeting was directed to be held at the house of Jacob Berringer, at which the following officers were first elected; Frederick A. Folger, supervisor; John W. Little, clerk; William H. Webb, superintendent of schools; J. Berringer, Augustus Awberton, Barney W. Payne, justices of the peace; E. Clement, collector; John W. Lawton, Adam A. Gray, assessors; Buel Fuller, commissioner highways; Francis A. Cross, overseer of poor.
The Supervisors have been, in 1849, F. A. Folger; 1850-1, Robert C. Bartlett; 1852, Charles Smith; 1853, Otis P. Starkey.
This town is the oldest in settlement in the county, Carlton Island having been occupied by a British fort for a long period before the adjacent country had been purchased and colonized. As the title of this island possesses considerable interest, we will give in this connection some details that were not noticed in the chapter on titles. The island was reserved by the state, in their cession to Macomb.
A military bounty, or class right, was issued to Wm. Richardson, a sergeant in the New York line of the revolutionary war. Matthew Watson and William Guilland became the purchases of this right, and on the 2d of October, 1786, located the same on Carlton Island, generally. The land commissioners sanctioned this location, but inserted the condition that it should be void if the island in the division should fall to Canada. Guilland sold his right to Watson, who died leaving three children, John, Margaret and Jane, two of whom (John and Jane) died without issue, leaving their sister Margaret their heir-at-law, who married on Jacob Ten Broeck, and these sold their right to Charles Smyth.
This subject came before the legislature in 1821, and from the report of this committee,* (*Assembly Papers, Miscellaneous, Vol. XI, P. 264, Secretary’s office.) it appears that previous to, and since 1786, till 1812, the island had been held by the British, so that it was not in the power of the proprietor of the class right to have a survey made, according to the location, as is provided by the statute, and to sue out letters patent within the time limited by law. Hence the necessity of special legislation, and the surveyor general, to whom the question was referred, advised that the title should not be prejudiced by reason of the lapse of time between the location and application for a patent. Smyth also applied for the purchase of the remainder, in all about 1200 acres, and the committee ascertaining that twelve families were located there, and that depredations were being made upon the timber, for which cause they advised a compliance with the request. An act was passed March 2, 1821, directing a patent to be issued for 400 acres from the west end of the island.
Mr. F. R. Hasler, the distinguished mathematician, who for many years had charge of the coast survey, and was then residing in town on the south shore opposite, was appointed to survey the island, in 1823, and from his report, * (*Field Book, No. 30, p. 18, State Engineer’s Office) we quote the following remarks.
“There are about 30 acres of old improved land near the south shore, called the King’s Garden, which are very good land, the higher part is somewhat stoney, yet not impeding the plowing. The timber generally young, second growth, beech, maple, oak, birch, hickory, and a few pines. Value $5, without the improvements.” This lot was about midway between the two extremities on the south side, and a hundred chains from the westerly point of the island. At the time of the survey there were 8 log houses and 2 shanties on the island, with 197 acres cleared, and improvement worth $1,020. The total map made by Mr. Hasler, in the state engineer and surveyor’s office (No. 266) represents the outline of Fort Carlton, as it then existed, and must continue till the end of time, as the excavation that formed the moat was made in the rock. We insert here a plan and section of the fort, from a sketch made in June last, which will convey a general idea of the work. This island became after the war, an important lumbering station, the bays at the head of the island affording a convenient and sheltered place for the making up of rafts. Avery Smith, a Canadian, located here in this business in 1822, and formed a partnership with Abijah Lewis. They afterwards dissolved partnership, and continued the business separately. Schools were established here, a store opened, and twenty or thirty families settled. By an act of April 17th, 1822, a justice of the peace was directed to be appointed. Mr. ____Shumway, was the only one who held the office here. In 1824-5, the business of the place began to decline, and but two families were residing on the island in June, 1853. There is scarcely among the lovely scenery of the islands, a more delightful spot than that occupied by the ruins here, and the fruit trees growing abundantly without cultivation in the vicinity, evince that the former occupants paid some attention to this branch of husbandry. The trees appear to have sprung from those planted by the English. The earliest settlement on the main land in this town, was made by Abijah Putnam from Rome, who in 1801, located two miles below the present village of Cape Vincent, at a place known as Port Putnam, where he established the first ferry to Wolf Island. He was sent there for the purpose by Jacob Brown, the agent of Le Ray. One Samuel Cone, settled on the opposite shore of the island at the same time. In 1803, the state road was extended from Brownville to this place, and cut out and partly worked in the winter of 1803-4. In 1804, John Macombs, and Peter Sternberg, from near Little Falls, purchased Putnam’s chance, laid out the plan of a village, and sold a few lots. In May 1803, John B. Esselstyn, from Montgomery, settled three miles below the present village of Cape Vincent. Daniel Spinning came from Western, in 1804, and soon after two families by the name of Smith, Jonathan Cummings, _____ Sheldon, and others, located near the place. In 1806, Richard M. Esselstyn, settled near Putnam’s ferry with his brother.
The first work of importance done at the present village of Cape Vincent, was by Eber Kelsey, from Turin, originally from Connecticut, who in the summer of 1809, came on with about twenty men, and cleared for Le Ray a tract of 50 acres, erected a wharf, block dwelling house and tavern, a frame barn, *&c.; and the same season, Richard M. Esselstyn built a house and store, and commenced trade, under the firm of J. B. & R. M. Esselstyn. Dr. Avery Ainsworth, from Vermont, built a house and store, the same season, and was the first physician who settled in this part of the county. Mr. Le Ray, from an early period, designed Cape Vincent or Gravelly Point, as it is sometimes called, on the site of a village, which from its proximity to Kingston, and the facility with which the river could be crossed at all seasons, rendered a very eligible point for a commercial town. A mile square was surveyed and lotted in 1811, by Musgrove Evans, one of the surveyors of Le Ray. A ferry was early established here by Kelsey, and by an act of February 20th, 1807, Peter Sternberg procured the exclusive right of ferrying between Carlton Island and Long Island, for a term of ten years. The ferries across the river in this town, have generally been granted by the legislature, the rates being fixed by the county courts. Before the establishment of a custom house, smuggling was carried on with impunity, especially during the embargo period, when the temptation was great, and the means of prevention comparatively limited.
In 1809 the business of lumbering was commenced by Esselstyn and Murry (sic), the latter from Augusta, in Canada, the timber being bought of Le Ray and exported as staves, and square timber. This business gave employment to many men, and brought a transient population to the place. In the same year several families made a permanent stand in the place. In 1810 the importation in vessels of staves, from the Genesee and Niagara countries, gave employment to a considerable number and brought in much money. About 200,000 staves were imported, and at the end of the season 80 to 90,000 were left. The business of building arks for the Montreal trade, is followed to some extent, and in 1811, it was continued by the Esselstyns on their own account, but no so extensively. In 1812 the embargo was again laid, but the cry of war had been so long heard, that it was not dreaded, and preparations were made to raft the staves, that remained of the business of 1810, but before the embargo was to have ceased, war was declared, and the lumber was afterwards mostly used as fuel by Wilkinson’s army. At this time, there were but about six families at Cape Vincent. The news of the war spread terror throughout the settlement, and this point being nearest to Kingston, was considered of much importance by General Brown, upon whom the care of the early military operations of this place was laid. Capt. Farrar, had been stationed here a short time before, with a part of a company of militia, to enforce the embargo. Major John B. Esselstyn, a resident of this place, was immediately directed to assemble a body of militia, and three companies were collected and retained under his command, until Major Allen could arrive with his draft. A company of drafted militia from the Mohawk settlements, under Capt. Getman, and subsequently others were posted here a short time.
A few days after, war had been declared, but before the news was received, the Niagara, and Ontario, two schooners, laden with flour and potash, from Queenstown to Brockville, were seized by Mr. Elijah Fields, Jr., deputy collector at Cape Vincent, and taken to Sackets Harbor, where an investigation was held; the Niagara was condemned and sold, the Ontario was released and allowed to depart. The vessels were owned by Porter & Barton, of Niagara, and were taken in our waters, without papers, and in violation of the revenue laws.
During the war, as would be very naturally supposed, this point being the most exposed on the whole frontier, and one of the few places then inhabited on the river, became the scene of adventures that attracted notice at the time and are still preserved by traditions. On a certain occasion, probably in the summer of 1813, a man by the name of Draper, who belonged to Capt. Getman’s company, and served as an express to Sackets Harbor, learning that a party of Indians had been lurking on Wolf Island, solicited and obtained of Col. Dodge, at Sackets Harbor, leave (not orders) to raise a party of volunteers from the company and dislodge them. A gunboat, under Capt Hawkins, having touched at the Cape, agreed to take them over, but not to take part in the affair. As the boat approached, a gun was fired, which put the Indians to flight. They were hastily pursued about a mile to an open field, beyond a bridge, crossing a marsh, where Draper, by carelessly exposing himself to the shots of the enemy, was killed, and two others slightly wounded. The party hastily returned, leaving him; and, according to some accounts, he was scalped. This has been denied, and it is generally believed he was buried, but so slightly that the foxes dug to him, and he was afterwards again interred.
A little before the attack on Sackets Harbor, a British gunboat touched at Cape Vincent, in the night, and a part of the crew having landed, heard of the presence of a party of three dragoons, who had put up for the night from Sackets Harbor. One of these, named Moore, who was an accomplished fencer, retreated to a corner of the room and kept off his assailants so effectually, that, finding it impossible to take him alive, he was shot. His comrades escaped, and the enemy returned to their boats. Two weeks later, another visit was made, a store plundered, and temporary barracks in the place burned. Subsequent visits for plunder followed, and many of the inhabitants left for a less exposed situation. Late in 1813 General Wilkinson’s army stopped a short time at the place. After the war, lumbering was resumed, and the opening of roads, especially the turnpike from Brownville, gave a new impulse to the settlement.
Until about 1816, the settlements along the river were limited to a few points, but about this time the country around began to be taken up; new roads were opened in every direction, and for a short time, the country advanced rapidly in populations and improvements, which continued till the completion of the Erie Canal. At Cape Vincent, several educated and accomplished French families located; among whom, in 1818, was Peter Francis Real, known in European history as Count Real, the chief of police under Napoleon. The change of political prospects in France, in a few years, recalled many celebrated exiles who had adhered to the fortunes of Napoleon, and fled from the disasters which overtook that dynasty, among whom were Count Real, and others who had made this country their home. At about the same time, Mr. F. R. Hasler, the eminent philosopher and engineer, having become interested in real estate in this place, came here to reside with his family, and planned the establishment of a normal school, which he never perfected. The village was a favorite resort with Mr. Le Ray, and he was often accompanied by eminent foreigners, who never visited the county without becoming his guests, and sharing that refined hospitality which he knew so well how to bestow. The first visit of Le Ray to this place as in 1803, and was attended with the following incident:
He was accompanied by Gouverneur Morris, and after visiting Brownville, they took an open boat to continue their journey, as Mr. Morris had a wooden leg, and could not conveniently travel in the woods by the rude means of communication which the country then afforded, and he was moreover very partial to sailing, and claimed to be especially skillful in managing water craft. On passing Cherry Island, Mr. Morris observed that there must be fine fishing there, and as he had with him his French cook, and culinary apparatus, he declared he would serve his friend a better fish dinner than he had ever tasted. Mr. Le Ray objected that it was getting late and cloudy, and they had a great ways to run before reaching Putnam’s, the first settlement on the shore. Nothing would do; Mr. Morris was as fond of good cheer as of sailing, and they stopped. They had good fishing, and a capital dinner; but it was late before they set sail again, and dark before they reached the St. Lawrence, and they were obliged to stop at Gravelly Point, two miles above Putnam’s, where they pitched their tent and went to bed, for they had all the necessary implements. In the middle of the night, a fire built before the tent set it in flames; Mr. Morris, thus unseasonably disturbed, felt all around for his wooden leg, but was obliged to flee without it. The exposure to wind and rain produced in Mr. Le Ray a violet illness and he with difficulty returned to Brownville. Dr. Kirkpatrick was procured from Rome, and he was long confined with a dangerous fever.
A custom house was established here, and Cape Vincent district organized in 1818. The greatest amount of business was formerly done in winter, but since the completion of the Watertown and Rome Rail Road the business has very greatly increased. The collectors have been John B. Esselstyn, Jerre Carrier, Judah T. Ainsworth, Peleg Burchard, Gideon S. Sacket, and Alfred Fox. The ports of Alexandria Bay, Clayton, Millen’s Bay, Grenadier Island, Three Mile Bay, Chaumont Bay and Point Peninsula are subordinate to this, and included in the district. The present officers at this office are: Alfred Fox, collector, Charles W. Rogers, William Estis, deputy collectors, James L. Folger, L. D. Tarble, inspectors. In 1848 the official returns gave $91,597; in 1849, $90,484; in 1850, $120,040; and in 1851 of $94,546.
A considerable amount of ship building has been carried on at Cape Vincent since 1819. The following is believed to be a correct list of vessels built here, the names of the first masters (when known) being given in italics. Schooners: Henry, John Davis; V. Le Ray, do; Lafayette, Mastin; Ainsworth, J. Belisle; Hannah, Peter Ingalls; O. P. Starkey, do; L. Goler, Lucas; Victor, Ripley; Free Trader, Shattuck; Chief Justice Marshall, Edie; brig, Merchant, T. Pheatt; schooners, Henry Crevolin, Belisle; John E. Hunt, P. Ingalls; Napoleon, Crouch; Merchant, J. Harris; Amelia, Shattuck; Roscoe, do; Potomac, do; brig, Iowa; sloop, Elizabeth Goler, Cummings; brig, Patrick Henry, W. E. Ingalls; schooner, Montezuma, Smith; Troy; Allenwick; Globe, Goler; propeller, St. Nicholas, Liltz; schooner, Charles Smith, W. E. Ingalls; Algomah, Reid; Silas Wright, Fuller; Port Henry, J. Jarvis.
Application for the incorporation of the village of Cape Vincent, was made to the court of sessions, June 14th, 1853. A census taken on the 14th of April, gave a population of 1218, within the proposed limits, or 312½ acres. The petition to the court was signed by Jerre Carrier, Samuel Forsyth, Zebulon Converse and L. H. Ainsworth, and an election was held in July, which resulted in the adoption of the charter by a vote of 80 to 2. The first village election was held August 9th, 1853, at which J. Carrier, T. Peugnet, J. T. Ainsworth, J. L. Folger, and L. H. Ainsworth, were chosen trustees; William R. Sanders, clerk; W. J. Ingalls, C. Smith, C. Wright, assessors; R. Crary, treasurer; J. L. Gardenier, collector.
The rail road company have built here, for the accommodation of an immense and rapidly increasing trade, a wharf about 3000 feet long, and two freight houses, one 35 by 600 feet, and another 35 by 100. During the last season, they have completed a grain elevator, 60 by 90 feet, and 70 feet high, for unloading grain from vessels, and loading upon cars, and with ample bins for the storage of grain. They have also completed a passenger depot, 50 by 200 feet, including a hotel, and are extending their improvements as the wants of trade, and the increase of business demand. There runs between this rail road and the Michigan Central, a line of propellers, consisting of the Bay State, Capt. A. Reed; Northern Michigan, Capt. J. M. Green; Jefferson, Capt. D. H. Dixon; Hercules, Capt. J. Bostwick; and Young America, Capt. L. W. Bancroft. These propellers were mostly built at Buffalo within the last two years, and have a tonnage of 372. They are owned by Bancroft & Co.
There is also a line of steamers, consisting of the Champion, May Flower, and Highlander, running daily, in connection with trains, to all Canadian ports from Kingston to Hamilton, and a ferry leaves on the arrival of every passenger train for Kingston. The express line of the Ontario and St. Lawrence Steam Boat Company, consisting of the magnificent steamers New York and Bay State, form a daily line between Ogdensburg and Lewiston, from June till October, and touch both ways at this place.
An appropriation of $3,000 was made, May 18th, 1826, for the erection of a light house on Tibbets’ Point, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, nearly two miles from the village, and recently measures have been adopted for the erection of another, at the head of Carlton Island. A breakwater in front of the piers at Cape Vincent, is demanded by the commercial wants of the place, and it is presumed will ere long be built by the general government who can not long neglect an improvement so obviously necessary.
The village of Cape Vincent is delightfully located near the head of the St. Lawrence, on a plain that rises by a gentle slope, and is laid out in squares. It contains churches of Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Catholic orders, two wharves, besides the ample ones lately constructed by the rail road company, the usual variety of mechanics, and is the residence of many engaged in the employment of the rail road, and the navigation of the lakes.
In Lake Ontario, opposite to this town, and forming a part of it, is Grenadier Island, that was patented separately from the lands on the main shore, and of the title of which there occurred some interesting navigation.
Patrick Calquhoun, in a letter before us, dated London, June 4, 1792, made to Wm. Constable, who held at that time the interest in Macomb’s contract, a proposition, to purchase several of the islands near the confluence of the lake and river, and also the small islands lying in Niauern, or Nivernois Bay, among which were Chevruelle, or Roe Buck Island,* (*Carlton Island, which he supposed, was included in the contract) Renard or Foxes Island, and others, of which the only description he possessed was drawn from Sauthier’s map, which was very defective in the details of this section of the state. He offered for these islands, which he represented as including about ten thousand acres, “and are said to be rocky and overgrown with juniper and other small shrubs, which indicate a poverty of soil,” the sum of 400 pounds sterl., as soon as a patent could be obtained, and the title deeds made out, and if any small islands, not specified in the above offer, were found to lie in the vicinity, they were to be included. In a postscript he offered to pay one hundred per cent, on whatever these islands shall cost in the gross, when payment was made to the state of New York, according to the measurement.
It is probable that the fact of Grenadier Island’s being contracted to Macomb, was not known to the parties who presented Feb. 24, 1803, to the legislature, the following petition:
“The memorial of Samuel English, and Hezekiah Barret, humbly sheweth; that whereas your memorialists did petition the honorable legislature in their last session, for a grant of a certain island, lying in the Lake Ontario, between Oswego, and the head of the river St. Lawrence, belonging to the people of this state, on such terms as your honorable body should deem meet and reasonable, which island is known by the name of Grenadier Island, and is supposed to contain about 1000 acres. Your memorialists being informed, that a bill did pass the honorable house of assembly last session in their favor, but doubts arising in the breasts of some of the members, that the Indian title might not be extinguished, the bill was finally lost. Your memorialists having made diligent inquiry, are satisfied that there is no claim upon said island, by the Indians, and that it is actually the property of this state, which induces them once more to pray, that your honorable body will grant them the said Island, and they will engage to settle the same within twelve months, after receiving a grant therefore.”
A slight investigation was sufficient to prove, that the state had no power to convey the island, which was not done until the boundary had been finally settled.
Grenadier Island, first began to be settled two or three years before the war, and in 1813 it became the rendezvous of the army and fleet of General Wilkinson, in his disastrous expedition down the St. Lawrence, which both in plan, and execution, reflected unmitigated disgrace upon the American arms, and deserved infamy upon the chief conductors. The currents have thrown up beaches, at the east extremity of the island, in such a manner, as to form a capacious bay, which is named Basin Harbor. The shores, in common with those of the main land, afford valuable seine fisheries, and the soil is very fertile. Before a proprietor appeared to show title, it had been occupied by about fourteen families. It is now owned by parties in Clayton Village, and is occupied as an extensive dairy farm. The first settler on this island is said to have been John Mitchel, who endured many hardships from his isolated position and distance from neighbors.
The most disastrous accident that ever occurred on lake (sic) Ontario happened near The Ducks, small islands near the Canada shore, about forty miles above Kingston, on the morning of April 30, 1853. The upper cabin steamer Ocean Wave, built in Montreal, in 1851, and owned by the Northern Rail Road, being then on her way down from Hamilton to Ogdensburgh (sic), took fire between one and two o’clock in the morning, and was burned. The fire took near the engine, and appeared to have been occasioned by the faulty construction of the boat, which had been on fire on one or two previous occasions. When the flames were discovered they were making such rapid progress, from the boat being newly painted, that the small boats could not be got out, and in less than five minutes it was enveloped in flames. The terrific scene that ensued defies description, the miserable victims having but a moment’s time for deciding by which mode of death they should perish. The light attracted the schooners Geogiana and Emblem, who, with some fishing boats from the shore, saved twenty-one persons out of forty-four, the number of crew and passengers. The steamer Scotland came up near the wreck about sunrise, and passed without rendering assistance. According to the affidavit of the captain and crew, there was o one floating around the place at this time.
The post offices in the town of Cape Vincent are, Cape Vincent, Mullin’s Bay, and St. Lawrence.
A Union Library was formed August 14, 1824, with Gideon S. Sacket, John B. Esselstyn, Danied (sic) Smith, Stockwell Osgood, Philip P. George, Zebulon Coburn, and Roswell T. Lee, trustees. It was maintained several years, when it was discontinued.
Religious Societies. The first Presbyterian society of Lyme was formed at Cape Vincent, December 22, 1824, with Benjamin Holmes, Oliver Lynch, Hezkiaah H. Smith; Jedediah C. Mills, and Samuel Forsyth, trustees. A church had been previously formed, which was admitted to the Presbytery in June, 1823. The Rev. J. Burchard was employed in 1824-25; Eber Childs, and David Smith were stated supplies for a few month each. Lucius Foot was hired in 1827. A stone church was built, and temporarily fitted for use, in 1832, and finished about 1840. The society received of Mr. Le Ray the lot and $400. The cost of the church was about $2,800. A bell was procured in 1852. The pews are rented annually to support the minister.
St. John’s Church (Episcopal) was formed with the approbation of Bishop De Lancey, dated December 26, 1840, by Rev. John Noble, on the 17th of January, 1841. A society was legally organized, January 25, 1841, the Rev. John Noble being erctor (sic). John B. Esselstyn, and Nelson B. Williams, wardens; Nelson Potter, Otis P. Starkey, Robert Bartlett, Calvin K. Pool, Judah T. Ainsworth, Robert Moore, Rice Parish, and William Esselstyn, vestrymen. A lot 8 rods by 20 was given for the purpose by O. P. Starkey, upon which a small but convenient church was erected, at a cost of $3,100, between June 1, and October 1, 1841. On the 2d day of June, 1842, it was consecrated. The Society has since erected a parsonage opposite the church. Mr. Nobles has been succeeded by N. Watkins, April 6, 1841; Samuel H. Norton, April 13, 1846; Richard Adams, 1850; and James Abercrombie, June 23, 1852. The report of 1851 gave 53 families and 240 persons, as belonging to the church; whole number of communicants up to July, 1853, has been about 70.
The first Methodist Episcopal Church in the town of Cape Vincent, was formed October 14, 1851, with William King, George Akerline, William Esselstyn, Philetus Judd, Asa S. Jones, John Hollenbeck, and John Nimms, trustees.
The Catholics, in the summer of 1853, commenced the erection of a church, which is not finished by the time of writing. There is a Catholic church in the French settlement, seven miles from the village.Return to Clickable Jefferson County Map & Index to Hough Town Histories Return to Shirley Farone's Homepage