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Letter of Captain Dudley Saltonstall to his Father in 1795


October, 1795

Honored Sir,

I am now settled in the seat of litigation of the western most county of the State of New York called Ontario. The county town is situated in the midst of a large tract of country, the most fertile I have ever beheld, and probably the most fertile yet explored in America. The country is beautifully interspersed with lakes, some of them near a hundred miles in circumference. Most have outlets leading into Lake Ontario, their ocean. The land rises from the lakes in gentle swells, so that there is not a hill but what is arable. It is a common affair to have thirty bushels of wheat and sixty bushels of corn to the acre.

Canandaigua, named from the lake at the bottom of which it stands, contains sixty houses, some more elegant in their structure than those of any village I know, in Connecticut, Litchfield excepted. Acre lots fronting on Main Street sell at one hundred to two hundred dollars; house lots beyond them, from twenty to forty dollars, and all good land within ten miles, at five dollars. Six years ago the land was bought of Massachusetts by Gorham and Phelps, at less than a shilling currency per acre. The whole country is about as large as Connecticut. It is expected to be divided at the next session of legislature, so that the southern township will make a new county.

I will remain in the northern part, which has the better soil. The only practicing lawyer is Peter Porter, a classmate and fellow law student. A son of Robert Morris, who has made a fortune here, is very hospitable, and I look for success in this agreeable settlement.

Severe hardships have borne without ill consequences to health. The northern part of the county is settled by a hardy, enterprising set of New England farmers and speculators, and is to be preferred to settlements in northern Pennsylvania. The houses are mostly framed, and improvement are making round them very rapidly.

A temporary increase in prosperity will arise from the demands of the settlers on Connecticut’s Lake Erie lands for provisions. A canal by the side of Niagra Falls is frequently spoken of as a project to be consummated after the surrender of the western posts. Augustus Porter, chief surveyor of the Phelps and Gorham from the beginning of the settlement, has viewed the level lands along the falls, and told me that by digging a canal eight miles long a very convenient passage could be effected. Mr. Porter has written to his father at Salisbury to interest himself heavily in the new Connecticut lands and I, with all deference, yet earnestness, advise you to do the same. A canal being opened between Erie and Ontario, the settlers around Lake Erie will have access to the ocean by the river St. Lawrence, or at least to Montreal or Quebec, if the British will not suffer them to go further. The commerce will be to Albany by Oswego River into Oneida Lake; thence up Wood Creek to the landing between which and the headwaters of the Mohawk, a distance of a mile and a half, a canal will be cut next summer.

A fur-trader, met the other day, told me that apples and peaches are as plentiful at Detroit as in Albany. I was lately privy to a sale of wild lands in this country at eight dollars and fifty cents an acre, but it was at the mouth of the Genesee River on Lake Ontario, and promises in time to be a place of trade. Nathaniel Gorham, when he purchased wild lands here, is well known not to have been worth five hundred dollars, and is now a man of immense fortune. Such opportunities still offer.

A farm of most excellent land, containing by accurate measurement three hundred and seventy two acres, lies on the outlet of Canandaigua Lake, sixteen miles from this town, known on the map as Canadaguay. The farm was bought by a tavern keeper of the town, from Phelps and Gorham at a quarter of a dollar per acre, six years ago. The man’s name is Sanburn. He being the first, and for some time, the only tavern keeper here, the proprietors live with him and allowed him his choice. He is now in want of money to fulfill contracts, and offers the farm for cash down at thirty shillings per acre. I suppose he will not take less than three dollars and fifty cents per acre. Part of the tract is flat land overflowed annually and sometimes twice a year, by the outlet. The farm is surrounded by settlements, and will be in three years time a half-joe an acre.

This country is no longer a wilderness. Here are good inhabitants, far better than those of New London, and fine farms, the cleared parts of which are clothed with the most luxuriant herbage. The wild grass on the banks of some of the streams grows so high that a man on horseback cannot see over it without rising on his stirrups. This is not gasconade. Mr. Channing bought a farm three years ago on the Niagara Road at four shillings lawful money per acre, for which he may now take four dollars an acre.

Your dutiful son,

D. Saltonstall