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“Tales of the Past” by Frank Connor

Tales of the Past

Chapter 9 - Information about the Countess of Bath and about the Short family trunk.

by Frank Connor


The town of Livonia was formed from Richmond, formerly called Pittstown, Ontario County, February 12th, 1808. It was named by Col. George Smith, the name taken from that of a Russian province. It originally contained a part of the town of Conesus, which was formed from Livonia and Groveland. Livonia was contained in lots 9 and 10, range 7 of the Phelps and Gorham purchase.

These people purchased from the state of Massachusetts, which originally owned a large part of western New York, about six million acres for which they agreed to pay one million dollars in Massachusetts script. This land they had surveyed into townships six miles square. They sold a considerable portion of this land to early settlers and then in 1790 they sold for 30,000 English pounds to Robert Morris, Philadelphia, merchant and financial backer of the Revolutionary war, their entire purchase, excepting those portions which they had already sold.

Morris sent agents to Europe to dispose of his holdings, which his agents did at a profit to Morris of 5,000 pounds. The English capitalists disposed of their purchase to various parties, one of whom was the Countess of Bath, who purchased a large acreage in Livonia and south. Some of the old deeds go back to that time. After Morris had sold out he discovered that he had practically given away 100,000 acres owing to an error in his survey. Shortly after this he became bankrupt, spent several years in a debtors’ prison and died a pauper.

After the Revolutionary war closed settlers began coming in from the New England states, attracted by the stories told them by returning soldiers and neighbors who had visited the country. After working the rocky land of the New England states the sight of the fertile acres of the Genesee country must have made a wonderful appeal to them. Thousands of acres of the country’s best at a few shillings per acre, streams to furnish power, beautiful lakes well stocked with fish, the woods filled with game of all kinds, these would have appealed to most any man.

And yet I often wonder, “Why the pioneer”? What was it that made him travel to new lands that made him leave friends, relatives and possessions behind, that made him brave the dangers of his travel through hundreds of miles of wooded land filled with none to friendly savages? Surely the hardships he went through after arrival here equaled those he would have endured had he stayed in New England. Many of these early settlers walked from Vermont and Massachusetts carrying a few belongings; those fortunate enough to own a pair of oxen came through in an ox-cart, a slow way but sure.

We have in the school museum several articles which made the trip by ox-cart from the New England states, among them a small jug and set of table forks brought in by the Coykendalls about 140 years ago, a small trunk which the original Phillip Short brought from England in 1623 and which another later Phillip brought here in about 1790, a calf yoke and set of harness hames, spinning wheel and other possessions.

Can you picture in your mind a cabin built of freshly cut logs; the crevices are filled with clay; its roof is thatched with bark laid over poles; it has two openings, one covered with oiled paper and serving as a window, the other larger and in it a door made from small logs split in two and fastened together. Perhaps the door is hinge less, though it may be held up by pieces of leather. Inside, the floor is made from logs hewn flat on one side. At one end of the cabin is a fireplace built from logs and sticks and plastered with clay. Over the fireplace hanging on pegs is the flint-lock rifle loaded and primed, and beside it is the powder horn and bullet pouch. Inside the fire-place a fire is burning under a couple of kettles hanging from a crane. Before the fire-place sits a woman spinning by the light of a candle. The man is busy with a few tools, making perhaps a wooden plow or some other agricultural implement. These two persons have no time to waste. From the roof of the cabin hang a quarter of venison and some herbs and corn. In the corner on the floor are some boxes or bags containing a little grain. These supplies are all that stand between them and starvation, and enough of the grain must be saved to plant in the spring. The furniture of the cabin is home-made and not too plentiful. Outside the wind is blowing the snow around the cabin and the wolves are howling.