Field Notes of Melvin W. Lethbridge

These "field notes" primarily cover various history topics of the area around Northville, Fulton county, NY and adjoining land in Hamilton and Saratoga counties.

Source:  "New York State Historical Asociation Proceedings of the Twenty fifth Annual Meeting with the Quarterly Journal," Vol. VI, 1925, pages 93-100.

One of the most indefatigable searchers for local history data in the State is Melvin W. Lethbridge of Amsterdam.  Printed below is a report in the form of "field notes" of some of his recent discoveries:

On the road from Northville to Wells about five miles from northville, are the ruins of an old stone house standing on the west or river side of the road.  This house was built of limestone, a rock foreign to this section, and in the gable end which stands facing the road are port holes used by the inhabitants for defense against the Indians.  Thinking that there might be something of general interest connected with this house I made inquiry and Mrs. May Shepard of Northville gave me the following article which she had preserved, and which was published in the "Oracle", the Gloversville High School Bulletin in April 1922 and later in the "Adirondack Herald" of Wells, N.Y., and which was possibly written by a direct descendant of the family mentioned therein.

Today a few miles from Northville, Fulton County, N.Y., on the road to Wells, stand the ruins of an old stone house which was built in the latter half of the eighteenth century.  Perhaps you have stopped and viewed the ruins of this antique dwelling while on a days pleasure trip, and have wondered what stories its old stone walls could tell if they were given the ability to speak.

The ruin has a history

David Isdell of Scotland, coming to Wells from what is now Jefferson County, N.Y., from a settlement of Scotch and French families near the present city of Watertown, N.Y., built this house between 1775 and 1785.  He was a Revolutionary War veteran and still has descendants in Gloversville and Buffalo, N.Y., and in Washington, D.C.

If you have seen the house, you will remember that only the front and rear gable ends are still standing, in the middle of each of which is exposed two stone fireplaces, one in the cellar and one on the main floor, although the cellar is nearly filled with rubbish from the falling structure and weeds and other plant life.  This makes it impossible for the observer to discern an underground passage which led from near the south fireplace out past an old barn built of heavy timbers, and continuing perhaps a quarter of a mile, and ending in a huge rock concealed by thick firs.  And this is the story connected with the house.

It was a bright morning and Catherine and Ruth Isdell started on a days berrying trip taking their six year old, fair haired sister Mary.  About noon the girls ate their lunch and then proceeded to finish picking.  Little Mary becoming wearied with the task, wandered off, so the sisters thought, in search of a cool, shady spot to take a nap;  the tired child wandered about for some time, when suddenly from behind a clump of bushes the figure of an Indian appeared, and picking Mary up in his arms he carried her off.  She made little resistance as being carried was much better than walking when one was tired and sleepy.

When the girls returned home and Mary was not with them, a thorough search was made all through the woods where they had been.  It lasted far into the night, when Mr. Isdell returned, tired almost to the point of exhaustion, only to shake his head sadly at the anxious faces.  For days the earch was continued, Mr. Isdell making trips to the neighbors two or three miles distant, and to Northville but no trace of the little girl was found.  Over and over the ground the searchers went, but it was a thankless task and after many months the last flicker of hope died.

Then one day a man came to the house.  He was bent with age, and walked with a shuffling gait with the aid of a cane.  Everything about him was mysterious, and they never knew his name.  Finally when they had harbored him several days, mention was made of the lost child, and immediately an overpowering depression spread over the family and all were silent.  After a while the stranger arose and shuffled over to the fireplace, there he stood for some time before the fire, then he turned with a whimsical smile and said "For two days I have know there was some sorrow in your lives: I have not told you before, thinking you would perhaps turn me out, but I have the gift of prophecy.  Dont be incredulous, as I mean no harm: I forsee for you some news of your daughter.  I cant say when, but it will come."  No one spoke and without any more words he shuffled out and away, never to return.  For a while the Isdell's looked for the predicted message, but none came.  However the strangers prophecy came true.  One day a youth who had escapted from the Indians came to the Isdell home for refuge and there told of a light haired young girl's death in the Indian Camp only a few days before his escape.

                                                                        (Signed)  M. Rogers

When I examined this place I was struck by the fact I mintioned in the first paragrapho f the house being built of limestone.  What labor it must have been to bring this for miles by ox team, as the nearest place I know of is near Cranberry Creek, which is from twelve to fifteen miles distant, and why was this done when there was millions of tons of rock within a stones throw of the house, in fact the rear end of the cellar wall is laid on a large boulder which was to large to break, and therefore became a part of the wall.

In looking over the old cemeteries along the Sacandaga River and adjacent thereto the writer was struck by the number of pre-Revolutionary War names found therein.  In the Ferndale Cemetery about one mile below and across the river from Conkling, lie the remains of the founders of Conklingville together with several other Revolutionary Soldiers.  Again at East Day, which is half a mile up the river from Conklingville, we find more Revolutionary soldiers.  At Day Center others are buried.  In the Cold Brook Cemetery, about seven miles above Day Center, and also where a road crosses the river from Edinburgh to Batchelorville near the beginning of the road we again find them.  Among others is the name of Beecher, who first settled Edinburgh, which was origianlly called "Beecher's Hollow" and still goes by that name among the older natives.  This search can be continued up the river to Lake Pleasant which is the head of one branch of the Sacandaga.

In the Cemetery at Clark's School House, which  is about three miles north from Edinburgh and which can be reached by going up the hill through the village and taking the first left hand turn, are buried several Revolutionary Soldiers.  Among them is Captain Ziba Hunt who settled Huntsville (now called West Day) and died there September 10, 1820, in his 75th year.  He left a son Ziba who died May 23, 1860, in his 74th year, and there are numerous descendatns living in that vicinity today.  Also a Samuel Downing, who settled on Edinburgh Hill of whom the following tale is told, and which I have verified through several eye witnesses:

He was an old man and was so considered by his neighbors, which seemed to nettle him, so he made the boast that he would cut down a maple tree for fire wood on his one hundred and first birthday when he was one hundred years old.  His family made preparations for this event, which occurred early in the month of December, by having large quantities of apples, doughnuts and cider on hand, and the neighbors for miles came to the "Bee."  The old man went manfully to his task and finished felling the tree after which a good time was had, and he said that he expected to live some time yet, which he did, dying at the ripe age of 105 years, 2 months and 18 days on February 18, 1867.  

It is stated on his headstone that he was the last one of the Revolutionary Pensioners, which may or may not be correct; if not, he came close to it.

On the shore of Lake Pleasant, which is the head of one branch of the Sacandaga River, and about one and one-half miles in on a trail which leaves the mountain road to the lake at Signboard Hill, and bears to the left around the head of the lake, at the foot of Speculator Mountain, in a family cemetery lies the body of a Revolutionary soldier together with his wife and son.  This man settled here shortly after the Revolutionary War and hewed a farm out of the silderness and now rests peacefully there.  His name was Colonel Loring Peck, and the place is yet known as "Pecks Clearing."  It is now the property of the State and is overgrown with woods.  It should be cleared and preserved by the State.

Near a place now called Riceville which is about one mile south from mayfield in the Sacandaga Valley west of the river, a family named Woodworth settled in pre-Revolutionary times.  They furnished at least two soldiers, one of whom was a Captain in the Revolutionary Army, and in the Riceville Cemetery about one-half mile south of the village, and one and one-half miles from Mayfield, Fulton Co., N.Y., lies the body of another Woodworth who was a gallant Revolutionary soldier and poet.  He settled, married and ied near there, and one of his daughters married a Mr. Darling.  Mr. Darling settled in Benson, Hamilton Co., N.Y., and his son, George Darling, now resides there.  This man, Samuel Woodworth, will probably be remembered by one song of the many he wrote, long after he is personally forgotten, as he was the aughor of "The Old Oaken Bucket."  By a curious co-incidence on a farm which practically surrounds this cemetery and was one of the Woodworth farms (but not Samuel's) almost directly opposite the cemetery in teh front yard of a farm house is an old well, with a windlass and old oaken bucket hanging thereon as the writer has personally seen and drank out of it.

While searching for old family cemeteries, the writer found the Dieffendorf -Pettingill family cemetery which is located on the south side of the Schoharie Creek about five miles from its mouth, on a hill overlooking the creek.  Near there are the remains of an old cellar.  Thinking it might have a history, he made inquiry, with the following result.  Captain Samuel Pettingill settled there prior to the Revolutionary War and built a log cabin for his home.  At the time of the Tory Butler's raid Captain Pettingill was away from home but his family received warning in time and went to a ravine near the house where they hid until the men returned and drove the Tories away.  On the way to the hiding place one of the little girls fell and hurt herself and to prevent the Indians from hearing her cries, her mother stuffed a handkerchief in her mouth.  The girl lived, grw up and married, and this tale was told me by her great-grand daughter.  As soon as the Tories and Indians were driven away, the heighbors put out the fire in the house and the wheat stack, which had been gathered prior to the raid, they took the remaining logs of the house and built a pent house or peaked roof over the cellar, sodding it well.  They thrashed the wheat out, and Captain Pettingill with his family lived in this cellar all the next winter and subsisted principally on the scorched wheat which he had ground, till the next spring.  Captain Pettingill's wife lies in the family cemetery, with his descendants, but hs has no grave.  He lost his life at the battle of Oriskany and his body with other soldiers who died there was destroyed by the wolves.

Eleazer, son of John Slocum, who was born May 15, 1744, in Dartmouth, Mass., married Anstace Viall there March 14, 1765, moved to Washington County, N.Y., where he enlisted as a soldier in the Revolution.  He and his wife were both members of the Society of Friends.  After the close of the Revolutionary War they settled within sight of this place (Northville Cemetery) as pioneers and here he died in December 1826.  She died in Otisco, N.Y. in August 1829.  They had ten children:  1 Joseph; 2 Fortanutus; 3 Sarah; 4 Fitzgerald; 5 John; 6 Deborah; 7 Eleazer; 8 Elias; 9 mary; 10 Elizabeth.

Joseph, son of Eleazer Slocum, was born February 6, 1766, in Dartmouth, Mass., reared a member fo the Society of Friends, came with parents to Washington County, N.Y., and there enlisted as a soldier in the Revolutionary War and served in teh 13th Regiment.  This was the only instance in the family of a "Quaker" where a father and son served in the Revolutionary War.  He married in 1790 Elizabeth daugther of Caleb Wright of Cambridge, N.Y., who was also a Revolutionary Soldier, bought a farm embracing the grounds of this cemetary and settled here in 1792.  He was a Petitioner and Bondsman to the State for guns to protect the early settlers here agains savage aborigines.  He promoted by this creek the first flouring mill in this part of the country.  They died here, he October 8, 1815, and she July 6, 1838.  They had ten children: 1 Elizabeth; 2 Reuben; 3 Rachel; 4 Caleb; 5 Azubah; 6 Sara; 7 Humphrey; 8 Annis; 9 Elias; 10 Joseph.

Caleb Wright son of Joseph Slocum was born on this farm October 22, 1797.  He married here on November 26, 1818, Elizabeth Bass who was born in Northville November 25, 1798, and was a daughter of Jeremiah Bass and Elizabeth Bentley his wife.  Caleb W. Slocum was the pioneer carder and cloth dresser by this creek, and for twenty-five years Captain of the Militia, magistrate and later a farmer, cattle raiser, merchant and tanner, after a particularly busy, successful and honorable life he died at Northville, N.Y., July 14, 1864; and his wife July 26, 1866.  Caleb Wright Slocum and wife Elizabeth Bass, with his parents, grandfather, sister Sara born Aug 5, 1803, died May 3, 1817, brother Elias born Nov 9, 1811, died Dec 13, 1828, were first buried in the Ridge Road Cemetery one mile south of this Monument together with Caleb's children who died near here.  Their remains were removed and laid in this lot September 1, 1898, by his son Charles Elisha Slocum, sixteen bodies being buried in one large grave.  Caleb Wright Slocum and wife Elizabeth Bass had eleven children: 1 Lewis Bass born Sept. 13 , 1820, died Mar 5, 1883, unmarried and buried here; 2 Abigail Elizabeth born July 17, 122, married Dr. John Riley, Sept. 28, 1843, died and buried here; 3 Sarah born July 4, 1824, died Oct 27, 1870 at Grand Rapids, Mich., unmarried; 4 Annis born Aug. 1, 1826, died Mar. 11, 1846, and buried here; 5 Clarissa born Mar. 11, 1828, married Ephriam H. Pierce Sept. 8, 1846, died July 1, 1850; 6 Dr. John Caleb born Apr. 18, 1830, in the Union Army 1863-64, married Jennie E. Doods and died Nov. 11, 1897, at Orlando, Fla., and buried at Dayton, O.; 7 Joseph W. born Feb. 21, 1832, married Elma Hogeboom died Nov. 18, 1883, at El Paso, Ill.; he was a soldier in the Civil War from 1861 to 1865; 8 Captain Elias born Mar. 27, 1834; in the Union Army 1861-63, married Jennie E. Currier, died Sept. 26, 1869, in Leslie, Mich.; 9 Wright Newton born Apr. 10, 1837, married Laura E. Brundage and died in 1919; she born 1841 and died 1903; 10 Eleazer born June 21, 1839, a soldier in the Union Army 1862-1863, married Cornelia J. Cowley and died mary 1886 in Iowa; 11 Charles Elihu, M.D., born Dec 30, 1841, married Sophia I. Craver of Defiance, O.  Of all the Slocums who settled or was born at Northfille there is not now (Sept. 1, 1924) one of the name residing there, all having migrated to other parts of the country.  The site of the old mill is visible yet and a grist mill adjoins it.


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