[The following excerpt, “History of Essex, New York”, has been taken from Chapter XXXIV (pp. 540-559) of History of Essex County with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, edited by H. P. Smith, published by D. Mason & Co., Publishers and Printers, 63 West Water St., Syracuse, NY 1885. Text has been cross referenced between the print original (in my possession) and an online facsmimile found at history.rays-place.com.]
History of the Town of Essex
ESSEX was formed from Willsborough on the 4th of April, 1805. It lies on the shore of the lake, north of the center of the county. It is bounded on the north by the town of Willsborough, east by the lake, south by Westport, and west by Lewis. The southeastern coast is marked by the projection into the lake of Split Rock. On the south side of Split Rock is an oval bay called Grog Harbor, from the seizure and destruction at that place of a bateau-load of rum, captured from the British during the War of the Revolution. The rum was spilled into the harbor to save it from recapture. It is nearly opposite the mouth of Otter Creek and Fort Cassin on the Vermont side. In 1814 the British, designing to seize the stores and ammunitions at Vergennes, attacked the fort The onslaught was made on a Sunday afternoon and was witnessed by large numbers of people who stood on the mountain side south of Split Rock. After the firing of two hundred cannon shots and the dismantling of five of the seven guns of the fort, the discomfited fleet withdrew. This defeat of the British was the precursor of their subsequent overthrow at Plattsburg. On the north side of Split Rock sparkle the waters of Whallon’s bay, a place of surpassing natural beauty.
In 1786 Judge R. A. Heirn settled on a tract of a thousand acres of land west of this bay, erecting large dwellings, barns and tenement houses in the English style, and assuming manorial dignities. His wife was a dusky daughter of the West Indies. The manor is now owned and occupied by Wesley G. Lyon. (See chart made by Judge Heirn and inserted in subsequent page.) Judge Heirn engaged largely in the lumber business, and, through some mismanagement, lost heavily and was forced to dispose of his estates and leave for other parts. The old buildings are still standing and have been put in repair by the present owner. “The broad piazzas, the lawn of many acres sloping down to the shore, the splendid elms and fruit trees, remain as they were planned and set by the original proprietor.”
In the northwestern part of the town is the Boquet mountain, as it is locally termed, with an elevation of about fifteen hundred feet above tide. It is one of the most symmetrical and impressive mountains in the county. The Boquet river flows northerly through nearly the center of the town. It has been described in the preceding history of Willsborough. The formation known by geologists as the Terraces of Lake Champlain are very marked in Essex. They run nearly parallel with the line of the shore, and can be traced for some miles into the interior. The surface of Lake Champlain is only about ninety feet above tide-water, and in the process of excavating in the town, large quantities of marine shells are discovered every year. These shells are also found on the summit of Poke-o’-Moonshine mountain in Chesterfield, a mass of solid azoic rock over two thousand feet above tide. The soil of Essex is clay, loam and gravel, and is well adapted for farming and grazing purposes. The township contains some of the finest farms on Lake Champlain. Large quantities of hay, beans, wool and butter are annually exported. The mineral composition of the soil is a hypersthene rock overiaia with Chazy and Trenton limestone and Hudson river slate. Potsdam sandstone crops out in places along the line of the Boquet river. The limestone is of a superior quality for building purposes and the manufacture of lime. Large quarries have been opened in the town for public works, for building the canals, and for the masonry of the Vermont Central Railroad. It is so stratified that blocks of nearly every thickness can be easily quarried. It takes a high black polish, and has been much used in ornamental work. Great quantities have been burned into lime -in the village of Essex and shipped to various markets. A fine cement rock is also found in this town. The formations of rock are highly interesting on account of the varied and numerous fossils contained in them. In the south part of the town, on the lake shore at Cannon Point, is a remarkable natural curiosity, giving certain evidence of a prehistoric eruption. From a point near the shore, bearing unmistakable signs of having at one time formed the crater of a volcano, is a center from which radiate three veins, or rather streams of igneous rock, one extending towards the lake and constituting the point, one running to the northwest, which has been traced nearly two miles, and the third running to the southwest, which has been traced more than three miles. This melted rock has also filled in many of the horizontal spaces between the strata of lime rock in the vicinity, as may be readily seen along the bluffs of the lake shore. The rock of this overflow is a handsome porphyry filled with rectangular crystals of compact feldspar, which is very hard, susceptible of the highest polish, and has been much used for ornamental purposes.
In the south part of the town, on the lot owned by William R. Derby, is found a very valuable deposit of rose quartz of a superior quality and adapted to the manufacture and finishing of china and stoneware. Many porphyry dykes are also found in this town.
The territory embraced in the boundaries of the town of Essex, in common with the other lake towns of the county, was first taken from the hands of the aborigines by the French. On the 13th of June, King Louis XV, of France gave a large tract of land to Sieur Louis Joseph Robart, his storekeeper at Montreal. Nathaniel B. Sylvester, in his valuable work, Northern New York and the Adirondack Wilderness, quotes the description of this seigneurie as follows: “Three leagues front by two leagues in depth on the west side of Lake Champlain, taking, in going down, one league below [north of] the River Boquet, and in going up, two and one-half above said river.” The French, who never effected a settlement, were forced to recede before the power of British aggressions on the conquest of 1760. Their possessions were practically confiscated by the British government and disregarded in the location of its subsequent grants. The French claimants for a long time appealed to both the courts and crown of England to obtain the restitution of their possessions, but without success. In many cases they were conciliated by equivalent grants of land in Canada. Even since the Revolution they have a number of times asserted their claims in the courts of this country. In 1809 the Supreme court of New York rendered a decision adverse to the validity of the French concessions. (See Johnson’s rep. 18, 163.)
There was no settlement in the town which tended to the permanent colonization of the country until the arrival of William Gilliland in the spring of 1765. This eminent pioneer first purchased parts of the seigneurie of Sieur Robart, king’s storekeeper at Montreal, and attempted to found a baronial manor, in imitation of those situated on the Hudson river. His first tract was six miles front on the lake and from three to four deep. He afterwards purchased other extensive tracts, a full account of which and his later persecutions is given in earlier chapters of this work.
He was born near the city of Armagh, Ireland, about 1734, and received his education there. His cultured manners, general intelligence, and fine person, made him a favorite wherever he was known. He became attached to a young lady of fortune and noble parentage named Lady Betsey Eckles. The disparity in their birth and fortune reared a barrier, and her family secluded her and used their influence to secure his banishment. He then enlisted in the 35th Regiment of the line, and after four years’ service was discharged, alone and friendless, in Philadelphia. He went to New York, entered a prominent mercantile house, and within a year became a partner. He married Elizabeth Phagan (February 8th, 1759), the beautiful and accomplished daughter of his partner, receiving with her a dowry of £ 1,500. His later operations in Essex county are, as we have said, detailed in preceding chapter.
He has numerous descendants still living, in this town and in Willsborough, which it will be interesting to name.
William Gilliland’s daughter Elizabeth married Daniel Ross about 1785, and settled at what was then called Elizabeth, now the village of Essex. His daughter, Eliza Ross, was the first white child born in the town (1786). Daniel Ross was the first settler in what is now the town of Essex. He built the first iron works in Willsborough in 1800, and was always a most liberal patron of the iron trade in all its branches. He was sheriff of Clinton county before its division, and represented that county in the State Legislature. He was appointed the first judge of Essex county, when it was formed, and held the office nearly thirty years. One of his sons, General Henry H. Ross, afterwards a prominent man in Essex county, was one of the first white children born in the town (1790). General Ross lived in Essex all his life and died in September, 1862. He was unanimously elected the first judge of the county under the new constitution of 1846, and several times represented his district in Congress. As adjutant of the Thirty-seventh Regiment of Militia he served on General McComb’s staff at the battle of Plattsburg, and was afterwards and for some time a major-general in the militia. Of his descendants, his youngest son, Anthony J. B. Ross, two daughters, Mrs. Ellen B. Fairbanks (widow of Rev. J. N. Fairbanks, an Episcopal clergyman), and Frances J. Ross, now live together in the old homestead called “Hickory Hill” in the village of Essex. This homestead was built by Henry H. Ross in 1820. In 1822 Henry H. Ross married Susannah Blanchard, daughter of Judge Anthony J. Blanchard, of Salem, N. Y. She died February 26th, 1877.
James B. Ross, another son of Henry H. Ross, is now practicing law in Denver, Col. His son, Henry H. Ross, 2d, in July, 1881, married Anna Noble, and in December, 1882, died at Denver, leaving one child, a son, James H. H. Ross, who was born the day before his father died. He now lives with his mother in the village of Essex, at her place called “Rosslyn,” and represents the fifth generation in the direct line of the descendants of William Gilliland. The other descendants of Daniel Ross and Elizabeth Gilliland were William D. Ross, who passed all his life in the village of Essex, and died in 1844. He was extensively engaged in lumbering and mercantile business, and the manufacture of iron. His descendants are now living in Chicago, Plattsburg, and in Washington county, N. Y. Edward Ross, another son, who died unmarried in 1825, aged thirty-three years. The two daughters of Daniel Ross were Eliza, wife of Charles Platt and afterwards of Ransom Noble, late of Essex, and Sarah, wife of Charles Noble, late of Elizabethtown.
The children of Henry H. Ross, now living in Essex county, are James B. Ross, lawyer, of Denver, Col.; Frederick H. Ross, merchant, of Dowagiac, Mich.; and John Ross, for many years engaged in building steam and sail vessels, and in general wood manufacturing at Essex, and flO\v of the Plattsburg Dock Company. His adopted daughter, Susannah Ross, is the wife of Rev. E. D. Cooper, D.D., rector of the Church of the Redeemer at Astoria, Long Island, N. Y. Sarah Shumway, granddaughter of Charles H. Platt and Eliza Ross (above named daughter of Daniel Ross and Elizabeth Gilliland) is also a resident of Essex.
Charlotte Gilliland, another daughter of William Gilliland, was married about 1786 to Stephen Cuyler. Their son, John Cuyler, married Phoebe Hoffnagle. Of their children now living in the town of Willsborough are John B. Cuyler and Susannah Cuyler, who reside together about two miles south of the village of Willsborough. Other descendants of Stephen Cuyler are living in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Another daughter of William Gilliland, Jane Gilliland, was married to John Bleecker, of Albany, where many of his descendants now reside.
His other child, William Gilliland, settled near Plattsburg, the present residence of his descendants.
The sketch or chart on the next page is a fac-simile of an original map found among the papers of the late General Ross, and forms a comparison of the handwriting and statements, with other early records, deeds and surveys showing the ownership and description of lands in the vicinity at the date of its making; it is identified as the work of Robert A. Heirn, whose history has been elsewhere given in this chapter. It includes a large tract then owned by him, and was made in the year 1786. It is without doubt the oldest sketch in existence showing the location of farming lands and highways in Essex county, just after the Revolution.
The following is a statement showing the present owners of the tracts named in the map, or of tracts included in or including said tracts, furnished by Mr. Anthony J. B. Ross, of Essex:
OLD MAP. PRESENT OWNERS.
Gilliland Block-house farm James B. Ross.
Higgins David S. Hayward.
Ross Northerly part, including the
house, designated on map William R. Derby.
Southerly part Belden Noble.
Easterly part Essex Village.
Gilliland Easterly part Essex Village.
Central part Farm of A. J. B. Ross & Sisters.
Westeriy part Adam K. Stafford & M. McFarland.
Heath Easterly part Village of Essex.
Westerly part Adam K. Stafford.
Northerly part Ezra K. Parkhill.
Southerly part Henry H. Noble.
Hoffnagle, 100 acres, (No. 4) Henry H. Noble.
Heath lot, 100 acres, Henry H. Noble.
200 acres, (next south) Northerly part Roswell C. Waite.
200 acres, Southerly part Samuel D. Tuttle.
Botts, Samuel D. Tuttle.
Hoffnagle, 100 acres, (No. 3) Stephen D. Derby.
Jewett, 100 acres, Stephen D. Derby.
W. Low lot, 50 acres, Stephen D. Derby.
Hally’s lot, 50 acres, Stephen D. Derby.
Hoffnagle lot, 160 acres, (No. 1) John Burt.
Havens lot, Wesley G. Lyon.
The lot obtained of Bolts, 125 acres, Westerly part Joseph W. Cross.
The lot I live on, 110 acres Easterly part, Wesley G. Lyon.
My 600 acres Easterly part Wesley G. Lyon.
Westerly part Jos. W. Cross & G. J. Walker.
C. Havens, 100 acres Gardner J. Walker.
I. Daniels. Michael Hyland.
Amos Stafford Ira A. Stafford.
Benjamin Stafford Ira A. Stafford.
Hoffnagle, 110 acres, (No. 2) Horace E. Sheldon.
Daniels & Stillwell, 200 acres Sorrell Jordo & Hazelton.
E. Eggleston. Titus H. Bigelow.
Anthony J. B. Ross has, in his custody a paper in the handwriting of General Henry H. Ross, containing valuable historical memoranda relating to the town of Essex. It was written about 1840. It states that the first settlers were from Duchess county, and numbered Daniel Ross, Isaac Sheldon, Thomas Pray, and Abram Reynolds. Shortly afterward Amos and Benjamin Stafford came from Scituate, Rhode Island. The first school in the town was kept by Mrs. Erasmus Towner. The first male teacher was Enoch F. Henry, who taught in 1789. The first tavern was built by William Ring in 1786. The first grist-mill was erected in 1810, at Boquet, by William D. Ross. About the same time and at the same place he built a rolling and slitting-mill and nail factory. The first store was built and conducted in the village of Essex in 1784 by Daniel Ross, who about the same year built a saw-mill at Boquet and a grist-mill at Willsborough. The first regular religious service was initiated by Henry Boynham,an English Episcopalian, in 1800. Delevan Delance, a resident of Essex, was one of the earliest sheriffs of the county. Reuben Whallon, of Whallonsburgh, held the office of first judge of the old Court of Common Pleas. The first law office in the towns of Essex and Wilisborough was built of stone about midway between the two villages about 1800 by Judge Martin Aiken. It is now a tenement house on the farm of Benjamin Fairchild.
Other pioneers of Essex were Daniel Murray, Henry Van Ormand, Dr. Colborn Clemens (the first physician), David and Abner Reynolds, Nehemiah Payn James Eldrich, Thomas Stafford, E. Eggleston, and Richard Eggleston.
Soon after the close of the Revolution, and before the inhabitants of the town had settled into the habitual repose of continued peace, a block-house was constructed about three-fourths of a mile north of the village of Essex on the farm now owned by James B. Ross (now called Faulderwood). It was an pretentious structure built of logs, and evidently intended rather as a protection against the unbridled ferocity of Indian hatred, than against the assaults of civilized enemies. In 1799 upon the formation of the county it was converted into a court-house, and used as such until, under the act of 1807, the county buildings were erected at Elizabethtown. There is considerable uncertainty about the date of the construction of this building. Mr. Watson in his valuable history has united with French’s Gazetteer in placing the date as late as 1797. But, as will be seen by reference, it is indicated in the Heirn chart made in 1786 and printed in these pages. Captain Martin Eggleston thinks it was erected in 1775, but this seems improbable from the slight possibility that it could survive the devastations of the war, and the fact that there was probably no need of a block-house here at so early a date. The most probable theory, therefore, seems to be that it was built soon after the War of the Revolution.
Resuming the narrative of early settlement it may be stated that General Ransom Noble came to Essex in about 1800 and engaged successfully in the tannery, lumber, and iron business. His sons, H. and B. Noble, succeeded him in business. Henry Noble, another son, now deceased, settled at Elizabethtown where his family now reside. Charles Noble, also a son, formerly resided in New York city. The family of Harmon Noble, deceased, now live in Essex, and the family of Belden Noble, are at Washington, D. C. Henry Harmon Noble, son of Harmon Noble, and the only male representative of the family at Essex, resides in the house formerly occupied