Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Winter of 1779 - 1800

A lot of people who research their ancestry are interested not only in finding our who they descend from, but where they came from and what conditions were like. It's difficult to imagine walking from Sherwood to Aurora instead of driving it in 10 minutes; much less remembering to take your gun and knife in case of bears or wolves, and following a blazed trail through a forest of trees 50 feet or more tall. On a recent research trip to the NYS Archives in Albany, I was thinking about neighboring towns that used to be included in Scipio. Not only towns, but counties. I picked up a book titled "History of Seneca County New York 1766 to 1876."
Chapter 3 starts off like this: "At the close of the Revolution northern and western New York was a wilderness, but the march of armies and the forays of detachments had made known the future promise of these erst untrodden regions, and Companies, State and Government, took immediate steps as policy and duty seemed to dictate, to acquire their ownership. It is notable that the seasons seemed to conspire to render the woods untenable to the Indians when the time approached for the first few isolated settlements of adventurous pioneers. The winter of 1779 – 1800 was marked by its unprecedented severity. All western New York lay covered by a blanket of snow full five feet in depth. Wild animals, hitherto numerous, perished by thousands. The dissolving snow in Spring disclosed the forests filled with the carcasses of the deer, and the warlike Senecas became dependents on English bounty and hoped for British success.”
These few paragraphs, flowery as they are, still paint a vivid portrait of what that winter was like. Imagine our early settlers, most living in crude buildings or log huts of one or two rooms, huddled around a fireplace while the wind outside howled and the snow banks piled up against the walls of the house and the barns and outbuildings. Imagine going outside for more wood, or to feed and care for the livestock. An illness serious or life-threatening enough to need a doctor’s presence would require a ride through snowdrifts in a forest filled with hungry predators, if there was even a doctor close enough to return. People learned to be self-sufficient, or they did not stay long in the wilderness that was New York.

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