As we observe Veterans Day, we remember and thank all our veterans who have served in war and in peacetime. Many wars and conflicts in our nation's history have faded into the history books as living memories are buried in our cemeteries. This coming year will be the 200th year from the beginning of the War of 1812. The United States declared war on England in June 1812. That was less than two years after the first house was built in Jamestown. When the declaration of war finally reached the people in Western New York is not known. Letters and word of mouth plus newspapers delivered by mail or by a traveler would have brought the news.
Clusters of homes in the wilderness were few and far between in the new county of Chautauqua. Primitive roads and trails through the forests connected the few settlements. It was on these roads and trails that Rev. John Spencer could be found as he brought religion to the settlers. The Connecticut Missionary Society sent him to Western New York and it was to this organization that he reported the trials, tribulations and successes in his duties on the frontier. His reports are preserved and have been microfilmed. In the collection of the Fenton History Center are copies from the microfilm of his reports. Included in a report from October 1812, he tells of a British ship on Lake Erie exchanging shots in Chautauqua County with men on the shore. The British ship did not succeed in capturing or injuring anyone. Today this type of incident would be reported to the community and to the world within minutes of its happening. Rev. Spencer's report may be the only contemporary written memory of the action taken by the British ship. Few people would have seen the report then and some of today's researchers would not think to look for such information in reports from a circuit riding minister.
Another part of the Fenton History Center is the person who lived in the home. This is Reuben E. Fenton, who during his years in Congress became known as ''The Soldiers' Friend.'' His efforts in Congress on behalf of veterans and their families earned him this title. Pensions and bounty land were provided for veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 and later wars but often only for injured veterans or the families of those killed in the wars. More acts were passed that provided additional benefits or extended benefits to another segment of the population and Reuben E. Fenton was active in securing these benefits for veterans and their families. It was almost 60 years after the War of 1812 that pensions were granted to many who had been in the War of 1812 and were in need of assistance. Fenton continued to come to the aid of soldiers and their families during the Civil War whether he franked a soldier's letter home or visited local units when they were camped near Washington, D.C.
An October 1812 letter from Rev. John Spencer to the Connecticut Missionary Society relays his account of a British ship’s attack in Chautauqua County.
And remember that the early use of the Fenton Mansion after the city of Jamestown purchased the property was a place for veterans' organizations to meet. It was also the location of the local draft board during World War II and many recruits for that war left Jamestown by bus from the Fenton Mansion. Thank you to all veterans who served ''to keep our country strong and free'' and to the families who ''kept the home fires burning.''
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or email@example.com to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.