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 firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
On April 19, 1775, the simmering tensions between residents of Great Britain's American colonies and the King's government and army erupted into outright warfare at Lexington and Concord, Mass. These were the first battles of the Revolutionary War.
The diary of Eliakim Garfield, a Revolutionary War soldier, is among the collection of the Fenton History Center.
At that time and for the next 21 years, no white man and very few Indians lived in Chautauqua County. The Iroquois Confederacy held this area as a hunting ground. During the course of the war, most of the constituent Six Iroquois Nations were more or less reluctantly dragged into the fighting on the British side. The brutal frontier atrocities had left little sympathy on the part of the American government and citizens for their defeated aboriginal enemies. They considered the natives an anachronistic inconvenience at best and a present mortal danger at worst. The notion that a group of people who totaled about half the current population of Dunkirk and weren't for the most part even Christians should be holding an amount of land larger than New York state and farming almost none of it while standing in the way of the millions of up and coming, rapidly multiplying American people seemed patently absurd.
The Indians, for their part, weren't stupid. They could see they were destined to get the short end of the stick. The only question they had any say about was how short. So by the late 1790s the Iroquois nations were selling off their undeveloped lands for whatever meager returns they could get and thinking about new ways to make a living. In 1797 at the so-called Treaty of Big Tree, the Senecas sold nearly all of Chautauqua and several other counties to the Holland Land Company. After delays caused by surveying logistics, tax questions, foreign ownership issues and internal organizational problems, the area was opened for settlement very early in the 19th century and the settlers poured in, with pauses caused by the War of 1812 and the "year without a summer," 1816. Among the settlers were about 350 men who had fought in the Revolution and many more who were sons, brothers or other relatives of Revolutionary veterans.
Joseph Garfield was born in April 1780 while the war was still going on, in Sutton, Mass., the fourth of the five children of Eliakim Garfield, a Revolutionary War soldier. After the war, father and son moved to Stratton, Vt., near Wardsboro from which so many of the early families of south central and southeastern Chautauqua County came. Later, Eliakim moved to Saratoga County, N.Y., where he died. Joseph, after spending about four years in Pine Grove, Pa., moved to Busti around 1820.
In 1955, John Bergstrom of Lander, Pa., gave Rupert Loucks, one of our most faithful donors and local historians, a small, leather-bound notebook that had been used by Eliakim mostly between 1771 and 1797, encompassing the entire span of the Revolutionary War and the following 14 years. Loucks recently donated the book to us. On the back page of this old but otherwise unexceptional item, in small writing and bad spelling, is a note:
This Day April ye 19th 1775 the Kings troops Come to Concord and being their maid very unwelcom Returned home with greate speade and much Loss
It is a contemporary record of the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, written down by then 42-year-old Eliakim Garfield about 45 miles to the southwest of the action. One hundred fifty-five years of the little book's history is unknown, but its arrival here is a once in a lifetime thrill, the greatest of my career.
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.
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.