JOSIAH AND MERCY BENNETT
The First Generation of Norway, NY
Herkimer County, NY
This story of the settlement early Norway, NY and Josiah and Mercy Bennett was contributed to us back in the year 1998 by Carol A. Haagensen, who excerpted it from the book Josiah and Mercy Bennett of Herkimer County, NY and 574 descendants 1798 to 1975, by George W. Clapp, copyright 1975, Canoga Park, California. The original book with some pre-published markup pages was given to Carol A. Haagensen by Mr. Clapp in 1975. It was typed by Carol A. Haagensen for inclusion in our predecesor combined-county site Herkimer/Montgomery County GenWeb.
There were about 33 dwellings in the village at the peak of its population, a century and a half ago, and fewer than 200 families in the entire township. Now there are about half that number and the village has no post office, no store, no business of any kind. Only the old town hall, with NORWAY above its door, tells you that this is Norway Village. The entire area was a primitive forest of beech and maple when the first settler arrived in 1787. (Photo of the old Norway Town Hall 1816).
"The town contains portions of the second and third allotments of the Royal Grant and not any other original patents or grants from the Crown or State," reads Benton's 1856 History of Herkimer County. And what was the Royal Grant?
In 1761, Sir William Johnston and others sought the King's Letters Patent on 40,000 acres of land to be bought from the Indians. In due course Sir William received his patent with the Royal Seal and the land thereafter was referred to as the Royal Grant. At his death both title and land passed to his son John, a Loyalist who fled to Canada at the outbreak of the Revolution. At the war's end the new State of New York declared him "convicted and attained of Voluntarily adhering to the fleets and armies of the King of Great Britain" and his estate forfeit. New York then advertised acreage, the proceeds to reduce debts incurred in prosecuting the war.
It fell to another Rhode Islander. Jeremiah Potter, to become the first settler in 1789. As a historian of 1893 puts it, "marvelous stories of the cheap and fertile lands of the Royal Grant in 'York State' had reached their ears and they resolved to leave Rhode Island and carve out new homes in the then far-off and almost unknown wilderness."
The town was organized April 10, 1792 and originally included the present towns of Norway, Russia, Ohio, Remsen, Fairfield, and parts of Newport. "Half of Norway's pioneer settlers prior to 1800 were from Rhode Island," said the Norway Tidings, a century later. Among those Rhode Islanders were Pardon and Henry Tillinghast and also Joseph, William and Job Bly, into whose families the Bennetts and Pullmans later married. Others were from Connecticut, Vermont, and other New England states; some from the eastern counties of New York. Among the earliest of those settlers were Mercy's grandfather, John Pullman, and young Ozias Gibbs, whose unborn son, James, we shall meet later (in this book).
Says Benton in his county history, "It was often the case that settlers would come into the town, make a small clearing, put up a log house, and make all the preparations they could in one season, return home in the fall of the year, and bring on their families the next spring." Such a one was Thomas Manley, who opened a small clearing and erected his log cabin in 1789, then in March of the following year brought from Bennington Co., Vermont, on an ox sled, his wife and son Ira, then but a few weeks old.
Amos Ives came to Herkimer County in May 1795 from Wallingford, Connecticut in a cart drawn by two yoke of oxen and a horse. With him were his wife and eight children. They reached Little Falls, on the Mohawk River, in 14 days of travel. "From there northward was an almost unbroken wilderness. It took two days to reach the town of Salisbury," says the Tidings. In that township, about half the distance from Little Falls to Noway, the family settled, but Amos Jr. went to Norway before 1810. "From his log house to Black Creek was an unbroken forest, and remained so for ten years," the Tidings reported.
Such was Norway in the first years of the new century -- a scattering of rugged pioneers, each surviving the snowy winters in a tiny cabin built with his own hands of logs felled while clearing little clearings were flashes of sunlight in the surround dark mass of the primeval forest.
Henry and Mehitable Bennet, with four or more children, trudged through that inhospitable and forbidding tangle soon after 1800. Our first evidence of their presence in Norway is a deed dated January 5, 1805. But they must have arrived somewhat earlier for the deed records not a purchase, but a sale by Henry Bennet -- fifty acres, at six dollars an acre, to Daniel Bly. His wife Mehitable Bennet, joined in the deed, signing with her mark. (photocopy of the original deed).
Census records before 1850 show by name only the heads of families; others in the households by sex and age-groups. Henry Bennet does not appear in the Norway census of 1800, but is found there in 1810. Both he and his wife are shown as "45 or over," and probably nearer to 55. With them in 1810 were a boy and two girls between 16 and 25 years of age and one other -- a boy who was between 10 and 12 years old.
Clearing the heavily wooded land, a labor of many years, produced quantities of wood ashes, from which potash could be made and sold. The Tiding names Amos Ives, Jr., whom we met on Page 2, as proprietor of an ashery. He also farmed, burned lime, and kept tavern. His only son, Alvah, married Mercy's sister, Eliza, and continued his father's business. Others produced potash, too, but this was not Norway's principal product.
"The Mohawk Valley and the Schoharie were once the granaries of the Albany and New York markets," Benton tells us. But, he explains, the coming of the Erie Canal between Albany and Buffalo in 1825 opened for settlement areas in western New York and along the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio where land was cheaper, the yield per acre greater, and harvests nearly two weeks earlier. Norway and its neighbors could not compete, and grain growing yielded to dairy farming. Various of the New England emigrants had brought with them the art of cheese making. A century after the town's beginnings the Tiding reported, "Norway is a cheese dairy town. A few hay and dry stock farms and the butter dairies of Alanson Bly and E.H. Dorn are exceptions."
Norway's earlier prosperity had been much enhanced by the "State Road," running between Johnstown (about 40 miles up the Mohawk from Albany) and Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, Jefferson County. This "great highway" opened in 1807-8, was of course far from being a highway in the modern sense, being merely a crude wagon road through the forest. But it was a way to export the region's produce and it ran right through Norway, fixing the location of Norway Village. Very likely it was used by Josiah and Mercy on their way to LeRay in Jefferson County, in 1820.
The State Road also brought commerce through Norway. A small hotel built in 1834 was purchased ten years later by E. B. Pullman, Mercy's uncle, who ran it in connection with his farm. By the 1840s Norway had begun to decline. It's population peak was in 1825, when the State Census showed 1168 inhabitants of the township, despite the fact that even then "quite a portion was primitive forest," as the Tidings reported. The Erie Canal, completed in that year, was followed in the early 1840s by the Black River Canal, connecting it with the Black River to form a water route that paralleled the old State road to Lake Erie. This new route and the developing railroads ended the usefullness of the old highway. By 1880 Norway's population had declined to 1045 and the present population is estimated to be about half that number.
ENTRIES IN JOSIAH BENNET'S BIBLE
The profile above was excerpted from the original book and submitted to us by Carol A. Haagensen, who back in 1998 was coordinator of the long-defunct NYGenWeb's Unknown County page. At "Unknown County", researchers who were unsure of the specific NY State county their ancestors came from could post queries in hopes other researchers would recognize their "lost" families who migrated out to Michigan and other states.
George W. Clapp, the writer of the original book, makes reference to several standard sources that will help with Town of Norway and Herkimer County research:
Town Historian Bessie Ackley, mentioned above, passed away some years ago. Forwarding address Heaven.
Text Copyright© 1975 George W. Clapp
Copyright ©1998 Carol A. Haagensen
All Rights Reserved.