JEFFERSON COUNTY

NEW YORK

 

WORKING DRAFT

Last Change: 1 May 2019

 

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A lot happened in the United States in the period from 1781 to 1825, including the 1805 formation of Jefferson County, New York, formally part of Oneida County, New York.

 

Though British Army General Lord Charles Cornwallis had surrendered in October 1781, effectively ending the American Revolutionary War, it wasn't until the Treaty of Paris of 3 September 1783 that Great Britain officially agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the United States, which had declared its independence in 1776 and formed its first government under the Articles of Confederation in 1781, followed by a Constitution in 1789.

 

In those formative years, New Yorkers began thinking about a canal from Albany to Buffalo.  The first proposal was made in the 1780s, but design of the "Erie Canal" didn't start until 1808, followed by construction from 1817 to 1825.  The 25-year delay was not only caused by resource constraints, but also security concerns.

 

The area north of the proposed project between Albany and Syracuse was largely an unsettled/unpopulated wilderness, and New York law makers knew that that had to change before their plans for the Mohawk River Valley could proceed.  During the War, those who supported the King, called Loyalists or Tories, had been driven north, out of New York and the more southern states, into modern day Canada, north of the St. Lawrence River.  There were fears in the United States that those Tories, who, understandably, continued to covet the properties they had been forced to abandon to the south, would fill that vacuum in northern New York, creating a security threat for the residents of the Mohawk River Valley and their economic interests.

 

To quickly settle that area and to generate cash, in 1786 New York State created a land commission, which advertised land for sale at fantastic prices.  Many New Englanders (VT, NH, MA, CT, RI, ME), who, at that time, were experiencing rapid population growth and associated upward pressures on land prices, found it hard to resist such opportunities in northern New York State and further west into Pennsylvania, Ohio and beyond.  In addition, around 1800 a wave of religious fundamentalism was spreading throughout New England, causing tensions in communities and the desire amongst these fundamentalists (Quakers foremost amongst them) to seek religious freedom elsewhere.

 

As the US Constitution was being ratified in 1789, the French Revolution began.  In anticipation of losing that struggle, at least temporarily, members of the French aristocracy and its supporters jumped at the opportunity for inexpensive land in the United States.  Two settlements for French refuges were planned: one at Asylum in Bradford County, Pennsylvania (on the Susquehanna River in north-central PA), and one at Castorland in Denmark Township, Jefferson County, New York (on the upper Black River, southeast of Watertown).

 

No one was more influential in the development of northern New York State than French nobleman and refugee James D. LeRay de Chaumont (b. 1760, d. 1840), son of Jacques-Donatien LeRay de Chaumont (b. 1726, d. 1803), who had invested a large share of his wealth in the American dream.  On behalf of his father, James traveled to America in 1785 to seek reimbursement from the US Government, and his claim was settled in 1790.  With that settlement payment, in 1802 James purchased vast areas of land in northern Oneida County, New York (present day Jefferson and Lewis counties).  Rather than be an absentee landlord, he built a home (the LeRay Mansion) at LeRaysville and moved his family there about 1808.  James LeRay invested heavily in development throughout the area, both financially and inspirationally as a leader, building roads, bridges, dams, saw mills, grist mills, forges, ports for commerce on Lake Ontario, churches (all denominations), and much more.  He put his tenants and those who purchased property from him in a position to succeed, and they did, quickly turning that northern wilderness into the secure buffer zone that New York needed.

 

The Ancestors of George Edgar Drake (10), and many of their friends, were among those New Englanders who responded to the advertisements for land in the newly formed Jefferson County, New York and, directly or indirectly, acquired land from James LeRay de Chaumont.  It appears Ziba Drake (8) moved his young family to Rutland Township, Jefferson County, New York about 1808 (about the same time as James LeRay).  Ziba's father, Josiah Drake, III (7), followed him to Jefferson County shortly after 1810.

 

Many early families in Jefferson County followed the same route west from New England.  Others moved north into that region from Montgomery and Herkimer Counties along the Mohawk River Valley.  The latter group of families were predominantly ancestors of Dutch and German immigrants.  In 1624 the Dutch West India Company had created a settlement at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, and over time, subsequent Dutch settlements were established up the Hudson River to Albany.  About 1710 the English moved some of their German Palatine refugees to the Mohawk River Valley of New York to help create a buffer between themselves and their long-time enemy, the French, who had allied with Native Americans throughout that frontier region.  Thus, the significant influence of German and Dutch ancestry in the Mohawk River Valley.

 

 

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