Early Settlers of Chenango County, New York

The first settlement in Afton was made in July, 1786, by Elnathan Bush, who came in from Sheffield, Mass., with his family, then consisting of his wife and four children. They came as far as Cooperstown on horseback, and thence by canoe down the Susquehanna, leaving Cooperstown May 2, 1786. He settled on the west side of the river, opposite the forty acre island, known as Stowel’s Island, about two miles below Afton. This island and another near it, one of which contains ten and the other forty acres, had been cleared and cultivated by the Indians, and derive their name from Hezekiah Stowel, who subsequently owned them. Mr. Bush had visited this locality with a view to settlement before the Revolutionary war, in company with two others who were relatives. The Dominie Johnston (Col. Witter Johnston,) was then living at Sidney Plains, where he settled in 1772. He left his improvements during the war and returned to them at its close, having rendered service therein as Colonel. He (Johnston,) continued his residence there till his death October 4, 1839, aged 86. Lois, his wife, died there July 27, 1787, aged 22; and Jane, his second wife, Sept. 26, 1817, aged 47. January 30, 1790, Mr. Bush exchanged his property here with Hezekiah Stowel for a piece of land on lot 74 in Bainbridge, nominally containing 81, but actually 100 acres, which Stowel had taken up the previous year, the consideration being 80 œ, to which he removed. It is the farm on which his grandson, Joseph Bush, now resides, and there he resided till his death, May 15, 1791. Joseph Bush, just referred to, says he very well recollects hearing his father say there were no other settlers in the old town of Jericho when Elnathan came in. The Kirbys came next, a year or two after, and the Bixbys soon after.

It has been generally supposed, and is so stated in French’s Gazetteer of the State of New York, and subsequent publications copied therefrom, that William Bush, a grandson of Elnathan Bush, was the first child born in the town, in 1786. The fact is, the William Bush referred to was born in Sheffield, Berkshire county, Massachusetts, April 15, 1785, and was brought to the present town of Afton, then a part of Jericho, the following July. He died November 15, 1858, aged 73, having been honored with three wives, Esther, who died November 5, 1813, aged 27, Sally, who died December 29, 1828, aged 33, and Maria, who, we believe, is still living.

Other settlers about this period were Seth Stone, Nathaniel Benton, Isaac Miner and Orlando Bridgeman, all from Vermont.

In this year (1790) the first school-house in Afton was built. It was a log structure and stood at the forks of the river and bridge roads on the east side of the river, in the village of Afton, a little north of the water tank in that locality. The first teacher was Nathaniel Church. In this school-house the first church in the town was organized twelve years later.

Settlements were made as early as 1795, probably earlier, by Abijah Stevens, Abraham Benton, and Heth Kelsey, and as early as 1796 by Thomas and Capt. Enos Cornwell.

Joab, Abner and Daniel Buck, brothers, came from England before the war of the Revolution. Joab settled at Canton, St. Lawrence county; Abner, in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, to which county he gave his name; and Daniel, settled first in Danbury, Connecticut, and a few years previous to 1800 removed to Afton, and settled on the farm now occupied one-half of it by Robert Clark, and the other half by William Ives. Daniel was a Presbyterian minister and organized in 1802 the first church in the town. Daniel S. Buck, his son, came in with him, but afterwards removed to Sheshequin, Pennsylvania, where he died February 8, 1870, aged 87, but was brought here for interment. Anna, his first wife, died July 25th, 1835, aged 57, and Eunice, his second wife, October 9, 1851, aged 61. Three sons of Daniel S. are living, Noble, in Afton; Daniel S. H., in Greene; and Lyman, in Hooper, below Binghamton.

Other early settlers were William Bateman, Aaron Slade, Joseph Peck, Levi Pratt, Silas Wright and Moses Hinman. William Bateman came from the New England States and settled at Ayrshire, on the farm until recently occupied by his grandson Henry Bateman, where he died. He was an Irishman and a Revolutionary soldier in the American army. His sons were Nathan, who married Dolly, daughter of Samuel Nichols, who settled at Ayrshire, opposite his father, and died there; and David, who married Margaret Campbell and settled in Bainbridge. After the death of his wife he went to live with his daughter in Masonville. He died June 7, 1866, aged 89, and his wife, September 5, 1862, aged 75. Aaron Slade was from Vermont. He too settled at Ayrshire and died there. Among his children was Aaron, who went to Buffalo with the Mormons when en route for Nauvoo, but returned and settled on the Chemung. He had a grandson also named Aaron. Joseph Peck settled about a mile below Afton, on the east side of the river, where Hezekiah Medbury now lives, and died there. His children were Joseph, who lived and died at Ayrshire; John, who lived in the south part of the town, where Abel Stowel now lives, and afterwards removed to Lisle; Ezekiel, who married Electa Buck, and after living some years in the town joined the Mormons; Noah, who was a bachelor; and Benjamin, who married Phebe Crosby, and lived and died on the homestead farm April 30th, 1829, aged 41. Levi Pratt came in from the New England States and settled near the Pond which bears his name, on the farm now owned by Joshua Hallett, where he died March 3, 1846, aged 81, and his wife, Sarah, August 11, 1858, aged 92. Silas Wright came in from Vermont and settled on the site of the village of Afton. He bought of David Church, who came in shortly previous and was dissatisfied with the quality of the land, a plank house which the latter had erected on the site of Dr. James B. Cook’s residence, and lived there till his death, May 27, 1827, aged 75. He was a farmer and lumberman. His sons were Alpheus and Josiah, the former of whom married Sophia Mersereau of Otego, and the latter Rhoda, daughter of Heth Kelsey, and who jointly built and kept for several years the Sullivan House in the village of Afton. Both subsequently removed to the Chemung River country and died there. He had one daughter, who married a man named Kelley, who is also dead. Moses Hinman settled about one and one-half miles above Afton, on the east side of the river, on the farm known as the Carpenter farm. He was a wheelwright and worked at his trade. He died July 22, 1872, aged 81. None of his children are living. Harvey, John, Seth and Pliny, who live in the south part of the town are grandsons of his.

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