It is doubtful whether the honor of having made the first settlement in the territory now forming the town of Antwerp belonged to Captain William Lee or to Peter Vrooman, for it appears evident that both settled during the same year, 1803, though both were then but squatters on land which they afterwards purchased. Lee located on the State road on lot No. 657, and Vrooman built his log house at the great bend of the Oswegatchie, at a point near the lower end of the present village of Ox Bow. Both these settlers opened their log dwellings as public-houses for the accommodation of the travelers and explorers who had already commenced to journey through that new country. Mention of the existence of both these establishments as early as the year 1804 is found in the diary of James Constable, who, during the summers of 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806, made extended tours through Jefferson and the adjoining counties on business, as executor of the estate of his deceased brother William, who had been an extensive landowner in this region. Under date of August 25, 1804, he says:
“Pass on through No. 4 … 10 (ten) miles to the Long Falls (Carthage), where we breakfasted at a middling good tavern…. Proceed on 4 miles from the river to a log hut, then 6 miles to another, then 12 to a third, there being but three settlers on the Great Tract No. 4, unless there are some on Pennet’s Square…. This tract belongs to, or is under the management of, Mr. Le Ray and Mr. G. Morris, and nothing has yet been done towards settling it. The three people now on it have a verbal promise that they shall have the land at a fair price as first settlers, but they are very anxious in their inquiries after General Lewis R. Morris, who, it is understood, has undertaken the selling of 100,000 acres…. Sleep at Lee’s tavern, 22 miles from the falls, with hard fare and poor lodgings.”
From which it is apparent that his day’s journey was northward from Carthage, through the present towns of Wilna and Antwerp, — finding a cabin at the end of the first four miles, then another, six miles farther on, then nothing but wilderness for a stage of twelve miles, including the present site of the village of Antwerp, until he reached Captain Lee’s log tavern, which stood upon the farm now owned by John Wilber, north of Antwerp village. He proceeds:
“August 26. — Pass on fire miles to the Ox Bow, a remarkable bend in the east branch of Oswegatchie river, and a fine situation for a large house. There is now a log hut 1)Evidently Vrooman‘s. at which we breakfasted, and another in sight.”
After two weeks’ travel east through St. Lawrence and Franklin, he returned over the same route, and, under date of September 9, says:
“Set off from Lee‘s after breakfast and stop at Stearns‘, on No. IV., at twelve miles’ distance, then ten miles more to the Black river at Long Falls.”
Again passing over the place where is now Antwerp village, and never mentioning the spot, for at that time there was not so much as a pole cabin upon it.
In his tour of the next year (1805) he again traversed the same route, and thus recorded his journey from Carthage to the Ox Bow:
“August 16. — Proceeded through Great Tract No. IV., and stopped at Stearns‘, ten miles, where we dined, and arrived at Lee‘s, twenty-two miles from the falls, where we passed the night, and, as the house was completely full, an uncomfortable one it was. I see no alteration in this part of the country since last year; the road at least as bad, and no more settlers. We were told General Lewis R. Morris has been through it, and has now gone to Vermont, intending shortly to return, perhaps with his family. He has quieted Lee and other squatters, who seemed well satisfied. He is expected to build at the Ox Bow.
”August 17. — Left Lee‘s very early, and came through to the Ox Bow, five miles of as bad road as we had yet traveled.”
In 1806, Vrooman purchased the land on which he had squatted three years before. Captain Lee made his purchase in 1805. After a few years’ occupation he sold out and removed to Morristown on the St. Lawrence. His successor was Mordecai F. Cook, from Pennsylvania, who continued to keep a public-house. This became a place of some note, and being centrally located in the town, the annual elections were several times held there, those of the years 1830 and 1832 being particularly mentioned in the record as having taken place at his house. Here, too, was the place of ” general training” in the old days of military enthusiasm, and the spot, near by, where the parades took place, is still known by old residents as the ” training-ground.” And in the times when Antwerp and the adjoining towns were the theatre of bold smuggling operations, and military guards were set over the roads leading towards the border. Cook‘s tavern was a rendezvous equally well known to the contra-bandists and to the officers who were set to capture them. Mr. Cook remained here until his death.
Daniel Sterling, the father of James Sterling, the iron manufacturer, came to Antwerp in 1805, and settled a mile north of Indian river, where Bradford Sterling now lives 2)Samuel G. Sterling, son of Daniel Sterling, now of Philadelphia was the first white child born in the town.. Mary Sterling, his wife, received the first deed conveying lands in the town of Antwerp.
John Bethel, John O. Foster, Edward Foster, Hopestill Foster, Edward Foster, Jr., Silas Ward, and Peter Raven came in 1806 In 1807 came Lyman Colburn, Asa Hunt, William Randall, Allen Thompson, and Henry Adams. In 1808, Salmon White, Clark Lewis, Amos Keith, and Thaddeus Park.
All the above settled on the old Gouverneur road to the northeast of Daniel Sterling, and, in 1809, Caleb Cheney, Amos Streeter, and Warren Streeter located on the same road. Mrs. Nott, with her family of two sons (Moses and Reuben) and three or four daughters, also came about the same time; and Solomon Pepper came in 1810. Zopher Holden settled, in 1806, on Indian river, about two miles southwest of Antwerp village.
On the Long Pails (Carthage) road Lemuel Hubbard settled as early as 1805, and Henry C. Baldwin, Dexter Gibbs, Sherebiah Gibbs, Amasa Sartwell, Almon Beecher and William Fletcher had located there as early as 1809. Other early settlers in the town, and the dates of their purchases, wore as follows: John Jenison, James Parker, Benajah Randall, John Robinson, 1806; David Coffeen, Zebulon Rockwell, and Samuel Griswold, 1807; Alfred Walker and David Gill, 1808; Richard McAllaster, Jonathan Marbles, Isaac L. Hitchcock, John Pease, Jesse Jackson, Daniel Heald, and Timothy Ruggles, 1809; Harrison Moseley, Jeduthan Kingsbury, 1810; John White, Anson Cummings, Levi Wheelock, William McAllaster, 1811; Elkanah Pattridge, William Harris, Asher Seymour, Ira Ward, Roswell Wilder, Benjamin Goodwin, Elliott Lynde, Ezra Church, Silas Brooks, S. Beckwith, James Briggs, 1812; Matthew Brooks, Samuel Hendrix, Oliver Stowell, James Chase, Silvius Hoard, and Sylvanus Hall had settled before 1810.
Of all who came to Antwerp prior to the war of 1812 one alone remains. This is Mr. Benjamin Cook, who came here from Schoharie in 1811, but it was not until the following year that he purchased the land upon which he is now living. There was no road to the place at that time, though the old Cambray road lay less than a half-mile from him to the southeast. He married after he came, but has now been a widower for many years, and is living alone within a few rods of the spot where he first reared his pole cabin. He, however, has sons living in the west. He was, in point of time, the third school-teacher in Antwerp. The lot on which he settled was No. 690, and his farm is distant from Antwerp village some three miles on the road to Keene’s Station. In the month of May, 1830, he brought a number of young pines from the Eggleston swamp and planted them in a row along the roadside, opposite his house. The land on which they stood he afterwards sold to Otis Foster, and it is at present owned by Ansel Clarke. The saplings lived, and are now great trees of half a century’s growth, — objects of no little pride to the aged man who planted them. Mr. Cook has seen great changes in the town: his old neighbors are all gone; the mill which he built on his farm long after his arrival has for years been a decayed ruin; yet he still is here, and, though eighty-six years of age, is yet vigorous, and his wonderful memory is scarcely impaired. In the preparation of this historical narrative we have drawn freely from his store of early recollections, obtaining from him facts which no other person living is able to furnish, and which, as he truly says, it was well to gather now, for in a very short time at farthest they would have become forever inaccessible.
Source: Durant, Samuel W. and Henry B. Peirce. History of Jefferson County, New York, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1878. p 275-276.