December 23, 2000

For James Williams, the litigious former slave introduced last week, justice was served in the New York of 1817. But the majority of his fellow blacks would wait a long time for even basic justice. It was in this year the New York legislature passed a law ending slavery, but not for another ten years. Even then, a loophole in the law allowed transients to bring slaves into the state for a nine-month period, and part-time residents to also bring their slaves temporarily into the state. Meant to mollify current slaveholders, the loophole would not be closed until 1841.

One semi-transient ended his exile this year. The popular canal commission president De Witt Clinton had little trouble getting elected governor; among his many projects was rescinding the edict banishing science lecturer Amos Eaton from the state. Eaton had earned his MA degree from Williams College in September and had published his Manual of Botany for the Northern States, which would eventually go into eight editions. He also had begun lecturing through New England and now extended his range into his native Hudson Valley.

In the western part of the state two communities were beginning to experience the early stirring of growth. The open boat Troyer arrived in Buffalo from the west this year. Her cargo would change Buffalo's destiny. As the Northwest Territory lands (to the state's southwest, by the way) opened for agricultural development, its settlers began moving their wheat harvests toward ports on Lake Erie. The once nearly annihilated Buffalo was on its way to becoming one of the world's great ports - the Queen City of the Lakes. Next year Holland Land Company sub-agent and surveyor William Peacock would put plans into motion to develop the waterfront. This year he was busy correcting errors in previous surveys, subdividing inner lots, laying out cornerstones and preparing new maps of the city. On February 10th a certificate of incorporation was granted in the village to St. Paul's Church. The cornerstone of the church's building was laid two years later, on land donated by Peacock's employer and in another two years, 1821, Buffalo had its first permanent church building.

Meanwhile, the settlement at the Falls of the Genesee had Buffalo beat by four years; the newly incorporated village of Rochesterville erected its first house of worship, First Presbyterian Church, this year. It served a rapidly-growing village now containing a population of 700. One of these, Austin Steward, a free black like James Williams, started a profitable grocery business. Millraces were built near Rochesterville's center to power a number of new milling operations. Like Buffalo the village was also about to become a main flour processing site and transfer point for grain, its source the Genesee River Valley and surrounding counties. A shipping dock was built below the falls, three miles from the river's mouth at Lake Ontario. A settlement called Carthage grew up around the landing and soon had its first customer - the steamboat Ontario out of Sackets Harbor. This year Rochesterville would ship 5,000 bushels of flour across the lake and down the St. Lawrence River to Montréal, and earn the appellation The Flour City.


For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor

Stay in touch; see you next year. David


© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte