Nina Daniels



Wednesday, October 27, 1948

We have always thought it to be a strange and fortunate circumstance that so many men of influence and wealth became interested in the Northern part of our county which, of course, was not a county as we know it, properly surveyed and laid out, but a vast wilderness entirely covered by dense forest inhabited by fierce animals and traversed by an equally savage race of human beings. In fact, all parts of the U.S. early became the center of interest to men who loved the land and coveted its ownership. No doubt the apparent endlessness of the great tracts stretching from Atlantic to Pacific, from the Arctic to the Gulf, seemed to those who came from small countries across the sea, a miracle of forest, plains, rivers, great lakes and undiscovered riches awaiting only the eager hands of adventurers to supply the entire world with their hearts desire. At any rate, many men of wealth and influence even before the Revolution were eager to obtain for their own some of those virgin acres, unexplored and owned by no humans, stretching across an immense continent. Even George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Robert and Gouverneur Morris invested in thousands of acres. Franklin, during his residence abroad and with the friendships he formed, interested several foreigners in land speculations in America. The Leays, especially, coming to what is now Jefferson County, opened up lands and founded an estate which was both romantic and historic. It is possible that our David Parish later both envied and emulated the fine baronial estate of James De Leray Chaumont. How admirable that our neighboring county has preserved all that could be found of the family which brought color and culture to a wilderness.

Dr. William Sawyer, in his informative and interesting articles on the early history of St. Lawrence County, has aroused a timely interest in a section which has not figured as prominently in literature and historical matters as it deserves. No more fascinating tale was ever unfolding than the story of our county as it emerged from wilderness to populous towns and fertile farms.

Romantic and daring as the discovery of Ogdensburg was, it was but the beginning of the real and enduring life of the county which had its origin in that historic journey from Montreal to the sheltered harbor of the Oswegatchie. Picture first the great and entrancingly beautiful stream flowing all unknown by white men's eyes between banks which were to form the boundaries of two nations living at peace with each other through the centuries. Imagine the magnificence of the forests of oak, maple, pine, beech, birch and soft wood standing proud and undisturbed since the beginning of time. Listen to the music of splendid rivers taking their devious path to the sea. Linger by the shores of unnumbered lakes, clear as the skies they mirrored. Breathe the bracing, pine-scented air coming straight from the hoary Adirondacks. Ah, the boulders left by an ancient ice age and hark to the songs of thousands of American songsters, some of whom are now gone forever. And beware the stealthy wolf, the lumbering bear or bloodthirsty wild-cat. Yonder is the trail of the Algonquins and Mohawks, coming down from Canada to the Finger Lakes region. They will have a great powwow where now colleges and manufactories stand. In winter deep snows and ice lock the streams. In summer the deep shade will shelter hundreds of birds and little furry things. Some days a great stillness broods over this undiscovered land, on others swift lightnings shatter the safety of the beasts and mayhaps the rolling thunder will send them scurrying to their shelters. But not for centuries will the ax of the woodman resound or human voices penetrate the age-old silences. Not, in fact, until the pioneers come to fashion their rude homes and to conquer a new empire where their ambitious curiosity has led them. Not until your forebears and mine with untold hardihood fell the great trees and drive away the creatures who for so long were sheltered beneath them.

And there were many other forests and many other beasts and savage tribes. For our land is a big land, wide and vast. Its rivers are terrible in their depth and force. Its boundaries, to the eyes of Europeans, endless. So before our St. Lawrence County was even settled, many other stout hearts had braved the dangers of exploration and settlement. On the Plymouth Rock far to the North East one bleak day the Pilgrims had stepped, thus laying the corner stone of this mighty nation. Little Virginia Dare and her companions had come and mysteriously gone, and a colony, prosperous and aristocratic, had taken their places.

Along the Hudson Valley fine manor houses had flourished in opulent Dutch domains. The settlement on Manhattan Island, bought for a "song", was growing rapidly, bathed on all sides by an ocean which constantly discharged humans and other cargo. Ponce de Leon had drunk of the fountain of life in Florida; faithful Catholic priests had labored amid indescribable dangers while trying to present the true Faith to the savages; DeSoto had seen the mighty Mississippi; the conquistadors had built towns in the southwest. Not yet, though, had the iron horse puffed through the land and away in the Northland a great forest awaited the advent of the woodsman and his axe.

Dr. William Sawyer in his interesting papers on the story of Ogdensburg, places the year 1796 as the date when that city was actually begun, so of course the future of the rest of the county rested on that fact. The purpose of this story is that of the building of his farm-house in this village by David Parish, the founder of the town. I understand that Dr. Sawyer intends to write a complete history of the Parishes for which we should be grateful, and which will save me a complete recital at this time of their origin and entrance upon the scene of our emergence from obscurity. There is no more fascinating tale in the history of this county than that of the town of Parishville, intermingled as it is with discovery, exploration and colorful romance.

There were many men of note who had a hand in the settlement of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence lands. Even old-world royalty played its part in the unfolding of the recitals which could detail the adventures, fortunes, delights and disappointments which accompanied the undertakings of James de Leray, Alexander Macomb, William Constable, Daniel McCormick and David Parish through their agents and explorers. Whole books have been written about them all. I aim to tell the story—partly—of just one house which stood on the County Road near the four corners, and which was built when there were no decent roads and when materials were obtained from considerable distances. The source of my information is from the letters in the Parish collection given to the County by Mrs. Byron Parker a number of years ago, and which are now housed in the historian's room, County Courthouse, Canton.

One sometimes wonders how the stupendous task of clearing and settling this immense domain, this St. Lawrence County, these United States, was ever accomplished, and what motives impelled men and women to undertake it. As far as the great land purchases were concerned, their object was the hope of selling their property at a gain. David Parish was an exception to this. His plans included a house for himself, a farm, an inn and a desire to make it as easy as possible for those who desired lands of him to pay for them. In those days when adventures beckoned to the young and a great continent awaited their conquest, hundreds were pushing westward and northward in search of adventure or land—always the lure of land drove young men and women hither and yon. Far horizons for centuries gave promise of new experiences, acquisitions, and perhaps riches. That is why the ox carts, the covered wagons, and finally the iron horsed passed in painful procession from ocean to ocean, from north to south until all the great reaches were explored, the forests felled, and cities and towns appeared where once the Red Man's wigwam was the only human habitation. That was why when the north part of our county was opened up to settlers, pioneers flocked here and eventually town after town come into existence—a hope that greener pastures could be found farther away than where they already were, and that more room for expanding hopes lay to the westward, or northward, as the case might be.



North Country