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By Hannah WHITAKER Bowen, Osceola, Pa.
March 10, 1901
E. -- We have not attempted to establish present ownership of local lands and homes mentioned by the writer because we believe it better that you read the account as it was written and signed by Hannah Bowen at Osceola, Penn., March 10, 1901. However, you may better understand these sincere words from the distant past if you realize that there were no towns as such in the Cowanesque Valley in 1819. Settlers had strung out along the Tioga and Cowanesque Rivers and there were clusters of houses at Knoxville, Nelson, Lawrenceville, Tioga and Mansfield that could pass as villages. Elkland was naught but a farming flat and Wellsboro, held no more than 150 residents if the livestock was included in the head count.
Most of these people were Yankees. They held the lands they had settled with loaded gun in lieu of paper title and they financed their new homes with sweat and a well-swung axe. Now lets take the journey.
I was born in Scituate, R.I.., July 12, 1810. My father, Jabez B. Whitaker, died a few years after my birth leaving my mother ( whose maiden name was Thankful Champlin) a widow with five children to continue to battle of life. When I was between eight and nine years old my cousin, Hannah Champlin, married John Potter. John Potter and his bride were to "go west" from Charleston, R.I. were they resided, to settle in the Cowanesque Valley in Pennsylvania, whither some of his relatives had preceded him.
My cousin, the bride besought my mother to allow me to accompany her to the home they were to build in the new country. She wanted me for a companion. After much deliberation my mother's consent was obtained. It was the more readily obtained because my mother had decided to remove with her family to some western destination as soon as she could arrange her affairs to do so.
Accordingly, we set out on our journey on the 22nd day of February, 1819. Our party consisted of John Potter and wife, George Champlin, a brother, and myself, a cousin of the bride. Our outfit was composed of a team of horses and a lumber wagon fitted up in true emigrant style. with high bows covered with white canvas. The wagon was bestowed from stem to stern with family chests of clothing and a miscellaneous outfit of bedding, tools and furniture. At the time of our departure the weather was cold, the ground solidly frozen but no snow upon the ground. Our first journey was from Charleston, R.I. to Stonington, Conn., where we lodged with Aunt Nancy Rhodes, a sister of the bride's mother. Joshua Champlin, father of the bride, came thus far with us. staid over night, bade his daughter farewell and returned to his home.
Our second days journey brought us to New London, Ct., where we lodged with some cousins who lived at that place. New London was the largest place I had ever seen. It was a seaport and I remember the intense interest I had in viewing the tall masts if the shipping at anchor in the harbor. From this place we passed out of the zone of family relationship and thenceforward were guest over night of village and wayside country inns. After a day of sightseeing, perched on the front seat of our craft I remember how welcome was the fare and how bright and cheerful was the blaze that issued from the cavernous fireplaces of these old time hostelries. The emigrant road to the west from New London passed northwesterly through Connecticut and Massachusetts in order to avoid crossing the Catskill mountains.
We crossed the Hudson river by a ferry, the name of which I have forgotten, not many miles below Albany. The first town of any importance in N.Y. State at which we stopped was Cooperstown. From Cooperstown we went to Exeter, Otsego county were a number of Rhode Island families had previously settled.
At this place there was a show of some sort at the hotel. At Unadilla we were detained two nights and a day by a severe snow storm. John Potter was a carpenter and he spent the day of the snow storm fitting runners under our wagon thereby making a sleigh of it. On the second morning of our stop we proceeded on our way with our new style conveyance.
At Owego we saw a large party of Indians, We understood they had been on to Philadelphia or Washington to take part in some treaty. To my young eyes they were a novel sight. From this point onward the road was thronged with loads of emigrants going west like ourselves. The taverns at the villages along our route were so filled with people that often only women and children could be given beds while the men slept in the barns and the wagons.
We staid all night at Newton Point and at the log tavern at Painted Post. Our next stop was at Addison. It was moderate weather and the snow was mostly melted from the ground. It was hard sledding at Addison. John Potter dispensed with his improvised runners and mounted his wagon again on wheels.
On account of the recent thaw the Canisteo River was considerably swollen and as there was no bridge we had some difficult in fording it. The task was finally accomplished and we started out for the Cowaneque Valley through deep mud, with the wind blowing a gale accompanied with frequent squalls of snow. It was a typical March day and I had small opportunity of viewing the country which thenceforth was to become my home. Late at night we arrived at the house of Emmer Bowen, Sr., on the river road in Deerfield where we were given a most hospitable welcome. It is the same house in which Mr. Samuel Ludlam at present resides. Mr. Bowen had a large family of sons and daughters but children did not occupy as much space in those days as they do now, and he readily rented a couple of rooms in his house to John Potter and family in which to set up their housekeeping.
We had been about thirty days upon the road. I wrote my mother a letter detailing my experiences, and sent it out by the first traveler, as there was no post office in the Cowanesque Valley. I should like to pursue that letter now. It no doubt had a freshness of detail and incident about it that this account does not possess.
This journey was accomplished eighty two years ago this month. I have never visited my old home and birthplace in Rhode Island. On the night of my arrival at the Bowen homestead I first met the boy, Benjamin, then 11 years old, in quaint Quaker garb, who was subsequently to become my husband.
THEN UP TO POTTERBROOK
Once John Potter was settled he bethought himself to pay a visit to his brother Stephen, who the previous year had gone into the wilderness and built himself a home at what is now Potterbrook. I was taken along as a member of the family.
John Potter had dismantled the emigrant wagon of its high bows and canvas cover, and in it thus shown of its distinguishing features, we set out on our new expedition. The time of year was April and a light snow lay upon the ground.
I should say at starting that John Potter had spent the years 1817 and 1818 in this valley, prospecting for a new home. He had thus become acquainted with the people, as in a new settlement all persons within a radius of ten miles, are neighbors. As we passed up the river he explained to his wife (Whom he had gone back to Rhode Island to marry) and to me, who the people were that lived in each house. I have a distinct recollection of most of the homes and farmsteads I that day saw for the first time. Possibly at some points my memory is reinforced by after acquired information, but on the whole the scenes and events remain vivid in my mind
As we started out we passed the house of our nearest neighbor, Peter Faulkner, where Mr. Kennedy now lives on the Freeborn farm. The large plantation of Lieut. Ebenezer Seelye (subdivided and occupied by his sons, Julius, Elanson and Eleazer) came next, which stretched out along the road from where the woolen factory now is to Charles Prices's farm. The latter place and the two farms next above it were owned by Dr. Eddy Howland, the only medical practitioner then in the valley. Opposite the burying ground, in which a few upright stones were planted, was the double log house of Lyman Carpenter. His farm was a section sold out of the large Knox plantation upon which we next entered. Joshua Colvin owned what is now Academy Corners. He gave it distinction by possessing and operation a whiskey distillery. Not far from the Wallace Gilbert house lived John Byers, the only blacksmith for many miles around. Zadoc Bowen, a farmer and carpenter, resided in the next house, at the Levi Falkner place.
Simon Rixford was the next resident. He had once owned all the land up to Troups Creek but had sold the strip along the creek to Jonathan Matteson for money enough to discharge the mortgage against the whole tract. Where Knoxville now is there was no village and no suggestion of the name Knoxville. There were, however, indications would be built there. Daniel Cummings had bought some land of Rixford, On it he had built a distillery, a fulling mill, and opened his house, situated a little west of the Adams House, as a Wayside Inn.
In company with Matteson he owned a grist mill and a saw mill down by the river side. Rezin Scearse, also on lands bought of Rixford, had opened a small store. Here also was a Quaker meeting house built of logs.
We forded Troups Creek at a point lower down that where the covered bridge now is, and pursued our way for more than a mile with out passing a habitation. Here we came to the log house, grist mill and saw mill of Bethlehem Thompson. To operate the grist mill the water of Inscho Run was conducted to the overshot wheel in troughs hewed out of pine trees. The wagon road ran under this aqueduct.
We jolted over Pine hill and descended to the flat. Dwelling houses became fewer and farther between. I remember passing the house of Nathaniel Mann, and a few others, and just before arriving at present Westfield we came to the Wayside Inn of Ayres Tuttle, where entertainment could be had for man and beast. Where Westfield now is there was no suggestion of a village. On the flat above the site of Westfield lived Jesse Lapham, Ezra Bowen, Martin Bowen and Johnathan Seamans. All of these people were from Rhode Island, and John Potter knew them well. At the mouth of the North Fork was the cabin of Syer Weeks. From this point onward the road had been chopped out only the season before by Stephen Potter whose house we now approached.
Stephen Potter and family gave us right royal welcome both for ourselves and for the tidings we brought; for had we not just come from the far off old home in Rhode Island with the latest news of relatives and friends? In our greeting were mingled both tears and smiles.
In this household at this time were four children, all born in Providence, R.I., except the babe in arms. While our elders were busy with their visiting I made the acquaintance of Sarah Potter, the seven year old daughter of the house, who afterwards became the wife of Charles H. Metcalf. During the afternoon we went far down the new road to the shop of a cobbler ( whose name I have forgotten) to purchase some candies he kept on sale. On our way back, as we neared the Potter home, we heard a noise in the woods, We listened. We heard a heavy tread and a breaking of branches. What should two young girls do? We screamed. We ran. We bursted. We told our tale, and were laughed at. The men, however, went out, and at the point indicated by us, found huge bear tracks in the snow. The tracks indicated that the bruin had taken to the tall timber evidently as badly frightened as we.
It is more that eighty years since I made that visit. The first permanent settler had come into the valley only 20 years before. It was crude and new. The clearings were small, the improvements few. The Rowan homestead is still standing, the Julius Seelye house, and the Matteson mill, but I can think of no other buildings that met my gaze as we journeyed by the way. The people I met that day, even the children, have all wandered away.
First of all, I would like to thank Donna Dixon of Wellsville NY. for giving me a copy of this document. I am told that it is run occasionally in the local newspapers. I have been researching the Potter family for several years. My mother, Waneta Davis Barnes who was orphaned at eight years old, and grew up with Eva Potter Hewitt in Shinglehouse has always had an interest in her heritage. Anyone who is searching, here are some clues. The Potter, Bowen, Chaplin, Seamons, Metcalf and Aldrich families were all from Kent country Rhode Island. Key areas are Fulton and Scituate. To date (Nov 2003) I have yet to find the parents of Stephen Potter and Matilda Aldrich. I know my mothers cousin Charles Armstrong is working on this also since I find his name on so many search engines. Please use this wonderful venue that Joyce Tice has devoted an enormous amount of time and talent on to help preserve our collective heritage.
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