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Palmyra NY Home  / About Palmyra NY  /  History  /  "A Brief History of Palmyra"  /  1700's

When Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham first sought to purchase land in Western New York, they found conflicting claims; New York, Massachusetts and the Indians all laid claim to the land; sometimes all three claimed ownership of the land; sometimes all three claimed ownership of the same parcel. By April, 1788, Phelps and Gorham held title to six (6) million acres at a cost of approximately 2 ½ cents per acres. This was recorded by history as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase.

Prior to and at the time the Phelps and Gorham purchase was being created, a group of former Connecticut residents who had some years before settled in the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania were being harassed by both the Indians and the Pernanites. Consequently, they decided to leave the valley. John Swift and John Jenkins were deputized to seek out a new location. John Swift had been a private in General Sullivan’s expedition against the Indians in the Finger Lakes region in 1779. John Jenkins had been a surveyor for Phelps and Gorham. They recommended locating in the District of Tolland in the Phelps Gorham purchase. It was accepted.

As a consequence, Swift and Jenkins returned to Canandaigua and contracted to buy Township 12 in Ranges 2 and 3; an area six miles wide (north to south) and 12 miles long (east to west). Each township was 6 miles square, i.e. 6 miles by 6 miles. Settlement of the area began in 1789 with the 1790 Federal census listing four (4) families in Range 3, Town 12 (now Town of Macedon). John Swift moved his family into Township 12, Range 2 (now Palmyra) in September, 1790.

Immigration began immediately. In November, 1791, a large party arrived from Rhode Island coming by way of the military road. April, 1792, found another large group coming from Long Island by way of the Hudson River, Mohawk River, Oneida Lake, Seneca River and finally Mud Creek. This party settled pretty much near present day East Palmyra. Other settlers in the 1790-91 period came from Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In March, 1789, John Jenkins and four others were sleeping in a log hut, just to the north of present day (1996) Swift’s Landing Park, when some Tuscarora Indians stuck their guns through the chinks, fired, killed one man and injured another. The dead man was buried on an island in Ganargua Creek and the injured man was carried to Vienna (now Phelps) for treatment with the help of Horatio Jones of Geneva. The offending Indians were located and similarly executed, probably Wayne County’s only Indian massacre.

Indian troubles were a constant worry of the early settlers until the Pickering Treaty was signed in Canandaigua in 1794. Prior to the execution of the treaty with the Indians, the good people of Palmyra had begun the construction of a block house on Wintergreen Hill. With the execution of the Pickering Treaty, construction of the block house ceased and was never resumed.

A couple of firsts may be of interest: The first female child born in Palmyra was Mary Wilcox and the first male child was Asa Swift. The first church was a Congregation Association formed in East Palmyra in 1793. One of the earliest visitors to our area was Louis Phillipe (1773-1850) who became King of France. In 1796, he was entertained by the Durfee family on a farm in Palmyra.

The first town meeting recorded was held on the first Tuesday of April, 1796 at which time John Swift was elected Supervisor. Although what is now Palmyra was created by the Court of General Sessions of Ontario County on January 16, 1789 apparently no need was found for a formal organization until 1796

NOTE The census of 1800 show 986 inhabitants in the Town of Palmyra. At the time of this first meeting was called; Tolland was the name used. Since this name was not particularly acceptable to the people, a meeting some time between March and June, 1797 was called to change the name to impress the "school marm". Daniel Sawyer proposed Palmyra after the Ancient Syrian City (he had just studied history). This selection was accepted and our town progressed from Swift’s Landing (unofficial) to Tolland to Palmyra (however, for the first year, the town board minutes spell it as Palmira). Interestingly, from 1796 through 1812 only two (2) constables were appointed to maintain order in 72 square miles of territory.

© 1998 Bob Lowe


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