My mother's family moved to the America's in about 1730, settling in Dansville, New York. The following text is from a letter to my great grandfather written in 1813 by a friend of his searching for farm land in Upstate New York. Letters in those days were handed from passerby to passerby who might be going in the direction of the letters destination. Included is a description of a skirmish with the British near Fort Niagara. Any italicized text is the contemporary georgaphy not included in the original letter.
New Town (Pennsylvania), June 10,
Mr. Abraham Zerfass
State of New York
You will please to excuse me for not writing more and giving you a more satisfactory account of my journey – the reason is this, there is a gentleman going in company with me and he is in a hurry, however I shall give you a sketch of it – When I left you I saw some fine farms about 5 or 6 miles below you which pleased me very much but whether they were for sale is more than I can tell for I did not inquire. (Geneseo, New York) In Big Tree there is a most beautiful country but by what I could understand, the land there was not for sale, that is of the good land. From thence I proceeded on my journey toward Buffalo but in all my march there did not find any land that pleased me; however, there is a settlement of Dutch Pennsylvanians in the Buffalo Valley and I believe very good land but by what I could learn it was also high in price – as high as in Canaseraga where you live.
In the village of Buffalo I staid about 2 days but saw nothing worthy of note but a great number of Indians who flocked in from all quarters to receive their Annuity. The Town was crowded with them of all Nations. They had collected there and you could see the most different fashions. Some had rings in their noses, some in their ears, and great chains thru them heavy enough for drawing a saw log and hanging down on their shoulders in order to make them less burdensome to their ears. You could hardly pass along on the street without being interrupted by them. Some would sell their daughters for a little whiskey or tobacco. I found, however, that they were more free with giving their wives than their daughters. At first I did not like them but after I had got used to them a little I had considerable fun with them. Get them about half drunk – then you may amuse yourself with the capers they cut up which appear so different from those that our drinking men do.
From there I started down the line to Black Rock, from thence to the Niagara Falls from thence to Lewiston and from thence to Fort Niagara where I staid until after the engagement.
The next day after the engagement I crossed over to Canada and saw the dead laying about on the field as a parcel of sheep scattered about. There were about 30 of our soldiers killed and about 110 or upwards of theirs. It was one of the most wonderful things to me that there were not more lives lost on our side than there were, for the British had all the chance in the World to cut them down like dust. It is true that our soldiers did not give much time while they were crossing to be shot at, as every one did their best to get over and as soon as the boats had come near that the soldiers could reach bottom, they lept out and ran ashore right under the shower of musket balls from the British who were on the bank. As soon as a sufficient number of men had landed, they formed immediately and ascended the bank, which was about 20 feet nearly perpendicular, but then to see them scamper as hard as they could was really a pleasing sight. And then to see their flag fall and ours put in place of theirs was really pleasing amidst the multitude of shouts and acclimations of joy.
From thence I started on my journey to return, and went on the Ridge Road to Genessee Falls, but there was also nothing to be got to suit my mind. That will in time be a place of great business, (Rochester, New York) there is no doubt in the World with me – perhaps the greatest trading place in this western country for there is such a handsome place for mills, but the mill seats are all taken up there and there is no chance of any more in that line.
From thence I went to Geneva through the other German settlement and also inquired there for Mr. Canel but could get no word of him until I had passed several miles by when I happened to meet with a person who lived near him, but he told me that the old man had taken down his sign, otherwise I should have gone back. He also said that Mr. Canel had gone to see Dansville so I passed on my journey homewards.
I had a good journey until here and hope for a good one all the way. I am so far from being suited that I shall hardly be up to see you very soon; however, if I do, Canaseraga would I believe be my choice, for it is in my opinion the best land that I saw in my whole tour. The Geneva or lake settlement or lands are not as good as the land about Dansville, but it is a handsome country for grapes, but not so good for corn. It is also good for wheat, more so than rye.
Excuse me for not giving you a more full description of my journey for I am really in haste. You may read this letter to Mr. John Hartman as I promised to write also to him and it will perhaps serve in stead of another. I am sorry that I could not spare more time to write to Mr. Hartman as he is a particular friend of mine by whom I set much store. I intended to write 3 or 4 sheets full, but can’t spare the time.
Please do not forget to write every opportunity to me, as I would be very happy to hear from you. Please do give my best respects to Mrs. Zerfass, George and his sweetheart, not forgetting Mr. Hartman’s family. No more at present—
I remain with great esteem, your Obedient Servant,