Office of the County Historian

Settlers and Settlement Of Wayne County, Part I

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LANDING OF FIRST SETTLERS In May 1789

Plaque commemorating the first settlers in Wayne County: "LANDING OF FIRST SETTLERS In May 1789, ...

The permanent settlement of Wayne County began in May of 1789, when the Stansell and Featherly families arrived near Lyons. In that same year, John Swift took up land in Palmyra and Webb Harwood moved onto land in Macedon. During the next thirty years, before Wayne County became a county, many more pioneers would come to the area -- some would settle permanently, while others would stay for a while and move on. Here are some of the stories of these early settlers.

The Stansells & Featherlys

In May of 1789, a group of twelve people from the Mohawk Valley region of New York State arrived near the present site of Lyons to start a new life in the "West". The group consisted of William Stansell; his son, Nicholas, daughter-in-law, Margaret and their six children; John Featherly, his wife, Mary, and, perhaps, their son Frederick. William was about 64 years old and could be considered old for such an adventure. In fact, William is thought to have died in 1791 and buried without a tombstone in what was then the wilderness of Wayne County.

Nicholas Stansell had served in the American Revolution, and it is possible that he was part of the force which traveled through western New York Trying to destroy the Indians who sided with the British. Nicholas must have liked what he saw, because ten years later, he led his family west to their new home. About 1811, Nicholas moved his family to land near the present village of Newark where he died in 1819. His wife, Margaret, may have died about 1814, but there is no official record of her death. The children and grandchildren of Nicholas and Margaret Stansell continued to exhibit the pioneering spirit with some moving to Michigan, Ohio and Canada in the 1820s and 1830s.

John Featherly, the brother of Margaret Stansell, had also served in the American Revolution and may have been with Nicholas on the campaign against the Indians. He took up land near Alloway and lived there until after 1830. Sometime between 1830 and 1840, John Featherly and his wife moved to Rose, He died in 1843, and she died in 1840. They are both buried in York Cemetery in the town of Huron.

Nicholas Stansell had served in the American Revolution, and it is possible that he was part of the force which traveled through western New York trying to destroy the Indians who sides with the British. Nicholas must have liked what he saw, because ten years later, he led his family west to their new home. About 1811, Nicholas moved his family to land near the present village of Newark where he died in 1819. His wife, Margaret, may have died about 1814, but there is no official record of her death. The children and grandchildren of Nicholas and Margaret Stansell continued to exhibit the pioneering spirit with some moving to Michigan, Ohio and Canada in the 1820s and 1830s.

John Featherly, the brother of Margaret Stansell, had also served in the American Revolution and may have been with Nicholas on the campaign against the Indians. He took up land near Alloway and lived there until after 1830. Sometime between 1830 and 1840, John Featherly and his wife moved to Rose. He died in 1843 and she died in 1840. They are both buried in York Cemetery in the town of Huron.

John Swift

John Swift was born in Connecticut and served in the American Revolution. In 1789, Mr. Swift and surveyor, John Jenkins came to the Phelps and Gorham Purchase to buy land for a group of settlers from Pennsylvania. Swift chose the land in what was then called the Tolland District and is now the town of Palmyra. He built a log cabin and called his "settlement" Swift's Landing.

The settlers from Pennsylvania changed their minds about moving to western New York, so in 1790, Mr. Swift went to the New England area to try to interest settlers. In that same year, he moved his family into their new home. For the next 25 years, John Swift would play an important role in the development of his town. In 1796, he was elected the first supervisor for the town Palmyra. He donated land for the first cemetery and the first school. He built the first sawmill.

At the beginning of the War of 1812, John Swift was given the rank of Brigadier General of the New York Volunteers. In July of 1814, while on duty on the Niagara Frontier, General Swift was shot and killed by a British soldier. The jacket of his uniform is on display at the Wayne County Museum.

There are three historical markers in Palmyra which mention the contributions of John Swift. One is located on the site of the first schoolhouse, which was built on land given by Swift. A second is near the site of the first church in Palmyra, also built on land given by him. The third marker, at the four corners of Palmyra, is a plaque which makes note of his role in the War of 1812.

Austin Steward

In 1795, a man named Capt. William Helms made a trip to the "Genesee Country" to look at property being sold by Charles Williamson. In 1796, Capt. Helms set out from Maryland with all his household goods and 70 slaves for his new home. One of these slaves was Austin Steward. In 1848, Austin Steward wrote his autobiography, in which he told about the early settlement of Wayne County. Helms purchased land on Sodus Bay in what is now the town of Huron and set his slaves to clearing the land. Steward told of the hardships that the slaves had in getting enough food during that first year. Within a couple of years, Helms moved his family and many of his slaves to Bath, NY, because his wife found the life too harsh in the wilderness. About 1805, Steward was again in the Wayne County area when he was hired ot to work for Henry Towar in Alloway, located just south of Lyons. He stayed with Towar about one year before being returned to Bath.

In 1814, Austin Steward escaped to freedom and sought refuge with a Quaker, Otis Comstock, who lived near Palmyra. He worked for Mr. Comstock about two years and then moved on to Rochester, where he owned a business and started a school for blacks. Steward later lived in Canada and Canandaigua. Through his life Steward worked for the end of slavery and for civil rights of blacks living in Free States. Although Austin Steward did not settle permanently in Wayne County, it is important to recognize his contributions and those of many other blacks who were among the earliest pioneers of our county.