The History of Otsego, NY 
Richfield Settlement, Part I

By Holice and Debbie



Organization — Geographical — Topographical — Early Settlers and

Their Locations — Initial Events — Incidents — The First town-Meeting — Supervisors from 1796 to 1878 — Agricultural General Statistics — Area — Assessed and Equalized Valuations — Population.

The town of Richfield was formed from Oysego, April 10, 1792. It is the extreme southern town of Otsego County. In form it is an oblong square, about eight miles long and four wide, embracing an area of thirty-two square miles and 20,418 acres. It is bounded on the north by Herkimer County, on a line running its greatest length northwest and southeast: on the east by Herkimer County, Springfield, and Otsego Lake; on the south by Exeter, and on the west by Exeter, Plainfield, and Herkimer County. Its surface is rolling and moderately hilly, with a mean elevation of 150 to 200 feet above the surface of Canadarago Lake. Several wooded mountain peaks rise 300 feet higher than the eastern boundary, which greatly enhance the beauty of its natural scenery.

The northern half of Canadarago Lake occupies a deep valley in the southeastern corner of the township, ands several small streams enter the lake from the northwest. The principal products are hops and cheese. The soil is of a diversified character, consisting of gravel, limestone, slate clay, and sandy loam, well cultivated and very productive.

But the most distinguishing features of the town is its rich mineral waters, about so extensively near the northern extremity of Canadarago Lake.

In the year 1755, John Tunnicliff, resided in Derby, England, where he own a large and valuable estate, with extensive forests in which wre preserved a variety of game for the diversion of himself and numerous friends. Like nearly all his descendants, he was extremely fond of the sports of the chase; and on one occasion he pursued and shot a deer in the forest of an English nobleman, who prosecuted him for the offense. This circumstance, it is said, together with the onerous tax imposed by King George II on all gamesters, so incensed him that he at once resolved to emigrate to the American colonies, where he could be at liberty to enjoy the pleasures of the forest, unrestrained by stringent laws or the caprice of titled nobility.

Accordingly, the following year he arrived in Philadelphia. Extensive tracts of public lands had already been granted to individuals and companies by the English colonial government in the eastern part of the colony of New York, and Mr. Tunnicliff visited this portion of the State in search of land, with a view of making it a future home for his family. Proceeding westward from Albany, he at length reached Cherry Valley, where he learned of the existence of a region of beautiful lakes and numerous mill-streams a few miles farther to the west. He was desirous of securing a location that would resemble, as far as possible in it topography, his estate in England, and, amid the unlimited diversity before him, finally selected a tract of twelve thousand acres, about two miles southwest of Canadarago lake, in the patent, just granted the same year to David Schuyler and others. Here he erected a cabin and commenced the work of clearing away the forest. Other adventurers had already occupied claims in the vicinity, and it doubtless required no small degree of fortitude and courage to endure the privations and dangers incident to frontier life; and especially when we take into consideration the peculiar exigencies of the times. The French and English nations wre at this time contending for the mastery of the continent. The latter occupied the Atlantic slope, while Canada was in the possession of the former, who ws making vigorous efforts to control the western lake and rivers south to the mouth of the Mississippi, and thus confine the English to the Atlantic coast. The French had vast hordes of Indian allies, who were constantly on the alert to perpetuate acts of hostility on their foes. Frontier settlements were frequently destroyed, and isolated cabins and unprotected families fall into the hands of the savages, who burned their homes to the ground.

Mr. Tunnicliff had frequently been apprised of the danger that surrounded him, and resolved to leave until the close of the French War. His farming utensils were buried in the forest, and he returned to his family in England. Soon after his departure his buildings were burned by the Indians, and in consequence of this circumstance he remained in England several years, during which time he sold his estate there, bestowing, according to the English custom of primogeniture, a large portion of his property upon his eldest son, John, Jr., who had arrived at the years of manhood, and preferred to remain in the land of his birth. Mr. Tunnicliff had three sons and two daughters. The two younger sons were at this time lad of twelve and fourteen years, and the eldest daughter was sixteen.

Mr. Tunnicliff was possessed of a large property, and occupied a high social position.

At Liverpool he purchased a vessel fully manned, and with a considerable number of passengers on board, (several families of which we shall have occasion to notice in this work), he sailed for Philadelphia, arrived in the summer of 1758.

A farm, previously purchased, on the banks of the Schuylkill, now occupied by the family, where they remained until the year 1764,when they removed to Dutchess County, in the colony of New York.

Although peace had been restored the previous year, Mrs. Tunnicliff refused to accompany her husband to his lands in Schuyler’s patent. Accordingly, a farm was leased for five years at Schenesborough, near Lake Champlain, where the family were located with the two son, Joseph and William. Mr. Tunnicliff now returned to his frontier estate, and found the ruins of his cabin that had been burned by the Indians. He at once caused new buildings to be erected, also a saw-mill on the stream by, that was kept incessantly at work to answer the requirements of the now growing settlements. His eldest daughter remained with her father at The Oaks, as it was called, from the circumstance that a large portion of the lands in the purchase were thickly covered with gigantic oak-trees. This name was subsequently given to the stream that forms the outlet of Canadarago Lake, which it still retains. At this early day there were few or no roads in this section of the country, and traveling was done mostly on horseback or on foot.

A deep and well-beaten Indian trail led from Cherry Valley to the western lake, as they were called, passing nearly over the route of the present turnpike, (a branch deflecting to Otsego Lake) to the hill one mile east of Richfield Springs, thence to the lake, and down its eastern shore to the outlet.

It was the work of several days to travel between Lake Champlain and Lake Canadarago. The boundless and unbroken forest at this time wre filled with a great variety of wild animals. The deer and elk were found in great numbers, and were so unaccustomed to the presence of man that they were caught easily. The common black bear, wolves, foxes, and beaver wre also found in abundance, and the rustic dams of the latter could be seen in almost every stream. The nights were usually rendered hideous by the incessant howling of hungry wolves on the mountiantops, the utmost precaution being at all times necessary while traveling through the dark and gloomy forest. The numerous lake in this region were filled with a great variety of fish, and gregarious waterfowl swarmed in their waters, or flew screaming and terrified at the approach of the Indian or the hunter.

"At the time of he discovery and settlement of the valley of the Mohawk by the Europeans it was occupied by five distinct nations or tribes of aborigines, all speaking a language radically the same, and practicing similar customs, who had united in forming a confederacy, which for durability and power was unequaled in Indian history. They were the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, called the French Iroquois, and the Five Nations by the English." (Campbell’s "Tryon County.")

the great events of the Revolution was now impending, and a warlike spirit had already been engendered among the several tribes of the frontier by their participation in the French and Indian Wars; and an appeal to their cupidity by extravagant offers of reward soon made them willing allies of the British, who immediately incited them to the most fiendish acts of hostility against the defenseless colonists. The leader of the savages in this vicinity was Joseph Brant, who was a Mohawk of pure blood. His father was a chief of the Onondaga nation, and Joseph was the youngest of three sons. His Indian name was "Thayendanega." Which signifies strength.

"Early in the spring of 1778, Brant and his warriors, with a large number of Tories, appeared at Oquaga, his headquarters the previous year. There he organized scalping parties, and sent them out upon the borders. The settlers were cut off in detail. Marauding parties fell upon isolated families like bolts from the clouds, and the blaze of the dwellings upon the hills and in the valleys nightly warned the yet secure inhabitants to be on the alert. Their dwelling were transformed into block-houses. The women were taught the use of weapons, and stood sentinels when the men were at work. Half-grown children wre educated for scouts, and taught to discern the Indian trail, and every man worked armed in his field. Such was the condition of the dwellers of Tryon County during almost the whole time of the war. The first hostile movement of Brant in this region was the destruction of the first settlement of Springfield hear the head of Otsego Lake, in the month of May, 1778.

"Every house was burned except one, and into this the women and children wre collected by the order of Brant, and kept unharmed; but the men were either killed or taken captive, and carried away by the Indians." (Lossing.)

From an aged citizenof Springfield, I learn that in the eastern part of the town, in 1778, there were two log houses standing near together, and on hearing of the destruction of Cherry Valley the occupants of these houses fled to the Mohawk, driving their cattle with them. Soon the Indians came and burnt their houses, and it was three years before these families returned. There ws one house south of East Springfield, occupied by a family, that fell into the sands of the savages.

An Indian seized a child by the feet and dashed its head against the door-post. There was also one house just south of Springfield Centre, and a grist-mill near the head of Otsego Lake. The Indians threw the large stone from the mill, but did not burn the building.

During this time Brant’s visits were frequently extended to the remotest settlements and cabins in the valleys of the Susquehanna and Canadarago, and he was well known to the Tunnicliff family at The Oaks, who treated him and his comrades on all occasions with the utmost kindness, being actuated by policy under the peculiar circumstances of the times. Being a firm adherent to the cause of Great Britain, Mr. T, refused to renounce his original allegiance to the crown.

On the occasion of the first visit of Brant to the house of Mr. Tunnicliff, and while standing near the daughter,he twined the heavy ringlets of her hair through his brawny fingers, and remarked, "What a beautiful scalp this would make to adorn the belt of a young warrior!" Inquiring for her father, he was directed to a distance meadow, where Mr. Tunnicliff was at work with his scythe. As he approached him, Brant inquired, "Is this Tunnicliff?" Being answered in the affirmative, he asked, "Tory or rebel?" Being assured of his affiliations were with the former, he appeared satisfied, and said, "Then you are a friend of the red man, whose scalping-knife is ever ready to inflict vengeance on its enemies." Thus saying, he brandished its gleaming blade over his head, and struck its point into the breast of Mr. Tunnicliff with sufficient force to draw blood, remarking, with an expression of murderous earnestness, "If you are truly a friend of my race, remain quietly in your cabin, and I, as chief of the Mohawks, will protect you and your family in the day of battle." Thus saying, he immediately departed, and quickly joined his war-painted comrades, and they soon disappeared in the gloom of the forest, in the direction of Canadarago Lake. During the progress of the Revolution many of the settlements west of Albany were either broken up altogether or their growth entirely suspended through fear of Indian hostilities. When we look upon the beautiful scenery of this region, at the present day, we cannot avoid the reflection that all over those rugged hills and deep valleys Indian warriors and hunters scouted for ages before the pale-face made his advent among them, and the slumbering echoes wre often awakened by the loud whoop of the Iroquois and Mohawk, who prowled through these forests in search of wild game, or, still later, to fall upon the defenseless settlers and imbrue their savage hands in innocent blood. Immediately upon the return of peace by provincial emancipation, and the establishment of a liberal-form of government in the States, they at once became an asylum for thousands of Europeans, who sought home on the shores of the New World. Regions that had hitherto been solitary wilds for unknown ages were soon transformed into flourishing towns and intelligent communities. The fertile valleys and plains of Otsego County wre now taken up by ambitious, frugal, and industrious emigrants, who purchased lands at merely nominal prices of those who still held claims or patents obtained under colonial authority. The northern portion of Otsego County was regarded with especial favor in consequence of its beautiful lake scenery, fertile soil, diversity of timber that composed its rich forests, eligible mill-size and water privileges, aside from the salubrity of the climate, and pure streams of running water that abound so extensively, and are so essential to our farming interests at the present day.

In the year 1774, John Tunnicliff purchased 600 acres of land in the northern portion of Schuyler’s patent, commencing hear the mouth of Fish Creek, and running northerly to the present line of Herkimer County.

The lines crossed what is now Main Street in this village, near where now stands the National Hotel, and included the western half of the present corporate limits. The trees on about 200 acres of this land were "girdled" at this time, preparatory to a permanent settlement and the erection of mills on Fish Creek. Canadarago Lake at this time was skirted by a dense forest, and its shores wre bedecked by a profusion of lacustrine plants and flowers. A howling wilderness enveloped the mountains and deep valleys in every direction; gigantic forest-trees cast their long shadows far over the waters of the lake that lay in wild seclusion in the midst of the primeval forest. This was indeed a wild and picturesque region, but possessing all the natural elements that have since contributed to its present state of material prosperity so abundantly enjoyed by us.

In 1791, William Tunnicliff, the youngest, son of John Tunnicliff, built a saw-mill at Richfield Springs. The mill-dam that now forms "Lake Clement" was built the same year. The following year a grist-mill was erected on the opposite side of the creek (east side), which answered the purposes of the townspeople for several years, except in low water, when they had to go to great distances. Says Levi Beardsley, in his Reminiscences, "there were no stops near us, and if there had been, we had nothing to pay for goods.

"Our nearest mill, while we lived at the lake neat Herkimer’s Creek, was Tubbs’, on Oaks Creek, near Toddsville, some three miles from Cooperstown. After we went to Richfield, we sometimes went to this mill, sometimes to Westbridge’s in Burlington, and sometimes to Fort Plain, the latter at least thirty miles as the road then ran." The old building in which was the first grist-mill, just eighty-one years ago, is still standing, near the present mill of Mr. John Dana, in this village.

The same tear that William Tunnicliff built the mills at Richfield Springs, Isaac Freeman emigrated from New Jersey, and built two mills on the premises now owned by Mr. B. A. Weatherbee, about one-half mile north of this village, in the town of Warren. One of the mills was built on the upper dam, on what is known as the "trout pond." Portions of this old dam still remain.

One year previous to the date of Schuyler’s patent, Konrath Mattes secured a patent of 1000 acres, lying directly east of Tunnicliff’s purchase, and embraced the greater portion of the present village, as will be seen by the following communication:

Richfield Springs, May 1, 1873.


Dear Sir,--In reply to your request for a biographical sketch of my grandfather, Nathan Dow, and for such information as may have come within my knowledge as regards the early settlers in this region, and the original owners of the land (the present site of the village of Richfield Springs), I have the pleasure to give you the facts as I find them from an examination of old deeds in my possession, and from the accounts which I have heard my grandfather from time to time give of his early life. Nathan Dow traced his descent from the elder of two brothers who arrived in Boston in June, 1635. His father settled in Windham County, where Nathan was born. He was a boy of fourteen years when the stirring news from Lexington and Bunker Hill sent a thrill of sorrow and rage throughout the length and breadth of the land. The State of Connecticut poured forth her fill proportion of hardy yeomanry to man the lines around Boston, while among the few that remained at home the project was conceived of surprising Ticonderoga, a fortified post on the western shore of Lake Champlain.

They communicated their design to Colon Ethan Allen, and a body of men, among whom was Nathan Dow, as yet only a boy, enrolled their names among the Green Mountain boys, and hastened to Ticonderoga.

More than once have I heard my grandfather quote the words of Colonel Allen, as he heard them, when asked by the commander of the fort by whose authority he demanded its surrender. "In the name," said Allen, "of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress."

But I do not propose to follow Nathan Dow through the War of the Revolution. It will be sufficient to say that he served with distinction, and that when peace was declared he returned to his home, carrying with him many horrible scars received in this desperate struggle for liberty and independence. After his marriage, he settled in Voluntown, Conn., and devoted his time to agriculture, until the year 1800. In the summer of this year, having paid a visit to this region, accompanied by his wife, the journey being made on horseback, he determined to make this his future residence, and in 1802 made his first purchase. he lived in his new house long enough to see a great portion of the country cleared, and a thriving village grow up on his well-cultivated farms, and when, in 1841, he was gathered to his fathers, he left behind an unsullied name, and a reputation respected for integrity, firmness, and liberality.

In regard to the original ownership of the lands in this vicinity, I find that in 1754 letters patent were issued, as the document expresses itself, "by his most Catholic Majesty of Great Britain and the realm, King George the Second, the defender of the faith, granting unto Konrath Mattes, yeoman, a certain tract of land situate, lying, and being in the County of Albany, Province of New York, on the south side of the Mohawk River, at a certain lake called by the Indians Can-ja-da-ra-go." (I would remark here that the name belongs only to the lake, and not to the Indians.)

This region belonged, as far as the division of the country was concerned, among the "Iroquois," to the Five nations, one tribe of which, the "Oneida," ranged through this section. I might further say that, as we adopt local Indian names only because they are Indian, it would be wise, in naming our streets and public buildings, to continue the proper orthography and pronunciation. Bounding Mattes’ patent on the north was Young’s patent, on the west Schuyler’s patent or purchase, as it was called. The present corporation is, I believe, confined to these three grants, the greater portion, however, being on Mattes’ patent. A subject that may interest the operators in real estate is the consideration then paid as the property changed hands.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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