Cape Vincent

The Original Settlers

The French Settlement

Distinguished French Families


The settlers at Port Putnam and down the river from that point, previous to the war of 1812, are believed to have been the persons already named.--Putnam, Macombs, and Sternberg; Jonathon Cummings, Daniel Spinning, Elnathan Judd, Norman Wadworth, John B, Esselstyn, who came in 1803, and was prominent in the town for many years; Eddy Cole; Caleb Lobdell, Avery Smith, and another family of the same name; Mr. Phelps, William Hollenbeck, Charles Gillett, Orison and Zimri Butterfield, Daniel Nicol, Abner Hubbard,--who never tried to tell as good a story as Barret Hubbard,--Samuel Brittain, and a Mr. Dodd. As late as 1815 only seven houses could be found on the site of Cape Vincent village, and for many years, the forest was left unbroken from a point just below the corner of William street to Port Putnam. The settlers generally came in by the State road, and only a single cabin was built on the route between Chaumont and the St. Lawrence river for at least fifteen years. Sometimes, when the road was bad, it would take thirteen or fourteen hours to make the journey. Often it was impassable. This log cabin was occupied by Mr. Soper and his family, and was a very Interpreter's house to the pilgrims coming into the new country. In 1815 a most beautiful grove of eighteen or twenty elm-trees was growing on the beach at the foot of Point street, just beyond the euphonious "Toad Hole." All that beach has since been washed away. On the lot now owned by Mr. John Grapotte, and also on the lot of Mrs. Pool, were two famous deer-licks. The crack of many a hunter's rifle was heard in the vicinity of these licks sixty-five years ago. In connection with the names of the first settlers, the names of those on the site of Cape Vincent village should be given. They were: Holleb Phelps, Richard M. Esselstyn, John Mathews, Uncle Nash, Eber Kelsey, Dr. Ainsworth, of Vermont, Nathan Lake, and one Proven, whose other name cannot be recalled. These were here in 1812.

Elnathan Judd came to the town in 1809, and settled on the farm where is son Philetus, a man above sixty years of age, is still lliving. Richard M. Esselstyn came to Chaumont, as a surveyor, in 1801. The next year he returned to Claverock, his birthplace and in 1806 came back to the county and settled with his brother, John B., on a farm below Port Putnam. He was county clerk during the war of 1812. He died of yellow fever at Utica, October 2, 1822, greatly lamented. Dr. Ainsworth was the first physician who settled in this part of the county. Eber Kelsey came from Leyden in 1809, and, with the aid of about twenty men cleared a tract of Fifty acres of land on the site of the present village built a house, a barn, tavern, and wharf, and became himself a permanent resident. John B. Esselstyn was one of the very first pioneer settlers who spend his days and strength for the good of the town, and died upon the soil. He settled on Cape Vincent territory in 1803. Six years later he formed a partnership with his brother, Richard M., who built a store and commenced trade. He lived to a good old age, and his memory will long be cherished. In other parts of the town, about 1820, and before this date, might have been found Michael Van Schaick, John Vincent, Willard Ainsworth, Joseph Cross, Dr. Sacket, Dr. Brewster, Benjamin Estes, Captain Caton, and Captain Merritt. Captain Merritt sailed the schooner "Appollonia" from this port; and on her last voyage she was struck by lightning about thirty miles off Mexico bay. She sunk so quickly that the crew had barely time to get out the small boat and escape.

The first large schooner built at Cape Vincent was the "Merchant," the iron-work being done by Samuel and John Forsyth. This schooner made a trip to the head of Lake Ontario and back in three days, with a cargo. Besides the names already given were Ira Hadley, James Borland, Abner Rogers, James Buckley, Oliver Pool, Jacob Bedford, Philip and Abner Gage, Fuller, Green, Hassler, Converse, Pigsley, Holman, Marshall, Van Husen, Hoff,--but time would fail in an attempt to mention the host of enterprising men who made Cape Vincent the field of their achievements. Many of these persons mentioned were farmers; and it is the farming class of the community, whose names are seldom seen or heard, from which the world gets its living. Stop raising wheat, and making butter, and what would become of the professions or histories? (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B.Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop


This portion of the town, now occupied chiefly by French and German residents, was originally settled by Americans, of whom the names of Jacob Van Nostrand, Aaron Whitcomb, Samuel F. Mills, Phineas and Asahel Powers, and Thomas Shaw was mentioned. Thomas Shaw came from New Jersey, and on his way was offered a plat of ground within the present upper limits of New York city, for $100 per acre. He thought he could do better in Jefferson County, and did not purchase. He always kept his stock till it died, never selling or killing an animal for forty years.

Through the influence of Mr. Le Ray a colony came from France, and gave the name to the settlement. After the French a company of Germans appeared and made themselves neighbors. The American families gradually sold out their farms to the Frenchmen or Germans, although the greater part of the immigrants took up new land and hewed out their own fortunes. The colonies were both Roman Catholic in faith, and for many years the preaching and religious services were conducted in both languages; the worship was in the same building. Several of the old people are still unable to speak or understand much of the English tongue. (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B.Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop


About 1818 a number of educated French people came to Cape Vincent, having been involved in the reverses of Napoleon the First, in consequence of which they found it necessary to flee from their native land. They had no connection with the French colony.

Among those whose names are now remembered by the old inhabitants were Peter Francis Real and his con-in-law, General Rolland, Camille Arnaund, Jermaux, and Pigeon. Peter Real was a county, and the chief of police under Napoleon and an enthusiastic student in astronomy. Some of the finest instruments of that age of science were brought to Cape Vincent from France, and the boy who was privileged to visit the upper room in Count Real's house where those instruments, as well as others, were kept, gazed in perfect wonder at the display. The count lived about two years in a hired house, and then built at the head of Gouvello street what was currently known as the "cup and saucer" dwelling, because it resembled those two articles of sewing-society comfort. It should not be inferred, however, that it was made for sewing-society purposes. On the other hand, there is every reason to believe that a plan was laid by these French residents to spirit Napoleon away from St. Helena and bring him to Cape Vincent,, with the cup and saucer house for a home. But napoleon died in 1821, and for this reason, or some other good one, the town just escaped a world-wide notoriety. The astronomical instruments were taken back to France when these exiles returned, after the death of the great chief. Mr. Louis Peugnet was also an officer in Napoleon's army. Pigeon never wore anything on his head while in Cape Vincent, summer or winter, because he had made a vow to that effect, to last so long as Napoleon was held a prisoner on his lonely island. And yet a story is told of him, that, while once watching the boys as they were merrily skating on the river, he became very desirous of learning the art. But the falls and the bumps! To avoid any unnecessary collision after the skates were strapped on, he tied a cushion over his head and a pillow just below the middle of his body behind, and went out among the boys for his first skating. How he succeeded tradition does not inform us. (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B.Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop


© Kevin Subra.   This site was begun September 7, 2000 in order to encourage interest in the history and ancestry of Cape Vincent. Thank you for visiting! E-mail the webmaster, or visit his Subra Family website which he is developing to help his family get to know THEIR history!

Thanks to Holice B. Young and Debbie Axtman for their previous efforts in launching this project!


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