John N. Miskell's Why Auburn?
-- the Relationship between Auburn and the Prison


Page 2 of 10
The United States Congress passed a law in 1776 which provided that soldiers who enlisted in the War for Independence would be entitled to receive land as a bounty from the government if they remained in service until the close of the war or until discharged by Congress.

Peace having been declared after the Treaty of Paris was signed on Sept. 4, 1783 the volunteers from New York State demanded their bounties. But, as the Indian title to the lands was not yet cleared, a delay ensued. Many of the troops became impatient and sold their claims to land speculators. It wasn't until 1789 that the problem of ownership was resolved when title for the entire territory was purchased from the Iroquois Nation. The area was then surveyed, divided into lots, and opened up for settlers.

Above appears an image of one of the historic markers that recall Major General John Sullivanís 1779 campaign against the Iroquois. Auburn founder Col. John Hardenbergh was with Sullivan in that campaign. The Indian Sites marker image is from a larger one by Joyce M. Tice appearing on her web site Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice.

Among its many informative pages is a detailed account of Gen. Sullivan's raids on Indian villages. The article, by Kevin Olmstead, was originally published in the Towanda (Pa.) Daily Review.

Gen. Sullivan

Col. Hardenbergh's bounty land that figures so importantly in Auburn's founding was part of what was known as The Military Tract of Central New York, about 1.75 million acres of bounty land in the Finger Lakes region, including Cayuga County.

Chief reason for delay in distributing promised bounty land from the military tract to the Revolutionary War veterans was the need to negotiate a treaty with the Cayugas and Onondagas to release their claims to most of the tract. The Cayuga County NYGenWeb Project site provides an excellent Summary History of The Military Tract Of Central NY.

[Image selection & caption by NYCHS webmaster]

The first settlement in what is now Cayuga County was made in 1789 at Aurora. Other settlers soon followed. However Indians were the only occupants of Auburn when Colonel John Hardenbergh settled here.

It is a matter of record in the archives maintained by the Cayuga County Historical Society that on Feb. 20, 1792, Colonel John Hardenbergh purchased Lot #47 in the Town of Aurelius. He paid ninety pounds for his purchase or about $.75 per acre. He came into the Township early in 1793 and took possession of his farm which was easily accessible by means of a rude wagon track or trail that ran through the woods directly by the spot.

Hardenbergh knew the area well, for he had accompanied General Sullivan in his expedition against the Indian Six Nations. When the military tract was later surveyed Hardenbergh was employed in that work.

The Colonel knew that one of the greatest disadvantages to which early settlers were exposed was the want or lack of mills for grinding grain or sawing lumber. He had selected his lot with the special aim of supplying that demand. As soon as possible after becoming settled in his new home in the woods he began the work of building a grist mill. Throwing a stout log down across the Owasco River, he directed two men to build the mill, which was soon complete and running.

The erection of the mill was the great event of the settlement. In time it more than realized the expectations of its builder, exercising from the beginning the most important influences on the destiny of the valley and performed for Col. Hardenbergh an essential service, bringing his property into notice and making his farm sort of a center.

The direct result of the operation of the mill was an accumulation of settlers near the junction of the two roads there, which was called, "Hardenbergh Corners," or often simplified and called just "The Corners."

The description of an idyllic village in The Deserted Village by poet Oliver Goldsmith (sketch) is said to have inspired Hardenbergh Corners citizens in their selecting a new name for their community in 1803.

Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain

Where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain,

Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,

And parting summer's lingering blooms delayed:

Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,

Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,

How often have I loitered o'er thy green,

Where humble happiness endeared each scene!

How often have I paused on every charm,

The sheltered cot, the cultivated farm,

The never-failing brook, the busy mill,

The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill,

The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,

For talking age and whispering lovers made!

[Image selection & caption by NYCHS webmaster]

Soon every road leading to western New York was choked with emigrants. By and large the heritage of Aurelius and Cayuga County was that of Calvinist New England. Calvinism provided settlers with a basis for the creeds of Presbyterian and Reformed Protestant religions.

Many settlers were sober, middle class people of agricultural stock. They had been pushed out of New England by adverse economic conditions. They brought with them a desire for civilization, refinement, and law and order. Additionally they sought to establish churches, schools, and other institutions which would help to nourish a stable culture.

In 1800, twelve years after the first settlement, Cayuga County had 15,097 people, an average of 1,200 accessions for over eleven years.

In June 1803, the "Corners" were given the shorter and more euphonious name of "Auburn." The place had been designated as the county seat, and a more dignified name than "Corners" was desired. After much discussion at a public meeting the name Auburn was finally chosen by a large majority of those present, much to the disappointment of Col. Hardenbergh.

By 1810 Auburn was a very active business place. Seventeen little manufacturing establishments were scattered along the banks of Owasco Outlet, a definite indication of progress. There were few idlers in Auburn; industrial pursuits engaged the active attention of nearly all the people who were both ambitious and hopeful. Although there were many taverns along the Genesee Trail, intemperate and lazy people were held in contempt in the village.

The settlers were very loyal to their country. A company of regular soldiers was recruited for service in the War of 1812 and also a company of riflemen. The riflemen participated in several battles and were at all times distinguished for bold and resolute deeds against the British Army.

In short, residents of the area were moralistic, serious, no-nonsense type of people. Leaders who sought to have a prison located in Auburn were generally supported in their efforts. The petitioners did not act on an impulse to create something new or different socially. Rather they were determined to establish a successful business enterprise that would bring additional settlers and prosperity to the area.

Why Auburn? the Relationship between Auburn and the Prison text ©1991 by John N. Miskell
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