Benjamin Lisk Bessac

Vol. 4, No. 32

As tours of Mt. Albion Cemetery continue every Sunday through the month of August, I noticed a particular headstone that is frequently passed over each year. Progressing up the winding hills towards the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at the peak of the cemetery is a moderately-sized, dark greyish-blue stone that reads “Father – Benjamin L. Bessac, 1807 – 1871.” The stone is rather reserved in comparison to the larger, ostentatious obelisks and monuments that stand around it. Benjamin Lisk Bessac, the feature of this article, was one of the most notable attorneys in Orleans County who mentored the area’s premier lawyers.

Born on March 12, 1807 at New Baltimore, New York, Bessac’s mother died when he was just 12 days old leaving his father a widower with an infant child. Some reports differ as to who exactly cared for the child in infancy, some suggesting his grandparents while others suggest an aunt who lived in the vicinity.… More

Communal Company Promoted Early Settlement in Carlton


A pioneer settlement as depicted in the Historical Album of Orleans County (1879)

Vol. 4, No. 30

On September 10, 1810, eight men from Stockbridge, Massachusetts signed a contract binding one another to a settlement on the Holland Land Purchase in Western New York. These men were unsure of what they would encounter in the virgin woods of the Genesee Country where land was scarcely settled, and neighbors few and far between. When gazing upon the text of this agreement, the articles read like a manifesto built upon a foundation of communism. Now this is not to say that these pioneers sought to establish any semblance of a communist society in the wilderness of Carlton, but the premise of this collective was to share the fruits of labor.

The first line of Article 1 read, “…for the purpose of our better accommodation and mutual benefit, we do and have resolved ourselves to one respective body or company…” That organization established under the name of the “Union Company,” was formed with the purpose of sharing labor while providing the freedom to purchase land without limitation by the group.… More

Demisemiseptcentennial: Mt. Albion’s 175th Anniversary

Vol. 4, No. 29

“We have met to provide a mansion for the dead. We have come out from our quiet homes and the bright sunlight and the crowded streets and all the garish show of life, to this secluded spot to set apart a last final resting place where the weary pilgrim…may come and lay down his burden forever…” – Daniel R. Cady, Esq.

Benjamin Franklin once said that there are but two certainties in life; death and taxes. For the pioneers of Albion, the question of a sacred final resting place plagued them from the earliest years of settlement. Small burial grounds existed within the village limits, but the harsh realities of life and death proved problematic for these noble citizens.

It became apparent soon after the incorporation of the village that a cemetery on East State Street would be quickly overcome with the bodies of those who succumbed to the tribulations of pioneer life.… More

Clarendon’s Settlement, a Fortunate Stroke of Serendipity

Volume 4, Issue 3

Of the New York State Historic Markers erected by the NYS Department of Education, the overwhelming majority cover locations deemed significant to the earliest history of Orleans County including Native American and pioneer sites. The marker situated at the Town Park on Holley Byron Road in Clarendon calls attention to one of the earlier settlements in our area.

The marker reads, “Farwell’s Mills, here Eldred Farwell, first white settler of town, built the first mills in Clarendon, saw mill in 1811, grist mill in 1813.”

While consulting several seminal publications on early Orleans County history, the spelling of Farwell’s name is clearly debated; here, the State Department of Education uses a shortened spelling. Arad Thomas records Farwell’s name as Eldridge in Pioneer History of Orleans County, New York, but this historian would prefer to reference Farwell’s name as spelled by David Sturges Copeland in his History of Clarendon from 1810 to 1888 where he records the name as Eldredge.… More

Photograph Showcases Orleans County’s Earliest Settlers

Volume 3, Issue 25

On June 25, 1859, the pioneer inhabitants of Orleans County converged upon Court House Square in Albion with the purpose of establishing an historic association. The Pioneer Association, as it was known, was formulated upon a motion made by the Almanzor Hutchinson of Gaines, which set forth the permanent appointment of officers for the organization. Robert Anderson of Gaines was selected as president, vice presidents representing the nine townships were elected including Lansing Bailey of Barre, Alexander Coon of Shelby, Jeremiah Brown of Ridgeway, Gardner Gould of Carlton, Samuel Tappan of Yates, Shubael Lewis of Clarendon, Robert Clark of Kendall, Walter Fairfield of Gaines, and Aretus Pierce of Murray, as well as Asa Sanford as secretary, and Dr. Orson Nichoson as treasurer.

Residency was a requirement for membership within the Pioneer Association; only those who resided in Western New York prior to January 1, 1826, were eligible for admittance.… More

Pioneer Pierce Farm Remains on Route 31 in Murray

Volume 2, Issue 50

This photograph is part of my personal family collection, what I believe to be an image of the Joseph B. Pierce homestead on Route 31 in the town of Murray, immediately west of Hulberton Road. Taken in the late 1870s we see a man, presumably Joseph Pierce, standing along the roadside with a team of horses. Standing in the front yard is Emma Brown Pierce and her four daughters Edith, Fanny, Florence, and Nettie – the latter clinging to the fence.

Joseph was the grandson of Aretas Pierce, Sr. who brought his family from Vermont to Murray in 1815. Upon their arrival to the virgin wilderness of Western New York, the family lived in a log schoolhouse for two weeks while they constructed a log cabin in April of that year. The family lived on provisions brought with them from New England for their first year on the land, but the poor harvest of the following year forced them to live on purchased food including salted pork.… More

Seymour Murdock was Portrait of Pioneer Spirit

Volume 2, Issue 31

“It has been playfully said that you may place a Yankee in the woods with an ax, an auger and a knife, his only tools, and with the trees his only material for use, and he will build a palace…” – Arad Thomas, 1859

We are fortunate to retain the images of our pioneer ancestors, showing the faces of hardship and tribulation. This studio portrait taken in Rochester shows Seymour B. Murdock of Ridgeway in his advanced age, likely in his late 70’s. Over 200 years ago, Murdock was brought to the frontier of Western New York by his father and namesake, Seymour Murdock, arriving on June 1, 1810.

The Murdock clan, consisting of twelve family members, packed into wagons drawn by a team of oxen for the nearly 300-mile journey. Upon reaching the Genesee River, the family was met by dense forests and difficult travel the entire distance to their next stop at Clarkson.… More

“Burrows Concert Hall” Once Home to Baptist Church

Volume 2, Issue 26

Over two hundred years ago as the pioneer settlers first established themselves in the wilderness that was once Genesee County, education and religion became fundamental pieces in daily life. It’s no surprise that the first church constructed in this region was situated along the heavily traveled Ridge Road in the town of Gaines. A partnership between Baptists and Congregationalists led to the erection of a church edifice to the west of the old Gaines Road.

Upon the opening of the Erie Canal, traffic, industry, and eventually wealth transitioned southward into the Village of Albion and of course so did the demand for schools and churches. The Baptists, once practicing their faith in their shared sanctuary at Gaines, pushed to split the congregation in order to establish themselves within the village. With pressure from many prominent citizens, the First Baptist Church of Albion was organized on April 17, 1830 at the Court House; Phineas Briggs and Barnuel Farr were selected as deacons.… More

Pioneer Physician was Respected Educator and Politician

Volume 2, Issue 21

This photograph shows the gravesite of Dr. Lemuel Covell Paine as it appears today. A pioneer physician and Albion businessman, Paine was born November 8, 1787 in Vermont, the son of Dr. Ichabod Sparrow and Mary Dixon Paine. After the death of his father in 1807, arrangements were made for Lemuel to live with his uncle Eli Pierson and study medicine under the direction of Dr. Asa Stower at Queensbury, NY.

As he progressed in his studies, Paine found himself teaching in various one-room schoolhouses to raise the funds to support his education under Stower. Upon the completion of his term under the tutelage of the physician, Lemuel was subjected to the examination put forth by the Censors of the Medical Society of Washington County, which he passed with relative ease. Over the next two decades Paine travelled westward across New York, establishing himself in Clyde, New York for a period of time where he served as a mentor and instructor for several prospective physicians.… More