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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Full Share of Hardships Usual to a New Settlement, they Experienced…” Walton, New York and Public Memory

by Larry Dake

Copyright ©2011. All rights reserved.

Introduction: Pattengill’s “Fifteen Questions”
            In the January 27, 1857 edition of the Walton Blade, First Congregational Church Rev. J.S. Pattengill issued a call for Walton residents to record their town’s history. In doing so, he established the groundwork for Walton’s public memory. Pattengill had the first settlers in mind when he wrote, “We wish for the help of those who came to this place previous to 1812; of those who were born in this town previous to 1806.”[i] Pattengill’s “Fifteen Questions” established which facts and stories would be recorded as history and which would be excluded. From this selective historical record, Walton’s public memory would be constructed. Specifically, he asked families to consider fifteen questions:

1. What year did your family, or your Father’s family remove to this place?
2. From what town and state did they remove?
3. What time of the year – the month and day of arrival?
4. By what route did they come?
5. Where did they settle; on what farm?
6. How much land did they buy?
7. What did they pay per acre?
8. By whom was their deed executed and at what date?
9. What incidents occurred in the family, or neighborhood, which were of interest to the family or neighborhood?
10. What anecdotes are remembered?
11. What were the religious habits and positions of the family in the neighborhood?
12. What the number of family – and how many are dead and the age of death?
13. How many living, and who; and how many have removed?
15. (sic) What amount of property when settling here?

At their core, Pattengill’s questions concern family history. The responses to this call for memory would be time-specific and ideological in nature, however. Whether Pattengill intended this is unknown. Regardless of intention, Pattengill’s call for public memory arose out of a specific historical context driven by two factors. First, by the 1850’s, the town’s original settlers were disappearing from Walton’s social fabric. Those who settled Walton between 1785 and 1815 were dying at a rapid clip in post-Jacksonian America. Pattengill feared that their memory would be forgotten if their stories were not recorded for posterity’s sake. Secondly, the 1850’s dire political situation, I argue, may have caused Walton’s inhabitants to seek their founding’s ideological restatement. In an increasingly unstable political and social atmosphere, Pattengill issued a call for public memory in an attempt to provide stability.

Walton’s public memory, as constructed following Pattengill’s historical clarion call, situated it residents in a republican past, a stable present, and a promising future. I will argue that Walton’s nineteenth-century newspaper historians, by stressing such essential republican themes as virtue, industry, and thrift, fashioned an imagined public memory that facilitated a specific version of Walton’s history to be remembered. This was a time-specific historical construction.  Walton’s public memory did not migrate with the first settlers; rather, it was constructed approximately seventy years after Walton’s successful settlement.

From 1857 through 1880, Walton’s history was recorded in four separate newspaper series articles. These newspaper articles utilized republican themes to construct how Walton’s settlement and growth would be remembered. Three main constructs are represented in Walton’s public memory. First, Walton’s original founding families were remembered in an especially romantic light. Additionally, Walton’s settlement and population growth were celebrated.  Finally, the public memory of Walton’s citizens was heroically conceptualized. Republican ideology – which would have been familiar to nineteenth-century Waltonians – shaped how these three constructed were remembered.  Walton’s public memory became an exercise in writing a specific version of Walton history as much as an attempt to reconstruct the town’s founding.

Recording Walton’s History: The Context

Walton’s public memory was constructed approximately seventy years after the town’s initial settlement. In March 1770, King George III granted William Walton 20,000 acres of land in upstate New York. Walton, a prominent New York City merchant, appears to have made a purely speculative purchase; there is no record that he ever visited his tract. The present towns of Walton, Sidney, and Masonville were encompassed in this transaction.[iii]  The land remained unsettled by European-Americans throughout the Revolutionary conflict.  That struggle, however, would shape who ultimately settled the Walton Patent.

Three of Walton’s founding fathers – Platt Townsend, Joshua Pine, and Robert North – all suffered during America’s struggle for political independence. Britain’s occupation of New York City for much of the conflict had driven these men from their homes and led to their livelihood’s destruction. Faced with uncertain economic conditions following the 1783 Treaty of Paris, these three men and their families were predisposed to migration. While the relationship’s specifics remain nebulous, Townsend’s association with William Walton provided the opportunity. Townsend contracted to purchase 5,000 acres of the Walton Patent for immediate settlement.  Recruiting his friends Pine and North, their families, and William Furman’s family, the group of twenty settlers embarked for their new homes in March 1785.[iv]
Pushed by the Revolutionary Conflict and pulled by the promise of Walton Patent land, this small group left their homes on Long Island and in Southeastern Connecticut for a fresh start. Their movement cannot be viewed in isolation, however. The Revolutionary conflict caused similar social and economic dislocation throughout the newly independent United States. The 1783-1787 period, between the Treaty of Paris and the Constitutional Convention, witnessed scores of relocations similar to Walton’s settlement.[v] As Walton’s settlement underscores, the Revolutionary conflict did more than free America from British constraints; it provided the context for a vast migration of peoples into areas previously unsettled by European-Americans. Townsend, North, Pine, and their group’s decision to settle the Walton Patent was a conscious decision in an era of extreme dislocation. Seeking a fresh start, these men and women traveled to an unknown area in search of a world left behind by the Revolutionary conflict.

Republican Ideology and Walton’s Public Memory

As aforementioned, this settlement’s history would be remembered through republican lenses. An undertaking as large as settling a new area necessitates strong wills and beliefs. The original settlers and their successors inhabited an America steeped in republican ideology. Following a successful revolution against Europe’s most powerful nation, many Americans experienced a nationalistic wave that facilitated the new country’s westward expansion. Walton’s public memory would be written within this ideological context.

Virtue, industry, and thrift were the main republican constructs pulsating through Walton’s public memory.  Walton’s nineteenth-century newspaper historians, seeking to situate their town’s memory in this tradition, exploited republican ideology in their writings. In step with national trends, Walton’s newspaper historians deemed virtue essential to Walton’s successful settlement and growth. Virtue became a unifying theme that guided the founding settlers to rid themselves of corruption, greed, and moral wrongdoing, according to Walton’s nineteenth-century newspaper historians. Furthermore, virtue encompassed a community ethic in this tradition.[vi] The founding families and their successors could not have successfully settled a wilderness without virtue.  Virtue imbued the founding settlers with a sense that their journey was more than a personal resettlement: they were transplanting civilization itself.

While virtue dictated how the founders’ aspirations would be constructed, industry determined the community’s success upon initial settlement. Only through hardship and perseverance, it would be believed, did Walton survive and grow. The founders and subsequent generations are painted as possessing a unique propensity to work.  Industry rested on more than farm building, however. Walton’s nineteenth-century newspaper historians were careful to identify citizens with other specialized skills and talents. Skilled craftwork was essential to a republican concept of industry.[vii] Walton, as nineteenth-century historians would note time and again, attracted industrious men and women.

Along with virtue and industry, Walton’s citizens would be noted for their thrift. As will be demonstrated, Walton’s republican citizenry would be described as neither wealthy nor impoverished. By painting Walton as a middle-class agricultural community, Walton’s nineteenth-century historians held thrift as an ideal. According to them, Walton was never an opulent community. Rather, its citizenry reinvested hard-earned profits into the town, their businesses, their farms, and their children. Conspicuous displays of wealth and status were implicitly rejected throughout the newspaper articles. Simplicity, one of republican ideology’s main tenets,[viii] was awarded high praise in Walton’s public memory.

These three republican constructs – virtue, industry, and thrift – comprise the prism through which Walton’s public memory was written. The writing of the history itself, in addition, was also considered a virtuous undertaking. In an unstable political environment, Walton’s successful future depended upon its current residents internalizing the founder’s personal characteristics. Allowing their struggles and achievements to be forgotten would have had disastrous consequences for Walton’s future generations. Recording their history and, more importantly, their memory, became essential to survival in the 1850’s political caldron.[ix]

Public Memory of Walton’s First Families

Along with the construction of Walton’s public memory, the town’s initial settlement arose out of a specific historical context. As mentioned above, Platt Townsend, Joshua Pine, Robert North, William Furman, and their families migrated from Long Island to the Walton Patent in March 1785. Social and economic dislocation, emanating from the Revolution, predisposed these families to migration. Traveling while winter snow still blanketed the Catskills, those first settlers doubtless endured many hardships and privations along the way.  The first response to Pattengill’s call for articles notes that Walton’s settlement was undergirded by those “characteristics that required fortitude and patient struggles.”[x] Later in this article, this author notes that the first settlers were mostly men and women of small means but “rich in the virtue of endurance.”[xi]

Although their journey was undoubtedly arduous, Walton’s first settlers were led by a talented and well-resourced leader. Platt Townsend graduated from King’s College at age sixteen and spent three years in England studying among Europe’s most-renowned physicians. Colonial New York’s distinguished social circles were open to him.  After earning a medical degree from Edinborough, he served as Surgeon General of Connecticut’s troops during the Revolutionary conflict.[xii] Far from a down-and-out pauper, Townsend possessed political, social, and economic resources to successfully settle the Walton Patent.

Townsend was an unusual candidate to lead a resettlement migration. His entire life had been spent in a powerful social and political milieu. Yet, after the Revolutionary conflict, he removed himself from that context altogether and settled an obscure land parcel on upstate New York’s frontier. His two main accomplices, Pine and North, had also suffered during the war with Great Britain. Both families had been refugees in Connecticut during Britain’s occupation of New York City. How these three men came to know each other, however, is a mystery. Walton’s foremost historian, Arthur North, makes this passing comment:  “Let it suffice, that in late 1784, the three men came together.”[xiii] While all three were predisposed to migration following the Revolution, their personal histories would be consumed by their public memory as nineteenth-century newspaper historians painted their deeds with a republican brush tinted with virtue, industry, and thrift.

As might be expected, Walton’s nineteenth-century newspaper articles bestowed the highest praise on these original settlers. Especially critical to this memory was the 1785 to 1815 settlement period. The nineteenth-century articles demonstrated an awareness that Walton’s success was not guaranteed. Rather, it was safeguarded through its settler’s adherence to republican ideals. According to this constructed public memory, it had been the original settlers’ virtue, industry, and thrift that facilitated the community’s successful settlement. An early contributor to Walton’s nineteenth-century public memory makes this clear:

At the beginning of the present century, a large portion of the Town was settled and society had taken shape, and the blessings of industry began to be abundantly recompensed in the comforts of life.[xiv]

In these authors’ minds, the first settlers’ virtue evinced itself in their ability to transform a dense forest into a viable community. Much emphasis is given on the first human interaction the settlers had after reaching their destination. After traveling over the Catskill Mountains in deep snow and harsh weather, the first group stopped in present-day Downsville with a family a family named Ackerly. Thanking this family for their hospitality, the group “performed the first missionary labor by giving the old lady who could not read English a Dutch bible.  The balance of the party opened a road over Colchester Mountain.”[xv]
Utilizing the term “missionary labor” to describe the first settlers’ conduct is not surprising. Personal virtue manifested itself in this missionary act and the subsequent labor undertaken to open a road. One newspaper article remembered “in less than five years from that time [the original settlement], nearly all the arable land in Walton was settled by the old Puritan stock; and I believe no town in New England has so strictly adhered to the old Puritan principles.”[xvi] To the nineteenth-century historians, the highest spiritual and temporal virtue was evident in the first settlers’ initial migration. Their religious virtue not only merited their survival, but facilitated their ability to attract other pious settlers, as well.

Although initially overwhelmed by the Walton Patent’s dense forests and deep snow,[xvii] the town’s first pioneers quickly set to the task of creating a community. The first settlers’ industry and thrift are apparent:

The industry of the men soon opened little clearings that let in the sunshine.  Planting, sowing, and harvesting were all done in the first season.  Potatoes were counted to see how many it would do to eat each day and save enough for seed.[xviii]

Besides ensuring the community had enough to eat, the first pioneers kept a “potato-count” to maximize their plantings. Walton’s nineteenth-century citizens would be noted for their thrift; their founding families were remembered for possessing the same personal characteristics.

On July 11, 1878, Walton’s newspaper printed an “Old Time Letter” from Gabriel North, a member on Townsend’s initial group. Dated November 11, 1785, this letter provides unique insight into Walton’s settlement only months after the group’s arrival. Although written in 1785, this letter was utilized in 1878 to construct a specific memory of the town’s industrious, yet arduous, settlement.  Writing to his brother in New Canaan, Connecticut, North first addresses his health and safety: “I would inform you we are in perfect health, for which blessing I desire to be truly thankful, and hope this may find you and yours enjoying the same.”[xix]  North follows by noting that he has “laid a foundation for all the happiness this world can afford.”[xx]  He finished by addressing rumors that he and the settlers had died or were greatly suffering:

You say that my friends have expected letters from me; I am sorry to disappoint  them. Tell them I am perfectly satisfied with my situation, and find the country much better than I expected. We expect a number of settlers out in the spring…[xxi]

Although the writer does not delve into specifics, it provided first-hand affirmation for the newspaper’s public memory construction. North acknowledges that the migration to Walton and the community’s transition had been challenging. There is little doubt, however, that he and the first settlers planning on staying and developing their new land. Waltonians in 1878 would have resonated with North’s letter. The newspaper articles they had been reading over the past twenty years had painted the initial settlers as virtuous Americans whose industry and thrift facilitated Walton’s growth and development. The North letter affirms this message.  Walton historian Arthur North also echoes these sentiments in The Founders and the Founding of Walton’s final paragraph. North closes his 1924 history by writing:

And now, if the lives of these men and women, exemplifying the very best of the early making of American communities can be inspirations for later generations in Walton, or elsewhere, then the spirit of the founders will live on, throbbing again in the pulse of the nation they helped create.[xxii]

Walton’s first families would persist in the town’s memory and be remembered as paragons of republican virtue, industry, and thrift.

Public Memory of Walton’s Settlement and Growth

Along with Walton’s initial settlers, its rapid population growth would be remembered in a specific light. The Walton Patent land continued to attract new settlers in the 1785 to 1815 time period. As will be discussed below, a 570 population estimate for 1803 appears approximately correct. Walton’s newspaper historians postulate growth as stemming from migration more than births; if correct, over four hundred new settlers arrived in Walton by the early nineteenth century. Along with large in-migration, however, Walton experienced persistence in family names that remained stable throughout the nineteenth century. These factors led nineteenth century newspaper historians to infuse Walton’s settlement and growth with republican characteristics. Much like the first families, but on a less personal level, Walton’s success as a town was rooted in this public memory.

Shortly after Pattengill’s open letter, newspaper authors began discussing Walton’s settlement and growth.  Primarily, the settlement’s success was measured through population growth. While the quantitative figures will be further discussed, this growth’s qualitative aspects also received substantial press. In the 1857’s series’ second historical article, one author wrote:

…this nation is a migratory nation, whose home is anywhere and everywhere at it suits convenience, speculation, or caprice, and no family attachments fasten permanently to one spot.[xxiii]

Walton, according to this author, is the exception to the rule. While some have squatted on land and removed, the author contended, the vast majority laid down roots in the Walton community. Pattengill’s “Fifteen Questions” support this claim.  Family history forms his inquiry’s core. Pattengill, who was Walton’s First Congregational Church pastor, would have been extremely familiar with the community’s families. In addition, he appears to expect that most families capable of supplying history on Walton’s founding still reside within the town. Writing of the Stockton family in Walton history, one newspaper article discusses the early family’s persistence:

The attraction of Walton, to those who were born here, is very strong…we have tried breaking away from them ourselves, and can testify from experience, that some bewitching charm, mysterious and undefined, drew us back to our mountain home. We could in absence sympathize with the Israelites, when they longed in the wilderness for the good things of Egypt.[xxiv]

Walton’s settlement and population growth continued to be a popular topic for nineteenth century newspaper historians. Some pointed with pride to new roads opening. In 1810, for example, the Esopus Pike was constructed and connected Walton to the Hudson River. One author does not view this as coincidence.  Although the new turnpike provided new business opportunities, by 1810, Walton was already the county’s largest village. Those who built the road understood Walton’s industrious citizenry when they plotted its course.[xxv] Another article points with pride at the many travelers who stayed in Walton for a short respite before moving further west. In 1792, Walton’s first tavern and inn opened.  Moreover, westward-bound immigrants were noted for their continuous presence in Walton during this period.[xxvi] According to those constructing Walton’s public memory, this is further evidence of Walton’s deserving presence on the Esopus Pike.

Schools and churches were also quickly established. Nineteenth century newspaper historians pointed to these community mainstays as further proof of Walton’s progression from wilderness to civilization. “Civilization,” as a historical theme, abounds in several newspaper articles.[xxvii] Reinforcing republican ideology, Walton’s virtuous citizens relied upon their industry and thrift to transform a dense forest into a political and social entity. “Civilization’s” markers – schools and churches – play a prominent role in Walton’s public memory. As testaments to Walton’s republican character, they appear countless times throughout newspaper articles.  Commenting on Walton’s first schoolhouse, erected in 1801, one newspaper author is moved to write:

Nehemiah Richards occupied it as the first teacher, but since that time a silent and certain change has wrought a revolution. The teachers and his patrons, the fathers and mothers, of the past century have passed away.  Before them the forest fell, and by their toll and economy a future generation was provided with the blessings of civilization and religion, and before the scythe of time they have falled – the conquerors of the wilderness are conquered in turn, to partake of progress as by a law of destiny.[xxviii]
Along with education, nineteenth century Waltonians, like their founders, placed high emphasis on religion.  Churches were important to Walton’s public memory. The early settlers’ religious inclinations set Walton a virtuous path, according to the town’s most prominent nineteenth century religious historian:

It is providential, and, for the best interests and well being of the town, both civil and religious, a fortunate fact, that the early settlers were very many of them professors of religion, and nearly all of them accustomed to Sabbath and sanctuary…the mutual privations and hardships of a new settlement, as they do in all new and remote settlements, united the inhabitants in close attachment, and they mingled in social intercourse.[xxix]

Lacking formal religious institutions, the early settlers practiced their faith in family dwellings.  Upon completion, the aforementioned schoolhouse doubled as a meetinghouse for religious affairs. In 1795, a formal Congregational Church was established in Walton. By 1816, a Second Congregational Church had been erected approximately five miles from the town’s center to service those living on the village’s periphery.[xxx] Beyond constructing personal homes, tending agriculture and timber, and raising their families, the early settlers and their immediate successors established religious centers of worship. Reinforcing republican ideology, religion played a major role in constructing Walton’s public memory. Virtue, industry, and thrift all contained religious elements.

Migrating from Long Island and Southeast Connecticut, Walton’s early settlers were noted for their “Puritan” roots.  Church development played a significant role in Walton’s early population growth, as well. Calling a church entails mustering enough faithful inhabitants to support a minister.  By 1876, seven different Protestant denominations had established church bodies in Walton. Beyond the two Congregational assemblies, Walton boasted a Protestant Episcopal Church (1831), a First Methodist Church (1840), various Baptist churches in and around Walton, a Reformed Presbyterian Church (1861), and a United Presbyterian Church (1865) during the nineteenth century.[xxxi] The newspaper historians who constructed Walton’s public memory perceived the early settlers’ religious roots as the town’s faithful foundation. Moreover, the founder’s religiosity reinforced republican ideals of virtue, industry, and thrift. Religion and republicanism reinforced one another throughout the nineteenth century newspaper articles.

Public Memory of Walton’s Citizens

Along with its founders and the town’s successful settlement, Walton’s everyday citizens were also remembered through a republican lens. Specifically, newspaper articles pointed to a didactic purpose for Walton’s early citizens; their virtue, industry, and thrift provided guidance for future generations. Nineteenth-century newspaper historians, in general, glossed over the topic’s nuances and constructed an image of Walton’s inhabitants in line with republican ideology.

Newspaper historians were especially effusive in praise for the original settlers’ outstanding republican character:

Soon the ‘wilderness was made to blossom as the rose,’ for ‘every one had a mind to work.’  Each family soon had their garden, their patch of beans and potatoes, and a small field of corn planted among the fallen timber, after the brush was burned, and in the fall log up the ground and sow it to wheat, for rye was seldom raised in those days, the virgin soil yielding as large, if not larger crop of wheat than rye.[xxxii]

These newspaper articles provided a lesson in republican virtue, industry, and thrift for present and future generations. Intended to highlight the past and influence the future, these articles construct the early citizens’ public memory as the embodiment of republican character.

Along with possessing an industrious work ethic and thrifty habits, Walton’s citizens built a strong community principle. Walton, as a rural community, continues to be dominated by face-to-face interactions. The early settlers may have laid the foundation, but subsequent migrants also continued to building a virtuous community:

These new comers, as well as the earlier settlers, were almost universally, men and women of sober habits, of good health, and inured to labor, ready and eager to attack the forests, and lay the tall tree prostrate, the women frequently assisting in piling the burning the brush, and even in rolling up log heaps, when man’s help was scarce.[xxxiii]

Walton citizens built a viable community from the ground up. Walton’s nineteenth-century newspaper historians pointed to the past with pride and a sense of nostalgia. A sense of reverence dominated the articles.  For those not alive at the town’s founding or those who migrated later, these early settlers must have seemed almost super-human. Addressing the current readership and future generations, one author was moved to write:

You may build roads, and churches, and stores and houses; you may multiply and replenish; you may increase in money value all your possessions, but you will never see the like again of those who once walked your streets, with the same high hopes…[xxxiv]

According to this constructed public memory, earlier generations may have possessed fewer material goods, but had something far more valuable: a higher sense of purpose. This near-religious reverence for Walton’s past citizens is articulated throughout several newspaper articles. Walton’s public memory, as constructed by the nineteenth century newspaper historians, placed the town’s citizenry on a high pedestal. Imbued with a didactic purpose, Walton’s past citizens could teach its current generations about living republican lives.

Many newspaper articles were family vignettes. Most of them, if not all of them, were contributed by members of the family in question. As might be expected, they contain strong republican themes. Many articles contain explicit examples of how families avoided public displays of wealth while preferring simple living. For example, the September 23, 1857 “Fitch Family Settlement” article stated:

They have a good reputation for moral character and industrious habits; not aspiring for worldly distinction or political favor, but in private life forming an important filling in the construction of society.  Most of them have enjoyed the comforts of competence, and few, if any have amassed wealth, generally too cautious to venture much, they have never struck out upon schemes of speculation, but have usually occupied a position of safe anchorage in social and financial life.[xxxv]

“Safe anchorage” represents well the republican ideal of thrift. Walton’s citizens, represented here through the Fitch family, recognized that venturesome speculation schemes led to avarice and worldly ruin. This idea of thrift also connects to virtue. The Fitches are portrayed as the archetypical Walton resident: eschewing monetary greed, business profits, and political collusion while living a virtuous life and contributing to the town’s social fabric. Walton’s citizenry as a whole are represented as exemplifying these republican precepts. The nineteenth-century newspaper historians went out of their way to portray Walton’s inhabitants as sober citizens who lived virtuous lives. If future generations lived such lives, Walton’s successful settlement would be safeguarded. Reverent and didactic, citizens in Walton’s public memory played an important role in these newspaper articles.

Community Growth: 1785 to 1885Walton’s residents would have had good reason to celebrate their town’s growth. In the 1875 newspaper series, one Walton resident enumerated the village’s population growth during its first one hundred years.  Focused on household populations, the author recognized what J.S. Pattengill also understood about Walton’s founding:  migration to the town was largely determined by kinship patterns. Cognizant that the family was the fundamental social unit, Walton’s nineteenth-century newspaper historians recognized this structural element.  Before outlining population data, the author states:

A large proportion of the early settlers to Walton came from one or two towns in Fairfield County, CT, and were well acquainted with each other, and in many cases they were relations, and the first settlers gave such glowing accounts of the excellent locality of the place, the fertility of the soil, the beautiful river, and the large number of brooks flowing into it…that their friends and acquaintances came flocking in by scores, moving into the houses with relations and friends, until they could clear a patch of ground and roll up a log house for themselves.[xxxvi]

Along with Walton’s nineteenth-century growth and development, its settlement patterns had been a family affair, as well. Walton’s settlement would not succeed after only one migration, the founders realized. Kinship relations played a fundamental role in Walton’s initial settlement and subsequent population growth.  It should not be surprising, therefore, that the author chose to calculate Walton’s population growth by tracking household development. Methodologically, the author counts taxable household heads by multiples of five. By assuming five is a consistent average household size throughout nineteenth-century Walton, the author depicts a steady development centered on a stable household model of father, mother, children, and extended family, as well.

Walton’s population was twenty in March 1785 when Platt Townsend’s original group migrated from Long Island.  By 1803, the author estimated a population of 570. This population rise, the author notes, “arises more from emigration than from births.”[xxxvii] Such a large population increase, over approximately twenty years, initially appears erroneous. The 1800 federal census counted only 202 persons in Walton.[xxxviii]  Census methodology, however, did not count women and minor children at that time.  In light of census records, an 1803 population of 570 is not unreasonable. In less than twenty years, the author proudly asserts, Walton’s population rose from “nothing” to nearly six hundred.[xxxix]
Beginning in 1805, the author enumerated Walton’s population growth in five-year intervals. Modest growth continued throughout the early nineteenth century. In 1815, Walton’s population was estimated at 950.[xl]  The 1815 to 1835 period, in which the town’s second generation would have reached adulthood, showed substantial population increases. Beginning with a taxable list of 190 in 1815 (950 inhabitants), the author tracks growth until 1835, where 361 persons were taxed and 1805 estimated to live in the town.[xli] Walton’s population nearly doubled in the twenty-year period immediately after the War of 1812. To ensure credibility, the author cross-referenced his or her numbers against census totals and found a mere 51-person difference.  More confident in his or her numbers, the author stated “any census taken would be more liable to omit persons not found than to set down more than were found.”[xlii]
Although the 1840 population count marked a small increase, Walton’s growth continued unabated. The author attributes the small decline in the 1840 taxable list to the 1837 “general depression.”[xliii] The negative trend would not continue; by 1860, Walton’s total population was counted at 2750. The author again cross-references their numbers with the federal census.  2740 was the “official” figure for 1860. Only ten persons off from the constitutionally driven census count, the author remains confident in his or her numbers.  By 1870, the counts in this newspaper series, Walton’s taxable list included 657 persons for a total population of 3285.[xliv] In less than one hundred years, Walton’s population rose from twenty to approximately 3285. This quantitative data corroborated the qualitative public memory constructed around the republican themes of virtue, industry, and thrift. Remembered for their positive characteristics, Walton’s initial settlers and subsequent citizens were rewarded with exponential town growth.

By painstakingly recording Walton’s population growth, the author augments Walton’s idealized public memory.  In this theme, population growth equaled community success and material rewards for republican precepts of virtue, industry, and thrift. Only one year demonstrated a population decrease; even then, an external economic depression was to blame rather than an internal Walton problem. The 1875 newspaper series followed a line of reasoning that attributed Walton’s community success to its personal foundation. The original Walton Patent settlers were the initial paragons of republican virtue. Their personal characteristics and habits were seen as foundational for subsequent migrations and community progress.

Conclusion: Public Memory’s Construction

Walton’s public memory, as a historical construction, arose out of specific historical circumstances. Given the time and place, Walton’s public memory fulfilled an essential function for the town’s residents in the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, it was necessary that Walton’s public memory be conveyed through republican lenses. In this way, Walton’s public memory was more than a series of newspaper articles written over a twenty-five year period. Rather, it reinforced essential themes to which Waltonians could cling during turbulent social and political times.

Public memory, as John Bodnar asserts, is a body of beliefs and ideas about the past that helps a community understand its past, present, and by implication, its future. At its core, it does not involve specific political or economic structures. Rather, public memory involves fundamental issues about a community’s entire existence. It details a community’s organization, its power structures, and the very meaning of its past and present.  Public memory argues for a specific interpretation of the past, present, and future. Additionally, it acts as a bridge for local communities to connect their vernacular history to the official historical record. At its strongest, public memory draws from primary sources – oral histories, anecdotes, letters, and diaries.  Furthermore, public memory is not necessarily objective. More often than not, only one historical interpretation emerges as the “official” view.[xlv] By conceiving a past through public memory, nineteenth-century Walton attempted to interpret their present and point to their future.

Walton’s public memory did its “work” by grounding a community in a specific ideological tradition. It allowed Walton’s residents to situate themselves as part of a republican past and present and point to an equally strong republican future. Walton’s nineteenth-century historians did not construct this public memory solely for their contemporaries. By constructing a republican public memory, they guaranteed that future generations would also view Walton’s past through this prism. Moreover, Walton’s public memory bridged the gap between town and nation. It linked Walton’s founding to the larger American settlement project articulated by Turner and others.  By remaking society along the Delaware River in upstate New York, Waltonians believed they were furthering civilization’s cause. Finally, public memory “worked” by articulating a specific historical past. It painted the settlement as an arduous journey by downtrodden yet virtuous Americans. It pointed to Walton’s growth as a sign of its industrious and thrifty citizenry. Factual or not, Walton’s public memory represents the history that has been handed down since the nineteenth century.

Moreover, a republican society is always wary of its future. In order to maintain virtue, industry, and thrift at high levels, future generations had to be nurtured within a republican tradition. Walton’s public memory was constructed to help fulfill that mission. As the first generation began to pass away and society underwent significant social, political, and economic transformations, Walton’s nineteenth-century citizens needed to reconstruct their past. Not isolated to Walton, generational passings and socio-political dislocations spurred public memory construction throughout the United States via newspaper columns.[xlvi] The middle to late nineteenth century witnessed rapid transformation: initial settler generations passed away, the railroad linked once-isolated areas to the international economy, and the federal political crisis threatened the union itself. It is no wonder, therefore, that many communities sought a restatement of their founding’s republican characteristics.

Reverend Pattengill and his “Fifteen Questions,” therefore, fell within a specific historical context. Walton’s public memory was constructed within a larger political, social, and economic context. While Pattengill and his contemporaries did not have the advantage of historical analysis, they did sense that something in their society was changing. Twenty-three years after Pattengill issued his call for public memory, an anonymous author contributed apiece called “Walton Seventy Years Ago.” With a reverent tone and an eye to the future, this author wrote:

Walton in the past seventy years has undergone great changes – changes in population, in business, in wealth and manner of living, and general appearance of the place. But the change has not been less in its inhabitants.  The fathers, aged and middle-aged, where are they? Those that were then young, and looking forward with hope in the future, are now, if living, looking back, from the other end of the journey, upon a life past. And is the person now living who shall write the next seventy years of Walton’s history?[xlvii]

As if on cue, the newspaper histories end with this article. With a public memory firmly committed to written tradition, an era ended.  Pattengill’s call for public memory had come full circle by 1880. Those who constructed that public memory were now passing on themselves. In doing so, Walton’s public memory was constituted and its republican past, present, and future embedded in the town’s history.

[i] The Walton Blade, 27 January 1857.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Shirley Houck, ed., The Evolution of Delaware County, New York: Being a History of its Land (Nashville: Express Media Corporation, 1995), 21.
[iv] Arthur W. North, The Founders and the Founding of Walton, New York: Being an Intimate Historical Sketch of the Marking of an American Settlement in the Critical Period Immediately Preceding the Adoption of the Federal Constitution  (Bainbridge: RSG Publishing, org., 1924, reprinted 1996), 20-26.
[v] Thomas Slaughter in The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution discusses westward expansion’s political and social implications. In a neo-colonial environment, many frontier settlements were founded outside of the federal or state government’s direct control. Slaughter outlines how frontier communities found interests outside those of the federal government’s. Although Walton did not experience such strife, its settlement belongs in this frontier expansion tradition and literature.
[vi] Richard Vetterli and Gary Bryner, In Search of the Republic: Public Virtue and the Roots of American Government, 2nd edition.  (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 1996), pp. 74-77.
[vii] Harry Watson, Liberty and Power:  The Politics of Jacksonian America  (New York: Hill and Wang, 1990), pp. 46-48.
[viii] Melvin Yazawa, “Creating a Republican Citizenry,” in The American Revolution: Its Character and Limits, ed. Jack Greene (New York: New York University Press, 1987), 296-297.
[ix] Joyce Appleby, in Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination, discusses how and why communities used Republican ideology in historical memory.  Appleby maintains that Republicanism, as an ideology, has had “two careers.”  Walton’s public memory was constructed during these ideas’ first career when it was used as a “chaster set of truths about the fragility of civil order and the ferocity of uncivil passions (278).”  Walton’s nineteenth-century newspaper historians fit into Republicanism’s first career.  Faced with an increasingly-fragile civic order, they were able to place Walton’s memory within a specific framework.  As the first generations of settlers passed away and the national political arena further fractured, Republicanism acted as societal glue.  Appleby’s discussion has broad implications for Walton’s public memory.
[x] The Walton Blade, 24 June 1857.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] The Walton Chronicle, 13 July 1876.
[xiii] North, 24.
[xiv] The Walton Blade, 22 July 1857.
[xv] The Walton Weekly Chronicle, 13 October 1869.
[xvi] The Walton Weekly Chronicle, 9 February 1870.
[xvii] The Walton Chronicle, 13 July 1876.
[xviii] The Walton Weekly Chronicle, 12 January 1870.
[xix] The Walton Chronicle, 11 July 1878.
[xx] Ibid.
[xxi] Ibid.
[xxii] North, 110.
[xxiii] The Walton Blade, 1 July 1857.
[xxiv] The Walton Journal, 12 August 1857.
[xxv] The Walton Chronicle, 9 March 1870.
[xxvi] The Walton Blade, 29 July 1857.
[xxvii] Frederick Jackson Turner’s “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” heavily influences this interpretation.  Turner posits that man and the wilderness share a dialectical relationship: both conquer each other through cultural negotiation.  Once man conquers the wilderness, he [she] shapes the landscape to fit necessary political and social conditions.  “Civilization,” according to constructed public memory, belongs in the Turnerian tradition.  Walton’s original settlers were first shaped by the wilderness: they lived in tents, planted rude gardens, and foraged for their food.  Eventually, however, they built houses, established roads, and formed a social community.  Turner, along with Walton’s nineteenth century newspaper historians, sees this “civilizing project” in the same light.  As America expanded westward, including Walton’s settlement, this cultural negotiation began anew and “civilization” was remade again.
[xxviii] The Walton Blade, 12 August 1857
[xxix] T. Marvin, The Walton Chronicle, 6 January 1876.
[xxx] Ibid.
[xxxi] T. Marvin, The Walton Chronicle, 10 February 1876 through 16 March 1876.
[xxxii] The Walton Chronicle, 25 March 1875.
[xxxiii] Ibid.
[xxxiv] The Walton Weekly Chronicle, 16 May 1872.
[xxxv] The Walton Blade, 23 September 1857.
[xxxvi] The Walton Chronicle, 25 March 1875.
[xxxvii] Ibid.
[xxxviii] “1800 Federal Census, Delaware Col, NY” available at
[xxxix] The Walton Chronicle, 25 March 1875.
[xl] The Walton Chronicle, 1 April 1875.
[xli] The Walton Chronicle, 8 April 1875, 15 April 1875.
[xlii] The Walton Chronicle, 15 April 1875.
[xliii] The Walton Chronicle, 8 April 1875.
[xliv] The Walton Chronicle, 15 April 1875.
[xlv] John Bodnar, Remarking America:  Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century  (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 14-16.
[xlvi] John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), pp. 218-219.
[xlvii] The Walton Chronicle, 22 August 1880.

Larry Dake was raised in Walton, NY and is currently an educational administrator in Vestal, NY.  He graduated from Walton High School in 1998, King's College (PA) with degrees in History and Theology, and earned an M.A. in History from Binghamton University in 2004. In addition, he is a doctoral student in Binghamton University's Educational Theory and Practice program. He currently lives in Endwell with his wife, Kelly, and their two young children.

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