Thurs, July 7, 1932


The History of One of Marion's Oldest Families - Hardships Endured - Other Facts About Well-known Marion Homes and Estates.

By Dora Westfall

Perhaps there is no more picturesque figure in the early history of this section, than David Sherman, six feet tall, possessed of great physical strength and endurance, warm-hearted, unlearned, but by a natural grace winning many hearts, he was a type of the heroes who fought the battle with the wilderness, were undaunted by hardships, disease, and perils of Indians, and wild beasts, conquered and established homes.

The Ancestry of Sherman Family

David came of a long line of men who made their mark in the world. The records of the family go back five generations in England to 1564, the line is as follows, (1) Thomas (2) Henry (3) Henry (4) Samuel (5) Philip, who was the first of that name, known to have come to America. Philip Sherman was born in De[d]ham, Eng., in 1610, married Sarah Odding, and died in Portsmouth, R.I. in 1687. He came with Roger Williams to Rhode Island, and helped Williams in founding Portsmouth, Providence, and Newport. After founding the colony, he held the office of General Recorder, a position similar to the present Secretary of State. Philip's son was named Samuel and he had a grandson, Ebenezer, who married at Tiverton, R.I., and was noted for his great strength. It is told of his that he pitched twenty-one tons of hay from the ground to the stack for a day's work. Ebenezer's son, David, father of the Marion pioneer, inherited the great strength of his father. He is said to have turned a 1,500 pound anchor which was lying on the sands of the sea shore, from fluke to fluke.

David, Sr., was an army contractor, and at the close of the war, his wealth consisted of a cheat of worthless securities.

Moved to New York State

In order to mend his fortunes, David with his family, and that of his eldest son, Humphr[e]y, moved to Washington Co., N.Y., then a pioneer settlement. Here he died in 1781,1 leaving his son, David, a youth of eight years. Young David went to live in the family of his brother, Humphr[e]y, and grew up in the rough society of the backwoods. Here he developed his great strength, and learned the craft of woodman in which he excelled, and which stood him in good stead in later life.

Many were the tales of the productiveness of the country in the Phelps and Gorham purchase, of its abundance of game and fertile land, told by the returning soldiers of the Sullivan Raid, and many families migrated from Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Humphr[e]y Sherman decided to visit the new country with a view to making it a future home and in February, 1790 accompanied by his brother, David, then 17, six feet tall and always traveling with uncovered head, he set out from Washington County in February. They drove a team of four oxen hitched to a rude wooden sled on which were seeds and farming utensils. They brought a herd of twelve hogs.

The First Home

They located on Mud Flatts, near the present churches of East Palmyra. Here from an unbroken wilderness, they cleared ten acres of land, and built a log cabin. The land was planted in the spring to corn, and on this corn they fatted their hogs. In the fall they killed them, storing the meat through the winter in an unlocked cabin. They also cut and stacked a quantity of marsh hay, near what is now the village of Lyons. To this source of food they drove their cattle, building a fence around the stacks and leaving the animals without other food and shelter for the winter. They hired a man to visit them at intervals and give them salt and water.

As did most of the early settlers of that day Humphr[e]y and David after providing for their stock on their claim, returned to their family in the old home for the winter months.

Trip Made to Old Home

Humphr[e]y and David made the return trip to Washington County on foot and by the time they reached home young David had worn out his shoes. The next morning after their arrival Humphr[e]y jokingly said, "David, if you will walk to the village barefooted, you may buy yourself the best pair of boots in town". Young Dave took him at his word, made the four miles journey on foot, without shoes, wading through the snow, and procured the new boots.

In February, Humphr[e]y made preparations to bring his family to the newly cleared land in the Genesee country, and accordingly accompanied by his wife [Mary Durfee] and young children with David, and as many supplies and household goods as they could carry on their sleds they made the trip from Washington County to this section by ox teams.

The hardships of Pioneers

When crossing Canandaigua Outlet, at the ford near Phelps, a drove of hogs they were driving, becameunmanageable and swam down stream. Undaunted, David plunged in the icy water and strove to drive back the hogs. It was a hard task and the boy was in the water, sometimes to his neck, for two hours, before the porkers were retrieved. Then it was necessary to walk in his wet garments in the icy March wind, for another two hours before he could reach shelter.

Humphr[e]y and David earned money enough, mainly by raising hogs and teaming, to purchase 1,000 acres of land, in the present towns of Marion and Palmyra. They bought this land for three shillings per acre and later sold it in parcels to the settlers for a pound per acre.

Bringing New Settlers

In spite of being ill all summer in 1793, with fever and ague that malady of the early settler, living in the undrained swamps, David drove his ox team to and fro between Marion and Canandaigua taking grists to mill at Geneva and bringing home food for the neighbors. David became famous for his skillful handling of a four horse team of oxen, hitched to a rude sled, and there are many tales handed down in his family of the trips he made back to Rhode Island bringing new settlers.

In 1795, David Sweezey and family came to this section and with them a young woman named Elizabeth Howell. A romance early developed between Elizabeth and David. To the girl he appeared as a veritable hero of her dreams. Six feet tall, ruddy with out-door life, muscular and strong, his well thatched bare head, for he ever scorned head covering of any kind, towering above that of the other young men, he easilywon her heart, and in the winter of 1796, they were married. The wedding caused great excitement as it was the first in the new settlement. [Marion]

The Caldwell Estate

Their home was on 100 acres of land which was given David by his brother, Humphr[e]y, and which he later sold to Samuel Caldwell, a native of New Jersey, and which is now a part of the farm of Charles Rich, descendant of Samuel Caldwell.2

A little later David again cleared land for a home, this time east of the present village of Marion, where by wielding his powerful ax, he felled the trees, built a home, cleared the land, by burning the trees and dragging out the stumps with his ox team and by sheer might and main made habitable what was for many years known as the Sherman Farm, and which till recently was owned by his descendents.

Among the stories told of David is that of his drawing with his oxen thirty deer shot in one day by Henry Lovell who came here in 1795, and purchased a farm on land now occupied by Marion village. It is also related that when Charles Williamson wished a teamster to draw a load of goods from Canandaigua to Pultneyville through almost unbroken forest, David happening to enter Captain Williamson's office at Canandaigua was introduced as a man "who would drive four oxen and a sled through Hell". He got the job, took the goods on a sled in the month of August and arrived at Marion the first day. From the William Cogswell farm,3 later owned by Mr. Witherdon, to Pultneyville was an almost unbroken wilderness. David felled trees, drove over logs and reached Pultneyville in four days.

Pioneer Feats of Sherman Family

A similar feat is attributed to Joseph Caldwell in "The Wayne County History". Among other trips David made was one to Rhode Island, where he went on foot and returned with members of the Negus family, when the Brown family wished to go to the far west, he accompanied them to the Mississippi River and again walked home. When he was sixty years old, he walked to Rhode Island on a visit. He remained two nights, and again returned on foot. His brother, William, came to Marion and built a house in the forest near a sulphur spring, which is just east of Marion.4 This spring is still running, and is on the O. D. Crane farm.

It was hoped at an early day, the spring might become famous as a similar spring has at Clifton. A building was begun as a sanitarium, near the spring and was used as sort of tavern and dance hall at a very early date.

David Sherman had two sons, S[Z]ephaniah and Samuel, [who married Mary Sanford, and had one son, James] and two daughters, Deborah and Ruth.  S[Z]ephaniah married his cousin, Erminda Howell and had one son, Jefferson, who later taught school, became school commissioner and Member of Assembly. He married Delia Reed. They lived on the farm his grandfather David, had cleared, till the death of Jefferson, in 1894, when they moved to Marion village where Mrs. Sherman died in 1916. They had two sons, Orin H. [married Carolyn (Carrie) Isabel Beam] and Herbert [never married] who is dead, and four daughters, Mrs. Clara Sherman Moon [wife of Wallace] of Rochester, Mrs. Charlotte DeRight, [wife of Frank] Miss May Sherman [who never married] and Mrs. [Bertha] Thomas F. Young of Marion.

A Ghost Story

Like all well regulated old families, the Shermans have a ghost story. It is related that Ebenezer Sherman, also settled in Marion, in what is known as the Negus District, not far from the original farm. In the course of time he became ill, and David sitting by the fire in his own home, saw the door open and Ebenezer walk in. He crossed to the fire and seated himself near David, but said not a word, and presently seemed to vanish. David feeling something was wrong, went to the home of Ebenezer and found him dead, death having come at the exact time David saw him in his own home.5

Possibly he fell asleep by the fire, and dreamed of his visit, but in that early day it was believed David had seen the ghost of Ebenezer.

David Sherman died in [April 11] 1865 and, as was the custom of that day, was buried on the farm he had wrested from the wilderness. At a later date his body and that of his wife [who died October 25, 1839] were removed to Marion Village Cemetery.6

Footnotes and corrections indicated with [   ]  provided by Margaret Sherman Lutzvick.

1That David Sherman Sr. died in 1781 is incorrect. He sold property in RI in 1785, and he later appeared on both the 1790 and 1800 Washington County, NY Census reports. Additionally, a younger son, Gideon, also went to Marion, as did two other sons Ebenezer and William. Sons Humphrey and John settled in Palmyra, and Samuel settled in Norway, NY.

2There were no deeds found showing that Humphrey ever gave David any land for free. Two deeds, both written on September 28, 1799 and each for 100 acres in Marion were sold to each of Humphrey's brothers, David and Gideon. David's 100 acres did indeed become the Caldwell farm, and Gideon's 100 acres became the Butler Farm.

3 The Cogswell farm was located near Eddy Ridge only a short distance south between Ebenezer and Gideon Sherman's farms.

4 William, after much moving around, settled in Bolivar, Allegany County, NY where he died after 1832.

5Ebenezer Sherman died July 24, 1829. It is thought that both he and his brother Gideon are buried in either the Little Sherman Cemetery or in the Marion Cemetery.

6David and most of his entire family are buried in the Marion Cemetery.

Note: Except for number 5 the above footnotes are substantiated in the book,Going to Palmyra;Sherman Deeds, written by Margaret Sherman Lutzvick. Recent acquisition of Ebenezer's will shows date of his death.

Volunteer Typist: Allyn Hess Perry

Volunteer Editor: Margaret Sherman Lutzvick

Town of Marion Section

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