Town Records Illustrate an Interesting Past

Jerry Bates

Early Town meeting records (1787-1799) reveal a forgotten, but interesting slice of our past.

Though earliest Town offices had some familiar titles, i.e. Supervisor, Assessors, Town Clerk, Collector (presumably of the Tax variety), others are more intriguing. Take the titles of:

  • Pathmaster,
  • Fence Viewers,
  •  Constables of Northern District,
  • Overseers of the Poor.
  • Commissioner of Roads in the Northern District,
  •  By 1788, we had “Commissioners of laying out Highways”,
  • “Commissioners for Keeping in Repair the Highways”,
  • Pound Master;
  • In 1789 -Trustees of the Public Lots was added.

In those early years, Town meetings were held just once each year on the first Tuesday in April except on rare occasions or when an emergency arose. The titles are generally self explanatory and help illustrate the development of the community over time.

Fence Viewers may be somewhat a mystery, but legislation approved at the 1792 meeting sheds some light on this:

“Voted that all fence well (sic) erected of good Rails four and a half feet shall be lawful fence and all fence made of  Logs, Potts Stones Boards or Brush equal impassible with the first described fence to be deemed lawful.

Voted All and every Seed horse or Stallions running at large shall pay and forfeit for every offence forty shillings, one half for the use of the Town and the other half for Complainer, to take effect from the first day of May next.

Voted  All rams running at large after the first day September next until 15 November following shall be forfeited one half to the Complainer and the other half to the Town. Any ram or rams found running at large in said time to be taken to the Pound and at sold at Vendue within 48 hours by the Pound Keeper and other half paid to the Town Treasurer for use of the town.

Voted  That if any hogs or sheep be found in any inclosure may be pounded and the owner or owners place be liable to pay all damages.

Voted  That no man shall catch any Salmon after the 15th October, no Gil nets be set accross the river Saranac under the penalty of twenty shillings for each and every offence to be applied as above

Voted That fence Viewers shall have 4/. pr day when on duty


Records were hand written with quill pens, often in haste so that letters were left off and words were often misspelled because few people had a formal education. Clerks might write as words sounded. As a result, there were often variations in spelling of the same person’s name from year to year.

Path Masters were evidently responsible for monitoring sections of roadways in their neighborhood. Many were needed to cover the roads of the Town at a time when the horse was the most efficient means to cover any distance. Thus, in 1793, the Town record lists Wm Coe as responsible for the “South side of Cumberland Head”, “Abraham Travis for the North side”, “Binjm Graves from Dead Creek to Mills”, “Chas. Durham from Sailley South side Town”; “Chas. Platt from Hill bidlow to Lake”; and several others covered other areas.

That same year, they voted “that eight pounds currency be raised for building a Pound to be set near the Court House. Judge Platt as Treasurer to receive the money and to have the direction of building the Pound.”

We’ll take another look at other slices of early Plattsburgh life in later editions.




Three Centuries in the Champlain Valley

There are many resources to which historians and genealogists can turn for rewarding glimpses of the past.  One uniquely useful, though often neglected, resource for those who research the Champlain Valley, is Three Centuries in Champlain Valley by Mrs. George Fuller Tuttle (M. Jeannette Brookings 1864-1938).

It is filled with nuggets of information, interspersed among what some might consider ordinary tid-bits of recorded life and memories. References are since the time that European’s found this verdant valley.  The author sought to assemble seemingly scattered and often hard to access sources of information into one volume that might otherwise be lost. Example: “June 28, 1896 -The first car of the Plattsburgh trolley system passed over the line to Bluff Point.” The randomness of such information and varied subjects provoke the issue of how to present it.

The book, let us call it “TC” for short, is laid out much as a diary: that is beginning January 1 and ending December 31. However, the January 1 entry, for example, records the first day of the year 1766, 1767, 1801, 1806, 1809, and six other years through 1894. (TC was published in 1909 by the Saranac Chapter, D.A.R, Plattsburgh, NY.)

This makes chronological reading of a particular subject awkward, but is mitigated in part by two helpful indexes: Persons and Organizations, and one of Places and Events to help find a trail of information on one subject over the years.

For example, if genealogists wanted information on early West Plattsburgh residents, the index would guide them to such dates, among others, as –

May 23, 1775   where you would find that Ann Whitman, born at Hartford, Conn., daughter of John and Ann (Skinner) Whitman, became the wife of Timothy Balch of the same place, who about 1802 settled in West Plattsburgh. Both were members of the First Presbyterian church.

September 7, 1784     Ida Ostrander was the first child born in the new settlement of West Plattsburgh.

December 11, 1909    Ruth Newcomb passed away in West Plattsburgh, where her ancestors, Samuel and Angeline L (Newcomb) settled in West Plattsburgh. Miss Newcomb’s maternal grandfather was the Hon. Platt Newcomb and her paternal grandfather was Dr. Samuel Newcomb, a celebrated physician and surgeon and director of the medical college in Montreal. Samuel was exiled from Canada in 1839 for active participation in the Canadian rebellion, pardoned after nine years and returned to Plattsburgh, but his last days were spent in Montreal. She was remembered for, not her ancestry, but because of her own lovely character and personality by hundreds of grateful pupils where she had been principal of the Elizabeth street school for thirty-five years.

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 Baker Burial Ground, W. Plattsburgh

 Other history buffs may find thirty-five pieces mentioning early Cumberland Head, as well as pieces touching Cadyville, Cliff Haven, Morrisonville, South Plattsburgh, historic sites, homesteads, blockhouses, forts, hotels, industries and many other subjects and persons populating our town. Among them:

March 3, 1789 The inhabitants of Clinton County decide to build a block-house at Plattsburgh to be used as a jail. This block-house on the lake shore was afterwards enlarged and used as a court house, school house and place of worship.

TC can be found at the Plattsburgh Public Library or the Town Historian’s office by appointment M-F mornings.