The Old Black Rock Ferry.

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The Old Black Rock Ferry.

The Old Black Rock Ferry.

Read before the Society, December 14, 1863

by Charles D. Norton (1)

The Ferry which had its landing-place at the foot of the highway now called Fort street, is the oldest institution in this city; and it is proper that its history should be written, in part performance of that duty which this Society has assumed, and owes to the community. From public documents and the laws of our State, much of it has been collected; more of it from the testimony of the early settlers on this part of the Niagara frontier; and beyond the point to which their own recollection extends, they have furnished me with facts, which they gathered from men who, at a much earlier period, found their way to the Niagara river.

The Old Ferry was, it is believed, a crossing-place at a period as early as the Revolutionary war; but whatever estimate may be placed upon the authority cited for this statement, the evidence of its existence in 1796 is clear and incontrovertible. By this passage many of the early settlers of Canada journeyed to their western homes; and over it the first emigrants into Michigan were carried, on their pilgrimage to found a new State. That part of our city formerly known as the village of Black Rock, is on historic ground; and the most exciting events which are on record, concerning our earlier days, transpired there. At the risk of a digression from my subject, let me refer to a few of them in a brief manner, more as a hint to others for their collection and preservation, than for the purpose of detailed narrative.

On the high hill or bluff, which overlooked the ferry, old Fort Adams, or Battery Swift, was situated. There is now, in the office of the Niagara Street Railroad Company, a box of balls, bullets and other implements of war, which were found in the soil by those digging for the foundation of the depot building. The Maryland Gazette, of December 22d, 1763, contains an account of a battle between a detachment of English soldiers, who were moving from Fort Schlosser toward Detroit, and a body of Indians, whom they encountered at the foot of Lake Erie. The skeletons of Indians (arranged in the form of a circle, with their feet toward the center, and placed against a large iron kettle, their heads resting on hatchets, and forming the circumference of the circle), found by Col. Bird while preparing the ground for his present residence, (2) show that this was the burial place of Indians killed in battle; and afford presumptive evidence that this was the scene of the engagement.

A skirmish between the American and British troops occurred at the junction of Niagara and Sixth streets, which resulted in the death of Colonel Bishop, who commanded the enemy's party; and the same foray came near depriving us of the services of General Porter, who barely escaped capture as the enemy passed up the road to attack Fort Adams. They marched toward the residence of the General, which was upon the site occupied by the old Thayer tavern, where the Rev. Mr. Robie now resides, (3) and would have taken him prisoner had not his housekeeper, discovering the advance guard, aroused him from sleep, and enabled him to hasten, half-clad, into the woods.

Below this place, at the mouth of the Scoijoiquoides creek, a part of Commodore Perry's fleet was fitted out under the superintendence of Henry Eckford, afterwards renowned at home and abroad as a naval constructor; and near by, upon the bank, the battle of Black Rock was fought, at about the same period of time.

While I am thus indulging in a ramble away from my subject, the opportunity shall be improved of submitting to this Society the task of discovering the true orthography of the name of this stream; whether it is Scoijoiquoides, Scajaquada, Scajaquadies, Conjocketty, Conjecitors, Unnekugua or Unne-kuguddies creek; for I have found the name written in these various ways.

It must not be forgotten that in Breckenridge street, near the old brick church, General Scott planted his cannon to cover the British armed vessels which were in the stream, prepared to attack the miniature but historical steamboat Caroline on her passage up the river during the so-called Patriot war.

It will thus be seen that the ground at the old ferry, and in its immediate vicinity, is replete with historical interest.

But I now return to my immediate subject, the history of The Old Ferry.

Captain James Sloan, a resident of Black Rock, who is well known as a man of great intelligence and integrity, and who has contributed largely to. our local history in articles scattered through the columns of the city journals, came to the ferry in the year 1810. The ground now occupied by the Niagara Street Railroad buildings, was or had been an Indian field; for it was cleared and leveled, and on the south and east was bounded by a dense forest.

This venerable gentleman, who recollects with accuracy and relates with precision his early adventures in the West, full of stirring incident and exploit, speaks with enthusiasm of the view which opened to his sight, when he for the first time stood upon this old field. The majestic Niagara, with an unbroken expanse, bore its affluent flood to the cataract, between banks covered with the primeval forest, indented with the scattered huts of the settlers on the Canada shore; and gave to view, on its tolerant bosom, the wooded islands which, in a bygone age, it had torn away from the protecting embrace of the main land. Under Fort Erie the British fleet, commanded by Commodore Barclay, was anchored; while a few batteaux were moving sluggishly up the stream, laden with salt. These constituted the commercial marine of the river, the principal business of which was the transportation of this commodity from Porter & Barton's dock, at old Fort Schlosser, to their warehouse at Black Rock, or their wharf under the lee of Bird Island, to be conveyed thence to Erie, then the principal commercial port on our lake. There are but few persons now living who know anything of the lake and river commerce from the year 1805 to the commencement of the last war with England. It consisted mainly in the transportation of salt between the places and over the route I have mentioned, to be conveyed to Pittsburg.

Four or five vessels were engaged in this business on the river, each carrying from one hundred and twenty-five to one hundred and fifty barrels of salt, owned by Porter, Barton & Co.; their proprietors residing at Black Rock and Syracuse. When the wind was blowing down the lake, the vessels running from Black Rock to Erie were frequently wind-bound at the former place for a long time; and then and there would grow an accumulation of five or six thousand barrels of salt, which were piled in tiers upon the shore of the river, under the bank, and remained stored in this way until they could be carried to Erie. "The Black Rock" was the great salt exchange; and the witnesses upon whose statements I narrate these facts say that it was not a rare occurrence for the Rock to be covered with traders from Pittsburg, captains of vessels and boatmen, who met there to talk about business and interchange views. The Black Rock was a sort of commercial center for the salt merchants in those early days; and the old tavern was quite as distinguished along the frontier as the Fifth Avenue and St. Nicholas are in our time.

Two roads led to the ferry from the main Batavia road. The old Indian trail or path, which was the traveled way for the Indians going between the Genesee and Grand rivers, diverged at what was then known as the Four Mile creek) and pursuing the present route of Bouck street, came upon the river bank at what is now Fort street. The other road, called the Guide Board Road, from the old cross-board at Main street pointing out its direction, crossed Main street, and followed York street to St. Joseph's College; thence south-westerly into Niagara street. It will be noticed that St. Joseph's College forms an angle with North street, and does not front upon it. The cause of this is seen at once in the former route of the Guide Board Road, which ran directly in front of the building and joined the present Niagara street, at the residence of F. C. Hill, long known as the old Callender place. (4) Niagara street had been surveyed, and the trees to some extent cleared off; but for the most part it was an impassable swamp, disagreeable to travel. It was rendered comfortable, in a very slight degree, at a later period, by a corduroy road, which old residents will recollect. The traveled road to Buffalo was by way of the ferry, under the bluff, to the lake shore, and then along the broad, hard and level beach to the Terrace. Four or five years ago there lived at Wind Mill Point, in Canada, a very aged man by the name of Silas Carter. He had been a soldier in the American army during the Revolution, and while it was encamped at Morristown, he was in some capacity attached to the immediate family of Washington. When he died, his age was an hundred years; and though he married at seventy-five years of age, he left behind him three children of the marriage, who are now living and have families. He was well known to Captain Sloan, who vouches for his intelligence and veracity. Carter told him that there was a crossing-place at the Old Ferry when he came into the country before the Revolutionary war closed; and that it was the only such place above the Falls. He spoke of it as a ferry, though no legally established ferry existed there until a later date. In 1796, it was well known as a ferry or crossing-place. In 1800, Augustus Porter, then of Canandaigua, had a contract with the government for carrying the mail to Fort Niagara, and he says that his route was from Canandaigua over the road to the ferry, and then down the Canada shore to Fort Niagara. Gen. Timothy A. Hopkins, late of Williamsville, in this county, once said that he raised the first wheat grown on the Holland Purchase, in a field ten miles east of Clarence; and that he carried that wheat in a wagon, drawn by three yoke of oxen, over the ferry at Black Rock, to Street's Mills at the Falls; and complained of the charge for ferriage, which was twenty shillings each way. Dr. Dwight, once President of Yale College, mentions the ferry, and says, in his "Journey Through the State of New York," that his party crossed it without inconvenience, though with much fatigue to the boatmen. A writer in the Port Folio, a literary periodical published in New York in 1810, in his account of a "Ride to Niagara," says that he came to Miller's Ferry, along the bank of the lake; and notices the old route by way of Bouck street as "a short way to the ferry, if there be no object in going to Buffalo." The narrative proceeds:

"The stone which bounds the river line is a mass of black chert. I arrived about twelve o'clock, M. ; the ice was so thick in the River Niagara, that it was impossible to cross until three o'clock, p. M. There were three wagons of emigrants waiting to cross to the British side, from Schoharie, in New York state, and Buffaloe, in Northumberland county, Pennsylvania. They were chiefly Germans. They expected about two hundred acres of land to cost them fifty dollars. I understand the British Government sell it at forty dollars per two hundred acres. The crossing here is three-quarters of a mile wide; half a dollar for man and horse. They catch abundance of fish with a seine. The family were dining on pickerel and salmon trout, each four and a half pounds weight."

This will be sufficient to show the importance of the ferry, and the large extent of the business done there early in this century. In fact, the business at the ferry, and the peculiar advantages of the vicinage, as a site for a village or town, alarmed Joseph Ellicott; for in 1802, he wrote to Paul Busti, general agent of the Holland Land Purchase, saying:

"The State, at the last Legislature, had passed an act, providing for the purchase of the Indian possessory right to these lands, the southern part of which reached New Amsterdam;"


"There is a situation on the lands equal to or better than that of New Amsterdam for a town; so that if the State offers the land for sale this summer, before New Amsterdam gets into operation, much of time will be lost to the future prosperity of the place."

"New Amsterdam" was then the name of the Buffalo Creek settlement; and the southern extremity of the Indian lands, of which he speaks, was a point in the late south village of Black Rock, which, it will be remembered, once comprehended all that part of the old city situated between the State Reservation line and the Niagara river; this line meeting the river at the foot of Genesee street.

The landing-place on the Canada side of the river was always at the present site; and the earliest name I can find among the ferrymen is that of Gilmore. He was a man of good family, who had fled from Pennsylvania into Canada, to escape punishment for some political riot or fight in which he had become involved. Captain Sloan knew him sixty years ago, when he lived on the Monongahela river, and says that he was a highly respectable man, and amassed property in Canada, owning a farm at Waterloo; but that his houses and barns were burned during the war, and he himself returned to Pennsylvania. Windneckcr (or Windecker) was ferryman for a time, and then Hardison, whose widow perhaps some of you may know; an aged woman, who resides at Fort Erie. The ferry afterwards passed into the hands of Mr. Warren and Colonel Kirby; the latter of whom was a notorious character on the frontier during the war, and up to the time of his death made it his business to protect His Brittannic Majesty's rights, and see to it that they were not trenched upon by the democrats over the river. We come now to the landing upon our side. Here one Con. O'Niel was the ferryman at a. very early day, living by "the black rock," in a hut, which was at once his ferry house, and home. In the year 1800, there was a tolerable road over the site of the present Fort street, leading to the river margin over a flat or plateau of land about two hundred feet in width. Upon the northern extremity of this plateau there was a black rock, in shape an irregular triangle, projecting into the river; having a breadth of about one hundred feet at the north end, and extending southward and along the river for a distance of three hundred feet, gradually inclining to the south-east, until it was lost in the sand. The rock was four or five feet high, and at its southern extremity it was square, so that an eddy was formed there into which the ferry boat could be brought, and where it would be beyond the influence of the current. From this rock, teams could be driven into the boat, over a connecting lip or bridge. The natural harbor, thus formed, was almost perfect, and could not have been made, by the appliances of art, a more complete dock or landing-place for a boat. In fact, no other part of our river or shore above the Falls afforded such facility for a crossing-place. The river was narrow at this point, and the landing safe. These facts create a presumption in favor of the statement that it was the old and common point for crossing the river.

This rock was a well-known spot, and had long been a fishing-ground for the Indians. It is said that the herring came to the rock in such numbers, that a barrel full of them was thrown on it with three casts of a large net. Near the rock, and south of it, upon the river margin, was a plain or field which was used by the Indians when they held their sports or practiced their games; while the wooded height above afforded to them a kitchen and dormitory. In a few years, quite a hamlet grew up around the black rock; but it was not until the year 1810 or 1811, that any buildings were erected on the site of the present village. When Mr. Lester Brace first visited the rock, in 1807, there were no buildings in the vicinity, except the Porter, Barton & Co. warehouse, which has before been spoken of as being at the foot of Breckenridge street; a house which Nathaniel Sill had built on Auburn street, and a log hut on the site of Albany street. The place was then called "the Black Rock Ferry;" and it is consistent with the facts stated, to suppose that it was so called from the rock, of which some description has been given. This was not only a conspicuous mark, but a well-established business point on the river, at which the crossing-place or ferry had been for many years; and doubtless gave its name to the ferry and to the hamlet which afterwards sprung up at that place, not a trace of which now exists. (5)

In 1802, the Legislature passed an act which provided for the negotiation of a treaty with the Seneca Indians, the object of which was the extinguishment of the Indian title to the Mile Strip Reservation on the Niagara river. This act recognizes the existence of a ferry at this place; for it provides that the treaty to be negotiated should not prejudice the right of The People of the State of New York to the ferry across the Niagara river. To this act Mr. Ellicott refers in his letter to Mr. Busti, in which he expresses some apprehension that the future town would be located at Black Rock. The language of the act implies by fair construction an existing and prescriptive right, vested in The People of the State of New York, to a ferry at Black Rock; and to have created that right, twenty years previous-continued existence would have been necessary. If this right was thus recognized by the State, it will sustain Carter's statement that the ferry existed during the Revolutionary war. By the treaty of 1802, made with the Indians under this act, their right to use this crossing place at Black Rock is fully protected, and the tract of land bordering on the river, one mile wide, running from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, is ceded to the State. The first statutory provision affecting the ferry, authorized the commissioners of the land office to lease it, with one hundred acres of land, on such terms as they might deem proper, for the period of eight years; reserving the right of the Indians in accordance with the treaty. This statute does not refer to the one hundred acres now known as the ferry lot, on the south side of which the present ferry is established. This tract is north of the old ferry a quarter of a mile or more, and was conveyed in 1815 to Gen. Peter B. Porter, to whom it was offered as a gift; but he refused to accept the title without making compensation to the State. 1 have noticed for some time past that the stone monument which denotes the south line of the ferry lot upon the easterly side of Niagara street, has been misplaced and lies upon the street. It could now without difficulty be restored, and a survey I suppose would be necessary; but it should be done at once to save future trouble in establishing the course of that line. In 1806 the ferry was leased or directed to be leased to Alexander Rea, but I cannot find that he ever availed himself of his privilege; for Major Frederick Miller appears to have taken possession of the ferry in that year, and to have retained it until 1812. During the interval the business of the ferry was steadily growing, for there was an emigration to Canada that increased up to the commencement of the war. The rivalry between the proprietors of the Holland Purchase, or rather their agents, and the agents of the Canadian government, was vigorously conducted; and the representations of the latter to the prejudice of the Holland Purchase, succeeded in turning considerable emigration across the river. In 1812, Mr. Orange Brace became the lessee of the ferry; but that was an exceedingly dull year. Very little business was done on the frontier after war was declared.

I have said before that Mr. Lester Brace visited the ferry in 1807. It will be unnecessary to say more of him than that he was the son of Orange Brace, one of the hardy and resolute men who came to Western New York from New England in 1790; and to show that the father was a man eminently fitted to be a pioneer of civilization in the West, it will be sufficient to say that in December, 1790, he returned to Connecticut on foot, with judge Augustus Porter, and traveled a portion of the journey on snow shoes. Mr. Lester Brace left Bennington in what is now Wyoming county, with an ox team and wagon, accompanied by some neighbors, to visit the frontier on business; and crossing the Indian Reservation his party were overtaken in the woods by a severe snow storm which drove them under their wagon for shelter, and compelled them to remain there all night. Pursuing their journey, they reached Landon's tavern, now the Mansion House, and turning into Commercial street they traveled by way of the creek and the lake beach, down to Major Miller's tavern at the old ferry. It was filled with sailors and river boatmen who were holding high revel when Mr. Brace arrived; and the landlord, unable to keep them in order by gentle means, was administering such rude justice as the occasion demanded, and the manners of frontiersmen amply justified and required. In the general melee Mr. Brace's friends fled, seeking other quarters; but he sought the top of a whisky barrel in one corner of the room, on which he remained until morning.

At this time there was at the ferry a house and tavern, with some other buildings, making a promising settlement. There were no other houses at Black Rock except a hut near the brook at Albany street; the Porter, Barton & Co. warehouse, and the residence of Nathaniel Sill. Of this brook I shall be glad to preserve recollection. It was a pretty stream, coming from the forest; and it meandered between wooded banks to Niagara street, where it rushed over a broken ledge of rocks in a miniature fall, and poured its crystal water into the ungratefulNiagara. A few years ago this laughing stream was turned into a sewer, and now mingles its turbid and muddy waters with the Erie canal.

Major Miller's lease for an unexpired term of ten years was transferred to Orange Dean and Holden Allen; the latter of whom raised a family of stalwart boys, who became sailors and lake captains. Capt. Levi Allen, of this city, with two of his brothers, are survivors of this family.

Doubtless, there are many facts which have escaped my observation that would have rendered this history more interesting. The men who lived upon the frontier at that time possessed many admirable qualities. They were bold, accustomed to danger, self-reliant, fertile in resources and full of that rude energy which clears up the forests, lays the foundation of towns and makes way for a more refined civilization which, if it has more of the graces of life, has less real energy and practical sense. It is certainly desirable that sketches of these men should be preserved; for the early history of New York is to be found in the narratives of the enterprise, the thrift, the industry and the personal sacrifices of the early pioneers.

In 1812, the State resumed charge of the old ferry, and by an act of that year directed the leasing of it by the Commissioners of the Land Office, reserving the Indian rights as provided by the treaty. I dismiss the Indians with the remark that this right of free ferriage was always reserved to them in all the leases, and I have found no statute which deprives them of their ancient privileges.

The war-cloud began to lower over the border, and the frontiersmen heard the sound of approaching conflict. The business at the old ferry up to this time had been steadily increasing; but it entirely ceased at the commencement of actual hostilities. There had been considerable emigration into Canada, as I have had occasion to remark. The large four-horse wagons with their singular loads had been accustomed visitors at the ferry. There had been frequent crossing to deal at Douglas' store at Fort Erie; at which place the settlers bought their glass and nails. On the whole, the ferrymen at the Black Rock had been greatly benefited, and were rejoicing in growing profits.

A store or grocery had been established, and there were other shops at the Rock; and among others who had found their way to the place was Mr. E. D. Efner, (6) to whom you will need no introduction. General Sylvester Mathews, a well-known man here twenty-five years ago, and Loren Hodge and his father resided once at the old ferry.

Fifty years have passed, and the mutability of earthly things receives a forcible illustration in the changes at this place. The canal has obliterated the famous black rock; the railroad runs over the site of the old ferry house and tavern; and the pier cuts in twain the river which had unfolded its regal amplitude between the opposing shores. Squaw Island, once heavily wooded and full of game, now denuded of its forest glories, spreads upon the river a patch of unsightly meadow swamp land; Bird Island has quite gone out of sight; old Fort Erie is a mouldering ruin; and the only improvement upon the scene is the flourishing commercial city to whose history this contribution is made.

This paper shall be closed before the time is entirely exhausted, by recounting the further history of the old ferry from the memoranda of Mr. Lester Brace.

In 1813, to use an expression then prevalent, the "lines were opened," that is, it had become safe for Americans to venture upon business along the river; and Mr. Brace and Mr. St. John, who is represented in this city by numerous descendants, thought that something could be done with the ferry. They bought Hardison's boats and resumed the business of carriers between Canada and the Black Rock. The renewed business was inaugurated by a sad catastrophe, which awakened the sympathy of the settlers both at Buffalo and the Rock. On the sixth of June, 1813, the morning being clear and cold, with the ice running in the river, Mr. Brace, with Mr. St. John, to whom the management of the boat was intrusted as the more skillful navigator, started from the Rock to cross the river. The boat was a scow, of about ten tons burthen, propelled by sweeps handled by two or four men, and steered with another long sweep at the stern. The route was to cross the stream directly, as nearly as it could be done, and to drop down to the wharf which was at the present ferry landing. Sometimes this was difficult to accomplish, particularly when ice was running in the river; and the ferrymen were carried down to a point near or opposite to Squaw Island, and then they were obliged to cross and pole up the river to the Black Rock, a laborious and very wearisome task. Two or three of Commodore Perry's vessels which had been fitted out by Henry Eckford at the mouth of the Scoijoiquoides creek, had made an attempt to get up the Niagara into the lake to join the squadron, but had been obliged to cast anchor in the very path of the ferry boat. The ferryman had been advised that it would be a venturesome business to attempt to go above the vessels in order to reach the Canada landing; but Mr. St. John, relying on his skill as a boatman, and his knowledge of the river, said that he could accomplish it without collision. He had not overrated his knowledge or his skill, but an unforseen danger presented itself which was discovered too late to be avoided. The ferry boat would have cleared the foremost vessel, but it was driven upon the cable which held her at anchor, and the play of the cable as it rose and fell with the motion of the vessel upset the ferry boat and turned the whole party into the river. The boats of the ship nearest them had gone to Buffalo creek, and the party, which consisted of Mr. Brace and Mr. St. John and his son, four soldiers and four other passengers, one of them having a horse with him, were in imminent danger of drowning. Mr. St. John went down, but rose again and spoke encouraging words to Mr. Brace, putting his hand on his shoulder at the same time; but suddenly sank, and did not rise again. His son, a fine, athletic young man, had nearly reached shallow water when he disappeared; and Mr. Brace grasped a board which floated near him, by means of which his life was saved.

There was another incident which is worthy of preservation. One day there came to the ferry a number of villagers from Buffalo who desired to cross to Canada. Doctor Josiah Trowbridge and Mr. Bemis were of the company. It was a cold December day, and Mr. Brace was averse to crossing; for he was unwell, and there had been rumors which, if true, rendered a visit to the other side somewhat hazardous. Dr. Trowbridge was quite urgent, however, for his business on the Canada shore was impelled by the same motive which induced Leander to swim the Hellespont. Mr. Brace saw the white flag flying on the Canada side, and after some hesitation, consented to allow his brother-in-law, Arden Merrill, to take his place in the boat, and ferry the travelers to the other shore. As the ferry boat approached the Canada landing, two or three sleighs filled with men were observed to be approaching from below; but the matter excited neither alarm nor suspicion. The passengers had hardly landed, when they were seized as prisoners, with the exception of Dr. Trowbridge and Mr. Pomeroy, who escaped to the woods. The British party then fired into the boat, already out in the river. Merrill was killed; his body, stripped of boots and watch, was afterward recovered under a flag of truce. One of the passengers was never afterward heard of; another was taken prisoner, and subsequently released at Halifax. Dr. Trowbridge and his companions found their way to Baxter's, six miles above the ferry, and there seized upon a boat against the remonstrance of the proprietor, who was not disposed to aid their escape, and got safely back to Buffalo Creek.

This was a most unprovoked and unjustifiable outrage; not the only one perpetrated by the enemy during that war. The people on the ferry boat had trusted to the white flag flying at the ferry landing; and even if they had come over without that protection, they were unarmed, and might have been made prisoners without loss of life.

The ferry was then discontinued, and the boats sunk at the mouth of the Scoijoiquoides creek; from which they were taken by the British in one of their marauding excursions, and carried over to Canada. They were retaken by our army and used for government purposes. Mr. Brace found them in possession of Major Barton, United States Quartermaster; who refused to deliver them to him upon the ground that they had been captured from the enemy and were the property of the government. Mr. Brace, not caring to dispute the Quartermaster's law, paid one hundred dollars to get them again, and in 1815, on the declaration of peace, opened his tavern, resumed his ferry, and continued there until 1821.

That he had been prospered in his business appears from the net income of his tavern and ferry in 1813, which was three thousand dollars. For a number of years it continued to yield a handsome revenue; larger upon an average than has since been derived from it.

Among the persons who boarded with Mr. Brace, at the old ferry, was Captain James Rough, a Scotchman by birth, and a sailor by profession. He was one of the earliest navigators of the western lakes, and had been in the employ of John Jacob Astor when he had a fur trading house at Mackinac. He died at Black Rock at an advanced age, and is buried in the old Guide Board Road cemetery. (7) His friend, Major Donald Fraser, placed at the head of his grave a small willow, which has since grown to be a large tree, and the inscription on his tomb closes with the lines of Burns:
With such as he, where'er he be,
May I be saved or damned. (8)

In 1821, the ferry was transferred to Asa Stannard, the father of a race of sons, some of whom became identified with our lake marine, and were well known to the dock merchants of an early day. The present Member of Assembly, from the first district, Walter W. Stannard, is a son of Asa Stannard.

In 1822 or 1824, the old ferry ceased to have legal existence. The act authorizing the lease to Stannard provided, that if the ferry was "injured by the construction of the Great Western Canal," Stannard should be compensated for improvements, but not for loss of profits. The same act gave Stannard an extension of the lease, if he would build a horse-boat for the purpose of ferriage. But Mr. Stannard did not build the boat which the Legislature had contemplated. He continued to use the scow, rowed by four men with two oars, and to cross at the old place, until the construction of the Erie Canal rendered it necessary to remove the ferry to another point. So, in 1824, the old ferry, which had for so long a time been a place of such importance, and which had already assumed the appearance of a village, was deserted. The great rock, the landmark which had become known to all the settlers on this part of the Holland Purchase, and to all travelers on the river, was blown up; the old road was neglected, and became impassable; the houses gradually fell into ruin; and to-day there is nothing on. the spot to indicate its former existence.

The ferry was removed to a point of land at the foot of what is now Ferry street, on the south line of the ferry lot; and in 1826, Donald Fraser and Lester Brace became its lessees; but the rapid march of invention and improvement rendered it necessary that the old scow ferry boat should give way to a more rapid method of propulsion, and Brace and Fraser were bound to put upon the river, within one year, a steam or horse-boat.

If it were within the scope of my subject, it would be a pleasant duty to give some reminiscences of Donald Fraser. He had witnessed different vicissitudes of fortune, and had survived them all, without losing that exuberant good nature which was a remarkable quality in his character. From his early youth he was a courageous and gallant soldier. He had been aid to General Pike at the siege and conquest of Little York (now Toronto), and was with him when he fell, on that memorable occasion; and at the sortie of Fort Erie, as aid to General Porter, when his gallantry and soldierly conduct received the most flattering notice in the despatches of the General to the Commander-in-chief. Major Fraser was afterward on the staff of General Brown; subsequently he served at Fort Niagara; and at a later period he acted as secretary to General Porter, while he was engaged as the United States Commissioner in surveying and establishing the northern boundary between the United States and Canada, under the treaty of Ghent. He was a Scotchman, a member of a celebrated clan, and full of genial and generous feeling toward all mankind. His ferry house and store was a museum of curiosities. At the door, the public was informed that "folks are married here;" and the place was filled with articles, the most of which were unsaleable, presenting, withal, a ludicrous yet remarkable collection of odd things. In the strictest sense of the word, it was a curiosity shop. The resident of thirty years ago will recollect his sleigh-rides in a bark canoe, mounted on runners, with a stuffed deer standing at the prow, and ten or twelve men, habited in Indian costume, paddling furiously as they dashed through the streets at the full speed of four horses ridden by four impromptu savages. After the death of Captain Rough, Fraser disguised himself, and calling upon the prominent citizens of the village, represented that he was the sole heir of the deceased, just arrived from Scotland. So successful was the disguise, in every respect, and his claims were apparently so well founded and sustained, that no question was made about his taking possession of the estate, which was considerable; and he went around among his friends and acquaintances, the acknowledged heir of Captain Rough, and the recognized owner of his late estate. A paper might be filled with reminiscences of this singular man, but space can be allowed here only to say, that after his removal from Black Rock, he was in the army as Quartermaster; and died a few years ago, an officer at the New York Custom House.

Messrs. Brace and Fraser placed the horse-boat on the river; Mr. Brace making the journey to Albany to ascertain what were the merits of the novel invention which the Legislature required the ferry lessees to adopt; and he brought back the machinery for his boat. It was nothing more than a wheel upon a horizontal plane, propelling the boat by means of cogs playing into the main shaft; four horses treading the wheel, being the propelling power. It was a great invention for those times, and was the second boat of the kind ever used in this country.

In 1840, James Haggart became the lessee of the ferry, and the successor of Brace and Fraser, and placed a steam ferryboat on the river, in accordance with the provisions of an act of the Legislature, granting to him the right to maintain a ferry. Judge Bull, of Black Rock, became a part owner of the ferry, and now owns the land on the American shore opposite the ferry landing. The rent was two hundred dollars per year, payable to the common school fund of Black Rock; and in 1853, the State granted to the City of Buffalo exclusive power over all ferries within its limits, with the right to license and regulate the same.

An apology is due to you for this paper, upon a subject so dry and uninteresting; but as the history of our city will necessarily require some mention of "The Old Ferry," it is not beyond the province of the Historical Society to gather and preserve, the fragments contained in this attempt to trace its origin and history.

1. Communicated to the Society, by Hon. George R. Babcock. (9)

BUFFALO, Friday, February 13th, 1863.


President, &c.

DEAR SIR:--A severe cold prevents me from attending the Historical Society Club tonight. I enclose the draft of some notes upon the origin of the name of Black Rock, which, if you deem proper, may be read to the Club, with a view to provoke discussion. My examination of the subject has not been thorough, for the want of leisure and books. I have looked into but few authors, and Doctor Dwight is the only one that has furnished much support to the theory which I broached at Mr. Norton's two weeks ago. There are other authorities, however, which 1 hope to be able to cite hereafter.

I am, with esteem, your obedient servant,


P. S.--Upon another point, allow me to call your attention to the fact, that in the act of our Legislature, passed March 19th, 1802, for holding a treaty with the Senecas, Buffalo creek is called "Buffaloes creek." (10) This, to me, is new. B.

MANY years since, the idea was suggested to me, by reading a journal of an early French explorer of the lakes, that Bird Island, at the head of the Niagara, was called Black Rock, and gave this name to the adjoining shore. Subsequent reading elicited facts that favored this theory, but I have preserved no notes of them; and since the subject was before the Historical Society Club, the little attention that I have been able to give to it has failed to reveal the original authority for the idea. According to my recollection of the narrative, the craft of the writer was driven by stress of weather to a shelter, at the foot of the lake, behind a black rock, of small extent and slight elevation, which afforded protection from the waves. It occurred to me that he had anchored under the lee of Bird Island, which at that period, and within the recollection of many of our citizens, was a bare, black rock, sufficiently above the water to afford shelter for vessels in the deep channel between it and the American shore; and that this "black rock," being the only harbor at this end of the lake, and, therefore, an object of interest to the early voyagers, gave name to the locality, rather than the bare rock upon the main shore, nearly a mile below. The latter was an object of interest to the Indian as a place for fishing, and, subsequently, to the white settlers, as the ferrying-place; but to the traders and voyagers, who for more than one hundred years followed the Griffin's track, the black rock upon the main land was of no importance whatever. It seemed to me not improbable, therefore, that the island bore the name of the Black Rock among the whites, prior to the formation of settlements upon the main land; and that afterwards the name was transferred to the rock, which was known among the Indians as the "fishing rock," and to the whites as the "ferry rock," or ferrying-place. The question is not important, and I confess that the evidence to sustain this theory is not conclusive. President Dwight, in the fourth volume of his travels, records a visit to this place which he made in 1804. Speaking of the Mile Strip along the Niagara river, he says:

"Within the Reservation is included the ground opposite to Black Rock." -- p. 55.

Referring to the mouth of Buffalo creek, he says:

"The river Niagara begins two miles further north, at, or rather just below, Black Rock. Here the first perceptible current commences. At Black Rock, a town which is a mile square is laid out by order of the State into house lots. The lots are to be disposed of at public sale in December of this year, upon terms with which I am unacquainted. Should they be equitable, the trade which 1 mentioned will soon center here. Between this rock and the shore is the only secure harbor on the American, and a much better than any on the British side of the lake, within a great distance." p. 57.

Speaking of harbors on Lake Erie, he says:

"On the southern side I know of but three; Black Rock, Presque Isle and Sandusky Bay."

Bird Island will answer the various conditions required by these extracts, and no point on the main land will meet them. It would be absurd to speak of any point upon the Mile Strip as "opposite to Black Rock," and yet locate Black Rock on the Mile Strip. It will not do to say that the Niagara river begins "just below Black Rock," and that here the "first perceptible current commences," and yet locate Black Rock at the old ferry site. The town of Black Rock, it is true, is laid out on the main land, "opposite to Black Rock;" and the trade spoken of is expected to center there, because of the "secure harbor * * * between this rock and the shore."

Black Rock is one of the three harbors on the southern side of the lake, known to the President. In this connection, it may not be amiss to refer to Geddes' report of a survey for a canal between Lakes Erie and Ontario, made in 1809. He speaks of the "exceedingly safe and excellent harbor formed by Bird Island and the reef;" and of the "upper and lower storehouses at Black Rock;" the former of which, a stone building sixty-four by forty-four feet, built in 1808, he distinctly locates on the north-east corner of Bird Island. He further says:

"There place on the main shore where a wharf can be built, so that a vessel can lay her side to and load."

This would seem to fix the "harbor" of Black Rock at the island. It is, undoubtedly, true, that since the first settlement of the shores of the river by the whites, the name of Black Rock has been uniformly applied to the main land and not to the island.

2. Communicated to the Society, by Col. Wm. A. Bird, April 3, 1863.

"BLACK ROCK," I assume, took its name from the ferrying-place, and 1 offer the following reasons and concurring circumstances for this belief.

The ferry at this place seems to have been used from the very earliest settlement of the country, and it was the only place to cross the Niagara river above the Falls. The landing on the United States shore was at the base of the broad surface of a black, corniferous limestone rock, extending along the shore some two or three hundred feet, and having a width of from fifty to eighty feet -- its lower end extending from the shore, nearly at right angles, some three or four feet above the water; making an eddy below, and a convenient place for ferry boats to load and unload. This rock was a celebrated fishing place, where it was not unusual to find forty or fifty Indians at a time, fishing. The point was known as the lower reef or rapids, the upper reef being opposite to where Fort Porter now is.

This ferry was occupied and run by persons on the Canada shore previous to 1804; after which time it was leased by this State for several years; and in all the leases it was provided that the Indians should pass free, as had been agreed in the treaty with them.

Mr. Van Rensselaer, long in the Engineer and Surveyor's office, Albany, and who is more familiar with the papers and records in that office than any other person there, writes to me as follows:

"On the original map of the lands laid out along the Niagara river, made by Joseph Annin in 1803, there is vacant ground on the river, say five hundred and forty acres; marked thereon, was a ' house,' and a 'rock' on the shore, and written in black ink, in small letters, 'Black Rock,' indicating, to my mind, that there was a rock at that place.
"I have examined the proposed plan for a village at Black Rock, directed by the Legislature, by the act passed April 11th, 1804, and now in the Surveyor General's office. At the foot of Hampshire street, on the shore of the lake, is written in small figures, 'Black Rock.' I find no indications, except what is designated on the map in the public offices, and nothing on the minutes of the land office."

I have looked into Spafford's and Gordon's Gazetteers, and I find nothing in relation to the origin of the name; but have found the following in French's Gazetteer, published in 1860 :

"Black Rock receives its name from the color of the rock which crops out at the ferry landing,"

Doctor Cooper, a very intelligent and scientific traveler, in his journal of a visit to Niagara, in 1809, goes from Landon's, in Buffalo, "three miles to Miller's ferry, along the banks of Lake Erie." He says:

"The ride along the Niagara is beautiful; the country, well settled. In fact, it may be regarded as a continued village from the ferry, opposite Black Rock, for thirty-three or thirty-four miles, down to Newark."

We know that in all new settlements, towns and villages get a name from some trifle which marks the locality; as the "big tree," "cold spring," "horse-heads," "cross-roads," &c.; so it is reasonable to believe,--indeed, the conviction is almost irresistible,---that the village of Black Rock derived its name from the black rock at the ferrying-place.


1. Died, April 12th, 1867.

2. Col. William A. Bird died, August 19th, 1878.

3. On Niagara St., near Auburn.

4. Niagara street, near the Reservoir.

5. See Addenda, pp. 110-112.

6. Mr. Efner died, July 4th, 1873.

7. Sec Buffalo Cemeteries, ante. p. 55.

8.See Ibid, p. 57, for the full inscription.

9. Died, September 22d, 1876.

10. See Papers on the Name of Buffalo, ante, pp. 17-42.



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From the nineteenth century publications of the predecessor of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.