Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.
The first white man to settle in what is now Fredonia was Thomas McClintock. But the first to permanently settle on the waters of Canadaway Creek was Zattu Cushing, who came in 1805 from Oneida County.
A ship’s carpenter by trade, Cushing was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts and had worked in Boston and then in Oneida County. In 1798 or 1799 he went to Presque Isle to oversee the building of the first large American vessel built on Lake Erie. Returning with horses along the lake, he was impressed with the land that is now Fredonia and determined to come back.
Cushing returned in 1805, but not before a narrow escape with his family on the frozen waters of Lake Erie in February of that same year. While traveling from Buffalo to their new home via the iced-over Lake Erie, the family had become stranded in a winter storm out on the ice. Cushing had a dinner horn which he blew from time to time hoping someone might hear it; and luckily at about 1 a.m. two men did hear it and came with lanterns to guide them ashore. The next morning would have been too late, for the ice broke up during the night.
Cushing built a home and barn in 1808 at what is now 171 Eagle St. that also served as a Baptist Church. As late as 1820, the structure was the most commodious place for a religious assembly in all of northern Chautauqua. Cushing served in the War of 1812 and from 1811 to 1824 held the office of “First Judge” of the county. He may not have literally been the first settler of Fredonia, but he was for a long time its “first citizen.”
– J. Sample