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.
When it comes to the early settlement of Jamestown, no individual played a greater role than James Prendergast. Prendergast was born March 9, 1764 in Dutchess County, New York to William and Mehitable Prendergast. In 1806, he arrived in Chautauqua County with the rest of his family, but soon returned to Pittstown, NY in the fall of that year.
Prior to his return to the Hudson Valley, it is said that James first found the land that would eventually become Jamestown while searching for a team of horses that had runaway from the Prendergast home in Mayville. Two years later, he instructed his brother Matthew Prendergast to purchase 1000 acres of land where McCrae Point is now located. Mathew then deeded the land to James.
In 1809, James Prendergast (now married) returned to the area and visited the purchase with one of his employees, John Blowers, and shared his plan of developing a settlement, using the waterpower from the outlet for a lumbering operation. In 1810, Blowers built the first home in the area, and Prendergast and his family moved to the banks of the outlet in 1811. A dam, sawmill, and gristmill, were soon built and the settlement became known as Prendergast Mills and The Rapids. In 1815 the name Jamestown was adopted, and a year or so later a post office was established.
For more than 30 years, Prendergast would continue to help oversee the development of the community. He owned a mercantile with his brother, was the first post-master, paid for the school, donated land for cemetery use, overlooked debts, and subsidized the early churches and other development projects. Prendergast would remain in Jamestown until his death in 1846 at the age of 82.
– J. Sample