Tag Archives: William Prendergast

James Prendergast – Bicentennial Biography No. 14

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.

James Prendergast, from Young's History of Chautauqua County (1875)

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.

Ref: Young’s History of Chautauqua County; History of Chautauqua County, NY and its People; Norman Carlson, Fenton History Center

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- J. Sample

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Thomas Bemus – Bicentennial Biography No. 13

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 historic marker in Bemus Point, noting the Bemus Point - Stow Ferry

Thomas Bemus was born May 19, 1786 in Pittstown, New York. The second of nine children born to William and Mary Prendergast Bemus, Thomas was 19 years old by the time he and his extended Prendergast family made their way to Chautauqua County in 1806.

Thomas built a cabin in the area that is now Stow upon land purchased by his father. This effectively made him the first settler of the land that would eventually become the Town of Harmony and later North Harmony. His parents, along with younger sibling, opted to live across the narrows of Chautauqua Lake in what is now Bemus Point. To stay in contact with his family, Thomas would use a rowboat to get across the water. He married Jane Atkins in 1809, and the couple eventually had 7 daughters and 2 sons.

In 1811, Thomas applied for a license to operate a flat bottom raft. The license was granted on July 11 of that year at the Court of Common Pleas in Mayville. Since then the ferry, known today as the “Bemus Point-Stow Ferry” has carried passengers, vehicles, and other items from one side of the narrows to the other.

In the spring of 1815, Thomas made the first survey of village lots for a new community at the outlet of Chautauqua Lake, which was being established by his uncle, James Prendergast.

Thomas Bemus passed away on June 23, 1829 at the age of 43.

Ref: Young’s History of Chautauqua County; History of Chautauqua County, NY and its People

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- J. Sample

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William Bemus – Bicentennial Biography No. 12

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.

Map provided by www.co.chautauqua.ny.us

William Bemus was born in 1762 at Bemus Heights, Saratoga County.  At the start of the Revolutionary War, he moved to Pittstown in Rensselaer County. In 1782 he wed Mary Prendergast, daughter of William and Mehitable Prendergast.

Early in 1800, the Prendergasts and Bemus sold their property and made the decision to migrate to the west or to Canada.  Bemus and his bro-in-law, Thomas Prendergast, traveled to Batavia where they met William Peacock, who had recently been surveying the Chautauqua Lake area.  Before returning to their families they paid a visit to Chautauqua Lake and both favored the surrounding country. When the group decided against settling in Tennessee in 1805, it was the earlier trip to the Chautauqua Region that convinced them to settle there instead.

The following winter, Bemus bought a land contract for about 100 acres of land on each side of Chautauqua Lake at the narrows, the current location of Bemus Point and Stow, located in the towns of Ellery and North Harmony, respectively.  There was unmistakable agricultural evidence a native American settlement had formerly existed on the Bemus Point side, and Bemus used the grass and corn to secure a crop his first year at his new settlement. Bemus later built a sawmill in 1808, the first in the town, and the first gristmill in 1811. He remained active in the early development of the area for the rest of his life, dying Jan. 2, 1830, nearly 68 years old.

Ref: Young’s History of Chautauqua County

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- J. Sample

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William and Mehitable Prendergast – Bicentennial Biography No. 11

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.

Map provided by www.co.chautauqua.ny.us

It can be said that no other family has had a more significant impact on the early settlement of the Chautauqua Lake Region than that of William Prendergast and his offspring. It’s fascinating, then, to consider that the Prendergast arrival may never have occurred, due to an event 40 years earlier.

The year was 1766 and 39 year-old William Prendergast (born in Ireland), was put on trial in the Hudson Valley, charged with leading an armed revolt against landowners. When it was time for his trial, his 26 year-old Quaker wife – Mehitable Prendergast – assisted in his defense and made a notable impression. However, the jury returned a verdict of “guilty” and William was to be hanged for high treason. But Mehitable refused to give up and she rode on horseback from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan – 80 miles – to beg for his life. Wearing a white dress with blue stripes, the young wife persuaded the governor to issue a stay of execution. King George III eventually issued a full pardon, and William was set free.

Nearly 40 years later the couple and their family headed for Tennessee. In all, 29 persons made up the travel party including all nine of their children. Upon their arrival in the south, they were very dissatisfied with the country and the entire group turned back. They arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania in September 1805 and it was there they resolved to settle in the sparsely populated area of Chautauqua Lake. By the winter the family had purchased 3500 acres of land near Mayville and on the lake. William died on Feb. 14, 1811, at the age of 84. Mehitable soon followed, passing on Sept. 11, 1812 at the age of 74.

Ref: Carl Lamson Cramer’s “An Explosive Combination” – March 9, 2010; Young’s History of Chautauqua County

For additional reading go the Prendergast and Hunt Cemeteries, featuring information compiled by Edna Ingham and originally published in the Jamestown Journal “Fenton Historical Society Deserted Cemetery Series” – 30 Aug. 1969

- J. Sample

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