Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: John Greig Lives The American Dream

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Portrait of John Greig. Source: Milliken, Charles F., A History of Ontario County, New York and Its People, Lewis Historical Co. Vol I, New York, 1911, p.225

The sun rose on Tuesday, June 7, 1825, signaling the start of a new day. For John Greig, it would prove among the most momentous days of his life—so far. It would prove anyone can attain their American dream.

By that morning, Greig had lived a tad more than a quarter of a century in his adopted home country. Born in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland on August 6, 1779,1 he immigrated to the United States in 1797 after attending the Edinburgh High School.2 Only eighteen when he sailed to America, no doubt like many his age, Greig sought to make his mark.

He certainly did.

But not immediately.

Greig spent his first few months living in New York City before moving to Albany. He relocated to Canandaigua in April 1800. It’s likely this move came about because of John Johnstone, assistant to Charles Williamson. Williamson, a native of Balgray, Scotland, was hired as agent for the Sir William Pulteney, John Hornby and Patrick Colquhoun (later just the Hornby portion) Estate in the Genesee Country. When Johnstone returned to Scotland, he met Greig and convinced the latter to go back to America with him.3

Upon arriving in Canandaigua, Greig became a student at law in the office of Nathaniel W. Howell (who would later become Judge Howell). In 1804, at the age of twenty-five, John Greig was admitted to the bar and formed a partnership with Howell. Two years later, upon the death of Williamson, he was appointed agent of the Estate of Hornby and Colquhoun.4

What happened next was nothing less than remarkable. It was summed up as follows in a biography written a century later:

“Mingling with his professional duties the arduous ones consequent upon the sale and settlement of large contracts of wild lands, professional eminence could hardly be expected, yet in early days, when there were ‘giants in the land,’ when the bar of Western New York had in its front rank a class of men hardly equaled today, his legal brethren found in the young Scot a man possessed of sound legal acquirements which placed him in the first ranks of those lawyers whose ability is handed down as more than ordinary. Especially he recommended himself to their esteem by a high sense of honor, and a courtesy which ruled his conduct at the bar as well as in the business and social relations of life.”5

It could certainly be said that the year 1806 was the turning point in young Greig’s life. Not only had he assumed the job that would propel him to great fortune (and the attendant dominant position), but in that same year he married Clarissa Chapin, the daughter of Captain Israel Chapin, Jr. and granddaughter of General Israel Chapin, Superintendent of Indian Affairs. If anything, this marriage enhanced Greig’s social standing.6

By odd coincidence in our “it’s a small world” story, 1806 was the same year Augustus Porter left Canandaigua and moved his family to the future Niagara Falls. Who did Porter sell his Canandaigua house to? None other than John Greig, Esq.7

From that point, things began to move rapidly in the life of the esteemed Mr. Greig. It was as if the hands of destiny had captured him, guiding him into the current of history, both past and present. After all, within sight of his new home stood the place where General Sullivan set up camp on his march to impede the Seneca from providing military support to their British allies during the Revolutionary War. Only a short walk away, sat the Canandaigua Academy.8 Greig (along with Howell and three others) would serve on the committee to superintend the academy.9

In 1812, Greig would join with fifteen others to announce they intended to apply to charter a bank called the Ontario Farmers’ Bank in the Town of Canandaigua. At the same time, he and six others disclosed they would apply to the State Legislature to incorporate the “Village of Canandaigua.”10

Well, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

A year later, Greig would be a part of twenty that would again ask the Legislature to incorporate a bank. This one was called “Ontario Bank.”11 This time, the effort would prove successful. On March 15, 1813, the Legislature would pass an act incorporating Ontario Bank.12 Greig would serve on the Board of Directors.13 In 1820, he would be elevated to president.14

While the new bank opened its doors in 1813, it would be until 1815 that the Village of Canandaigua would be incorporated.15

In the meantime, Greig’s American dream moved forward.

In 1816, the commissioners of the Canal and Locks Committee appointed Greig (among a couple dozen others) as a receiver of subscriptions (including land money) for the proposed new canal.16 In 1819, the Ontario County Agricultural Society was established. Greig was named Secretary.17

In 1823, as reported at the time, a treaty “between the Chiefs of the Seneca Indians, and U. States commissioners” made “about 17,000 acres of valuable land on the Genesee river” available.18 John Greig (along with Henry B. Gibson) purchased this tract and began offering it for sale. Known as the “Gardeau Tract” or “White woman’s reservation” (because Mary Jemison lived there),19 it would later become the heart of Letchworth State Park.

A year later, Greig would be named a director of the newly incorporated Western Fire Insurance Company.20

Finally, in mid-January 1825, the New York State Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly voted to appoint John Greig a regent of the State University to replace De Witt Clinton who resigned.21

There would be greater achievements to come in the life of John Greig, but on the morning of June 7, 1825, you could see the Scotsman had already achieved his American dream.

But the best was about to happen in just a few short hours.

Next Week: Canandaigua Anxiously Waits Before Jubilation And An Elegant Supper

1 [Retrieved June 26, 2024]
2 [Retrieved June 26, 2024]
3 Chappell, Josephine Gregg, “Early History of the Genesee Country – Events and Men,” Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series Vol. 2, 1923, p.280,283
4 Kelsey, John, The Lives and Reminiscences of the Pioneers of Rochester, J. Kelsey, Rochester, 1854 p. 106
5 Chappell, p.283
6 Granger, J. Albert, “The History of Canandaigua,” Ontario Repository and Messenger, 1876, p. 13
7 Turner, Orsamus, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York, Jewett, Thomas & Co., 1849, p. 374
8 History of Ontario County, New York With Illustrations, Everts, Ensign & Everts, Philadelphia, 1878, p. 16
9 “Canandaigua Academy,” Ontario Repository, Wednesday, December 25, 1810, p. 1
10 Ontario Repository, Tuesday, January 28, 1812, p. 4
11 Ontario Repository, Tuesday, January 19, 1813, p. 3
12 “Ontario Bank” Ontario Repository, Tuesday, April 6, 1813, p. 1
13 The Geneva Gazette, Wednesday, June 25, 1817, p.3
14 [Retrieved June 26, 2024]
15 Granger, p. 10
16 The Geneva Gazette, Wednesday, August 7, 1816, p. 2
17 “Ontario County Agricultural Society, The Republican Agriculurist., Thursday, March 18, 1819, p. 1
18 New-York Evening Post, Monday, September 22, 1823, p. 2
19 Geneva Palladium, Wednesday, September 24, 1823, p. 3
20 “Law of New-York,” Ontario Repository, Wednesday, Apri1 14, 1824, p. 2
21 The Troy Sentinel, Friday, January 14, 1825, p. 3

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