The Story of Abraham Parrish, Mendon’s First Tavern Keeper (Part I)

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Wyoming Forts A-Fort Durkee, B-Fort Wyoming or Wilkesbarre, C-Fort Ogden, D-Kingston Village, E-Forty Fort, G-battleground, H-Fort Jenkins, I-Monocasy Island, J-Pittstown stockades, G-Queen Esther’s Rock Source: Lossing, Benson, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, January 7, 1859, p. 353

In many ways, the life of Abraham Parrish wasn’t that different from any other person participating in the formative decades of the grand American Experiment.

In other ways, he lived a unique life that exposed him at an early age to the rarified frontier air that existed when Western New York emerged from its dense terra incognita forest. He witnessed firsthand nearly all the major personalities of our region and saw how they forged this thickly wooded region into an industrious civilization.

But let’s not get far ahead…

Zebulon Parish represents a typical American story. He was born on February 12, 1726 in Windham, a town in the eastern half of the Colony of Connecticut between Hartford and the Rhode Island border. He not only shares a birthday with Abraham Lincoln, he shares something else – his descendants were active in the abolition movement.

There was a very good reason Zebulon’s family joined the fight against slavery – his grandfather, John Wattles, came to America as a slave.

Our story, therefore, begins in Scotland…

John Wattles was born in Scotland and lived in tumultuous times. Great Britain’s King (Charles I) had a son (also named Charles) who was King of Scotland. A lot of folks didn’t like Charles I. In fact, they didn’t like the whole idea of a monarchy. They preferred a republic. (Hmm, interesting idea, given this was more than a hundred years before the American Revolution.)

Parliament decided Oliver Cromwell was the man to lead this new republican government. Charles I disagreed and so began a roughly decade long battle for control of Great Britain. Ol’ Chuck was tried for treason and beheaded in 1649. The execution was quite a spectacle, with people not knowing what to think. Even the executioner refused to shout the usual “Behold the head of a traitor!” for fear people would recognize his voice.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland…

The younger Charles would have none of this. He was popular in Scotland and drew an army of Scots to take one last stand against Cromwell’s forces. Among those Scotsmen was the one named John Wattles.

The Scots didn’t have quite the success Charles envisioned. During the Battle of Worcester (September 3, 1651) Cromwell’s army captured Wattles, along with thousands of others faithful to King Charles I (“the martyr”). The good news: unlike Charles I, they weren’t executed for treason. The bad news…

On October 20th, 1651, Parliament, now controlled by Cromwell, granted amnesty to these prisoners with the stipulation that they pay their own way to the Colonies to serve out their sentence. Wattles, apparently listed as “John Woodall” and/or “John Wodell” on the ship’s manifest of 272 passengers, boarded the John & Sara in London. The boat was then inspected at Gravesend before setting sail.1

Upon reaching Massachusetts Colony in 1652, Samuel Richardson of Woburn paid twenty pounds to buy “John Woodall” for a term of eight years. Although Richardson died in 1658, Wattles didn’t gain his freedom until 1660 and took up settlement a few miles from Woburn in a town on the edge of the frontier called Chelmsford. Given 15 acres of land, he built a place to live and farm. In 1666 he married Mare Goole (Gould). The had several children before John was killed by Indians in King Philip’s War in March of 1676.2

What makes John Wattles interesting to us isn’t his heroic exploits. It’s his eldest child. Mary Wattell (why the “s” dropped off is anyone’s guess) was born in 1668. She really must have liked her father because, in 1685 she married John Parish. The thing of note about John Parish is that he lived in Mendon, Massachusetts, but that’s merely a coincident fact in our story. More important is where they moved. Having suffered one too many Indian attacks in Mendon, the young family promptly moved to a place called Preston in New London County, Connecticut Colony.3

John had a son by the name of Isaac, born in 1697. By 1720, however, Isaac Parish moved to Windham, a bit inland from Preston. Isaac was Abraham’s grandfather. He was a tavern-keeper in Windham.4 Keep that in mind.

It was in Windham that Zebulon Parish, Abraham’s father was born and was married (to Hannah Kimball). It’s also where Abraham was born. They didn’t stay too long. This branch of the Parish family was one of several families to move Connecticut Colony’s then western-most settlement – Westmoreland. Today, that settlement is located in what is now Wyoming County – the one in northeastern Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania?” you ask?

Yes, that’s a long story, a different story. Maybe I’ll tell it later. This story is about the Wyoming Massacre.

On the evening of June 30, 1778, Colonel John Butler brought 400 British regulars to the edge of Wyoming Valley and the Connecticut Yankees’ settlement. Along with him came 500 Iroquois (mostly Seneca) warriors5, led by Sakayenguaraghton, a.k.a. the “Old King” of the Seneca tribe.6

In the dawn of July 3rd, the settlers, aware of the approaching enemy, congregated in the Forty fort, which was the main fort of the area. The defenders could count 368 men among them. Little did they know until later that morning that the Tory sympathizers manning nearby Wintermoot fort willingly gave up their charge to the British. After discovering this, the men had a heated debate: should they retain their defensive posture or should they attack?7

A 3 o’clock in the afternoon, they chose to attack,8 but against a force more than twice their size, they soon fell back. Many settlers, including women and children fled to the Pocono mountains and the Delaware River. Those that feared the long trek sought refuge in Wyoming fort. The next day (ironically, July 4th), the British and Iroquois partners forced the fort to surrender.

After agreeing to peaceful terms, the Tories promptly reneged, burning the 23 homes in the village of Wilkesbarre, separating the men from their families and forcing the remainder on a 60-mile hike through the swamps with little food or clothing. The survivors called this trek through the wilderness “The Shades of Death.” In all, the settlers suffered more than 300 casualties – nearly all the men.9

Those that delayed their leave watch in horror as the warriors tortured their prisoners to gruesome death. One historian says, “that between the 3rd of July and the morning of the 4th of July, there was a massacre of the male settlers, and of the Americans engaged in the conflict of the 3rd of July, equalling anything of the kind in Indian history for cruelty and atrocity!”10 Only two men would escape, Lebbeus Hammond and Joseph Elliot.11

John Butler paid $10 for each scalp brought to him, and by the end of the 4th, he had already collected 227.12 Ishmael Benn, who was at the fort when it surrendered, later testified “on the night after the battle, seeing fires under some large oaks near the river, he with his father, Squire Whitaker and old Captain Blanchard, went down to the river side, they could see naked white men running around the fire, could hear the cries of agony, could see the savages following them with their spears, it was a dreadful sight.”13

But there was a fate worse than death. It was one that befell Major Roswell Franklin and his sister. After fighting alongside his father, he watched in horror as his mother and his other sister were killed right in front of him. Then he and his surviving sister were taken prisoner, Franklin for three years, his sister for eleven (which would be six years after the war had ended). Franklin, by the way, was the last living person who saw action in the Wyoming Massacre. He became the first settler of Aurora, New York in 1787 and died there in 1843.14

Where was Abraham Parrish during all this? And why is this last tale of particular relevance to the Parrish family and, ultimately, to the Town of Mendon? Stay tuned next week for Part II of The Story of Abraham Parrish.


1Autobiography of Gurdon Wallace, by Gurdon Wallace Wattles, Scribner Press, 1922
2Ibid website, accessed April 4, 2021,
4History of Windham County Connecticut, Volume I, by Ellen D. Larned, printed by Charles Hamilton, Worcester, MA, 1874 p. 555
5History of Wyoming: In a Series of Letters, from Charles Miner, to His Son William Penn Miner, L. Crissy, Publisher, Philadelphia, 1845, Appendix p. 79
6The Massacre of Wyoming, Rev. Horace Edwin Hayden, Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 1895, p. xi
7Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, Vol. II, by John F. Waston, 1850, p. 125
8The Massacre of Wyoming, p. xiii
9 Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, Vol. II, p.125
10The Massacre of Wyoming, p. xiv
11History of Wyoming, p. 226
12The Massacre of Wyoming, p. xiv
13Ibid, p. xvi
14Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, Vol. II, p.127

Postcard Perfect, In Any Season

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On July 4th, 1928, nearly three years after the opening of the Erie Canal, Charles Carroll, 91 years old and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, turned over the first shovel of dirt, marking the beginning of construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, America’s first railroad.1 With this single action, the Erie Canal’s death notice had been signed. Even before the B&O was created, the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was incorporated in New York on April 17th, 1826, less than six months after Governor Dewitt Clinton dedicated the grand opening of his “ditch.”2 Ironically, the purpose of the Mohawk and Hudson was to compete with the Erie Canal. When New York’s railroad finally managed to finance itself, (delayed financing allowed the B&O to be constructed first), it could be built. Completed a year later in August, 1831,3 it took less than an hour to travel the 17-mile rail line compared to the all-day meandering 40-mile segment of the Erie Canal it replaced.4 The name of the steam locomotive to make this first run: none other than Continue Reading “Postcard Perfect, In Any Season”

A Whole Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

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Now that we’ve marked the boundaries of Greater Western New York, the fun really begins. First, we can delineate the counties included. Greater Western New York contains 17 counties. These represent all the counties west of or touching the correct Pre-Emption Line. Those counties are:

● Allegany             ● Chautauqua
● Cattaraugus      ● Chemung
● Erie                    ● Genesee
● Livingston          ● Monroe
● Niagara              ● Ontario
● Orleans              ● Seneca
● Schuyler            ● Steuben            ● Wayne               ● Wyoming            ● Yates

We should note that Pre-Emption Line marks the western border of both Seneca County (maybe, depending on who owns Seneca Lake) and Chemung County. The Line slices through the counties of Wayne, Yates and Schuyler. As it stands, the eastern borders of Wayne, Seneca, Schuyler and Chemung form a fairly straight line from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania line. OK, maybe it’s not quite straight enough to convince an officer you’re not unduly influenced, but it’s close enough.

What exactly does this constellation of the 17 western-most counties of New York State tell us? I discovered this particular hidden gem while preparing for a January 2004 Continue Reading “A Whole Greater than the Sum of Its Parts”

Western New York Media Market: Whole Greater than Sum?

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A decade ago, before the financial crisis that opened the first decade of the new millennium, Adelphia Communications, in addition to a cable channel called the Empire Sports Network, owned a radio station with the call letters WNSA. The two worked in tandem and, at least until the falling stock market exposed the Regis family, this modest media juggernaut gained a respectful audience.

Western_New_York_Microphone_300On the cusp of a content driven era, the small cable company had, together with the Buffalo Bills, successfully begun to build connections within a broader Western New York Region. This bigger footprint would include not only Buffalo and Niagara Falls, but also Rochester, Jamestown and several other cities within the roughly seventeen western-most counties of New York State. With a growing national market, Adelphia offered the allure of becoming the new century’s CNN (or at least ESPN). And with its intention to build an impressive headquarters in the state’s Queen City, Buffalo finally had a new hope – one that might bring it to rival Atlanta in cable communications.

But, as it seems to have happened to our region ever since Canada left us no choice but to build the Saint Lawrence Seaway, fate once again dealt a bad hand. Continue Reading “Western New York Media Market: Whole Greater than Sum?”