The name Griffin is a familiar one to the citizens of Smithville and has an important place in the history and development of the village. In the seventeenth century a number of families migrated to America from the old land. Among others were the Griffins, three brothers, Edward, William and Richard, from Wales. The Cranes, Lounsburys, Travises, Reids and Raymonds also came to New York State about the same time. Shortly after their arrival in America the Griffins moved to Queman’s Landing on the Mohawk River. The Richard Griffin referred to had a son Richard who had a family of eleven children; seven sons and four daughters. Ned or Edward was the eldest son and was, no doubt, named after his grandfather’s brother, Edward. Abraham was the next son, then Smith who was named after his mother, who was a Smith. Smith’s wife was a sister of Solomon Hill. Bethiah Griffin, a daughter, was married to Solomon Hill. These with seven others made up the Richard Griffin family. To make this union of the two families, the Hills and the Griffins more clear, we may add that two grandchildren of the first Griffin who came to America, married two grandchildren of the first Hill, who came to America. After the Revolutionary war in 1787 the Griffins like thousands of other United Empire Loyalists, decided to leave their home in America and seek a land of liberty. It was then that the first movement northward of our ancestors took place. They decided to come to Canada. The party consisted of Richard Griffin and ten of his children, while one, Mrs. Solomon Hill remained in the United States until 1795. Richard Griffin and his family were destined to play an important part in the commercial life of the Niagara Peninsula of Upper Canada. Having talked much of the then little known country they decided at last co leave their homes and venture into the untamed forests of a new and undeveloped land. In these days of modern methods of transportation we can scarcely realize what such a decision implied. The first thought was plans for modes of travelling. The route to the Canadian frontier was but a trackless forest. There were no roads, not even the corduroy ones of bumpy renown and very few trails. First of all a year’s provisions were packed into the big wagons, which would insure their living until such time as land could be cleared and a crop harvested. It was well for them and their families that such provision was made as we shall learn later. They also decided to take with them a few cattle, and when we say that these had to be driven through the forest and that the wagons were drawn by oxen, we can get some conception of the speed or rather lack of speed with which the journey was accomplished. I wonder if this family, breaking their way slowly and laboriously through the forest, did not possess more of the wealth of contented minds and healthy bodies than the occupants of the average high-powered car speeding daily over our splendid highways. We cannot pay too high a tribute to the courage and loyal devotion of the mothers of those days who undertook such a journey and faced the hardships of rigorous winters in an unknown wilderness. They as well as their husbands suffered all the hardships incident to the settlement of a new country, and by their example and staunch courage inspired and encouraged their husbands to overcome difficulties that the bravest hearts found hard to bear. Let us picture in our minds this little party as they started upon their long journey from what was then known as Nine Partners, N.Y. First, perhaps, would be the oxen, who would break their way through under growth and obstacles, then came the cattle followed by another wagon drawn by oxen. There may have been a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat of many of them, as they said goodbye to the place that had been home to them and where some of the party had first seen the light of day. And so with hopes and fears, regrets and tears the little band starts on its long and difficult journey to Canada. It was necessary through most of the journey to cut their way through dense undergrowth and fallen trees. There may have been some few trails blazed here and there, but very few that would serve them for any great distance. Wild animals were the great thought at night and the camp must needs be carefully guarded. Roving bands of Indians might be encountered at any time. The howl of the wolf when all was still about the camp would startle the sleepers and make them realize that they were in a wilderness and entirely dependent upon God’s protecting care.
They were just the type of people who would have a full realization of and trust in God’s all wise care of His own, and this faith and confidence no doubt was their source of strength in all the trying days and nights that followed.
At last safe and unmolested they arrived, oxen, cattle, baggage, babies and all, at Youngstown, New York. Their next problem was to cross the Niagara River, which was no small one, as there were no ferries at that time. A large raft served the purpose and they landed safely on Canadian soil. Thank God that these sturdy-hearted pioneers, faithful mothers and innocent babes were spared and protected and that their feet were planted on British soil, the land which they and sixty thousand other Loyalists were to make great. They are now in the little Village of Niagara at the mouth of the lovely Niagara River.
One thing is noticeable in the opening of all new lands where forests abound, and that is the tendency of the pioneer, the explorer, the adventurer, to follow the streams, the inland lakes and rivers. There are several reasons for this the chief being that the lands are more accessable by water, a highway provided by Nature, making it easy to get from one part of the country to another, and an easy means of transporting supplies. Another reason is the fertility of the soil and the productiveness of the lands along the waters. Still another reason is the natural beauty of forest stream, lake and river, which appeals to the artistic taste, which most people possess to some degree at least. This was true in the settlement of Upper Canada, already as early as 1785 the Wardells and other families had crossed the same Niagara River and had
settled along Lake Ontario on the fertile lands, bordering on the lake. We shall learn later how this same Wardell family in romantic fashion was to come in touch with the Griffin family who now in 1787 were seeking a new home in Upper Canada.
Previous to the coming of the Loyalists it may be said that people had lived in the Niagara Peninsula, but they were not permanent settlers, but rather traders who came to barter with the Indians, remaining for a time and then departing. The Loyalists were truly the first permanent settlers in the Niagara District.
Breaking their road as they went they travelled westward up the Lake until they came to the Fifteen Mile Pond. These streams emptying into Lake Ontario get their names from the distance which their mouths is from the mouth of the Niagara River. Thus the Fifteen Mile Creek is fifteen miles from Niagara, the Eighteen Mile Creek a distance of eighteen miles, etc. After reaching the Fifteen Mile Pond they found that it was impossible to ford at its mouth, so they detoured a considerable distance inland until a fording place was reached. After crossing the stream it was necessary to follow it on the other shore, back to the lake which they wanted to follow until a desirable location for settlement could be found. Their progress on this important journey was at the rate of three or four miles per day. Following the lake they arrived next at the sixteen Mile Pond, where the experience of the Fifteen Mile Pond had to be repeated. Undaunted by such difficulties, they pushed on, for they now felt that they were truly nearing the Promised Land. They began already to forget some of the hardships of their long journey as they anticipated their arrival at what was to be their new home. There is a fascination about the building of a home, no matter where it is created, whether by the pioneer of the forest or by the young people in a city apartment. Even the wild tribes of a meagre civilization have implanted in their breasts a love of home and a home-fire glow.
After crossing the Eighteen Mile Pond, they began to think of investigation and decided that they would camp at the next stream. The next one to which they came was the Jordan River. Truly here was a suitable stopping place. Like the Israelites of old, they would view the promised land. And so at this pointthey struck camp for an indefinite period. This River Jordan or Twenty as it is generally known, had in the early days an Indian name, “Kenochdaw,” meaning “Lead River.” Both Indian and white hunters having in days of yore often replenished their magazines with this metal along the stream, found mostly at points that were afterwards known as Smithville and Morses Rapids. Occasional veins of silver were also found here.
Several tributary streams empty themselves into the Twenty, the largest being the Eight Mile Creek, also the north creek runs through a portion of the south part. The mountain called Mount Dorchester by Royal proclamation in 1791 lies the length of the district at a distance of from one to two miles from the lake. This belt of land forms a gradual slope from the mountain to the lake, while along the summit of the mountain it is somewhat hilly, sloping off to the south into flat land.
Along the Twenty Mile Creek the land is beautifully rolling, the soil along this stream being black and loamy, in some localities having an under-strata of limestone. In the valley of the Twenty, oaks and pines grew measuring from five to six feet in diameter and as straight as a candle. The oaks were sixty to seventy feet in height and the pines from one hundred to one hundred and seventy-five feet. Wild grapes, plums, crab apples and berries were in abundance. The wild animals were deer, moose, hares, rabbits, woodchucks, wolves, bears, foxes, lynx and squirrels. Along the streams the otter, mink and muskrat were found. Such was the land in which these home-seekers found themselves. The more or less permanent camp having been set up, they started to look about. Edward Griffin, better known as Ned, the eldest son, and Abraham journeyed up the Jordan to spy out the land. These two sons of Richard Griffin had an object in following the winding course of the Twenty Mile Creek. The Griffins had formerly been millers and they had brought with them two of the old-fashioned grinding stones, and were now seeking to locate a homestead where a water power was available. Arriving at a point which in their judgment was the most suitable location for their purpose, they decided that this was the promised land at last. Here they saw the possibilities of a suitable water power. The land from the water’s edge was gently rising to a level stretch, which was chosen as the sight of the first log dwelling. Here the land was high and dry, well drained and heavily wooded. The spot chosen by these two pioneers was what afterwards became the Village of Smithville. Thus we see how circumstances, however trivial, determine where a town, city or village is to spring up. The Griffins followed the Twenty because it appeared the most promising of the Rivers emptying into the lake. They chose the point along its banks at Smithville because of the possibilities of a water power, and the favorable surroundings at this point. They may have been influenced, too, by a desire to keep a reasonable distance from the lake, as the river was their only trail and outlet into the then known Canada. Here they worked at clearing the land from the flats to what is now Griffin Street, about an acre of ground, choosing this spot for their log dwelling. The spot where this dwelling was built afterwards became the old Durkey homestead, and was owned later by Frank Patterson who lived there. This is the lot adjoining the south side of Mr. J. A. Schnick’s, on which his tailor shop stands at the present time. It was an ideal spot and reflects creditably upon the judgment of the Griffins in their choice of a home. On Saturday night they followed the winding Twenty to the camp at the lake where they reported to interested listeners what they had found. The following week Richard and his son Ned journeyed to the new home and took up the homestead of eight hundred acres from the Crown, which was afterwards known as the Griffin estate. They worked hard and in a few days the men had completed the log dwelling which will be described in the next chapter. Richard returned to the camp and Ned remained for some time alone in the new log house, clearing the land and making rough furniture, such as chairs and tables, out of limbs of the forest for the new home. Ned Griffin can truly be called the first white settler who resided in Smithville. Here alone in the forest inhabited only by Indians and wild beasts he dwelt for a time until the arrival of the family. Smith Griffin is usually spoken of as the founder and first citizen of Smithville, but this honor belongs to his elder brother Edward, or Ned, who chose the spot as their home, felled the first tree, and was the first dweller in Smithville. Smith Griffin is credited with being the first merchant while this honor also belongs to Ned, although Smith later on became a merchant, but in the meantime he was a miller.
We are not told which of the other sons at this time were old enough to take part in the work of these first few weeks. No doubt Smith, Isaiah and Richard, the father, were all busy. Business with the Government land offices, bringing in supplies, investigating other desirable locations, etc., would keep them busy. We are not told just what part they had in clearing the first acre and building the log house at Smithville, but we assume that each man did faithfully the work assigned to him.