Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

Centennial History of Delaware County, New York : 1797-1897
edited by David Murray, LL.D.

Transcribed by Tamara Sanford


WE have already referred to the military movements which pertained to the Revolutionary period. These were not many nor important, because the county was then only sparsely inhabited. The troubles that came upon Harpersfield, and Sidney and the settlements upon the East Branch all arose from the Indians under Brant. Tories sometimes accompanied these expeditions, and the sufferings entailed were painful and exasperating. But the retributory expedition, which was undertaken under General Sullivan in 1779, put an end to these annoyances and the whole eastern and southern sections of the State were permanently relieved from further raids.

By the time the war of 1812 broke out the county was comparatively filled up. All the more important settlements were well advanced, and had begun to take on the appearance which they now display. In common with other counties in the State, Delaware furnished troops for guarding the Canadian frontier. But these contributions of troops were only little employed, and the real services of Delaware county troops in this war were not important. The chief effect produced by the excitement and achievements of the war was the revival of the military spirit. For many years there after the organization of the militia throughout the different counties of the State was kept up with an enthusiasm and an effectiveness which have never been equaled.

The law, of the State made all able-bodied citizens (with a few exceptions) between eighteen and forty-five years of age liable to military duty, and required them to attend once each year at a general muster at some central point in the county. Besides this general muster, there were in many towns volunteer militia companies, which received more frequent training and whose officers and men were dressed in uniform. These volunteer companies were assembled for the general training at the same time as the un-uniformed troops; and on these occasions counted themselves, as well as were counted by the enthusiastic spectators, as infinitely more important and more to be depended on in any case of real war.

The general training above referred to was held in the month of September, generally at or near the village of Delhi. There was clear, open intervals below the village, called Cavin's flats, where the troops were usually assembled and put through their evolutions. Three days were occupied in the function. The first being partly used in assembling, and the last partly in going home. The middle day was the great day. Thousands of men and women, boys and girls, came from every part of the county to see the great sight. Everywhere about the entrance to the field booths were established for the sale of lemonade and gingerbread, and other drinks and cakes. I think there was a special drink often in evidence on these occasions, called mead, made from honey which had been allowed to ferment. This was a great favorite. But most of the children confined themselves to gingerbread and lemonade.

The evolutions, especially when the general officers came upon the field on horseback, were watched with thrilling interest. Besides the Colonel (as I recall him, Colonel Robert Parker) and other officers of the regiment, there was also present the still more gorgeous Brigadier General (I think General Farrington) and his staff, who had come from a distance to be present on this occasion and to inspect the troops. As they galloped from place to place on the field, and sat solemnly and majestically on their horses watching the movements of the regiment, they seemed like heroes and demigods. To witness these military displays of swords and muskets, of white trousers and brass buttons and shoulder straps, of manual drill, marching, and evolution, of the music with drum and fife, was to boys of that day a most effective stimulus and education. It was thus that the military spirit was aroused among our people, and when at last war came there was in every township scores of young men ready to volunteer for its perilous service.

Mr. J.A. Parshall, the veteran antiquarian off Delhi has given me his recollection of one of these general trainings, which came near having a serious termination. On this occasion the gathering was upon the flats of the Webster farm about four miles above Delhi. Hundreds of country wagons were arranged both along the road and inside the entrance gate. The usual booths were also, placed near this entrance. Honey was one of the delicacies which was sold from them. The horses had been taken from the poles, tied to the wagons and stood eating the hay which had been provided for them.

In the midst of the evolutions the bees from a neighboring farm had scented out the honey and had come to carry away the precious, store. They concluded that the horses had no business so near to these hoards, which they assumed were designed for themselves. So they grew very angry over the matter and attacked the horses and even the spectators who stood about. It does not; take much of a bee to frighten a horse. In a few minutes the poor animals were kicking and plunging at every wagon. Then they broke loose from their fastenings and went galloping up and down the road and over the parade ground. Nothing more confusing can be imagined. The frightened horses respected neither men nor women, neither brigadier generals nor colonels. They went galloping recklessly, with harness trailing and farmers chasing and boys hallooing, down among the marching troops, where they enforced unforeseen movements and quick transformations not put down in the regular programme. It took several hours to capture the runaway horses and to restore peace and order. And although nobody was hurt, and no harm had been done, beyond the breaking of some halters and the explosion of some bad words, the training of that day was much demoralized and had to be prematurely closed.

Index to Centennial History of Delaware County

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