This is the story of Asa Dunbar who was a pioneer settler of what is now Irondequoit and Brighton. The best previous collection of records on Asa are in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in volume 166 (2012) where there is a genealogy of his parents.
When white settlers came to what is now Monroe County in the mid 1790s they found living here a “mulatto squatter” named Asa Dunbar and his family. Mulatto is an old term, now consider in bad taste, that means the person is of mixed races. Some histories suggested that he was a runaway slave from down south but research finds that is not true.
Asa Dunbar was born in Braintree, Mass, March 16, 1754. His birth is recorded in the records of that town. His parents were Sampson Dunbar (1721 – 1804) and Patience Crouch (1732 – before 1765). Sampson is sometimes also referred to as “mulatto.” Sampson had served with the American forces at Lexington and Dorchester Heights in the Revolutionary War.
Asa and Elizabeth Odell had their intentions to marry recorded twice in March 1784 before they were married on June 9, 1784 by the Pastor of the Second Church of Sutton, Mass. (now First Congregational Church of Millbury). Elizabeth was born April 29, 1759 in Sutton to Ichabod and Elizabeth Odell.
At the time of his marriage, Asa was living with his brothers Joshua (who married Elizabeth Odell’s sister, Lydia) and Samuel in the house of Ebenezer Snell. All three were also employed by Mr. Snell. Then Asa bought land from Mr. Snell and built a house.
Within a few years Asa started moving to the west. His first move was to around Plainfield, Mass where he is recorded as a charcoal maker in 1789. The 1790 federal census for Plainfield says his family consisted of 5 people.
Then in 1791 Asa and his younger brother, Joshua, are living in the “Canandaigua District” of Ontario County, NY. That district would later be subdivided and it appears that they are living in the current Town of Seneca, Ontario County. Joshua would live out the rest of his life in that Town. Joshua was taxed in 1791 for real estate worth £3, 16 shillings and personal property valued at £5, 10 shillings. Asa didn’t own any property but was taxed on personal property valued at £20.
Dates vary when earlier researchers think that Asa moved his family to present day Monroe County. Some say that he moved here as early as 1792 while others place it closer to 1795. Asa and his family lived along Thomas Creek on the west shore of Irondequoit Bay. Their place of residence was near a salt spring at what was later called Palmer’s Glen. That is now in Monroe County’s Tyron Park at the east end of the road also called Tyron Park.
There are descriptions that say Asa boiled down salt from the spring near where he lived and sold it. He supposedly picked fruit off area trees and sold that to merchant shippers who sent it to Kingston, Ontario. I’m not sure how he would have made connection with those ships. He definitely would have hunted, fished and grown enough crops to maintain his family.
An often repeated story is from a recollection by William Hincher Jr. (of Greece, NY) that was first printed in History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase and Morris’ Reserve (1851) by Orasmus Turner. Mr. Hincher reported that John “Parks and mulatto Dunbar, who lived at Irondequoit, were out after coons near the lake shore. Their dogs treed one. As they supposed. It was dark; Dunbar climbed the tree, until he discovered a pair of eyes larger than coons usually have, and backed down. They built up fires, remained until morning, when they found their game a large panther, which they shot.”
On April 28, 1795 Asa was one of 30 area residents to petition to create the Town of Northfield. That primitive Town was what now is most of the eastern part of Monroe County.
In 1796 lots were set up in what was called the “City of Tryon” in present day Ellison Park, Brighton. That was at the southern end of where Irondequoit Creek is navigable. The owners John Tryon and Amasa Adams never lived in the area but were hoping to set up a prosperous settlement. They built a store there in 1798 and they also had a store in Lima, NY which could be reached by primitive trails. They hired Augustus Griswold to run the store and he persuaded Asa to move his family to Tryon.
Records of the Tryon store still exist and Asa shows up in there a lot. He wasn’t a full time employee of the store but would deliver goods to area residents. He also was paid for milling grain. On one day he milled 13 bushels of rye and received 12 shillings for his work. The store also had a still and the rye was used for making whiskey. Asa would buy many small quantities of whiskey. Some days it would only be ½ pint then the next day it would be a pint (for 8 pence). On another occasion he would buy ½ gallon. By looking at those records, you would think that he was drinking a lot. The store records show that other settlers in the area would buy much larger quantities. Also, at that time, drinking whiskey was safer than drinking water which could contain many germs. Asa would also buy bushels of oats which would have been fed to farm animals. Asa’s wife sold the store a muskrat pelt and received 2 shillings, 1 pence. One day the store must have received bolts of cloth because many local residents were buying cloth on the same day. Asa would buy his wife 9.75 yards of cloth (for 7 shillings, 3 pence). Another time he bought her 3 large buttons for 11 pence.
Continued tomorrow when we get a personal description of Asa and other facts.