Asa Danforth

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Asa Danforth Sr.
Born (1746-07-06)July 6, 1746
Worcester, Massachusetts
Died September 2, 1818(1818-09-02) (aged 72)
Occupation Early settler
Spouse(s) Hannah Wheeler
Children Asa Danforth Jr.

Asa Danforth (July 6, 1746 – September 2, 1818) was an early settler and leading citizen of Onondaga County, New York, where he was the second white man to settle upon his arrival in 1788.[1] He was a veteran of the American Revolution and a salt maker in Onondaga Hollow.


Asa Danforth was born on July 6, 1746, in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was married to Hannah Wheeler. Together, they had a son, Asa Danforth Jr.[2]

American revolution[edit]

Asa Danforth first enrolled in the militia at age 14.[2] With a captain's commission, he was in command of a company of militia and belonged to the regiment of Colonel Keyes Danforth, his father and was engaged in the Battle of Lexington.[2]

At the commencement of the war of the Revolution he marched from Brookfield, Massachusetts on September 23, 1777, to serve as a volunteer under the command of General Horatio Gates at Bunker Hill.[3] He took part in the second Battle of Saratoga on October 7, 1777, and was at the surrender of Burgoyne."[3]

At the insistence of General Israel Putnam, Danforth joined the U.S. Army and served with a major's rank and commission.[2]

He was placed on the pension roll of New York State for service as captain in the Massachusetts Line and was styled the "father of his county."[4]

Onondaga county[edit]

Danforth settled permanently in Onondaga County in the spring of 1788[5] and built his home and barn on the highway leading from Onondaga Castle to LaFayette, New York, in Salt Point (later named Salina). He was enticed to relocate to Onondaga County by Ephraim Webster who stopped at his house in Mayfield, New York, located in Montgomery County in February 1788, while on a hunting trip.[1]

Webster persuaded Danforth to come to Onondaga to settle, offering to ask permission of the United States Government. When this was secured in May, 1788, Danforth's son, Asa Danforth Jr., along with Comfort Tyler, drove across the country with the stock while Danforth with his family, farming implements, and tools came up the Mohawk River in two flat bottomed boats (bateaux) through the portage at Rome, New York, proceeding through Oneida Lake and Oneida River around by the Seneca River until they reached Onondaga Lake landing at the mouth of Onondaga Creek.[1]

Here they met up with Ephraim Webster, Comfort Tyler and Asa Jr. who had arrived with the stock in advance of the boats. Passing up the creek they made the first settlement south of Onondaga Hollow on May 23, 1788.

Their nearest neighbor in the wilderness lived 50 miles (80 km) east of them. The Indian chief, Cawhiodota, treated them kindly, and though they had no near neighbors to help them, they soon had a roof to cover them.[6]

There was in the vicinity, two traders named Adam Campbell and Alexander Mabie who sold liquor to the Indians. The latter consequently often became intoxicated and proved very troublesome to Danforth and his family. Danforth made enemies with the traders, who then bribed the Indians with promises of liquor to kill Danforth. The Indians called him Hatecolhotwas, or "the man who ploughs the ground." One dark night the Indians set off to accomplish their purpose but luckily for Danforth, their chief persuaded the culprits "to desist from their depredation and they reluctantly did so."[6]

Discouraged by seven hard and lonely months in that place, in December 1788, the Danforths decided to visit their old home in Brookline, Massachusetts. Danforth started out on sled with wife and child and reached Chittenango, New York, by the first night, where, for lack of better accommodation, they slept on the sled. The second night, they were honored guests of the hospitable Skenandoa, at Oneida Castle.[2] After three days of travel, they reached their nearest white neighbor, Judge White, at Sadaquate, where "they enjoyed themselves very much."[6]

They then proceeded on to Brookline, Massachusetts, the home of their childhood.[6] The couple returned to New York State in March 1789, and were welcomed by the Onondagas and by their son, Asa, and Comfort Tyler, who had acted as housekeepers in their absence.[7]

The spring of 1789 was prosperous. Potatoes were brought from Whitestown, New York for seed. Their own crops were planted and the Indians prepared the lands, sowing and planting after the manner of the whites. The following fall, Asa Jr. and Comfort Tyler returned to Massachusetts where both the younger Danforth and Tyler were married. John Brown and his family traveled to Onondaga with the two brides. They were the first white women besides his wife that Danforth had ever seen in Onondaga County.[7]

Salt production[edit]

Danforth began his salt business in 1789. He carried a five pail kettle from his residence at Onondaga Hollow to Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation. He placed his coat on his head, inverted the kettle, and is said to have, "carried it the whole distance without taking it off to rest."[2]

Tyler accompanied him, carrying an axe, chain and other necessary implements for the purpose of making a "suitable erection to boil salt." They set up two crotches and suspended their kettle on a chain around a pole between them. After a sufficient quantity was made, they would hide their implements in the bushes until needed again. The practice continued for another year.[2]

Later, salt houses were built of logs. Danforth was a member of The Federal Company along with Jedediah Sanger, Daniel Keeler, Thomas Hart, Ebenezer Butler, Elisha Alvord and Hezekiah Olcott. The group organized in 1798 and the object of the company was to manufacture salt on a "stupendous scale." They erected a building capable of holding 32 kettles which were set in boiling blocks of four kettles each. Water was then pumped by hand, from a single shallow well, into reservoirs made of "dug out white wood logs" used for pipes."[2]

New industry[edit]

Life was not easy and Danforth found himself traveling 75 miles (121 km) to Utica, New York, to the closest grist mill. He soon devised a plan for grinding his own corn. This was a primitive way of so doing, a hollowed white oak stump with a huge wooden pestle and spring pole attached and a man to pound it. This was slow work, a man could only produce half a bushel a day, and it "was not done properly."[6]

In the spring of 1792, Danforth commenced to build a saw mill at Butternut Creek, near Jamesville, New York, on lot 81 in township of Manlius (now DeWitt preparatory to building a grist mill. He hired workmen from Utica. All the materials used in the construction were brought from Utica by the workmen. Danforth acquired a saw and brought it "on his back" from old Fort Schuyler.[6]

The following spring, in 1793, Danforth began his grist mill. At the raising of the structure, every able-bodied man within a radius of 25 miles (40 km) attended. They numbered sixty-four, and it took them a week to raise the roof.[6]

The colony began to grow and Danforth was considered the chief business man of the neighborhood, "to be consulted upon all questions of importance."[6]

Later years[edit]

In 1794, his brother, John Danforth, settled in Liverpool, New York, with his three sons where he established a tavern.[8] Later, he began the manufacture of salt on the shore of Onondaga Lake.[9]

Asa Danforth served as county judge in 1797 and later as judge of the Court of Common Pleas in the Western District. He was also superintendent of the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation and presided at the first town meeting which was held at his home in April 1798. He was a member of the Assembly from 1801 and 1802, and was New York State Senator in 1803.[10]

The first court in town of Onondaga was held in Danforth's home. By 1805, the county court was held in an unfinished building on Onondaga Hill.[8]

During all his years of service in the militia, he ascended the ranks several grades from Major to Major General.[2] Danforth was a member of Onondaga Lodge No. 98. The building still stands on Seneca Turnpike.[10]

Asa Danforth Sr. died on September 2, 1818, at his residence in Onondaga Hollow at age 72 and was mourned by an extensive circle of family and friends.[10]

Recognition and memorials[edit]

Danforth was incorporated as a village in 1874 and was named in honor of the pioneer Judge Asa Danforth. Years later, both Danforth School and Danforth Street in Syracuse, New York, were named in his honor.[11]


  1. ^ a b c "Plan to Place More Tablets To Mark Spot Where First White Settler Lived". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. September 12, 1915. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Joshua Victor Hopkins Clark. Onondaga, or, Reminiscences of earlier and later times, Volume 2. Stoddard and Babcock, Syracuse, NY, 1849. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Josiah Howard Temple & Charles Adams. History of North Brookfield, Massachusetts. The Town of North Brookfield, 1887. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  4. ^ Lineage book - National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Daughters of the American Revolution, Volume LXI, 1922. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  5. ^ Gates, Lillian F. "Asa Danforth". University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2000. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "The First Colony". Syracuse Evening Herald. Syracuse, New York. June 6, 1886. 
  7. ^ a b "Old Records, The Early History of Onondaga County". Syracuse Evening Herald. Syracuse, New York. June 6, 1894. 
  8. ^ a b "Liverpool History". Liverpool Public Library, 2010. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  9. ^ "New York, Syracuse". Atlantis, 2010. Archived from the original on 3 November 2010. Retrieved November 3, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c Heinmiller, Gary. "History of Masonry in Onondaga County". Liverpool Syracuse Lodge 501, 2010. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Events in City's History 1848-1897". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. October 10, 1897.