Rochester’s First Settler: Hamlet Scrantom (1 December 1772-10 April 1850)

In previous blog posts, we have noted that the first settler on the Hundred Acre Tract was Hamlet Scrantom (1 December 1773-10 April 1850), whose cabin sat on the site of what is now the Powers Building in downtown Rochester. Who was he?  What do we know of his life, and what legacy did he leave behind?

Hamlet Scrantom-portrait

Original Rochester pioneer, Hamlet Scrantom (1772-1850)



Scrantom was born 1 December 1772 in Durham (Middlesex County), Connecticut, the son of Lieutenant Abraham Scrantom (1749-1836), a Revolutionary War soldier, and his wife Hannah Camp (1753-1810).  Hamlet married Hannah Dimick (22 May 1774-6 February 1862) on August 20, 1794 and with her had seven children who lived to adulthood: Delia Scrantom (later Mrs. Jehiel Barnard); Henry Scrantom; Elbert W. Scrantom; Edwin Scrantom; Hamlet D. Scrantom; Hannah Scrantom (later Mrs. Martin Briggs); and Mary Jane Scrantom. The couple also had another son, Hamlet T. Scrantom, who died at the age of five.

In 1805, Hamlet and Hannah moved to Turin, New York, where he became an important figure. He served as a Justice of the Peace and a side judge of the county court. A side judge was a non-lawyer who served as an assistant judge, often judging matters of fact (as opposed to interpreting the law). Hamlet also worked as a local land agent and town supervisor of Turin the year before he left for western New York.

Why the family left Turin in 1812 is not clear, but former City Historian Blake McKelvey believed the heavy snows in the Tug Hill plateau led the family to seek a “milder climate.” In any case, that April the family set out with their possessions in a covered wagon drawn by two oxen. They arrived in Rochesterville on May 1st, only to discover a half-constructed cabin. Construction had come to a halt on the new home due to illness (likely malaria or typhoid). Once the workmen recovered, construction continued. In the interim, the family occupied a cabin owned by Enos Stone (the land agent for Colonel Rochester), whose home was not in the Hundred Acre Tract, but on the east side of the river, about where Stone Street (named for him) and the South Avenue Garage are today. The Scrantom family moved into their new home on July 4, 1812.

His first priorities after moving in was to clear the land around his new home, kill the snakes and plant a crop for the family, but his stint with the Stone family was not wasted.  He operated Stone’s sawmill on the east side of the river, before transferring his services to Francis Brown’s mill at the main falls in 1813. Over the years, he invested locally in land, worked as a grocer, established Rochester’s first bakery with Jehiel Barnard, and operated a boarding house. He also worked as a sales agent for the construction company working on the Erie Canal.

Hamlet Scrantom-cabin

Model of Hamlet Scrantom’s cabin, the first home built by a white settler in Rochesterville

His charitable endeavors were also impressive. He was one of the original congregants of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and in July, 1820 he pledged $7.00 (“in flour or goods”) to build the present church building. He also served as the sexton of St. Luke’s from 1826 to 1833 (caring for the church building and its surrounding property). He was also one of the organizers of the first school in Rochesterville. In 1847, he co-founded a new organization called The Pioneer Association. Membership was open to those who had lived in the area for 25 years or more (i.e. since 1822). Hamlet Scrantom served as its first President.

Hamlet Scrantom died in Rochester at the age of 78 on April 10, 1850. Those seeking his legacy need only look around them.  Scrantom recruited others to join him in Rochester and his continued and successful presence drew others in his wake.  He contributed to the development of village, including the milling industry (hence Rochester’s earliest nickname as “The Flour City”). He co-founded St. Luke’s (now St. Luke’s and St. Simon’s) Episcopal Church, Rochester’s second-oldest congregation, as well as the Pioneer Association, helping to preserve the earliest history of the community.  He also helped to establish Rochester’s first school, providing a legacy of knowledge and skills to all the settlers’ descendants.  While he accomplished none of these things alone, he was instrumental in seeing them done. We would not be where we are today without him and his efforts.

Christopher Brennan


Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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