31 March 2009

Aurelius Wheeler

Aurelius Wheeler was for nearly two centuries well-known in local historical circles as the "first white person born in the town of Aurelius." Such "accomplishments" and notable "firsts" were the stuff of much nineteenth-century local history, but became less important as local historical perspectives increasingly encompassed Native Americans, blacks both slave and free, women, and, generally, individuals and groups who did not hold privileged positions. The earliest settlement by European-Americans in the region now known as Cayuga County is, nevertheless, a milestone in the history of Auburn and its vicinity. The obituary of Aurelius Wheeler, which appeared in the city's morning newspaper of 7 November 1870, is included here for that reason, and, as well, because of the colorful and adulatory style of composition that was typical of the era in which it was written.

Another venerable and worthy citizen of this county has gone to his final rest. Aurelius Wheeler, Esq., the fuirst white person born in the military township of Aurelius, died at his residence in Aurelius jus outside the boundaries of this city, on Saturday last, in the seventy-ninth year of his age.

Mr. Wheeler was botn at his father's original farm-house, situated about a mile south of the "Half Acre" sop called ion what was then the township of Aurelius in the county of Herkimer, now in the town of Fleming in the county of Cayuga, on the 28th day of March 1792. His father was the sturdy and intrepid pioneer settler -- Captain Edward Wheeler, of revolutionary celebrity, who had the courage and enterprise to remove with his wife, an infant son Elijah then about two years old and a hired man, from Washington County into this region in the year 1790, nearly three years before Col. Hardenburgh [sic] came, when all this portion of the military district was nearly an unbroken wilderness. He came by way of the Hudson, Mohawk, Oneida, Oswego and Seneca rivers and their several portages, the only route to this section then traveled. He performed the exploit of bringing his family here through those waters in a boat constructed by himself near Fort Edward, whilst his hired man brought his household goods, farming utensils and provisions in a wagon drawn by an ox team along the shores. When the captain arrived at the place of his subsequent domicil, all the military tract belonged to the county of Montgomery. With the assistance of his hired man and his stalwart boys Elijah and Aurelius, after they became old enough to work, the captain cleared up a tract of heavily timbered, but very fertile land, and resided upon it until the 22nd of August 1839, when he died, universally respected by all who knew him, in the 87th year of his age.

Aurelius was the first white child born in the old military township of Aurelius. He at first received from his parents the scripture name of Ezra; but when he was about six years of age, James Emott and Vincent Matthews, the Onondaga Commissioners so called, who were then adjudicating upon disputed land titles in this quarter, upon learning the fact that he was the first white child born in that township, persuaded the captain to allow them to invest him with the title of Aurelius. As soon as he was large enough to wield an axe and until he was grown to manhood, he worked with his father and Elijah in clearing the homestead of superfluous trees and stumps, and reducing it to a very perfect condition for arable agriculture. Having buried two wives, he was living with the third whose maiden name was Jane Thompson, at the time of his death.

Although Mr. Wheeler weas very genmerally known throughout the county, especially to the earlier settlers, he was not a very priominent man outside the neighborhood in which he lived. He was naturally reserved in his manners, and somewhat difficdent, and although he exhibited considerable earnestness at time, in manners which deeply concerned him, he was never very demonstrative. In the domestic citrcle, in the neighborhood in which he lived, in the Democratic party to which he belonged, anjd in the Baptist church of this city, of which he was a member, he was, until his health failed him, a few years since, a solid pillar. He was never ambitious for any official position whatever, but consented occasionally when he was in the vigor of life, to take such offices as supervisor, commissioner of highways, and justice of the peace, in his town, as a part of the burdens incident to citizenship. Whilst he acted as a magistrate, he was proverbial for preventing instead of encouraging litigation. He was throughout his long life a plain, practical, honest man, and a peace maker. He ranked with the pioneer settlers of the county, who were more or less remarkable in their day, for sterling qualities of head and heart. But he, like most of his compeers, has passed away. Upwards of two years ago, Mr. Wheeler began to be afflicted with dropsy. During the most of the last winter his case was considered imminent, and on several occasions his life was despaired of. But he rallied some during the summer months and was able to ride into the city a short time ago. But during all that time he was accustomed to say that he was in daily expectation of the death summons; and that as life had no charms for him, he was ready and anxious to go. He expressed in his dying hours the fullest confidence of a happy immortality.

We tender to the relatives and friends of the deceased our sympathies on account of their bereavement.

Note: Aurelius Wheeler was buried in a small cemetery on Galpin Hill, near the far end of the hill from St. Joseph's Cemetery.