Chemung County NY
Article: Famine
Chemung County
Article by Helen Mac Dougall Samson (1909-1995) in 1970s
Sent in by Walt Samson
Retyped by Bob Saftenberg
Postcard from Joyce's Collection
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From the Past

By Helen M. Samson


In 1789, the word "famine" meant something more to the settlers in present day Elmira than a condition found in other parts of the world. The settlers along the river were wholly dependent upon their own resources and when a late frost destroyed the crops of corn, wheat, rye, there was no bread of any kind. They were able to find some wild fruit and the few cows provided a little milk but there was little else to feed the new settlers. At least, one field of rye grew to maturity and was carefully harvested and divided among the families. It was quickly ground and made into a sort of mush that made many of the hungry and ill people more ill. Col. Hendy, himself, the first of the settlers had been laid low with a case of scurvy due to his inadequate diet. His wife finally made some of the course rye flour into a sort of cake and baked it. This, he was able to eat and quickly regained his strength. The supply of rye flour was woefully short and news of the pioneers’ plight was relayed down river to Wilkes-Barre. The prominent merchant, Mathias Hollenbeck, loaded one of his boats with flour and sent a captain and crew to deliver it to the needy settlers. Upon arriving at the dock on the river, the captain refused to unload until full payment was made. The hungry people had no more money than food and were in despair when they saw the crew ready the boat for return, still unloaded.

The desperate pioneers, under the leadership of Thomas Baldwin took their rifles and went to the landing. The guns looked threatening enough to cause the captain to change his mind and the food was unloaded and notes for future payment were accepted. The notes were eventually paid off and the little settlement prospered – the beginning of the present city of Elmira.

Interior of the Hendy Cabin from the Elmira Centennial Book
First Added to the Site on 29 DEC 2002
By Joyce M. Tice

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