The Travels of Abiathar M. Harris: Into the Niagara Region

This is installment #3 in a series of excerpts from the diary Abiathar Millard Harris, an itinerant printer, born 1802 in Otsego County, New York. Abiathar was the 2nd son of Daniel Harris, a pioneer of the city of Rochester, New York, where Abiathar grew up. His grandfather, Asa Harris, was a Revolutionary War veteran and his grandmother, Faith McCall Harris, was a Mayflower descendant. Abiathar is a 3rd great grand uncle on the paternal side of my family.

This excerpt marks the beginning of Abiathar’s travels through Canada. He would spend a few years traveling up and down the St. Lawrence River, which forms the border between Canada and New England states.

On the 18th [July 1821] commenced work in the Patriot Office, D. M. Day, Printer. During my stay I visited Black Rock, 3 miles distance, spent my time very agreeable in sporting with ten pins, Billiards, etc.

In 1815, David M. Day had started the second newspaper in Buffalo. The original title was The Niagara Journal. In 1820, the title was changed to The Buffalo Journal. Mr. Day became a well-known citizen in Buffalo, such that when he suffered an early death (age 48), he was much mourned.

Fredonia Censor, December 1839

Fredonia Censor, December 1839

Horse Shoe Falls

On the 28th I started for the falls of Niagara, a distance of 22 miles, took dinner at Black Rock with Mr. Scallin, an acquaintance of mine – crossed the ferry about sunset with one Chase, we traveled 6 miles, and at one [arrived?] in the town of Bertie … John Palmer’s Inn (a dutchman) in the town of Willibee, District of London.


The Black Rock Ferry was a popular conveyance in the Niagara area before the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. In one of those quirks of fate, the John Palmer Inn where he stayed was operated in Willoughby (Welland, Ontario, Canada) by a 5th great-grandfather on my maternal side! I wrote about John’s son, Lewis Palmer, in an earlier blog post. He was not a “dutchman.”

On the 29th we rose early in the morning and went a fishing, had bad luck. Paid our bill and traveled 2 miles, took Breakfast at M. Holder’s (a Dutchman), we started and traveled on the bank of the river passed thro Chippewa, and arrived at the falls 12 o’clock noon. Put up at Brown’s Hotel in the town of Stamford. There I found an old acquaintance, Mr. Morse. We passed under the falls, etc., went to the burning spring.

On the 30th I started for Queenstown, 8 miles – 2 miles from the falls, I viewed Londe’s Lane, where the battle was fought between Scott & Drummond – arrived in Queenstown 10 A. M. – a desolate looking place, situated on a side hill, and very stony. I crossed the ferry and walked about a mile to Lewiston, a pleasant little village situated on a plain. I stopped at Kelsey’s Hotel – called on Mr. Shockey, an acquaintance, called for work, no success, returned to Queenstown, and started for Fort George, arrived 3 P. M., put up at Chas. Koun’s Hotel. I walked about the town, much pleased with the place; it is situated at the mouth of the Niagara River, and opposite Fort Niagara, on the American side. I examined the fortress, etc. This place is principally settled with Scotchmen. I enquired for work – got none – d___d glad of it. The office was owned by Andrew Heron, an old knave – what little work was done was half done – the men being sailors when there  was no work – and when there was, they sat down to it with a bottle of grog by their side – and the office was like a hog pen.

The “Londe’s Lane” referred to is Lundy’s Lane, site of a great battle during the War of 1812, in which, sadly, my 5th great grandfather, Cornelius Wheeler, lost his life. Lewiston, NY, is an historic village in Western New York. The portrait which Abiathar paints of Andrew Heron and his printing office is interesting. Apparently, Abiathar was rather fastidious and held higher standards of behavior and hygiene than most men. (Ha ha ha!!)

On the 31st I went on board the Kingston Packet for Little York, a distance of 36 miles, fair wind, and arrived 5 P.M. Enquired for work – got none – found an acquaintance Saml. Hopkins, staid with him, looked about town, saw nothing but mud (which as usual, in the most parts of Canada, is in abundance) …


Original in the University of Rochester Library

Continued in his own writing …

The Kingston Packet was a Canadian schooner which served passengers sailing on Lake Ontario. “Little York” was the name for the town which would, in 1834, be incorporated as the city of Toronto. Note again how our finicky Abiathar complains about the mud everywhere. He really wasn’t one for “roughing it.”

The next blog post will pick up with Abiathar’s entry at the beginning of August.

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