Many of us are exploring family trees to find our origins and how our ancestors found their way to the United States. Investigating my husband’s paternal grandmother’s family brought some interesting stories to light in the history of Portageville, that tiny hamlet along the Genesee River in the Town of Genesee Falls. His great-grandfather, Edward Quested was part of its early history.
First, I’ll offer a little background on the origins of Portageville and the Town of Portage, now Genesee Falls. Originally, an old Indian trail ran from Wiscoy to Mt. Morris, winding through present-day Portageville. It was a well-traveled trail—good hunting and fishing all along the way. There were sawmills in the Portage area in the early 1800s, situated along the river, and a band of squatters resided nearby before the land was officially on the market in 1816. The area was then in the Town of Nunda, Allegany County. The Town of Portage was incorporated in 1827 and then, by an act of the New York State Legislature in 1846, (after the formation of Wyoming County in 1841), the township became part of Wyoming County.
The village was first known as Schuyler to honor General Philip Schuyler. The esteemed man fought in the French and Indian Wars, becoming a general in the Revolutionary War. The name was changed to Portage in 1829 and then incorporated in 1866 as Portageville. The village was unincorporated in 1874—its dream of becoming a popular destination along the Genesee already vaporizing with the waning business on the Genesee Valley Canal. It was a village known for its churches: Methodist Episcopal organized in 1825; a Congregational Church in 1827; First Baptist Church in 1838; the Universalist Church in 1841, and a Roman Catholic Church was established in 1848. It was also known for its taverns. There was a general store, blacksmith, a doctor, mills, hotel, and other businesses to serve the needs of the early settlers who, principally came from eastern New York State and the British Isles.
It was in July 1842 that London tailor, Thomas Quested (27 years-old) and his wife, Mary Ann (nee Read), along with their two-year-old daughter, sailed for America on the packet ship, Columbus. They arrived in New York Harbor in August. Columbus was a packet ship that regularly sailed between Liverpool, England and New York. Thomas, although skilled with needle and thread, headed for the frontier of Western New York to try his hand at farming. The Quested family first appears in the 1850 census as residents of Portage with three new additions to the family. The three children, Anna, Margaret Marian, and Edward were born in Wyoming County between 1845 and 1849.
The Genesee Valley Canal was fully operational at that time, and there were great hopes that Portage would become a prosperous town full of successful businesses and a growing population. Into this optimistic time in Portage, the Quested family put down roots.
Edward found work as a twelve-year-old on the Genesee Valley Canal by driving the mules which pulled the barges along the canal. He earned about twenty-five cents a day for his work. His father struggled to realize his goal to farm and wouldn’t do so until 1870 when Edward was twenty-one and beginning to shape his own career. He must have been taught by his father, Thomas to keep good records because Edward maintained a work journal, which we discovered among some family papers. It’s proved to be a treasure, shedding light on daily life in the 1870s. I’ve included some of the pages in the slideshow below, along with some photos, and other items of interest.
Much of the notebook is a log of his work—dates and descriptions of the jobs and wages. Wages were typically paid by the day which was an average of 10 hours and the work week was usually six days. Sundays were days of rest and for church attendance. Work was also seasonal and one had to be industrious to stay employed. Wintertime meant unemployment and good money management skills were essential in the lean times.
In 1870, he began jobbing around; his journal records board bills in May of that year in South Warsaw, Castile, Swain, and Canaseraga. June and July were the same with a stop in Attica as well, so it’s most likely he was working on the railroad during those summer months, staying at homes that took in railroad workers. From the account in Edward’s notebook, it appears he also fit in work on the canal in May of 1870 on the dredge. The dredge was most likely a crane with a bucket operated by a steam engine. The canals had to be regularly dredged to keep sediment, rocks, and other debris from clogging up the waterways and damaging boats.
In November of 1870, the diary indicates he was making cider and his father, Thomas was one of his customers. Thomas had given Edward 81 bushels of apples to press. Edward also listed work for a McCready, setting poles, sharpening poles, sawing logs, and “grubing hops” which amounted to 5 ½ days of work.
During the 1870s, Edward became more regularly employed for McConnell Pitkin & Co. of Rochester. Robert Y. McConnell, who was a well-known contractor, also owned an interest in the Portageville bluestone quarry. Bluestone was transported via the canal, and McConnell-Pitkin was responsible to dredge the quarry’s section of the waterway. The Portageville area was especially challenging because of a slide area and perennial flooding. From documents in Edward’s files, it seems he became a competent engineer on the equipment. Apparently, he left McConnell’s employ in December 1876 and received a glowing letter of recommendation from the company. He was an “engineer having charge of a 60 horse-power engine and boiler in which capacity we have found him faithful, sober, trustworthy, and competent.” The “sober” part was actually very high praise as drunkenness on the job was a huge problem for the canal, railroad and other seasonal occupations in this time period.
While Edward was a hard worker, he didn’t neglect his social life. Several tickets to dances and parties were saved. Many of the socials were in Portageville, but some were in Wiscoy (where he most likely met his future wife, Sarah Granger), and one later elegant party at Cuba. The Wiscoy Hotel was the place to be with dances held on Wednesdays and Thursdays. In those days, Wiscoy was a lively village which boasted a mill, a foundry that produced farm implements such as plows, the hotel, general store, blacksmith shops, a Methodist church, a cheese factory, and a sawmill.
Club membership was trending and it was expected at the time for young men to join secret societies of which the Freemasons were most popular. Edward became a Mason when he turned 21. In those days, finding employment and making connections with the right people was greatly enhanced if one belonged to the Freemasons. He joined in the era known as the Golden Age of Fraternalism which was from 1870 to 1920. During that time it was estimated that 40% of the U.S. population belonged to at least one fraternal organization—Knights of Columbus, Elks, Moose, the Grange, Masons, etc.
On June 1, 1875 he bought a colt which he pastured at a John Gleeson’s through the summer. This might have been like buying his first car. He paid a Mr. Gleeson $4.00 on August 8 for pasturing the horse and then on August 29 another $2.75. His note says he brought the colt home at that time.
The shopping lists found in his journal are some of the most interesting, giving us a glimpse of his personal life and what things cost way back when. He shopped locally, keeping an account at Beardsley’s General Store in Portageville. I’ve used his original spelling with some translation.
Shopping list for December 18, 1874
White lead .14
Castor oil .08
1 “rapper” (wrapper/robe) .50
1 pair slippers .63
1 lamp chimley .12
1 doz. buttons .30
¼ lb. tea .25
1 yd. lining .16
½ gal. oil .10
½ gal. oil .10
12 shirt buttons .12
1 seain (sewing) silk .06
1 paper tabbacco .10
1 ½ lb. chise (cheese) .27
1 card .15
2 violin strings .55
2 oz. caster oil .10
¼ tea .25
1 paper tobacco .10
1 pair rubbers 1.00
December 10, 1875
1 pair mittens .50
1 bottle hair oil .25
1 bottle sasaprilla 1.00
1 necktie .35
1 pair overshoes 1.75
1 pair suspenders .38
3 cigars .15
2 violin strings .50
1 box collars .30
1 pair slippers .50
1 pocket book .30
1 lb. shot .12
¼ lb. powder .15
1 whip .50
The purchases likely included Christmas gifts—slippers and the robe. Maybe he enjoyed an occasional cigar and probably made his own cigarettes. Edward was a fiddle player and evidence has been found in the newspapers that he played at dances and other social events. The whip purchase was probably for that colt he’d brought home in August which was likely broken to pull a buggy.
Edward remained a bachelor until 1886 when he married Sarah Granger from Wiscoy on January 29th. She was 23 and Edward was 36. Edward already owned property having purchased a house and lot on Pike Street in Portageville from John and Nellie Dunn for $300 in 1880. On September 20, 1888 the couple was blessed with the arrival of a daughter, Nina Mae, my husband’s grandmother. (She would marry Charles Wallace in 1907.) A son, Howard Wayne was born to Edward and Sarah on June 4, 1892.
Edward became interested in politics and the first mention of him in the political arena was found in 1891 when he was elected Inspector 1st District. He was elected as a town assessor after his term as election inspector and served in that position for many years, winning multiple elections.
In October of 1919, the newspaper reported that Edward and Sarah had had their house wired for electricity along with a few other families in Portageville. An invoice in the amount of $22 for the home’s upgrade was found in a musty accordion file that held his records. Modernization was creeping into Portageville.
The Quested family was totally invested in their little hamlet. Edward and Sarah raised their family in Portageville, living in the house on Pike Street until Sarah’s death in 1930. He and his family were members of the Universalist Church for many years and Edward served as a trustee, sexton, and deacon there. His career followed the ups and downs of the economy of Portageville, first with the Genesee Valley Canal and after its demise, with the railroad.
Edward’s life was one of hard work and community involvement. He was a dedicated family man who cared for not only his wife and children, but his widowed mother until her death in 1896. As assessor, he would have known William Pryor Letchworth since the Glen Iris and surrounding properties are in the town of Genesee Falls. He was active as a Freemason for 67 years. In 1937, he passed away at his daughter’s home in Castile at the age of 87. Edward lived during the time of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and the Great Depression. Turbulent and challenging times were normal for this first-generation American—just like today.
References: Wallace Family Archive, History of Wyoming County 1841-1880