Ephraim Webster: Part 3
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Webster’s Square Mile / Webster’s Half Mile
Webster’s initial trading camp, Webster’s Landing, just south of Onondaga Lake bordered what was then primarily swamp land. “Webster put down his brogans about five miles south of the inlet because he was afraid of the fever that swampy point carried.”1 His relationship with Onondaga Indians had many believe that this land, one square mile, was gifted to him. Although it may have been part of an agreement between the Onondagas and the state,2 the Indians deeded this land to the state in 1795 and the state deeded “Webster’s Square Mile” to Ephraim on April 12, 1796.3 It was on this land that Webster and his second wife built a house on what is now known as Webster’s Pond.
During the 1817 treaty, of which Webster served as the state’s agent and translator for the Onondagas, Webster was given an additional 300 acres of land in Onondaga territory. Unlike Webster’s Square Mile, the Onondaga Nation felt betrayed by Webster4 during this land deal and had indicated as much in a letter to Governor DeWitt Clinton at the time. Many years later, Webster would be named in the Plaintiff’s response to defendants’ statement of material facts as “[acting] contrary to the needs and interests of his client. He facilitated the unlawful conveyance of Onondaga land to the State by acting a interpreter during the treaty negotiations in 1817 and 1822; the Onondagas complained to Governor DeWitt Clinton that Webster had deceived them, but the state refused to replace him.”5 Webster had been leasing the 300 acres for 10 years prior to the treaty.
Ephraim divided up the land in his square mile and sold it in parcels. At the time of his death, he left the remaining land of Webster’s Half Mile to this third wife and their children, excluding the children with Nance from his will. After the death of Hannah (Danks) Webster in January of 1837, Harry Webster, Ephraim’s son by his second wife, brought an unsuccessful suit for a share of his father’s estate.6 To this day, many Onondaga Indians believe this tract of property to be a lasting memorial to Webster’s betrayal.
In 1824, Ephraim journeyed to the Seneca Indian Reservation in Tonawanda in search of ginseng roots for trade.7 Some accounts indicate that he came down with typhoid and others that he was crushed by a pile of lumber. He died on October 16, 1824 and was initially buried on the Seneca reservation.8
As such an accomplished man, one has to question why he never put his life story to paper. According to the Syracuse Evening Herald, he did. “Mr. Webster was greatly provoked at the many conflicting stories told of him, though he bore it all quietly. He wrote out the story of his life, abounding in adventures among the Indians, and entrusted the manuscript to a young law student in Onondaga Valley. The young man started for New York to look after the publication of the manuscript; but he returned to Onondaga Valley and told Webster that he had lost it while passing down the Hudson River.”9 Many others have drawn similarities between Webster and the James Fenimore Cooper character Natty Bumppo. Did Webster, or his lawyer, sell his story to Cooper? Had his service in the government been so secretive that it was doomed not to be retold? Whichever theory you choose to subscribe to, the fact remains that no known autobiographical account has been confirmed to exist.
Rand Tract and Webster’s Pond
Throughout the years after, this property was parceled off and considered for many different uses. One of the more significant purchases was that of farmers Herbert and Elaine Rand.
The Rands purchased 97 acres of “Webster’s Square Mile” in 1925.10 They farmed this land for 19 years and deeded the property to the City of Syracuse in 1944. The Baltimore Woods Nature Center does a very good job in documenting the timeline from this date until the present designation of this land as a “Forever Wild” tract.
The history of the pond itself is sparsely documented. Aerial photos taken through 1951, show no pond to exist. However, in aerial photos from 1959, the pond appears.11 How, why or by whom, is unknown. What has been documented is that instead of turning the pond into a landfill, the Anglers Association of Onondaga entered into a long term lease with the City of
Syracuse in 1960. They named the pond Webster’s Pond, and have since been stewards of the area.12
Today, little but legend remains as a remembrance of Ephraim Webster. His house has long since been destroyed by fire. No pictures or portraits have been found. His alleged journals are still a mystery. The actual location of Webster’s Landing is not adorned with a monument or a memorial marker. One can only visit Webster’s Pond, view the memorial marker created by the Daughters of the American Revolution and walk along the trails in Rand Tract, marveling at the accomplishments of this historic American hero.
1 Syracuse Herald-American, “First White Settler Here a Legend,” Syracuse Herald-American (Syracuse, NY), June 27, 1976, 48.
2 Onondaga Historical Association, “Newsletter,” April Bulletin, April 1962,2.
3 George Burling Spalding, Ephraim Webster (Syracuse, NY: Onondaga Historical Association, 1900), 13.
4 Mike McAndrew, “First a Friend, Then a Foe,” Syracuse Post-Standard(Syracuse, NY), August 11, 2000.
5 The Onondaga Nation v. The State of New York, No. 05-CV-314,4 (United States District Court Northern District of New York Oct. 1, 1984).
6 Onondaga Historical Association, “Newsletter,” 6.
7 M. Josephine Hasbrouck, The Big Three: Ephraim Webster, Comfort Tyler, Asa Danforth (n.p.: n.p., 1941), 24.
8 Spalding, Ephraim Webster, 15-16.
9 Syracuse Herald, “Mr. Ephraim Webster: Unfortunate Loss of Documents Make the Story of His Life Quite Incomplete,” Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, NY), 1899, Evening edition.
10 “Know Your City Parks: The Rand Tract,” Baltimore Woods Nature Center, accessed April 6, 2013, http://www.baltimorewoods.org/Data/Documents/Rand%20Park.pdf.
12 Chad Norton, ed., “The History of the Anglers Association of Onondaga,” Webster Pond, accessed April 6, 2013, http://www.websterpond.org/Historical.html.
Billington, Mrs. Harley W. “Ephraim Webster, Great, Good Man, Kin Makes Clear.” Syracuse Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), November 24, 1940.
Case, Dick. “Charter Citizen Webster … Fact or Fiction.” Syracuse Herald-American (Syracuse, NY), May 13, 1962, 12.
Cheney, Timothy Collingwood, and Parish Barkydt Johnson. Reminiscences of Syracuse. Syracuse, NY: Summers and Brother, 1857.
Comins, Gary M. Ephraim Marker at Webster Pond. Photograph. 2012. 20120326_Ephraim_Marker_P4133748-1. GMSC Productions, Liverpool, NY.
—. Rand Tract. Photograph. 2012. 20120326_RandTract-3263667. GMSC Productions, Liverpool, NY.
—. Webster Pond. Photograph. 2012. 20120326_Webster_Pano. GMSC Productions, Liverpool, NY.
Hasbrouck, M. Josephine. The Big Three: Ephraim Webster, Comfort Tyler, Asa Danforth. n.p., 1941.
“Know Your City Parks: The Rand Tract.” Baltimore Woods Nature Center. Accessed April 6, 2013. http://www.baltimorewoods.org/Data/Documents/Rand%20Park.pdf.
McAndrew, Mike. “First a Friend, Then a Foe.” Syracuse Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), August 11, 2000.
McMullen, Joseph M. “The Rare Hart’s-tongue Fern First Discovered in North America 200 Years Ago in Onondaga County, New York.” New York Flora Association Newsletter 19, no. 2 (2008): 6-7.
Norton, Chad, ed. “The History of the Anglers Association of Onondaga.” Webster Pond. Accessed April 6, 2013. http://www.websterpond.org/Historical.html.
Onondaga Historical Association. “Newsletter.” April Bulletin, April 1962, 2.
The Onondaga Nation v. The State of New York, No. 05-CV-314 (United States District Court Northern District of New York Oct. 1, 1984).
Patrick, Jody Glynn. “Ephraim Webster, Jr.: He Preferred an Indian Lifestyle.” GlynnPatrick.com. Last modified 2006. Accessed April 5, 2013. http://www.glynnpatrick.com/ephraim_webster_jr.html.
Phoenix Register. “Among the Indians.” Phoenix Register, November 24, 1873.
Pursh, Frederick. Journal of a Botanical Excursion in the Northeastern Parts of the States of Pennsylvania and New York During the Year 1807. Philadelphia, PA: Brinckloe and Marot, 1869.
Spalding, George Burling. Ephraim Webster. Syracuse, NY: Onondaga Historical Association, 1900.
Syracuse Herald. “Mr. Ephraim Webster: Unfortunate Loss of Documents Make the Story of His Life Quite Incomplete.” Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, NY), 1899, Evening edition.
—. “Old Records: Ephraim Webster’s Narrow Escape from Death.” Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, NY), June 6, 1894, Evening edition, 9-12.
—. “A Pioneer Incident.” Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, NY), April 2, 1916, 1.
—. “The Wife of Ephraim Webster.” Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, NY), March 7, 1915.
Syracuse Herald-American. “First White Settler Here a Legend.” Syracuse Herald-American (Syracuse, NY), June 27, 1976.
Syracuse Standard. “Hereabouts in 1789.” Syracuse Standard (Syracuse, NY), May 1, 1889, 11.
The Village of Oriskany Web Committee. “History of the Village of Oriskany.” Village of Oriskany. Accessed April 5, 2013. http://villageoforiskany.org/content/History.
Webster, Henry. “Ephraim Webster (1730-1803).” Edited by Dorothy Fraser and Alistair Fraser. frasier.cc. Accessed April 4, 2013. http://fraser.cc/Webster/sources/HenrysDocument.html.
This document was written by Henry Webster, Ephraim’s son by his second wife. This site tracks the prominence of the document through its submission by Caronne Secord in 1999 to the current site hosted by Dorothy and Alistair Fraser.
Wightman, H. “Onondaga Notes.” Syracuse Daily Journal (Syracuse, NY), October 7, 1864.
William, A. M. “Our County History Reviewed and Some Errors Pointed Out.” Syracuse Journal (Syracuse, NY), September 8, 1881.