|A classic of New York State history and genealogy: Hotchkin's History of Western New-York|
The full title of this book, by the Rev. James Hervey Hotchkin, is "A History of the
Purchase and Settlement of Western New York."
Published in 1848, Hotchkin's History begins with the history of the area, and continues into a comprehensive town-by-town, church-by-church, individual-by-individual account of the settlement of New York State west (and south) of Utica by that unique combination of New England Congregationalism and New York State Presbyterianism (with significant input from the Dutch Reformed world) that for much of the 19th century was the predominant religion in the area.
For anyone interested in New York State history or genealogy, it's a valuable source.
We recognize that Hotchkin's History of
Western New York sounds like it might be just another history
of religious affairs by a long-winded cleric -- long on religion and short
on history -- but Hotchkin almost entirely
sticks to the history and avoids lapsing into the sermonizing that typified writing by clergy
of his time and for the next hundred years as well.
Hotchkin gives us the historical background of Western New York State. The Military District, the wars (and alliances) with Native Americans and others, who immigrated and from where, and what obstacles early settlers faced are all part of the early chapters. While Hotchkin goes on to tell us exactly how he and others made Presbyterianism the religion of choice in Western New York State, for most people today this book is probably more useful for the local history it contains -- and the local history is abundant. A close look at the table of contents (see images below on this page for low-resolution copies of the table of contents pages) will provide an indication of what to expect.
One of the real strengths of this history of Western NYS is the extent to which the author provides the names of many early settlers (not just ordained clergy as typical church historians do), and, even more important, exactly where these early settlers came from to settle in the wilderness expanse of Western New York State. Of course there are abundant names of clergy as well, but Hotchkin's willingness to write real history (as opposed to religious history) is notable, even exceptional, for a clergyman writing in the age in which he wrote.
A particular strong point of this book is Hotchkin's care in providing, for each locality he mentions, historical names by which it has been known, as well as what political subdivisions it may have previously belonged to. When looking for a missing ancestor, being able to identify the present name of a community originally known by another name can be critically important, and Hotchkin brings great value here. He does not restrict his coverage to Presbyterian churches. The chances are that if a community in New York State west or south of Utica had at any time before 1848 a Presbyterian, a Congregationalist, or a Dutch Reformed church located in it, there is at least some historical information about both the church and the community in this volume.
The book itself is big -- around 630 pages -- as is appropriate for the geographic area it covers: basically all of New York State west of Utica. Hotchkin takes us through the history of this whole territory county by county, locality by locality -- and church by church. Hotchkin also goes beyond conventional religion in some historical anecdotes as well; most memorably the sacrifice of a white dog in a religious ritual of some type in 1810 in the locality that became Rochester, NY!
Here is a partial list (please remember that locality names changed for many of these upstate New York communities) of localities included:
Col. Lincklaen's Purchase
Hooper & Wilson's Patent
Massachusetts Ten Townships
Pawnee Mission Station
Phelps' & Gorham's Purchase
South New Berlin
The original Hotchkin's History of Western New York is un-indexed, but we had a real stroke of luck here. We learned that Elsie Hotchkin Moon, the author's 2x-great grand-niece, with whom we collaborated on John Hodgkin (Hotchkin) of Guilford, CT, and his descendants back in the 1980s, had already indexed the book! She was glad to provide her index to include. We will shortly be offering it as a free download. Thanks to her and her collaborator, Gloriette Kingsley.
While this CD-ROM is no longer available, we are planning to offer the contents in a series of downloads. Please check back here to see how we are coming in providing the chapters that are of interest to you. Meanwhile, see the detailed table of contents shown below.
Click on any of the images below to see pages
from Hotchkin's History of Western New York. (please note that these are low
resolution images and that the ones on the CD-ROM are considerably higher
Table of contents:
How much would I pay for this book in its original hard cover paper form (if I could find it)?
We occasionally see copies offered on eBay. In October 2009, a copy was being offered on eBay with a "buy it now" price of $150. In checking the online rare book dealers (and Hotchkin's History of Western New York definitely falls in that category), we located only one copy, and it too was priced at $150. Obviously, neither of these copies has an index, something essential with a work of this size, and something we are grateful to be able to provide. To the best of our knowledge, ours is the only re-publication of this book since its original publication in 1848.
What have "serious" historians said about Hotchkin's book?
Frederick Jackson Turner, the legendary historian of the American Frontier, included Hotchkin's History of Western New York in his list of the truly important source books about the American Frontier. You simply do not find a more impressive or important recommendation than that.
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