NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: The Wakeman families arrive in Niagara County (2024)

A friend of the Niagara History Center recently found a small cache of letters from the 1830s to the 1850s associated with the Wakeman family of Lockport and donated them. Although not all of the letters are addressed to or from Lockport, they were written by people who were either related to, or connected with, that family.

The Wakemans were some of the earliest settlers in Niagara County. Two brothers, Silliman (there are various spellings of his name but this one is most commonly used) and Stephen Wakeman, came to the Cold Springs area of Lockport. The former arrived in 1809, the latter in 1810. The Cold Springs area was an important junction in what was the Lewiston/ Niagara Trail, a route from Geneseo to the Niagara River. At that time, all of Niagara County was the town of Cambria.

Silliman, the younger of the brothers, was born in Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1780. He moved to Romulus, Seneca County, in about 1800, and seven years later, married Susannah Thurston. While the couple were living there, two children, Adaline and Jane, were born and two more, Edward (1810 or 1811) and Joseph (1813), were born after they relocated to Niagara County. Most accounts state that Edward was the first non-indigenous child born within what are now the boundaries of the town of Lockport (unfortunately, Joseph died as a child).

When Silliman Wakeman arrived in Niagara County in 1809, he settled on the Trail (now Chestnut Ridge Road) between what is now Cold Springs Road and Day Road (part of Day Road between Chestnut Ridge and North Canal Road was known as Wakeman’s Highway and the Day Road Bridge originally was known as Wakeman’s Bridge).

A year after Silliman came, his much older brother, Stephen, arrived and settled in the same area. Like Silliman, Stephen was born in Connecticut, but was 19 years older. He was a Revolutionary War veteran, having served in the Connecticut Militia. Stephen married Sarah Whitehouse in 1789 and they had 11 children over the next 23 years. The family moved to Ballston Spa in Saratoga County, and then to Romulus, before coming to Niagara County in 1810. Stephen built a cabin on the Chestnut Ridge Road just west of Silliman’s, closer to Cold Springs Road.

When the town of Hartland was created out of the town of Cambria in 1812, Stephen Wakeman was elected overseer of the poor and appointed “path-master” of the 6th district. In early 19th century America, path-masters were in charge of maintaining paths and roads that ran through heavily forested areas. They were also tasked with assigning male residents of the vicinity a certain number of days to work at road building and maintenance. At this time, what later became the eastern half of the town of Lockport in 1824 was in the town of Hartland.

At Cold Spring Road, the Lewiston/Niagara Trail made a northwesterly turn to connect with the Ridge Road at Forsyth’s Corners (now Warren’s Corners). For centuries, Cold Springs had been a stopping point to refresh oneself before journeying on. In 1805, Charles Wilbur built a log tavern at this crossroads for the benefit of those using the Trail. In about 1812, Stephen Wakeman took over operation of the tavern for a brief time.

Like most of the other families living in the wilderness of the Niagara Frontier, the Wakemans and their few neighbors fled east in December of 1813 after the capture of Fort Niagara by the British during the War of 1812. A newspaper article from 1966 appears to indicate that the Wakemans had not gotten very far when they learned the British and their Native allies had retreated back to the Fort. The article is vague about whether the Wakemans returned to their cabins on Chestnut Ridge Road or moved further east. Other sources are also ambiguous or do not mention it all. The article also indicated that Stephen Wakeman’s cabin had not been torched by the British and part of it was still extant within a later frame house still standing in the 1960s.

A few years after the war ended, Silliman Wakeman moved with his family to Maumee, Ohio. He traveled further on to check out lands in the Michigan territory, returned to Ohio and died of “malarial fever” in 1818. His widow and children returned to Niagara County.

NEXT WEEK: The Long Life of Stephen Wakeman, Sr.

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Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: The Wakeman families arrive in Niagara County (2024)


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