Bio's of Men from Sterling, NY
From: History of Cayuga County, New York
By: Elliot G. Storke, Assisted by: Jos H. Smith
Published by: D. Mason & Co.,
Syracuse, New York, 1879

(Offsite link) - A complete name index of the Biographical
review of Cayuga County, New York, edition of 1894


JAMES HUNTER was born in Ireland in 1796. His early youth was passed on his father's farm, where he acquired the habits of industry that marked his subsequent life. His educational advantages were somewhat limited, but being attentive and studious he obtained a good common education. Ambitious to acquire a competency he left his native land at the age of nineteen and sailed for America. He found a home in Baltimore, Md., where he learned the stone-cutter's trade. He advanced rapidly in his business and became ere long foreman for a prominent firm. In 1826 he married Miss Isabella Crockett. This union resulted happily, and to them were born five children, four of whom are living. In 1838 he came with his family to Sterling, where he purchased a farm on lot No. 8. There he spent the balance of his life and died November 4th, 1851. He was an honest and useful member of society, and his children and friends still cherish his memory. His wife still survives him at the good old age of eighty years.


JOHN HUNTER is the oldest child of the late James Hunter and was born in Baltimore, Md., in the year 1828. In 1830, he came with his father to Sterling, where, during his youth, he was employed through the summer months, while his winters were passed in the district schools in a faithful effort to obtain an education. He was not permitted after the age of 18 to continue his studies in school.

The demand for barrels in this fruit-growing country seemed to open to him the cooper trade, and for two years after he had reached the age of 20, he was engaged in that business. When 22 years old he returned to his native State and was for one year occupied as a stone cutter in a soapstone quarry.

In the summer of 1850, Mr. Hunter was employed on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, in the capacity of foreman, thus commencing his career on public works, which he has carried on so extensively in after years. After one year's service on the 0. & A. Railroad he went to Fauquier county, Va., where he accepted a similar position on the famous Manassas Gap Railroad. In 1852 Mr. Hunter made a contract (his first,) with the last named road, for constructing a certain distance and was engaged on that road as contractor till the spring of 1858. He then returned to Sterling, where he has since resided.

Soon after his return he purchased the flouring and saw-mills, at Sterling Valley, which he operated till quite recently, carrying on at the same time an extensive lumber business. In 1859 he built the store at Sterling Valley. After the war of the Rebellion his brother, James, became his partner in the mercantile business. The firm of John Hunter & Co. is widely and favorably known, their house being one of the most prominent in their section of the County.

In 1871, Mr. Hunter contracted for the grading and masonry on about seven miles of the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad. Since that time he has built, and laid the track on about 70 miles of that road, now a part of the Rome & Watertown Railroad.

In 1873 he did the grading and masonry on 38 miles of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. He also built the Railroad bridge over the Oswego river at Oswego, N. Y., and the tunnel through the Park in that city. Mr. Hunter was one of the contractors for grading and building the locks on sections 8 and 9 on the Welland Canal enlargement. This work was commenced in 1874 and completed in 1878. He had also a half interest in the contract for enlarging the Lachine Canal. At the present writing (September, 1878,) Mr. Hunter is engaged on his largest and most difficult contract, the widening and deepening of the new canal at Port Colborne, the building of the new entrance lock and race-way at that place, and the building of a new aqueduct across the Chippewa River, which is the most extensive and difficult work on the Welland Canal enlargement. The estimated cost of the work on the two sections, is nearly one and a half million dollars.

Mr. Hunter was united in marriage to Miss Mary Conrad, April 10, 1855. To them eight children have been born. All are living but one.

For twenty years Mr. Hunter has been a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, in which, for 18 years, he has been a ruling elder. A view of his beautiful home, together with a steel portrait of himself, appears in this work.


THOMAS HUNTER, the fourth child of James Hunter, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the iith of September, 1834. He came to Cayuga with his parents in 1838, and lived at home with them until after his father's death. He attended the district school winters till the age of twelve years, and from that time to the age of nineteen his attendance at school amounted to ninety-three days. In 1852 Mr. Hunter went to Virginia and worked on the Manassas Gap Railroad for his brother John, who was a contractor on that line, for one dollar a day. In the fall of 1853 he returned to Sterling and attended school during the winter and went back to Virginia in spring of 1854. He remained there till June, 1857, when he again returned to Sterling, and, in connection with his brother John, bought the grist and saw-mill at Sterling Valley. He took charge of and run the mills till Sept., 1860, when he went back to Virginia, where he remained until the war broke out in 1861, working for his uncle, who was a contractor on the Manassas Gap Railroad. Hostilities put a stop to further work on that road and Mr. Hunter, like many other northern men, was virtually a prisoner during the first few weeks of the war. He was called by the rebel authorities before the court to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America. He obeyed the summons, but declined to take the oath. He was also enrolled in the State militia and ordered to muster, which he refused to do. On the morning of the 8th of August he started for the Potomac river with a view to escaping through the rebel lines, and in the vicinity of Lovettsville, Virginia, he was so fortunate as to meet Captain T. J. Kennedy, of Auburn, N. Y., in command of a detachment of the 19th N. Y. Volunteers, which was raised in Cayuga County. Mr. Hunter reached Sterling with seven and a half dollars and the clothes on his back, which comprised his earthly possessions. From that time he dates his start in life. After about one year's rest in Sterling he enlisted as a private in the 110th N. Y. Volunteers, company "F," the 7th day of August, 1862. He was commissioned 2d lieutenant the 10th of September, 1862, and promoted to captain the 19th of April, 1864. In 1864 his regiment was ordered to garrison Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas, and Captain Hunter was detached and sent to St. Vincent Island, Florida. While there he organized a regiment of Union refugees and deserters from the rebel army, which was known as the 2d Florida cavalry.

Mr. Hunter remained with his regiment until it was mustered out of service on the 30th day of August, 1865. He then came again to Sterling, where he was engaged with his brother John in the lumbering business until 1871.

In the last named year he, in company with his brother John, took a contract to grade a portion of the road bed of the Southern Central Railroad. They also contracted for the grading, masonry and bridge building of five miles of the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad. In 1872, they built about the same distance. In 1873, they contracted with the N. Y. C. & H. R. R. R. Company, for grading and masonry for the third and fourth tracks of that line between Syracuse and Clyde, a distance of thirty-five miles. In 1874, they built the R. &. W. R. R., from Ontario to Charlotte, entire distance eighteen miles. In 1875 and 1876, they built on the same road from Kendall to Lëwiston, sixty-five miles. The same year they built the substructure of the railroad bridge over the Oswego river. In 1877, they did the track laying and ballasting of the Syracuse, Geneva & Corning Railroad. In September, 1877, they took the contract for the enlargement of sections 27 and 35 of the Welland Ship Canal in Canada, which includes the building of the aqueduct across the Chippewa River and the lift lock from the river to the canal, also the guard lock at the Lake Erie end. This contract includes a large amount of rock and earth excavation. The total estimated cost of these two sections is one and a half millions of dollars.

In the year 1867, Mr. Hunter married Margaret Ann Duguid. She is the daughter of Alexander and Maria Duguid. Her father is a native of Schenectady county, and her mother of Washington county. Mrs. Hunter was born in 1841, August 31st. They have had four children, all of whom are living.

In politics Mr. Hunter is a staunch Republican, and takes a deep and lively interest in the affairs of his town and county. He is not a member of any religious organization, but attends the Reformed Presbyterian church.

Mr. Hunter is preeminently a self-made Beginning life with only his natural resources and the limited education afforded by the district schools of his town for his capital, he has worked himself up step by step to an altitude in business attained by but few in a generation. He is a man of quick perception and strong convictions, frank and fearless in their expression, and energetic in their execution. He possesses strong common sense, and uncommon sagacity in business; ever ready to meet and strong to overcome the difficulties in the way of self-made men. He is a good neighbor and worm friend, and has, in the fullest, the respect and esteem of his fellow citizens.


WILLIAM IRWIN, father of Sophia Jewett, James C. Irwin, George B. Irwin, Esther E. and Minnie E. Irwin, was born in Washington county, March 3dm 1799. He came to the town of Sterling in 1816. He took up sixty acres of land on lot No. 3. He was married in 1833 to Betsey Irwin, who was also a native of Washington county, where she was born in 1812. She came to this county in the year of her marriage.

Mr. Irwin died May 8th, 1876. His wife is still living with her son, James C. Irwin.


Among the large land owners and prominent agriculturists of the town of Sterling. Mr. Irwin occupies a conspicuous place. His father, James G. Irwin, was born in Washington county, in 1790. In the year 1817, he moved to the county of Oswego, and settled on one hundred acres of Government laud, on lot No. 30, in Oswego town.

His wife, Mary White, who was also a native of Washington county, accompanied him to Oswego county, and shared with him the trials and privations of pioneer life. He was a soldier in the war of 1812-'14, and died upon the old homestead, March 6th, 1863. His widow still survives him. To them twelve children were born, six of whom are still living.

JAMES H. IRWIN was the third child of James G. and Mary Irwin. He was born March 25th, 1820, and passed his childhood with his parents in Oswego county. In 1845 he married Miss Mary Ann Armstrong, daughter of Robert and Rebecca Armstrong, natives of Washington county. Mr. Armstrong died at DeKaib, Illinois, in 1872. Mrs. Armstrong is still living at the advanced age of 76 years.

The same year of his marriage, Mr. Irwin removed to Sterling and settled on lot No. 5, where he has since resided.

Mr. and Mrs. Irwin have had nine children, named in the order of their ages as follows: Mary B., (deceased,) born March 17th, 1846; Emerson S., born June r4th, 1847; Alice A., born October 28th, 1850; Enierette, born May 9th, 1856; George A., (deceased,) born June

18th, 1858; Jane E., born March 15th, 1860; William D., born November 15th 1862; Robert B., born November 8th, 1864; Clara L., born November 17th, 1866.

On another page of this work may be seen a view of Mr. Irwin's home.


HUGH DUGAN, son of John and Margaret Dugan, was born in Ireland in 1841. He came to this country with his parents in 1849. The family settled in Sterling, where the father died in 1863.

Hugh became a farmer at an early age, and by close application to business finds himself, while comparatively young, the owner of one of the most productive farms in the town of Sterling, consisting of 102 acres. A view of his residence is shown on another page.


JOHN IRELAND, a native of the State of Pennsylvania, was born in 1793, and came to Sterling, Cayuga County, in 1814. He died in 1868. His wife, Polly Rasmussen, was born in Genesee county, in 1796, and came to this town about the year 1815. They were married in 1816, and have had six children, four boys and two girls, William, Andrew, John. Joseph, Catharine and Margaret Jane. Mrs. Ireland is still living, wonderfully active for one of her years.


PETER VAN PETTEN was born in Washington county in 1797. He came to this County in 1824 and settled on lot No. 34, in the town of Sterling. In 1820 he married Miss Catherine Myers, a native of Albany county, where she was born in 1803. Eleven children were born to them, nine of whom are still living. Mrs. VanPetten died November 3d, 1877. Mr. Van Petten is still living with his son George.


JACOB VAN PETTEN is the oldest child of Nicholas N. and Mary A. Van Petten. His father was a native of New York State and was born June 3d, 1800. He came to the town of Sterling in
1817. He married Miss Mary Grinnell, of Albany county, who was born May 14th, 1809. Mr. Van Petten was for many years a much esteemed citizen of this town, and died July 9th, 1876. His aged wife still survives him.

Jacob Van Petten was born in the town of Sterling, August 25th, 1828. His youth was passed at home in working on his father's farm during the summers, and attending the district school winters. At the age of 21 or 22 he left home and began life for himself, working for the two years following a farm "on shares." After that he spent another year at home. Then he was employed by the contractors on the Southern Central Railroad as foreman, during the year 1853. From that.time to the present Mr. VanPetten has been exclusively engaged in agricultural pursuits. The spring of 1855 he purchased 48 acres of land, on lot number 67, town of Sterling. He has from time to time added to his original purchase until now his farm lands comprise 360 acres. October 25th, 1855, he mairied Miss Margaret A., daughter of- William and Maria Follett. To them four children were born. His wife died May 13th 1863. Mr. VanPetten lost his wife and three children, all within two years. October 4th, 1863, he was united in marriage to his present wife, Miss Nancy J. , daughter of Ashley and Julia A. Bowen, of the town of Ira, Cayuga County.

In politics Mr. Van Petten is an earnest Republican. Three times has he been elected supervisor of the town, serving during the years 1871-'2-'3. He has often served his town and party on committees and in other capacities.

He is in every sense a self-made man and has, by his own unaided efforts, risen to the prominent and influential position be holds in society. An engraving of his beautiful home adorns this work.


The town of Sterling can boast of few, if any, farms so well improved as Lake View farm. Those who knew the place twenty-one years ago would not recognize it to-day. It has changed from a neglected, dilapidated place to, perhaps, the model farm of the town. Its present owner, John Upcraft, Esq., was born in Norfolk county, England, in 1830. He was the third child of Henry Upcraft. He came with his father to this country in 1840, and located in the city of Oswego, where for three years he was employed by the late F. T. Carrington and Myron Pardee. He left their employ and was a lumberman for the next three years. Then for a long period (18 years) he was engaged in mercantile business and farming, for Fitzhugh and Littlejohn.

In March, 1858, he purchased Lake View farm, consisting of over one hundred acres, on lot No. 3.

December, 1854, Mr. Upcraft was joined in marriage to Elizabeth Read. Their union was of short duration. Mrs.Upcraft died in June of the following year. He was again married in October, 1856, to Annie E. Briggs, daughter of Jeremiah and Mary Briggs. Mrs. Upcraft was born in Glens Falls, N. Y., in 1832.

On another page of this work we show a view of Mr. Upcraft's buildings.


RALPH HEWETT, a native of Northhumberland county, England, was born October 16th, 1800, and came to Cayuga County in 1823. He settled on lot No. 8 in the town of Sterling. Mr. Hewett was married four times, as follows :- His first wife was Mary Scott, who died in 1834; the second was Rebecca McCoy, who died in 1844; the third, Jane McCoy, who died in 1846; his present wife, Lydia Redfield, was born in Connecticut, in 1800. Mr. Hewett is a highly respected citizen of this town, and is passing the evening of his days with his son, Walter S.
Hewett, Esq.


THOMAS ANDREWS, father of John and Joseph Andrews, of this town, was born in Ireland, in 1786, and died in 1862. He emigrated to this country and settled on lot No. 13, in Sterling, in i8o6. His wife, Jane, was born in Ireland, in 1801. They weremarried in 1818. They were the parents of four children, three of whom are living. Mrs. Andrews is still living with her son John.


WILLIAM COOPER was born in Ireland in 1777.
He came to this country in 1804. He was a soldier in the war of 1812, and was in the battle of Oswego. He died in 1843. He married Sarah Craig, who was born in Washington county in 1783, and died in 1871. They were the parents of seven children.


CORNELIUS ACKERSON was born in Rockland Co., N. Y., in 1756. He was a soldier of the Revolutionary war, in which he served seven years, three months and eight days, with the rank of Lieutenant. He was on two occasions taken prisoner by the English. At the close of the war, for his valuable services, the government granted him five hundred acres of land situated in the present town of Sterling, on which he moved with his family in 1815. After an eventful life he died in 1845. Many of his descendants are residents of this town.


JOHN SCOTT, father of Mr. Henry Scott, of this town, was born in Northumberland county, England, in 1775. He was by trade a carpenter and joiner. He came to America in 1811; settled in Sterling, Cayuga County, in 1814; and died in 1860. The day after the battle of Oswego, which occurred in 1815, Mr. Scott visited the battle field and assisted in the burial of the dead. His second wife was Hannah Spottswood, who was born in Northumberland county in 1768, and came with her husband to this County, where she diedin 1853. By this marriage there were three children. His first wife, by whom he had four children, died in England.

Mr. Scott has three children living, Jas. Scott, of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Dr. R. B. Scott, of Oswego, N. Y.; and Henry Scott, of this town.

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