Reminiscences of an Old Northern New York Settler

REMINISCENCES OF AN OLD NORTHERN NEW YORK SETTLER

Gouverneur, Aug. 18. —  In the town of Fowler, about seven miles east of this village, there lives the son of an old pioneer, David H. Balmat, son of Joseph Bonaparte’s land servant in this section. Mr. Balmat is more than 80 years of age, but is still active and takes a prominent part in the affairs of his town.

He is one of the few representatives in this section at least, of the original French settlers, his father having come here in 1796, two years before Jean Baptiste Bossout established a ferry across the Black river. It was in the Reign of Terror in France that the pioneer came to this country to avoid the bloodshed there.

David Balmat was born in the town of Carthage in 1822, a little time before his father became land agent to Bonaparte. The Balmats were people of much consequence in France and the older Balmat was the owner of a large vineyard. His mother’s sister was the Duchess of Oldenburg and as he was a moderate revolutionist, fell under the ban of Robespierre. These facts were the cause partly for sending his son to the new country.

A Wonderful Memory.

Mr. Balmat has a wonderful memory and recalls many incidents which occurred early in his time.

“I do not remember Bonaparte, of course,” said the old man, when interviewed, “for he was gone before I was born. My father was his agent and used to often make trips to the southern part of the State to make his reports to him. My father was one of the first settlers of this country and I think there are three or four families now remaining to represent the early Frenchmen who came to this North country. Among them are the Bossouis, and the Devoises while others have passed away.

“My father purchased land of the French company near the mouth of Beaver river, and the land was wet; the settlement was abandoned and given up. At this time the whole of this northern part of the State was a wilderness with only a few log roads here and there. My father at one time with two Indians started out from Utica, which was then a small place, and went to Beaver river. They followed the Oswegatchie to its source, then down it again in search of beaver and sent as far as Heurelton now Is. They then passed through Black lake, up the Indian river, and made a portage into the Black river. They were gone for over three months and returned loaded with beaver skins, as this section abounded in beaver at that early period.

Stories of Bonaparte.

Mr. Balmat remembers distinctly many of the stories which his father told him of Bonaparte. One of these occurred on Bonaparte lake. The ex-King brought up a number of gentlemen and ladies from his home in New Jersey and wanted his agent to accompany them around the head of the lake. They were rounding the head of a point, when two deer were seen on the shore. They rowed near shore and Balmat took a shot. The two deer jumped into the woods, but one was wounded. Bonaparte in his eagerness to get to shore jumped overboard and walked to shore with the mud almost up to his neck. When they found the deer Bonaparte insisted upon Balmat’s putting it on his shoulder, and the ex-King carried it to the shore, with his fine clothes dripping with blood. At another time Bonaparte with a number of guides went up the lake for a day. An old sea captain was along. When they had gone half of their way a heavy south wind sprang up and Balmat said to the ex-King, “Emperor, it looks mighty like rain.” The old sea captain was equally as certain that it was not, but, relying on the agent’s experience the King sought shelter on the shore. Soon it began to rain in torrents, but they had made a shelter from the storm. While it was raining quite hard the ex-King spoke up and said, “Well, captain, you may be a good prophet on the sea, but you’re not worth a d_ _ n on land.”

David Balmat’s grandfather was Major Goodar, who came from France during the Revolutionary war here with Lafayette with aid for the patriots.

“My father used to say,” said Mr. Balmat, “that Bonaparte was one of the commonest and plainest men that he ever met, although he dressed in fine clothes. At one time he met Bonaparte in the woods after burning off a large tract of land. Balmat was black with the ashes. When the ex-King met him he immediately extended his hand and compelled his agent to shake hands. He then sat down on a blackened and charred log and talked, saying that he cared nothing about these clothes, as there were others.”

Mr. Balmat lives on a large farm and is much respected in his old age. He is an unassuming old gentleman and is gifted in his speech. He is rather proud of his physical powers at 84 years, but says that he is not so strong as his cousin, David Hewitt. David is 94.

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) Aug 19, 1906

SPECIAL TO THE POST-STANDARD.

GOUVERNEUR, March 1. — David H. Balmat, one of the early pioneers of St. Lawrence County, died yesterday at his house in Talcville, aged 85 years. Around his family hangs the romance of the time of the first Napoleon and of Joseph Bonaparte, who traversed this part of the state during the early part of the nineteenth century.

David H. Balmat was the son of John D. Balmat, born in Paris, France, in 1875 [? 1775] and of Nancy, daughter of Major Goodar, born near Utica. John D. Balmat died in Fowler in 1862 and Major Goodar, the father of his wife, came over from France with Lafayette and was wounded at the battle of Brandywine. To this couple was born the subject of this sketch in 1822.

When Joseph Bonaparte came to this country and sought asylum in the vicinity of the lake, which he afterwards called Lake Bonaparte, he  carried with him letters from the great Napoleon to John D. Balmat, and for a number of years Mr. Balmat was his constant companion and guide, and the son often spoke about his father telling of the grandeur of the surroundings of Bonaparte.

David H. Balmat was the owner of extensive farm lands which are undermined with extensive talc deposits, some of  which are considered the richest in the world, and which are operated by the Union Talc Company. His is survived by four children. The funeral will be held at the family home in Fowler to-morrow.

The Post Standard (Syracuse, New York) Mar 2, 1907

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