Nathaniel Cole, Sr. 1747-1832
The Early Years
Nathaniel-Cole was born in Eastham, Massachusetts, On August 8th, 1747, to rural landowners - a 7th generation in the line of Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins.
In 1756, Nathaniel, age 9, his parents and 5 siblings migrated to Putnam County, New York, for better farming conditions. In 1765, his father's death caused a return to New Milford, Connecticut and family lands. Nathaniel reached maturity at age 18.
At age 26, Nathaniel married Abigail Oviatt, worked his land and sired 3 children before his first voluntary enlistment in State Militia in in 1776. Corporal Cole volunteered for 2 more tours of duty. In 1779, Sergeant Cole was conscripted for his final tour of duty, and discharged one year later.
By 1780, the family had grown by 2, and Cole attempted raising a farm family where lands and political conditions were severe.
The lure of virgin Indian territories across New York's Hudson River held great hopes for all Revolutionary War veterans. Cole's choice was uncertain.
Another Migration East
Following the defeat of the British, President George Washington urged land ownership by the survivors of the Revolution. Based on his own surveying of lands in Virginia, the Land Ordinance Act of 1785 began accurate mapping of unexplored lands occupied by Native Americans. Connecticut land taxes to support state governments were becoming increasingly costly for patriots such as Cole. New lands beckoned the growing family.
In the late 1790's, Nathaniel Cole, his wife and 6 children (first son Andrew was left buried in Connecticut), along with older brother Sylvanus and his family, and some Connecticut neighbors, left their farms and headed east into Indian lands of Central New York.
The Journey and The Destination
Accurate details of the journey of the Cole expedition are lacking, but other journals of similar New England migrants show a popular route of travel. East to Esopus (Kingston), across the Hudson River to the Kaatz Kill (Catskill) turnpike, overland to the Susquehanna River, then north or south as pre-scouting dictated.
Current records show that in 1795, the group from New England settled in North-Central Broome County, 12 miles east-northeast of Chenengo Point (later to become Binghamton).
The Cambridge Settlement was over the southeastern edge of Robert Harper's "Warren Patent" (a 1786 purchase of 15,360 acres from the New York Land Board), and located on land identified as the Abijah Hammond Patent.
Cole applied to a land agent for this land upon which to settle. Since rural banks were decades away, land ownership was transacted with a handshake and a "grantee-grantor" contract. In the "Index of Deeds 1806-1843" in the Broome County land records, middle man William Johnson granted Nathaniel Cole, Sr. land within the Abijah Hammond patent and the "Cambridge Settlement" was born.
Coles Hill and the "Cambridge Settlement"
On the hilltop "where the sun shines in every direction", Nathaniel Cole, Sr. stopped his caravan of migrant New Englanders and said, "This is home". Acreage was apportioned among families of Nathaniel and Sylvanus Cole. They were soon joined by other Connecticut deportees; Titus Humaston his wife and 13 children, (2 more came by 1796), Job Wilmont, Jed Merchant, Bateman Dickinson, David Crofut, John Ruggles, and Isaac Tyrell, and their extended families. Quite an immediate population!
All hands were put to work clearing lands, planting gardens, fencing pastures, and building shelters. Whether of log construction or lumber from nearby mills, housing grew quickly around the crossroads settlement.
By 1800, Nathaniel Cole's original house was enlarged to become the first tavern in the area known as "Cambridge Settlement". It served as a stop on the Chenengo Point-Albany frontier route, as well as a meeting hall and social center for the growing number of local families.
Under government mandate to "maintain a prepared militia", Cole's Tavern and its adjacent parade ground became the site of military drills and instructions. Local men of service age were under the command of visiting officers who were housed and fed in the tavern. A nearby racetrack provided entertainment for visitors and residents. The settlement was expanding.
Even by 1800 standards, the tavern was impressive. Two stories in height, painted red with hipped roofs and 5 large windows across the upper front and each side of the clapboard structure, it stood out in the settlement at its highest crest.
The tavern had two front entrances and two large chimneys at either side housed large interior fireplaces. Ground level access was into a large entry hall that featured fine carpentry hewn from local red pine, with planking 36 inches wide. A bar was at the right of the hall and a sitting parlor on the left.
A broad staircase led up to the second level. The ballroom at the top of the stairs spanned the full front of the building and had a raised bandstand. Wax mannequins of celebrities graced the wall spaces and created a party-like atmosphere for occupants. Guest bedrooms occupied the back of the second level.
With Growth Comes Recognition
In 1806, Nathaniel Cole, Sr. applied to the U.S. Government for authority to establish a post office. Cole became the Postmaster and the area served was identified as Colesville. Under requirements of the Land Ordinance Act, one "square" of a 6x6 mile "township" was to be set aside for education. A schoolhouse was built across Farm to Market Road, opposite the tavern. Soon after, a Presbyterian Church joined the group of buildings around the tavern. Cambridge Settlement now became known as Colesville.
Rural life around the crossroads flourished during the first two decades of the 1800's. In 1821 the citizens petitioned Broome County for the privilege of becoming a township. It was so granted and named after one of its prominent early settlers, Nathaniel Cole, Sr. At the first official meeting held in Cole's Tavern in 1822, John Warren Harpur, son of another prominent citizen, Robert Harpur, was elected Supervisor. Nathaniel Cole, Jr. was chosen for overseer of the poor. Based on the New England pattern of civil government, the "town council" provided for the administration of service, aid, and the maintenance of property.
The Legacy of Nathaniel Cole
Since 1875, pioneer Nathaniel Cole, Sr. hand-shaped a colony of family, friends, and neighbors into a thriving community. Over his busy lifetime, he selflessly gave much to the betterment of others. In his later years, he turned the operation of the tavern over to his son Nathaniel Cole, Jr., and later to Junior's son, James Henry Cole. The tavern left Cole family ownership following its sale when the post office closed in 1876.
In 1832, Nathaniel Cole, Sr. died. He was buried near his beloved Colesville. Jesse Wilmont, one of the original 1795 settlers, deeded land for a cemetery "for the inhabitants from the Cambridge Settlement" from his apportioned land. The beautiful rural cemetery atop what has become Coles Hill is the final resting place for Cole and the early settlers.
A Community Grows
Growth at Coles Hill Slowed. Few new settlers found land available at Nathaniel Cole's purchase. The tavern struggled with decling travel and social activities. When no longer under family ownership, the buildng deteriorated and ws razed in 1926. Olnly the foundation and the cemetery are evidence of what was once "Cambridge Settlement".
For more information, the Old Onaquaga Historical Society recommends "Nathaniel Cole 1747-1832" by Terri Robbins, published in 2013.
Interested in Colesville history?
Historians, scholars and those seeking connections with the past are invited to visit Colesville's two "Museums of Antiquities" for a step back in time.
Doraville Schoolhouse and Museum
Built in 1832, this authentic one-room structure re-creates educational conditions during the mid 1800's. Open holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day and by appointment. (607-648-6959)
St. Luke's Church and Museum
Erected in 1828, this building houses local history from Indian settlements through 1800's development and life. Open monthly (2nd Sunday 2-5pm) from Memorial Day to St. Luke's Day in October. For information call 607-693-1222.