Who was Abigail Cogswell Dayton Stone?

Sadly, like so many women of our early history she’s been remembered mostly for the men in her life. She was however an interesting woman in her own right.

Abigail was born August 13, 1750 to John Cogswell and Susanna Low in New Preston, Litchfield County, Connecticut. The settlement was a relatively new one, 10 years old in an area that was first settled in 1639.

Abigail Cogswell married Abraham Dayton April 8, 1770. He was a miller, working with his brother Nathan at their father Abraham’s mill in New Milford, Litchfield County, Connecticut. The settlement there began in 1707 and by 1717 New Milford was incorporated as a town. Life would have been quite modern and relatively easy for the time.

Abigail Cogswell Dayton and Abraham became leading citizens in the New Milford Quaker Meeting. In 1782 Jemima Wilkinson, a former Quaker reborn as “Universal Friend” came to New Milford to preach. The Daytons took a prominent part in her welcome. They were very impressed with the so-called “Universal Friend”. For a time they became her followers, prominent ones at that.
    By 1786 the sect was under much criticism in Connecticut. Both Abigail and Abraham feature in the accounts of that time. As part of an attack on the “Universal Friend” and followers, Abigail was accused of trying to strangle another member of the followers, a sleeping woman sharing a room with Abigail. It never seems to have gotten beyond being well aired in the newspapers however. Not long after, Abraham was chosen as one of a committee of three to explore Genesee County, New York for the site of a new religious community. A location was found and purchased to carve a new life, homesteads and eventually a small town out of what was then wilderness.
     Abraham and his brother Nathan brought the mill stone from his father’s mill in Litchfield County to the new location, Jerusalem, later known as Penn Yan. The Dayton family, Abigail, Abraham and their daughter Abiah lived near the mill. During this time Abigail is said to have been the first cheese maker in Genesee County. Her curd was laid in a hoop on a stump and stones laid on to press it. She also had an adventure with a black snake that resulted in a seriously broken leg that was set by the “Universal Friend”. This was a story Abigail loved to tell until the end of her life.
    Unfortunately the group had bought “indian land” from someone who had no right to sell it. In 1788 a law was passed by the New York legislature declaring the sale to the “Universal Friend” to be null and void. Abraham again went looking for a place for the group to settle. He had made arrangements to settle in Burford, Ontario. When he returned to New York, it was to discover that plans had been made to stay where they were. At that time the group began to go their separate ways. “Universal Friend” chose not to leave New York and by 1790 was no longer preaching. Abigail and Abraham chose to settle in Burford, Ontario, the place Abraham had picked as New Jerusalem for the group. When Abraham died in 1795, his daughter Abiah and son-in-law Benajah Mallory took over the homestead that had been carved out of the Ontario wilderness. Abraham’s brother Nathan was in Gananoque with Joel Stone. He courted Abigail and in 1799 they married.

Abigail Cogswell Dayton Stone, age 49, started her second marriage yet again part of a group carving a home and town out of wilderness.
     Gananoque was kind to her for the most part. Getting shot in the hip September 21, 1812 during an American raid wouldn’t have been a highlight in her life. The town still delights in telling of her presence of mind to hide the gold and silver in the house in a flour barrel that day to keep it safe. She was remembered as an able business woman. Abigail was also the closest thing to a doctor in the area for many years, displaying a natural medical instinct using a simple medicine chest. She had a reputation for riding for miles to nurse the sick or comfort the dying.

So now you know Abigail Cogswell Dayton Stone deserves to be remembered as interesting, successful lady in her own right.

 

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