Swales Family

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Swales House 1959 750x
The Swales manor house as it appeared in 1959. Photo by Byron White.
The William Swales manor house is located on the north side of Lake Road, Sodus near present day Burnap’s Farm Market. The house cannot be seen from the road and is set back in on a tree lined dirt road. The Swales family was one of the oldest families in our area. They were known to be abolitionists and may have been involved in the Underground Railroad.
Front entrance hall and staircase 1959 750x

Front entrance hall and staircase, 1959. Photo by Byron White.
The following is an excerpt from Uncovering the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life in Wayne County, New York, 1820-1880 by Judith Wellman and Marjory Allen Perez, with Charles Lenhart and Others (Section 2.3.11) that tells the story of this family…..
Significance: English family who may (or may not) have been involved in the Underground Railroad. Owned mill at Maxwell Creek, where many African Americans lived, and farm at “Freedom Hill,” reputed to be a lookout for people traveling and working on the Underground Railroad. (Sometimes also spelled “Swailes.”)
UGRR Photo 2008 750x
Swales Farmhouse, Looking northwest, April 2008
Probably built c. 1826-1832 by William Swales
The Swales (Swails) family owned mills and houses at Maxwell Creek and farm houses on Lake Road. Farmhouse with stucco is just east of cemetery on Lake Road. Freedom Hill is point just north. Julia Cooper, the first African American that Swales daughter ever saw, may have lived in Maxwell Settlement, east of Maxwell Creek.
Description: William Swales (September 26, 1776-January 28, 1855) brought his family from Hull, Yorkshire, England in 1819 and settled first in Geneva, on what is now the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. According to Swales’ daughter, Mrs John Preston, William Swales, who was “a lover of the broad acres,” bought one hundred acres of land in Sodus in 1826. They often traveled back and forth from Geneva to Sodus, and, in 1832, the family moved to their new home. The property included a mill built in 1812 by a man named Maxwell. The area is still called Maxwell Creek and Maxwell Settlement. On June 19, 1813, Isaac Davidson, the miller, was accidentally locked in the building. He escaped in time, however, to walk to Sodus Point and help defend the village when it was attacked by the British.
Maxwell sold the mill within a year to his son-in-law, Dr. Lummis (probably William Nixon Lummis), a Philadelphia doctor who invested in lands at Sodus Point. The British burned his house at Sodus Point on June 19-20, 1813, during the War of 1812, and he moved his family two miles west to this mill site. Lummis was one of the supporters of the Sodus Bay Canal. In 1827, he ran for the Assembly of New York State as a pro-canal candidate. Dr. Lummis had a daughter, Elizabeth Lummis Ellet, who wrote Women of the Revolution (1848). Lummis died in 1838, only fifty-eight years old.
Lummis sold the mill to E. W. Sentell, who sold it in 1826 to William Swales. Using cobblestones and cut stone from a quarry on his farm, Swales built a cobblestone house with cut stone quoins and twelve-over-eight window panes at the mill for use as the miller’s residence. Swales’ daughter married John Preston, and together they ran the mill, using steam power, until 1881, “doing a large business and supplying many of the people of northern Wayne county with their flour.” William Swales died on January 28, 1855. He was buried in the Swales Family Cemetery on Lake Road. His epitaph read: “This I got by my hand labor. To lie here it was my favor.”
Using his own stone quarry, Swales also built a stone farmhouse (perhaps a cobblestone house) on Lake Road west of the mill. Labeled “G. Swails” on the 1858 map, it is located just east of the cemetery on Lake Road. In 1905, the Arcadian Weekly Gazette described the walls as “exceedingly thick,” as evidenced by the window openings and wide window seats. There were five fireplaces in the house, one of which included an oven and was big enough to hold four-foot logs. The farmhouse retains its original location and form and many of its features (including six-over-six windows). Casement windows, window placement, and stuccoed exterior may be later modifications, or they may reflect an English tradition of building. The Prestons willed the mill and farm to their children, who still owned it in 1905. The Arcadian Weekly Gazette called the “old stone house and mill” “two of the most interesting objects in Wayne County,” while the mill itself was “one of the most picturesquely beautiful spots in this section of the country,” “frequently visited by artists and others.”
Discussion: Local tradition states that the Swales family originally brought slaves to their farm. After manumission, they lived “in their own settlement on the Creek Road South of Maxwell” before they became abolitionists. Although there were African Americans who lived in the Maxwell Settlement, they were most likely formerly enslaved by the Fitzhugh family rather than the Swales family. Census records listed no free or enslaved African Americans in the Swales household. Mrs. John Preston, a Swales daughter, remembered that “the first colored woman I ever saw was at Sodus Point, and we children were afraid of her but we soon got over it and I have seen her many times since. She was known as Julia Cooper.”
Stuccoed 750x
Every indication this is a cobblestone house that’s been stuccoed. Photo courtesy of Richard Palmer.
For additional information: