Introduction to “A History of the First Fresh Water Port in the United States”

Oswego was the first fresh water port in the United States and an important gateway to the West. The following paper regarding the Port was written by John W. O’Connor and read before the Oswego County Historical Society on February 24, 1942. It has been edited by Ann Callaghan Allen, Professor, LeMoyne College, Department of Communications and Film Studies. Continue reading

A History of the First Fresh Water Port in the United States

(From a paper read before the Oswego County Historical Society, February 24, 1942, by John W. O’Connor, Deputy Collector of United States Customs, at Oswego.) (Edited for City of Oswego Historian’s website, August 11, 2010)

(Author’s note: From that day, so long ago, when the first intrepid, little band of Phoenicians sent the prow of their battered vessel foaming gaily through the Gates of Hercules, and with only the North Star to guide them, brought their small cargo of Oriental spices and Babylonian pottery to a haven beneath the chalk cliffs of Dover, all Culture, all Progress, all Advancement in Civilization has been disseminated throughout the world, on the waterways of the world. And to those brave souls, who in every age, have gone down to the sea in ships, this paper is dedicated, because they, too, have made Oswego.) Continue reading

The Fur Trading Era – Port of Oswego, NY

The Fur Trading Era (1610 -1796) was roughly divided into three sections: the Dutch from 1610 to 1650; the French from 1650 to 1700; the English from 1700 to 1775. However there seems to be no documentary evidence covering the Dutch influence. That the French not only traded at Oswego in the 17th Century, but also distinctly claimed and utilized the territory, is amply supported by documents. In 1680 the English traders from Albany had begun to make annual trading expeditions to the mouth of the Oswego River, but the French had already established definite trading posts all along the shores of the Great Lakes, and were not inclined to give up to the English a port so important as Oswego. Continue reading

The Salt Era (1796 -1873) – Port of Oswego, NY

The exportation of salt in the years that followed the dawn of the new Republic was symbolic of the growth and expansion of a small disintegrated people into a vast cohesive nation. Born out of the necessity of war that effectively shut us off from the European markets, only 600 bushels of salt were produced during its first year, but as the tide of civilization moved westward, as the ever-changing frontiers were pushed back by the swelling throng of immigrants, so also did New York State’s first great industry expand. Every mule pack, every knapsack, every vessel sailing out of Oswego harbor was supplied with salt as a commodity of prime necessity. In the first few years of the 19th Century, over 600,000 bushels were exported from Oswego alone. Continue reading

The Lumber Era (1840-1928) – Port of Oswego, NY

For many years the commercial face of Oswego had been gradually maturing as lumber began to assume more and more importance in the business index of the port. The lumber trade here was by no means a new one. The tree growth of the section was early noted for its density and variety. In Colonial days, much of the pine had been cut and shipped to England where it had been utilized in the manufacture of masts and spars. Lumber continued to be a thriving local business as late as 1860, but the chief lumber trade at the port throughout its development, was a matter of importation. Continue reading

The Coal Era (ending 1942) – Port of Oswego, NY

The exportation of coal remained the one business index of port activity which showed consistent improvement. Certain regions in Pennsylvania enjoyed a complete monopoly of the Anthracite Coal industry, so that the source of supply was singular and not subject to change. Continue reading