Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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January 27, 2014

Pioneer woman left account of early Niagara

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Included in the Charles Rand Penney Collection at the Erie Canal Discovery Center is a small booklet titled “Autobiography: Delilah Wisner Merritt, 1813 – 1899.” The booklet is a fascinating journey through time from the inception of the county in 1808 to the verge of the 20th century. 

William Wisner came to Niagara in 1808, the same year the county was established. He had left his hometown of Romulus in Seneca County and walked for more than a week before arriving at Eighteen Mile Creek in Kempville (now Olcott). Over the next two years, he went back and forth between Seneca and Niagara counties. In 1811, he brought his wife and older daughter to their new home 2-1/2 miles east of the Eighteen Mile Creek. 

Delilah Wisner was born in their cabin on Aug. 27, 1813. In December of that year the alarm was sounded that the British were approaching Kempville to burn Van Horn’s mill. The Wisners and their neighbors fled six miles east to the home of Jacob Fitts in Somerset. After a few days, they returned to find that their homes had been spared.

Of the next several years, Delilah wrote of going to the district school and of siblings being born and some of them dying. She herself was close to death in the summer of 1820 and weighed less than 20 pounds at the height of her illness. She married Isaac Merritt in September of 1830, at the age of 17. He built a log home on the Lake Road where Delilah “commenced housekeeping … expecting to have a pleasant home some day.”

Her husband Isaac had other plans. He learned of a new opportunity to buy land in Michigan and sold their farm without consulting Delilah. In May 1835, the Merritts, their two young sons and Delilah’s mother headed for Michigan with a team of horses, two cows and a wagon full of household goods.

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