Morris Fletcher Sheppard        

 


Morris F. Sheppardheppard was born on the eve of the Revolution in Germantown, Pennsylvania, son of Moses Sheppard and Hannah Fletcher. They were Quakers, descended from 17th-century immigrants to Salem, New Jersey, who had gone to Pennsylvania after that colony was founded as a refuge for their coreligionists. By 1774, when Morris F. Sheppard was born, they were prosperous farmers, not unlike their neighbors the Wageners, Supplees, Castners and others.

At the age of 26, Sheppard set out with some friends on horseback to explore the area to which so many people in his part of Pennsylvania had gone. Arriving in the not-yet-named and very raw settlement where Penn Yan now stands, Sheppard evidently saw something there that he liked. Perhaps opportunity to practice his trade, perhaps the young daughter of Mrs. Susannah Clanford (the name was anglicized from Clumberge; Mrs. Clanford was the widow of Philip Clumberge, and she had two young children she was raising in the wilderness. Her first husband was Peter Supplee, killed at the battle of the Brandywine during the Revolution, and she had a daughter by him as well. Her brother was David Wagener, who had just died leaving his elder son Abraham the owner of all the land on which the heart of Penn Yan now stands).

In any case, Sheppard returned the following year with his effects in a one-horse cart. He married Susannah Clanford's daughter Rachel Supplee on 22 October 1801 and set up housekeeping in a double log cabin between Main Street (then a river of mud or dust, depending on the season) and Jacob's Brook. He built a tannery down by the creek, and used one of the two rooms in the cabin for doing the finish work on the hides. He and Rachel raised five children in the other room.

In 1812 Sheppard and a number of his neighbors, who belonged to an independent military company called the "Silver Grays" marched off to Sodus to fight the British. He had evidently shed his Quaker inhibitions about fighting, as had many of his father's generation in Pennsylvania; and he apparently never returned to the religious faith of his childhood. He was regarded in the village as an "advanced thinker," believing that living a good life was the most important confession of faith. He always said that to live uprightly and to deal justly with others were the essential aspects of true religion. In a day of quite narrow sectarian belief and much intolerance, this was an attitude worthy of notice.

Soon after the War of 1812 ended, Sheppard moved his family to a small frame house across Main Street referred to afterwards as the "yellow house," presumably from the color of its paint. John Dorman's house downstreet was the "red house;" two of the stores on the east side of Main Street were called the "red building" and the "white building," respectively.

Next door to the yellow house, Sheppard built Mechanics' Hall, an enormous warren of stores and shops that towered five stories over the one-story houses and low wooden stores of the time (to be fair, the white building mentioned above was three stories). This was yet another string to the Sheppard bow, as he still had his tanyard by Jacob's Brook, and in 1818 he had added a gristmill on Sucker Brook, near its source in what is now usually called Cornwell's Gully west of Liberty Street at the base of the hill. He was in partnership with Nathaniel Higley and Elijah Haskill in a fulling mill (where woven cloth was cleaned and finished) on Jacob's Brook (above the tannery, apparently), and he also owned much of the land on both sides of Main Street below Head Street.

He became well known for his fair-mindedness, and was often approached by his neighbors to settle disputes. He represented the new Yates County in the Assembly from 1828 through 1830, and did his best to promote the interests of the part of Penn Yan at "the head of the street." For a while, at about the time it was felt the place really ought to have a name, Penn Yan was referred to as "Morrisville," a name that appears on some of the deeds executed then; but it was discovered that the name was already taken, and Sheppard's name only appears on the modern map on a street that was driven through his lands about 1840.

He built the beautiful stone house that still stands east of Main Street in 1830, on the site of Mechanics' Hall, which had burned a couple of years earlier. The house was considered very extravagant, though he used stone from the gully on his own land to build it. It's the only one of his three homes in Penn Yan that still exists.

He died 19 November, 1846, aged 72. He is buried near his wife's relatives, the Wageners, in the oldest part of what is now Lake View Cemetery.


Far right: An engraved portrait of Morris F. Sheppard, from an illustration in
History of Yates County, N. Y., edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich (D. Mason & Co.: Syracuse, 1892).

 

Sheppard was associated with:

Land plots:

   First Purchase
   Second Purchase

Buildings:

   342 Main Street

Sites:

   346 Main Street
   
343 Main Street