families always seem to have an influence on an area far out of proportion
to their numbers, and the Cornwells were defininitely one of this select
group. All the Yates County Cornwells were descended from William Cornwell
Sr., a native of Dublin who emigrated to America with his widowed mother
in 1765. His father was a Captain in the British Army, who fell at Fort
Ticonderoga in the war with France. William was 15 years old when he arrived
in New York; he and his mother supported themselves making and selling lace.
In 1774 William married
Hannah Finch in Connecticut, and soon afterward moved to Delaware County.
The war of the Revolution drove most of the settlers back east to avoid
trouble with the Indians. He was captured with some of his neighbors by
the Indians, managed to free himself and killed all the sleeping band of
captors with their own weapons. Cornwell and his family fled to Schoharie
and withstood the long seige there; then he joined the army and was again
captured and again escaped. William and Hannah managed to raise a large
family during all this excitement, returned to Delaware County at the end
of the war and bought a farm; and then in 1816 followed their son William
Jr. to the Genesee Country, where they settled in the town of Jerusalem
a couple of miles west of Penn Yan.
William Jr. was his
parents' third son and sixth child, born in 1787. Four daughters were younger.
All of the family spent at least some time in Yates County. Young William
was, however, the first; he came west in 1809 to practice medicine, married
Sarah Chidsey in 1817 and lived successively in the two houses he built
on the east side of Main Street.
Though always called
"Dr. Cornwell," he doesn't seem to have practiced medicine for
very long. He entered politics, serving as deputy sheriff of Ontario County
for some years; and was elected Colonel of the "Penn Yan Regiment"
of Militia, the old 103rd infantry regiment. He represented Ontario County
in the Assembly in 1820-21, and in December of the year 1820 began a clerkship
with his neighbor William M. Oliver, an attorney licensed to practice before
the state Supreme Court. At this time there were seven lawyers in what would
become Yates County, six of them in Penn Yan: Oliver, Cornelius Masten,
A.P. Vosburgh, Benjamin Dey, John Willey and William Shattuck. Cornwell
read law with Oliver, and then with Evert VanBuren, and was licensed as
an attorney in 1829. He was a successful lawyer in Penn Yan for many years,
until his death in 1846 at the age of 60. Sarah Cornwell lived in the house
he had built for her until her death in 1866.
William Jr. and Sarah
Chidsey Cornwell's children were: