Orleans County, New York, situated in the northwestern corner of the state along Lake Ontario, was carved out of Genesee County in 1824. This area figured prominently in the history of the new American nation inasmuch as the area was, for a time, controlled by the Holland Land Company and later, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, was the staging area for a vast westward migration of persons associated with various religious denominations who were seeking greater opportunities in Ohio, Illinois, and the other states of the Old Northwest Territory.
Arad Thomas’s account of Orleans County was the first comprehensive history of the area and its early settlers. Following the formula of so many local histories penned during the final quarter of the 19th century, Pioneer History of Orleans County, New York commences with an overview of the indigenous population, local topography, flora and fauna, and natural wonders. These topics are followed by a discussion of surveying and clearing the land, hardships and privations faced by early settlers, construction of roads and canals, the state of religion and education, and so on. The bulk of the volume consists of histories of the following principal towns and villages of Orleans County: Albion, Barre, Carlton, Clarendon, Gaines, Hindsburgh, Holley, Hulberton, Kendall, Knowlesville, Medina, Murray, Ridgeway, Shelby, and Yates. While there is some variation among the town annals, most identify the earliest settlers to the town; the name and date of the first tavern, hotel, or other prominent building; early churches; and so forth. The genealogical meat of the volume can be found in the roughly 300 biographical sketches that are distributed at the end of the town and village profiles. While the sketches vary in length and complexity, for the most part they give the Orleans County pioneer’s place of birth, date of arrival in Orleans County, career, and details of family life for two or more generations.