Yates County is one of many created from the huge area purchased by
Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham from the Seneca Nation in 1788. At
nearly the same time the treaty of purchase was being negotiated, settlers
were beginning to filter in from New England and from the Susquehanna
Valley, part of the first great western migration after the Revolution.
The first permanent white settlement within the boundaries of what
is now Yates County was initiated in the summer of 1788 by a group of
people who were seeking to separate themselves for religious reasons
from worldly temptations and persecution. They were followers of Jemima
Wilkinson, the first American-born woman to found a religious movement;
she called herself the Public Universal Friend, and her followers referred
to their settlement as the New Jerusalem. About 60 families came to
an area west of Seneca Lake and formed what was by 1790 the largest
settlement in western New York.
The area was so desireable that within a very few years most of the
farms were taken up and political development of towns begun:
In 1790, when the first federal census was taken, the whole of western
New York had perhaps 1200 inhabitants. The small perimeter of Yates
County included parts of three enumeration districts, named Canandaigua,
Jerusalem and Erwin. By the time the county was split off from Ontario
in 1823, its population was nearly 20,000, not far from what it is today.
In 1826, two additional towns were annexed from Steuben County, and
the compact modern boundaries were established.