There are some families that we encounter in our trips to the family files and archives that stand out because of the amount of information we have about the family, and the Samson family is one of them. This family preserved their lineage much better than many families do. They could easily trace their roots back to both Miles Standish and John Alden of the Mayflower because they kept records and passed the information from generation to generation. They were proud of their heritage, and there were several ancestors who were quite adventurous, including Deborah Sampson, a cousin who served in the Revolutionary War as a male soldier! A note in our files indicates that the branch of the Samson family which settled in Cortland County preferred not to use a “p” in Samson.
The namesake for Samson Street was John Melvin Samson, born in Solon in 1836 to John Shaw Samson and Catherine Schermerhorn. We can see J.M. Samson’s testament to his hard work on the corner of Groton Avenue and Main Street in my favorite Main Street building—the Samson Block, built in 1896.
Before we talk about J.M. Samson, let’s look at his direct line for a second. His father, John Shaw Samson served as sheriff for one term (three years) in 1855 and in 1861, he became the Assistant Doorkeeper of the House of Representatives for 14 years. He often took his son to Washington to see governmental operations, and J.M. Samson was in the Capitol when President Lincoln was assassinated. J.S. Samson sold his property at the corner of Elm and Church Streets to the Congregational Church and was a charter member there. Notes say that there is a memorial window in the church to him. He was also a director of the National Bank of Cortland. J.S. Samson was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts but moved to Homer as a child in 1812. His father was George Washington Samson, and his mother was Hannah Shaw. G.W. Samson was born in Plymouth in 1781. When he came to Homer, he operated the Mt. Etam Tavern, a temperance inn (later called Wisdom’s Gate). He operated several other inns in the county as well, all temperance establishments. G.W. Samson’s father was Simeon Samson, an officer in the Revolutionary War. Simeon sailed the seas, and George followed in his father’s footsteps for a time. Unfortunately, Simeon died when George was only 8 years old. George inherited his father’s apparel, sea chest, “warlike instruments,” books, maps, and charts. George’s first sailing trip was in 1796 to Charleston, SC where he witnessed a great fire there which burned hundreds of dwellings, one of the biggest fires the city has experienced. We have diaries kept by George, and they had to leave the harbor and go out to sea because the molasses and rum had set the sea on fire. That’s a pretty harrowing first voyage!
Simeon Samson was the son of Peleg Samson and Mary Ring. We have shared an artifact from our collection that tells some of their story here: https://www.facebook.com/CortlandCountyHistoricalSociety/posts/3345366888864266
This is truly one of my favorite pieces in our collection! Mary Ring was descended from Lydia Standish, a granddaughter of Miles Standish. Her other grandfather was John Alden.
Going back to John Melvin Samson, he was educated at common schools in the county and attended the Cortland Academy. He built the Samson Block in 1896 and it replaced an earlier structure. The building housed his dry goods store for many years. Samson owned a great deal of real estate, including houses and lots throughout the city. He owned several blocks in the business district, too. J.M. Samson never married and was said to live a simple and secluded life at his modest residence at 24 Groton Avenue. The home is no longer standing, and the lot is now occupied by a Family Health Network office. J.M. Samson died in 1929 without any direct heirs, and his estate was divided amongst nieces, a grand-nephew, and cousins. His two nieces were to live in the house at 24 Groton Avenue which was full of rare antiques and family heirlooms that were worth a great deal of money. His grand-nephew and cousin were to live off a trust, and upon the death of any of the other heirs (many cousins), bigger shares would go to the remaining survivors until the deaths of the main four heirs. I did not try to find out anything more about the heirs of the estate, but I’m intrigued and want to follow up to see what ultimately happened to the treasures of the Samson family. It seems likely there was an auction at some point. Did the pieces stay local, or did they get whisked away? We have a fair amount of primary source documents here at CCHS, and I know there are pieces of china as well.
As I mentioned, this family really liked to preserve history, so I’ll be on the lookout for more information and artifacts. I even found a piece of fabric that was said to have been bed drapery in Plymouth (brought to Homer in 1812 by Hannah Shaw Samson) and a token from Wisdom’s Gate–so cool! I’ll be sure to provide any updates if (when!) I find more! ~Tabitha