Nathaniel Rochester, founder of Rochester, New York, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia on February 21, 1752, the son of John and Hester Rochester. After his father’s premature death in 1756, Nathaniel’s mother married Thomas Cricher, who subsequently moved the family to Granville County, North Carolina.
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As a young boy, Nathaniel attended school under Reverend Henry Patillo. In 1768, he began working for Scottish merchants James Monroe and John Hamilton in Hillsborough. Within five years, Monroe made Rochester a partner in the enterprise, but the business collapsed in the wake of the Revolution. Although both of his former partners sided with the Loyalists, Rochester cast his lost for American independence.
Rochester served on the Orange County Committee of Safety and in August 1775 attended the Third Provincial Congress representing Hillsborough. Appointed a major in the Orange County militia, Rochester spent the following year leading a small force that intercepted several hundred Tories retreating from Moore’s Creek Bridge. The Loyalists surrendered to him, however he had no place to imprison them. Rochester paroled all but fifty officers who he took to Cross Creek for incarceration.
After returning from his tour in the militia, Rochester again represented Orange County at the Fourth Provincial Congress at Halifax, and then accepted a position as county representative in the General Assembly. In 1778, he resigned from the militia and the assembly in order to enter a mercantile business with Thomas Hart and James Brown in Hillsborough.
In 1780, as British operations threatened Hillsborough, Thomas Hart fled to Hagerstown, Maryland. He sent word to Rochester offering to help him establish a business in Philadelphia. Rochester accepted, and the following year arrived in Philadelphia only to immediately be stricken with smallpox. After his recovery he left Pennsylvania and instead moved to Hagerstown where he joined Hart in business.
Rochester lived in Maryland for nearly thirty years, where he and Hart operated flourmills, a nail and rope factory, and a bank. He also served as Maryland legislator, sheriff, and judge. In 1788 he married Sophia Beatty and had the first of his twelve children.
Hart moved to Kentucky in 1810, and Rochester decided to move his operations to Dansville, New York, where he established a paper mill. In 1814, Rochester again picked up his operations and moved to Bloomfield, New York, where he opened a bank. In 1803 he joined business entrepreneurs William Fitzhugh and Charles Carroll of Hagerstown, Maryland, in purchasing 100 acres along the Genesee River. The spot chosen, a convergence of the river’s three cataracts, offered massive potential waterpower that could aid in factory development.
In 1817 Rochester and his business partners founded Rochesterville, later renamed Rochester, along the tract of land. They developed several major industries in the village, which quickly grew into a town of nearly 3,000 people. Rochester witnessed the fast growth of his creation, but died on May 17, 1831, three years before the city swelled to a population of 9,000 and became known as America’s first “boomtown.”
Nathaniel Rochester, A Brief Sketch of the Life of Nathaniel Rochester (1924)
Durward T. Stokes, “Nathaniel Rochester in North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 1961): 467-481
Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, XXII, XXIII, XIX, XXIV (1895-1905)
William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, X (1890)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 238-239--sketch by Durward T. Stokes
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)