March is “National Women’s History Month”. Great women from and related to Palmyra are celebrated at Historic Palmyra. Bonnie Hays, executive director of Historic Palmyra writes a weekly column.
What happened in March and what is it noted for. First of all, March is “National Women’s History Month”. How appropriate to celebrate some of our great women from and related to Palmyra.
Our first great woman will be Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, Syria. Who is she and what does she have to do with Palmyra? Did you ever wonder why the Palmyra-Macedon yearbook is called the Zenobia or the Zenobian? How about the Masonic Lodge being called the Zenobia Commandry in its early days? You guessed it — these names are a result of the influence of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, Syria. Long, long ago in 1796 Palmyra had a name, it was called Tolland. No one really liked that name and it had no deep meaning. The new settlers here were all about things having a meaning.
With such names as Swift’s Town or Swift’s Landing mentioned, John Swift opposed these names as he was too modest and humble a man to have the community named after him. As the story goes, John Swift was the first town supervisor and a meeting was held in 1796 to give our community a proper name. I am sure that names were being bantered around, but nothing was just quite right. A voice came up from the back of the room. It was Daniel Sawyer, Swift’s brother-in-law. “Speak up, Daniel,” the men said in unison.
Daniel took the floor and began to make his case for an amazing name. He noted he had been studying ancient history and he had come across the name of Queen Zenobia. Daniel said he was planning to ask Doshia Boughton to marry him, but he needed to have something spectacular to impress her. Doshia was one of the first teachers in Palmyra and it wasn’t easy to impress a teacher even back then. As Daniel went on, he explained that he thought his Doshia was as lovely and strong as Queen Zenobia. He thought that Doshia should have her own Palmyra as did Queen Zenobia. So it came to be, all the founding fathers thought this was a great idea. Thus, the name Palmyra was chosen and Doshia Boughton Sawyer had her Palmyra.
The next amazing woman in Palmyra history was Rhoda Swift, John Swift’s wife. She traveled with him as a new bride from Connecticut to the Wyoming Valley. There she cared for John who had been shot in the neck. She then helped him found the new land in upstate New York called Township 12 District 2 and 3. She died in this new land, soon to be known as Palmyra in Ontario County.
Dr. Harriet Adams practiced medicine for 30 years in Palmyra. Dr. Adams died at the age of 56. We then have Lavinia Chase daughter of Dr. Durfee Chase who grew up in what we call the Garlock House today. Lavinia was a translator for Congress and a fighter for veteran’s rights. She began the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marine Club in Washington D.C.
Many other women were fighters of slavery and joined the Abolition movement. Harriet Sexton, wife of Pliny Sexton, joined him as a station mistress on the Underground Railroad. Son, Pliny T. Sexton’s wife, Harriot, became the vice president of the Palmyra National Bank in 1882. Certainly we need to remember orphan Clarissa Hall Jerome, the mother of Jenny Jerome, to be called the Grande American Dame and the toast of Europe. She became the grandmother of Sir Winston Churchill. These are just a few of the women of Palmyra, N.Y.