On the easterly side of the Black River in the Town of Croghan, Lewis County, New York, sits a small deserted clearing that is now or most lately overgrown with low scrubby pines, sweet ferns, and wild blackberry briars. This little clearing is situated directly opposite the mouth of the Deer River, a western branch of the Black River, which there enters it after tumbling down in a series of beautiful falls and cascades the limestone and clay terraced hills of the eastern slope of the plateau of the Lesser Wilderness, in whose swamps and wild meadows it takes its rise. This little old deserted clearing, once a camping spot for the Indians long before the white man invaded these northern forests has a long-forgotten history. It was once known as Sistersfield, owned by three daughters of Sieur Lambot, and from them named Sistersfield. At the end of the eighteenth century and for many years, the home of a French nobleman who was a refugee from the Reign of Terror in France, and whose name was Louis Francois de Saint Michel.
Saint Michel had arrived in New York in November 1798, and undertook the improvement of this tract of 1200 acres; The agreement was made with Patrick Blake, husband of one of the sisters, and the owner of 200 acres of the tract. The two other sisters were named Renee Jeane Louise, and Heine Marguerite Lambot. Blake returned to Europe in 1802.
Saint Michel had seen better days in France and is believed to have held an office under Louis XVI., the unfortunate royal victim of the French revolution. His wife had died in early womanhood and an only daughter, Sophie de’ Saint-Michel, was his companion in exile. His household affairs were managed by a daughter who had been tenderly reared at the schools in Paris, but who applied herself to the duties of her father’s home with a cheerfulness that did’ much to lighten the gloom of solitude and lessen the sadness of both. Here Saint-Michel built his log hut and lived with his daughter in seclusion, though trappers and hunters were always welcomed.
About 1803, as Governor Morris, Nicholas Low, and one or two other landholders, had met at Brownville, Saint Michel came down with Richard Coxe to see them and enjoy the luxury of a conversation with someone who could speak his native language with fluency. The meeting is described by an eye witness as affording a scene worthy of a painter. Their visitor was a tall, thin man, with a keen and intelligent eye, and vivacity peculiar to the French character. The eagerness, with which he grasped the hand of the dignified Morris, and the satisfaction he evinced, was as interesting to the spectators as it was gratifying to the parties. Saint Michel in dress and manners indicated that he had been bred in polished society. He was a man of fervent piety and deep thought. His daughter married Louis Marselle, and adopted with grace the coarse fare and rustic accommodations of a new country, without a murmur. Her father moved to a farm a little south of Deer River village, where he died in 1830. Upon the death of her husband, she married Louis de Zotelle, who, in the summer of 1838, was supposed to have died; preparations were made for the burial, and a premature notice of the death was printed in the Northern Journal. In a few days, he called upon the editor to request that no notice be again printed unless he informed in person. He died “in good faith,” about 1854, but in the absence of the authentic notice promised, we are unable to give the date.