Editor’s note: This piece from Natalie J. Woodall is the fourth part of the second series about Masons in Oswego. This series will focus on Masons who contributed to Oswego in some way.
Neil and William Blackwood’s long residency in Oswego made them witnesses to its development from a village to a city. Although born elsewhere they employed their talents and resources to improve their adopted community.
The son of John Blackwood and Isabel McArthur, Neil Blackwood was born on July 31, 1810, in Kilbarchan, Renfrew, Scotland. According to an obituary, he immigrated to Toronto, Canada, before moving to Oswego in 1835. He was first enumerated in Oswego with his wife, Evelina, in 1840. They had no children and were probably only recently married. Shortly after arriving he established a bakery. An advertisement in the Oswego County Whig dated May 25, 1842, stated that its location was “a few rods north of the Welland House” which is known to have stood on the corner of West First and Seneca streets.
William Blackwood, Neil’s brother, was born on Dec. 1, 1819, in the village of Johnstown, Ranfranceshire, Scotland. The entire family came to the United States in 1829 when William was 10 years old. The family settled in New Hartford where his father operated a bakery.
In 1837, William Blackwood moved to Oswego to work in Neil’s bakery. The relationship ended in 1840 when William decided to open a grocery store, also located on West First Street. According to another pioneer Oswego businessman, Mannister Worts, whose family bakery was originally located in the Phoenix Block on West First Street, “The part of the city below Cayuga Street was the business center when I went into business and all of the principal business houses and stores were located there.”
On Oct. 10, 1866, Blackwood’s Bakery was destroyed in a fire. Undaunted Neil reopened his establishment in a building at 13 W. First St. An article appearing in the Oswego Daily Palladium on Oct. 26, 1866, stated: “Attention is invited to the advertisement of Mr. Neil Blackwood who has, like the fabled Phoenix, arisen from the ashes, and established his bakery on West First Street, in the store lately occupied by Mr. James Sloan.”
By 1869, Blackwood had moved his bakery to 142 W. First St. where it remained until his death.
Neil Blackwood was raised a Master Mason in Oswego Lodge No. 127 on June 5, 1849. He was also an original member of the Old Oswego Guards, organized in 1838 and “composed of the elite of our then village.” He took great interest in this organization and was noted for his soldierly bearing and strict attention to duty, honorably discharged after seven years’ service.”
The Blackwood family lived on West Second Street. Neil and Evelina, whose maiden name is lost to history, were the parents of two daughters and four sons, all of whom survived to adulthood. Evelina died on June 28, 1880.
When Neil Blackwood died on Sept. 12, 1882, at Oswego City Hospital, both local newspapers published obituaries. Each alluded to his long residency in the city: “He was for many years engaged in business in this city where he amassed quite a fortune.” Mention was also made of financial reverses which left him in straitened circumstances in later life. He was said to be one of the oldest Masons in the city, having been a member for over 30 years.
Neil and Evelina Blackwood are buried in Riverside Cemetery in unmarked graves.
William Blackwood’s story was of a longer duration. Apparently more extroverted than his elder brother, he took a decidedly active role in city affairs. He once claimed he had cast his first presidential vote in 1840 as a member of the Whig Party. He later became a loyal and steadfast Lincoln Republican. He was a long time committee man for the First Ward and was selected a convention delegate several times.
In 1870 and 1871 he was the First Ward alderman and was a member of building committee for the new City Hall.
When he celebrated his 89th birthday, William told a reporter about his short-lived association with the local militia: “Back in the old days when Mr. Blackwood was a young man it was the duty of every man to get out so often and train with the militia or else pay a fine. Mr. Blackwood tells a good story of his brief military career. He was summoned to turn out and train and along with some 200 others lined up at the corner of West First and Seneca streets. Out of the whole number there were not over a dozen who had guns, the rest carrying sticks. They paraded up and down First Street a couple of times and then started to the West Park to drill. The park was already very much occupied by a Hannibal rifle company resplendent in new uniforms and all armed with rifles and bayonets. They objected to the rag tag and bobtail bunch from the city and promptly charged bayonets driving Mr. Blackwood and his companions out of the park. That night Mr. Blackwood joined the old Engine No. 2 Company and became forever exempt from militia service.”
Nevertheless, during the Civil War Blackwood helped the Union cause by recruiting troops locally. His son, Neil, served in the U.S. Navy. His other son, William, was a soldier in the 184th Regiment.
In 1849, Blackwood became a member of Oswegatchie Lodge No. 156 IOOF. He advanced to Konoshioni Encampment No. 23 IOOF and finally to Canton Oswego No. 18, Patriarchs Militant, the highest branch of the Odd Fellows.
Frontier City Lodge No. 422 F & A M was organized and chartered in 1857 and Blackwood claimed to be its first initiate. He was a lodge trustee for many years. He was also a member of Lake Ontario Chapter 165 Royal Arch Masons (RAM) and Lake Ontario Commandery No. 32, Knights Templar (KT).
In later years Blackwood’s memory faltered and he repeatedly asserted he had joined Frontier City No. 422 in 1847 but, since even Oswego No. 127 had not yet been organized and chartered, that claim was erroneous. In 1909 his lodge brothers feted him at what was termed his 62nd anniversary as a Master Mason when in reality it was his 52nd. At the time he was deemed one of the oldest Masons and Odd Fellows in the state.
The Blackwood family worshipped in the First Presbyterian Church. In 1874, the brothers were among the organizers of a club named St. Andrew’s Society, whose purpose was to commemorate the founders’ Scottish heritage. Among the proposed activities was an annual banquet honoring St. Andrew at which all participants were required to wear the thistle, Scotland’s national symbol. William Blackwood and his brother Neil were appointed to the society’s Board of Managers.
William Blackwood retired from his grocery store in May 1907. An announcement in the Oswego Daily Palladium said he had “been known as a man upright and honest in his dealings with the public and he retires with the knowledge that his life has been a success.”
In 1865, Blackwood was enumerated with his wife Cecilia and family. Each claimed to have been married twice and Cecilia said she was the mother of 11 children.
William Blackwood’s first wife was Catherine McGully. Evidence for this fact may be found in the Town Clerks’ Registers which listed all the men who served in the Civil War from New York State. One of these men was William Blackwood, Jr. His parents, according to the Registers, were William Blackwood and Catherine McGully. Catherine’s other children were Neil, born in 1844, and Isabella, born in 1845. In 1850 they lived with a relative, Ellen Blackwood, in New Hartford. Since the elder Blackwood was unmarried in 1850, Catherine may have died shortly after giving birth to William.
Cecilia’s maiden name is unknown but her first husband was William Black. When he died is unknown but in 1850 she was living in Oswego with three children: Genette, 13, Jane, 8, James, 3. She was a native of Scotland but all the children reportedly were born in New York state.
Blackwood and Cecilia were married when the 1855 New York census was taken. They were the parents of Nelly, born in 1854, and Elizabeth, born in 1858.
After suffering a stroke in August 1896 which paralyzed her left side, Cecilia died on Aug. 19. William outlived her by 14 years. He died suddenly on Feb. 5, 1910. The Oswego Daily Palladium eulogized him on Feb. 6: “Mr. Blackwood’s life was a long and useful one and in his death the city loses a loyal and upright citizen.”
William and Cecilia Blackwood are buried in Riverside Cemetery with Nelly and Elizabeth.