A Wayne County hamlet celebrates its link to Juneteenth
It took two and half years for news of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach enslaved people in Texas and touch off the celebration that became Juneteenth.
Now, 158 years later, residents of a tiny corner of Wayne County are recognizing the childhood home of the man who spread the word.
His name was Gordon Granger, and long before he became the major general in the United States Army who informed enslaved people that they were free, he was a boy living in a fieldstone house on what is now Main Street in Joy, a hamlet in the town of Sodus, about an hour’s drive east of Rochester.
There are no storefronts or stoplights on Main Street of Joy. On a recent day, the closest thing to a restaurant was the smell of someone smoking brisket down the road.
“I got a feeling if Gordon Granger was here right now, he’d say it hasn’t changed that much in 200-plus years because it’s still a very backwater, quiet, little hamlet,” said Bruce Farrington, a member of the Sodus Historical Society.
Farrington and another historical society member, Jim Paprocki, have worked for several years to commemorate the Granger homestead with an historical marker.
Last week, one of those familiar blue and gold plaques went up outside the house. It is to be formally unveiled Monday, on the Juneteenth holiday.
The sign reads: “Gordon Granger. Childhood home of Civil War Maj. Gen. who issued General Order No. 3 at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Later known as Juneteenth.”
Granger was born on Nov. 6, 1821, the eldest of three children. He spent his early years in the house, and his father ran a sawmill down the road.
He was 3 years old when his mother died after giving birth to his youngest sister. His father remarried and had 10 more children.
As a teenager, Granger was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in nearby Phelps. He went to common school there and in 1841 was admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he earned a reputation as a capable but blunt and gruff soldier.
By the outbreak of the Civil War, Granger was a major general in the Union Army. After the war, in June of 1865, he steamed into Galveston, Texas, to keep order after the Confederacy had fallen.
Two days after his arrival, on June 19, he stood on a balcony of a building downtown and read General Order No. 3 to the crowd assembled below.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slave are free,” he pronounced.
Jubilation followed Granger’s announcement in Galveston and moved swiftly across Texas. A year later, spontaneous celebrations erupted around the state to mark the anniversary, and Juneteenth was born.
These days, Juneteenth is celebrated nationwide with barbecues, political rallies, baseball games, religious services, and family reunions.
“It’s very ironic and fitting that the events of that day, which brought so much joy to the slaves of Texas, can trace their roots back to this Joy, New York, and Gordon Granger, who lived here,” Farrington said.
Historians figure the Granger home was little more than a single-story stone hut built into the side of a hill when Granger was a boy. But a second story was later added, and the house was occupied until fairly recently.
Lois Swales owns the house. She bought it in 1981 and lived in it for decades before relocating to Tompkins County. The house is no longer her primary residence, but she said she spends time there seasonally.
She said she appreciates the recognition for her home.
“Anything that can protect that poor house is wonderful,” she said. “If you read (Granger’s) background, he’s kind of remarkable. It was very important what he did.
“He wasn’t the most likable man in the world,” she went on, “but he was very competent and also kind of quirky, and that kind of matches Joy.”