Dunkirk’s history begins at its harbor, as the French traveled along Lake Erie’s southern shore in 1749 and 1759 on military missions. In 1790 Joseph Ellicott, surveyor general of the US, crossed the area that is now Dunkirk. In 1798, others surveyed the harbor, but its swampy, tree-overgrown shore hampered settlement. Historian Obed Edson stated that,” The dismal woods came down to the very shore of the lake.” Yet some were drawn to its possibilities, including Zattu Cushing and Seth Cole. Cushing was a native of Plymouth, New Hampshire, and a ship builder by trade, and he passed through the area in 1799, working for some time on building the ship “Good Intent” in Presque Isle in Erie. On his way home he stopped at the village of Canadaway (now Fredonia). Liking the area, in 1804 he purchased 3 land parcels, Lot 29 at Point Gratiot and lots 28 and 33 on both sides of the Canadaway Creek near its mouth.
Seth Cole, born in 1756, was a native of Chesterfield, Massachusetts, and a Revolutionary War veteran. In 1805 Cole bought part of Cushing’s property for $3.33 an acre, and Cushing and Cole and their families set out for their land in the winter of 1805 from Paris, New York, traveling first through crude trails and roads to New Amsterdam (now Buffalo), and then over the frozen lake, a shorter and quicker route. At one point they arrived at Eighteen Mile Creek and were overtaken by a sudden storm. They made camp on the ice, but Cushing blew a cow horn at intervals until settlers on shore heard it and arrived to guide both families back to land. At dawn they realized the ice where they had camped was found to have been blown into the lake and if they had not gotten to shore the two families would have been lost. Thus their lives were saved. Three weeks after having left Paris, they arrived at Canadaway Creek, at which point Cushing pushed on to the village of Canadaway,
Cole, who had brought his wife Celia Sanford Cole and 9 children, built a pole shed for his family on the creek’s east bank, followed later by a cabin. It was there that their last child, Nancy, was born on March 11, 1805. The family farmed, growing corn that they would take by sleds over the ice to the grist mills of Presque Isle or Black Rock (Buffalo). Cole also contracted with Joseph Elliott, agent for the Holland Land Company, to cut a road from the west boundary of Pomfret Township to Silver Creek for $10 per mile (the road was part of the old Chestnut Street extension, crossed the creek over a bridge, and continued on to Rt. 5.)
Seth Cole died June 10, 1810, at the age of 54 leaving his widow Celia to raise their ten children, who ranged in age from 5 to 17. Cole is buried in the old Pomfret Town cemetery in Fredonia.