Sam Patch, Rochester’s Famous Daredevil, Made Headlines Many Years Ago

Early Rochester was not without its daredevil. A twenty-nine year old New Englander born in Pawtucket , Rhode Island named Sam Patch came to Rochester hoping to make some money entertaining the locals by doing what he did best. That was to jump from high heights into a body of water. He had a track record as a professional high diver with a sharp entertaining wit, having previously jumped on two occasions from Goat Island near Niagara Falls . Rochester ’s High Falls he thought presented a great location for his next exhibition with a drop of 96 feet and the opportunity to attract a sizeable crowd and make some money.  

Sam made a test jump and a second jump on November 8, 1829 seen by a few spectators. The main public spectacle however was to have an extra measure of excitement by tempting fate and taking place few days later on Friday the 13th . A 25 foot platform was erected on Brown’s Island , located near today’s High Falls Festival stage by the Gorsline Building . As word of this daredevil spread, a handbill was widely circulated in the surrounding towns and villages and newspapers announced the event. Above is a copy of the actual handbill which attracted a crowd estimated at over eight thousand that lined both the east and west banks of High Falls . The crowd, which greatly exceeded Sam’s expectations, consisted of people from all walks of life - the wealthy elite to the common farmer. They arrived in droves, by horseback, wagon, and packet boat, with lake schooners running special excursions as far away as Canada to witness this historic event.

Sam had coined a slogan, “Some things can be done as well as others,” which many have pondered over the years as to its meaning. Sam usually jumped with his pet bear but on that day, a cold, rainy and unlucky November day, the bear did not want to jump. Some say that day the bear was smarter than Sam. At the appointed time Sam, somewhat inebriated by all accounts, made the following statement to the crowd. “Napoleon was a great man and a great general. He conquered armies and he conquered nations. Wellington was a great man and a great soldier. He conquered armies and he conquered Napoleon. But he could not jump the Genesee Falls . That was left for me to do. I can do it and I will.” He then leaped into the Genesee , appearing to many that he lost his balance. Arms flailing, he hit the water at an odd angle. After a few moments the crowd roared in horror as his body never surfaced.

A search was conducted for a few days but his body was not found until the following spring on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1830 . A farmer, Silas Hudson, found Sam’s body frozen in a block of ice by the mouth of the river in Charlotte while watering his horse. Sam was interred in the Charlotte Cemetery in an grave with a wooden marker which eventually deteriorated. His grave was unmarked for many years until November 12, 1948 when a headstone and plaque, thanks to public donations, finally marked his grave. Rochester is forever linked to the daredevil falls jumper who made international newspaper headlines many years ago.