The History of New York State
Book I, Chapter I

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


The northern boundary, beginning in the middle of Lake Ontario, y the mouth of the Niagara river, extends easterly through the lake, midway between the opposite shores to its eastern extremity, thence southeasterly through the St. Lawrence River, to the forty-fifth parallel of north latitude, and thence easterly in a gradually diverging line from the parallel and terminating upon Lake Champlain, 4,200 feet north of it.

The eastern boundary extends southward through Lake Champlain to its southern extremity, thence a short distance southeast along Poultney River, to Lyons Point, at the mouth of Byram River, on Long Island Sound. From this point the line extends easterly through the sound, very near the Connecticut shore, to the eastern end of Long Island, including within the limits of the State nearly all the islands in the sound.

The southern boundary extends from the eastern extremity of Long Island along the seacoast to the southwest extremity of Staten Island, thence northwesterly to a point upon the Delaware River at latitude 41° 20' north, thence northwesterly along the Delaware River to latitude 42° north, and thence westerly along the forty-second parallel to a meridian passing through the western extremity of Lake Ontario.

The western boundary, commencing upon the forty-second parallel, extends north to the middle of Lake Erie, thence eastward to the eastern extremity of the lake, and thence northward through Niagara River and the middle of Lake Ontario.

The history of the delineation of the State boundaries is as follows:

Canada Boundary--the line of 45° north was settled as the boundary between the province of Quebec and New York by royal proclamation issued in October, 1763. This was confirmed in council on August 12, 1768. The line was surveyed by valentine and Collins in 1774. By the treaty of 1783 the forty-fifth parallel was recognized as the northern boundary of the State, from Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence River. this was confirmed by the Treaty of Ghent, provisions for a resurvey being then made. In 1818-19 the resurvey was carefully made by Van Ness and porter, United States commissioners, and John Ogilvie, British commissioner. They found that the old line coincided with the parallel only at St. Regis. From that point eastward the line diverged until at Lake Champlain it was 4,200 feet too far north. This was unfortunate for the Unites States, for the Government had already erected, or had commenced to erect, a fortress at Rouses Point, on Lake Champlain.

The fortress was, therefore, with British Territory. However, by the treaty of August 9, 1842, the Valentine-Collins line was restored, United States commissioner Albert Smith and British Commissioner J. B. B. Estcourt re-establishing the line of 1774.

Vermont Boundary--Vermont was first settled by people from Massachusetts, who built Fort Dummer, near the site of Brattleborough, in 1724. Many other settlers soon followed from Connecticut, and some of the towns were chartered by, and recognized government by, Massachusetts. But both New York and New Hampshire soon laid claim to the whole region, and neither would acknowledge the right of the other to jurisdiction. New York obtained a decision of the King in her favor in 1764, and endeavored to get the settlers to pay again for their land. The people of Vermont resisted the authority of New York. They organized militia and remained to all intents independent of both New York and New Hampshire during the remainder of the colonial period. In 1776 the Vermont settlers petitioned the continental congress, then in session at Philadelphia, to admit them into the confederacy as a separate State. New York demurred, and the petition was denied. However, on January 15, 1777, the settlers declared themselves independent, and laid claim to the territory westward to the Hudson River, north of Lansingburgh, and along the western shore of Lake Champlain. They framed a State constitution, and although congress could not recognize Vermont, because of the opposition of New York to its admittance to the confederacy, the Vermonters stalwartly resisted British influence during the Revolution. By an act of congress, passed August 20, 1781, Vermont was required to recede from its claim. The settlers nevertheless persisted, and, finally, in 1789, New York agreed to recognize the separation of Vermont. By agreement entered into between the two on October 7, 1790, New York surrendered all her claim to certain persons who had been deprived of lands granted by New York. On March 4, 1791, the State of Vermont was admitted to the Union. The boundary line between New York and Vermont was run by Robert Yates, Robert R. Livingston, John Lansing, Jr., Julian C. Verplanck Simeon DeWitt, Egbert Benson, Richard Sill and Melancthon Smith, on the part of New York, and Isaac Tichenor, Stephen R. Bradley, Nathaniel Chipman, Elijah Paine, Ira Allen, Stephen Jacob, and Israel Smith, on the part of Vermont. The final line was established on June 8, 1812.

Connecticut Boundary--In 1614 Adrian block discovered and for some distance explored the Freshwater (Connecticut) River. Later a trading post was established near the later site of Hartford. Governor Van Twiller extinguished the Indian title, in 1633, to "an extensive tract of land called the Connittelsock, lying on the west bank of the river and Sixty miles from its mouth." The Dutch clashed with the English during Van Twiller's time and later, as to jurisdiction of the territory. The Plymouth Company claimed the land, by right of grant made to them by King James of England, in 1620. The Governor of Massachusetts Bay also protested, in 1633, against the establishment of the Dutch "House of good Hope," and an English settlement was made about a mile above the trading post. The later governors of New Netherland persisted in endeavors to assert the Dutch right to the territory, but in 1850 Governor Stuyvesant entered into a provisional treaty with the Connecticut authorities where by it was agreed that the boundary line should "begin at the west side of Greenwich Bay, being about four miles from Stamford, and so run a northerly line twenty miles up into the country until it shall be notified by the two governments of the Dutch and of England, provided the said line shall not come within ten miles of the Hudson river." The home government never confirmed this treaty.

By the King Charles II charter of April 23, 1662, the territory of the colony of Connecticut was bounded "on the south by the sea," and from the Massachusetts line "to the south sea on the west part." By letter patent granted to the Duke of York and Albany on March 24, 1664, the line between the province of New York and the colony of Connecticut was recognized approximately as following the Connecticut River. After the surrender of New Netherland to the British expedition under colonel Richard Nicolls, in September, 1664, the Connecticut authorities south to negotiate the matter of boundaries. Commissioners were appointed, and they defined the boundaries on the mainland so erroneously and so palpably in Connecticut's favor that the territory left to New York on the mainland would reach no farther up the Hudson River then 50 miles on its eastern bank. The commissioners had been authorized to settle upon a line 20 miles east of the Hudson River, the line agreed upon starting at tidewater on the Mamaroneck Creek and running thence north-northwestward to the southern boundary of Massachusetts. The mouth of Mamaroneck Creek is, however, much less then twenty miles from the Hudson. The cartographic error raised a controversy which continued for more than two centuries. In 1683 other commissioners were appointed, and it was finally agreed to allow Connecticut to extend her boundaries westward along the sound, New York receiving a compensation in the north. It was agreed that the line should be run, as originally intended, 20 miles east of the Hudson River. When, however, it was discovered that such a line would deprive Connecticut of several towns which she had already established, an irregular boundary line was set in the southern end. To offset this advantage Connecticut ceded to New York an equivalent tract in the north, a tract known as "The Oblong," two miles in width and 50 in length, or 61,440 acres, extending from Ridgefield to the Massachusetts line, being given to New York. The agreement was not, however, confirmed by the two colonies.

In 1700, however, King William the Third approved and confirmed the agreement of 1683 and 1684, but this did not dispose of the matter. Other commissioners were appointed in 1718, but failed to agree. In 1719 New York proposed to run the boundary lines in accordance with the agreement and survey of 1683-84 whether Connecticut appointed commissioners or not. In October, 1723, Connecticut appointed commissioners with full powers. These, with other commissioners from New York, met at Rye in April, 1725. The survey of 1684 had begun at the mouth of the Bryam river, at a point 30 miles from New York, had followed that stream as far as the head of the tidewater, or about a mile and a half from the sound, to a certain "wading place," where the common road crossed the stream at a rock known and described as "The Great Stone at the Wading-Place." At this point the commissioners of 1725 took up their work. They surveyed along the line to the "Duke's Trees," three white oaks which had been marked in 1684, at the northwestern angle of the town of Greenwich. Here the work was suspended for lack of funds, and it was not until 1731 the survey was resumed and pursued to completion, along the line of 1684, which, from the "Great Stone at the Wading-Place," was to run "northwest till it should reach a point eight miles from the sound, thence a line running eastward parallel to the general course of the Sound, and 12 miles in length" . . . from which point another line eight miles in length was to be run in a north-northwesterly direction. From the end of that line the boundary was to extend north to the Massachusetts line with the "equivalent tract," included. The line, in 1731, was designated by monuments, and remained unquestioned as to the "Oblong" until 1855, when Connecticut questioned the line because certain markers had disappeared. Ranges of marked trees had fallen, heaps of stones had been scattered, and the uncertainty as to the line made it advisable to re-survey, inasmuch as the authority of neither State could be satisfactorily enforced along the border.

Commissioners were appointed by both States and the survey began in January, 1856, at the "wading-stone" and was carried without difficulty to the Ridgefield angle. From thence to the Massachusetts line, however, there was considerable difference between the commissioners. Connecticut commissioners wished to draw a straight line between the two points, but the representatives of New York considered that they were only authorized to ascertain the boundary "as originally defined." As the differences could not be composed, other commissioners were appointed in 1859. These met in conference at Port Chester in September, but were unable to agree. Therefore, in April, 1860, by legislative act, New York empowered its commissioners to survey and mark with suitable monuments the "line between the two States as fixed by the survey of 1731." Acting upon this authority, the New York commissioners placed monuments along the line, at intervals of one mile, from the Massachusetts lien to the mouth of the Bryam river. the work was completed in 1860.

Connecticut, however, still pursued her claim with dogged persistence. In 1878 and 1879 both States appointed commissioners to again go into the matter, and, if possible, to finally dispose of the controversy. On December 5, 1879, an agreement was made whereby the western boundary of Connecticut was fixed as the ex parte line surveyed by New York in1860, the same as that which had been settled in 1731. The agreement was ratified by both State Legislatures and confirmed by the National congress during the session of 1880-81.

Massachusetts Boundary--the charter granted to the Massachusetts Bay Colony embraced all the territory between 44° and 48° north latitude, "throughout the Maine lands from sea to sea." But the grants made under this authority conflicted with the those of New York. The resultant controversies during the colonial period reached even to violence and bloodshed. However, on May 18, 1773, agreement was entered into between john Watts, William smith, Robert R. Livingston and William Nicolls, commissioners on the part of New York, and William Brattle, Joseph Hawley and John Hancock, commissioners on that of Massachusetts; but the Revolution came before the line could be surveyed and the boundary determined. Soon after the conclusion of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States other commissioners were appointed by Massachusetts and New York. Conferences were held in 1783, but differences arose. Two years later, in December, 1785, the Continental Congress, with the consent of both States, appointed Thomas Hutchins, John Ewing, and David Rittenhouse as commissioners, empowered to run the line and end the controversy. Commissioners of New York and Massachusetts met at Hartford, Connecticut, on December 16, 1786, to consider the claims of Massachusetts to the western territory. Representing New York State was James Duane, Robert R. Livingston, Robert Yates, John Haring, Melancthon Smith and Egbert Benson. Those who represented Massachusetts were John Lowell, James Sullivan, Theophilus Parsons and Rufus King. It was finally agreed that Massachusetts should relinquish to New York their sovereignty of the whole of the disputed territory, but in return should received the right of soil and preemptive right of Indian purchase west of a meridian passing through the eighty-second milestone of the Pennsylvania line, excepting certain reservations upon the Niagara River. The title to the tract known as the "Boston Ten towns," lying eastward of this meridian, previously granted to Massachusetts, was also confirmed. Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and the adjacent islands were purchased from the Earl of Sterling by the Duke of York, and civil jurisdiction was exercised over them, under the name of Duke's county, by the governors of New York until the county was annexed to Massachusetts by the provincial charter of 1692. "Pemaquid and its dependencies," comprising a considerable part of the coast of Maine, was also bought from the Earl of Sterling and governed by New York, as Cornwall County, a small arable tract in the town of Mount Washington, was separated by a rugged mountain from the convenient jurisdiction of Massachusetts. It was therefore surrendered by that State and accepted by New York in 1853, the transfer being confirmed by Congress in 1855. Russell Dorr was appointed on the part of New York, and John Z. Goodrich by Massachusetts, to establish the boundary.

New Jersey Boundary--the original patent of New Jersey was bounded on the north by a line running directly from a point on the Delaware river, latitude 41° 40', to a point on the Hudson River, latitude 41°, and on the east by the Hudson River. the northern line was run and marked on the east by 1774, and the eastern line was claimed by New York as extending only to low-water mark on the adjacent waters. New Jersey claimed "full right and lawful authority to exercise jurisdiction in and over the said Hudson River and the said main sea," including Staten island, and, by the act of November 2, 1806, appointed Aaron Ogden, William S. Pennington, James Parker, Lewis Condict, and Alexander C. McWhorter as commissioners to settle the claims. On April 3, 1806, New York appointed Ezra L'Hommedieu, Samuel Jones, Egbert Benson, Simeon deWitt, and Joseph C. Yates as commissioners to confer with the representative of New Jersey. Their conferences were futile, however.

The controversy was not settled until 833, in which year an agreement was made between Benjamin F. Butler, Peter A Gay and Henry Seymour, commissioners for New York, and Theodore Freylinghausen, James Parker, and Lucius Q. C. Elmer, acting for New Jersey. The settlement was accepted in February, 1834, by the Legislatures of New York and New jersey, and was confirmed by congress in the following June. By the agreement the right of each state to the land under the water and to fisheries extends to the centre of the channel. The State of New York was given sole jurisdiction over all the waters of the bay and river west of New York City to low-water mark on the New Jersey side, except where wharves ands vessels were attached thereto. The jurisdiction was to cover the waters of Kill van Kull and of Staten island sound to Woodbridge Creek as for quarantine purposes. South of this New Jersey was to have exclusive jurisdiction over the waters of the Sound and Raritan Bay, westward of a line from Princes Bay Light and Manhattan Creek, subject to right of property in lands under water, of wharves, docks, and vessels aground or fastened to any wharf or dock, and the right of fishing in the centre of the channel. Civil process in each State could be executed upon the waters of the river and bay, except on board of vessels aground or attached to wharves in the other State, or unless the person or property be under arrest or seizure by virtue of authority of the other State. By a later survey, the point of departure of the boundary from the Delaware was set at 41° 20', instead of 41° 40'

Pennsylvania Boundary--the original boundary line between New York and Pennsylvania extended from the northwest corner of New Jersey along the centre of the Delaware river to 42° north latitude, and thence due west to Lake Erie. Samuel Holland, on the part of New York, and David Rittenhouse, on the part of Pennsylvania were appointed commissioners on November 8, 1774, to run the line; but, as happened in the cases of other boundary commissioners, the impending Revolution prevented the work from being pursued to completion. The boundary line was not delineated until 1785-86, the line was then being run westward to the nineteenth milestone. This survey was certified on October 12, 1786, by James Clinton and Simeon deWitt, of New York, and Andrew Ellicott of Pennsylvania. By authority of the State legislature, the New York delegates in Continental congress on March 1, 1786, released to the general government all the lands to which they had claim west of a meridian extending through the western extremity of Lake Ontario. The triangular tract so surrendered was sold to Pennsylvania for $151,640 and secured to that State 30 miles of water frontage on Lake Erie, and an excellent harbor. The line was surveyed by the United States surveyor-general in 1786-89.

An extensive review of boundary disputes in which New York has been concerned is contained in a report of the regents of the University of the State of New York, prepared by Daniel J. Pratt, after completion of the re-surveying of the New Jersey-New York and Pennsylvania-New York lines in 1885. By a resolution of the Senate, passed on April 19, 1867, the regent of the university were directed "to examine and ascertain the true location of the boundaries of the State An act was passed by the Legislature May 26, 1875, (ch. 424), directing them to resume the work of examination of the true location of the monuments which mark the several boundaries of the State, as authorized by the Senate resolution of 1867, and in connection with the authorities of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, respectively, to replace any monuments which may have become dilapidated or been removed, on the boundary lines of those States. A committee was appointed for this purpose June 1, 1875," states the New York "Civil List." "In 1880 the regents were authorized by chapter 340 of the laws of that year, to designate three of their number as commissioners, to meet with commissioners appointed by and empowered to act for the States of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for the purpose of ascertaining the boundary lines as originally established and marked with monuments. The commissioners were authorized to renew any dilapidated or lost monuments, and to erect additional ones if deemed necessary. The regents were required to report the action of the commissioners to the legislature for its consideration and ratification. Under the provisions of this law the New Jersey boundary line was completed in 1882, and the Pennsylvania line in 1885."

Along the New York-Pennsylvania boundary surveyed in 1786-89 were set 586 monuments; but the ravages of time have obliterated some of these markers. The authorities are not even confident that all remaining markers are accurately placed. Still, the difficulties that arise in the surveying of rough, uneven counrty are so many that, even with the much superior instruments of the present, it is doubtful whether an absolutely accurate line could be run for hundred of miles over uneven surface. The surveyors of provincial days had no other instruments than the magnetic compass. Later, with better instruments and resort to astronomy and higher mathematics, the errors were greatly reduced, but even the so-called "triangulation" system, now used by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, is not absolutely accurate. During the present year (1925), Pennsylvania engineers have been at work along the northern boundary of Pennsylvania. They surveyed 2343 miles of the boundary on the forty-second parallel and north to Lake Erie. Their survey proved that the line was fairly straight as a whole, although in some spots, where surveying was difficult with crude instruments, the line seemed to vary as much as 100 feet from the straight. In one place, near Sayre, the divergence was reported to be 950 feet.

Authorities--"Geology of New York" (1842-43), by Vanuxem, Hall, Emmons; "Paleontology of New York" by (1852) by James Hall; "Natural History of New York" (Appleton, 1894); French's "Gazetteer History of New York State"; "Mineralogy of New York (1842), by Lewis C. Beck; "Geological History of New York," by John M. Clarke; Reports of the Fourteenth Census of the United States; "the Submarine Channel of the Hudson," by Myron L. Fuller, United States Geological Survey, a chapter of "History of Brooklyn and Queens" (Long Island), by Hazelton (1925); "Syracuse and Its Environs: A History," by Franklin H. Chase (1924); Report of Marine Commerce of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin; "Waterways and Canal Construction, 1700-1825," and "History of Canals, 1825-1921." In "Municipality of Buffalo, New York: a History," 1720-1921 (Henry W. Hill, editor); History of Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota," by E. Melvin Williams, (1920); Civil List, State of New York, (1888 edition); Legislature Manual of the State of New York (1924 edition)' "Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, from 1604-1616, as Narrated by Himself"; and other sources.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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