The Pioneer History of
 Orleans County, NY

Chapter IV
The Holland Purchase

Online Edition by Holice & Deb




Names of Company -- Location of Tract -- Surveys -- Ceded by Indians -- Counties in New York One Hundred Years Ago -- Genesee County -- Genesee County and Its sub-Divisions -- Joseph Ellicott and brother Benj., Surveyors -- Agent of the Company -- Land Office -- Where Located -- Practice in Locating Land -- Articles -- Clemency of the Land Company -- Deeding Lots for School Houses -- Land Given to Religious Societies -- Anecdote of Mr. Busti--Rev, Andrew Rawson -- Route to Travel to Orleans County -- Oak Orchard Creek and Johnson's Creek -- Why So Named -- Kinds of Forest Trees -- Wild animals -- Salmon and other Fish -- Rattlesnakes -- Raccoons and Hedgehogs -- Beaver Dams -- Fruits -- Effect of Clearing Land on Climate --The Tonawanda Swamp.

This tract included all the land lying in the State of New York, and west of the Transit Line, excepting the Indian Reservations, and contains about 3,600.00 acres. It was purchased of Robert Morris by an association of Hollanders, in 1792-'93. The names of the original members of this association were Wilhelm Willink, Jan Willink, Nicholas Van Stophorst, Jacob Van Stophorst, Nicholas Hubbard, Pieter Van Eeghen, Christian Van Eeghen, Isaac Ten Cate, Hendrick Vollenhoven, Christina Coster, widow, Jan Stadnetski, and Rutger Jan Schimmelpennick.

The surveys of the Holland Purchase were begun on the east, at the Transit Line, and continued west dividing the whole territory into ranges and townships; the range lines running north to south, the townships from east to west. The ranges number from the east, and the townships from the south.--

Townships are all subdivided into lots, and the town of Carlton and part of Yates, into sections and lots.--The county of Orleans contains the north parts of ranges 1, 2, 3, and 4, and the east parts of 14, 15, and 16. It is about 20 miles square, not including so much as is covered by Lake Ontario, and contains about 405 square miles.

About the year 1797, the Indians ceded most of their lands on the Holland Purchase, to the white men; reserving to themselves tracts of the best land for their occupation. Most of these reservations have been since conveyed by the Indians to white men.--No reservation was made of any land now in Orleans County

One hundred years ago, the then province of New York, contained ten counties, viz.: New York, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Ulster, Albany, Richmond, Kings, Queens, and Suffolk.

The county of Albany embraced all the territory now included in the State of new York, lying north of Ulster, and west of Hudson River. so much of said territory, as lies west of Schoharie, was taken off from Albany, and named Tryon, in the year 1772.--Tryon was changed to Montgomery , in 1784.

All of said territory lying west of "The Preemption Line," including all land sold by Massachusetts to Phelps and Gorham, in their first purchase, was taken from Montgomery in the year 1789, and named Ontario County. Ontario County, at that time, was an unbroken wilderness, only as it had been occupied by the Indians, west of Genesee River. Some settlements by white men had been made in the eastern part. It was then generally known as "the Genesee country," named from the Genesee River, the most considerable stream of water in the country.

Canandaigua was then the chief town in the county and it has ever remained the county seat of Ontario County.

From Ontario has since been formed the counties of Steuben, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Monroe, Livingston, Wayne, Yates, Genesee, Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua and Orleans. Genesee County was taken from Ontario in 1802.--the Genesee River was then its eastern boundary, and it included so much of the State of New York, as lies west of that river.

The original county of Genesee has been subdivided into Allegany, Cattaraugus Chautauqua, Livingston, Wyoming, Erie, Niagara, and Orleans, leaving a small portion around Batavia, which was the original county seat, still known as Genesee County.

Orleans county was set off from Genesee, Nov. 11, 1824. The town of Shelby was annexed to Orleans from Genesee county, April 5, 1825.

The county of Genesee included, in its original limits, all of the State of New York, which Robert Morris purchased.

The general land office of the Holland Land company was first located at Philadelphia.

Mr. Joseph Ellicott was engaged as principal surveyor for the Holland Land Company, in July, 1797. Assisted by his brother, Benjamin, and others, he commenced surveying the lands embraced in the Holland Purchase, in 1798, by running and established the Transit Line, as the eastern boundary. These surveys were continued ten or twelve years, until the whole tract was divided into townships, ranges, sections, and lots.

In 1800, Joseph Ellicott was appointed local agent of the Holland Land company, and for more than twenty years thereafter, he had almost exclusive control of all the local business of the company.

The Land Office was first established on the Purchase at Pine Grove, Clarence Hollow, in Erie county; but upon the organization of Genesee county, in 1802, the office was transferred to Batavia, where it remained until the affairs of the company were finally closed up in the year 1835.

The principal Land Office was kept at Batavia, but several other offices were established indifferent parts of the Purchase, for the convenience of parties having business with the Company.

It was usual for persons, who desired to locate on land of the Holland Land company, to select the parcel they desired to take, go to the Land Office at Batavia, and make a contract with the company's agent there, for the purchase. Very seldom indeed was payment in full made, and a deed taken, in the first place. The common practice was for the purchaser to make a small payment down, and receive from the Company a contract in writing, known as an "Article," by which the company agreed to sell the parcel of land described, the purchaser to pay the price in instalments, within from five to ten years, with interest; when he was to receive a deed. On receiving his "Article," the settler went into full possession of his land, cleared it up, and made improvement, making such payments to apply on the purchase money as he was able.

These land "Articles" were transferred by assignment, and were conveyed from land to hand, often many times before they were returned to the Company. A settler who wished to sell out his interest in land did so by assigning his "Article.' Or, if he desired to give security for a debt, or obtain a credit in his business, he would pledge his "Article.' Tradesmen and speculators of every class were accustomed to deal largely in these "Articles," and me who had means to lend, often held numbers of these contracts, transferred to them by absolute sale, or in security for some obligations, to be afterwards redeemed by the owner. The Holland land company sold their wild lands in Orleans county for from $2 to $5 per acre, according tot he quality and location of the land. In the later years of the existence of the Land company, frequently the company would give a deed to the settler, and take his bond and a mortgage on the land deeded, for the balance of "purchase money."

The Company generally dealt very leniently with its debtors, frequently renewing their "Articles" when they had run out without payments; and sometimes abating interest accrued and unpaid, or throwing off a part of the sum originally agreed to be paid, when the bargain had proved a hard one for any reason to the debtor.

Another measure of relief to the settlers, from their obligations to pay for their land, was the company agreeing to receive cattle, and apply their value on "Articles" for land, on which payment was in arrears. For some years before the Company ceased to exist, they would send ttheir agents to different points on the Purchase, to receive these cattle, and indorse their value on the "Articles" of the settlers. The cattle were driven to a distant market. Although this arrangement was beneficial to the people, it was attended with considerable loss to the Company.

It was provided in an early School Act of the State that sites for school houses should be secured to the school districts by deed in fee, or by leases from the party owning the fee of the land.

It often occurred, before the year 1828, that there was no deeded land in the district, or none where a schoolhouse was desired to be located. In such causes, the Company provided by a general order, that they would grant half an acre to such district gratis, if the Company owned the land where the schoolhouses should stand, then not under "Article," provided, if such site should fall on land held by some person under contract, the district was then required to procure a relinquishment of the right of such person in the half acre, to be indorsed on his "Article."

Another instance of the generosity of the Holland Company, as shown in the conduct of their general agents, is recorded of Mr. Busti , who for many years was their head agent, residing in Philadelphia. Mr. Tuner, in his History of the Holland Purchase, in a note says.--"In the fall of 1820, Mr. Busti was visiting the Land Office, in Batavia; the Rev. Mr. R., of the Presbyterian sect, called on Mr. Busti, and insisted on a donation of land for each society of his persuasion, then formed on the Holland Purchase. Mr. Busti treated the Rev. gentleman with due courtesy, but showed no disposition to grant his request. Mr. R., encouraged by Mr. Busti's politeness, persevered in his solicitations day after day, until Mr. Busti's patience was almost exhausted, and what finally brought that subject to a crises was Mr. R.'s following Mr. Busti out of the office, when he was going to tea at Mr. Ellicott's and making a fresh attack on him in the piazza. Mr. Busti was evidently vexed, and in reply said:--"yes, Mr. R., I will give a tract of one hundred acres to a religious society in every town on the Purchase, and this is finis."--"But," said Mr. R., "You will give it all to the Presbyterians, will you not; if you do not expressly so decide, the sectarians will be claiming it, and we shall receive very little benefit from "Sectarians, no!"--was Mr. Busti's hasty reply, "I abhor sectarian, they ought not to have any of it; and to save contention, I will give it to the first religious society in every town." On which Mr. Busti hastened to his tea, and Mr. R. to his home (about sixteen miles distant) to start runners during the night, or next morning, to rally the Presbyterians in the several towns in his vicinity to apply first, and thereby save land to themselves.

The Land Office was soon flooded with petitions for land from Societies organized according to law, and empowered to hold real estate, and those who were not; one of which was presented to Mr. Busti before he left, directed to "General Poll Busti," on which he insisted it could not be from a religious society, for all religious societies read their bibles, and now that P-O-L-L does not spell Paul. Amidst this chaos of applications, it was thought to be inadvisable to be precipitant in granting these donations, the whole responsibility now resting on Mr. Ellicott, to comply with this vague promise of Mr. Busti; therefore conveyances of the "Gospel Land," were not executed for some space of time, notwithstanding the clamor of petitioners for "deed of our land," during which time, the matter was taken into consideration and systematized, so far as such an operation could be.--Pains were taken to ascertain the merits of each application, and finally a tract, or tracts of land, not exceeding one hundred acres in all, was granted, free of expense, to one or more religious societies, regularly organized according to law, in each town on the Purchase, where the Company had land undisposed of; which embraced every town then organized on the Purchase, except Bethany, Genesee county, and Shelden, Wyoming County; the donees always being allowed to select out of the unsold farming lands in each town. In some towns, it was all given to one society; in others to two or three societies, separately; and in a few towns to four different societies, of different sects, twenty-five acres to each.

In performing this thankless duty, for the land was claimed as an absolute right by most of the applicants, the whole proceedings were so managed, under Mr. Ellicott's judicious directions, that amidst all the clamor and contention, which from its nature such proceedings must elicit, no complaint of partiality to any particular sect, not of undue weight of influence in any individual, was ever charged against the agent of the company, or his associated acting under him."

It is understood that Rev. Mr. R. referred to was Rev. Andrew Rawson, of Barre. Mr. Busti was by profession a Roman Catholic.

The county of Genesee was formed from Ontario County in 1802, and the town of Batavia was organized at the same time, and then included the entire county of Genesee. The town of Ridgeway was formed from Batavia June 8, 1812, and then embraced all the territory now included in the towns of Shelby, Ridgeway Yates, Carlton, Gaines and Barre.

Some of the first settlers of this territory north of Tonawanda Swamp came from Canada, in boats across Lake Ontario; others from New England and the east, came by boats along the south shore of the lake. Those who came in on foot, or with teams, usually crossed the Genesee River at Rochester, and then took the Ridge road west.

The Ridge in this locality had been used as a highway, ever since the county had been traversed by white men; and it was a favorite trail of the Indians. Bridges had not been made over the streams, by which it was intersected, and it was difficult crossing these with teams. Sir William Johnson, going with a large body of soldiers to Fort Niagara, went along the lake shore of soldiers to Fort Niagara, and encamping for the night on the Creek in Carlton, west of Oak orchard, he gave it the name of Johnson's Creek, which it has since retained.

The Oak Orchard Creek was so named from the beautiful oak trees, which grew along its banks, as seen by the first discoverers.

In its natural state Orleans county was thickly covered with trees. On the dry, hard land, the prevailing varieties of timber were beech, maple, white, red and black oak, white wood or tulip trees, basswood, elm, hickory and hemlock. Swamps and low wet lands were covered with black ash, tamarack, white and yellow cedar, and soft maple; large sycamore, or cotton ball trees, were common on low lands and some pine grew along the Oak orchard Creek, and in the swamps in Barre; and a few chestnut trees grew along the Ridge in Ridgeway, and in other places north of the Ridge. It has been estimated by the first settlers, that from seventy-five to one hundred cords of wood of 128 feet each, stood on each acre of land on an average over the county.

The principal wild animals found here were the bear, deer, wolf, raccoon, hedgehog, wood-chuck, skunk, fox, black, red, and stripped and flying squirrel, mink and muskrat. Bear and deer were plenty, and hunting them furnished food and sport for the pioneers. For some years the wolves were so destructive of the sheep and young cattle, it was difficult to keep them. The bears would kill the pigs, if they strayed into the woods. As the forest were cut down, and settlers came in, these large animals were hunted out, till not a bear, deer or wolf has been seen wild in Orleans county for several years.

Fish were plenty in the streams, coming up from lake Ontario in great numbers.

At the first settlement of the country, white men and Indians caught an abundance of salmon here.--these fish, in high water would run up the Oak Orchard and Johnson's Creek, and out into their tributaries, where they were often taken. Salmon were once caught in a small stream in the west part of the town of Gaines. It is related that at an early day, after a high freshet, Mr. John Hood caught a number of salmon on the bank of this stream, south of West Gaines, where a tree had overturned, leaving a hole through which the water had flowed; and where they were left when the water subsided.

A kind of sucker fish, called red sides, used to run up from the lake in plenty. They were taken in April and May, in seines, by wagon loads. The salmon disappeared years ago, and very few red sides run now.

Rattlesnakes were numerous along the banks of Oak Orchard Creek and Niagara and Genesee Rivers, when the country was new. They had several dens, to which they retired in winter, and near which they were frequently seen in spring time. Lemuel Blandon relates that in 1820, he went with a party to fish near the mouth of Oak Orchard. They intended to stay all night, and built a shelter of boughs on the lake shore, on the east side, near where the hotel now stands; and set fire to an old log that lay there. After the fire began to burn, two or three rattlesnakes came out from the log, and induced the fisherman to fix their camp in another place.

Enos Stone, an early settler in Rochester, said, "The principal colony of rattlesnakes was in the bank of the river, below the lower falls, at a place we used to call Rattlesnake Point; and there was also a large colony at Allan's Creek, near the end of the Brighton Plant Road. I think they grew blink about the time of returning to their dens, in August and September. I have killed them on their return, with films on their eyes. Their oil was held in great estimation by the early settlers. Zebulon Norton, of Norton's Mills, was a kind of backwoods doctor, and he often came to this region for the oil and the gall of rattlesnakes. The oil was used for stiff joints and bruises; and the gall for fevers, in the form of a pill made up with chalk." A rattlesnake den where they used to winter, and out of which they would crawl in early spring to sun themselves, was situated on the west bank of Oak orchard Creek, on the Shipman farm, in Carlton. No snakes have been seen there for many years.

Raccoons were plenty. Their fat was used to fry cakes, and their flesh was much esteemed for food by the inhabitants.

Hedge hogs were also common. They frequently came around the log cabins in the night in search of food. Dogs who were unacquainted with the animal sometimes charged upon him so rashly as to get their heads filled with quills, which it was very difficult to extract, on account of their barbed points.

There were no natural openings in the woods, or prairie grounds in this county, before the settlement of the country, adapted to the habits of the quail; and they were supposed to have come in with the emigrants. They soon became plenty, the large wheat fields affording them sustenance.

Quails, raccoons, and hedge hogs are nearly exterminated in Orleans County. A rattlesnake is very seldom seen.

The beavers were all destroyed by the first hunters who came here.

Those who assume to know say skunks and foxes are more numerous not than every before, which if true may be owing to the abundance of field mice which they feed on.

Before the settlement of this country, streams of waster on a an average were twice as large as they are now; and they were more durable, flowing the year round, where now they are low, or dry, a part of the year.

Large tracts of low land, now cultivated to grass and grain, originally was marsh, too wet even to grow trees; sometimes occasioned by the dams of the beaver, which by flooding the land destroyed the timber once growing there. As the beavers were hunted and destroyed, their dams were opened, or wore away, and their ponds in time have become cultivated fields. Quite a number of these beaver dams existed in Orleans County. The largest in Barre perhaps was at the head of Otter Creek, on lot 15, from which a stream flowed north, and near which some years ago, E. P. Sill had a saw mill, that did a large business. This beaver pond covered a hundred acres or more, which after the beaver were gone, but before the pond had been effectually drained, became a cranberry marsh; and old people still recollect going there to get cranberries. Near the outlet of this pond or marsh, was a favorite camping place of the Indians, who made this a kind of head-quarters in their visits here to hunt and fish. As the water subsided in these marshes, different kinds of forest trees gradually came in. another beaver dam was erected on the head waters of Sandy Creek, on the farm of William Cole. And another on the farm of Amos root, at the head of a small stream which flows into Tonawanda Swamp. Remains of beaver dams are seen in Ridgeway and other towns.

When white men began the settlement of this county, the winters were much milder than now. Old settlers tell us the ground seldom froze in the woods to hard a stake could not easily be driven into it at any time. Snow did not fall to as great a depth as is sometimes seen now. The thick tops of the tall trees broke the force of the winds, and the softening influence of the great lakes--Erie and Ontario--served to prevent the extremes of heat and cold, which have been more prevalent since the time has been cut down, and the wet lands dried up.

Soon after clearing began to be made in the forest, peach trees were planted, and grew luxuriantly, and ripened the choicest fruit, in great abundance. The peach crop was never a failure, and apricots and nectarines were grown successfully.

The cultivation of apples received early attention, and some orchards, now in full health and bearing, are almost as old as the first settlement.

In the woods, the first pioneers found occasionally a wild plum tree, bearing a tough, acrid plum, of a red and yellow color; and a small purple fox grape of no value.

For many years before and after the opening of the Erie Canal, wheat was the great object of cultivation among the farmers. The quantity of wheat raised and exported from Orleans County yearly, between 1830 and 1840, was immense. Barley did not come into cultivation till much later than wheat, and no rye was sown for many years.

It was not until after the ravages of the weevil, or wheat midge, has begun to interfere seriously with wheat growing, that the culture of beans attracted any considerable attention.


This swamp lies in the counties of Genesee and Orleans, covering part of Byron, Elba, Oakfield, and Alabama, in Genesee County; and parts of Shelby, Barre, and Clarendon, in Orleans County. Originally it contained about twenty-five thousand acres, most of which was too wet to plow, and was covered with swamp timber, or was open march, covered with flags or swamp grass. Oak Orchard Creek drains this swamp.

About 1820, the State constructed a feeder from the Tonawanda Creek in Genesee County, to convey the water of Tonawanda Creek into Oak Orchard Creek, to supply the Erie Canal with water.

The outlet for water from the swamp was through a ledge of rock, too small naturally to drain it sufficiently, and when the Tonawanda Creek was thus brought into it, the level of water in the swamp was thereby raised, and nothing was then done by the State to facilitate the discharge, thus increasing the stagnant water.

In 1828, the Holland Company sold a considerable portion of these wt lands to an association, who expended about twelve thousand dollars, in enlarging the capacity of the outlet, to drain the swamp through Oak Orchard Creek.

The Canal commissioners then appropriated the whole of the Creek for the canal, and further attempts at drainage were abandoned.

In April, 1852, an Act was passed appointing Amos Root, John Dunning, Henry Monell, and David E. E. Mix, Commissioners, to lay out and construct a highway across the Tonawanda Swamp,. On the line between ranges one and two, of the Holland Purchase. A road was made and opened to travel under this Act, at a cost of about $2,750.

As the surrounding country became settled, this swamp became an obstacle in passing through it, from the great expense required to make and maintain highways. This large tract yielded but little return to the owners, and paid but little tax to the public. No further attempts to drain were made. The association sold their lands to different individuals, and nothing was done to reclaim this tract, until April 16, 1855, an Act of the Legislature appointed Amos Root, S. M. Burroughs, Ambrose Bowen, Robert Hill, John B. King, and Henry Monell, commissioners to drain the swamp.

It was provided in this Act, that the Commissioners should assess the expenses of their work upon the owners of the lands immediately affected by the drainage, in proportion to the benefits each would be adjudged to receive; the whole amount of such assessment not to exceed $20,000.

The commissioners entered upon their work, and made an estimate and assessment of the expense.--this gave office to the parties assessed, who united almost unanimously, the next year, in a petition to the Legislature to repeal the law, and it was repealed.

In 1863, an Act was passed appropriating $16,306; to be expended in improving Oak Orchard Creek, and the Canal feeder, on condition that all persons, who claimed damages of the State on account of the making the feeder from Tonawanda Creek, to Oak Orchard, should release all such claims, before the expenditure of the money.

The Pioneer History of Orleans County, NY, By Arad Thomas


Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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