Chapter 06 - History of Wyoming County



December 24th, 1792, Robert Morris deeded to Herman Leroy and John Linklaen one and a half million acres of his lands west of the east transit line.  On the 27th of the following February, he gave a deed for a million of acres to these gentleman and Gerrit Boon. July 20th, 1793, he conveyed the same three parties eight hundred thousand acres; and on the same day to Herman Leroy, William Bayard and Matthew Clarkson, three hundred thousand acres. These gentlemen purchased this vast tract as trustees for a number of rich merchants of Amsterdam, Holland, who have been commonly spoken of as the Holland Company, and the Holland Land Company; though there was no corporation with either of those titles. The immense estate acquired by them, being all of New York west of the east transit line except the Indian reservations and the State mile strip along the Niagara, constituted the Holland Purchase.

The purchasers bought through the above-named citizens of New York because they themselves, as foreigners, could not at the time legally hold real property in the State. The Legislature of 1798, however, changed this regulation, and the trustees thereupon turned over the property to the actual owners; all but three hundred thousand acres being transferred to Wilhelm Willink, Nicholas Van Staphorst, Pieter Van Kighen, Hendrick Vallenhoven, and Rutger Jan Schimmelpennick. The remainder went to Wilhelm Willink, Jan Willink, Wilhelm Willink, jr., and Jan Willink, jr. Two years after, Jan Gabriel Van Staphorst, Roelif Van Staphorst, Roelif Van Staphorst, jr., Cornelius Vallenhoven and Hendrick Seye also acquired an interest in the tract

When the Indian title to the Holland Purchase had been extinguished by Mr. Morris in 1797, measures were immediately taken for the survey of the tract, so that it might be put in market, sold and settled. Operations were directed from Philadelphia by Theophilus Cazenove, who was the first general agent of the Hollanders. He appointed Joseph Ellicott chief surveyor, and in the autumn of 1797 he and Augustus Porter, Mr. Morris's surveyor, as a step toward ascertaining the actual area of the purchase, made a tour of its lake and river front. The running of the east transit line in the next year by Mr. Ellicott, as already related, was another step in the survey of the Holland Purchase; and at the same time eleven other surveyors, each with his corps of axmen, chainmen, etc., went to work at different points running the lines of ranges, townships and reservations. "All through the purchase the deer were startled from their hiding places, and the wolves were driven growling from their lairs, by bands of men with compasses and theodolites, chains and flags; while the red occupants looked sullenly on at the rapid parceling out of their broad and fair domain." The division of the land began on the plan which had been followed in Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, namely, the laying off of six-mile strips, reaching from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario, called ranges, and numbered from east to west, and dividing them by east and west lines into regular townships, numbered from south to north. Each township was to be subdivided into sixteen mile-and-a-half squares called sections; and each of these into twelve lots threefourths of a mile by one-fourth, containing one hundred and twenty acres apiece. After twenty-four townships had been surveyed on this plan, the subdivision was judged unnecessarily minute, and was so much so as to be often ill adapted to the surface of the ground; and thereafter the mile-and-a-half squares composing a township were each divided into four three-quarter-mile squares of three hundred and sixty acres apiece, which were sold off in quantities to suit purchasers; quite commonly going off in onehundred-and-twenty-acre lots, as originally planned.

The price at first charged for the company's lands was $2.75 per acre, one-tenth to be paid down. The proprietors found it very difficult to obtain this ten per cent, advance payment. It was extremely desirable to secure settlers for the tract, for every pioneer who located made the country more attractive to those who might be contemplating a similar movement. Lands could be had very cheap in parts of the State nearer the centers of population and also in Ohio, while farms in Canada were offered by the British government at sixpence per acre. The competition among owners of large tracts was thus so strong that the proprietors of the Holland Purchase often waived all advance payment by actual settlers, and subsequently reduced the price to an average of $2 per acre. Even so their lands at first went off but slowly. The rate of sales, however, constantly increased. In 1801 there were 40; in 1802, 56; in 1803, 230; in 1804, 300; in 1805, 415; in 1806, 524; in 1807, 607; in 1808, 612; in 1809, 1,160.

No detailed account will be given here of the settlement of this part of the State. The pioneer experiences of the settlers of different towns belong to the annals of those towns; but a few remarks will give such a glimpse of the progress of settlement as may properly be taken at this point a tourist who visited western New York in 1792 gives the following:

"Many times did I break out in an enthusiastic frenzy, anticipating the probable situation of this wilderness twenty years hence. All that reason can ask may be obtained by the industrious hand; the only danger to be feared is that luxuries' will flow too cheap. After I had reached the Genesee river curiosity led me on to Niagara, ninety miles - not one house or white man the whole way. The only direction I had was an Indian path, which sometimes was doubtful. The first day I rode fifty miles through swarms of mosquitoes, gnats, etc., beyond all description. At eight o'clock in the evening I reached an Indian town called Tonnoraunto, it contains many hundreds of savages, who live in very tolerable houses, which they make of timber and cover with bark. By signs I made them understand me, and for a little money they cut me limbs and bushes sufficient to erect a booth, under which I slept very quietly on the grass. The next day I pursued my journey, nine miles of which lay through a very deep swamp. With some difficulty I got through, and about sundown arrived at the fort of Niagara."

An interesting exhibit of the state of business in western New York in 1804 is afforded in "a description of the Genesee country," by Robert Monroe. From it the following is extracted:

"Trade is yet in its infancy, and has much increased within a few years. Grain is sent in considerable quantities from Seneca lake and the Conhocton, Canisteo, Cowanesque and Tioga rivers to markets on Susquehanna river, and flour, potash and other produce to Albany; and a considerable quantity of grain has for some years past been exported by sleighs in winter to the west of Albany. Whiskey is distilled in considerable quantities, and mostly consumed in the country, and is also exported to Canada and to Susquehanna. The produce of the country is received by storekeepers in payment for goods, and, with horses and cattle, is paid for land. Several thousand bushels of grain have been purchased in the winter beginning this year, 1804, for money at Newtown [Elmira], and at the mills near Cayuga lake.  Hemp is raised on Genesee river and carried to Albany. Droves of cattle and horses are sent to different markets, and a considerable number of cattle and other provisions are used at the markets of Canadarqua [Canandaigua] and Geneva, at Niagara, and by settlers emigrating into the country. Cattle commonly sell for money at a good price, and as this country is very favorable for raising them they will probably become the principal article for market; many being of opinion that the raising of stock is more profitable as well as easier than any mode of farming. The following is a list of prices of articles and the rate of wages since January, 1801:

"Wheat, from 62 cents to $1 a bushel; corn, from 37 to 50 cents a bushel; rye, from 50 cents to 62 cents a bushel; hay, from $6 to $12 a ton; butter and cheese, from 10 to 16 cents a pound; a yoke of oxen, $50 to $80; milk cows, from $16 to $25; cattle for driving, $3 to $4 a hundred pounds; a pair of good working horses, $100 to $125; sheep, from $2 to $4; pork, fresh killed, in winter, $4 to $6 a hundred, and salted, in spring, $8 to $10; whiskey, from 50 to 75 cents a gallon; salt, $1 a bushel, weighing 56 pounds; field ashes f 4 to 9 cents a bushel; - 600 bushels may be manufactured into a ton of pot or pearl ash, which has been sold at market at $125 to $150, and some persons, by saving their ashes or by manufacturing them, have nearly cleared the cost of improving land; the wages of a laborer, $10 to $15 a month and board; a suit of clothes made at $4 to $5; a pair of shoes, $1.75 to $2.50. Store goods are sold at very moderate prices, the expense of carriage from Albany to New York being about $2 a hundred weight."

The Holland Land Company's policy in selling their lands at a high price and giving long credits has often been criticised, both in its bearing on the company's interests and those of the settlers on these lands.

It has been insisted that a lower cash price would have brought to this region a different class of settlers, having money with which to pay for their lands, and that the relations between the company and the settlers would have terminated sooner, and that the difficulties which arose between them would have been averted. It has been held that this policy caused western New York to be settled by a poorer class of emigrants, and that the development of its resources was thus many years retarded; that easy terms of payment tended to encourage laxity and indolence among the settlers, and that more active and energetic pioneers went beyond the Holland Purchase, where lands could be purchased much cheaper for ready cash or shorter credits.

To this it has been replied that though the settlers in western New York were in many cases poor young men, a larger proportion of them possessed that energy and self reliance which fitted them for successfully grappling with and surmounting the difficulties and obstacles which they encountered in the untamed wilderness where they sought to make their homes, than of those who had been reared in the midst of comforts and luxuries which they did not create, who were not inured to hardships and privations, and whose energies stern necessity had never called forth.

It has also been stated that though the company gave longer credits, thus enabling a poorer class of immigrants to procure homes and lay the foundations of future independence, it is not true that the average price at which the lands were sold was greater than that charged by the government. It is unknown to many that the price of government lands in the States west of New York was at that time $2 per acre. No one could purchase less than a quarter section (160 acres). An immediate payment of $80 was required, and an annual payment of $80 thereafter, and the land was forfeited if the whole were not paid within five years. In the depression which succeeded the war of 181 2 the lands of many settlers were forfeited, and though Congress passed acts for the relief of such, many lost their lands.

According to the books of the company the settlers were very dilatory in making their payments, and many without doubt forfeited their claims. Many others, after remaining some time on the lands which they had purchased, sold their " betterments ' and went elsewhere. The process of "natural selaction" was not in the end detrimental to the country.

It must be remembered that many of the settlers upon the Holland Land Company's land were poor young men, who, from their scanty wages, had saved a sum barely sufficient to purchase teams, defray the expenses of their journey hither, and make small payments on their purchases. They had then to encounter the stern realities of pioneer life. The heavy timber which grew on their lands was to be cut and cleared away, with little help beyond that of their brave and hopeful young wives. When their farms came to produce a small surplus beyond their domestic wants, this found no market except among new settlers.

In an address delivered by him, Hon. Augustus Frank said: "From 1810 to 1820 the population increased very rapidly, particularly after the war with Great Britain had closed. The year war was declared, 181 2, was 'a complete damper to all sales of new land,' and it was said that 'more settlers went out than came into the Genesee county.' The call for volunteers was promptly responded to in all this region of western New York. Companies Of infantry and cavalry were raised and went forward. Many took active part in the war, and the loss of life by sickness and in battle was large. In 181 2 the country about us was comparatively sparsely settled. The male inhabitants were mostly farmers, who had but a little time before ' taken ' up their lands. Few had paid for them. They had to leave their families and their farms, not only to vindicate their country's honor, but to defend their own firesides. The war was just along their own borders. It was a severe trial, but the pioneers of this region were made of stern stuff, and battled for their country as they battled but a few years previous to clear the forests, and make homes for themselves and their families. But few of the soldiers of 181 2 are left to tell us of their trials during the war of that and the succeeding years.

Even those at home, and the families of those in service, had their severe troubles. Many of you have heard of the fright at times occasioned by the rumor of the coming of the British and Indians.' After the burning of Buffalo, particularly, this whole section was terrified. Turner says: 'The citizens commenced their flight soon after the repulse of our troops at Black Rock; but few lingered until after daylight After putting in requisition all the available means of conveyance, even to the last yoke of oxen and sled, many of the women and children were under-the necessity of fleeing on foot, wading in the snow. From the start upon the frontier the first and second day, the throngs were constantly increasing by addition of families along the roads, that would hastily pile a few of their household goods upon sleighs, horse and hand sleds, and join in the flight. Entire backwoods neighborhoods were deserted, hundreds of log cabins were desolate, and the signs and sounds of life were mostly the deserted cattle and sheep, lowing and bleating, famishing for the lack of fodder there were none left to deal out to them.'

"Many of you remember hearing these incidents and some of you, perhaps, remember the facts. The war ended in 1815, and the tide of emigration again set in for the Genesee country, and from that date until 1820 the increase of population was large, coming particularly from the New England States."

On the return of peace a surplus of labor, which the current prices of produce would not remunerate, flooded the land. The heavy duties which had been imposed on imports for the support of the war had stimulated domestic manufactures. On the removal of these imports the country was flooded with foreign goods. Manufacturing industries became stagnant, the country was depleted of specie, and the currency greatly depreciated. Under such circumstances it was not wonderful that the company's clerks were not fatigued by entering credit in the books, or that the early snows of winter showed the tracks of many naked little feet.

The families of these settlers were clad in cloth which the industry of their wives produced; for the wheel and the loom constituted a part of the furniture of nearly every house, and "black salts," extracted from the ashes into which the forests were burned, were almost their only resource for money with which to pay taxes and purchase a few indispensable supplies. The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 ameliorated to some extent the condition of these settlers, but still the land debts of many weighed heavily on them.

SOURCE:  History of Wyoming County, N.Y., with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Some Pioneers and Prominent Residents; F. W. Beers & Co.; 1880