Chapter 07 - History of Wyoming County

CHAPTER VII.

RELATIONS BETWEEN THE HOLLAND COMPANY AND THE SETTLERS - LAND OFFICE WARS.

IN their dealings with the early settlers the agents of the Holland Land Company often displayed great kindness and generosity. An instance of this was seen in a neighboring count)', where an area of a few hundred acres was covered with excellent pine timber. This land they refused, during many years, to sell. Applicants were uniformly told that it was not in market; and when the agents were informed that the settlers were stealing the timber they replied, "They ought not to do that," or "We roust see to them." One applicant, on being refused, said lo the agent, "If you won't sell me any of this land I shall be compelled to steal timber there." "I hope you will steal no more than you want," replied the agent, laughingly. It was afterwards learned that this land had been withheld from market that settlers might procure from it timber for their buildings, and the only prosecution for trespass on this land which was ever instituted was in the case of a man who attempted to cut and carry away timber for sale.

Another instance of liberality was the donation of land to religious societies. In a note in his History of the Holland Purchase, Mr. Turner says: "In the fall of 1820 Mr. Busti was visiting the land office in Batavia; the Rev. Mr. R. [Rawson, of Barre, Orleans county] 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 reverend 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 crisis was Mr. R.'s following Mr. Busti out of the land office when he was going to take 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 \s 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 it. 'Sectarians, no!' was Mr. Busti's hasty reply. 'I abhor sectarians; they ought not to have any of it; and to save contention I will give it to the first religious society in every town.' Mr. Busti hastened to his tea, and Mr. R. home (about sixteen miles distant) to start runners during the night, or the next morning, to rally the Presbyterians in the several towns in his vicinity to apply first and thereby secure the 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 know that p o double l does not spell Paul. Amidst this chaos of applications it was thought not best to be precipitant in granting those donations, the whole responsibility now resting upon 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 deeds of our land; during which time the matter was taken into consideration and systematized, so far as such an operation could be. Pains was 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 Sheldon, Wyoming county; the donors always being allowed to selact out of the unsold farming land of each town. In some towns it was all given to one society, in others to two or more societies separately, and in a few towns to four different societies of different sects - twenty-five acres to each."

Though at first the policy of the company toward the settlers was very generous and lenient, as time went on the relations between them came to be less cordial. Evidence of the disposition on the part of the company to assist the settlers in making their payments was seen in the offer to receive cattle, and in some instances grain, on their contracts. Credits of this kind appear on the old books in the office at Batavia. To those greatly in arrears the offer was made to deduct a portion of the money due in case of prompt payment. This was looked upon by those who had met their payments as a sort of premium on the slackness of their thriftless neighbors.

Another measure adopted was that of charging, at the end of ten years, where but little had been paid, "increase of purchase money," or a sum added to what was due. This addition was sometimes greater than the original purchase price. As an example of this, one man in this county in 1806 purchased 728 acres, at $2 per acre, $1,456, on which he paid $10. In 1816 he was charged "to increase," $1,648 - a total of $3,104. He was not able to pay this, and the land was sold to other parties. Another owed $615, and he was charged "to increase," $642; making $1,257, at which price the land was sold to others. This was regarded by the settlers as a charge for improvements which they had made, and it gave great umbrage.

It has been stated that the members of the Holland Land Company were compelled to make their original purchases through trustees, because of their alien disabilities. Not only were these disabilities removed by an act of the Legislature, but the company was exempted from taxation. The opinion came to prevail that this discrimination in favor of a foreign company was unjust, and that this company, which had grown rich under the protection of the State that had favored them above its own citizens, should contribute something toward the expenses of the government of that State. It was held that the Erie Canal, in the construction of which the company had not aided, had enhanced the value of their property to the amount of some millions; and that the realization of this, and the value of the securities which the company held, were involved in the stability of laws toward the support of which that company contributed nothing. With this feeling prevalent, the Legislature was asked to pass an act repealing this exemption, and such an act was passed in 1833.

Pending the passage of this act the threat was made by one who represented the interest of the company, that if it passed "it might be worse for the settlers." After the act was passed the company, through their agents, served notices on delinquents that they must either pay or "satisfactorily arrange" their indebtedness, or vacate their premises within a specified time (two months). This measure was regarded as a retaliation on the settlers, and it intensified their hostility toward the company. Articles were published in the newspapers, meetings were held, and measures for resistance were discussed. About this time the company sold their interest in portions of the purchase, and the new proprietors announced their policy to be an advance of from one to three dollars per acre on lands the articles for which had expired or should expire with arrearages due on them. The settlers deemed this advance on the prices of their lands unreasonable, and in Chautauqua county their indignation found vent on the 6th of February, 1836, in the demolition of the land office and burning of the books, records, etc., by a mob of about two hundred and fifty men.

The excitement did not terminate with the demolition of the land office at Mayville. Encouraged, probably, by the success of the raid on that office, the malcontents prepared for an assault upon the one at Batavia. Mr. Evans, who held the keys and was apprised of the meditated attack, took the precaution to send all the books and valuable papers to Rochester, beyond the reach of danger. No hostile movement having been made, for several weeks, the books and papers were brought back to Batavia about the 12th of May; however, it was reported that a large mob from the southeast part of Genesee and Erie counties was gathering, determined to march to this place, and to tear down the land office, and the jail, in which two of their friends were confined.

The land office was accordingly stored with arms and ammunition. It was occupied by fifty men when, in the morning of the 14th, the hostile party arrived, some 700 strong, more than half of whom carried firearms. They proceeded to the land office, but were afraid to attack it; and on the arrival of Sheriff Townsend with 120 men, armed with muskets, they dispersed. Their movement, however, and the prevalence of a hostile spirit represented by it, created so much alarm that the Batavia people procured cannon for their defense, and built and garrisoned two block-houses covering the land office. Apprehending another hostile visitation, they induced Governor Marcy to issue a proclamation, by which they were provided with additional artillery and ammunition.

On being informed that Captain Norris, of a military company in Bennington, had said that he with his company and gun - a brass three-pounder - were ready at a moment's notice to turn out and attack Batavia, the governor directed that Captain Norris be ordered to deliver the gun to the keeper of the arsenal at Batavia forthwith. To this order he at first demurred; but fearing the consequence of disobedience, he finally obeyed. These precautionary measures effectually extinguished all hopes on the part of the malcontents of obtaining a redress of their grievances by a resort to lawless violence, and allayed the fears of the people of Batavia.

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