The Early History of Ontario County, New York
Kindly transcribed by Deborah Spencer
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From the History of Ontario County, NY
Published 1893 Pg 74 - 85
of the Six Nations at the Close of the Revolution--Their Treatment by
the State Government--Treaty at Fort Stanwix--Land Grants Sought to be
Secured--Operations of the New York Genesee Land Company and the Niagara
Genesee Land Company--The Long Leases--How Obtained--Controversy Between
New York and Massachusetts--Its Settlement--Annulled by the State--The
New State Project--Its Promoters--How Regarded in Ontario County.
treaty of peace between the British government and the United States no
provision whatever was made for the Indian allies of the former living
in the State of New York, but the English authorities offered them land
in Canada, which was accepted by the Mohawks alone.
the United States treated them with great moderation, and that
notwithstanding the fact that the Six Nations had violated their
pledges, and without provocation had plunged into a war against the
they were readily admitted to the benefits of peace, and were even
recognized as the owners of all the land in New York over which they had
ranged before the Revolution.
The property line previously drawn between the whites and Indians
ran along the eastern borders of Broome and Chenango counties, and
thence northwestward to a point seven miles west of Rome.
1784, a treaty was made at Fort Stanwix between three commissioners of
the United States and the sachems and chiefs of the Six Nations.
The Marquis DE LA FAYETTE was present and made a speech, though
not one of the commissioners.
It is quite certain that RED JACKET, then a noted young Seneca,
who afterward claimed to have been there, did not take any part in the
was not present, although he had been active in a council with Governor
CLINTON only a short time before.
CORNPLANTER, too, was there and spoke on behalf of the Senecas,
but SAYENQUERAGHTA, or "Old
King", was recognized as the leading Seneca
eastern boundary of the Indian lands does not seem to have been in
question at this time, but the government commissioners desired to
extinguish whatever claim the Six Nations might have to Ohio and other
western territory, and also to keep open the right of way around Niagara
Falls, which Sir William JOHNSON had obtained for the British; and it
was accordingly agreed that the western boundary of the Indian lands
should begin on Lake Ontario, four miles east of the Niagara River.
All the territory of the Six Nations west of this boundary line
was ceded to the United States, and the Indians were to be secured in
the peaceful possession of the lands they inhabited east of the same,
except six miles around Fort Oswego, which was reserved to the United
at Fort Stanwix was finally accomplished after many difficulties, and
only after several adjournments.
The British officers at Fort Niagara used every endeavor to
prevent the Senecas' from attending the council, and BRANT was also
charged with using his influence in the same direction, and it is
believed that had he been present no treaty would have been concluded.
However, the document was finally signed by CORNPLANTER
two other Seneca chiefs, and by two each of the Mohawks, Onondagas,
Oneidas and Tuscaroras, and one Cayuga.
Among the names of the witnesses were three Pennsylvania
commissioners, Missionary Samuel KIRKLAND, and
Although the attempt to procure a cession of lands by the State
of New York from the Indians was not successful at this time, in
consequence of the United States commissioners persisting in holding a
treaty at the time appointed by the State for that purpose, the
situation of affairs made it necessary that a grant should be obtained
from them as speedily as possible, and in pursuance of that fact the
next Legislature passed an act directing the governor and commissioners
of Indian affairs to obtain a cession or grant of such lands as the
Indians should be willing to dispose of on reasonable terms, on or
before the first of October, 1785.
just mentioned as having been made with the Indians at Fort Stanwix was
followed by others of like character, but that referred to above was the
first that covered any portion of the broad Genesee country, and
consequently was within the boundaries of Ontario county as originally
granting of lands by the Indians, except as they included portions of
the region of which we write, was of frequent occurrence and has no
important relation to the subject.
While the Indians had no rightful claim to any of the lands
within the State, they were nevertheless regarded as owners of the
territory west of the property line, and the State sought only to
acquire title through the recognized channels and upon the payment of
There was, however, a class of persons, land speculators, who
were recognized as corporations, or as parties, and occasionally acting
in an individual capacity, whose aim was to obtain Indian titles for the
least possible consideration, often using liquor as a dominant factor in
bringing about results and without the payment of adequate compensation
for the lands they obtained.
To put an
end to operations of this character the Legislature passed a law which
forbade the purchase of Indian lands by corporations, parties or
individuals, reserving the purchase right to the State alone or subject
to its approval.
To avoid the provisions of the law, the speculative capitalists
of the region, many of them residents of the Mohawk and Hudson River
valleys, thereafter sought to obtain at least a qualified title to the
lands by negotiating leases for long terms of years, in the hope that
after being possessed they might persuade the Legislature to confirm
them in their titles.
Such a lease was made to run for a period of 999 years, covering
a vast area of territory, being the same region that was afterward in
part erected into Ontario county.
About that time, however, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and
the State of New York, through their respective authorities, were
engaged in dispute regarding the title to the lands now of Ontario
county, and as well of the whole western portion of the State.
As a matter of fact this controversy began previous to the
Revolution, but the outbreak of the war united the otherwise opposing
elements in the defense of common interests.
After the overthrow of the British dominion in America, and after
the several colonies had taken upon themselves the character of
statehood, the discussion was renewed with much warmth and some
bitterness, and it was only after mutual concessions that an amicable
settlement of the difficulty was reached.
This is a subject, however, that has a special bearing upon the
early history of Ontario county, and therefore calls for a brief review
of the claims of the contesting States from the time of the origin of
those claims, an hundred years before.
Charles I of England granted a character for the government of
It included the territory between 40 degrees, 2 minutes and 44
degrees, 15 minutes north, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific,
making a colony 154 miles wide and 4,000 miles long.
Ontario county was included with its boundaries, as was the whole
of Western New York.
On the 12th
of March, 1664, Charles II of England conveyed by royal patent to his
brother James, Duke of York, all the country from the river St. Croix to
the Kennebec in Maine; also Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and Long
Island, together will all the land from the west side of the Connecticut
River to the east side of Delaware Bay.
The Duke sent an English squadron, under Admiral Richard NICOLLS,
to secure the gift, and on the 8th of September following Governor
STUYVESANT capitulated, being constrained to that course by the Dutch
colonists, who preferred peace with the same privileges and liberties
accorded to the English colonists, to a prolong and perhaps fruitless
ended the Dutch regime.
The English changed the name of New Amsterdam to New York.
Like the Massachusetts grant, that of the province of New York
covered a vast extent of territory, and with subsequent additions by
other charters likewise extended indefinitely westward, or from the
Atlantic to the Pacific.
the controversies arising from these conflicting or overlapping grants;
but previous to the close of the last French and English
there was still an uncertainty as to which would be the dominant power
in America, there does not appear to have been any controversy between
the colonial authorities respecting the extent of the several provinces.
We must except, however, from the last statement the case
relating to the New Hampshire grants, in which the controversy in fact
began about the year 1750.
close of the French war the governors of Massachusetts and New York
opened a discussion regarding the apparent conflict in their charters,
but at that time as settlement had not progressed on the disputed
territory, the controversy had taken no definite form.
At that time, too, the public mind was drawn in another
direction, growing out of the oppressive burdens heaped upon the
colonies by the mother country.
However, even before the outbreak of the Revolution, an agreement
was entered into between John WATTS, William SMITH, Robert R. LIVINGSTON
and William NICOLL, commissioners on the part of New York, and
BRATTLE, Joseph HAWLEY and John HANCOCK, on the part of Massachusetts,
who were to run the line and agree upon a boundary between the
respective colonies; but the Revolution soon followed and the line was
never run. It
must be stated, however, that the agreement just referred to was to
provide for the settlement of the boundary line between New York and
Massachusetts as at present located, and had no special reference to the
territory now included in Western New York.
close of the Revolution, and after the independence of the United States
had been secured, the newly created States of Massachusetts and New York
resumed a discussion of the old controversy with a view to its amicable
effect a settlement Massachusetts, by an act passed March 14, 1784,
petitioned Congress to take action in the premises, upon which the
Federal body appointed Thomas HUTCHINS, John EWING
and David RITTENHOUSE,
commissioners to determine the controversy.
However, while proceedings were pending in Congress, the
legislative bodies of the contesting States passed acts providing for
the appointment of commissioners to settle the dispute otherwise than by
the Federal Courts, and in such manner as should be deemed for the
The claims of Massachusetts to the lands of Western New York were
finally settled at Hartford, Conn., December 16, 1786, by James DUANE,
Robert R. LIVINGSTON, Robert YATES, John HARING, Melancthon SMITH, and
Egbert BENSON, on the part of New York, and John LOWELL, James SULLIVAN,
Theophilus PARSONS, and Rufus KING, on the part of Massachusetts.
By the agreement of the commissioners, Massachusetts surrendered
the sovereignty of the whole disputed territory to New York and received
in return the right of soil and pre-emptive right of Indian purchase
west of a meridian line passing through the eighty-second mile stone on
the Pennsylvania north line, except certain reservations, consisting of
230,400 acres between the Oswego and Chenango Rivers in the southern
part of the State and one mile in width along the Niagara River. We
may here state that the territory thus ceded by New York, west of the
meridian line, in fee to Massachusetts, was substantially the same
which, three years later, was erected into Ontario county.
The land, the pre-emption right to which was ceded, amounted to
about six million acres.
interpretation of this agreement was that the territory in question
should continue under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the
authorities of New York State and subject to its laws and government,
but that its ownership and fee should be vested in the State of
Massachusetts, subject only to whatever rights the Indian occupants had
at that time. This
right Massachusetts was at liberty to purchase from the natives, while
all other persons or corporations were expressly forbidden by the laws
of the State from negotiating any purchase from the Indians, whether on
the pre-emption tract or elsewhere.
proceedings of the arbitration commission were held, and its agreement
reached, as has been stated, during the year 1786, and in 1787
Massachusetts began casting about for a sale of her newly acquired
at this juncture there appeared a disturbing element which not only
threatened trouble for the Bay State's interest, but as afterward
developed, that same troublesome factor threatened to disrupt if not
entirely overthrow the very institutions of the State of New York.
The troubles and vexations of the time were caused by the
unwarranted and unlawful operations of the New York Genesee Land
Company, and its auxiliary association, the Niagara Genesee Land
Company, the latter being organized for the express purpose of carrying
out the nefarious scheme of the former.
there was organized an association of individuals who styled themselves
the "New York Genesee Land Company," prominent among whom were
John LIVINGSTON, Major Peter SCHUYLER,
Doctor Caleb BENTON, Ezekiel
GILBERT, and others of more or less note.
The object of this association was the acquirements of lands from
the Indians, not, however, by purchase, for that was forbidden by law,
but by obtaining leases of land for long periods of years, and upon the
payment of small cash considerations, and an annual rental.
The persons comprising this company were men of large means, most
of whom resided in the Hudson River region, and who became members of it
solely for purposes of speculation.
This company caused to be organized an auxiliary association,
called the "Niagara Genesee Land Company," numbering among its
members Colonel John BUTLER, Samuel STREET, John POWELL, JOHNSON and
MURPHY, subjects of Great Britain, and Benjamin
BARTON, a citizen of the
United States, all of whom were supposed to possess much influence over
the Indians and through whom the chief land-company hoped and proposed
to secure its leases.
machinations of the lessee organization there was executed by the Six
Nations a lease in which the lessee party was the New York Genesee Land
Company, the instrument bearing the date of November 30, 1787, and
running for a period of nine hundred and ninety-nine years.
The council or treaty at which this long lease was obtained was
held at Kanadesaga at the time above indicated, and purported to be an
agreement between the "chiefs or sachems of the Six Nations of
Indians, on the one part, and John LIVINGSTON, Cabel BENTON, Peter
RYCKMAN, John STEVENSON, and Ezekiel GILBERT,
for themselves and their
associates of the county of Columbia and State of New York, of the other
territory conveyed by this lease included "all that certain tract
or parcel of land commonly called and known by the name of the lands of
the Six Nations of Indians, situate, lying and being in the State of New
York, and now in the actual possession of the said chiefs or sachems of
the Six Nations."
In brief, the lands included or covered by this lease comprised
all that part of the State lying west of the "property line"
which has been described in an earlier chapter.
consideration expressed in the lease was a yearly rent or sum of 2,000
Spanish milled dollars, payable on the 4th day of July in each year.
The instrument was signed by forty Indian chiefs, principally
Senecas and Cayugas, among the signatures there being found the names of:
FARMER's BROTHER, CORNPLANTER, BIG THROAT, BIG TREE, INFANT, CHAW TOBAC,
HOT BREAD, and LITTLE BEARD.
The witnesses were M. ROSEKRANTZ, George STIMSON, Jr., Joseph
SMITH, and Colonel LEWY.
On the 8th
of January, 1788, another lease was executed between the company and
certain other Indian chiefs and sachems, by which another large tract of
land, claimed to be that of the Oneidas, passed into the constructive
possession of the lessees above named; but as the lease first mentioned
was the one included all the lands of Ontario county, no further detail
is necessary of others in this place.
consummated, the new proprietary at once set about the colonization of
their extensive territory, but no sooner had the intelligence of this
lease reached the ears of Governor CLINTON than that official at once
dispatched trustworthy agents to the land of the Senecas for the purpose
of informing the latter that they had been duped; that the lease would
be declared null and void by the State Legislature, and that they, the
Indians, should refrain from further negotiations with either of the
land companies or their agents.
that the originators of the scheme for the acquirement of Indian lands
by lease had another project in view than the mere acquisition of title.
At that time, as well as previously and afterward, there was a
controversy between the authorities of this State and those of the then
independently organized district known as the State of Vermont, over
which latter New York claimed sovereignty and jurisdiction as against
And while the situation in Vermont had no parallel in the case of
the lessee company in this State, the latter was inspired with the hope
that in acquiring a long lease-hold interest in the lands of the Six
Nations, they, too, might organize a separate and independent
was their intention, as was afterward disclosed, but the prompt and
energetic action of Governor CLINTON thwarted their schemes, annulled
their leases, and made them glad to sue for peace and compromise.
The result was that instead of possessing several million acres
of land, and forming the region into a new State, they were ultimately
content with receiving a ten mile square grant off the old military
tract in the northern part of the State, together with other concessions
and gratuities of less note from the Phelps and Gorham proprietary.
However, the consideration of the grants from the latter was the
influence of the agents of the lessees among the Indians in enabling
Phelps and Gorham to perfect their title.
events in connection with the long leases, it may be stated that in
February, 1788, LIVINGSTON and BENTON, who appear to have been the
leading spirits in the enterprise, presented to the Legislature a copy
of the leases they had obtained, and solicited the appointment of
commissioners to confer with them, the lessees, "on such terms and
considerations as may be consistent with the justice, dignity and policy
of the State, and that the Legislature would be pleased to recognize the
said leases under such restriction as to them in their wisdom shall
appear just and equitable."
the lessees had at this session one of their number in the Senate, and
three, including LIVINGSTON himself, in the Assembly, yet their petition
was summarily rejected, and the Legislature by resolution passed
February 16, 1788, declared the leases to be purchases, and empowered
the governor to use the force of the State, if necessary, to prevent
intrusion or settlement upon the lands so claimed.
movers of the lease scheme had, as has already been intimated, something
more in view than the mere possession of the lands, and it was doubtless
their design to form a new State out of the territory of Central and
Western New York, and in case of success the long leases would have been
declared titles in fee simple.
And this project was not abandoned by the surrender of the
leases, but was kept in abeyance until compensation lands were procured
for them by an act of the Legislature, and then in the autumn of the
same year a circular "signed by John LIVINGSTON and
Caleb BENTON as
officers of a convention purporting to have been held at Geneva, was
issued, urging the people to hold town meetings and sign petitions for a
new state to be set off from New York, and to embrace the territory of
the counties, as then existing, of Otsego, Tioga, Herkimer and
Ontario," then comprising the whole of Central and Western New
attempt at secession was met in a spirit of true patriotism, and at a
meeting held at "Canandaigua" immediately after the
adjournment of court on the 8th of November, 1793, "All the Judges
and Assistant Judges, and a large Majority of the Justices of the Peace,
together with all the Inhabitants, convened from different Parts of the
County on that Occasion, were present."
Hon. Timothy HOSMER, first judge of the county, was elected
chairman, and Nathaniel GORHAM, jr., clerk.
At this meeting, after a full discussion of the situation, the
inhabitants present unanimously adopted resolutions expressive of the
sentiment of the people of the county, which resolutions were as
That the inhabitants of the county of Ontario, sensible of many
advantages that they have derived from their connection with one of the
most respectable States of the Union, and desirous of the continuation
of the same advantages, highly resent the ill-timed and improper attempt
made by the characters above alluded to (referring to promoters of the
new state scheme) to disturb their peace and harmony, that they conceive
their measure as pregnant with danger, and such as, if carried into
effect, would introduce into our infant county all the complicated evils
which anarchy and confusion can create.
That this meeting highly resent the threats made use of by the said
persons, and conceive that, under the protection of the State of New
York, they have nothing to fear from any banditti they can collect for
the purpose of forcing them into measures which they heartily disapprove
That this meeting, fully impressed with the impossibility of the
proposed state's defraying expenses of the most moderate government that
can be devised, and aware of the impolicy as well as injustice of
raising by enormous taxes on uncultivated lands such a revenue, or of
devoting to those expenses property purchased under the faith of the
States of New York and Massachusetts, and of drawing into our
flourishing county people that such iniquitous measures would attract;
recommend to the persons above alluded to, to persuade some more
laudable mode of gratifying their ambition, and to desist from
proceedings altogether hostile to our interest and welfare.
Also, that it is the opinion of this meeting that the proposed
meeting at Geneva ought not to be attended, as it was called by
strangers to the county, and that we will consider as inimical to the
county such persons belonging to it, who, at said meeting, shall consent
to any of the proposals before reprobated.
That this meeting expect, after having made this public declaration
of their situation, that those entrusted with the administration of the
State, will take the most vigorous measures to suppress any of the
attempts made to destroy the peace and quiet of this county.
foregoing resolutions are not a full copy of the whole of the original,
they nevertheless substantially set forth the sentiments expressed by
the inhabitants of the county who attended the meeting.
From what is stated it will be seen that the promoters of the new
state scheme had few adherents in Ontario county.
The lessees had in contemplation the formation of a new state
previous to the erection of the county, and the annulment of their
leases, and even the relinquishment of their pretended claim to the
Phelps and Gorham tract seems not to have had the effect of changing
their original purpose.
The new state project had many followers who were residents of
the counties east of the pre-emption line, while in the region of the
extreme western part of the State there were others who likewise favored
the scheme. It
seems, too, from what is stated in the resolutions that emissaries
the lessees were going among the people of the newly created county, in
the hope of persuading them to favor the new state.
At that time Geneva was a central point of operations, perhaps
the most important location then in the whole Genesee country.
By this time, too, Canandaigua had become a village of some note,
and in both of these places the subject of the new formation was the
most important topic in the public mind.
the whole scheme proposed and contended for by the lessees proved a
As will be found more fully stated in the succeeding chapter,
Phelps and Gorham became the proprietors of a vast area of territory
west of Seneca Lake, and in perfecting their title by purchase from the
Indian owners, they were, of course, confronted with the long lease, but
by concessions made to the lessees, and by liberal inducements held out
to some of the more influential members of the two land companies, they
succeeded in winning them over, and thus without serious difficulty they
soon afterward obtained a deed from the Indians for their fee in what
has always been known as the "Phelps and Gorham Purchase."
The land purchased by Phelps and Gorham from the Indians was, of
course, a part of the territory covered by the long lease; and in their
negotiations the lessees relinquished their right to the tract, and at
the same time the Indians released the New York Genesee Land Company
from the payment of the entire sum of 2000 dollars per year, and in lieu
thereof agreed to accept the annual rental of 1000 dollars for the
balance of the land held under the long lease.
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