The Early History of Ontario County, New York
Kindly transcribed by Deborah Spencer
Welcome to Ontario County, NY, History and Genealogy. This is is a central point of entry to independent not-for-profit web sites with historical or genealogical content. Although independent, it is affiliated with The American History and Genealogy Project. To learn more about this group, click the link above.
From the History of Ontario County, NY
Published 1893 Pg 85 - 102
Phelps and Gorham Purchase--Rev. Samuel Kirkland Superintends the
Purchase of the Indian Titles--Treaty at Buffalo Creek--Mr. Phelps
Secures the Influence of Certain Lessees--The Purchase and its
Approval--The Proprietors Fail in their Payments--Sale to Robert
Morris--The London Associates--The Pre-emption Line--Error and Fraud
Charged--The Re-survey--Charles Williamson.
Massachusetts became possessed of the pre-emption right from the State
of New York, Oliver PHELPS with a company of associates resolved to
purchase a large tract of land, but before his plans were matured
Nathaniel GORHAM had made a proposition to the Legislature at the
session in 1787, but the matter failed.
Soon after this a consolidation of speculative interests was
effected by parties who desired to become interested in the venture, and
an association was formed of which PHELPS and GORHAM were constituted
agents and representatives.
They made a proposition to Massachusetts "to purchase for
the consideration of 300,000 pounds in consolidated securities of this
Commonwealth, or 3,000 pounds specie together with 290,000 pounds in
like securities, the right of pre-emption which this Commonwealth has in
and to the western territory, so called, lately ceded by the State of
New York to this Commonwealth."
On the 1st
of April, 1788, Massachusetts agreed to sell the lands to the Phelps and
Gorham association for the sum of 300,000 pounds as above, to be paid in
three annual installments, and authorized the proprietary to extinguish
the claims of the Indians by purchase.
At the same time the Legislature appointed Rev. Samuel KIRKLAND
to superintend the negotiations with the Indians, and approve or
disapprove of whatever should be done.
passage of this act the shareholders in the association held a meeting
and appointed Gen. Israel CHAPIN to go out and explore the country;
Oliver PHELPS to be general agent, and whose first duty should be to
hold a treaty with the Indians and purchase the fee of the soil;
Nathaniel GORHAM to be an agent to confer with the authorities of New
York in reference to running the east boundary or pre-emption line; and
William WALKER as the local agent of surveys and sales.
soon made preparations for a treaty with the Indians at Kanadesaga, and
in order to facilitate operations, secured the influence of John
LIVINGSTON, one of the most prominent members of the New York Genesee
Land Company. On
arriving at Kanadesaga Mr. PHELPS soon found that the Niagara Genesee
Company was in conflict with Mr. LIVINGSTON's company, and was holding
and controlling the Indians at Buffalo Creek.
He at once proceeded to the latter place, and succeeded in
securing the favor of John BUTLER, Samuel STREET and others of the
Niagara Company, and LIVINGSTON, Caleb BENTON and Ezekiel GILBERT of the
principal company (who claimed ownership under the long lease), by
promising them a number of townships of land.
Thus Mr. PHELPS was at once enabled to hold a council with the
Indians, and on the 8th of July following he concluded a treaty with
them, securing all the lands the Indians would then sell, estimated to
contain 2,600,000 acres, and agreeing to pay therefore the sum of $5,000
and an annuity of $500 forever.
the lands included in this sale embraced all that is now Ontario county,
and as this purchase had a direct relation to the county's early
history, it may be of interest to the reader to note the boundary line
of this immense Phelps and Gorham purchase, as it has always been
called; which boundaries were as follows: "Beginning on the north
boundary line of Pennsylvania, at the eighty-second milestone, and from
said point or place of beginning running west upon the said line to a
meridian which will pass through that corner or point of land made by
the confluence of Kanahasgwaicon (Canaseraga) Creek with the waters of
the Genesee River; thence north along the said meridian to the corner or
point last mentioned; thence northerly along the waters of the said
Genesee River to a point two miles north of Kanawageras (Canawagus)
village so called; thence running due west twelve miles; thence running
in a direction northward so as to be twelve miles distant from the most
westward bounds of the said Genesee River, to the shore of Ontario lake;
thence eastwardly along the shore of the said lake to a meridian which
will pass through the first point or place of beginning before
mentioned; thence south along the said meridian to the point or place of
beginning aforesaid, being such part of the whole tract purchased by the
grantees aforesaid, as they have obtained a release of from the
The deed of
land thus procured from the Seneca Indians, was witnessed by Rev. Samuel
KIRKLAND and many others, and approved by him as superintendent in the
manner following: "Pursuant to a resolution of the Legislature of
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, passed March 30, 1788, I have
attended a full and general treaty of the Five Nations of Indians, at
the chief village in their territory, on the Buffalo Creek, alias
TEYOHEGHSCOLEA, when the foregoing instrument or deed of conveyance,
made to the Hon. Nathaniel GORHAM and Oliver PHELPS, esquires, of a
certain part of lands belonging to the said Five Nations, the
description and boundaries thereof being particularly specified in the
same, was duly executed, signed, sealed and delivered in my presence, by
the sachems, chiefs and warriors of the above mentioned Five Nations,
being fairly and properly understood and transacted by all the parties
of Indians concerned, and declared to be done to their universal
satisfaction and content; and I do therefore certify and approve of the
of land above described was all in this State that Phelps and Gorham
At the time they made the purchase Massachusetts currency was
worth only about twenty cents on the dollar, but when the first payment
fell due it had appreciated and was nearly at par.
In consequence of this, and from other causes, they were
unable to make the payments according to the terms of their contract,
and were finally obliged to compromise with Massachusetts, and surrender
to the State the portion of the territory not purchased by them from the
of the Phelps and Gorham purchase was begun in the late summer or early
fall of 1788, under the direction of Col. Hugh MAXWELL, and with the
assistance of Augustus PORTER and other surveyors, was finished in 1789,
the whole territory being divided into "divers tracts or townships,
and as nearly in regular ranges as the sides contained within oblique or
irregular lines would admit;" there being seven long ranges, each
six miles in width, and in length extending from Pennsylvania to Lake
were also two of three short ranges at the northwest corner of the
ranges were numbered from one upward, beginning with number one on the
eastern side, the eastern boundary being the old pre-emption line, and
each range was divided into townships or tracts of six miles square,
numbered in each range from one at the Pennsylvania line to fourteen at
adopted by the proprietory for dividing their territory into ranges and
townships, preparatory to sub-divisions for sale, was substantially the
same as the land surveys in new territories of the United States, which
are uniform and done under what is known as the "rectangular
system," which was adopted by a resolution of Congress, passed May
throughout the field notes of the surveys on the Phelps and Gorham tract
are notations of Indian paths which were crossed by the surveyors; none,
however, were mentioned except those of prominence and of common use.
The traverse of "Candaughque" Lake was begun June 1,
and on finishing the work is the following entry: "The whole of the
traverse of Canadaque lake with that of the main inlet is thirty-eight
four, five and six are noted as being five and one-half miles in width
from east to west, while range seven was to be six miles.
There is also the traverse of "Hayanaya" (Hemlock) and
difference between the townships as surveyed by Colonel MAXWELL and his
assistants, and the towns as they at present exist, must be explained, or
confusion will follow relating to different localities.
The size of the original townships was necessarily somewhat
arbitrarily fixed and made as uniform as possible, that they might more
readily be resurveyed into allotments and to facilitate sales of the
early settlements of course were made according to inclination and
interest, and when the territory became populous enough it was necessary
to have the security of the law extended over the settlement, and hence
under legislative enactments the territory was organized into towns,
making such apportionments of the territory as the then existing wants
of its inhabitants seemed to require.
territory of present Ontario county became apportioned substantially as
follows: (This is not absolutely correct as the lines of some of the
towns for various reasons were not literally on the township lines, but
such difference can generally be seen by a glance at the map).
The town of Seneca, including the present town of Geneva,
comprised the whole of township No. 9 and the south half of No. 10 in
the first range, and that part of the gore lying east of the same.
The town of Phelps comprised the north part of township 10 and
south half No. 11 in the first range and that part of the gore east of
the same. In
the second range the towns of Gorham, Hopewell and Manchester comprised,
respectively, townships 9, 10 and 11.
Canandaigua is from 9 to 10 and Farrington from No. 11 in the
third range. In
the fourth range townships 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 were formed into Naples,
South Bristol, Bristol, East Bloomfield and Victor.
In the fifth range, Canadice, Richmond and West Bloomfield
comprise townships 8, 9 and 10.
into townships of the Phelps and Gorham purchase were made from the
eastern pre-emption line, as run in 1788.
The work itself was done under the direction of Col. Hugh
MAXWELL, but it must not be understood that he, having charge of the
entire work, could give his personal attention to every detail of the
survey of this immense tract of land.
The survey and location of the eastern boundary line of the
purchase was of the utmost importance, and while waiting for the result
of the negotiations, Colonel MAXWELL made a preliminary survey of the
southern part of the east line of cession, running a trial line from
Pennsylvania to a point opposite Seneca lake.
In his book of field notes we learn that on the 10th of June he
set out with Captain ALEN and three
assistants and rowed up the lake from Kanadesaga to about three miles
above the great point.
On the 11th they continued southward, "found a large sunken
Marsh at the south end of the lake" and "landed up the creek
at Kathreen's Town."
The next day they arrived at Newtown, five miles below present
Elmira, and on the 13th began a survey from the eighty-second mile stone
on the Pennsylvania line.
After running the trial line for about twenty-three miles, on the
11th they turned the course to the east and in a little less than four
miles the party came to Seneca Lake.
They then returned to Kanadesaga.
As Mr. PHELPS did not leave Kanadesaga until July to attend the
Indian treaty, he was aware that from this trial, when the line would be
actually run, it would pass to the west of Kanadesaga, and his company
would not own the place where he had intended to build a city.
work of running the pre-emption line was begun by Colonel MAXWELL with
the assistance of Mr. JENKINS and others at the eighty-second mile stone
on the 25th of July, 1788, and as the work progressed the end of every
sixth mile was marked as the corners of townships, each mile of every
township also noted as to the kind of timber, quality of land, whether
level or hilly, and the points where brooks, creeks and streams were
crossed and whether they were large enough for millseats.
Colonel MAXWELL left the line on the 7th of August for Geneva,
probably to obtain supplies, and was detained there against his will
until the 11th, when, as he wrote his wife, he was not to return until
he had run the line quite through to Lake Ontario, and perhaps run
around a number of towns there, which might take him perhaps three weeks
in the bush. It
was while Col. MAXWELL was at Geneva that it is said a fraud was
committed in running the line whereby Mr. PHELPS was deprived of the
locality of Geneva, but it must be remembered that the trial line gave
evidence that such would be the case, and there is no positive evidence
as to whether any or what surveys were made during Colonel MAXWELL's
absence, the field notes of the whole line being in his hand-writing.
The error in the line was soon suspected by Mr. PHELPS, and in
1789 he wrote to Col. William WALKER, the local agent for survey and
sales, to that effect, and advising him to have the work performed over,
but circumstances prevented it being done at that time, and afterwards
when the new pre-emption line was established many complications
followed with all the unfortunate consequences ever attendant upon
every person who has written upon the subject of the survey of the
pre-emption line has stated that a fraud was actually committed, or that
there were strong grounds for suspicion of fraud in the performance of
the work; and it has been freely intimated that Mr. JENKINS, who appears
to have been prominent in the surveying party, was either in the employ
of the lessees or of REED and RYCKMAN, and that he took advantage either
of the temporary sickness or the absence of Colonel MAXWELL to commit a
fraud which he was charged with having been employed to do.
present connection it is well enough to state that at the time mentioned
Kanadesaga, or Geneva, was a village of much importance, and the chief
seat of operations in the whole Genesee country, and with all a very
This point the ruling sprits of the lessee company desired to
retain and control, but could not do so with the correct running of the
line as described in the pre-emption compact.
The absence of Colonel MAXWELL opened a possible opportunity to
the surveyors to deviate from the meridian line and establish a boundary
to the westward of Kanadesaga, thus throwing the coveted village without
the Massachusetts tract and bringing it within the territory claimed by
the lessees under their lease with the Six Nations.
It was charged that this was done, and that the engineers made a
deflection to the westward and so established the first pre-emption
line, as to defraud PHELPS and GORHAM of many thousand acres of land.
to the intimation of fraud it must be said that no imputation was ever
made against Hugh MAXWELL.
That competent authority, Judge PORTER, fully exonerated him, and
in common with all who knew Colonel MAXWELL, entertained for him the
highest respect, and not a shadow of suspicion was ever cast upon his
honor or integrity.
The first 45 miles of the old line was run under the direction of
Colonel MAXWELL, and it is a well known fact that at that point it was
nearly two miles west of the true meridian, and the deviation must be
laid to the imperfect instruments in use at that time, and to the
fickleness and uncertainty of the compass.
If the line had continued to be run in the same direction, it
would have passed fully as far west of Geneva as the line that was
There is no
doubt that at that time there was some feeling between the lessees and
the PHELPS and GORHAM proprietary, both of whom considered Geneva a very
desirable acquisition, and as it was known that the line must pass near
this place, some anxiety was felt as to which party it might belong.
Judge PORTER, referring to this subject, said: "Colonel
MAXWELL, on the part of PHELPS and GORHAM, and Mr. JENKINS on the part
of the lessees, began on the Pennsylvania line and ran through to Lake
Ontario the pre-emption line, which was the basis of the surveys
The line afterward proved to have been incorrectly run, the fact
being charged as a fraud on the part of JENKINS, whose object was to
secure to his employers, the lessee company, the location of Geneva.
The suspicion of fraud led to the re-survey of the line under the
direction of Robert MORRIS."
time the lessees claimed all the land east of the pre-emption line, and
although the State had repudiated their lease, they still hoped in some
manner to retain the land, and still continued their headquarters at
Kanadesaga, holding that as a central point for all their operations
with the Indians and others, and keeping there their depot of supplies.
released their claims to the Seneca's country west of the pre-emption
line, they had embraced the opportunity offered at the close of Mr.
PHELPS's treaty, to have a new lease executed by the Indians, confirming
their long lease of all the territory east of that line, and there was
no other locality for them to retain a foothold where they could so
easily operate with the Indians.
However, it was not until the following February that the lessees
delivered up their lease to the State, and as they were the only persons
that could be benefited, if a fraud was actually committed or attempted,
it must have been in their interest that they might retain control of a
location at Geneva.
When they saw that the Indians were under the influence of REED
and RYCKMAN, and that a treaty with the State could not be prevented,
then, with a show of magnanimity, they surrendered their long leases,
hoping finally to be remembered with compensation lands, which they
Seth REED and Peter RYCKMAN had for some time been residents at
does not appear that Colonel REED had any positive connection with the
lessees, but RYCKMAN was a shareholder in the company, being made such
to secure his influence with the Indians.
However, his connection with the company was not of long
he was soon found in the employ of the State negotiating with the
in the early part of 1788 he was in league with the lessees, but by the
1st of September he had broken with them and, with Colonel REED, was
bitterly opposed to the company.
In February, 1789, REED and RYCKMAN had obtained a cession of
land lying between the pre-emption line and Seneca Lake, while the
former had also secured another tract lying north of the joint cession.
Their grants were not obtained until some time after the old
pre-emption line had been established, and it is, therefore, difficult
to see what interest either of them could have had in participating in a
fraud, as charged against them.
As has been
stated in the present chapter, the enterprising land operators, PHELPS
and GORHAM, in 1789, found themselves to be in an embarrassed financial
be sure they were the possessors of upwards of 2,000,000 acres of the
best land in the State of New York, and to a fair proportion of that
vast area they had succeeded in extinguishing the Indian claim of title.
However, the expenses incurred in doing what had been done up to
this time had been enormous.
The surveyors charges had been large, while the payment to the
Indians and the distribution of influencing presents among them amounted
to a large sum.
Then, too, was the ever present contingent of hangers on, persons
who had helped or claimed to have assisted in bringing about a
settlement of difficulties, and who were persistent in their demands for
money and lands.
Added to these expenses was the compensation and gratuities paid
the members of the lessee companies for their services and influence.
period of their ownership the proprietors had succeeded in disposing of
about fifty townships, but the purchasers were in the main persons who
held shares or stock in the association, and who had accepted town
grants in exchange for their interest in the company.
Therefore the year 1789 found the proprietary with a large amount
of land, but with very little cash, and the payment of $100,000 to be
made to Massachusetts was now due, an obligation they could not meet.
In this emergency PHELPS and GORHAM petitioned the Massachusetts
Legislature, offering to surrender that portion of their purchase from
which the Indian title had not been extinguished, and asking that they
be released leased
from the payment of a large part of the principal sum, expressing a
willingness to pay for a portion of the land.
This proposition was agreeable to the State, the more so,
perhaps, from the knowledge they had that the remaining territory could
be readily sold to Robert MORRIS, of Philadelphia, the financier of the
Revolution, and a man of large means and influence.
1789 PHELPS and GORHAM opened a land office at Canandaigua and the lands
of their purchase, known as the Genesee Tract, were put upon the market.
The sales, however, did not come up to expectation, for although
several townships and parts of townships were sold, they were mainly
taken by those who had an interest as shareholders and at cost price.
PHELPS and GORHAM soon finding themselves in further financial
difficulties, applied to Robert MORRIS, and on the 10th of August, 1790,
he became the purchaser of all the unsold lands in the Genesee Tract,
except Township No. 10 of the 3d range, and No. 9 of the 7th range, the
two towns comprising about 47,000 acres, which PHELPS and GORHAM
retained for their own use.
This purchase was consummated by deed from PHELPS and GORHAM and
their wives to Robert MORRIS, dated November 18, 1790, and by articles
of agreement at that time it was stipulated that the tract should
contain one million acres of land, payment for which was then made, and
for any surplus over said amount further payment was to be made after
the contents of the tract should be accurately ascertained.
Mr. MORRIS soon employed Major Adam HOOPS to cause a resurvey of
the tract to be made.
This work was performed during the years 1791-2, Frederick
SAXTON, John ADLUM, Augustus PORTER, Thomas DAVIS, Robert JAMES, and
Morgan JONES being the surveyors who assisted Major HOOPS in the work,
the calculations being made by Major HOOPS and Mr. SAXTON.
pre-emption line was run by Col. Hugh MAXWELL in 1788, having been
surveyed with very primitive instruments, was known to be erroneous, and
a new line was run in November and December, 1792, by Benjamin ELLICOTT,
assisted by James ARMSTRONG, Frederick SAXTON and Augustus PORTER, and
which was surveyed with such accuracy that its correctness has never
Under an act of the Legislature, passed March 24, 1795, a
description and map of the pre-emption line was procured by Simeon DE
WITT, the surveyor-general of the State,
from Benjamin ELLICOTT, with his oath attached, certifying that it was
an "accurate representation of the eastern boundary of
Massachusetts as run by himself and others;" that the line run was
in accordance with the act of cession, and that "the said
pre-emption line was truly performed."
Under an act of April 6, 1796, the description and map were duly
attested by the surveyor-general and deposited in the office of the
secretary of state and the line formally adopted.
The map contains not only the new line, which is divided into
miles, but also the old line with all the points of deviation from the
true course, with the distances at the different points between the two
lines begin at the 82nd mile stone on the north bounds of Pennsylvania
and at a distance of about 45 and one-half miles, just after crossing
the outlet of Crooked or Keuka Lake it was found that the old line was
distant one mile and 78 chains and 25 links, having gradually diverged
to that distance from the starting point.
Some two or three miles north of Dresden, and nearly 49 miles
from the the starting point, the new line enters Seneca Lake, at which
point the distance between the lines has increased to 2 miles, 56 chains
and 50 links. The
new line passes out of the north end of the lake at Pre-emption Street
and runs due north to Great Sodus Bay, being in total length 84 miles,
77 chains and 45 links.
From the point mentioned above, the old line runs nearly
parallel, being at 81 miles only 9 chains and 14 links farther west.
From the "Return of Survey" made at Philadelphia, by
Major Adam HOOPS to Robert MORRIS, we learn that there were 85,896 acres
of land in "the Gore" between the pre-emption lines.
Although a meridian or true north and south line, the pre-emption
line is not on the meridian of Washington as some have supposed, that
meridian being some four miles farther west.
The new line passed nearly as far to the east of Geneva as the
old line did to the west.
"Return of Survey," just mentioned, it was ascertained that
the actual area of Mr. MORRIS's purchase was one million two hundred and
sixty-seven thousand five hundred and sixty-nine acres (1,267,569),
two rods, and thirty perches; and from the final settlement made between
the parties at Philadelphia, February 16, 1793, we learn that the full
number of acres as per the "Return of Survey," which included
the Gore, was paid for and that the price paid by Mr. MORRIS was eight
pence half penny per acre, Massachusetts currency, or between eleven and
twelve cents per acre in United States money, the settlement paper being
signed by Nathaniel GORHAM, Oliver PHELPS, Robert MORRIS, and also
Charles WILLIAMSON to show his privity to the transaction.
this time, however, in the early part of the year 1791 this great tract
of land had been sold by the London agent of Robert MORRIS to some
English capitalists, Sir William PULTENEY taking a nine-twelfths
interest, William HORNBY, two twelfths and Patrick COLQUHOUN,
after the purchase Charles WILLIAMSON, a Scotchman by birth, then
residing in Great Britain, entered into an agreement with the purchasers
to proceed to America as their agent, to settle on the Genesee tract, to
sell the lands and remit the proceeds to London.
He soon came to America, and after becoming a naturalized
citizen, obtained from Robert MORRIS and his wife an absolute conveyance
of the Genesee tract to himself in fee, after which he proceeded to
settle on the tract and commenced operations for bringing the lands into
deed of conveyance from Morris to Williamson is dated April 11, 1792,
the consideration named therein being seventy-five thousand pounds
connection an explanation of the currency of early times is perhaps
act of Congress April 2, 1792, establishing the mint, provided,
"That the money of account of the United States shall be expressed
in dollars or units, dismes or tenths, cents or hundredths and milles or
thousandths," and "that all accounts in the public offices and
all proceedings in the courts of the United States shall be kept and had
in conformity to this regulation," also, that the silver dollar
should be of the same weight and fineness as the Spanish milled dollar
then in common use.
Individual and mercantile transactions, however, for a great many
years continued to be carried on in pounds, shillings and pence.
This continued in fact until an act of Congress, February 21,
1857, debased the foreign coins, when such currency rapidly went out of
the value in dollars of the pound of account became fixed at different
rates in the several States, in consequence of the depreciation of the
early currency of the American colonies, it is necessary to know what
kind of currency is mentioned, and the real value of it, in order to
know the actual value mentioned in any early transaction.
the pound of account was composed of twenty shillings, both in Great
Britain and in this country, yet the English shilling, worth about
twenty-two cents, was of more intrinsic value than the Spanish real or
shilling, which was of less weight.
The Spanish silver coins were the principal currency of the
country, and it was upon the value of these that moneyed transactions
were principally based.
The pound sterling of Great Britain being rated as 4s. 6d. to
the dollar, the conventional rate for sterling exchange was $4.44 4/9 to
the pound and this rate or value was maintained for many years.
In New England, Virginia and Kentucky the dollar was fixed at six
shillings in value, hence the shilling was the shilling was worth 16 2/3
cents, and the pound of those States worth $3.33 1/3; in New York and
North Carolina the dollar was fixed at eight shillings, the shilling
worth 12 1/2 cents and the pound worth $2.50; in South Carolina and
Georgia the dollar was fixed at four shillings eight pence, the shilling
worth 21 3/7 cents and the pound worth $4.28 4/7; in New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland the dollar was seven shillings six
pence, the shilling worth 13 1/3 cents, and the pound worth $2.66 2/3.
From this it will be seen that the price paid by Sir William
PULTENEY and his associates for the Genesee tract was $333,333.33, being
about twenty-six and one-third cents per acre.
accompanying map is a reduced reproduction of the map of the resurvey of
the Phelps and Gorham purchase under direction of Major HOOPS, by
Augustus PORTER, from a copy of the original map in possession of Geo.
H. HARRIS, esq., Rochester, N. Y.
discovery that the State did not own the lands in the Gore worked to the
great disadvantage of the State, and to the owners and settlers who had
by that time taken possession of their lands.
The State had sold and granted to divers individuals all the
lands lying between the old pre-emption line and Seneca lake, and many
of the purchasers and grantees under these sales were in possession.
Now the true pre-emption line had been surveyed and fixed, and
within the Phelps and Gorham purchase, as by that survey decided, were
found the lands and improvements of persons holding titles from the
now remained to be done on the part of the State other than to satisfy
the claims of the injured parties.
In many cases Mr. WILLIAMSON confirmed the State titles and
received compensation therefore from the State by grants of land in
other localities from the public lands, while in other cases the State
satisfied the claimants by grants of public lands, but generally was
compelled to give from three to six acres for each one possessed by the
person found to be on the pre-emption tract.
already been stated these lands had been granted by the State to various
persons and the discovery of the error and the subsequent resurvey of
the eastern boundary was the source of much confusion.
Captain WILLIAMSON, acting for the association, purchased a
number of these patents, and made arrangements to quiet the title of
other owners to the extent of 37,788 acres, 25,000 acres of which had
been purchased for him by his agent, John JOHNSTONE.
However, in 1799 WILLIAMSON received as compensation lands 56,682
acres, or one and one-half acres for one, which were granted him by the
State and located adjoining the pre-emption line in Wayne county.
John LIVINGSTON and Thomas MAULE, the then owners of the REED and
RYCKMAN tract, which WILLIAMSON took and retained in possession,
received from the State patents for 42,969 acres, being five and
one-half acres for one as compensation lands for their loss.
Robert TROUP, agent for Sir John Lowther JOHNSTONE, in 1811
obtained a decision from the land office for compensation for lands in
Seth REED's patent for 2,000 acres, the title of which WILLIAMSON had
other illustrations might be given in this connection, but the above are
deemed sufficient for the purpose of this chapter.
WILLIAMSON, who has been frequently mentioned in connection with the
PULTENEY association, was as intimately associated with the early
history of Ontario county as were PHELPS and GORHAM, or any other of the
early land proprietors.
WILLIAMSON was born in Scotland, and is said to have first come
to this country during the Revolution as a captain in the British
service; but the vessel on which he was making the passage was captured
by a French privateer, and WILLIAMSON was detained as a prisoner at
Boston until the close of the war.
He improved every opportunity to become acquainted with the
country, and his services therefore were much sought by foreign
investors in United States lands.
His first visit to the Genesee country was made in February,
1792, he having then been recently appointed representative of the
The next year he founded the village of Bath, now in Steuben but
then in Ontario county, and at the same time caused a survey and map of
Geneva to be made, the latter work being performed by Joseph ANNIN.
By this time, also, Canandaigua had become a village of much
importance, it being the county seat of the newly erected county of
1796 a sloop was built by WILLIAMSON on Seneca Lake to be run as a
packet between Geneva and Catherinestown.
In the same year, also, a printing office was established at
these are subjects which may be more appropriately treated as local
rather than general history, and therefore need no further discussion at
Charles WILLIAMSON was elected to the Legislature from Ontario county,
and served three successive years.
March 18, 1795, he was appointed a judge of the county of Ontario
and served in that capacity at several terms of the court held at
31, 1796, he was appointed first judge of Steuben county.
He was also appointed by the governor, lieutenant colonel of the
the infancy of settlements in the Genesee country he was a most
important agent, and much of the early prosperity of the region was due
to his enterprise.
Eastward of Geneva was an uninhabited wilderness, and not a road
within a hundred miles of the Genesee country would admit of any sort of
conveyance except when the ground was covered with snow.
He opened roads in various directions, and often made
advancements to induce settlement.
The lands he was generally compelled to sell upon credit, and
payments were often postponed.
Many of WILLIAMSON's enterprises were ahead of the times, and
were rewarded with slow returns.
His resources were mainly the capital of his principals, who
advanced large amounts for improvements, freely at first, but soon began
to be impatient at the slow return of their outlays.
By the year 1800 there had been expended by the association the
sum of $1,374,-470.10, and there had been received for lands sold only
$147,974.83, while at this time there was owing for lands purchased
PULTENEY was the principal man in the association, his interest being so
large that upon the division of the lands his share exceeded that of
both of his associates.
However, the HORNBY and COLQUHOUN shares were each large, and
were managed as an estate, the agency of which was at Canandaigua under
the charge of John JOHNSTONE, and upon his decease John GREIG, of
Canandaigua succeeded to the agency.
final adjustment of affairs with his principals, Mr. WILLIAMSON obtained
a princely compensation and a large estate was left to him.
Major James REES was his agent until Mr. WILLIAMSON returned to
Scotland, in 1803 or ' 4, when his matters were left with Col. Benjamin
WALKER of Utica.
Mr. WILLIAMSON died of yellow fever in 1808, while on a passage
from Havana to England. His
wife did not leave this country, but continued to reside in Geneva,
where she died August 31, 1824.
might properly come within the province of this chapter, particularly
that which relates to the sale and disposition of the several townships
now forming Ontario county, is omitted from the present narrative, but
reference to them will be found in one of the later chapters (relating
to the organization of the county), and also to the chapters devoted
specially to township history.
settlement of WILLIAMSON with his principals, he conveyed the real
estate directly to them by deeds dated the 16th of May, 1801, under an
act of the Legislature, April 2, 1798, enabling aliens to purchase and
hold real estate.
This act expired by limitation in three years from its passage.
The amount of personal property, consisting of bonds and
mortgages and notes he thus conveyed at different dates, according to an
adjustment statement between the parties, was $551,699.77.
According to the same statement the valuation of the land
conveyed was, to Sir William PULTENEY, in Ontario and Steuben counties,
$2,607,682.25; to William HORNBY, in said counties, $350,924.45, and to
Patrick COLQUHOUN, in the same counties, $37,188.13, making the whole
amount conveyed valued at $3,547,494.58.
TROUP was the attorney of Sir William PULTENEY in effecting the
settlement with WILLIAMSON, and to his surprise received a full power of
attorney, dated July 26, 1801, to act as the permanent agent and
first he absolutely refused the agency, but finally was persuaded to
accept, and commenced his duties in September, 1801.
Sir William PULTENEY died intestate, May 13, 1805, and the
property descended to his only child, Henrietta Laura, the countess of
Bath; she died July 14, 1808, intestate as to her real estate, and that
property descended to Sir John Lowther JOHNSTONE, her cousin and
heir-at-law; he died August 7, 1811, leaving a will under the powers of
trust in which the management of the property has continued until this
TROUP continued in the agency until his death, which occurred January
14, 1832, and his successors have been Joseph FELLOWS and Benjamin F.
YOUNG, the latter continuing as yet the agency at Bath, Steuben county.
This part of the PULTENEY estate is usually known as the Johnstone
countess of Bath bequeathed the personal part of the estate for the
benefit of Mrs. Elizabeth MARKHAM, the wife of the Rev. George MARKHAM,
afterwards the wife of John PULTENEY, and her children.
The personal estate in America consisted of moneys due and to
become due on sales of real estate by contracts of purchase, and by
bonds and mortgages taken on such sales.
Elizabeth Evelyn PULTENEY died March 18, 1856, bequeathing to her
son, the Rev. Richard Thomas PULTENEY, the residuary personal estate of
the countess of Bath.
This part of the PULTENEY estate has become known as the Pulteney
FELLOWS was the agent for a number of years and was succeeded by Edward
KINGSLAND in 1871, who yet retains the agency at Geneva.
Although the personal property branch of the PULTENEY estate was
but a minor part of the whole estate, yet after all it was considerable.
It has, however, been gradually reduced until it is now
comparatively small, and as soon as it can be done, without detriment to
the estate or inconvenience to the parties, it will be entirely closed
Created by Dianne Thomas
These electronic pages may be printed as a link or for
personal use, but is NOT to be reproduced
Copyright 2006 - 2014