The Chronicles of Cooperstown/Chapter I

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  The site of the present village of Cooperstown, is said to have been a favorite place of resort with the adjacent savage tribes, from a remote period. The tradition which has handed down this circumstance, is rendered probable by the known abundance of the fish and game in its vicinity. The word Otsego, is thought to be a compound which conveys the idea of a spot at which meetings of the Indians were held. There is a small rock near the outlet of the lake, called the Otsego rock, at which precise point the savages, according to an early tradition of the country, were accustomed to rendezvous.

  In confirmation of these traditions, arrow heads, stone hatchets, and other memorials of Indian usages, were found in great abundance by the first settlers, in the vicinity of the village.

  It is probable that the place was more or less frequented by Indian traders, for a century previously to the commencement of the regular settlement of the township but the earliest authentic account that exists of any attempt, by any civilized man, to establish himself at this point, refers to a much more recent period. On the 22d day of April, 1761, letters patent were granted to John Christopher Hartwick and others, for a considerable tract of land in this vicinity; and Mr. Hartwick, being under the impression that his grants extended to the shore of the lake, caused a clearing to be commenced not far from its outlet. Becoming satisfied that he had passed the boundaries of his estate, this gentleman soon relinquished his possession, and altogether abandoned the spot. This abortive attempt at settlement, took place about ten years before the commencement of the American war.

  It appears by the documents in possession of the Cooper family, that Col. George Croghan, who was connected with the Indian department under the crown, obtained a conveyance from the Indians of 100,000 acres of land, lying north and adjacent to the before mentioned grant to Mr. Hartwick, and on the west side of the Susquehanna river, and of the Otsego lake, as early as the year 1768. On the 13th of December of the same year, Col. Croghan gave a mortgage under the Indian deed, to William Franklin, Esq., governor of the colony of New Jersey, to secure the payment of £3000 which money, as appears by the same documents, was obtained by Governor Franklin of certain persons in New Jersey, in the behalf of Col. Croghan, with a view to enable the latter to procure the regular title to the same lands, from the crown. This object was not effected until the 30th of November, 1769, when letters patent were issued by the colonial government, granting the same tract to George Croghan and ninety-nine other persons; there existing an order to prevent grants of more than a thousand acres at a time to single individuals. ≈ 11

  On the 2d day of December, 1769, the ninety-nine other persons named as grantees in the patent, conveyed in three separate instruments their rights to George Croghan, in fee simple. These three conveyances, with the patent, still exist among the Cooper papers, and are unquestionably the first legal instruments, conveying real estate in the township of Otsego.

  On the 10th day of March. 1770, George Croghan gave a mortgage on that portion of the Otsego patent, as the aforesaid grant was then called, which has since been called Cooper’s patent, for the further security of the payment of the said sum of £3000; both of which mortgages, with the accompanying bond, were regularly assigned to the persons already mentioned, as security for their advances. On the 23d day of March, 1773, judgment was obtained against George Croghan, in the supreme court of the colony of New York, upon the aforesaid bond.

  All the securities above mentioned, became vested in William Cooper and Andrew Craig of the city of Burlington. in the state of New Jersey, by various deeds of assignment, now in possession of the descendants of the former, as early as May, 1785.

  Mr. Cooper first visited lake Otsego in the autumn of 1785. He was accompanied by a party of surveyors, his object being to ascertain the precise boundaries of the land covered by his mortgage and judgment.

  This party arrived by the way of Cherry Valley and Middlefield, and first obtained a view of the lake from the mountain which has since been called the Vision, in consequence of the beauty of the view it then afforded. Judge Cooper has been often heard to say, that on that occasion he was compelled to climb a sapling, in order to obtain this view, and while in the tree, he saw a deer descend to the lake and drink of its waters, near the Otsego rock. In January, 1786, Mr Cooper took possession of the property that has since been known as Cooper’s patent, under a deed given by the Sheriff of Montgomery county.

  It ought to be mentioned, that in 1783, Washington, then on a journey of observation, with a view to explore the facilities for an inland communication by water, visited the foot of lake Otsego. We give the letter in which be speaks of this journey, entire, in the hope that the opinions of this great man may draw public attention more closely to the subject of improving our natural advantages: ≈ 12

PRINCETON, October 12, 1783.
MY DEAR CHEVALIER — I have not had the honor of a letter from you since the 4th of March last; but I will ascribe my disappointment to any cause sooner than to a decay of your friendship.
Having the appearances, and indeed the enjoyment of peace, without the final declaration of it, I, who am only waiting for the ceremonials, or till the British forces shall have taken their leave of New York, am held in an awkward and disagreeable situation, being anxiously desirous to quit the walks of public life, and under my own vine and my own fig-tree, to seek those enjoyments, and that relaxation, which a mind that has been constantly upon the stretch for more than eight years, stands so much in want of.
I have fixed this epoch to the arrival of the definitive treaty, or to the evacuation of my country, by our newly acquired friends; in the meanwhile, at the request of Congress, I spend my time with them at this place, where they came in consequence of the riots at Philadelphia. of which, doubtless, you have been informed., for it is not a very recent transaction.
They have lately determined to fix the permanent residence of Congress, near the falls of Delaware; hut where they will hold their sessions, till they can be properly established at that place, is yet undecided.
I have lately made a tour through the lakes George and Champlain as far as Crown point — then returning to Schenectady, I proceeded up the Mohawk river to Fort Schuyler (formerly Fort Stanwix), crossed over Wood creek, which empties into the Oneida lake, and affords the water communication with lake Ontario; I then traversed the country to the head of the eastern branch of the Susquehannah, and viewed the lake Otsego, and the portage between that lake and the Mohawk river at Canajoharie.
Prompted by these actual observations, I could not help taking a more contemplative and extensive view of the vast inland navigation of these United States, from maps, and the information of others, and could not but be struck with the immense diffusion and importance of it, and with the goodness of that Providence which has dealt her favors to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to make a good use of them. I shall not rest contented till I have explored the western part of this country, and traversed those lines (or a great part of them,) which have given bounds to a new empire; but when it may, if it ever should happen, I dare not say, as my first attention must be given to the deranged situation of my private concerns, which are not a little injured by almost nine years absence, and total disregard of them.
With every wish for your health and happiness, and with the most sincere and affectionate regard,
I am, my dear Chevalier, your most obedient servant,

  It should also be stated, that the present site of Cooperstown is connected with an event of some interest that occurred during the war of the revolution. An expedition having been commanded to proceed under the orders of Major General Sullivan, against the Indians who then dwelt in the vicinity of the Seneca lake, a brigade employed in the duty, under Brigadier General James Clinton (the father of the celebrated De Witt Clinton,) marched from Albany for that purpose. After ascending the Mohawk as far as Fort Plain, this brigade cut a road through the forest to the head of lake Otsego, whither it transported its boats. Traces of this road exist, and it is still known by the name of the Continental road. Embarking at the head of the lake, the troops descended to the outlet, where they encamped on the site of the present village. General Clinton’s quarters are said to have been in a small building of hewn logs, which then stood in what are now the grounds of the Hall, and which it is thought was erected by Col. Croghan, as a place in which he might hold his negotiations with the Indians, as well as for the commencement of a settlement.

  This building, which was about fifteen feet square and intended for a sort of block-house, was undoubtedly the first ever erected on this spot. It was subsequently used by some of the first settlers as a residence, and by Judge Cooper as a smoke house, and it was standing in 1797, if not a year later. It was then taken down and removed by henry Pace Eaton, to his residence on the road to Pier’s, where it was set up again as an out-house.

  There were found the graves of two white men in the same grounds, which were believed to contain the bodies of deserters, who were shot during the time the troops were here encamped. These graves are supposed to be the first of any civilized man in the township of Otsego. All traces of them have now disappeared.

  As soon as encamped, the troops of Gen. Clinton commenced the construction of a dam at the outlet, and when the water had risen to a sufficient height in the lake, the obstruction was removed, the current clearing the bed of the river of floodwood. After a short delay, for this purpose, the troops embarked and descended as far as the junction with the Tioga, where they were met by another brigade, commanded by General Sullivan in person.* On this occasion, the Susquehannah, below the dam, was said to be so much reduced that a man could jump across it.

*In the Gazetteer of New York, it is said “The Indians upon the banks, witnessing the extraordinary rise of the river at midsummer, without an apparent cause, were struck with superstitious dread, and in the very outset were disheartened at the apparent interposition of the Great Spirit in, favor of their foes. ≈ 14

  Traces of the dam are still to be seen, and for many years they were very obvious.** At a later day, in digging the cellar of the house first occupied by Judge Cooper, a large iron swivel was discovered which was said to have been buried by the troops, who found it useless for their service. This swivel was the only piece of artillery used for the purpose of salutes and merry-makings in the vicinity of Cooperstown, for ten or twelve years after the settlement of the place. It is well and affectionately remembered by the name of the Cricket, and was bursted lately in the same good cause of rejoicing on the 4th of July. At the time of its final disaster (for it had met with many vicissitudes by field and flood, having actually once been thrown into the lake,) it is said there was no very perceptible difference in size, between its touch-hole and its muzzle.

**The last of the logs of that dam were removed on the 26th of October 1825, while the entire State of New York was more jubilant, perhaps, than ever before or since, and cannon, placed a few miles apart, from Buffalo to Albany, and thence to Sandy Hook, were proclaiming that Gov. Clinton had entered the first canal boat at Buffalo, and was on his way to New York.
After the removal, the procession were marched into the village, and were there addressed by Samuel Starkweather, Esq., during all of which proceedings a nine pounder upon the top of Mount Vision, at regular intervals, told the hills and valleys around that Cooperstown was rejoicing.

  In addition to the foregoing statement, we are enabled to make the following brief history of the title to this tract of land, believing it may have interest with those who hold real estate within its limits In this account, we include some matter foreign to the direct title, as explanatory of the whole.

  On the 30th November, 1769, letters patent were issued, granting one hundred thousand acres of land to George Croghan and ninety-nine other persons as has been already stated.

  December 2d, 1769, the ninety-nine other patentees conveyed, in three separate instruments, to George Croghan in fee.

  On the 10th March, 1770, George Croghan mortgaged 40,000 acres of the above grant to William Franklin, as further security for the money borrowed to pay the fees, or the debt due the persons who were called the Burlington company. This mortgage included the present site of the village.

  On the 12th March, 1770, George Croghan mortgaged 20,000 acres, being half of the above mentioned 40,000 acres, to Thomas Wharton, to secure another debt of £2,000. ≈ 15

  On the 26th October, 1770, John Morton obtained a judgment of a large amount against George Croghan.

  On the 22d March, 1773, judgment was obtained against George Croghan, for the debt due on his bond to William Franklin.

  On the -- April, 1775, George Croghan, William Franklin, Thomas Wharton and John Morton entered into an agreement in writing, that the 40,000 acres of land should be sold under the two judgments, and that the proceeds of the sale should go, firstly, to pay the judgment held by William Franklin; secondly, to pay the mortgage held by Thomas Wharton; and, thirdly, to pay the judgment held by John Morton; or as much of each, according to the priority of the debts and securities, as there should be assets. This agreement was never complied with, in consequence of the war of the revolution.

  On the 20th December, 1775, William Franklin and his wife assigned the mortgage of George Croghan, on the 40,000 acres, and all the securities connected with it to five of the original lenders of the money, for their several share; of the debt, the remaining three accepting lands elsewhere for their claims; the amount of the shares of these five assignees being £1,500, New Jersey currency, with interest from the date of the bond.

  On the 3d April, 1780, George Croghan conveyed in fee, 25,477 acres of the above mentioned 40,000, including the site of Cooperstown, to Joseph Wharton. subject to the two mortgages, for the consideration of £9,553, Pennsylvania currency; Mr. Wharton being induced to accept this land for a debt of that great amount, in consequence of Mr. Croghan's being unable to pay him in any other manner.

  On the 26th June, 1780, George Croghan conveyed, in fee, the remainder of the same tract, to Joseph Wharton, for the consideration of £100, this being all the land in the Otsego patent that he had not conveyed in fee, previously to granting the two mortgages, and of course all that was subject to them.

  By several deeds poll, made between the years 1776 and 1785, all the rights of the original lenders of the aforesaid sum, with the interest on it from 1768, in the several bonds, in the judgment of 1773, and in the oldest mortgage, were vested in William Cooper and Andrew Craig of Burlington, New Jersey.

  On the 14th January, 1786, all the lands of George Croghan that were subject to the judgment of 1773, and which lay in the Otsego patent, being in amount as near as might be, 29,350 acres, were conveyed by Samuel Clyde, Sheriff of Montgomery county, to William Cooper and Andrew Craig, as judgment purchasers, under the judgment aforesaid, for the sum of £2,700, leaving a balance of £1,139.8s. unpaid, and which has never been satisfied since. ≈ 16

  On the 8th December, 1786, Joseph Wharton, for the consideration of $2,000, conveyed in fee, all his right to the land in question, to William Cooper and Andrew Craig, then in actual possession of the same as judgment purchasers and mortgagees.

  On the 12th November, 1787, Augustine Prevost and Susannah Prevost, for the consideration of $1250, released their right to the equity of the redemption of the mortgage on the whole 40,000 acres, to William Cooper and Andrew Craig; the said Susannah Prevost being the natural daughter and devisee of George Croghan.

  On the 16th January, 1788, William Cooper paid for quit rents on the said land, the further sum of £631.3s.

  On the 26th October, 1799, William Cooper paid $7.35 for commutation of quit rents, on the village plot, containing then 112 acres of land.

  The patent of 1769, signed Clarke; the deeds from the ninety-nine other patentees to George Croghan; the bond of Croghan to Franklin; that of Franklin to the Burlington company; the mortgage of Croghan to Franklin, with the assignment by latter to the unpaid members of the company; all the mesne conveyances of the same to William Cooper and Andrew Craig; the deeds of Croghan to Joseph Wharton, and the deed of Wharton to William Cooper and Andrew Craig; the release of Augustine and Susannah Prevost, and the certificates of payments of quit rents, together with several conveyances from Andrew Craig, to William Cooper, exist still, among the papers of the Cooper family.

  The deed of the Sheriff of Montgomery county to William Cooper and Andrew Craig has been lost; supposed never to have been returned from the county Clerk’s office; but it is recorded at Johnstown, and an exemplified copy exists among the other papers.

  There exists, among the same papers, a copy of a bill in chancery, of the date of 1786, at the complaint of William Cooper and Andrew Craig, setting forth that the parties to the agreement of 1775, refused to release to them according to the understood terms of that agreement, and that the said agreement was withheld from them to their injury, and praying relief in the premises. It is supposed that this suit was arranged by compromise, as the original agreement is now among the same papers.

    A copy of the assignment of the mortgage on the entire tract, under the Indian grant, also, is to be found among the same papers. ≈ 17

  As it may be a matter of curious history hereafter, we subjoin an account of what the 29,350 acres actually cost the proprietor under whom the country was settled:

   Amount of judgment, Jan. 14, 1786,..........£3,839.08
   Quit rent, Jan. 16, 1788,...................   631.03
   Consideration money paid Joseph Wharton,....   800.90
    do. do. Augustine and Susannah Prevost,....   500.00
                                           or $14,426.37½

  This sum, with the Sheriff’s fees and other incidental expenses, would make the actual cost of the property about 50 cents the acre.

  Col. Croghan and his family received for the same, as follows:

   Debt to Franklin,........... £3,839.08
   Debt to Joseph Wharton,.....  9,553.00
   Paid his daughter,..........    500.00
   Pennsylvania currency,......£13,892,08

  This is considerably more than $35,000. If the mortgage to Thomas Wharton be included, and it is believed the debt is unpaid to this day, it will amount to more than $40,000, without interest, which is probably five times as much as the property was worth on the day of George Croghan’s death. ≈ 18

Introduction, Ch. I, Ch. II, Ch. III, Ch. IV, Ch. V, Ch. VI, Ch. VII