The Old New York Frontier/Part 3/Chapter 2

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Part 3.   Land Titles and Pioneers (1679 – 1774)
Chapter 2.   The Fort Stanwix Deed, and Patents that Followed It (1768 – 1770)

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LAST of the great acts of Sir William Johnson's life was the negotiation of the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768. By the terms of this treaty a vast territory south and east of the Ohio, Susquehanna, and Unadilla rivers was first opened to settlement. After Pontiac’s War, discontent had arisen among the Indians from many causes. For one thing, they disliked the white man’s inordinate "thirst for land," and a council was called, not only to renew the ancient covenant chain between the Indians and the English, but to establish a scientific frontier.

In preparation for this council some twenty large batteaux laden with presents best suited to propitiate the Indians had been conveyed to Fort Stanwix.[1] From his agent at Albany Sir William ordered sixty barrels of flour, fifty barrels of pork, six barrels of rice, and seventy barrels of other provisions. When the Congress opened, 3,200 Indians were present, "each of whom," wrote Johnson, "consumes daily more than two ordinary men amongst us, and would be extremely dissatisfied if stinted when convened for business." After Sir William had told them the King was resolved to terminate the grievances from which they suffered for want of a boundary, and that the King had ordered presents proportionate to the nature and extent of the interests involved, the Indians retired, and for several days were in private council.

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The full report of these proceedings shows the sagacity and firmness with which Sir William carried his points. When, finally, the deed was executed, it conveyed to the English a vast territory out of which States have since been made. On that deed rests the title by purchase from the Indians, not only to large parts of New York but of Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The deed bears date of November 5, 1768. Among those who witnessed its execution were Benjamin Franklin and William Franklin, his natural son, at that time Governor of New Jersey. It transferred the land with "all the hereditaments and appurtenances to the same belonging, or appurtaining, in the fullest and most ample manner," and all right, title, or interest, "either in law or equity of each and every one of us" unto "our said Sovereign Lord King George III., his heirs and successors to and for his and their own proper use and behoof forever."

The actual sum paid in money for this imperial territory was about $50,600. The money came to the Indians at a time when they needed it. The corn-crop for that year in great measure had failed. Richard Smith, who was at Oghwaga in the following summer, says "they lived through the winter and spring on the money received at the treaty from the sale of their lands." He reported them as "continually passing up to the settlements to buy provisions and sometimes showed us money in their bosoms."

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A portion of the 1768 Fort Stanwix Treaty line, showing the boundary in New York

From a point on the Allegany River several miles above Pittsburg, this historic line of property ran in a northeasterly direction to the head of Towanda Creek, proceeding down that stream to the Susquehanna. Thence it went northward along the river to Tioga Point, eastward to Owego,[2] and from this place crossed the country to the Delaware, reaching it at a point a few miles below Hancock. From here it went up the Delaware to a point "opposite to where Tianaderha falls into the Susquehanna," which point is now Deposit. Thence the line went directly across the hills to the Unadilla, and up that stream "to the west branch, to the head thereof." The Indians declared that the deed had been executed "to prevent those intrusions and encroachments of which we have so long and loudly complained and to put a stop to many fraudulent advantages which have been so often taken of us in land affairs." The Indians made certain reservations that "lands occupied by the Mohawks around their villages, as well as by any other nation affected by this our cession, may effectually remain to them and their posterity." Out of this grew prolonged trouble. It had very marked influence in producing the discontent from which were precipitated the Border Wars of the Revolution.

  • [2] Ahwaga in the Onondaga dialect, and meaning where the valley widens. Written also Owegy.
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In the year following the treaty, a Government surveyor was sent into the country to run the line of division. His name was Simon Metcalf. He began at Deposit, and proceeded north to the Susquehanna. During the negotiations a committee of four Indians, named Tyarwruanto, Ganaquieson, Tyeransen, and Tagawarn had advised Johnson that the line should run from Oriskany "to the Tianaderha," and down that stream to the Susquehanna; thence "in a straight line to the hills and so to the Delaware branch and down the same to Owegy." That line from the mouth of the Unadilla to Deposit (then called Cookose) remains to this day the western boundary of Delaware County.

Sir William, among other difficulties in negotiating this treaty, encountered opposition from missionaries. He says they "did all in their power to prevent the Oneidas (whose property part of the Susquehanna is) from agreeing to any line that might he deemed reasonable." They had publicly declared to several gentlemen that they "had taken infinite pains with the Indians to obstruct the line and would continue so to do." He added that the New Englanders "had had missionaries for some time amongst the Oneidas and Oghwagas and I was not ignorant that their old pretension to the Susquehanna lands was their real, though religion was their assumed, object."

Johnson’s correspondence with the British Minister, Lord Hillsborough, discloses some of the peculiar circumstances in which Johnson negotiated this treaty. The King, George III, was indisposed to pay so large a sum as $50,000. He thought the demands of the savages "very unreasonable," and was unwilling that the mother country should have "any part or expence of a measure calculated for the local interests of particular colonies." Johnson, however, had been obliged to proceed on his own responsibility before the letter, containing the King's views, arrived. He wrote to the Minister that the sum paid “was the most moderate that could have been offered for so valuable and extensive a cession." He afterward proposed a method by which the Crown could be reimbursed for its outlay. It was that all grants of land he subject to a tax of $50 for each thousand acres. A million acres thus would yield the sum of $50,000.

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The original purpose of the Crown had been to continue the line "northward from Owego." After the treaty, Johnson explained that he had found it "extremely difficult to get the line so far to the westward from its vicinity to their own towns, and indeed the whole of the line as it approached them cost me more pains and trouble than can be conceived." In this statement we see reasons for the peculiar course of the line as it ran from Owego to the Delaware, and thence to the Unadilla River, instead of going "northward from Owego." Johnson’s course finally received the royal sanction, on December 9, 1769, when Hillsborough wrote that it was the King’s pleasure "that you should declare the royal ratification of the treaty of Fort Stanwix in such manner as has been usual on the like occasions.”

No sooner had this treaty been negotiated than the business of getting patents began to thrive. In 1769 was issued the John Butler patent, lying north of the Butternut Creek and reaching westward to the Unadilla River. John Butler was a deputy under Johnson, and afterward became notorious as the Tory Colonel who followed Guy Johnson to Canada, and then returned with his son Walter to write his history in the blood of many innocent persons. In the same year George Croghan got his patent running west from Otsego Lake. These lands were given to Croghan through an understanding with the Indians, who desired thus to compensate him for lands he had purchased of them in Pennsylvania, and which, by the terms of the treaty, he would now lose. Croghan got 100,000 acres in October, 1768, the patent being issued in the following year. He also received 18,000 acres near Cherry Valley, which eventually passed to his daughter, the wife of Augustine Prevost. Other lands Croghan sold to Joseph Wharton.

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Croghan took steps to settle the tract on the lake. In the course of his enterprise he mortgaged the lands, and eventually lost them through foreclosure. William Cooper, in the interest of the mortgagees, after the Revolution, went to the lake to view the lands, and soon became a settler and the founder of Cooperstown. There in the wilderness his son, the future novelist, grew up from infancy and gained that knowledge of frontier life and Indian character of which he has given the truest and most lasting pictures in our literature. Had Croghan succeeded in his enterprise the world probably never would have heard of "Leather Stocking."

From the same year dates the Morris patent, a part of which lies in the town of Unadilla. It was granted to Staats Long Morris, General Jacob Morris’s uncle, and a brother of Lewis Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Staats Long Morris was then an officer in the British army, and had served in India against the French at the siege of Pondicherry. Before settling this patent he had married the Dowager Duchess of Gordon. In 1797 he became Governor of Quebec.

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In 1770 were issued the patents on the Unadilla River known as Peter Middleton’s and Clotworthy Upton’s, the Otego patent issued to Charles Reade, Thomas Wharton, and others, the one in the Charlotte Valley issued to Johnson, and the numerous patents on the south side of the Susquehanna issued to Augustine Prevost, John Harper, William Walton, Laurence Kortright, and others. In issuing the Otego patent, the Crown reserved “all white or other sorts of pine trees fit for masts of the growth of twenty four inches’ diameter and upwards at ten inches from the earth for masts, for the royal navy of us, our heirs and successors.” It was required that one family should settle on each 1,000 acres within three years, and cultivate three acres for every fifty acres capable of cultivation. Should the trees fit for masts be cut without license, the titles were to be, forfeited. In this patent were 60,000 acres.