PREVIOUS TO COUNTY ORGANIZATION.
An Indian "Summer Resort" --- Early Records and State Divisions --- Genealogy of Cortland County --- The Military Tract --- Its origin and History --- Land Bounties to Soldiers --- Proportions of Bounties --- Action of Congress in Relation Thereto --- The Tract Ordered Surveyed, Mapped and Divided --- Conditions Imposed upon Grantees --- The "State's Hundreds" --- School and Gospel Lots --- Division into Townships --- Fraudulent Land Titles --- Vexatious Litigation --- Formation of the Present Towns of the County.
IN the foregoing chapters it has been our purpose to give a record of the conspicuous events in the history of the nation of Indians who were most nearly identified with the territory now embraced in Cortland county, and their relations with their confederates in the mightiest savage organization ever know, and with the whites after their advent. While it is true that few of these events occurred in what is now this county, yet every person now dwelling here must feel an interest in the people who roamed through our productive valleys before the sound of the white man's axe echoed in the unbroken forest, and who, after early civilized settlement had begun, frequently visited their old camping grounds in this vicinity, planed the little clearings, and mingled freely with the pioneers and their families, as will be noted farther on in this work. Such is the reason (if any is needed) for devoting the opening chapters of the history of the county to the predecessors of civilization around and within its borders.
Cortland county, as defined since the year 1808, was, perhaps, more fortunate than any other in the Empire State in escaping the terrors of border wars and devastating incursions by Indians and Tories. While it was somewhat central in the broad domain of the Six Nations, it seems to have been surrounded by the thrilling scenes and deeds of early times, while they penetrated very little within its borders. The Iroquois and their enemies fought all around the county, if we may use the expression, but left it comparatively unscathed. As far as the Indians were concerned, we must believe that the territory of Cortland county was a peaceful Arcadia where the red brother of the Onondagas and, perhaps, some of his brethren of other nations, came to enjoy the chase, to till their little openings, and to roam through the valleys or drift down the winding Tioughnioga; but not to fight. It was to him a sort of summer resort.
Before referring directly to the formation and subsequent history of Cortland county, we may profitably note briefly some of the interesting early records and events of this locality. At the close of the Revolution Central New York was still wilderness; but the march of armies and the incursions of small parties had made known to many its desirable characteristics for permanent civilized settlement. After the Duke of York had superseded the Dutch, in 1683, the province of New York was divided into twelve counties, viz: Albany, Duchess, Kings. New York, Orange, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, Ulster, Westchester, Dukes and Cornwall. In 1693 the latter two were surrendered to Massachusetts. In 1768 Cumberland county was added, and Gloucester in 1770; these were subsequently yielded to New Hampshire and afterward became a part of Vermont. In 1772 the county of Tryon was formed from Albany, and its name changed in 1784 to Montgomery. In 1789 Ontario county was formed of all that part of Montgomery county lying west of a north and south line across the State through Seneca lake, two miles east of Geneva. Herkimer county was taken from Montgomery and organized in 1791, embracing all the territory west of Montgomery, north of Otsego and Tioga counties, and east of Ontario county. In 1794 Onondaga county was erected from the western part of Herkimer, and included all of the "Military Tract," which embrace the present counties of Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga and Cortland, with that part of Tompkins lying north of a line drawn east from the head of Seneca lake to the southwest corner of Cortland county, and all that part of Oswego county lying west of the Oswego river. Hence the territory of Cortland county was, from 1772 to 1794, included in Montgomery and Herkimer counties. In 1788 all that part of the State of New York lying west of a north and south line across the State, crossing the Mohawk river at "Old Fort Schuyler" (Utica), was erected into a town called Whitestown, in honor of Judge White, who had settled at what is now Whitesboro, in 1784. in 1786 settlement had only so far progressed that Montgomery county contained a population of 15,057, and the great town of Whitestown contained only about two hundred; that was less than a century ago, and the same territory now contains several millions. It does not require a graphic pen to cause one to marvel at the transformation which has fallen upon the then wilderness of Central New York, changing it to a fruitful, blossing garden, spread with thickly populated cities and villages and laced with innumerable railroads. It is an inhabitation of growth never equaled in any other country.
Whitestown was afterwards divided into three towns, the original town limits to the present western line of Madison county. The town of Mexico included the eastern half of the "Military Tract," and the town of Peru the western half.
The genealogy of Cortland county may, therefore, be traced as follows: ---
|Albany county formed||1683|
|Tryon county formed||1772|
|Changed to Montgomery||1784|
|Herkimer county formed||1791|
|Onondaga county formed||1794|
|Cortland county formed from|
The boundaries of the new county were as follows; Beginning at the southeast corner of the township of Cincinnatus (one of the townships in the tract commonly known as the "Military Tract" ), and running thence north along the east bounds thereof and of the townships of Solon and Fabius; thence westerly to the northwest corner of lot No. 51 in the township of Tully; thence south along the east bounds of the townships of Sempronius, Locke and Dryden, to the southwest corner of the township of Virgil; thence easterly of Virgil and Cincinnatus to the place of beginning.
THE MILITARY TRACT.
It has already been stated herein that the territory now embraced within the bounaries of Cortland county formerly comprised four whole and two half townships in the southeastern corner of what was known as the "Military Tract." This famous tract had its origin in congressional and legislative action wereby land bounties were offered to soldiers. On the 16th of September, 1776, Congress "resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole, to take into consideration the report of the Board of Was, and after some time the President resumed the Chair and Mr. Nelson reported that the Committee have had under consideration the report from the Board of War, and have made sundry amendments, which they ordered him to lay before Congress. Congress then took into consideration the report of the Board of War and the amendments offered by the Committee of the Whole, and thereupon came to the followign resolutions:---
"That eighty-eight battalions be enlisted as soon as possible, to serve during the present war; and that each State Furnish their respective quotas in the following proportions:---
That twenty dollars be given as a bounty to each non-commissioned officer and private soldier who shall enlist to serve during the present war, unless sooner discharged by Congress.
"That Congress make provision for granting lands in the following proportions to the officers and soldiers who shall so engage in the service and continue therein till the close of the war, or until discharged by Congress, and to the representatives of such officers and soldiers as shall be slain by the enemy.
"Such lands to be provided by the United States; and whatever expenses shall be necessary to procure such lands, the said expenses shall be paid and borne by the States, in the same proportion as the other expenses of the war, viz.:---
officer and soldier
|100||"|| " 1|
In addition to the above, Congress passed an act on the 12th of August, 1780, providing for land bounties as follows:---
The bloody depredations by the Indians and Tories on the frontier during the revolutionary period, and especially during the years 1779 and 1780, and the neglect of several States other than New York to furnish their proper quota of troops for the protection of the lives and property of settlers, caused the Legislature of New York to enact a law in 1781, requiring the enlistment of "two regiments for the defense of the frontier of New York." The term of service was to be three years, unless sooner discharged, and the good faith of the State was pledged to the fulfillment of promises and payment of such services. "The Council of Appointment of the State of New York was empowered to commission the field officers, and the Governor of the State, the captains and subalterns.
At the close of the war, in 1783, the Legislature of New York State take action upon the bounties promised by the United States Congress for military service, and relative to the granting of land gratuities by the State, through a resolution dated March 27th, 1783, and introduced by Mr. Duane, which read as follows:---
"Resolved, therefore (if the honorable, the House of Assembly concur herein), That, besides the bounty of land so promised as a foresaid, the Legislature will by law provide that the Major-Generals and Brigadier-Generals now serving in the line of the army of the United States, and being citizens of this State, and the officers, non-commissioned officers and privates of the two regiments commanded by Colonels Van Schaick and Van Cortlandt; such Officers of the regiment of artillery commanded Colonel Lamb and of the corps of sappers and miners as were, when they entered the service, inhabitants of this State: such of the non-commissioned officers and privates of the said last-mentioned two corps as are credited to this State as part of the troops thereof; all officers designated by any act of Congress subsequent to the 16th of September, 1776; all officers recommended by Congress as persons whose depreciation on pay ought to be made good by this State and who may hold military commissions in the line of the army at the close of the war; and the Rev. John Gano and Rev. John Mason shall severally have granted to them the following quantities of land, to-wit:---
|Non-commissioned officers and|
"That the lands so to be granted as bounty from the United States, and as gratuity from the State, shall be laid out in townships of six miles square; that each township shall be divided into 156 lots of 150 acres each, two lots whereof shall be reserved for the use of a minister or ministers of the Gospel, and two lots for the use of a school or schools; that each person above described shall be entitled to as many such lots as his bounty and gratuity land as aforesaid will admit of; that one-half the lots of each person shall be entitled to shall be improved at the rate of five acres for each hundred acres, within five years after the grant, if the grantee shall retain possession of such lots: and that the said bounty and gratuity lands be located in the district of this State reserved for the use of the troops by an act entitled, 'An Act to prevent grants or locations of the lands therein mentioned, passed the 25th day of July, 1772.'
"Resolved, That His Excellency, the Governor, be requested to communicate these resolutions in such manner as he shall conceive most proper.
"Resolved, That this House do concur with the Honorable, the Senate, in the last preceding resolutions.
"Ordered, That Mr. John Lawrence and Mr. Humphrey carry a copy of the preceding resolution of concurrence to the Honorable, Senate."
After several amendments and minor modifications of this legislative action an act was passed on the 28th of February, 1798, in which it was provided, "That the Commissioners of the Land Office shall, and they are hereby authorized to, direct the Surveyor-General to lay out as many townships in tracts of land set apart for such purposes as will contain land sufficient to satisfy the claims of all such persons who are, or shall be entitled to grants of land by certain concurrent resolutions and by the eleventh clause of the Act entitled "An act for granting certain lands promised to be given as bounty lands by the laws of the State,' and for other purposes therein mentioned, passed the 11th day of May, 1784; which townships shall respectively contain 60,000 acres of land and be laid out as nearly in squares as local circumstances will permit, and be numbered from one progressively to the last, inclusive; and the Commissioners of the Land Office shall likewise designate every township by such name as they shall deem proper."
The same act also provided, "that the Surveyor-General, as soon as may be, shall make a map of each of said townships, and each township shall be subdivided on such map into one hundred lots, as nearly square as may be, each lot to contain six hundred acres, or as near that quantity as may be; and the lots in every township shall be numbered from one to the last, inclusive, in numerical order." Under this law General Simeon Dewitt, assisted by Moses Dewitt and Abram Hardenburgh, laid out the entire tract, the former "plotting and mapping the boundaries, and calculating its area."
After the survey, the making of the maps and their deposit in the offices of the Surveyor-General and the Secretary of State, the Land Commissioners were directed to "advertise for six successive weeks in one or more newspapers printed in each of the cities of New York and Albany (whereof the newspaper published by the printer to this State, if any such there be, shall be one), requiring all persons entitled to grants of bounty or gratuity lands, who had not already exhibited their claims, to exhibit the same to the Commissioners on or before the first day of January, 1791."
The same act ordered that "All persons to whom land shall be granted by virtue of this act, and who are entitled thereto by any act or resolution of Congress, shall make an assignment of his or her proportion and claim of bounty or gratuity lands under any act or acts of Congress, to the Surveyor-General, for the use of the people of this State."
Following this action on the part of the grantees referred to in the last paragraph, it was provided that for all lands thus assigned to the State, an equal number of acres should be given them by the State, and so far as possible in one tract and under one patent, "provided the same does not exceed one-fourth of the quantity of a township." This arrangement was made for the benefit of those holding claims to land in the State of Ohio, in a tract set apart by Congress for the satisfying of claims by persons who had served in the Revolutionary War, entitling them to one hundred acres each. They were thus enabled to secure their entire claim of six hundred acres in one tract. But if a person neglected to relinquish his claim to the one hundred acres in Ohio, the sixth part of what his patent called for reverted to the State, giving rise to the term, "State's Hundred." Eight dollars (48 shillings) were taxed each patentee as a survey fee, in case of the non-payment of which fifty acres of his land reverted to the State; hence arose the term "Survey Fifty."
A further provision obligated the grantees of such lands to make actual settlement upon each six hundred acres "that may be granted to any person or persons, within seven years from the first of January next after the date of the patent by which such lands shall be granted; and on failure of such settlement, the unsettled lands shall revert to the people of the State."
An exception and reservation was made to the people of the State of all the "gold and silver mines" in the lands granted.
The Indian title to the lands embraced in the Military Tract was extinguished at the treaty of Fort Stanwix, on the 12th of September, 1788.
The act of February, 1789, provided that six lots in each township should be reserved and assigned, one for promoting the spirit of the Gospel and for public schools; one for promoting the spread of literature in the State, and the other four to satisfy the surplus share of commissioned officers not corresponding with the divisions of six-hundred acres and to compensate such persons as might draw any lot or lots parts of which were under water.
At the time under consideration the Land Commissioners consisted of the Governor (or the person administering the State government for the time being), the Lieutenant-Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, Secretary of State, Attorney General, the Treasurer and Auditor, the presence of three being necessary for the transaction of business. These Commissioners held a meeting in the office of the Secretary of State on the 3d of July, 1790; there were present His Excellency George Clinton, Governor; Lewis A Scott, Secretary; Gerard Banker, Treasurer; Peter T. Curtenius, Auditor. Maps of the surveys of twenty-six townships, as made by the Surveyor-General, were laid before the Commissioners. The townships were respectively subdivided into one hundred lots as nearly squared as possible, each lot containing six hundred acres. The Commissioners then caused the townships and the lots to be numbered according to law, as we have indicated it, and designated them by the names of famous men as follows:---
This tract contained 600,000 acres and embraced within its limits the present counties of Onondaga, Cortland, Cayuga, Tompkins, and Seneca, with portions of Oswego and Wayne. Cortland, as at present bounded, was situated in the southeastern tract. The townships, as surveyed, should not be confounded with what is now known as a town. In early years a township often embraced several towns. Homer township included the present towns of Homer and Cortland; Virgil embraced the towns of Virgil, Harford and Lapeer; Cincinnatus included the present towns of Cincinnatus, Marathon, Freetown and Willet; Solon included the present towns of Solon included the present towns of Solon and Taylor; and Preble contained the towns of Preble and Scott. As settlement advanced the extensive towns of pioneer times were divided and subdivided, for the more convenient transaction of the increasing public business.
On the first of January, 1791, the commissioners met and proceeded under the laws to determine by ballot who were entitled to claim the lands. Ninety-four persons drew lots in each township, and lots were also drawn for the Gospel, for literature, etc., as before indicated.
In August, 1792, the Commissioners, acting under a provision for grants of lands to the hospital department and others, caused the survey and numbering of township 27, which was given the name of Galen.
In January, 1795, there being several unsatisfied claims for military bounty or gratuity lands, and the twenty-seven townships being disposed of, the Commissioners resolved that the Surveyor-General should lay out still another township, as number 28. This afterwards named Sterling, and sufficed to satisfy all remaining claims.
Many frauds were perpetrated in connection with the titles to these military claims, to prevent which an act was passed in January, 1794, requiring all deeds and conveyances made and executed prior to that time to be deposited with the Clerk of Albany county for examination, and all such as were not so deposited should be considered as fraudulent. Claimants' names were posted in alphabetical order in the clerks' offices at Albany and Herkimer, for the full inspection of all who were interested.
The numerous contested claims filled the courts with vexations litigation, almost every lot causing trouble of this nature. Squatters settled on the soldiers' honest claims and it was found difficult and expensive to eject them by process of law. Land sharks possessed themselves of conveyances bearing anterior dates to those held by honest purchasers, who were subjected to threats of violence or long persecution in the courts, if they did not abandon their justly acquired property. Not seldom these land pirates were successful in their schemes; but on some occasions they encountered old soldiers who showed a disposition to take the law into their own hands for the protection of their rights; men who had faced the foe on many a bloody field, and were not to be easily driven from the lands they had thus earned. Goodwin, the author of the Pioneer History of Cortland County, is authority for the statement that in the eastern part of Cortland dwelt one of these veterans whose occupancy of a bounty claim did not accord with the notions of justice entertained by a land pirate. The old soldier "was an associate with the chivalrous sons who marched to Quebec when winter's awful tempest opposed their progress, and who crossed the ice-choked Delaware, regardless of chilling winds and angry waves; again defying the rage of battle beneath the burning sun at Monmouth-kindred spirits to those who fought at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill…..After locating on his lot, and at a time when hope painted to his eager vision long years of future happiness, he was called upon by one of these gentlemen Shylocks, who informed him that he held a conveyance of his lot, and that he was the only legal owner, and gave his a very polite invitation to evacuate his possessions. But the stern old patriot---the hero of many battles, and who carried on his person the certificates of his valor---was not thus hastily to be ejected from his revolutionary inheritance. The fire that once glowed so brightly in the old man's eyes on the field of battle was rekindled, and he would sooner have fallen a martyr to justice and right, than have obsequiously acquiesced in the mandate of his ungallant oppressor. The conveyance was at length laid open and examined and found to bear a date prior to his own. In short, it was a forgery. When the defrauder found that the stern, heroic warrior would not yield to his demand, he threatened him with the terrors of law and the cost of an ejectment suit. This, however, only caused a smile to play over the face of the worthy pioneer of civilization….. He knew that his possessions were legally bequeathed to him, as a comparatively small gift for the sacrifices he had made in the cause of human emancipation; and to be thus deprived of a home which he had purchased with sacrifices and blood, would not comport with the principle for which he had contended, and he spurned the intruder from his presence."
It is to be regretted that the historian did not give us the name of this successful veteran. The act of 1794, before alluded to, while undoubtedly checking the frauds and greatly facilitating the settlement of claims, did not entirely dispose of the litigated disputes and contentions. Finally, in the year of 1797, the dwellers on the great Military Tract wearied of the continued struggle for their rights and unanimoulsy united in petitioning the State Legislature to pass a law authorizing measures for the speedy and equitable adjustment of all disputes relating to their land titles. And act was accorkignly passed, appointing Robert Yates, James Kent, and Vincent Mathewes a Board of Commisssioners, with full powers "to hear, examine, award and determine all disputes respecting the titles to any and all the military bounty lands." The Governor was authorized to fill all vacancies in this Board.
The Commissioners vigorously began and prosecuted their task. Most of the awards of 1798-99 are signed by Vincent Mathews and James Emmott; later ones by Vincent Matheews, and Robert Yates and some in 1801-02 by Vincent Mathews, James Emmott, and Sanders Livingston. After a long period of vexatious labor, all the disputed claims were passed upon and the inhabitants of the Military Tract have since rested in security and peace.
Following is a complete list of all the original townships of the Military Tract, the different present towns which have been formed from them and the counties in which they are situated:---
|No. Township.||Present Towns.||County.|
| 1. Lysander.||Lysander and part of Granby,||Onondaga|
| 2. Hannibal.||Town and west part of the city of Oswego,|
Hannibal, and north part of Granby,
| 3. Cato.||Victory and Ira, north part of Conquest and Cato,||Cayuga|
| 4. Brutus.||Mentz and Brutus, and parts of Conquest,|
Cato, Montezuma, Throop and Sennet
| 5. Camillus.||Van Buren and Elbridge, and part of Camillus,||Onondaga|
| 6. Cicero.||Clay and Cicero||Onondaga|
| 7. Manlius.||De Witt and Manlius, and part of Salina,||Onondaga|
| 8. Aurelius.||Fleming, Auburn city and Owasco, most of Throop,|
and Sennet, part of Aurelius, and one lot in
| 9. Marcellus.||Skaneateles and Marcellus, parts of|
Spafford and Otisco,
|10. Pompey.||Pompey, most of Lafayette, three lots in Otisco||Onondaga|
|11. Romulus.||Romulus, west part of Fayette and Varick,|
and four lots in Seneca Falls
|12. Scipio.||Scipio and Venice, south part of Ledyard,|
five lots in Niles, and a small point
of the northwest corner of Moravia,
|13. Sempronius.||Moravia, Sempronius, and most of|
Niles and part of Spafford,
|14. Tully.||Tully, south part of Spafford, and|
Otisco, Scott and Preble,
|15. Fabius.||And north part of Truxton and Cuyler||Onondaga|
|16. Ovid.||Ovid, Lodi and Covert||Seneca|
|18. Locke.||Locke and Summer Hill|
|19. Homer.||Homer and most of Cortlandville,||Cortland|
|20. Solon.||Solon, Taylor, and south part of Truxton, and Cuyler||Cortland|
|22. Ulysses.||Ulysses, Enfield and Ithaca||Tompkins|
|23. Dryden.||Nearly the whole of Dryden||Tompkins|
|24. Virgil.||Virgil, most of Harford and Lapeer, and two and|
one-quarter lots in Cortlandville, and one lot (20)
|25. Cincinnatus.||Freetown, Cincinnatus, and most of Marathon||Cortland|
|26. Junius.||Junius, Tyre, Waterloo, and north part of|
|27. Galen.||Galen and Savannah||Wayne|
|28. Sterling.||Sterling, and east part of Wolcott and Butler,||Cayuga|
1 - Extract from proceedings of Congress.
Transcribed by Wilma Staiger - May, 2009.
1885 History of Cortland County
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