Article Number One -
Organization of the Town

Written by Joshua G. Borthwick and originally published
on February 15 1879, in the Catskill "Examiner". Copy provided by the Durham Center Museum and retyped by Annette Campbell


 
In writing anything like a connected history of the town of Durham, we meet with various difficulties. In the first place, all the original settlers of the town are gone---not a one of them living, and probably not one of their children remains to tell the story.  Another and a greater difficulty is found in the fact that no reliable, written history of the first settler is known to exist.  We have, in fact, the statement in "French's Gazetteer of the State of New York," that a settlement of the town was commenced in the year 1776, but no history of the settlement is there given. We have also a Diary, and other papers, written by one of the early settlers, which are of great value as a personal history of the man and of the men with whom he was associated; but they do not contain an account of the settlement of the town, as such.  Another difficulty is, that all the early town records, together with the office in which they were kept, was destroyed by a fire in 1821.  Notwithstanding all these difficulties we have considerable material for these sketches, and the writer wishes to express his obligations to those who have so generously co-operated in the work.  It is not claimed that these sketches will furnish a complete history of the town---they are simply sketches; and we invite correspondence, corrections, information, or criticisms, from any who will favor us with either. The writer is not a native of this town,  has no family pride to promote, no axe to grind.  He is, however, a resident of the town, and feeling that there is an interesting unwritten history of the same, and having a desire to contribute something, however humble and imperfect, towards its development, he presents to the public these Sketches.
 
The Town of Durham was formerly a part of the County of Albany. The entire State of New York originally comprised only ten counties, viz: Albany, Ulster, Dutchess, Westchester, Orange, New York, Richmond, Kings, Queens and Suffolk. These counties were formed Nov. 1, 1683, while Colonel Thomas Dougan was Governor. The county of Albany at that time embraced nearly the whole of the present counties of Columbia and Greene, and "everything within the Colony of New York, north and west, and claiming at one time the whole of Vermont."  March 24, 1772, the northern half of what is now Greene county, was formed into a district by Gov. William Tryon, and on the 7th day of March, 1788, this district was organized as the town of Coxsackie. Coxsackie is an Indian name signifying "Owl-hoot," or "the hooting of Owls."  At that time the whole of Greene county as it now is, was included in three towns: Coxsackie in the north, Catskill in the south east, and Woodstock in the south west. March 8, 1790, Coxsackie was divided; the eastern portion including the present towns of New Baltimore and Coxsackie, and parts of the towns of Greenville, Cairo and Athens, constituting the town of Coxsackie, and the western division was organized as the town of Freehold.  Its boundaries at that time were very extensive, commencing at a point near the center of the northern boundary of the town of Greenville, running thence south, including the site of the villages of Greenville and Freehold, nearly to the village of Cairo; thence west directly across the mountains nearly through the center of the towns of Windham, Ashland and Prattsville to the Schoharie Creek; thence north along the valley to a point near Strykersville, Schoharie county; thence east, taking in nearly the whole of Conesville to the north east corner of the town of Durham; thence east to the place of beginning containing nearly or quite one hundred thousand acres. Soon after, the part of the town west of the mountains was annexed to the town of Woodstock, which in 1798, was divided, and the northern part organized into the town of Windham, which embraced the whole of the seven towns west of the mountains. The County of Greene was formed from Albany and Ulster, March 25, 1800, and named in honor of Gen. Nathaniel Greene, of the Revolution. It consisted of the towns of Catskill, Coxsackie, Freehold and Windham.
 
On the 26th of March, 1803, the towns of Cairo and Greenfield, now Greenville, were formed, each taking a slice from Freehold.  March 28, 1805, the name of the town was changed to Durham, in honor of a town of that name in Connecticut, from which a large portion of the early settlers came. On the 3rd of March, 1836, that part of the town north and west of the mountains was annexed to Schoharie county, and organized as the town of Conesville, named in honor of Rev. Jonathan Cone, who was at that time pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Durham.
 

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