Article Number 10 - The Catskill Patent No. 4- Boundary Disputes
Originally published in the Catskill Examiner by Henry Brace between the years 1876 and 1879. Article 10 was published on August 12, 1876. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Catskill Examiner located at the Vedder Research Library. Transcribed by Barbara Bartley.
Local Sketches.--No. 10. An Outline Of The
History of the Town of Catskill,
From [To] the Year 1783. By Henry Brace
In March, 1680, nearly two years after the Indians of Old Catskill had sold their domain, letters patent therefor were obtained from Governor Andros by Maarte Gerritse Van Bergen and by Elizabeth, the widow of Silvester Salisbury, in trust for her children. The royal grant was of the five great plains with the woodland around them, “continuing, be estimation, in circumference four English miles, or one Dutch mile.” This description, it will be perceived, is ambiguous, and leaves the question undetermined, whether the estate granted was to be bounded by a circle of four miles in circumference, which would have enclosed but little more than the five great plains, or to be bounded by lines which would be distant four English miles from these plains. Van Bergen, who seems to have been the manager of the estate, perceived the ambiguity with his natural quickness, and availed himself of it with his natural shrewdness. He petitioned the Colonial Government--Elizabeth Salisbury, who was the wife of Cornelius Van Dyck, joining in the petition--for an ampler and more certain grant and confirmation. The prayer of the petition was granted, and on the twenty-eighth day of July, 1688, a new patent was issued.
By this patent, the estate received great increase. Its outer bounds were fixed at four English miles northward, eastward, southward and westward from the five plains, and the noble domain thus established was granted and confirmed to Van Bergen in fee simple, and to Elizabeth Salisbury for life, with remainder in fee to Francis, Silvester and Mary, the children of Silvester Salisbury.
In later days, however, when land had become of value, two questions arose respecting the boundaries and extent of the patent--questions which were fiercely contested in the courts of law, and which were not decided until 1809. The first dispute was concerning the location of Wachachkeek, the first of the five plains. It lay, so the Salisburys and the Van Bergens claimed, not at Leeds, but in the angle formed by the junction of the Catskill and the Katerskill. Several suits at law were brought in part to test the justice of this claim. The record of one of these actions has been preserved by Mr. John Van Vechten, and a copy is in my possession. Helme Jansen Turner, a man eighty-seven years old, who had lived in the neighborhood, or in Livingston’s Manor, since 1710, testified that he was present with Petris Van Bergen and John Oosterhoudt, when old John Bronk pointed out the location of the first Flat,--”Here it is,” he said stretching out his arms, one up the Katerskill, the other up the Catskill, “as the Wilden”--the Indians--”showed it to me.” On his cross-examination, Turner swore that he could not be mistaken. He remembered the occasion perfectly, because on that day old Bronk struck him with a stick, or, to use the witness’ own words, “slew him with a stock.”
The question was finally put at rest in 1805, by the decision of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. A report of the case--Jackson, ex. dem., Clark vs. Reeves--may be found in the third volume of Caine’s at page 293. Justice Thompson delivered the opinion of the Court. The first plain, he said, is not at the junction of the Catskill and the Katerskill, but at Catskill Church, that is to say, at Leeds, beyond the creek. The testimony is somewhat contradictory.--Several very ancient witnesses have been examined on both sides. But (1.) The plains are called in the patent great plains, and none of the witnesses pretends to describe the plain at the junction of the two creeks as containing more than about two acres. (2.) The junction is upwards of two miles distance from the four plains, a circumstance which renders the claim of the defendants highly improbable. (3.) But what puts an end to the question is that, in the first patent of the year 1680, these five plains are described as lying above the land of Eldert DeGoyer, and it is admitted, that DeGoyer’s land was the plain near or at the junction of the Catskill and the Katerskill, which afterwards became the property of the Van Vechtens.
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