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.”

Other witnesses testified to the same effect. In contradiction, however, Gysbert Oosterhoudt, Philip Bronk, and Teunis Teunissen and Jacob Van Vechten, and several more, bore witness that, as they had been told by their ancestors or by the Indians, the first flat lay between the houses of Marten Van Bergen and Domine Schunemann, that is to say, at the Old Catskill, at the southern extremity of the plains.

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.

The second dispute was concerning the mode of measuring the out-bounds of the patent. The grant of 1688 declares, it will be remembered, that the estate shall extend four English miles northward, eastward, southward and westward, from the five plains. In the case which I have just cited, the court held that the boundaries of the patent should be fixed by measuring four miles due north, south, east and west, from the corresponding sides of the five plains, and by joining the points established by such measurement by straight lines. The form of the patent would have thus been a square. But in the great action of ejectment of Jackson, ex. dem., Bogardus vs. Van Gorden, decided in 1809 and reported in the fifth volume of Johnson’s Reports, the Court of Errors established the location of the outer lines of the patent in accordance with the claim of Van Gorden. That claim was that the out-bounds of the patent should run in such a manner around the plains as that, with a line of four miles long, you could always be able to touch some part or other of the exterior boundary of the plains from any one point in the out-bounds of the patent. The remembrance of the ability with which Abraham Van Vechten, of Albany, argued the case on behalf of Bogardus still remains.

The estate of the Salisburys and Van Bergens thus became bounded by circular or curved lines, nearly as these were established by Beatty, deputy surveyor of the Province, in 1719, and as they were established by the commissioners, who divided the estate in 1767. Beatty’s map, I believe, is lost; the commissioners’ map is on file in the office of the Secretary of State, at Albany. The northern curve of the patent extended beyond what is now the village of Cairo; the eastern went to the Hudson; the southern took in a large portion of the Inbogt; the western was at the eastern border of the Kiskatom Flats. In fact, however, the owners of the estate, never claimed the land south of the Catskill and the Katerskill, nor that portion of what is now the town of Athens which lies east of the Indian foot-path, or of the hill of limestone, which forms for a considerable distance the western side of the valley of the Hans Vosen Kill.

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