Formation of Onondaga County

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Onondaga County was formed 5 March 1794 from Herkimer and Tioga Counties (Laws of Session 17 Chapter 18). The County of Onondaga was the twenty-first of New York State's present sixty-two counties.

The new county of Onondaga included "All that tract of land called the Military Tract, bounded westerly by the county of Ontario, northerly by Lake Ontario, the Onondaga river (the Oswego and Oneida rivers were then so called) and the Oneida lake, easterly by the east bounds of . . . Cincinnatus, Solon, Fabius and Pompey and easterly and north-easterly bounds of . . . Manlius and Cicero. . . and southerly by the south bounds of . . . Cincinnatus, Virgil, Dryden, Ulysses and Hector . . . and the same line continued to the east bounds of the county of Ontario."

This description included a section extended to the preemption line west of Seneca lake and bounded north and south by lines continuing from the north and south bounds of a southern tier of military townships. This strip, running from Watkins to Starkey Landing, forms today part of the towns of Reading in Schuyler county and Starkey in Yates.

The original Onondaga county embraced about one and three-quarter million acres, close to a fifteenth of the present area of New York State. All of Onondaga, Cortland, Cayuga, and Seneca Counties and parts of Oswego, Tompkins, Schuyler, Wayne and Yates now line within the first lines of Onondaga.

Tioga County, as well as Herkimer, contributed territory to form Onondaga. This fact does not appear in any country or state history, gazetteer or reference work that we have seen. In 1813, a table "calculated to satisfy many useful and valuable enquiries. . ." was furnished to accompany the Laws of the 36th Session. In this table Onondaga was shown as taken from Herkimer in 1794. Tioga was omitted. No writer or researcher seems ever to have questioned the eminent compilers of the table. Their error, or omission, has been carefully followed to this day.

However, the laws of 1791 clearly show Tioga's part in Onondaga's parentage. Montgomery (formerly Tyron) county was subdivided in February of that year. Tioga county was created and given a large area including the southern tier of five Military tract townships, Hector, Ulysses, Dryden, Virgil and Cincinnatus, together with the southern part of Miltona nd the area lying west of Hector between Seneca lake and the preemption line. The rest of the narrow strip between the preemption line on the west and Seneca lake and the military lands on the east was transferred to Ontario county, which already included all of the state west of the preemption line.  The remainder of the Military tract went to another new county called, and spelled, "Herkemer."

Four years later, Herkimer's share of the Military tract and Tioga's five and a fraction military townships and her bit of land west of Seneca lake were joined again to form Onondaga. For a century and a half, only Herkimer has had recognition as a parent.

(Taken from "The Military Tract, part of which became Onondaga County, New York,' prepared by John C. LaPiana from Onondaga Historical Association Bulletin April and May 1959, Daughters of the American Revolution New York Cemetery, Church and Town Records, Vol. 560, 1985, pp. 17-32)

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13 September1996
23 November 1996