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History of Putnam County


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Chapter VIII
The Oblong

     The eastern portion of Putnam county is a strip of land one mile, three quarters and twenty rods wide. This strip is a portion of what is known as the "Oblong" or "Equivalent Lands," the history of which is exceeding curious.[Click here to see a map of The Oblong from Chapter II of Pelletreau's "The History of Putnam County, New York,..."]

     At the time of the early settlement of the colonies, the geography of the county was but little understood and erroneous descriptions led to endless controversies, not only between individuals but between townships and colonies as well. The boundary between the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and the English colony of Connecticut was in the very earliest times a fruitful source of contention, the former claiming all lands west of Connecticut River, while the latter kept pushing their settlements along the shore of the Sound, till they extended beyond Byram River. After a long and angry dispute, an agreement was concluded at Hartford on the 29th of September, 1654. By this it was resolved that the boundaries between the Dutch and English on Long Island should be a line from the western part of Oyster Bay to the sea, and on the main land the bounds were to begin at the west side of Greenwich Bay and run in a northerly direction, twenty miles up into the country. Ten years later all this agreement was abrogated by the conquest of New Netherland and the establishment of the English rule in the province of New York.

     The controversy as to boundaries now became one between New York and Connecticut. On the 13th of October, 1664 the General Assembly of Connecticut appointed delegates to accompany the governor to New York, for the purpose of congratulating the duke's commissioners and settling the boundaries between the colonies. Accordingly, on the 28th of October, 1664, an agreement was made by which the boundaries between New York and Connecticut were fixed at twenty miles east of the Hudson River, running north from Long Island Sound, and parallel to the river. This was signed on the 1st of December, and the line established was to begin at the mouth of Mamaroneck Creek on the Sound and extend north-northwest to the line of Massachusetts, this being supposed to be parallel with the river, and was so stated in a Letter from Gov. Nicolls to the Duke of York, in 1665. It was soon found that this idea was grossly erroneous, for the line would cross the Hudson River below West Point. The commotions and changes in the two colonies originated in the reconquest of New York by the Dutch in 1669, and its surrender to the English soon after put a temporary stop to the agitation and no official negotiations took place till after 1680. In the mean time the Connecticut people surveyed the line which as they struck the Hudson River "below the new mills erected by Mr. Frederick Philipse." These mills were on a creek above the present village of Tarrytown, made famous by Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." This line was so eminently to the advantage of Connecticut that it is not surprising that they stoutly claimed it, notwithstanding the manifest error, and the controversy soon began to assume formidable proportions.

     In 1683, a delegation was sent to Governor Dongan, to treat with him for a settlement of the boundaries, hut they were privately instructed to insist upon the line running north-northwest from Mamaroneck and any deviation from it was to be ascribed to their desire "to oblige his honor and to promote a perpetual good correspondence" between the two colonies. Governor Dongan and the New York Council insisted upon the line twenty miles east from the Hudson River and all that the representatives of Connecticut could obtain was permission to retain the settlements they had made on the Sound, in exchange for an equal tract further north. This agreement was made November 24th, 1683, and it established a boundary which has ever since remained. The bounds were to begin at the mouth of the Byram River and run up it to the head of tide water. A line was then to be run north-northwest, eight miles from the Sound; from this point another line was to be run 12 miles, parallel in its general course to the Sound; from the end of this another line was to be run parallel to the Hudson River, and everywhere twenty miles from it, northerly to the Massachusetts line, and on the east side of this line a tract was to be laid off equal in acres to the amount yielded to Connecticut on the shores of the Sound. This tract so laid off was called the "Equivalent Lands" and the boundary was to be on its eastern-most side.

     This agreement was approved by Connecticut, May 8th, 1684, and a surveyor and committee were appointed to lay out the line. They began at the mouth of Byram River, and measured up it to the head of tide water and then ran a line north-northwest six miles and a half, completing eight miles from the Sound. They then ran the twelve miles east, parallel to the Sound, but as this point was found not to be twenty miles from the Hudson River, they continued it a mile and sixty-four rods, and there the point was fixed at the place of beginning of the line which was to run north to the Massachusetts line, and parallel to the river. A calculation was made of the land yielded to Connecticut, and it was found to be 61,440 acres. The width of the "Equivalent Lands" was calculated on the assumption that the line was 100 miles long. As this line was disadvantageous to Connecticut every possible means was tried to prevent it from being carried into effect and the records of legislation and official correspondence from 1718 to 1725 bear ample testimony to the ingenuity if to no other trait, for which the people of Connecticut have always been famous. The lines run in 1684 remained for thirty-three years before any steps were taken to extend them and complete the transfer of territory from Connecticut to New York.

     In 1717, the government of New York took steps to have the line determined, and made an effort to get Connecticut to unite in the undertaking. It seems that at the end of the twelve mile line parallel to the Sound there was a tree called the "Duke's tree." Connecticut claimed this as the starting point of the line to be run north, while New York refused to accept this point unless it was determined by actual measurement. The report made by a committee appointed by the Council of New York pretty clearly established he fact that the claim for the "Duke's tree" was a "Yankee trick," and that the true bounds were 305 rods beyond the place where the tree was supposed to stand. Nothing effectual was done till 1724, when Connecticut appointed commissioners and yielded all the points of the previous contentions. In consideration for the Connecticut settlers near the line at Ridgefield, it was determined to make a crook in the boundary corresponding to the one in the Hudson River at Cortlandt's Point (now known as Verplanck's Point), consequently a line was measured due east from the western extremity of Cortlandt's Point twenty miles, and to make the crook as great as possible it was agreed that the line should be measured without any allowance for errors in chaining. A calculation was then to be made of the width of the tract running the whole length of the two lines which extended from the line parallel with the Sound to the Massachusetts line. This tract was to be conveyed to New York and the east line was to be the boundary. It was also agreed that one compass should be used and that all measurements should be made on the surface of the ground.

     One of the objections made to running the line had been that certain poor families who had settled on the tract might be in danger of losing their lands, and it was agreed on both sides that such persons should receive a patent for the lands they had improved. They began the survey in 1725 and measured the various lines from the mouth of Byram River, to the end of the twelve mile line parallel to the Sound, marking every point with the utmost care, and there they stopped, leaving the line running north to be run at some future time. The tract of more than 60,000 acres thus to be acquired by New York, presented an opportunity too tempting to be resisted by land speculators of the last century. The "certain poor families" still remained in the same state of uncertainty as to whether they were to be in New York or Connecticut, and a partnership was formed by them with residents of New York, who had capital, political influence and official position, and a plan was devised for ending their troubles. On the 3d of September, 1730, a petition was presented to the New York Council by Thomas Hauley and twenty-one others, setting forth that they were, as they supposed, residents upon the Equivalent Tract, where they had settled believing it to be in Connecticut, and that to deprive them of their lands would impoverish them, and if they could have 50,000 acres of the Equivalent Lands, they would defray the charge of completing the boundary line, which had been suspended for want of funds.

     This was agreed to by both colonies and surveyors and commissioners were appointed, and it was declared that when the work should be completed by the erection of monuments, the lines so designated should forever be the boundary line between New York and Connecticut. The line was run to the Massachusetts line, in the spring of 1731. From the east end of the line, measured twenty miles due east from the end of Verplanck's Point, a random line was run to the Massachusetts boundary. This was a little more than 50 miles long, and the north end on the Massachusetts line was found by measurement to be 182 rods too far west. This distance being measured off, a monument was erected at the true corner. The straight line between this monument and the east end of the twenty mile line from Verplanck's Point was then run by measuring perpendiculars from the random line at intervals of two miles, and the extremities of these offset lines were marked by heaps of stones. When the proper calculation was made the tract of Equivalent Land was found to be one mile, three-quarters and twenty rods wide, This tract was measured by running lines east from the heaps of stones in the direct line just measured, and the erection of heaps of stones opposite them, which heaps marked the boundary, line between New York and Connecticut.

     At the time of this survey there were but two or three roads crossing the line, and no villages near it, and the lands were entirely unsettled, except a few miles from the south end. The natural result of measuring the lines on the surface of the ground, which varied from level land to rough and precipitous mountains, was that the heaps of stones which marked the boundary between the two States of New York and Connecticut were not in a straight line, nevertheless they are the true boundary. The commissioners held a meeting at Dover after completing the survey, and there executed a deed, by which the Equivalent Lands were conveyed to New York and they have ever since formed a part of her territory. A patent for 50, 000 acres was granted to Hauley and his associates, in four separate tracts and embracing the greater part of the whole. The surveyor general was next directed to survey these lands for the purpose of division among the owners. This was done about 1732. The map made by Cadwallader Colden, is now among the Colden papers in the library of the New York Historical Society, and is the only map of any of the early surveys that can be found. The land was divided among the Hauley patentees, who sold it to settlers and by this title the lands are now held.

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