Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister


Chapter XI - Land Matters

On the 3d of April, 1792, one month after the cession of the Triangle, the General Assembly passed an act for the encouragement of emigration to the newly acquired territory. This measure, generally known as the "actual settlement law," was in substance as follows:

The lands north and west of the Rivers Ohio, Allegheny and Conewango are to be sold to any person who will cultivate, improve and settle the same, or cause them to be improved and settled, at 7 Pounds 10 shillings for every hundred acres, with an allowance of six per cent for roads, etc.

On application to the Secretary of the Land Office, giving a description of the lands applied for, a warrant is to be issued to the applicant for any quantity not exceeding 400 acres.

The lands are to be divided into proper districts and one Deputy Surveyor is to be appointed for each district.

No title shall vest in the lands unless the grantee has, prior to the issuance of his warrant, made or caused to be made, or shall, within two years next after the same, make or cause to be made an actual settlement thereon, by clearing, fencing and cultivating at least two acres for every hundred in one survey, and erected a house, and resided or caused a family to reside on the same for the five years immediately following and in default thereof new warrants shall be issued to actual settlers; provided, that if any such actual settler or grantee "shall, by force of arms of the enemies of the United States, be prevented from making such settlement, or be driven therefrom, and shall persist in his endeavors to make such actual settlement, then, in either case, he and his heirs shall be entitled to have and to hold such lands in the same manner as if the actual settlement had been made."

The lands actually settled and improved are to remain chargeable with the purchase money and interest, and if the grantee shall neglect to apply for a warrant for ten years after the passage of this act, unless hindered by death or the enemies of the United States, the lands may be granted to others by warrants reciting the defaults. The lands settled under this legislation are to be free from taxation for ten years.

Pennsylvania Population Company
Soon after the "actual settlement law" was enacted, the Pennsylvania Population Company was formed at Philadelphia, the avowed purpose of which was to settle the lands of the Triangle. John Nicholson, the famous land speculator, was elected President, and Messrs. Cazenove, Irvine, Mead, Leet, Hoge and Steward, managers. The stock of the corporation consisted of 2,500 shares, each of which represented or was intended to represent 200 acres. The title to the lands purchased was to be vested in trustees, to be held in common, and the proceeds were to be divided, pro rata, among the stockholders. Previous to the organization of the company, Mr. Nicholson had applied for 390 warrants in the Triangle, and 250 on the waters of Beaver River, to be located in his own name. These he transferred to the corporation, which paid for them and perfected the title. The company also took up about 500 additional warrants in Erie and Crawford Counties. The lands located by the Population Company embraced the whole Triangle except the Erie and Garrison State Reserves and Irvine's Reservation. The corporation was dissolved in 1811 [sic], after the last with Great Britain, and the remaining lands and unsettled contracts for the sale of lands passed into the hands of the individual members.

A Great Land Speculator

"John Nicholson," says the author of the Historical Annals of Pennsylvania, "was Comptroller of the State from 1782 to 1794, during which time $27,000,000 of public money passed through his hands under circumstances of peculiar complication and difficulty, arising from the then state of paper money and the Government credit. He became the object of political persecution, and resigned his office. His private transactions were very extensive. At this period he was the owner of about 3,7000,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania, besides large possessions, real and personal, elsewhere. To meet his various pecuniary engagements for these lands, he formed joint-stock companies, to which he conveyed a large portion of them. His affairs became embarrassed; he was committed to prison, and died in confinement and insane during the year 1800. So early as the 17th and 18th of March, 1797, deeds had been made to the Pennsylvania Land Company, and individual creditors had obtained judgments against him. The commonwealth had an immense claim against him for unsettled land warrants, stock accounts, and other items, in liquidation of which the vast amount of lands held in his name, throughout thirty-nine counties, reverted to the commonwealth, and were taken or purchased by others. Conflicting claims, besides that of the State, were previously existing, and tended greatly to complicate the title of these lands. The matter was several times closed and as often re-opened by legislative enactments, special writs and new lawsuits, and, later, a sweeping claim was made by the individual heirs of Nicholson to an immense amount of land throughout the State -- attempting to unsettle claims supposed to have been quieted many years since." A fuller account of a part of the agitation here referred to will be found in another place.

Plan of Settlement

The Population Company, on the 8th of March, 1793, issued instructions to their agents, offering the following inducements to settlers in Erie County:

A gift of 150 acres each to the first twenty families that shall settle on French Creek.
A similar gift to the first twenty families that shall settle in the Lake Erie territory.
A gift of 100 acres each to the next fifty families (after the first twenty) who shall settle on French Creek.
A similar gift to the next fifty families (after the first ten) who shall settle in the Lake Erie territory.

The settlers were privileged to locate on any lands of the company they chose, and if they cleared at least ten acres, and erected a comfortable house thereon, in which they resided, were to have a deed after two years. In case they were driven off by the Indians, no part of the two years was to run against them, and no title was to vest in any person or his heirs who abandoned the lands before receiving his deed.

Thirty thousand acres were offered for sale to actual settlers, in tracts not exceeding 300 acres, at $1 per acre, payable at the option of the purchaser, in three years, with interest that last two years. The surveys were to be made under the direction of the company, at the expense of the grantee or purchaser.

Holland Land Company
The Holland Land Company was an organization of twelve wealthy gentlemen living in Holland, who advanced several millions of dollars to the Government during the Revolution, through the influence of Robert Morris. This debt was liquidated after the establishment of independence, by the Government, transferring to the company vast tracts of land in Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania. The company also took up by warrant numerous tracts of land in Erie and Crawford Counties. These were issued to them at various times in 1793, 1794 and 1795, and numerous sales were made. In consequence of the Indian troubles, the settlers upon some of the tracts were prevented from making the improvements required by law within the two years prescribed, and the titles became involved in litigation, the same as in the case of the Population Company. The lands of the Holland Company lay south of the triangle line, across the entire width of the county. Maj. Alden, the first agent of the company, had his headquarters in Crawford County. He was succeeded by William Miles, of Union Mills. In 1815, H. J. Huidekoper, a member of the corporation, came on from Holland, took charge of the company's affairs, and established his office in Meadville. The lands remaining unsold were bought by Mr. Huidekoper in 1833, and helped to create the large fortune which he left at his decease.

Tenth Donation District
By an act of March 12, 1783, the Legislature directed the laying-out of a district in the Northwest, to be bounded "by the Allegheny River on the southeast as far up as the mouth of the Conewango; thence by a line due north to the New York line; thence by the northern and western boundaries of the States, and south" by what was known as the Depreciation District, which extended up the Beaver to the mouth of the Mahoning. These lands were appropriated to fulfill the promise of the commonwealth, made on the 7th of March, 1780, "to the officers and privates belonging to this State in the Federal army, of certain donations and quantities of land, according to their several ranks, to be surveyed and divided off to them, severally, at the end of the war. They were surveyed in lots of from 200 to 500 acres each, enough of each kind to supply the different ranks. A Major General was entitled to draw four tickets, by lottery, for 500 acres each; a Brigadier General, three of the same; and so on down to the drummers, fifers, corporals, and 'private sentinels,' who drew one ticket of 200 acres each." The Donation District was divided into sub-districts, each of which was known by it number. The Tenth District commenced about a mile east of the borough of Waterford and extended eastward across the present townships of Amity and Wayne to the Warren County line. It was surveyed on the part of the State in 1785 by David Watts and William Miles, who came on from the East for that purpose, and returned home on the completion of their labors. In laying out the district they made several provoking errors, among others running their lines into Greene and Venango Townships, which did not belong to the State. This blunder was corrected, however, upon the purchase of the Triangle, but some of the other faults of the survey led to much litigation and hard feeling. Few of the soldiers for whose benefit the lands were set aside, moved on to them, the patents having generally been disposed of at a small price to speculators. The object of the law was fulfilled without using the entire district specified for donation purposes, and the balance of the lands, including all that part of Erie County not named above and in the several grants and reservations, reverted to the State.

Harrisburg and Presque Isle Company
On the 13 of August, 1796, an association was formed at Harrisburg, under the title of the Harrisburg and Presque Isle Company, for the purpose of "settling, improving and populating the country near and adjoining to Lake Erie." It was limited to ten persons, whose names were Richard Swan, Thomas Forster, John Kean, Alexander Berryhill, Samuel Laird, John A. Hanna, Robert Harris, Richard Dermond, William Kelso and Samuel Ainsworth. The capital of the company consisted of $10,000, of which no member was entitled to more than five shares of $200 each. The money paid in was to be "common stock," and was to be invested in the purchase of "inlots and outlots in the town of Erie and others," and of lands north and west of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers. The company purchased thirty seven Erie inlots and eight outlots at the public sale at Carlisle in August, 1796, They also obtained possession of 430 acres at the mouth of Walnut Creek, and of some land at Waterford. Mr. Forster came on as agent, in company with Mr. Swan, in the spring of 1797, and located on the Walnut Creek property. By the fall of that year, they had a saw mill erected, and the next year a grist mill was commenced, which was not completed, however, till the fall of 1799. They laid out a town at the mouth of the creek and called it Fairview. Both Forster and Swan took up large tracts in the vicinity on their own account. The title to a portion of the company's property was disputed by the Population Company, and, after long litigation, the Walnut Creek site was sold at Sheriff's sale.

The Moravian Grant
The "Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen" -- commonly known as the Moravians -- had long maintained missionaries at its own expense among the Indians, who contributed largely by their Christian example and teachings to the peace of the frontier. In recognition of their services, the State, on the 17th of April, 1791, voted the association two grants of land of 2,500 acres each, with allowance, to be located respectively on "the River Connought, near the northwestern part of the State," and on "the heads of French Creek." The society located 2,875 acres in Le Boeuf Township, which they named the "Good Luck" tract, and 2,797 in Springfield and Conneaut Townships, to which they gave the title of "Hospitality." These lands were leased until 1850, when they were purchased by N. Blickensderfer and James Miles. The first agent for the Moravians was William Miles, of Union, who was succeeded by his son James as Manager of the "Hospitality," and by John Wood, of Waterford, as manager of the "Good Luck" tract.

The Reservations
The Reservations in the county were four in number, viz.: Irvine's Reservation, the Erie State Reserve, the Waterford State Reserve, and the Garrison Reserve.

Irvine's Reservation consisted of 2,000 acres in Harbor Creek Township, donated by the commonwealth to Gen. William Irvine as a special reward for his services during the Revolution. He located the tract while here to lay out the town of Erie. It was reserved in the grants to the Population Company.

In the grants to that company, the State also reserved a tract around the harbor of Erie, which became known as the Erie State Reserve. It commenced at the head of the bay and ran south three miles, then eastward, parallel with the lake, eight miles, then back to the lake shore three miles, making altogether some twenty-four square miles. An act passed the Legislature in April, 1797, providing for the sale of these lands. They were first surveyed by George Moore in 1795, again by John Cochran in 1796-97, and finally by Thomas Rees in 1799. The latter laid them out in three tiers -- the one furthest from the lake consisting of 150-acre tracts, the second mainly of 130-acre tracts, and the last, or nearest to the lake, of tracts ranging from 100 to 50 acres. This, of course, did not include the inlots and outlots of the town of erie. None of the lands were sold until 1801, and but few before 1804. Those who bought earliest paid from $3 to $4 per acre, one-fifth in hand, the balance in four equal annual payments. One party who owned 411 acres deeded the whole of it, in 1804, for a male slave. The final sale of the Reserve lands took place on the first Monday of August, 1833, when fifty-acre tracts on the bank of the lake west of the city were purchased at from $9 to $22 per acre.

The Reserve at Waterford, like that at Erie, was set apart by the State with a view to getting increased prices from the expected rapid growth of that town. It consisted of 1,800 acres in Waterford Township, and 400 in Le Boeuf. Provision for its sale was made in the act of 1799, and most of the tract had passed into private hands by 1804.

The Garrison tract was provided for in the act of 1794, for laying out a town at Presque Isle, which directed the Governor to reserve "out of the lots of the said town so much land as he shall deem necessary for public uses; also, so much, land, within or out of the said town, as may, in his opinion, be wanted by the United States for the purpose of erecting forts, magazines, arsenals and dock-yards." It lies on the bank of the bay on the east side of Erie City, and is now in the possession of the United States Government.

Academy Lands
The act of 1799 provided that in the sales of land 500 acres should be held back from each of the Reserve tracts at Erie and Waterford "for the use of such schools and academies as may hereafter be established by law" in those towns. The lands that fell to the share of Waterford Academy lie in Le Boeuf Township, at the mouth of Le Boeuf Creek. They were sold off about 1840. The Erie Academy grant was in Mill Creek Township, and extended some distance along the Waterford Turnpike, commencing near the present southern boundary of the city. The land has passed into the hands of private owners.

Surveyors and Land Agents
As already stated, the first survey in the county was that of the Tenth Donation District, made by Watts and Miles in 1785. Under the act of 1792, the territory north and west of the Ohio, Allegheny and Conewango Rivers, was divided into five district, each of which was assigned to a Deputy Surveyor. District No. 1 was thus described: "Beginning on the bank of Lake Erie at the northeast corner of the tract purchased by the State of Pennsylvania of the United States; from thence extending due south to the northern boundary of the State of Pennsylvania, and along the same upon the same due south course ten miles; from thence to run a due west course to the western boundary of the State; thence by the same north to Lake Erie; thence along the margin of said lake to the place of beginning." Thomas Rees was appointed Deputy Surveyor on the 16th of May, 1792, with "full power to execute all warrants and surveys" to him directed by the Land Department of the State. He set out for his mission immediately, but learning that the Indians on Lake Erie were hostile came no further than Northumberland County, where he opened an office. During his stay there warrants were filed by the Pennsylvania Population Company for the whole of the Triangle. He left for Presque Isle in the spring of 1793. On reaching Buffalo reek (now the city of Buffalo), he was met by a delegation of Indians, who refused to let him proceed further, threatening that he would be killed if he did. After long delay, a number of warrants were surveyed for the Population Company in 1794, but the attitude of the Indians was so hostile, and reports of Indian murders so frequent, that Mr. Rees abandoned the field and returned to the East.

More Land Legislation
The Legislature passed an act on the 22d of April, 1794, which provided that no further applications should be received by the land office for any unimproved land within the Triangle. This was after it had been ascertained that the territory was not sufficient to supply the warrants issued to the Population Company. The same act directed that no warrant should issue after the 15th of June of that year, for any land within the Triangle except in favor of persons claiming by virtue of some settlement and improvement having been made thereon, and that all applications remaining in the land office after that date for which the purchase money had not been paid, should be void. It was stipulated, however, that applications might be "received and warrants issued until the 1st of January, 1795, in favor of any persons to whom a balance might be due in the land office on unsatisfied warrants issued before the 29 of March, 1792, for such quantities of land as might be sufficient to discharge such balances;" provided, that the act should not be "so construed as that any warrants, except those wherein the land is particularly described, should in any manner affect the title of the claim of any person having made an actual improvement before such warrant was entered and surveyed in the Deputy Surveyor's books." Another act, passed in September of the same year, made it unlawful for any application for lands to be received at the land office, after its passage, "except for such lands where a settlement has been or hereafter shall be made, grain raised and a person or persons residing thereon."

Settled At Last
The difficulty with the Indians, related in a previous chapter, delayed further operations until the spring of 1795, when Mr. Rees came on again, put up a tent at the mouth of Mill Creek, and resumed his duties as a surveyor. About this time he was also appointed agent for the Population Company, which renewed the instruction of 1793. The Rutledge murders happening soon after the arrival of Rees, kept emigration from the Triangle for awhile, but by fall quite a number of people had come into the county. Mr. Rees employed several Surveyors during the season, among whom were George Moore and David McNair, and by fall reported the sale for the company of 74,790 acres to some 200 different persons. Few of these, however, made an immediate settlement upon the land, through fear of Indian depredations. Mr. Rees resigned both as Deputy Surveyor and agent for the Population Company at the beginning of 1796, and from that date until the spring of 1802 served the State as Commissioner for the sale of lots, etc. He was succeeded in the first position by John Cochran, and in the second by Judah Colt. Mr. Rees took up a large tract in Harbor Creek Township, about one mile south of the present Buffalo road, to which he cut a highway in 1797. After leaving the agency, he cleared up several large farms, on one of which he resided until his death in May, 1848. He was the first Justice of the Peace in this county, his appointment bearing date March 31, 1796.

Judah Colt, who had been appointed to succeed Mr. Rees as agent of the Population company, came on in that capacity on the 1st of July, 1796. His duties and experience are best told in the memoir he left for the use of his family, an abstract of which is here given:

Abstract of Judah Colt's Autobiography
I was born at Lyme, Conn., July 1, 1761. In August, 1795, in company with Augustus Porter, came to Erie to purchase land. At Presque Isle found a number of men encamped, United States troops erecting a fort, and Commissioners for the State, Gen. William Irvine and Andrew Ellicott, laying out the town of Erie. They had about 100 militia troops in their employ. Thomas Rees was acting as agent for the Pennsylvania Population Company in the survey and sale of lands. Porter and I took two certificates of 400 acres each at $1 per acre, payable in five annual installments. We made but a brief stay.

On the 3d of March, 1796, went to Philadelphia for the purpose of getting the lands purchased of Mr. Rees at Erie confirmed. The principal proprietors of the Population Company resided there. Offered to buy 30,000 acres at $1 per acre, but they declined to sell in so large a body. Col. Aaron Burr, who was one of the proprietors, informed me that they were in need of a more active agent, and offered me the position. A contract was entered into by which they agreed to pay me $1,500 a year, besides board, traveling expenses, etc. This was raised to $2,500 in 1798. Money was advanced with which to procure supplies and hire laborers, and in the month of April I started to return to my home in the Genesee country, New York. At New York City, I laid in provisions, sundry kinds of goods and farming utensils, such as were needed in a new country. They were shipped under the care of Enoch Marvin, up the river to Albany, across the portage by wagons to the Mohawk, up the latter by batteaux, then by wagons again to Oswego, and from there by lake and wagon to Presque Isle. Mr. Marvin arrived at the latter place on the 22d of June, 1796, but the boats did not reach Presque Isle till the 1st of July. He found a Captain's command stationed there in a garrison laid out and built in 1795. His tent or marquee was erected near the old French garrison. During the season, he met with considerable opposition from advance settlers, "a company known as Dunning McNair & Co., from the neighborhood of Pittsburgh." Leaving the agency in charge of Elisha and Enoch Marvin, I set out on the 4th of November for Philadelphia, returning to the mouth of Sixteen Mile Creek May 31, 1797.

June 1, rode out to where Elisha Marvin was stationed, who had charge of the men employed by the agency, nine miles south of Lake Erie, known afterward as Colt's Station, Made this my headquarters until the 10th of November. The season was one of much business. The opposition of advance settlers caused me much trouble. I had to keep from forty to one hundred men in service to defend settlers and property. More than once mobs of twenty to thirty assembled for the purpose of doing mischief. Went to Pittsburgh with witnesses and had a number indicted by the grand jury of Allegheny County. On my return, loaded a boat with stores to take to the Sixteen Mile Creek, and put it in charge of four men. On their way up the lake, a storm upset the boat and three of the men were drowned. During the season, the building of a vessel of about thirty-five tons was commenced at the mouth of Four Mile creek. The Lowrys and others were the indicted parties. Their disturbances took place in the months of June and July.

Went East in the fall, and set out to return to Erie in April, 1798. At New York, purchased supplies, which were sent forward in charge of B. Saxton and Eliphalet Beebe. Arrived at Presque Isle the 31st of May, and at Greenfield on the 3d of June. Brought my wife along for the first time. Resided at Colt's Station with my family until the 7th of November. The vessel, begun the year before at the mouth of Four Mile Creek, was completed in time to make a trip to Fort Erie. It was named the Sloop Washington. On the 10th of October, I accompanied about sixty-five of the settlers to Erie to attend an election, all of whom voted in favor of a Federal Representative. On the 7th of November, with Mrs. Colt, set out for Pittsburgh, on horseback. Our baggage was taken down French Creek in boats. Arrived at Pittsburgh the 9th of January, 1799. Shortly after our arrival, the weather became very warm, the frost came out of the ground, and the farmers began their plowing. Did not return to Erie county until May, 1801. During a part of 1800 and 1801, the peace of the county was much disturbed by the adversaries of the company. In the summer and fall of 1800, the settlement was visited by a number of clergymen who were sent out by the Ohio and Redstone Presbyteries, who preached in a number of places and took much pains to establish churches. Among them was Rev. Mr. McCurdy.

During the year 1801, some progress was made in organizing the militia of Greenfield. Elisha Marvin was chosen Captain. He had about eighty men in his company. During 1802, considerable progress was made in the county, military, civil and religious. In the month of June, 1803, aided by a Deputy Marshall of the United States Court, removed sundry intruders against whom ejectment had been brought, some of whom were obstinate and gave much trouble. During the same month, Mary Marvin arrived in company with her brother Elisha. September 24, purchased of James Wilson four lots, on which was a small house, in the town of Erie, for the sum of $490. On the 26th, set out for Pittsburgh by way of the new State road. Returned to Greenfield February 24, 1804. During the month of April, 1804, was again in Philadelphia as a witness in the United States Court relating to the lands of the Population Company, and in which the company was successful. On the 6th of August, 1804, began to improve my Erie property, to which I removed my family n the 21st of November.

The country in 1805 was still far from tranquil. People continued to take unlawful possession of lands claimed under warrants, and were encouraged by others for political purposes. The company brought sundry ejectments. During the summer we were called upon by a number of clergymen. In the month of December, James and Ezekiel Graham, who had unlawfully settled on the tract of the Population Company, purchased 100 acres each at $3 per acre, payable in installments.

November 20, 1806. -- News came of a decision in the land case in United States Court at Philadelphia. Robert Penn, plaintiff; Adam Arbuckle, defendant.

July 1, 1807. -- The obstinacy of adverse settlers renders my employment in some respects unpleasant. The Erie & Waterford Turnpike is in process of building.

Mr. Colt made frequent trips to Philadelphia, New York and Pittsburgh on the business of the company, being absent from his family much of the time. On one occasion he was gone fifteen months. He died in 1832, and left a large estate. His successors for most of the members of the company was Judah C. Spencer. A few of the members placed their interests in charge of Thomas H. Sill.

Dunning McNair established an agency for the company on Conneaut Creek in 1797, and made contracts with most of the early settlers of that region.

Land Sales
Among those who took up large bodies of land at an early date were David Watts and William Miles, the first surveyors, who located 1,400 acres at Wattsburg, and 1,200 acres at Lake Pleasant, in 1796. Mr. Miles also purchased four tracts on the lake shore from the Population Company, on which he agreed to place settlers. Martin Strong, who came to the county in 1795, as a surveyor for the Holland Land Company, took up a large tract on the Ridge, in Waterford and Summit Townships. David McNair chose 800 acres of the Walnut Creek flats, at Kearsarge, besides other extensive tracts. He at one time owned some of the most valuable property in the county, including half of what is now South Erie. George Fisher, of Dauphin County, secured a vast body of land in Waterford and Washington Townships, and William Wallace, who was the first lawyer in the county, became possessor of numerous tracts in various townships. The inducement that caused the late Dr. W. A.Wallace to locate in Erie was to take charge of his father's estate. Many sales were made by the different companies between 1796 and 1799, and by 1800 a good share of the county had passed in to the hands of actual settlers, or persons who intended to become such.

List of Purchasers
The following is a list of parties who entered into agreements with the Population Company for the purchase of lands in 1796-97 and 1798, all being for full tracts except the one in the name of George Hurst, which was for 200 acres:

James Baird, George Balfour, Russell Bissell, Negro "Boe," Richard Clement, Isaac Craig, Joshua Fairbanks, Thomas Forster, Thomas Gallagher, Thomas Greer, John Grubb, Samuel Holliday, Thomas P. Miller, Francis Brawley, Thomas Rees, Jr., Abraham Custard, Beriah Davis, Miles Crane, Elihu Crane, Abiathar Crane, Patrick Kennedy, John Sanderson, Morrow Lowry, William Lee, Rowland Rees, Robert Lowery, William M. Grundy, John Mill, James O'Harra, Judah Colt, Laton Dick, Charles John Reed, Benjamin Richardson, Benjamin Russell, David Hays, Anthony Saltsman, Francis Scott, James Herman, Joseph McCord, Azariah Davis, George Hurst, Arnold Custard, William Paul, William Barker, Israel Bodine, Samuel Barker, John Kennedy, Israel Miller, George Nicholson, George Lowry, Thomas Dunn, James Dunn, Henry Hurst, Ezekial Dunning, William Dunn, William Parcell, Martin Strong, Hugh Spears, Richard Swan, Elihu Talmadge, J. F. Vollaine, Alex. Vance, John McKee, Hugh McLaughlin, John Oliver, Rufus S. Reed, Mary Reed, Stephen Oliver, Milhall Condon, Alex. McKee, David Long, Stephen Forster, Peter Grasoss, James Greer, Joseph L. Rowley, James Foulke, William G. Tysner, John Hay, Freeman Tuttle, Bernard Tracy, Hamilton Stone, Zelmar Barker, John Anderson, Daniel Dobbins, John Shaffer, John Cummings, Thomas Hughes, John Daggett, David Seely, Samuel Holliday, John Morris, Patrick McKee, David McCullough, Henry Strowman, William Sturgeon, Jeremiah Sturgeon, Hugh Trimble, James Leland, Robert Brown, Peter Prime, John Nichols, John Gordon, Robert McIntire, George W. Reed, Samuel Barker, John Cochran, George Tracy, William Weed, Oliver Dunn, William Baird, Oliver Thorton, Thomas Greer, Timothy Tuttle.

Below are transcripts from the papers on file in the State department at Harrisburg, relative to the land sales in Erie County:

April 18, 1800 -- Under consideration of the act of April 11, 1799, Thomas Rees, Jr., was appointed Commissioner for the town of Erie to sell the reserved lands and the in and outlots of Erie, David McNair for the town of Waterford, and John Kelso for the town of Warren.

April 25, 1800 -- William Smith appointed Deputy Surveyor for the town of Erie.

July 1, 1800 -- John Kelso and David McNair resigned as Commissioners for the sale of lots, etc.

April 30, 1802 -- Thomas Rees' commission for sale of inlots superseded and annulled.

May 31, 1802 -- John Kelso appointed Commissioner, etc., to sell lands in room of said Thomas Rees, removed.

July 20, 1802 -- Thomas Rees, Jr., failed to pay over moneys received for sale of lands, and refused to deliver books, papers, etc., to his successor, his bond was ordered to be prosecuted by the Governor.

December 23, 1805 -- Thomas Forster appointed to sell in and outlots in the town of Erie, to supply vacancy occasioned by the removal of John Kelso by supersedeas.

March 29, 1809 -- Charles Martin for Waterford, and Conrad Brown for Erie, were appointed Commissioners of sales of lands in room of Thomas Forster, superseded.

February 3, 1810 -- John Kelso appointed Commissioner of sales in place of Conrad Brown, who declined to act.

April 13, 1811 -- Robert Knox and James Boyd, Commissioners of sales.

Land Litigation
Reference is made in Mr. Colt's autobiography to the serious disturbances and costly litigation which attended his career as agent of the Population company. These difficulties assumed so threatening a character, that, as stated by him, he was obliged at times to keep a force of forty to sixty men in his employ to maintain the rights of the corporation. The causes of the troubles, in brief, were as follows:

It will be remembered that the law of 1792 provided that any actual settler, or grantee in any original or succeeding warrant, who should be driven from the country by the enemies of the United States, and who should persist in the endeavor to make a settlement, should be entitled to hold his lands in the same manner as if an actual settlement had been made. The Population Company and the Holland Company claimed that by their several efforts to occupy the lands in 1793, '94 and '95, they had fulfilled all the conditions of the law. In the spring of 1795, a proclamation was issued by the Governor declaring that the Indians had been conquered, and stating that the northwestern section of the State was open to settlement. The effect of this was to induce a number of people to emigrate to the county, some of whom purchased from the agents, while others set up adverse claims, asserting that the companies had forfeited the lands. The clause of the law on which the latter depended was that one which provided that settlements must be made prior to the date of the warrants, and requiring two acres to be cultivated, a house to be built and a family to be living on the claim five years after the issuing of the same.

The companies alleged that peace was not really secured until 1796, citing the Rutledge murder as proof. To this the adverse claimants replied that the murder was not really committed by the Indians, but was the deed of white men in the pay of the company, to relieve them from their embarrassment. This view found a good many supporters, even long after the occurrence. The question, "Who killed Rutledge?" was once as much used as the more modern phrase "Who struck Billy Patterson?" The adverse claimants were wrought up to a high state of feeling and determined to hold their settlements by force of arms. The principle seat of the troubles was in Greenfield and North East Townships, but they extended in some degree to Conneaut, Harbor Creek and other sections. As usual, In American affairs, the difficulty finally entered the political field. Those who sustained the companies were classed as Federalists; their antagonists as Democrats.

It will be understood that the disputes here referred to mainly related to the Population Company, whose interest in the lands of the county was ten times as extensive as that of the Holland Company. The latter, however, had difficulties with various parties who claimed to be actual settlers. Among those who became involved in litigation with them was William Miles, who had located and placed settlers upon lands which the company complained had been allotted to them. The Miles suits were ultimately settled by amicable arrangement, and he became the agent of the company. As a rule, the Population Company were more lenient in their treatment of the adverse claimants than the Holland Company.

The opponents of the companies appealed to the State authorities for protection in their claims, alleging that they had been induced to settle upon the lands by the proclamation of the Governor. Their case was frequently considered by the State Government, but nothing decisive was done until 1799, when Samuel Cochran, brother of John Cochran, the surveyor, was called into Gov. McKean's cabinet as chief of the land department. The question was then promptly taken up, and the cabinet decided that "the company warrants were null and void, and the land open to actual settlers." This decision was spread broadcast over the commonwealth, and let to another extensive emigration of persons who make settlements adverse to the company. Disputes in regard to titles being quite general throughout the country west of the Ohio, the Legislature, on April 2, 1802, passed an act directing the Supreme Court to decide the questions involved, which all grew out of the act of 1792. The law provided further that the secretary of the Land Office should not grant any new warrants for land which he had reason to believe had been taken up under former warrants, but whenever applications of that character were presented, the original should be filed in the office, and a duplicate furnished the applicant. Every such application was to state under oath that the person applying was in actual possession of the land applied for, and the time when possession was taken, and was to be "entitled to the same force and effect and the same priority in granting warrants to actual settlers as though the warrants had been granted when the applications were filed." Under this act hundreds of emigrants poured into the Northwest, who located lands, had them surveyed, and made actual settlements upon them thrusting to the decision of the Supreme Court to establish them in their possessions.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided against the adverse claimants, creating such a feeling of indignation and disappointment throughout the Northwest as has never been known since. This settled the business, so far as the Population Company were concerned, it being a State corporation, wholly composed of citizens of Pennsylvania. The Holland Land Company, being a foreign concern, brought their action in the United States Circuit Court, where the decision was precisely like that of the State Supreme Court. It was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, where the other courts were fully sustained in an opinion rendered by chief Justice Marshall in 1805. In each instance, the clause of the act of 1792, providing that warrantees should not lose their rights if driven away by the enemies of the United States, was cited as the basis of the decision.

This result settled the dispute for good. There being no further questions of title, the county began to fill up rapidly. Some of the adverse settlers left in disgust and despair, but the majority entered into arrangements with the companies to purchase the land which they had improved. The Population Company generally treated its grantees with commendable liberality, and instances occurred where parties were allowed forty years in which to pay up their articles.

The Speculation of 1836
The most extensive land speculation known in Erie County took place in 1836, being confined mainly to the borough of Erie and vicinity. It grew out of the important internal improvements conceived and set in operation about that time, added to a tremendous over-issue of paper money. The canal to Beaver had been surveyed, a charter had been granted for the railroad to Sunbury, and considerable work had been done by the United States Government in building piers and deepening the harbor. A widespread impression sprung up that Erie was speedily destined to become a great city. The charter of the United States Bank at Philadelphia expired in 1836. In the spring of that year, the State Legislature chartered the United States Bank of Pennsylvania with a capital of $35,000,000. This institution established a branch at Erie, erecting the present custom house and the Woodruff residence adjoining, for a banking office and cashier's residence. The stock of the Erie branch, amounting to $200,000, was announced as having been taken on the 27th of February, 1836.

All of these matters combined gave an extraordinary impulse to real estate in the borough of Erie. On the receipt of tidings that the canal and bank bills had passed, the price of town lots jumped up 100 per cent. In a single week the sales of real estate amounted to over half a million dollars. Prices were still rising on the 1st of March, and the total sales during the week were reported as a million and a half in amount. One lot, purchased in February for $10,000, was resold in Buffalo within a month for $50,000. Every sort of wild enterprise was devised and found eager promoters. The speculation lasted until 1837, when the banks failed throughout the Union, causing a terrible revolution. As late as June 11 of that year, twelve water lots, of thirty-two feet front each, changed hands at $40,000. "The mania for speculation attacked all classes, and men bought and sold with almost wanton recklessness, finally bringing woe upon those in whose hands the property remained when the bubble burst. Some of the unfortunate persons never recovered from that catastrophe. Of course many profited by the speculation and got rich. On the whole, however, the general prosperity of the country, and of this county in particular, was severely retarded."



Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part II, Chapter XI, pp. 213-226.
 

 


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