George Croghan and the Development of Central New York, 1763-1800 *

A[lbert] T. Volwiler, Ph. D.

Published in The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association [New York History], Vol. IV, No. 1 (January, 1923), pp. 21-40.

Copyright © 1923, New York State Historical Association, and placed online with its kind permission.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

{21} New York has ranked first in population and wealth among the states of the Union only since 1820. During the entire colonial period it was never considered as belonging to the more populous colonies. Philadelphia and not New York City was the metropolis of the American Continent during most of the eighteenth century. Probably the chief reason for the rapid growth of Pennsylvania was its excellent land System. 1 New York, on the other hand, lacked the power to expand because the friendly Iroquois could not well be pushed back to make room for white settlers and because the method by which lands were granted favored the privileged classes and discriminated against the pioneer settlers who had little wealth or influence. 2 New York owes her primacy to the settlement of he central and western parts and to the opening of her great artery of commerce with the interior. It was the settlement of the West which enabled New York to forge ahead of Pennsylvania.

Among the prominent colonists who appreciated the future greatness of the vast regions beyond the settler’s frontier in 1760, none loved the western wilderness more or had greater faith in its future than did George Croghan. He was one of the leading exponents of the westward expansion of the Anglo-Saxon race during the generation before 1776. He left Pennsylvania in 1756 to visit Sir William Johnson in New York and became his ablest Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs. His long experience as an Indian trader and agent enabled him to spy out the most fertile and strategically located lands just in advance of settlement.

It is somewhat difficult for us, living in an age when important vacant lands no longer exist, to appreciate the importance of land speculation in the eighteenth century. Today, free capital seeks {22} investment in the stocks and bonds of manufacturing or transportation corporations. In 1760, the interests of the English colonies were largely agricultural and new lands offered the most promising field to the investor. Some colonists like Washington and Johnson, planned to build up vast landed estates, similar to the estates of European nobles; in contrast to these, Croghan and others followed the same general plan that a modern real estate company follows in developing a new addition to a city; they planned to develop their lands slightly, and then to sell them in small tracts. He seldom held a tract of land longer than five years.

The vast extent of the new lands added to the English colonies in 1763, together with the pressure of population upon the frontier line gave an enormous stimulus to land speculation. Many land companies were organized and new colonies were projected. Few were more interested in this movement than the group in Pennsylvania led by Croghan, William Trent, Benjamin Franklin, his son Governor William Franklin, and Samuel Wharton, with whom Sir William Johnson allied himself. The larger schemes of this group centered in the Ohio and Illinois regions, but almost all of these men, largely through Croghan’s influence, also became interested in lands in central New York. It was natural for Pennsylvanians to become interested in south central New York, for in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the Susquehanna was regarded as a great highway.

Croghan first manifested his interest in this region in 1764 when he was in England in the interests of the Indian department and of various land projects. While there he presented a memorial to the Board of Trade stating that he had “spent years of his life in cultivating with unreserved Diligence a good understanding between the Indians and His Majesties Subjects in America” and that he had acquired the good will and esteem of the Six Nations; that in return they had made him a grant of 200,000 acres of land in 1749. He now asked permission to locate it in New York and requested that the Governor of New York be instructed to issue patents for this grant. 3 After due consideration the Board of Trade, on June 15, decided that it could not “with propriety and Policy either in respect to the largeness of the quantity, or the terms of the Proclamation of October 7, 1763” grant the petition. 4 {23} Though Croghan received a renewal of this grant at the treaty with the Indians at Fort Stanwix in 1768, he never again tried to locate it in New York, but attempted to locate it on the upper Ohio. 5

In 1765, Croghan again sent a memorial to the Board of Trade asking for a grant of 20,000 acres in New York. This time he based his case on his record during the French and Indian War. By the Proclamation of 1763, a land bounty was offered to the soldiers who had served in this war; the highest amount offered to any one individual was 5000 acres. This was offered to any anyone who had held the rank of colonel. General Gage, Sir William Johnson, John Stuart and others petitioned for land grants. Croghan’s memorial was considered along with thirty-eight others, chiefly from military officers. Each asked for either 10,000 or 20,000 acres. The Board of Trade recommended that they be granted, but in each case it reduced the size of the grant by one-half. But four were recommended for 10,000 acres and Croghan was one of these. As a result, an order in Council was issued on September 6, 1765, granting him 10,000 acres in New York without payment of any fees or purchase money and free from quit rents for ten years. The Board of Trade had also recommended that no applications for land should be considered in the future unless they related to the new colonies or offered special reasons to induce deviation from the ordinary method of granting lands. 6 Croghan did not forget the other 10,000 acres for which he had Petitioned, but which he was not granted. While his memorial had been under consideration in London, he was again risking his life in the hostile western wilderness in the service of his king. General Gage and Sir William Johnson had dispatched him on the perilous mission to make peace with Pontiac and to prepare the way for the peaceful occupation by the British army of the distant Illinois country. On his way down the Ohio, Croghan’s party was attacked, several members killed and he himself tomahawked. He wrote to his friend, Major Murray, at Fort Pitt, 1 July 12, 1765: “I got the stroke of a Hatchet on the Head, but my skull being pretty thick, the Hatchet would not enter, so you may see a thick skull is of service on some occasions.” 7 Nevertheless, his mission was so successful that it became famous in western annals. For such services Croghan was paid but £200 a year was not given proper support. The heavy war debts would {24} not allow England to raise salaries at this time, but it was feasible to reward her loyal officials with land grants.

It was under such conditions that Croghan, in 1768, prepared a memorial to the King in Council asking for the 10,000 acres which he did not receive in 1765. The memorial referred to his faithful services and stated that he had settled in New York and intended to reside therein. John and Thomas Penn, proprietors of Pennsylvania, helped to present his case. As a result, on August 12, 1768, “because of the special merits of the Petitioner,” an order in council was issued granting Croghan 10,000 acres in New York. 8

It now remained for Croghan to find 20,000 acres of ungranted lands to which the Indian title had been extinguished and to patent it. On February 14, 1770, he petitioned the Governor and Council of New York that he be granted two adjacent tracts of 9000 acres each in Cherry Valley and that they be organized into a township named “Belvedere,” and that it might have popular election of its officials. Evidently Croghan intended to attract settlers by insuring them greater self-government than the average New York landlord desired to grant. This petition was granted and a patent issued for Belvedere in 1770. 9

Croghan’s success in obtaining these grants and his intimate relations with Johnson caused him to change his residence from Pennsylvania to New York. Many legal documents of the time speak of Croghan as “formerly of the Province of Pennsylvania, now of the Province of New York.” Doubtless he desired to be on the ground to take advantage of the rapid extension of the frontier line in central New York which was being made at this time. This movement was accelerated by the fact that nearly every patent issued included thousands of acres of land. 10 The lands in the upper Mohawk Valley were being patented by the aristocrats of New York, but those round the headwaters of the Susquehanna were largely taken up by a group of land speculators from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The speculators having the largest amount of free capital lived in Philadelphia or in Burlington. The latter was an important town during this period. Governor Franklin, Richard Smith and Charles Reade — all from Burlington — together with Lieutenant Augustine Prevost, William Trent, Alexander McKee and Samuel, Joseph and Thomas Wharton were the most prominent members of this group. Most of these were {25} either relatives or close associates of Croghan. He made an Indian purchase for Governor Franklin, Trent and Samuel Wharton, which was supposed to contain 130,000 acres. This became known as the “Otego,” or “New Burlington” tract and was located south of Croghan’s Otsego patent. 11

Though the first patent in the famous Cherry Valley region had been issued in 1738, the region in which Croghan became interested developed so slowly that at this time contemporary maps showed nothing in this region except the names of the larger streams and lakes and located these inaccurately. The name “Croghan’s Forest,” which like “Mt. Vernon” or “Johnson Hall” came to denote the residence of a large landowner, is eloquent testimony of the nature of the country and also of Croghan’s important relation to it. 12

The British imperial government during this period regarded the operations of large land speculators with disfavor. It sought to avoid Indian wars by protecting the Indians against unwise or fraudulent sales of their land claims. It also sought to encourage the growth of the empire by enabling the poor immigrant to secure his land from the state instead of from land speculators. By the Proclamation of 1763, all private purchasing of land from the Indians was forbidden. Royal instructions to the governors of New York forbade the granting of large tracts to one individual, or the granting of tracts to include none but the most fertile lands, such as the narrow strip along the upper Susquehanna which was granted to Johnson in 1770. They also required the Governor in person to make all purchases of land from the Indians. 13 How these benevolent royal regulations were overcome by large land speculators is well illustrated by Croghan’s land operations in New York.

Croghan and his friends enlisted the influence of Johnson, who was a member of the Council and a close personal friend of Governor Colden. On one occasion Johnson wrote to Colden introducing Croghan as one who has “some Land matters to Settle and Patents to take out at N. York In which he hopes for your Countenance. ... as he is a Gent. that is Well known, and one for whom I have always had a great regard, I persuade myself he will meet with your notice.” 14 On June 27, 1767, Croghan and thirty-nine nominal associates, petitioned the Governor and {26} Council for a license to purchase from the Iroquois 40,000 acres of land west of Lake Otsego. This was to be deeded by the Indians to George III in trust “for the sole use and benefit of the petitioners.” On the same day another group, which included Lieutenant Augustine Prevost, Croghan’s son-in-law, filed a similar petition for 260,000 acres around the headwaters of the Delaware. In both petitions there occurs the following stereotyped reference to the Proclamation of 1763: The petitioners “humbly conceive that the Royal intention in said Proclamation was solely to prevent the defrauding the Indians in purchases made by Private Persons, and not to Inhibit Purchases made for the Benefit of Private Persons if made in his Majesty’s Name with the Intervention of his Governors or Commanders-in-chief and at the Expense of such Private Persons. ... That your Petitioners are willing and beg leave to offer to attend the said Indians. ... to this City, to defray the Expenses of their Journey, to take care of them during their Residence here, and to pay the Consideration money which your Excellency may agree to give for such Purchase.” Croghan had previously used his friendship with the Indians to persuade them to sell. His petition ended by asking the Governor to meet the Indians and make the purchase and that the petitioners be granted a patent for the lands thus purchased. It was signed “George Croghan for himself & associates.” This petition was granted on July 6, 1767, and Governor Moore made the purchase at Croghan’s expense at a meeting with the Indians at Johnson’s residence on June 10, 1768. 15

Such was the method used in New York to circumvent the Proclamation of 1763. It could hardly be used by the poor pioneer, but the influential land speculators used it so successfully that a rapid extension of the frontier was in progress in New York before 1768. The treaty of Fort Stanwix made in that year, instead of aiding the expansion, as is usually stated, hindered it for it set up a definite Indian boundary line as a barrier. 16 For a few years, however, the surveyor with his rod and chain was a common sight in the forests around Lake Otsego and the upper Mohawk River. The method used in New York to circumvent the Proclamation of 1763 is significant also because it served as a precedent for the 200,000 acre grant on the Ohio to Croghan and the 2,500,000 acre {27} grant to the Indiana Company, which were made at Fort Stanwix and which were to play an important part in western history.

It is interesting to note that the purchase made for Croghan was of Lake Otsego, contained when surveyed, not 40,000 acres, but 100,000 acres. Such a large tract could not be patented in the name of one individual unless the governor chose to violate his royal instructions. Croghan therefore followed the method which had been discovered by the “big interests” of the day to override the laws of the land and attain their ends. He associated himself with ninety-nine of his friends whose names were made use of for his particular and sole benefit. As prospective “tenants in common and not joint tenants,” on March 15, 1769 they petitioned for a patent to the Otsego tract granting each one 1000 acres. On November 30, after the survey had been returned, the patent was issued to George Croghan and his associates. The crown reserved forever all gold and silver mines and required a yearly quit rent of 2s. 6d. sterling per one hundred acres. Pine trees suitable for masts for the royal navy were not to be cut down. Within three years three acres out of every fifty acres were to be cultivated and one family settled for every one thousand acres. If these conditions were not complied with, or if the patent was not registered within six months with the Secretary and Auditor of New York, it was to be void. Two days after the patent had been issued, his ninety-nine associates divided themselves into three groups. Each group drew up a deed conveying to Croghan the lands which its members had just received. Each individual according to the deeds was paid £50 by Croghan, but probably received nothing. 17

Thus by 1770, Croghan had patented in New York, Belvedere Township of 18,000 acres and the Otsego tract of 100,000 acres. He at once proceeded to purchase adjacent lands until he had acquired over 250,000 acres around Lake Otsego and Cherry Valley. He purchased the Skinner patent of 40,000 acres lying southeast of Belvedere; the McKee patent of 40,000 acres lying southwest of Belvedere; and the Butler or “Tunaderry” patent of 47,000 acres lying southwest of his Otsego patent. He also purchased 1,893 acres of the Bowen patent on Schoharie Creek. 18

These lands were well selected. When Washington, who had a keen eye for good lands, visited Lake Otsego on his western tour {28} in 1783, he was impressed with their excellent location. Richard Smith, one of the prominent leaders in New Jersey who visited this region in 1769 was enthusiastic over its character. “One of the finest Bottoms in the World” was his description of part of Croghan’s land. 19

When Croghan decided to settle in New York, he selected as the site for his future home, a delightful location at the foot of Lake Otsego. Here was the source of the Susquehanna which at this place was a swift little stream twelve yards wide. In the lake near it source lay “Council Rock,” later made famous by James Fenimore Cooper. Towering white pines formed the background, while a natural strawberry patch and some copper ore invited exploitation. “A very pleasant place” was the comment of an officer in General Sullivan’s expedition who camped here in 1779. Hartwick had planned to include it in his patent but his survey left it outside. 21

Croghan came to Otsego in 1769 to supervise its development in person. The ensuing year and a half constituted one of the happiest periods of his life. It was a period of great activity in the Otsego region. Croghan, with his indentured servants, carpenters and other free laborers, and such Indians as could be employed, engaged in the work of transforming his visions into realities. Two dwelling houses and eight other buildings were soon erected. Around these, four fields were cleared and fenced. A large batteau was built for use on the lake and a bridge was erected over the Susquehanna. A millwright came to view the best site for the erection of a sawmill and a gristmill. Work was begun to make the Susquehanna navigable for canoes by hiring Indians to remove the logs from within it. There was a wagon road which led northward into the Mohawk Valley, but Croghan planned to open a road which would run east and connect with the road which ran from the Schoharie settlements through the Catskill Mountains to the Hudson River. So well supplied was Croghan with skilled indentured servants from Dublin, Ireland, that he lent to Johnson a bricklayer, a mason and a gardener at different times. In return Johnson gave him some fine sheep. Croghan already had cattle which successfully wintered in the woods without hay; they furnished Croghan and his guests with butter which tasted like wild garlic. Hogs and poultry were soon added and four {29} wagons were employed to bring in crockery, glass and other goods. In the meantime surveyors were preparing part of his land for sale and Croghan was advertising in Connecticut for settlers. 21

Croghan’s house soon became a landmark. Travelers made it their headquarters and Indians visited it so that Croghan seldom had an hour to himself. He wrote to Johnson on March 17, 1770: “Ever since I gott here to my Hutt we have been as full of visitors as possible.” Richard Smith, who visited Croghan in 1769, noted in his journal on May 26: “Last Night a drunken Indian came and kissed Col. Croghan and me very joyously; here are natives of different nations almost continually; they visit the Deputy superintendent as Dogs to the Bone for what they can get.” It ought to be added that it was probably for the same reason that Smith himself partook of Croghan’s hospitality. 22

Croghan’s prospects for enjoying life at Otsego were increased when his only white child, Sussanah, and her family settled at the opposite end of Lake Otsego on 6,061 acres which Croghan had sold to them. Life looked so attractive here that Sussanah’s husband, Lieutenant Augustine Prevost, sold his commission in the British Army, in 1768, and like Croghan began to develop a home on the frontier. 23

In 1769, Croghan’s prospects for becoming as great a landowner as Johnson, Lord Fairfax, or Washington were brilliant indeed. Besides his 250,000 acres in New York, he had over 5000 acres in Pennsylvania and some houses in Pittsburgh, Bedford and Philadelphia. He also had good prospects for securing a legal title to his 200,000 acre Indian grant on the Ohio, as well as to his share of the Indiana grant. But more certain and far more important was his interest in Vandalia, the proposed fourteenth colony on the Ohio. His interest in it totaled about 1,000,000 acres. That Vandalia would be chartered was considered a foregone conclusion by 1772 and this fact played a most decisive part in the financing of Croghan’s land operations.

Map of Croghan's Land Operations

Map to illustrate Croghan’s land operations and Indian activities.

All of his Ohio projects required capital. Purchasing the Indian title to his Otsego tract cost about £6 per 1,000 acres; surveying and patenting it cost about £30 per 1,000 acres — a total of £3,600. 24 His improvements on it and his adjacent purchases caused the initial cost of his New York lands alone to approximate £lO, 000. To market these lands required additional capital.

The fact that Croghan had no money and that he was deeply in debt did not deter him in the least. His implicit faith in the future greatness of the West convinced him that he was making fortunes both for himself and for all those concerned with him. Part of this enthusiastic conviction he imparted to his creditors. He showed a remarkable genius for getting into debt as a means of promoting his land operations. He practiced a system of finance very much like that which was used to build railroads in the West after the Civil War: he “bonded” his great ideas when he could and mortgaged any property which represented them, in order to secure capital for further “development.” To illustrate: on December 12, 1768, he paid the £500 mortgage held by Thomas Wharton on three houses and four acres of land in Philadelphia; the next day he purchased fourteen acres of adjacent land and on the same day he mortgaged the entire property for £1200 to Governor Franklin. 25 At the same time that a large portion of his lands was being sold by sheriffs to pay his debts, he was pawning his plate in Pittsburgh in order to further the interests of Vandalia 26 and was also using some of his own ready money and borrowing in Virginia to make an Indian purchase of 6,000,000 acres on the Ohio: 27 he only regretted that he did not have more capital at his command so that he could purchase more land. “. ... could I get Money on Interest at Ten p cent I should make thirty p cent by keeping my Lands but three years,” he wrote to Thomas Wharton on June 21, 1769. 28 Croghan was not dishonest. He usually met all his just debts, but he did so very tardily. Creditors learned to watch the times when he received money in order to collect before he could invest it again in lands. 29

Croghan secured his capital in such centers as New York, Albany, Philadelphia, Lancaster and Burlington. His old friends and associates, such as the Whartons, Governor Franklin, and the Gratzs, advanced him large sums. Barnard and Michael Gratz, Jewish merchants in Philadelphia and Lancaster, became his trusted bankers and legal agents. They loaned him money at a reasonable rate of interest almost whenever Croghan needed it; their various loans from 1768 to 1773 totaled approximately £16,000. The Coldens and Goldsborrow Banyar of New York, William Peters, John Morton and Dr. John Morgen of Philadelphia, and the group of investors from Burlington were more exacting in their {31} loans. Governor Franklin, in 1768, aided Croghan to secure from the Burlington group a loan of £3,000 for three years to enable him to patent his Otsego tract; in return, Croghan sold at cost to Franklin and his associates his Indian purchase southwest of the Otsego tract. When this proved to be too small to give Franklin the amount guaranteed him, Croghan conveyed to him 51,000 acres out of his adjacent Otsego and Butler holdings. Franklin secured the £3,000 from eight persons who became known as the “Burlington Company.” They refused to deal with Croghan except through Franklin. On December 13, 1768, Croghan therefore temporarily mortgaged his Otsego Indian purchase to Franklin and then took out his patent. After this was done he mortgaged to Franklin his houses and eighteen acres of land near Philadelphia and also 40,000 acres of his Otsego tract. Franklin then assigned these mortgages to the Burlington Company and, as additional security, he gave his personal bond to cover the loan. This was to cost him dearly in later years. Richard Peters, who had long been trying to secure from Croghan the payment of a debt, was quietly informed by one of the members of the company when the money was paid and so secured part of the £3,000 which Croghan had planned to use in New York. Croghan’s various loans from 1767 to 1770 totaled approximately £15,000 and were secured by various bonds and mortgages based chiefly upon his New York lands. Unfortunately for him, nearly all of these debts fell due within from one to three years, during which period it was hoped that Vandalia would materialize. 31

The wide extent of Croghan’s investments at this time, the failure of some expected funds to come in, particularly certain large sums owed by John and Thomas Shipboy, merchants in New York, together with the slow progress of the Indiana and Vandalia projects in London, soon showed how Croghan was attaining his resources. On November 30, 1769, he wrote to his old partner, William Trent: “. ... the only Method [which] is Left to Save my Estate hear and yr own [which] is Morgidgd to the Burlington Company is to Sell my Grants or mortgidge them in England. ...”. At this time Croghan intended to sell all his lands in Pennsylvania together with his interests in the Indiana and Vandalia projects, keeping his New York lands to the last. “. ... if this Cant be Don” continued Croghan, {32} “all that you and I have in this part of the World is Intierly gon and our Ruin Completely finished. ... ” 31 On February 20, 1770, John Baynton wrote to his partner, Samuel Wharton concerning Croghan: “. ... his present Embarrassments, are as great and pressing as they have been for many years past. [1754-1758] I heartily wish he may retain as many of them as may in a few years hence, sell for as much as may enable him, to live according to the Elegance of his Desires and the Nobleness of his disposition.” 32

During the year 1770, Croghan sold approximately 152,000 acres out of his 250,000 acres in New York. He sold the Skinner patent of 40,000 acres, the Butler patent of 47,000 acres and 65,000 acres out of his Otsego tract. For these he received nearly £lO,00O. His purchasers were usually his creditors or his friends; Governor Franklin, Governor Colden, David Colden, Stephen Skinner, Prevost, Michael Gratz, V. P. Dow, L. Moore and the Whartons were the chief purchasers. Although Croghan had held these lands less than a year and had sold them under unfavorable circumstances, he still realized a large profit. Though he was still heavily in debt, he hoped to postpone foreclosure on his remaining 100,000 acres until Vandalia was established. To it he pinned all his hopes, for its establishment would enable him to pay off all his debts and mortgages. So promising was the outlook for Vandalia that most of his creditors were willing to wait until 1772; some like Dr. John Morgan, demanded payment of their bonds on the exact day when they were due; a few, however, like the Burlington Company, desired to take advantage of his plight in order to secure his lands at a low price at a forced sale. Those who held second mortgages favored postponement, at least until the lands could be sold privately. 33

To meet this situation, Croghan, in 1772, gave Barnard Gratz full power of attorney to act as his agent. 34 He wrote to Gratz: “I am anxious to pay Every person as Soon as I can. ... “. 35 “I am determined to Sell all the Lands I have in New York Government and rely on you to Do itt.” 36 Gratz met the chief creditors and they agreed to postpone foreclosure until September 1, 1773, to enable him to sell Croghan’s lands privately. 37 Gratz proceeded to advertise Croghan’s lands and then journeyed to Albany, Schenectady, Johnstown and Kinderhook to meet prospective {33} purchasers. Croghan eagerly awaited the outcome. “I hope he will be able to make Some Sals if Not all, to Liten my Burden,” Croghan wrote to Michael Gratz on July 29, 1773. 38 No purchasers appeared, however, to offer the minimum price agreed upon.

When Gratz returned he met the creditors and asked for another year in which to advertise and sell the lands, but was refused. It was, however, agreed that the lands should first be surveyed into 1,000 acre tracts before being offered for sale by the sheriff. 39 Croghan felt happy when he heard of this and he instructed Gratz to delay matters as long as the New York Law would allow, for the prospects for Vandalia were so bright the he felt sure that it would be established before the sale could be arranged. He wrote to Gratz: “. ... for if Mr. Wharton [the proposed Governor of the new colony] should sail from England in July as I have the Greatest assurance he was,. ... I am Certain in a mounth after his ariveal I shall be able to pay peters of, the Mordiges Likewise, and protected bills as he and Trent is fully prepaird to Do itt, this with what I can sell hear, on the Governts being Establishd will before Crismas Make me a freeman. ... ” 41

The turning point soon came, however. The prospects for Vandalia had reached their zenith and declined so rapidly that on June 7, 1774, Dr. John Connolly wrote Washington from Pittsburg “. ... the great Government Scheme is blown over; which like the Mountain in labor has bro’t forth a Mouse.” 41 To Washington and his fellow Virginia land speculators it meant fortunes won; but to a large group of men including Benjamin Franklin, Governor Franklin, Samuel Wharton, William Trent and George Croghan, it meant the loss of fortunes, almost won. By 1774, Croghan therefore ceased all efforts to delay the foreclosure of his New York lands and gave up his plan of spending his last years upon the shores of Lake Otsego. One can imagine his feelings when, on September 24, 1774, he wrote to Gratz: “I main to Sell the ottsego Tract and gett Don with that part of the Country.” 42

Gratz again journeyed to New York in November, 1774, to attend the sheriff’s sale. He hoped to save Croghan’s remaining Otsego lands and to protect the titles of the lands which Croghan conveyed to others. Unfortunately, the news of Johnson’s death came just the day before the sale and this had a depressing effect upon the price of frontier lands. McKee’s patent of 40,000 {34} acres, one half of Belvedere consisting of 9,000 acres, and the 1,893 acres on the Schoharie were sold in tracts of approximately 1,000 acres each. These 50,893 acres brought £4840 which was sufficient to pay William Peters’ judgment of £2,000 with interest, Banyar’s mortgage of £840, and still leave £1,000 for other creditors. Croghan paid Gratz £242 for his services and thanked him. Gratz felt elated over the outcome, for he had not only saved Croghan’s Otsego lands, but also the 9,050 acres in Butler’s patent which Croghan had conveyed to him. The Otsego lands which Croghan retained he had surveyed, in 1774, into twenty-nine tracts of approximately one thousand acres each. 43

In April, 1775, Croghan entered into an agreement with Governor Franklin, John Morton, and Thomas Wharton, whereby the remaining Otsego lands were to be sold to meet Franklin’s judgment of £3,000, Morton’s judgment of £5,000 and Wharton’s mortgage of £2,000. Croghan again instructed Barnard Gratz as his agent to sell these lands either privately or through a sheriff. Before these plans could be carried out, events which Croghan had not foreseen, were taking place at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill. These were to render frontier lands in New York almost unmarketable for a number of years. The border warfare with the Iroquois during the Revolution, postponed the rise in land values around Lake Otsego and Cherry Valley until after 1783. In their famous raid on Cherry Valley, the Indians were led by the notorious half breed, Joseph Brant, who had married Croghan’s Indian daughter. Many of the patriots, who were massacred in Cherry Valley or who helped drive back the Indians and Tories, had settled on the frontier largely through the direct or indirect influence of Croghan. 44

In 1780, Croghan, who was now an old man, found it necessary in order to supply himself with food and fuel for the winter and to pay an old debt of £2,100 which he owed to Joseph Wharton, to convey to the latter the remaining 26,634 acres of his Otsego patent; they included the site which Croghan had selected for his home eleven years before and which he had kept to the last. This left only 9,000 acres of Belvedere for his heirs. The title which Wharton had received was beclouded by Croghan’s mortgage to Franklin and which Franklin had assigned to the Burlington {35} Company. As a result, Wharton lost his purchase, in 1786, four years after Croghan’s death. 45

Governor Franklin also lost money as a result of his relations to the Otsego lands. He held a mortgage on these lands for £1800 and, in 1772, he purchased five of the ten shares of the Burlington Company, valued at £1500. When the Revolution came, he became a Loyalist and was imprisoned; later he removed to England. Because all of his papers were lost in a New York fire and because he had been a Tory, Franklin gave up all thought of recovering his loans. In the meantime, the remaining original members of the Burlington Company had sold their shares to Andrew Craig and William Cooper, both of Burlington, New Jersey. The latter was the father of James Fenimore Cooper, the novelist. To Cooper and Craig were assigned Franklin’s mortgages on 40,000 acres of Croghan’s Otsego tract and on his Philadelphia property, together with Croghan’s bond and the judgment foreclosing the mortgages.

Cooper and Craig, taking advantage of Franklin’s situation, hastily proceeded in January, 1786, to arrange for the sale of the Otsego lands under the judgment of 1773 without giving any notice to either Franklin or to Croghan’s executors. Appreciating the value of the prize they sought, Cooper and Craig engaged as their attorney, Alexander Hamilton, who secured the writ of fieri facias to issue to the sheriff. The other creditors of Croghan, his heirs and executors likewise realized what was at stake and to oppose Hamilton, they employed Aaron Burr. Burr obtained an injunction to stop the sale. In spite of this, the sale was held. It took place in the middle of winter in a remote locality. By such methods Cooper and Craig themselves purchased the Otsego lands for only £2700. An attempt was made by other creditors of the Croghan estate to pay their claims and take over the lands, but this attempt was unsuccessful. Cooper and Craig found their title complicated because Croghan had conveyed 6,061 acres in their tract to Prevost and 26,634 acres to Joseph Wharton. To quiet these claims, they paid Prevost $1250 and Wharton $2000. 46

Cooper played the leading part in developing the lands which he and Craig had acquired. Previous improvements had almost all disappeared as a result of the border warfare during the Revolution. Cooper brought in many New England settlers, as Croghan had {36} planned to do. He laid out the town of Cooperstown on the site selected by Croghan for his residence and built there his famous mansion, Otsego Hall. Here on the frontier, his son, Fenimore, laid the foundation for his success as a novelist. The lands soon rose twenty fold in value, and the elder Cooper made the fortune and reaped the profits which Croghan had the vision to foresee, but which he never realized.

The Prevost heirs and Franklin came to feel very bitter toward Cooper. Augustine Prevost, Jr., wrote Franklin on December 31, 1812: “We have lost an immense property from the infamous advantage taken by Cooper and others without your knowledge by a forced Sale under your Title.” When the elder Prevost met Franklin in London in 1791, they agreed to attempt to recover Franklin’s debts of £3300 with interest amounting to over £8000 and also the lands which had been lost to Prevost. Suits for ejectment were brought, but no judicial opinion upon the title to the entire tract could be secured because judgment was always entered by default against the settlers. Their frontier spirit and common interests made them stronger than the laws and courts had prevented ejectment. Moreover, a dispute arose between Franklin and the Prevosts as to the proper division of risks, expenses and possible returns. Though the best attorneys were engaged who believed that their clients had “an incontrovertible right to recover,” all that the Prevosts and Franklin could do was to bequeath to their heirs their equity in Croghan’s estate. 47

Croghan’s land operations in central New York touched the lives of many prominent leaders in America, and influenced the lives of hundreds of unknown settlers. He helped to provide the settlers with lend by eliminating the claims of the Indians to it. by surveying it, by patenting it, by beginning the clearing of the forests, by laying out roads, by beginning the erection of houses, saw mills and gristmills, and by advertising the land and marketing it. He supplied the necessary capital and assumed great risks. George Croghan, Sir William Johnson, Benjamin and William Franklin, George Washington, and others in their great land operations performed services for the small settler similar to those which after the Revolution were performed by the state and federal governments. They were representative Americans with human motives — one of which is for amassing wealth; but aside from this, {37} in spite of it, and through it, their ideas and actions had a social significance and influence. They were not mere real estate dealers, but rather commonwealth builders who gave expression to the deep impulses of American life to seek homes by pushing westward. Croghan’s visions of the future greatness of the western wilderness have been justified, but not in his generation. Eight years after his death, when the first United States census was taken, there appeared a distinct inland curve in the frontier line south and west of the Otsego and Cherry Valley regions in central New York. For this, Croghan was largely responsible. He helped to develop the West and it was the West which was to make New York the Empire State and New York City the metropolis of America.

A. T. Volwiler, Ph. D.


1 Lewis Evans wrote in 1735: “What the world has imputed to the happiness of our Constitution, is with more justice to be ascribed to the happy management of the Land offices.” — Brief Account of Pennsylvania, Du Simitiere Coll. (Ridgway Lib., Phila.).

2 Turner, F.J.,: “The Old West” in The Frontier in American History, 8o.

3 Croghan’s Memorial, Colonial Office Papers, 5: 1070, p. 531.

4 Board of Trade Journal, 72: 258, 278 (Transcripts in the Lib. of the Hist. Soc. of Pa.).

5 This Indian grant is frequently, but erroneously, associated with Croghan’s Indian purchase which later became known as the Otsego patent, mentioned below. This purchase was made four months before the treaty of Ft. Stanwix. This error is made in Halsey, F.W.: The Old New York Frontier 103; N.Y. Col. Docs., 7; 983 n; Craig, N.: “George Croghan” in Egle, W.H.: Notes and Queries, 3d ser., 2: 348; Hanna, C.A.: The Wilderness Trail, 2: 59; Halsey, F.W.: A Tour of Four Great Rivers in 1769: the Journal of Richard Smith, 36; Byars, Wm.V.: B. and M. Gratz, Merchants, 90.

6 C.O., 5: 1071, p. 403; Acts of the Privy Council, Colonial Series, 4: 819; Board of Trade Jour., 73: 165-167; Board of Trade Pap., Plantations General, 26; Cal. of Council Minutes of N.Y., 539.

7 Bancroft Coll., Eng. and Am., 1764-1765, 414 (N.Y. Pub. Lib.).

8 C.O. 5: 1073, p. 20S; Penn MSS, 2: 62 (Hist. Soc. of Pa.); Board of Trade Jour., 76: 143, 144, 151, 153; Acts of the Privy Council, Colonial Series, 5: 596.

9 Council Minutes, 29: 357 (N.Y. State Lib.); Land Papers, 26: 122 (Land Office, Sec’y of State, N.Y.); Bk. of Patents, 15: 2S6-263 (Sec’y of State, N.Y.); Cockburn, W.: A Map of the Province of N.Y., 1774 (N.Y. Pub. Lib.); C. J. Sauthier’s Chorographical Map of N.Y., 1779, (N.Y. Pub. Lib.) shows Belvedere in colors. The minutes of the Council for this period show that such a grant was not unusual.

10 “De Witt, Simeon: A Map of the Headwaters of the Susquehanna and Delaware embracing the early Patents on the south side of the Mohawk River, in Doc. Hist. of N.Y., 1: 420; Cockburn, W.: A Map of the Province of N.Y., 1774.

11 Deed Gift, Croghan to S. Wharton, Oct. 28, 1768, Letters of Attorney, D, No. 2, Vol. 7, pp. 58-60 (Dept. of Int. Aff., Harrisburg, Pa.).

12 Day, R.E.: Cal. of the Sir Wm. Johnson MSS., 495; Deed in Etting Misc. MSS., 1: 141 (Hist. Soc. of Pa.); Montresor’s Map of N.Y., 1775 (N.Y. Pub. Lib.); Halsey, F.W.: A Tour of Four Great Rivers in 1769: the Journal of Richard Smith, 1, viii ff.

13 Croghan’s patent, Nov. 30, 1769, Bk. of Patents, 14: 466; Keys, A.M.: Cadwallader Colden, etc., 92.

14 Johnson to Colden, Nov. 2, 1769, Doc. Hist. of N.Y., 2: 956.

15 Land Papers, 23: 159; Council Minutes, 29: 244, 286. Col. John Bradstreet purchased the Indian title to 20,000 acres on Oct. 29, 1768; the lawyers for his heirs in defending their title before the Council of New York and the Board of Trade said: “. ... the Lands in Controversy were purchased by Sir Henry Moore at our Expense at a public Meeting or Treaty with the Native Indian prop , and tho to his Majesty’s use, yet in fact for our Benefit, and with a declared intent Lo entitle us to his Majesty’s Letters patent for the same. ...”: In such a dispute a letter from Johnson and a certificate from Croghan saying that the purchase was properly made was valuable evidence. — Am. Antiq. Soc. Trans., 11: 103ff.

16 Cf. Halsey, F.W.: The Old New York Frontier, 125 ff.

17 Council Minutes, 29: 245, 255, 305; Croghan’s mortgage to Thos. Wharton, Mar. 12, 1770, Mort. Bk., 3: 66 (Clerk’s Office, Co. of Albany); Croghan’s petition for the warrant to survey, Land Papers, 24: 73; ibid, 26: 39; Johnson MSS., 16: 11 (N.Y. State Lib.); Bk. of Patents, 14: 466-472; Bk. of Deeds, 18: 257-260 (Land Office, Sec’y of State, N.Y.); Deed Bk., 8: 165-176 (Clerk’s Office, Co. of Albany); Croghan’s deed to Jos. Wharton, 1780, Deed Bk., D, No. 3, pp. 398-403 (Register of Deeds, Phila.).

18 Bk. of Deeds, 18: 260-275; Gratz-Croghan MSS. (Hist. Soc. of Pa.), 1: 19; Etting Misc. MSS., 1: 50, 141; Deed of Sheriff White to Abraham Duryee (N.Y. Hist. Soc.). The Butler tract had been patented by John Butler, who later became the notorious Tory Colonel. Alexander McKee was Croghan’s chief assistant in Indian negotiations. Most of these patents were less than a year old when Croghan bought them.

19 Washington to Chastellux, Oct. 12, 1783, Writings, 10: 325; Halsey, F.W.: A Tour of Four Great Rivers, etc., 34.

20 Halsey: A Tour of Four Great Rivers, etc., 36, 46, 47; Halsey: The Old New York Frontier, 125; Lieut. Beatty’s Journal, July 2, 1779, in Journals of the Expedition of General Sullivan, etc., 20. Croghan’s house was used as a magazine by Beatty’s detachment.

21 Surveyor Pitkin’s sketch, 1774, Bk. of Deeds, 20: 315; Halsey: A Tour of Four Great Rivers, etc., 24-81 passim; Croghan to Johnson, June 6, 1769, Sept. 23, 1769, and Apr. 19, 1770, Johnson MSS., 17: 185, 18: 35 and 19: 15, respectively; Chew to Johnson, Apr., 18, 1769, ibid, 17: 126; B. and M. Gratz to Croghan, May 11, 1769, Byars, Wm.V.: B. and M. Gratz, Merchants, 94.

22 Johnson MSS., 18: 238; ibid, 17: 225; Halsey: A Tour of Four Great Rivers, etc., 37, 47, 81.

23 Pa. Gazette, June 7, 1786; Draper MSS., 16 F 76 (Wis. Hist. Soc.); Halsey: A Tour of Four Great Rivers, etc., 29, 34. When reverses came, Prevost enlisted Johnson’s aid to purchase a commission in the British Army and in 1771, to Johnson’s regret, he and his family embarked for Jamaica, — Brant MSS., 16 P 66, 16 F 69 (Wis. Hist. Soc.); Johnson to Croghan, June 11, 1772 (Wis. Hist. Soc.); Prevost to Johnson, Mar. 22, 1771 (Hist. Soc. of Pa.); Day: Cal. of Sir Wm. Johnson MSS., 305.

24 “Information from Richard Wells respecting Gov. Wm. Franklin’s transactions with Croghan and with the Burlington Co., May 9, 1786” in the Wm. Temple Franklin Estate MSS., Aaron Vanderpoel Coll. (N.Y. Pub. Lib.).

25 Legal Memorandum, Mc Allister MSS. (Ridgway Lib., Phila.).

26 Croghan to Thos. Wharton, Dec. 9, 1773, Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., 15: 436.

27 Croghan to Wm. Trent, July 15, 1775, O. Co. MSS., 2: 6 (Hist. Soc. of Pa.); Indian deed to Croghan, Page, R.C.M.: Genealogy of the Page Family, etc., 186-187.

28 Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., 15: 431.

29 Cf., Byars, Wm.V.: “The Proprietors of Indiana as Pioneers of the Continental U.S., 1763-1768” in Gratz Papers, 1ˢᵗ ser., 7: 106-136 (Mo. Hist. Soc.).

30 “Information from R. Wells, etc.” and Franklin’s Affidavit, 1811, in Wm. Temple Franklin MSS.; Mortgage Bk., 3: 66 ff. (Clerk’s Office, Co. of Albany); Council Minutes, 29: 313, 343; Land Papers, 25: 97; Deed Gift, Croghan to S. Wharton, Oct. 28, 1768, Letter of Attorney, D, No. 2, Vol. 7, pp. 58-60. The 10 shares of the Burlington Co. were originally distributed as follows:

Richard Wells 3 shares £900
Dr. Moore 1 share £300
Henry Hill 1 share £300
James Veree 1 share £300
Joseph Fox 1 share £300
Abigail Smith (Mrs. George Brown) 1 share £300
Joseph Smith 1 share £300
Richard Smith 1 share £300

31 Gratz-Croghan MSS., 1: 18; Johnson MSS., 18: 231.

32 Baynton’s Private Letter Book (Pa. State Lib.).

33 Bk. of Deeds, 18: 281-285, 293-297, 371-381; ibid, 19: 20-31; ibid, 30: 353-355; Deed Bk., 8: 182-189, 459-461 (Clerk’s Office, Co. of Albany); O. Co. MSS., 1: 83; ibid, 2: 100; Peters MSS., 6: 86 (Hist. Soc. of Pa.); J. Baynton to S. Wharton, Feb. 20, 1770, and Baynton to Croghan, Jan. 20 and Feb. 4, 1770, Baynton’s Private Letter Bk.; G. Morgan to Croghan, Aug. 5, 1772, Letter Bk. A of Baynton, Wharton and Morgan (State Lib. Pa.); B. Gratz to Croghan, Aug. 1, 1773, Mc Allister Coll.

34 Instructions to Gratz, O. Co. MSS;, 1: 87; Croghan to B. and M. Gratz, Jan. 4, 1772, ibid, 93.

35 Croghan to B. Gratz, July 7, 1772, Gratz-Croghan MSS., 1: 29.

36 Croghan to B. Gratz, Aug. 26, 1772 (Simon Gratz’s Coll., Phil.).

37 Proposals of the creditors, Gratz-Croghan MSS., 1: 32; Final Agreement, O. Co. MSS., 1: 103.

38 Croghan to M. Gratz, July 29, 1773 (Simon Gratz Coll., Phila.).

39 B. Gratz to Croghan, Aug. 1, 1773, Mc Allister Coll.

40 Croghan to B. Gratz, Sept. 8, 1773, Gratz-Croghan MSS., 1: 33.

41 Hamilton, S.M.: Letters to Washington, 5: 9.

42 Gratz-Croghan MSS., 1: 38. Prevost wrote Gratz from Jamaica on November 22, 1774, of “those Confounded matters to the Northward” and prepared to be ready to buy his 6,061 acres should it be placed on sale, even if he had to sell his commission in the army.

43 B. Gratz to M. Gratz, June 3, 1774, Mc Allister Coll.; Bk. of Deeds, 40: 163-168; Peters MSS., 6: 89; bill of sale, O. Co. MSS., 1: 110; account of Croghan with B. and M. Gratz, O. Co. MSS., 2: 26; Miriam Gratz to M. Gratz, July 22, 1774, O. Co. MSS., 1: 111; Sheriff White’s deed to Duryee (N.Y. Hist. Soc.). White proved to be corrupt and was later imprisoned. M. Gratz wrote to his brother on May 3, 1776: ” ... [I] would, at present, not say anything about it to Col. Croghan as Can do him no good, but Frett him for he Can have no Satisfaction by Law . ... “. — O. Co. MSS., 2: 21.

44 Cooper, J.F.: Chronicles of Cooperstown, Chapter I; instructions to Gratz, June 5, 1775, O. Co. MSS., 2: 1; ibid, 1: 103, 113; Pa. Gazette, May 1786; Brant MSS., 13 F 103, 1 F 24.

45 J. Wharton to S. Wharton, Jan. 31, 1775, Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Biog. 34: 42; Croghan to M. Gratz, Nov. 22, 1779, Gratz-Croghan MSS., 1: 71; M. Gratz to B. Gratz, Sept. 26, 1779, Mc Allister Coll.; O. Co. MSS., 1: 87; Bk. of Deeds, 20: 306-315; Deed Bk., D, No. 3, 398-405 (Register of Deeds, Phila.).

46 When Cooper and Craig advertised their lands, for sale in the Pa. Gazette, Apr. 5, 12 and 19, 1786, B. Gratz, as Croghan’s executor, and Dr. John Morgan warned prospective purchasers that their titles would not be good. Morgan and Gratz’s articles with the replies by Cooper and Craig, in the Pa. Gazette, May 3, 17, and June 7, 1786, give much information concerning Croghan’s New York Lands.      The Wm. Temple Franklin MSS. contain a large number of letters and legal papers dating from 1786 to 1819 and present Franklin’s side of the case. Cooper’s side is presented in Chapter I of J. Fenimore Cooper’s Chronicles of Cooperstown, written in 1838 from original documents possessed by the Cooper family. Cooper omits, however, all reference to the Hamilton-Burr episode and to the attempts of Franklin and the Prevosts to have the sale of 1786 declared illegal. Instead Cooper presents figures to show that the lands cost Cooper and Craig a fair price and that Croghan and his family received more than $40,000 for them, which was five times their value at Croghan’s death. To reach this conclusion Joseph Wharton’s loan of £2100 is listed in Pennsylvania paper money of 1780 as £9553. Moreover, the year 1782 was hardly a good year in which to value fairly New York frontier lands. Cf. Land Pap., 38: 34 and 39: 68; authorities previously cited also bear on this phase of the subject.

47 A. J. Dallas, later Secretary of the United States Treasury served as counsel for the Prevosts. In his letter to Lieutenant Colonel Prevost dated June 12, 1808, there occurs the following significant passage describing frontier conditions: “The inefficiency of the Judicial power, in the cases alluded to, does not proceed from a defect of wisdom, or of virtue or of fortitude in those to whom the power is intrusted, or can it be truly ascribed to a radical imperfection in the theory of our government and laws; but it must be considered as incident naturally attending the peculiar condition of the Country. The Indians have hardly withdrawn from the ground; and they are succeeded by a population almost as rude and as ferocious as themselves, coming from the most part from countries, where the poor know nothing of the blessings of property and Care little about its rights. The face of the earth, still exhibits the wilderness as its principal feature; the roads the houses and the farms being few compared with the general extent of territory. The rage for Land speculation, has carried the right of property into the woods, that are impervious; and to the summit of mountains, which can never be scaled; while ignorance or fraud, in demarcation of boundaries, has introduced endless perplexity and doubt to the investigation of titles. ... From these and other cooperating causes, the Judicial power is often obstructed, and sometimes defeated in the attainment of its object; and hitherto, upon the principals of our Government, it has been thought less injurious to submit to the resulting inconvenience than to employ a Soldier, in aid of our Marshalls, and bayonet instead of a writ. Time however, will remove all the causes of the evil as certainly, and as rapidly, as we can anticipate its agency, in the cultivation of the soil, and the amelioration of Society.” — Wm. Temple Franklin MSS.

* An address delivered at the Lake Mohonk meeting of the New York State Historical Association, September 28, 1922. The writer is indebted to Professor Sioussat of the University of Pennsylvania for helpful suggestions and to Dr. Sullivan, New York State Historian, and Dr. Day of that office, Mr. Nelson of the Manuscript Division of the New York State Library Mr. Hooper of the Land Office, Department of State, New York, and to Mr. Paltsits, of the Manuscript Division, New York City Public Library, for assistance in collecting materials.