William Cooper and Andrew Craig’s Purchase of Croghan’s Land

James Fenimore Cooper (1858-1938, grandson of the author)

Published in The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association [New York History], Vol. XII, No. 4 (October, 1931), pp. 390-396.

Copyright © 1931, 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.]

{390} Some years ago (1923) there was published in the QUARTERLY JOURNAL of the New York State Historical Association an article on George Croghan containing what purported to be a statement of the acquisition of part of the Great Croghan Patent by Andrew Craig and William Cooper in 1786.

This article severely criticises Craig and Cooper and dwells on the complaints of Franklin and the Prevost heirs alleged to have been made years later — after Craig and Cooper had developed and settled the tract in question, and made it valuable, and also criticises them for failing to give notice of the proceedings and of the sale to Franklin, Gratz and others.

The following statement, taken entirely from the title papers now in the writer’s possession and always available to any one seeking the facts of the transaction, gives the true history of the purchase, and shows that Wm. Franklin himself conducted the proceedings which resulted in the sale; that Croghan’s only devisees, Augustine Prevost and Susannah, his wife, sold their interest to Craig and Cooper, and that if any of the families of either had any complaints to make they should have been against Franklin and Prevost who disposed of the property in 1786 voluntarily and at what they must have considered the then fair value of their interests.

There is nothing to show that either Hamilton or Burr appeared in any of the proceedings or that Hamilton even was employed. It is too absurd to allege as the writer of the article does, that, because two men whose entire fortune was at stake may have employed the best counsel available, Alexander Hamilton, they are to be branded as criminals.

The following is the story. It should have been published years ago but that inveterate thief of time, procrastination, and the feeling that a correction never overtakes an erroneous statement, alone are my excuse for the delay.

The “Great Croghan Patent” was issued to George Croghan and ninety-nine others by George III on the 30ᵗʰ day of November 1769. It conveyed a total of 109,000 acres. On December 2, 1769, {391} the ninety and nine other patentees for the consideration of five shillings each conveyed their interest in the patent to George Croghan.

The patent calls for the payment of a quit rent of two shillings and six pence sterling annually on the “Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commonly called Lady Day,” at the Custom House in the city of New York to the collector of customs there. After the Revolution this quit rent became payable to the State of New York.

On the 13ᵗʰ day of December 1768 George Croghan gave his bond to “His Excellency William Franklin Esquire, Governor of New Jersey,” in the penalty of 3600 pounds, lawful money of New Jersey, to secure the payment of 1800 pounds on the 13ᵗʰ day of December 1771 to said Franklin. Concurrently he executed and delivered a confession of judgment authorizing James Kinsey, Esquire, Attorney, or any other attorney, to appear for him in any suit brought by Governor Franklin on the foregoing bond in any court, and to consent to the entry of judgment against him for the sum of 3600 pounds with a stay of execution until December 13, 1771.

On December 14, 1768, William Franklin gave his bond to Samuel Preston Moore, Joseph Pox, Henry Hill, Richard Wells, Richard Smith, James Verree, Joseph Smith and Abigail Smith, his wife, in the penalty of 6000 pounds to secure the payment to them of 3000 pounds as follows: Richard Wells, 900 pounds, and to each of the others 300 pounds. On December 14, 1768, said Wm. Franklin assigned to Richard Wells and the others named in the bond as further collateral for its payment a mortgage from George Croghan, dated December 13, 1768, covering 109,000 acres of land at the head of the Susquehanna River in the County of Albany and Colony of New York, and three other mortgages from said Croghan on land in Philadelphia, one covering Croghan’s then residence. The mortgage on 109,000 acres is not among the title papers and was probably surrendered when the following 40,000 acre mortgage was executed. It is unimportant as the title to the Cooper tract came under the 40,000 acre mortgage.

On the 10ᵗʰ day of March 1770 George Croghan, Esquire, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern District of North America, executed and delivered to Wm. Franklin, {392} Esq., Governor of New Jersey, a mortgage covering 40,000 acres of land in his patent for 109,000 acres to secure the above bond.

On the 20ᵗʰ day of December 1775 Wm. Franklin and wife assigned this mortgage to Joseph Fox, James Verree, Richard Smith, George Bowne and Abigail Bowne, his wife, in payment of a debt due them of 1500 pounds, proclamation money, of the State of New Jersey — subject to the right of redemption of the said George Croghan on the payment of the moneys secured by said bond and mortgage and requiring the redelivery of the said bond and mortgage to said Wm. Franklin on the payment of the 1500 pounds by him.

On the 9ᵗʰ day of March 1770 George Croghan leased the 40,000 acres to Wm. Franklin for one year at the annual rental of one pepper corn on the last day of the term. This was done to put Franklin in technical legal possession of the land and to legally enable him to take a deed of the reversion from Croghan, or take possession under his mortgage.

Croghan did not meet his bond and failed to pay Franklin the 1800 pounds secured by it when due. Franklin brought suit in New York on January 13, 1773, to recover the penalty of the bond, 3600 pounds. Richard Harrison appeared as Croghan’s attorney. At the October 1773 term, Franklin appeared by John Antell, and Richard Harrison, Croghan’s attorney, declared that there was no defense to Franklin’s claim. So judgment was entered for the penalty of the bond, 3600 pounds equal to 3900 pounds of York currency, with 13 pounds, 17 shillings and six pence costs. Judgment was signed March 23, 1773. It was never paid, and at the January term of court in the year 1785, twelve years later, the above facts were set forth, and also the death of George Croghan, and the appointment of Barnard Gratz as his executor; “and further it appears that Wm. Franklin prayeth that justice be done and a proper remedy be provided for him. The court commands that the Sheriff make known to Barnard Gratz that he appear before the next term of the court at Albany, on the last Tuesday of July 1785 and show why said Franklin should not have his execution against the said Barnard Gratz for the above debt.”

“At Albany on the 7ᵗʰ day of May in the ninth year of our independence, William Franklin appeared in his own proper {393} person and the said Barnard Gratz came not, whereupon the sheriff was ordered to notify said Gratz that he appear before the court at Albany on August 6ᵗʰ next, on which day said Franklin appeared in his own proper person but said Gratz at that day although solemnly demanded did not come but made default, therefore it was decreed that William Franklin have his execution against said Gratz out of the goods and chattels, lands and tenements which were of said George Croghan at the time of his death. Judgment signed November 3ʳᵈ, 1785.”

All of these facts are quoted from a certified copy of the minutes of the court now among the Cooper title papers. Undoubtedly all the notices of sale required by law were duly given.

It thus appears that William Franklin, after fourteen years of waiting for the payment of his debt, personally revived the judgment and procured the writ of fiere facias under which the 40,000 acres was sold and not Cooper and Craig, or either of them, and that the final proceedings in court were three times adjourned and were pending for a year.

The sale was held as required by law at the county seat of Montgomery County and the land bid in by Cooper and Craig for 2700 pounds and on the 14ᵗʰ day of January, 1786, the sheriff conveyed it to them. By this sale the Franklin and Croghan interests in the land passed to Cooper and Craig and this end was accomplished by the acts of Franklin himself and the default of Gratz. More than that, Franklin’s loan to Croghan in 1768 was for only 1800 pounds and his judgment was for the penalty of the bond, 3600 pounds and costs — double the loan. He actually received from Cooper and Craig 2700 pounds, a surplus over his loan of 900 pounds and “damages” of over 13 pounds. He lost nothing but made a liberal profit. When this judgment was originally recovered Croghan’s attorney, Harrison, was in court and consented to it.

On November 12, 1787, Augustine Prevost and Susannah his wife, executed and delivered a warrant deed of said 40,000 acres to Wm. Cooper and Andrew Craig. This deed recites the mortgage of Croghan to Franklin; Croghan’s default; that title is now vested in said Cooper and Craig; that said Augustine and Susannah Prevost are the only devisees of said George Croghan deceased; that the sum paid by said Cooper and Craig for said {394} land is the full value thereof and that said Prevost is not able to redeem the same. The consideration of the deed is five shillings. This deed cut off all possible claims, if any, of George Croghan’s heirs and representatives including his executor Gratz and all subsequent liens and purchases.

On November 12, 1787, Wm. Cooper and Andrew Craig executed and delivered to Augustine Prevost of “Mile End”, Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, a bond in the sum of 500 pounds, conditioned for the execution and delivery to said Prevost of a deed for 1500 acres of land on the east side of the Oakes Creek near Lake Conderaqua. This bond must have been assigned to Aaron Burr as, on April 2, 1794, Burr executed an assignment of it to Alexander Ellis reciting the facts and the assignment of the bond to him. The 1500 acres of land, the records show, was conveyed to said Ellis by Craig and Cooper.

It is a fair inference from these last transactions that as Augustine Prevost, then living in Pennsylvania, knew of the revival of the judgment against Croghan, his father-in-law’s executor, Barnard Gratz, living in Philadelphia must also have known of it and deliberately failed to appear in the proceedings in court above set out.

On the 8ᵗʰ day of December 1786, Joseph Wharton executed and delivered to said William Cooper and Andrew Craig a deed of all his interest in the Croghan Patent reciting specifically: that it covered 20,000 acres of land, previously mortgaged to William Franklin, and on November 30, 1769, mortgaged to Thomas Wharton, in trust, to secure the sum of 1700 pounds due the said Thomas Wharton and the said Joseph Wharton, Joseph Galloway and Abel James; and all the lands which on April 3, 1780, said Croghan conveyed to Joseph Wharton being all the lands not theretofore conveyed out of said Croghan’s 100,000 acre patent and containing 25,477 acres and a lot of 1057 acres on Lake Otsego. The consideration was $2000 and the deed one of warranty.

On December 28, 1796, Joseph Wharton made an affidavit of title which recites: “that in October 1785 the assignees of said Joseph, namely Samuel Stovell, Samuel Pleasant and Caleb Foulke not only would not purchase and discharge the mortgage on certain lands computed to be about 26,600 acres which said {395} Joseph had bought of the late colonel George Croghan in March 1780 to secure payment of a debt from said George of about 6000 pounds, situated on Lake Otsego, Tryon County, New York, which mortgaged land was bought by William Cooper and Andrew Craig, who personally by themselves, and by this affirmant (Joseph Wharton), offered to dispose of said mortgage to them, said assignees, at the same rate and payments that they bought it at for the use of all affirmant’s creditors, but that they told and declared to this affirmant that they would not buy off the said mortgage because they, the said assignees, asserted that the land was not equal in value to the first encumbrance (Franklin’s mortgage) so they gave this affirmant full liberty not only to recover by law whatever he in future could from said William and Andrew but also whatever sum of money or compromise which they might make or commute or offer to this affirmant should be wholly and solely his and further affirms and solemnly declares that at least twelve months after the sale of said lands and its purchase by William and Andrew at the sheriff’s sale, they did repeatedly proffer the same both directly and indirectly to the said assignees and that they peremptorily and in the opinion of this deponent and his creditors basely and wickedly and uncharitably refuse to buy the same although this affirmant’s money then lay in one of the banks in the City of Philadelphia, sufficient to pay for the same, and under their control.” This affidavit is sworn to before the Mayor of Philadelphia.

On January 26, 1785, James Verree conveyed to Andrew Craig and William Cooper his interest in the debt of William Franklin on his bond of December 14, 1768, and all his interest in the three mortgages and other property mentioned in William Franklin’s obligation of December 14, 1768 — on payment to him of the “sum of 617 pounds, eight shillings and one penny half penny or there abouts” the amount then due him under the bond. What became of the interests of the other seven individuals mentioned in the bond there is nothing to show among the title papers. They may have been paid in money or in land as several of them appear as owners on the maps of the Croghan patent.

The persons interested in the Croghan Patent until Cooper and Craig acquired it seem to have been financially weak. Croghan was insolvent long before he acquired it and until his death; {396} Franklin was exceedingly slow pay to say the least; and Joseph Wharton had made an assignment for the benefit of his creditors.

Colonel Croghan was a very successful and adroit Indian trader, but absolutely without the qualities which made a pioneer settler of land, which Judge Cooper possessed to a marked degree.

There is nothing to show that any action was brought to disturb Craig and Cooper’s title except an attempt by Maria S. and Jacob Morton in 1814, five years after Cooper’s death to revive a judgment in his favor against Croghan. This attempt failed. Nothing in my possession shows that it ever came to trial. These title papers show: first — that William Franklin not only knew of the sale but conducted the proceeding which brought it about; second — that Croghan’s heirs knew of it at the time or shortly thereafter; third — that Barnard Gratz, George Croghan’s executor, almost certainly must have known of it; fourth — that Wharton knew of it and had an opportunity to redeem the land.

It shows also that neither the mortgage nor bond of Croghan ever was assigned to Craig and Cooper or either of them or to that nebulous body “The Burlington Company” unless the eight persons mentioned in Franklin’s bond constituted the “Company.” It was assigned to them only as collateral security for Franklin’s debt of 3000 pounds.

It is probable that Craig and Cooper agreed to bid 2700 pounds for the property when Franklin should succeed in having it offered for sale by the sheriff under an execution issued on his judgment against Croghan; which he, Franklin finally procured.