Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

Centennial History of Delaware County, New York : 1797-1897
edited by David Murray, LL.D.

Transcribed by Tamara Sanford


THE only part of the present county which is claimed to have been occupied by white settlers at a date prior to the Fort Stanwix treaty is a small settlement on the East branch of the Delaware river in the present town of Middletown. In the year 1762 or 1763 a small band* of adventurers of Dutch extraction set out from Hurley in Ulster county to explore the lands on the East branch of the Delaware.

(* I am indebted to a communication from Dr. 0. M. Allaben, in Gould's History of Delaware County, for this account of the Middletown pioneers.)

They ascended Shandaken creek, crossed over the mountains forming the divide between the tributaries of the Hudson river and the Delaware, and found themselves in the beautiful valley of the East branch. To their great surprise they found here evidences of a deserted Indian village, which they afterwards learned was called Pakatakan; and even traces of European settlements at several places. These latter were doubtless left by the hardy trappers and traders who had forced their way hither in search of beaver skins, and had found at least two homes of the beaver near this place.

The hardy adventurers from Hurley took up farms along this valley, and having made some hasty preparations went back for their families. They obtained warranty deeds for the land from Chancellor Livingston one of the heirs of Johannes Hardenbergh the owner of this tract. The price paid was twenty shillings an acre; and the deeds bear the date of 1763. The names of these first settlers, so far as they have come down to us, were the brothers Harmanus and Peter Dumond, Johannes Van Waggoner, Peter Hendricks, Peter Brugher, and Messrs. Kittle, Yaple, Sloughter (now named Sliter), Hinebagh, Green and Bierch. Their farms were chosen along the banks of the East branch, and the vicinity. The settlers were driven off* by the Indians in the Revolutionary war (1778), and the buildings and improvements were destroyed. But soon after the war they returned and resumed their abandoned farms.

The first settlements in both Sidney and Harpersfield took place about the year 1770; and both in like manner were interrupted by the disturbances of the Revolutionary war, which shortly followed. The pioneer of the former of these settlements was Rev. William Johnston a Presbyterian clergyman born in Ireland, and who had resided several years previous to his removal to the Susquehanna valley in the neighborhood of Albany. Mr. Johnston and his son Witter Johnston journeyed by Otsego lake and thence down the Susquehanna, stopping finally at the beautiful flats which are now called Sidney. Here they found a few scattered but friendly Indians, belonging to the Housatonick tribe, which at this time were subject and tributary to the Six Nations. They selected a farm of 520 acres bordering on the river, which was a part of a land patent belonging to Banyar and Wallace, of which they bought the fee simple. In the Revolutionary troubles which soon came on Wallace took the tory side, and his property which the Johnstons had bought, but had not paid for, was confiscated and became the property of the State. On the recommendation of the governor, however, the Johnstons on payment of the balance still due were confirmed in the title to the land they had bought.

The Johnston family occupied their now home in the year 1773, and were followed by other families who soon made a thriving and attractive neighborhood. They were named Sliter, Carr, Woodcock and Dingman. The Sliters intermarried with the Johnstons and in the troubles of the Revolutionary war took with them the patriotic side. But the others became tories and are lost sight of, except that Carr afterward is said to have erected the first gristmill in this vicinity, upon Carr's brook which empties into the Susquehanna a few miles above the Johnston settlement.

In 1777 during the Revolutionary war the Johnston settlement received a visit from Brant and a band of Iroquois Indians. The Susquehanna valley was a frequent resort of these fierce warriors; and all the scattered Indians of other tribes which wandered through the region between the Susquehanna and the Hudson were tributary to the Iroquois. Brant and all the Six Nations had made a treaty with the British through Sir William Johnson and had embraced the tory side in the pending controversy. He came with a band of about eighty men. The white settlers held a conference with the redoubtable chief, who announced to them his ultimatum. He gave them eight days in which to leave their homes after which everything would be at the mercy of his followers. If any of the families chose to declare themselves British partisans, he promised them protection and permission to remain in their homes. Under this urgent alternative Mr. Johnston and the other whig families took leave of their little possessions and hurried to Cherry Valley. They were there when the little village was burnt by the Indians in 1778; but the family escaped in time from the massacre, and one of the sons was in the fort which withstood the efforts of the savages to burn or take it.

After the war was over the fugitive families returned in 1784 to their homes at Sidney, and resumed the peaceful and prosperous life which has made Sidney one of the most attractive of all the towns in the county.

It remains to say something about Harpersfield, which is the only other part of the county which was settled by white people before the Revolutionary war. The founders of Harpersfield were a family of Harpers, whose ancestor James Harper migrated from Ireland to Maine in 1720. After successive migrations of the family John, a grandson of the Irish emigrant, settled in 1754 at Cherry Valley in New York. A son of this John named John Jr., was the founder of Harpersfield, and his son, also named John, and was the noted Colonel Harper who was so conspicuous in the border ways of the revolution.

In 1767 the Harpers obtained from the Colonial government permission to obtain from the Indiana a tract of land containing 100,000 acres not before purchased, situated near the headwaters of the Delaware river. After this transaction was complete the Harpers received from the government a deed of the land in 1769. Two years after this, in 1771, Colonel Harper established his family upon this tract and proceeded to divide it into suitable farms for settlement. A considerable number of families from Cherry Valley and old friends from Now England soon after joined them, and the place took on an appearance of prosperity. The first settlers however were subject to some severe trials from the want of food for themselves and their cattle. Their nearest neighbors were thirty miles off at Schoharie, and for gristmills they were compelled to go down the Schoharie creek to the Mohawk. In 1775, however, Colonel Harper erected a gristmill for the convenience of his neighbors. The whole tract was heavily timbered, mostly with maple and beech, and the making of maple sugar was one of the chief early industries. The lands covered by hardwood are always more easily cleared than those covered by pine or other evergreens. The rich and varied farms of Harpersfield came rapidly into conditions of fertility and were soon able to support a widespread and prosperous population.

But before the settlement could attain this condition of prosperity, it was compelled to go through a period of trial during the Revolutionary war, which left its impress for a long time upon its inhabitants and its growth and progress. It was in the summer of 1777 that the approach of Brant and Butler with a band of Indiana and tories made the Harpersfield settlers realize the danger of their position. Some fled to Schoharie and some went back to New England. So that from that time to the close of the war Harpersfield was almost deserted. Occasionally some of the fugitives came back from Schoharie to look after their possessions. Thus in the spring of 1780 Captain Alexander Harper and a number of others went to Harpersfield at the usual sugar making season. Brant and his party of Indians surprised and captured them. Some were killed and scalped, while Harper and several others were carried by a long and tedious march to the British fort at Niagara. There they remained as prisoners in circumstances of fearful misery until the close of the war. Others were taken as prisoners to Quebec where they were kept until under the treaty of peace they were set at liberty.

After the establishment of peace most of the families returned to their homes, which however had been in many cases desolated by the Indians and tories. Other settlers rapidly joined these pioneers, attracted by the sturdy character of the founders, and by the liberal terms on which they could secure farms on which they might settle. From that time down to the present Harpersfield has continued to be one of the most thriving and prosperous of the towns in the county.

The period following the war was everywhere active in emigration. The soldiers who had spent many years in fighting for their country had lost that attachment to their homes which made abandonment difficult. They had learned of hundreds of places where they could find farms to be taken up and homes to be established. Many of the officers of the army received in lieu of pay which was due to them grants of land from which they expected to realize abundant profits. They did not foresee the times when the fertile Genesee country, and the rich valleys of Ohio would be speedily in demand. But they eagerly accepted the proffered lands still unoccupied in the eastern portions of New York. Poor old General Steuben who had performed such noble service for his American friends, was rewarded with a township named after him in the rough regions of Oneida county. Baron DeKalb was in like manner rewarded with an equally fertile tract of land in St. Lawrence county.

Much of the land in Delaware county had been granted in various tracts before the breaking out of the war. The year 1770 seems to have been amazingly prolific in Delaware county patents. In the note* appended will be found the patents granted in Delaware county by the English Colonial government.

(* List of patents granted by the English Colonial Government, in Delaware county. Hough's Gazeteer, p. 48:
Babington's Patent, 1770, 2,000 acres, Charles Babington.
Bedlington Patent, 1770, 27,000 acres, John Leake and others.
Clarke's Patent, 1770, 2,000 acres, James Clarke.
DeBernier's Patent, 1770, 2,000 acres, John DeBernier.
Franklin Township, 1770, 30,000 acres, Thomas Wharton and others.
Goldsborough Patent, 1770, 6,000 acres, Edward Tudor and others.
Hardenbergh Patent, 1708, --, Johannes Hardenbergh and others.
Harper's Patent, 1769, 22,000 acres, John Harper, Jr.
Kortright Patent, 1770, 22,000 acres, Lawrence Kortright.
Leake's Patent, 1770, 5,000 acres, Robert Leake. Forfeited by attainder.
McKee's Patent, 1770, 40,000 acres, Alexander McKee and others.
McKee's Patent, 1770, 18,000 acres, additional, Alexander McKee and others.
Prevost Patent, 1770, --, James Prevost.
Strasburgh Township, 1170, 37,000 acres, John Butler and others. Forfeited by attainder. Walton's Patent, 1770, 20,000 acres, William Walton and others.
Whiteboro Township, 38,000 acres, Henry White and others. Forfeited by attainder.)

Subsequent to the formation of the State government many tracts were purchased from the State, by land speculators who generally sold but sometimes rented to settlers the farms which they undertook to clear and cultivate. The largest of these tracts was in the western angle of the State, and occupying a region owned by the State of Massachusetts. The two states settled the question of jurisdiction by an agreement that the price of the lands when sold should go to Massachusetts, but that the whole tract should belong politically to the State of New York. The land was in 1791 sold by the State of Massachusetts to Phelps and Gorham; but on account of their failure to fulfill the contract, it was resold subsequently to them together with a number of other purchases. Almost all the contents of the counties of the State west of Cayuga lake were included in this territory. Another large tract is usually called the Macomb purchase, situated in Franklin, St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego and Herkimer counties. The lands included in these later purchases were usually sold in fee simple to the settlers; while much of that in Delaware county, such as the Hardenbergh patent, the Kortright patent, the Livingston patent, the Verplanck tract, etc., were granted on lease.

The settlements formed in the various towns will be detailed in the town histories given below. The pioneers were of varied nationality, and in this respect were a fair sample of the mixed population throughout the State. From Kingston came the Dutch and Palatine Germans and a few of the Walloons, who settled in Middletown along the East branch of the Delaware. The same classes of emigrants had settled the Schoharie valley and thus formed a continuous belt of low Dutch pioneers from Albany up the Mohawk river, thence up the Schoharie creek to its headwaters and. then down the East branch of the Delaware, meeting the little body of Dutch pioneers who had broken through the mountain barriers from Kingston. It is needless to say that these emigrants were industrious, intelligent, and conservative. Like their European ancestry they sought as places of settlement low lying lands, bordering the picturesque streams which abounded in the new continent. There were no considerable number of these Holland emigrants who came into Delaware county. The lands were opened up to settlement too late to take advantage of the Holland period of New York history. This period ended in 1664 when the Dutch possessions in. America were by treaty transferred to England. After that time a few emigrants came from Holland to New York, and the only Dutch pioneers into Delaware county came from the older settlements of the same nationality in other parts of the colony.

The great mass of the early settlers in Delaware county were from New England. They had already learned that the bleak hills where they had at first made their homes were by no means the fertile and productive regions they had anticipated. From the earliest times there was a continuous stream of emigration from the colonies and states of New England, first into eastern New York, then into western New York, and still later into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and farther west. There was a time, just subsequent to the Revolutionary war, when many of these restless and adventurous New Englanders sought homes near the headwaters of the Susquehanna and the Delaware rivers. The immense town of Franklin which at its organization contained thirty thousand acres of land was largely settled by New Englanders. Sluman Wattles the first settler came thither from Connecticut in 1785 accompanied by his brothers and sisters, and followed by numerous friends who rapidly built up a thriving and intelligent community. The town of Walton was a part of Franklin until 1797, and it too was largely settled by families of New England origin. Dr. Platt Townsend came hither from Dutchess county and brought with him a number of friends from Long Island who like himself had first migrated from Connecticut. This auspicious beginning led many other New England families who were seeking new homes to come into the valleys of the Delaware and the Susquehanna.

Another notable company of colonists came in 1789 consisting of twenty heads of families and two single men from Fairfield county, Connecticut. They were exploring the wilderness in search of a suitable place in which to settle. They came from Catskill and after a long journey reached the head waters of the West branch of the Delaware. Here they found a friend in an old settler named Inman, who aided them to find lands on which they could settle. Part of them located in the present town of Roxbury, which then was the town of Stamford; the others found homes in what still bears the name of Stamford in Rome's brook. This has continued to be a most thrifty and prosperous settlement,* and to this day bears the marks of the pioneers who founded it.

(*The names of this company are given in Gould's History of Delaware County as follows: Josiah Patchin, Captain Abraham Gould, Colonel John Hubble, Aaron Rollins, Isaac Hubble, Talcott Gould, Isaac Gould, George Squires, Walter and Seth Lyon, John Polly, Stephen Adams, Peter and Ebon Jennings, Joseph Hill, and one by the name of Gibson. The two unmarried men were David Gould and David Squires. See p. 197.)

The Scotch immigration into Delaware county was principally of a later date. A few came to the region about the time of the Revolution. John More was a Scotchman who came into the country and founded Moresville in 1786. Kortright, so named from Lawrence Kortright who purchased a patent of twenty-two thousand acres from Colonel Harper, was settled principally by immigrants from the north of Ireland and from Scotland. The patent was purchased in 1770 and the settlement, began from that date. But the great mass of the settlers came in during the first twenty years of the present century.

Andes received a large contingent of Scotch immigrants. These were not however the first settlers, who were of Dutch ancestry and came from the Hudson river counties. But a large number of Scotch families came in at various times and settled the Cabin Hill region and some of the valleys towards Bovina. It was this same movement which led many of the same nationality to invade the rough regions of Bovina. They had been preceded in this movement by Elisha B. Maynard a New Englander, who was the first settler, in 1792. But the hardy Scotch crowded into the lands on the headwaters of the Little Delaware, and made the little town, when it was organized in 1820, almost their own. The town of Delhi in like manner contains many families who by ancestry are Scotch. This is especially true of the mountainous region rising from the Little Delaware on the southwest. The section is still called the Scotch mountains from the fact that the greater part of it was settled by Scotch families. It will be observed that in all these settlements of the Scotch, they have chosen the hills and uplands in preference to the fertile valleys. This was partly owing to the fact that they came into the county at a later date when the richer lands along the rivers had been already taken up. But, besides this, and besides their general poverty which led them to select cheap lands, we must attribute their choice of hilly lands to their predilections founded upon the clear mountains from which they came, and for which they retained such fond memories.

It may be said in conclusion that wherever they settled the Scotch proved most thrifty and successful farmers. They were without exception intelligent and religious; and lost no time in providing for themselves and their children churches and schoolhouses, such as they had been accustomed to in their old home. As a consequence no parts of the county are more prosperous and progressive than those that have been settled by the Scotch and which are still occupied by their frugal and industrious descendants.

Index to Centennial History of Delaware County

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