Anti-rent Difficulties - Early grants of land within the limits of the county - Hardenburgh patent - Dispute in regard to the Western limits of the patent - Survey of the patent - Protest of the Indians - Indian deed of the land between the branches of the Delaware to Johanus Hardenburgh - Bradt patent - Enumeration of the other patents in the order in which they were granted - Land monopoly - Early restrictions placed upon grants - How eluded - Views of the early legislatures - Recognition of the grants prior to the Revolution - Validity of the manorial titles - Leasehold system - Systematic classification of deeds - Durable lease - Redemption lease - Three life lease - One and two life lease - Yearly lease - Seven year proviso - Claims of the tenants - History of the excitement - - Grievances of the renters.
In presenting to the public the history of the late anti-rent difficulties in the county, it shall be our aim, as it certainly is our duty, to narrate it truthfully, and if we err, judgment must be pronounced accordingly. We disclaim the intention of reviving in the minds of any, painful or unpleasant reminiscences connected with the past, and so far as we can do so consistently, we shall avoid any immature conclusions, or hasty expressions, that will not extenuate our determination. Those scenes of excitement, "those times that tried men's souls," are numbered among the things that were. The reign of discord is broken, and terror - stricken he has flown to parts unknown, while the gentle zephyrs of union and harmony, of good feeling and brotherly love, have spread their benign influence over the thousand hills and valleys that mark the surface of old Delaware, and as of old, peace and prosperity, with their attendant blessings, are over all diffused.
With the view of presenting the whole case more fully to the reader, we may be pardoned for drawing aside the curtain of time, and glancing at those early grants which indirectly proved the source of after disturbance.
The first of these grants was made to Johanus Hardenburgh and others, of the county of Ulster, on the twenty - third of April 1708. The defined limits of this patent, now familiarly known as the Hardenburgh patent, were, owing to the unexplored state of the interior or western part, vague and uncertain. An ancient settlement had been made at Minisink, on the Delaware - above which place no white settlement existed. The idea of the source of the Delaware, or as it was then appellated, "Fish-kill," had been gathered from the friendly Indians, who resided upon that stream, or from traders who had boldly penetrated into the wilderness to traffic with them. From these sources of information it had been established that the source of the stream lay many days' journey to the north - east, and hence the description in the original grant - "to the main branch of the Fish-kill or Delaware river;" whereas the two streams are so evenly poised at their junction, that even the more practiced eye of the engineer, cannot without elaborate investigation and computation, detect the larger.
It is not strange, then, that the question should at an early day be agitated, "which is the main branch of the Delaware, or Delaware river proper?" and consequently the western limits of the Hardenburgh patent. It was urged by those who assumed that the Hardenburgh title extended only to the East Branch, that it was so understood by the patentees themselves, and that the original survey extended only to that boundary line. The facts relating to this controversy, so far as I have been enabled to glean them, are these. In 1749, Ebenezer Wooster run up the East Branch, and the same year, or the succeeding, Robert Livingston, also in the employ of the proprietors of the patent, surveyed and located the West Branch. The Indians, who still held peaceable possession of the territory between the branches, either from a misunderstanding on their part, or other motives, availed themselves of the technical misapprehension of the language of the instrument they had executed, and protested in a body to the agents of the government, that the owners of the patent had reached beyond the limits of their purchase, and were trespassing upon their territory. Hence it is obvious that while this matter remained unadjusted, the surveys on the disputed part of the patent should have been suspended, while they were prosecuted upon the other sections. The final result of these disputes between the patentees and Indians was a compromise on the part of the patentees, and the consummation of a second purchase, as will appear by the following instrument:
"To all christian and other people whatsoever to whom these presents shall or may come or concern, we Sandervatheverander, Anough, Hendrickhokeau, Swathekeen, Able, Renp, Shenck, Mounau, Jacobus, Mathesso, Benjamin, and others, All lawful owners and proprietors of a certain tract or parcel of land lying in the county of Ulster and Albany; sendeth greetings: know ye that the abovesaid Indians, for divers good causes, and considerations, them thereunto moving, but more and especially for and in consideration of a certain sum of one hundred and forty - nine pounds, nineteen shillings, current money of the colony of New York, to them or some of them, in hand paid, before the ensealing and delivering of these presents by Johanus Hardenburgh, of Rosendall, in the county of Ulster, and province of New York, hath given, granted, bargained, sold, released, ratified and confirmed unto the said Johanus Hardenburgh, all that certain tract or parcel of land, situate, lying and being, between the Fish-kill and Papagonck river, in the county of Ulster and Albany. Beginning at the head of the Fish-kill, and from thence running with direct line, to the head of Catricks-kill, and from the head of Catricks-kill with a direct line to the head of Papagonck river, and thence down the east side of the said river Papagonck to a certain place called Shokakeen, where the Papagonck river falls in the Fish-kill, and then up the said Fish-kill, including the same, to the head thereof or the place of beginning, together with all the lands, hills and valley, mines and minerals, whatsoever, contained within the bounds of the said tract of land, together with free fishing, fowling, hawking, hunting, and all other profits whatsoever. To have and to hold the above said tract or parcel of land and premises, with the appurtenances thereunto belonging or in anywise appertaining, unto him the said Johanus Hardenburgh, his heirs and assigns forever, and to the only proper use benefit and behoof of him the said Johanus Hardenburgh, his heirs and assigns forever."
"In witness whereof, we the said Indians, have put our marks and seals, this third
day of June, Anno Domini, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-one."
"SUPPAU, JAN PALLING,"
"and twenty other Indian proprietors.
"Sealed and delivered in presence of
"EVERET WYNKOOP, and
The above deed was acknowledged on the third day of June, 1751, before A. Gaasbick Chambers, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Ulster county. The receipt for the consideration expressed in the deed, is endorsed upon the back of the instrument.
The next grant was made to Arent Bradt and others, on the third of June, 1740. The grant was contained in four distinct parcels; three of them lay upon the Susquehanna, or its branches in Otsego county, the other tract lay in Delaware, upon both sides of the West Branch, near its source. The whole patent contained ten thousand five hundred acres.
In 1769, Dec. 8, John Harper, and twenty - one other associated individuals, obtained a patent of a tract of land containing twenty - two thousand acres.
In 1770, Lawrence Kortright and his associates, obtained a patent of a large tract of land, principally contained within the limits of the present town of Kortright. The same year the following tracts of land, which, together with those already specified, comprised nearly all the territory of the county, were granted to various associations.
The Goldsborough patent, of 18,000 acres, to Alexander McKee, and others.
The Adaquaintance, or Charlotte river patent of twenty - six thousand acres, in the valley of the Charlotte river, in the counties of Otsego, Delaware and Schoharie, was granted to Sir Wm. Johnston and others.
The Bedlington patent, containing twenty - seven thousand acres in the towns of Franklin and Walton, was granted to John Leake, and his associates3
John Clark obtained a patent for two thousand acres in the town of Franklin. Charles Babington, also procured a grant for a like quantity.
The Walton patent, was also granted to Wm. Walton and his associates.
In 1775, John Rappalja and others, obtained a patent of thirty thousand acres of land, situate in the towns of Sidney, Masonville, and Tompkins.
The vast compass of the Hardenburgh patent, when its limits had been surveyed and located - a grant of something less than two millions of acres to a single individual, - was a species of monopoly, which, even the British government, with her aristocratic notions, failed to relish, and an order was issued preventing grants of more than a thousand acres to single individuals, or when associated together, of a number of thousand equal to the number of associates.
This act, although beyond dispute it put a restraining check upon land monopoly, yet it did not entirely attain the desired object of preventing them :in "toto". It was cunningly eluded by scheming speculators, by substituting either fictitious names, or privileged to use those of their friends, who upon the granting of the patent, executed their respective assignments to the individual for whom the grant was obtained.
It was under these modified restrictions that the public domain became the easy prey of the consummate land speculator, up to the period of the dismemberment of the colonial government. But when the jurisdiction of territory passed from the yoke of a foreign prince to the direct control of the people themselves, it was then made subservient to the promotion of the best interests of the State, by more stringent modifications.
The attention of the legislature, was directed at an early day to the theory and results growing out of these land monopolies. Their eventual tendency seemed too much toward the laying a foundation of a future aristocracy, to comport with the republican spirit of the fearless and energetic statesmen of those times - its results could hardy harmonize with the end desired to be attained by the institution of a new and novel form of government. It could but centre in single individuals a mighty controlling influence, not only over those who became their tenants, but indirectly it might extend to and control the machinery of government. It would give to the capitalist the reins of weal or woe to republicanism, and the high hopes centered upon it, by the annihilation of that social, moral, and political freedom, guaranteed and established by the declaration of our independence, which had emanated from the old congress - hall in Philadelphia, with the unanimous acquiescence of that venerable body, and had been given to the world, a marked epoch in her history and certain omen of future good.
Accordingly we note, that while the State in all good faith acknowledged the validity of previous grants, in 1777, John Jay introduced the following preamble and resolution, which was acquiesced in by the legislature:
"Whereas it is of great importance to the safety of the State, that peace and amity with the Indians within the same, be at all times supported and maintained: And whereas, the frauds too often practised toward the said Indians, in contracts made for their lands, have in divers instances been productive of dangerous discontents and animosities:
"Be it ordained, that no purchases or contracts for the sale of lands, made since the fourteenth day of October, in the year of our Lord 1775, or which may hereafter be made, with, or of the said Indians, be deemed valid unless made under the authority and with the consent of the Legislature of this State."
All these early grants, were made prior to the Revolution. The parties who owned them resided in New York, Philadelphia, and other cities. The titles of those who embraced the cause of American liberty were afterward ratified by the home government, while those who abetted the English suffered the confiscation of their property. The Adaquaintance patent was the only one confiscated in the county.
This much I have premised in relation to the origin of the early grants, but the immediate consequences which grew out of this mistaken policy, demand a more particular notice.
In relation to the validity of these titles; I find in the XXXVI. section of the first constitution of the State, which was ratified at Kingston, April 20th, 1775, the following declaration: - "And be it further ordained, that all grants of land, within this State, made by the King of Great Britain, or persons acting under his authority, and after the fourteenth day of October, one thousand seven hundred and seventy - five, shall be null and void; but nothing in this constitution contained shall be construed to affect any grants of land, within this State made by the authority of the said King, or his predecessors, or to annul any charters, or bodies politic by him, or them, or any of them, made prior to that day." And in 1822, when the present constitution was adopted, this same clause was incorporated with all its original force. So far, then, as our present system of legislation has had aught to do with grants made under the colonial dispensation, it has been but to ratify and confirm them under a restricted and modified form - in which the principle of confiscation was not recognized.
The closing scenes of the revolutionary struggle, were succeeded by bright prospects of future prosperity. Its favorable termination could have been attained but by the aid of a higher Power, and in that circumstance gleamed in the dim future the guaranty of our prospective prosperity. But the condition of the country was sadly prostrated. A long and momentous struggle had exhausted the resources of the community - that social and moral degradation ever the accompaniments of war - the financial crises, the partial bankruptcy of the State, by their refusal to redeem the national currency to the amount of several millions, produced a powerful reaction, even more threatening in its consequences than a continuation of war.
Out of these hard times, coupled with the universal poverty that prevailed among the early settlers, sprung up of necessity, a system, the leasehold system. A system at that time to a great extent optional with the tenant. It offered the poor man a chance, by economy and industry, of supporting his family and enriching himself without the investment of any capital but his time and labor, and consequently the tenant accepted the proffered bonus regardless of the pregnant future. Under this system of populating the soil a large portion of Delaware county was occupied and improved. "These tenures have been leases, seldom conveyances of the fee, either by warranty or quitclaim; and they can be resolved into four general classes, though there may be slight differences be - between individuals under each of these kinds."
There will be sufficient uniformity, however, among those but slightly differing to warrant this arrangement.
The first kind is the durable lease, given for "as long as grass grows and water runs," or "forever." Under this lease the lessee, his heirs and assigns, are entitled to retain possession of the premises described therein, using and improving the same, as his interest or judgment may dictate, with full knowledge and confidence, that as long as he abides by the terms of his contract, and pays the yearly rent - a stipulated sum or quantity for the use of his farm - he or they can occupy and hold, and forever. In leases of this kind, given on some of the estates, there is reserved, upon every alienation of the premises, otherwise that by last will or testament, a certain proportion of the consideration, usually one - fourth, whence the term quarter - sales; the tenant covenanting to pay such proportion upon every sale. And, connected with this reservation, there is sometimes this privilege, that the lessor, or land - lord, shall be permitted, himself, to purchase from the tenant, where a sale at any given sum is contemplated, at the proposed price, if desirous to do so. But aside from these reservations, and such others as may have been agreed to, as well by the tenant as by the landlord, it rests entirely with the tenant whether he will have a constant and lasting home, or surrender it. Holding possession of his landed estate under a contract, in which the rent, whether in kind or amount, is particularly mentioned and specified, fulfilling his part of the agreement, he need have no fear that the avarice or hostility of his landlord can place any other burthen upon him, than what he himself has consented to bear. Claiming and exercising only such privileges as he has covenanted to receive, and giving in return therefore, such equivalent as he has agreed, the growing population of the country, the increased productiveness, and consequent enhanced value of the land, can make no addition to the sums he has to pay for occupancy. If the products of his toil and the beasts of his field bring a more than usual return, no cupidity can demand a proportionate increase in the amount due from him for the soil he cultivated. The farm he tills, he knows its bounds, the rent he pays he knows its present sum, and the amount for any future time. Here is a stability beyond the possibility of variation, provided he so wishes, and so determines.
The second kind is the redemption lease, uniting the peculiarities and benefits of a lease, with the vested right to become the owner of the fee. Under leases of this character, the tenant may pay, for the use and occupancy of the soil, the stipulated rent, or he may purchase, at a specified price, the fee, and in very many cases, upon whatever part of the purchase - money he pays, legal interest is allowed him, which is applied as so much towards the agreed rent. Two alternatives are offered him, either of which he may adopt; or he may hold under both at the same time, as in the case of part payment of the purchase money, and payment of rent, exceeding the interest of the purchase - money, thus part paid. But accepting either, or holding under both, his choice becomes that of his landlord. He must be bound and governed by such conclusions and determinations as his tenant approves and adopts. If preferable to pay the rent, which seldom equals a seven per centum interest upon the actual worth of the land, the lessor cannot take away the privilege: and if unpleasant, and as he may imagine, degrading reservations attach to him as a lessee, he has but to decide and to act, and his is the pleasure of being a fee - owner. Two ways being marked out before him in which to act, no one but himself can be in fault, if he prefer to tread the one most rugged and toilsome, as he alone can select the easier and more agreeable. In many cases, particularly when the lessee has no capital but his wits, and no labor - machines but his own strong hands, redemption leases are much more desirable than a contract for sale. For such, it is much easier to pay the rent, even when the highest pay the annual interest, and a certain portion of the principal, than to make a down payment of the whole. In this kind of lease, also, the tenant finds the same desideratum we have noticed in the first class mentioned, that no changes or circumstances can increase his yearly rent, as long as he maintains his covenanted contract, while in addition, he has the power to change, at any moment, his estate from leasehold to freehold. Surely, no one can fail of observing, that such tenants have great and peculiar privileges, and that any one must be unreasonable who seeks to rid himself of both alternatives.
The third kind is the three - life lease, which remains in force during the lives of any three persons, whose names are inserted in the lease, or until the death of the last survivor. From the necessity of the case, such leases being compulsory on the landlord, and available for the tenant, only during the lives of the persons selected, and the uncertainty of life being so great, there can be none of that stability which characterizes the other kinds mentioned. The insertion of the name of a child as one of the lessees, may prolong the leasehold estate through two generations, but can hardly extend it to a third. In most instances, they will but little exceed the duration of a single generation. Viewed in the most favorable light, they are marked by a great degree of uncertainty; an uncertainty, moreover, entirely independent of the parties to them, and one which the tenant cannot by the most prudent and careful watchfulness, obviate. In this respect, at least, they must prove themselves very objectionable.
Nearly allied to this class are the one and two life leases, which we shall here consider, because they depend upon, and are characterized by the same uncertainty. The individual name of each of these varieties marks their differences. Each from its precariousness, would seem to be adopted with hesitation, and if adopted, to prevent the lessee from complaining at any event which might happen.
The fourth and last kind is the yearly lease, the name of which gives its character. It runs only for a twelvemonth's time, and expires on a given day and date, neither party being bound on a future agreement, to adopt or follow the terms of a former one. Future rent or use must be arranged as the parties in interest can agree, each having the privilege of acting with perfect freedom. In the familiar instances of a yearly lease of a dwelling or a wareroom, the same principles are involved, and the same laws govern. To both, the lessor and lessee, they can neither be desirable or beneficial; to the one as furnishing a home and habitation for only a little while, and consequently weakening his desires to become a thrifty farmer and deadening his ambition; to the other other, as affording only a poor prospect of any valuable improvements, and increasing the chances of deterioration.
Under leases belonging to some one of the above described classes, these lands, and many other tracts, have been held and occupied, from a time anterior to the organization of our State institutions. Under this leasehold system, the tenants were prosperous. By a great and gradual change the forest had given way to cultivated fields, and the rude hut to splendid or at least commodious mansions. Yet amid numerous gratifying and beneficial changes, at a time when general depression was far removed from the mass, and when prosperity was waiting upon the people, a surmise crept in among them, that the tenures under which they lived were onerous, anti - republican, and unjust, and that as individuals and citizens a strenuous opposition was demanded of them. A feeling extremely radical and consequently highly dangerous, seemed to have pervaded the general mass, seeking some escape. This local excitement discovered a way, and the pent up spirit rushed forth and assumed the name of the local cause which produced it. Some, the calmer and more worthy sort, who honestly believed their leases highly objectionable, and, of right, ought to be modified and corrected, adopted the new name, under which in a legal, honorable way, they meant to combat the error and gain the right. Others again, the larger portion, who fancied they saw a new and easy way to pay their debts, which, like an incubus, were pressing them down, and who stopped not to inquire whether justice and law were with them, provided they could gain their wished for ends, rallied under the gathering word of anti-rentism, and uncouth disguises, and called themselves "Indians," assuming the high - sounding titles of the sons of the forest, and by their actions gave all to understand, that they were determined to prosecute to success their treasonable designs, by force, if necessary, and that they were firmly resolved to pay no longer any rent, or acknowledge a landlord's title. Still another class, followers of Fourier and Owen, world - conventionists, who gave a ready support to every scheme, however wide from nature, or wanting in common sense, joined themselves to the two former, and gave them their sympathy and assistance. And dishonest and designing politicians, who could pierce the future, just far enough to see that this excitement, if properly managed, would become a popular doctrine with the great body of those living under such tenures, eagerly seized hold of it, and with brazen lungs trumpeted it to all around, not forgetting to laud their own patriotism in thus coming forth in the support of right, and determined, like many others called honest and pure, to ride into office and gather spoils.
To all these classes anti-rentism has been as it were a magic word, and under it, they have attempted to repudiate solemn contracts, and defraud the landlords of their honest dues. We are well aware that this position will be denied; but in support of it we refer to facts, now well established, and familiar to all cognizant of the machinery and contrivances of anti-rentism. As a general thing, all the tenants have claimed the protection of associations, have paid a specified tax per acre for such protection, and under the instructions of such associations have refused to pay the yearly rent. That they have so done, is proved from acknowledgments in familiar conversations, and from their own confessions made before legal tribunals, under the sanctity of an oath.
With such objects in view, many counties have rallied under the same standard, and seem determined that it shall be triumphant, even at the expense of law and order. And as the flag of "equal rights" is thrown to the breeze, and misguided and frenzied men are gathering around it, and designing demagogues are driving them on, a duty is placed upon us to inform ourselves of the grievances, under which they imagine they are suffering, and to understand the means adopted for their removal, so that we may be enabled to judge and act correctly, like honest men and honest citizens.
The complaints of tenants are various, but they generally take some or all the following forms - either that the claim of those who who assume to be lords of the manor, is unfounded and fictitious; or that the leases contain provisions opposed to the spirit of our republican institutions, or unjust and oppressive in themselves; or that they are precluded from inquiring into and disputing the right of the lessor, though he had no right to lease to them the lands. As a remedy for what they then feel unjust and unequal, they ask such a modification of the law, that the landlord should be bound legally to establish his title, or fail to enforce the conditions of the lease, and also that the right to distrain may be taken away. These charges are supported in part, by those, who from their inability to learn the facts in the case, are necessitated to obtain their information from secondhand sources, and who are unwilling to believe any person would bring forward such grave and weighty accusations, without, at least a fair and plausible foundation; and they also receive countenance from another class, who stifle reason's voice when she speaks not in accordance with their passions, and will not be convinced of the fallacy of the arguments they advance, or if convinced, are like those who -
But however supported, it becomes us calmly to investigate the charges, and learn their falsity or correctness.
The terms of many of the original leases, were seven years rent - free, and thereafter a yearly rent of one shilling per acre. So great an inducement was this specification, that even those who could have purchased and paid in full for their land preferred the other alternative.4 At the expiration of the seven years, many were still too poor to meet their yearly demands, which through the forbearance of the proprietors, were suffered to pass unpaid, and accumulated from year to year. These back - rent demands, which on some places accumulated to several hundreds of dollars, was one of the principal moving causes of the commonly styled "anti-rent war."
That the people had just claims for the revision of existing laws, in relation to distraining for rent, and of ejecting tenants from their farms for the non - payment of rent, when there is unencumbered personal property enough on the place to satisfy the demand, none will deny. And further, if they doubted the validity of the title, the interest of the tenant involved gave him a perfect right to demand an investigation. It was a duty they owed themselves and their posterity to have the matter tested, and the validity of the title established, or declared null and void.
But to speak more definitely; the excitement first showed itself in the form of a mass meeting; accompanied by strong resolutions, and followed up by the refusal of tenants to pay the annual rent, within the manors of Rensselaer and Livingston; and to oppose more effectually the officers in the administration of the law, by screening themselves from observation and detection, masks and disguises were substituted.
The following are what the original anti-rent association claimed as the grievances of the tenants or rent-payers, as published sometime prior to the period when the excitement assumed so popular a form.
"First, It is held by this class of community, that they are under an unequal ration of taxation, they paying all, and the Patroon none, for the support of either the county or State government.
"This taxing them for lands owned by somebody else, they hold to be an unjust and exorbitant demand.
"Secondly, They consider it wrong, legally, as well as wicked, that the lessor has power to collect rents, while the lessee has no power to contest that right.
"Thirdly, It is believed that this system of things as practised on the renters of Rensselaer and Livingston manors, has an improper bearing on the elective franchise, through fear of oppression.
"Fourthly, The right and power of ejecting tenants of their farms for the non - payment of rent, when there is personal property enough on the premises to pay it, is held to be extremely arbitrary, and is often done to favor a friend.
"Fifthly, They declare against the injustice of being exposed to ejections from their farms and homes, merely on account of failing to pay the rent every year. It is the principle or power of this trait of the leases, that they objected to; though it were never put in force. And also, from being exposed to forfeit their leases if they failed to live up to every requirement in those instruments.
"Sixthly, But it may be said, that men ought to abide by their bargains, and that they need not to have taken such leases. To this it is replied, that those leases were in a manner forced upon all families who now live upon leased premises, which was done as follows: At first, when the country was new, the Patroon was very good and indulgent, to such as would settle on his manor, even sometimes giving the use of the land for seven years for nothing, with the promise of a good and indulgent lease at the end of that time. during this period, be the same longer or shorter, considerable improvements were sure to be made on the land. But now comes the pinch: a lease is made out, which the renter sees at once is in a considerable degree subversive of his own natural rights as a free citizen. What can he do? He must either accept of it, or lose several years' labor. Thus it is asserted, that these leases were in a manner forced upon the rentees.
"Seventhly, The rentees hold that the land they occupy is their own, on account of what is called legal possession: that is, being actually on the land, and by enclosing it, while the Patroon's possession is by proxy only. But if it is neither the Patroon's nor the rentees, then they hold that the manor belongs to the State, as they abjure the claims of the pretended owners altogether.
"Under the idea of statute prohibitions, it is known that men cannot sell their lives, their liberties, their children, their wives, nor their servants. A man cannot burn his own house, nor even abuse a dumb beast, although the animal be his own. He cannot sell his vote, nor buy one at elections. The statute prohibition goes against all frauds and usurpations of every nature; on which account it is believed that the requirements of many of the leases do in many particulars infringe on these wholesome principles,5 and ought, therefore, to be shorn of these hateful traits of ancient feudalism, by the shears of legislative authority, which would go far to tranquilize the minds of the manor rentees, if nothing more can be done in their favor.