A Catskill Catalog: March 24, 2010
If the Catskills were a kingdom, the Hardenbergh Patent would be our Magna Carta.
By the patent, I mean the piece of paper, parchment probably, upon which, in 1708, New York Provincial Secretary George Clarke wrote. It granted nearly two million acres of land, in the name of “Anne by the Grace of God of England, France, and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith” to “our loving subjects Johannis Hardenbergh, Leonard Lewis, Philip Rokeby, William Nottingham, Peter Fauconnier & Robert Lurting.”
I say two million acres. Actually, I’ve seen, in print, the size of the land grant estimated at one million, one-and-a-half million, and two million. No one is quite sure exactly how big the 1708 land grant was.
That’s because no one had bothered to survey the vast, mountainous lands east and south of the West Branch of the Delaware River, from the Minisink lands in the south, down in Orange County, to a line, in the north, beyond the Kaaterskill Creek.
The lack of a survey was directly related to how Johannis Hardenbergh and his cronies got the land patent in the first place.
See, folks down in colonial Hurley felt like they didn’t have enough room. They needed “commonage for their cattel,” and woodlots for fuel. They felt squeezed between Kingston and Marbletown, and eyed “vacant land left unappropriated fit for Commonage and firewood but not for cultivation.” The land they wanted was situated “between the north bounds of Kingston and the great mountain commonly called the Blew Hills,” the Catskills.
The good people of colonial Hurley were trusting and honest souls. They petitioned the Royal Governor, Lord Cornbury, for title to the lands, candidly admitting in their petition, “Petitioners cannot describe to your Excellency the exact bounds and limits thereof.”
The governor put the Hurley freeholders’ petition in the hands of Augustine Graham, the provincial Surveyor-General. Graham seems to have seen an opportunity. As long as the land remained un-surveyed it could not properly be conveyed to the Hurley folks, or to anyone else, for that matter. Besides, the petition was faulty. The petitioners should have asked for permission to purchase the land from the Indians who, in the polite English phrase, still held title to it.
So Augustine Graham stalled, and Augustine Graham plotted, and Augustine Graham put together a cadre of respectable men of means and influence, Joannis Hardenbergh and Company, to petition their friend, Governor Cornbury, for permission, first, to buy from the natives, the land the Hurley settlers had asked for, and then, receive it, themselves, as a patent, a grand unit-of-land granted to these few, wealthy, well-connected partners, under Royal seal.
That petition was made on July 18, 1706. Within two weeks, one of the partners, Jacob Rutsen, had met with “Nisinos one of the Chiefs and sachims and Lawful Owners and Proprietors of several Tracts and parcels of Land in Ulster County.” Remember, in colonial times, Ulster County was everything west of the Hudson, north of Orange County and south of Albany County.
For about 200 pounds, Nisinos sold to Rutsen, “Mohogwagsinck, Kawinsinck, Pakataghkan, Menegherack,” and several othe parcels bearing their native place names, essentially all the lands east of the Delaware that hadn’t already been granted to somebody else. Rutsen’s son-in-law was the Justice- of-the-Peace who witnessed the sale.
Lord Cornbury, the governor, had a well-earned reputation for corruption. His penchant for appearing in female garb at awkward occasions further enhanced his controversial image. In March 1708, Queen Anne thought it wise to remove the governor from office.
One of Cornbury’s last corrupt acts was to grant the patent to Hardenbergh and Company on April 20, 1708. I say “corrupt acts” because the recipient partnership contained three secret partners: Thomas Wenham, a member of the Governor’s Council; May Bickley, acting Provincial Attorney General; and Surveyor-General Augustine Graham. All three were legally prohibited from receiving such a Royal grant, given their high government office, and official insider status.
But illegal or not, they got the land. The Hardenbergh Patent was described in, at least, four deeds following the original grant. It was depicted, as well, on several oft-reproduced maps. Look at the Patent. Look at the Catskills. Their maps overlay.
The Hardenbergh Patent was the first documented recognition of the Catskills as a distinct region, as a self-contained place. The Hardenbergh Patent contains lands that essentially make-up the mountainous portions of four counties: Ulster, Greene, Delaware and Sullivan. The lands of the Hardenbergh Patent are the Catskills.
Like some great charter of history, out-of-date but formative, the Hardenbergh Patent declares the Catskills whole. Pretty cool.