By Capt. Franklin Ellis346
The records of the old King's district contain much that is interesting, as will be seen from the extracts here given:
"King's District, Ye 24th day of Dec. 1774.--At a meeting publickly warned by the Clerk of the district and requested by a number of the principal inhabitants. Present: five of the King's Justices for the County of Albany and a great number of the principal people belonging to said District.
"Whereas, it appears to this meeting that some individuals in the northeast part of this District have associated with divers people of a neighboring district, and combined together to hinder and obstruct Courts of Justice in said County of Albany; this meeting deeply impressed with a just abhorrence of these daring insults upon Government, and being fully sensible of he blessings resulting from a due obedience to the laws, as well as convinced of the Calamities and evils attending a suppression, or even suspension of the administration of Justice, have, therefore, unanimously come ot these resolutions: First, That our gracious Sovereign, King George the Third, is lawful and rightful ruler and King of Great Britain and all other dominions thereunto belonging, and as such, by the Constitution, has a right to establish Courts, and is supposed to be present in all his Courts, Therefore, we will to the utmost of our powers, and at the risk of our lives discountenance and suppress every meeting, association, or combination which may have a tendency in the least to molest, disturb, or in anywise obstruct the due administration of justice in this Province.
"Second, That we will as much as we possibly can in our different capacities, encourage, promote, and enforce a strict obedience to the aforesaid authority.
"Third, Inasmuch as the life, liberty, and prosperity of society are secured and protected by the laws, we do for the further security of these blessings mutually consent, agree, and engage that if any obstruction, hindrance, or molestation is given to any officer or minister of Justice in the due execution of his office we will separately and collectively (as occasion my require) aid and assist the executive part of the land, so that all offenders may be brought to justice."
A short time after this meeting a communication was received from Sheriff Abraham Yates, of Albany, requesting the district to appoint a committee of correspondence to confer with other committees of the province upon matters pertaining to their mutual good. This the district, at a special meeting held Feb. 8, 1775, declined to do. But a committee of correspondence and safety, composed of Nathaniel Culver, Peter Guernsey, Theophilus Jackson, Mathew Adgate, Asa Waterman, Asa Douglas, and Robert Bullis, and Wm. B. Whiting, clerk, was appointed at the annual meeting, May 2, 1775, and thenceforth the district appears to not only have followed its neighbors in protesting against the oppressive measures of the parent country, but actually led in this direction.
A memorable special meeting was held June 24, 1776, when the inhabitants declared themselves independent, as will be seen form the minutes of that occasion:
"At a meeting of the inhabitants of King's District, in the County of Albany, legally warned by the Committee of said County, at the house of William Warner, innkeeper, in said District, on Monday, the 24th day of June, 1776, for the purpose of electing twelve delegates to represent said County in the Provincial Congress, be voted: First, that Daniel Buck be moderator of this meeting; second, that the present Committee's clerk be clerk of this meeting; third, that the District's books be delivered to the care of said Committee's clerk until the next District meeting; fourth, that a committee be chosen by this meeting for the purpose of drawing up instructions for a new form of government to be introduced by said delegates.
"The question being put, whether the said District chooses to have the United American Colonies independent of Great Britain, voted manimously in the affirmative.
"Fifth, voted that William B. Whiting, Asa Waterman, Philip Frisbie, Martin Bebee, Elisha Pratt, Capt. Baldwin, Daniel Buck, Elijah Bostwick, Gideon King, Jarvis Mudge, Samuel Johnson, John Gillet, Lieutenant Herrick, Joseph Wood, John Wadsworth, and Samuel Bailey be a Committee to draw up instructions for the purpose aforesaid."
A committee of inspection was also appointed this year, 1776, which was composed of John Bebee, Jr., Philip Frisbie, Mathew Adgate, Asa Douglas, Nehemiah Fitch, Peter Guernsey, Reuben Burlingame, and Samuel Bailey.
A number of special meetings were held in the early part of 1777, to consider the new constitution proposed for the State; but King's district refused to adopt it, and gave the matter a final consideration in June, 1777.
"According to adjournment, the inhabitants of King's District met at the house of Jonathan Warner, on Tuesday, the 10th day of June, 1777, Major Daniel Buck being moderator.
"1st. Voted, That the Constitution formed by the Convention of this State be rejected, and not be adopted by the good people of this State. Mathew Adgate absented from said vote, requested the same to be recorded.
"2d. Voted, That the Committee of Safety for this District be invested with full power to try all cases of trespass, wherever committed in this District upon the lands of the inhabitants.
"3d. Voted, That this meeting be adjourned to Tuesday the 1st day of July next, and to be held at the house of Jonathan Warner, in said District."
Meanwhile, the sheriff of the county of Albany directed a meeting ot be held, June 16, 1777, to elect officers according to the provisions of the new constitution, adopted in spite of the good people of King's district. The record is thus given:
"Agreeable to orders from the Sheriff of the County of Albany, the inhabitants of King's District, Stephentown and a part of Claverack, met at the house of Solomon Demons, ye 16th day of June, to elect a Governor, Deputy-Governor, Senate and Assembly to officer the Constitution formed by the Convention for this State,--Colonel William B. Whiting and Captain John Bebee, conductors of said meeting."
The conductors expressed themselves ready to proceed with the business in hand, but the people were not minded to elect officers under a constitution which they had rejected, and made a move that the conductors should try the minds of the people whether they would officer the same. This plan being adopted, those favorable to the measure were to move to the north, and those opposed to the south. The division being called, the people moved unanimously to the north, thus again expressing their contempt for the constitution by the refusal to officer it, or act under its provisions. It was then voted that a committee be appointed to draw up a remonstrance against the articles they looked upon as grievous, and to lay it before the proper authorities, so that they might know why the inhabitants rejected the same, and pray for redress. The committee consisted of Esquire Nathaniel Culver, Dr. Nicholas Harriss, Captain George White, Captain Eleazer Grant, Captain John Salsbury, Captain Daniel Hull, and Lieutenant Jarvis Mudge.
"Voted, That unanimously, that we will protect, defend, and support the officers of the militia and the Committee of Safety in the execution of their office."
At the July meeting, above provided, it was voted "That every person that is an inhabitant in any District Town, or Manor in this State has a right, and ought to have the privilege, of voting for a Governor, Senate, and Assembly to officer a Constitution, or to form the Legislative Authority of the State."
From this period until December, 1777, several meetings were held without resulting in any important action. On the 8th of that month it was voted "that Nathaniel Culver be the Representative of the District, and that the following be Enlisters: Peter Guernsey, Gideon King, John Gillet, Elisha Gilbert, Noah Gridley, Samuel Allen, Increase Childs, William Warner, Jonathan Ford, Nathaniel Rowley, Timothy Brainard, Noadiah Moore, Nathan Herrick, Edward Wheeler, Jacob Vosburgh, and Ezra Allen."
A few months later the vexed questions pertaining to the new constitution received a final disposition. "At a meeting of the inhabitants of King's District, held at the house of Jonathan Warner, on Monday, the 23d day of March, 1778, said meeting being legally named by the Committee of Safety for King's District, to know whether the inhabitants thereof would accept a remonstrance drawn up against the Constitution formed for the regulation of this State by a certain Convention chosen for that purpose ye 16th of June, 1777; and whether they would forward the same to the Honorable Senate and Assembly of this State, and do all other business thought necessary to be necessary on that day.
"Voted, that the remonstrance drawn up against the Constitution, read this day to the inhabitants, be rejected, and that no remonstrance go forth against said Constitution in the name of this District.
"Voted, unanimously, that we will support the Constitution formed for the regulation of this State (with the rest of our brethren and fellow-citizens) with our lives and our fortunes.
"Voted, that the letter sent to Colonel Wm. B. Whiting, in the names of individuals, which copy has been read, now be sent by Ezra Murray, District Clerk, to the said Colonel Whiting, in the name of the whole District.
"Voted, that we rescind all former votes passed in this District relative to the present Constitution formed for this State."
About this time the land titles of many citizens were jeopardized, owing to divers Indian claims to the same tract of land, and other conflicting claims. At the annual meeting, in May, 1778, it was "Voted, that the following persons be a committee to consult and agree upon some general plan for this District to petition for the lands, and that the said committee make returns to the inhabitants of their doings on the first Tuesday of June next." Committee, Hezekiah Baldwin, Elisha Pratt, Philip Frisbie, Nehemiah Fitch, Moses Jones, Daniel Herrick, Nathaniel Culver, William Warner, and Ezra Allen.
The report recommended that the Senate and Assembly of the State of New York be petitioned for a confirmation of the lands in said district to the possessor and the occupant thereof. Captain Philip Frisbie, John Bebee, Ezra Murray, Matthew Adgate, Elisha Pratt, and Joseph Wood were selected to prepare the petition and appoint an agent to bear it to the Legislature. Ebenezer Cady, Ebenezer Benjamin, Eleazer Grant, Daniel Herrick, and Theodore Jackson were to collect money to defray the expenses of said agent. The Legislature passed a bill relieving the settlers, and enabling them to secure undisputed title.
At a special meeting, June 15, 1779, "Voted, unanimously, that the District shall and will pay all such cost and charges that shall necessarily arise in consequence of the Poormaster's taking care of and supporting the poor in a proper, charitable, and Christian manner.
"Voted, unanimously, that the Representatives for the County of Albany in General Assembly be instructed to use their most vigorous exertions to have a confiscation bill immediately passed, on all the estates of those persons who are inimical to the American States.
"Voted, that the District clerk send a copy of the above votes to the General Assembly of this State."
Six months later, on the 5th of January, 1780, the right of the enemies of the country to hold property was again considered. It was then determined to memorialize the Legislature in regard to the confiscated lands of the Tories, reciting that "the petitioners did at the commencement of these struggles, on solid principles, enter into them with a fixed and firm determination to defend our fortunes, rights, and privileges, both civil and religious, and that we have risked our all to this end, and that we have not shrunk back from the terrible armaments of Great Britain."
It was further urged that the last tax did much distress the good people who had spent so much in defense of the country, "and that a great number of those parasites, who stimulated and aided Great Britain, murdering many innocent people, and who are now with the instruments of death actually stabbing us to the vitals, upon joining our powerful and haughty foe, they left with us lands and property which are an actual prize, and which the representatives have an undoubted right to dispose of, and which if not done would bankrupt those who had espoused the American cause." "And those butchers who are now cutting our throats with a treaty of peace with England, will be restored to their forfeited estates, if they are not sold before that period arrives, and they become our rulers, and by that means have it in their power to legally murder all those who have opposed them. In which case it may be justly said, 'we are our own executioners.'"
The petition concludes that prudence and the common welfare would dictate the sale of the property, while it is yet within the power of the representatives to make such a disposition of it.
In 1781, Gideon King, Aaron Peabody, Jonathan Warner, Elijah Skinner, Samuel Banford, Aaron Kellogg, Reuben Murray, Josiah Clark, John Gray, Ezra Murray, Josiah Warner, Ebenezer Cady, John Blinn, Wm. Babcock, Wm. Savage, Solomon Demon, and Jonathan Preston were appointed informing officers, 'whose duty it is to stop people traveling on the Sabbath; to take notice of all breaches of the peace and treasonable practices, and enter complaint to the proper authorities, that offenders may be brought to justice."
On the 6th of May, 1783, the inhabitants put themselves on record as being still of the opinion that the Tories had forfeited their property:
"Voted, unanimously, that we will support to the extent of our ability the laws of this State which have been passed against those persons who have borne arms against this or either of the thirteen United States of America, any time since the Declaration of Independence, except those persons who have already received pardon from former proclamations.
"Voted, that no person who has borne arms against the said States, being a resident of, or in, America at the commencement of the said war, shall return, on any pretext whatever, to reap the advantages of Independence; and all property confiscated by law doth of right belong to said States.
"Voted, that no such person as aforesaid shall ever hereafter have any residence in this District, and that the members of the Assembly be instructed about the disposition of the inhabitants of said District respecting the same."
The finances of the country also received attention in 1784: "A special meeting was held on Wednesday, ye 7th day of April 1st, Voted E. Grant to be moderator. 2d, Voted, unanimously, that it is highly necessary that the Legislature of this State strike a Bank of Paper currency for a circulating medium of this State. 3d, Voted, that the Clerk of said District give notice to the members of the District, now in the Legislature of the State, certifying them, by letter, of the opinions of their constituents respecting a Bank of Paper Currency being made, and put on an equal footing with silver and gold."
On the 10th of July, 1792, an indignation meeting was held "to oppose every attempt to defeat, or impair, or destroy the free exercise or enjoyment of the inestimable right of suffrage."
The action of the last board of canvassers was strongly censured, and John Tryon, Eleazer Grant, Aaron Kellogg, Nathan Noyes, Hosea Bebee, William Babcock, Reuben Murray, and Abraham Van Der Poel were appointed a committee to act in concert with other committees throughout the State to secure a law which would prevent the abuse of the power reposed in a board of canvassers, as in the last election.
The people of Canaan were strongly opposed to a division of the town, and entered their protest in 1793 against such attempts. Nevertheless, Chatham as taken off in 1795, and Austerlitz in 1818, and in spite of the vigorous opposition to such a movement the town was again shorn of its dimensions the same year by the formation of New Lebanon, leaving Canaan with its present area of twenty thousand seven hundred and seventy acres.
We close these interesting extracts by producing verbatim a copy of a notice to "any constable," showing how hard was the way of the transgressor in Old King's district:
"COLUMBIA COUNTY, ss.
"To any Constable in said County, Greeting: forasmuch as Jesse Cole has been convicted of Pettelarsenea, before Mat. Adgate, Philip Frisbie, and Reuben Murray, Esqrs., and stands condemned to be whipp'd on the naked back fiftean Stripes, these are, in the name of the people, Command you forth to put the Judgment of this Court in Execution. Given under our hands and seals, at King's District, this 3d day of May, 1786.
"R. Murray, }
"Philip Frisbie,} Justices."
"Mat. Adgate, }
This document bears the following indorsement (sic): "Allowed to E. Gridley, Constable, for the within service, 6 shillings."