HISTORY OF NOBLETOWN NEW YORK

by Susan Stalker Mulvey

     In 1724 Massachusetts, under a grant from the crown of England claimed jurisdiction over Columbia County and at the same time, New York claimed jurisdiction over much of Berkshire County.  This boundary dispute was settled by compromise about 1773 but not perfected until 1787.  The settlers in Kakeout, later Nobletown (now Hillsdale) were mostly from Massachusetts and a few from Connecticut with some Dutch settlers in the northern part.

     Both Nobletown and Spencertown were the first New England settlements established within Claverack's alleged borders both being named after the principal founding families.  These settlements began as cultural enclaves where isolated New Englanders signed on as Claverack or Livingston manor tenants as early as 1725; over time, they constituted a separate presence distinct from the Dutch tenants.1 A very small number of families settled in this area before 1750.  In the next twelve years "a continual emigration" of Connecticut pioneers filled the narrow valleys of the region. 2

     The land had been purchased from the Stockbridge Indians around 1755 by residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  A few early proprietors were Robert Noble (for whom the town was named), Thomas Whitney, Japheth Hunt, Joseph Gillit [Gillett], and John McArthur. Robert Noble and his associates procured the Indian title to the land about five miles square and called it Nobletown.  See the minutes of the proprietors of Nobletown at  Nobletown Proprietors Meetings

     The New York manor lords considered the Yankee settlers to be squatters who had no right to the land. Both Robert Van Rensselaer and Walter Livingston required their tenants to farm the outmost limits of their claims.  This included most of Columbia County, portions of Albany, Rensselaer and several adjoining counties.  They used the tenant farmers to guard the land against attack from the French settlers in the north and the Yankee settlers from New England. The New England settlers were farmers but spent much of their time in the Colonial militia.  Many were veterans of the French and Indian War.  They settled in east Columbia County and were experienced in war with the Indians but unaccepting of the rules of the manor lords.

     In the spring 1766, rioting in southern Dutchess county threatened to engulf the entire New York-New England border area.3   Violence and rioting by the squatters in parts of some of the other manors began escalating.  This led to the landlords calling out British regulars along with the local officials to restore peace.  The British troops only succeeded in restoring peace by their continued presence and the landlords advocated use of visible force to terrorize the squatters into submission.

      In the summer of 1766, Walter Livingston and Robert Van Rensselaer began evicting the squatters off "their" land. After riots in Claverack directed at some of Van Rensselaer's tenants, Harmanus Schuyler the Albany county sheriff led over one hundred men to Nobletown.  Robert Noble thinking the men were going to destroy Nobletown, assembled many men from other New England communities including some from Massachusetts.  A confrontation between the two transpired at Robert Noble's house where firing occurred.  Harmanus Schuyler and his men retreated without taking any prisoners. 

     New York's Governor Moore and the Council instructed a British regiment to help the landlords with restoring peace.  Resulting in the troops destroying homes, barns and other structures.  Several of the Massachusetts men were arrested and some went into hiding.  The troops stayed to guard the fields to prevent harvesting and to harass the settlers.  Yet this continued presence of troops did not completely bring order to the countryside.

      On 25 July 1766 the settlers petitioned Francis Bernard, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to put a stop to the harassment of the inhabitants of Nobletown by the people of New York.  To see the petition follow this link: Petition from William Kellogg  The petitioners also sent along their own depositions as to what was happening in Nobletown during the summer of 1766.  (To see a sample of one of the depositions, click here:  Deposition of Ambrose Stalker)  (To read a newspaper article of an extract of a letter from Egremont, published in the Boston Evening Post 30 July 1766, click here)

     During this conflict, many of the Massachusetts settlers removed to Egremont, Great Barrington and Sheffield and were forced to rely on the residents of those towns for housing and food.  To see an account of supplies from Egremont to the residents of Nobletown, click here: Account of Supplies by Egremont to Nobletown People  and to see the names and the monetary amounts reimbursed, click here:  Account of Losses

     After the removal of the British troops, the settlers returned to their homesteads.  The landlords realizing the use of force to abate the New England migration was futile and was becoming political and indefensible.  Stephen Van Rensselaer the lord of the Rensselaerwick manor understood this and began issuing leases to the New Englanders on very encouraging terms.4

     When Massachusetts had yielded to New York her claim to sovereignty and jurisdiction over Hillsdale, Robert Noble and others holding titles under Massachusetts returned to New England.  But some remained and purchased manor titles to the lands they occupied.   Among the settlers;  all of whom purchased manor titles was George Bushnell, who was born in Saybrook, Connecticut, Parlia Foster, born in Connecticut, Capt. John Collin, born in Milford, Connecticut, Robert Orr, born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, Elijah Cleveland, born in Centerbury, Connecticut [may not have purchased a title],7

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