OPENING OF THE LAND OFFICE.
FORM OF AN APPLICATION - EXCITEMENT AND RUSH FOR LANDS - THE LOTTERY SYSTEM TRIED - TROUBLE WITH THE INDIANS - PROCLAMATION BY THE GOVERNOR - OLD SURVRYS AND IMPROVEMENTS NEAR MUNCY - LAWSUIT BETWEEN JOHN PENN AND SAMUEL WALLIS - JOSEPH GALLWAY'S LEGAL OPINION - FIRST DWELLING HOUSES - PENN DEFEATS WALLIS IN COURTS - MUNCY MANOR DIVIDED INTO FIVE TRACTS AND THE LAND ORDED TO BE SOLD.
THE custom of making special grants of land to individuals and selecting choice tracts for the personal benefit of the Proprietaries having been abandoned, a new order of business was adopted. This was done for the purpose of giving all a chance to apply for lands. It was high time this policy was adopted. Too much favoritism had been shown and too much bad feeling engendered thereby for the prosperity of the Province. Certain individuals, whose opportunities enabled them to be better informed than others, took advantage of their position to acquire lands for speculative purposes. The seat of the provincial government was the headquarters of this class, and the history of land speculation does not show a more grasping set than those who existed during the seventh decade of the eighteenth century, and nowhere were their operations conducted with more vigor, or on a larger scale, than in this valley and the entire northwestern part of Pennsylvania.
It having been decided to open the Land Office for the reception of applications, the following official announcement was made:
The Land Office will be opened on the 3d day of April next, at 10 o'clock in the morning, to receive applications from all persons inclinable to take up lands in the New Purchase, upon terms of five pounds Sterling per hundred acres, and one penny per acre per annum quit-rent. No person will be allowed to take up more than three hundred acres, without a special license from the Proprietaries or Governor. The surveys upon all applications are to be made and returned within six months, and the whole purchase money paid at one payment, and patent taken out within twelve months from the date of the application, with interest and quit rent from six months after the application. If there be a failure on the side of the party applying in either proving his survey and return to be made, or in paying the purchase money and obtaining the patent, the application and survey will be utterly void, and the Proprietaries will be at liberty to dispose of the land to any other person whatever. And as these terms will be strictly adhered to by the Proprietaries, all persons are hereby warned and cautioned not to apply for more land than they will be able to pay for in the time hereby given for that purpose.
By order of the Governor.
Philadelphia Land Office, February 23, 1769.
Secretary of the Land Office.
The conditions were stringent and showed the avaricious disposition of the Governor.
But their severity did not lesson the number of applicants. The land fever had broken out with great violence a year before the proclamation was issued, and scores of adventurers had flocked up the river as far as Bald Eagle creek, and many of them had marked trees or driven stakes to indicate where they proposed to take up I arid. It was a knowledge of this fact, perhaps, that induced the Governor to be so severe in the terms, thinking that many who were unable to meet the requirements of the contract might be prevented from entering the contest. But it made little difference. Many squatted upon their selections and ran the risk of being attacked by the savages, or of losing their time and what rude improvements they might make.
The report had gone abroad through the lower part of the Province, and into New Jersey, that the "New Purchase," as that portion of the valley above Lycoming creek was called, was unsurpassed in beauty and fertility, and many yearned to occupy it. The same feeling prevailed with reference to Muncy valley.
Books were opened at the Land Office in which every application was numbered and entered, giving the name of the party and a description of the tract, by noting some boundary or distinguishing mark to enable the surveyors to begin. The price fixed was at the rate of twenty-two cents per acre, with one cent for quit rent. Those desiring to secure more than the allowance (three hundred acres) to each person found a way to avoid this restriction by employing others to secure lands and then transfer their warrants to them in consideration of "five shillings." It being understood that several applications were likely to be made for the same tract, a new difficulty confronted the officers of the Land Office. How to reconcile the applicants, or establish a degree of priority, was a serious question. Without some rule to guard against conflicts of this kind, great dissatisfaction would arise. Finally it was decided to dispose of the applications by lottery. Wherever there was found to be more than one party applying for a tract of land, the names were written on slips, placed in a box, and drawn therefrom. The first ticket drawn would entitle the party whose name was written on it to the land, when it was numbered and entered. This plan, it was thought, would prove more satisfactory, as there could be no partiality in awarding the application. It was tried, but not followed very long, because it had the effect of lessening the number of applicants for one tract; or they agreed among themselves not to oppose each other.
The official form of an application for land was worded as follows:
GEORGE GRANT hath made application for three hundred acres of land, on the north side of the West Branch of Susquehanna, joining and above the Honorable Proprietor's land at Muncy creek, including Wolf run.
Dated at Philadelphia, this 3d day of April, 1769.
To William Scull, Deputy Surveyor: You are to survey the land mentioned in this application, and make return thereof into the Surveyor-General's office within six months from the above date; and thereof fail not.
John Lukens, S. G.
Instructions were also issued by the surveyor general, John Lukens, to the deputy in whose district the tract was to be surveyed, and they accompanied the from the Indians. The Proprietaries, as well as the claimants, supposed Pine creek was the line on the north side of the river, beyond which they must not go. But they were disappointed. The Indians claimed that Lycoming was the creek known to them as Tiadaghton, and was the treaty, line mentioned in the deed; consequently all the lands lying west of Lycoming belonged to them. They vigorously asserted their claim, and gave notice that if settlers went beyond the line (Lycoming) it was at their peril. The Proprietaries declared that Pine creek (Tiadaghton) was the line, and if it was not they had been misinformed or deceived. The Indians were so firm that the Proprietaries were forced to instruct their surveyors to keep off the disputed territory. This dispute caused much ill feeling which lasted for sixteen years, or until the last treaty was made in 1784, which took all the lands in the State to which the Indians laid claim.
The settlers on this disputed territory were recognized as "squatters;" but, all deterred by Indian threats and the warnings of the Proprietary government, they remained on their claims and clamored for the surveyors to come and run their lines. This they could not do in the face of positive orders to the contrary. The interim of sixteen years was, therefore, a period fraught with fear, uncertainty, and bad blood, which resulted in many lawless and desperate acts.
On account of the alarming state of affairs the Governor felt it to be his duty to issue a proclamation stating that "several ill disposed persons, in disobedience to His Majesty's express orders, and in direct violation of the laws," had "presumed to seat themselves upon lands within the limits of this Province not as yet purchased from the Indians." And as the making of "such settlements doth greatly irritate the Indians, and may be productive of dangerous and fatal consequences to the peace and safety of His Majesty's good subjects," the Governor called attention to an act of Assembly "passed for the purpose of preventing persons from settling upon lands not purchased of the Indians," and drew their attention to the fact that a violation thereof imposed a fine of £500 and twelve months imprisonment.
The Governor concluded his proclamation by ordering all squatters to "immediately evacuate their illegal settlements, on pain of being prosecuted with the Utmost rigor of the law." And he strictly enjoined "all magistrates, sheriffs, and other peace officers" to "carry the law into execution."
The stringent language of the proclamation did not in the least frighten the squatters west of Lycoming creek, or deter others from entering the territory to take up land. We are not informed whether any arrests were made, but the presumption in that the setters were not molested by "His Majesty's" officers. Their sympathies were with the settlers, and as all believed the Indian had "no rights that white men were bound to respect," it would have been hard to enforce the law.
The applicants were clamoring to have their surveys made so that they could occupy their tracts. In William Scull's district we find the surveyors at work on Muncy creek in the vicinity of where Hughesville now stands. July 1st they were in Black Hole bottom, and on the 4th, 5th, and 6th, in Nippenose. The first survey in Black Hole was made on the application of Elizabeth Brown, numbered 44, and took in the mouth of the creek. It was made, July 4, 1769, but independence had not then been thought of. The name probably should be Eleanor, wife of Matthew Brown. They were among the earliest settlers.
Applications for land were granted until the 31st of August, 1769, when it was found that they amounted to 4,000. As nine-tenths of these applications were for land lying in the West Branch valley, the reader will readily see what a rush there was. It is probable that surveys were not made on half the applications; and it is also probable that four and five applications were sometimes made for the same tract. The Land Office in some instances ignored their lottery plan and considered priority of claim, and the first applicant generally succeeded in securing the grant. Many applications, too, were surveyed on other tracts, several of which lay opposite Jersey Shore in Nippenose bottom. The surveyors generally found a tract to fit the application. An application cost one dollar for office fees, and a small sum had to be paid to the guide or explorer. Such persons were expert woodsmen and generally know where the best land was located.
Hawkins Boone, like his noted brother Daniel, was a leading woodsman and explorer. His calling enabled him to familiarize himself with the country, and he became valuables a guide. His journeys extended as far as Bald Eagle, and Nittany, and other valleys, and he visited the cabin of the chief, Bald Eagle, near Milesburg. It was known among the explorers and surveyors as "The Nest," and was a noted landmark. In many cases the tracts were located by means of letters cut on trees standing in a particular place, or by other signs such as streams, deer licks, and rocks, or whatever the explorers could select as a distinguishing mark. Many selections were not found for years afterward, as the Indians forced the settlers to leave before the surveyors had completed their work; and some, on account of the deaths of the applicants, were not surveyed in their names at all.
In an old paper found among the effects of Samuel Wallis, covered with drafts of early surveys on Lycoming creek, it is shown that "H. and J. Thompson" claimed the applications which had been filed by John James and Richard Cantwell in April, 1769. The cabins of the Thompsons are indicated on the draft, as well as the Indian village known among the early settlers as Eeltown. A number of other tracts are noted, and the route of the Sheshequin path is indicated by a dotted line. These old drafts are curious relies and carry us back to the period when all this portion of the country about Williamsport was a wild, with nothing but the rude cabins of a few pioneers scattered about.
THE OLDEST CLAIM.
The oldest improvement of which we have any evidence of having been made within the present limits of Lycoming county was on Muncy creek, a short distance above its mouth. An old paper belonging to the Wallis collection shows that Dennis Mullin as early as 1760 "had taken up 300 acres adjoining James Alexander, and about two miles southwestward of land claimed by Charles Moore." No other evidences of older claims in this section are known to be in existence by the writer. There may have been others, but it is doubtful. This was nearly nine years before the opening of the Land Office and nearly three years before the battle was fought with the Indians in Muncy Hills. These parties must have been early adventurers from Cumberland county, as it will be remembered that some of those accompanying the expeditions up the river for the alleged purpose of punishing the Indians said they were looking for places to take up land and settle.
There seems to have been some dispute about the tract taken up by Dennis Mullin, judging from this affidavit, which was found among the Wallis papers:
The 14th day of December, 1765, came before me, John Rannells, Esq., one of his Majesty's justices of the peace for the county of Cumberland, in the Province of Pennsylvania, Moses Harlan, and qualified according to law that the improvement on the above located land consists of about four acres of cleared land, about half fenced, and further this deponent saith not.
[Signed] MOSES HARLAN.
A note below the signature says: "Improved in the year 1760!" James Tilghman, secretary of the Land Office, then appends the following certificate:
In testimony that the above is a true copy of the original location, and of the affidavit there under written, on which a warrant was granted the 1st of August, to Dennis Mullin, I have hereunto set my hand and seal of the Land Office of Pennsylvania this 12th day of March, 1772.
This is conclusive that the improvement was made at that day, or over seven years before Andrew Montour was granted his "Reserve" at Montoursville, and nearly eight before the manor of Muncy was surveyed and set apart for John Penn.
It appears from the original deeds, still in existence, of Robert Roberts, James Alexander, Charles Moore, and Bowyer Brooks, who had taken up tracts adjoining Dennis Mullin, that they all conveyed their claims to Samuel Wallis "in consideration of five shillings lawful money of the Province." The surveys were made in August, September, and October, 1766. Roberts conveyed 313 acres, Brooks 217, Moore 213, and Alexander 232: These surveys were not made by authority of Penn, as the Land Office was not opened until several years afterwards, and surveyors appointed. The question arises: Who authorized these surveys and who did the work? The claimants were squatters without authority of law, and assumed all risks of retaining their scalps and getting any remuneration for their claims and labor.
Litigation grew out of the early surveys on Muncy creek, and as subsequent law suits showed a complicated state of affairs, it is almost impossible at this day to got at all the facts. Jonathan Lodge leaves a paper saying that in the summer of 1769 he was employed as a deputy surveyor by William Scull, who sent him to Muncy creek, above and adjoining the manor, and in the neighborhood, to make surveys for Robert Guy, John Mourer, Thomas Seaman, James Robb, William Foulk, Mr. Campbell, and others, who were with him, in pursuance of orders from the Land Office, dated the 3d of April, 1769. After arriving on the ground he was met by Samuel Harris (June 16th), who informed him that there were older rights to these lands, and forbid him making surveys. Lodge paid no attention to him at first and proceeded to survey, when he soon found a tree marked as a corner, "which," to use his words, "appeared to be old marks, on the bank of Wolf run." He called the attention of those with him to the marks and they expressed surprise. In a short time he found other marks which proved clearly that surveyors had been there before him. He then proceeded to the camp of Harris and informed him what they had discovered. Harris told him that the blazed tree was the corner of an old survey, and that he could show all the corners if he would accompany him. Lodge does not say what he did, but it is inferred that he ceased surveying. Harris was a historic character. He was the son of the first John Harris, of Harris's Ferry (now Harrisburg) where he was born, May 4, 1733. He was an early settler on the West Branch and lived for a long time at Loyalsock. He took an active part in affairs. In after years he removed to Cayuga Lake, New York, where he died, October 19, 1825. At Bridgeport, on the shore of the lake, a monument was erected to his memory.
There are a number of old drafts of Muncy manor in existence drawn for the purpose of showing how the line's of these disputed tracts overlapped the manor lines.
As the dispute between Wallis and the Proprietary government regarding the legality of these surveys grew warmer, the question was finally submitted to Joseph Galloway, Esq., a distinguished lawyer of Philadelphia, for his opinion. Wallis had purchased the tracts of land in good faith and he insisted upon having the property. These surveys took in fully one-half of the Manor, which was surveyed later, and as the land was valuable, Penn was loath to let it slip out of his hands. Galloway, after a careful examination, submitted a written opinion of which is still in existence. It reads as follows:
The Land Office at Philadelphia did at different times issue warrants and orders of survey to sundry persons for locating and taking up a quantity of vacant land in the county of Cumberland, and Province of Pennsylvania, to wit:
1. Warrant to Dennis Mullin for 300 acres, dated the 1st day of August, 1766, and situate adjoining James Alexander, and about two miles southward of land claimed by Charles Moore, in Cumberland county.
2. Order to James Alexander, same date, for 300 acres situate adjoining land of Dennis Mullin, and land of Robert Roberts on the west, and vacant land on the north and southward.
3. Order to Robert Roberts, same date, for 300 acres situate and adjoining land of James Alexander on the eastward, and westward by land of Bowyer Brooks, and northward by vacant land.
4. Order to Bowyer Brooks, same day, for 800 acres, situate adjoining land of Robert Roberts on the east, and by vacant land southward, northward, and westward.
5. Order to Robert Whitehead, dated March 17, 1767, for 200 acres, situate and adjoining land surveyed for Bowyer Brooks, northerly, barrens west, and by a, large piney hill south and east.
All or which warrants and orders of survey were purchased from the different grantees by Samuel Wallis, as will appear by their deeds of conveyance regularly executed, etc. On the 26th day of October, 1767, and on the 28th (lay of May, 1768, regular surveys were made in pursuance of the Proprietary warrants and orders upon vacant, unappropriated land, and unpurchased of the Indians by the Proprietaries' regular commissioned deputy surveyor, or by some person employed by him as a deputy, which surveys were certified and returned into the Surveyor general's office by the said commissioned deputy; and it since appears that they contain within their butts and boundaries a considerable quantity of overplus land.
On the 25th day of September, 1768, and on the 12th day of April, 1770, Samuel Wallis obtained the Proprietaries' patents for all the lands so surveyed and returned. Immediately after the grand Indian purchase was concluded in November, 1768, the Proprietaries! officers laid out a manor, now called the Muncy manor, which interfered with a part of the foregoing patents, and such part of these patents as the manor did not interfere with, the Proprietary's officers granted away upon common orders in what was called the land lottery on the 3d day of April following, to different people, who have since obtained surveys and returns, so as to cover the whole of the land so patented by Samuel Wallis. The Proprietary's officer's now contest the legality of Samuel Wallis's title, and urge the following reasons, to wit:
1. That a title to land obtained before it was purchased of the Indians can not be valid in law, because it is contrary to their common mode of granting.
2. That they (the superior officers) were deceived, or rather not made acquainted with the true situation of the land, but that the returns of survey were blind and vague, and did not sufficiently describe the place on which they were laid.
3. That the surveys contain a considerable quantity of overplus land.
As to my particular, fixed mode of granting away the Proprietaries' lands has been generally understood not to exist, but that their order was as often altered as it suited their own purposes, and that the granting of lands unpurchased of the Indians is well known to have been frequently done by them. That if the Proprietary's superior officers were deceived, the deception was from their own inferior officers, and not from Samuel Wallis, who, in the obtaining of these lands, did in every respect pursue the common method of negotiating business through each of the respective offices. And as to overplus land, Samuel Wallis can prove that he did as soon as he was made acquainted with it, offer to the Proprietaries' receiver general to pay him for any overplus which his surveys might contain.
The question then is, whether or not the Proprietaries, by their commissioners of property, have a right to grant lands that are unpurchased of the Indians, and when so granted by letters patent, are they valid in law" or whether they have a right to vacate Samuel Wallis's patents on what is now called the Muncy manor, by reason of their containing overplus land, when it does not appear that he was privy to, or concerned in any deception or fraud intended against the Proprietaries in obtaining the lands?
Upon the facts above stated I am of opinion, in answer to the first question, that under the royal grant, the Proprietaries have good right to grant patents for land not purchased of the Indians, and that there is no law depriving them of that right. Of course the above mentioned patents must be valid. And as to the second question, I apprehend the surveys containing a quantity of overplus land are not a sufficient reason for vacating the patent, there being no fraud in the purchase in obtaining such overplus, and more especially as he has offered to satisfy the Proprietaries for it.
March 21, 1771.
FIRST DWELLING HOUSES.
Under date of December 14, 1765, Moses Harlan made an affidavit before John Rannells, a justice of the peace for Cumberland county, that in 1761 the improvement on Bowyer Brooks's tract consisted of "about four acres of cleared, half-fenced land;" that the improvements on the tract of Robert Roberts, made the same year, consisted of "about three acres cleared, with a dwelling house, "and that there were about four acres cleared and a small dwelling house "on the James Alexander tract. These houses, although rude log cabins, were undoubtedly the first dwellings erected in what is now the territory of Lycoming county. This was one hundred and thirty-one years ago, and as they stood upon Mancy manor, to the borough of Muncy belongs the credit of having the first habitations erected by the hands of white men upon her site! There is no proof in existence to show any older improvements.
In. the warrant to Dennis Mullin, dated August 1, 1766, and signed by John Penn, these words occur: "Provided the land does not lie in or interfere with our manor of Lowther." From this it appears that it was contemplated at one time to call it by another name than Muncy manor. Possibly it was intended to name it after Sir John Lowther Johnston, who was a son of Sir George Johnston, the eldest brother of William Johnston, who married into the Pulteney family and became known thereafter as Sir William Pulteney.
WALLIS AND PENN GO TO LAW.
Wallis was not satisfied with the opinion of Mr. Galloway regarding the validity of the title to the lands in question. A careful reading will show that it leaned in favor of Penn; but as he was willing to pay damages, as no fraud was intended, and the transactions were made in good faith, the attorney concluded that the original patents were valid. This dispute retarded the work of making further improve-ments on these lands, and little was done until it was settled. As Wallis refused to give up his claims a suit in ejectment was brought against him, in which the lessees of John Penn were made plaintiffs. Before trial, however, an effort was made, presumably by Penn, to amicably settle the dispute by selecting viewers to meet at Fort Augusta in October, 1772, and proceed to examine the lands and the lines. Sheriff Nagle, of Berks county, had selected the jurymen, and several had started for the place of rendezvous, when word was received from the secretary of the Land Office, that owing to the illness of Mr. Wallis in Philadelphia, it had been decided not to go on with the view. The sheriff dispatched an express to overhaul those viewers who had started and notify them to turn back. And, he remarks in one of his letters, they were very glad to get rid of making the journey.
From the papers it appears that an amicable settlement was not effected, and the suit came to trial in the provincial court sitting at Reading on the 7th of April, 1773. A few of the subpoenas for jurymen are still preserved, which show the date set for the trial. Joseph Reed, Esq., attorney for Wallis, and Edward Biddle, Esq., appeared for John Penn.
One of the most curious papers in connection with this great lawsuit is still in existence. It contains the names of the panel of forty-eight jurors drawn for that court, from which the jury was to be selected, with remarks opposite each name setting forth the character and standing of the man, and his qualification to serve as a juryman. It is evidently in the handwriting of Mr. Wallis; is clear, distinct, and business like, and evidently was prepared as a guide for his attorney in challenging when the names were called. It shows that no more confidence was reposed in jurymen at that early day than now; or rather, that the juror who could be tampered with existed at that time as well as the present. In this list the name of Abraham Lincoln appears with the remark that he is "illiterate and apt to be influenced by the pleadings of lawyers." This Lincoln was an ancestor of the illustrious President.
The suit went on and Wallis lost. Penn then issued an order to divide the manor into five tracts and sell them, which was done.