Edited by Stephen R. Powell

Land Titles

-This subject will be dealt with in a later chapter, and only passing mention need be made here. By the treaty of Fort Stanwix, in 1784, a large part of what is now the site of the city of Buffalo was outside of the Indian lands. In 1786, however, the States of Massachusetts and New York entered into an agreement by which, subject to Indian rights, the title to lands in Western New York (excepting a strip of one mile in width along the eastern shore of Niagara river, which New York reserved and which became known as the State Mile Strip) became vested in the State of Massachusetts. "Under the royal charters which created them as English colonies, both States could claim unlimited westward extensions of boundary, the Massachusetts belt cutting through that of New York," wrote Larned. "In compromising their claims, Massachusetts obtained such proprietary rights over Western New York soil as were deducible from her colonial charter, while New York kept sovereignty over that and the rest." What Massachusetts obtained, in fact, "was the sole right to buy the Indian title to property in that soil, the native owners being forbidden to deal with any other buyer." This was agreed upon by the commissioners of the two States concerned, at a meeting held in Hartford, Connecticut, in December, 1786.

While these events were being negotiated, other individuals, for private profit, were endeavoring to secure title to lands possessed by the Indians. One "combination" was composed of "prominent men in New York" and the other syndicate was mainly Canadian. For the purpose two companies were formed-the New York and Genesee Land Company, the manager of which was John Livingston, a member of the New York Legislature; and the Niagara Genesee Company, of which Colonel John Butler was the prime mover. Associated with him were Samuel Street, of Chippewa, the Captain Powell and Lieutenant William Johnston, of whom much has already been written, and Benjamin Barton, of New Jersey. They were well aware that the constitution of the State of New York forbade the latter from selling Indian lands to individuals, and they sought to evade the restriction by negotiating a lease of the lands for a long term of years. The two companies, working together, succeeded in 1787 in obtaining from the Six Nations, or from certain chiefs who purported to act with authority for the Iroquois Confederacy, a leasing agreement which gave the New York and Genesee Company right to occupy and sublease "almost all of the lands of the Indians for the extraordinary term of nine hundred and ninety-nine years, for a consideration Of $20,000, and an annual rental Of $2,000." The land leased was approximately eight million acres. During the following winter the promoters applied to the Legislature of the State of New York for a recognition of this leasing agreement; but the legislators were not long in disapproving the petition, and in declaring the lease void. It was subsequently stated by many of the chieftains that the lease was obtained by subterfuge and without proper authority.

It was not the final attempt by Butler and Livingston to profit by exploitation of the real property of the Six Nations. They had the audacity to propose to the State of New York the procurement of conveyance of all Indian lands to the State, asking only that the State reimburse Livingston, Butler and Company the amount of their disbursements in procuring the conveyance, and in addition, as a recompense, the conveyance to them of one-half of the land obtained. Their profit, as intermediaries between the State and the Indians, would thus have been "four or five million acres of the finest land in America." The State did not hesitate to promptly reject the proposition. In "The Life of Horatio Jones," by George H. Harris, the unfinished manuscript of which narrative was purchased by the Buffalo Historical Society, references are made to these land transactions, and the following is extracted therefrom:

"As the purchase of Iroquois lands by individuals was illegal and the fever of land speculation possessed many people, two companies, known as the New York Genesee Land Company and the Niagara Genesee Land Company, were organized in 1787, for the purpose of leasing of the Six Nations for a period of ninety-nine years all their country west of the old line of property. In November, 1787, the New York Company called a council of the Six Nations at Kanadesaga and the Indians assembled on the lake shore near Jones' house."

Horatio Jones and Joseph Smith, who had both been held captive by the Indians and released at the termination of hostilities, had settled in the woods, as fur traders. To them, John Livingston went, offering them "liberal compensation" to act as interpreters; and with their aid, on "January 8, 1788, a lease was obtained of the Oneidas for their lands. Thereafter the companies were termed lessees. These companies included some of the most prominent men of New York and among the British at Niagara. In February, Livingston, who was then in the Assembly, with others, memorialized the Legislature to recognize the leases; but the petition was summarily rejected and the Governor was empowered to use the force of the State to prevent intrusion or settlement upon Iroquois lands."

On April 1, 1788, Massachusetts sold her right of purchase of Indian lands in New York to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, who were acting on behalf of themselves and others." The sale involved "about six million acres," and the consideration was "one million dollars, in three equal annual installments, the purchasers being at liberty to pay in certain stocks of the State, then worth about twenty cents on the dollar." The sale was conditional upon the company succeeding in satisfactorily extinguishing the native title. The efforts made by the purchasing company to accomplish this were reviewed in "The Life of Horatio Jones," as follows:

"Phelps was appointed general agent, and to prevent complications opened negotiations with the lessees (the Livingston-Butler syndicate), promising Livingston and others several townships if the lessees would surrender their leases and procure from the Senecas a deed of cession to Phelps and Gorham. This proposition was accepted and the lessees contracted to hold a treaty at Kanadesaga for that purpose. On May 2nd, Livingston tried to compromise with New York, but his proposition was rejected.

"On June 1st, Mr. Phelps, the Rev. Samuel Kirkland as Commissioner of Massachusetts, and other gentlemen, arrived at Seneca Lake, where Horatio Jones and Smith were the only white residents. Mr. Phelps was so pleased with the location that he decided to found a town there if the place fell within his purchase. The Indians refused to go to Kanadesaga to meet Livingston, and Phelps decided to hold a treaty on his own responsibility. Jones was sent to the Senecas and on June 21st Red Jacket, Little Billy, Heap-of-Dogs, and three others brought to Mr. Phelps an invitation to meet the Indians at Buffalo Creek.

This text is Copyright 2001 all rights reserved by Stephen Powell and This electronic text may not be dupicated or used in any manner without written consent of Stephen R. Powell or




spacerCouncil Convened at Buffalo Creek

"The council convened at Buffalo Creek July 4, 1788, James Dean, Horatio Jones, William Johnson and other interpreters being present. Phelps bought of the Indians for $5,000 and an annuity 'forever' of $500, a tract of 20,000 acres lying mainly between Seneca Lake and Genesee river, since known as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, giving his bond therefore to the Seneca chiefs. When the bargain was concluded Phelps asked for a present of a lot west of the Genesee upon which he could place a mill to grind corn for the Indians. They objected, but finally agreed to give him land sufficient for a mill lot. Phelps selected a section extending from Lake Ontario twenty-five miles southward and twelve miles west, comprising some 200,000 acres. When the Indians learned that an acre would have been sufficient for mill purposes their amazement was indescribable.

"ºWhen the bargain was concluded Phelps asked for a present of a lot west of the Genesee upon which he could place a mill to grind corn for the Indiansºcomprising some 200,000 acres. When the Indians learned that an acre would have been sufficient for mill purposes their amazement was indescribable."

"The council closed July 8th, and the following day Dr. Benton and Elias Gilbert of the lessees obtained the signature of the Indian chiefs to a writing abrogating their lease to the lands of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase; but affirming their lease to the lands of the Six Nations east of the preemption line yet to be established, on consideration that the State of New York ratify the contract."

These were seemingly incredible transactions. Phelps had secured for about one-half of one cent an acre, a tract of 2,600,000 acres, and in addition has been given a "mill-seat" of 200,000 acres. Two weeks later, Phelps conveyed 20,000 acres to Colonel John Butler, which apparently was the compensation agreed upon for service by the latter as "one of the referees to fix the price" at the council. The "mill-seat" embraced Rochester Falls and other promising territory.

The following future extracts from "The Life of Horatio Jones" are given for the illumination they may give to the next chapter, "Land Titles:"

"In March, the State had called a council of the Six Nations at Fort Schuyler (Fort Stanwix) to negotiate the purchase of Iroquois lands east of the preemption line, and, as the last lease procured by the lessees covered those lands the companies opposed the prospective treaty and endeavored to induce the Indians not to attend. When the council convened in September, Gov. Clinton peremptorily ordered Livingston and Schuyler to retire forty miles from the treaty grounds. The State then purchased the Onondaga and Oneida lands of the Indians, and Rev. Samuel Kirkland, Dean, Schuyler, Olcott, Ryckman and others who had acted with the lessees up to that date withdrew from the companies and entered the service of the State. Kirkland was immediately sent to the Cayugas and the Senecas to call a council of these two nations at Albany, to extinguish their claims to lands east of the preemption line.

"The lessees had not given up the hope of profiting in some manner from the lease they held of Indian lands east of the preemption line. The Rev. Mr. Kirkland discovered that considerable opposition to the proposed treaty existed among the white people, and the Indians appeared indifferent. Col. Seth Reed and Peter Ryckman, traders at Kanadesaga, wrote to Gov. Clinton offering to carry the Seneca and Cayuga Indians to Albany, and his offer was accepted; but the two men greatly overestimated their influence. To excuse their failure they wrote to Gov. Clinton in January that 'Indian interpreters Wemp, Smith, and Jones, together with what lessees were on the ground, prevented the Indians from going to the treaty and kept them so intoxicated that it was almost impossible to do business with them.' In the same letter Reed said he was too ill to attend to the matter which was left to Ryckman, and begged for some land for his services.

"Ryckman reached Albany in February, with thirty Indians and squaws including Seneca chief. The State Commissioners, in accordance with the custom of the times, furnished liquor to the Indians, and one died in beastly intoxication. The Indians then ceded all the Cayuga lands to the State, and Ryckman was granted a large tract of land, on condition that he would share it with Reed. In accordance with his agreement with the lessees Phelps had instructed Walker to survey a line of townships on the Genesee for them the previous fall, and following the February treaty the three leases held by the lessees were surrendered to the State authorities.

Six Nations Claim Treaty is Invalid

"In June, 1789, Joseph Brant, in behalf of the Six Nations, wrote to Gov. Clinton that the so-called treaty held in February was the work, so far as the Indians were concerned, of unauthorized persons, contrary to Indian usage and repudiated by the Six Nations. He asked that the lands should not be surveyed or settled until the matter was adjusted. The State surveyors had begun work in June, and Gov. Clinton wrote that they must not be disturbed, as the treaty was considered valid. On July 5, Capt. Hardenbergh, in charge of the survey, wrote the Governor that Indians from Buffalo had notified Reed and Ryckman to leave Kanadesaga, and requested the surveyors to stop work. Hardenbergh said: 'These carryings on, I have no doubt, are fostered by the preemption people looking forward to the establishment of a new state. * * * 'The following are heads of the active lessees, viz: Dr. Caleb Benton, most influence; Joseph Smith; John McKinstry, very active; Benjamin Allen, violent in words; Horatio Jones, an interpreter; Peter Bartle; Clark Jennings, subtle fellow; Robt. Mitchell, interpreter. I think it would be well if they were immediately apprehended. It would discourage the lot and bring them to serious reflection.'

"On August 1, 1789, the chiefs of the Six Nations assembled at Canandaigua to receive the first payment from Phelps and Gorham. When Mr. Phelps was ready, they appointed Horatio Jones, Jack Berry, Joseph Smith, Nicholas Rosencrantz and James Mathews a special committee to count the money and appraise the goods offered by Phelps, which duty was performed to the satisfaction of all. The Senecas then returned Phelps' bond, and on August 4th, the chiefs of the other Iroquois nations signed a quit claim to the territory purchased by Phelps and Gorham."

Phelps and Gorham Purchase-Phelps had failed to pay the promised annuity for 1790. He had, as a matter of fact, lost the valuable Massachusetts right. He, or his syndicate, had been so seriously embarrassed by the "great rise in Massachusetts stocks" that followed the "adoption of the Federal Constitution" by the State that they were unable to complete the payments due to Massachusetts. Eventually they were released from their contract with the State, but the latter recognized their right to "that to which they had extinguished the Indian title, to wit, the 'Phelps and Gorham Purchase.' Of that the State gave them a deed in full."

Excerpted from the book: Hill, Henry Wayland, Ed. Municipality of Buffalo, New York, A History. 1720-1923. Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc. New York. Chicago.



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This text is Copyright 2001 all rights reserved by Stephen Powell and This electronic text may not be dupicated or used in any manner without written consent of Stephen R. Powell or