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A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times
17: The Borough

Prof. Jonathan Pearson

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[This information is from pp. 426-432 of A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times; being contributions toward a history of the lower Mohawk Valley by Jonathan Pearson, A. M. and others, edited by J. W. MacMurray, A. M., U. S. A. (Albany, NY: J. Munsell's Sons, Printers, 1883). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 P36, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

[Copies of this book are available from the Schenectady County Historical Society.]

[The original version uses assorted typographical symbols to represent footnotes. To improve legibility, the online version uses the form (page number - note number.)]

Borough and City Charter, 1765 and 1798

The inhabitants of the township of Schenectady for more than a hundred years from its first settlement, had enjoyed no civil privileges or political rights other than those appertaining to other towns in the Province.

During and subsequent to the French war, which closed in 1763, the town made rapid growth in population and importance.

All goods and supplies destined for the western tribes and forts were embarked in batteaux at this point, and all furs and peltries received in return passed through Schenectady for New York. To prevent disorders and excesses, therefore, in so large an influx of foreign people, the magistrates and people were anxious to secure an independent government and in 1763 and 1764, applied to Governor Monckton for a city or borough charter.

Their petition dated April 11, 1763, (426-1) was laid before the Governor and Council April 19, 1764; — on the 2d of May following, the corporation of Albany presented a counter petition, which though it may have delayed did not prevent the granting the Charter.

This struggle had been going on for many years and after securing freedom of trade, the citizens of Schenectady hoped for, and Albany feared, their complete emancipation from the control of the latter city.

The latter were alert as the following correspondence indicates:

Albany, 21st Feb., 1761.

Gentlemen:

We are apprehensive that we will be obliged to contend with the Inhabitants of Schonectady about the Bounds and Jurisdiction of our City.

We inclose you a Copy of our Charter dated 1686 in July, and a Copy of the Schonectady Patent dated Nov., 1684, with a Map of the Premisses, therefore desire you will send us your Opinions as soon as may be, you will observe by the Patent that his Majesties grants to five Trustees for the use and behoof of the Inhabitants of the Town of Schonectady.

1st Station.

A certain Tract of Land beginning at the Maquas River by the Town of Schonectady (See the Map at D), which from thence runs westerly on both sides up the said River to a certain Place called by the Indians Kagwarione being reputed three Dutch or twelve English Miles as at F on the Map.

2d Station.

And from the said Town of Schonectady clown the River one Dutch or four English Miles to a Kill or Creek called the Ael Place at E.

3d Station.

And from the said Maquas River into the Woods South towards Albany to the Sd Kill one Dutch Mile at G or H.

4th Station.

And as much on the other side of the said River North being one Dutch Mile more as at ————

His Majesty reserves all Grist Mills and Saw Mills already built or hereafter to be built, as the above Lines do not close and the meaning must have been to take in Lands.

How are the Inhabitants of Schenectady to run their Lines to Entitle them to any Lands? they make pretence to one Dutch Mile on each side of the River from the Ael Place at E to Kanoweryone at F which we conceive they have no right to.

How do you understand the Words of the 1st Station? (a certain Tract of Land on both sides up the River &ca)

How do you understand the Words of the 3d Station? (and from the said Maquas River into the Woods South towards Albany to the sd Kill one Dutch Mile as at G. The Schenectady People take this to he in their favour and insist, upon it that the Abbreviation Sd Kill is intended for Sand Kill at H, and that it gives them a Dutch Mile all along the river from E to F, and the same on the other Side of the River by the 4 Station — if you Think that the Abbreviation Sd may be taken for (Sand) as the Schonectady People will have it than it will be Sand Kill as at H in the Map which be it at G or H must they not run from thence to Schenectady at D? if not must they not then go with a Straight Line to Kanoweryone at F?

The Bounds of the City of Albany you will find in the Charter inclosed Page 4 viz: from — the South by a Line to be drawn from the Southermost end of the Pasture at the North end of the Said Island called Marten Gerretsons Island at B, running back into the Woods sixteen English Miles Due North West to a certain Kill or Creek called the Sand Kill.

Must this Line be run North West as the Needle Points as you see the Prickt Line in the Map? or must this Line be run North 33 D: West so as to Touch the Sand Kill at C? which is near Due north West wanting only two Degrees if we allow Ten Degrees for Variation, if the Latter must we then stop at the Sant Kill which is 14 Miles and 37 Chains from the River? or must we extend the 16 Miles on the North to a Line to be drawn from the Post that was set by Governour Styvesant near Hudsons River running Likewise, North West Sixteen English Miles and on the West by a straight Line to be drawn from the Points of the Said South & north Lines follow the Charter from (B) to C. If you are of Opinion that the South Line is to touch at the Sand Kill from (B) to (C), are we then to run parrellel to that Line? or must we run the cource of the Prickt Line and must we stop at the same Length or must we extend to the end of the 16 Miles?

If you should Judge that the Lines of the Schenectady Patent should Interfiere with the Bounds of our Charter (as the Charter seems to be very express as to the Jurisdiction). The older then the Charter will they not be subject to our Jurisdiction? And as his Majesty reserves all Grist Mills and Saw Mills out of their Patent, will not they belong to us tho the Soil should be theirs ? (see Albany Charter Page 3, at A.)

Whatsoever information you may want to give you a further Idea hereof you may have from Messr Ten Eyck, Dow and Ten Broeck.

We are apprehensive that the People of Schenectady are or have been about obtaining a Charter or some instrument or other whereby they might be excluded from our & have a Court and Jurisdiction of their own which We conceive would be a detriment to this City; we therefore would also have you to Consider whether if such a thing was Attempted, there Would be a probability of their succeeding and what steps would be necessary for us to take in order to prevent them.

By order of Common Councill,

Ha. Gansevoort,
Clerk

In accordance with this petition Lt. Governor Colden, on the 22d of October, 1765, granted the inhabitants a borough charter, seemingly fashioned after an English model, with great care, formality and minuteness, which is as worthy to be called a city charter as any that have succeeded it.

After reciting the chief facts stated in the petition, the boundaries of the township, the Dongan patent, the advantageous situation of the village; and the necessity of a city government to restrain those employed in the carrying trade from crimes and excesses, — the Lt. Governor created "said townahip of Schenectady a borough town" under the name of the Borough town of Schenectady, and the "Mayor, Aldermen and commonalty of the said borough town of Schenectady one Body Politick and corporate by the name & title of the Mayor, Aldermen and commonalty of the Borough town of Schenectady."

The following is a list of the first officers named in the charter, Isaac Vrooman for mayor; John Duncan, Recorder; Jacobus Van Slyke, John Glen, Jr., John Sanders, Daniel Campbell, John Visger and John B. Van Eps; — Aldermen; — Garret Lansing, Rynier Myndertse, Ryer Schermerhorn, Tobias Ten Eyck, Cornelius Cuyler and Hermanus Bradt, Assistants; — Thomas McIlworth town clerk; Christopher Yates, Treasurer or chamberlain; Isaac Merselis and Isaac Swits, assessors; Barent S. Veder, Collector; Richard Collins High-Constable; Thomas Murray, Hermanus Terwilliger, John Van Vorst, Charles Dennison, James Dunlop, and John Wasson Jr., sub-constables; and Alexander Campbell, Sergeant of the Mace. The mayor recorder and town clerk were to be appointed and were removable by the Governor and Council; the aldermen and assistants, assessors, collector and constables were elected by the plurality of votes, or voices of the freeman assembled yearly for that purpose, on the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, — the high-constable and chamberlain were named by the mayor and Common Council and the sergeant of the Mace by the Mayor.

The mayor or recorder with three or more aldermen and three or more assistants, by the name of the "Common Council of the Borough town of Schenectady" — were to have power to "make laws, ordinances, &c., for the good rule of the Borough aforesaid," and the trade carried on there, for regulating the watermen and ferriage, for the preserving and selling the lands of Schenectady, &c., — to remain in force for twelve months. The freemen of the borough were to be such persons of lawful age as had been born therein, or such as had resided therein ten years previously, or such as had that privilege granted by the Common Council; and none but freemen were allowed to use any art, trade or mystery, or to expose for sale any manner of goods or wares at retail under penalty of five pounds.

It is doubtful if this very elaborate charter was ever carried into effect; it was altogether too complicated a piece of machinery for the simple minded burghers of Schenectady. The mayor, recorder, aldermen and assistants were called together the following December to hear it read and take their official oaths; whether they ever met again or performed any acts under it is not known, no records being now extant of their doings. (431-1)

A fatal defect of this charter was, that it did not finally dispose of the dispute about the management of the common lands; the trustees appointed under Arent Bradt's will did not relinquish their office and power to the new Common Council; they still held and managed all the property of the town.

Soon after this charter was granted the contest for independence began with the mother country. All local differences were merged in this, and it was not until some years after the war closed, that the dispute about the public lands of the town was settled and a new city charter obtained.

In the beginning of the year 1798, the Board of Trustees of Schenectady petitioned the Legislature for the passage of a bill which they had procured to be drawn up by Abraham Van Vechten of Albany; and on the 13th Feb., a resolution was passed by the Board in relation thereto as follows, — "that unless the principles of our bill now before the Legislature, according to resolution of this Board, or the amendments now made by this Board be inserted in the bill now pending in the Legislation, and should those amendments not be inserted, we therefore Resolve that we will never surrender or convey our right & trust, and that we appoint Abm Oothout, John Glen, Jellis Fonda, & Nicholas Veeder a Committee [who] shall immediately petition the Legislature and recall our former Petition." On the 26 Feb., said committee "reported that they have perused a bill, which was to be laid before the Legislature, which they disproved of; — having added several amendments to the said Bill, Therefore Resolved by this Board that John Glen, Abm Oothout, Andries Van Petten & Jellis Fonda being appointed a committee to go to Albany in order to examine the said Bill and if approved of by said Committee, then the said Bill to be delivered into the Legislature, — Otherwise to lay in a remonstrance before the Legislature, to recall the petition of the Board of trustees." (432-1)

After many conferences between the inhabitants and the trustees, common understanding was finally reached, which resulted, March 26th, 1798, in an act to incorporate all the freemen within the ancient limits of the township into one body politic "by the name of the Mayor, aldermen & Commonalty of the city of Schenectady."

By this charter the surviving trustees became divested voluntarily of all right and claim over the common lands, the same being vested in the mayor, aldermen and commonalty of the city, three commissioners were appointed to settle all accounts against and in favor of the trust, and it was provided by the act that no sale or transfer of the common land should be made "unless two thirds of the whole number of aldermen and assistants of said City shall give their assent to such sale."

The territory embraced in the city limits was divided into four wards, the present town of Glenville forming the fourth ward, Rotterdam the third, and the village including the territory to the east line of the patent formed the first and second wards, Union street and the Niskayuna road being the dividing line.

All monies received for rents or sale of lands was to be divided between the four wards, one half for the first and second wards, and one quarter for each the third and fourth wards; and finally "all the unimproved woodland within the limits and bounds of Schenectady which shall not have been lawfully granted by said trustees at the time of passing this act" were to remain "in common for timber and fuel for the use of the free-holders and inhabitants aforesaid," and it was not lawful for the common council to sell any part of the same.

Notes

(426-1) "To the Honble Cadwallader Colden, Esq., His Majesties Lieut. Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of New York and the Territories thereon depending in America, in Council.

"The petition of the principal Inhabitants of the Township of Schenectady, whose names are Subscribed to the Schedule hereunto annexed, in behalf of themselves, and the rest of the Inhabitants of the said town,

"Humbly Sheweth

"that the Town of Schenectady is an Ancient Town, scituate on the Mohawk river and with the Lands thereunto belonging, is thus described in the respective Grants thereof: — 'Beginning at the Maques River by the Town of Schonectady and from thence runs on both sides of the River to a certain place called by the Indians Canquarioeny, being reputed three Dutch or twelve English miles; and from the said Town of Schonectady down the river, one Dutch or four English miles to a kil or creek called the Ael Plaats, and from the said Maques River into the Woods south towards Albany to the Sand kil, one Dutch mile, and as much on the other side of the River north, being one Dutch mile more,' — the said tract was conveyed by the Indian Proprietors thereof in the name of certain Trustees, for the use of the Inhabitants of said town, by their deed dated the third day of July, 1672, and granted and confirmed to Trustees for their use, by Col. Thomas Dongan then Governor of this Province, under his Royal Highness the Duke of York, by Patent dated the First day of November, 1684.

"That the said town from its advantageous situation on the Mohawk River, the only communication by water to the numerous Tribes of Indians to the West has long been the place where all goods intended for the Indian trade, have been imbarked, and at which all the returns have been unladen; — that this intercourse with the Western Nations and the extent of the important commerce with them has long occasoned not only a great increase of Inhabitants of the said Town and the parts adjacent, but also a vast resort of others imployed in carrying on that trade, all which have for some years been highly augmented by the communication and Support of the various fortresses occupied by us, in these extended countries, that amongst so great a concourse of People, many crimes and excesses are frequently committed, to the great Prejudice of His Majesties subjects, and disturbances of the Publice pace, which it is to be feared will increase for want of sound wholesome Regulations for the Government of the said Town.

Your Petitioners therefore most humbly pray that your honour will be pleased to take the premises into our favorable consideration and create the said town a city, incorporating the Inhabitants with such officers, powers, privileges and Immunities and Liberties, as to your honour shall seem meet,

And your Petitioners shall ever pray etc.

We whose names are hereunto subscribed, being the magistrates, the officers of the militia, the ministers and Church Wardens joined with the principal Freeholders of the township of Schenectady, do hereby agree that a Petition shall be made to his Excellency Governor Monckton, in our name, to have the said town of Schonectady made in a Corporation City, as Witness our said names in Schonectady April the 11th 1763.

[ — Council Min., XXIII, 469, 472.]

We the Subscribers, Freeholders of the Township of Schenectady, do hereby agree that a Petition be made to his Excellency Governor Monckton, to Endeavour to get a charter for this town, to be made a county town corporation, April 12, 1763.

[Toll Papers.]

(431-1) The following is the call for the first meeting of the Common Council under this charter.

"Isaac Vrooman, Esq., Mayor, & Jno. Duncan, Esq, Recorder of the Borrowgh town of Schenectady, as appointed by Charter bearing date the 23d Octr Last, is now arraived, Desires Theire Compliments To Reyer Schermerhorn, Esq., assistant Alderman for said Burrough, & Beggs the favour of his Company at the House of Alexander Campbell Tavernkeeper, on Monday Next the 2d December, at Ten O'Clock in the forenoon, in order to Take the Oath of Office & be present at reading The Charter. November the 29th, 1765.

(432-1) Min. Board Trustees of Schenectady.

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