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|Hist. Steuben by McMasters Table of Contents|
History of the Settlement of Steuben County, New York
by: Guy McMasters 
Steuben County Since The Period Of Settlement: Disasters--Progress--Prospects--The Citizens And The Land Proprietors.
The history of the province over which the blameless shepherds of the people, the supervisors of Steuben County, wave their transitory scepters, has now been traced with as much accuracy as the sources of information permitted, from the earliest ages to the beginning of the nineteenth century. It has appeared how, in the most distant times of which record can be borne, the region was covered with the waters of the sea; drifting icebergs then, perchance, scratched the tops of the hills, and our home was a pasture where marine herdsmen drove their ungainly cattle--whales, sea-lions, and mighty serpents of the ocean, and the shark and the sword-fish prowled along the trails afterwards trodden by the Indian and Tory. It has furthermore appeared how the land, being at length delivered from these monsters, rose above the waters, received sunlight and showers, was covered with forests, became a hiding-place of wild beasts and barbarians, and lay in silence through many centuries, being pleased with the murmur of its forests and the rushing sound of its rivers; how at length the clamors of a strange warfare were heard at a distance, in the valleys of the lower streams, and waxed louder and nearer by degrees until barbarism, clutching it curiously wrought tomahawk, and gathering its fantastic robe about its form, swept by in full retreat, followed by a horde of light-haired men who assailed the wilderness with axes, scathed it with fire, and tore it with iron harrows. It has appeared how, afterwards, a republican baron, coming from the East, built himself a castle out of the trunks of trees, in a broad, round valley, begirt with pine and hemlock hillsides, and dwelt there in the depths of the forest in true feudal style, exchanging defiant missives with potentates who claimed fealty, and entertaining all manner of errant gentry, from French dukes to Newmarket jockeys, with much better grace, in faith, than the Front de Boeufs of the ancient English backwoods, while, to complete the similitude, Robin Hood and his lusty forests reappeared on the Canisteo Flats, and there renewed the merriments of Sherwood Forest.
With the close of this baronial period the present chronicle will conclude. Our heroic ages there abruptly ended, and modern time set in with a vengeance. The history of the county, after that epoch, would be but a record of the incidents which make up the daily life of an inland, obscure, almost inaccessible region, as the movements of emigrants, the establishment of stage routes, the sessions of supervisors, the burning of log-heaps, the building of saw-mills, the excitements of courts, trainings and elections--all passing by so quietly that, but for the clouds of smoke that overhung the hills on still, dry days of autumn, or the occasional gusts of martial music from rustic battalions, one standing within the hemlock highlands. A few startling interruptions, as the war of 1812 and the Douglas affair, disturbed the routine of daily life, but the people kept steadily at work from year to year, had little intercourse with the world beyond their own boundaries except through the medium of newspapers, had their frolics without proclamation to all North America and the adjacent islands, opened great and unsightly gaps in the forest, steered thousands of rafts through the cataracts of the Susquehanna, and devoting themselves mainly to the task of transforming the wilderness into meadows and plow-land, did few memorable things which are discoverable by the chronicler.
Let us barely glance at the general progress of the county, from the close of Col. Williamsons agency to the present time. At the time of the agents departure the county had about two thousand inhabitants. The work of subduing the forest had been but begun, but the beginning had been made vigorously and with good hope. A lumber-trade had been opened with the ports of the lower Susquehanna and the Chesapeake. Northern men had begun to bring grain in considerable quantities to Bath for transportation to the markets. The location on the Conhocton was yet considered highly advantageous.
The rupture between the proprietors and the agent, though sensibly felt at the scene of his prominent operations, was not regarded as hopelessly disastrous to the prospects of the county. The development of the agents plan was far from complete, and the experiments which he had made were insufficient to determine whether his enterprises were wisely or unwisely conceived. The fate of this great Babylon which I am going to build was yet uncertain, and it was hoped that, although for the present the progress of the town towards an honorable position among the cities of the land might be retarded, yet that it would ultimately rise from embarrassment and fulfill its destiny. The air-castle, though rather dingy and dilapidated, was nevertheless a very fine affair, and was not without power to attract people from afar. After the year 1800, many men who might have bought lands near Geneva, Canandaigua and Rochester, for a trifling price, were induced, by the superior advantages for access to a market, then offered by the valleys of Steuben, to establish themselves among our own ungracious hills. Many a farmer now residing in this county has the satisfaction of complaining, that had it not been for Williamsons balloons, himself or his father might have had the site of a city for their cornfields, or perchance would have pastured their flocks on the ground now occupied by some stirring village of Genesee, Ontario, or Onondaga.
But the cold water suddenly showered on the delicate phantoms that overhung the forest--soon scattered them. The abrupt drying up of the Pulteney Pactolus, the river of gold which had hitherto refreshed the thirsty wilderness, caused the plant which had been entrusted to the Pine Plains, to grow up scrubbily. A very ignominious metropolis, for many years, was the shire-town of the county. It was a quarter of a century or more before it began to free itself from its deformities, and to cast off its beggarly apparel for comfortable garments, and to pick up Grecian, Gothic and Italian finery to bedeck itself withal. Indeed, immediately after the departure of Baron Williamson it was threatened with destruction in a very strange manner. The clearings in its vicinity were abandoned, and a growth of oak of amazing stoutness and activity sprung up. The farmers were fairly overpowered, as if by tribes of wild men, and driven from their fields. Whole farms were overrun by these by these invaders. They even pushed their conquests to the edge of the village, and stood insultingly at the heads of the little streets, like a horde of marauders, descending from the hills and pillaging the suburbs of some seedy old city, which has barely enough of its ancient vigor to keep the brigands outside of the gates. The wild beasts retook possession of the land. Between St. Patricks Square and Gallows Hill was good hunting. The owl and the wolf clamored nightly for re-annexation. The bear thrusting his nose through the garden pickets, snuffed the odors of the kitchens. In 1811, the whole space between the village and the pine-forest, which encircled it at the distance of about half a mile, was overgrown with stout oak stalks, from ten to fifteen feet high. A few huts, occupied by negroes, were scattered among the bushes half smothered, and it was only by sleepless care on the part of the citizens that the sprouts were kept down in the streets and market-place, and that the whole metropolis, like a babe in the woods, was not buried in the leaves, so deep that the robins couldnt find it. It was told then, as a great thing, that a farmer on one of the Marengo farms had raised twenty acres of wheat. To such littleness had the standard of greatness shrunken in the abandoned Barony.
Not only the central village but the whole county felt the shock at the dethronement of Col. Williamson. He had been the life of the land, and times were dead enough when he left, say the old settlers. No more the Hudson, the Potomac and the Delaware, were started by proclamations of races in the wilderness; no more did rumors of bull-fights and the uproar of horns disturb the goodly; no more did gallant retinues of rides gallop through the forest, while servants followed with luncheons and baskets of wine. Newspapers paragraphs no longer told the citizens of the East of great things done in Steuben, and pamphlets no longer enlightened London and Edinburg concerning the capabilities of the Conhocton river.
The county was thenceforward expected to work its own way out of the woods; to hew it own road to independence and prosperity; to scuffle unhelped with whatever enemies should seek to trample it to the earth. After years of hard, and often of discouraging labour, we have gained the upper hand of the enemy. Our county, for so long a time proverbially a hard county--a kind of rough handed, two-fisted, ill-fed county, an offence in the eyes of Eastern elegance and Northern wealth, is rising fast not only to respectability but to consequence, like some great backwoods lout, who, from a youth of log-rolling and shingle-shaving, passes to a manhood of judicial or senatorial dignity.
The first forty years of our countys existence were years of iron labor. The settlers were poor men, and the discouragements and difficulties which they met with will with difficulty be appreciated by coming generations, who shall inherit vallies long tilled and hills subdued by years of thorough culture. One long familiar with the farmers of the county says: But few comparatively of the settlers ever succeeded in paying up their contracts and getting deeds for their land. The high price of the land and the constantly accumulating interest on their contracts, was more than they could bear. They were compelled to abandon to others their half-cleared farms, disheartened and weary. Most of the contracts given by the agents of the Pulteneys for the sale of land were assigned from one to another several times, before the whole amount of the principal and interest due on them was paid.
For the last twenty years we have occupied the vantage ground, and have been engaged in a work not only of subjugation but of cultivation. Hard and discouraging work was done during this period, and quite enough of the same remains to be done among our stubborn hills; but the increasing independence of the early-settled districts and the additional facilities for communication with the outer world, placed us upon the whole on the vantage ground, and the work of subjugation went on with greater rapidity and ardor than at any time before. Railroads began to encompass us; a steamboat appeared on Crooked Lake; the old farming districts began to grow smooth and sightly; new wilderness were invaded; cattle and sheep by myriads fed in the pastures; villages were built, and the old dingy towns brightened up and renewed their youth. Various schemes of progress were agitated. Canals and railroads were discussed. At length the rumbling of cars was heard on Shawangunk, then on the Susquehanna, then on the Chemung,--and the locomotive, ten hours from the Hudson rushed over our glad frontiers and discharged the Atlantic mails at the ancient monumental post of the Senecas. Saw mills arose in every pine forest, and in the spring, when the snow on the hills melted and the ice in the rivers went down to be piled in long battlements on the meadows below, hundreds of lumbermen came out of the woods, steered their rafts of boards, timber and enormous spars down the torrents to the Chesapeake; riding over huge dams and rocky rapids, sometimes prosperously, and sometimes shattering their fleets and suffering shipwreck drowning, and all marine disasters which await marines who sail in whaleships and frigates.
Fifteen years ago, says the Citizen in his Descriptive and Historical Sketch, (speaking, in imagination, at the beginning of this century,) standing on an exceedingly high mountain, we beheld unbroken forests lying west of the Chenango as far as the rainbows of Niagara, and covering the ridges and long slopes of the Alleganies. Standing now on the same promontory, behold a change. Broad swathes are opened in the meadow of timber. Smoke rises from the little chimneys of three thousand cabins, scattered among the choice valleys and by the pleasant river sides of the wilderness west of Seneca Lake. The noise of a myriad of axes is heard this side of the Mohawk, like the tapping of a host of woodpeckers in a grove: flotillas are riding upon the rivers, a long and scattered caravan is filing past old Fort Stanwix, while New Englanders are afloat in the canoes of Unadilla, and stout pioneers are urging upwards the barges of Susquehanna. At evening the great forest is dotted with lights. Torches glimmer by the cabins. Trees are burning when fire runs wild through the woods, so that in the mid watch, when the torchlights by the cabins are quenched, you may see afar off a zig-zag serpent of flame coiling around some mountain knob or wandering by the lake shore, or pursuing its shining trail through plains and marshes. Two sounds disturb the silence of the night--the dull plunging of Niagara in the West, and the distant uproar of Napoleons cannon in the East. But what are all those thunders that rock the foundations of the other continent, and those tumults of kings and cannon, of horsemen and musketeers which the nations hear with alarm, compared with the unnoticed war which is waged in the forest below you!
Being unfortunately ignorant of the position of this convenient mountain (which has been strangely overlooked by the State Geologist), it will be impossible to invite the republicans for whom these chronicles are written to look off from the same at the present day. A view from some such promontory or from a balloon would enable them to see to advantage the present condition of our county. One looking thus from above would behold the upland forests slashed this way and that with the most lawless violence, and the principal valleys freed from their ancient vegetation except the channels of the streams, or where groves of oak stand in the midst of the fields, or here and there a cluster of maples or a solitary pine alone remain of many brethren.
Nevertheless immense tracts of land are yet covered with the forest. Stripes of timber as broad as the height of the hills, almost unbroken for miles, line the most cultivated valleys. Many broad districts are almost as wild as at the first. Within a mile of the villages and clean meadows of the river-valleys, one finds yet the rude settlement, and on the further side of half the hills in the County are hollows, which in the provincial pronunciation of hollers are so suggestive of hemlocks, burnt stumps, log cabins, and of what is known in despair at the poverty of language as the jumping-off place. There are comparatively few commanding heights from which one does not seem to see more forest than farmed land, and there are many places where one looks across to districts dented with ravines and covered with treetops, where the axe has hardly begun its mission.
Forty years ago almost the entire strength of the county was in the valleys. Great now is the strength of the uplands, and rapidly increasing. The subjugation of these obstinate regions has been a labor indeed, and to the eyes of the wanderer from softer lands they look as unsightly as the battle-field the day after the victory. The black stumps, the rough fences, the islands and broad girdles of timber, haggled of outline and bristling with long bare spikes, and the half-burnt trunks of trees, are indeed comely. Our hill-country, however, is calculated from its structure to attain generally a good, and often a high degree of beauty, when cultivation has removed its primitive roughness. A vision of rolling farms divided by wooded gulfs or ravines; of smooth knobs dotted with portly cattle; of clean slopes covered with grain-fields and orchards--the whole forming a landscape unsurpassed in rural beauty by ancient and renowned counties of the east and north, is a dream of the future by no means too extravagant to be indulged in.
Sixty thousand souls now live within the boundaries of the county. Twenty villages and upwards are scattered through the towns, some of them holding pretensions to beauty and importance. The great railway lines between the city of New York and the Western States passes up the valley of the Chemung and Canisteo, which at the village of Corning, is joined by two important tributaries--one extending to the coal mountain of Pennsylvania where sixty years ago Patterson, the hunter, first unearthed the black diamond with his tomahawk,--the other passing northward through the valley of the Conhocton to the Genesee and Buffalo. Another tributary to the great trunk joins it at Hornellsville on the Canisteo, which also terminates at Buffalo, crossing the Genesee River at Portage Falls. The Canandaigua and Jefferson railroad crosses one corner of the county. The Chemung Canal thrusts itself within the county line as far as Corning, and the Crooked Lake gives direct communication with the Erie Canal.
The dreams of our ancients have not become realities, but wonders, of which they did not dream, are amongst us. Iron monsters more marvelous than any that were seen by geologists in the marine herds which of old fed on our sunken meadows, rush through the valleys with wild and discordant shrieks. The hoot of the engine, and the roar of the engine, and the roar of its chariot, employ the echoes of the bluffs. Steamers, and heavy-laden barges plow the lakes where once wallowed the Durham boat of the pioneer, or skimmed the canoe of the red fisherman.
Let the reflecting republican, before turning from the perusal of these records to his saw-mill or meadow, consider a few of the comforts which the citizens of the county enjoys to day, which were unknown to the backwoodsman of forty or fifty years ago.
Then the solitary settler shared his clearing with the populace of the forest. Those hairy Six Nations, the bears, the wolves, the panthers, the foxes, the catamounts (lynx), and the weasels, hovered around his narrow frontiers to slay and devour. His two or three swine or sorry sheep were in nightly peril of the scenes of Wyoming. Deer bounded before him in his walk through the woods. The fires of Indian lodges glimmered among the trees at night.--Now his flocks and herds range without fear over great pastures. Wagons roll before his dwelling on the roads which were once lonely trails. Lights glimmered at night on all sides from farmhouse windows. He hears the bells in the distant village-steeples.
Then he was beyond the borders of the Far West. Behind him were the Atlantic cities,--before him were tremendous wilds which he heard were traversed by the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Missouri, rumored to be enormous rivers, on the banks of which were brakes and plains, possessed by buffaloes, wild horsemen and bears. When he went East, people looked at him as we now look at the Mormon from Salt Lake, or the fur trader from Winnipeg.--Now he is in the far East. As one standing on the shadow of a cloud sees it gliding under his feet, and now he beholds it moving up the slope of the Cordilleras. He reads of boilers bursting at the Falls of St. Anthony, of steamers dashing together at the mouth of the Arkansas, of flues collapsing under the Council Bluffs.
Then, in his lonely clearing, he guessed the hour of the day by the sunshine on his cabin floor; he foretold snows, winds and droughts, by the shape of the clouds, by the vapors at sunset, by the Moon-mans expression of countenance.--Now the clocks of Connecticut are ticking in the forlornest hollow: iron pointers, on any steeples, publicly expose all irregularities of that luminary which governs times and seasons, and almanacs calculated expressly for the meridian of Western New York, tell him exactly when to expect freshets, and when to look out for hail-storms.
Then, the trader, bestriding his horse, jogged off to the seaport through the dark and dismal roads of the forest, dependent upon the whims of despotic tavern-keepers and the tender mercies of cross widows by the way. His yearly assortment of goods was dragged in wagons from the Hudson. Now, whirling to the city in a night, he may send up by a railway those gorgeous fabrics which have superseded the homely merchandize of former times; or the canal boat, laden with his ponderous crates and hogsheads, is tugged through the Northern ditches to the Crooked Lake, where a steamer politely offers his wheel-house, and escorts the fair wanderer into the heart of the hills.
Then, the lumberman saw the creeks came leaping down the ravines like hearty young mountaineers, pines stood in the glens like stupid giants, unconscious that they contained cubic-feet and cullings, and the hemlocks made dark the hill-sides and hollows with their worthless branches. Now, the pines are so nearly extirpated that their uncouth cousins, the hemlocks, are thought worthy of the saw. The creeks have been taught useful knowledge and drive gang-mills, just as in Pagan islands the missionaries make good boys of the little cannibals, and set them at work churning and grinding coffee.
Then, the flaxen-haired urchin tumbled in the leaves with bear-cubs and raccoons; he blackened his face among the half-burnt logs; he was lost to all sense of syntax, but perhaps studied arithmetic at winter in the little log-school-house, and learned something about the Chinese wall and the antipodes. Then, the patriot saw the country going to ruin, without having it in his power to sound the alarm, for there was no county newspaper to trumpet his warnings to a profligate and reckless administration. Now, there are school-houses, academies and seminaries--bulwarks of liberty--bristling at all points with rhetoric and geometry. Three political newspapers ride every week the length and breadth of the county, like chariots armed with scythes. Three editors, fit successors of the Shiversculls and Brighthatchets of old, brandish the political scalping knife, and at times drop their ferocious weapons, to touch the lyre of poetry or the viol of romance, at those brief intervals when the great congressional bass-drum ceases its sullen roar in the Republics capitol.
Of the things to be attained by the county at a future day, we will not attempt to prophecy. The chief agricultural eminence now believed to be within our reach, is in the dairy line. Distinguished graziers indulge in dreams of a Buttermilk Age, when the churns of Steuben will be renowned as the forges of Pittsburgh, or the Looms of Lowell. They publicly assert that while our neighbors of Allegany may presume to make cheese, and our cousins of Ohio may hope to shine in the grease market, it will be presumption in them, or in any other tribes west of the Genesee, to try to rival the butter of Steuben: that the grass abounding on our juicy hills possesses a peculiar flavor and a mysterious virtue, and will produce most stupendous and unparalleled butter; that while there is much grass of the same quality in Chemung, some in Onondaga, and scanty patches elsewhere, the wretched natives of Ohio are utterly destitute of it, as also are all those miserable myriads who extract a substance from the herbage of the prairies, which they insanely style butter; that, feeding upon the grass, calves have attained an appalling magnitude; the ox may, by proper encouragement, become gigantic, and the Hornby steer, and his broad horns and deep flanks, will be looked upon with unspeakable envy by those rattish red bullocks that migrate in such immense hordes, like the ill-favored Huns of old, from Illinois and Indiana to the New York market.
To the degree of physical prosperity to be attained by the county hereafter, one would hardly venture to set a limit. Let its citizens, first of all things, have a care that they themselves be men of whom the Republic need not be ashamed--God-fearing, law-abiding, intelligent, and free men, and they need not doubt that the future will fulfill the promise of the present. Failing in this great thing, it would be better that the land had remained a wilderness.
There are a few considerations respecting the relations which have heretofore existed, and which had not yet ceased to exist, between the citizens of the county and the original foreign purchasers and their heirs, which may with propriety be here presented.
It is now about sixty years since the greater part of the county became the property of the London Associates. From that time until the present day, an office has been kept at the shire-town of the county, for the sale of lands. The lands have been sold in small parcels, and upon credit, the purchaser taking immediate possession. The most valuable portions of the county have thus been long sold: but considerable tracts of land are yet undisposed of, and actions against single splitting, fort-teasors, are yet brought in the name of Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover.
As was almost unavoidable, from the nature of these relations, there has been no love lost between the citizens and the proprietors. During the agency of Col. Williamson there seems to have been a cordial understanding between the two parties. The original proprietors were men of generous and enlightened spirit. Sir William Pulteney was a statesman of high standing. Mr. Colquahoun had also mingled in public affairs, and was distinguished as a philanthropist. The administration of the estate in the first years of the settlement was conducted with an evident regard for the prosperity of the settler, and with a liberality and justice on the part of the proprietors which none are more ready to acknowledge than those who dealt with them. It is since the period of the earliest settlements that the policy and tone of the alien owners have failed to command the respect of the citizens.
The relation, and the sole relation, which for forty years and upwards has existed between the proprietors and citizens, has been that of sellers and buyers. So long as the former confine their claims to consideration to this relation, it cannot be alleged against them that they have transcended the bounds of what is considered reputable amongst men of business. They have required high prices for their land, it is true, even the very highest prices that could be borne, but to demand high prices for lands or chattels is not considered an offence against the rules of reputable dealing amongst men of business. No one is compelled to buy. It is true that men have been required to fulfill their agreements with the landholders, and, in default thereof, have been made to suffer the legal consequences, but neither against this can one, according to the settled maxims of common dealing, object. The law gives the right, and it is the practice of men to avail themselves of it. There are many large land proprietorships in the United States. We do not know that the administration of the generality of these is characterized by any greater degree of liberality than is that of the Pulteney and Hornby estates. The proprietors of the latter have certainly not insisted upon their strict legal rights, but have habitually refrained from exercising the utmost stringency which the letter of law would permit and have many times granted indulgence to those in delinquency which they were not bound to grant. Whatever causes of quarrel may have existed between purchasers and agents of the proprietors are not fit subjects of comment here; we speak merely of the general policy of the owners in administering the affairs of the estate, and hold that so long as they are content to confine their claims to consideration to their character as sellers of land, it must be admitted that they have conformed to the rules of common dealing amongst men. But if, beyond this, they should have the effrontery to lay claim to public gratitude for services rendered to the county in its days of toil and privation, or should demand credit for liberality in the administration of the affairs of the estate, of a higher tone than is generally exercised in this lower world, these pretensions would be simply preposterous. We do not know that any such claims are put forth. The only concern of the proprietors has been to get as much money as it was possible to get, and whether settlers lived or starved has not, so far as human vision can discern, has a straws weight in their estimation. Many instances no doubt there have been of kind consideration on the part of employees of the estate, and some of these gentlemen have merited and obtained, the respect of those with whom their business brought them in contract, but the general spirit of the administration of the successors of the original proprietors, considering it as a matter affecting the interests of a little State, has been mean and narrow. A frank, generous, and considerate bearing of the proprietors, it is perhaps safe to say, would have obviated nearly all of that hostility of the people which it is so easy to ascribe wholly to democratic cupidity and jealousy. The alien proprietorship deserves no thanks from the public, and probably will never think it advisable to ask for any. It has been a dead, disheartening weight on the county. The undeniable fact that a multitude of hardworking men have miserably failed in their endeavors to gain themselves homes--have mired in a slough of interest and installment, leaving the results of their labors for others to profit by, should be of itself sufficient to shame the absurd pretension of patronage, if it is ever put forth. The young county, full of rued and indomitable vigor, gained its present position of independence by work and courage, and in spite of the incubus which rested upon it. It has to thank no human patron for it victory.
And it is well that this is so. It is well that strong arms and stout hearts have achieved the conquest of this wilderness, unaided by patrons, either at home or abroad. Fight makes might. The discipline of a half a century of poverty and tedious labor has made this people stronger of heart and hand than they would have been if the hemlocks had snapped like icicles, or the hills had proved softer than old meadow lands, or the apparitions of foreign Peers had hovered in the air, smiling encouragement to indigent squatters, and shaking showers of silver from the clouds.
There are certain other considerations arising from the relations which have so long existed between the citizens of the county and the foreign proprietors which may be here presented. No state of things can be imagined more offensive to democratic prejudices than that created by the relations existing between the people of this county and their heirs of Pulteney. Few stronger temptations to disregard the rights of property and to advocate something akin to that Agrarianism so much dreaded in republican communities by those distrustful to popular rule, are often presented to a populace, than such as arise from the tenure by foreign Lords of immense tracts of land in a country heartily hostile to everything savoring of aristocracy. No lawlessness would naturally be more readily excused by popular sense than that which repudiated the European claims of title, and formed illegal combinations to harass the proprietors, and to set at naught the edicts of lawgivers, and the process of courts in their favor. We can be imagined more annoying to democratic feeling than to see, as the orators sometimes tell us, the money of republicans, earned by desperate labor, rolling in incessant streams to the treasuries of British Lords--the sufferers thereby believing, at the same time, that these rivulets of coin are kept up by some kind of jugglery. What group would so well serve the purposes of the orator and the demagogue, as that of poor brave and freeborn farmers standing in the posture of serfs to foreign Nebuchadnezzars? What better pictures to adorn the popular harangue, or the Countys Book of Martyrs, sometimes opened before sympathizing juries, than those of foreign Nebuchadnezzars riding over the necks of prostrate democrats; of foreign Nebuchadnezzars plying the rack, the boot and the thumbscrew to the unterrified; of foreign Nebuchadnezzars hunting shingle-splitters with bloodhounds and janizaries, throwing farmers into fiery furnaces and dens of lions, and making a St. Barthelemews among the squatters?
That under these circumstance defective foreign titles should have been amended by the Legislature of the State, and the rights of the proprietors carefully regarded and repeatedly asserted; that the tender mercies of the commonwealth should have reached such a climax of tenderness as to relieve the proprietors from the payment of taxes on their wild lands and to rebuke as unrighteous and impertinent the demands of the settlers that these indigent aliens should share in the maintenance of the roads by which they profited, and of the courts which they crowded with their suits; that for sixty years their office should have stood unmolested and unthreatened in the midst of a populace doubtful of the legality of their claims and aggrieved by their perseverance in a policy which is popularly considered unjust and disreputable; that their agents have never been flagrantly insulted, or their foresters thrown into millponds; that the process of the courts had seldom been illegally impeded and never effectually resisted, and that juries have never refused to render fro the proprietors verdicts required by the law and the facts; that by a community abundantly intelligent to form unlawful combinations which would seriously disturb the operations of the land agency, no such unlawful combinations have been formed, but that the only remedies sought for that which was believed to be unjust and oppressive, have been by applications to the legislatures and by defenses in the courts. These are things which those who tremble for the sacredness of property in republics will do well to consider.
The duty of the citizens to the alien proprietors is plain; to urge an observance of it would be justly offensive. There is no disposition in the mass of citizens to grant the proprietors anything less than justice. Law will be regarded; rights will not be disturbed; public faith will not be violated, and to urge in this case the practice of common honesty would be in the highest degree insulting. So long as the courts and the legislatures recognize the title of the proprietors, the people will not discredit the commonwealth by illegal resistance to authority.
Amidst of the causes of vexation which encompass us, there are yet various pleasant reflections for the exasperated republican to console himself withal, not the least of which is, the certainty that we shall in due time be delivered from the feudal phantoms which have so long beset us.
The millwheel turned by water never rests, but the institution that goes by land must soon or later stop grinding. The water that pours through the floom goes down to the sea, but rises again in fogs and vapors; it ascends to the clouds; the winds blow it landward; it falls again upon the hill tops, and again pours through the floom. For the land office there is no such hope. The element that keeps its wheels in motion never evaporates. Acres of gravel do not readily become clouds and rain themselves again into the Duke of Cumberlands pond; and section lots, especially if they contain a ton or two of mountains, are most discouraging materials for a fog to feed upon. The republican, therefore, terrified or unterrified, may confidently look forward to the time when the coronets of English Peers will no longer glitter in the air, greatly to the disturbance of the public temper, when articles, installments, interest, assignments, back payments, and all the term of that unpopular vocabulary will become dead language; when the deputy sheriffs occupation will be gone, and when Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover, having been honestly and fairly paid for that which the law declares to be his, will be no more the thunder of the courts to avenge, or the shield of the legislatures to protect him, but will abandon his title-deeds, discharge his stewards, and vanish forever behind the fogs of the Atlantic Ocean.
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