January 1993

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


History of Bath

for the First Fifty Years


Ansel J. McCall

Historical Address, June 6, 1893
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

Part I

A century has closed since the settlement of our town and village. We have assembled to-day to commemorate the event and pay our homage to the memory of the noble pioneers from whose toils and privations we have derived so fair a heritage. For one who had witnessed them, to narrate these interesting occurrences in their order from the beginning would be an easy task. But to gather from such meagre materials as stray newspapers, old account books, musty letters, moss-covered tombstones and vague traditions the history of a town and that of its denizens for three generations is no trifling labor. To condense and collate even the events that are notable and present them in an address of reasonable length is also an arduous and delicate undertaking. You will, therefore, pardon me for any short-coming in the chronicles which I have endeavored to present in as simple and truthful manner as possible.

The settlement of our village came not about in the ordinary way, was not the work of chance, but the result of a fixed and definite purpose. A brief review of the transactions which led to it seems necessary to be given.

It is well known that the colonies of North America derived their political existence from Royal Charters with grants of territory of uncertain extent and indefinite boundaries, sometimes overlapping and covering the same domain. There had been many and serious controversies between them about their respective rights, threatening to result in open hostilities. The Revolutionary War temporarily composed these sisterly quarrels, but as soon as peace was declared, their independence established and measures taken for a more perfect union, these differences loomed up again. It was insisted that the glorious result was due to the joint efforts of the whole confederation, and that, as a consequence, the unoccupied and disputed territory should become the property of the National Government, to be disposed of for their joint benefit.

May 27, 1784, Massachusetts presented a petition to Congress setting forth her claim to land embraced within the bounds of the State of New York, and asking for the appointment of commissioners to adjust the difference; but it resulted in nothing. In 1786, the legislatures of New York and Massachusetts respectively provided for the appointment of commissioners to compromise the dispute. They met at Hartford in November of that year, and on the 16th of December, executed a compromise agreement embracing mutual cessions, grants, releases and provisions, whereby all interfering claims and controversies between said States, as well in respect of jurisdiction as of property, were finally settled and extinguished, and peace and harmony established between them on the most solid foundation.

By the settlement thus effected, New York retained the right of government, sovereignty and jurisdiction over all the lands in dispute, and to Massachusetts was ceded the rights of soil or preemption of the soil from the sole occupants, the Seneca Indians, of 240,000 acres between the Owego and Chenango Rivers, commonly known as the Boston ten townships, and also all of the lands in New York west of a line beginning at the 82d milestone of the north boundary of Pennsylvania (now the south-east corner of Steuben county), and running on a meridian line due north to Lake Ontario, excepting one mile in width on the Niagara River. If you will stop and consider its situation, its soil, its climate and its products, you will agree that it is the fairest portion of the earth that the sun shines upon. It was a noble and generous act on the part of New York to agree to this cession. Without a doubt, she could have successfully resisted the claim; but when such patriots as Clinton, Livingston, Yates and Benson advised the compromise for the sake of peace and harmony, we know that it was wise to do so.

Notwithstanding the bestowal of so munificent a gift, without an adequate consideration, Dutch skill and Scotch thrift made New York the Empire State of the Union. For her generosity attracted to her domain the best blood of Massachusetts, so that whatever the latter State gained in money she lost in men. It is men that make a State. Massachusetts saw in these lands only a means of liquidating the heavy indebtedness which oppressed her. Having quickly disposed of the ten townships to a Boston company, on the 1st day of April, 1788, she contracted to sell to Nathaniel Gorham and Oliver Phelps her rights in the residue of the territory for 300,000, Massachusetts currency, payable in three equal annual installments, with interest, in consolidated securities of her State. These obligations at that time were only worth 20 per cent. of their face value, so the actual price was only 60,000 or $200,000—a small sum for nearly six millions of acres of land.

Phelps and Gorham at once opened negotiations with the Seneca Indians, and at a council held at Buffalo Creek, a treaty was concluded on the 8th of July, 1788, by which they obtained title to the eastern portion of the tract, estimated to contain 2,200,000 acres, agreeing to pay therefor five thousand dollars in hand, and an annuity of five hundred dollars. This portion was bounded on the north by Lake Ontario; on the east by the preemption line, so-called; on the south by Pennsylvania, and on the west by the following boundary: Running along a meridian line from the Pennsylvania line to the confluence of the Canaseraga with the Genesee River, thence northerly along said river to a point two miles north of Canawagus village (near Avon); thence west twelve miles; thence northerly, and twelve miles from the Genesee River to Lake Ontario. This territory became known as the "Genesee Tract," and included what is now Steuben county. Phelps and Gorham immediately caused the same to be surveyed into ranges of townships six miles square. This was the commencement of a system of surveys which has been adopted by the Government in all the western states and territories. The surveyor who devised this most simple and admirable plan is not known.

Historical Address of Ansel J. McCall, June 6, 1893,
published in The Centennial of Bath, New York 1793-1893,
reprinted by the Steuben County Historical Society 1992
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR