Friday, February 10, 2023

The Heart of the Adirondacks: The Totten & Crossfield Purchase

The boundary of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase, represented within the bounds of the Adirondack Park. Shown within the Purchase are the gores and numbered townships.

The Totten and Crossfield Purchase is a massive land tract named for Joseph Totten and Stephen Crossfield, two shipwrights from New York City who, acting as front-men for two prominent land speculators, acquired the 1.15 million acres from the Mohawk and Caughnawaga Indians in 1772.  This tract was sometimes referred to as Jessup’s Purchase.  While much has been written about the Purchase, I want to impress upon the reader, especially those who live or enjoy leisure time in the Adirondack Park, the great extent of this tract and provide a quick overview of its history.  If you would like to learn more about this very famous and important Adirondack land tract, see Volume 1 of A History of the Adirondacks by Alfred Donaldson, Rural Indigenousness by Melissa Otis, and Verplanck Colvin’s State Land Survey reports (which are available online through Google Books).

The two maps I created illustrate the geographic extent of the Purchase, which is within the bounds of today’s Adirondack Park.  For an appreciation of its great size, consider that the Purchase comprised about 19% of the Adirondack Park and was about 1.6 times larger than the Catskill Park!  When it comes to land tracts acquired during the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Purchase can truly be called the heart of the Adirondacks.  It includes many of the High Peaks: the Great Range, Dix Range, Santanoni Range, Mt Marshall, Redfield, Cliff, Gray, Skylight, Allen, Colvin and Blake, and Dial and Nippletop.  Other massive land tracts acquired after 1772, such as the Old Military Tract and Macomb’s Purchase, as well as the boundaries of counties such as Franklin and St. Lawrence, are based off the boundaries of the Purchase.

If you own land in within bounds of the Purchase and ever had a title search done, look through it.  You will likely find references to a lot and township in the Purchase within which your land is contained. 

An Overview of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase

In 1771, Edward and Ebenezer Jessup, both prominent land speculators, sought to acquire what was then thought to be an 800,000-acre tract from the Mohawk and Caughnawaga Indians.  To get around the Crown of England looking unfavorably upon single-party ownership of such a large piece of land, the Jessup brothers approached Joseph Totten and Stephen Crossfield to act as front-men for their petition to the Royal Governor of the Province of New York. In addition to Totten and Crossfield, there were 167 other parties who had a vested interest in this tract.  The petition for the authority to obtain the title to the tract for King George III was made on April 10, 1771, which the Royal Governor granted on June 7th.

The boundary of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase, represented within the bounds of the Adirondack Park.  Shown within the Purchase are the gores and numbered townships.

Annotated Map of the Tracts, Patents, and Land Grants of Northern New York published in 1893 by the State Forest Commission.  Overlaid onto the map is the boundary of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase (bright green) and the boundary of the Adirondack Park (blue). (Source: New York Heritage Digital Collections, Adirondack Experience Library, https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16694coll65/id/6908/rec/1)

Annotated Map of the Tracts, Patents, and Land Grants of Northern New York published in 1893 by the State Forest Commission.  Overlaid onto the map is the boundary of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase (bright green) and the boundary of the Adirondack Park (blue). (Source: New York Heritage Digital Collections, Adirondack Experience Library)

With the title granted, the next step was to lay out the Purchase into townships on a map.  On October 7, 1771, Totten and Crossfield engaged Ebenezer Jessup to undertake such an effort and return a map to the Surveyor General, Alexander Colden.  For his efforts, Ebenezer received £5 per thousand acres surveyed.  In Colonial-era tracts such as this, a township is not a municipality but a very large, nearly square piece of land.  The townships were usually 36 square-miles to 24,000 acres in size.  In the case of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase, Ebenezer laid out 43 townships, each about 24,000 acres (see his survey map included herein).  Once a township was acquired through a land grant, the proprietor(s) had the township surveyed into smaller chunks called lots, which were then sold off.

On March 27, 1772, a written agreement was made with the intended proprietors of the Purchase, which included a stipulation that an initial exploration of the land should be conducted by surveyor Archibald Campbell of Albany.  According to the agreement, if Campbell “shall find it sufficient for at least Twenty Townships of 24,000 acres each of good and profitable Land fit for Cultivation,” then a deed can be signed with the Indians.  Although there are no records of Campbell’s report pertaining to his initial exploration of the tract, his findings must have been sufficient, for a deed would be made by the Indians in July.

On July 15th, a ceremony was held at Johnson Hall, the home of Sir William Johnson in present-day Johnstown, Fulton County.  Sir Johnson, who was appointed by the British as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the northern colonies and known for his strong relationship with the Mohawk and other Iroquois League nations, presided over the occasion.  Present at the signing of the “Indian Grant to Totten and Crossfield” were Governor William Tryon and four Mohawk representatives, listed in the document as “Handrick alias Tayahansara, Lourance alias Agguragie, Hans alias Canadajaure, and Hans Krine alias Onagoodhoge.”,,  The Mohawk were paid 1,135 pounds (about $221,633 in 2022 dollars) for what was stated on the deed as 800,000 acres of land. A later survey showed the actual size to be 1,150,000 acres. 

Ebenezer Jessup’s mapping of the 43 townships within the Totten and Crossfield Purchase to be surveyed, created in 1772.(Source: New York State Archives Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.archives.nysed.gov/index.php/Detail/objects/36728)

Ebenezer Jessup’s mapping of the 43 townships within the Totten and Crossfield Purchase to be surveyed, created in 1772.
(Source: New York State Archives Digital Collections)

After the deed was signed, the first survey of the Purchase with compass and chain took place around the summer of 1772.  To ensure the survey of the purchase would be accurate and unquestionable and provide a baseline from which townships within the purchase would be laid out, the Jessups had a diagonal line run through the center of the purchase, on a compass bearing of north 30° west, parallel to the western boundary of the purchase (as called for in the deed).  It is because of this line that the east and west bounds of the townships are aligned in a north 30° west direction.  The line began at the north shore of the Hudson River, near the point where the Town of Thurman meets the Town of Stony Creek and was run for 55 miles 32 chains to a point shortly west of Coney Mountain of Tupper Lake.  At each mile along the line, a tree would be blazed (marked) with the mile marker (e.g., “M. VII” for the 7-mile mark), hence, it came to be known as the Line of Mile Trees.  Involved in the survey of this line were Archibald Campbell, Israel Thompson, and Joseph Crane (for whom Crane Mountain of Johnsburg is named). 

After the survey of the Line of Mile Trees, Campbell made a partial survey of the outer bounds of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase.  He was accompanied by eight representatives of the Indian tribes from whom the land was purchased, who wanted to ensure the survey was accurate.  During this survey, he first ran a line along the western boundary of the tract.  After tracing out this line for almost 56 miles, the party then proceeded to trace out the northern line of the purchase, heading east towards Coney Mountain in Tupper Lake.  After traveling almost 27 miles through rugged, sometimes unforgiving, wilderness and swampland, they arrived at the north end of the Line of Mile Trees.  For reasons known only to Campbell, he ended the survey of the northern line and brought the Indian representatives up the “high hill” (today’s Coney Mountain) and showed them where the remainder of the northern line would continue to the east.  Satisfied with the course of Campbell’s line would take, everyone chose to return home, leaving nearly twenty miles of the line un-surveyed.

Although Ebenezer laid out 43 townships on his map, only 24 of these were considered properly surveyed to where they be put up for ballot among those associates involved in the land deal, an event which took place on January 14, 1773 at the house of Robert Hull in New York City.  Unfortunately for Totten, Crossfield, and the other interested parties, their ownership of land in the Purchase was left in limbo by the Crown.  The King had not granted the letters of patent for the Purchase by time the American Revolution broke out.  The Jessup brothers and any other associate who was a Loyalist during the Revolution had all of their land holdings ceded to the State through the Act of Attainder (specifically, the 1779 State law entitled, “An Act for the Forfeiture and Sale of the Estates of Persons who have adhered to the Enemies of this State, and for declaring the Sovereignty of the People of this State, in respect to all Property within the same”).  Following the war, the original 24 townships were redistributed to new owners or some of those who drew for them in 1773.

Endnotes

Graham, Frank, and Ada Graham.  The Adirondack Park: A Political History.  New York: Syracuse University Press, 1984, pp. 5-6.

Jesup, Henry G.  Edward Jessup of West Farms, Westchester Co., New York, and His Descendants.  United Kingdom: John Wilson and Son, pp. 211-214.

The March 27, 1772 agreement, provided to the author from the New York State Archives on June 21, 2022.

Donaldson, Alfred L. A History of the Adirondacks. Vol. 1. New York: The Century Company, 1921, p. 53-59.

Donaldson, Alfred L. A History of the Adirondacks. Vol. 2. New York: The Century Company, 1921, pp. 257-260.

Babcock, Francis G., Samuel J. Tilden, Clarkson C. Schuyler, Nathan Straus, and William R. Weed.  Annual Report of the Forest Commission.  Senate Doc. No. 85. Albany, N.Y.: James B. Lyon, 1894, pp. 114-123.

People v. Santa Clara Lumber Co., 1 Misc. 312 (N.Y. 1913).

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John Sasso is an avid hiker and bushwhacker of the Adirondacks and self-taught Adirondack historian. Outside of his day-job, John manages a Facebook group "History and Legends of the Adirondacks." John has also helped build and maintain trails with the ADK and Adirondack Forty-Sixers, participated in the Trailhead Steward Program, and maintained the fire tower and trail to Mount Adams.




14 Responses

  1. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Thank you, John. Much of this is new to me. I appreciate your research and writing.

    Phil

  2. Jack Delehanty says:

    Donaldson’s History covers the Anglo nascent history of the Adirondacks. Our Indian Nations (referred to thusly in scores of broken Treaties with our young state) tell quite quite a different story…one of repeated deception, bribery, faulty surveys and coerced signatures and encroachment on Iroquois Six Nations land. For a taste of what I’m saying, you can read: “A History of Native American Land Rights in Upstate New York “, Cindy Amrhein’s authoritative work published in 2016 treating The Macomb Purchase.

  3. NOEL A SHERRY says:

    A big congrats for putting your research up on the Adirondack Almanack, John. This is well written and in depth, important info on this huge parcel of land sold so early in the history of the ADKS. The T&C Purchase came up on my radar because its western border is less then a mile from the lake where I have a cabin, Twitchell Lake.

  4. George W Lee says:

    Excellent presentation. I live in Town of Minerva on lands from this part of our history. Have you seen field notes by surveyor hired by the Cooper Family.
    Happy to share!

  5. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Just imagine what that country was like back then? How quiet it was, how wild! How high up into the sky those white pines reached! How so few people there were, how so few the disturbances! That goes for the whole state of New York! Moose and wolves and all sorts of wonders long since vanquished! Imagination is the most wonderful of all attributes!

  6. Worth Gretter says:

    Great story! Thank you.

  7. Danielle Baker says:

    Would it be possible to do a follow up piece to continue the story of how the land was redistributed, parceled, and eventually has become as it is today? How was it decided within the county lines to divide the parcels? Were they given by State authority? Were they bid upon? Were they grandfathered in to those not declared Loyalists? I’m certain so many of your readers would be curious to learn more after reading such an interesting article. Perhaps, also gaining insight and clarity on the efforts made to ensure fairness and accountability. For example, the initial purchase of an estimate of 800k acres which turns out to be 1.15M acres (350k more acres than estimated), is either fortuitous or fraudulent. It would be nice to know honestly, which end of the spectrum we are living within. Or, are there references we should be referring to for that information rather than another article? Thank you ever so much!

  8. Mitch Edelstein says:

    A truly excellent article. I live in Township 5, one of two properties within that Township. The 2013 NYS vote to amend the NYS constitution and settle Township 40 disputed land claims in and around Raquette Lake brought the mention of Adirondack Townships to the voting public.
    That Totten & Crossfield were front men was only the start of the many questionable land deals in the Adirondacks. They certainly received the gift of having their names recorded thousands of times on property deeds.

  9. Mark Phillips says:

    When the surveying was underway, did the surveyors keep logs? I ask because in southwestern New York, where I live, the Holland Land Company surveyors kept log books as they “shot” town, range, and lot lines in the late 1790s and early 1800s. Among other recorded observations, they noted what types of trees they were encountering. I’ve been looking at the log books in the Allegany and Cattaraugus county clerk offices. The SUNY Fredonia library has copies of the logs as well. It has been interesting to learn the forest composition of the landscape compared to today’s. The surveyors also recorded evidence of major blowdowns and the amount of undergrowth. Now and then a surveyor noted the wildlife he saw, but most of the surveyors did not.

  10. ward jones says:

    Hello John,
    Putting together history of family home in Irishtown, Minerva that was settled by my great, great grandfather.
    I’ve been unable to download a FULL page copy of your article 2/10/2023 in the Almanack. It gets shrunk down. \
    Any suggestions.

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