A contemporary document from one of the ugliest intercolonial land disputes, pitting Connecticut investors against the province and state of Pennsylvania. Illustrated by a scarce, little-known, and most interesting map.
The roots of the dispute lie in the tangle of grants, purchases and charters governing the first half-century of Connecticut history. Connecticut, understandably, place much store in its 1662 charter, which seemed to grant it all the land between 41 and 42 degrees latitude running from Narragansett Bay to the Pacific. This laid the basis for a conflict with the Penns, who in 1681 received a charter to all lands extending from the Delaware River to the Pacific, between 39 degrees 43 minutes and 43 degrees latitude.
The conflict remained on paper for three quarters of a century, until in 1753 citizens of Colchester and Windham, Connecticut formed the Susquehanna Company. With an eye toward settlement, they soon purchased in two tranches a huge strip of land from the Iroquois Confederacy and the Delaware, together running between 41 and 42 degrees longitude from the Delaware River more than 150 miles to the west. Limited attempts at settlement were largely halted by the French and Indian War and actively set back during Pontiac’s Rebellion (1764).
In late 1768, however, the Company sent a group to settle in the Wyoming Valley in the neighborhood of the Susquehanna River. This ignited the first of several intermittment but intense outbreaks of violence between the Connecticut men and Pennsylvania irregulars and militia, known aggregately as the Pennamite-Yankee Wars (1769-1771, 1775, and 1784).
The conflict was pursued by legal means as well, as after much lobbying the Company in 1773 was able to engage the support of the Connecticut Assembly. Later that year the Crown ruled in favor of a Connecticut claim west of the Delaware, but efforts to reach a compromise with Pennsylvania failed. In 1774 Connecticut on its own established the town of Westmoreland in the area, which was subsumed in Litchfield County and even sent its own representative to the Assembly. The area remained under Connecticut control throughout the Revolution.
The legal dispute was finally resolved in 1782, when a court of arbitration acting under Article IX of the Articles of Confederation ruled in favor of Pennsylvania. Settlers’ land titles remained unresolved, however, and disputes continued until 1799. The final and arguably most brutal violence occurred in 1784, when in the so-called “Third Pennamite-Yankee War” Pennsylvania forces under Justice Alexander Patterson brutally evicted hundreds of Connecticut settlers from their land.
Examination of the Connecticut Claim
The present volume was written by someone strongly sympathetic with the Pennsylvanian cause, prompted by the Crown’s 1773 ruling in favor of Connecticut:
“The Notion of extending the Claim of the Colony of Connecticut to Lands Westward as far as the South Sea, thereby including a considerable Part of the Royal Grant of Pennsylvania made to WILLIAM PENN, Esq; as well as of the western Crown Lands yet ungranted, seems to have been first started about twenty Years ago, by a certain Schemer; and has been since generally treated as the wild Chimera of a visionary Brain. In this Light it would deserve still to be considered, if it was not render’d more serious by a late Resolve of the Connecticut Assembly to support that Claim-a Resolve which, after long declining to interfere in the Matter, seems at last to have been obtained from them with much Difficulty, in the Strength of some late Law-Opinions from England.” (p. 1)
The author examines in great detail the Connecticut claim against the legal and historical background of American settlement. To argue the Pennsylvania case he relies on a detailed and occasionally exhausting analysis of the documentary, legal and historical record, with much reference to the Saybrook Purchase, the 1662 Connecticut charter, and other key events.
One section of the argument is complemented by and makes repeated reference to a small, untitled folding map (6″h x 10″w at plate mark). This shows southern New England and parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, highlighting the various rivers that were so essential to establishing the boundaries of early colonial land grants and charters. The map employs solid and dotted lines, along with an alphabetical key, to depict various interpretations of a 1631 grant from Lord Warwick to Lord’s Say, Seal et al. This grant was fundamental to Connecticut’s later claims, but like other such grants was subject to multiple interpretations. After exploring several of these (pp. 31-37) the author settles on one highly unfavorable to the Connecticut case, according to which the grant encompassed a strip of land 120 miles wide running not east-west as commonly supposed, but rather perpendicular to the coastline, encompassing much of New York but posing no threat to Pennsylvania.
Though this writer has not read the entire work and is in any case not qualified to render judgment, the argument comes across as detailed, careful, and intelligent, albeit tendentious.
This work is usually attributed to Reverend William Smith (1727-1803), a prominent Episcopalian clergyman who emigrated from Scotland to Philadelphia around 1750. Smith was for many years the first Provost of the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania), during which time he repeatedly sided with the Proprietors against the Assembly in general and Franklin in particular. During the Revolution his patriotism became suspect, the institution lost its charter, and Smith lost his job. He moved to Maryland and remained until 1789, when the College regained its charter, and he was able to return as Provost. He remained in office until 1791, when it merged with the University of the State of Pennsylvania to create the University of Pennsylvania.
Assuming the attribution is correct, the nature of Smith’s involvement with the Wyoming Valley is unclear. It is possible that he was merely a patriotic observer rather than an active participant in the events.
Map listed in Thompson, Maps of Connecticut, #22 and Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America, #260. Volume in Evans, American Imprints, #13629; Markowitz, Jay T. Snider Collection, #116 (this copy); OCLC #193594 et al.
Background from Lester Cappon et al., Atlas of Early American History, p. 92 and Richard E. Irby, Jr., “The State of Westmoreland and the Pennamite-Yankee Wars” (at http://www.geocities.com/irby.geo/pyw.html). Biographical information on Smith taken from Appleton’s Encyclopedia (http://www.famousamericans.net/williamsmith1/).
Repairs to title and pp. 1-2 (title lined with tissue), map lined with tissue. Faint pressure stamp of Connecticut State Library on first two leaves with deaccession date stamped on title. Bookplate of Jay Snider on front endpaper.