4. New York Claims Jurisdiction Over N.H. Grants
The first public announcement given to the settlers that their claim under New Hampshire might be called into question was from a proclamation issued by Cadwallader Colden, lieutenant governor of New York, on December 28, 1763, in which he claimed jurisdiction, by virtue of an old grant to the Duke of York, over the territory to the north of Massachusetts, as far east as the Connecticut River. Colden "commanded the Sheriff of the county of Albany to return to him the names of all persons who had taken possession of lands under New Hampshire grants."
To quiet the settlers and give encouragement to other emigrants, Governor Benning Wentworth issued a proclamation setting forth the right of New Hampshire to the lands and recommending "to the several grantors and claimants under that government to be industrious in clearing and cultivating their lands agreeable to their respective grants," and commanding "all civil officers under that government to be diligent in exercising jurisdiction in their respective offices, as far westward as grants of land had been made by the government of that province, and to deal with any person or persons that might presume to interrupt the inhabitants or settlers on said lands, as to law and justice appertained."
This counter-proclamation had its intended effect, and the settlements on the grants progressed with new vigor. But the government of New York chose not to rely upon the doubtful title which they had claimed to those lands under the grant to the Duke of York, and applied to the Crown for a confirmation of their claim. This application was said to have been supported by a petition purporting to be signed by a large number of the settlers on the New Hampshire Grants, representing that it would be for their advantage to be annexed to the colony of New York. And on July 20, 1764 an order was obtained from the King in Council, by which "the western bank of the river Connecticut from where it enters the province of the Massachusetts Bay" was declared "to be the boundary line between the two provinces of New Hampshire and New York."
The people on the "New Hampshire Grants" (by which name the territory, now Vermont, began to be called) regarded this order in council as merely extending the jurisdiction of New York in the future, over their territory, and had no understanding that it could in any way affect the title to their lands. But the governor of New York gave another construction to the order, contending that it had a retrospective operation, and decided not only what should thereafter be, but what had always been, the eastern boundary of New York; and that consequently all the grants made by the governor of New Hampshire were void.
The governor of New Hampshire at first remonstrated against the change of jurisdiction, but finally acquiesced in it and left the settlers to make such terms as they might with the new government under which they had been thus involuntarily placed. How they managed their affairs when thrown upon their own resources will be seen hereafter.
In regard to the jurisdiction of the government of New York over the Hampshire Grants, which had been established by order of the Crown in July, 1764, as before stated, the settlers were not disposed to have any serious controversy. They were indeed familiar with the laws and institutions of the province of New Hampshire, and preferred them to those of New York. New Hampshire, as well as the other New England provinces, recognized the townships as little republics in which the people at annual town meeting appointed their own local officers, and in conformity with established laws, made their own municipal regulations.
In New York, most of these matters were either subjects of direct provincial legislation, or came under the still more anti-democratic superintendence of the Governor and Council or of the judges of the courts, who were creatures of their appointment. The people saw with regret the withdrawal of power from themselves, which early education had made dear to them and which long experience had proved to be convenient and useful.
Besides, the division of the old province of New York into large tracts of territory termed manors or patents, of which an individual called landlord or patroon was the owner, and all who cultivated the soil were his tenants subject to the payment of quit-rents, alienation fees, and other acknowledgements of dependence and subjection accorded ill with their New England notions of personal equality and fee-simple independence. Notwithstanding this strong preference for the government of New Hampshire, the jurisdiction of New York, had jurisdiction been the sole aim of that province, would have been quietly acquiesced in.
But the governor of New York had other objects in view than that of extending the powers of his government over the people inhabiting the "Hampshire Grants."