5. N.H. Grants Settlers Reject New YorkÕs Claim
The New Hampshire Grants in 1764 contained a large quantity of fertile lands, much of which had been made highly valuable by the improvements of the settlers, and the temptation to derive a pecuniary profit from them was too strong to be resisted. Lt. Gov. Colden of New York therefore called on the settlers by proclamation to surrender their charters and re-purchase their lands anew from the province of New York. A few of the towns near the Connecticut River complied, but most of them, including all those in the county of Bennington, refused.
Upon such refusal the governor of New York made new grants of the towns to others, principally to his friends and dependents, among which were included the members of his council, judges of the courts, and a large portion of the members of the bar, and of the Colonial Assembly. The connection of these new grantees with the government and their limitation to a favored class will account for the pertinacity with which the New York claim to the lands was afterwards prosecuted by the rulers of that province, as well as for the coldness and want of vigor with which their successive efforts to subject the settlers were seconded by the common people.
The new New York grantees proceeded to cause their grants to be surveyed, preparatory to making sales or leases to settlers. This proceeding was very unacceptable to the New Hampshire grantees, and the surveyors when discovered were usually interrupted in their work, and often driven from the land. Sometimes their surveying instruments were broken, and the owners tauntingly told to proceed with their work.
One of the surveyors attempting to run a line across the farm of Samuel Robinson of Bennington was attacked by him with a hoe and driven off. For this Robinson was apprehended, and after being confined two months in Albany jail was released on the payment of a fine. Others who resisted were indicted, but the sheriff of Albany County, whose bailiwick at that time extended to the Connecticut River, was generally unsuccessful in his attempts to arrest them.
The settlers were alarmed at these and other demonstrations of the government of New York toward taking possession of their lands; but they had confidence in the justice of their cause, and were under a strong conviction that the crown either had been imposed upon by that government, or that a wrong interpretation had been put upon the order of the King. They could not conceive that a paternal government, in which character they were disposed to view that of the parent country, could possibly desire to deprive them of their hard-earned property for the benefit of a few aristocratic land jobbers.
The settlers therefore prepared a remonstrance to the Crown against the proceedings of the New York government; and in the fall of 1766, at a convention of the several towns on the west side of the mountain, Samuel Robinson was appointed their agent to present the remonstrance, and to second their application for relief by his personal solicitations. In some of the towns their share of the expense of this embassy was assessed upon the proprietors of the lands by a tax, while in others it was perhaps raised by individual contributions. By the proprietors' records of Pownal it appears to have been voted on October 1, 1766, "that George Gardner, Esq. Doct. Seth Hudson and Daniel Luce, be assessors to assess the proportionable part of each person according to their property, in the town of Pownal to defray the charge of carrying the affair of grievances relating to land, home to England." Robinson reached England in the winter of 1766-7, and presented the case of the settlers to the crown. Their claims were received in a favorable light, and the mission had a
In 1766 an act had passed the colonial assembly of New York to designate a portion of the territory covered by the New Hampshire Grants as a new county by the name of Cumberland, and to build therein a courthouse and jail. This act Robinson sought to be repealed and annulled by an order of the King in Council of June 26, 1767. On July 20, 1767, he obtained another order of the King in Council by which the governor of New York was forbid, "upon pain of His Majesty's highest displeasure, to presume to make any grant whatever of any part of the lands in controversy, until his majesty's "
While the matter was undergoing the further investigation of the Ministry, Robinson, who remained in London prosecuting the business of his mission, became ill with smallpox and died. This unfortunate event occurred in October 1767 and put a stop to the further consideration of the subject by the Crown.
Because Robinson did not live to return and because communication between England and his constituents was difficult and uncertain, it is not probable that a detailed account of his proceedings ever came to them. If there are any letters of his from England remaining with his descendants or others, they might throw some interesting light on the subject.
The order in council before mentioned of July 20, 1767, forbidding further grants by the governor of New York, is found in all the publications on the subject of the New York controversy; but that of June 26, 1767, arresting an important movement of that province in extending her jurisdiction over the grants, is not found in any of those publications that have come to the notice of the writer. The fact is now ascertained from the journals of the New York Colonial Assembly, and it seems probable that it never came to the knowledge of the settlers.