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Abstract of the Johnson Hall Estate

Johnstown, Fulton Co., New York

 

By: Robert Larry Akin

 

 

In the new United States of America following the Revolutionary War, there were many land parcels owned by British sympathizers, and some of these parcels were confiscated and sold to pay for the war effort or as the result of an indictment for treason when the person failed to appear for trial.  New York was divided into four sections, and the future ownership of these parcels was determined by “Commissioners of Forfeiture” for each section.  These sales were legitimized by law in 1780 and again in 1784 by the new US Congress.  The Commissioners of Forfeiture for the Western District were given the job of determining ownership of the confiscated former home of Sir William Johnson who had died a few years before the war and willed his home to his son, Sir John Johnson.  This home was called the Johnson Hall Estate and is located in Johnstown, Fulton County, New York.  It is now owned by the State of New York and is maintained as a historic monument.

 

The curator at Johnson Hall gave me a Memoranda of Record written by an unknown author that shows the ownership of the Johnson Hall Estate from the sale by the Commissioners of Forfeiture down to the point when Sabra Margaret Wells Burr deeded Johnson Hall over to the State of New York.  It is reproduced as follows:

 

Memoranda of Record of Successive Ownership of JOHNSON HALL Property.

The primary sources, i.e., Wills, Deeds, and documents showing transfer of property are to be found in the Office of the County Clerk, Montgomery County, (Records of Deeds and Mortgages and Wills), Fonda, New York, and in the Office of the County Clerk, Fulton County, Johnstown, New York.

 

1. Deed - From the Commissioners of Forfeiture for the Western District, to JAMES CALDWELL, dated 1 June 1785, recorded 21 July 1794. Consideration, BPS 6610. Conveys JOHNSON HALL and farm, 700 Acres.

2. Deed - From James and Elizabeth Caldwell to ROBERT JOHNSTON, dated 12 August 1785, recorded 21 July 1794. Consideration BPS 2500.

Conveys same premises as Item 1, above.

3. Warranty Deed - From Robert Johnston, physician, and Eleanor, his wife, of Franklin County in the State of Pennsylvania to SILAS TALBOT of the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dated 1 July 1786 and Recorded 21 July 1794. Consideration BPS 2000. Conveys same premises as Item 1.

4. Warranty Deed - From Silas Talbot and Rebecca his wife to OBADIAH BOWEN, dated 30 January 1792, and recorded 18 May 1795. Consideration BPS 1500. Conveys same premises as Item 1, excepting always such part of such farm as has formerly been conveyed by Major General Sir William Johnson to some person under whom John Veghte’s claims, being about 10 acres of land near the said John Veghte house.  [Obadiah Bowen undertook a mortgage contract from Silas Talbot for this property even though this Indenture which was filed would lead you to believe that it was paid for outright.]

5. Deed and Satisfaction and Execution of Mortgage Release by JABEZ BOWEN (father of Obadiah Bowen, deceased) to SILAS TALBOT, dated 29 January 1795 and Recorded 18 May 1795. Conveys same premises as Item 1. [Obadiah Bowen died before paying off the mortgage and according to this document the value of the mortgage was the same as the value of the land, therefore, Jabez Bowen – Obadiah’s father – simply released the property back to Silas Talbot.]

6. Mortgage - By ABRAHAM MOREHOUSE of Alexandria, Virginia, and Abigail, his wife to SILAS TALBOT, dated 28 February 1795 and recorded 16 May 1795. Same premises as Item 1.

7. NOTE - Record of transfer of JOHNSON HALL property from ABRAHAM MOREHOUSE to EDWARD AKIN has not been found, but apparently a "JOHN MURRAY and HANNAH, his wife" owned JOHNSON HALL prior to 1803, and sold the property to EDWARD AKIN in or about the year 1803.  [See below for a new update to entry.]

8. EDWARD AKIN, owner of JOHNSON HALL and adjoining property, died 16 March 1813, (b.1750).  [As explained below, a Commission was established by the New York Supreme Court to partition the Johnson Hall Farm to Edward Akin’s heirs.  The portion of the farm containing Johnson Hall was assigned by the Commission to Ethen Akin.]

9. Deed - From Abraham Akin and Asenath his wife, to Elizabeth Akin, widow of Edward Akin, for Johnson Hall and adjoining property. Consideration, $2100. Executed 25 June 1825. Recorded 20 October 1825 at 2.00 PM.  [As explained below, Abraham Akin obtained the land containing Johnson Hall a few years prior to this from Ethen Akin; however, the deed for this is not recorded.  See below.]

10. Deed - Warranty Deed, from ELIZABETH AKIN to JAMES AKIN dated 27 August 1828 and recorded 28 August 1828. Conveys JOHNSON HALL property to James Akin. Consideration, $2000.

11. Deed - From JAMES AKIN and wife Louisa, for JOHNSON HALL property, to ELEAZER WELLS (30 Mar 1782 - 26 Nov 1860). Dated 12 January 1829, and recorded 2 July 1829.  Consideration $2000.  JOHNSON HALL property and adjacent land.

12. Will - ELEAZER WELLS to John E. Wells, David A. Wells, and Edward A. Wells. Dated 6 October 1860. Admitted to probate 9 April 1861. Recorded 31 December 1906. Conveys all of his .property to the three named above with the provisions that they pay to his daughters the said sums mentioned in the Will. This Will includes the property known as the Hall farm.

13. Quit Claim Deed - DAVID A. WELLS and wife ALIDA G. WELLS, to JOHN E. WELLS. Dated 1 September 1865. Recorded 2 October 1865. Conveys all; of his interest in the property of the late Eleazer Wells.

14. Quit Claim Deed - EDWARD A. WELLS and ANN ELIZABETH WELLS to JOHN E. WELLS. Dated I September 1865. Recorded 12 December 1865. Conveys all of his interest in the property of the late Eleazer Wells.

15. Will  Last Will and Testament of JOHN E. WELLS, owner of JOHNSON HALL and adjoining property. (JOHN E. WELLS, 7 Aug 1822 - 7 Oct 1887). Bequeaths JOHNSON HALL, and adjoining property and contents of the HALL, to his widow, Margaret Elizabeth Burton Wells. Made 3 December 1878. Admitted to probate 24 October 1887.  Entails the property to daughter and grand children, if any; (i.e. SABRA MARGARET WELLS BURR, and JOHN WELLS BURR).

16. Chapter 681, Laws of New York, 31 May 1906.

An ACT to provide for the acquisition and preservation of the historic mansion and blockhouse, formerly owned by Sir William Johnson, in the City of Johnstown, and making an appropriation therefor. Amount $25,000.00.

17. Deed - Property known as JOHNSON HALL and included lands, from SABRA MARGARET WELLS BURR, et al, to the People of the State of New York. Dated 20 December 1906. Executed 27 December 1906.

 

Update to the Johnson Hall Abstract – Edward Akin Deed.

Item 7 of the above Abstract states that the Deed documenting the sale of the Johnson Hall Estate to Edward Akin “has not been found”.  UPDATE!!  With the help of a couple of people in Johnstown, I have managed to find this deed an image of which is shown at:

 

Johnson Hall Deed

 

In doing research on the Akin family in Johnstown, I began corresponding with Deborah J. (Deb) Callery who is a research librarian at the Johnstown Public Library.  Because of my queries, Deb knew that I was interested in finding this deed and she mentioned it to Mr. Noel S. Levee who is the City Historian of Johnstown.  Noel thought that he knew where the deed might be located.  Since I was planning a trip to Johnstown around that time (June 2002), Deb arranged for me to meet with Noel at the Johnstown Public Library where he presented this wonderful document to me.  Noel had found the deed in a stack of folders in the Johnstown Historical Museum.  It had been donated to the Johnstown Historical Society by Mr. John Jay Akin[1] who was the Grandson of Abraham Akin.  Abraham was the son of Edward Akin and the brother of Ethen Akin, Sr., and it had lay hidden at the Johnstown Historical Society until Noel Levee found it for me.

 

The deed is in excellent condition.  It is on good, thick paper that has yellowed with age, but is not torn nor weakened in any respect that I could tell.  The ink is still quite black and legible, and the red wax seals are still quite evident.  It is about 18” x 24” in size, I would guess – a very large document.  In fact, it was so large that my camera could not take an image of so large a document and still retain the resolution necessary to make out all of the words so I spent a few hours in the Johnstown Public Library transcribing the deed.  The transcription follows below.

 

The deed has been archivally mounted and is now (or will be soon) on display at the Johnstown Historical Museum.

 

Transcription by

Robert Larry Akin

This Indenture made this First day of April in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and three, Between John Murray of the City and State of New York, Merchant, and Hannah his Wife of the first part, and Edward Akin of Cambridge in the County of Washington and State aforesaid of the second part, Witnesseth, that the said John Murray and Hannah his Wife for and in consideration of the sum of Eighteen thousand dollars lawful money of the United States of America to them in hand paid by the said Edward Akin at or before the sealing and delivery of these presents, the receipt whereof they do hereby acknowledge and themselves therewith fully satisfied, contented, and paid, Have granted, bargained, and sold, aliened, conveyed and confirmed, and by these presents Do grant, bargain and sell, alien, convey and confirm unto the said Edward Akin and to his heirs and assigns forever, all that certain lot, farm or parcels of land, situate, lying and being at Caghnawaga in the County of Montgomery commonly called and known by the name of Johnson Hall and farm, which said lot or parcel of land being at the bridge across the Canady and Cayadutta creek near Johnstown, and runs from thence north forty four degrees West six chains, thence South forty degrees West nine chains, thence North forty three degrees West forty three chains, thence South thirty four degrees West forty five chains to Lot Number Three hundred and ninety eight, thence along the North-Eastern bounds of said lot North fifty six degrees West thirty four chains, thence North thirty four degrees East ninety four chains, thence South fifty six degrees East to Canady or Cayadutta Creek aforesaid, thence down the stream thereof to the place of beginning, estimated at Seven hundred acres of land and heretofore sold as part of the forfeited estate of Sir John Johnson of the late county of Tyron, excepting always such part of the said farm as has formerly been conveyed by Sir William Johnson to some person under whom John Veghte claims, being about ten acres of land near the said John Veghte’s house, with the rights, members, and appurtenances thereof, and the Reversion and reversions, Remainder and remainders, rents and services of the same, and also all the estate, right, title, interest, property, claim and demands whatsoever both in Law and Equity of them the said John Murray and Hannah his wife of, in, and to the said lot, farm or parcel of land, and of, in, and to every part and parcel thereof, with their and every of their appurtenances To have and to hold the said lot, farm, or parcel of land, with the appurtenances unto the said Edward Akin, his heirs and assigns forever.  And the said John Murray for himself, his heirs, executors, and administrators, doth covenant and grant to and with the said Edward Akin, his heirs and assigns, that he the said John Murray now is the true and lawful owner of all and singular the said lot or parcels of land, hereditaments and premises above mentioned, and of every part and parcel thereof, with the appurtenances, and lawfully and rightfully seized in his own right of an absolute and indefeasible estate of inheritance in fee simple of and in all and singular the premises above mentioned with the appurtenances without any condition of mortgage, limitation of use and uses or other matter, cause or thing to alter, change, charge or determine the same.  And also, that he the said John Murray now hat good right and full power in his own right to grant, bargain, sell and convey the said premises above mentioned with their and every of their appurtenances unto the said Edward Akin, his heirs and assigns to the only proper use and benefit of the said Edward Akin, his heirs, and assigns forever, according to the true intent and meaning of these presents.  And also, that he the said Edward Akin, his heirs and assigns shall and may from time to time, and at all times hereafter, peaceably and quietly, have, hold, occupy, possess and enjoy all and singular the hereditaments and premises above mentioned with the appurtenances, without the let, trouble, hindrance, molestation or interruption of him the said John Murray, his heirs and assigns and of all and every other person or persons whatsoever, and freed and discharged from all former and other gifts, grants, mortgages, dowers, bargains, sales, jointures, uses, wills, issues and bonds whatsoever, had made, committed, done, or suffered or to be had, made, committed, done or suffered by the said John Murray or any other person or persons claiming or to claim by, from, or under him, them or any of them.  And that he the said John Murray, his heirs, executors and administrators shall at all times hereafter upon the reasonable request and at the cost and charge of the said Edward Akin, his heirs and assigns do make and execute such other reasonable acts and deeds, conveyance and conveyances in the Las for the better and more perfect conveying and assuring the said lot or parcel of land, hereditaments and premises above mentioned to the said Edward Akin, his heirs and assigns, and to their own proper use and benefit forever as by him or them, or his or their Counsel learned in the Law shall reasonable be advised, devised, or required.  And lastly, the said John Murray, for himself and his heirs, the said lot or parcel of land and premises, against all   persons whatsoever, to the said Edward Akin and his heirs and assigns, doth and will hereby warrant and forever defend.  In Witness whereof, the parties to these presents have hereunto interchangeably set their hands and seals, the day and year first above written.

 

John Murray [Seal]       Hannah Murray  [Seal]

 

 

Written on the back of the Indenture:

Sealed & Delivered

In the Presence of

[Two indecipherable names – one last name probably Nagle]

 

Received the Day of the Date of the within written Indenture from Edward Akin therein named the sum of Eighteen Thousand Dollars being the full consideration money therein mentioned.

 

Witness                                                [Signed] John Murray

?? Nagle

 

 

Written on a different area of the back of the Indenture:

State of New York SS

On the 6th April 1803 before me came John Murray and Hannah his wife, both known to me to be the persons thus described in and who have executed the within deed, both of whom did acknowledge that they had executed the same – the said Hannah being by me examined privately and apart from her husband confessed that she had so executed the same freely without any fear or compulsion of her Husband.  I allow it to be recorded.

 

Thomas Cooker

Master in Chancery

 

 

Written on a different area of the back of the Indenture:

Fulton County SS:

Recorded July 3, 1915

Vol. 143 of Deeds, Page 62.

 

The deed offers us some idea about why it has been hidden all of these years.  If you notice immediately above, the deed was not recorded until July 3, 1915 – about 112 years after it was written.  Later researchers looking for this deed had no way of suspecting that they should be looking in the deeds for 1915 to find a deed written in 1803. 

Update to The Johnson Hall Abstract – Johnson Hall Farm Partitions.

Item 9 of the Abstract presented above shows Abraham Akin selling the property to Edward Akin’s wife, Elizabeth.  This would lead one to assume that Abraham inherited the mansion when Edward died.  This, in fact, was not the case.  The mansion was actually inherited by Ethen Akin, Sr. who lived in the mansion presumably until he moved to Port Byron.   The deed described in Item 9 of the Abstract contains the following wording: “… that certain piece or parcel of land situate, lying and being in the town and County aforesaid being part of the Johnson Hall farm and that part of it contains the hall which was set off as the share of Ethen Akins(sic) by the Commission appointed to make partition amongst the heirs of Edward Akin deceased …”  This wording is also used in the later deeds that transferred the property to James Akin and then to Eleazer Wells.  In addition, the Akin Family Bible states that Ethan Akin, II was born in Johnson Hall on August 20, 1820; however, this fact may not prove ownership of the Hall since most major events such as births and marriages in the Akin family took place in the Hall during this time period.  As an example, Abraham Akin’s son, Edward Howard Akin, was also born in Johnson Hall in on July 3, 1815.[2]

 

Unfortunately, the deed documenting the sale by Ethen to Abraham has not yet been found so we cannot determine the exact date of transfer; however, one of the documents in the Richard Akin Collection (See the story of the Richard Akin Collection in the Mercy Akin Letters) is a receipt which reads as follows:

 

I hereby agree to pay Abraham Aiken one hundred & forty seven dollars for the use of his farm, which I now occupy [&] which I this day have sold to him, until the first day of April next the money to be paid on that day & I further agree to pay all taxes, dowers, & encumbrances thereon until next April.  May 24, 1819  Signed: Ethen Akin

 

While this evidence is NOT conclusive, it would seem to indicate that Ethen may have sold the portion of the Hall Farm containing the Hall (since he occupied it) on May 24, 1819, but he then rented it back until April, 1820, and, perhaps, even longer.

 

Another unfortunate circumstance in this research is that the report by the “Commission” appointed by the New York Supreme Court to partition the estate of Edward has not been found.  The New York State Archives has a file on the “Partition Request” made by Edward’s heirs to the New York Supreme Court and the report back to the Court by the Commissioners should be in this file.  The file contains the petition asking the Supreme Court to appoint a Commission to do the partitioning.  It also contains papers dealing with assigning a Guardian to represent the children of Armida Akin Bowen who were orphaned by the death of their parents prior to Edward’s death.  Eleazer Wells (husband of Amy Akin) was assigned.  There are also papers actually assigning the 3-man Commission.[3]  Interestingly, one of the Commissioners assigned was Alexander St. John who was the grandfather of Susan St. John who was the wife of Ethan Akin, II.  Unfortunately, the report by the Commission back to the Supreme Court which would have described the partitioning and, perhaps, have contained a survey map is missing from the file.   An attempt to reconstruct the partitioning from the recorded land deeds was unsuccessful because several of Edward’s heirs did not record the sale of their property (or I could not find them).   Perhaps the Report by the Commissioners will be found at some later date.  At least from one of the documents, I was able to find the survey of the overall Johnson Hall Estate, and I was able to reconstruct its position on a modern topographical map.  You can see the results of my efforts here:

 

Johnson Hall Estate

 

At some point in the proceedings, Eleazer Wells must have been unable to continue to serve as the Guardian to the Bowen children because a new case was opened in Montgomery County Surrogate Court on September 12, 1817 to assign a new Guardian for the Bowen Children.[4]  Fortunately, these records survive although they are in terrible shape and are not well cared for.  They include a survey and a map of 100 acres of the 700 acre farm.  Part of this 100 acres includes the parcel assigned to Ethen Akin, Sr. which, as I have shown, contained the Hall, but I have been unable to position this survey and map with the overall map of the Estate.

Johnson Hall – A State Historical Site.

We are very fortunate that Johnson Hall has become a historical site of the State of New York which means that it will be preserved for many years to come.  The story of the sale to the State of New York is interesting.  The quirky part of the transaction was the stipulation in the will of John E. Wells that his grandson, John Wells Burr could inherit the mansion only if he changed his name to John Burr Wells.  This was so that the mansion would remain the Wells family.   John Burr DID legally change his name to John Burr Wells; however, he never got to own the mansion because his mother sold the mansion to the State of New York before she died.  The deed was dated December 20, 1906 and executed December 27, 1906 by one account[5] and December 31, 1906 by another.[6]

 

Since becoming a site, it has been restored as close as possible to the way it was when Sir William Johnson lived there in the 18 century. 

 

When my wife and I visited Johnson Hall for the first time in 1998, the restoration project was well underway.  One interesting aspect of the project was trying to match the paint both inside and out to the “original” color.  “Bulls eyes” had been sanded in various locations revealing the many layers of paint that had been applied since it was originally painted.  The color picked to match its original color on the outside was a tan/white.  This color was picked because a truly white paint had not been developed when the Hall was originally painted and this off-white color was as close to white as they could get.

 

Those who have the opportunity should visit this magnificent monument to a time when the Indian Commissioner for the Iroquois Six Nations, Sir William Johnson, was one of the most powerful and influential men in the American Colonies.

 



[1] John Jay Akin article entitled “Old Fort Johnson, N.Y.”/ “Johnson Hall Farm-Johnstown, Fulton Co., N.Y.”  Sent to the Johnstown Historical Society on 10/20/1931 in his 84th year.

[2] John Jay Akin article entitled “Old Fort Johnson, N.Y.”/ “Johnson Hall Farm-Johnstown, Fulton Co., N.Y.”  Sent to the Johnstown Historical Society on 10/20/1931 in his 84th year.

[3] David Akin & Others vs. Ira Akin, Case #J0019-82, Partition Papers, NY State Archives, Albany, NY.  (Copies in R. L. Akin Library)

[4] Alexander Shepherd & Others.  Petition in Partitions.  Filed June 14, 1817, County Clerks Office, Fonda, Montgomery County, NY.

[5] Memoranda of Record of successive ownership of JOHNSON HALL property obtained at Johnson Hall, Johnstown, Fulton Co., NY.

[6] Newspaper Clipping from Unknown newspaper dated January 3, 1907 obtained at the Johnstown Public Library, Johnstown, Fulton Co., NY.