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This town was erected from Brownville, April 3, 1821, embracing Penet’s Square, and all north of this and west of a continuation of the line between lots No. 6 and 7 of Penet’s Square to the St. Lawrence. The first town meeting was directed to be held at the house of Hervey Boutwell. Much difficulty and strife had existed for several years, with regard to the location of the town meetings in Brownville, that led to the erection of Orleans, which name was suggested by the celebrity which New Orleans had acquired at the close of the war. Alexandria and Philadelphia were formed by the same act.
Supervisors. -- 1822-23, Amos Reed; 1824-26, Wm. H. Angel; 1827, Woodbridge C. George; 1828, Jesse S. Woodward (four years could not be procured). 1833, Chesterfield Persons, at a special meeting; 1834, Wm. Martin; 1835, Peter Dillenback; 1836, C. Persons; 1837, Daniel C. Rouse; 1838-39, John B. Collins; 1840, C. Persons; 1841, Peter P. Folts; 1842, James Green; 1843, Edmund M. Eldridge; 1844, Abram J. Smith; 1845, Loren Bushnell; 1846, A. J. Smith; 1847, D. C. Rouse; 1848-9, John N. Rottiers; 1850-53, Hiram Dewey.
By an act of Feb. 6, 1840, all that part of Clayton, north of Orleans, and east of the north and south division line, between Clayton and Orleans, extended from the north-west corner of Orleans to the St. Lawrence, was attached to the latter town, together with part of Wells Island, and all the smaller islands, which would be embraced by a line, running from the termination of the aforesaid division line, between Clayton and Orleans; thence through Eel Bay around the head of Wells Island to the Canada line. All that part of Alexandria, west of a line running N. 42° W., from the corner of Orleans, was also annexed to the latter town. This last was restored to Alexandria, April 12, 1842.
Improvements commenced in this town about 1806, by persons who came on, without acquiring title, and took up lands, there being no resident agent, and a partial and imperfect history of the title having gained currency, the belief became general, that there was no legal owner of the tract, which, for several years after the war, led great numbers, chiefly of the poorer classes, to come and select land and make locations. In this they were governed by nothing but their own choice, selecting some spring or stream of water for the vicinity of their dwellings, and appropriating such lands to their own use, as they might choose to claim. These squatters had adopted a kind of regulation among themselves, in relation to lands, were accustomed to make “possession lines,” by lopping down bushes, and bought and sold “claims,” giving quit claim deeds for the same. Few permanent buildings or improvements were made, the settlers mostly living in log huts, and engaged in getting out oak staves and square timber, and in making potash or in cultivating the soil in the most slovenly and careless manner. As a natural consequence, this unprincipeled (sic) course invited thither crowds of adventurers from various quarters, many from the Mohawk Country; rough, hardy, and enterprising, with nothing to lose and every thing to gain, accustomed to coarse fare and rude accommodations, yet in many respects just the class to subdue a wilderness. Schools were established, a few years after settlement, and religious societies were organized.
An account of the legal titles of this tract has been given, but there were sundry proceedings under false construction and erroneous statements that deserve mention. Penet’s Indian claim was recognized in the treaty of September 22, 1788, and on the 19th of November, 1789, a patent was issued to his attorney, John Duncan, of Schenectady, and it was subsequently conveyed, repeatedly, as stated elsewhere. In 1807, John Wilkes, one of the proprietors, visited the tract, and is believed to have been the first of the owners who traversed it. Being unaccustomed to the fatigue of traveling in the forest, he returned home disgusted with it, and for several years there was no legalized agent in the county. (Please see a link below to a letter received from a Wilkie descendant.) In 1817 (Oct. 17), the following settlers took contracts on lots numbers 66, 75, 86, 87, and 95 near Stone Mills, in which vicinity A. M. Prevost held lands, and had appointed Elisha Camp, of Sackets Harbor, as his agent. The contracts run for seven years, and the lands were rated at $5 per acre. Asa Hall, Richard Taylor, Frederick Avery, Benjamin and John Taylor, Wm. Collins, Samuel Linnel, Solomon Stowell, Lester White, Roderick C. Fraser, Wm. Collins, Jr., Leonard and Blake Baldwin, Isaac Mitchel, John B. Collins, John Smith, Ebenezer Eddy, Shepherd Lee, Thomas Lee, Thomas Lee, Jr., Ebenezer Scoville, Wm. Guile, Wm. Larrabe, Warren Hall, Henry Arnold, Ambrose Adams and John Page.
In 1818, there prevailed in many sections of the state, especially on the Holland Purchase, a clamor against those who held large tracts of land, and the records of towns in adjoining counties, show a disposition to impose heavy taxes upon non resident lands for local or private purposes. The Holland Company through fear of these intrigues, was induced to offer their lands to the state, as well as to sell them at low prices, and on long credits. Doubts had arisen of the soundness of the title derived from Penet, and January 16, 1821, Hippolyte Penet, brother of Peter Penet, of Andes, Delaware County, N. Y., sold to John S. Le Tonelier, of Schenectady, for $1, by quit claim, the whole tract. A suit in chancery was instituted, and this deed set aside and made void by a decretal order of the chancellor, Samuel Jones, dated August 2, 1828* (*Jefferson Deeds P., page 266.). The uncertainty which these conflicting claims created in the minds of settlers, led them, about 1821, to petition the legislature for a direct grant of these lands from the state, which was referred to a select committee who reported the evidence of title, as shown by the records in the secretary’s office and continued: “Your committee have also had exhibited what purports to be a copy of a deed executed on the 13th of July, 1790, by John Duncan, as the attorney for Peter Penet, to James Watson and James Greenleaf, witnessed by John Plant, but not proved or recorded, by which the tract of ten miles square is conveyed for the consideration of£1600. There are various claims, many of them conflicting, under the last mentioned deed, which it was not necessary for your committee to investigate. From the statement they have given, they think great doubt arises whether Penet ever legally conveyed the land in question. He was a native of France, and died in that country, and if he left heirs they must be aliens, although your committee can not learn that he was ever married. Under all these circumstances your committee are of opinion that there are sufficient reasons in this case to justify further inquiry to ascertain whether the land has not escheated to this state, and they recommend the following resolution:
Resolved, if the honorable the senate concur herein, that the attorney-general be directed to investigate the title to the ten mills square of land granted to Peter Penet, and to institute proceedings to ascertain whether the same has escheated to this state.”
The attorney-general made the following report:
“The attorney-general, to whom was referred the petition of a number of inhabitants of that part of the town of Brownville, in the county of Jefferson, called Penet’s Square, respectfully represents:
That the petitioners state that the tract of land called Penet’s Square is situate in great lot No. IV, of Macomb’s Purchase, and contains 64,000 acres. That the title to these lands is ‘to the public generally, and to the petitioners in particular, altogether uncertain,’ and that there are on the said tract about 320 families, or those ‘who have been induced to take contracts of the pretended agents of pretended proprietors;’ and that great improvements have been made on the same tract of land, and that the inhabitants of the same tract are very solicitous to ascertain the real title to the same. The petitioners therefore pray, 1st, that some resolution or law may be passed that shall force those who lay claim to said tract of land, to put the evidence of their title on the records of the county of Jefferson, and 2d, that the surveyor-general, or the commissioners of the land office, may be directed to report ‘such information as they may possess, relative to the title of the said lands.’ As to the first request of the petitioners, it is presumed that it is not expected of the attorney-general that he should give any opinion as to the propriety or expedience of granting it, but as to the second, the attorney-general has no means of ascertaining the true title to the land in question, any further than what may be derived from an examination of all records in the office of the secretary of state. The attorney-general finds in such examination that the said tract called Penet’s Square is not, as the petitioners express, a part of Macomb’s Purchase, but a separate tract, granted by the state to Peter Penet, by letters patent, dated the 19th of November, 1789, and the whole of said tract, except 21,000 appears to have been conveyed by the said Penet to one John Duncan, formerly of Schenectady. How the title to the above lands have been subsequently conveyed, or whether the same remains with the said Duncan, or his heirs, the attorney-general has no means of ascertaining.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
THOMAS C. OAKLEY, Attorney General.”
We have been unable to learn the result of these investigations.
A considerable portion of Penet’s Square had become the property of John La Farge, who had been engaged in the firm of Russell & La Farge, as a merchant in Havre, and in the course of his business had purchased a portion of these lands. He subsequently resided several years in New Orleans, and about 1824 came on to assert his title to this tract, but the settlers had, from the previous confusion of claims, at first but little confidence in his title. In 1824, a meeting was held at Stone Mills, at which a committee was appointed to investigate the question, in order to decide what reliance might be placed in his claims. Mr. La Farge was of course anxious to secure public confidence, and cases soon occurred in which he was afforded the opportunity of proving his title in the trial of a suit which commenced as an action of ejectment, against one of the settlers, in which he procured witnesses from Schenectady and elsewhere, at great expense.
In 1826, two or three person claiming title under Hypolyte Penet, appeared at La Fargeville, called a meeting of citizens, and stated their claims, but with no further effect than to impair the confidence of some in the pretensions of others. These proceedings ended by La Farge’s directing his attorney to commence a prosecution for slandering his title. While the tract was a part of Brownville, but little attention had been paid to the taxes, and nearly the whole had been returned as non resident. An agreement was made May 12, 1827, between John La Farge and Vinal Luce, of Albany, and Philip Schuyler of Saratoga, in which, for $75,000, and further covenants on the part of the last two, La Farge agreed to sell all the real estate, contracts, leases and certificates mentioned in an annexed schedule, subject to all arrears of taxes due, or to become due, with all sales that had been made for such arrears of taxes, with four mortgages, &c.* (* Jefferson deeds, Z. 606.) Under this agreement these parties came on, and commenced acting accordingly, but legal measures ensued not necessary to be here detailed, and William Smith of Watertown was appointed a receiver, to take and hold moneys paid for lands, until the question of rightful ownership should be decided. The lands in June, 1830, came back to La Farge, who effected a settlement with Schuyler and Luce, and the lands being sold for taxes were conveyed to Mr. La Farge by a comptroller’s deed. This set forever at rest the question of title, by superseding all that had gone before, and thenceforth settlers took contracts and made payments with confidence. Mr. La Farge adopted the system of never allowing contracts to expire, and by a course then called rigid by those who now warmly commend him for it, in a very few years settled up with the inhabitants, and conveyed by deeds. The result has proved the truth of the principle that over indulgence to settlers is but mistaken clemency, and that promptness in meeting payments is the only sure method of escaping from the slavery of debt. Mr. La Farge about 1840, removed to New York, making Dr. John Binsse of Watertown his agent,* (*Sept. 1, 1840, Jefferson deeds, U. 3, p. 180.) and has since been extensively engaged in heavy financial operations. After the dethronement of Louis Phillippe, he was made the agent of that unfortunate prince for investing funds in American stocks.
The first settlement at La Fargeville, was made without title by Dr. Reuben Andrus, of Vermont, who in 1819 erected a log mill on Cat Fish Creek in the present village. From this the place acquired the name of Log Mills, which it long retained. In 1820, a small store was opened and business gradually centered at this point. On the occasion of a Fourth of July celebration in 1823, a resolution was passed, giving the place its present name of La Fargeville. In 1850 it contained, according to the census of Mr. Rottiers, 50 dwellings, 61 families, and 312 inhabitants, and this number has not since increased. It contains a Catholic, a Baptist, and a Congregational church, an academy, and its proportion of inns, stores, and mechanic shops. La Fargeville is 7 miles from Depauville; 6 from Stone Mills, 4½ from Omar, 7 from Clayton; 9 from Plessis; 9 from Theresa; 12 from Alexandria Bay; 14 from Evans’ Mills; 18 from Watertown. Water lime was manufactured to a small extent here in 1850, and an abundance of material adapted to the purpose exists in town.
In 1838, the mansion and farm of Mr. La Farge, one mile south of La Fargeville, was purchased by Bishop Dubois, and a Catholic seminary, named St. Vincent De Paul, was opened under Rev. Francis Gooth and several assistants. It was designed to combine in this a theological seminary for the education of priests, and a classical boarding school, the more advanced candidates for holy orders serving as teachers, during part of the time. Most of the boarders came from New York, a very few only being from the vicinity, but after a trial of two and a half years, it was found that its location was too remote, and Bishop Hughes, who succeeded Dubois, removed it to the vicinity of New York, where St. John’s College (Fordham), was founded soon after. The greatest number of students at La Fargeville was 15, and that of persons more or less employed in teaching, nearly as many.
Stone Mills, P. O. (formerly Collins Mills, P. O.) is a hamlet of a dozen houses, inn, two stores, and a few shops. Penet Square began to be settled by squatters in this vicinity in 1806. The first settler was Roderick C. Frasier. In 1807, Peter Pratt made the second location, and soon after Benajah and Merchant Carter, Samuel and David Ellis, Robert Bruner and others, some of whom during the war removed to the denser settlements. In 1813, a young man was taken up in the neighborhood on the suspicion that he was a spy, and on his attempting to escape was shot and mortally wounded, when he confessed that he was a deserter from Sackets Harbor. About 1820 a small stone grist mill was built by J. B. Collins and P. Platt, which suggested the name of the place. A plat of one acre was here conveyed by De Rham to the town, for the site of public buildings, upon which in 1838 a fine stone school house was erected, and the year previous a Union Church of stone.
On Mullet Creek, one and a half miles from its mouth, is a small village, which was formerly named from the stream, afterwards Mudge’s Mills, and since the establishment of a post office in 1843, Omar, the latter name being taken, it is said, from the personage of Dr. Johnson’s allegorical take, in the English Reader. The first settlement in the vicinity was by Benjamin Tanner, about 1818, and in 1820 William and Treat Mudge erected a grist and saw mill. For many years the place contained little else, and in 1837 it had but 6 houses. The first store was opened by Timothy R. Stackhouse. It now contains a store, inn, grist mill and saw mills, a Methodist church, a few shops, and about 25 families. It is on the edge of the town, nearly two miles north of Penet’s Square, and near the line of Alexandria. At Fish’s Landing, at the mouth of the creek, is a wooding station, but a place of little or no trade. Omar is 7 miles from Clayton, 7 from Plessis, 7 from Alexandria Bay, and 5 from La Fargeville.
Rich Island light, opposite the mouth of Mullet Creek, was erected as one of the three beacons authorized in the St. Lawrence, by the act of March 3, 1853; the other two being Sunken Rock, near Alexandria Bay, and Cross-over Island, in Hammond.
Religious Societies. -- The Baptist Church at La Fargeville was formed at the house of Thomas Evans, September 9, 1821, of nine males and nine females by Elder Sardis Little, assisted by Elder Timothy Brewster, and Elder Emory Osgood, who were casually present. On the 12th, a council of advising brethren having taken into consideration the situation and facts of the case, received them a gospel church, and gave them the hand of fellowship. The First Baptist Society was formed June 11, 1836, with Francis Eppes, Abijah Fisher, Charles Sexton, Jotham Marshall, and Orlando W. Cushman, trustees. A church was built in La Fargeville, in 1837, at a cost of $3,200. The first Union society of Orleans, was formed May 14, 1822, with Peter Rhems (sic), Simeon Meacham and Samuel Warner, trustees. A church was erected by this society at a cost of $3000, in 1840, and dedicated in the fall.
The First Presbyterian society in Orleans was formed April 29, 1839, with John Mason, Abram J. Smith, Thomas E. Drake, Amasa Johnson, Robert T. Jerome, trustees. A church had been formed in February 1823, and December 30, 1848, was changed to Congregational. A church was built about 1840, valued in the census of 1850 at $2,000.
A Union church was erected at Stone Mills in 1837, at a cost of about $1800, and is owned by the Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist and Christian sects, in equal shares. A Methodist Episcopal church was formed at La Fargeville, September 14, 1833, with Wm. Hart, Anson Squires, Woodbridge C. George, S. P. Hall and Willard Tarble, trustees. It was organized September 14, 1852. This denomination formed a society in Omar, January 22, 1849, with S. P. Newton, J. C. Hardy, P. Newton, Wm. Hayes and H. M. Spalsbury, trustees. A Catholic church (St. Vincent de Paul) has been built several years at La Fargeville. An Evangelical Lutheran church exists in this town, which will be more fully noticed in our account of religious societies.
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