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such a couple, and their adventures were suflSciently ro-
mantic to make the aid of fiction entirely unnecessary.

There are at least three authentic records, by personal
wiinesses, regarding them. The first is found in the letters
of Francis Adrian Vanderkemp, regarding a voyage through
Oneida lake in 1792, published in 1876 in the Centennial
address of John F. Seymour, at Trenton, Oneida county.
The second is the " Castorland Journal," a very interesting
account of the voyage of certain Frenchmen to the Black
river by way of Oswego, in 1793. The " Journal" lies
not been published, but has been translated from the French
and annotated by Dr. Franklin B. Hough, the well-known
historian, to whom we are indebted for the privilege of
using it. The third is the published travels of the Duo de
la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, who saw the exiles in 1795.
From these three accounts, which agree in all substantial
respects, it is easy to learn the truth regarding the story of
Frenchman's island.

The man's name was De Vatine or Desvatines ; the latter
is the form used by most of the witnesses, and will be adopted
in this narrative. He claimed to have been a seigneur near
Lisle, France, and that his father had squandered a largo
part of the estate. The young man sold the remainder for
a sum variously estimated at from five thousand to forty
thousand dollars, and came to America with his newly-
wedded wife in 1786, several years before the French revo-
lution. Unused to the country, and of a volatile dispo-
.sition, he wasted half his fortune in traveling and buying
worthless land, and then, to recuperate, engaged in trade in



New York with a partner who ran away with nearly all
their joint property. Desvatines gathered up the remaining
pittance, and, disgusted with civilization, determined to
make his home in the wilderness. He sold the most of his
furniture, but retained his library and a little silver for the
table.

It was in the spring or summer of 1791 that the exiles
with their two children first located on " Frenchman's
island," where Desvatines began to make a clearing with his
own hands. He was unable to complete a building in
which it was possible to pass the winter, and when that
season approached he took his family to live with the
Oneida Indians at the east end of the lake, while he spent
his time hunting with the warriors. The 0¬їeiV/a.'! treated
the unfortunate family very kindly, and Desvatines always
spoke of them with grateful warmth.

In the spring of 1792 they returned to the island, where
Madame Desvatines gave birth to a child, Camille Desva-
tines, probably the first white child born in Oswego County
outside the military esta'olishments. Notwithstanding his
somewhat frivolous disposition, Desvatines seems to have
done a good deal of hard work for a man who had been
reared in ease. Unaided, and without a team, he cleared
a tract of some six acres, planted it with corn, built a cabin
in which his family could live, and a still ruder one which
served as a kitchen.

The nearest neighbor of the Desvatines was a Mr. Bruce,
previously a Connecticut merchant, who built him a cabin
in 1791 or 1792 on the site of Constantia village, main-
taining himself by hunting, fishing, and raising potatoes.
Leaving Bruce, Desvatines, Bingham, and Stevens, as the
white occupants of Oswego County outside of Fort Ontario,
we must go back a little to look up the title to the land
and the municipal organizations. And first, regarding the
latter.

In the spring of 1791 the county of Herkimer was set
off from Montgomery, embracing the whole country from
the west line of the latter county to the east line of Ontario
and from Tioga north to St. Lawrence. On the 10th of
April, 1792, the first town was erected, of which the name is
still retained, in Oswego County. This was Mexico. Its
eastern boundary, as defined by law, was a line drawn north
and south through the mouth of Chittenango creek, on the
south shore of Oneida lake, striking through the west part
of Con.stantia, the east part of Parish, and so on northward,
leaving the eastern part of Oswego County in Whitestown.
Its western boundary was the west line of the survey-
townships of Lysander and Hannibal. North and south
it was near a hundred miles long. The old town records
are alL lost, and as the town was afterwards reorganized,
same have doubted whether it was organized at all under
the law of 1 792. There is every reason, however, to believe
that it was, for there was already a considerable population
iu what is now Onondaga county.

On the 22d of June, 1791, Alexander Macomb, of New
York city, father of the celebrated general of the war of
1812, on behalf of a'company, supposed to consist of him-
self, Daniel McCormick, and William Constable, applied to
the State commissioners of the land-ofiice to purchase a
tract of nearly four million acres in the present counties of



IIlSTOr.Y OK OSWKC.O COIINTV, NKW YORK.



St. Lawrence, Franklin, Jefferson, Li'wis, and Oswego.
The southwestern boundary of tlie tract ran southeasterly
from the mouth of Salmon river to the present soutliwest
corner of Lewis county, thus inclosiri": the present towns
of Redfield, Boylston, Orwell, Sandy Creek, and part of
Richland. The price offered was eightpence (which, in
New York currency, was about the same as eight cents)
per acre. The proposition was accepted, and on the 10th
of January, 1792, nearly two million acres, including the
part of O.swego County above described, w;is conveyed to
Macomb by patent.

Macomb seems to have been very much embarrassed,
and in June following conveyed the whole tract to Consta-
ble. The latter immediately went to Paris to sell the land.
An association was formed there, called the Castorland Com-
pany, to purchase a large tract in Jefferson and Ljwis
counties. The agents of that company were the authors
of the " Castorland Journal" before referred to, and which
will be again drawn upon for information.

Constable, that same year, sold over a million acres, in-
cluding the Oswego lands, to Samuel Ward, who imme-
diately transferred to Thomas Boylston, of Boston, a tract
of eight hundred thousand acres, of which those lands
were a part. Thence came the name of the Boylston tract.
Boylston held the Oswego County portion three or four years,
but finally it was reconvej'ed to Constiible, doubtless for in-
ability to complete the payment. While in Boylston's hands,
or held by trustees fur him, it was surveyed into townships, of
which all the names but one have been dropped from use.
Township No. 12 of that tract was called Redfield, and now
constitutes the south part of the town of that name. No.
7, being now the north part of Redfield, was called Arcadia.
No. G, now Boylston, was Campania; No. 11, now Orwell,
wasLonginus; while No. 10, comprising the present town of
Sandy Creek, the north part of Richland, and the corner of
Albion, then bore the terrible appellation of "Rhadamant."
Minos, the companion judge of Rhadamanthus, was honored
by his name being given to the present town of EUisburg,
Jefferson county. These two last names, not to be found
in any of the gazetteers, were procured from a curious old
map, in the possession of the Scriba fiimily, showing all the
survey-townships of northern and central New York, seventy
years ago.

A few weeks after Macomb made his application, John
and Nicholas Roosevelt, likewise of New Y^ork city, applied
to the commis-sioners to purchase a tract of a little over five
hundred thousand acres, lying between Oneida lake, Oswego
river. Lake Ontario, Macomb's purchase, and " Orthout's
patent." The price offered was three shillings and one
penny (nearly thirty-nine cents) per acre. One-jixth of
the purchase money was to be paid in six months, one-half
of the remainder in one year, and the rest in two years.
These terms were accepted by the commissioners, and there
is in the possession of the Scriba family a certificate of such
acceptance, under the broad seal of the State, signed by
Governor George Clinton.

On the 7th day of April, 1792, the Roosevelts sold their
contract to the person whose, name has ever since been a.s-
sociated with that immense tract of land. This was George
Frederick William Augustus Scriba, who usually signed him



self simply George Scriba, a native of Holland, and then a mer-
chant of New York city. To ascertain the number of acres
for which Scriba was to pay, the outer boundaries of the tract
wore run and the contents estimated, in 1792, for the Roose-
veltii, by James Cockburn, under the general direction of
his brother William, an eminent surveyor, of Kingston,
New York. With the necessary assistants, James Cock-
burn pa.s.sed down the north shore of Oneida lake, and fol-
lowed all the windings of the Oneida and Oswego rivers,
constantly measuring distances and taking angles. Arriv- .
ing at Oswego, he applied to the commander to let him run
his line to the mouth of the river. But the officer refused
to allow him to come within range of the guns of the fort.
So he was obliged to make an offset and .strike the lake east
of the fort, though he managed to take several observations
by means of the flagstaff. The fort, which then mounted
only four carriage-guns, was garrisoned by a company of
Royal Americans and a few artillerists. There were no
inhabitants outside the fort, and a British custom-house
officer exercised his functions as coolly as if the territory
belonged to King George IIL

Cockburn then proceeded along the south shore of Lake
Ontario, and the northeastern and eastern linos of the pur-
chase. On completing his work he made a map of the tract,
under the n



Online LibraryCrisfield. cn Johnson... History of Oswego County, New York → online text (page 11 of 120)