Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

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Mexico, New Haven,* Redfield, Richland, Scriba, Volney,
Williamstown (Oneida County), and the town of Hannibal
(Onondaga County), were formed into a new county, which
was named Oswego. This last-mentioned legislation left
Oneida with its present boundaries, which include an area
of 1215 square miles.-('

'An act was passed April 7, 1817, dividing Whitcstown
and erecting the town of Utica ; and by an act of April 1 2,
1823, the town of Annsville was formed from the towns of
Lee, Florence, Camden, and Vienna ; and by an act of April
12, 1827, the town of New Hartford was formed from
Whitestown. April 13, 1827, Kirkland was formed from
Paris. Feb. 21, 1829, Marshall was formed from Kirk-

*Formod from Mexico, April 2, 1812.

t There was a portion of Stockbridge anne.ted to Madison County
in 1836.

land. March 30, 1832, Marcy was erected from Deerfield ;
and May 12, 1846, Ava was erected from Boonville.

The last township erected was Forestport, from Remsen,
Nov. 24, 1869, including all that portion lying north of
Black River.


The following list shows the names and dates of incor-
poration of the various villages and cities of the county:

Utica. — Incorporated as a village April 3, 1798 ; as a town,
from Whitestown, April 7, 1817 ; as a city, Feb. 13, 1832.

\VMteshorr>. — Incorporated as a village March 26, 1813.

Rome. — Incorporated as a village March 26, 1819 ; as a
city, Feb. 23, 1870.

Trenton. — Originally incorporated as the village of " Old-
enbarneyeld" April 19, 1819; name subsequently changed
to Trenton. Its present charter dates from April 30, 1864.

Vernon. — Incorporated as a village April 6, 1827.

Camden. — Incorporated as a village May 2, 1834.

Oneida Castle. — Incorporated as a village May 26, 1841 ;
new charter obtained Dec. 23, 1872.

Clinton. — Incorporated as a village April 12, 1843.

Remsen. — Incorporated as a village May 10, 1845.

Boonville. — Incorporated as a village 1855.

New Hartford. — Incorporated as a village 1870.

Waierville. — Incorporated as a village April 20, 1870.

Durhamville was at one period incorporated, but its charter
was subsequently given up, and at this present writing (July,
1878j it is not incorporated.


The judicial system of the State of New York traces its
genealogy back to Magna Charta. When the mailed
barons of England wrested from King John, at Runnymede,
A.D. 1215, that notable instrument, they laid the founda-
tions of a superstructure which was to arise in proportions
grand beyond their utmost anticipations. They wrenched
from a despotic sovereign rights which he and his predeces-
sors of the Norman line had denied the nobles, who had, at
length, in the course of a century and a half from the bat-
tle of Hastings, became too intelligent and powerful to be
any longer disregarded even by a king. The nobility, in
turn, had learned to respect the middle classes, and their
rights were partially recognized in the great instrument ;
though these concessions were quite likely as much the re-
sult of a desire to hold the peasantry to their banners in
case of troubles with the monarch as from any inborn hu-
manltarianism in the nobles themselves. But those privi-
leges, however obtained, and however slight they were, gave
the people a taste of liberty, which, once realized and com-
prehended, paved the way for their complete enfranchise-
ment in the ages to come ; and they have never been lost
sight of in the multitudinous wars and revolutions of the
last six centuries.

They underlaid the great civil struggle in England, —
1644-1660, — which resulted in placing upon the British
throne the famous Oliver Cromwell, to whom attached none
of those " Rights Divine," which are supposed to be the sa-
cred environment of monarchs ; and although the rulers of
Britain are not yet taken from the ranks of the people, still



the relative positions of classes have approximated gradually
to each other, until to-day the Crown of the British Empire
possesses but nominal and delegated powers, and the will of
the English people is never disregarded.

This principle was at the bottom of the " Puritan" move-
ment in the early years of the seventeenth century. It was
the mainspring of the heroic struggle of the Netherlands
against Spanisii and Catholic oppression, and its embryo
seeds were transplanted to America by English " Puritans,"
and by Lutherans, Calvinists, and republicans from Hol-
land and France.

This love of liberty in the human mind stimulated the
American people through the long and discouraging war of
the Revolution, and enabled them to triumph over the com-
bined armies of kings and savages. As the great poet says, —

" For freedom's battle once begun,
Bequeathed from bleeding sire to son,
Though baffled oft, is ever won."

It has laid the foundations, broad and deep, of this vast
Republic, triumphed over enemies abroad, cleared away the
obstructions of a slave oligarchy, established religious toler-
ation, founded the school system, and enacted the wise laws
which guarantee equal rights to all.

The charters of liberties granted to the people of New
York, in 1683 and 1691,* by the Duke of York, and re-
pealed by the Crown in 1697, contained several clauses
aliuost identical with some of the provisions of Magna
Chnrta in point of phraseology, and really so in intent and
purpose. For instance, the principle of broadest humanity
is thus expressed : " We will not sell, we will not defer or
deny to any man, justice or right." The great charter ex-
empted from forced sale and distress for debt, or penalty,
the tools of a craftsman, the goods of a merchant, the
" wainage" (cattle, plow, and wagon) of a "villein;" and
the provision of the colonial charter corresponding to this
in its quaint phraseology reads, " Thatt a ffrccman shall
not bee amerced for a small fault, butt after the manner of
his fault ; and for a great fault after the greatnesse thereof,
saving to him his ffreehold, and a husbandman, saving to
him his wainage, and a merchant, likewise saving to him
his merchandise ; and none of the said amerciaments shall
bee assessed, butt by the oath of twelve honest and lawful
men of the vicinage ; provided the faults and misdemeanors
bee not in contempt of courts of judicature."f

By Magna Charta the right of dower was fixed as it
stands to-day, and the colonial charter has this provision :

"No estate of ajfenie covert shall be sold or conveyed butt by deed
acknowledged by her in some court of record; the woman being
secretly examined if she doth itt freely, without threats or com()ulsion
of her husband."

The homestead rights of a widow were also fully defined.
Jury trials and a grand inquest for the presentment of crim-
inals were provided for, and the courts instituted had no
jurisdiction over the freehold without the owner's consent,
except to satisfy debts by execution or otherwise.

The following clauses in the colonial charter are also de-
rived directly from its famous predecessor :

» Revised Laws of New York, 181.3. Appendix,
t Bradford's Colonial Laws of New York.

" No ffrcman shall bee imprisoned or disseized of his ffreehold or
libei'tyo, or free customs, or bee outlawed or e.xiled, or any other
wayes destroyed, nor shall bee passed upon, adjudged, or condemned
butt by lawfuU judgment of his peers, and by the laws of this pro-
vince. No man of what condition or estate soever shall bee putt out
of his lands or tenements, nor bee taken, nor imprisoned, nor disin-
herited, nor banished, nor in any wayes destroyed without being
brought to answer by due course of law. All lands in this province
shall bee free from all fines and lycences upon alienacions, and from
all heriotta, wanlships, livereys, primicr seizins, year, day, and waste
escheats and forfeitures, upon the doath of parents or ancestors, natu-
rall, casuall, and judiciall, and thatt forever, cases of High Treason
only excepted.' 'J

But notwithstanding the distinguished parentage of the
judicial system of New York, the Knglish were not the first
to introduce courts into the colony. Under the Dutch
regime, the cities of New Amsterdam and Fort Orange
(New York and Albany) had tribunals established, known
as " the Mayor and Aldermen's Courts," and the Knicker-
bocker Governors were likewise possessed of judicial powers,
and held adjudications.

It was stipulated in the articles of capitulation, in 1664,
that the public records should be preserved, and the deci-
sions of former courts respected, and that inferior civil
officers and magistrates should continue to execute their
official duties until a new election, — in which the people
were to choose their officers, — the new incumbents to swear
allegiance to England.

The first court of record of English creation in the
colony was one established in 1674, called the " Court of
Assizes,"§ which had both law and equity jurisdiction.
Town courts and courts of sessions were also held by order
of the Governor. The original court of assizes was abolished
in 1683. On the 29th of October, 1683, the General As-
sembly passed the first act regulating courts of justice,
which provided for the following tribunals :

I. A court, composed of three persons, commissioned for
that, to be held monthly throughout the year in
each town, on the first Wednesday of the month, to hear
and determine small causes and oases of debt and trespass
to the value of forty shillings and under, without a jury,
unless one was specially demanded by either party to the
suit, and then to be summoned and to serve at the expense
of the party demanding the same. The persons composing
the court were called commissioners, and one of them issued
the summons to the party defendant, which must be per-
sonally served or left at his house four days before the sit-
ting of the court.

II. OjuHs of Sitssions, 3'early, and in each county, to
hear, try, and determine all causes, civil or criminal, brought
therein, with a jury of twelve men of the county wherein
the action accrued. The judges of this court were the jus-
tices of the peace of the respective counties or any three of
them. This court had an officer denominated " the Clark
of the sessions, or Clark of the peace," and also " one
Marshall or cryer." All processes issued out of the clerk's
office and to the sheriff. For Albany County this court
was at first to be held on the first Tuesdays in March, June,
and September, at the town-hall in the city of Albany.

\ Smith's History of New York.

§ ^^otes to Revised Laws of New York, 181.3.



III. Annually, in each county, there were two terms to
be held of a Court of Oyer and Terminer and General
" GoAjl " Delivery, with civil and criminal jurisdiction over
all matters in controversy where the monetary consideration
amounted to five pounds and upwards. This court had
power to " try, hear, and determine all matters, causes and
cases, capitall, criminall, and civill, and tryalls at common
law, in and to which said court all and every persons what-
soever shall or may, if they see meet, remove any action or
suit, debt or damages laid in such actions or suits being five
pounds and upwards, or shall or may, by warrant, writ of
error, or certiorari, remove out of any inferior court any
judgment, informaciore, or indictment there had and depend-
ing, and may correct errors in judgment, and reverse the
same, if there be just cause for it." The first term of this
court held in Albany County commenced on the second
Wednesday in May, 1C84.

IV. A Court of Chancery, with power to hear and deter-
mine all matters of equity, and be esteemed and accounted
the Supreme Court of the province. The Assembly
provided for the appointment of a chancellor to hold the
court, with assistants to be appointed by the Governor and
Council ; but the latter powers returned the bill with an
amendment declaring the Governor and Council to be the
Court of Chancery, with power in the Governor to depute a
chancellor or assistant, etc.

The right of appeal from any of the courts of Oyer and
Terminer, General Jail Delivery, and High Court of Chan-
cery to " our Sovereign Lord, the King" was reserved for
any of his dutiful subjects the value of whose disputes or
matters in question amounted to one hundred pounds or

The acts of the Assembly of 1683, during its various
sessions, were never approved by " His Royal Highness,
the Duke of York," and the Assembly which convened in
1691 declared all the legislation of the former body null
and void."!" The Assembly, however, provided for the
maintenance of courts in 1691, as a temporary act, extend-
ing their lease of power in 1693 and 1695, and in 1696-97
the Crown repealed the charter of 1691. The courts under
tlie charter of 1691 were the justices' courts in the towns,
the Sessions of the Peace, and Common Pleas in the coun-
ties, and a Supreme Court, the latter composed at first of
one chief-justice and four associate justicea,|; and the city
courts of New York and Albany. Appeals would lie to
the Supreme Court from any inferior court in cases of
error. §

An ordinance of the Governor (Earl Bellamont) and
Council in May, 1699, reconstructed the courts, as follows:
Justices were given cognizance of causes involving forty
shillings, without the intervention of a jury, by taking a
freeholder to tlieir assistance to hear and determine the
causes. The summons issued to the constable, and was re-
turnable at the end of forty-eight hours. A Court of Com-
mon Pleas was provided for each county, to begin the next

® Appendix to Revised Laws of New York, 1813.
f Journal of Colonial Assembly.

X From 1701 to 175S it was composed of a chief-justice and two
associates. In 1758 a fourth was added.

g Smith's History of New York. •

day after the general sessions ended, which had jurisdiction
of all cases at common law of any kind or nature soever.
Appeals would lie in all matters of twenty pounds and up-
wards, or where the action touched the title to the freehold.

A Supreme Court of judicature was provided for the
wliole colony, to be held at New York, which had cogni-
zance of all pleas, " civil, criminal, and mixed, as fully and
amply, to all intents and purposes whatsoever, as the Courts
of King's Bench. Common Pleas, and Exchequer, within
his Majesty's Kingdom of England, have or ought to have."

Original jurisdiction was also given this court, in all civil
eases of £20 and upwards, or which brought in question
the right of freehold ; and all suits in the inferior courts
coming within its purvey could be transferred to the Su-
preme Court for trial. Process to issue under teste of the
chief-justice of the court, and a session of the same to be
held at New York twice in each year. One of the justices
of the Supreme Court was to go the circuit annually, and,
with two or more justices of the respective counties, hold
sessions of the said court at Albany and the other counties
of the province. The justices of the Supreme Court were
to be appointed by the Governor and Council, with power to
hold terms of five days in New York and two days only in
the other counties. The judges of the several courts were
empowered to regulate the pleadings and practice of their
courts, and jury trials were preserved. By an ordinance of
Governor Cornbury, issued in April, 1704, the terms of this
court were increased to four per annum, and from that
time till the adoption of the constitution by the people, in
1777, the Supreme Court rested upon and was held by the
authority of those ordinances alone.

On the 2d of September, 1701, John Nanfan, the lieu-
tenant-governor, established by an ordinance a High Court
of Chancery, declaring himself ex-officio chancellor ; but, on
June 13, 1702, the Governor, Lord Cornbury, suspended
its functions until a fee-bill and rules of practice " could
be arranged agreeably to equity and justice," and the chief
and second justices of the province were appointed to
" consider and report the best method to render the court
most useful and least burdensome" to parties litigant. The
justices having reported. Lord Cornbury accordingly, on
Nov. 7, 1704, revived the court and the causes depending
therein, and adopted the fee-bill and rules of practice pre-
pared by the judges.

Ou Nov. 6, 1735, the General Assembly adopted a reso-
lution declaring " that a Court of Chancery in this province
in the hands or under the exercise of a Governor without
consent of the General Assembly is contrary to law, unwar-
rantable, and of dangerous consequence to the liberties and
properties of the people."||

Several struggles were made by the Colonial Assembly
to destroy this court, but without eflFect ; and Smith ob-
serves, in his " History of New York," " Of all our courts,
none has been more obnoxious to the people than this, —
the Court of Chancery of the colony." The court remained,
however, in the Governor's hand until the Revolution, when
the constitution recognized it as a court, and directed a
chancellor to be appointed for it.

11 Journal of Assembly, 687.



It was reorganized March 16, 1778, and continued by
the constitution of 1821, but abolished by that of 1846.
In 1848 a code of practice for the courts was adopted,
whereby the distinction between legal and equitable reme-
dies was abolished, as well as all the old and cumbrous
forms of actions and pleadings in cases at common law, and
a uniform course of proceedings in all cases established.
The code was revised in 1876 and amended in 1877, and
took effect Sept. 1 of the latter year.

The charter of 1683 provided for the attestation of wills
by two witnesses, and, when so attested, declared them
competent to pass the title to land, if filed in the ofiBce
of the secretary of the colony within forty days afler the
death of the testator. The charter of 1691 vested the
Governor with probate powers, and styled the tribunal the
Prerogative Court; and in 1694 the Assembly provided
for the supervising of intestacies, and regulating probates
of wills and administration, — the widow, if any, to have
the preference ; if no widow, then administration to be
referred to the public administrator, who was to educate
the orphans, if any, in the " Holy Protestant Religion, and
see that they were honestly maintained according to the value
of their estate," and their estate invested for them, to be
received by them on obtaining their majority or marrying.
Wills in remote counties were allowed to be proven before
courts of Common Pleas, and certified to the secretary's
office in New York. Appeals would lie from the courts or
justices to the Governor. If the estate did not exceed £50
in value the courts of Common Pleas could grant adminis-

On the 24th of March, 1772, the law of intestacies and
probate of wills was extended to Tryon County. The first
constitution recognized the Court of Probates, and at the
first session of the Legislature, in 1778, the judge of the
court was vested with the same powers that the Governor
of the colony had as judge of the Prerogative Court. The
judge of this court was appointed for the entire State, and
granted letters of administration and probates of wills for
his entire jurisdiction. Surrogates for the counties were
provided for also by the Council of Appointment. February
20, 1787, the appointment of surrogates was given to the
Governor, and they were given jurisdiction of probate mat-
ters in their respective counties, the Court of Probates of the
State possessing appellate powers over them. The old co-
lonial law for the supervising of estates was repealed. The
office of surrogate was abolished by the constitution of 1846,
and a county judge provided, who, besides holding the
county court, has also probate jurisdiction. In counties
having a population of 40,000 or upwards a surrogate may
be elected.

In 1702 a Court of Exchequer was established in the
colony, which had cognizance of sundry governmental claims
against other parties. In 1786 the Legislature created a
court under that title, which was to be held in the city of
New York, by one of the justices of the Supreme Court,
and had cognizance of all claims arising in favor of the
State on fines, forfeitures, issues, amerciaments, and debts.
This court was re-established in 1813,* by the revised laws.

* Notes to act in Revised Laws, 1813.

but did not survive the constitution that passed away in
1821, on the adoption of the new one.j"

The constitution of 1777 recognized the following courts:
Admiralty, Chancery, Supreme, Common Pleas, Oyer and
Terminer and General Jail Delivery, General Sessions of
the Peace, the Court of Probates, City Courts, and Justices
of the Peace ; and provided for a Court of Impeachment
and Correction of Errors, under regulations to be estab-
lished by the Legislature. This latter court consisted of the
President of the Senate for the time being, the senators,
chancellor, and the judges of the Supreme Court, or a ma-
jority of them.

In 1786 the Legislature provided for circuit courts to be
held by the justices of the Supreme Court in each county,
cognizable of all cases triable by the county at the common

In 1813 special sessions of the peace, held by three jus-
tices of the towns, were provided for petty crimes and mis-
demeanors, when the defendant could not give bail to the
general sessions of the county.

The courts under the first constitution were continued by
the second one, which latter was ratified by the people Jan.
15 to 17, 1822.

The constitution of 1846 recognized and continued the
courts under the constitution of 1821, except those of
Chancery and Common Pleas, and in addition created the
Court of Appeals and the county courts. The Court of
Appeals had its origin in the powers of the original Court
of Impeachment for the " correction of errors.'' These
latter powers were abrogated by the constitution of 1846,
and the Court of Appeals created by Sec. 2 of Art. VI. of
that instrument, which court occupies the place in the ju-
dicial system which the original court for the correction of
errors formerly did. It was, when first constituted, com-
posed of eight judges, — four elected by the people of the
State for eight years, and four selected from the class of
justices of the Supreme Court having the shortest time to
serve. November 2, 1869, the people ratified an amend-
ment to the constitution, prepared by the convention of
1867-68, whereby, among other changes in the judiciary
effected thereby, the Court of Appeals was reorganized as it
now exists, being composed of a chief judge and six asso-
ciate judges, who are chosen by the people of the State for
terms of fourteen years each. This court has power to re-
view every actual determination made at a general term of
the Supreme Court, or by either of the superior city courts,
in certain cases and under certain limitations. The Su-
preme Court has the same jurisdiction it had originally,
with the exceptions, additions, and limitations created and
imposed by the constitution and statutes, and has appel-
late jurisdiction over all courts of original jurisdiction not
otherwise specifically provided for. Appeals also will lie
from certain limited judgments of the court itself to a gen-
eral term of the same, which are held at least once a year
in each of the four judicial departments of the State, Oneida

f In the State Civil List for 1874 (page -lO) it is stated that a Court
of Exchequer was erected by Governor Dongan in 1685, composed of
the Governor and Council. It had jurisdiction as stated above. The
act of 1691 gave the Supreme Court cognizance of matters in Ex-
chequer, doing away with the necessity of a separate court.



County being included in the fourth department and in the
fifth judicial district.

The general terms are held by one presiding and two
associate justices, but all of them of the Supreme bench.
Any justice of the Supreme Court may hold the Circuit
Courts or courts of Oyer and Terminer, the terms of which
are appointed by the justices of the department, who also
assign the particular justices to hold courts in their re-
spective counties.

The county courts, created by the constitution of 1846,
have jurisdiction in all action of partition, dower, fore-
closure, and specific performance, the action accruing in the

Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 45 of 192)