Aldrich History Project

Chapter VI

Early Land Operations

Land Titles -- Penn's Charter -- Naming the Province -- Treaties with Indians -- Acquisition of Lands to the Proprietaries -- Boundaries -- The Divesting Act -- Surveys -- Owners -- The Holland Land Company

The lands in the province of Pennsylvania were granted to William Penn by royal charter from Charles II, king of Great Britain, on the 4th day of March, A.D. 1681. Admiral William Penn, father of the grantee, died having a claim against the English government of sixteen thousand pounds, on account of money loaned and arrearages of pay. His son, William, presented a petition to the crown that, in lieu of such indebtedness, he would be content with a grant of a tract of land in America, which tract he fully described in his petition. After having consulted with the proprietaries of other provinces adjoining the lands applied for, the king ordered the charter, and the territory embraced by it was called Pennsylvania.

It has been commonly supposed that Pennsylvania was so named by the proprietary in honor of himself, but such is not the case, as the following extract from a letter addressed by William Penn to Robert Turner, will fully show: "I choze New Wales, being, as this is, a pretty hilly country; but Penn, being Welsh for a head, as Penmanmoire, in Wales, and Penrith, in Cumberland, and Penn, in Buckinghamshire, the highest land in England, call this Pennsylvania, which is the high or head woodlands; for I proposed, when the Secretary, a Welshman, refused to have it called New Wales, Sylvania, and they added Penn to it, and though I much opposed it, and went to the king to have it struck out and altered, he said it was passed, and would not take it upon him; nor could twenty guineas move the under secretary to vary the name, for I feared lest it should be looked upon as a vanity in me, and not as a respect in the king, as it truly was, to my Father, whom he often mentioned with praise."

The charter in its terms vested full and absolute ownership, and possession of the province in William Penn, and empowered and authorized him to govern the same, make such laws and regulations for the conduct of its affairs and people, as should be just, and not inconsistent with the laws of Great Britain. 

After coming into possession of this vast estate Penn sold large tracts to persons in London, Liverpool, and Bristol. He appointed William Markham as deputy governor, and sent him to the province with commissioners to treat with the Indians, arrange a peace with them, and purchase their title to the lands.

Markham arrived in the province in the summer of 1681, in one of three ships arriving at that time with passengers and commodities. On the second day of April following the charter, the king issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of the province, informing them of the grant, and of the powers and authority vested in Penn, and calling upon them to obey any and all such laws and regulations as the proprietary should order.

So far from being a source of great profit to Penn the management of the affairs of the province soon involved him in a large indebtedness, and he was compelled to borrow six thousand six hundred pounds, and encumber the lands as security for its payment. At a later period he negotiated a sale of the entire province to Queen Anne, for the sum of twelve thousand pounds, and a part of the purchase price was paid, but for some reason the transfer was never made.

The first step on the part of the proprietary, or his deputies, on coming into actual possession of the province, was to negotiate with the Indians for the release of their claim to the lands. This was done by numerous treaties and conferences, from time to time, the larger tracts being acquired usually after some dissension or war, but this assertion relates only to the larger purchases or the time of their consummation. In stating the facts concerning these transactions with the Indians, only the occasions on which sales of considerable magnitude were made will be noticed, lesser ones being of no great moment, and not necessary in this chapter.

The first purchase from the Indians was made by Deputy William Markham and the commissioners, by a deed executed by the chiefs, or shackmakers, of the several tribes having or claiming an interest in the lands lying in what is now Bucks county, in the extreme east part of the province. Authorities so materially differ in spelling the names of the shackmakers who executed this instrument, that they are omitted. The consideration paid for the land was mainly in goods and merchandise, as follows: "Three hundred and fifty fathoms of wampum, twenty white blankets, twenty fathoms of strawd waters, sixty fathoms of Duffields, twenty kettles, whereof four are large, twenty guns, twenty coats, forty shirts, forty pairs of stockings, forty hoes, forty axes, two barrels of powder, two hundred bars of lead, two hundred knives, two hundred small glasses, twelve pairs of shoes, forty copper boxes, forty tobacco tongs, two small barrels of pipes, forty pairs of scissors, forty combs, twenty-four pounds of red lead, one hundred awls, two handfulls of fish-hooks, two handfulls of needles, forty pounds of shot, ten bundles of beads, ten small saws, twelve drawing-knives, four anchers of tobacco, two anchers of rum, two anchers of cider, two anchers of beer, and three hundred gilders (money)."

From this time to the treaty and sale made in 1736, there were numerous sales of smaller tracts made at different times and by different Indian chiefs; but at the conference made in this year (1736), October 11, the Five Nations chiefs seem to have been called upon to settle certain questions disputed by the resident chiefs. It will be remembered that the Five Nations conquered the tribes, descendants of the Lenni Lenapes, in this region, and by virtue of that conquest claimed the ownership of the whole territory. When called in the matter they seriously upbraided the resident Indians for presuming to sell the lands at all, and when they had done so they should have stood by the sale. The conveyance made at this time was executed by the Five Nations chiefs, and they confirmed the sales previously made. The territory embraced by it included that lands within the present counties of Adams, York, Lancaster, Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, Bucks, Cumberland, and parts of Franklin, Dauphin, and Lebanon.  

The next considerable purchase was made in the year 1749. In the estimation of the Six Nations (for now the Tuscaroras were added), there were questions of great import to be discussed on the consummation of this sale, for word had reached them that white settlers were trespassing on unsold lands, and that proper representatives might be sent to the conference at Philadelphia, a council of the Six Nations was held at Onondaga, at which time the delegates were chosen. The Senecas arrived first, and having made a stop at Wyoming to inquire as to the trespassing, were fully informed concerning them. In addition to the Six Nations, the Delawares, Shawnese, and Shamokin Indians joined in the deed. The lands embraced by the sale include the present counties of Schuylkill, Carbon, Monroe, and parts of Dauphin, Northumberland, Columbia, Luzerne, Lackawanna, and Pike.

To convey a fair understanding of the facts regarding the treaties of 1753 and 1754, and the subsequent compromise agreed upon in 1758, it will be necessary to explain at some length. Some mention was made concerning this in an earlier chapter, and a full narration of the facts are here given.

In 1753, Canassatego and several others of the leading chiefs attached to the British interests, were dead, and the sachem at the head of the council of the Six Nations was known to be in the French interest, and the affections of that people appeared to be much shaken. Those who adhered to the colonists were threatened by the French, and Indian affairs looked serious. At this time the friendly Indians were unwilling to do anything that might give rise to suspicion regarding their fidelity. They remonstrated, but they did so without threats. They desired that our people would forbear settling on Indian lands over the Allegheny hills, and advised the government to call back the intruders; that none should settle on the Juniata lands till matters were settled between them and the French.

The treaty at Albany in 1764, with the Six Nations, was held by order of the king. The lords of trade and planters had recommended this, that all the provinces might be comprised in one general treaty to be made in his majesty's name, as the practice of each province making a separate treaty for itself, in its own name, was considered to be improper. The Indian deed was executed at Albany July 6th, 1754. Many of the Indian tribes (not referring to the Six Nations), seeing their lands gone, joined the French, and according to the address of Governor Morris, "it seemed clear from the different accounts he had received, that the French had gained to their interest the Delaware and Shawnese Indians, under the ensnaring pretense of restoring them to their country."

The lands embraced within the terms of the treaty included the hunting grounds of the Delawares, the Nanticokes, the Tuteloes, and the home lands of the Shawnese and Ohio Indians. Reference was made to the boundary line in the foregoing chapter (Chapter III). The controversy was finally settled by the compromise deed executed October 23, 1757, limiting the extent of the purchases of 1753-4, to the territory included within the boundaries of the present counties of Bedford, Fulton, Blair, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, and parts of Centre, Union, Snyder, and Cumberland.

The next considerable purchase was made at Fort Stanwix, N. Y., November 5, 1768, and this was the last sale of lands by them to the proprietaries. The consideration of this sale was ten thousand pounds. The tract of land embraced by this purchase was a strip of land extending from the northeast to the southwest corners of the province. The north boundary line extended through Clearfield county, following the courses of the West Branch on the south side thereof. This purchase embraced, in whole or in part, the present counties of Bradford, Susquehanna, Wayne, Lackawanna, Pike, Wyoming, Luzerne, Sullivan, Lycoming, Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Union, Centre, Clinton, Clearfield, Cambria, Indiana, Armstrong, Allegheny, Beaver, Washington, Green, Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland.

In October, 1784, a treaty was made at Fort Stanwix between three commissioners of the United States and the sachems of the Six Nations, by which treaty a large tract of land was conveyed, not only in Pennsylvania but in New York. This sale included all the remaining territory in the State, not previously disposed of by the Indians. At the council the Marquis de La Fayette was present and made a speech, though not one of the commissioners. The chief, Red Jacket, was also there, but took no part in the council. Cornplanter spoke on behalf of the Senecas, but "Old King" was the recognized sachem of that tribe at the council. The purchase there made included in this State the territory embraced, in whole or in part, by the present counties of Bradford, Tioga, Potter, McKean, Lycoming, Clinton, Cameron, Elk, Clearfield, Indiana, Jefferson, Forest, Warren, Armstrong, Clarion, Butler, Venango, Allegheny, Beaver, Lawrence, Mercer, Crawford, and Erie.

The above treaty at Fort Stanwix was, in January, 1785, ratified and confirmed by a deed executed by the Wyandot and Delaware Indians at Fort McIntosh, which deed conveyed the same lands as mentioned in the conveyance of 1784.

The title to the small triangular tract in the extreme northwest corner of the State was acquired on the 4th day of September, 1788, by act of Congress, declaring "that the United States do relinquish and transfer to Pennsylvania all their right, title and claim to the government and jurisdiction of said land forever."

By the act of October 2, 1788, the sum of twelve hundred pounds was appropriated to purchase the Indian title to the tract. The deed from the United States of the above tract was dated March 3, 1792.

The proprietaries professed not to sell any lands beyond the boundaries of the purchases made from time to time. If surveys were made over them without their consent, they were illegal and void. To have departed from this principle would have occasioned wars with the Indians and resulted most fatally to the interests of the province; and would have been a gross violation of the sacred rights of the natives and of the promises made them. This provision was so strictly adhered to by the proprietaries that acts were passed by the provincial government positively forbidding such unlawful surveys, and providing a penalty for a disobedience of them.

By this it will be seen that if surveys were made on the north side of the West Branch, or the west side within the present boundaries of Clearfield county, prior to the treaty at Fort Stanwix, October, 1784, no title would have passed, nor could it be acquired by such survey; it would have been void. In relation to the lands on the south or east side, within the same limits, the same rule would apply had any such survey been made prior to 1768, unless made under the assumption that the purchase of 1754 was a valid one, and in fact included the lands as far north as the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

William Penn died in the year 1718. By the terms of this will, which was dated in 1712, his lands, rents, etc., in the provinces, were devised to his wife, Hannah Penn, in trust to sell or dispose of so much of his estate as was necessary to pay his indebtedness, and then convey to his son by a former wife, forty thousand acres of land, and all the residue of his estate in lands in the provinces to his children by his second wife.

After Penn had made his will he had agreed to sell his whole estate in the province to the crown for twelve thousand pounds, and had in fact received a part of the purchase money therefor, and, although the sale was never completed by actual transfer, the serious question arose on the construction of the will, whether his interest in the estate was real or personal property -- if personal, it went to his widow -- if real, to his children. This question was a subject of many years of litigation in chancery, but was finally compromised, and the government of the province became vested in his sons by his second marriage, John, Thomas, and Richard Penn.

In the year 1732 Thomas Penn came to this country and took charge of the affairs of the province, acting for himself and his brothers, John and Richard Penn.

In the year 1779 the title of the Penns as proprietaries of the province was transferred to the Commonwealth under what is known as the "Divesting Act." The Legislature, on the 28th day of June, passed an act by which all the private estates, manors, and quit-rents throughout were reserved to the proprietaries; their other estates in land became the property of the Commonwealth, and the State agreed to pay the proprietaries the sum of one hundred and thirty thousand pounds sterling, after the close of the Revolutionary War.

In the territory now embraced within the boundaries of Clearfield county there were numerous surveys made at an early day, some of them prior to the Revolutionary War; but any extensive movement in this direction was attended with considerable danger. The Indians were not friendly, and the prospect of seeing their favorite hunting and fishing grounds occupied by the adventurous whites was exceeding unpleasant to them. Judge Smith, an old surveyor, ran off a considerable tract in this vicinity as early as 1769, and soon after the treaty at Albany, but not until after the treaty at Fort Stanwix did the rush begin. James Harris and a party made extensive surveys in the easterly and southerly part of the county. Some extracts are given from Harris's diary or journal, made on that occasion, October, 1884. The party were as follows: "William Brown, James Harris, G. Meek, David Milligan, Andrew Small, Daniel Beats, and Thomas Pierce. They were subsequently joined by John Reed, D. Alexander, and R. Alexander.

On the 23d they left Warrior Marks and crossed over to Moshannon and encamped for the night.

On the 25th made a survey for Mr. Brown of twenty-one hundred and fifty acres in pursuance of five warrants.

On the 27th left the forks of Moshannon and proceeded a nearly due west course about eight miles to Clearfield creek, just at the head of the narrows. Here they were met by Mr. Miller and two young men named Mitchell. The land here is described as an extensive rich bottom, a creek about thirty or forty yards wide, the upland not rich, but well timbered in places. On the 28th they met five men named Rickerts, who came to the camp and claimed by improvement a great deal of the land up the creek, and say they will not allow it to be surveyed. Mr. Canan made two surveys on the south side of the creek for Reed, Alexander & Co., the second including the mouth of a large run, and extending up the same about a mile. James Alexander's including the mouth of this run, is in John Gill's name.

"N. B. -- On the 28th George Meek killed one large buck, pretty fat, not unwelcome news to the company."

 The next day, the 29th, Mr. Canan began a survey on the northwest side of Clearfield Creek, above the narrows, but was compelled to quit on account of rains. On the 30th he surveyed on the west side of the creek and extended the line up as far as Rickerts's land. On the 31st Mr. Canan, John Reed, and William Miller were left to perform their surveys, and the balance of the party moved up to the forks of Beaver and Clearfield Creeks.

They encountered great difficulties here on account of fallen trees. The 2d and 3d of November were spent in surveying in the vicinity, but were obliged to stop on the 4th on account of heavy rains. On the 14th they depart and reached Chest Creek in search of lands warranted, which were located in June prior. After searching and surveying several days through snow and rain the party returned to Juniata.

The Canans made numerous surveys along the various streams of the county, some of them being made as late as 1802. In this year they came to the land bordering on Chest Creek, to run a dividing line between Fisher's and McConnell's claims, and settle interferences. They started at the "Scotch Cabins," in (now) Cambria county, at the point where the Indian road from Kittanning to Carlisle crossed Chest Creek, and followed the courses and distances of that creek for over thirty miles. They then came down to the West Branch, and thence down that stream. In the Canan party was the redoubtable Samuel Fulton, concerning whom further mention will be made.

Among the many other surveyors who, from time to time made surveys in this neighborhood, appear the names of Samuel Brady, the renowned hunter and Indian fighter, Daniel Turner, who was interested in surveyed lands from the Susquehanna to Milesburg, a large part of which were in this county. Turner first visited the county in 1794. William Anderson, for whom the creek of that name was called, was also one who became largely interested in land speculations here.

 There were many persons never residents, but speculators, who bought warrants and land claims in the county, many of whom held exceedingly large tracts. Of these there may be prominently mentioned the Holland Land Company, Nicklin, Griffith & Boon, James Hopkins, McConnel & Reynolds, James Yard, Gramer & Bates, John Keating, whose lands included nearly the entire township of Karthaus; the Keating lands, which bordered on the West Branch for many miles; the Mead tracts, Thomas Kitland, Jeremiah Parker, James Wilson, Samuel M. Fox, the Drinker lands, George Roberts, on Chest Creek, Joseph P. Morris, John Hallowell, Robert Morris, Walter Stewart, Rev. Smith, Archibald Woodside, jr., William Griffiths, of Burlington, N. J.; Wilhelm Willink and others, Henry Drinker, Archibald McCall, James and William Miller, Abraham Witmer, Peters, Rawle & Morgan, Phillips & Co., James C. Fisher, William Scott, of Trenton, N. J., and many others who owned and controlled tracts of various sizes and localities.

Of the foregoing mentioned land operators, there are none that have been more prominently before the people and the courts of the state than the "Holland Land Company," and "Wilhelm Willink, and others." The "Holland Land Company" and "Wilhelm Willink and others," are synonymous names.

 Legally, there never was any such thing as the Holland Land Company, or the Holland Company, as they were usually called.

The company, consisting of Wilhelm Willink and eleven associates, merchants and capitalists of the city of Amsterdam, placed funds in the hands of friends who were citizens of America, to purchase several tracts of land in the United States, which, being aliens, the Hollanders could not hold in their names at that time; and in pursuance of the trust created, there were purchased, both in New York and Pennsylvania, immense tracts of land, all managed by the same general agent at Philadelphia.

The names of the several persons interested in these purchases, and who composed the Holland Land Company, so called, were as follows: Wilhelm Willink, Nicholas Van Staphorts, Pieter Van Eeghen, Hendrick Vollenhoven, and Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck. Two years later the five proprietors transferred a tract of about one million acres, so that the title vested in the original five, and also in Wilhelm Willink, jr., Jan Willink, jr., Jan Gabriel Van Staphorst, Roelif Van Staphorst, jr., Cornelius Vollenhoven and Hendrick Seye. Pieter Stadnitzki was also made a partner, though in an unknown manner. The title to the three hundred thousand acres of the entire tract was conveyed to Wilhelm Willink, Wilhelm Willink, jr., Jan Willink, and Jan Willink, jr., but the tract was not in this locality.

 The title to the vast extent of lands of this company, held as joint tenants, not tenants in common, but to the survivors, became the subject of long and serious litigation, but was finally determined in the United States Supreme Court in favor of the company. The lands of the company in this county lay mainly on the west and north side of the West Branch, in Chincleclamoose township.


Source: Pages 43-50, History of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich, Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1887.
Transcribed April 1999 by Amy S. Ramage for the Clearfield County Aldrich Project
Contributed for use by the Clearfield County Genealogy Project (

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