After 1680 and for the next half century grain would be key to the politics of colonial New York. The Duke of York through his colonial governor, Colonel Thomas Dongan, gave out patents for large tracts specifically to encourage an active planting of the land and expansion of New York’s grain-based economy.

As in Old England, the farming was expected to be by tenants on homestead leaseholds with the crop yield paying the rent. The largest tracts, such as the 160,000 acres granted to Robert Livingston in 1686 on the side of the Hudson River opposite Saugerties, were elevated to Manors allowing the owners the stature and powers of a lord in England, supporting and profiting from their leaseholders. The underlying purpose and result was to establish a landed aristocracy as a home-grown governing class for the colony.

By 1683 there were enough landed “freeholders” for governor Dongan to assemble the first representative body in the colony’s history. These large landlords met and approved of Dongan’s division of the Duke’s possessions into ten “shires” or counties in New York and two dependencies in New Jersey; the original twelve counties. The counties were subdivided into towns and manors. The purpose was to create a regionally based justice system and an organizational base for local militias. This assembly also drafted a document called the “Charter of Libertyes” that was an early Constitution declaring their “Rights as Englishmen”.

This budding representative form of government was sharply curtailed and its Constitution disallowed when New York became a royal colony under James II in 1685. The power of the governor was also diminished as New York was made a part of the Dominion of New England. However, the concept of manors and counties and a provincial assembly of the wealthy power-base remained and the influence of the large landholders continued to grow politically.

Standing out in this political system dominated by family “lordships” is a great legacy to democracy; a representative body of landholders that was influential in the provincial assembly and continued in self government throughout the provincial period, the Revolution and into early New York State history. This was the Corporation of Kingston; the Kingston Commons; the oldest corporate charter in New York State; bearing a royal council seal of 1688.

All deeds in the present town of Saugerties originate from the Meals and Hayes patent, the Kingston patent and from several patents that were in Albany County until this part of Saugerties was annexed to Ulster County through the claims of the Corporation of Kingston. These are all crown patents under King James II and Queen Anne granted after 1685 when New York was a royal colony.

Among the earliest of the licenses for patents granted in the tenure of Thomas Dongan as Governor were those for the northward expansion of the Esopus into the “Sagiers”. These followed the creation and surveying of the counties in 1683, and were surveyed in 1686. Philip Wells surveyed the first for the Kingston patent. Robert Fullerton surveyed for the Meals and Hayes patent and the patent that bears his name.

The four tracts of the Meals and Hayes survey were granted by Dongan as a patent on May 31st, 1687. This is the earliest private ownership of land in the town of Saugerties.

The Kingston patent was to have a more complex form of grant. The planters and millers of the Dutch Settlement “precinct” of Kingston petitioned Governor Dongan in 1686 to have these lands and all the land north to the Albany county line made into a single patent along the lines of the one granted by Governor Andros to the New Paltz “Duzine” (12 founding settlers) in 1677. Instead Dongan did a grant structure that was unprecedented for the time. All of the Andros Treaty lands along with those south of the Rondout to the New paltz patent and east of the town of Hurley were consolidated into one large patent putting it under the estate and governance of “one body corporate and politique to be called by the name of the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonality of the Town of Kingston.” The patent was granted May 19, 1687 and the establishment of the Corporation of Kingston was ratified by council May 17, 1688.

The royal charter for the Corporation of Kingston called for the election of twelve Trustees each year on the first Tuesday in March. These Trustees thus became responsible for all of the governmental functions of the now greatly expanded town of Kingston. This made Kingston the first of only a dozen-odd communities ever incorporated as self-governing entities in English America.

Two of the first “freeholds” deeded out of the land of the Corporation of Kingston were to the 1686 Philip Wells surveys of 86 acres for Peter Winne and 87 acres for William deMeyer, both in the Plattekill/Mount Marion part of the present town of Saugerties. The deMeyer grant was later expanded further by an 800 acre grant in 1688.

Confirmation deeds to the many Dutch Settlement lands watered by the Plattekill in the area of Saugerties were also given. A 1686 Philip Wells survey of 186 ¾ acres north of the land of William Legg confirmed the long occupied Innship of Jan Burhans and Jan Oosterhout. Most of the Dutch Settlement lands were occupied by the founding and first-to-serve Trustees of the Corporation: Dirick Shepmous, William deMeyer, Jacob Ruttsen, Wessel TenBrooge, Barrett Aertze, Tunis Jacobsen, Benjamin Provoost, William Legg, Jacob Aertsen, Mattyse Mattise, William Haines and John William Hooghteen.

The land north of these Dutch Settlement deeds is known as the “Churchland”. The Dutch Reformed Church had always been, since a strict directive by Peter Stuyvasant in 1664, responsible for orphans and the poor. This was also a function of the Corporation’s charter and so the solution was to use the crop yield of the Churchland to support the church. Thus the central valley or “great meadow” of Saugerties was early cleared and planted as a common activity of the “Commonality of Kingston” and became the first lands to be worked as a “common”.

Another responsibility of the Corporation was the maintenance of roads and bridges. The relationship of the earliest deeds to the roadbed of the “public road to Albany” (the Burhans/Oosterhout and the deMeyer grants as examples) essentially placed this maintenance responsibility on individuals as an exchange for ownership.

George Meals and Richard Hayes received patents for four tracts of land totaling 1194 3/4 acres. One of these was for 441 3/4 acres that encompassed the mouth of the Esopus Creek at the present village of Saugerties. The other three were from one to three miles north and west of this area.

On November 22, 1687 the first deeds dividing land in the future town of Saugerties were written. On that date George Meals and Richard Hayes split their joint ownership and a mortgage and deed was given to John Wood from Richard Hayes for all the land south of the Esopus Creek. From this mortgage and deed we have documentary evidence of who the first inhabitants in the present town of Saugerties were. Documents state that John and Hannah Wood were already settled on land and that a house, herd pens, gardens, orchards and conveyances to a sawmill site were there and this indicates the establishment of a well-settled family within the bounds of the present Village of Saugerties prior to 1687.

How much earlier they had settled and whether there were others homesteading in the same area cannot be known for sure. Further documentary evidence of a wagon road crossing the creek at this homestead would suggest that there may have been yet more settlers on undeeded land that formed a community around the falls of the Esopus well before the end of the seventeenth century.

It is possible that George Meals and Richard Hayes laid out the claims for their patents intending to create a self sustaining Innship at the mouth of the Esopus like that at the Dutch Settlement. Their four grants supplied the four needs of an early settlement.

The large 441 3/4-acre Esopus basin grant was a port on tide water, a high plateau for the placement of a village and numerous mill sites on the creek. This tract included in it the most important landmark of the region, the mouth of the Sawyerkill that marked the bounds of Ulster and Albany Counties. Close to this is their 201-acre grant at the present location of the high school; ideal grazing land watered by the Sawyerkill which ran diagonally down its length.

Their 300-acre grant to the north that extends into the present Greene County was mostly a marsh meadow and likely selected because it was believed to include the important source of the Sawyerkill: the "Great Fountain".

Finally, their 252 acre grant to the west of the village that is centered at the Beaverkill Creek was, next to their grant at the Sawyerkill, the second best-watered land in Saugerties. But more importantly, this “Beaverkill tract” also included a stretch of the path to Catskill where it intersected paths to the river and mountains making it an ideal location for trade.

George Meals was the father-in-law of Richard Hayes. It is possible that they intended to settle their families in Saugerties and create a landholding dynasty. They possibly planned to build their community around John Wood's already established and improved homestead and other homesteads already in the area using these to attract more homesteaders and businesses to their water and port resources. The policy of landowners of the day was to lease and not sell land, profiting from the success of settlement.

This plan, however, never had the chance to be developed. By 1694 both George Meals and Richard Hayes are deceased. In 1692 Goodwith White, widow to Richard Hayes, signs the satisfaction of the mortgage of John Wood. Sarah Meals is represented as the widow of George Meals in another deed to John Wood in 1694. By 1700 John Wood’s signature can be found on deeds as a Trustee of the Corporation of Kingston.

It is not until 1709 that any deeds are again made from the Meals and Hayes patent. At this time John Hayes, grandson of George Meals and son of Richard Hayes is representing himself as the sole heir to the land of Richard Hayes and to one quarter of the remainder of the patent tracts. In 1712 John Hayes transfers the entire north section of the 441 3/4-acre tract at the mouth of the Esopus Creek to John Perse (Persen) in exchange for "a house Barne & Lott of Ground... & also the sum of 30 Pounds". In 1719 the sole remaining tract held by the original heirs, a one-half share of the Beaverkill tract, is sold to Evert Wynkoop.

In 1686 the surveyor of the Meals and Hayes patent, Robert Fullerton, also laid out a 797 ½ acre tract called the Wonton Island tract. This was not confirmed as a patent until 1692. The times between 1686 and 1692 were chaotic as king James II was deposed, William and Mary were placed on the throne and Jacob Leisler was executed.

Leisler became acting governor in the period of uncertainty as fear spread that the French were planning an invasion on behalf of James II supported by the colonial governor Andros. The wealthy land holders and traders accused Leisler of treason as an unappointed governor and had him executed. He was afterward exonerated by the Crown.

These events have a connection to Saugerties through the Fullerton patent and Jacob Leisler’s father-in-law, Govert Lookermanns. Lookermanns was the wealthiest Dutchman in New York City at the time the British arrived in 1664. He was linked in politics and business to Peter Stuyvasant and later to every English governor. When he died his stepdaughter was his sole heir and she was married to Jacob Leisler. Through her mother she was related to the wealthy and influential Bayards and Van Cortlandts and they sued to have the Lookermanns wealth come to them. It is the loss of this suit that is the real reason for Leisler’s execution.

Leisler’s conviction for treason caused the confiscation of all of his property. The Wonton Island patent and a larger tract above the Meals and Hayes Great Vly tract, both carrying initial claim dates of July 29th, 1686, are thought to have been surveyed originally to make patent claim for lands that Govert Lookermanns had purchased many years before from the Katskill Indians.

When Leisler was exonerated in 1692 the large patent above the Great Vly was granted in 1695 but the granting of the Wonton Island patent under the surveyor’s name at the same date effectively meant this remained property of the Crown.

In 1709 Queen Anne, with royal ties to the German Palatinate, or Rhineland Princes, received thousands of refugees into England fleeing the invasion of their land and persecution by France. She then contracted the colonial governor Robert Hunter to settle all of the Palatinate on “Her Majesty’s land” and to purchase additional land suitable for the 2000 immigrants to utilize in working off their passage manufacturing tar from pine trees for naval stores. The land she provided was the Fullerton patent (West Camp) and the land purchased was 6,000 acres from Robert R. Livingston (East Camp) directly opposite on the Hudson River.

The Palatines were settled in the winter of 1710/11 but the trees were unsuitable for making naval stores and the Camps had disbanded by 1712. Many of the immigrants moved to the Schoherie Valley that year. Those that remained on the east side of the river settled into Beekman lands around Rhinebeck or remained in the area of Germantown. Those on the Saugerties side of the river stayed at West Camp for a time but began to settle on lands to the west and into Catskill and Kingston.

The Palatines left West Camp because the title to the Wonton Island patent; the land that West Camp was on; was attached by the Colonial Governor, Governor Hunter, after he lost his large investment in his tar manufacturing venture. It is likely the Palatines continued to live at West Camp as their church was there and they already had built houses there. Baptisms are recorded in West Camp up until 1719. But their sights were set across the Sawyerkill to establish their own farms. They could not purchase land at West Camp and were told that on Kingston land they could sign ten-year leases for as little as two fat hens per year and purchase their farmsteads when they were more prosperous.

There was a political motive for the Corporation of Kingston to attract these Palatines and offer them deeds. They provided an instant population boom in the lands just outside of the recognized north bounds of the Corporation of Kingston into Albany County. In these early years of Colonial government a seat on the Provincial Assembly was based on population and this made the surrounding manors competitive for attracting settlers. The owners of the manors were all seeking to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Palatines to offer leases on their lands and thus increase their influence on Provincial policy.

Kingston countered the potential loss of its dominant position in the Provincial Assembly by claiming the lands that the Palatines had begun to settle to its north. The Trustees declared that the northern boundary of Kingston and of Ulster County was a line from the source of the Sawyerkill, not the mouth. This gave them a claim to all the land west of the Sawyerkill, doubling the amount they had in Saugerties with the originally recognized County border.

Prior to this expansion the official count for Assembly representation in 1728 put 232 Palatines residing in West Camp and 50 on Kingston land. The majority of these Palatines may have called West Camp home but they were farming and seasonably inhabiting the whole of the lands west of the Sawyerkill by this time. With the total population of Ulster County, from the Hudson all the way to Pennsylvania, as 1600, including infants and slaves, joining these West Camp numbers into Ulster County and the Corporation of Kingston was politically significant.

The only patents to Palatines in Saugerties were the 1722 Godfried DeWoolfen patent on the present Stroomzeit lands, described as lying in Albany County and the Dedrick Marterstock patent that uses the Sawyerkill as its west boundary which made it also in Albany County.

Michael Sullivan Smith

Overview: The Kingston Commons

The Trustees of the Corporation of Kingston, from the earliest deed transaction, used their stewardship over the land to expand and solidify their community. The vast majority of the Kingston Patent was maintained by them as a true commons; as a source of the everyday necessities of the "Freeholders and Commonality of the Town of Kingston".

The language used in creating the Corporation of Kingston had a special meaning in English law. Being a “freeholder” was distinct from being a freeman or Commoner. A commoner was any person who enroled to vote as resident of the Corporation by paying a modest fee and swearing an oath of loyalty. The higher rank of freeholder was by provincial statute reserved for a person owning real property valued at 40 pounds in the location where they voted. The important distinction is that through simple residence either freeholders or commoners had the right to vote in the Corporation of Kingston and by this right the “Rights and Privileges of Englishmen” were being recognized. This was rare in English America.

All other persons living in or visiting the Corporation were termed “strangers”. The Trustees protected the rights of the freeholders and commonality to their common property by regulating the "strangers" that could enter the commons. As early as 1689 the captains of vessels that brought strangers to the Kingston Patent lands could be fined if they did not register their passengers with the Trustees.

In a regulation of 1721 the Trustees stated that "no stranger shall set up trade or occupation in the Corporation" without a payment of 3 pounds for the "freedom". This, in essence, was setting the fee for becoming a member of the Corporation. There was a fee of 5 pounds placed by the trustees on the transporting of "wood, brush, stone, lime, tar or charcoal" from the Commons by those who did not have this “freedom” and this is partly how the Trustees maintained their treasury.

The Corporation of Kingston common lands were open, unrestricted, to all residents. The only land that was sold was specifically and obviously that which could be used to sustain a homestead or a plantation. The hillsides and other uncultivable areas adjacent to lands that were sold did not have to be owned. The owner of a farmstead already had the right to use them as a part of the Commons. Since everyone else that was a freeholder or commoner also had this right, the deeds from the Trustees that described private property reserved access to the common resources across the deeded lands: early forms of public easements.

The early deeds in the Saugerties Region described the best lands for farming and planting. The entire logic of ownership of private property within the Commons was that a homesteader had the right to own the land that he could improve to make it productive. The improvement of land encouraged settlement in the countryside and this was promoted openly by the Trustees. The wild lands that could not be improved supplied such necessities as firewood, timber, building stone and grazing for sheep, pigs and cattle and this not only benefitted the homesteaders but also the village dwellers who often owned animals and paid herders to take them to the commons.

The Trustees also encouraged settlement through social and economic policies. They negotiated prices for lands on a sliding scale based on ability to pay. They did the same for the interest on loans that they made from the considerable treasury that they accumulated from these sales. When they made a "loan" to a church it was more of a grant. A wealthy person seeking a loan paid 8 percent while a poor person paid six, and often five percent. There was a written policy that the wealthy were not to be given the advantage of borrowing at low interest just so they could profit from re-circulating the money at a higher interest.

The Trustees were the bankers, constables and justices of the community. These positions represented the same structure that was found in the Manor Systems that surrounded them. The Livingston, Cortland, Rensselaer, Beekman and other families that held the patents on all sides of the Kingston Patent held the same authority over the settlers on their lands as the Trustees. However, the difference in the systems is that the granting of the Kingston Patent established the annual election, by the freeholders, of their "lords". These Trustees, all twelve of them, were up for re-election every year. The only electoral advantage any one had over another was in having multiple distinct Freeholds allowing more than one vote. Otherwise, the position was based on merit and community standing.

We can assume that the actions of the Trustees and the system that was established in the Kingston Commons represented the will of the majority of the people of New York at the time. Ulster County was to become rapidly the most populace and broadly settled county in the Hudson Valley with the Corporation of Kingston as its center of population. The advantage of living in the Commons and the sense of freedom and community that this system represented instilled in its settlers the expectations that would lead to demands for a fuller system of like liberty and rights throughout the rest of the Hudson Valley and beyond.

Overview: Dutch Culture in Saugerties

A kind of character and personality of the early settlers in the Saugerties Region had begun to surface with the first generation of Palatines born in the Kingston Commons. This was based on the two dominant influences in their lives; the liberality of settlement rights in the Commons and the important position of the Church as the center of Kingston’s Dutch culture.

The Dutch maintained their strong sense of individualism by centering their society around the Reformed Church. This influenced all of the traditions and culture of the Hudson Valley well after the change to English rule in 1664. Though few native Dutch, compared to the number of English that had settled New England, actually immigrated to America, the effect the Reformed Church had on the culture made Dutch influence in New York as strong as Puritan influence was in most of New England.

The majority of the earliest population of Saugerties was Palatine German. When this immigration arrived in 1710 it was under the influence of two churchmen. Joshua Kocherthal was Lutheran and built the church at West Camp. John Frederick Hager was Dutch Reformed but had taken orders in England to form an Anglican Church at the colony. He did so at East Camp but preached Reformed at West Camp. Until 1721, after Kocherthal had died and Hager had moved to Schoharie, all the Palatines worshiped at West Camp as Lutherans and refused to conform to the Anglican rights. During this early period there was little interest paid to the Palatines by the Dutch Reformed hierarchy of Kingston.

Prior to 1719 the Governor had for many years tried to bring the Dutch of Kingston under the Church of England by assigning Anglican pastors. None found acceptance. In 1719 the Dutch Reformed Church of Kingston gained a charter from the Crown similar to that of the Reformed Church in New York. This sanctioned its authority within the colony permitting its Dominie to take their authority from Amsterdam. The Dominie that had successfully gained this charter was Petrus Vas. He was ordained by the Classis of Amsterdam, became pastor in Kingston in 1710 and remained there until he died at the age of 96 in 1752. All services were thenceforth by this charter preached in Dutch.

In 1727 there was a problem created when a Reformed church was organized in East Camp by a minister that had not been ordained in Holland and preached in German. After having two successive ministers at East Camp that insisted on preaching the Anglican religion in English, the Palatines on the east side of the Hudson had congregated around this new preacher who brought to them a recognizable service. They were attached to his ministry and refused to accept an Amsterdam-ordained minister when one was sent to them.

This Amsterdam-ordained minister, George Mancius, arrived from Holland in 1730. Even Though he was German, he was not accepted at East Camp. He went to West camp where he found the church there abandoned and the Palatines congregating, without a minister, on the Kaatsbaan, two miles to the west. They had already begun to break off their association with their earlier homes in the West Camp villages and were meeting at the Kaatsbaan with others settled on their farmsteads on Commons lands in Saugerties, Hardenbergh lands in the Woodstock valley and on the Beekman lands as far away as Catskill.

Mancius began his preaching at Kaatsbaan in the autumn of 1730 but only after associating himself with the Dutch Reformed Church in Kingston. It is in this association that the first signs of the Church's method of social control surfaces. Mancius was given two years to develop fluid Dutch for preaching his sermon. Though he was German and he was to also be an assistant in the Kingston church, he was not to preach separate languages to the two congregations. The de facto official language of the Commons seems to have become Dutch by order of the charter of Petrus Vas.

In this period, except for some influential holdouts (Beekman deeds were in Dutch), official documents, including the minutes of the Trustees of the Corporation of Kingston, were all written in English. However, wills and church records of the period are found to be mostly in Dutch. Even though the Palatines were a highly literate group and wrote German well, the personal documents of those settling in the Commons are found to be in Dutch after the second generation. After the riff of 1727 the Palatines on the east shore of the Hudson settled into Germantown and Rhinebeck and maintained their German identity and language.

The permitting of the building of the Kaatsbaan church in 1732, the duel role of Dominie Mancius at Kingston and Kaatsbaan and the acceptance of the Palatines to being preached to in Dutch all seem to be considered responses to the political reality of life in the Commons. Ownership of land was easy for those who adhered to the cultural norms. Good citizens spoke Dutch.

This fused the population and soon family makeups matched the community. While the baptismal records of the West Camp church under Kocherthal prior to 1719 list mostly Palatine names, the Baptismal records in Kaatsbaan record the inter-marriage of Dutch and Palatines names from the first entries in 1731.

Mancius, after the death of Vas, succeeded him as Dominie of Kingston for ten years until his own death in 1763. Consequently, all of the influence of the larger culture of Kingston for a period of over 50 years came solely from these two individuals, both with strong ties to Amsterdam and the Dutch language. For nearly the entire period of early settlement in Saugerties the structure and authority over the community was firmly established in an association with Dutch “fatherland” control even though the Corporation of Kingston operated as an English charter under an English colonial governing authority.

Elsewhere, other churches, without such protective charters or longevity of their leaders, had all been actively continuing their fights for religious liberties. By the time that Mancius died times had changed. The congregation of Kingston, totally dedicated to its chartered association to the Church in Amsterdam, could find no ministers, even from Amsterdam, that were willing to pledge subordination to the "fatherland" Church once they arrived in America or to even preach in Dutch. All advocated, along with their fellow preachers who, though Dutch, were also preaching in English, the benefits of a local body to oversee their needs.

In the Kingston Church, the Corporation of Kingston and the County of Ulster many of the same names served joint roles as trustees, elders and officials among these three bodies. This strong relationship was apparent when the new pastor sent from Amsterdam in 1764, Rev. Meyer, was removed by them when he swore allegiance to the Crown and would only state that he was neutral in his allegiance to the Church’s charter and Amsterdam. Following this, no preacher was found acceptable to satisfy the needs of the Kingston Church until 1775. By this time the temperament of the old Dutch hierarchy had softened under the growing popular distaste for royally sanctioned privileges. Dutch, however, continued to be preached in Kingston until 1808 even though many of the younger people had no understanding of what they heard.

The personality of the inhabitants of the Saugerties Region is thus formed in the intermingling of the stubborn insistence of the Dutch on the priority of their culture and heritage and the stern attitude of the Palatine's insistent on the priority of their basic rights. As these merged in the liberal atmosphere of the Commons this formed a general personality of the population recognizable by an air of self assured, obstinate resolve. Protected by their associations with the land and the Church, an aloof strain of character, wary of the outsiders and outside authority, began to exemplify the third generation inhabitants of the Saugerties Region. This attitude took these early settlers honorably through the French and Indian War and the Revolution but made it painful for them to enter the next century; the first century of independence for all.

The Great Knot, April 27, 2011

Michael Sullivan Smith, 2015
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4 patents
the Land of the Corporation of Kingston, the Earliest Homestead in Saugerties, Palatine Homesteads