MVB, Thomas Jackson Oakley, and Nathan Williams, Report on John Jacob Astor's land claims, 29 January 1819

MVB, Tho[ma]s J[ackson] Oakley, and Nathan Williams, Report on John Jacob Astor's land claims, 29 January 1819


The undersigned commissioners, appointed in pursuance of the act, entitled "an act relative to the claims of John Jacob Astor, on certain lands in the county of Putnam," beg permission to make the following Report to his excellency the Governor:

On proceeding to discharge the duties imposed on them by the said act, the attention of the undersigned was, in the first instance, directed to the attainment of a correct knowledge of the facts and circumstances connected with the claim of Mr. Astor to the land in question, and of the various documents, which might serve to illustrate the important points which must enter into the consideration of the government, in determining, ultimately, on the course to be pursued in relation to the said claim.

For that purpose, the commissioners made every inquiry which appeared to them calculated to lead to any beneficial result, and caused a diligent search to be made, in the several public offices in which any documents, connected with the subject, might be supposed to exist. Among other things, they have procured, from the office of the clerk of the county of Dutchess, an abstract of the sales of forfeited lands in the Middle district of the state of New-York, made by the commissioners of forfeitures for the said district, in pursuance of the act of the legislature of the 22d of October, 1779, and of the several subsequent acts on the subject of confiscated estates. By this document it appears, that the said commissioners sold the land which were forfeited to the state, by the attainder of Roger Morris, and Mary his wife, to a great number of individuals, whose names are contained in the "abstract," with the quantity of land sold to each, and the price received by the state for the same. It appears, that the whole quantity of land so forfeited and sold, is 38,486 acres and 24 perches, and the total amount of monies received by the state, is £23,913 16s 7d, equal to $59,784 37. These sales were principally made in the years 1782 and 1783, and none later than the year 1785. This document accompanies this report, and is marked A. It is to be observed, however, that Mr. Astor states, that the real quantity of land contained in his purchase, from the heirs of Mrs. Morris, is 51,102 acres; and such appears to be the quantity which his deed purports to convey. It seems, then, that there is a difference between the quantity purchased by Mr. Astor, and that sold and conveyed by the commissioners of forfeitures, of 12,116 acres. Whether this very important difference arises from inaccuracy or mistake in the surveys and calculations of the commissioners of forfeitures, or in those recited in Mr. Astor's deed, or whether the commissioners of forfeitures omitted to sell and convey a considerable part of the lands in question, the undersigned are unable to ascertain.

The undersigned, after having possessed themselves of all the facts and documents within their reach, calculated to throw any light upon the subject, next proceeded to an inquiry into the legal questions connected with it; and with the intent to ascertain the grounds on which Mr. Astor rested his claim, they proposed to him, that they would submit to his counsel a number of points for their consideration, with the view to receive from them such explanations, growing out of the facts, and the law connected with the case, as they might think proper to give. Mr. Astor consenting to this mode of proceeding, the undersigned, accordingly, drew up a paper, in which they intended to suggest most of the objections to his claim, which occurred to them, and which accompanies this report, and is marked B. A copy of this paper was submitted to the counsel of Mr. Astor, and their answer has been received. In this answer, it will appear that Mr. Astor claims to be siesed of an estate in remainder, in all the lands in question, to commence immediately on the death of Mrs. Morris, (who is represented to be about 86 years of age,) and that he claims to be seised of such estate, discharged from any obligation to pay for the improvements made on the land. The grounds on which this claim rests, are presumed summarily to appear in the paper which also accompanies this report, marked C.

The undersigned, feeling very sensibly the importance of the claim thus set up, and the difficulty attending some of the legal questions connected with it, deem it advisable to lay the whole case before counsel on their part. They accordingly submitted, to a distinguished gentleman of the profession, the several points before made for the consideration of Mr. Astor's counsel, and the answer by them given, as mentioned above, together with all the facts and documents relative to the case which had been collected, and an opinion on the whole case has accordingly been given by the gentleman consulted, which also accompanies this report, and is marked D.

The undersigned, in the next place, proceeded to ascertain from Mr. Astor the terms on which he would be willing to extinguish his claim; and they, with that view, addressed to him a letter, under date of the 9th of January instant, and have since received his answer, both of which accompany this report, and are marked E. F.

The undersigned are not aware that they have left any source of information on this subject unexplored. They have not thought it advisable, considering the nature of this claim, to enter into much detail in this report, but they will at all times be ready to communicate to your Excellency, or to any committee of the legislature who may be charged with the examination of this subject, all the facts and circumstances within their knowledge, which may serve to enable the legislature to determine correctly on the course to be pursued, either in an attempt to extinguish the claim of Mr. Astor by compromise, or in the resistance to that claim, if he should undertake at any time to enforce it.

The undersigned think proper also to refer to a report of the present attorney general on the subject of this claim, which will be found in the Journals of the Senate for the year 1815, (page 296,) and also to a report made by a committee of the House of Assembly, which will be found in their Journal of the last session (page 261.) These reports present a history of the proceedings of the legislature on the subject of this claim. A number of important documents are also herewith transmitted, which, (although not particularly referred to in this report,) will be highly useful in any future proceedings in this case.

The undersigned have not considered that it fell within the line of their duty, to suggest any course proper to be pursued, in relation to this subject, by the legislature. They cannot, however, forbear to remark, that a sense of what is due to the just expectations of those who are in possession of the lands in question, and a due regard to the interests of the state, seem to them to recommend an adjustment of this long agitated claim, if it can be made on reasonable terms, and, in any event, it is hoped that it will be deemed expedient, by the legislature, to determine definitively, at the present session, on the measures to be adopted in relation to it. The undersigned also think it due to Mr. Astor, to state, that in the course of their investigation of this subject, he has manifested a liberal disposition to aid and facilitate their inquiries.

M. V. BUREN, }  
THOS. J. OAKLEY, } Commissioners.
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