Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister



Chapter VIII - The Triangle

In the charter granted by King Charles II to William Penn, dated the 4th of March, 1681, the limits of Pennsylvania are described as "three degrees of latitude in breadth, and five degrees of longitude in length, the eastern boundary being the Delaware River, the northern the beginning of the three and fortieth degree of northern latitude; on the south a circle drawn at twelve miles distance from New Castle (Delaware) northward and westward unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of northern latitude, and then by a straight line westward to the limits of longitude above mentioned."

Distinctly as these lines are stated, the boundaries of the State were long a subject of earnest and sometimes bitter controversy. Fifty years before the grant to Penn, King James I granted to the Plymouth Company "all the land lying in the same latitude with Connecticut and Massachusetts, as far west as the Pacific Ocean, not previously settled by other Christian powers." Under the construction placed upon this clause by Connecticut, more than one-third of Pennsylvania, including the whole northern part, belonged to that province. The dispute was finally settled by the action of Congress, which appointed Commissioners in 1782 to investigate the subject, who reported that "Connecticut has no right to the land in controversy," and that "the jurisdiction and pre-emption of all lands within the charter limits of Pennsylvania do of right belong to that State."

The Western Boundary

A contention of almost like character took place with Virginia in regard to the western boundary of Pennsylvania. The former claimed the entire territory embraced in Penn's charter west of a line drawn a little to the east of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. This controversy was settled in 1786, by agreeing that the western boundary of Pennsylvania should commence at a point on Mason and Dixon's line, five degrees west from the Delaware River, and extend from there directly northward to Lake Erie.

The land in the northern and northwestern parts of the State was purchased from the Six Nations by Commissioners appointed by the Legislature, who met in conference with the Indians at Fort Stanwix (now Rome), N. Y., and concluded a treaty in October, 1784. The action of the Six Nations was confirmed by a treaty made with the Delaware and Wyandots at Fort McIntosh in January, 1785. Neither of these purchases covered the territory known as "The Triangle."

The New York Line
By mutual agreement between New York and Pennsylvania, Commissioners were appointed in 1785 to determine and establish the east and west boundary line between the two States, being the Forty-second degree of latitude. David Rittenhouse was the Commissioner on the part of Pennsylvania, and Samuel Holland on that of New York. These gentlemen merely took measurements to locate the point in the Delaware River where the line should begin, when cold weather came on and compelled the work to cease. Rittenhouse and Holland were succeeded in 1787 by Andrew Ellicott on the part of Pennsylvania, and James Clinton and Simeon DeWitt on that of New York. They surveyed the entire line from the Delaware to Lake Erie, planting a stone every mile, with the distance from the river marked upon it, and marking mile trees in the same manner. The distance from the point of departure to where the north line of Pennsylvania terminated on the shore of Lake Erie in Springfield Township, this county, was found to be 259 miles and 88 perches. The report of the above Commissioners was confirmed by the Legislatures of both States, and has ever since been accepted as the true northern boundary of Pennsylvania.

The Triangle
The charter of New York defined its western boundary as extending from the south shore of Lake Erie to the forty-second degree of latitude, on a line drawn from the western extremity of Lake Ontario. In determining this line it became necessary to agree whether the "western extremity of Lake Ontario" included Burlington Bay, or was at the peninsula dividing the latter from the lake. Andrew Ellicott and frederick Saxton, the surveyors sent out to establish the boundary, decided upon the peninsula as the proper point from which to draw the line, and the western boundary of New York was therefore fixed at twenty miles east of Presque Isle. This left a triangular tract, which was not included in the carter of either State, and which was variously claimed by New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

During or some time after the Revolution, Gen. William Irvine was sent to the Northwest by the authorities of Pennsylvania, to examine into the quality of its lands and report upon the best manner of putting them into the market. While upon this tour he was struck with the fact that the State had no harbor upon the lake, and the great desirability of securing the one at Presque Isle. On his return to the East he interested a number of intelligent and progressive citizens in the project of purchasing the Triangle. After a protracted negotiation, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut released their claims to the United States Government, and the latter, in turn, conveyed the tract to Pennsylvania. The deed of cession by New York, was made on the 1st of March, 1781, and that of Massachusetts on the 19th of April, 1785. In the release by Connecticut she reserved 120 miles lying west of Pennsylvania's western boundary, within the present limits of Ohio, which became known as, and retains the title to this day of "The Western Reserve." The contract for the sale of the Triangle, made between the Representatives of the United States and Pennsylvania was ratified by Congress on the 4th of September, 1788. On the 18th of April, 1791, the governor was authorized by the Legislature to complete the purchase. March 3, 1792, a patent was issued to the State, signed by George Washington as President, and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. The consideration was $151,640.25. Below is a copy of the bill of sale from the General Government to the commonwealth:

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for the purchase of the Lake Erie tract in account with the United States,




July 19, 1792. To general account of sales of the Western lands, the property of the United States:


For the purchase or consideration money of the territory and tract of land on Lake Erie, of which tract a survey and return hath been made and lodged in the office of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States by Andrew Ellicott, pursuant to a resolution of Congress passed in August, 1789, by which return the said tract is found to contain 202,187 acres, at three-fourths of a dollar per acre, payable in gold or silver, or in certificates of the debt of the United States, bearing interest, according to the terms proposed by William Bingham and James R. Reid, delegates in Congress, to the late Board of Treasury, on behalf of the said commonwealth, and accepted by the said board on behalf of the United States




By one certificate of registered debt. No. 558, dated 28th February, 1792, with interest from 16th August, 1779


By ditto, on interest from August, 1783




Principal amounting to

$  89,317.28

By interest arising thereon, calculated to 10th June, 1791, being the time Secretary of the Treasury informed he was ready to settle the account for said purchase








6th September, 1796


Joseph Nourse, Register






Release of the Indian Title
Pending the negotiations with the General Government, the State authorities proceeded to secure a release of the Triangle tract from the Six Nations, which was only effected after a protracted effort. The conference for this purpose with the chiefs and warriors of the several tribes was held on the 9th of January, 1789, and the deed from the Indians appears to have been signed sometime during the same month. The following is a copy of the document:

Know all men by these presents, that we, the undersigned, chiefs, warriors and others, representing the following named tribes of the Six Nations, to wit: The Ondawagas or Senecas, Cayugas, Tuscaroras, Onondagas and Oneidas, for and in consideration of the sum of $2,000, to us in hand paid, by Richard Butler and John Gibson, Esquires, Commissioners for and in behalf of the State of Pennsylvania, the receipt whereof we do hereby acknowledge, and we for ourselves, our tribes, our and their heirs and successors, are therewith fully paid and satisfied, have granted, bargained, sold and assigned over, and by these presents do grant, bargain, sell, remise, release, quit claim and assign over unto the said State of Pennsylvania, all our right, title, claim and interest of, in and to all that tract of country situate, lying and being within the territory of the United States, bounded on the south by the north line or boundary of Pennsylvania; on the east by the western boundary of the State of New York, agreeable to an act of cession of the said State of New York and the State of Massachusetts to the United States; and on the north by the southern shore or margin of Lake Erie, including Presque Isle and all the bays and harbors along the shore or margin of the said Lake Erie from the west boundary of the said State of Pennsylvania to where the est line or boundary of the State of New York may cross or intersect the southern shore or margin of the said Lake Erie; to have and to hold, etc.

In testimony whereof, we, the said chiefs, have hereunto set our hands and seals this -- day of January, in the year of our Lord 1789:

Senecas -- Gyantwachia, or the Cornplanter; Gyashota, or the Big Cross; Kanassee, or the New Arrow; Achiont, or the Half Town; Anachkont, or the Wasp; Chishekoa, or the Wood Bug; Sessewa, or the Big Bale of a Kettle; Sciawhowa or the Council Keeper; Tewanias, or the Broken Twig; Souachshowa, or the Full Moon; Cachunevasse, or Twenty Cones.

Tuscarora Chief -- Hichonquash, or Tearing Asunder.

Senecas -- Cageahgea, or Dogs about the Fire; Sawedowa, or the Blast; Klondashowa, or Swimming Fish.

Onondaga Chief -- Oncheye, or the Dancing Feather.

Cayuga Chiefs -- Soahaes, or Falling Mountain; Otaschsaka, or Broken Tomahawk.

Oneida Chief -- Tekchiefs, or the Long Tree.

Seneca Chief -- Onesechter, or the Leaded Man.

Munsey Chief -- Kiatlahoh, or the Snake; Aqueia, or Bandy Legs.

Senecas -- Kiandock-Gowa, or Big Tree; Owenewah, or Throw into the Water.

N.B. -- The two Munseys signed as being residents of the land, but not owners.

R. Butler


In the presence of A. St. Clair, Joseph Harmar and others.

Twelve hundred dollars were also paid by the United States Government for the extinguishment of the Indian titles.

The cession of the Triangle gave great offense to a portion of the Indians, who claimed that they had not been fairly represented in the council. There was a good deal of talk among them of resisting its occupancy by the State, and at one time matters looked really serious, but by wise efforts what might have been an long and murderous border war was avoided. On the 3d of February, 1791, Cornplanter, Half Town, and Big Tree executed a second instrument, in which, after reciting the dissatisfaction that existed among the Seneca nation, they acknowledged the receipt of 4800 as full satisfaction of all claims and demands by their nation against the commonwealth, and "fully, clearly, and finally remised and forever quit-claimed" their interest in the Triangle to Gov. McKean, "from the beginning of the world to the date of these presents." It was several years after the signing of this deed, however, before the Indians became sufficiently quieted to enable settlements to be made with safety, as will be more fully related in another part of these annals.

Interesting Details

The territory above purchased extends some forty miles in a straight line along the lake, and is about eighteen miles in breadth along the New York boundary, tapering from there to a point in Springfield Township, between four and five miles east of the Ohio line. It embraces 202, 187 acres, and the United States received pay for it at the rate of three-fourths of a dollar per acre. The townships embraced in the Triangle are North East, Greenfield, Venango, Harbor Creek, Greene, Summit, Mill Creek, a small portion of Springfield, about two-fifths of Girard and McKean, and four-fifths of Fairview. The terminus of the Triangle on the shore of Lake Erie was marked by a stone on the Joseph Hewitt farm in Springfield, which has disappeared.

The old State line forms the southern boundary of Venango, Greene and Summit Townships, and the northern of Waterford and Amity. It passes through the boroughs of Girard and Middleboro nearly in the center. The portion of the county within the original limits of the State is some forty-five miles long from east to west by ten miles in width from north to south, being about two-thirds of the whole. The townships wholly in it are Wayne, Concord, Amity, Union, Waterford, Le Boeuf, Washington, Franklin, Elk Creek and Conneaut.

A corps of engineers have recently been at work renewing the monuments marking the boundary between New York and Pennsylvania, many of which had been destroyed or lost sight of. In the execution of their task they make use of blocks of Quincy granite, about four feet long and six inches square at the top. The stones "are dressed one foot down, that distance being left above ground. Heavy creases are cut at right angles across each. The letters 'Pa.,' and 'N. Y.' about two inches long, from Pennsylvania and New York respectively. At highways, street and railroad crossings, the tops of the stones are one foot by six inches in size, and in other particulars like the rest. Those of the ordinary size are set just one mile apart."

Continental Certificates
In explanation of the "certificate" Mentioned in the bill of sale, it should be stated that in the contract for the purchase of the Triangle, it was stipulated that the Commonwealth might make payment "in gold or silver or in public securities of the United States, bearing interest." When the time came for closing the transaction, the State, with Quaker shrewdness, offered one of the funded bonds of the General Government, commonly known as "continental certificates," which were then in decidedly bad credit, and demanded that interest should be allowed, according to the terms of its fact. This was rather a surprise to the Federal authorities, and a long correspondence ensued, in which the Commonwealth seems to have had the better of the argument. After considerable delay, her legal right to pay in the manner proposed was conceded, and she turned over the bond and received credit for the accumulated interest, as is shown in the bill of sale above printed. It is apparent that the State drove a very sharp bargain, but whether the transaction was much to her honor, may admit of some debate.

Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part II, Chapter VIII, pp. 194-200.


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