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Fixing the county lines

Genealogy trivia time.

Here’s the question:

When was the last time the borders of Orange County, New York, were fixed?

The Legal Genealogist wanted to know, because this weekend is the spring seminar of the Orange County Genealogical Society at the Goshen United Methodist Church.

OrangeCoFriday night is the roast beef dinner with R. J. Smith presenting “Postcards of the Hudson Valley,” and all day Saturday we’re going to have some fun with the law and methodology and DNA and more. (There’s still room for a couple of walk-ins Saturday — come on out and join us!)

So…

Got an answer to the trivia question?

Here’s the question again:

When was the last time the borders of Orange County, New York, were fixed?

You might have looked at AniMap, that wonderful program from the GoldBug Company, and concluded that the very last time the boundaries changed was 1800. That’s when, the program will tell you, Rockland County gained a little bit of territory from Orange County.1

Maybe you went to the FamilySearch Wiki, which will tell you that “Orange was one of the original New York counties formed in 1683,” and then refer you to another website: “For animated maps illustrating New York County boundary changes, ‘Rotating Formation New York County Boundary Maps’ (1683-1915) may be viewed for free at the MapofUS.org website.”2 And if you do go there, you’ll find it’s a website created using AniMap.3

Wikipedia will tell you that:

Orange County was officially established on November 1, 1683, when the Province of New York was divided into twelve counties. … As originally defined, Orange County included only the southern part of its present-day territory, plus all of present-day Rockland County further south. The northern part of the present-day county, beyond Moodna Creek, was then a part of neighbouring Ulster County.

… In 1798, after the American Revolutionary War, the boundaries of Orange County changed. Its southern corner was used to create the new Rockland County, and in exchange, an area to the north of the Moodna Creek was added, which had previously been in Ulster County. …

Due to a boundary dispute between New York and New Jersey, the boundaries of many of the southern towns of the county were not definitively established until the 19th century.4

So… When was the last time the borders of Orange County, New York, were fixed?

Then again, if you read The History of Orange County, New York, it will tell you that:

ORANGE was one of the earliest counties of the State, dating back to 1683, when it was organized by a colony law. It was also one of those formed by a general act of organization in 1788, when it included the present county of Rockland, and was described as extending from the limits of East and West Jersey on the west side of the Hud son River along the river to Murderer’s Creek, or the bounds of Ulster County, and westward into the woods as far as Delaware River—that is, all that part of the state south of an easterly and westerly line from the mouth of Murderer’s Creek to the Delaware River or northerly line of Pennsylvania. In 1797 Rockland county was set off from it, and five towns from Ulster were added. Its boundaries were definitely fixed by an act of the New York legislature adopted April 3rd, 1801. …

In the winter of 1797, after much opposition to plans for changing the boundaries of Orange and Ulster Counties, two bills were agreed upon by a Convention of Delegates from the several towns interested, and these were presented to the Legislature and passed. One of them set off from Orange the present County of Rockland, and the other annexed to Orange County the towns of New Windsor, Newburgh, Wallkill, Montgomery and Deer Park, then the southern section of the county of Ulster. In 1801 a general law dividing the State into counties fixed the then somewhat undefined boundaries of Orange…5

So… When was the last time the borders of Orange County, New York, were fixed?

And how would you know?

You already know the answer.

You’d look to the law of the time and the place.

County borders are set by law — specifically, by acts of the Legislature. And in New York it was no different. Here’s how things proceeded for Orange County:

1683: The original boundaries were set in “An Act to divide this province and dependences into shires and Countyes,” passed 1 November 1683. It was “to beginne from the Limmitt(s) or bounds of East and West Jersey, on the West side of Hudson’s River, along the said River to the Murderers creeke, or bounds of the County of Ulster and Westward into the woods as farr as Delaware River.”6

1691: Because of a concern about mistakes that might arise about the limitts and bounds of the respective Countyes within this Province, a clarifying act — “An Act to Divide this Province and Dependencies into Shires and Countyes” — was passed 1 October 1691, and confirmed the 1683 boundaries.7

1701: There was still a dispute over the border between Orange and Ulster in 1701, and the towns of Wagachemeck and great and little Minissinck “are hereby Immediately annexed to the County of Ulster untill Such time that the bounds, between the Counties of Orange and Ulster shall be Settled…”8

1709: In “An Act to Determine Settle and Ascertaine the Bounds and Limits of the County of Orange,” passed 12 November 1709, Orange gained a little from Ulster County when the towns it had had taken away in 1701 were put back into its territory.9

1768: In December 1768, the Legislature needed to settle disagreements over islands lying in rivers and sounds, and it was then that the eastern border between Orange and West Chester Counties was fixed: it was the middle of the Hudson River, with “the Westermost half part of the said River from the Southermost Bounds of the County of Orange to the Northermost Bounds of the said County of Orange … included in and annexed to the said County of Orange together with all the Islands included within the said Bounds.”10

1774: In 1774, the Legislature noted that “the Line dividing the Counties of Ulster and Orange, has never been run and marked farther Westward than to the East Side of the Shawangunk Mountains, and for want of a Continuance of that Line to the Delaware River, the Jurisdiction of those Parts of the said Counties lying West of the said Mountains is uncertain and the Inhabitants thereof are frequently taxed and compelled to perform Publig Duties in both…” so it ordered a survey and the marking of the border.11

1788: The New York State Legislature re-established the counties and their borders by statute on 7 March 1788. For Orange County, its bounds and limits were “all that part of this State bounded southerly by the State of New Jersey, westerly by the State of Pennsylvania, easterly by the middle of Hudsons river, and northerly by an east and west line from the mouth of Murderer’s Creek.”12

1798: On 23 February 1798, what had been the very large county of Orange was divided, and a new county — Rockland County — came into being with all the land southward of a line designated in the enabling act. All the land north of the line was to remain in Orange County.13

1798: Five towns from Ulster County and one from Albany County were moved into Orange County in April 1798: New Windsor, Newburgh, Wallkill, Montgomery and Deer Park from Ulster, and “Cattskill” from Albany.14

1800: The dividing line set in February 1798, when Rockland County was created, was slightly altered in March of 1800 and Rockland picked up a little bit of land as a result.15

1801: The New York State Legislature re-established all the then-existing counties and fixed their borders by statute on 3 April 1801. For Orange County, its borders didn’t really change but the description sure did, going so far as to include specific tracts of land owned or granted to particular individuals.16

So… When was the last time the borders of Orange County, New York, were fixed?

1801.

As you surely knew… because you knew where to look … in the laws of the time and the place.


SOURCES

  1. Adrian B. Ettlinger, The AniMap County Boundary Historical Atlas, v. 3.01-rel. 2 (2010).
  2. FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “Orange County, New York Genealogy,” rev. 13 Mar 2016.
  3. See “Maps of New York: Interactive Map of New York County Formation History,” Maps of US (http://www.mapofus.org/ : accessed 24 Apr 2016).
  4. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Orange County, New York,” rev. 13 Apr 2016.
  5. Russel Headley, editor, The History of Orange County, New York (Middletown, New York : Van Deusen & Elms, 1908), 17-20; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 24 Apr 2016).
  6. “An Act to divide this province and dependences into shires and Countyes,” 1 November 1683, in The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution (Albany: State Printer, 1894), I: 121, 122; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 24 Apr 2016).
  7. “An Act to Divide this Province and Dependencies into Shires and Countyes,” 1 October 1691, in ibid., I: 267 et seq.
  8. “An Act for the more regular proceedings in the Elections of Representatives for the Severall Cities and Counties within this province,” 18 October 1701, in ibid., I: 453-454.
  9. “An Act to Determine Settle and Ascertaine the Bounds and Limits of the County of Orange,” 12 November 1709, in ibid., I: 686.
  10. “An Act to ascertain … the Eastern Boundaries of the County of Orange…,” 31 December 1768, in ibid., IV: 1062, 1063.
  11. “An Act for running out and marking the Division Line between the Counties of Ulster and Orange, from the Easty Side of the Shawangunk Mountains to the Delaware River,” 19 March 1774, in ibid., V: 693.
  12. “An Act for dividing this State into counties,” 7 March 1788, in The Laws of the State New York… (Albany: Weed Parsons & Co., Printers, 1894), II: 746; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 24 Apr 2016).
  13. “An Act for dividing the county of Orange,” 23 February 1798, in ibid., IV: 156-158.
  14. “An Act for altering the bounds of the counties of Orange, Ulster & Albany,” 5 April 1798, in ibid., IV: 273-275.
  15. “An Act to alter the division line bwteen the counties of Orange and Rockland,” 21 March 1800, in ibid., IV: 493-494.
  16. “An Act to divide this State into counties,” 3 April 1801, in ibid., V: 290, 292.
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