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The Neal McDuffee Family

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Along the southern line of the Town of Chemung, nestled on the west bank of the  Chemung River sat a log cabin for many years. To the south - south/west of the cabin ran the Waverly to Wellsburg Road, know today as Wilawana Road. 

The property owners today, speak of a cabin that once sat below their current home, and was destroyed during the 1972 flood. It had been renovated in the early to mid 20th century. Looking back at old maps I located the site on the 1853 map with the name N. McDuffee notated on the map as the property in question. The property originally belonging to one George Williamson who held the 1788 land patent.

Having been raised in the Sayre/Athens area the McDuffee Family name was well known to me and well seated in the history of Athens, PA. Even though the Chemung property borders Athens Township, PA, it seemed a little far for a McDuffee to settle, so it piqued my interest. The story I was able to put together was quite interesting as the Yankee-Pennamite Wars is another one of my interests, and seemed woven through this story. If nothing else it makes for enjoyable afternoon reading.

Records from the McDuffee family tell of their ancestor Henry McDuffee who traveled with Arthur Erwin to America before the Revolutionary War to locate several tracts of land in Bradford Co. PA. When the war broke out, McDuffee retreated to Ireland. Near the end of the War, Henry’s son Daniel came to America to act as an agent for Colonel Erwin, as he became known. Daniel born in 1752 to Scottish parents, resided in Antrim County, Northern Ireland, married to an Irish woman, Dorothy “Dolly” Ladley, they came to America with three children born in Ireland: Mary, Neil (Neal) & Anna. They had a large family of twelve children with the remainder born in America: Daniel, Hugh, Dorothy, Ferdinand, John, Joseph, Samuel, Rebecca, Charles.

Before I go on to explain the Chemung McDuffee property, I would like to take a side trip to a very interesting story of early times in our area; that of Neal McDuffee’s Father, Daniel and his good friend, Arthur Erwin.

In excerpts taken from A History of Old Tioga Point and Early Athens, written by Louise Welles Murray, 1908, she depicts the struggle of the times with property border and land disputes. 

For those of you who are not aware of the Yankee - Pennamite Wars, there were actually two, as if  one wasn’t bad enough. Basically the Dutch claimed the land between New Netherland and the English  colony of Virginia. King Charles the II rejected all the Dutch claims and granted the land to Connecticut. Charles the II also included the same land in a grant to William Penn. Both colonies purchased the same land by treaties with the Indians. Finally the controversy ended in 1799, with the Wyoming Valley becoming part of Pennsylvania and the Yankee settlers becoming Pennsylvanians with legal claims to their land.

( As a side note: Today, 3 wars were recognized in the Yankee Pennamite Struggle, ranging from 1769 to 1799. - MaryEllen )

She writes: "The handful of settlers had another source of contention. The uncertainty as to the actual State Line rendered possible the claims of certain squatters who insisted they were in New York. While Lockhart or his representatives do not seem to have been on the ground, Colonel Erwin, who had drawn a number of the Pennsylvania warrants, was."

Arthur Erwin, a native of Crumlin, County of Antrim, Northern Ireland sailed to America with his wife and five children. His wife died on the voyage. He later married again. He became one of the keenest land buyers in the country and was proprietor of a large tract along the Delaware. He made settlement in Bucks County, PA and in published writings of his descendants: Charles H. Erwin of Painted Post and Arthur Erwin Cooper of Cooper’s Plains, the town was named for him, Erwina. He served during the Revolution in the patriot army and for his valor was made Colonel of a Bucks County Regiment. He was cruelly murdered at Tioga Point, June 9, 1791.

He made a choice of lands between the rivers above the Indian Arrow, also west of the Chemung, in 1785, and soon after he added lands in New York State. Possessed of ample means and having a large family (ten children) he was evidently resolved to provide them with a goodley heritage. Unquestionably he went over the line seeking to avoid the Connecticut controversy. Erwin made a settlement at Tioga Point in 1788, and brought his agent and probably purchaser, his old friend Daniel McDuffee, who followed him from Ireland and living near him in Bucks County. They were at once and continually harassed by both squatters and Connecticut claimants and Erwin began to consider buying land in the Phelps and Gorham purchase. (East of the Genesee River in Western New York)

It is told by the descendants that Erwin and McDuffee were such firm friends that it was agreed between them that McDuffee should have as much land as he wanted at cost price, as he had less to invest than Erwin: but that at the time of Erwin’s assassination no choice had been made, although the McDuffees had been there two of three years and had built a timber house about on location of Frank Herrick House (near the Chemung River). Daniel McDuffee had resolved to take up land at Painted Post, but after Col. Erwin’s murder his sons, on account of the evident feeling against their family, urged him to remain at Athens and buy the Erwin lands there, offering even better terms than their father had. Naturally, he embraced their offer. Daniel was a noted weaver with a coat of silk and linen at one time displayed in the Tioga Point Museum. It will be seen that this family settled here apparently just as early as the Connecticut people and we think no other family of a pioneer lives today on the land originally possessed.

The story of Col. Erwin’s purchase is as follows: In 1789 he started for Canandaigua with a drove of cattle, presumably from his Tioga Point settlement. Stopping at Painted Post to rest his drove, he hired an Indian familiar with the locality to take him him up the mountain north of Painted Post. Here he had a view of the triple valleys of the Chemung, Conhocton and Tioga, with which he was so impressed that he came down and ascended the mountain on the other side, thus commanding a wide prospect. He then quickly returned to the log hut of the surveyors of Phelps and Gorham; and directing his drovers to follow, hurried under the Indian’s guidance to Canandaigua. Though late in the afternoon, he went at once to the office of Phelps and Gorham, made an offer for the tract (later known as town of Erwin), asking them to take in payment his cattle at their own price and promising the rest to be paid in gold. The bargain was closed in the morning. His historian says: “Within twenty-four hours after the deed was signed, Judge Eleazar Lindley arrived with an offer for the same land.” The reason for Col. Erwin’s haste was no doubt because he knew that Col. Lindley was on his way to make this very purchase.

Unquestionably, Erwin told a good story on his return, as the very next year, 1790, three of the original proprietors of Athens joined with him in the purchase called “Old Canistear Castle,” now known as the towns of Hornellsville and Canisteo; which statement is corroborrated by deeds and records showing that these men made transfers of their Athens property this year. This not only proves that the pioneer settlers at Tioga Point were uneasy about their Connecticut titles, but that they were in friendly relations with Erwin and that his assassin may have been one of the so-called New York squatters. Yet, it must be admitted that Col. Erwin had troubles as a Pennsylvania claimant. We have taken pains to study out this matter for various reasons. Erwin has been called a surveyor, (which he was not), many of whom suffered at the hands of the “Wild Yankees. He has also been confounded with James Irwin, who had no connection with him. The McDuffees were living here as early as 1788; whether in the home built on almost the same spot as the Curran Herrick house, still standing, northwest of town; or in a log house owned by Col. Erwin (which according to the daughter of Matthias Hollenback, and Major A. Snell, stood on the west side of the Chemung River, about twenty feet from the present road below the old McDuffee house now owned by Elsbree family), we will not assert. Nor is it important to decide whether it was in the day or evening, through door or window, that he was shot. In 1791 he brought two of his sons, Samuel and Francis, up the river to settle on the Phelps and Gorham tract and superintend his business interests there. His biographer says:

“On his return he stopped at the house of Daniel McDuffee one of his tenants near Tioga Point, and as he sat in the evening listening to Mr. McDuffee’s flute a shot was heard, he suddenly arose, and staggering towards the open door said “I am shot,” and then fell. (A side note tells the story that Erwin was listening to Mr. McDuffee’s flute; that Mrs McDuffee sat in the doorway sewing; dropped her thimble and as she stooped to pick it up the shot went over her head.) He lived but a few hours. Suspicion immediately attached to an ejected squatter by the name of Thomas, who the same night stole a horse (or, as was strongly suspected at the time, he had been supplied with one) and was never after heard from. Judge Avery in his address before the Pioneer Association at Athens in 1854 in alluding to this sad but dastardly murder said ‘About that time there was some difficulty regarding the State Line, or of the Pennsylvania and Connecticut charterists; the squatters claiming that these lands were within the State of New York or came within the Connecticut chart, threatened to shoot the first person who should purchase or settle on them, they claiming title by occupation. Col. Erwin was the first and only victim and the prompt investigation of this murder either frightened them away or forced the cowardly villains into lawful obedience.’ The late Judge Avery was of more than ordinary legal attainments and though his statements were entirely new to us, we are not inclined to contradict them.”


Neal McDuffee Log Cabin, located in Chemung, New York can be seen on the right of this photo, along the bank of the Chemung River.


It must be acknowledged that Avery was somewhat in error. While there may have been prompt investigation, nothing came of it, the assassin escaped. It seems strange that Judge Avery, with his ability and love of research, did not follow up this matter, as it is now impossible to do; perhaps just as impossible then. There can  be added to these chronicles what would seem to throw some light on this matter; a letter from Col. Erwin himself, which lay for many years unnoticed at Harrisburg, but now to be found in Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, Vol. XVIII, page 614, addressed to Governor Mifflin: 

April 5, 1791 Sir:  Perhaps it may appear somewhat extraordinary to carry a Complaint before the Chief Magistrate of the State, where the Laws of the land have pointed out the more regular Mode of pursuing the Means of Redress but as this, Sir, is an extraordinary case, it may probably be a sufficient excuse for the irregular Mode of proceeding in it.  You are not now to learn the troubles and embarrassments with the Connecticut-claimants to Lands in the County of Luzerne have for a series of years past from Time to Time involved Pennsylvania. It will not be necessary, I conceive, to enter into any investigation of that Business. The existing laws, were they carried into effect, would be sufficient to answer every purpose. My present application to you, however, relates to myself only. When the Land Office was opened in the year 1785, and the choice thereof determined by Lott, I became an adventurer for about Five Thousand acres in Luzerne County, adjoining the New York line, and without the Limits of any of those Townships comprehended in the late confirming or quieting Law, since repealed. These lands which lay upon the Tioga above the Point, I immediately patented, settled, cleared and improved, not doubting but the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, under the solemn faith of which I had purchased and paid for them, would protect me in the possession and enjoyment of my property. I have been almost the only man who has, in that county, asserted the Claims under the Government of Pennsylvania to the Lands in Luzerne, by which I have not only subjected myself to insult and abuse, but on more occasions than one been in eminent danger of my life, not from threats merely, but by actual assault, and that of the most agrivated nature.

When in August, 1789, I was in that country cultivating my own ground I was obliged to have recourse to the legal steps to recover some rent due to me from a person who occupied a part of my Land there under verbal Lease, and when the property distrained was in the Hands of the Officer, the tenant with several others came and forceably resqued it, not satisfied with this outrage, they attacked me and one of them with the handle of a pitch-fork broke one of my arms and beat me in such a manner that I very narrowly escaped with my life. I then took the usual steps to have him prosecuted for a breach of the peace, but, altho’ every necessary proof was made of the fact, in that country he escaped unpunished. In the course of the last summer a number of persons who call themselves Halfshare men, a description of people, who I believe from principle and habit, are not likely ever to be good or useful citizens of this or any other country, came within my enclosed grounds at a time that I was absent, cut a quantity of hay, and to the laborours who I had there employed, used many threats against my person. After I had hauled in the hay which my people had made, together with what they had cut on my land, they came and forceably took it away, still using threats:  Soon after they took from my Laborours a quantity of Indian corn  in the same manner, which circumstances the Depositions of Daniel McDuffee, Sarah Redford, and Dolly McDuffee make appear. It is true the effects which have been violently and unlawfully taken from me are of no great value or magnitude, but if the persons who have flagrantly broke in upon my property escape with Impunity the property of no Pennsylvanian will be safe from their depradations. I have not taken any legal steps to obtain Redress, well knowing the fate of my process in the County of Luzerne, where a Pennsylvanian is a party; of this indeed I have had sufficient experience. I trust, however, that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will do me ample Justice and no longer suffer her laws to be trampled on, her dignity debased, and her citizens injured and abused by a set of people who have ever discovered a disposition obnoxious to the Laws and Government of this State. I have, therefore, made my application to you, as the supreme Magistrate of the State, and from your prompt decision and public spirit, I hope such measures will be taken as to secure me in the enjoyment of my property in the Country, as well as to protect me from the danger which from the constant threats of those people I conceive my life to be in while among them. With every sentiment of respect, I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient  and very humble servant,   Arthur Erwin

Apparently this was but a few weeks before his death, which was a sad ending to an active and useful career. He had lived, with the great tracts he held in and about Tioga Point, he would have been a notable factor in the town-making. According to Matthias Hollenback, his body was conveyed in a boat down the river and carried over Wilkes-Barre Mountain to Erwina for burial.

That completes my information on Mr Erwin and his friend Daniel McDuffee. It is so unfortunate that so many people were completely affected and in some cases destroyed by the Yankee – Pennamite War era, 1769 – 1794.  The story by Louise Welles Murray is an incredible insight into colonial times in our area and the strife of the common folk. It also shows how the war caused strife in our Town of Chemung and border communities.

As previously stated, Neal (Neil) McDuffee was the first born son of Daniel and Dorothy McDuffee, born in the Emerald Isle. He married a gal by the name of Anna and their children were: Mary, Ferdinand, Daniel, Charles and Sarah.

According to the US Census, he resided in Athens, Bradford Co, PA in 1820. Same was true in the 1830 census. However in the 1840 census Neal’s residence changed to Chemung, New York. So this leaves me wondering, since the property sits on the border of Athens Township, PA and Chemung, NY., is it possible this property is one in the same and because the state borders were not defined well, he thought he was dwelling in Pennsylvania when in fact it was discovered later to be in New York State?  Consistency continued through the 1865 census. It was in the following year, 1866 Neal died and was buried in Wellsburg. Anna died in 1862.

It is also interesting to see another big name show up in the census who is well known in Athens and listed as residing next to Neal McDuffee. That of Julius Tozer. But I will save that information for another story. Another fascinating note of interest on the 1865 census, the following question was asked: Of What Material Built. The answer on the Neal McDuffee Home: LOG.

One last bit of information on the McDuffee Property, a deed dated March 1841. It was never recorded until May 1859, which was not uncommon to be that late in those days, yet a bit curious. McDuffee purchased an additional 16 acres for his farm. It was recorded May 25, 1859 with another 20 acres recorded May 27, 1859. The acreage happened to be in Bradford County, PA and McDuffee resided in Chemung, New York. The deed reads: at a rate of ten pounds per hundred acres, but looking at the recorded information it appears he paid $1.00 per acre. Is it possible this property was already part of his original farmstead and once the boundaries were clarified he was correcting the deeds legally? My guess is yes, that is exactly what he did. With both Neal and his wife gone by 1866 that was not the end of the McDuffee property. I located the name S. McDuffee listed as a surname on the 1869 map. It is possible the youngest daughter, Sarah took over the farmstead.  

Mary Ellen Kunst is the historian for the Town Of Chemung. To see more information, visit her site, https://historicalechoes.weebly.com

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It's amazing as you read things like this you suddenly start to realize where area towns and roads got their names from. 

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