The Crooked Lake Review

Spring-Summer 2007

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Clan Colquhoun and

Patrick Colquhoun


David Minor

Part 1, Part 2

Part 3

Sweeps Week

Wealthy London magistrate Patrick Colquhoun maintained his interest in legal and social causes during the 1790s and on into the early 19th century. The range of these interests can best be demonstrated by a sampling from the 27 titles he authored: A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, explaining the various Crimes and Misdemeanours which at present are felt, as a Pressure on the Community, and suggesting Remedies; A Treatise on the Population, Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire, in every quarter of the world, including the East Indies; A New System of Education for the Labouring People; The Poor Law; Treatise on Indigence. And A Treatise On The Theory And Management Of Ulcers.

There were times when Colquhoun turned his focus from the more theoretical to the strictly practical. One day in November of 1803 he turned up at London's York Hospital at 10 AM to meet with fellow magistrate John Harriott, the Bishop of Durham, and other worthies of the city, ". . . for the purpose of examining and seeing the several machines worked by the undermentioned candidates for the premium for sweeping chimnies." (Premium meaning 'prize'). The proving ground was a 45-foot chimney. First up (so to speak) was an army officer named Orme. His contraption was a flexible pole with various leather scrapers attached. He completed the task in three minutes. Next up was Mr. Barber. His pole was topped off by a series of brushes spread by means of a 'conducting cord.' His first attempt was frustrated by a mechanical breakdown. Undaunted he quickly repaired his device and completed the job in five minutes. A Mr. Griffin had a similar device. We weren't given his time by the newspaper article. A Mr. Davis went next, followed by Mr. Smart, who used a hollow pole with bell-shaped brass scrapers operated by ropes and pulleys. His device let him down as well, "by some mischance one of the pieces of wood broke and notwithstanding he had tried before with success, in this instance he failed." Other scheduled candidates would have to wait another week-and-a-half for their opportunity, as the gentlemen adjourned for dinner (our 'lunch', you'll remember). The American newspaper that carried the report did not follow up on the story. However, it's reported elsewhere that George Smart's method was eventually successful. However, England would still send young boys up the chimney for another 72 years.

Colquhoun had a number of correspondents in the former colonies; one of his contacts was New Yorker Thomas Eddy. Eddy was a wealthy insurance broker and philanthropist with many interests in common with Colquhoun, such as prison reform, savings banks and bible societies. His other interests included the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum and living conditions among the Indians. He also happened to be second in importance only to De Witt Clinton in the building of the Erie Canal, serving as one of the original commissioners and promoters. Colquhoun and Eddy's common interest was a question that still concerns social scientists and government officials today. Does pure charity deprive the impoverished of the incentive to improve their condition, and what would work better? The two men corresponded regularly on the subject, with the New York Evening Post carrying some of the letters.

Thomas Eddy was not the only New York connection of Patrick Colquhoun's. We'll explore his more immediate and personal link next time.


There were other jobs in British history just as unpleasant as chimney sweeping (some more so). For an overview check out Jobs are divided among the following periods: Roman /Anglo-Saxon - collecting guillemot eggs, etc., Medieval - lime burner, etc., Tudor - gong scourer, etc., Stuart -petardier's assistant, etc., Georgian - riding officer, etc., Victorian - rat catcher, etc. Jobs are categortized by the following criteria: Causes death or serious accident; Involves urine and/or excrement; Backbreaking hard work for little reward; Hard wet work; Boring in the extreme; Hazardous to health; Social outcast. And if any of these SHOULD sound appealing - you're strange. You can however take an online aptitude quiz for such jobs. Click on "Career Guide". Click on "Find Out More" for links to related websits and readings. Happy Hunting!

Bringing It Home

Rochester, New York, civil engineer and newly-elected mayor Elisha Johnson won the bid on Section 57 of the Genesee Valley Canal, the section passing through the gorge south of Mount Morris that would become Letchworth Park. Needing to build a tunnel though part of the canyon wall he decided to build a home for his family at the top of the cliff. As a name for this rustic, four-story (including observatory), eighteen-room "log cabin" he chose Hornby Lodge. And his reason?

It was in honor of a previous landowner of the area, William Hornby. Hornby, who we've met in passing recently, was part of a consortium of three British land developers, owning large amounts of property in western New York State. Hornby's share included 50,000 acres of land in the mid-Genesee River valley, including the southern end of the park.

The second, and principal, investor was William Johnstone. In 1760, at the age of 31 the Scotsman married Frances Pulteney and when, through a rapid series of Pulteney deaths, she received the large family fortune, William changed his last name to his wife's and adopted the family title Earl of Bath. Becoming a member of Parliament in 1775 he began focusing his talents on financial investments, including the purchase of land in America and India, bringing Hornby, a former governor of Bombay, in as a partner. Several New York State names came into existence as a result of Pulteney's involvement: Bath, for his title, and Henrietta, for his daughter's first name. The Hornby name entered the map as a town in Steuben County, for William's son John.

Perhaps at William Hornby's suggestion, a partner was brought to Pulteney's attention, his friend (dramatic pause here), Patrick Colquhoun. This was at the same time Colquhoun was becoming heavily involved with London policing matters. But the man was nothing if not a master juggler, keeping many enterprises in the air at the same time. And he was the dealmaker on this one. In 1792 he entered into negotiations with the representative of American landowner Robert Morris, who had purchased all of the lands east of the Genesee from investors Oliver Phelps and absentee landlord Nathaniel Gorham, two years previously. His contact was Morris's agent William Temple Franklin, a grandson of Benjamin and son of William, former Loyalist governor of New Jersey.

A deal was struck whereby the newly-formed group gained 1.2 million acres of New York State land, including three of today's counties and parts of five others, for 75,000 pounds sterling, the equivalent of nearly $5,000,000 in today's currency. For carrying out the negotiations Colquhoun was given one-twelfth of the profits, at no cost to himself. (Some historians have calculated the pie as having thirteen-twelfths, but we'll let that pass). There was only one slight hitch. Foreigners couldn't own U. S. land. The Associates would need an American agent. Not too American, of course. Colquhoun suggested Charles Williamson, a Scots-born former military officer who'd married a Connecticut woman after being captured on his way to fight under General Cornwallis. It would turn out to be a wise choice. For a while.


A precise history of the western and central New York land purchases and speculations, up through the Robert Morris' purchase, can be found in the Wikipedia article at the Historymania! web site: The article contains embedded links to such topics as: Oliver Phelps; the Treaty of Hartford; the Genesee River; the Holland Land Company; the Triangle Tract, and the Pulteny Associates - as well as a map of the various tracts. (No good map of the associates' purchases can be found online). Any cartographers out there, amateur or professional, here's your chance.

Its Own Reward

Charles Williamson, agent for the Pulteney Associates, departed England with his family in August 1791, landing at the Virginia Capes 17 storm-tossed weeks later. They moved up to Baltimore, and by the following January Williamson had become a U. S. citizen. He took title to the New York lands on April 11, and soon afterwards moved to the central Genesee River valley and set up headquarters near Big Tree, today's Geneseo. The new settlement was named Williamsburgh (after Sir William Pulteney, of course). Meanwhile, back in England, associate Patrick Colquhoun had been busy. New settlements have a number of requirements. High on the list is settlers, and access. It's an extra bonus if the settlers can create their own access. Enter our final player - Albrecht Moll, alias William Berczy. A painter, architect and self-proclaimed nobleman, with a decidedly checkered past, Berczy came to the attention of Colquhoun and, in March, while Williamson was heading toward his new settlement, the Scot and the German signed an agreement by which Berczy would provide German settlers who would build their own road from the New York/Pennsylvania border into the Genesee Valley. There was just one slight hitch. No one bothered to tell the new settlers about the road-building part. Most of them were from the cities and knew as much of road building as they did of astrophysics. They arrived in Philadelphia on August 3, aboard the Frau Catharina and were ready (as they would ever be) for their road making adventure — a true reality show. After a month they had managed five miles of a rough pathway through the forest. Before winter set in, a small contingent was moved on to Williamsburgh, while the rest settled in at Painted Post, near Corning. The rest of their story's been told elsewhere, the eventual arrival of everyone on the Genesee the following spring, the disputes with the Anglo settlers, the eventual departure along with Berczy to cross Lake Ontario and settle in York, which would later become Toronto. They must have picked up some pathmaking skills; they would go on to lay out and build what would become the city's Yonge Street. Williamson would go on to found a number of cities in central New York such as Bath, Geneva, and Pultneyville. This frontier Barnum would launch a series of promotional events in the new territory, draw hundreds of settlers to the new lands, and go through Pulteney Associate funds like the proverbial hot knife through butter. The Earl of Bath would eventually pull the plug on his agent, passing the post on into more frugal hands. The three British principals still made out quite well. William Hornby lived until 1803, in a mansion he'd had built on land granted him by the government. When Pulteney died two years later, he would leave his heirs 600,000 sterling, not counting American property worth 2,000,000. Heirs of the associates sold off their American property, piece by piece, through the ensuing years, the last of it, in Steuben County, being sold in 1926, 134 years after Williamson officially took possession. Patrick Colquhoun tried to resign as magistrate in 1817 but was kept on an additional year. On April 25, 1820, he died of a stomach ailment at the age of 76, leaving an estate of 16,000. A friend would later write, "May the reader endeavour to emulate his virtues!"

Part 1, Part 2
© 2006, David Minor
Index to articles by David Minor


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