Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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WYOMING, a district in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania, the seat of a long conflict of jurisdiction between Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Attention is elsewhere called (see TERRITORIES) to some of the difficulties which were occasioned by the undefined western boundaries of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, and the three colonies south of Virginia. In the case of Connecticut the difficulty was increased by the fact that a western prolongation of its territory, passing over the Dutch settlements on the Hudson river, specially excepted under the head of possessions of "any other Christian prince or state." would have taken a strip of land about 120 miles wide from the northern part of Pennsylvania. Connecticut's assertion of her rights took the form of a private association, the "Susquehanna company," organized in 1753, and backed by the colonial government. In 1754 the company sent commissioners to meet the council of the Six Nations at Albany (see ALBANY PLAN OF UNION), in order to purchase the Indian title. Franklin and the other Pennsylvania commissioners, aided by Sir William Johnson, of New York, endeavored to prevent the purchase, but it was effected for £2,000. The eastern boundary was to be an irregular northerly line at a distance of ten miles east of the Susquehanna from latitude 41° north to latitude 42° north; thence two degrees of longitude west; thence 120 miles south; and east to the place of beginning. In 1762 the company sent its first party of settlers, 200 in number; but the Indians attacked and dispersed them, sent a deputation to Hartford in 1763 to repudiate the sale to the company, and in 1768 resold the same territory to Pennsylvania. In 1769 the company, disregarding the Indian transactions, again began to throw immigrants into Wyoming, and a desultory civil war began between the Connecticut settlers and the Pennsylvania men to whom the district had been leased. The former were several times driven altogether out of the valley, and compelled to return to Connecticut, but their persistence was successful within two years in obtaining a permanent lodgment. This result was due in great measure to the faulty land policy of Pennsylvania, whose proprietors, the Penn family, made it their regular policy, whenever it was possible, to grant leases only. Franklin says of Penn's initiation of this policy: "The scene of action being shifted from the mother country to the colony, the department of the legislator was shifted too. Less of the man of God now appeared, and more of the man of the world. One point he had already carried against the inclination of his followers, namely, the reservation of quit rents, which they had remonstrated against as a burden in itself, and, added to the purchase money, without precedent in any other colony; but, he artfully insinuating that government must be supported with splendor and dignity, and that by this expedient they would be exempt from other taxes, the bait took, and the point was carried." It was unnatural to expect that mere lessees would exhibit the same spirit in conflict as men who were maintaining a claim for absolute ownership. In other words, the struggle was between two opposite land systems, that of freeholders and that of leaseholders. While this was the case, the result was not doubtful, and the success of the Connecticut settlers was not displeasing to most of the Pennsylvania people, who disliked the proprietary government and the proprietary land system.


—In 1773 the Wyoming settlement had gained so much strength that it began to have ambitious views of independent existence as a separate colony, and the company, meeting at Hartford, June 2, 1773, adopted a form of government for it. But the legislature of Connecticut, having been fortified by the favorable opinion of a number of the best lawyers in Great Britain, Dunning, Jackson, Widderburn and Thurlow, asserted the colony's jurisdiction over the Susquehanna company's territory. In 1774 it was made a town under the name of Westmoreland, and was to be considered a part of Litchfield county, Connecticut. The town for several years sent delegates to the Connecticut legislature. The breaking out of the difficulties with the mother country suspended all minor disputes, and the contest was suspended throughout the revolutionary war, except that the attack on Wyoming and massacre of its defenders, in July, 1778, seem to have been influenced in a slight degree by the feeling that the settlers were interlopers.


—In 1779 an act of the Pennsylvania legislature transferred all the proprietary quit rents to the state, reserving the proprietors' private property to them, and granting them $524,000 compensation for quit rents, payable in installments after the peace. The new lord of the soil, the state, at once abandoned the leasehold system in future sales, and thus renewed the contest with the Connecticut settlers on equal terms. Under the provision of the articles of confederation which made congress a court of last resort for the trial of title to territory disputed between the states, Pennsylvania brought suit against Connecticut to decide the jurisdiction of Wyoming. The case was heard by five judges at Trenton, and in November, 1782, their unanimous decision, afterward confirmed by congress, was given in favor of Pennsylvania. By this time a number of Pennsylvanians had settled in the territory, and when these proceeded to elect justices of the peace the Pennsylvania legislature, in September, 1783, directed the governor to commission the officers so elected. This began the "war of the Pennamites and the Yankees." The Connecticut settlers had submitted to the decision of congress, and given up their town organization; but they expected that their Connecticut titles to land would be respected or quieted. The conditions offered by Pennsylvania were intolerable: the Connecticut settlers were to surrender half their lands at once, to retain possession of the other half for one year, and were then to surrender the whole to claimants under Pennsylvania titles. The settlers resisted, led by John Franklin and others, and prevented state agents from laying out townships or counties; and their resistance had so much sympathy from the people of Pennsylvania that the legislature, Sept. 15, 1784, suspended proceedings. For the next two years the district was in a very anomalous condition, until in September, 1786, Pickering (see his name) procured the adoption of two complementary measures which bade fair to settle the whole difficulty. Luzerne county was established, and the district was thus brought within the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania, and the petitions of the Connecticut settlers for a confirmation of their titles were granted by a confirmatory act. By Pickering's active exertions the settlers were brought to agree to the settlement in May, 1787; but in the following year the legislature, having secured the organization of the county, repealed the confirmatory act, and this shocking piece of bad faith ("unjust and cruel," Pickering calls it) reopened the difficulty. Suits were brought by Pennsylvania claimants against the settlers; but it required more than eight years to decide the first suit, and the unfavorable issue of this one had no effect on the persistence of the other settlers. Finally, April 4, 1799, the legislature passed a compromise act, which secured possession to those who held Connecticut titles, acquired before the Trenton decision of 1782, on the payment of small sums ranging from 8½ cents to $2 an acre. The war of the Pennamites and Yankees was thus ended.


—See Miner's History of Wyoming; Stone's History of Wyoming; Peck's History of Wyoming; 3 Franklin's Works, 123; Pickering's Concise Narrative of the Wyoming Dispute (1798), and authorities under PICKERING.


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