Cattaraugus County New York Genealogy and History
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The largely unsettled territory was the traditional homeland of the now-extinct Wenrohronon Indians and later occupied by the Seneca people, one of the five Nations of the Haudenosaunee. During the colonial era, it was claimed by at least three territories: New York Colony, Massachusetts Bay Colony and Pennsylvania Colony, each of which extended their colonial claims to the west until after the Revolutionary War.
When counties were established in the province of New York in 1683, the territory of Cattaraugus County was included within the very large Albany County. This was an enormous county, including the northern part of New York as well as all of the present state of Vermont and, in theory, extending westward to the Pacific Ocean. As additional areas were settled, this county was reduced on July 3, 1766 by the creation of Cumberland County, and on March 16, 1770 by the creation of Gloucester County, both containing territory now in Vermont.
On March 12, 1772, what was left of Albany County was split into three parts, one remaining under the name Albany County. One of the other pieces, Tryon County, contained the western portion (and thus, since no western boundary was specified, theoretically still extended west to the Pacific). The eastern boundary of Tryon County was approximately five miles west of the present city of Schenectady. The county included the western part of the Adirondack Mountains and the area west of the West Branch of the Delaware River. The area then designated as Tryon County is represented in the 21st century by 37 counties of New York. The county was named for William Tryon, colonial governor of New York.
In the years prior to 1776, most of the Loyalists in Tryon County fled across the Niagara Frontier into modern day Ontario, Canada. In 1784, following the peace treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War (and a treaty with Massachusetts that finally settled who owned Western New York), the name of Tryon County was changed to Montgomery County in honor of the general, Richard Montgomery, who had captured several places in Canada and died attempting to capture the city of Quebec. This replaced the name of the hated British governor.
In practice, however, these counties did not cover modern Cattaraugus County or Western New York. Most of that area lay within the Indian Reserve established in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix by the British; it was intended to be reserved for Native Americans and was ruled off-limits to European settlement.
The newly independent United States sought to extinguish native reserves after the British ceded their territory east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes to the United States. This included Iroquois territory in New York; the four nations that had been allies of the British mostly relocated to Ontario, where the Crown gave them land grants in some compensation for losses. The Treaty of Canandaigua, in 1794, extinguished what was left of native title, with the exception of several reservations, two of which were at least partially located in what is now Cattaraugus County.
Ontario County was split from Montgomery County in 1789 as a result of the establishment of the Morris Reserve. In turn, Genesee County was split from Ontario County in 1802 as a result of the Holland Purchase. This period was the beginning of more significant European-American settlement of this western territory. Shortly afterward, Genesee County was reduced in 1806 by the creation of Allegany County.
Cattaraugus County was formed in 1808, split off from Genesee County. At first there was no county government due to the sparse population. From 1812 to 1814, Cattaraugus County was incorporated in Allegany County; from 1814 to 1817, records of the county were divided between Belmont (Allegany County) and Buffalo (then in Niagara County). The name "Cattaraugus" derives from a Seneca word for "bad smelling banks," and was named for the "odor of natural gas leaking from rock seams." In 1817, a county government was established for Cattaraugus County in the southwestern corner of the town of Hebe, now Ellicottville.
Numerous towns in the county are named after agents of the Holland Land Company, including Ellicottville (Joseph Ellicott), Franklinville (William Temple Franklin, a speculator and grandson of Benjamin Franklin), and Otto and East Otto (Jacob Otto). The first settlement in the county was in Olean. After 1860, the county seat was moved to Little Valley.
The Allegany Indian Reservation is within the county boundaries and is one of two controlled by the federally recognized Seneca Nation of New York in the western part of the state; the Seneca's other territories, Cattaraugus and Oil Springs, are both partially within county boundaries. South of Salamanca, New York, a small city located within the reservation, is Allegany State Park, which is contiguous with the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.
Cattaraugus County Genealogy Records
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Genealogy Research in Cattaraugus County, New York
Cattaraugus County Clerk
Cattaraugus County Center
303 Court Street
Little Valley, NY 14755
Phone: (716) 938-9111
- Erie County - north
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