COM. OF PENNSYLVANIA v. COXE, 4 U.S. 170 (1800)

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U.S. Supreme Court

COM. OF PENNSYLVANIA v. COXE, 4 U.S. 170 (1800)

4 U.S. 170 (Dall.)

The Commonwealth
Tench Coxe, Esq.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

March Term, 1800

IN September term last, a rule was obtained, on behalf of a number of persons, who had associated under the denomination of 'The Holland Company,' the the purchase and settlement of lands, lying in the county of Alleghany, north and west of the rivers Ohio and Alleghany, and west of Conewango creek, by which the secretary of the land office was directed to show cause, why a mandamus should not be awarded, commanding him to prepare and deliver patents to the company, for various tracts of land, for which warrants had previously issued in their favour, under the act of the general assembly, passed the 3d of April 1792. Theattorney-general ( M'Kean M. Levy, W. Tilghman, and Cooper, now showed cause for discharging the rule; and Lewis, E. Tilghman, Ingersoll, and Dallas argued for making it absolute. In order, however, to introduce, with perspicuity and advantage, a discussion of the important question involved in this case, it is necessary to give a general view of the facts and circumstances, which produced the controversy.

By the charter granted to William Penn, on the 14th of March 1681,1 he became the proprietor of the soil embraced within the boundaries of Pennsylvania. The charter title, however, was fortified, as well since, as before the revolution, by successive purchases from the Indians; whose claim may be considered as fairly and finally extinguished, throughout the territory of the state, by the treaty of fort Stanwix, on the 23d of October 1784; and the treaty of fort M'Intosh, on the 21st of January 1785. 2 Independent,

Page 4 U.S. 170, 171

too, of the charter, the boundaries of the state have been defined and enlarged, by judicial decisions, by compact, and by purchase. A controversy on the subject early arose between the proprietaries of Pennsylvania and Maryland; which was finally adjusted in the year 1750, by a decree in the Chancery of England, enforcing the specific performance of an agreement, which the parties had entered into in the year 1732.3 The visionary and extravagant pretensions of Connecticut, extending to lands westward, as far as the South Sea, began to annoy the peace of Pennsylvania so early as the year 1753;4 and although the rights of sovereignty and jurisdiction, after much irritation, and conflict, were at last, in the year 1782, authoritatively decided to belong to the latter state, the intruders under the spurious title of Connecticut, continue to assert a private right of soil, over a considerable tract of Pennsylvania. 5 The western line of the charter boundary, corresponding with the meanders of the river Delaware, remained undefined by actual survey; and it was, for a while, difficult to ascertain the limits between the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania and Virginia; but the two states, actuated by a just and friendly spirit of compromise, appointed commissioners to run a line of separation; and their report upon the subject was adopted and established in the year 1784.6 On similar principles, the jurisdiction and property of the islands in the river Delaware had been settled between Pennsylvania and New-Jersey in the year 1783.7 And in the year 1792 the state completed the present range of her territory, by obtaining a formal grant from the United States of a triangular tract of land, bounded by lake Erie: which tract had been ceded and relinquished by resolutions of congress of the 6th of June, and 4th of September 1788; and the Indian title was purchased, and extinguished by commissioners, appointed by the state, in January 1789.

The settlement and cultivation of Pennsylvania, have, at all times, been the favourite objects of her government. The proprietaries, while the soil and jurisdiction were vested in them, resisted every attempt of individuals to purchase lands from the Indians: but permitted a free access to the land office, or board of commissioners, which they instituted, either for the purpose of obtaining original grants, or for the purpose of completing equitable [4 U.S. 170, 172]

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