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Who Were the Proprietors?
by Bryan Thompson

Judge William Cooper

On February 23, 1803, Judge William Cooper satisfied a long held desire to own a piece of the Macomb purchase when he bought township #7, De Kalb, from Samuel Ogden. The township at that time encompassed over 64,000 acres of land. Mr. Cooper paid $62,720 for the township or approximately one-dollar per acre.

However, as a real estate speculator and developer, Judge Cooper did not have the necessary cash to complete the deal so he turned to outside sources. His investment of $27,123.33 gave him a controlling interest of more than 40% of the town.

At a meeting held at the Coffeehouse on Wall St. in NYC . he convinced a number of wealthy acquaintances from his years serving in the US Congress to invest in his new adventure.

At a meeting held at the Coffeehouse on Wall St. in NYC . he convinced a number of wealthy acquaintances from his years serving in the US Congress to invest in his new adventure.

These investors became known as the proprietors. In the early years they signed powers .of attorney to William Cooper giving him complete control over their shares which include joint ownership of the Village plot at Williamstown (De Kalb Village) and the large mill reservation at Cooper's Falls. There deeds simply stated that they owned X acres of land in the township of De Kalb giving no bounds or location. The asking sale price of land from the proprietors to the settlers ranged from $2.50 to $3 per acre.

This arrangement worked out well until the death of Judge Cooper and the economic unrest before and after the War of 1812. Cooper's son's Richard and Isaac tried to keep the management system in place, but Richard's death followed by Isaac's mismanagement lead to its collapse in 1814-1815. Potter Goff and Silas Spencer were hired for $667.25 to survey the entire township' into approximately 100-acre lots. The numbers of these lots were put into a hat and the proprietors drew to determine the location of their shares. The shares of the proprietors exchanged hands several times over the first 75 years of the town's history. As late as 1906 descendants of the absentee proprietors were still selling land in the town to local residents.

So Who Were the Proprietors?

Nathaniel Smith

Nathaniel Smith may have been the wisest of all of the proprietors. In 1805, for $3200, he purchased the Reuben Lewis b. Cook parcel of 2560 acres lying on the Township's eastern boundary with Canton (in the area of the present Risley Rd and Ideauma Rd) and 600 acres near Redrock known as the Mile Square (bounded app by US Route 11, County Route 19 and County Route 18). He did not invest in the ViI1age plot or the Mills. He alone had a deed to specific parcels of land and handled the sale of his own investments. He sent his Brother-in-law. Thomas B. Benedict, to De Kalb to handle the sale of his land and avoided being caught up in the legal hassles that followed the division of the township and subsequent bankruptcy of the Cooper heirs.

Nathaniel Smith was born in Woodbury, Conn., January 6,1762. He had only a common school education. He was a farmer and a cattle dealer. He became interested in the practice of law and apprenticed with Judge Tapping Reeve of Litchfield, Conn. He was admitted to the bar in 1787. He served in the Connecticut Sate legislature from 1789 to 1795. He was instrumental in the abolition of slavery in Connecticut at this time. From 1795 to 1799 he was a member of the US Congress. It was during this time he became acquainted with Judge Cooper.

Smith declined to run for reelection to Congress in 1799 and returned to serving in the Connecticut Legislature until 1806. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of Connecticut in 1806 and served there unti1 1819. According to Chauncey Goodrich (Reflections of a Lifetime by P. Parley), "He (Nathaniel Smith) was regarded as one of the intellectual giants of his time." Smith died in his hometown of Woodbury, Connecticut March 9,1822.

Fredrick DePeyster

There were two Fredrick DePeysters, father and son, who were involved as proprietors in De Kalb. They are often confused in records, as they did not commonly use the title junior and senior in their transactions. They were descended from the Dutch merchant Johannas DePeyster who originally settled in New Amsterdam (NYC) in 1645. The family name is pronounced de pays' tr. The family was involved for several generations in the governing of the colony of New York.

Fredrick Sr. was in the colonial militia and subsequently joined the NYS Loyalist Volunteers as a captain. He married the daughter of the British Com.-Gen. Hake. He was wounded in battle in South Carolina. Following the Revolution he and his brothers moved to St. John's, New Brunswick. There he was a magistrate of York County in 1792. He returned to New York City shortly there after to manage his properties.


DePeyster led the group of proprietors in 1814 when they forced the Cooper Estate to partition the town among the proprietors. He was often called upon to mediate disputes among various factions of the proprietors.

Fredrick DePeyster jr. was born in NYC, November 11, 1796. He graduated from Columbia College in 1816 and studied law under Pctcr Jay and Peter Van Schaack. He was admitted to the bar in 1819 and from 1820 to 1837 he was Master in Chancery. He retired in 1837 and devoted the rest of his life to public philanthropy.

He was President of the NY Historical society, Director of the NY Home for Incurables, Vice-President of the NY Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Founder of the NY Soldier's Home, Trustee of the NY Deaf and Dumb Society and Trustee of the NY Public library among many others.

Fredrick DePeyster Jr. married Mary Justina Watts in 1820. They had one son John Watts DePeyster. Fredrick jr. died at his son's home Rose Hill, Tivoli-on-the-Hudson, August 17, 1882. The two DePeysters were undoubtedly the most benevolent of the proprietors of the township. Thcy were the only ones who did not reserve the mineral rights when they sold land to settlers. The township of Depeyster is named for them. They donated a large bell for DePeysters's town hall. In 1852 they paid for much of the cost of erecting the Union Church in De Kalb Village.


Luther Braddish

Luther Bradish was born in Cummington, Mass. September 15, 1783. He graduated from Williams College in 1804. He moved to NYC where he studied law and entered the bar. Tn 1815 he married a daughter of the wealthy Newport Merchant Colonel Gibbs. She died within a year leaving Braddish a substantial fortune which he invested among other places in De Kalb and Franklin county, NY with Fredrick DePeyster.

In 1819 he was hired by the US government to explore the possibilities of trade with Levant.

This began a seven-year tour of the European continent. He traveled as far east as Russia and lived in Paris and St. Petersburg for several years.

Upon his return to the United States in 1826 Mr. Braddish moved to Franklin County to manage his Northern New York properties. He was representative to the NYS Assembly for Franklin County 1827-30 and 1835-38. He was speaker of the assembly in 1838. He was Lieutenant Governor of NYS from 1839-1843.

Luther Braddish devoted the last years of his life to public philanthropy. He was president of the NY Historical Society, and president of the American Bible society. He sold all of his interest in De Kalb when he speaker in the NYS Assembly. Luther Braddish died at the Gibbs family estate, Newport, RI August 30, 1863.

Mary Daubeny
Charlotte C. Daubeny
Henry Waddell and Eliza M.
Daubeny Waddell
W. Coventry H. Waddell (1802-1884)
Loyd Daubeny (d.1842)
Susan Daubeny (1796-1877)

The Daubeny/ Waddell proprietors are cloaked in the cloud of mystery that only the very wealthy can maintain. According to The Recollections of Old New York by Mary C. Hopkins, the Daubeny family were direct descendants of Lord Daubeny of the times of Henry the VIII and the Waddell's were cousins of the Earl of Coventry.

The widow, Mary Daubeny, ran one of New York City's most fashionable rooming houses on Wall St. William Cooper, the Van Rensselaer's and many other prominent individuals all vied for lodging there. The Daubeny children considered William Cooper a "father". Early on in the 1790' s, Mary Daubeny began investing her children's money in Cooper's various land speculations. When Cooper brought his proposal for De Kalb to New York City in February 1803 the Daubeny's invested along with their brother in law Henry Waddell.

By 1814, the Daubeny/Waddell land had passed on to another generation. The family maintained control of their lands in De Kalb through out the nineteenth century. They soon passed management of their land from John Fine to Gideon Townsley. They sold land under liberal terms. Susan Daubeny had a reputation among the settlers as a benevolent landlord. She donated generously to the building of the Union Church in De Kalb Village in 1852.

William Coventry H. Waddell was President Andrew Jackson's personal secretary and Jackson later appointed him United States Marshall of the Northern District of New York State. He was 24 at the time. This appointment was made largely because of his familiarity with the northern regions of the state (because of his De Kalb lands?). Martin Van Buren subsequently appointed him Register of Bankruptcies for the region, an office he held from 1841 until his death in 1877.

W C H Waddell was born in the family home on the corner of Broadway and Mill St. where his father, Henry Waddell, and grandfather had been born before him. He studied law and was admitted to the bar at an early age. He speculated in real estate around New York City. When the Murray Hill property (see Murray family portion this article) was auctioned in 1822 he purchased it. It became known as the "Fifth Avenue Castle" and was famous for its lavish artwork and European sculptures. His wife was New York City's premier entertainer of the time. He met with hard times during the Panic of 1837 and was forced to sell his magnificent castle. He managed to regain his fortunes shortly there after and his family remains prominent to this day.

The Daubeny/Waddell families were among a very few of the original proprietors of De Kalb who prospered from their investments.

William Holt Averell

William H. Averell was born in Cooperstown, NY in 1794, the son of James Averell Jr. and MarciaHolt. He began his education by working in his father's tannery and saddle shop. He attended Fairfield Academy and Union College. He graduated from the latter in 1816. William apprenticed at the law in Cooperstown, then with Judge Tapping Reeve in Litchfield, Connecticut.

He practiced law for a few years in Cooperstown before helping organize the Otsego Bank in 1830. He was a director of this bank and its successor, The First National Bank until his death in 1873.

The Averell family first became involved in St Lawrence county in 1809. In that year James Averell Jr. with Gideon Townsley purchased the tan yard in the village of Williamstown in the Town of De Kalb. James Jr. also purchased a large tract of land in the township known as Kellogg's tract (now in the town of DePeyster).

In 1822, the Brigden decree forced the sheriff s sale of the Cooper family lands in De Kalb. William H. Averell, with his brother James Averell 3rd, and their attorney John Fine purchased 25,155 acres of land in De Kalb for $1,634, an average of only six cents per acre.

Averell managed his lands in a calculated businesslike manner. Any settlers who were living on lots he purchased were given four years to payoff their entire original mortgages. Settlers who could not produce written documentation of mortgage agreements or payments had to begin over with a new mortgage even if they produced several credible witnesses. Recognizing the hopeless tangle of the shared title of Cooper's Mills (Cooper's Falls), he sold his 62% interest in 1825.

In 1829, Averell found that settlers had been stealing oak trees from his property in De Kalb. He hired a crew of woodcutters to strip all the oaks from his De Kalb properties. The woodcutters traveled through out the town cutting oak trees on his settlers' lots and on lands owned by other proprietors.

William H. Averell was twice asked to donate land to build churches in De Kalb Village. In 1852 the Union church was built on his land. He never donated land to any churches and actually sold the land the Union church stood on in the 1860's! (This shouldn't have come as a surprise. He had earlier done the same thing to a Broome county church whose title he obtained with other Cooper properties. ) Averell acquired title to the town square and cemetery that William Cooper had laid out in his plan for the village of Williamstown (De Kalb). He sold the town square as a house lot and refused to provide a deed for the cemetery forcing its abandonment. He retained title to the mineral rights on all the properties that he sold to settlers in the township.

Following the death of his brother James 3rd, William Averell turned on John Fine, his agent and attorney for lands in De Kalb for over 30 years! He fired Fine, claiming mismanagement, and refused to pay Fine's final fees. In the 1860's he sold the majority of his remaining properties in the township. A few land contracts passed from him to his heirs who deeded over the last parcel in 1906 some 97 years after the Averell family first invested in the town.

James Averell 3rd

James Averell 3rd was born in Cooperstown, NY in 1790. He was the oldest son of James Averell Jr. and Marcia Holt. He was educated in the common schools of Cooperstown and went to work in his father's tannery at an early age.

In 1809, James Averell Jr. shrewdly purchased over 1100 acres of land on the State Road in a portion of De Kalb known as Bristol's settlement, from Judge Cooper. "The land is very handsomely situated considered the choicest in the township."(Goff and Spencer's survey 1814) James Averell Jr. immediately sent his newly married 19 year old son James 3rd to open a store on the property. (This property today is within the bounds of DePeyster)

James and his young bride were not happy in the wilds of De Kalb. He soon hired Silas Kellogg to manage the store and lands and moved to Ogdensburg, where he became a prominent merchant and trader. He helped to organize the Ogdensburg bank and was president of the institution for many years. James Averell 3rd helped to organize the first railroad in Ogdensburg, the Ogdensburg Free Academy, the Morris.Mining Co., and the Rossie Lead Mining Co.. In 1840, he was elected Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

He was an astute businessman and handled his father's investments well. In 1822, with his brother, William H. Averell, he purchased the Cooper's lands in De Kalb at bankruptcy auction. (See W.H. Averell commentary for details). It is most likely his recommendation that brought John Fine on as the third partner and attorney in their De Kalb enterprise ( Known as "Messrs. Averell and Fine"). James Averell always deferred decisions about De Kalb lands to his brother William. James Averell died in 1861.

John Fine

John Fine was born in New York City August 26, 1794. In 1809, at the age of fifteen, he graduated from Columbia College. He completed his Masters of Arts there in 1812. He studied law for four years including one year in Connecticut with Judge Tapping Reeve.


His older brother, Henry M. Fine, had worked for Isaac Cooper and the proprietors in De Kalb during the 1814 survey for partition of the township and the eventual division in NYC in April 1815. John Fine took Henry's place, coming to De Kalb in 1815 as the attorney for all of the proprietors involved in the Cooper partition.


By July 1816, Fine appeared to be getting restless living in De Kalb. In a letter to Fredrick DePeyster,


Fine said, "The difficulty and at the same time the impropriety of practicing in my profession at this place have much unsettled me... the expense of living in the manner I am compelled to is very great." Fine offered to cut his fees to DePeyster in half in exchange for his blessing a move to Ogdensburg.


John Fine had been offered a partnership in the law practice of Louis Hasbrouk, St Lawrence County's first Clerk and probably the most prominent local lawyer of the time. From other letters of Fine's in the DePeyster papers, it appears Isaac Cooper was disgruntled with his "preference" of the NYC proprietors and contemplated firing him as early as May 1816. The Cooper family finally fired John Fine in November 1816.


Meanwhile, John Fine took advantage of his power of attorney in the months leading up to his being sacked. He sold over a dozen jointly owned properties in the village and town. He convinced the heirs of William Cooper Jr. to sell their interest in the town to Fredrick DePeyster and Luther Braddish. He also commenced a major repair of the Gristmill, which was inoperative at the time he came into the town.


When John Fine left town in late 1816, he stopped all work on the mills and took all the Cooper families bonds and mortgages with him. He held the documents until he received the payments owed to him by the Cooper family. Although James and Isaac Cooper threatened to bring him into the Court of Chancery they apparently paid up and he returned their papers in 1818. The mill however fell victim to the dispute. The proprietors could not agree on an equitable division." Repair work was still not completed and they were still inoperational as late as 1829.


John Fine was appointed first judge of the county in 1824 and continued in this position until 1839. He was county treasurer from 1821-1833. He was elected to the US Congress in 1838, where he served for one term. He became first judge again from 1844-1847. He was elected to the NYS Senate in 1848. He served one term. The only significant piece of legislation he drafted was a bill, which for the first time guaranteed the property rights of married women.


In village life he was also prominent: He was a trustees and president of the board of the Ogdensburg Free Academy, he was an Elder of the Presbyterian Church and a Trustee of the Ogdensburg Cemetery Association. The Township of Fine was named after him.


During his time in public office the various proprietors of De Kalb removed their lands from his control. In the end he was only left with the Averell properties. John Fine did not use his position of power to promote the township; in fact he often denigrated the place. As in a letter to W . Averell, in which he described the place as, largely worthless, more famous for it's ruins than its prosperity.


Yet whenever there was a property which had economic potential (such as various mill sights in the town), he quickly purchased them for himself and Hasbrouk. Usually reselling them at a handsome profit in a few years. John Fine appeared to take pleasure in the ruin of the place where he started his career in St Lawrence County. In fact his official biographies never mention his connection with the town!


By 1850,the aging Fine was challenged by the young De Kalb lawyer Orin Fisk. Fisk was determined to wrest control of the mills and other stagnant properties in De Kalb from Fine and the Averell's. He organized the initial development of Cooper's Falls in 1852. Litigation began almost immediately. Averell was forced to reexamine his land dealings with Fine.


Fine tried again to withhold the legal documents as he had from the Coopers. Eventually, Averell hired Charles Anthony of Gouverneur and got his papers back. Anthony's reports to Averell on his De Kalb holdings were scathing. Not only had Fine lead him into a legal nightmare with the other proprietors. Fine had also been collecting rents on Averell's De Kalb lands for years in butter and other produce, then reporting to Averell that no rent money was collected. Fine had even blocked the sale of some lands whose rents were providing his household with butter and meat!


Closing Notes:

It is worth noting that most of these early proprietors were all connected in someway to the Ogden family. Susan Murray married William Ogden. Frederick DePeyster's sister married an Ogden. Thomas Ludlow Ogden granted the mortgage that eventually bankrupted the Murray's. Finally Gouverneur Morris's sister Euphemia was married to Samuel Ogden. Could it be possible that William Cooper was used by the extended Ogden family as a manager for their investments, even as he saw himself as the great real estate entrepreneur?




  • Appleton, A.1888 Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography.

  • Averell, Wm. ND Averell Family

  • Papers New York State

  • Historical Association, Cooperstown, NY.

  • Curtis, Gates 1894 Our County and Its People: A Memorial Record of St. Lawrence County New York D. Mason & Co. Syracuse.

  • Depeyster ND Depeyster Family

  • Papers New York Historical

  • Society, New York, NY.

  • Drake, F. S. 1870 Dictionary of American Biography.

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