A Loyalist history lesson

history-of-putnam-county-p01-detailOne of the delightful things about genealogy is that it often leads us to learn, and re-learn, our history lessons in unexpected ways.

I have struggled for many years trying to find any New York documents on my immigrant ancestor John LeClear. He came from France probably at some point in the 1760s. I had first found him in the 1790 U.S. Census living in Half Moon, Albany County, New York. My only other clues came from copies of copies of some letters written by his then 93-year-old grandson, Shubael, which laid out the names and marriages of the first couple of generations of the family, mostly without places or dates. Shubael did state the John lived near Poughkeepsie before moving north to Albany. However, no church, cemetery, or vital records have emerged to help support this statement.

So I spent a lot of time in the Local History section of the New England Historical Genealogical Society library poring over the many sources there in search of John LeClear. I finally discovered mention of him in tax records for the Southeast Precinct and Fredericksburg in Dutchess County between 1770 and 1779.[1] The farmers in this area in the mid-1700s were often tenant farmers, so I did not expect to find supporting land records. However, in the History of Dutchess County, under the town of Carmel, I found a mention that John LeClear acquired land on the north side of Lake Mahopac.[2]

I shared my new findings with Helen Herzer at the NEHGS library. Helen, who has done a lot work on her family in New York, led me to the Family Search database New York Land Records, 1630-1975. These are available online, but are not indexed for search, so it takes a bit of time to find things. My patience was rewarded with a copy of the actual deed recording LeClear’s purchase of 89 acres of land on 31 May 1782 on Lake Mahopac for £26-14.[3]

The broader history lesson related to this finding came with the “seller” of this property: Roger Morris. Legally, he may have been the seller, but I doubt that he approved of the transaction. Morris had retired from the British Army in 1764, and stayed loyal to England through the Revolution. His American-born wife, Mary (Phillipse) Morris, was the oldest daughter of Frederick Phillipse. The Morris property was a part of the vast Phillipse Patent, which was originally some 250 square miles of land situated between the Hudson River and Connecticut. Morris and his family left for England after the conclusion of the Revolution.  It turns out that John LeClear’s purchase was actually one of hundreds of transactions made when 50,000 acres of lands that belonged to the Morrises, and to other Loyalists, were confiscated and sold by the State of New York. The Attainder Act of 1779 was the legal means used for these actions.

Later, it was determined in court that due to Morris’ prenuptial agreement, these lands were actually the property of the Morris children and should not have been subject to confiscation. The very wealthy fur-trader and real estate mogul John Jacob Astor got involved. In 1809, Astor acquired the property rights of the Morris children for £20,000. He attempted to collect rents from the purchasers. They naturally refused, since they had paid to own the land, and Astor sued the State of New York for restitution. It took 19 years to resolve the matter, but in 1828 Astor received $500,000 in compensation from New York. In today’s values, Astor turned a large $1.7 million investment into a remarkable $12.5 million.[4]

So, a simple project to find exactly where my farmer ancestor lived in the 1700s evolved into a fascinating history lesson on the post-Revolutionary treatment of the Loyalists and their real estate. This was a part of American history that didn’t get a lot of attention when I was back in school. Though even if it had, I got a much more compelling perspective on these events by being able to directly place my own ancestor in the history lesson.


  1. Clifford M. Buck, Dutchess County, N.Y. Tax Lists 1707-1787 (1990), pp. 272, 287.
  2. William S. Pelletreau, History of Putnam County… (1886), p. 327.
  3. American Ancestry, New York Land Records, 1630-1975, https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2078654?collectionNameFilter=false
  4. Futureboy.us, Historical Currency Conversions, https://futureboy.us/fsp/dollar.fsp?quantity=1&currency=pounds&fromYear=1809

About Don LeClair

Don is the Associate Director, Database Search & Systems, at NEHGS. He first got involved with genealogy while in college and spent many a day in the NEHGS library tracing his ancestors through New England and New York. Don also did volunteer indexing work for the library before joining the staff in 2016. Previously, Don had a 30-year career in the software industry working in and leading engineering and product management teams focused on IT Management products. Don has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Boston University.

27 thoughts on “A Loyalist history lesson

    1. I am sorry to say that I have not been able to get over to Mahopac to see the area yet. It is definitely on my list of things to do now!

    2. In 2010, I compiled, written and published a book on a branch of the LeClar family of Central NY state. Possibly descendants of the same John LeClair. My book starts with an Anthony LeClar (1782-1869) and takes some of his descendants down through 2010. I did some cursory research on his French ancestry, and have speculated on who some of them may have been. I would be most interested in corresponding with you on John LeClair’s life and his ancestry.

  1. Ironically I’m a LeClair too and live outside Albany, but my ancestors came down through Quebec. Anyway…one resource that might help is a research room at the Albany Institute of History and Art. They have a lot of early local history and it seems to be an unknown resource.

    1. Thank you Michelle. It seems that a lot of LeClair’s came south from Quebec. I appreciate the tip on Albany!

      1. Since my previous reply, Some people have suggested that despite family tradition, John may have come from Quebec. If you are interested, we could see if there is a possible connection.

  2. I have worked in Mahopac for the past 30 yrs. My sister-in-law is from the Hill line that settled Mahopac.

  3. That’s an interesting piece of history 4 ur family. I’ve been thinking of these kinds of legal documents in my own families. Does make me think outside the box.

  4. And none of these land transactions would have taken place if there had been teeth to Article 5 of the Treaty of Paris, 1783: The Congress of the Confederation will “earnestly recommend” to state legislatures to recognize the rightful owners of all confiscated lands and “provide for the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects” (Loyalists). The state legislatures ignored the “recommendation” and did not return one square inch of confiscated land.
    However, for those of us of United Empire Loyalist descent in Canada, that proves to be a good thing, because we have land petitions available which our ancestors submitted to the government, outlining their contributions during the Revolution and claiming land for their service and/or in replacement of land lost. The petitions are a very useful genealogical tool.

    1. You have a good point. Given the scarcity of vital records in early New York state. These kinds of resources are priceless.

  5. Thank you for the tip on finding New York land records through Family Search. My mother’s family was one of the Loyalist families whose land was confiscated.

  6. Hi Kathleen,
    If you happen to get to Albany, you can visit the New York State Archives. They have notebook A4013 “Report and abstract of sales of land forfeited to New York State by Roger Morris and claimed by John Jacob Astor”, and A4032 “Commissioners of Forfeitures. Lists of Sales of and Accounts of Payments for Confiscated Lands,
    1784-1788”. I found some additional information in these, but they are not available digitally.

    1. Thank you for the additional information. I do need to make a trip to Albany for information on both sides of my family during the 18th century. Both families were divided in their loyalties – patriot/rebel or loyalist/Tory.

  7. Can you please identify the map which is shown at the beginning of this article? Where can it be found? Thanks.

    1. Hi Steve,
      The map comes from: William S. Pelletreau, History of Putnam County… (1886), p. 327. I got it from a copy in the local history section of NEHGS. I believe that it is also available at Archive.org.

  8. I am also researching families who lived in Halfmoon while it was still a part of Albany County, and who continued living there after it became part of Saratoga County. Thank you for informing me about “New York Land Records, 1630 – 1975” on Family Search. I intend to browse through them. In your experience, would the earliest land records of Halfmoon be found in Albany County, or in Saratoga County, where it currently lies?

  9. Around 1795 a man named John Clear (most likely LeClear) squatted on a parcel of land in the Town of Western, Oneida County, NY owned by Squire Utley. Utley allowed him to work the 50 acres of the land to get a start and later purchased it back from Clear. (p.597 , Part I – Our County and Its People A Descriptive Work on Oneida County, New York by Daniel E. Wager – 1896) He is most likely a John LeClear who migrated from Saratoga County and is the ancestor of the numerous LeClears who lived and intermarried in Oneida County along with others who continued to migrate westward. This family intermarried with Teachouts, Dotys, Earls, Wiggins, Haynes, Wymans and many other names associated with the Town of Western and neighboring towns. Many of these people are listed as customers at the Brayton & Swan Store in Westernville, NY, a record that has been copied and widely distributed. A DAR application indicates that my ancestor Cornelius Doty (#3465 p. 326 Doty-Doten Gen.) was married to Mary LeCleare. I have collected data on the LeClears from this region, which includes various amounts of conflicting data as to their origins.

    1. For those interested, there is a published genealogy of one of John Clear’s sons, Anthony LeClar. It is “The Descendants of Anthony LeClar, (1782-1869)” by Robert G Yorks and Audra M. LeClar. It is available on Amazon.com

  10. Mr. Leclair! I cannot tell you how delighted I was to come across your information! I have been researching John Leclear for several years and have found the same documentation that you have and I think a bit more. I believe that our John was part of General Moses Hazen’s 2nd Canadian Regiment, as well. While proving/disproving many of the family stories, (the one about Lafayette in particular), I believe John was recruited by Hazen, along with other former French-Canadians during the War. A soldier named John Baptist LeClaire appears on Hazen’s roster of men. Perhaps you can shed some light on it.

  11. Very interesting read; the return of investment was a nice move on his part! Where in New York exactly was this? Can I see it on Google Maps today?

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