Ancient Estates Case This is the story of a case which was tried in Greene County in 1933. Individuals from all over Greene County as well as United States, Canada and Mexico had bought shares from a corporation claiming that it would provide the investors with a portion of a $45 million settlement.
Frank Snypp of Osborn, a former funeral director and McClain Caterim of Brazil, Indiana, a farmer announced that they had information which might provide a considerable amount of money to 4,400 potential heirs of what became known as the “Mercer Estate”.
The real estate, originally a grant from England, was some of the most valuable land in Manhattan which at one time, was purchased from the Indians for $14.
It was reported that accrued money was in the hands of nine trustees. Fourteen hundred certificates of membership in the Mercer Heirs’ Association had been issued at $50 each. Folks in Greene County were looking forward to untold riches if the case was proven in court. However, as is sometimes the case, all that glitters…. Frank Snypp and his partner McClain Catterlin were indicted January 1932 on charges of violating the Ohio securities act, commonly known as the “blue sky law”.
Due to the fact that so many Greene County investors had participated, this was, as expected, one of the large topics of conversation in the county.
The Xenia Gazette editor thought it wise to get background information before the trial began. The first information appeared on the March 3, 1933 edition of the Xenia Gazette wherein the editor stated “Much controversy has arisen in the last few years as to whether or not there are any ancient estates, and particularly the Bogardus Cox, Edwards, Mercer, Baker and Springer estates, in which present heirs might participate.
The Gazette has made arrangements with Attorney Frank L. Johnson of Xenia to present a series of articles entitled ‘Borgadus, et al versus Trinity, et al’ in which there will be a true and correct history of these estates… Both sides, for and against the heirs’ claims will be given fairly, accurately and impartially, so that you can read and judge for yourself.”
Thus began the story of a group of people who were laying claim to property in New York City. The allegation was that the initial deed granted in 1636, was valid and any subsequent document was false. The story as recorded began: “In order to determine whether the present heirs have any claim in any property the first thing to determine is ‘Did Anneke Jans Bogardus ever own an estate in New York City, or elsewhere, and if she did, and it then subsequently passed out of her hands, by what right do present lineal descendants now claim title to said lands.’”
Attorney Johnson states that she did indeed own about sixty-two acres in present New York City known as “Dominee’s Bowery.” The land had been granted to she and her first husband, Roelofe Jansen in 1636 by the Dutch Governor Van Twiller. It was confirmed by a patent in 1654 by Governor Stuyvesant. It was confirmed again in 1667, so she did indeed own the property at the time of her death.
She was the mother of eight children, five of whom were living, along with grandchildren from one of the daughters who had died. Therefore, each would have been entitled to one-sixth of her estate. In her will, she gave each heir an equal part of her property.
March 9, 1671, the children transferred the property to Colonel Francis Lovelace however, not all of the heirs signed the conveyance. It was because of this that the present heirs were claiming title to the land. The property of Governor Lovelace was confiscated from him by the Crown of England for debts and the property granted to the Duke of York. The Dutch confiscated the land but returned it to England in 1674.
In 1705 the land, now known as Manhattan Island, was granted to Trinity Church. In 1830, a suit was filed in New York entitled “Nathaniel Bogardus, et al versus …Trinity Church” seeking to reclaim a portion of rent received and profit from the sale of any portion of the property.
In court, the church stated that the property had been owned for 125 years before the suit was brought, therefore the suit had not been filed in time. The law in New York at the time stated that a suit such as this had to be filed within 20 years. The church presented the record of a court proceeding of 1786, where Cornelius Bogardus had attempted to enter the property and demand the release to himself and the heirs.
The court determined that he had no legal right to enter the land. It seems that the church had employed Aaron Burr as its attorney for advice concerning the attempts of the Bogardus family to get possession of the property in question. There was a lot of testimony asserting that the church had claimed the land since 1705.
Mr. Johnson made the comment that at the time of this trial, some of the church property was being rented by a distillery and a brewery. He thought that rather strange. During the trial, which lasted from 1830 to 1847, it was noted that in 1785 the sheriff of the city went to dispose the Bogardus’ of a certain house on the land occupied by them. The people in the house shot and wounded one of the group. The sheriff then took possession of the property, delivering it to the church.
Another case was filed in the court in 1834 by heirs stating that Trinity Church knew that the property contained in the grant had not ever included the Bogardus property, but was taken nevertheless prior to the Revolutionary War. Cornelius Bogardus was one of the descendants of Anneke, and sternly opposed the encroachment. People acting on behalf of the church burned his fences and sent their cattle to devour his crops.
Having lost his income, he accepted the offer of 700 pounds in consideration of which he conveyed to the church about 1785 all his title and interest in the land. The church did not record the deed, however, and concealed its existence, fearing that the Bogardus family might show that they had once held the land.
The lineal descendants claimed that the church had been guilty of fraud in getting the grant from Queen Anne. It was on this bit of evidence that Mr. Snypp and his associates sold “shares” hoping for great rewards. The trial in Greene County will be covered next week.
Joan Baxter is a county resident and historical columnist.