PLATTSBURGH - While much of the region's focus is on Samuel de Champlain's exploration of North America, one man's focus is on the first settlers in Clinton County.
David Glenn, who was recently a featured speaker at a meeting of the Algonquin Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, gave a presentation, titled "Clinton County's First Settlers: An Issue in Debate." During his discussion, Glenn presented evidence that refuted what has been written in local history books - that the first settlement was established in 1763 by French immigrant Jean LaFramboise.
Glenn, who lives in the town of Plattsburgh, said his home was built by the son of the man who he believes created the first formal settlement in the county - William Gilliland. Glenn said he came about the information after his retirement as a civil engineer eight years ago, when he began researching the history of his home.
"All I wanted to do is find out how old my house was," said Glenn. "I did that and I started getting involved in the history of the Gilliland family."
When examining William Gilliland's journal, Glenn found Gilliland - who was later the founder of Willsboro and Elizabethtown - wrote extensively about having built a possession house at the mouth of the Salmon River in what later became the town of Peru, in September 1766. In that time, a possession house was built to stake one's claim on the land, explained Glenn.
While his research could have ended there, Glenn said he became interested in learning more about local history.
He eventually came upon a book written by a man named Peter Palmer, who published his work in 1853. In his book, Palmer quoted the writing of Swedish professor Peter Kalm, who came to Champlain Valley in 1749.
It was from Palmer's interpretation of Kalm's writing that the basis of local history as it is known today was written, Glenn said. However, he feels an error was made.
"When Palmer wrote, he took three paragraphs from Kalm's writing and presumed there was early French settlement near the mouth of the Great Chazy River. In his writing, Kalm said nothing about the Great Chazy River," said Glenn.
According to Glenn, Kalm wrote he had seen some houses in his travels, located approximately 12 miles from Fort St. John in the then British Province of Canada. However, Fort St. John was located approximately 22 miles from the border.
"So, what Kalm wrote about is some housing he saw north of the border," said Glenn.
The confusion Palmer had came when interpreting Kalm's writing, Glenn explained. In the first two of the three paragraphs of Kalm's writing, he mentioned seeing Fort St. Ann on Isle La Motte in Vermont and Windmill Point in Alburg, Vt. In the third paragraph, he wrote about the settlement.
"Palmer must have thought, 'Gee, these paragraphs are all linked together.' Well, when Kalm wrote about a subject, it was totally divorced from a subject in any other paragraph," Glenn said. "Palmer was just plain incorrect."
Based off Kalm's writing, Palmer concluded one of the first settlers of the county was Jean LaFramboise on the shores of Lake Champlain in Chazy, in 1763. However, Glenn said in his research he found LaFramboise only visited the area in 1763. He left for Canada and returned in 1768, after he bought the property, which he then settled, Glenn said.
Though a historic marker stands at the site of LaFramboise's settlement, declaring the date 1763, Glenn said the marker is "just plain wrong."
"The existing history says certain dates and certain people and what I've done is gone back and looked at those early histories, looked at their sources and come up with different people and different dates," said Glenn. "I'm not writing a revisionist's history where I'm making judgments about things, I'm just taking another look at the facts that are in the books of people who wrote those histories."
Because Clinton County was officially formed in 1788, county historian Anastasia L. Pratt said "untangling the web of land ownership and residence before that date is virtually impossible. "
"LaFramboise is generally accepted as the first permanent, white settler of the county because official land records do exist for his settlement," she said.
Most accounts of the early history of the county acknowledge many people lived here, some temporarily and some permanently, before 1788, said Pratt. However, the lack of material evidence hinders specific claims to the earliest permanent settlements.
"It is, of course, quite possible [Gilliland's] house predates the 1768 erection of the first LaFramboise house," said Pratt. "However, short of new documentary evidence and the dating of the original structure, we have no real way of knowing for certain."