Photo © Ian Coristine/
 You are here:  Back Issues      Archive

Grindstone’s Small Islands

Charles G. Emery, of Calumet Island, deliberately opened a can of worms in around 1895; he was determined to own all of Maple Island. Others were also interested in Maple, including Eugene Robinson and Alexander Peacock. There was one problem; the ownership of one half of Maple was uncertain and clear title could not be obtained. For years the owner of the clear titled half of the island paid the taxes for the whole island to avoid a tax sale. Emery was undeterred and went out and hired “expert title untanglers.”1

It all started way back in 1823 under the Treaty of Ghent. The border had been settled between what was British North America or Canada and the United States. Grindstone Island and many small islands around it became US Territory incorporated into the State of New York. Col. Elisha Camp of Sackets Harbor purchased the islands from the State at a preferential price; the feeling was that the low price was a reward for Camp’s service in the War of 1812.2

The original patent to Camp was not recorded in the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office until the 27 February 1883 and then only because it had been recently found. “It is the letters patent of the people of the state of New York to Elisha Camp, of all the islands in the St. Lawrence river in this state between the village of Morristown, in the township of Hague, and Grindstone Island, containing fifteen thousand four hundred and two acres.” The patent dated 1 December 1823 included islands in Lake Ontario; as well it was subject to rights of William Constable, Alexander Macomb, and Augustus Sackett. It was signed by Joseph Christopher Yates, 7th Governor of New York and Archibald Cambell, Deputy Secretary of State.3

Upon purchase Camp set about selling the islands to settlers and land speculators. Camp sold lots on Grindstone as follows:

  • Samuel Johnson Sr. Lot 6 Book V Page 97 5 Jan. 1824
  • Betsey Fitch Lot 16 Book T Page 803 4 July 1823
  • William Wells Lot 19 Book Z Page 131 24 Apr. 1824
  • William Wells Lot 20 Book Z Page 131 27 Apr. 1824
  • Zeno Allen Lot 33 Book V Page 1785 2 June 1824

The references to book and page in this article are in the records in the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office in Watertown, NY.

The remainder of Grindstone and island properties around it was sold to Charles Sanford of New York City, a land speculator.6 Sanford sold all his interest in Grindstone Island properties in 1825 to the estate of Nicholas Everton, Eliza Everton, his widow as executrix. Sanford secured a $5,000 mortgage from a Mr. Richard N. Harrison using as collateral “all the islands in the St. Lawrence which lie between a line drawn at right angles to the river from the village of Morristown and a meridian drawn through the westernmost part of Grindstone Island.”7

Sanford defaulted on the mortgage in 1827 and the islands were sold by William VanWyck as Master of Chancery for the State of New York to Henry Yates and Archibald McIntyre of New York City. Yates and McIntyre were in the lottery business; newspaper articles would later claim, erroneously, that Henry Yates had won the islands in the lottery.8 Reflecting a moment remember the original patent to Camp was signed by Joseph C. Yates as governor of New York, Henry Yates brother!

At that time lotteries were allowed for educational institutions; the institutions did not run the lotteries themselves, but contracted with firms like Yates and McIntyre.9 They operated their firm nationwide; newspapers reported that they had made the money to buy the islands from the Louisiana Lottery. Henry Yates became a very wealthy man and invested his money in real estate in various parts of New York State. An impressive list of these properties can be found in the 13 October 1855 Albany Argus posted by his executors after his death in 1854. The following islands were included in the advertisement: Abel’s (Picton), Hemlock (Murray), Jeffers (Grenell), and Bluff. A curious omission is the small islands he purchased from the Chancery Court.

It is interesting that P. T. Barnum started his career as a lottery ticket salesman. “(Barnum) traveled to New York to meet with a director of Yates & McIntyre, the nation’s largest lottery-management firm, about opening a lottery office in Pittsburgh.”10 The firm offered Barnum a job in Nashville, which he declined.

In 1833, John B. Yates and Archibald McIntyre assigned their interest in the firm of Yates and McIntyre to Henry Yates.11 As an asset of the firm the islands purchased by the firm became the sole property of Henry Yates. After Henry’s death his executors sold the four islands mentioned above to Mary McLean for $200 to settle an action brought by the heirs.12

Mary McLean died in 1865 and the four islands were sold again by her executors in settlement for still another action brought by heirs of Henry Yates. The islands were sold to the following: 13

    • Hemlock (Murray)      William Wilson of the Town of Clayton $ 60.00
    • Abel’s (Picton)           Sarah A. Church of the Town of Clayton $160.00
    • Jeffers (Grenell)        Lucy M. Grenell of the Town of Clayton $67.00
    • Bluff                              Milton Ballard $10.50

The description of the property owned as follows: “all the islands in the St. Lawrence which lie between a line drawn at right angles to the river from the village of Morristown and a meridian drawn through the westernmost part of Grindstone Island.” This description did not appear in the executor’s published list of Henry Yate’s property; the following is an approximation of the description draw on an 1897 US Chart No. 6.

Emery continued his quest for Maple Island presumably by contacting the Yates family heirs in about 1895. The heirs began the discovery process to determine just what their property was and what interest they had. The first step was a survey map of the islands; the survey was done by James P. Brownell of Carthage, NY and DeWitt M. Carter of Watertown using U. S. Chart No. 6 as reference. That survey map is in the Jefferson County Clerk’s office; each of the small islands around Grindstone is numbered in that survey.

In August 1897 notices began to appear in local newspapers this one is from the Watertown Herald.

Edward R. Satterlee the plaintiff was Henry Yates grandson; Edward’s brother was Bishop Henry Y. Satterlee the founder of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.14 Many of the defendants are Edward’s relatives; the supposed object of this suit is to establish Edward’s rights to the islands in a partition action.15 Note the familiar Grindstone names: Herst, Potter, Black, Johnson, Marshall, and Slate; also summer names from islands around Grindstone: Morgan, Woolfe, Diepolder, and even Emery. The attorney is casting a wide net to catch any property without a valid title.

Edward “alleges that he is an heir, of a subsequent generation (his mother was Henry Yates’ daughter) and that he has failed to get his share and that the title of the present holders is therefore clouded and illegal.”16 The following islands were excluded presumably because they had valid titles: Big Gull, eastern half of Maple, Little Blanket, Crawford, and Picton, and several islands near French Creek. 17 June 1906, Justice Milton H. Merwin, ruled on the Maple Island title; the Yates heirs were the owners of one half of the island; the 100+ small islands around Grindstone were included. Justice Merwin’s decision was based upon litigation which started in 1897 and reached the Court of Appeals.18 Justice Andrews, of the Onondaga County Supreme Court, in 1906 determined that the following “have no interest in the premises partitioned” William A. Black, Caroline F. Morgan, Sylvester Johnson, William C. Marshall, Benjamin Calhoun, Moses Herst, James H. Warner, John R. Black, and Orlando Potter. 19 Further Justice Andrews “directs the sale of such of the islands as are owned by tenants in common, and appoints State Senator George H. Cobb as the referee to conduct the sale.”20

An auction was held on 11 August 1906 in Watertown at the offices of Brown, Carlisle, and McCartin, 8 Stone Street, with Senator Cobb acting as auctioneer. 21 Here are the results of that auction as recorded in Book 322 Pages 2 and 343, Jefferson County Clerk’s Offfice.



Amount Paid

No. 88, 88a, and 89

(Big Squaw)

George E. Morse


No. 90 (Little Squaw)

George E. Morse


Maple (western half)

George E. Morse


No. 109 (West Crawford)

George E. Morse


No. 110 N. Crawford

George E. Morse


Big and Little Blanket (No. 100?)

George E. Morse


No. 112 (Small island off of Picton)

George E. Morse


No. 113 (Big Gull) and No. 114 (Little Gull) and small islands in Eel Bay adjoining, (Nos. 115, 116, 117 later purchased by Emery see Book 322 P 296 18 Sept 1906)

Frank L. Hall


Nos. 30 - 48 off Cement Point

Including all rocks and shoals

Between Nos. 105 and 48 whether on 1897 map or not

J. Hewitt Morgan


Nos. 49, 50, 51, 52

George E. Morse

$ 300

No. 54

George E. Morse


Nos. 62, 62A, and 62B

George E. Morse


No. 67 (Blueberry)

George E. Morse


Big Black and little island (No. 55? and 56?)

George E. Morse


No. 97 and 97a (Point Angier)

R. G. Mills and H. W. Bush of Rochester

Price omitted

Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17

Eagle Wing Group

George E. Morse


Nos. 91, 92, 93, 94, and 95 small islands between Grindstone and Picton

George E. Morse


All remaining islands, rocks, etc. belonging to the estate

George E. Morse


No. 61 (Jolly)

George E. Morse


Nos. 19, 20, 21, and 22 (Marshall Group)

George E. Morse


No. 60 (Little Jolly or Peach)

George E. Morse


No. 74 and 74a (Myers or Hog)

George E. Morse


George E. Morse and Guy VanAmringe were known to be attorneys, Morse in Clayton and VanAmringe at 10 Wall Street, NY: it is assumed that they were both representing C. G. Emery. At least Morse sold what he bought at the 1906 auction to Emery by Deed found in Book 323, Page 5, dated 12 February 1907:

Charles Goodwin Emery died in 1915; his estate sold some of the numbered islands and others during the next twenty-five years as follows:


Sold to:

Amount Paid



No. 117

Hubert Patterson


Book 375 P 236

5 Feb 1924

No. 90

Albert Baltz et al


Book 381 P 122A

20 Nov 1925

Picton (Abel’s)

Edward Lynn et al


Book 382 P 58

3 Nov 1925

No. 88

Albert Baltz et al


Book 384 P 106

13 Aug 1926

No. 60

Willard I. Oliver


Book 384 P 218

28 Oct 1926

No. 61 (Jolly)

James A. Singmaster


Book 395 P 93

6 Nov 1929


Edmund Eckart


Book 395 P 111

6 Nov 1929

Nos. 91 - 95

Prentiss Bailey


Book 403 P 510

8 Jan 1932

No. 74 (Myers)

Charles A. Myers


Book 409 P 26

25 Nov 1933

No. 62

Alex MacIntosh


Book 410 P 372

16 July 1934

No. 114

Little Gull Island

Harold E. Cobb

Henry J. Wilson


Book 410 P 471

11 Oct 1933

No. 67

Corbett Carnegie


Book 421 P 527

14 Oct 1937

No. 64 (Meade)

Helen J. Singmaster


Book 423 P 134

4 Apr 1938

No. 54

Robert A. Digel


Book 432 P 103

16 Sept 1940

Shot Bag or


Lorraine R. Ellis


Book 432 P 159


Pine & small

Morse G. Dial


Book 441 P 499

24 Aug 1942


Calumet Castle Corp.


Book 522 P 224

7 June 1950

On 31 August 1940 a sale was held at the site of the burned New Frontenac Hotel on Round Island to dispose of those islands and properties in the Emery Estate, Emery died in 1915. The sale was to benefit his heirs; Attorney J. Lawrence Conboy of Watertown was appointed by the court to conduct the sale. The Watertown Daily Times, 31 August 1940, published the following sales:



Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17

Eagle Wing Group

Harold E. Cobb of Syracuse

Nos. 19, 20, 21, and 22 (Marshall Group)

Harold E. Cobb of Syracuse

Eel Bay Shoal Group (probably No.113, 115, 116, and 117 nearby rocks and shoals) and Little Gull (No. 114)


No. 112 (Small island off of Picton)

Charles Cuppernall of Clayton

It is interesting to note that Emery was caught in his own net. He had purchased a number of properties from Walter H. Camp as executor of the will of Elisha Camp. However, Camp had sold the properties to Sanford.


Purchase Amount



Eagle Wing Group and a rock south as on Chart No. 6


Book 249 Page 540

3 Nov 1887

Per Deed Book 323 Page 5 dated 12 February 1907, George E. and Eliza R. Morse of Clayton conveyed “all the islands, rocks, and shoals or interest therein, between a line drawn from the head of Wells Island N & S, and the meridian drawn from the western point of Grindstone Island whether set down on the said map or not” to Charles G. Emery. The map referred to here is the Survey Map of Grindstone and Surrounding Islands of 24 May 1897. This deed is the last deed for the small islands that could be found so far. At the August sale there-to-fore mentioned there is no record of the sale of the “islands, rocks, and shoals or interest therein” as recorded in Emery Estate papers in the Jefferson County Surrogate’s Court Office. However, there is one entry which may apply “15 October 1940 all property not previously sold by 30 August 1940 was auctioned for $1,627.65; the inventory value of said property was $38,838.50.” What exactly was sold and to whom is unknown; documents related to the sale in the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office are missing! So almost 200 years of untangling goes untangled!

  1. THE OBSERVER, On The St. Lawrence, 1925 held at Thousand Islands Museum
  2. Ibid
  3. Lowville Journal Republican, 12 November 1885, Page 3
  4. $1.00 in consideration of her late husband's death in War of Grindstone Island
  5. Mr. Allen was guardian for Mr. Augustus H. Sackett was adjudged to be a lunatic 14 Jan. 1824
  6. Numerous deeds filed at the Jefferson County Clerk’s office.
  7. Book R2 Page 529 (10 May 1834) Jefferson County Clerk’s Office
  8. Phelps Citizen 9 August 1906 and Amsterdam Evening Recorder 29 July 1906
  9. The Union College Lottery and the Regency, Page 38, McGill-Queens university Press 1996
  10. Lottery Wars, Matthew Sweeney, Bloomsbury USA, NY 2009
  11. New York Evening Post, 29 April 1833
  12. Book 128 Page 221 (20 June 1856)
  13. Book 213 Page 623 Jefferson County Clerk’s Office
  14. Oswego Daily Times, 8 August 1906
  15. Phelps Citizen, 9 August 1906
  16. Ogdensburg News, 7 June 1905
  17. Ithaca Daily News, 12 June 1905
  18. Rome Daily Sentinel, 5 June 1906
  19. Watertown Herald, 30 July 1906
  20. Ibid
  21. Book 322, Page 343, 12 February 1907

By Rexford M. Ennis

Copyright 2014 Rexford M. Ennis All Rights Reserved

Rex Ennis has written several articles for TI Life.  His bio is recorded in Contributors, in December, 2008. In the past two years, Rex has published two important books on the Thousand Islands.  The first, published in 2010, Toujours Jeune Always Young, the biography of Charles G. Emery was reviewed in the June 2010 issue.  The second, Saints, Sinners and Sailors of the Gilded Age: A compendium of biographical sketches, centered on the Gilded Age, in the Thousand Islands, describes the biographies of every name appearing on an 1889 map, published by Frank H. Taylor, called: “Map of the Thousand Islands; Hotels, Parks and Cottages.”  See the book review in our July 2011 issue; you will find the map described in the July issue, and in the August 2011 issue.  Luckily for TI Life readers, Rex is hard at work on a new book – so stay tuned.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Deane Parkhurst
Comment by: Deane Parkhurst
Left at: 8:51 PM Wednesday, November 18, 2015
A fascinating record of the islands frequented by those of us lucky enough to have access to those islands as youngsters and then teens. Grindstone was always of interest because of the stones quarried in earlier years but never delivered to their intended use in lumber yards, carpentry shops and/or meat markets. But Maple Island was special. In my day owned by Mr. Eckard (sp?) who lived in a large cottage at Thousand Island Park. It was, simply, a party place for young adults. He had one rule: Have fun but clean up afterward. I remember falling asleep in the upper porch of my Grandmother’s T I Park cottage on Ontario Ave. listening to the older kids singing on Maple. Sound carries over water on still nights. Not that many years later I would be doing the same. And, yes, there was always a cleanup crew next day to make sure the island was pristine. Years later Eckard would deed the island to the five Yehle kids and from there divided into private ownership of individual cottage sites. We never did find the rumored buried treasure.