Town of Hannibal Historical Stories

Formation of the Town

From the time of the visit of Samuel de Champlain in 1615 until the late 1700’s, what is now Oswego County was home to Native Americans. The villages of the Oneidas and the Onondagas were outside the county area, but Native Americans passed through while hunting or fishing. Speculation has it that the Hannibal Village Square is close to the location of an old Native American camp of this period.

 After the Revolutionary War began in 1775, it was decided there needed to be some way to induce more soldiers to enlist. As a result, the Continental Congress guaranteed every fighting man a bounty of 100 acres. But in New York State the incentive didn’t seem to be enough. There was little faith in the currency at the time, so New York State ultimately decided to offer an additional 500 acres, bringing the total to 600 acres for New York Revolutionary War veterans.

To satisfy these land grants, the State of New York set aside a particular area known as the Military Tract on July 25, 1782. Land that eventually would become the Town of Hannibal was included in the Military Tract. However, since all this area belonged to the Native Americans, the State had to first settle with them. On September 12, 1788, per the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, Onondaga Indian Title to the Military Tract land was extinguished and the Onondaga Indian Reservation was created. On February 25, 1789, per the Treaty at Albany, Cayuga Indian title to the Military Tract land was extinguished and the Cayuga Indian Reservation was created. As most know, these treaties have been repeatedly challenged in recent years.

On February 28, 1789, the New York legislature passed an act authorizing the Commissioners of the Land Office to direct Surveyor-General Simeon De Witt to lay out townships of one hundred lots of 640 acres each to satisfy the Revolutionary War veterans land claims. Surveys were promptly made and maps of the new townships were filed.

The names of the towns within the Military Tract are attributed to Robert Harper who was schooled in the classics at Columbia College and was serving in the Surveyor-General’s office. Harper drew from his classics library to provide names of the towns in the tract: Cicero, Manilas, Pompey, Fabius, Solon, Cincinnatus, Virgil, Homer, Tully, Lysander, Hannibal, Cato, Camillus, Marcellus, Sempronius, Locke, Dryden, Ulysses, Milton, Scipio, Aurelius, Brutus, Ovid, Romulus, and Junius. In our case, Hannibal was a great Carthaginian general. Governor George Clinton officially bestowed the towns their names on July 3, 1790. Robert Harper, the name-giver, was himself remembered in Harpursville and Harper College of Binghamton.

The Survey Township of Hannibal (Township No. 2) included all of the present Oswego County lying west of the Oswego River, except for the north 33 lots of the Township of Lysander. In 1791, Hannibal became part of Herkimer County having previously been included in Montgomery County.

In 1794, when Onondaga County was formed, the three Military Townships of Hannibal, Lysander and Cicero were placed under the jurisdiction of the Town of Lysander. The Military Township of Hannibal was separated from Lysander and made a town by itself within Onondaga county on February 28, 1806. The first town meeting for Hannibal was held the first Tuesday of April 1806, at the home of Matthew McNair, an innkeeper in the Village of Oswego. The following officers were elected: Supervisor- William Vaughan,  Town Clerk – Edward O’Connor, Assessors – Asa Rice, Barnet Mooney and Reuben Sprague, Collector – Ezekiel Brown, Overseers of the Poor – Daniel and Peter D. Hugunin, Highway Commissioners – Peter D. Hugunin, Barnet Mooney and Thomas Sprague, Jr., Constables – Ezekiel Brown and James Hugunin, Fence Viewers – David and Peter D. Hugunin, Poundmaster – William Eadus, Commissioners of Gospel Lots – Joel Burt and Asa Rice, Pathmasters – John Masters, James Hugunin and Parvenus Sprague.

Also, at that meeting, the following resolutions were passed relative to the maintenance of stock and fences:

“That rams shall not be free commoners from the first of September till the fifteenth of November, with a forfeiture of $2.00 for each offense.”

“That fences shall not be less than five feet high, and not exceed the space of five inches between rails, from the ground to the height of two feet.”

Each individual who owned livestock was to have them identified with certain distinctive marks of identification. For example, Thomas Sprague’s mark was a slanting crop of the underside of the left ear.

On April 20, 1818, by act of the New York State Legislature, the Towns of Oswego and Granby were set apart from the Town of Hannibal. The boundaries of the Town of Hannibal have remained fixed ever since and include an area of 27,786 acres.

Image above: Carthaginian General Hannibal – Namesake for the Town of Hannibal.

Submitted by Lowell C. Newvine, Hannibal Town & Village Historian.