From Joseph Strong1
Cooperstown [New York] August 11, 1796. “I having been lately imployed by several Defendants in Actions of Trespass recommended by Joshua Mercereau in Tioga County2 for fishing in the Susquehannah River where he owned the Soil on both sides thereof and on argument thereof befor Balthazar De Haert Esqr. (your late partner in business while I were under your Tuition)3 as an umpire, being disappointed in his decision for the plaintiff in Support of the Actions, in private conversation with him afterwards we offered to submit the same to your Opinion—in consequence whereof as well as to satisfy myself & employers I transmit you the foregoing Case4 comprising the whole question.… Permit me Sir to request your Opinion on the Case.…”
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Strong was a clerk in H’s law office from 1786 to 1789 (“Certificate of Clerkship,” January 20, 1789 [ADS, Hall of Records, New York City]). When Strong wrote this letter, he was an attorney in Albany.
2. Mersereau, a native of France, had been deputy commissary of prisoners during the American Revolution. He served in the New York Assembly from Richmond County in 1777, 1778, 1779 to 1783, and 1784 to 1786. He subsequently moved to Otsego County and then to the town of Union in that part of Tioga County which later became part of Broome County.
3. Although Balthazar De Haert, who had been a New York lawyer since 1773, had been associated with H in several of his cases, it is not clear whether they even established a formal partnership. But at the very least De Haert had a “working arrangement” with H. See Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ). description ends , I, 1.
4. The enclosure to this letter, which was written by Strong and is entitled “Case,” reads: “The River Susquehannah is a River navigable with Boats, Canoes and other small Craf and is constantly so used by every person wishing to pass and repass therein; (and by the 11th Sessn. chap. 45 § 30. 2 Vol Laws of New York p 214) it is used and occupied as a common & public Highway for all the Citizens of this State &ca. and there are also in said River Shad and other valuable Fish. The Soil adjoining the River is owned by private Individuals & in many paths on both sides thereof.
“Question—Can the Citizens of this State lawfully take the fish in the said River and also pass up and down the same—and for this purpose go upon the Banks thereof, notwithstanding the Right of property be in Individuals, who refuse their Consent thereto?” (AD, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.)
Strong is referring to “An Act directing the Settlement of Public Accounts, and for other Purposes therein mentioned,” which reads in part: “And whereas, it is represented to the Legislature, that divers persons have … [been] guilty of raising wiers and other obstructions in the Susquehannah river within this State, whereby the navigation thereof has been rendered dangerous, and the free course of the fish up the same river impeded and diverted: For remedy whereof,
“XXX. Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons shall raise, erect or build, or cause to be raised, erected or built any such wier or other obstruction whatsoever in the same river, in any part of this State, he or they shall respectively forfeit the sum of five pounds for each offence, to be recovered with costs of suit, before any court, having cognizance thereof, by any person or persons who will sue for the same.” (New York Laws, 11th Sess., Ch. XCV [March 22, 1788].)