William Gilliland


According to traditional sources, William Gilliland was born in 1734 in Caddy, Northern Ireland. His father died while he was a boy and his mother re-married. He was said to have been talented and ambitious and initially sought to establish himself in business and society in the city of Armagh. However, a frowned-on liason with the daughter of a local noble family caused him to seek his fortune elsewhere.

He enlisted in the 35th Regiment of the British army. About 1756, he shipped out for America. In that year, he reportedly saw action at Lake George.

In 1758, he was characterized as "sickly" when he was discharged from the army at Philadelphia.

He soon found work in a mercantile house in New York City. By 1760, he was known as a "merchant" of New York. He married Elizabeth Phagen of New York City in February 1759. She was the "beautiful and accomplished" daughter of his business partner. The marriage produced a number of children before her death about 1780.

As a veteran, in 1764, he was able to obtain a number of soldier's land bounty shares to ultimately secure title to 2,000 acres on Lake Champlain.

In March 1765, he read a paper before the "Society for Promoting Arts, Agriculture, and Economy in the Province of New York" on the value of wilderness land. Two months later, he set off for the north and stopped at Albany.

In 1766, the Albany holdings of "Gilliland and Shipboy" in the first ward were valued on the assessment roll. In 1779, his house and lot in the second ward was taxed as well.

In 1766, he brought his family north and, with a number of recruited tenant/settlers, established the town he named Willsboro on the western shore of Lake Champlain. About that time, he secured an appointment as Justice of the Peace for "the whole of the Hampshire Grants." Later, he would erect a mill at the falls of the Bouquet River.

During the War, he was removed from his settlement by the Revolutionaries and taken to Albany for confinement. More than once, he was released only to be confined again. At the same time the governor of Canada also considered him disloyal to the crown. However, afterwards, he was accorded a land bounty right in conjunction with the Albany militia regiment.

In 1776, the name of a "William Gilliland" appeared as a first lieutenant on the roster of the first regiment of the New York Line. Probably a different individual altogether!

In 1782, he filed a claim for extensive damages done to his Champlain Valley property by the British. At that time, he identified himself as "at present of the City and County of Albany Merchant." However, he made no claims regarding any city-based property. By 1788, his Albany property was no longer listed on the assessment roll.

Afterwards, he spent some time in debtors' prison in New York City.

In 1790, his household in the town of "Wellsburgh" in Clinton County was configured on the first Federal Census.

He lived out the rest of his life in the home of his daughter in "Bessboro." He is said to have become deranged and wandered around the estate subject to the elements. Thus, William Gilliland died in 1796 at the age of sixty-two. Two of his daughters married Albany natives.

biography in-progress


the people of colonial Albany Sources: The life of William Gilliland is CAP biography number 8188. This sketch is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources. Later, Elkanah Watson's son wrote and published Pioneer History of the Champlain Valley, being an Account of the Settlement of the Town of Willsborough, by William Gilliland, together with his Journal and other Papers and a Memoir (Albany, 1863). A comprehensive antiquarian sketch of his life (including a sketch of his portrait that we are unable to copy at this time) by Hiram Walworth has been referenced above.

Charlotte Gilliland (perhaps born in 1770) is said to have married the mysterious Stephen Cuyler during the mid-1780s and to have resided in Clinton County.

quietly posted: 4/25/08