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Events in the Mohawk Valley


 

Not all the events of consequence can be given now, but it is hoped that a clear picture of life in the valley in the early and strenuous days may be given the reader. We shall interest ourselves chiefly with that part of the valley extending from Schenectady on the east to Rome on the west. It was at these two points and in the territory between them that the most important events in the history of the valley occurred. For a long time Schenectady was the extreme frontier post to the west and so was constantly exposed to attacks by the French and the Canadian Indians. Until 1665 Schenectady was a part of Albany, and it remained a part of Albany County till 1809.

One of the most prominent of the early inhabitants of Schenectady was Arendt Van Curler, or as he is more frequently called. Corlear. He visited the site of Schenectady as early as 1642, though the place was not settled until 1662.

Upon the assignment of lots at the organization of the village the one occupied by Corlear was where the Mohawk club house now stands.

Van Corlear was very popular with the Mohawks. No man with the possible exception of Peter Schuyler and Sir William Johnson, ever enjoyed the confidence of the Indians to the extent that Corlear did. This is evidenced by the fact that the Mohawks always called the governor of the colony "Corlear."

Corlear was the acknowledged leader of the Schenectady settlement. He came from Holland in 1630 to superintend the Van Rensselaer manor and served in that capacity till 1646. During a portion of this time he was the secretary of the colony. He married in 1643 and settled on the "Flatts" above Albany, where he lived till he joined with others in settling Schenectady.

While Van Corlear was living at the "Flatts" he learned of the captivity of Father Jogues, and visited the Mohawk country to secure his release, but without success. Later he was instrumental in aiding Jogues to escape.

On his return from this mission ir.to the Mohawk country. Van Corlear wrote to his employer, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, that "half a day's journey from the Colonic, on the Mohawk River, there lies the most beautiful land that the eye of man ever beheld." With this feeling toward the Mohawk valley it is not strange that he was among the first settlers who went into that country, though it was the extreme frontier post of the colony and certain for many years to be exposed to all the dangers of frontier life. It has been learned through a diary kept by Van Corlear, which was discovered and published a few years since, that he visited the Mohawk valley as early as 1634. In this diary Van Corlear says that he and two other white men with five Indian guides left Fort Orange (Albany) on the 11th of December, 1634. The following is an extract from the diary:

"Dec. 13. In the morning we went together to the Castle over the ice that had frozen during the night in the kil (river) and, after going half a mile (a Dutch mile is about three English miles) we arrived at their first Castle, which is built on a high mountain. There stood thirty-six houses, in row, like streets, so that we could pass nicely. The houses are made and covered with the bark of trees, and mostly are flat at the top. Some are a hundred, ninety, or eighty paces long, and twenty-two and twenty-three feet high. There were some inside doors of hewn boards, furnished with iron hinges. In some houses we saw different kinds of iron chains, harrow irons, iron hoops, nails, all probably stolen somewhere. Most of the people were out hunting deer and bear. The houses were full of corn that they lay in store, and we saw maize; yes, in some of the houses more than three hundred bushels."


The Marie House

Van Corlear was drowned in Lake Champlain in the year 1667 while on his way to Montreal with a party of Mohawks. For many years after this event the Five Nations spoke of that body of water as Cortear's Lake.

The story of the massacre at Schenectady has been told in the proceeding pages. Until 1775 Albany County extended toward the west without any well-defined boundaries. During the year 1775 Tryon County was organized. It included all the territory of the province west of Albany. It was divided into four districts each with a large territory sparsely settled. The district farthest to the east was called Mohawk. It included Johnstown, and was completely dominated by the Johnsons. The territory west of the Mohawk district, on the south side of the river, as far west as Little Falls, was known as the Canajoharie district; and the corresponding territory north of the Mohawk constituted the Palatine district; all the territory on both sides of the river, west of the Canajoharie and the Palatine districts formed the German Flatts and Kingsland district.

If we begin at Schenectady and pass westward till we reach Rome, considering the important events of each locality as we reach it, a clearer picture will be presented than if we studied the same events in the order in which they occurred. A study of the map of the Mohawk valley will be found to be very helpful.

Some seven miles west from Schenectady, and about a mile west of Rotterdam, is an old house built of stone laid closely together without mortar. It is on a high bluff commanding a fine view. It is of interest chiefly because it is probably the oldest house in the valley, having been built in 1780 or a little earlier. Its original owner was Jan Mabie, and the place is now owned by his descendants, though not occupied by them.

The Beukendaal Fight

What was known as the "Beukendaal Massacre" took place about midway between Schenectady and Hoffman's Ferry, about three miles from the former place. It was in no sense a massacre, but was a very bloody fight. It is of no historical importance outside the immediate locality, but is typical of many of the encounters that took place on the frontier, and for that reason may well be described. Beukendaal is the Dutch word for beechdale, and suggests the character of the country where the fight occurred.

In July, 1747, Daniel Toll, accompanied by a Negro servant and a companion named Dirck Van Vorst went from Schenectady to Beukendaal in search of some stray horses. While looking for them they heard what they thought was horses stamping. Going in the direction of the sound they entered an open space, where a party of Indians were playing quoits, making on the clayey ground the noise Toll and his companions mistook for the stamping of horses. They discovered their mistake too late. Toll was killed and Van Vorst captured, but the Negro escaped and carried the news to Schenectady. About the same time Adrian Van Slyck, who was on his farm which lay on the river road toward Amsterdam, about a mile from Scotia, learned of the presence of the Indians and sent for help. Four parties, numbering in all about sixty men, responded to the calls. They did not come together, but in parties separated by about an hour's time. The parties were made up in the main of young men who were without experience or discipline, and did not even have a leader. It was the old, old story of zeal without prudence, which was exemplified so many times on the frontier.

The first party to arrive saw, as they thought, Mr. Toll sitting with his back to a fence and in front of him a crow, which would fly short distances, but not leave the immediate vicinity of Toll. This aroused the curiosity of the men and they hastened to investigate, and were met by a storm of bullets from the hidden Indians, who had planned what proved to be a successful ambuscade. Many of the whites were killed, some taken prisoners, but a portion succeeded in escaping and reaching a deserted house belonging to a Mr. DeGraaf. On their retreat they were met by another party sent out to rescue Toll and his companion. The two forces fought desperately with the Indians. It was a hand to hand fight. They finally reached the house, entered it and barricaded the doors and windows. A little later the Schenectady militia appeared and the Ferry. It is about forty rods from the Central Railroad on the right hand side as one goes to the west. A little to the east of the Toll mansion, but not in sight from the railroad, is the DeGraaf house, one of the oldest in the valley.

Fort Hunter

From its position at the juncture of the Schoharie Creek and the Mohawk, Fort Hunter was a place of considerable importance. The Mohawk Indians had a castle there before the erection of Fort Hunter. Their castle was destroyed by the French and the Canadian Indians in 1689 and again in 1693. In 1709 Peter Schuyler accompanied several of the Indian kings, so called, to London. Queen Anne took a great interest in them and promised to provide them with a chapel, a school, and a fort. The fort was erected at the junction of the Schoharie Creek and the Mohawk River south of the Mohawk, and on the east bank of the Schoharie. It was named Hunter in honor of the governor of the colony. The fort was one hundred and fifty feet square, with a blockhouse at each corner large enough to accommodate twenty men.

Surrounded by the palisades of the fort was Queen Anne's Chapel. It was built of limestone, was twenty-four feet square, and had a belfry and a bell. The chapel w-as furnished by Queen Anne. It had an organ, the first one ever seen west of Albany, preceding the one at Johnstown by more than fifty years. The Queen furnished a communion tablecloth, damask napkins, carpet for communion table, altar cloth, Holland surplice, cushion for desk, large Bible, prayer books, book of homilies, silver salver, flagons and chalice, four paintings of Her Majesty's arms on canvas, twelve large octavo Bibles, two painted tables containing the Lord's Prayer, Creed and Ten Commandments, and a candelabrum with nine sockets.

At Fort Hunter the Indians built a schoolhouse twelve feet wide and thirty feet long". The Rev. Mr. Andrews had charge of this Indians withdrew. In the fight twenty of the whites were killed, thirteen, or fourteen taken prisoners, and a number wounded.

The Toll mansion and the DeGraaf house are still standing. The Toll mansion is about half way between Schenectady and Hoffman's school and had twenty children in attendance. When the Indians were all at home there were sometimes as many as one hundred and fifty attendants at church, thirty-eight of whom were communicants. The communion set given by Queen Anne was entrusted to the care of Brant and has since been in charge of his descendants.

During the Revolution the Mohawks buried it and at the close of the war they recovered it and took it to their new home in Canada. Fort Hunter was a place of considerable importance during the Indian raids of 1778-80.

Auriesville

A little to the west of Fort Hunter, on the south bank of the Mohawk, is the little hamlet of Auriesville. It was here or near here that Father Jogues and his associate Goupil were so brutally murdered. The society of which Father Jogues was a member has erected at Auriesville a shrine in honor of his memory. It was at or near Auriesville that a portion of the Mohawks made their home after the destruction of their castle at Fort Hunter.

Tribes Hill

A little to the north of Fort Hunter is Tribes Hill, not of great note historically, yet frequently referred to in the history of the valley. Some of the men who were active in public affairs made their home there. It was the birthplace of Hendrick Hanson, the first white child born in the Mohawk valley, west of Schenectady Hanson's father, Nicholas Hanson, emigrated from Albany to Tribes Hill about 1725. John Johnson in his raid through the valley in 1780 plundered Tribes Hill as he did other places.

The Butler House

Not far from Tribes Hill is Switzer Hill, where is still standing the old house which was the home of the Butlers. It is about thirty rods south of the junction of the Tribes Hill road with that leading from Fonda to Johnstown. The house was built by Walter Butler, Sr., in 1743. Here lived in succession Captain Walter Butler, Sr. his son, Colonel John Butler, and his grandson. Lieutenant Walter Butler. Colonel John Butler was in command at Wyoming and was responsible for the horrible massacre at that place. His son. Lieutenant Walter Butler, will be forever execrated because of the massacre at Cherry Valley. Both father and son were concerned in the greater part of the Indian raids and massacres which resulted in almost depopulating the Mohawk valley during the Revolution.

Walter was killed after the Battle of Johnstown. There are many versions of the affair. The one most commonly given is that he was killed by an Oneida Indian at a place that has since been known as Butler's Ford. It is said that Butler on his retreat after the battle had reached the Fast Canada Creek at a place about fifteen miles above Herkimer. He swam the stream on his horse, then turned and shouted defiance at his enemies who were pursuing him. At that moment he was shot by the Oneida referred to, who swam across the creek and tomahawked him, though Butler pleaded in vain for mercy. It is said that the Indian replied to Butler's pleadings by saying, "Sherry Valley! Remember Sherry Valley!"


The Butler House

About all that is certainly known is that Butler was killed at the place mentioned. The story of Johnstown has already been fully told.

Stone Arabia

Stone Arabia was a little hamlet about three miles north of Palatine. During the Revolution there was a small fort there known as Fort Paris. Colonel Brown was stationed there with a force of one hundred and thirty men. When Sir John Johnson made his raid to hold the enemy in check, so that he could attack them in the rear. Colonel Brown obeyed orders, but owing to some delay General Van Rensselaer did not make the promised attack. Colonel Brown and thirty or forty of his men were killed.

Fonda

Where is now the village of Fonda, was a hamlet known as Caughnawaga. The name was changed to Fonda in honor of Douw or Henry Fonda, or possibly in honor of both. Douw Fonda was one of the original patentees, and he and Henry Fonda were very active in building up the place. Just to the east of the present village of Fonda was the old Indian village of Caughnawaga. The town suffered much during the Revolution. It was burned by Sir John Johnson during his raid in 1780. The ancient Dutch church at Caughnawaga was founded in 1762 by Sir William Johnson. The principal supporters of the church were the Fonda, Vrooman, Wemple, and Veeder families. The first pastor of the church was the Reverend Thomas Romeyn.


Ancient Dutch Church at Caughnawaga

Canajoharie

Canajoharie is a thrifty little village on the south side of the Mohawk, a little over forty miles west of Schenectady. The upper Mohawk castle was located there. The parents of Joseph Brant lived in the Canajoharie district, but not where the present village is located. He made his home there till after the death of his first wife. The village was destroyed by the Indians in 1780. It was through the valley General Van Rensselaer ordered Colonel Brown here that Clinton gathered his forces and sent out an expedition against the Onondagas, then crossed over to the head of Otsego Lake on his way to join Sullivan.

The Palatines

Before considering the Palatine district it is necessary to have some understanding of the Palatines, who they were, why they came to this country, and the character of the people. The immigration of the Palatines forms one of the most interesting events in the history of the state, and the care of this people caused at least two colonial governors more concern than any other one matter connected with their administrations.

These people belonged to the lower Palatinate of the Rhine. They were ruled by a hereditary prince, who was styled the Count Palatine of the Rhine. The Palatine espoused the cause of Luther, and during the religious wars which followed, the territory of the Palatines was the battle ground of armies and was ravaged again and again. Louis XIV of France sent armies into the Palatinate and destroyed cities and towns, gardens and vineyards, and fields of grain. It is said that at one time there were two cities and twenty-five towns in flames. After this work of destruction the Palatines became exiles and wanderers. About the beginning of the eighteenth century they began to make their way into England. Later they sought homes in the new world and in this way they were encouraged by the English, who believed that these Palatines, being the hereditary foes of the French, would make desirable settlers in the country where the French and English were struggling for the possession of a continent.

The first of the Palatines who came to this country consisted of a party of forty under the leadership of Joshua Koekerthal. They settled in Orange County near Newburg in the spring of 1709. The following year about three thousand others came. They were settled on a tract of six thousand acres of land near Germantown, Columbia County. The English government defrayed the expenses of this large party and became responsible for their maintenance for a year. In return the Palatines agreed to settle on such lands as should be allotted them, and not leave without the governor's permission. There was "graft" even in those early days and the poor Palatines suffered greatly in consequence. There is not time to tell very fully the story of their grievances. The land allotted them was not adapted for the business assigned them. Those who were able to meet their obligations to the English left, and joined their brethren in Pennsylvania, but the larger number was compelled by stress of circumstances to remain in this state. A new ministry had come into power in England and it repudiated the agreements made with the Palatines and would not allot them land till they had paid their debt to the English, and these poor people found themselves virtually in slavery. They had been promised five pounds in money for each person, but no part of it had been paid. They had been promised clothes, tools, seed, etc., but little was furnished them. Their children were taken from them without their consent and bound out till they were of age. They furnished three hundred men for the expedition against Canada, but they were never paid for their services and many of them came back to find their families starving. Many of them were sent to aid the garrison at Albany and they also received no pay. The fall of the year came and many of these people went into the Schoharie valley, where the Indians had given them permission to settle; but when fifty families had reached the valley the governor ordered them not to occupy the land under penalty of being declared rebels. However, their necessities were such that they had no choice but to remain and take the chances of the governor's displeasure. Early the following spring the remainder of the Palatines on the Hudson joined their friends at Schoharie. The English seem to have done about all that they could to make life unendurable for the Palatines, who must have perished but for the friendship of the Indians. It is probable that the Palatines would have avoided most of their troubles had they at first settled in Schoharie or in the valley of the Mohawk instead of being sent to the unfit place on the Hudson. It seems clear that most of the trouble grew out of a shameful effort on the part of a few men to gather wealth at the expense of the government. A third party of Palatines came to this country in 1722. It was at about this time that these people made a settlement at German Flatts.

Macaulay, speaking of the Palatines, says, "They were honest, laborious men, who had once been thriving burghers of Mannheim and Heidelberg, or who had cultivated the vine on the banks of the Neckar and the Rhine; their ingenuity and their diligence could not fail to enrich any land which should afford them an asylum."

Among the Palatine names now to be met with in the valley are Hoffman, Bellinger, Hartman, Edick, Wever, Helmer, Becker, Kneiskern, Conrad, Young, Houck, Angell, Snyder, Wagner, Newkirk, Kline, Planck, and many others who are descendants of the people of whom Macaulay speaks so highly. One of Sir William Johnson's daughters married Daniel Clans, who was one of the Palatines, and a noted Indian fighter. Among the Palatines was a boy named John Peter Zenger, who was apprenticed to William Bradford, the printer, and later became a prominent figure in the city of New York.

Mohawk Valley | AHGP New York

Source: Stories from Early New York History, by Sherman Williams, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906

 

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