This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.


Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 23

History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 23: Schenectady and Lower Mohawk Valley — 1664-1690.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 352-369 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

Go back to: Chapter 22 | ahead to: Chapter 24

Death of Van Curler, the city's founder, in 1667 — The Reformed Dutch Church building presented by Alexander Glen in 1682 — Formation of Albany County in 1683 — Schenectady Patent of 1684 — Massacre and burning of city in 1690. (352)

Previous chapters of this history have covered the settlement of Schenectady in 1661-2 by Hollanders from Beverwyck or Fort Orange (Albany) and the first early years of the town and district up to the granting of patents in 1664 to the fifteen original proprietors or their heirs. In the latter year the English conquered New Netherland and this momentous change of rule has also been described, particularly with regard to the Mohawk Valley settlements of New Netherland at and about Schenectady.

The following chapter treats of the history, development and settlement of Schenectady and the lower Mohawk Valley, from 1664 to 1690. In all historical description of this and other chapters, we must bear in mind that the Mohawk Valley was part of Albany County from 1688 up to the formation of Tryon County in 1772, when the middle and upper Valley was set off from Albany County. The lower Valley, including Schenectady village and the Schenectady township, present Schenectady County, and a great part of Schoharie County, remained under the jurisdiction of Albany County until the formation of Schoharie County in 1795 and Schenectady County in 1808. [Editorial note: actually March 7, 1809] Albany had a great influence on the Mohawk Valley from the settlement of Schenectady in 1661-2 to the formation of Tryon County, one hundred and ten years later in 1772, while it continued to be the county seat of the lower Mohawk Valley excepting the Saratoga County river shore, until 1808 [1809], when Schenectady County was set off.

Schenectady early gave promise of rapid growth into a strong rival of Albany, although trade with the Indians was at first prohibited, as has been mentioned previously. Had not King William's war (1668-1698) broken out and involved the French and English with its resultant Schenectady massacre, the first town of the Mohawk Valley might possibly have outstripped its older Dutch rival on the Hudson.

Soon after the stockading of the town, the demand for space for buildings within the palisades made it necessary to cut up the sixteen building lots provided for in the original plan. The original squares or blocks consisted of four house lots but these were soon divided into three or four smaller lots thus giving as many as sixteen lots to the square with as many houses.

However, many settlers could not find room in the stockade and these people built houses along the Albany Road, so that, by 1690, there were buildings on the north side of the street as far east as Center Street. The community was one mostly of farmers. The families were large — ten children being an ordinary family — and the Dutch of New York are said to have doubled their population every twenty years prior to the Revolution, and so greatly increased the population at a time when the actual immigration was comparatively small.

During the period immediately following English conquest (in 1664), Schenectady's founder and leading citizen, Arent Van Curler, had a considerable influence on Provincial affairs. Governor Nicolls frequently called upon Van Curler for advice and consultation, particularly with reference to the management of Indian affairs and Provincial relations with the Mohawks and others of the Five Nations. Under English rule, the Schenectady fort was garrisoned by a company of from twenty to forty men under command of a lieutenant.

The first important event in Schenectady, after English conquest in 1664, was the expedition of the French Canadian governor De Courcelles against the Mohawks in the winter of 1666. De Courcelles lost his way and, instead of coming to the Mohawk castle at Gandawague as he expected, he came out on the Mohawk River at Schenectady. His army of 600 men was so exhausted and famished that they could go no farther. The Albany authorities allowed De Courcelles to buy provisions in Schenectady, probably with the idea that when provisioned, they would return to Canada, whereas the English regular and Provincial militia forces were too small to combat the invaders. De Courcelles would not allow his men to enter Schenectady because he feared if "hee had brought his weary and halfe starved people within the smell of a chimney corner, we would never have been able to get them out again." On their march southward sixty of De Courcelles' men were led into an ambush by a Mohawk war party. Eleven Frenchmen were killed and a number wounded, seven of whom the Albany people received for treatment. On February 12, 1666, the French began their retreat to Canada. They marched on snowshoes while their provisions were drawn on slight sledges "by mastiff dogs." The inhabitants of Schenectady were repaid for all this kindness to the French by the horrible massacre, which took place twenty-four years later, almost to a day. In the fall of 1666, a French expedition of 1,500 men, led by De Tracy, destroyed all the Mohawk villages.

Arent Van Curler, the unofficial mayor of the town, evidently had a leading part in the peaceful handling of the French incursion under De Courcelles. Governor Nicolls wrote him commending him for his "conduct in these troubles," and hoping that the French would be discouraged from attempting "to disturb you and the Maquaes."

The great industries of the Mohawk Valley of today had their beginnings in the mill erected on Mill Lane Kill, in 1666, by Sweer Teunise Van Velsen, who thus becomes our pioneer Valley manufacturer. Van Velsen was one of the fifteen original proprietors of Schenectady. The first industries and stores of the little new frontier village are of much interest and are given where possible. They show the beginnings of Mohawk Valley urban life in the mid-Seventeenth century town. Much of this original Schenectady commerce and industry is mentioned under the chapter devoted to the Schenectady settlers.

Van Velsen took one-tenth of the corn or wheat which he ground as payment for his work. In 1673, his mill was destroyed by a freshet. After it was rebuilt he was allowed to take one-eighth of his millings because of his losses. At first he was denied the right to bolt flour, this privilege being granted only to the millers of Albany and New York. Later he was granted this right.

Pieter Fonda started a shoemaking and tanning industry at Schenectady, before 1670. His tannery was at the rear of his house on State Street, near Van Velsen's grist mill. There were several other industries and stores in the little town at this early date, in spite of the restrictions placed upon the village because of the jealousy of Albany. Symon Volckertse Vedder was a baker. P. Davits and Jellis Fonda made gun stocks and Barent Myndertse and Christian Smith repaired guns in 1693. The little town had its blacksmiths, carpenters, gunsmiths, shoemakers, wheelwrights and masons, as well as its millers, traders and farmers, probably from the early years of its settlement.

Symon Groot, son of Symon Symonse Groot (one of the settlers of 1663) was a carpenter and built the first bridge over College Brook or Hansen Kill near the American Locomotive Co. works.

Jacques Van Slyck seems to have been the original innkeeper or tapster. In 1671, Cornelis Cornelissen Viele was granted a license as a tapster and in 1672 the Widow Van Curler received a license. Almost from the earliest days, a ferry ran to Scotia from the foot of present Washington Street, where the highway bridge was built in 1808.

In 1667, the Mohawks deeded the Great Islands in the Mohawk River at Niskayuna to Illetje or Hilletje (Dutch for Alice), wife of Pieter Danielse Van Olinda. Illetje, as previously mentioned, was a daughter of Cornelis Antonise Van Slyck and Ots-toch his Mohawk-French wife. Through this Mohawk Indian relationship the Van Slyck children, Jacques, Illetje (Alice), and Leah were granted valuable lands, which probably aided materially in the lower Valley's settlement, inasmuch as these three Van Slycks all married into Dutch families. Probably about the time of the Niskayuna grant of 1667, the Mohawks deeded to Illetje, wife of Van Olinda, and Leah, wife of Claas Willemse Van Coppernoll, De Willegen, "Willow Flat", below present Amsterdam. Illetje also inherited "the Boght of the Kahoos". It is certain that there were other and earlier settlers in the lower valley of the Mohawk. Illetje's or Hilletje's father, Cornelis Antonise Van Slyck, was living near Cohoes, Waterford and several other points at an early date.

Schenectady suffered a great loss the following year, 1667, when its founder, Arent Van Curler was drowned in Lake Champlain, while on a journey to Quebec to confer with De Tracy, the Viceroy of the French possessions in America. Van Curler was highly respected by the governors of Canada, during his long residence at, and as an official of, Rensselaerwyck. M. De Tracy, Viceroy of New France, after his destruction of the Mohawk castles in 1666, probably thought he could further his plans for peace with the Iroquois by co-operation and counsel with Van Curler; accordingly De Tracy sent him the following letter, under date of May 20, 1667:

"If you find it agreeable to come hither this summer, as you have caused me to hope, you will be most welcome, and entertained to the utmost of my ability, as I have a great esteem for you, though I have not a personal acquaintance with you. Believe this truth, and that I am, sir, your affectionate and assured servant."


Governor Nicolls furnished Van Curler with the following letter characteristic of the servile courtesies of that day. It bears date of May 20, 1667, and reads in part, as follows:

"Mons'r Curler hath been importuned by divers of his friends at Quebec to give them a visit, and being ambitious to kiss your hands, he hath entreated my pass and liberty to conduct a young gentleman, M. Fontain, who unfortunately fell into the barbarous hands of his enemies, and by means of Monrs' Curler obtained his liberty."

On July 4, 1667, Jeremias Van Rensselaer wrote to Holland: "Our cousin Arendt Van Curler proceeds overland to Canada, having obtained leave from our general, and been invited thither by the Viceroy, M. de Tracy."

Van Curler went north, accompanied by M. Fontain and several Indians. While canoeing along Lake Champlain a severe storm overtook the party near Split Rock. Van Curler's canoe was overturned and he was drowned. It is said that the Indians offered a "sacrifice" by throwing tobacco on the waters to appease the evil spirit of the rocky point which they passed. Van Curler laughed at their superstitions and the redmen later said that the demon revenged itself for this levity by the death of the white man.

This history has previously told of Juffrouw Van Curler, who continued to live in Schenectady, until her death in 1676. She was born Antonia Slaghboom and at the time of her marriage to Van Curler, was the widow of Jonas Bronck. From Bronck, the borough of the Bronx, New York City, is named.

Under the chapter relating to "Settlers of Schenectady" it is told how the Widow Van Curler, in 1672, obtained a license to conduct an inn in the Van Curler house which stood on the site of the present Mohawk Club at Union and Church streets. Her farm house, barns and crops had all previously been destroyed by fire.

Because of the exposed portion of Schenectady and the danger of French and Indian invasion, Governor Lovelace, in 1671, issued an order that every man in Schenectady, over fifteen and under sixty years of age, should provide himself with a gun, side arms, and ammunition. In 1672, Jacob Sanders Glen and Sweer Teunise Van Velsen were made commanding officers of the Schenectady company of the Albany militia.

In 1669 the Mohicans invaded the Mohawk Valley and were severely beaten by the Mohawks at Caughnawaga and Kinquariones. As the latter battleground was only nine miles to the westward, this Indian warfare probably occasioned much excitement in the little stockaded town of Schenectady.

[Photo: Jan Mabie House, 1670]

Daniel Janse Van Antwerpen is an interesting figure in the settlement of the Mohawk Valley, for Van Antwerpen built the oldest house now standing along our river — now known as the Mabie house at Rotterdam. The date of the construction of this stone house, which is illustrated herein, is generally given as 1670, but it may have been built a few years earlier. Van Antwerpen came to Schenectady about 1665 and then, or soon after, settled at present Rotterdam, built his stone house "and doubtless traded sub rosa among the Indians on the Mohawk River". (Pearson). Van Antwerpen purchased this land of the Indians and received a charter for "the third plain situated on this side of the Mohawk River," from Governor Dongan in 1680. In 1705, Van Antwerpen sold the westerly half of this farm and the house to Jan Pieterse Mebie. The old dwelling is now (1924) known as the Mabie house, Mabie being the present spelling of the name of the family, members of which were in possession of the property at the time (1924) of this writing, after an ownership of 220 years.

In the decade following Schenectady's settlement, 1661-1671, so many settlers came in that the original land was nearly all taken up. Consequently additional land was sought to the westward and, in August, 1672, "a certain Indian called Dahorywachqua and Crage, being the representatives of ye foure Mohocks Castells" sold to certain inhabitants of Schenectady "ye lands Near The Town of Schanhechtade within Three Dutch Myles in Compasse on both sides of ye River Westwards which ends at Hinquariones [Kinquariones?], Where the Last Battell Was between The Mohawk and the North Indians."

Jacques Cornelisse Van Slyck, Alexander Lindsay Glen, John Van Eps and Sweer Teunise Van Velsen were interested in this sale. The compensation for this land was "ye summe or quantity of six hundred hands of good Wheyte Wampum, Six Koates of Duffels, Thirty barres of Lead and nine bagges of Powder" in addition to a "Rundlet of Brandy". The quaint spelling and wording is from the original deed.

This 1672 purchase of Mohawk River lands extended the lands open for white settlement from the Alplaus Kil, about four miles east of Schenectady to Kinquariones, just west of present Hoffmans, or a distance of about fourteen miles along the river. Shortly after there were scattered farms and houses of Holland Dutch farmers and traders throughout the whole distance. By 1680, there was probably a greater population in the lower Mohawk Valley than there was at the close of King William's war in 1697, during which Albany County, including Schenectady, suffered a marked loss in population.

In July, 1673, while Holland and England were at war, a strong Dutch squadron, under command of Admirals Evertsen and Binckes, sailed through the Narrows and confronted the dismayed English captain Manning in the English Fort James at the lower end of Manhattan Island. The Dutch vessels floated up with the tide and when the English commander did not surrender within the specified time, they fired broadsides into the fort, killing and wounding a number of the garrison. The fort fired back and shot the flag ship "through and through." Then six hundred Hollander soldiers landed, under command of Captain Anthony Colve, and were joined by four hundred Dutch militia of the city. Together, the thousand Hollanders marched for the fort which promptly surrendered. Colve was made governor of the Province of New York, now renamed New Netherland. The English Fort James was renamed Fort William Henry in honor of the Prince of Orange, later King William of England. The name of New York City was changed to New Orange, while Albany became Willemstadt. There was rejoicing on the part of the great majority of the provincial population which was of Holland birth or descent. Albany and Schenectady, with a population almost exclusively Dutch, warmly welcomed the change which, however, made but little difference in the management of the affairs of the two towns, then largely in the hands of the local leaders.

The treaty of London, in 1674, ended the war between France and England, and upon the principle of reciprocal restitution, New Netherland was restored to the English Crown in October, 1674, when Sir Edmond Andros displaced Captain Anthony Colve and New York and Albany resumed their former English names. Again the change caused but little excitement in the upper Hudson and Mohawk Dutch settlements. Albany and Schenectady were so far removed from New York that, in times of peace, they went their placid ways, much as though they were little states by themselves set down in the mighty forest which everywhere encompassed them. Thus, within ten years, New Netherland or New York had experienced three changes of government. The resumption of English rule in New York was greatly to the advantage of the later Colonial solidarity which was eventually to win American independence. With a Dutch colony separating New England from the other English colonies, the success of the Revolution would have been impossible.

Once more the people of Schenectady resumed their peaceful pursuits, bartering with the Indians on the sly, making wampum, grinding corn, building canoes and dugouts for river trade and tilling the rich flats of the Mohawk.

The time of the first formation of a Dutch Reformed Church society in Schenectady is not definitely known but one is supposed to have been organized as early as 1670. This is proven somewhat by the will of Hans Janse Enkluys, who, in 1674, deeded to the church organization, for the benefit of the poor, his land located in the northeastern section of the city, with the provision that the church was to maintain him until his death, which occurred in 1683. The Dutch church was the natural guardian of the poor, the dependent and the friendless. This property became known as the "Poor Pasture" and remained in the ownership of the church until 1862. It is now covered by the works of the American Locomotive Co. and many city dwellings and buildings. There was no church building here until 1682.

Rynier Schaat, a physician and surgeon, located in Schenectady in 1675. Dr. Jacobus Van Dyck was another Schenectady physician of the time, being surgeon at the fort at a salary of a shilling a day.

In 1675, courts were ordered to be held in Schenectady and five magistrates (corresponding to justices of the peace) were appointed. The place also had a schout or sheriff (Ludovicus Cobes), and a secretary, corresponding to our village and township clerk combined.

The history of the Reformed Dutch Church of Schenectady is practically that of the city itself so closely is the town's first religious organization bound up with beginnings and subsequent history of Old Dorp. It has been previously noted that there was a church organization without a minister as early as 1674. The Albany city records say that in February, 1679, "the court and consistory of Schenectady request that Dominie Schaets may be sent four Sundays in one year to administer the Lord's Supper to said place and community, which request is granted in so far that Dominie Schaets is allowed to go four times in one year to administer the Holy Sacrament, but not on a Sunday, whereas the community be without preaching." The community referred to being Albany which, of course, in its jealousy of Schenectady, could not see the other injustice of leaving that frontier town without any Sunday church services at all. At this time, the town of Schenectady had thirty houses with a probable population of about 200 people. The First Reformed Dutch Church society of Schenectady was probably organized some time shortly after the settlement of the town in 1662, for its Calvinistic pioneers would not long delay the formation of some kind of a Reformed Church society, to which they bore an individual and national attachment.

The Schenectady church organization was probably the sixth Reformed Dutch Church society organized in New Netherland. The first six, in order of establishment, were: New Amsterdam, 1628; Beverwyck (Albany), 1642; Breuckelyn (Brooklyn); Esopus, (Kingston); Midwout and Amersfort (Flatbush); Schenectady.

Alexander Lindsay Glen, the laird of Scotia, was a Presbyterian, so that he naturally allied himself with the Dutch church. At his own expense, in 1682, Glen erected the first church building at the junction of State, Church, Water Street and Mill Lane. Glen presented this first little church to the inhabitants of Schenectady for the use of the Reformed Dutch Church.

Dominie Petrus Thesschenmaecker was the first minister, coming here in 1682 or 1683. Pearson says: "In the latter place he labored six years with reasonable success; and, in spite of the distant mutterings of war between Britain and France, the little community grew in numbers and wealth. The virgin soil of the neighboring flats and islands yielded abundantly and the population, gaining confidence, ventured beyond the palisades of the village and gradually crept up the Mohawk River, occupying the fertile lands on either bank." Dominie Thesschenmaecker was graduated as a student of theology in Utrecht, Holland. He went to Dutch Guiana in South America and came to New York at some time prior to 1676. When a resident of Staten Island in 1679 he was ordained a minister of the Reformed Nether Dutch Church.

The year 1683 was a notable one in the history of the liberties of the people of New York as well as those of the American people. On October 17, 1683, the first General Assembly of the Province of New York, composed of ten councilors and seventeen representatives of the people, met, says Lossing [probably Benson John Lossing, History of New York City: embracing an outline sketch of events from 1609 to 1830, and a full account of its development from 1830 to 1884], at the City Hall in New York and were addressed by Governor Dongan, whose sympathies were in unison with the popular desires. The Assembly chose the experienced Mathew Nicolls speaker, and John Spragg as clerk. They sat there three weeks and passed fourteen acts, all of which were assented to by the governor, with the advice of his Council. The first of these acts was entitled "The Charter of Liberties and Privileges, granted by His Royal Highness, to the Inhabitants of New York and its dependencies." It declared that the supreme legislative power should forever be and reside in the Governor, council and people, met in General Assembly; that every freeholder and freeman should be allowed to vote for representatives without restraint; that no freeman should suffer but by judgment of his peers; that all trials should be by a jury of twelve men; that no tax should be assessed on any pretense whatever, but by the "consent of the Assembly; that no seaman or soldier should be quartered on the inhabitants against their will; that no martial law should exist and that no person professing faith in God, by Jesus Christ, should, at any time, be anywise disquieted or questioned for any difference of opinion."

This was, indeed, a Charter of Liberties — the Magna Charter of the people of New York and deserving a place in the annals of all sections of the state then settled, because, by this Charter of Liberties, the people shaped their political conduct for the next hundred years. During this time we find them, both reasonably and unreasonably, standing out against the domination of royal governors and the usurpation of the rights granted them under this charter. It was upon instruments such as these that the Declaration of Independence was built, and it was for these very principles that the Mohawk Valley patriots fought and died during the Revolution.

Second only in importance was the division by this Provincial Assembly of 1683, of the Province of New York into ten counties. All of these counties exist today although most of them have been cut up to form other and later county divisions. This action was of particular importance to the people of Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley as Schenectady village and district became an important township of Albany County.

The next act passed by the Assembly, after that of making the Charter of Liberties the law of the Provinces, was one authorizing the division of the New York provinces into the ten counties of New York, Richmond, Suffolk, Kings, Queens, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Ulster, and Albany counties. The Duke of York's possessions in Maine at Pemaquid were organized as Cornwall County and the islands off the coast of Massachusetts included in his charter were constituted Duke's County. County seats were established in each county, Albany becoming the shire town of Albany County, which occupied all the territory between the other counties and the adjacent lands of the Mohawks. "Courts of justice were established by the Provincial Assembly in the several counties. They consisted of four tribunals — town courts, county courts or Courts of Sessions, a Court of Oyer and Terminer and a Court of Chancery, to be the Supreme Court of the Province. The latter was composed of the Governor and his Council. But every inhabitant of the Province was allowed the right to appeal to the king from the judgment of any court. All the laws passed by this first General Assembly of New York were read to the people in front of the City Hall and were then sent to England for the consideration of the Duke." — (Lossing.)

While Schenectady became a township of Albany County in 1683 there are no figures available as to its population until 1689.

In 1684, Governor Thomas Dongan granted the Schenectady patent covering the township of Schenectady. This famous document is here printed in full because of its great historical value and the fact that it bore such an important part in the life of the town for the ensuing 114 years and was the cause of untold bickering and legal strife, which were ended only by the granting of a city charter to Schenectady in 1798.

"Thomas Dongan, Lieutenant and Governor and Vice Admirall under his Royall Highnesse, James, Duke of York, etc., of New York and its Dependencyes in America, etc.

"To all to whom these presents shall come, Sendeth Greeting, Whereas Tohorywachqua and Crage, Representatives of the four Mohake Castles, have for themselves, and Canachquo, Ocquary, and Tohoriowachwua true and lawfull Owners of the Land within mentioned, have by their certaine Writeing, or Deed of Sale, dated the third day of June Anno Dni 1672, Given and Granted unto Sander Lendrs Glenn, John Van Eps, Sweere Teunesse, as being impowered by the Inhabitants of the Towne or Village of Schenectady and Places adjacent, a Certaine Tract or Parcell of Lands, beginning at the Maques River, by the Towne of Schenectade, and from thence Runnes Westerly on both sides up the River to a Certaine Place called by the Indians Canaquarioeny, being Reputed three Dutch Miles or twelve English Miles; and from the said Towne of Schenectade downe the River one Dutch or four English miles to a kill or creeke called the Ael Place, and from the said Maques River into the woods South Towards Albany to the Sandkill one Dutch Mile and as much on the one side of the River North, being one Dutch mile more, there being Excepted in the said Bounds all Corne and Sawmills, that now are or hereafter shall be erected Within the Bounds of the said Towne, that they be lyable to pay a perticular Quitt Rent for their Privileges, besides what is herein sett forth, as shall hereafter be agreed for by the Inhabitants of the said Places, or owners of such Mills, with such Governour or Governours as shall be Appointed by his Royal Highnesse; and likewise that noe Timber or Wood be Cutt but within the Bounds aforesaid, the said Exceptçon being agreed upon by Myselfe as by a Certaine Writeing bearing date the 7th day of August last Past, doth more perticulerly Appeare;

"Now know Yee that by virtue of the Comiçon and Authority to me Given by his Royall Highnesse James Duke of York and Albany, Lord Proprietor of this Province, I have hereby Given, Granted, Ratifyed and Confirme and by these Presents doe Give, Grant, Ratifye and confirme, unto William Teller, Ryert Schermerhorn, Sweer Teunessen, Jan Van Epps and Myndert Wemp on the Behalfe of the Inhabitants of the Townes of Schenectade and Places Adjacent aforesaid, Dependencyes theron, there Associates, Heires Successors and Assigns, all and Singular the before recited. Tract and Tracts, Parcell and Parcells of Land, Meadow, Ground and Premises with their and every of their Appurtenancyes, together with all and Singular the Houses, Buildings, Messuages, Tenements, Heriditaments, Dams, Rivers, Runnes, Streames, Ponds, Woods, Quarryes, Fishing, Hawking and Fowling, with all Privileges, Libertyes, and improvements whatsoever, to the said Lands and Premises belonging, or in any wise appertaining, or accepted, reputed, taken or known as Part Parcell, or member thereof, with their and every of their Appurtenances; Provided Alwayes that this shall not anywayes make null or void a former Grant or Pattent, bearing date of the 30th of October last past made to Jacques Cornelisse of a Piece of Land lyeing within the Bounds heretofore mentioned of the Towne of Schenectade, (that is to say) the Land Lyeing and being betweene two Creekes, the one called the Stone Creeke to the Eastward, and the other the Platte Creeke to the westward thereof, the Low Land lyeing along the River side on the South of the Maques River, and then to the north of the Land belonging to the Inhabitants of Schenectade, the same Containing Forty Morgen, or Eighty acres of Land, as alsoe Forty Morgen or Eighty Acres of Woodland, or upland more, on the West side of the Platte Creeke, adjoining to the arrable Land along the River side, which was wholly exempt by the Indian Propreitors, in the sale of this Land, as belonging to Jacques Cornelise: To have and to hold the aforesaid Tract, Parcell and Parcells, of Land and Premisses with their and every of their Appurtenances, unto the said William Teller, Ryert Schermerhorn, Sweer Teunessen, Jan Van Epps and Myndert Wemp on the behalfe of the Inhabitants of the Towne of Schenectade and their Associates, their Heires, Successors and Assignes, unto the proper use and behoofe of the said William Teller, Ryert Schermerhorn, Sweer Teunessen, Jan Van Eps and Myndert Wemp, their Heires, Successors, and Assignes, forever, to beholden of his Royal Highness, his Heires and Assignes in free and Comon Soccage, According to the tenure of East Greenwich, in the County of Kent, in his Magesties Kingdome of England, Yielding and Paying therefor, Yearly and every Yeare, as a Quitt rent, for his Royal Highnesse use, unto such officer or officers as shall be appointed to receive the same att Albany forty bushels of Good Winter Wheat, on or before the twenty-fifth day of March.

"Given under my Hand and Sealed with the Seale of the Province, at ffort James in New York, the first day of November Anno Dni 1684, in the thirty-sixth Yeare of his maties Raigne.

Tho. Dongan."

"This patent, as previously stated, covered the ancient township which in 1798 became the city of Schenectady. From this time forward all conveyances of land were executed by the trustees named in the patent. This power was vested in them, their successors, heirs and assigns forever, to have to hold, to sell and give legal title thereto: and out of this vested authority there developed disorder and complications that sorely harassed the inhabitants for more than a hundred years."

These legal conflicts and bickerings were only ended by the granting of a city charter to Schenectady in 1798 — 114 years after the Dongan patent. In spite of its unfortunate results, the Schenectady patent of 1684 is one of the three great land patents in the history of the Mohawk Valley. The two others were the Stone Arabia patent of 1723 and the Burnetsfield patent of 1725, both covering lands settled by Palatine Germans in the Middle and Upper Mohawk Valley. The Schenectady, Stone Arabia and Burnetsfield patents all represented patents covering tracts settled by communities of actual settlers, in distinction from great land tracts presented to Crown and Provincial favorites for private gain.

The Schenectady Patent of 1684 is given in full because of its importance as a popular land grant in the Mohawk Valley and also because it was written along the general lines of the majority of the English Crown land patents. Its wording, like that in the generality of Colonial New York grants, needs a word of explanation.

Nearly all our royal Provincial patents are issued under conditions and titles "As of the Manor of East Greenwich in the County of Kent, in free and common soccage". This peculiar wording puzzles the reader. S. L. [Stephen Lyon] Mershon, in his "English Crown Grants", shows that this language made these grants come directly and personally from the English kings and queens as individuals, rather than as rulers of the realm. The Manor of East Greenwich lay about four miles from London Bridge and now embraces the Greenwich Royal Observatory. It was the personal estate of English sovereigns, who occupied it as early as 1300. These royal grants made the New York landowner a tenant of the ruler of England, rather than a patentee, holding land from the English Crown. The conditions, according to the letter of the grants, were feudal and mediaeval, although the peculiar relations of grantor to grantee never had any actual effect on ownership under these royal patents.

"Free soccage" was a tenure of land held for certain and determinate service, usually, in England, fealty and rent. It was called free, because the service was not only certain but honorable and thereby differentiated from "villein soccage," where the service was of a baser nature. A "Villein" was a feudal tenant of the lowest class, akin to a serf or a slave, from which latter class these unfortunates were derived. This was a Norman name — a "villein" or "villain" being one attached to a "villa" or farm. From this low and debased mediaeval individual, comes our modern word, "villain." Soccage comes from the English root "soc", meaning freedom or privilege.

Thus, according to the wording of these patents, all the public lands of the Mohawk Valley and the Province of New York formed part of the personal estate of the lord of the Manor of East Greenwich, rather than part of the public lands of Great Britain. This was evidently intended to take the lands out of any possible public or legislative control, to put them within the absolute disposal of the sovereign as an individual, and to emphasize "the divine right of kings." The American Revolution ended this peculiar situation, but practically all our Mohawk Valley land grants originally made their recipients the feudal tenants of a mediaeval lord of England, who was incidentally the British sovereign.

The Sweer Teunessen named as trustee in the foregoing patent was Sweer Teunise Van Velsen alias Van Westbrook, the first town miller, who was made a magistrate of Schenectady in 1676. Myndert Wemp, Sweer Teunise Van Velsen and Johannes Dirkse Van Epps were slain in the massacre of 1690. William Teller was a resident of Albany and removed to New York in 1692, while his son, Johannes Teller, settled in Schenectady. Thus the sole management of the Schenectady lands, under the Dongan patent of 1684, remained in the hands of Ryer Schermerhorn after 1692. "And then the trouble began." For twenty-five years he had practically sole management over Schenectady land transactions. After Teller's death, in 1701, Schermerhorn was the sole survivor of the five patentees of 1684. He was many times complained of for exercising arbitrary power over town affairs and rendering no account of his proceedings. He was a member of the Provincial Assembly from Albany County in 1690, and, in 1700, he was appointed as an assistant to the Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

On August 12, 1684, Sander Leendertse Glen (Alexander Lindsay Glen) lost his wife, Catalyn Doncassen. Glen died on November 13, 1685. In the death of this vigorous, progressive and worthy Scot, the Mohawk Valley lost its first settler and Schenectady its leading citizen since the death of Van Curler. Glen had borne a leading part in the affairs of Schenectady during the first twenty-five years following its settlement. He left three sons, Jacob, Sander (Alexander) and Johannes, the last of whom assumed somewhat the same position as that held by his father, becoming commander of the Schenectady town and district train band of militia. During this time the Glens continued to live in their first stone house built close to the river in 1658, the present mansion (close to the site of the first one) not having been built until 1713.

In 1686, Albany was incorporated as a city, with Peter Schuyler as its first mayor. In the same year the Five Nations held a conference with Governor Dongan at Albany in which the Iroquois asked that the Jesuit priests be kept out of the land of the Iroquois Confederacy. They had already driven out all but Father Jean de Lambreville at Onondaga. Governor Dongan promised them Iroquois English priests and a church at Saratoga, none of which promises were kept. In 1687 Marquis De Nonville, governor of Canada, headed an expedition against the Senecas, destroying all their chief castles, 1,000,000 bushels of corn and a great number of pigs which the Senecas then kept. The French, departing from their usual diplomacy, seemed bent on the destruction of their hereditary Iroquois enemies, at the ending of the twenty years of peace. All these events deeply affected Schenectady, which was an Indian trading post and the most advanced frontier town of New York Province. The sure signs of approaching warfare probably retarded its growth considerably.

In 1687 Arnout Cornelise Viele, the Indian interpreter of Schenectady, was taken prisoner by the French while on a trading trip to Ottawa. Viele was much liked by the Mohawks because he "Hath done good service for us in travelling up and down in our country, and, we having a French prisoner, according to our custome, doe deliver him to the family of Arnout, in his stead and room to wash of the tears of his wife and children." Viele subsequently returned to Schenectady and occupied an influential position as an interpreter for the Albany magistrates and the Province.

An event of importance in this early period of the white man's occupation of the Mohawk Valley was the settlement of Heinrich Frey along our River in 1689. Frey came from Zurich, Switzerland, to New York in 1688. Governor Dongan gave him a "location ticket" for 100 acres of land on the Schoharie River. Frey however, preferred the Mohawk River section. He came up the Mohawk to the site of present Palatine Bridge, where he located with the permission of the Mohawks and bought a plot of land from them. Frey laid claim to 300 acres of farm and woodland, by this purchase. Frey's claim was included in the Van Slyck patent of 1716 and from Captain Harmanus Van Slyck, Frey obtained title to land, which, in 1924, had been in the possession of the family for 235 years, forming one of the most ancient tenures of land in the Mohawk Valley. Heinrich (or Hendrick) Frey opened store in his log house, which was later stockaded and became, at least temporarily, the most advanced western outpost of British empire, within the limits of the Province of New York.

For dauntless courage, the pioneer Frey has seldom been equalled in all the annals of the settlement of the United States of America. His log house stood at the river border of a forest which stretched, northward, in an unbroken wilderness, to the French settlements along the St. Lawrence. All the wild animals of those great woods thronged about his clearings. He had to carefully guard his stock to see that it was not killed by wolves, whose howls made night hideous about his cabin. Forty-two miles eastward, lay the little town of Schenectady, while, in his own neighborhood, the savage Mohawks were his only companions. Despite the howling of the wolves and the bloody terrors of border warfare, Frey went serenely along, farming and trading and holding his own in his little outpost of civilization far within the great Mohawk wilderness.

In 1689 Albany County had 2,016 white people while the number had decreased to 1,459 white people and 23 negroes in 1698. After the period marking the close of the hostilities of King William's war in 1697, the number increased rapidly in Albany County and Schenectady. We can gain an idea of the population of Schenetady by a comparison of the fact that, before the massacre of 1690, Schenectady had one of the six militia companies of the county regiment which consisted of five companies of foot (infantry) and one of horse. In 1693 Schenectady had recovered from the massacre of 1690 so that it again had one of the county companies of militia.

The population of Albany County in 1689, being 2,016, one-sixth of that number would give Schenectady township a population of 334, with probably 250 of them in the town. An estimate of the time says that before the massacre of 1690, there were 80 houses and 400 people in Schenectady, which probably refers to the entire township and which may not be far from the facts, although the houses mentioned may have referred to other buildings besides the homes of the people, such as barns, etc. At any rate, it is known that Schenectady was a growing town and a prosperous section, prior to the approach of the war cloud of 1689. The population of the Province of New York in 1698 was 18,000. It probably was nearly as great in 1689 before it had been devastated by King William's war.

Go to top of page | back to: Chapter 22 | ahead to: Chapter 24

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 23 updated March 30, 2015

Copyright 2015 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library