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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 30: A Review of Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley — 1711.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 451-456 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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At the time of the building of Fort Hunter — Close of Queen Anne's War — Roads dwindle into paths — Scarce two thousand people along our river — Schenectady people closely related.

Up to the coming of the Palatines to the Schoharie and the Mohawk valleys and the building of Fort Hunter, in 1711, the white population of the Mohawk Valley in its lower settled section was Holland Dutch by a great majority. There were a few British families of English, Irish and Scotch ancestry, but the Dutch ruled the roost. As the reader of course knows, the Hollanders were an entirely different people from the Germans of whom we carelessly speak as "Dutch." References to Dutch, in this volume, means the people from Holland or the Netherlands, or their American-born descendants. Already the people of the English Colonies considered themselves somewhat in a national sense and the names America and Americans were already in use, and this in spite of the violent jealousies which often rent the Colonies — jealousies arising from the fact that the Colonists were merely human beings with whom jealousy and vanity are generally overruling passions. Therefore, the name "American" is frequently used in this book as expressing something which otherwise cannot be clearly defined. It was this Americanism, of the Americans of the Colonies, which already was a cause of friction between British officials and military commanders, whose domineering methods and manners were most offensive to the free-born Americans. Do not look for the causes of the Revolution only in the Stamp Act and similar obnoxious English legislation. Its beginnings go much farther back than that. The cleavage between America and England was a matter of national character and was already marked, at the end of Queen Anne's war in 1713, the year which brings this chapter to an end. The Colonists were then already Americans and the English colonies then constituted America in the making.

When Queen Anne's war came to a close in America in 1713 Schenectady was an American town with a history of a half century behind her — a half century which may be regarded as the most important period in the making of America. For that early day, Schenectady was an old American settlement. Albany, which dated its birth from Coriaestensen's trading post of Fort Nassau in 1614, was the second oldest permanent settlement in America, following New York by only a year. Jamestown, the first American settlement was already a ruin, from its burning in Bacon's rebellion. Both Schenectady and Albany were now assuming the character of old, well built, busy, thriving, American cities — cities not in size but in character. The early log and frame houses, cabins and barns were now often replaced by substantial dwellings of brick or stone and the large barns and farm buildings indicated the development of a rich agricultural section, which made Albany the national wheat market during the eighteenth century. The rough edges of the frontier had been somewhat smoothed by civilization. The wilderness, however, still ruled — it frowned down upon the settlements and the farmlands from all sides, and its prized beavers still formed the coin of the realm — when they had been converted into peltries.

The trade which came down the great waterway of the Mohawk still went to Albany as it had done for the last century. Schenectady was still bound by trade restrictions and the many Indians who hung about the town could trade and barter only under cover. Nevertheless Schenectady grew and developed in spite of the reign of privileges and greed at Albany. There were no richer farmlands in all the Colonies than those which lay along the Mohawk and the fortunate Holland Dutch farmer, who owned a piece of the Mohawk flats, was rightfully adjudged a person of wealth and property. Moreover land was difficult to obtain in the Province of New York — much more so than in other Colonies. Here the original soil was either held by the Indians or it had been largely parcelled out among governmental favorites in large patents or it was held by a few patroons, who affected the manners and the dress of the landed aristocracy of England. The land question which confronted the farmer who wished to come to New York was a most serious one. It prevented many worthy men from settling here and it drove away others, who found conditions better in Connecticut and New Jersey. The patents and patroonships were subjects of adverse comment by the Whigs of New York even at this early date.

In spite of the fetters of trade, the rule of aristocratic English governors, the corrupt land deals and the devastation of war, Schenectady, in 1711, bore the marks of a future great city and the smiling farmlands and the substantial homes of the lower Mohawk River section already suggested the greater Mohawk Valley which was to come. It was but the tiny sapling of the later great tree, but it was the same tree, nevertheless.

In the summer of 1711, there was no settlement west of the Schoharie River, with the exception of that of Frey in the eastern part of the Mohawk Indian district of Canajoharie (at present Palatine Bridge). The little stockaded town on the river's bank held undisputed sway over the white man's settlements of the lower Mohawk Valley. Its crumbling palisades walled in a little group of fifty houses, a small church and a fort with frowning cannon. In the twenty years following the massacre, new houses had also been built outside the stockade, along the Albany road. To the south this path ran to the city, fifteen miles away, while, to the eastward, the river road followed the Mohawk's bends to Niskayuna and onward to Waterford and Cohoes at the Mohawk's Sprouts, where the Hudson and the Mohawk mingled their nearly equal waters. Westward from Old Dorp, the cultivated flats stretched along the Mohawk for nearly fifteen miles, past Yantapooshaberg, Touareuna and the rocky crag of Kinquariones, to the Willow Flat below present Amsterdam. The stone, frame and log houses of the farmers stood amidst luxuriant gardens and thriving orchards. Along the rough roads on each river shore, the Dutchman and the Iroquois peacefully passed on their errands up and down the Valley, while on the river's waters, the Mohawk's elm-bark canoe laden with furs, and the farmer's scow, piled with bags of grain moved eastward to the market town of Schenectady. For forty miles the river was a white man's community; but it was only a ribbon of civilization, for everywhere back from the River flatlands, stretched the mighty, all-encompassing forest, which gave its character not only to the landscape but to the lives of the people themselves.

From the extreme western farms of this borderland of civilization, the river roads dwindled into Indian paths, which ran westward through the Valley forests and past the river hills to the Mohawk town of Iconderoga. Here stood the stockaded lower Mohawk castle on the bank of the Schoharie where that stream joins the Mohawk. Westward the paths followed the Mohawk to "Frey's" opposite the mouth of the Canajoharie and to Tarajorees where the middle town of the Mohawks stood upon the brow of Prospect Hill in the present village of Fort Plain. The path on the north shore dwindled but the southern one followed a clear course to the great upper Mohawk Canajoharie castle at the mouth of the Nowadaga, the site now being known as Indian Castle. From there this Iroquois trail continued over the hills to the lands of the Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas. On the flats near their towns, the Mohawks raised their corn, beans and squash. The activities which went on within their castles were many and varied, although much less than before the white man began supplying their wants with manufactured articles. Instead of the stone tools of earlier days the Mohawks now had axes, steel knives and saws. Their bark long houses were now replaced by log cabins and even small frame houses. The illustrations of the wonderful Iroquois groups, in the State Museum at Albany, vividly show the changes in Mohawk habits and life, which took place during the eventful seventeenth century.

It was a sadly depleted and weakened Iroquois tribe which now gathered about the fires of the three Canienga castles. Where they had formerly numbered three thousand or more, there were now scarcely a thousand Mohawks along our river. Their original five hundred warriors were reduced to less than one hundred and fifty. They had saved America for the English but they were well nigh destroyed in fighting the white man's battles.

Although the Valley Hollanders were the "Brethren" of our Mohawks, they doubtless felt relieved at the sight of their lessened numbers, while the land grabbers, with their jugs and kegs of rum, viewed the weakened nation with all the usual zest of the human vulture at the sight of easy prey.

And so we see the Mohawk Valley of the early eighteenth century and the building of Fort Hunter and the coming of the Palatines. There were scarce two thousand human beings then along our river. Perhaps there were seven or eight hundred white people in the lower Valley, while the Mohawks of the middle Valley may have numbered a scant thousand. A new day, however, was dawning in which the borders of the wilderness were to be pushed back from the Mohawk's shores and the population was to be greatly increased and extended over a considerable part of the Mohawk watershed.

Schenectady had risen from her ashes and was now second only to Albany in importance, among all the settlements of the upper Hudson Valley and of the great county of Albany. "A busy little place it was, with its manufactures of sewant, and its boat building and its boys and girls acting as interpreters, the canoes at 'han del tyde' — June, July and August — resting on the quiet waters, and the young men, in the winter, setting off with trinkets, blankets and fire water, to deal in the Indian trade. The streets of the Martyrs, and of the Traders, of Front, Ferry, Church and Niskayuna were then in existence and, along them, stood neat little houses, patterned after the Albany style, a story or a story and a half in height, gable end to the street, adorned with sheet iron weather cocks, dates often inscribed in iron anchors upon the baked steenen. Here, on the porches as at Albany, the families often gathered at the eventide. Here were the swelling ovens at the kitchen rear and the double doors shut at the bottom so the toddlers couldn't get out and the light could get in. A scow ran from the foot of Ferry Street. State Street was 'Souder Hoek' and 'Launt Hauck' was the Land Gate, while 'Calvyres Wastyea' (Calves' Pasture) lay between Front Street and the river."

The Dutch life of this American frontier town of that far-off day was kindly and pleasant. The speech of Holland was the language of the Dutch settlements of the lower Mohawk and its farmsteads. The Schenectady Holland Dutch dames of that day were picturesque figures "in their best homespun or it might be silk, and in high heeled slippers and blue and white gored hose. They wore short skirts, high caps and bodices with work baskets fastened to their belts and scissors also suspended therefrom." (Diefendorf).

The majority of the Schenectady people were closely related and the town had something of the character of a large family or clan. The original Schenectady pioneers had come from Albany and the people of the two towns were united, to a large extent by marriage and family connections, much as they were separated by the jealousies of trade and the restrictions which were imposed upon our pioneer river village. This relationship of the settlers extended throughout the Lower Mohawk and the Albany districts. Indeed this present Capitol City section may be said to have been originally peopled by one large family — the clan of Albany Dutchmen. The importance of the small population of the day must not be underestimated. Battles which decided the destinies of the world were then fought by bands of a few hundred white and red men and the beginnings of a great civilization were given direction by scantily peopled neighborhoods of a few scores of early American families. These beginnings of civilization along the upper Hudson and the Mohawk, were also vastly important because they eventually developed into the world's most important highway and waterway. The commerce and trade, then following the Mohawk-Oswego route, formed the nucleus of the present vast inland commerce of the United States, for our river and its Valley formed the "Gateway to the West" then as now.

The "Dutchman's Family" is a subject of frequent amusing satire on the part of early writers. Its size was proverbial and the Dutch cradle not only peopled a wilderness but it furnished the army which held the New York frontier during the Revolution, with a very considerable aid from the Palatine rock-a-by. Outside of the Palatine immigration there was a comparatively small influx of immigrants into the Colonies, from King William's accession in 1688 to the start of the vast inpouring which began in the middle of the nineteenth century. In that century and a half of time America was made by the American people themselves and American character and institutions were formed. The American cradle peopled the land, with little outside assistance and it could have continued to do so, had it not been for the fatuous "economic" ideas as applied to raw unassorted human material which were generated by the growth of materialism in a land originally dedicated to idealism.

But, to return to our Dutch cradle — it kept the Province of New York under Dutch influence and turned the tide against English Toryism during the Revolution. Indeed "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the World."

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