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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 34: Early days of the Schoharie settlement — 1712-1723.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 485-495 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]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

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Life of the pioneers — Nicholas Bayard driven away — Seven partners secure Schoharie lands claimed by Palatines — Murder of Truax — Sheriff Adams of Albany County mobbed and nearly killed — Delegates sent to England fail in their mission — Weiser and his friends leave Schoharie for Pennsylvania — Emigration to the Mohawk River — Dutch settle on the Schoharie.

The Palatine settlers entered upon the life of typical American pioneers, when they located along the Schoharie River. As the conditions which entered into their daily life were similar to those which confronted all the frontiersmen of the Mohawk Valley, some description of their pioneer life is well worth inclusion here.

The Schoharie Palatines, at first, lived almost as simply and in as primitive a manner as their Indian neighbors. Probably the greater part of the household goods of these pioneers was carried on their backs, when they made the Schoharie migration, although they had hand-drawn sleds to make the winter trip. They had no horses at first. Their baggage consisted mainly of axes, tools, firearms, pots and pans, blankets and clothing — only the absolute necessities with which to begin life in the wilderness. They made log cabins, banked with earth and thatched with straw, and cut blocks of wood, which served as chairs and tables.

Within one week after the arrival of the Palatines in the Schoharie Valley, four children were born — Catharine Mattice, Elizabeth Lawyer, Wilhelmus Bouck and Johannes Earhart.

In the absence of plows, they broke the ground with broad hoes. The Indians showed them how to plant and cultivate corn, beans and squash, which were the main foods raised by the red men. At first they pounded their corn in a hollow stump after the Indian fashion. They also hulled it with lye. The first wheat is said to have been sowed in Schoharie in the fall of 1713, by Lambert Sternberg of Garlock's dorf. Simms says:

"As Schenectada was nearer the Schoharie settlements than Albany, for such necessaries as they required the first few years, they visited the former place [Schenectady] the more frequently. Those who possessed the means, bought wheat there at two shilling a spint (a peck), or six shillings a skipple (three pecks), had it ground and returned home with it on their backs, by a lonely Indian foot path through a heavy forest. It was thus that Sternberg carried the first skipple of wheat ever taken to Schoharie in the berry. He resided near the present [1845] residence of Henry Sternberg, a descendant of his." Sternberg's wheat was sown within the enclosure of a dilapidated stockade which had been an Indian castle, located on the west side of the river. This palisade enclosed more than an acre of ground. "It was planted within this yard because it was a warm, rich piece of ground, with little grass on it and being enclosed, would remove the danger of having the crop destroyed in the fall or spring by deer, which were numerous in the surrounding mountains. This wheat, which rooted remarkably well in the fall, stood so thin, from having been scattered over so much ground, that it was hoed in the spring like a patch of corn; and well was the husbandman rewarded for his labor. Every berry sent forth several stalks, every stalk sustained a drooping head, and every head teemed with numerous berries. When ripe, it was gathered with the greatest care; not a single head was lost and, when threshed, the one yielded eighty-three skipples. In these (1845) days, when the weevil scarcely allows three, to say nothing of the eighty, bushels to one, this statement would, perhaps, be looked upon as incredible, were not all the circumstances known. Many procured seed from Sternberg and it was not long before the settlers raised wheat enough for their own consumption.

"For several years, they had most of their grain floured at Schenectada. They usually went there in parties of fifteen or twenty at a time, to be better able to defend themselves against wild beasts, which were numerous between the two places. Often there were as many women as men in these journeys and, as they had to encamp in the woods at least one night, the women frequently displayed, when in danger, as much coolness and bravery as their liege lords. A skipple (three pecks) was the quantity usually borne by each individual but the stronger often carried more. Not unfrequently, they left Schoharie, to go to the mill, on the morning of one day, and were home on the morning of the next, performing a journey, of between forty and fifty miles, in twenty-four hours or less bearing the ordinary burden, but, at such times, they traveled most of the night without encamping. It is said that women were not unfrequently among those who performed the journey in the shortest time — preparing a breakfast for their families from the flour they had brought on the morning after they left home. Where is the matron now to be found in the whole valley of the Schoharie, who would perform such a journey in such a plight?

"As may be supposed, many of the first settlers in Schoharie were related. Hence has arisen that weighty political argument sometimes heard 'he belongs to the cousin family'.

"Owing to the industry and economy of the colonists and the richness of the soil, want soon began to flee their dwellings and plenty to enter; and, as their clothes began to wax old, they manufactured others from dressed buckskins, which they obtained from the Indians. A file of those men, clad in buckskin, with caps of fox or wolfskin, all of their own manufacture, must have presented a formidable appearance. It is not certain but the domestic economy of the male was carried into the female department and that, here and there, a ruddy maiden concealed her charming proportions beneath a habit of deerskin.

"It is said that physicians accompanied the first Germans to Schoharie and that, for many years, ministers or missionaries, under pay from the British government, labored in the different German settlements in the country. They visited the people, married those whose peace of mind Cupid had destroyed, preached to and exhorted all. Their audiences usually occupied some convenient barn in the summer season and the larger dwellings in the winter.

"The want of horses and cattle, at first, was much felt by the settlements. By whom cattle, swine and sheep were first introduced, I have been unable to learn. The first of the horse kind they possessed was an old gray mare. She was purchased at Schenectada for a small sum by nine individuals of Weiser's dorf, and, it is said, they kept her moving."

The Schoharie settlers did not hold their lands in common. Each pioneer had lands staked out for his individual or family use and ownership. Each settler thrived by his own industry and hardihood or languished by reason of his incapacity or weakness.

The Palatines had not been long among them when the Schoharie Indians had their first taste of the white man's trickery. In the first or second summer, after the first white settlers arrived, the Schoharies challenged them to a foot race, to be run by a red and a white champion, for a substantial purse, that put up by the Indians being a bundle of valuable skins. The race was over a half mile course to the most southern dwelling of Weiser's dorf. Conrad Weiser's son was selected to run for the Germans. The race was even right up to near the finishing point, where young Weiser pushed the Indian runner against the house, so that he fell and lost the race. The Indians were furious at this foul play and refused to pay the purse at first. Young Weiser protested that it was an accident and the red men finally gave up their furs. The incident aroused suspicion and bad feeling between the Germans and their Indian benefactors, which took some time to pass away. This was the first of a series of events which embroiled these Palatine Germans with the Indians, individuals and officials, and which put the Schoharie Germans in such disfavor that the eventual migration of many of them is not a matter of wonder. The Indians later made an attack on the German settlers, which may have been prompted by revenge for Weiser's trick. Little damage was done and both parties became reconciled.

As has been previously noted, Governor Fletcher had granted the entire Schoharie Valley to Colonel Nicholas Bayard. This with other extravagant land grants of this corrupt governor, had been revoked by act of the New York Assembly in 1698. However, Bayard, who was as tenacious a self-seeker as was Livingston, evidently still hoped to make good his claim to the beautiful valley of the Schoharie. Accordingly, shortly after the settlement of the Palatines, Bayard appeared on the scene and published a notice "to every householder, who would make known the boundaries of land taken by him that he would give a deed in the name of the Sovereign." Considering that Bayard's grant had been legally revoked, Bayard's action would have been ridiculous had it not been sinister. He probably hoped to maintain some legal right or control over his former great Patent by securing the signatures of some of the Palatines to papers involving the small portion of the watershed of the Schoharie in which they had settled. Naturally, the Palatines knew that Bayard no longer owned their lands and they, consequently, refused to treat with him. They drove him away and, fearing for his life, he took refuge in the inn of Han Jerry Smith in Smith's dorf, which was the first hotel in the Schoharie Valley. Of this episode, Simms writes: "Consequently, early the next morning, the nature of the resolve having been made known the evening before, the honest burghers of Schoharie, armed with guns and pitchforks, with many of the softer sex in whom dwelt the love of liberty, armed with broad hoes, clubs and other missiles, surrounded the hotel of Smith and demanded the person of Bayard, dead or alive." Smith refused to surrender Bayard and the Palatines then began a siege of the inn. Sixty shots were fired by the settlers through the roof of the tavern, while Bayard occasionally fired his pistols. By a miracle Bayard escaped injury and, when night came on and his assailants withdrew, the colonel left the battered tavern and escaped to Schenectady. From there he sent a message to Schoharie, "offering to give to such as should appear there with a single ear of corn, acknowledge him as royal agent, and name the bounds of it (their land) a free deed and lasting title." The Palatines took no notice of this offer and Bayard then went to Albany and sold his "interests" in the Schoharie lands to five partners, Myndert Schuyler, Peter Van Brugh, Robert Livingston, Jr., John Schuyler and Henry Wileman.

The Palatines have been severely criticised for their attack on Bayard by those who do not know all the facts concerning the promise to settle these people along the Schoharie and Mohawk rivers and the many disappointments and harassments they had suffered. Their attempt to kill Bayard was brutal but there was considerable excuse or provocation for it.

Adam Vrooman of Schenectady secured a grant of land in 1714, embracing most of what is now the township of Middleburgh, which he had previously bought (in 1711) of the Karighondonte tribe. Vrooman had made himself famous nearly twenty-five years earlier by his brave defense of his home, during the Schenectady massacre, when he exacted a promise from the French officers to spare his life if he would cease firing on them. He was not a man to be easily intimidated. Peter Vrooman, son of Adam, located on these lands and his settlement is recorded in "a bold, high and rocky headland called Vrooman's Nose, jutting out into the Flat and dominating the valley for miles, both south and north." (Cobb.)

The Palatines resented Vrooman's patent and his coming and they immediately began to persecute and annoy him. They drove their horses over his cultivated fields and pulled down the stones of a house he was building, of which Vrooman bitterly complained to Governor Hunter.

Without legal title to their land, the Palatines now attempted to secure their holdings by the only means in their power — a purchase from the Karighondonte tribe of Schoharie Indians. For $300 the settlers "bought" from the red men the lands on which they were then located. This transaction was ignored by the Provincial authorities.

The five Albany men who bought out Bayard's interests in the Schoharie Valley, became known as the Five Partners. They secured a patent for the Schoharie lands from Governor Hunter on November 3, 1714. Simms says:

"This patent began at the northern limits of the Vrooman patent, on the west side of the river, and the little Schoharie kill on the opposite side and ran from thence north; taking in a strip on both sides of the river, at times mounting the hills and at others leaving a piece of flats, until it nearly reached the present Montgomery County line. It curved some and the intention was to embrace all the flats in that distance. Patent was taken for ten thousand acres. Lewis Morris, Jr., and Andrus Coeman [Coeyman], who were employed by the purchasers to survey and divide the land, finding the flats along Fox's Creek and a large piece at Kneiskern's dorf near the mouth of Cobel's kill, were not included in that patent, lost no time in securing them. Those several patents often ran into each other and, in some instances were so far apart as to leave a gore between them. The patent taken to secure the remainder of the flat at Kneiskern's dorf, began at a spring on the west side of the river near the bridge which now crosses that stream above Schoharie Court House, and also ran to or near the Montgomery County line. Between that and the first patent secured, which was intended to embrace all the flats, was left a very valuable gore, which Augustus Van Cortlandt afterwards secured. Finding much difficulty in dividing their lands, they so often intersected, the first five purchasers and their surveyors, Morris and Coeman, whose right in the Schoharie soil was proportionately valuable, agreed to make a joint stock of the three patents. Since that time they have been distinguished as the lands of the Seven Partners. Patents and deeds, granted at subsequent dates, for lands adjoining those of the Seven Partners, were, in some instances, bounded in such a manner as to infringe on the latter or leave gores between them. As may be supposed, evils were thus originated which proved a source of bickering and litigation for many years. Suits for partition were brought successively in Schoharie County in 1819-25-26-28 and 29, at which time they were finally adjusted. The latest difficulties are said to have existed between the people of Duanesburg and Schoharie.

"After the Seven Partners secured their title to the Schoharie flats, they called on the Germans who dwelt upon them, either to take lease of, to purchase, or to quit them altogether. To neither of these terms would they accede, declaring that Queen Anne had given them the lands and that they desired no better title. The reader will bear in mind that these people had no lawyers among them, except by name, on their arrival — that they lived, in a measure, isolated from those who could instruct them — that they spoke a language different from that in which the laws of the country were written, which laws they were strangers to; and that they placed implicit confidence in the promise of 'the good Queen,' that they should have the lands free; and he will be less surprised at their stubbornness. * * * Their great difficulty proceeded from their ignorance of the utility and manner of granting deeds."

Adam Vrooman of Schenectady, in 1714, secured his patent of 1,500 acres of the richest land on the Schoharie for his son Peter Vrooman, who was the first of the many later Dutch settlers in the Schoharie Valley. Simms says: "He had a house erected previous to his moving there and other conveniences for living. The first summer, he employed several hands, planted considerable corn, and fenced in some of his land. In the following autumn, he returned, with his wife and children, to Schenectada to spend the winter, leaving a hired man by the name of Truax and two blacks, Morter and Mary, to take care of the property, of which he left considerable. Not long after Vrooman returned to Schenectada, Truax was most brutally murdered."

The German neighbors of Vrooman envied his rich lands. One of them named Moore conceived the idea that if Vrooman's farmhand was murdered that Vrooman would be afraid to return to his Schoharie home. It is supposed that Moore and Morter, the negro, cut Truax's throat, while he was asleep. At first there was no suspicion against Moore. Vrooman came from Schenectady, with officers and the negro slaves were taken to Albany where they were tried and executed, being burned alive. Moore kept out of sight and later fled to Pennsylvania.

When the Seven Partners of Albany found that the Schoharie Germans would not pay any attention to their demands that they lease or purchase the lands they occupied, they sent Sheriff Adams of Albany to arrest some of the "trespassers" — for the Palatine pioneers were squatters in the eyes of the law. Adams first stopped at Weiser's dorf. Here he was set upon by a mob led by a woman named Magdalene Zeh. She knocked Adams down by a blow from her fist. Then he was ridden on a rail through the settlements to a point on a bridge over Mill Creek, about seven miles from the starting point of the mob. Here Adams was thrown to the ground and the Zeh woman beat the official with a stake, breaking two of his ribs and blinding one of his eyes. After committing some unspeakable indecencies on the unconscious sheriff, the woman led her mob of Germans home, leaving their victim supposedly dead on the highway. This act of murderous brutality probably did the Palatines more harm than any other of the unwise, illegal and criminal incidents mentioned. There is no doubt but that the law-abiding element was in the majority, but the foolish and brutal minority did unforgivable harm to the entire settlement. The leaders of the Palatines made a grave mistake to allow such mob violence, which could only end in disaster. These Germans had just cause for grievance against the authorities, but they thought, unwisely, that they could intimidate the Provincial officials and thus keep them off the lands, once promised them by the British government, but to which they had no legal title whatever.

Adams, the victim of the brutality of a vicious German woman and her ignorant, bloodthirsty mob, slowly revived and eventually, after three days, got to within seven miles of Albany, from whence he was taken into the city in a wagon by some passersby who discovered the wounded man. After this outburst of violence, the Schoharie Germans kept away from Albany for fear of punishment. As time wore on, evidently thinking that other people were as forgetful as they had mistakenly thought them timid, some of the Schoharie people began to come into the city of Albany. Finally, when a number of these German settlers came to Albany for their supply of salt, Sheriff Adams and a posse arrested them and threw them into prison. Among those put in the city dungeon was Conrad Weiser, Jr., who had tricked the Indians in the footrace. When the news reached Schoharie, the settlers held a meeting. John Newkirk drew up a petition of grievances, etc., and Conrad Weiser, one Casselman and another unnamed person were delegated to lay it "at the feet of King George, praying, at the time for his future protection against their enemies, the Albanians."

The Palatines imprisoned at Albany begged for release and agreed to lease or purchase their lands from the Seven Partners. They were then let free and allowed to depart for their homes.

In 1717, soon after these proceedings, Governor Hunter came to Albany and sent for three deputies from the Schoharie to come and confer with him. An argument on the question of the Schoharie lands followed, without any result. The Governor ordered the Palatine delegates to lease or buy of the Seven Partners, otherwise they were forbidden to plow or plant their lands. The settlers broke this order to keep themselves from starvation.

Conrad Weiser had fled from the Schoharie to Pennsylvania, upon the coming of Governor Hunter, who had threatened to hang him if Weiser could be apprehended. Weiser, Walrath and Scheff were the deputies who finally went and embarked in a ship from Philadelphia, in order to bring the cause of the Schoharie Palatines before the English government. The ill luck which seems to have attended all the movements of these people was still at work and the ship in which the three deputies sailed was captured by pirates almost immediately after it issued from the Capes. They robbed the ship and its passengers and left the three German delegates without a copper. Weiser and his companions reached London penniless. Their petition was submitted to the government and referred to the Lords of Trade, by whom it was received with disfavor. Without friends and without funds, the three Palatine deputies were finally thrown into the debtor's prison. At length money arrived from their friends in Schoharie and they were liberated.

Scheff quarreled with Weiser and addressed an independent petition to the Board of Trade, in which he said that there are "about 160 families and about 1,000 souls at Schoharie. * * * They had built huts, houses and mills, improved the ground and had made a road about 24 miles to Albany." Weiser remained in London until 1723, without accomplishing anything of advantage to his people at home.

A census of the Palatine Germans in New York Province was taken in 1718. It did not include the widows and orphans for some reason. Aside from these, there were 1,601 Palatines in the entire province, with 680 on the Schoharie. Including everybody, there were probably at least 800 Palatine Germans along the Schoharie in 1718.

When Governor Burnett came to New York in 1720, he was directed to "settle those among the Palatines, who behave themselves with due submission to His Majesty's authority and are destitute of means of subsistence, upon such convenient lands as are not already disposed of." This instruction preceded and initiated the Stone Arabia and the Burnetsfield patents, as well as the granting of patents to some of the Schoharie Palatines. In 1722, several Schoharie German settlers obtained patents for lands along the Mohawk, in which year it is probable that several Germans from the Schoharie removed to the Mohawk west of the Noses. In 1722, Governor Burnett gave sixty Schoharie Palatine families permission to buy lands from the Indians between Fort Hunter and Canada Creek, evidently meaning West Canada Creek. This was probably the beginning of the important settlements of Stone Arabia and German Flats, and of the Fort Plain, St. Johnsville, Danube and Manheim neighborhoods. Governor Burnett had a very disparaging opinion of the Palatines, and wrote, concerning their troubles that "This is managed by a few cunning persons, who lead the rest as they please, who are for the generality a laborious and honest, but headstrong and ignorant people."

Palatine immigrants had begun to enter Pennsylvania in 1717. In 1722 an Indian council was held at Albany, which was attended by Governor Burnett of New York and Governor Keith of Pennsylvania. Keith, hearing of the troubles of the Schoharie Palatines, offered them refuge in Pennsylvania. Fifteen heads of Schoharie families thereupon sent a petition to the governor and assembly of Pennsylvania, asking to be allowed to settle in that commonwealth. And now came the second great migration of the Schoharie Palatines. They probably, in all, then numbered nine hundred or more people. About one-third removed to Pennsylvania, settling principally in Berks, Lebanon and Lehigh counties. The leader of this party was Conrad Weiser, who led sixty families up the Schoharie to the portage to the Susquehanna. Arriving at this stream, the party made canoes, in which part of the band sailed down the river, while others drove their livestock along the banks. Most of this company came from Weiser's and Hartman's dorfs.

Another party of about the same number — 300 — migrated to the Mohawk where a number of Palatines had been settled since 1712. The Mohawk immigrants were under the leadership of Elias Garlock, the Schoharie justice of the peace and founder of Garlock's dorf.

Another third of the people chose to remain in their pleasant situation along the Schoharie, so that probably three hundred or more Palatines continued to make that picturesque valley their home. The places of the departed Germans were soon taken by other incomers, many of whom were of Holland Dutch birth or extraction, like Peter Vrooman, the first Dutch settler in the Schoharie Valley. These Dutchmen came from the Albany and Schenectady neighborhods, and, by the time of the Revolution, they formed a large element of the Schoharie population. There was also some influx of British settlers — English, Irish and Scotch. The Schoharie lands were too rich to go long untenanted. The Palatines who remained and the newcomers as well bought or leased their lands or secured new patents or grants of lands.

Regardless of the varying opinions concerning Weiser, peace and contentment reigned in the valley of the Schoharie after his departure. Concerning this matter, Simms very aptly writes:

"After the removal of Weiser and others from Schoharie, the difficulties, to which the ignorance and suspicions of the people had subjected them, were soon quieted and they once more became a happy community. They were careful afterwards to secure legal titles to their lands and, thereby, remove the danger of troubles in future, from a cause which had already tended greatly to decrease their numbers and harass their feelings."

The story of the Palatines now shifts from the Schoharie to the Mohawk Valley and their important settlements there, at and between, Stone Arabia and German Flats.

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