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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 40: Agriculture in Albany County — 1740-1750.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 548-555 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Kalm's visit to Cohoes Falls in 1749; to Colonel Johnson in 1750 — William Smith's description of Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley in 1756.

In July, 1750, Peter Kalm, the celebrated Swedish naturalist, passed through the Mohawk Valley on his way to Oswego. He stopped at Mount Johnson where he was the guest of Colonel Johnson, who treated his visitor with a helpful kindness and consideration. Kalm appreciated these attentions as was shown in a warm letter to the Colonel which he wrote from Oswego, under date of August 7, 1750. The foreign scientist was then on his way to Niagara Falls.

Kalm wrote a description of the Cohoes Falls and of Albany, and its surrounding country, which is interesting to us in that it embodied many features peculiar to the Mohawk Valley, although the description ostensibly is only that of Albany and its immediate vicinity. However, we know that it describes as well, the Mohawk Valley, because he speaks of the Palatine German settlements, which he passed in his travels at Stone Arabia and German Flats, and there were no Palatine German settlements nearer Albany than Schoharie.

Kalm came to America in 1748 and made journeys to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and French Canada, in 1748, 1749, and 1750. He made exhaustive researches into the flora and fauna of America and kept a journal of his tour, which probably was elaborated for publication. Kalm was very critical of the Albany people of Dutch blood, although he makes exceptions to his criticisms and there probably was some strong foundation for his objections to their grasping commercialism. Similar criticisms of these people were frequent, which is somewhat offset by Mrs. Grant's flattering estimate of them, in her "Memoirs of an American Lady." Kalm's description of Dutch life and habits holds good for the Americans of Low Dutch descent in Schenectady and other parts of the Mohawk Valley. He also covers their farming methods and, all in all, the Swedish scientist's picture of life at Albany and along the Mohawk is one of the best we have of the eighteenth century in the Province of New York.

Early in the eighteenth century Albany County and the Mohawk Valley began to take on importance as one of the greatest wheat raising regions in the English Colonies. At the beginning of the Old French war, in 1744, the section mentioned had become the great granary of America, with Albany as the grain market of the country. In this regard it had a national importance as a seat of food supply for the Colonial and Revolutionary American armies and the mills along the Mohawk and the Schoharie and about Albany made history, almost as much as our fighters against France and our warriors of the Revolution. Kalm has an interesting mention of this phase of his Albany-Mohawk Valley description.

Peter Kalm visited Cohoes Falls, June 22, 1749, on his way to Montreal from Albany. His description of it coincides closely with its present form, with the exception that he does not mention the large rock which has been brought into prominence by erosion and which lies to the north of the center of the face of the falls. This may have been formed to a large extent in the two centuries which have elapsed since the Swedish visitor stood in the spray of the falls, then diminished by the summer droughts. It has been the general opinion that the Mohawk in 1749 carried a much greater volume of water than today, when a great part of the river's watershed has been denuded of the virgin forest which then covered ninety-five per cent. of its surface. However, Kalm described the falls as having a very small flow at a time in summer, when the midsummer drought would ordinarily not have yet reduced the river's waters. The author took a picture of the Cohoes Falls in July at a time when four-fifths of its water was running into the penstocks of the Cohoes Power & Light Co. and the flow here shown is far greater than that described by Kalm.

This work has presented a description of Cohoes Falls by Dominie Megapolensis, written in 1646. Kalm's account of this truly great natural wonder of our Valley is interesting as that of a keen and scientific observer of nature. Kalm's visit to Cohoes Falls in 1749 is described by him as follows:

"June the 22d. This morning I followed one of our guides to the water-fall near Cohoes, in the River Mohawk, before it falls into the River Hudson. This falls is about three English miles from the place where I passed the night. The country till the fall is a plain, and only hilly about the fall itself. The wood is cleared in most places and the ground cultivated and interspersed with farm houses.

"The Cohoes Falls is one of the greatest in North America. It is on the river Mohawk, before it unites with the river Hudson. Above and below the falls, the sides and bottom of the river consist of hard rock. The river is three hundred yards broad here. At the fall, there is a rock crossways in the river, running everywhere equally high and crossing in a straight line with the side which forms the fall. It represents, as it were, a wall towards the lower side, which is not quite perpendicular, wanting about four yards. The height of this wall, over which the water rolls, appeared to me about twenty or twenty-four yards * * * There was very little water in the river at present, and it only ran over the fall in a few places. In such places where the water had rolled down before, it had cut deep holes below into the rock, sometimes to the depth of two or three fathoms. The bed of the river, below the fall, was of rock and quite dry, there being only a channel in the middle fourteen feet broad and a fathom or somewhat more deep, through which the water passed which came over the fall. We saw a number of holes in the rock, below the fall, which bore a perfect resemblance to those in Sweden, which we call 'Giant's Pots' or 'Mountain Kettles'. They differed in size; there being large deep ones and small, shallow ones. We had clear uninterrupted sunshine, not a cloud above the horizon and no wind at all. However, close to this fall, where the water was in such a small quantity, there was a continual drizzling rain, occasioned by the vapors, which rose from the water during its fall and were carried about by the wind. Therefore, in coming within a musket-shot of the fall against the wind, our cloaths were wetted at once, as from a rain. The whirlpools, which were in the water below the fall, contained several kinds of fish; and they were caught by some people who amused themselves with angling. The rocks hereabouts consist of the same black stone which forms the hills about Albany. When exposed to the air, it is apt to shiver into horizontal flakes, as slate does."

Kalm's description of the climate, agriculture and the life and habits of the Americans of Dutch descent of Albany and Albany County, including the Mohawk Valley, is of interest as those of one of the keenest and most scientific observers who visited our Valley in Colonial days. It follows in part:

"During summer, the wind blows commonly from the South and brings a great drought along with it. Sometimes it rains a little and, as soon as it has rained, the wind veers to Northwest, blowing for several days from that point and then returning to the South. I have had frequent opportunities of seeing this change of wind happen very exactly, both this year and the following.

"June the 15th. The enclosures were made of fir wood, of which there is an abundance in the extensive woods, and many saw mills to cut it into boards. The several sorts of apple-trees grow very well here and bear as fine fruit as in any other part of North America. Each farm has a large orchard. They have some apples here which are very large and very palatable; they are sent to New York and other places as a rarity. They make excellent cyder, in autumn, in the country round Albany.

"All the kinds of cherry trees which have been planted here succeed very well.

"Pear trees do not succeed here. This was complained of in many other parts of North America. But, I fear that they do not take sufficient care in the management and planting of them, for I have seen fine pears in several parts of North America.

"Peach trees have often been planted here and never would succeed well. This was attributed to a worm, which lives in the ground and eats through the root, so that the tree dies. Perhaps the severity of the winter contributes much to it.

"They plant no fruit trees at Albany, besides these I have mentioned.

"They sow as much hemp and flax here as they want for home consumption.

"They sow maize in great abundance. A loose soil is reckoned as the best for this purpose, for it will not grow in clay. From half a bushel they reap a hundred bushels. They reckon maize a very good kind of corn, because the shoot recovers after being hurt by the frost. They have had examples here of the shoots dying twice in the spring, to the very ground, and yet they shot up again afterwards, and afforded an excellent crop. Maize has likewise the advantage of standing much longer against a drought than wheat. The larger sort of maize, which is commonly sown here, ripens in September.

"They sow wheat in the neighborhood of Albany, with great advantage. From one bushel they get twelve sometimes; if the soil be good, they get twenty bushels. If their crop amounts to only ten bushels from one, they think it very trifling. The inhabitants around Albany, are Dutch and Germans. The Germans live in several great villages and sow great quantities of wheat which is brought to Albany, and from whence they send many yachts laden with flour to New York. The wheat flour from Albany is reckoned the best in all North America, except that from Sopus or King's Town, a place between Albany and New York. All the bread in Albany is made of wheat. At New York they pay for the Albany flour with several shillings more per hundred weight than that from other places.

"Rye is likewise sown here but not so generally as wheat.

"They do not sow much barley here, because they do not reckon the profits very great. Wheat is so plentiful that they make malt of it. In the neighborhood of New York I saw great fields sown with barley.

"They do not sow more oats than are necessary for their horses.

"The Dutch and Germans who live hereabouts sow pease in great abundance; they succeed very well and are annually carried to New York in great quantities. They have been free from insects for a considerable time. But of late years the same beetles which destroy the pease in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the lower parts of the province of New York, have likewise appeared abundant among the pease here. It is a real loss to this town and to the other parts of North America, which used to get pease from hence for their own consumption and that of their sailors. It had been found that, if they procured good pease from Albany and sowed them near King's Town or the lower part of the province of New York, they succeeded very well the first year but were so full of worms the second and following years that nobody could or would eat them. Some people put ashes in the pot among the pease, when they will not boil or soften well; but whether this is wholesome and agreeable to the palate, I do not know.

"Potatoes are generally planted. Some people preferred ashes to sand for keeping them during the winter.

"The Bermuda potatoes (Convolvulus Batatas) have likewise been planted here and succeed pretty well. The greatest difficulty is to keep them during winter; for they generally rot in that season.

"The humming-bird (Trochilus Colubris) comes to this place sometimes, but it is rather a scarce bird.

"The shingles, with which the houses are covered, are made of the White Pine, which is reckoned as good and as durable and sometimes better than the white cedar (Cupressus thyoides). The white pine is found abundant here in such places as common pines grow in Europe. I have never seen them in the lower parts of the province of New York, nor in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They saw a vast quantity of deal from the white pine on this side of Albany, which are brought down to New York and from thence exported.

"The woods abound with vines, which likewise grow on the steep banks of the river in surprising quantities. They climbed to the tops of the trees on the bank and bent them down by their weight. But where they found no trees they hung down along the steep shores and covered them entirely. The grapes are eaten after the frost has attacked them; for they are too sour before. They are not much used any other way. * * *

"The [Dutch] inhabitants of Albany are much more sparing than the English. The meat which is served up is often insufficient to satisfy the stomach, and the bowl does not circulate so freely as amongst the English. The women are perfectly well acquainted with economy; they rise early, go to sleep very late and are almost over-nice and cleanly in regard to the floor, which is frequently scoured several times in the week. The servants in the town are chiefly negroes. Some of the inhabitants wear their own hair, but it is very short without a bag or queue, which are looked upon as the characteristics of a Frenchman; and, as I wore my hair in a bag the first day I came from Canada, I was surrounded by children, who called me Frenchman, and some of the boldest offered to pull my French dress.

"Their meat and manner of dressing it is very different from that of the English. Their breakfast is tea, commonly without milk. About thirty or forty years ago, tea was unknown to them, and they breakfasted either upon bread and butter or bread and milk. They never put sugar into the cup but take a small bit of it into their mouths, whilst they drink. Along with the tea, they eat bread and butter, with slices of hung beef. Coffee is not usual here; they breakfast generally about seven. Their dinner is buttermilk and bread, to which they sometimes add sugar, then it is a delicious dish for them; or fresh bread and milk; or boiled or roasted flesh. They sometimes make use of buttermilk instead of fresh milk, to boil a thin kind of porridge with, which tastes very sour, but not disagreeable in hot weather. To each dinner, they have a great salad, prepared with abundance of vinegar, and very little or no oil. They frequently eat buttermilk, bread and salad, one mouthful after another. Their supper is generally bread and butter and bread and milk. They sometimes eat cheese at breakfast, and at dinner; it is not in slices, but scraped or rasped, so as to resemble coarse flour, which they pretend adds to the good taste of cheese. They commonly drink very small beer or pure water."

The following is a description of Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley, written about 1755 and therefore dating from about the same period as Kalm's foregoing commentary on agricultural conditions in Albany County and the Mohawk Valley, which then formed part of that county. It is from William Smith's History of New York [i.e., The History of the Late Province of New-York, Volume One], pp. 305, 306, which bears preface date of 1756.

"Sixteen or eighteen miles northwest from Albany lies Schenectady, on the banks of the Mohawks' River, which falls into Hudson's River twelve miles to the north of Albany. The village is compact and regular, built principally of brick, on a rich flat of low land, surrounded by hills. It has a large Dutch church, with a steeple and town clock, near the centre. The windings of the river through the town, and the fields (which are often overflowed in the spring) form, about harvest, a most beautiful prospect. The lands in the vale of Schenectady are so fertile that they are commonly sold at 45 pounds per acre. Though the farmers use no kind of manure they till the fields every year, and they always produce full crops of wheat or peas. Their church was incorporated by Governor Cosby, and the town has the privilege of sending a member to the assembly.

"From this village our Indian traders set out in battoes for Oswego. The Mohawks' River, from hence to Fort Hunter, abounds with rifts and shoals, which, in the spring, give but little obstruction to the navigation. From thence to its head, or rather to the portage into the Wood Creek, the conveyance is easy and the current less rapid. The banks of this river are in general low, and the soil exceeding good. Our settlements on the north side extend to Burnet's field, a flat inhabited by Germans, which produces wheat and peas in surprising plenty. On the south side except a few Scotch-Irish in Cherry Valley at the head of the Susquehanna, we have but few farms west of the three German towns on Schoharie, a small creek which empties itself into the Mohawks' River, about twenty miles west of Schenectady. The fur trade at Oswego is one of the principal advantages of this county. The Indians resort thither in May, and the trade continues till the latter end of July. A good road might be made from Schenectady to Oswego. In the summer, seventeen hundred and fifty fat cattle were easily driven there for the army under the command of General Shirley.

"The principal settlements to the northward of Albany are Connestigiune, eastward of Schenectady, on the Mohawks' River, which a little lower tumbles down a precipice of about seventy feet high, called the Cahoes. The surprise, which, as one might imagine, would naturally be excited by the view of so great a cataract, is much diminished by the height of the banks of the river; besides the fall is uniform as a mill dam, being uninterrupted by the projection of rocks."

The "Connestigiune" is the Niskayuna of today. The account is incorrect in that it specifies that the north side only was settled westward to German Flats, whereas both sides of the Mohawk River were equally thickly settled westward from Fort Hunter.

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