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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 77: The Mohawk Valley After the Revolution.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1140-1164 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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1784-1800 — After the Revolution — Constructive period — Montgomery County and its divisions — Towns and their changes.

The Revolutionary struggle had well-nigh destroyed the one-time prosperous farming community along the Mohawk and in its adjacent territory. This section had been more harried, by the enemy and their red allies, than any other part of the Thirteen Colonies. Raid after raid had swept down from Canada over the fair valley, burning, plundering, and murdering. Stoutly had the sturdy people fought their dreadful foe. The savage enemy had been again and again beaten back from the Mohawk, but the bloody contest had left the population greatly depleted and the farm land in ruin and rapidly going back to the wilderness from which it had been wrested. Those of faint heart and of Tory leanings had fled the country and the patriot families who were left were often sadly broken. Numbers of defenseless women and little children had been struck down by the savage tomahawk and the bones of the men of Tryon County whitened the fields where battle and skirmish had been bitterly fought. The bravery of the women, and even the children, of the patriot families, amid the bloody scenes of the Revolution, was often remarkable in the extreme. Terrific as had been the murderous destruction, along the Mohawk, yet a wonderful rejuvenescence and rapid growth were to follow. The years ensuing were ones of great development of the farmlands, increase of population and steps, for the furtherance of transportation and commerce, which were eventually to make the Mohawk Valley one of the greatest arteries of trade and traffic of the entire world.

[Photo: The Old Dutch Reformed Church, Middleburgh, N. Y.]

[Photo: Baron von Steuben's Tomb at Starr Hill, 20 miles north of Utica.]

Toward the close of the war, Colonel Willett sent to General Washington a lengthy statement of the condition of affairs in Tryon County, from which it appears that, whereas at the opening of the struggle the enrolled militia of the county numbered not less than 2,500, there were then not more than 800 men liable to bear arms, and not more than 1,200 who could be taxed or assessed for the raising of men for the public service. To account for so large a reduction of the Tryon people, it was estimated that, of the number by which the population had been decreased, one-third had been killed or made prisoners; one-third had gone over to the enemy; and one-third for the time being had abandoned the country. Beers' history [F. W. Beers, History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, N. Y.] says:

"The sufferings of the unfortunate inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley were the measure of delight with which they had hailed the return of peace. The dispersed population returned to the blackened ruins of their former habitations, rebuilt their houses and again brought their farms under cultivation. With astounding audacity, the Tories now began to sneak back again and claim peace and property among those whom they had impoverished and bereaved. It was not to be expected that this would be tolerated. The outraged feelings of the community found the following expression at a meeting of the principal inhabitants of the Mohawk district, May 9, 1783:

"Taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of this county relating to its situation, and the numbers that joined the enemy from among us, whose brutal barbarities in their frequent visits to their old neighbors are too shocking to humanity to relate:

"They have murdered the peaceful husbandmen, and his lovely boys about him unarmed and defenceless in the field. They have, with malicious pleasure, butchered the aged and infirm; they have wantonly sported with the lives of helpless women and children, numbers they have scalped alive, shut them up in their houses and burnt them to death. Several children, by the vigilance of their friends, have been snatched from flaming buildings; and though tomahawked and scalped, are still living among us; they have made more than 300 widows and above 2,000 orphans in this county; they have killed thousands of cattle and horses that rotted in the field; they have burnt more than two million bushels of grain, many hundreds of buildings, and vast stores of forage; and now these merciless fiends are creeping in among us again to claim the privilege of fellow-citizens, and demand a restitution of their forfeited estates; but can they leave their infernal tempers behind them and be safe or peaceable neighbors? Or can the disconsolate widow and the bereaved mother reconcile her tender feelings to a free and cheerful neighborhood with those who so inhumanly made her such? Impossible! It is contrary to nature, the first principle of which is self-preservation. It is contrary to the law of nations, especially that nation which for numberless reasons, we should be thought to pattern after. * * * * * * It is contrary to the eternal rule of reason and rectitude. If Britain employed them, let Britain pay them. We will not; therefore, Resolved, unanimously, that all those who have gone off to the enemy or have been banished by any law of this state, or those, who we shall find, tarried as spies or tools of the enemy, and encouraged and harbored those who went away, shall not live in this district on any pretence whatever; and as for those who have washed their faces from Indian paint and their hands from the innocent blood of our dear ones, and have returned, either openly or covertly, we hereby warn them to leave this district before the 20th of June next, or they may expect to feel the just resentment of an injured and determined people.

"'We likewise unanimously desire our brethren in the other districts in the county to join with us to instruct our representatives not to consent to the repealing any laws made for the safety of the state against treason, or confiscation of traitors' estates, or to passing any new acts for the return or restitution of Tories.'

"'By order of the meeting.
"'Josiah Thorp, Chairman."'

Notwithstanding these sentiments of the Whigs, numbers of Tories did return and settle among their old neighbors. The Mohawk lands, which were considerable before the war, were confiscated and the tribe were granted homes in Canada, as has been stated in the sketch of Brant.

The Tories were not allowed to return without vigorous protests. Peter Young of the town of Florida, living at Young's Lake (a small pond near Schoharie Creek), was an ardent patriot. He married a Serviss girl, whose family were Tories. At the close of hostilities two of Young's brothers-in-law made Mrs. Young a visit. Young came in on them and ordered them back to Canada at the point of a musket and they promptly took up their return journey.

There are several instances of Tories having been whipped and beaten when they tried to return to their former homes among their patriot neighbors, whose homes they had burned and whose relatives they had murdered. One mighty Cobleskill farmer-patriot became so enraged at the boastings of two drunken Tories after the war, that he overpowered them, tied them together with a rope around their necks and whipped them up and down the street in front of a delighted audience. Considering the bloody deeds of the Tories of the Mohawk Valley, it is a wonder that many of them were not killed when they tried to return to their former homes. They had not conducted warfare. They had been organized bands of cowardly murderers who killed more women and little children than American soldiers.

One of the first murder trials in the Johnstown Court House after the war was that of John Adam Hartmann, a Revolutionary veteran, for killing an Indian in 1783. They met at a tavern in the present town of Herkimer, and the savage excited Hartmann's abhorrence by boasting of murders and scalpings performed by him during the war, and particularly by showing him a tobacco pouch made from the skin of the hand and part of the arm of a white child with the finger nails remaining attached. Hartmann said nothing at the time and the two left the tavern on their journey together, traveling a road which led through a dense forest. Here the savage's body was found a year later. Hartmann was acquitted for lack of evidence. He had been a ranger at Fort Dayton. On a foray, in which he killed an Indian, at almost the same instant, he was shot and wounded by a Tory. Hartmann was a famous frontiersman and had many adventures. He was a fine type of the intrepid soldiers in the tried and true militia of Tryon County.

During the Revolution the English governor, in honor of whom Tryon County was named, rendered the title odious by a series of infamous acts in the service of the Crown, and the New York Legislature, on the 2d of April, 1784, voted that the county should be called Montgomery, in honor of Gen. Richard Montgomery, who fell in the attack on Quebec, early in the war. At the beginning of the Revolution the population of the county was estimated at 10,000. At the close of the war it had probably been reduced to almost one-third of that number, but so inviting were the fertile lands of the county, that in three years after the return of peace (1786) it had a population of 15,000. Doubtless many of these were people who had deserted their valley homes at the beginning of hostilities and who now returned to settle again among their patriot neighbors who had borne the brunt of the struggle, and who had so nobly furthered the cause of American rule. By 1800 the population of present Montgomery County can safely be estimated at 10,000, almost entirely settled on the farms,

The boundaries of the several counties in the state were more minutely defined, March 7, 1788, and Montgomery was declared to contain all that part of the state bounded east by the counties of Ulster, Albany, Washington and Clinton, and south by the State of Pennsylvania. What had been districts in Tryon County were, with the exception of Old England, made towns in Montgomery County, the Mohawk district forming two towns, Caughnawaga north of the river and Mohawk south of it. The Palatine and Canajoharie districts were organized as towns, retaining those names. Thus after an existence of sixteen years, principally during the Revolutionary period, the old Tryon districts experienced their first change.

The presence of the warlike Mohawks and their use as allies on the frontier had saved the valley savages their lands until about the year 1700. Notice has been made of Dutch, German and British immigration after that date into the Mohawk Valley. With the virtual breaking down of the Iroquois confederacy on account of the Revolution, their wide lands were thrown open for settlement and, after 1783, another and greater tide of immigration set in along the Mohawk.

The war had made people of other states and of other sections of New York familiar with Tryon County. Sullivan and Clinton's campaign, in the Iroquois country, had particularly revealed the fertility of the western part of the state, and a tide of emigration thither set in at the close of the war, mostly by way of the Mohawk Valley. The river had been the first artery of transportation and traffic. Now it began to be rivaled by turnpike travel. Later water travel was to resume first place after the digging of the Erie Canal, afterward to be again superseded by land traffic when the railroads began to develop. All of these were to make eventually the Mohawk Valley the great road and waterway it is today.

Immigration to western New York led to the formation from Montgomery, January 27, 1789, of Ontario County, which originally included all of the state west of a line running due north from the "82nd milestone" on the Pennsylvania boundary, through Seneca Lake to Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario. This was the first great change in the borders of Tryon or Montgomery County (which had been of larger area than several present-day states) since its formation seventeen years before. Other divisions were to come rapidly. In 1791 the county of Montgomery was still further reduced by the formation of Tioga, Otsego and Herkimer. The latter joined Montgomery County on the north as well as the west, the present east and west line, between Fulton and Hamilton, continued westward, being part of their common boundary, and another part of it a line running north and south from Little Falls, and intersecting the former "at a place called Jerseyfields." Of the region thus taken from Montgomery County on the north, the present territory of Hamilton was restored in 1797, only to be set apart under its present name, February 12, 1816. April 7, 1817, the western boundary of Montgomery was moved eastward from the meridian of Little Falls to East Canada Creek, and a line running south from its mouth, where it still remains. This divided the territory of the old Canajoharie and Palatine districts between two counties, after this region had formed part of Tryon or Montgomery County for a period of forty-five years, which was undoubtedly that of its greatest growth as well as covering the thrilling Revolutionary period. It also, for the first time, made an unnatural and artificial demarcation of the Canajoharie region, known as such north and south of the Mohawk since the dawn of history. The line between Montgomery and Schenectady has always been part of the boundary of the former, having originally separated it from Albany County. The formation of Otsego County, February 16, 1791, established the line which now separates it and Schoharie from Montgomery. The latter took its northern boundary and entire present outline on the formation of Fulton County in 1838, which will be considered later. Thus the present Montgomery is the small remainder of a once large territory and bears that region's original name. It also contains the greater part of the territory immediately along the river, of three of the five districts which originally composed Tryon and Montgomery County. These three districts were Canajoharie, Palatine and Mohawk, and are all names of present-day townships of the county, which were portions of the original districts. It is in the lands along the Mohawk River, contained in these old districts, where the principal part of the population was gathered at the close of the Revolutionary War.

The three towns of Montgomery which formed part of the Canajoharie districts were set apart on the following dates: Minden 1798, Root 1823 (formed partly from the old Mohawk and old Canajoharie districts). Canajoharie, part of the original district of that name set apart in 1772. The town of Palatine is the remaining portion of the original Tryon County district of that name. The town of St. Johnsville was set apart on the formation of Fulton County in 1838. In 1793 Caughnawaga was divided into Johnstown, Mayfield, Broadalbin and Amsterdam, and Mohawk into Charleston and Florida, their dividing line being Schoharie Creek. In 1797 Salisbury, now in Herkimer County, was taken from Palatine, and in 1798 part of Canajoharie went to form Minden.

Following is a short sketch of the Revolutionary patriot for whom Tryon County was renamed in 1784: Richard Montgomery was born in the north of Ireland in 1737. He entered the British army at the age of twenty and was with Wolfe at the storming of Quebec. Although he returned, after the French war, he had formed a liking for America and, in 1772, came back and made his home at Rhinebeck, on the Hudson, where he married a daughter of Robert B. Livingston. He sided with the patriots at the outbreak of the Revolution and in 1775 was second in command to Schuyler in the expedition against Canada. The illness of Schuyler caused the chief command to devolve upon Montgomery, and in the capture of St. John's, Chambly and Montreal and his attack on Quebec, he exhibited great judgment and military skill. He was commissioned a major general before he reached Quebec. In that campaign he had every difficulty to contend with — undisciplined and mutinous troops, scarcity of provisions and ammunition, want of heavy artillery, lack of clothing, the rigor of winter and desertions of whole companies. Yet he pressed onward and in all probability, had his life been spared, would have entered Quebec in triumph. In the heroic attack of the Americans on this stronghold, December 31, 1775 (during a heavy snowstorm), Montgomery was killed and his force defeated. Congress voted Montgomery a monument, by an act passed January 25, 1776, and it was erected on the Broadway side of St. Paul's Church in New York. It bears the following inscription: "This monument is erected by order of Congress, 25th of January, 1776, to transmit to posterity a grateful remembrance of the patriot conduct, enterprise and perseverance of Major-General Richard Montgomery, who, after a series of successes amid the most discouraging difficulties, fell in the attack on Quebec, 31st December, 1775, aged 37 years."

In 1818 his remains were brought from Quebec and buried under this memorial. His aged widow sat on the piazza of their former Hudson River home, when the remains of her young hero husband, on a steamboat, passed down the river. Mrs. Montgomery fainted under the stress of her emotion.

General Montgomery left no children, but his widow survived him more than half a century. A day or two before he left his home at Rhinebeck for the Canadian campaign, the general was walking on the lawn in the rear of his brother-in-law's mansion with its owner. As they came near the house Montgomery stuck a willow twig in the ground and said, "Peter, let that grow to remember me by." Lossing says it did grow and that when he visited the spot (in 1848) it was a willow with a trunk at least ten feet in circumference.

Valley homes and life after the war are vividly pictured in the following from "Beers' History (1878)." This was written of the town of Florida, Montgomery County, but applies equally well to the other Mohawk Valley towns:

"With the opening of the nineteenth century we seem to come a long step toward the present. It seems a great milestone in history, dividing a fading past from the fresher present. The long, doubtful struggle with England had resulted in a dearly bought, dearly prized peace, with its beautiful victories. Local tradition has not yet lost the memory of the suffering that followed the infamous raid of Butler and Brant through this neighborhood in 1780; and still treasures tales of hairbreadth escapes of families that found darksome homes in the cellars of their burned dwellings, of the fearful hushing of children, lest their voices should betray the places of concealment, of the hiding of plate and valuables, tea kettles freighted with spoons being hid in such haste as to defy future unearthing. * * But at last 'the land had rest.' The red man, once sovereign lord, had disappeared; the powerful Johnson family was exiled, its homes sequestered and in other hands. Sturdy toil and earnest labor won their due return and thrift and competency were everywhere attested by hospitable homes and well stored barns. Albany was the main market for the products, wheat forming the most considerable item. School houses and churches now dotted the landscape, and busy grist and saw mills perched on many streams. The Dutch [and German] language was much spoken, but many Connecticut and New England settlers never acquired it, and theirs [eventually] became the common tongue.

"Not alone have the 'blazed' or marked trees and saplings, which indicated the lines of roads or farm boundaries, long since decayed, but 'Blockhouse' and log cabin have also disappeared, and it may be doubted if five specimens of these early homes can now be found within the bounds of Florida. Yet still there live those who can remember the old-fashioned houses. Says Mr. David Cady:

"We have seen the type and warmed ourselves at the great hospitable fireplace, with crane, pothooks and trammels, occupy. ing nearly the side of the room; while outer doors were so opposed that a horse might draw in the huge log by one entrance, leaving by the other. Strange, too, to our childish eyes, were the curious chimnies of tree limbs encrusted with mortar. The wide fireplace was universal; the huge brick oven indispensable. Stoves were not, though an occasional Franklin was possessed. The turkey was oft cooked suspended before the crackling fire; the corn baked in the low coal-covered bake kettle, the potatoes roasted beneath the ashes, and apples upon a ledge of bricks; nuts and cider were in store in every house. As refinement progressed and wealth advanced, from the fireside wall extended a square cornice, perhaps six feet deep by ten feet wide, from which depended a brave valance of gay printed chintz or snowy linen, perchance decked with mazy net work and tassled fringe, wrought by the cunning hand of the mistress or her daughter. These too have we seen. Possibly the household thrift of the last [eighteenth] century was not greater than that of the present time, but its field of exertion was vastly different. The hum of the great and the buzz of the little spinning wheel were heard in every home. By the great wheels the fleecy rolls of wool, often hand carded, were turned into the firm yarns that by the motions of deft fingers grew into warm stockings and mittens, or by the stout and clumsy loom became gay coverlet of scarlet, or blue and white, or the graver 'press cloth' for garb of women and children, or the butternut or brown or black homespun of men's wear. The little wheel mainly drew from twirling distaff the thread that should make the 'fine, twined linen,' the glory and pride of mistress or maid, who could show her handiwork in piles of sheets, tablecloths and garments. Upon these, too, was often lavished garniture of curious needlework, hemstitch, and herringbone and lacestitch. Plaid linseys and linen wear were, too, fields for taste to disport in, while the patient and careful toil must not go unchronicled that from the wrecks of old and worn out clothes produced wondrous resurrection in the 'hit-or-miss' or striped rag carpet, an accessory of so much comfort, so great endurance, and often so great beauty.

"Horseback was the most common style of traveling. The well-sweep or bubbling spring supplied the clear, cold water. Such was the then, we know the now. In modes of life, in dress and equipage, in social and political habits, in locomotion, in comforts, in commerce, one needs not to draw the contrast; more wide or striking it scarce could be."

Mr. Cady has most pleasingly described the old log cabin homes, but we must remember that much that he details of them was also true of the stone and brick houses which were built up along the Mohawk, almost from the first advent of the white settlers. The century or more following the initial settlements was marked by the erection of strong, well-made houses and barns, which might well be adapted for present day construction. When stone was easily obtainable, as in the Palatine and parts of the Canajoharie districts, fine, solid, comfortable farm dwellings were built which seem to reflect the simple, solid, honest character of the Mohawk Valley men of German and Dutch ancestry of the time. While the "Mohawk Dutchman" has been criticised, justly or unjustly, for penury, lack of enterprise and progressiveness and other failings, he seems to have possessed the sterling virtues of horse sense, justice, honesty, toleration, self-restraint and, greatest of all, pertinacity. All these qualities are so well exemplified in the greatest American of the time — Washington — of a different blood. These same traits seem to reflect themselves in the structures built by the men of the Mohawk from 1784 to 1838. There are many examples lining the river's course on both highways and in the villages. The Frey house (1800) in Palatine Bridge is an example of the stone construction, while the Groff house (typical of that fine old Schenectady Dutch style) and the public library (1835) on Willett Street, Fort Plain, are examples respectively of brick and wood building of the period under consideration. The old Paris store or "Bleecker house," in Fort Plain, is another interesting specimen of early valley building. The reason the middle and upper Mohawk Valley have so few pre-Revolutionary buildings is that these were destroyed in the raids from 1778 to 1782.

These same human qualities enumerated have continued to make the "Mohawk Dutch" such an important part of the valley's population, probably the largest element even at this day.

For the most part the men of this period led lives of hard work in the open air, and were consequently sturdy. Factory life was a negligible quantity, even toward the end of this time, and the town population was small in comparison with the people who were on the farms. Agricultural conditions and work gradually improved and approached the more advanced methods of the present, although doubtless not specialized as now. In most sections, the farming population, at the end of this period, was larger than it is at the present time. The country was what might be called a natural country and human life was consequently natural and not lived under such artificial conditions as now. The great health-giving and soil-preserving forest still occupied considerable stretches of country and furnished hunting and fishing for the male population. There were farms, forests and water-courses and no huge cities, with their big factories and indoor life, to tend toward the deterioration of the valley's people.

With none of the present-day agricultural machinery, such as the reaper and thresher, the men of that day were compelled to do themselves the hard work of the farms and also of the towns. Consequently they had sturdy bodies, and so did the women and their children, as well — and no people can have a better asset. The women were probably generally good housewives, who gave their daughters thorough training in the work of the household, and who took the same pride in a well-kept house as their husbands did in a well-managed, productive farm. Aimless discontent seems to have been markedly absent and the women of the time were evidently lacking in sexless prudery and priggishness. The natural ardors of youth seem not to have been then considered evidences of depravity, and early marriages and large families were the rule. There was no need of sending the little child of that day to kindergarten, for pretty nearly every farm and town house was a kindergarten in itself. It is said that never in any nation's history has there been such a record of population increase as in the American states from their settlement up to the time of the great invasion of foreign immigrants about 1840, when this natural national growth began to slacken and approach the present (1925) stationary position among the purely American element of the population (let us say among families who settled here prior to 1840). If this trend should unfortunately continue the Revolutionary American stock is bound to die out or become at most a negligible national quantity.

It is not to be inferred from the foregoing that 1784 or 1838 is superior to 1925 as a period of human life. In comfort, sanitation, kindliness and toleration we are ahead of the earlier time. Both times have something that each lack by themselves.

During the time of this chapter, the tavern continued, as before and during the Revolution, a center of social and political life. Here were held dances, banquets, meetings and elections. "Trainings" of the militia and horse races brought out the people as at present county fairs. An agricultural association was formed in Johnstown and county fairs were held there about the middle of this period.

The work and government of the valley, after the conflict for independence, were in the hands of the patriot Revolutionary warriors. They assumed the direction of county affairs without change — the form of government of old Tryon being much like that of Montgomery county which it became. Later the sons and grandsons of Revolutionary sires took up their share of work and politics and at the close of this after-war period (in 1838) there must have been but comparatively few of the men of '76 left.

Like many after war times the close of the Revolution ushered in an era of recklessness and license. Gambling, extravagance, horse-racing, drunkenness and dueling were forms of its evidence. The duel was a recognized and tolerated method for the settlement of private grievances at the beginning of the nineteenth century. A famous duel caused great excitement in New York in the first year of the nineteenth century. The principals were Philip Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, and George J. Eacker, who had come to New York from his home in the town of Palatine a few years before. The latter was the son of Judge Eacker of Palatine and a nephew of General Herkimer. Eacker studied law, was admitted to the bar and became associated in a law firm with Brockholst Livingston, after his arrival in the city. He was a friend and admirer of Aaron Burr and a Jeffersonian in politics. Party feeling ran very high and Eacker became embroiled with the Federalists, of which party Alexander Hamilton was a national and state leader. In 1801 Eacker delivered the Fourth of July oration in New York City, and seems to have thereby incurred the enmity of the Hamiltons and their party. November 20, 1801, Eacker and his fiancee (a Miss Livingston) occupied a box at the John Street theatre, and he was there insulted by Philip Hamilton (then in his twentieth year), son of Alexander Hamilton, and by young Hamilton's friend Price. The talk between them, in Eacker's presence, ran somewhat as follows: "How did you like Eacker's sour krout oration on the Fourth of July"? The answer placed it in a very low scale. "What will you give for a printed copy of it"? "About a sixpence" was the reply. "Don't you think the Mohawk Dutchman is a greater man than Washington"? "Yes, far greater", etc., etc. Eacker resented this abuse and a duel with Price followed at noon, Sunday, November 22, at Powle's Hook. Four shots were exchanged between the principals without result, when the seconds intervened. A second duel with young Hamilton took place the following day, Monday, November 23, at three in the afternoon at the same place, in which Eacker shot Hamilton through the body at the first fire and the unfortunate young man died the next day. It is a curious commentary upon the position dueling occupied, in the estimation of men of the time, that Alexander Hamilton held no grievance against the slayer of his son, and Joseph Herkimer of Little Falls, observed to a friend that he "never witnessed more especial compliments or respectful greetings pass between lawyers than did between Gen. Hamilton and Eacker after his son's death". Eacker died in 1803 of consumption and Alexander Hamilton was himself killed in a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. George J. Eacker was a prominent militiaman and volunteer fireman of New York City at the time of his early death.

* * * * *

Among the valley sports, after as before the Revolution, the chief seem to have been horse racing, foot racing and ball.

We have the following somewhat amusing anecdote concerning the meddling of the clergy with the sports of the people. At a race on the Sand Flats at Fonda, the German minister of Stone Arabia thought it his duty to protest against race track gambling, which was the cause of much iniquity, so he rode there in his chaise with that intent. Arriving at the grounds he had barely commenced his protest against the evils of the race course, when a wag, who knew the parson's horse had been in a former similar race, rode up saying: "Dominie, you have a fine horse there" and, touching both horses smartly with his whip, shouted "Go!" and both animals and drivers started off toward the minister's home at a racing clip. Several voices were heard shouting, "Go it, dominie, we'll bet on your horse". Before the reverend gentleman could pull up his nag both horses had sped a long way and the Stone Arabia clergyman, realizing the force of his remarks had been unavoidably broken, kept on to his home and was never again seen at a race course.

Trivial as certain of these accounts and anecdotes may appear they give us an insight and understanding of the people's character and daily life in the early days of the valley, which no citation of mere events and figures, however correct, can picture. They bring up visions like looking on a camera obscura, filled with the moving figures and backed by the unfamiliar scenes of a day long passed.

Here is appended a hand bill of races in Palatine forty years after the Revolutionary period. However the character of the pre-Revolutionary races was, without doubt, similar and it will give us an idea of what was the major sport and recreation of our valley ancestors:

"Second Day's Purse, $50 —

"To be given to the jockey rider, running two mile heats, winning two heats out of three; free for any horse, mare or gelding in the United States.

"The third day a new SADDLE and BRIDLE, to be given to the jockey rider running one mile heats, winning two heats out of three; free for any three-year-old colt in the United States.

"Likewise on the last day, a BEAVER HAT, worth $10, to be given to the jockey footman running round the course in the shortest time. To start at four o'clock, p. m., on the last day's running.

"On the first Tuesday in November next, races will commence on the flats of George Waggoner in Palatine. The purses as above, except the hat.

"October 4, 1819.


The foot race did not take place, as a Palatine contestant was sick, and a purse of $30 was made up for a quarter-mile foot race. William Moyer, a tailor, and John K. Diell represented the town of Canajoharie and one Waggoner and an unknown man were the champions of Palatine. The tap of a drum started them, as was usual then, and Diell won the sprint by six feet. The time was 58 seconds, which was very fast considering the track and the fact that there were no spiked shoes in those days.

In 1824 a foot race took place in the village of Canajoharie for a purse of $1,000, the runners being David Spraker of Palatine and Joseph White of Cherry Valley. The distance of ten rods was marked off on Montgomery street and the contestants were started by David F. Sacia. Spraker won the prize and the race by three feet. This race was a topic of general conversation for a half century afterward.

Games of ball had been popular sport with the soldiers of the Revolution. We read that the garrison was playing ball when Fort Stanwix took fire. This was probably then as later the game of "town ball". There were four bases in that game, but, instead of touching the runner to put him out, the rule required that he must be hit with a thrown ball. There were no basemen. This game survives, in the rules of our national sport, in that a base runner who is hit by a batted ball is out. The invention of the modern game of baseball in 1840 at Cooperstown, is covered in a later chapter.

* * * * *

Elkanah Watson was a wide traveler and "gentleman of leisure" of Providence, R. I. Watson was greatly interested in canals, a subject which was generally discussed in the latter eighteenth century, and he had observed many of the old world artificial waterways. About 1788, while traveling in the Mohawk Valley, he took note of the commercial possibilities of that stream, as many public-spirited men had before him, and soon he began to propose, through the press, its improvement. In September, 1791, a party, piloted by Mr. Watson, covered the line of the improved waterway he had advocated. It consisted of Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, Gen. P. Van Cortland, Stephen N. Bayard and Watson. They left Albany and went to Schenectady, where they hired two batteaux, engaged six men and laid in a stock of provisions to last six weeks. The flatboats went up the river to Fort Herkimer, where they were joined by the four principals who went thence by land. The whole party went to Fort Stanwix by river, where the two-mile carry was made into Wood Creek. The bargemen took the two batteaux through this waterway to Oneida Lake, a very difficult and obstructed piece of navigation, used however by the Mohawk River boats of the time. The investigating party proceeded through Oneida Lake into Oswego River and investigated Seneca River, Onondaga, Seneca and Cayuga lakes. They satisfied themselves of the feasibility of the improvements proposed by Watson. They secured the influential assistance of Gen. Philip Schuyler and in 1792 the Inland Lock Navigation Co. was organized with Gen. Schuyler as president. In the face of great difficulties the improvement of the Mohawk River was carried through and completed from Oneida Lake to Schenectady, in 1796. This included a canal and five locks at Little Falls with a 44 1/2 ft. lift. The canal was 4,752 feet long and 2,550 feet of this was through solid rock. At Wolf's Rift, below Ft. Herkimer, was a canal 1 1/4 miles long with three locks. At Rome a canal 1 3/4 miles long connected the Mohawk with Wood Creek, on which there were four locks.

The labors of Elkanah Watson make him as much the "father" of New York state inland navigation as anyone, his being the first practical efforts for state waterway improvement. Watson was born in Massachusetts in 1758 and died at Port Kent, Lake Champlain, in 1842, aged 84 years.

Watson kept a diary of his journeys through the Mohawk valley in 1788 and in 1791. In 1856 Mr. W. C. Watson published a memoir of his father, Elkanah Watson, under the title "Men and Times of the Revolution, or Memoirs of Elkanah Watson." This contained summaries or verbatim extracts from journals of the elder Watson's interesting travels. In 1788 Elkanah Watson visited Hudson, Albany, Schenectady and Johnstown, and at the latter place learned of the great Indian council shortly to occur at Fort Schuyler, or Stanwix as it was still generally called. He resolved to attend and proceeded from Johnstown, northward.

His memoirs contain the following concerning this, his first valley trip of 1788:

"The country between Schenectady and Johnstown was well settled by a Dutch population, generally in a prosperous condition". The Watson memoirs further say:

From Johnson Hall he proceeded up the Mohawk, through a rich region, under high cultivation and adorned by luxuriant clover pastures. This lovely valley was almost on a level with the river and was bounded on the north by a lofty range of hills, whose cliffs at times seemed impending over him. The fields were only separated by gates, with no fences on the roadsides. The beauty of the country, the majestic appearance of the adjacent mountains, the state of advanced agriculture, exhibited in a long succession of excellent farms, and the rich fragrancy of the air, redolent with the perfume of the clover, all combined to present a scene he was not prepared to witness on the banks of the Mohawk.

The territory, known as the German Flats, had been long inhabited and was densely occupied by a German population. This people had suffered severely during the War for Independence, from the ravages of the Tories and Indians and had been nearly extirpated. Their safety was only secured by the erection of numerous blockhouses, which were constructed in commanding positions, and often mounted with cannon. Many of these structures were yet standing, and were seen in every direction.

On this trip, Watson suffered from hunger, on account of the scarcity of taverns in the upper valley. He stopped at Whitesboro, then a considerable settlement of log houses. At Oriskany he passed several hundred Indians and visited the battle field, piloted by two German settlers, and saw the ground strewn with human bones. Beyond Oriskany he rode alone through a band of drunken, half-naked Indians, who danced, whooping and yelling, about him. He finally reached Fort Stanwix and found "the whole plain around the fort covered with Indians of various tribes, male and female. Many of the latter were fantastically dressed in their best attire — in the richest silks, fine scarlet clothes bordered with gold fringe, a profusion of brooches, rings in their noses, their ears slit, and their heads decorated with feathers. Among them I noticed some very handsome countenances and fine figures."

Watson secured quarters in the garret of the dwelling where Gov. Clinton and the eight New York Commissioners were housed, and attended all the doings at this celebrated Indian council, in which the red men were forced to give up their title to their lands in New York state and farther west — about 4,000,000 acres. While here Watson examined the carry into Wood Creek, and started on a western waterway voyage but was turned back by a heavy rain.

Of his return trip down the Mohawk, Watson says in part: "My curiosity satisfied, I sent my horse towards Albany and embarked on board a returning bateau, and proceeded down the Mohawk to Little Falls, anxious to examine that place with an eye to canals. We abandoned ourselves to the current of the river, which, with the aid of our oars, impelled us at a rapid rate. We met numerous bateaux coming up the river, freighted with whole families, emigrating to the 'land of promise'. I was surprised to observe the dexterity with which they manage their boats, and the progress they make in poling up the river, against a current of at least three miles an hour. The first night we encamped at a log hut on the banks of the river and the next morning I disembarked at German Flats." From here he returned to Albany.

Watson's journal, of the Mohawk River investigating committee of 1791, is intensely interesting to Mohawk Valley people, as it describes pioneer conditions along the Mohawk. His remarks in regard to the "Mohawk Dutch" (for this term included both the High and Low Dutch) must be considered in the light of the fact that he was a cultured New Englander, that he was considering a different race, whose very rude strength had aided in their partial conquest of the wilderness, and also that his enthusiasm for the "rudiments of literature" was not shared by a people who were schooled only in the rudiments of frontier life and had no time for anything else. While a majority of the valley people of 1791 were crude, rough and unlettered they also possessed many sterling qualities. There were also among them men of education, keen perceptions, and strong, solid intellectual powers. Watson came through western Montgomery County by way of Johnstown, through Stone Arabia to Garoga Creek and thence up the valley. He was an observer of wide experience and his picture of frontier life on the Mohawk River in 1791 is perhaps the most valuable in existence, as it showed conditions as they generally existed here throughout the eighteenth century. It is to be regretted that his journal of his travels up and down the valley cannot be given verbatim. His entries are largely summarized by his son. Wherever his journal has reference to the Mohawk valley it is here reprinted (from the Memoirs of 1856) in full. The first verbatim entry, of the 1791 journey, was evidently written at Palatine Church, September 4, 1791. The following are verbatim extracts:

1791, Sept. 4 — We proceeded on our journey with a miserably covered wagon, and in a constant rain, until night, which brought us to Major Schuyler's mills in Palatine [on Garoga creek at Palatine Church], settled by the descendants of German emigrants, intermingling on all sides with the enterprising Sons of the East [New Englanders] between whom mutual prejudices ran high. These feelings will gradually be overcome by intermarriages and other modes of intercourse. Thus far the German and Dutch farmers have been, in a manner, totally remiss in cultivating the first rudiments of literature, while the descendants of the English in New England have cherished it as a primary duty. Hence the characteristics of each people are distinctly variant. * * * I have noticed with pleasure that the German farmers begin to use oxen in agriculture instead of horses. For this salutary improvement they are indebted to the New England men.

I am induced to believe, should the Western canals ever be made, and the Mohawk River become, in one sense, a continuation of the Hudson River by means of canals and locks, that it will most clearly obviate the necessity of sending produce to market in winter by sleighs [then the general custom, the farmers going to Albany in winter with the surplus products they had for sale]. On the contrary, it would be stored on the margin of the Mohawk in winter, and be sent, in the summer months, by batteaux, to be unloaded aboard vessels in the Hudson.

The bottoms or lowlands along the Mohawk are laid off into rich inclosures, highly cultivated, principally by industrious Germans. Narrow roads and contracted bridges still exist.

On the south side of the river the country is thicker settled and many pleasant situations, old farms, and wealthy farmers appear, but these evidently are far behind those of Germany or England in the profitable science of agriculture. We crossed a new wooden bridge [over the Garoga Creek] near Schuyler's Mills, 75 feet long, with a single arch supported by framed work above. I was glad to notice this, an enterprising wedge to more extended improvements.

[1791] Sept. 7. — This morning we ascended Fall Hill, over a craggy road of one mile. From its summit we commanded an extensive and picturesque view of the surrounding country in the north, partly settled, but generally in nature's original brown livery, spotted here and there by an opening. We left Little Falls on our right and descended into the rich settlement of German Flats. At Eldridges tavern, near Fort Herkimer, we overtook our batteau, all well and embarked the same evening, stemming fourteen miles against a strong current, with an awning spread over our heads. Each boat was manned by three men, two in the bow and one in the stern to steer. They occasionally rowed in still water, setting, with short poles at the rapids, with surprising dexterity. In this mode their average progress is three miles an hour, equal to truckshute travelling in Holland; but it is exceedingly laborious and fatiguing to the men. At night we encamped in a log hut on the margin of the river.

[1791] Sept. 8. — A pleasant sail of ten miles this fine morning brought us to Old Fort Schuyler. Here we were joined by Gen. Van Cortland and Mr. Bayard, who were waiting for us, which completes our number to thirteen.

From Little Falls, thus far, the river is nearly competent to inland navigation, with the exception of a serious rapid and a great bend at the German Flats, called Wolf-riff, which must be subdued, either by a cut across the neck of land, upward of one mile, or by removing the obstructions.

An Indian road being opened from this place [later Utica] to the Genesee country, it is probable that the position of Fort Stanwix and this spot will become rivals as the site of a town, in connection with the interior, when it shall have become a settled country. If, however, the canals should be constructed, I think Fort Stanwix will take the lead at a future day. Such was my impression when here in 1788. Since then only a few houses and stores have been erected here, also a tolerable tavern to administer comfort to the weary traveler, which I experienced the want of three years past.

In the afternoon we progressed thirteen miles, meeting many obstructions in consequence of the cruel conduct of the new settlers, who are wonderfully increased since I was here [three years before], filling the river with fallen trees cut on its margin, narrowing it in many places, producing shoals where the deepest waters had been accustomed to flow, and impeding the progress of our boats. We pitched our Camp on the right hand bank of the river in the midst of woods. We soon had a roaring fire and our tents pitched-open on one side to the fire and closed at each end with canvas. We found an excellent substitute for feathers, laying our buffaloes on hemlock twigs; although the ground was moist we were effectually protected from any inconvenience. We enjoyed a pleasant night, with ten times more comfort than we could in the miserable log huts along the banks of the river.

[1791] Sept. 9. — At noon we reached Fort Stanwix, to which place, with some aid of art, the river continues adapted to inland navigation for boats of five tons burthen. Emigrants are swarming into these fertile regions in shoals, like the ancient Israelites seeking the land of promise.

We transported our boats and baggage across the carrying place, a distance of two miles, over a dead flat and launched into Wood Creek, running west. It is a mere brook at this place, which a man can easily jump across.

In contemplating this important creek as the only water communication with the immense regions in the West, which are destined to bless millions of freemen in the approaching century, I am deeply impressed with a belief, considering the great resources of this state, that the improvement of our internal navigation cannot much longer escape the attention of our lawmakers, and more especially as it is obviously practicable. When effected it will open an uninterrupted water communication from the immense fertile regions in the West to the Atlantic.

September 10, 1791, Watson and party began to descend Wood Creek, to Oneida Lake, a most tortuous stream and difficult piece of navigation, so narrow that the bow and stern of a batteau scraped opposite banks in making the turns, obstructed by logs in the stream and crossed by boughs and limbs so closely overhead that in some places it obliged "all hands to lie flat."

On September 12 they reached the Royal blockhouse at the east end of Oneida Lake. September 13 they "wrote home by a boat coming from the west loaded with hemp, raised at the south end of Cayuga Lake." September 14 they came to Fort Brewerton, at the entrance to the present Oneida River, after sailing down Oneida Lake, which evoked the warmest admiration from Mr. Watson, although he found it "extremely turbulent and dangerous."

Watson's journal is replete with surmises and prophecies on the future of United States internal waterway navigation, much of which has come to pass. The influence of what one intelligent, energetic man, with imagination and a working control of his specialty, can achieve is seen in the improved Mohawk River which Watson's efforts brought about, and which, in itself, led up to the Erie and the Barge Canal. All honor to Elkanah Watson!

* * * * *

An eighteenth century writer gives us a good view of the valley during the decade after the Revolution in a "Description of the Country Between Albany and Niagara in 1792," from Volume II of the "Documentary History of New York." It follows verbatim:

"I am just returned from Niagara, about 560 miles west of Boston. I went first to Albany, from thence to Schenectady, about Sixteen miles; this has been a very considerable place of trade but is now falling to decay: It was supported by the Indian traders; but this business is so arrested by traders far in the country, that very little of it reached so far down: it stands upon the Mohawk river, about 9 miles above the Falls, called Cohoes; but this I take to be the Indian name for Falls. Its chief business is to receive the merchandise from Albany and put it into batteaux to go up the river and forward to Albany Such produce of the back country as is sent to market. After leaving Schenectada, I travelled over a most beautiful country of eighty miles to Fort Schuyler, where I forded the Mohawk. This extent was the scene of British and Savage cruelty during the late war, and they did not cease, while anything remained to destroy. What a contrast now! — every house and barn rebuilt, the pastures crowded with Cattle, Sheep, etc., and the lap of Ceres full. Most of the land on each side of the Mohawk River is a rich flat highly cultivated with every species of grain, the land on each side rising in agreeable Slopes; this, added to the view of a fine river passing through the whole, gives the beholder the most pleasing sensations imaginable. I next passed through Whitestown. It would appear to you, my friend, on hearing the relation of events in the western country, that the whole was fable; and if you were placed in Whitestown or Clinton, ten miles from Fort Schuyler, and see the progress of improvement, you would believe it enchanted ground. You would there view an extensive well built town, surrounded by highly cultivated fields, which Spot in the year 1783 was the haunt, of tribes' and the hiding place of wolves, now a flourishing happy Situation, containing about Six thousand people — Clinton stands a little South of Whitestown and is a very large, thriving town."

This writer also says that "after passing Clinton there are no inhabitants upon the road until you reach Oneida, an Indian town, the first of the Six Nations; it contains about Five hundred and fifty inhabitants; here I slept and found the natives very friendly." He also writes, "The Indians are settled on all the reservations made by this State, and are to be met with at every settlement of whites, in quest of rum."

Rev. John Taylor's journal of 1802, written during his journey up the Mohawk Valley, gives us a sketch of the people and country hereabouts at that interesting time, also an insight into the crude farming methods then prevailing. Parts of his diary relating to this section are as follows:

"July 23, 1802 — Tripes (alias Tribes) Hill, in the town of Amsterdam, county of Montgomery. * * * This place appears to be a perfect Babel as to language. But very few of the people, I believe, would be able to pronounce Shibboleth. The articulation, even of New England people, is injured by their being intermingled with the Dutch, Irish and Scotch. The character of the Dutch people, even on first acquaintance, appears to be that of kindness and justice. As to religion, they know but little about it, and are extremely superstitious. They are influenced very much by dreams and apparitions. The most intelligent of them seem to be under the influence of fear from that cause. The High Dutch have some singular customs with regard to their dead. When a person dies, nothing will influence ye connections, nor any other person, unless essentially necessary, to touch the body. When the funeral is appointed, none attend but such as are invited. When the corpse is placed in the street a tune is sung by a choir of persons appointed for the purpose — and continue singing until they arrive at the grave; and after the body is deposited, they have some remarks made, return to ye house and in general get drunk. 12 men are bearers — or carriers — and they have no relief. No will is opened or debt paid until six weeks from ye time of death.

"27th — Left Amsterdam and traveled 5 miles to Johnstown — a very pleasant village — containing one Dutch presbyterian chh [i.e., church] and an Episcopalian. The village is tolerably well built. It is a county town — lies about 4 miles from the River and contains about 600 inhabitants. In this town there is a jail, courthouse and academy. About 3/4ths of a mile from the center of the town we find the buildings erected by Sir William Johnson.

"Johnstown, west of Amsterdam on the Mohawk — extent [the town] 11 by 8 miles. It contains one Scotch Presbyterian congregation, who have an elegant meeting house, Simon Hosack Pastor of the Chh, a Gent. of learning and piety, educated at Edinburgh. This is a very respectable congregation. The town contains an Episcopal congregation, who have an elegant stone church with organs. John Urquhart, curate. Congregation not numerous. There is also in this town one reformed Dutch chh. Mr. Van Horn, an excellent character, pastor. A respectable congregation. Further there is one large Presbyterian congregation — vacant — the people [of this congregation] principally from New England.

"Palatine, west of Johnstown and Mayfield; extent 15 by 12 miles [then depleted in size from 1772]. A place called Stone Arabia is in this town and contains one Lutheran Chh and one Dutch reformed Chh. Mr. Lubauch is minister of the latter and Mr. Crotz of the former. Four miles west of Stone Arabia, in the same town of Palatine, is a reformed Lutheran Chh to whom Mr. Crotz preaches part of the time.

"After leaving this town [Johnstown] I passed about ten miles in a heavy timbered country with but few inhabitants. The soil, however, appears in general to be excellent. The country is a little more uneven than it is back in Amsterdam. After traveling ten miles in a tolerable road, I came to Stonearabe (or Robby as the Dutch pronounce it). This is a parish of Palatine and is composed principally of High Dutch or Germans. Passing on 4 miles, came upon a river in another parish of Palatine, a snug little village with a handsome stone Chh [Palatine Church]. Having traveled a number of miles back of the river, I find that there is a great similarity in the soil, but some difference in the timber. From Johnstown to Stone Arabia the timber is beech and maple, with some hemlocks. In Stone Arabia the timber is walnut and butternut. The fields of wheat are numerous and the crop in general is excellent. In everything but wheat the husbandry appears to be bad. The land for Indian corn, it is evident from appearance is not properly plowed — they plow very shallow. Neither is the corn tended — it is in general full of weeds and grass and looks miserably. Rie is large. Flax does not appear to be good. Whether this is owing to the season or the soil, I know not. Pease appear to flourish — so do oats; but the soil, I believe, is too hard and clayey for potatoes — they look very sickly. I perceive as yet, but one great defect in the morals of the people they are too much addicted to drink. The back part of Montgomery [now Fulton] County consists of some pine plains; but in general the lumber is beach and maple. A good grass and wheat country."

The Rev. Mr. Taylor gives an interesting account of the Little Falls country in 1802:

"Passing on from Manheim, we found the mountains drawing to a point upon two sides of the river. When we come to the river there is only a narrow pass for about three-fourths of a mile between the river and the foot of the rocks. When we come to the Falls the scene which it presents is sublime. We now enter Herkimer County — a small village of the town of Herkimer, called Little Falls, by which the canals pass, which were constructed in [17]95. The length of the canal is three-fourths of a mile. There are six locks. The appearance of the falls is sublime. The village is built upon a ledge of rocks. It promises fair to be a place of business as to trade, as all produce of the Royal grants will naturally be brought here to be shipped. They have a new and beautiful meeting house, standing about 40 rods back on the hill, built in the form of an octagon. I am now, July 27 [1802], about 30 rods from fall mountain on the south. Between this and the mountain is the Mohawk, and a bridge over it, in length about 16 rods. Between this and the bridge is the canal. On the right about 40 rods are the falls, or one bar of the falls in full view. The falls extend about three-fourths of a mile. Upon the whole, the place is the most romantic of any I ever saw; and the objects are such as to excite sublime ideas in a reflecting mind. From the appearance of the rocks, and fragments of rocks where the town is built, it is, I think, demonstratably evident that the waters of the Mohawk, in passing over the fall, were 80 or 90 feet higher, in some early period, than they are now. The rocks, even a hundred feet perpendicular above the present high water mark, are worn in the same manner as those over which the river passes. The rocks are not only worn by the descent of the water, but in the flat rocks are many round holes, worn by the whirling of stones — some even 5 feet and 20 inches over. If these effects were produced by the water, as I have no doubt they were, then it follows as a necessary consequence, that the flats above and all the lowlands for a considerable extent of the country, were covered with water, and that here was a lake — but the water, having lowered its bed, laid the lands above dry."

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