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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 78: Schenectady After the Revolution.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1165-1174 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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The following interesting picture of Schenectady and its neighborhood, following the War for Independence, is from Yates' History of Schenectady County. The first part, contained in the chapter entitled "Schenectady After the Revolution," is as follows:

The Revolution had dealt far more gently with Schenectady than the Colonial Wars. She had her dead to mourn, sorrows for which the only compensation was the honorable names that left their fragrance as the grass grew greener over the graves in the old Dutch graveyard in Green Street, or on their unknown little homes unmarked but not far away.

The survivors came back to rejoice in the independence of this infant land, but to suffer also in the poverty and depression that settled down heavily on a country with no money but rags, but little experienced in self-government. Not one of those infant industries that we have been of late so generously fostering till they have been nurtured into gigantic dimensions, existed. New names, with no Holland guttural or Dutch melody in them, began to be known and honored.

Gallant soldiers, officers and men, were in these regiments. Col. Abraham Wemple did magnificent service; Cornelius Van Dyck, lieutenant colonel [and later colonel] of the First New York Continental, Gen. Philip Schuyler's veteran regiment; John Graham, father of the late Sarah and Deborah Graham of Washington avenue, and Major Thornton, were men who achieved high renown.

These officers were all brave, rigid disciplinarians, and brought their regiments to such perfection of drill and soldierly bearing, that the First Veteran New York had no superior in the American Army. It is not my intention to follow this old regiment through the early incidents of the Revolution; to speak of their brilliant gallantry at Saratoga and on the plains of Monmouth; but, as derived from actors in the events, such was the estimate of their steadiness and valor, that, on the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga, Nicholas Van Rensselaer, one of its captains, a grandson of old Patroon Hendrick, was deputed by General Gates to carry a captured flag and the news of the surrender to the anxious citizens of Albany. A regiment so brave that at the storming of Stony Point, July 16, 1779, General Wayne placed this regiment in the front; and on the storming of the two redoubts at Yorktown, late in the afternoon of the 14th of October, 1781, where, to excite a spirit of emulation, the reduction of the one was committed to the French under the Baron de Viomesnil, and the other to the Americans under the Marquis Lafayette. Colonel Hamilton himself, of New York, led the advanced corps of the Americans, selecting for a part of his column a detachment of Van Schaick's veteran regiment, (First New York, under Major Graham). These troops rushed to the charge without firing a gun, and, passing over the abattis and palisades, assaulted the works on all sides, and entered with such rapidity that the redoubt was immediately carried with inconsiderable loss. The redoubt attacked by the French was defended by a greater number of men and therefore occupied more time in its reduction.

Then, too, Major John Thornton of Schenectady was an officer in the Revolutionary struggle, full of daring, a hero at Saratoga, and a veteran. This was the father of the late Mrs. Volney Freeman of our place and of the late Col. William A. Thornton of the regular army.

It must be borne in mind that the militia in the day of the Revolution was not like the militia of any more modern days. They were fighters, and did as much in battle as any troop. The following is the Controller's report:

"The extensive fighting done within our borders, brought into active and honorable service branches of military, which, in colonies where no fighting was done, were relieved. Our militia were the heroes of many hotly contested fields. The battle of Oriskany, in its percentage of killed and wounded, the bloodiest battle of the war, was won by the militia, and Burgoyne's surrender thereby made sure. The militia bore a highly honorable part in the ever memorable battle at Saratoga. But many men undoubtedly performed splendid service in the emergencies which called out the militia, and then retired quietly to their homes, leaving no record of their service which can now be found.

Again, the portions of New York occupied by the whites were surrounded on almost all sides by tribes of hostile Indians, who were incited and led by still more savage whites. Brant was sometimes humane, but Butler never. The Hurons had inherited from many preceding generations the disposition to make hostile raids upon the territory of their ancient foes, the Iroquois. At the breaking out of the war the influence of Sir William Johnson over the tribes of the Iroquois was almost boundless. His position as Indian agent had brought him into close relations with these tribes, and this position he seems to have honorably used and to have succeeded in convincing them that he was their friend. His mantle, at his death, fell upon his son, Sir John, and his son-in-law, Col. Guy Johnson, and that they used their influence to the fullest extent to stir up Indian hostility to the patriotic citizens west of Albany, is a sad page in the history of the war.

The days after the war, in Schenectady and vicinity, are more fully treated in the chapter of Yates' work, entitled "The Close of the Century." This describes life and conditions in the years from the end of hostilities in 1783 to 1800, the same period as the preceding chapter dealing with similar matters in the Mohawk Valley at large. Yates says:

Grand old officers of the Revolution and men with names already distinguished in the annals of their country, came here in the late afternoon and still evening of the peacefully closing century. Straight from Faunce's tavern, with their hands yet warm from the farewell grasp of the great Washington, came General William North, bringing with him as his guest, Baron Steuben, on whose staff North was chief. The grand old house that he built in Duanesburgh still stands in decaying beauty. Yet there are those still living who remember the charming manor where survivors of the Revolution drank and smoked and one of them resonantly swore. For the old baron surpassed in profanity any general of the famous army that "swore terribly in Flanders" and startled more than once the grave and stately commander-in-chief whose fame was resounding through the world. Steuben could and did discipline an army that triumphed over the finest soldiers of Europe. He controlled other men with grand ability, and yet he could not control himself, and when he was mad, and that was not seldom, they say his oaths could be heard on the sacred threshold of the Duane church, two miles away. The grand old house is, after all, the most historic of all, except the Glen house on Washington avenue, and the old mansion in Scotia. General North was a renowned officer, an intimate friend of Washington, under whom, in 1798, he was the adjutant general of the United States army. Through the magnificent Rose Lane, half a mile long, banked on either side with every variety of shade, color and beauty of that gorgeous flower, came as his guests the conquerors of England and the founders of a mighty nation.

Thither through the same Rose Lane came in his old days, laden with honors, the distinguished Judge James Duane [first mayor of New York City after the Revolution], the builder and generous endower of the little church in Duanesburgh, the most independent little pastorage in America. The bounty of Duane has protected church and rectory from the blight of religious mendicancy. It is to be regretted that space will not permit the grand eulogy of Judge Sanders upon the life and character of this one of Schenectady's most eminent citizens.

General North married the daughter of Judge Duane. No record of his children, if he had any, seems obtainable. The name has never appeared since its distinguished possessor died. None of the name of Duane lives among us, though but a few years ago it was borne by men loved by all of us who knew so many of them so well. The descendants of Judge Duane have attained high rank in the army, the last soldier of the race dying but a few years ago a General and Chief of Engineers in the U. S. Army. And hundreds of old-timers remember well that charming coterie of brother gentlemen of the old school, the "Doctor," the "Baron," the "Colonel" and the "Major" and "Farmer" Mumford. * * *

Schenectady could not be said to have emerged from the Revolution. The county had never been submerged. The waters had divided around it and the burgher had walked through on comparatively dry land in a calm which he had earned by a century of suffering.

Then, as now, the situation of the burgh, Dorp, as it began to be called, enforced its growth. Anything but progress became impossible. The eyes of the world were on the young nation born in the throes of seven years of one of the most wearisome, brave and patient struggles for self government in the history of the earth. The pathway of emigrant, adventurer and explorer thronged westward to a new land, over which hung the mirage of gold in its mountains, and wealth in its valleys and plains, The highway of a countless procession that was in the coming century to establish the grandest Republican empire of earth was under the Catskills and the Lowereuin of Rotterdam, where now an unbroken line of railway belts the continent and, in a flying house of unchanging luxury and splendor, transports the globe trotters by night and day, awake or asleep, from sea to sea.

The calm of a blessed peace settled over the peaceful town on the Groot Vlachte, the great beautiful plain that circled out under the hills and was girdled by the Mohawk. It was a lovely village of magnificent elms, of towering pine of the plain, and graceful willow by the river side. The Fort was permitted to rot away, the palisades which had survived the usefulness of protection, now one by one subserved the comfort of the sturdy Dutchman who, by the roaring fire on the immense hearth, smoked his great pendant pipe and drank his schnapps, despising the luxury of the cigar and the effeminacy of tea. Old streets lengthened out, new ones radiated, names changed. The aggressive Yankee interloper came and came to stay and would not be shouldered out. The burgher watched the cavalcade for awhile. But he was a trader, from way back in trading Holland, shrewd, cautious, close, but honest as the sunlight.

So it happened that, as the century drew near to its close, the ending of the 18th, as of the 19th, was marked by the commingling of races and the infusion of new young blood that acted like an elixir to its prosperity. For, despite the suffering imposed upon business by a worthless currency and the erection of a national edifice on lines which were new and experimental and which the genius of Hamilton, Gallatin and John Jay had not perfected into stable government, the town prospered and grew proportionally equal to any in the leading state of the young union.

It was a busy town and a heterogeneous one, in population and architecture. On the old quadrilateral bounded by Front, Ferry and State streets and Washington avenue, the old steep roofs and gabled ended houses, so much derided in later days by Captain Maryatt, who lied more amusingly in his American visit than he did in his English novels, still stood, so massively built with their enormous beams that but for the terrible comflagration of 1819, many would have been standing today. The Dorpian loved his home, endured its ugliness for it was stuccoed with the beauty of youthful memories and family tradition. He met with true Dutch stolidity the sneer of the cosmopolitan bewigged and ruffle-shirted swell from New York. Inside the homely shell there were polished floors, walls and heavily raftered rooms, radiant with cleanliness reflecting in every nook and corner, the living forms of his living and the shadowy outlines of his beloved dead. "Giving him the laugh" never fazed the Mohawker. He met it with the marble heart and smoked placidly on his stoop in homely, but solid comfort.

Business was all centered in the west end. Great storage and forwarding warehouses of Yates, Mynderse, Phynn, Ellice, Jacob S. Glen & Co., Duncan, Stephen N. Bayard, Walten & Co., Luther & McMicheal stretched from the Frog Alley Bridge, now crossed by the Street Railway Company to the present site of the Mohawk Bridge. Great docks, built on heavy piles, extending out in the stream and a river commerce of grand volume, building up splendid fortunes for its promoters, began to actually whiten the Mohawk with sails of the Durham boat. From near Governor's Lane to the poor pasture, given for the use of the peasantry by the generous provisions of the will of Hans Jans Enkluys, was the Strand. Here was founded, in the last part of the century, an immense boat-building industry.

Nearly all the boats used on the Mohawk and western waters were built at this place. The boat yards were located on what is termed the Strand street on the river, then much wider than now, owing to encroachments and other causes. It was no uncommon sight in the War of 1812, to see from twenty-five to 100 boats on the stocks at the boat yards, extending from near the Mohawk bridge to North street. The boats that conveyed the army of General Wilkinson down the St. Lawrence River were all built at this place; the oak forests of our common lands furnished the requisite materials in great supply. The principal boat-builders were the Van Slycks, Marselis, Veeders and Peeks, although there were others. The boat-builders were generally residents of Front and Green streets.

Encroachments, the building of the Mohawk Bridge, the disappearance of the waters from the face of the earth as in the survival of Noah, and the destruction of forest timber in the Adirondacks, has shrunken the Mohawk tremendously in the century and a quarter since the Revolution. It was then a deep, broad stream, broken by rifts but far scarcer and much deeper than now. It is astonishing as we look at the Mohawk now, to learn what it once was. * * *

In the city, as it was in 1798, business was booming but its centre was along Washington avenue from the Freeman House to Front street and then east to where Front street dwindled into a cowpath. Stores of greater pretensions, the little shops with diamond paned windows set with lead lined the streets. This was no mere way station on canal and railroad as it became in the first half of the coming century, but the head of water navigation, the most important post on the main highway to the far west, as Ohio then was. The young city boomed in the evening of the eighteenth century as it has in the latter quarter of the nineteenth. It was a far more flourishing borough in 1770 than it was in 1870.

"Travel was difficult but brisk. The old stage route from Albany to this city was changed from the twenty mile distance, via the Norman Kil to the direct sixteen mile journey of to-day."

Judge Sanders says:

"In the spring of 1793, Moses Beal, who kept a first-class hotel in a large brick building (since then burned down) on the site of the present Edison hotel building, ran a stage for the accommodation of passengers from Albany to Schenectady, Johnstown and Canajoharie, once a week. The fare was three cents, a mile. The success of this enterprise was so great, that John Hudson, keeping the Schenectady Coffee House on the southwest corner of Union and Ferry streets, now the property of Madison Vedder, Esq., soon afterwards established a line of stages to run from Albany to Schenectady three times a week. John Rogers of Ballston, ran a line from that place to connect with it, by which a regular communication was first established for the convenience of those who visited the Springs.

"And such was the progress of the new country and the call for facilities, that in 1794 there were five great post routes centering in Albany: The first, to New York; the second to Burlington, Vermont; the third to Brookfield, Massachusetts; the fourth to Springfield, Massachusetts. On each of these routes the mail was carried once a week. The fifth route was via Schenectady, Johnstown, Canajoharie, German Flats, Whitestown, Old Fort Schuyler, Onondaga, Aurora, Scipio, Geneva, Canandaigua and subsequently extended to Buffalo. The mail on this route was carried once in two weeks by Thomas Powell, Aaron Thorpe, Asa Sprague and others in partnership with them, west of Utica, where the leading proprietors of this last route, under whose management its business became simply immense, so much so, that during the War of 1812, it was no uncommon scene to witness from eight to twelve stages on the Scotia dyke, leaving or entering Schenectady at one time; and in one instance, as many as fourteen were counted in a continuous line."

Meanwhile the burgh grew from hamlet to village, and from village to city, harassed with politics and political dissension. Primogeniture, inherited authority, was the curse of New York politics in the eighteenth century, as the Erie Canal is the slack rope on which politicians have danced with the balance pole of patronage in the nineteenth. Judge Sanders has admirably condensed the record of the growth to cityhood and to him history is indebted for the briefest, truest account possible.

Schenectady was not only bright with business but was socially brilliant. Officers and men of the Revolution had returned from the war to the sweet peace of home in the quiet evening of the century. They were honored, feted and toasted as the old boys of the G. A. R. are now. They were carried in carriages at the close of the century in every Fourth of July procession, and one by one they dwindled away until the last survivor, Nicholas Veeder, a centenarian, will be remembered [in 1902] by many under half a century in age.

The aspect of the town changed rapidly. In architecture the gambrel roof of which some have survived the terrible fire of 1819, supplanted the old Holland peaked roof style. The city took on municipal airs and graces, Union College was founded, located in a building less than the size of the Classical [i.e., Union Classical Institute], and planted on the corner where Mr. Howland Barney now [1902] lives. The style of dress was sobering down. The gorgeous colors, the silks and satins, laced wrist bands, gorgeously flowered vest and the gold trimmed cocked hat and clocked silk stocking gave way to more sombre hues. Still that grand traditional humbug, the "gentleman of the old school" was still a gorgeous sight in his wide-skirted, flaring tailed coat, his black cocked hat, silverbuckled shoes and stockings neatly tied with a ribbon at the knee. The powdered wig had just gone out, the hair was banged in front and tied with a queue. So grandly garbed, the prosperous merchant, doctor, lawyer and divine strutted with a stately elegance at which one would smile in these practical days. With uplifted hat and teetering heels he would fire double-barrelled compliments at women in starched petticoats and balloon hoops, talk in Johnsonian stilted sentences, and swinging his gold-headed cane with which Sir William Blackstone had just said he might and did lawfully correct a wayward wife. A great sight Schenectady must have been in the babyhood of its cityhood.

The great resorts were Hudson's tavern (Anthony Hall), Church's, where now is Myers Block and No. 7 State Street, the old Bradt House recently torn down by its owner, Mr. Lyon. The old and young beaux, the swells of that day, gathered mostly at Hudson's, and high rollers they were, those gentlemen of the old school.

The headquarters of politics, which ran high and were very bitter, was in the Ellice mansion and the little office on the corner of Governor's Lane. There Chief Justice Robert Yates and Joseph, his cousin, the future governor of New York, with kindred Democrats, plotted and planned as now, running the political machine for this whole section of the country. Thither came that wily Mephistopheles, who in the morning of the nineteenth century shot Alexander Hamilton, the fascinating rascal at whose coming all our great-grandmothers and grand-aunts were sent up into the garret out of harm's way, of whom in his old age, old Madam Jumel said that the clasp of his hand would thrill any woman — the wicked Aaron Burr.

But there were others and an emigration that Schenectady did not covet. They settled on Albany Hill in the region where is now the East Avenue Presbyterian Church and eastward in the sand in which they burrowed like human coyotes. A dark, swarthy race, with straight hair, high cheek bones and copper complexion. They were called "Yanses," why none can positively say, but the generally adopted theory of their origin was undoubtedly the nearest to correctness. Janse is Dutch for John's son. It was asserted that they were the descendants of the renowned Sir William, His Majesty George III's satrap, the great Mormon of the northern wilderness and his Indian wives.

They were a violent contrast to the grand gentlemen of the city beneath. They burrowed in the earth, lived in sand caves, wove baskets and did odd jobs, any old thing for a living. There was no rose lane that led to their doorways, though there was an avenue there, not of "Araby the Blest," but of Stone Arabia, the squaw land up the Mohawk, from which they came. They bore, some of them, good old Dutch names, traces of their gypsy-like hue and features are recognizable to old inhabitants now, and stand out in hair and complexion among some of our respectable and respected citizens. Let none have the heart or courage to call a man a "Yanse" now. The question was put by a venomous client into the mouth of an eminent lawyer from abroad and was, in his innocence, addressed to a copper colored witness. "Are you a Janse?" The county judge promptly called down the counsel and compelled him to apologize. It was promptly done and well it was, for a pair of swarthy hands would have been at the lawyer's throat the moment he got into the street.

The race is fading out into the white man's skin and the darkest brave died long ago. A couple of decades more and there will not be a trace of this Indian gypsy people.

On the alluvial banks of the river, all was totally different. There was no sand to burrow in but the grandest soil for cultivation. It had been superb territory for corn, long before the footstep of the coming citizen had placed its imprint upon it. The Mohawk farmer utilized it industriously and successfully, not only for the food products of life, but established a broom making industry that in the coming century supplied almost all of the United States. Factories were built all around the outskirts of the city; Rotterdam and Glenville had scores of them. Large fortunes were made in the business. Most of the labor saving machinery was invented here. But we built the Erie Canal, giving the city a short and evanescent boom. Railroads gave freight facilities. The rapidly increasing population in the west, which, in after years with its marvelous soil that, "when you tickled it with a hoe it laughed with a thousand flowers," picked up the industry from the eastern emigrant. In the middle of the 19th century, the business was knocked out of sight. There is but little left of it. What there is still demonstrates that Schenectady county makes the best brooms on earth.

So in 1798, the young city soon came to be known as the "Ancient," by the reason of its early incorporation by the State and was born on a soil already replete with the solid basis of actual and thrilling history, with the charm of interesting tradition, with the reputation of its merchants for integrity and financial stability, unsurpassed in the young land. Fringed on the sandy east by the narrow belt of the squalid "Janse," bordered on every point of the compass by the independent well-to-do, the honest and respected farmer, she left the village life and [in 1798] entered on a municipal career that was destined a hundred years later to change her name from the "Ancient" to the "Electric City" and to attract the attention and admiration of the scientific and inventive world.

[Photo: Judge Paige Home.]

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