This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.


Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Foreword

History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 2-28 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

Go ahead to: Chapter 1

[Painting: The Valley of the Mohawk.]

The Mohawk Valley — Three magic words, which blazon forth the fame of a land of mystic beauty, fraught with the intense human interest of the brave men and women, who here helped to win liberty for America and all the World.

In our broad land there is no more noble theme than the story of this Valley through the mountains, which forms America's Gateway to the West. The various elements of the history of this great national highway, are so entwined with the vital actions recorded in the annals of our nation, that the story of the Mohawk River necessarily holds much of that of the United States of America. Therefore, it necessarily follows that he who does not know the history of the Mohawk Valley is deficient not only in knowledge of the history of the United States but in that of North America as well.

Through the ages, Nature has worked to make our Valley supreme as man's easiest road across the Atlantic coastal range as well as the only waterway, through these mountains, connecting the Seven Seas with the Great Lakes.

Ice and water have cut a gorge for the channel of the Mohawk, through high ridges connecting the Adirondack and the Catskill ranges. Through this mountain pass, man has marched to the making of an empire and to the settlement of its one-time vast, unpopulated western territories. And through this low pass today eastward and westward, flows America's mighty commerce in ever-increasing volume.

Before we enter into any comment on the various elements of historic interest connected with the Mohawk Valley, there are two salient features concerning it which should be carefully noted. One of these is that, though comparatively small in area, its influence has been nation-wide in character. In many of the following pages, from those which deal with its geological story to the description of its present-day commerce and industry, will be found quotations from various authorities which unanimously concede the nation-wide and world-wide importance of this national highway of history and commerce.

The second notable fact concerning the Valley is the unusual solidarity of its interests. Four-fifths of its population is gathered along the hundred mile course of the Mohawk River, between Schenectady and Rome. The shut-in character of the Valley and the extreme narrowness of the plains or flats of the Mohawk, combined with the transportation facilities afforded by the railways and highways which parallel the Mohawk's course, make intercourse between the Valley towns natural, easy and unusually available. This solidarity of interests of the great majority of the Mohawk Valley people, who now live close to the New York Central Railroad and the Old Mohawk Turnpike, has been a characteristic of human life in the Valley from the earliest pioneer days to those of the present — as it probably always will be of the future. An appreciation of this peculiar unity of this Mohawk Valley life — from the days of the Mohawk warriors to those of present-day American business men — will help the reader to a fuller understanding of Mohawk Valley history in all its phases.

From the summit of the high ground, in almost any Mohawk River town (and each one has its favorite historic viewpoint) we can envisage the course of history and the march of human events along this famous, picturesque and historic stream.

The hills — with their meadow slopes and forest crowns — tell us the story of the making of the land in which we live; while the known locations of the castles of the mighty Mohawks recall the days of those fierce warriors and their powerful League of Five Nations of Iroquois. The handiwork of Sir William Johnson is seen in the very fibre of our nation as well as in the evidences of our Valley civilization. And, in the imagination of a patriotic mind, one can descry those famous Tryon County farmer-soldiers, led by the heroic Herkimer, marching on to Oriskany where they fought the bloody battle which made and saved our Nation.

The evidences of our Valley history lie all about us. One can in his own environment, find an interest which appertains to practically every chapter of this history of the Valley of the Mohawk.

In connection with these heroic, dramatic and picturesque annals of the Mohawk, let us not forget that in the Valley, we have the greatest National transportation route — America's greatest railroad, highway and waterway. Our Mohawk Turnpike forms the central section of the New York-Buffalo Highway, the greatest automobile road in all America. The New York Central Lines form the foremost railroad system in the United States, while our Mohawk River Barge Canal section is the only American waterway connecting the Atlantic with the Great Lakes — a mighty geographical fact which is bound to have tremendous future national results.

In the glamour of the picturesque and dramatic scenes of the Valley's past, let us not forget that the same Valley today presents fully as wonderful a picture although one painted in somewhat more sombre colors.

American history is most unusual in the fact that the equivalent seven or eight thousand years or more of man's development has been compressed here into about three centuries of time.

Since the settlement of Jamestown, in 1607, we Americans have changed the Northeastern United States (and particularly the Thirteen Original States) from a vast, unbroken forest wilderness, peopled by cruel savages of the stone age, to a cultivated, civilized country, with great industries and trunk lines of transportation, great cities and an advanced cultural stage of society, which has been only similarly acquired by seven thousand years of gradual uplift in Europe.

It is true that the civilizing influences in America came from settlers and pioneers who were civilized themselves and who came from countries where civilization was at an advanced stage — Holland, England and France in particular. In the main fact of civilization, however, America of today is far in advance of the three pioneer nations of Europe, at the time of their settlements in America.

There is no more unusual or interesting phase of history than the contact of the highly civilized Hollander, Frenchman and Englishman with the Indians of the stone age who inhabited Northeastern North America at the time of the white settlement of the country. The contact was not always favorable to the white man, because the pioneers, although civilized, frequently had lapses from their higher culture, and became more cruel than the Indians themselves.

Coming to a later phase of the story of our Valley, its history takes on a tremendous interest in that a complete change has occurred in man's viewpoint and mode of life within the last Century. There has been a greater and more complete transformation in the general life of civilized mankind in this last one hundred years than in the five hundred which preceded it.

The course of human events, like a turbulent stream, keeps flowing ever onward. There is no comfortable landing to any one's liking. Just as the past century shows a tremendous metamorphosis in man's life, so the present days are constantly changing the old ideas and the old ways. This is not happening like an earthquake, but more like the old slow geological upliftings and subsidences of the land. But it is going on constantly and therefore it promises a change in the aspect of the life of mankind that, fifty years hence, will constitute another milestone in man's progress upward.

Before we enter into any detailed consideration of the interesting subject of the Mohawk Valley and its annals, there are certain phases of its history and of New York State history with a direct bearing upon that of our Valley which should be a subject of comment here.

Anyone who begins a comprehensive study of the history of the United States, will be surprised by the meager mention of the Mohawk Valley in various national histories. The Dutch occupation, the century of terrific warfare between the Mohawks and the French and Canadian Indians, the remarkable character of Van Curler and the long military and civil service of Peter Schuyler, the strategic importance of Fort Orange (later Albany) and the unusual Dutch district which grew up about it, the pioneer Palatines, Sir William Johnson — greatest and most constructive American of the Colonial period — the American Colonial and Revolutionary border forts along the Mohawk, the heroic fight of the American farmer-soldiers under Herkimer at Oriskany, the raising of America's first battle flag at present Rome, the birth of the character and song of Yankee Doodle at Rensselaer, of Uncle Sam at Troy and a great number of other stirring and vital events of Valley history — all are missing or only scantily mentioned in our national histories.

There is possibly one exception — in our boyhood's school histories — and that is the mention of the brave stand of Herkimer and his Valley militiamen at Oriskany. In the old grammar school histories this was illustrated by a woodcut of the undaunted brigadier, seated on his saddle, his sword by his side and his wounded leg bound up, while he calmly smoked his pipe and directed the battle. There is scarcely another such stirring scene in the Revolutionary records and the hearts of the schoolboys and the schoolgirls warmed to this valiant American who, though mortally wounded, said, "I will face the enemy." Without Herkimer and Sir William Johnson, the Mohawk Valley would hardly be represented upon the historical map of the United States.

Now, why should these things be? It has been the writer's experience to find them so and also to learn that the annals of this Gateway to the West could be learned only by diligent research and by the study of a great many books. We have had a considerable amount of matter published concerning the Mohawk Valley, generally written by local historical writers, many of whom were deeply versed in American and Valley history. However, most of these books dealt with circumscribed areas and topics, so that, in these instances, one had to read many books to learn the main story. Is it not time that we should have a Mohawk Valley history which will be complete in itself?

[Photo: The Mohawk Valley Near Indian Castle.]

The mission of the Mohawk Valley, historically and commercially, is of such tremendous national value that it demands its full measure of attention in historical works of national importance. Then why does it not have at least some of its merited consideration? The answer is that the people of New York State and the Mohawk Valley have written comparatively few histories and these State histories have had little national attention given to them, compared to those written by New England authors.

Another answer is that man cannot rise above his limitations, whether a historian or otherwise. Some of the pettiness of human nature, in some historic individuals, has made as much human history as has the high moral quality of other actors on the stage of life. The desire to boom the country one lives in, at the expense of the space which belongs to other sections is a failing that even the best of historians can resist with difficulty.

Both New Netherland and New York formed a province and a state dividing the American Colonies and later states with a non-English population, mostly of Holland Dutch extraction. Even at the time of the Revolution, two-thirds of the people were Americans of Dutch descent. True, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas had their Germans, but the Hollanders occupied the great trade route of the Hudson Valley a century before any German immigration began. Therefore, not only did New Netherland have no historians but the natural greatness of its Colonial and Revolutionary history was depreciated by the historians of New England because the people of New Netherland or New York were mainly of other than English stock. Was Sir William Johnson slighted because he was an Irishman? Otherwise how does one account for his practical obliteration from the average American history, when he was one of the nation-builders of his time and the man more than any other of his day who made North America British rather than French? Why is there a general ignoring of the fact that the great army of General Amherst mobilized at Schenectady and went through the Mohawk Valley to the conquest of Canada — when this was the largest concentration of British and Colonial forces ever seen in America up to that time — an expedition in which the American militia outnumbered the British regulars — one in which dozens of future American Revolutionary officers took part — and the final and successful attack which made North America British instead of French and the future world one dominated by English-speaking peoples. The elimination of a particularization of this epochal event in American histories is nothing short of ridiculous. This final movement of the French and Indian war is sometimes briefly noted, but how it was conducted, and mention of the Mohawk Valley route traversed by the main American-British Army is generally utterly ignored by historians, other than those of New York State.

However, time has its revenges. New York, today, is the greatest State in the Union, with the greatest city in the World and is bisected by the World's greatest transportation route. The histories which have ignored New York, will become shelved and worthless works because they have omitted the chief element in the story of our Nation. The most popular histories of America will be those which pay attention to the great nation-making events, which eventuated in New York State together with a popular description of this popular state. They will give proper space and treatment to the important but heretofore unnoticed historical matters, which are mentioned in detail, in the following pages.

The standard national histories of the future will record the tremendously important fact that New York has been the battle ground of America, from the discovery by the Dutch in 1609 through nearly two and a half centuries, up to the Mexican war of 1846. The major actions of the Indian wars were fought between the Iroquois of New York and their French and Indian foes, often on the territory of the State, while the great battles of the American Colonies with the French and Indians, in the four wars which decided English supremacy in America, were fought here and the final conquest of New France was effected through the Mohawk Valley, after all attempts through Lake Champlain had failed.

In the War for American Independence, the American Army of the North won the decisive battles of Oriskany, Bennington, and the two battles of Bemis Heights — and, on these bloody New York battlefields they won liberty for America and all the world.

Throughout the Revolution, the Mohawk Valley formed the advanced position, which defended the keystone of the American defense at Albany. This Valley had been a fertile region which was the granary of the Colonies. It was assailed again and again, but it was never taken, and, at the end of this seven years of border warfare, its victorious defenders looked out upon the most scarred and desolate region in the entire thirteen States — free and united largely because of the heroic sacrifices made by the men and women of the Mohawk. And yet where, and in what national histories, will you find mention of this blackened waste and its dauntless defenders.

Washington selected the most tried and trusted American troops for the final conquest of the British position at Yorktown, picking, among others, the First New York Line, composed of men from Albany County, including Schenectady borough. And the final glorious charge for liberty was made by the First New York Line, headed by the gallant Colonel Alexander Hamilton of New York State.

The soldiers of New York will receive their due attention in the future correct histories of the United States, from the Dutch and British fighters of the Colonial and Indian wars, through the Revolution, when the patriot soldiers of New York held its vital points; through the Civil war, when New York contributed the most soldiers of any state; down through the Spanish war, to the great part played in the World war by New York's soldiers and sailors in once again beating down a military despotism. And in all this bloody fighting which made America what it is today, we shall find some mention in the histories of the future of the gallant boys of New York who fought and died so bravely for their country. The modern military units and commands located in our Valley will receive in this history some small measure of the notice which they deserve in the chapters devoted to the Mohawk Valley commands of the National Guard. How many of us know of the splendid marksmanship of the Mohawk Co. I, 10th Infantry, New York National Guard? Our Valley, from one end to the other should be proud of these boys, champion (1923) marksmen of the National Guard of the United States.

[Painting: Farm Slopes of the Mohawk Valley.]

Another reason why this Mohawk Valley of ours has been historically ignored is that the word "ignored", used historically, may imply ignorance, and ignorance concerning the Mohawk Valley is far from uncommon among historians. It is much easier to write about things with which we are familiar than to write concerning those which need an unusual amount of research — and the early history of the Mohawk Valley, in the past, has been more or less obscure. Not all historians have ignored New York State — John Fiske is a shining example of one who appreciated its national historical value. Most of the historians of our American Colonial and Revolutionary periods, never wander more than fifty miles inland in their historical narratives. They are utterly obscure in their references to the frontier belt of Colonial and Revolutionary times. Therefore, a region which had a great part in our War for Independence is utterly ignored, and this includes the Mohawk Valley.

In closing this research into the causes of the belittling of the leading historical position of our State, we might remark that one of the factors which will eventually bring it justice, along these lines, is the popularity of the City and State of New York with visitors from other states. Nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand visitors to the East come to New York, while one goes to Boston. The wonderful and varied scenic features of our State, and its attractive summering and wintering resorts invite the traveller, while our main motoring highways are filled with motorists from other states. Their number is large, and annually increasing. The glamour and bustle, the color and splendor of modern life are all daily in full swing to attract the visitor to the world's greatest city, New York. And, when we mention gay New York, let us remember that it would not be there were it not for the Mohawk Valley.

So time thwarts the New England historian who "wrote history while New York made it". For people who visit New York City and State are charmed by them, and, if they wish to learn something of their past, they will turn to the interesting histories which deal with their vacation City and State of New York, rather than bother with those which studiously ignore their existence. Thus will our State surely come into its own as the leading American commonwealth in every way, including its part in our national history. Whatever our State gains in this regard will be shared by the Mohawk Valley on account of its key position in the State's history and commerce.

History is merely man en masse — man multiplied by thousands or millions — living, dying, suffering, killing and being killed, rising and falling, slaving and enslaving, persecuting and being persecuted, stupid and wise, virtuous and vicious, sublime and foolish, but never quiet nor settled. Whatever else the historian may do, he must portray the public feeling of the period he is writing about — the swirl and press of its life — its emotions, vices and antagonisms, its ideals and its spiritual uplift and degradation. It is a mistake to think that the fat, opulent, prosperous times are always the periods of spiritual or intellectual uplift or that the times of hideous warfare are times of public spiritual degradation.

It goes without saying that history must be truth — naked truth — and this is particularly so of the history of the Mohawk Valley, which is vitally interwoven with that of the United States. Many elements of society object to truth in history — they prefer a fairy tale serving their own class or faction. But "the truth will out" — even in histories.

One of the defects of history is its failure to properly reflect the public thought of the period under consideration. We know the many phases of the public thought of today, but who is recording them? It is the most interesting thing in the story of man, and yet it is utterly ignored. It also is one of the historical matters which is not considered historically respectable.

We have emerged but lately from a great war — the most terrible the world has ever seen — and yet the popular feeling of that time in its many phases is today nearly forgotten. The newspapers did not reflect it accurately in those stirring times and, unless it is recorded before long, its memory will have been effaced beyond recall. It is but six years ago that our nation was breathlessly awaiting news from our boys who had gone in force to the front lines. Then came the sudden news of the Soissons advance July 18, 1918, and the gallant fighting of our buddies in brown and their impetuous forward rush which meant the end of German military despotism and world autocracy. Many of us vaguely remember the nation's patriotic ardor which went out to our maimed and wounded soldiers. How little of this glorious spirit is recorded or ever will be? In a few years, duller feelings will have covered that day's prayer of our nation and of a world saved, restored and relieved. We could hardly live because of the strain and anxiety of an impending horror — with no one to save us but the young American clerks, mechanics, farmers and high school boys who there confronted, and overcame the most highly trained troops in Europe. The acuteness of feeling of the time is gone forever, and its aftermath of political quarrels is today the material of the World War historians.

Americans of Colonial ancestry sometimes get a glimpse of American thought during the Revolution through family legends and it is also possible to somewhat reconstruct the life of Revolutionary days from some books written on that period.

How many historians have had the courage to write the true thought of the Civil war, when respectability often bought a substitute, giving the age-old reason that Mr. Respectability was too important a personage to risk his skin at the battle front. The talk of some supposedly good people, even two decades after the Civil war was often as astonishing as the War's historians were obscure and uninteresting. The writer once heard a very respectable old lady say that the Civil war was fought by toughs and farmers' boys. If that were so, then there must be more saving grace in having been a tough or a farmer's boy of Civil war days than to be this Mrs. Respectability. As a matter of fact, the ever-conflicting forces of history are those of God and Mammon, and it doesn't always pay in hard cash to be on the Lord's side.

* * *

There is a very peculiar matter in which historical injustice has been done in the past, to the State of New York — an injustice which promises to live on for many years to come. That wrong is the effort constantly being made to put the settlement of New York at the year 1623 in spite of the fact that the Dutch traders had been on Manhattan Island continuously since 1613, and on the site of Albany since 1614. As Albany is the mother of the first Dutch settlements, in the Mohawk Valley, we are closely concerned in this matter.

As a matter of fact, New York City and Albany are the two oldest cities in the thirteen original states, inasmuch as Jamestown was burned and abandoned, and the Pilgrims did not land in New England until 1620. There's the rub — that a Dutchman put his foot on American soil before any Pilgrim got ashore on the bleak coast of New England. So the New England historians find a way out of it by saying that a colony is not a colony until it has cows and chickens in it. So, inasmuch as there were then no cows, pigs or chickens in New Netherland, at least not in quantities, and inasmuch as there is no record of their having been brought over until 1623, in the ship, New Netherland, therefore New Netherland, or New York, was not settled until 1623. New England, therefore, was the second colony on the Atlantic coast of the thirteen original American States, according to this crooked reasoning.

As a matter of fact, there have been traders and soldiers at present New York and Albany from 1614 until the present day. It is ridiculous to say that there were no women in these posts during a period of nine years. And, if valiant, strong and hardy fur traders and soldiers are not settlers, then what are settlers? When Joris sailed up the Hudson with his colonists, in 1623, he dropped them off at the fortified posts of Manhattan, Rondout or Esopus (Kingston) and at the new Fort Nassau on the Normanskill, at all of which places there had been Holland Dutch traders and soldiers since 1614.

[Map: The Mohawk Valley and the Six Mohawk Valley Counties.]

There are New Yorkers who support this foolishness and we who attended a celebration of our settlement in 1914, are now asked to give support to another in 1924 — and when will the historical quibblers again ask us to celebrate another anniversary of New York's settlement?

In the study of our annals, it is the beginnings of things that are of the utmost importance, and the fact that the population of New York colony or province was smaller, in Colonial days, than that of some others, has nothing whatever to do with the influence of our State and Valley on the course of human events in America. The important fact was that our people here in New York were located on the busiest highway of history where things seemed to happen every minute. That, and the ability of the people of New York to direct the course of events on this road of destiny — these facts, and not Colonial populations or Colonial power, are the factors that made our State and Valley great and powerful. Many of the populous Colonies of those olden times are sitting quietly in the unfrequented byways of today's commerce, while New York is ever in the toil and press of modern life, because her people dwell along the Main Street of America.

However, New York will never receive its due historical publicity until the people themselves read, study, and give voice to the State's high position with regard to the epoch-making events in which our State bore such a prominent part. The foregoing paragraphs are pertinent to our story because, while the Mohawk Valley is known and loved by many, its wondrous and romantic past is terra incognita to all except a few diligent historical students. To throw further light on the Mohawk's history, let us now briefly consider our Valley, in its broad and general relation to the history of this land of Uncle Sam.

* * *

The Mohawk River Valley is one of the oldest land regions on the face of the earth, as it is the southern boundary of the greater Adirondack country which upheaved its rocky bulk above the primeval sea, following the elevation of the Canadian Laurentian Hills. The sculpturing of these Valley rocks, through the long ages before the coming of man, forms one of the most enthralling parts of the History of the Mohawk. If this age-long moulding of the land and the ancient titanic upheavals, subsidences and contortions of these rocks — all to make the valley in which we live — are not matters of human interest and concern to the reader, then he need give himself no further trouble concerning the history of the Mohawk Valley.

In Preglacial times, an Adirondack ridge, known today as Fall Hill, cut across the Valley at Little Falls. The Mohawk, as a tributary of the Hudson, drained all the Valley eastward from this ancient divide, and the East Canada creek was its headwater stream. Westward from the Fall Hill Ridge ran a stream which the geologists of today call Rome River. It drained all the upper Valley, as its streams then flowed westward into the basin now occupied by Lake Ontario.

The Noses were then a ridge running across the Valley and forming what is now called the Lower Uplift of the Mohawk, just as Fall Hill is known today to geologists as the Upper Uplift. Nose Ridge then formed a barrier which held back the waters of the upper section of the present lower Mohawk Valley, thus forming a lake whose waters fell over the rocky wall of the Noses into the channel of the eastward flowing river.

During the recession of the great Glacier, the ice melted in the Mohawk Valley and its contiguous territory, while it still blocked the outlet of the St. Lawrence River. The waters of the Great Lakes basin of that day then found an outlet through the Upper Valley of the Mohawk, pouring in a great cataract over the Fall Hill Ridge at Little Falls. This vast rush of waters, in turn, flowed through the lower river's lake, and over the Noses in another mighty falls, which then found its outlet through the lower Mohawk channel to the Hudson and the sea.

Thus did the great Glacier and the mighty Postglacial Mohawk make a gateway of history and commerce here, as well as one of the earth's most beautiful and fertile regions.

The Mohawk River of today rises at Mohawk Hill, about two miles west of the little village of Leyden in southern Lewis County, on what is known geologically as the Tug Hill plateau. It flows about twenty miles airline south to Rome, where it makes a right angle turn and runs 117 miles eastward to its junction with the Hudson at Cohoes. The entire course is about 137 miles in length, regardless of the windings of its channel, which are greater in its upper course. In all our consideration of Mohawk Valley History, it must be remembered that the Mohawk and its watershed are part of the greater Hudson River and its basin. And this is a fact to be well proud of, because the Hudson Valley truly may be considered the most important seat of mankind on the face of the globe, embracing, as it does, the World's greatest city and the Nation's mightiest trunk line of transportation. This greatest of World trade routes comprises the New York Central Railroad, the Hudson and Mohawk rivers and the New York-Buffalo Highway, which includes the Albany Post Road (east Hudson shore), the Storm King Highway (west Hudson shore), the Old Mohawk Turnpike (Schenectady to Utica) and the Seneca Road (Utica to Buffalo).

Although it is relatively a comparatively small section of the United States, historically and commercially, the Mohawk Valley is one of the most important sections of our country. Aside from its geography, the two elements which combined to create the great State of New York were the Mohawks and their Iroquois brothers of the Five Nations (who held the Iroquois trail), and the occupation of the Hudson Valley by the Dutch.

This was the fateful time which decided the destiny of America — whether it should be forever French or English in sovereignty — whether the Continent of North America was to be held by one or the other of what were then the two strongest powers of the World — whether the Earth was to be eventually dominated by English or French speaking peoples. Whichever power won the strategic key of North America would win the continent and that keystone of Continental supremacy was the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence, Lake Champlain, Mohawk-Oneida Lake-Oswego River triangle. This triangle held the key to the future great empire of America. In its future aspect, the Mohawk-Oswego side of this triangle held the most important position. And it was this strategic line which was held and defended by the Mohawk tribe who, from the first, were allies of the Dutch — two facts in brief which made the history of the United States.

It was the Hollanders of Fort Orange (present Albany) and the neighboring Mohawks who held this vital spot, which controlled the future geography and the nationality of this powerful commonwealth, more than any other factor and more than all other factors combined. Thus is the Mohawk Valley one of the decisive factors of American history and thus also is its relation to Albany of the very closest character. The Mohawk Valley made Albany great and, from this parent city, came the Holland Dutch pioneers who located the first white settlement in the Mohawk Valley, at Schenectady, in 1662.

[Map: The Hudson Valley.]

Conventional teaching makes the Revolutionary period the plastic time of America's history when the hand of fate shaped the character of our great country. But a study of the trend of popular feeling in Revolutionary times shows us that American independence would surely have eventuated, in time, with the tremendous growth of the United States. All the later great American reforms would have also been consummated, in due time. Given originally British supremacy in North America, our Yankee nation would have eventually come into its own. But with a French empire in America, American history for the last two centuries would have been an entirely different matter. New France had the skilled generals who understood the possibilities of Indian warfare, who had a definite American policy and a geographical sense which thought of French American empire on a boundless scale. Even with small numbers of colonists and soldiers these clever Frenchmen were so thoroughly united in their aims that their fighting power nearly always equaled and sometimes exceeded that of the more populous English-American colonies. These colonies were not united and did not want to be united. They suffered from the human failings of petty vanity and jealousy in their worst forms.

New France realized that the strategic points in all America were the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys. What then prevented them from marching on Albany, taking that important post (the Key City of the Colonies), then sailing down the Hudson to New York, winning that Dutch town and then gradually gathering in the remainder of the disunited Colonies? One reason was the dense wilderness that lay between Montreal and Albany; but a far greater reason was that the Mohawk warriors were friends of the Dutch and of their English successors.

The fierce Mohawks were constantly arrayed against the French and their Indian allies in warfare of the bloodiest and most hideous kind and the commanders of New France could never succeed in passing effectively this line of blood and flame. On this fighting line, the Mohawks and other Iroquois constantly struggled with the powerful northern foe, while, behind the lines, the weak province of New Netherland and its successor, the English Colony of New York, grew strong and able to enter the fray. New France somewhat subdued the Iroquois about the time that England and her New York Colony entered the lists and started the seventy years of terrible conflict in America that ended in the dominance of England and her Colonies over the greater part of North America. In this two-thirds of a century of bloody border warfare, the Americans learned union and the art of fighting, two qualities without which American independence would not have won its later battle. Perhaps, more than all, the French and Indian wars developed American military leaders, of which Washington is a sufficient example. Let us not forget that in this long struggle probably the majority of the fighting forces of the Colonies consisted of the Colonial American Militia.

But, before the American Colonies had eventually mustered all their great strength, the Mohawks did all the fighting against New France — a continuous warfare which prevented her from gobbling up the English colonies, one by one when they were in their weakest stages of early development.

The Seventeenth Century was the period of jockeying for strategic positions before the great battle of the Eighteenth Century between English and French and between the English and their American colonists. The English received the positions of advantage in the Seventeenth Century and it was the Mohawk nation which, for over a century, held the advanced posts until the English came forward in force and won a continent.

It is sometimes a seemingly trivial event which decides the fate of nations. When Champlain, in 1609, fired the shot from his blunderbuss against the Mohawks, he unwittingly made world history for two centuries to come. In the game for the mastery of America, the Mohawks held the decisive position and from then on it was only a question of time until the English-speaking race would be the lords of the continent.

The Dutch had a large part in this event, in that the Hollanders of Fort Orange and the Mohawks always kept the chain of Friendship bright — even after Fort Orange became Albany. Fort Orange and later Albany always seemed to have better leaders to counsel with the Indians than did the Dutch of New Amsterdam and the English of New York City. Col. Peter Schuyler of Albany and Arent Van Curler of Rensselaerwyck and later Schenectady, held the absolute confidence of the Mohawks and, to a lesser extent, of the Iroquois. Sir William Johnson inherited the good will of the Mohawks, handed on to him by these two great Americans of Dutch blood. Johnson realized the strategic position of the Mohawk Valley and the fighting value of its warrior tribe as only a keen Irishman could. He was one of the greatest Americans of Colonial days and a nation-maker, born and bred. From the first gun of the great French and Indian war this leading citizen and soldier of the Mohawk Valley was a tower of strength to the British army, and he fittingly bore a prominent part in the final expedition under General Amherst, which went through the Mohawk Valley to Oswego, and thence to the conquest of Montreal and New France.

It is a strange fact that one of the friends of Johnson and a British Colonial army officer, should have become the Mohawk Valley Revolutionary leader who later delivered the decisive and winning stroke for the cause of American liberty in the conflict with Britain.

Nicholas Herkimer was a close friend of Sir William Johnson, as well as of Johnson's Mohawk Indian protege, Joseph Brant. The companionship of these three men before the Revolution, and the parts two of them played during that conflict is one of the strangest anomalies of American history.

Herkimer became general of the brigade of Tryon County militia. At Oriskany, he checkmated the entire military game then being played by the British General Burgoyne in his invasion of the Hudson Valley and his breaking apart of the American Colonial defense. Herkimer's army inflicted such a vital blow upon St. Leger's reinforcing army that it eventually ran away from before Fort Stanwix. Without St. Leger's reinforcements, Burgoyne was defeated, and eventual American independence was assured. The Battle of Oriskany (August 6, 1777) was fought by American farmer-soldiers of the Mohawk Valley on the shores of the Mohawk River, and so, once more, the Valley becomes the scene of world-making events.

History enables us to proudly affirm that New York was the battle ground of America, in every one of her wars, during the 236 years from the settlement of Jamestown to the beginning of the Mexican war in 1846 — the Colonial wars of a century, the Revolutionary war and the War of 1812. New York's soldiers have ever been in the van of the Nation's conflicts, from the fields of Oriskany and Saratoga to the No Man's Land of the Hindenburg line. In the War for American Independence, New York furnished more than her share to make her blood-red stripe in Old Glory.

In the political life of the nation, our Valley and State have exerted a powerful influence. Five presidents have gone from New York State to become the chief magistrate of the United States of America — Van Buren, Fillmore, Arthur, Cleveland and Roosevelt. A state which has been thus represented has naturally had a powerful influence in American political history. Arthur and Cleveland were boyhood residents of the Mohawk Valley.

[Map: Barge Canal and Proposed Improvements.]

While the Mohawk Valley has never had the distinction of giving a president to the United States, it has furnished the nation with a Vice-President, Hon. James S. Sherman of Utica, who held the office from 1908 to 1912. One of New York's foremost statesmen of all time was Hon. Horatio Seymour of Utica, who was twice governor of New York (1853-5, 1863-5) and unsuccessful presidential candidate against Grant in 1868. Hon. Elihu Root is a native Mohawk Valley statesman who has written his name large upon American and World politics, as another Valley man, Owen D. Young, has done in later years.

Besides Seymour, the Mohawk Valley furnished three other Governors of the State. The first was Joseph C. Yates, a prominent citizen of Schenectady, who was Governor from 1823-5. He was a founder of Union College at Schenectady in 1795, and first Mayor of the city of Schenectady in 1798. Yates County is named for him.

Enos T. Throop was born in Johnstown and was governor of New York State from 1830 to 1832. He was instrumental in abolishing imprisonment for debt, and in making murder in the first degree the only crime punishable by death. In this, New York was first among the States, as in many other legal reforms. Throop was a resident of Auburn when elected Governor.

William C. Bouck was a native and resident of Schoharie when elected Governor in 1842. He was a colonel of the State militia and prominent in Canal work and administration.

Seymour and Throop were among the best governors New York ever had, and Yates and Bouck were men of prominence in their day.

* * *

The Colonial and Revolutionary warfare in the Mohawk Valley brings into strong relief the spirit and valor of its men and women during those trying days. The Valley's political leaders brought it fame. The later triumphs of transportation, commerce and industry add renown to our homeland. The inventive spirit of our Valley Americans has produced many a great help to mankind — all of which will find mention in the chapters devoted to these subjects.

But, besides the martial and material aspects of the Mohawk Valley, it has other inherent qualities of an even finer nature, for it gave the world a great spiritual force and two women to champion it. Whatever the reader's opinion on the subject of women's suffrage, there is no denying that its first sponsor in America was a high-minded woman of great talents. Elizabeth Cady, born in Johnstown in 1815, was one of the two champions of suffrage who led their followers on to a world victory. Susan B. Anthony was not a native of the Mohawk Valley, but she formed her code of principles with regard to women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery while a teacher in the Canajoharie Academy and, from there, went out into the world, shoulder to shoulder with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to fight the great fight of women's equal political and legal rights. The time is too soon to appraise the valor of these women, but the writer believes that Johnstown and Canajoharie, in days to come, will be places of pilgrimage for the men and women of the world who appreciate the undaunted courage of these victors in a great fight for a great cause.

The message of liberty was first sent out into the world from the Mohawk Valley. It has met with a response from womankind the world over. The Battle of Oriskany, fought here in the Valley, won freedom for all mankind, while a Mohawk Valley woman, Elizabeth Cady, led her sex in a political battle the eventual success of which meant freedom for all mankind — including women.

Separate chapters will elaborate all the foregoing matters of historical importance, as reference to the Table of Contents will readily show. Chapters will cover the highly important subject of transportation in the Valley. Here the New York Central, America's greatest railroad, had its earliest development as a steam railroad. The Mohawk and Hudson, running from Albany to Schenectady, was the Central's first steam link, while the building of the Utica and Schenectady Railroad in 1836 and the Utica and Syracuse Railroad in 1839, completed the present Mohawk Division of the New York Central Railroad. The Central is a twentieth century marvel in transportation, with a daily traffic of thousands of passengers and of thousands of tons of freight. It is the artery between the dairy sections of the Mohawk Valley, Northern and Western New York and New York City's giant milk can which it keeps always brimming full. The Central is, assuredly, one of the chief factors in the milk problem of the Metropolitan district. Through the New York Central, the Mohawk Valley can obtain an unusual degree of publicity, which can be truly reciprocal, inasmuch as the Mohawk Division is one of the New York Central's best industrial and shipping districts.

The Mohawk Valley has been a pioneer in waterway development as well as railroad development. While the Erie Canal (constructed 1817-1825) was not America's first canal, yet it was our first great national waterway that solved the problem of water transportation on a large scale. We owe the great early development of New York State and city and our own Mohawk Valley to the New York Central Railroad and the Erie Canal, while, in turn, it was the Valley's low pass through the mountains which gave both river and canal so advantageous a route. The Barge Canal development of the Mohawk River, between 1905 and 1918, has given a further impetus to the development of transportation facilities in New York State and the Mohawk Valley. Again it is Tenonanatche, "the River Flowing through the Mountains," otherwise the mighty Mohawk, which made possible this greatest waterway in the United States as a public carrier.

The Valley's smiling farmlands are mainly given to dairying, as the tourist, over railroad or highway can plainly see by the herds of black and white Holstein-Frisian cattle spotted against the luxuriant green of the Valley landscape. Besides dairy products, this famous farming region raises hay, oats, barley, buckwheat and corn, together with much fruit. There is also considerable bee culture here. In the Adirondack region of the northern Valley, there are important lumbering interests, while reforestation commands the attention of the lumbermen, the general public, and especially the Valley towns whose water supplies need a reforestation of their reservoir watersheds.

Power development through hydro-electric sources is another matter of deep public concern. Probably every source of hydroelectric power in the United States will be utilized during the next quarter of a century. The Mohawk Valley has already harnessed much of its potential waterpower, and it takes on great importance as the route of one of the great eastern trunk lines of electric power, which later probably will be coordinated in one vast national power system, just as our railways, waterways and highways will all eventually be systematized, regionally and nationally.

Coming down to the present-day world, our Mohawk Valley men and women have worked out the later great problems of modern life in truly American fashion. In common with the rest of America, we have had to deal with the industrial, agricultural, transportation, commercial, power, fuel, recreational, educational, political and social problems of the present day. However we may eventually regulate all these matters, we may be sure that they will be adjusted along American lines and not according to any new school of Slavonic politics — for Americans we are here in the Valley and Americans we will remain. Wrongs will not be tolerated but we will right our wrongs, as always, in true American fashion.

The contributions of the Mohawk Valley to America's list of great inventions is a most notable one, which will be dealt with in a later chapter devoted to that subject. Besides the thresher and the airbrake, one of the most notable inventions perfected here in the Mohawk Valley, is the very machine on which the author is typing these words — the typewriter — first perfected for general sale and commercial purposes in the Mohawk Valley, at the Remington works in Ilion in 1873, from models made by Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee. This epoch-making device was, by no means, invented in the Mohawk Valley but it doubtless owes its early perfection and commercial adoption to the inventive and mechanical skill then at the command of the Remingtons and for which their establishment was famous.

Space will not here permit the description of the great industrial development of the Valley. It suffices to say that Mr. Roger Babson, the business statistician, has prophesied (at Utica in 1922) that the Mohawk Valley will eventually become America's most important manufacturing region. Its industrial output is rapidly increasing and, at present, includes great manufacturing plants which produce electrical supplies and machinery, white goods, knit goods and other textiles, carpets and rugs, clothing, gloves, furniture, food packing, metal and brass work, locomotives, typewriters, cash registers, rifles and pistols, mill machinery, etc. A full and complete description of our Valley industries would require a volume much larger than this one.

[Photo: Falls of the Tequetsera at Old Paint Pot Spring, Johnson's Station (Trolley Line) West of Schenectady.]

[Photo: Yantapuchaberg, 1160 Feet Above Mohawk.]

The varying beauty of the Valley of the Mohawk is a subject of enthusiastic comment on the part of the tourist and is a matter of pride to the resident Mohawk Valley man or woman. But few similar areas in the United States afford such a great variety of scenic beauty as the Valley of the Mohawk.

From the evergreen-crowned mountains and the beautiful lakes and streams of our Valley's northern or Adirondack section down through the farms scattered over the northern slopes to the Mohawk River and its fertile flats, thence southward over the rolling uplands of the southern plateau to the Catskill spurs, which form the southern divide — all this charm of mountain and lake, forest, stream and farm, river and uplands — all is encompassed within the limits of our historic Valley.

The history of the Mohawk Valley begins with its first rock formations and the record of these constitutes a most facinating portion of our story. Following the chapter devoted to the making of the Valley in which we live, are the portions devoted to the early history and description of the Mohawk Indians and their towns, succeeded by the coming of the white settler, which ushers in the chronological record of our ancestors. The story will unfold through Colonial and Revolutionary Chapters to the present time, forming a record of which every Valley resident may be justly proud.

Nelson Greene.

Fort Plain, October 22, 1924.

Go to top of page | ahead to: Chapter 1

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Foreword updated March 30, 2015

Copyright 2015 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library