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A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times
3: Preface

J. W. MacMurray

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[This information is from pp. ix-xiv of A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times; being contributions toward a history of the lower Mohawk Valley by Jonathan Pearson, A. M. and others, edited by J. W. MacMurray, A. M., U. S. A. (Albany, NY: J. Munsell's Sons, Printers, 1883). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 P36, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

[Copies of this book are available from the Schenectady County Historical Society.]

[The original version uses assorted typographical symbols to represent footnotes. To improve legibility, the online version uses the form (page number - note number.)]

Professor Pearson, of Union College, enjoys a well earned reputation as student, translator and writer on the colonial history of Northern New York. During the past forty or more years, he has been a constant worker at the records of the ancient county of Albany and has accumulated a vast store of information, which has fortunately been put in writing and embraces many thousand pages of legal cap manuscript. This herculean task was a labor of love without hope of pecuniary profit; as Professor Alexander aptly expresses it — the recreation of a busy life. His friend, the late Joel Munsell, of antiquarian fame, induced him to print much of this matter and Early Records of the county of Albany, translated from the original Dutch, Contributions toward the Genealogies of the First Settlers of Schenectady, Genealogies of the First Settlers of Albany, History of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in Schenectady besides very many magazine and newspaper articles have been given to the public from Munsell's Press. There remain more than four thousand pages of unpublished manuscript and notes, much of which was written many years ago.

Professor Pearson's unique collection of facts has been at the service of all who sought to write on the subject and much has appeared from time to time from others, which was strictly his work.

In the study of the subject he is unquestionably the best guide and it is doubtful if any facts essential to a history of the ancient Schenectady Patent have been overlooked by him.

He gave the writer free use of most of his manuscript and notes, and they are in the main printed here that due credit may be given to the author and that the data may be at the service of the general historian.

In the preparation of these contributions toward a history of the early settlements along the Mohawk river, Professor Pearson translated all known official records pertaining to the subject; he made a careful and thorough search for all names of settlers in the "Doop" and "Trouw" books (baptismal and marriage records), in the early churches of Albany and Schenectady, translated the "City Records" — the "Mortgage" and "Notarial" books of Albany county; searched and transcribed all pertinent matter from records of secretary of State and of the clerk of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, which he was able to find, as well as collated similar extracts from records of the office of secretary of State of Massachusetts, where there is much pertaining to this subject. He has also gone over the old landmarks with the aid of copies of ancient deeds, wills, and surveys in the public offices, and the assistance of very old men whose distinct memory included the colonial times, when few changes had taken place. There are few Mohawk Dutch family chests whose old letters have not furnished a quota of data and every known tombstone has contributed its facts. There may be much he did not reach, but it is marvelous that he gleaned so mach from obscure and scattered sources of information and is only understood when one knows of his knowledge of the Dutch language and its local dialects, special fitness for the work and the long years of patient labor he has given it.

During several years the writer has carefully searched out his authorities and compared the manuscript notes with original records. In the years since they were written, many new facts have come to light and additions have been made in many places but they amount to so little compared with the original work of the author, that they are seldom separated. Indeed, details have been so frequently discussed, that it would be difficult to separate his changes from the writer's.

There are some matters of conclusion which have been changed and many additions, mainly however, in form of notes. Most of these occur in the condensation of more extended accounts. There are also additions by the writer and others, of separate chapters.

In the early period of settlement of the Schenectady Patent, land was plenty and the value small, the methods of survey very crude and the descriptions vague. Land was stepped off, or measured with a pole, a rope, or pair of harness reins which represented an approximate scale of measurement. Courses were run "northerly" "north-by-west," etc., or from some evanescent tree to an equally indefinite pool, or dove gat. So incorrect were the descriptions of the bounderies of lands granted or conveyed, that almost as much land lay in the gores where descriptions overlapped or underlapped, as in the undisputed portions. The labor involved in retracing these lines and defining "how the lands were divided" was almost incalculable and required many years of patient toil.

One of the sources of complication which the author had to contend against was the variation in form of names of the inhabitants. As a rule a man in those days had but one name, modified by that of his father, his birthplace or residence, his occupation or some personal characteristic and he was usually so spoken or written of whatever his name might properly be.

Harme Janse Knickerbacker, i. e., Harme son of John the Knickerbaker, maker of knickers (or childrens' marbles,) or small china ware in general;

de Steenbacker, i. e., brick maker.

Storm Van Der Zee was Storm Bratt, who was born during a storm at sea, on the voyage to America.

Kleyn Isaack meant little Isaac Swits, even when he was a man of mature years.

Sander Leendertse Glen, probably was Alexander, (or Sandy for short) Lindsay of the Glen near Inverness, Scotland.

Van Ness, derived probably from Inverness (xi-1), Scotland.

It is not until late in English colonial times, that it became customary to use the full name even in official and church records. It is very fortunate for history that Prof. Pearson has made so full an analysis of these early names and fixed the connection between names now scarcely known and those of their descendants.

Pearson's history of the Dutch Church of Schenectady, which was prepared as part of this series, has been published quite fully in the memorial of the 200th anniversary (1881) of the church. Such parts as are of general interest appear here. The church organization was so interwoven, with the town, that no history can be of value which does not include it. This church was the great land owner, loaner of money on mortgage and the church mill, which was the best; it dealt in dry goods, groceries, clothing and utensils, and was almoner of all the village poor. There are many details relating to the customs of the Dutch as a people prior to the Revolutionary war, at about which time most of their primitive peculiarities commenced to disappear. The war had taken the simple Dutchman from his bouwery on the flats and had brought him in contact with men from all the other colonies. Then again, the Mohawk river had become the highway along which a steady stream of immigrants has ever since been pouring, on its way to the westward.

All accessions to the settlement were from other than Dutch sources. There were congregations of Episcopalians at the English church, and of Scotch settlers from the higher lands at the Presbyterian church.

All these contributed gradually to the substitution of "American" customs in place of Dutch customs, which grew into disuse with the death of the older men.

It will be seen that the chapter on the first settlers does not go beyond the first half century. If read in connection with Pearson's First Settlers of Albany, and of Schenectady it will be found to contain all important facts, not tradition merely, known of these people.

The chapters pertaining to the military history of the ancient dorp have naturally been of special interest to me, and I have illustrated them by maps, photographs and photo-engravings and have added copious additions.

The short article on the English church (St. George's Episcopal), is an abridgement by the editor, of a sermon delivered by the present rector, the Rev. Wm. Payne, D.D., — with some notes, and copies from the records of the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel," at Lambeth Palace, England, the country hereabouts having been while under British government included in the See of the Bishop of London.

The Rev. Timothy G. Darling contributes the article on the Presbyterian church, of which he is the pastor.

To Professor George Alexander, of Union College, I am indebted for preparing the article on Professor Pearson.

It is nearly two centuries and a quarter since Schenectady was settled. It lies in a beautiful intervale on the margin of the Mohawk river. The great highway to the west led through it and along the only low valley pass through the Appalachian range; all other routes from the Atlantic led over mountain passes. Increase in traffic brought into existence the Erie canal, which served its purpose until the demands of commerce were met by the great four tracked New York Central railroad. Along the hillsides overlooking the valley, another great trunk railway will be in operation in a few months, and still another is working its way to the westward.

A railroad to the south-west goes essentially over the trail toward the Susquehanna and Delaware valleys.

To the northward another lays almost on the very trail past the Aal Plaas, Sarachtoge, Champlain Lake and Caughnawaga to Montreal, which was traversed by the destroying French and their allies, the Caughnawaga Mohawks, in 1690.

The river flats were tilled for generations before 1661 by the Indians, and they still yield rich harvests in many cases to the descendants of the original white settlers — indeed to some whose ancestors antedated the Dutch regime.

Out of the Dutch church schools grew the Schenectady Academy. It was incorporated by the State and became Union College, which with its five thousand Alumni has ever been a power for good in every state in the Union.

Hanse Janse Eenkluys' Kil still flows through Union's grounds (in wet seasons), and his "poor pasture" is in mach the same condition as when he left it to the poor, though immense works for building locomotive engines lie on one side and the Erie canal skirts along the upper edge.

The beauty of the site has been commended by travelers, at intervals, for centuries since Van Curler pronounced it "the most beautiful the eyes of man ever beheld." The quaintness of the ancient Dutch architecture was always noted until 1819, when the major part of the old town was destroyed by fire and the landmarks of the Dutch period were swept away, leaving few specimens of its peculiar constructions.

In two hundred and twenty-five years the village has grown to be a city in name. Thanks to its locomotive and stove works, a factory producing plastic ware, shawl and knitting mills, it has a large commerce. Its population is but fifteen thousand in the city wards, but there is scarcely a directory of a city between Maine and Florida and Alaska, which does not contain names of Schenectady's colonists.

This history deals with ante-newspaper times, when even the practice of writing was not very common. The period since the Revolution is full of records of facts, and larger volumes could be written portraying its history. Professor Pearson's labor represents the hard part of the task. It is to be hoped that workers as patient, skillful and conscientious as he, may carry the work to a later date. Much data is at hand for the purpose and may be published at a future time.


(xi-1) The word ness meaning promontory or head land occurs all along the east coast of Great Britain, especially in Scotland; as Dungenness, Foulness, Sheerness, in southern England; and Fifeness, Buchanness, Clytheness, Olinness and numberless others in Scotland, where also whole counties take the name, as Caithness, Inverness.

Holland traded extensively through the seaport town, Inverness with the highlands and the Glen country along Loch Ness. Scotchmen escaping from the strife and sterility of their own country to Holland, readily found ships there to convey them away to the Dutch colonies and they were known as from the Ness or "Van Ness" or of the "Glen," etc.

"'t Ness" indicated the point in the river Y, at Amsterdam. The Van Ness, Van Nes, Van Est, Van Nest families, seems to have been of different origin.

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