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.

SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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

You are here: Home » Resources » Pearson's History » Indian Trade

A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times
16: Indian Trade

Prof. Jonathan Pearson and the Editor

Go back to: Presbyterian Church | ahead to: The Borough

[This information is from pp. 409-425 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.)]

New Netherland was first occupied for the purposes of trade only. For the first fifteen years but few persons came over, save the servants and factors of the trading companies. So intent were they upon the Indian traffic that agriculture was greatly neglected and hardly breadstuffs enough for the trading posts were raised. The colonization of the country was neglected or positively discouraged, until the attention of the States General was called to the fact, when in 1629 they passed an act called Privileges and Exemptions for the creation of great manors with feudal rights and powers.

The servants of the United New Netherland company built the first trading house on the Hudson river on Casteel Eylandt (409-1) in the year 1614. Their charter expired in 1618, at which time their stockaded fort called Nassau was destroyed by high water, and the post was removed two miles below at the mouth of the Norman's kil.

The privileged West India company was chartered in 1621, with extraordinary powers of sovereignty and trade, and two years after erected Fort Orange where Albany now stands. (409-2) Manhattens was the port of entry and departure of all vessels trading with New Netherland, but the chief seat of the Indian trade was at Fort Orange, where in the business season, to wit, in June, July and August, the natives gathered in great numbers with their peltries. Until 1630, the two chartered companies above mentioned claimed, and practicalty had, a monopoly of the Indian traffic. Van Rensselaer, who had obtained possession of about 700,000 acres of land around the fort in that year, claimed not only a share of the profitable beaver trade but the land also on which Fort Orange stood. Not only so but it was found that the servants of the West India company as well as interlopers, made private ventures of their own, so that by 1639, when trade was nominally thrown open to all, the income of the company from this source had very much diminished.

In 1652, Stuyvesant established a court at Fort Orange and Beverwyck.

Hitherto the jurisdiction of Rensselaerswyck had extended to all the inhabitants; but as the boundaries of the little village had not been defined, there were constant clashings between the two civil authorities thus established. With Stuyvesant's courts came municipal rights, excise, taxes, civil officers and all the privileges thereto belonging; among which was claimed the monopoly of trade with the Indians.

Every burgher (for outsiders were denied this privilege) who could purchase an anker of brandy, a tub of beer or a piece of duffels or strouds, claimed and used his right to trade for beaver, and often forestalled the market by sending bos loopers, or runners, up the Mohawk to purchase the natives' peltries. Such was the condition of the Indian trade when the first settlement was made at Schenectady in 1662.

Having extinguished the Indian title to the "Great Flatt," the settlers applied for a patent from the Governor and Council, which was granted and in 1663 the Provincial surveyor was sent up to survey and allot the lands to the inhabitants. but only on condition that they "promise not to carry on or allow to be carried on at the aforesaid Flatt or there about any the least handeling (trade) however it may be called." To this prohibition they demurred, hoping "they should not be treated less liberally than others."

To this remonstrance Van Curler added a letter to the Governor in which he says that "it seemed to him that those who followed agriculture ought not to be worse treated than those who pursue commerce; and that it would be lamentable were the settlers and their posterity to remain for ever under the ban of slavery and be excluded from bartering either bread, milk or the produce of their farms for a beaver, so as to be able to purchase some covering for their bodies & dwellings." All appeals to Stuyvesant were vain. The schout of Fort Orange was ordered to proceed to Schenectady and take an inventory of all goods brought thither, "as it was not the intention to build one place for the purpose of bringing ruin on another, yea on the whole country." Thus the matter rested another year and not till the spring of 1664, were the lands legally measured and allotted.

This arbitrary prohibition, though for the time apparently acquiesced in by the people, outraged their sense of justice and right. It soon began to be reported that these trade regulations were disregarded at Schenectady; Gov. Lovelace therefore in 1669-71, promulgated the following orders and instructions:

"An order prohibiting to trade with Indyans at Schanechtade

"Whereas I am given to understand that divers persons doe presume contrary to former acts and Lawes Establisht within this Governt to trade with the Indyans from divers places to Schanechtade and that other of that place pretending or that the goods really belong to them do trade there with the Indyans contrary to the customs and practice of former times and the Condiçeons upon which they first settled, which already doth & hereafter may tend to the ruine & destruction of the trade in the towne of Albany, which is of farr greater consideraçon & benefitt of the governmt — then the private end and respects of particular persons can redound to, — These are to require you to see that the former acts and laws in the behalfe aforesaid bee putt in Execuçon and that you take care that no such liberty bee taken or hereafter graunted for any persons under what pretence whatsoever to traficke or trade with the Indians at Schanechtade, — And that the Inhabitants have no further liberty to trade with them but onely for their necessary subsistence and reliefe, Hereafter you are not to fayle.

"Given under my hand and seals at Fort James in New York this 7th day of June in the 21st yeare of his Majties Raigne Annoge Dominie, 1669." (411-1)

"11 ap. 1670 [Gov. Lovelace's] Instructions for M. Thomas Delavall & Capt. Dudly Lovelace at their arrival to Albany;

* * * "To make a prohibition that no strangers coming from hence or goeing from Albany that have no residence at Schanektade do trade there and that ye Inhabitants of that place be likewise lymitted as to their Trade with ye Indians." (411-2) * * *

The next year, 1671, the Governor issued another order against trading at Schenectady of which the following is a copy:

"An order prohibiting handling (trade) with the Indyans at Schenectide.

"Whereas it has not been found convenient that ye Trade of handling with the Indians at Schenectide should bee permitted or tolerated, for that it may prove a great prejudice to ye towne of Albany; And complaint having been made unto mee that divers small Partyes of Indyans doe come privately to Schenectide wth whom diverse of ye place do presume to Trade and handle notwithstanding the severall orders to ye contrary; ffor ye prevention whereof for ye future. These are to authorize and Empower Capt. Sylvester Salisbury, commander of ye Ffort at Albany and Schout there and in ye places adjacent, as he shall have informaçon, or shall see cause, — to make such search and enquiry in any suspected House at Schenectide or parts adjacent, for such Indyan Goods as are prohibited to be handled there; And that hee bring the Transgressors to condigne punishment, ffor ye doing of which this shall bee his warrant.

"Given this 9th day of Jan., 1671.

"Ffrancis Lovelace." (412-1)

The earliest innkeeper of the village was probably Ackes Cornelise Van Slyck. The privilege of retailing beer and strong waters was granted in early times by license from the Governor on the payment of a certain yearly sum as excise. In 1671, Cornelis Cornelise Viele, through the commissaries of Albany, petitioned Governor Lovelace for the right to open another inn in Schenectady, basing his claim upon services rendered with the Mohawks and upon the fact that Van Slyck had not suitable accommodations for strangers, which Viele promised to provide. The Governor granted his request as appears by the following minute:

"Lycence for Cornelys Cornelyssen Vielen to tapp strong Beer & Liquors at Schanechtide.

"Whereas Cornelys Cornelyssen Vielen of Schanechtide having made his address to ye commissaryes at Albany desireing that hee may have Liberty to tapp Strong Beere & Liquors & to keep an Ordinary, in Recompense for severall services done by him between them and ye Maquaes the wch They have recommended to mee for my approbation. But in regard there is a person already there (by name Aques Cornelyssen Gautsh, (412-2) an Indyan) that doth ye same by Lycense and appointment of my Predecessor, Coll. Richard Nicolls, (412-3) would give no determination therein and it being likewise represented that ye said Aques hath not sufficient accommodaçon for strangers wch ye said Cornelys Cornelyssen Vielen doth promise to be well provided off, for ye reliefe of Strangrs and Travellers, Upon consideraçon had hereupon, I have thought fitt to grant ye request of ye said Cornelys Cornelyssen Vielen &c. Jan. 9, 1671.

"F. Lovelace."

The following year a violent dispute arose between these two tapsters, but on appealing to the Governor he refused to interfere.

In June, 1678, Gov. Andross being in Albany it would appear that the Albanians renewed their complaints about the contraband trade at Schenectady, whereupon his excellency laid the little village under an embargo for three months (413-1) by the following extraordinary proclamation:

"By the Governor.

"Whereas I have been Informed of the frequent goeing off waggons or carts betwixt this place and Shinnectady Upon verry slight or frivolous occasions or Pretences, which att this time and Season of the year might Proove Verry Prejudiciall. I have therefore by the advice of the Magistrates, Resolved and doe hereby order that for the space of three months next Ensueing, no waggon cart or carts whatever doe or be Permitted to goe between said towns unLesse on Extraordinary occasions, with the Knowledge and consent of the Magistrates, but to carry no Passengers or merchandable goods whatever upon Penalty off forfeiting all such waggons or carts and horses. Given under my hand in Albany, 26 day June, 1676."

Sic subscribitur. (413-2)

"Andross."

But orders and proclamations were not the only means used against the offending town. In 1678, sheriff Pretty was sent over "to visit all the houses" and search for any goods which might possibly be sold to the Indians; at the same time the Governor and Council renewed their prohibitions. In anticipation of the sheriff's visit the magistrates of Schenectady state that they cannot discover that his commission gives him power to visit Schenectady, but those dependences of Albany which have no bench of justices. "Indeed," they say, "referring to our commission given by his Excellency Sept. 6, 1678 it is required that the duty and respect due to our bench shall be given. Wherefore we can not allow any visit to our place by the sheriff of Albany."

[signed]

Notwithstanding the above protest, Sheriff Pretty reports Oct. 22, that he went to Schenectady on the complaint of divers individuals to visit the houses for contraband goods and that the magistrates resisted him; for which reason the justices of Albany presented their complaint to the Governor, setting forth the enormity of the crime which the people of Schenectady were guilty of in trading with the Indians, and praying for an abatement of this offence. (414-1)

Whereupon the Governor orders

"Sconextady strictly prohibited all Indian trade, as well all other out places, as pr order to be executed by the court scout of Albany as formerly against all infringers in sd Sconextedy as in appeals to be in this case of trade and in all cases relating to itt concluded by ye court of Albany."

And at a council held Oct. 31, 1678, an order was passed "to ye Comissarys of Schenechtade minding them of the intent of their settlement for husbandry and not to trade wth the Injens & to be under the jurisdiction of Albany as formerly." (414-2)

Neither orders of the Council nor proclamations of the Governor, served to quell their resistance to the inquisitorial visits of the sheriff. In 1686, forcible resistance having again been made to sheriff Pretty in the exercise of his duty at Schenectady, in search for Indian goods, on this occasion "Myndert Wemp, Reynier Schaets, Gysbert Gerretsen [Van Brakel] and Adam Vrooman late of Schonectide were brought before the court of Oyer & Terminer at Albany, and fined 18 shillings each and 3 shillings costs each. (414-3)

Albany was chartered as a city in 1686, before which time though claiming a monopoly of the Indian trade, the magistrates were powerless to pass ordinances for its regulation, but operated through the Governor and Council.

Immediately after the granting of the charter, however, the Common Council passed the following extraordinary ordinances which in a modified form were renewed from time to time.

"Common Council, City of Albany,
14 Sept., 1686.

"Governor Dongan having by the city charter of the 22d July last past, amongst divers other things granted, ratifyed and confirmed unto us, ye said Mayor, Alderman and Commonalty of the Citty of Albany to have, hold and enjoy the Privilege, Preheminence and advantage of having within our own walls the sole management of ye Trade with all ye Indians, Living within and to ye Eastward, Northward and Westward of ye said county of Albany within ye comprise of his said Majesties Dominion here. By virtue of said monopoly of trade thus conferred the Common Council prohibited all 'Trade or Traffique with the Indians for Bever or Paltry or any Indian Commodities without ye Gates of this Citty; Except for Indian Corn, Vennison and Drest Dear Skinns on Penalty of forfeiting such Indian commodities so traded for as aforesaid, and a fine at discretion of the Court not exceeding 20 pounds Courant Money of this Country.' One-third to the mayor, one-third to mayor, aldermen and commonalty and one-third to the person who shall sue for the same;

"That no person shall keep within their houses or elsewhere outside of the city gates, 'any Gunns, Strouds, Blanketts, Rumm, Powder, Lead or other Indian goods;'

"That no person within the said Citty or County 'shall take or Receive on any Pretence whatsoever any Paun or Paunes (zewant excepted) from any Indian;'

"'That no person within this Citty shall upon ye arrivall of any Indian or Indians address themselfs or speak to them of and Concerning Trade, nor Entice ym Either within or without ye Citty gates by signs or oyr wise howsoever to trade with themselfe or any other persons.'

Penalty 10 pounds if committed without the gates, and if within 6sh.;

"'That no person within this Citty shall send out any Broakers (415-1) whether Christians or Indians,' — Penalty 5 pounds.

"That no person shall trade for or Receive any Bevers, Peltry, &c., 'after ye Ringing of ye Bell.' Wampum, wampum pipes, Indian Jewells, &c., not to be transported out of the city.

"Whereas it has been for some time past the Practice of Severall Indian Traders within this Citty themselfs to send for there Indian merchandises to England,' &c., whereby 'ye Indian Trade is for most part engrossed into there hands, — the other Traders who for ye smallness of their Stocks want the means of doing ye Like not being able to afford such Penneworths, have themselfs bought ye goods of ye merchants here, by means whereof the trade of the Place is much Decayed, in that our Merchandizes are Rendered by farr more cheape to ye Indians and by consequence there Commodities more dear to us,' therefore all Indian traders are prohibited from Importing any Duffels, Rom, Strouds, Blankets, Plains, half-thicks, woolen stockings, White ozenbridge, Kitles, Hatchetts, hoes, Redlead, Vermillion, Cotton, Redkersey, Indian haberdashery or any oyr Indian goods;' — upon penalty of paying 40 pounds on every 100 pounds of their value.

"Whereas the selling of ye Severall Small Indian wares hereinafter named would conduce much to ye affording 'of a Comfortable Livelyhood to Severall People — Inhabitants within this Citty, whose mean stocks renders them uncapable of dealing in Commodities of greater Value, in ye doeing whereof they are obstructed by ye Constant Resort of ye Indians to such Persons, as sell all sorts of goods, for ye Remedy whereof and for the making a more equall Distribuçon of ye Indian trade amonst ye inhabitants of this Citty; — Its hereby ordered that no Trader who hereafter shall sell or Dispose off to any Indian or Indians whatsoever, Duffels, Strouds Blanketts or other Indian goods of Value; — shall or may sell these small wares aftermentioned, vizt. Knives, Lookeing Glasses, Painting Stuff, Boxes Aules, tobacco-Pipes, Tobacco, Tobacco-boxes, flints, Steels, Sizers, wire of any sort, Ribboning, Bottles, thread, Salt, Sugar, Prunes, apples, Razines, Juise-harps, bells, thimbles, Beeds, Indian Combs and needles,' — Under penalty of 20 sh. And because there might be a 'Violent presumption' but no positive proof of a violation of these, any trader might be required to take his oath that he had not violated them, upon the instance of any person who believed him to have violated them." (416-1)

These severe ordinances had not the effect of confining the Indian trade within the walls of Albany; — her own citizens were as great offenders as those in the country; and again they appeal to the Governor for aid, complaining that their "small trade is snatch't away by the inhabitants of Schenectady and others in the County, who not only sell all sorts of goods, but rum and other strong liquors (416-2) to the Indians without paying any excise for ye same to the apparent diminution and impoverishment of his Majestes revenue of this Province." (416-3)

The following remarks on the Indian trade as connected with the settlement of the back country were made in a communication of Robert Livingston to the Board of Trade in 1701. As secretary of Albany for many years he was well able to give advice on this subject.

* * * "I humbly beg leave to propose. * * *

That his Majesty's subjects be encouraged to extend their settlements into the Country, under cover of said forts, by the liberty of the Indian trade, without being imposed upon by the City of Albany or any other town or City. The City of Albany always practis'd to hinder such settlements, because they have ingrossed the Indian trade in this Province, and having built large houses and made good farms and settlements near to Albany care not to leave them to go further into the Country and will not suffer others to goe beyond them to intercept the trade; and the giving of land gratis to soldiers or planters (who know better how to use it) will not tempt them to remove so farr into the country; the Indian trade will do it as the inland country comes to be settled it will be valuable, not before. (417-1)

Notwithstanding the resistance to and rough handling to which the sheriff of Albany was subjected in his former inquisitorial visits to Schenectady, these searches did not cease, or if he had sufficient reason to suspect a citizen of possessing Indian goods, he cited him to appear before the mayor's court in Albany to answer for this offence.

Thus two pieces of strouds having been found in the house of Volkert Symonse Veeder in 1719, he was cited to appear and answer before the court why the same should not be condemned according to the city charter.

On Aug. 11th, "the court having taken into consideration the two pieces of Strowd seized by Adam Haydon Deputy Sheriff, from Volkert Symonse, do condemn them to be disposed off according to the directions of ye charter of ye City of Albany."

But on application of Veeder, the Common Council released their third of the goods condemned. (417-2)

Again in 1721, Henry Holland sheriff of the county, "made a seizure of some Strowds at Schinectady lying to ye North of ye East and West lines drawn from ye North limitts of this City, which has been duly condemned;" and as an additional penalty of 100 pounds for every such offence might be inflicted according to an act of the Provincial Assembly, Governor Burnet gave orders "to stop ye execution for levying ye sd fine," "wherefore" say the Common Council in their petition, "we hope that your Ex'ly for ye safety and prosperity of this City will be pleased to lett the Law have its course wh. if not duly observed we humbly conceive will tend to ye ruin and destruction of ye Inhabitants of ye sd City." (417-3)

Again in 1723 and 1724 we find another citation issued to the sheriff, for Isaac Truex and ———— Van Slyck of Schenectady.

Hitherto the jurisdiction of the city of Albany over the village of Schenectady in the matter of trade, had not been contested in the highest court of the Province but had been reluctantly and sullenly acquiesced in; in the year 1723 however, began a legal contest, which in 1727 resulted in freeing Schenectady from the authority of those hateful ordinances that had fettered its trade for more than fifty years.

Johannes Myndertse, a trader residing on the west corner of Mill lane and State street was on the 15th June, 1723, informed against by Johannes E. Wendell and Robert Roseboom with having "taken Indians with bever & peltry in his house."

Whereupon a warrant was issued to the sheriff to bring said Myndertse before the Common Council "to answer for his said offence." When brought before the court on the 25th June, and charged with the above offence "he confessed to have taken Indians into his house." Whereupon a fine of ten pounds was imposed upon him and the sheriff was directed to commit him to gaol until said fine was paid.

He was detained however, only "till a Habeas Corpus was sent, for removing him to the next Supreme Court" where he immediately commenced an action against Johannes Pruyn, Hendrick Roseboom, Barent Sanders, Dirck Ten Broeck and Johannes De Peyster, Esqrs, aldermen of the city of Albany for trespass and false imprisonment.

Feeling confident of a verdict against Myndertse in the above suit, the Common Council shortly thereafter, to wit, on Feb. 1st, 1724, "Resolved that the following articles be concluded and remain as a standing rule till the same be effected:

"That Johannis Myndertse pay the ten pound and charges accrud thereon, and the witnesses against Nicholas Schuyler be further examind;"

"That an ordinance be made for the better regulation of the Indian trade in the city of Albany, against Schinnechtady and elsewhere to the Westward, northward & Eastward;"

"That no lycences be granted to the Indian Traders at Schinnectady as Johannis Myndertse, Nicholas Schuyler, Harmanus Vedder, Harme Van Slyck, Jan Baptist Van Eps, Barent Vrooman, Maritie Brouwers, &c., nor to any above Schinnectady and others to the north of this city which cant be otherwise but stretch to the Ruine of this city."

Not only did the Common Council make it a standing rule that Myndertse should pay the fine of ten pounds and charges, but in April, 1724, they resolved to employ Evert Wendell "to sue Philip Verplanck, late sheriff for ten pound & charges accrued in prosecuting Johannis Myndertse, for suffering the sd Myndertse to escape out of his custody being committed in the Comon gaol for refusing to pay a fine of ten pound."

Myndertse's suit against the Common Council commenced in 1723, was not determined in the Supreme Court until 1727, and then in his favor.

As a consequence the defendants, Johannes Pruyn, Dirck Ten Broeck, Barent Sanders, Hendrick Roseboom and John De Peyster were mulcted and an execution was served upon them for £38-1s. for damages and costs, which with sheriff's fees amounted to £41 9s. 3d. (419-1)

Thus was finally settled the right of the inhabitants of Schenectady to trade with the Indians, after innumerable annoyances from sheriff's visits, court citations and fines for more than sixty years.

The trade in strong liquors both at Albany and Schenectady had very disastrous effects upon the Indians and was often spoken against by the better class of whites and natives. Thus in 1687 Col. Peter Schuyler wrote to the Governor, "we find that the selling of strong liquor to the Indians is a great hindrance to all designs they take in hand; they stay a drinking continually at Schinectady; if your Excell: would be pleased to prohibit itt for two or three months it would do very well." (419-2)

So also at a convention of the four nations at Albany, 3 Sept., 1720, Hendrick in the name of the Sachems acquainted the president "that it was Impossible they Could Exercise their Devotions as, Long as rum was sold so Publickly in their Country; that Joho. Harmense [Visscher], Capt. Scott, Joseph Clement and Thomas Wileman sold Rum so plentifully as if it ware water out of a fountain and that if it cannot be Privinted they cannot Live Peaceably in their Castle." (419-3)

Again at an Indian Council held in New York, June 12, 1753, Hendrick Sachem of the Mohawks, spake as follows:

"Brother I am going to tell you how many persons we design to drive away from our Lands, viz: Barclay, Pickett's wife who lives just by us and who does us a great deal of Damage by selling us liquors and by that means making us destroy one another." (419-4)

Sir. Wm. Johnson at an Indian council held Feb. 26, 1756, addressed them in regard to trade, promising that as he had no goods to sell (himself) he would take all possible care that they should not be imposed upon in their trade at Schenectady. "I shall give directions to Mr. (Arent) Stevens, the interpreter, to assist you and see that justice be done you in every respect for I have a great regard for your castle." (419-5) He also gave directions March 26th, to Myndert Wemp of Schenectady, to stay in the Senecas' country "till their corn was a foot higher in order to keep their Arms and Working Utensils in Repair." (420-1)

Returning, 29th April, Wemp reported that the scarcity of provisions was such among the Senecas, that the Indians told him he must leave, for they could not supply him and his son with food. He also reported to Sir William that they were greatly pleased at his promise to build them a fort and that they desired "some of Myndert Wemp's sons when the Fort was built might reside there as they understood their language and were known to them and were smiths."

In respect to the illicit trade in rum, Wemp reported that last winter John Abeel (420-2) (of Albany) "brought so much Rum & sold it amongst the Indians & caused so much drunkenness that he was greatly molested and hindered in his work by it and when he threatened John Abeel that he would complain against him he said he did not care; he would sell it and that for every quart of Rum he sold he got a Spanish Dollar."

The sole motive of establishing the various Dutch stations in the New Netherlands being trade — they were from the first simply trading posts. Some gardening and farming was done by nearly all the people but all were traders in Indian goods. Their standard of value was the "good merchantable beaver" sometimes quoting its value in guilders (money of the Netherlands) or in "guilders sewant," the alternative currency.

The trader had strouds and duffels, beads and other gew-gaws, guns, powder, lead, rum, molasses, sugar, pans, kettles, knives, axes, hatchets and other simple utensils, hoop iron to make arrow heads of and files to make them with and some pottery.

The Indian had skins of animals, such as the elk, deer, fox, wolf, polecat, etc., and most valuable of all, furnishing the standard of value of the Indian trade, the fur skin of the beaver. Even to this day Holland furriers excel in dressing most of these furs, though by a somewhat singular coincidence Albany, "the oldest Dutch settlement in the New Netherlands," produces finer finished and more enduring dyed furs than any other city in the world.

As the posts grew in population, more and more of the inhabitants devoted all their time to some other pursuit, but even to a very late day merely as an auxiliary to the Indian trade. Grants of "bouwlands" in out of the way valleys simply gave the bouwers a nearer approach to some band of Indians with whom they could trade.

The Manor of Rensselaer — twenty-four by forty-eight miles — included the valley of Norman's kil, the junction of the Mohawk and upper Hudson (421-1) and had practical control of the Indian trade of a thousand square miles of the best hunting lands of the Iroquois and River Indians. The West India Company's trading post was in competition and bos loopers from Beverwyck and the Colonie Rensselaerswyck scoured the territory of the various tribes as assiduously as the modern "drummers" — of whom they were the proto-types. The affairs of the Colonie and Manor — were directed for a time by Arent Van Curler who had visited some of the Indian castles more than once, doubtless in the interests of trade. The Mohawks after the coming of the whites, receded from the line of the Hudson where they had a town at mouth of Norman's kil, and later deeded away the beautiful tract upon which Van Curler many years before had looked with covetous as well as admiring eyes, — the "Great Flatt of the Mohawks." Officially this infant settlement was born in 1661, but there must have been for years before a number of bos loopers, if not regular traders, at the Indian village (421-2) — which was on the site.

Then began the war against Schenectady which lay in the throat of the valley of the Mohawk, and by its proximity to the Indian castles and affiliation or intermarriage of many of its people with the Indians, had the decided advantage of getting the greater number as well as first choice of furs, as the Indians possessed limited means of transportation and were saved the difficult "carry" at the Cohoes Falls. This advantage was somewhat offset by its exposed situation — so exposed that only the Indian blood in the veins of many of the second generation kept it in existence, but the settlers of that time who were accustomed to the barbarities of the wars of Spain and France in the old world as well as the battle of the low countries with the sea, were too hardy to fly from any threatened danger nor until it had appeared and had exhausted them in the unequal strife.

During more than sixty years after the settlement at the "Groote Vlachte," there had been contraband trade only, — there was much of that, as shown by the court records of Albany.

After 1727, by decision of the highest court in the Province, trade was made free. The flow of emigration to the westward; the coming of the Palatines who had been despoiled of their houses in the Palatinate and were settling on the upper Mohawk and along the Scoharie; the Scotch and Irish settlers of the hill lands, pushed the frontier further off and greatly increased the volumes of trade.

With free trade came traders, who receiving their goods in bulk at Albany, distributed them at and beyond (422-1) Schenectady. Better roads were made from Albany to the foot of navigation here, as owing to the impediments in the lower Mohawk, Schenectady was always the best place of departure while the distance from Albany was little if any greater than points farther down the stream.

The Schenectadians who had traded in defiance of the law, were ready for the new conditions and extended their journeys to the extreme western (422-2) parts of the State and even to Detroit and Michilimackinac in later years.

Canoes afforded the only means of transit by water at the earlier periods. They were the simple bark or log canoe — very light and carrying considerable cargo. One or two men sitting in the bottom, propelled the little vessel by paddles and at riffs or shallow places waded and pushed or pulled it over. Where water failed them or the fall could not thus be overcome — the boat and cargo were carried around the portage, when navigation was again resumed.

Later, the cargoes were heavier and boats called batteaux were used. They were paddled or poled, or towed by men along the bank or the shallow places.

[Woodcut: Poling a Batteau shows a crew of eight. original size (6K) | 9x enlarged (41K)]

In the riffs a channel was made by throwing out boulders which were in the way.

In time the line of deepest water became defined and all the riffs came to be named and were land marks in the itineraries of travelers.

The efforts of the boatmen during a century were furthered by the "Inland Lock and Navigation Company," which built a series of wing dams on all the riffs. They were usually crude affairs and intended only to serve their office in low water.

These wing dams — collections of stone which were dragged from the channel and arranged in shape of a V, the wings stretching over the shallow from the shore to the centre, where there was a narrow outlet. The effect of this was to throw what water there was into the centre of the stream and float the boat. Then by dint of wind and muscle — sail and poles, and men towing at a long line, the boat was hauled over the rapid into stiller water again and so pursued her journey.

The later form of boat which carried a fair cargo, and which held its own until the Erie canal sounded the death knell of the Mohawk river as a navigable stream, was the "Durham" boat, said to have been first used on Long Island Sound. The name occurs early as a Dorem or Deurem. The Dorey or Dorry common along the coast is probably similarly derived.

The Schenectady Durham boat was the pride of the place, and extensive boat yards were employed in construction and repair of these crafts, which were roughly treated by the boulders on the many riffs and landing places.

[Woodcut: Durham Boat Passing a Riff. original size (11K) | 9x enlarged (85K)]

This gallant craft was broad, flat bottomed and straight sided with easy lines at bow and stern to help her flotation on striking a rapid. She was decked fore and aft and along the gunwales which were cleated to give footholds for the boatmen. The balance of the deck was open and in the well hole thus formed was stored the cargo, covered from the weather if necessary by canvass tarpaulins.

A mast was stepped near the bow and was equipped with square sails.

When wind and tide were favorable these Durhams sailed easily, but owing to the crookedness of the channel and its shallowness, this was only for very short reaches. The main reliance was on the pole or tow line using the sails as an auxiliary power only. (424-1)

In the cut taken from a work published many years ago a boat is seen forcing a "riff." The wing dams are shown — the sails are filled by a breeze dead astern and the crew are wading and pushing the craft through the pass.

As the country became more fully settled — and more especially after the Revolution, the traffic on the river grew to immense proportions. A stone tramway was built at enormous cost by the "Albany and Schenectady turnpike company," to expedite the hauling of goods to the harbor on the Binnè kil, which in time was lined with batteaux and Durham boats loading or discharging cargoes.

The goods were simply supplies for farmers, going west and farm staples coming east, and need no further description.

The New York Central Railroad carries many thousand times the burthen of the Mohawk flotilla but Schenectady profits relatively less thereby, while the picturesque element has gone completely.

Notes

(409-1) This island is now comprehended within the limits of the city of Albany, and is used for manufacturing purposes.

(409-2) [About the steamboat wharf or the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad freight depot. — M'M.]

(411-1) Orders and Warrants, II, 431.

(411-2) Court of Assize, II, 490.

(412-1) General Entries, IV, 84.

(412-2) General Entries, IV, 83, 133.

(412-3) Alias Aques Cornelise Van Slyck.

The ordinary kept by Van Slyck if it was any thing more than a beer shop, was probably on the lot on the west corner of Cucumber alley and Washington street. Being a half breed Mohawk he doubtless had a thriving trade with his tribe not only in fire water but in whatever else they required.

Viele's ordinary was on the south corner of State street and Mill lane next the church: he was succeeded by his relative Douwe Aukes, and it was here that the traditional merry making was held on the eventful night of the 8th Feb., 1690.

(413-1) The months of June, July and August were called the handel-tyde (business season). This proclamation was made to cut off any supplies for trade at Schenectady.

(413-2) General Entries.

(413-3) Col. MSS., XXVIII, 24.

(414-1) Col. MSS., XXVIII, 25, 26.

(414-2) Col. MSS., XXVIII, 27

(414-3) Col. MSS., XXX.

(415-1) Brokers = bos loopers.

(416-1) Col. MSS., XXXIV.

(416-2) Col. Doc., IV, 753.

(416-3) 15 Jan., 1716-7, Albany.

Whereas ye chamberlain of this city complains that Caleb Beck of Schinnectady is severall year in arrear for his liberty to draw or sell liquor by retaile

Resolved, that he be ordered to make an account how much he is in arrear, and that Mr. John Collins be employed to prosecute the said Caleb Beck in behalf of ye Commonalty. — Albany City Rec., Albany Annals, VII. 61.

(417-1) Col. Doc., IV, 874.

(417-2) Albany Annals, VII, 236-7.

(417-3) Albany Annals, VIII, 269.

(419-1) Common Council Minutes of city of Albany.

(419-2) Col. MSS., III, 479.

(419-3) Col. Doc., V, 569.

(419-4) Col. Doc., VI, 783.

(419-5) Col. Doc., VII, 70.

(420-1) Col. Doc., VII, 95.

(420-2) [John Abeel settled on the present site of Fort Plain. Probably all Indian traders who resided among the Indians had Indian wives. It is supposed that Abeel was the father of the famous chief Cornplanter, who was a friend of Washington and who died on his tract of land on the Allegheny river, within the state of Pennsylvania. A monument erected to his memory bears an inscription which states he was the son of John O'Ball. — M'M.]

(421-1) North of Clinton Avenue, Albany.

(421-2) Of great age as attested by the immense quantity of remains found within the present site of the city.

(422-1) The first merchant in the Mohawk Valley west of Schenectady, was Major Jellis Fonda, a son of Douw Fonda — an early settler at Caughnawaga. For many years he carried on an extensive business for the times, at the latter place, — trading with the white citizens of the valley, and the natives of western New York; the latter trade being carried on at old Fort Schuyler, now Utica; Fort Schuyler (called in the Revolution Fort Schuyler), now Rome, and Forts Oswego, Niagara and Schlesser. An abstract from his ledger shows an indebtedness of his customers at one time just before the Revolution, amounting to over ten thousand dollars. Many of his goods he imported directly from London. To his Indian customers he sold blankets, trinkets, ammunition and rum; and received in return, peltries and ginseng root. The latter was at that time an important item among the exports of what was then western New York; and the two named, added to the article of potash, almost the only commodities purchased in a foreign market. — Simms' Hist., p. 136.

(422-2) Congress of the Six Nations at Johnson Hall.

Ap. 9, 1773.

……He (Sir Wm. Johnson), then acquainted them (the Indians), with the intelligence he had just received from the General respecting the conduct of the Pawtawatamies, six of whom, and three squaws last December had wounded and attempted to murder Mr. Van Slyck a considerable trader at St. Joseph's, killed one of his people and dangerously wounded another, and that one Indian was killed, and two wounded. That Mr. Van Slyck was obliged to fly leaving goods of his and Mr. McComb's of above 1,500 pounds value behind them… — Col. Doc., VIII, 368.

Jacob Brouwer, an Indian trader, was "barbarously murdered" at the falls on the Oswego river, in the spring of 1730, by an Onondaga Indian. — N. Y. Coun. Min., XVI, 28.

(424-1) Schultz Journal.

Go to top of page | back to: Presbyterian Church | ahead to: The Borough

You are here: Home » Resources » Pearson's History » Indian Trade

http://www.schenectadyhistory.org/resources/patent/16.html updated September 28, 2013

Copyright 2013 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library