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History of Schenectady County, New York (1757)

[This information is from The History of the Province of New-York, Volume One, published in 1757 by William Smith Jr. A reprinted edition is available for borrowing at the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls at 974.702 S.]

[Page 213, 1972 Harvard University Press edition]

Sixteen or eighteen miles North-west from Albany lies Schenectady, on the banks of the Mohawks Branch, which falls into Hudson's River 12 miles to the North of Albany. This village is compact and regular, built principally of brick, on a rich flat of low land, surrounded with hills. It has a large Dutch church, with a steeple and town clock near the center. The windings of the river through the town, and the fields (which are often overflowed in the spring) form, about harvest, a most beautiful prospect. The lands in the vale of Schenectady are so fertile, that they are commonly sold at 45 pounds per acre. Though the farmers use no kind of manure they till the fields every year, and they always produce full crops of wheat or pease. Their church was incorporated by Governour Cosby, and the town has the privilege of sending a member to the Assembly.

From this village our Indian traders set out in battoes for Oswego. The Mohawk's River, from hence to Fort Hunter, abounds with rifts and shoals, which in the spring give but little obstruction to the navigation. From thence to its head, or rather to the portage into the Wood Creek, the conveyance is easy and the current less rapid. The banks of this river are, in general, low, and the soil exceeding good. Our settlements, on the North side, extend to Burnet's Field, a flat inhabited by Germans, which produces wheat and pease in surprising plenty. On the South side, except a few Scotch Irish in Cherry Valley at the head of Susquehanna, we have but few farms West of the three German towns on Schohare, a small creek which empties itself into the Mohawk's River, about 20 miles west of Schenectady. The fur trade at Oswego, is one of the principal advantages of this county. The Indians resort thither in May, and the trade continues till the latter end of July. A good road might be made from Schenectady to Oswego. In the summer 1755, fat cattle were easily driven there for the army under the command of General Shirley.

The principal settlements to the Northward of Albany are Connestigiune, Eastward of Schenectady on the Mohawk's River, which a little lower tumbles down a precipice of about 70 feet high, called the Cahoes. The surprise, which as one might imagine, would naturally be excited by the view of so great a cataract, is much diminished by the heighth of the banks of the river; besides, the fall is as uniform as a mill-dam, being uninterrupted by the projection of rocks.

[Pages 79-80, 1972 Harvard University Press edition]

Among other measures to detach the Five Nations from the British interest, and raise the depressed spirit of the Canadians, the Count De Frontenac thought proper to send out several parties against the English colonies. D'Aillebout, De Mantel, and Le Moyne, commanded that against New-York, consisting of about two hundred French and some Caghnuaga Indians, who being proselytes from the Mohawks, were perfectly acquainted with that country. Their orders were, in general, to attack New-York; but pursuing the advice of the Indians, they resolved, instead of Albany, to surprise Schenectady, a village seventeen miles North-west from it, and about the same distance from the Mohawks. The people of Schenectady, tho' they had been informed of the designs of the enemy, were in the greatest security; judging it impracticable, for any men to march several hundred miles, in the depth of winter, thro' the snow, bearing their provisions on their backs. Besides, the village was in as much confusion as the rest of the Province; the officers, who were posted there, being unable to preserve a regular watch, or any kind of military order. Such was the state of Schenectady, as represented by Colonel Schuyler, who was at that time Mayor of the city of Albany, and at the head of the Convention. A copy of his letter to the neighbouring colonies, concerning this descent upon Schenectady, dated the 15th of February 1689-90, I have now lying before me, under his own hand.

After two and twenty days march, the enemy fell in with Schenectady, on the 8th of February; and were reduced to such streights, that they had thoughts of surrendering themselves prisoners of war. But their scouts, who were a day or two in the village entirely unsuspected, returned with such encouraging accounts of the absolute security of the people, that the enemy determined on the attack. They entered, on Saturday night about eleven o'clock, at the gates, which were found unshut; and, that every house might be invested at the same time, divided into small parties of six, or seven men. The inhabitants were in a profound sleep, and unalarmed, till the doors were broke open. Never were people in a more wretched consternation. Before they were risen from their beds, the enemy entered their houses; and began the perpetration of the most inhuman Barbarities. No tongue, says Colonel Schuyler, can express the cruelties that were commited. The whole village was instantly in a Blaze. Women with child ripped open and their infants cast into the flames, or dashed against the posts of the doors. Sixty persons perished in the massacre, and twenty seven were carried into captivity. The rest fled naked towards Albany, thro' a deep snow which fell that very night in a terrible storm; and twenty five of these fugitives, lost their limbs in the flight, thro' the severity of the frost. The news of this dreadful tragedy reached Albany, about break of day; and universal dread seized the inhabitants of that city, the enemy being reported to be one thousand four hundred strong. A party of horse was immediately dispatched to Schenectady, and a few Mohawks then in town, fearful of being intercepted, were with difficulty sent to apprise their own castles.

The Mohawks were unacquainted with this bloody scene, till two days after it happened; our messengers being scarce able to travel thro' the great depth of the snow. The enemy, in the mean time, pillaged the town of Schenectady till noon the next day; and then went off with their plunder, and about forty of their best horses. The rest, with all the cattle they could find, lay slaughtered in the streets.

The design of the French, in this attack, was to alarm the fears of our Indian allies, by shewing that we were incapable of defending them. Every art also was used to conciliate their friendship, for they not only spared those Mohawks who were found in Schenectady, but several other particular persons, in compliment to the Indians, who requested that favour. Several women and children were also released at the desire of Captain Glen, to whom the French offered no violence; the officer declaring he had strict orders against it, on the score of his wife's civilities to certain French captives in the time of Colonel Dongan.

The Mohawks, considering the cajoling arts of the French, and that the Caghnuagas who were with them, were once a part of their own body, behaved as well as could be reasonably expected. They joined a party of young men from Albany, fell upon the rear of the enemy, and either killed or captivated five and twenty. Several sachems, in the mean time, came to Albany, and very affectingly addressed the inhabitants, who were just ready to abandon the country; urging their stay, and exciting an union of all the English colonies against Canada.

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