History From America's Most Famous Valleys
History of The OLD FORT HERKIMER CHURCH
German Flatts Reformed Church, 1723
By W. N. P. Dailey, D. D.
Published by the
St. Johnsville Enterprise and News
Lou D. MacWethy, editor
St. Johnsville, NY (Price 35 cents)
Thanks to Betty Hoagey for sending this for the web site!
Organized in 1723. Land given 1730 and 1773. Present edifice begun about 1730. A story of the Palatine people and their early struggles. Many names of first settlers. By Rev. W. N. P. Dailey, DD. Author of History of the Montgomery Classis, R.C.A.
Names of First Settlers in Herkimer County.
IN THE OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE AT ALBANY are some seventy original land papers that have to do with what is now Herkimer County, and its first settlers, names familiar to the community, as Herkimer, Petri, Rickert, Staring, Edick, Helmer, Bellinger, Staley, Garlock and others. These papers are of the calendar vintage of 1721, 1722, and 1723. Gov. Burnet, under date of Nov. 21, 1722, writes, "I have given them (Palatines) leave to purchase land of the Indians. . . . between Fort Hunter and Canada Creek . . . . as far as the settlers wished." John Conrad Weiser, one of the finest of all the Palatine emigrees, obtained a deed from the Indians, July 9, 1722, for twenty-four English miles on both sides of the river from Little Falls west. But he was forced by the Governor to take land three miles back from the river. In 1723 a warrant for the survey of this land was given to Johan Jost Petrie, the leading spirit among the settlers on the north side. The dispersion of the Palatines began in 1720, after Gov. Hunter's tar fiasco on the Hudson. The "Schorie" lands were the immediate Mecca but Gov. Hunter favored the land barons of that country, and influenced Gov. Burnet to do the same so that a third of the Palatines were driven out of the Schoharie and these entered the Mohawk Valley in 1721-1723, after whom came many more including four Herkimers on the Palatine ship that reached New York October 27, 1722. An old extant deed, dated September 24, 1730, gives an acre of ground, on which a school had already been erected, for the building of a church. There is no question, it seems to us, as to the religious customs of these people, who, like the Dutch in the eastern end of the valley, always set up their altars along with their school, often doing this before they built their permanent homes. The Fort Herkimer and the Herkimer churches were for more than a century and a half a double charge. We are persuaded that the work and church on the south side was begun first, but the need for similar work on the north side was soon apparent. The name of Burnetsfield was applied to both sides of the river.
The founders of the Christian Church in these localities, the transplants from Palatine to this section of the valley of the Reformed faith were sufficiently satisfactory predecessors of our church of today, and unless we do much better than they the past has failed to instruct us as it should. Reading the records that the fathers of these two churches through their two hundred years have kept we recognize their failings, common to all mankind, but these faults are no disgrace to them nor to us who succeed them.
A Story Not Often Told
Strange to say the story of the Fort Herkimer Church has not often been told. Doubtless in the nineteenth century there were sketches now and then appearing in the local press of both of the churches, and in the histories of the County of Herkimer one reads considerable about them. In 1886 when Rev. Henry M. Cox was pastor of the church, he preached three historical sermons bearing on its early history, that of the Spinner pastorate, and the ensuing fifty years. There is a copy of the Nicholas Feller will of May 28, 1734, in which the testator bequeaths his church seat to Han Nicholas Crisman, his son-in-law, but whether it was the church on the north or south side it is impossible to determine by the will. Nicholas Welleven, who sold the acre of land for the church on the south side, was a son-in-law of Nicholas Feller, while Nicholas Crisman was a member and pew holder in the German Flatts Church.
Early Church Papers
The contract between the two churches, dated August 4, 1798, calls for a collegiate pastorate; the second call given Rev. J. D. Spinner, dated July 19, 1802 (though the salary was to begin July 4, 1801); action of Montgomery Classis on this call, dated May 28, 1805; and a brief mortuary records, in the Latin, of Rev. M. Spinner, dated May 12, 1829. Another effort to tell the history of these two churches is to be found in the "History of Montgomery Classis" by Rev. W. N. P. Dailey.
In the Spring of 1920 the New York Biographical and Genealogical Society typewrote the records of both churches, their archivist, R. W. Vosburgh, affording a very fine piece of work. Bound volumes of this work are to be found in the Herkimer Reformed Church. All three of these men were handicapped by the absence of documents that have since come to light, the last, discovered by the writer of this history, being the old deeds, whose existence of their dates, were being questioned. These are the deeds to the church land at German Flatts, one bearing date of September 24, 1730 and the other that of April 26, 1773.
First Settlers Were Palatines
The first settlers in this section of the Mohawk Valley, the pioneers who blazed their ways through this virgin wilderness and first upturned the soil of the lowlands, were the Palatines who for a decade and more were coming to America under the patronage to England. These were the men and women who formed the nucleus of the membership and congregation of these two churches, many of whose descendants are still dwellers in Herkimer County, and not a few of whom are allied with the Reformed Churches of this and the adjacent country. The Burnetsfield Patent to John Joost Petri and Condradt Rickert, and ninety other patentees, is dated April 30, 1725, but the Council had the petition of the Palatines to buy lands hereabout as early as Sept. 9, 1721 and decided on this date to allow them to buy, and these lands were purchased in 1722, for the Council meeting held in New York, Jan. 17, 1723, refers to the sale by the Mohawks of the land to Petri and Rickert and other patentees.
One can hardly believe it was characteristic of these Palatines, after their Hudson Valley experience and their treatment by the land grabbers of Schoharie, that having bought this Mohawk Valley tract in 1722, at the latest, they would have waited for any time to elapse before starting for their "promised land." We are persuaded that the Palatines began to settle at once the land they bought in 1722. And, as always and everywhere, customary with them, they erected their school houses and planned for their houses of worship.
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