History From America's Most Famous Valleys
History of Montgomery Classis, R.C.A.
by W.N.P. Dailey,
Recorder Press, Amsterdam, NY 1916
To which is added sketches of Mohawk Valley men and events of early days, the Iroquois, Palatines, Indian Missions, Tryon County, committee of Safety, Sir Wm. Johnson, Joseph Brant, Arendt Van Curler, Gen. Herkimer, Reformed Church in America, Doctrine and Progress, Revolutionary Residences, Etc.
FORT HERKIMER REFORMED CHURCH
The corporate title of this church is "The Reformed Protestant Dutch church of German Flatts." The beginning of its history goes back to the settlement of the country in the years 1722 and 1723 when the Palatines came into the valley of the Mohawk f r o m Schoharie. Of these Palatines and their migration to America and to this valley we have spoken in detail in the Notes. T h e Burnettsfield Patent of 9,186 acres, dated April 30, 1725, was given to ninety-two persons, one-fourth of whom were women. Their names can be found in Simms' "Frontiersmen." The history of this church is linked with the work at Herkimer since from the start the people of the latter place depended upon the German Flatts preacher for services, and for half a century or up to 1841 there was an established dual pastorate in the two fields. The initial church building at German Flatts was a long structure in the woods, erected, doubtless, as the Palatines were wont to do, as one of the very first buildings, as early as 1723. This was their House of God for a few years, since in 1734 we find one Nicholas Feller, in a deed now owned by the Oneida Historical Society (Utica), granting his pew in the German Flatts church to his son- in-law, Han Nicholas Chrisman. The deeds for the land on which the church stands are two in number, one dated September 24, 1730 (now owned by Mrs. Andrew Bacon of Mohawk, N. Y.) and another dated April 26, 1733. Undoubtedly with the granting of the first land the German Flatts church, the one now standing, was begun. About 1860 the holders of the Glebe lands refused to pay rent. Court of Chancery, Utica, decided against them. Over the original entrance on the river, or north side of the edifice one sees cut into the stone "J. H. Esq. 1767,"-referring to Johanns Herkimer, Esquire, the father of the conqueror on the Battle Field of Oriskany, Nicholas Herkimer. But the will quoted above, and deeds of land for church building and old subscription lists still extant, and the old books of the treasurer, and appeals to Governor Clinton for permission to raise funds for completing the church (1730, 1746, 1751, et al.) are abundant evidence that the (late, 1767, does not refer to the beginning of the building of the church, but rather its completion. History also records how the settlers long before this date used the stone church as a means of refuge in times of Indian depredation. Johann Jost Herkimer built a stone house for himself in 1728, later called "Konin" ("bear") and General Herkimer built a brick house, evidencing the reasonableness of believing the stone church was begun soon after the settlement. Among the names of those who are found on the lists and in the books as subscribing toward the building of the church are eight each of Becker, Veeder and Vrooman. Others of note are, Yoost Werner, Heinrich Riemenschneider, Ludwig Rickert, Joseph R. Yates, Annaatzie Ziele, Birch Hagedoorn, Storm Becker, Johannes Schuyler (Rev.), Barent Kysley Meinert Wemp (Wemple), Reyer Baxter, Sanders Glen, Plantina Vrooman, Wilhelm Braun, Peter Man, Godfried Knieskern, Jacob Borst, Johannes Snal, Phillip Rily, Arent Bratt (some of these of Schenectady and Schoharie).
The German Flatts church is one of the very few oldest churches in the country. Originally it was forty-eight by fifty-eight and seventeen feet high, but in 1812 it was made eight feet higher, a gallery put in oil three sides, the entrance changed from the north to the west side, and the high pulpit, with sounding board, placed in the east or opposite end. These repairs cost $4,359, and William Clapsaddle was the chairman of the building committee. On June 1, 1813, the German Flatts consistory met in the "new church" of Herkimer, and decided to hold services in the barn of Squire Fox till the church repairs were completed. At this time the inventory of the church (recorded at Herkimer, Bk. 67, P 115) included thirteen hundred and seventy-seven acres of land, the rent of which was $235. Also one acre in the church site and cemetery.
The Herkimer family, numerous and influential, perhaps second to the Johnson family in importance in the valley, all belonged to this church, and lie buried either in its acre or under the shadow of the old church. General Nicholas Herkimer (dec. August, 1777) and his four brothers and eight sisters, one of whom married Rev. Abraham Rosencrantz, pastor (1752-1796) were, with their numerous descendants, allied with the old church. George Rosencrantz, son of the domine, was active in the church from 1764 to 1838. The parents of the General are buried at the rear of the old stone church close to the original entrance of the church. The name is variously spelled, as here, also Herchkeimer, Erghemar, Harkamar. The true German was Ergemon.
Two of the pastors of the church, the Rosencrantz brothers, were buried under the pulpit (when in the south end). Indeed part of the sub-cellar was used as a burial ground, and has some graves, each marked with a rude unlettered stone. This custom may have been the result of the scalp hunting Indians who were looking for the bounty offered by the English and who regarded this settlement as privileged ground for their trade. When extensive repairs were made to the building in 1887 two long fluted pillars of cedar, originally painted white, were found beneath the floor, and parts of the first pulpit that stood in the south end of the church. Along with these repairs a new bell was put in, a lower platform erected under tile high pulpit, and an arch built up over the gallery, concealing it. It is hoped that some day these innovations will be removed and this grand old edifice put back to its pristine conditions,--a standing monument of the valor and vigor of the German settlers of the Mohawk valley.
Fifty rods west of the church was built Fort Herkimer. Originally this was a stone dwelling house, built (1728) by the father of the General and where Nicholas the eldest son spent his boyhood. The father, Johann Jost Herkimer, deeded several hundred acres of land to the young man on his first marriage to Miss Petrie and he went from this old home to the town of Danube, three miles east, and built the brick house, to which he was brought after the Battle of Oriskany and where he died, surrounded by his family, to whom he read the thirty-seventh Psalm. The first home built by Johan Jost Herkimer was about half a mile east of the church, and in this home General Herkimer was born. Neither this building nor the old Fort are standing, the stones of the latter having been used to enlarge the locks of the Erie canal nearby when its capacity was doubled about 1840. Bronze tablets, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution mark many of the spots of historic interest hereabouts. The fort was called by the French, Fort Kouari. In the Summer of 1783 Washington visited the place and the fort was provisioned for five hundred men for ten months, and Col. Marinus Willett put in command.
On September 6, 1756 Governor Hardy of New York ordered Sir William Johnson to send two hundred and fifty more soldiers (making five hundred in all) to German Flatts, and to go himself, if need be, to protect the settlement. Thrice was the village assailed by the Indians, in 1757 when it was burned with the gathered crops, forty of the people killed, and a hundred and fifty taken prisoners, and sixty houses burned (Canadian records). In September, 1756, a breast work was built about the church. On April 30, 1758, a second raid occurred, when the Indians, with the help of the French killed thirty. A settlement seems to have been also on the north side of the river since it is told us that in 1758 tho warned of the coming of the savages, the settlers would not believe the friendly Indians. When at last these came the minister (Rosencrantz) and some others sought safety in the old stone church. In 1782 Brant with a hundred and fifty-two Indians and three hundred Tories again laid waste the settlement. August Hess lost his life. A hundred and twenty houses and barns were burned and six hundred head of cattle stolen.
Lieutenant Colonel John Brown (cf Note on Battle of Stone Arabia) was stationed here for thirteen months beginning April 1, 1776. Four years later he was killed at the Battle of Stone Arabia, October 19, 1780. Here also General Benedict Arnold, the only officer in Schuyler's command who would dare the journey, tarried for a few days on his way to the relief of Fort Stanwix near the Oriskany Battle Field (Rome) and where the Stars and Stripes were for the first time in this country flung to the breeze. Arnold had twelve hundred men here, and from German Flatts he started out the half-witted youth to strike terror into the hearts of St. Leger's Indians, still investing Fort Stanwix, and which caused them to beat a precipitate retreat with loss of nearly all their camp equipment. It was to German Flatts, also, that the renegade Tory, Walter Butler, came, after the Oriskany battle, with fourteen Tories and as many Indians, seeking to influence the settlers against Independence. He was apprehended, convicted as a spy, and sentenced to death. Thro the influence of his family connection he was imprisoned at Albany, from which confine he soon escaped, to wreak his diabolical vengeance on the men, women and children of the Mohawk valley. Two great councils of the Indians were held at German Flatts, one by Tarbot Francis et al on June 28, 1775, when the Oneidas and Tuscaroras agreed to remain neutral; and another council on August 16, 1775, from which a large delegation of the Indians was sent to a still larger council at Albany. On June 28, 1785 at a treaty conducted here the Oneidas and Tuscaroras (always friendly to the colonists), sold to the State all the land between the Unadilla and the Chenango rivers.
It was from German Flatts that Col. Charles Clinton (father of Governor George Clinton and grandfather of DeWitt Clinton) marched in the summer of 1758 to the capture of Fort Frontenac from the French. One of the first Liberty Poles erected in the country was at German Flatts. Sheriff White of Tryon county brot a large body of militia from Johnson and cut it down. In 1772, Gov. Tryon was here on an inspection of the troops.
German Flatts was formed as a district of Tryon county on March 24, 1772. In some of the older histories, and on some of the older church records, the place is called "Burnettsfield", because one of the English governors of that name owned most of the land originally. When the settlement was made at German Flatts the place was in Albany county, then in 1772 in Tryon county, then in 1784 taken from Montgomery county and made a part of Herkimer county. The village now has a population of a little more than a hundred, and is easily reached from Herkimer, from which it is distant about two miles, east.
The first known minister at German Flatts was the Rev. Johannes Schuyler, who was pastor at Stone Arabia and Schoharie. Among the names of the first subscribers to the building fund of the church we find the name of this minister. He had married in 1743 Annatje Veeder of Schenectady and was forty years in the Schoharie church (cf Stone Arabia). Mr. Schuyler supplied German Flatts until the coming of Rev. George Michael Weiss who was the first permanent pastor in the field. Rev. Weiss came to this field in 1736 from Coxsackie and remained here ten years. This is the first mention we have ever noticed of either of these two men in connection with this church. In a letter sent to the Classis of Amsterdam (Holland), April 24, 1738, Rev. Weiss signs himself, "Reformed pastor at Burnetsfield (German Flatts) in the county of Albany." Another letter of Weiss bears date of December 16, 1744 (cf Stone Arabia also in re to Weiss). The name of "Burnettsfield" was a temporary designation, resulting from the original ownership of the land, Governor William Burnett.
Between Weiss' pastorate and the coming of Rev. Abraham Rosencrantz in 1752 was the brother of the latter (given name unknown). Abraham Rosencrantz refers to his predecessor as being his brother, while Rev. John A. Wernig who supplied Stone Arabia (1751-1753), attributes his coming to America to the influence of this brother, and further states that this brother had just died (1752), and that Abraham Rosencrantz had taken up his work, which also included a sort of itinerant missionary work among the German families scattered along the Mohawk between Schoharie and Utica, Excepting a two year pastorate in the German Reformed church of New York (1758-1759) Rosencrantz was at German Flatts (including his itinerant preaching at Canajoharie, Stone Arabia, etc.) from 1752 to the time of his death in 1796, a period of forty-four years. Rosencrantz was a graduate of a German University and during his time here was justly regarded as the foremost and most learned divine west of Schenectady. The Stone Arabia records show that he served that church at least twelve years, and we are inclined to think many more. From 1760 to 1766 he preached at Middleburgh and Schoharie. From 1765 to 1796 his permanent residence was at German Flatts. His wife was Anna M. Herkimer, a sister of the General, to whose influence it is said that he owed his life, since he was suspected of having Tory feelings. Rev. Rosencrantz had four sons and some daughters. The names of his sons were Henricus J., Georgius, and John Jost Hergheimer, and Nicholas. Nicholas' son Henry had a son, Nicholas, whose daughter, Mrs. Josephine Rosencrantz is living (1915) at Ogdensburg, N. Y., aged eighty. During the last year or two of the Rosencrantz pastorate, and until the coming of Rev. Pick, the pulpit was supplied by the Rev. Fisch of Rome, of Oneida.. Rev. D. C. A. Pick was the pastor of German Flatts for four years (1798-1801). Before he became pastor, Pick visited the church and ordained the consistory (1796) for which he received four pounds and sixteen shilling, plus six shilling for recording the same. Rev. Caleb Alexander, who visited the valley in 1801 (November), refers to the stone chapel and its Dutch clergyman, who preached every other Sunday (cf Stone Arabia for Pick). At this time Philip Peter Cowder was the schoolmaster and also chorister at the church. From 1798 thro 1803 the name of the church is omitted from the General Synod Minutes.
In the year 1802 the Rev. John P. Spinner assumed the pastorate of German Flatts and continued thro forty-six years. Excepting for the brief stay of Pick this church had had but two pastors in a century. Spinner was born at Werbach, Germany, January 18, 1768, and at twenty-one became a priest in the Roman Catholic church, which office he held for eleven years. He left the Papal church in 1800 and in the following year came to America. Thro the influence of John Jacob Astor he came to German Flatts where for nearly a half century he proved to be the most commanding figure in the community. During Spinner's earlier years the membership of the church was around four hundred (in 1813 he reported three hundred and sixteen), his congregation numbered a thousand, but with changed conditions at Herkimer and other contiguous places the audiences fell off until in the early forties he reports but a few over a hundred. Spinner filled three large books with statistics, aside from the consistorial records, fulsomely kept. In 1815 Spinner offered himself to the Domestic Board for Canadian missionary work, but was not accepted owing to his inability to preach English fluently. The church was almost always in debt to him, and the minutes show constant friction ensuing. In 1836 the church owed him $1,324.10,-- so exactingly calculating were the financiers of those days, and this indebtedness was minutely detailed showing a pitiable unconcern for the minister's comfort which spirit, is prevalent today in too many churches. The dominie offered to donate half of the debt if they would but pay the rest. They gladly accepted his offer and paid him the rest out of the sale of lands that were deeded to the church for the sole support of the ministry. Toward the end of his ministry, so oppressed was he, that he took up outside work, as, for instance he taught German in the Utica High school for a year and a half. He was the father of F. E. Spinner who was the treasurer of the United States under Lincoln, a statue of whom is in the Herkimer Park. Spinner died at Herkimer in 1848 (cf Herkimer in re Spinner). In addition to Fort Herkimer and Herkimer, Spinner often looked after work at Indian Castle, Columbia, Warren, Manheim, Schuyler, Deerfield, Manlius, etc..
For some years after Spinner's death the pulpit was supplied by Rev. Jedediah L. Stark of the Mohawk church (cf), who became the pastor in 1862 and died in 1863. He had already regularly supplied the church thro the years 1848-1853, after which it was vacant for nearly four years. He was the last resident pastor over German Flatts. An old subscription shows that Stark gave his salary for one year (1861) to the repairs of the church, which thing was later done by both Revs. Brandow and Kinney. The income of the church glebe lands could not be diverted from the pulpit but the financiers at German Flatts were keen on administering the ministers' salary.
The men who have been in the pulpits of Mohawk, Herkimer, Canajoharie and Columbia have thro most of the years since Stark's pastorate kept the church going. Among these men have been Rev. Jeremiah Petrie of Herkimer (cf) 1864-1865, the Rev. John J. Quick (1867-1868), who had been at Currytown (cf) and Mapletown; Rev. Gansevoort D. W. Consul of Mohawk and, later, of Herkimer (CF); Rev. Wm. N. Todd, who became a Presbyterian in 1892. Dr. Todd is now at McAlistersville, Pa.; William H. Hoffman, a student of New Brunswick for the summer of 1874, who is now in the Deckerville (Mich.) Presbyterian church; and William Johns who supplied during 1873-1875 and who died 1885. After this and for five years, only summer services were attempted. During the summers of 1880 thro 1885, the Rev. Daniel Lord supplied the pulpit, driving over from the Henderson church. Dr. Lord was at Henderson and Jordanville for nearly thirty years of his life (1851-1856; 1860-1864; 1878-1899). He died September 10, 1899. He was a grandson, third removed of Rev. Dr. Benj. Lord, who was for sixty-seven years pastor of the Norwich (Cong.), Ct. church. He pursued a course of medicine in order to increase his usefulness among the people of his parishes. Rev. John H. Brandow of Mohawk supplied thro 1886 and 1887, and Rev. Ira Van Allen (cf Mohawk) from 1892 to 1896, and Mr. J. Abrew Smith, a layman, from 1896 thro 1899. Rev. E. J. Meeker supplied from June, 1900 to 1903, and Rev. J. Dyke of Herkimer (cf) for a year or more from June, 1905. Rev. C. W. Kinney of Mohawk (cf) from 1909 to 1911.
In 1912, following work done by the Classical Missionary, Rev. W. N. P. Dailey, the church property came into the possession of the Classis of Montgomery, since which time it has been supplied by the Missionary and also by Rev. 0. E. Beckes of the Mohawk Church. The Rev. J. H. Brinckerhoff and the Missionary also undertook to restore the rights of the church in the glebe rentals and have been successful in the main. For more than a century the church has depended altogether for the pulpit support on the income of the glebe rents, that is, the perpetual liens on lands sold many years ago. At first this revenue could not have been far from $500, but thro mismanagement the profits now will not reach more than $150. The membership records of the church are extant from 1763 (excepting the years 1865-1885). There are some financial books and papers, etc., all of which are in the keeping of the Herkimer church. The oldest ministerial signature extant follows:
1761 the first of April have received from reverend consistory for half year's salary, 31 pounds.
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