History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of the First Settlement
County of Schoharie
by the Germans.
Being an Asnwer to a Circular Letter, Addressed to the Author, by "The Historical and Philosophical Society of the State of New York"
by John M. Brown. Printed for the Author by L. Cuthbert 1823
(The spelling is as it appears in the book.)
Respected Dear Friend,
Sir:-Very unexpectedly I received your circular letter, pointedly directed to me. I took on myself to answer the compliment, but with pain and reluctance I take up my pen to answer your request-not because I have been an idle observer or spectator of the revolutions of time and events; neither of that I have forgotten what I knew, heard or seen, or has in any wise come to my view or comprehension-but on account of not being a scholar, and that I never had an opportunity of reading a geography in my life, so that perhaps I take not the right meaning of the request, and so make answer to no purpose, as also that my nature, through the poverty of my parents, is not cultivated to any promising degree.
I was born at the Blue Mountain, Ulster County, in the year of our Lord 1745, November 5th, Old Style; lost my mother at 18 months old, then brought up by my grandfather, Matthew Junek, at West Camp, so called, because the first Germans that came over, sent by Queen Anne to America. In the year 1712, encamped and wintered in ground huts the winter ensuing. My grandfather used to teach a German school three or four months every winter, until the year 1752, then quit, when I was seven years old. He was the first that taught school among all the Germans in America. He was very perfect good reader and singer in the German Low Dutch and English, but a very poor writer and knew no arithmetic at all. Hence I date all my education I ever had.
My father remarried this year at Schoharie, to a widow who owned a small property of 10 acres of land, and about 110 pounds in money; sat up his trade of a wheelwright. He was the first that followed that business in all Schoharie, and also made the first cider press in the whole town, being now in the year 1753. Schools were then principally taught in the German and Low Dutch.
In the year 1757, then in the French war my father fetched me up to Schoharie and put me to his trade; with whom I continually lived, and followed his profession until I was 24 years old. Schools now began alternately to be introduced in English.
Schoharie then was a part of the county of Albany, situated 36 miles to the west, without even a privilege of a supervisor, until at or about the year 1765. The supervisor bad to be chosen in Albany, and to be a resident of the corporation until this time.
Schoharie then contained (note in the year 1752, but 104 houses, making up about 125 families. The greatest number Germans of those aforesaid, and about one-third Low Dutch from Schenectady and Normanskill; altogether by a guess, about 875 souls) which same ground now occupies 4,638 electors, and 19,323 people. Amazing increase! At that time the Indians consisted in about a quarter of the whole population. They were then outlaws; naturally inclined to revenge and murder against the white people and among themselves. A squaw shot and killed one, a stepfather of Johannes Acker, on a Sunday, when returning out from meeting. They continued in that practice until the commencement of the Revolutionary war. In my time I saw one William, a son of Jan, stab and kill another at the house of David Becker in Wiserdorp. After this, another stabbed and killed a negro man, a drummer to Capt. VanArnein's company, at the Helleberg, at the house of Isaac Cole, on a training day. And the very same Indian shortly after, stabbed and killed an Indian in Cobleskill, in the house of George Ferster, on the place where Lambert Lawyer now lives. This was done at the time I lived where I now do.
Schoharie, so called by an Indian name, from a. creek by the Indians called Skochalie, which runs from east to west and falls into the Schoharie river, at a place formerly called Wisersdorp (now the town of Middleburgh) then down north, till it falls into the Mohawk at Fort Hunter, now called Caghnawaga.
Schoharie was first inhabited by a French Indian prisoner, married to a Mohawk squaw. His name was Karlgondonte, whose father-in-law sent him there, and gave him land, for fear that the Mohawk Indians would kill him when they got drunk, and gave him land, as the Mohawk bore a great enmity to the French.
Other Indians, Mohawk, Mohegan, Discarora, Delaware and Oneidas, flocked to him, so that he increased to a nation to about 300 strong, and established chiefs among them; who then pretend to be owners of all that vast territory of land, and granted conveyances thereof.
Queen Anne having intended to settle America, sent her agent to purchase land from the natives; for which purposes she sent messengers to Germany to invite people to come over and settle, and promised that they should have the land they possessed, free. In consequence where of, many came over, and a purchase was made, beginning near little Schoharie creek, at high water mark of the big Schoharie river, and at an oak stump, burned out hollow by the Indians to serve for stamping their corn; where a stone heap was erected, which stands to this day. The Indian seal of a Turtle and a Snake was cut on the stump (here I must digress a little, and mention that the said stump or stamp block served the Germans for their first grist-mill) from thence down to the north, including all the low land on both sides of the creek, for the space of about eight miles, containing 20,000 acres.
These Indians claimed the right of a different nation, as they had now become a mixture of several nations, claimed all the adjoining wild land about Schoharie-began to sell from tract to tract, until nearly at, or about the year 1763 or 64, when they got to be interrupted by the Mohawk nation, who insisted and proved by the hear-say of their forefathers, that they had no right to any more land; as was given Karighondonte's wife, which was to be measured by the planting of so much corn, as a Squaw could hold in her petticoat; by our measure reckoned about a skipple.
After, this time the Mohawk nation claimed all the land till unto the Susquehannah river, and down the river as far as a creek called the Scenevers creek, so called from the name of an Indian who used to lay and hunt there, and for the very remarkable and unnatural circumstance that happened, namely; he and his father lay on a hunt there, and a deep, snow fell; they concluded to return to Schoharie-began their march, and traveled one day-they kindled their fire and slept-next morning started again; the old man tired after traveling awhile, turned back again, his son missing his father, returned also. Finding his father at the place they had slept, had kindled the fire, setting and warming himself-took his hatchet, and knocked him on the head, which caused his death after which he buried him as he said, under the snow. On this Scenevers creek is now the town of Wooster, belonging to the county of Otsego.
The Mohawk Indians after establishing their claims, began to make several large sales thereof to Sir William Johnson and others, until all was sold, their castles, settlements; and improvements only excepted.
These Indians were of a loyal disposition, and assisted Great Britain by all possible means, to conquer Canada in the last French war, and continued so. In the year 1775 they made it full appear that they were loyal; they proved a. displeasure to our Revolutionary war-called it a rebellion and disobedience to their King and Father.
At this time an Indian treaty was called of all the Six Nations, to be held at the German Flats; the very place where the court house of the county of Herkimer now stands. Gen. Phillip Schuyler was the commissioner for the convention of America, delegated with full powers to settle an amicable treaty with the Six Nations, wherein it was agreed and particularly stipulated, that the Indians should keep at peace and not meddle with the controversy. After being three weeks well fed, and receiving many great presents, they retired home. Almost at their arrival they found the King's agents sowing tares amongst them namely, Tory seed. They broke the treaty, and joined the British, excepting only a few; the Oneida tribe remained true to the treaty, and some of them joined the American forces.
At this treatment a very remarkable instance took place, namely the yellow fever broke out among the Indians, a sickness they never saw, nor were acquainted with before, and which destroyed a great many. The Karighondonte tribe, or Schoharie Indians, with whom I was best acquainted, were hereby almost exterminated. The few that remained, being naturally very superstitious, supposed that the Great Spirit was mad with them for not joining their King, so joined the Tories and went to Canada, from whence they often returned, together with other Indians made incursions on our frontiers killed, murdered, scalped, burnt and took prisoners even their former neighbors with whom they were well acquainted, so that there were but few houses left within 40 miles of Albany.
Since I have now so far digressed, I think it not at all amiss, here to relate some remarkable occurrences, namely: that the first Indian that was killed in our Revolutionary war, was.by Lieut. Jacob Borst of Cobleskill. The Indian's name was Oness Yaap, a mixed off spring of the Karighondonte tribe. Here I will relate the particular circumstance in detail:
On the first day of June or July, in the year 1776, my brother, Captain Christian Brown, sent his Lieut. Jacob Borst, and brother Joseph Borst, on a scout down to the Scenevers creek aforementioned, to the Susquehannah river. And as they there discovered nothing, returned back as far as the upper branch of the Cobleskill creek, where they were first alarmed by something like the yell of an owl, yet somewhat different; but immediately saw two Indians jumping up the bank of the creek and making towards them. Lieut. Borst immediately took a tree, his brother being about 15 paces behind. The two Indians directly spread, so that no tree would shelter him; if it did from the one it would expose him to the other. He resolved to stand free and wait for them to come up; consequently they came, one against him, the other against his brother, making great exclamations against them for being in the woods, and so shoot Indians who did them no harm. Joseph Borst replied that they meant not to shoot Indians that would not shoot them. By this time Hansyerry, a son of Seth (one of the Karighoridonte Chiefs) came up to him, seized the muzzle of his gun, gave it a twitch, and knocked open the pan, saying these words: "Yo yenery its hatste," signifying, it's good if this begone. Borst, with ready presence of mind, and good resolution, dropped his own gun, and clinched the Indian's piece-took hold and twisted the flint out of the cock, and then replied in Mohawk: "Yo yenery it sagat," that is to say, it is good that this is just so. On this, the Indian clinched Borst with a lion-like fury. Borst not in the least daunted, but with good resolution also took a rash.hold, gave a hearty Indian whoop, which took away half of the Indian's strength, and soon brought him down on his knees. At this time a shot fell behind his back; the Indian almost naked; striving to extricate himself from Borst's hands, now slipped loose, run off, leaving his gun in the lodge. Lieut. Borst by this time had finished the best part of his business with the other Indian; ran up to his brother and picked up his gun; shut the pan and aimed at the Indian now in full run, and snapped; so Hansyerry escaped at this time. But in a year and a half after, was killed with his own axe, together with others, and a brother of his named Hanelie, severely wounded, by one Mr. Sawyer and Mr. Cowley, whom they had taken prisoners at Harpersfield, and were about to carry them prisoners to Niagara who, on the 11th night arose against their masters, killed three and wounded a fourth, who run off; so they made their escape, and returned back in 16 days.
Lieut. Borst now stood in every way exposed. Oness Yaap, aforesaid, came up and demanded him to surrender prisoner; he made one step back; and with this cocked his firelock, and replied, "Yaghte;" which is to say, no, then drew his trigger shot him through the body and broke his backbone; so left him lay and made off. On this very spot, on the next day, the first battle was fought in our Revolutionary war against the Indians by Capt. Brown with 22 of his militia, and a Continental Lieutenant, whose name, I am sorry I was never acquainted with, together with 30 Continentals. The first had five killed and three wounded; the latter had nine killed, five wounded and two missing, among the first being their valuable officer. This happened one day before the massacre of Wyoming. The Indians, by their own account 450 strong, killed and destroyed all the cattle and horses they could not easily take along burned every building in their reach-remained one day and two nights in the adjoining woods, to dress their wounded and pack up their provisions and plunder, and so went off.
Now, I must return to the very history of Schoharie. Queen Anne had caused her proclamation to,be carried through all Germany, inviting people to come over to settle the New World, promising there to give the lands gratis, and that they should all be free, or have and enjoy freedom. O! liberty was sweet--that they like Abraham of old, left their fathers, friends and relations. And in the year 1710, on New Year's Day, started for the unknown land; went down the river Rhine, where they were provided with shipping to Holland, from thence to England, and there provided, so went on to America. They had a very tedious voyage; a great many died, and the remainder landed at New York in the year 1712, on the 14th day of June, after having been one year, five months and several days on their journey.
New York then went by the name of Monades, so called by the Hollanders. They were then sent up Hudson's river to East and West Camp, so called because the first Germans encamped and wintered there in ground and log huts. From thence broke up in the next Spring, and went up to Albany, then called Fort Orange. The city, or rather village, was called the Foyck, but by the Indians was called Schogneghtady, the most of the whole being Indian traders, and altogether of the Low Dutch. From thence, being provided by order of Queen Anne, with provisions and tools on their backs, started and travelled by an Indian foot path four days before they reached Schoharie.
Here it will be well to relate, that on the third day there was a meeting, and their whole camp fell a fighting on a hill called Fegtberg until this day; where now is a village in the town of Bern, called Puckerstreet. On the fourth day they were in sight of Schoharie, concluded now to have a general wash-found-- a brook and water--then fell to work, and as they were a washing, the lice were a swimming down the brook; whence that brook is called Licekill until this very day.
Now being safe arrived in the first week, after three children were born, namely Johannes Earhart, Wilhelmus Bouck and Elizabeth Lawyer. They found the land good, and much of the flats clear. The Indians, who were all the people they found, having shifted, they went to work and planted corn, which they got of the natives; and in working the ground with their broad hoes they found a potato-like root which they called earth acorns; also another they called earth beans, which they cooked or roasted, and so served them for food.
In the fall of 1713 Lambert Sternbergh carried a spint of wheat along the Indian foot path from Schenectady to Schoharie; there sowed or rather planted it, over more than an acre of ground, which grew well and the next year he reaped and threshed it, and measured 83 skipple out of it. This was the first wheat ever raised in Schoharie, and by about 40 years after, it was reckoned that one year in another, they carried 36,000 skipple to Albany.
Now the new inhabitants soon began to think themselves well off. By their industry, and great fertility of the soil, they soon got plenty to eat -wore more moggisins - buckskin breeches -and- jackets of leather, which they plentifully obtained of the Indians. Nine of them owned the first horse, which was a gray. But now a new and very great difficulty was felt; they had no gristmills, no teams, no horses, no roads fit for passage, but Indian footpaths. They stamped and also peeled their corn by help of lye, and then cooked it to eat. Their wheat they carried to Schenectady to grind, a space of 19 miles, every man about a skipple to his load. Sometimes there would go 20 in a drove, often men and women together. This they had to do for three or four years until a grist mill was built by one William Fox.
By now, the people began to think themselves very well off, having plenty to eat, began to have stock-used horses-made their own block sleighs for use at home, and wooden shod sleighs to go to Albany; but knew of no British collars (which were an invention of Schenectady) made a trip to Albany-back in five days. Their wagons for Summer use, "Were made of blocks sawed off of a thick water beach tree, which we now call button wood. All was very well now; they had no law to fear, and full as little gospel to trouble them. But as they dwelt in a world of trouble, their peace was of no long direction, for a new one and a mighty great one was born. Ignorance may be said was the mother: she brought forth twin upon twin, so that she damped all hopes of their ever doing well in Schoharie any more. Some pulled up stakes, of which the German flats were settled. Others went down to the Susquehannah, and down to Pennsylvania, by which the Mill Creek in Torpehahen has been peopled.
The great evil they saw was -this: Here I cannot pass by without exposing the mighty stupidity and black ignorance of my German brethren, in order to do justice to the truth. Queen Anne supposed that her Germans by this time, might be handsomely settled, sent her agent by the name of Nicholas Bayard, a man who had lost one eye, with full power to give a deed to every man of whatsoever land he did possess, provided he made known his boundaries. Mr. Bayard was the grandfather of Stephen M. Bayard, now living in Albany or Schenectady, with whom I have conversed; and he did yet remember of this transaction.
Mr. Bayard came to Schoharie, put up at the house of Hansyerry Smidt, from whence he issued his order that every householder should bring in the boundaries of his possession, and receive his deed. But the poor ignorant souls, struck like with thunder, supposed it to be a trick to get themselves and children under that hateful yoke of tyrannic Land holders, to be -again enslaved forever, and had now for some years tasted perfect liberty, resolved to kill the agent and die free.
On the next morning they arose all like one man-surrounded the house of Smidt, some weaponed with guns, some with pitchforks, women with hoes, and others with clubs; demanding Mr. Bayard alive or dead. On refusal, fired 60 balls through the roof of the house, which was all the ammunition they had. Mr. Bayard was well armed with pistols, sometimes fired back, but did no execution. Night came on, and they left the house. Mr. Bayard left the house, and in dark of the night. traveled 20 miles to Schenectady. From thence he again sent a message that if any man should appear, and acknowledge him to be the King's agent, with the gift of one ear of corn, he so doing should have a free deed of all his possessions. Mr. Bayard waited for some time, but no one did, appear.
Mr. Bayard, no doubt, felt crusty, as he could do nothing with those fools; went to Albany and sold the whole to seven partners. I will name such as I remember, to wit: Rut VanDam, Lewis Morris, Myndert Schuyler, Peter Vanburg, Livingston, and three others, who afterwards went by the name of the Seven Partners of Schoharie.
Schoharie soon found out that there was a new hand at the bellows. They were soon called upon to take leases and to pay rent, or to purchase. They refused all. The seven partners seeing they could gain nothing, thought about trying the law; sent their Sheriff, by the name of Adams, to apprehend the most principal men and ringleaders of the whole, to bring them to terms of justice. But when the Sheriff began to meddle with the first man, a mob of women rose, of which Magdalene Zee was captain. He was knocked down and dragged through every mud pool In the street; then hung on a rail and carried four miles, thrown down on a bridge, where the captain took a stake out of the fence and struck him in the side, that she broke two of his ribs and lost one eye; then she pissed in his face, let him lie and went off.
Poor Adams, bruised and wounded as he was, had no other way left, but to help himself as well as he was able; made himself up and made for Albany. On the third day arrived at the Venebergh, and from thence he was fetched with a wagon to Albany. Thus ended this affray. I have myself seen this very Adams and have the relation from his own mouth, together with the confirmation of several of the old Schoharie people.
After this circumstance, the Schoharie people got very shy to go to Albany-made the practice to send their wives for salt, or not to enter Albany on Sundays, and then out again. This the seven partners well observed, held themselves quiet, till after a while got them tame, so that they supposed all was now again at rest, when at a time, a pretty good drove happened to come down after salt. The seven partners had their Sheriff and posse ready, took every one of them and clapped them to jail. The most notorious were put in the dungeon, among whom was young Conrad Wiser.
This news like lightning went all through Schoharie, and alarmed them to the highest degree; and in their rage resolved to delegate old Mr. Conradt Wiser to England, to obtain redress for their grievances, and to have amends made for their frequent and several abuses, also praying the King for future safe protection. Young Conradt Wiser soon got tired of his dungeon, resolved to agree to take a lease and pay rent; so did all the rest that were in jail. But before they were permitted to leave their confinement, they were compelled to witness, swear, and sign the whole of their conduct and transaction in the cause of Adams and Bayard. This done, they were permitted to depart home in peace, be wailing their misery as they went, whilst the seven partners carefully, and with all convenient speed made the whole business known to King and Parliament.
Old Conradt Wiser now arrived at England with his petition, and went to lay it before the King and Parliament, in order to solicit the desired redress. But oh! how was he there mortified, when he found the King and Parliament fully informed, from Bayard's mission down to the cruel and unlawful dealing with the King's officer, the High Sheriff, Mr. Adams. The consequence was, that the Germans of Schoharie were looked upon as a pack of monstrous outlaws, denying the King's legal authority and ought to be treated as such; and old Mr. Wiser was clapped into the Tower, where he had to remain one whole year before he got out with permission to return to America again.
But for being murderously disappointed and fully beat at last, got so embittered against the seven partners that many, together with Wiser, concluded to leave Schoharie, in order to get rid of their troublesome company at once forever.
Conradt Wiser after his return, soon persuaded a great many to leave Schoharie and seek an asylum under the great Wm. Penn. They marched from Schoharie, a southwest direction, for Susquehanna, with all Indian guide, together with their cattle and families, where they arrived in, five days journey, at a place called Cook-house. There they made canoes, so navigated their families down by water; their cattle followed by land all along the shore until they arrived in Pennsylvania, at a place caned Tolpelrahen. There they all settled on a large brook called in the German Muehlback; in the English, Millbrook, where some of their descendants dwell unto this day. Here I must remark a curious instance namely, 12 of their horses ran away, and in 18 months after 10 of them arrived in good health and strength in Schoharie, a distance no less than 300 miles.
By this time the people had learnt to buy their land of the seven partners peace full; but began to get a little wiser; next made Indian purchases and took Indian deeds for large tracts, then went to the Governor and Council to obtain their letters patent. The Governor and Council who understood themselves, very well too, were not apt to grant any patents before they had secured a good slice to themselves, or some of their friends.
At or about the year 1759, Sir William Johnson became the King's Jack or agent, with fun powers, not to permit an Indian purchase to be legal, unless it was made in his presence and with his approbation, who would always take care not to befool himself, commonly made himself sure of the first cut; and if you could not make him your friend, the Indian would sell you no land at all.
From this time, wild land laid out in lots, would sell from 4 to 20 shillings an acre, according to quality or convenience of roads or nearness of settlement. Until the year 1786, it got up to five dollars an acre, and by 1817 it will command on an average from ten dollars up to twenty five. This must be understood of the upland only; whereas the floats or lowlands of Queen Anne, first mentioned, will sell on an average from one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars.
Now I must take notice of the great Schoharie creek, which springs out of a swamp south of Schoharie, back in the Blue Mountains, and runs most northerly, until it empties in the Mohawk river at Fort Hunter, about 80 or 90 miles from the place where it first begins. It contains the most and best flats and intervals in this state, perhaps the great Genesee river might be excepted. Here are flats unbroken, of fourteen hundred acres of low land. It is generally speaking, a grain country, more so than a grass country.
I shall now take notice of some of the waters feeding the Schoharie creek, in order to mention of waters, mines, and minerals; as also of the prospects I have heard of, together with the products I have seen.
And first, I shall begin in the south, with Red creek, running from east to west, through a place called Batavia, I suppose now a town of some name or others, in the county of Greene, on which, it was supposed about sixty; years ago, that there was a gold mine in a rock, consequently a small insignificent company of old country men undertook to dig; and as they were a blasting, they came on run of water dribbling from the rock and dried by the sun; appeared to be the best Spanish green. Now a division came between them; some were for following the water, and others for blasting deeper. The consequence was that the party for following the water broke off. The other party kept the work until they got through the rock, where they found nothing but low land soil; there it ended, and last French war began. This relation I have personally of one of the workmen.
Now I shall take notice of Plattekill, just below what was called Diees Manner, now in the town of Bristol, where there is an inexhaustible quarry of stone for grindstone, and hundreds are made there now, and equal to any imported.
Thirdly; I shall mention Minekill and Mine patent so called because the Indians would sometimes bring silver ore from there. However, they would never discover the very spot where they got it, as also because copper ore was there found; for that reason a Patent of 5,000 acres was taken to cover this ground. Samples of this copper ore may be seen at the court house, with Judge Bouck at this day.
On the west side of the Schoharie creek, nearly opposite the courthouse at the beginning of the Revolutionary war a mine was open by one Mr. Stout a chemister, of Hessian Castle, under the superintendence of the Provincial Congress, in order to make brimstone; who made 1.700 weight in a winter. He also made what they call English salt, out of a kind of black slate, which he found there in abundance. Some say that he made a great many of our old sort of coppers; but for this I have no proof.
From hence proceeds a rocky and ledgy country, for several miles backwards and ends in and about the town of Warren, in Herkimer County; all in a distance from twelve to twenty miles, south of the Mohawk river. The stones are chiefly lime, fire stone and a kind of slivery black slate.
In the town of Carlisle, ten miles west from Schoharie creek, wherein I now reside, and have lived these forty-five years, are brimstone waters. The spring may be smelt for miles distant. The great brimstone spring in the town of Sharon, and brimstone hill in Cherry Valley, are remarkable for this. In this town are also found samples of plaster of Paris, and there are also discovered signs of sae coal. It is also said that some of our bear swamps contain as good marl and turf as any in Ireland.
Schoharie creek cannot afford any profitable water navigation, but affords many good places for water machinery, and is very scant of fish.
I have now gone through as far as I understood the circular letter, and shall now dismiss the subject, well knowing it merits no great praise. If any be bettered, and if any be benefitted by my information, it shall suffice. Finally, I have my reward, and let it go for what it will fetch.
POSTSCRlPT.-With this request, that if ever any should come to print, that some better hand should put in a better dress, as to grammar and phraseology. As to the facts herin contained, they are plain in my memory and knowledge. Once more finally, I have taken no time to make corrections.
I am with much esteem, Dear Sir, your most obedient humble
(Signed) JOHN M. BROWN.
To Mr. DeWitt Clinton,
Carlisle, County of Schoharie, March 10, 1816.
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