Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume I, Page 321

Erection of the Johnstown Court House.--.-The law organizing Tryon county, authorized the raising in its territory of £1,000 for the erection of a jail and court house, to which an appropriation of £600 was added the next year. Sir William superintended the construction of those buildings. He employed a man named Bennet, who (said William Tolmson Van Voast), came from England expressly to build them. About the same time Zepbaniah Bachellor, a joiner and good architect, came to Johnstown from Boston. He worked on the public buildings, and Sir William was heard to say that he liked his work better than be did that of Bennett. The jail was located a long distance from the court house. To an inquiry why this was so, Jacob Shell) replied, so as to build a large village.

In the summer of 1772, while the court house was being erected, Gov. Tryon and his wife visited Sir William Johnson at Johnson hall, enjoying not only the novel scenery of the vicinity, but also that along the Kennyetto and Sacondaga, upon which streams his summer cottages were located. While His Excellency was there, the Baronet called together the Mohawk sachems in a congress at Johnson hall, that he might hear some Indian grievances, and learn somewhat of his own duty toward them, as also to exhibit to the Governor some idea of the confidence the Indians reposed in himself as their sole agent.

The Honorables Oliver de Dancey and Henry White, government officers from New York, and the Governor's private secretary, were also at this Indian treaty held late in July. On his return to the city, Gov. Tryon wrote to the Earl of Hillsborough, as follows:

*"NEW YORK, 31 August, 1772.
"My Lord-I returned last week to this city after an absence -of five weeks on an excursion to the westward frontiers of this province. I passed some days at Sir William Johnson's, where I met near a hundred of the Mohocks, and more than forty of the Oneida Indians. A copy of the congress held with the Mohock Indians, I have the honor herewith to transmit to your Lordship, and have ordered copies of the Indian deeds, that were executed on the occasion, to be prepared in order to forward them to your Lordship. [These deeds were for some lands the Indians claimed had been surreptitiously taken from them.] My best endeavors shall be employed to satisfy the 3Iohocks in their request to me to do them justice, which I hope to obtain through the aid of the Legislature, as I consider their request truly equitable.

"It was with real satisfaction I viewed the credit and confidence Sir William was held in by the Indian tribes. Nothing less than manifest injury, in my opinion, will drive the Mohocks from their steady attachment to His Majesty's interest. They appear to be actuated, as a community, by principles of rectitude that would do honor to the most civilized nations. Indeed, they are in a civilized state, and many of them good farmers.

"It is impossible any man can have more uniform zeal and attention than Sir William has in his department, so much so that it would be no great impropriety to style him the Slave of the savages.

"In my journey up the Mohocks I reviewed three Regiments; the first in Johnstown, the second at Burnestfield, and the third in German Flats, near Fort Herkimer, amounting in the whole to upwards of 1,400 effective men; an industrious people, and not less seemingly pleased with the presence of their Governor than he was with them. + I heartily wish the eastern parts of the province were as peaceably settled. The land on the Mohock river is extremely fertile and under the highest cultivation, producing as good wheat and peas as any in the old countries.

* Brod. Papers, vol. 8, 303.
+Here seems to be an error, since Burnetsfield and German Flats were synonymous terms. Instead of Burnetsfield he must have viewed a regiment either In the Palatine or Canajoharie district.

The towns of Albany and Schenectada are both flourishing, and will continue to do so, in proportion as the back settlements are extended.
" I am, with all possible respect, my Lord,
" Your Lord's most obedient servant,

Judiciary Appointment for Tryon County.-May 26, 1772 Gov. Tryon and the Council of Appointments of the colony, appointed as judges of the common pleas bench, and justices of the peace for Tryon county: Judges, Guy Johnson, John Butler, Peter Conyne and Hendrick Frey, Esquires, jointly or severally; and Sir John Johnson, Knight, Daniel Claus, John Wells, Jelles Fonda and John Lyne, Esquires, justices of the peace for the said county, to be assistant justices of our said Inferior Court of Common Pleas; authorizing any three of the first named to hear, try and determine by a jury of 12 lawful freeholders of the county, all suits, quarrels, controversies, etc. In addition to those named they also appointed as additional justices for the county, Michael Byrne, John Collins, Peter Martin, Joseph Chew, Adam Loucks, John Frey, Frederick Young, Peter Ten Broeck, Rudolph Shoemaker and Frederick Bellinger, Esquires.

With the appointment of associate justices above named, are the names of the council of appointment, viz: Cadwallader Colden, Daniel Horsmander, Sir William Johnson, Baronet, John Watts, Oliver De Lancey, Charles Ward Apthorpe, Roger Morris, William Smith, Henry Cruger, Hugh Wallace, Henry White, William Axtell and John Tabor Kemp; by whom with the justices, the truth may be the better known of all manner of felonies, trespasses, forestallings, regratings, ingrossings and extortions whatsoever; and all and other offenses and misdemeanors of which justices of the peace may lawfully enquire."

The new court house was completed, and the first court held in it was a "Court of Quarter Sessions," convened September 8, 1772. Its bench consisted of:
" Guy Johnson, Judge.
" John Butler, Peter Conyne, Judges.
" Sir John Johnson, Knight, Daniel Claus, John Wells, Jelles Fonda, Assistant Judges.
" John Collins, Joseph Chew, Adam Loucks, John Frey, Fr. Young, Peter Ten Broeck, Justices.

County Expenses.-Here are a few items of expense during the first three years after the county was organized:

" The county of Tryon, public and necessary charges;
1773, April 12. Cash paid George Stewart for a wolf. . . .. . . . £1 0 0
1773, July 16, Cash paid for burning a negro by Col Claus.. 3 4 0
1774, June 15. Cash paid Col. Hendrick Frey for 75 days attendance as a member of the house of Assembly, at 12 shillings. . . ... . . . .. . . .. . . .. . 45 0 0
1774, June 15. Cash paid Col. Guy Johnson for 75 days attendance as Member of the House of Assembly, at 12 shillings. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 0 0
1774, June 15. Cash paid the widow of Peter Quack [enboss] for maintaining, lodging, etc., of two men from March 1773, to March 1774 [supposed paupers]...... 24 0 0
1774, June 15. Paid expenses attending the execution of a Negro wench as per vouchers* . . . . . . .4 2 0
1774, June 15. Paid Maj. Jelles Fonda for three certificates of four wo1ves heads.....................4 0 0
1774, June 15. Paid Fred'k Ousterhout for one certificate of eight wolves heads, under one ypar of age. .6 0 0
1774, June 15, Paid Rudolph Shoemaker for four do. at 20
shillings or £ 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4 0 0
1774, June 15. Goal and court house of the county of Tryon, to cash paid Sir William Johnson, Baronet. 786 14 6 1/2

Of which the Canajoharie district raised. . . . . 199 16 0
Palatine district. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .234 5 7
German Flats.. . .. . . .. . . .. . . .. . . . . .. . . . . .. 62 14 6
Kingsland. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 11 0
Mohawk district. . . .. . . . . .. . . .. . . .. . . .. . . 225 14 2

£794 1 3 Over debt 7 6 8 1/2

1775, Goal and court house account.
March 17. To cash paid Major Fonda. . . . .. . . .. . . .. . . .. .. . . . £150 0 0
March 17 To cash paid Andrew Wemple. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .226 0 4
March 23 To cash paid Moses Ibbit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 9 4
March 31. To cash paid Sir John Johnson, Bt... . . .. . . .. . . . .. 405 2 6+
£784 12 2+

* Tradition says that she was also burned, but for what crime is unknown.

Cash raised by Palatine district. . . £205 12
Kingsland.. . . . .. .. . . .. . . . ... . .. . 68 8 9
Canajoharie... . .. . . .. .. .. . .. . .. ... 197 8 0.
German Flats. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .75 1 0
Mohawk district . . . . . . . . . . . .. 230 15 9
Balance of account of 1774.. . .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. 7 6 8 1/2

£784 12 2t

Here is the amount of State tax levied on the districts of old Tryon county for two seasons:

July 2, 1787.
Harpersfield district...£35 0 0
Kingsland district ......77 10 0
Palatine district..........355 0 0
Canajoharie district...317 10 0
Mohawk district........355 10 0
Caughnawaga district.317 10 0
Old England district ...25 0 0
£1600 10 0
$4,001 25
September 2, 1788.
Harpersfield district...£12 0 0
Kingsland district .....36 0 0
Palatine district ........170 0 0
Canajoharie district....166 0 0
Mohawk district..........166 0 0
Caughnawaga district..162 0 0
Old England district.....7 0 0
£800 0 0


Aaron Burr, Thomas Addis Emmett and other Eminent Lawyers there.-Gov. Tompkins prorogued the Legislature of New York in the spring of 1812, on account of the rumored presence in the Legislative halls of "bribery and corruption." At the Circuit Court of Oyer and Terminer, held at Johnstown -then the county seat for Montgomery county-in the same year, Chief-Justice KENT presiding, Solomon Southwick was there arraigned, at the instigation of Alexander Sheldon, late Speaker of the Assembly. Sheldon, who resided in the town of Charleston, charged Southwick, before the grand jury, with an attempt, when at his own house, to bribe him to vote in favor of incorporating the Bank of America, in the city of New York.

It was at the time quite currently reported, though, with how

* For the particulars of this celebrated law- suit, I am indebted to the memory of the Hon. Peter J. Wagner, who, then a lad of 16, accompanied Dr. Joshua Webster to. Johnstown expressly to attend this trial, expecting, too, to witness the mortification. if not the discomfiture, of Aaron Burr.

much truth, we cannot say, that T. A. Emmet, the celebrated Irish barrister, was appointed Attorney-General of the State by Gov. Tompkins, for the special purpose of attending to this trial in behalf of the people. Southwick was defended by Daniel Cady, Ebenezer Foote, Abram Van Vechten and Aaron Burr, Esquires.

As great efforts had been made in the Legislature to charter the bank in question, unusual excitement was created on that account throughout the State. The importance of the approaching suit came to be much talked of for months; and, as it was known that some of the most distinguished counsel in the land-men who had established a reputation for legal acumen--were to be engaged on the occasion, considering the facilities at that time for travel, a large concourse of people were drawn together: Johnstown was literally filled with interested spectators.

But another circumstance tended especially to gather a crowd at the court house, and that was a secret rumor all over the county, having its paternity, it is believed, among the federal members of the bar, that Aaron Burr would be hissed on entering the room, if, in fact, he was not more foully dealt with. Long before the time arrived for opening the court, the house was densely packed, every seat being occupied with the aisles literally crammed, while several hundred people held possession of the court yard.

Perhaps we should make a little digression here for the benefit of the young reader. At the period under consideration, the country was rife with prejudice against Aaron Burr. Eight years before he had killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel; and as the latter was the great champion of federalism, all his political admirers at once denounced Burr, without ever stopping to learn that Hamilton was the aggressor, or caring to know that they had for some twenty years been political rivals; and that in all of Burr's aspirations, "Hamilton had secretly intrigued to oppose his advancement."* This prejudice was not a little intensified by a secret movement, which caused Burr's arrest and trial for treasonable conspiracy against the government in 1807. It is now the general belief that this was a filibuster movement, to establish himself and friends permanently in

* See Parton's Life of Burr, p. 339.

Mexico, but, whatever his motive, the enterprise was a failure; and Boon after his trial at Richmond-almost friendless and penniless-he went to Europe in 1808, where he remained until 1812, returning when our country was on the verge of another war with England. He again opened a law office in New York, and was soon doing a fine business as a legal counsellor. Thus the reader will gain some idea why there was so large a gathering at Johnstown, when it became known that Burr was to be there, so soon after his return from Europe.

Another motive for the crowd we possibly should name in this connection: Aaron Burr had been no stranger to fortune, and few names in the land had a better record among the unprejudiced than his, up to nearly the time of Hamilton's death. He had been a good officer during the Revolution, Legislator, Senator, Vice-President-and had he reported to such measures as politicians do not scruple to at this day, he probably might have been President. People like when they can, to see those who have been their public servants. True, he was now comparatively poor and almost friendless, yet great allowance would have been made for that, had it been known, that instead of his practicing economy for his own comfort, he was ever ready, if a Revolutionary soldier in need crossed his track, to thrust his hand to the bottom of his pocket for the last dollar.

Let us return to the court room. The court had entered, the jury were in their seats and preparation was making to open the cause, when a rustling was heard at the outer door. This old colonial court house has undergone some important changes within a few years, and now the entrance is directly into the court room from the front door, but originally from the little hall running across the front, the passage was on either side next to the walls, along which the aisles were arranged.

Every eye was turned to the eastern entrance, or the corner toward the clerk's office, a small stone edifice which bas now disappeared. A surging in the hall, soon disclosed the magnet that had drawn the crowd there, as the masses swayed back to make room for the passage of a small, neatly clad and well formed man of courtly mien, wearing a cue with hair powdered, and bearing upon his shoulders a remarkably large head,* that

* Burr used to say in allusion to the largeness of his head: "Whatever happens, my hat at least is safe: for no one else can wear it. "-Parton's Life.

had then seen 60 summers. Directly behind him followed a black servant, carrying an armful of books. Politics had for twenty-five years greatly warped the passions of the American people, which yet ebbed and flowed with no little venom, and on this occasion, it is believed, there were men in the court room still harboring rancorous prejudices, who had gone many miles almost expressly to be present and manifest their indignity and malice toward Burr. The moments while he was passing through the crowd were intensely exciting.

As hat in hand he stepped into the bar which was a little elevated, he made such a graceful bow and courteous salutation to Judge Kent, and the lawyers on either side of him, that he completely disarmed the whole of them, and with them every individual in the room. The pent up hisses of the multitude remained pent up still, and he took his seat quietly with his associates, without the slightest demonstration of indignity. This proves what good breeding and good manners may accomplish for their possessor. It seems surprising, however, even at this period, to look back and mark such an effect of polished manners and self possession; when we realize the fact, that the house was not only full of federal lawyers, for some even from other counties were there, but the whole atmosphere thereabouts was thus impregnated; for Johnstown was then and ever has been politically, a strong federal town.

Southwick's counsel were seated at the bar in the following order : Van Vechten, Foote, Cady, Burr. The case was one of great interest, and in defense of their client, the first three addressed the court and jury, and the latter discussed and elucidated rising law questions, from the authorities he had brought with him. We wish it were possible to present even a synopsis of the arguments of this case pro and con, but at that early day there were few reporters, and stenography was in its infancy. Our friend, however, still remembers a few sentences uttered in the discussion. Said Foote, while addressing the jury: "Judge Sheldon never dreamt of bribery and corruption, until he heard them rattling in the ballot-boxes of Charlestown."*

Emmet, as was expected, made a telling speech for the prosecution,

*This township was organized In 1788, and for several years was so spelled, but after a while the letter" w" was dropped. and the name has since been written Charleston.

which he introduced with a brogue characteristic of his parentage as follows: "May't please the Coort, and Gintlemen of the Jury. I arise with great diffidence to address the jury on this interesting trial: especially when I find meself surrounded by a powerful array of counset Nivertheless, I will indiver to prostrate ivery obstacle which they have presented to you, with the club of Herecules." While Emmet was speaking, he stood behind his chair, and several times in his zeal and excitement, in making a careless gesture, he struck his hand down upon the thin top of the old chair, breaking the skin upon his knuckles; but without stopping or caring for the injury, except to draw his fingers through his mouth occasionally to suck the blood from them, he continued his argument to its close; with such a flow of eloquent oratory, as is seldom ever listened to, in any court room.

Foote was peculiarly happy in examining witnesses, a fact which Southwick chanced to know, hence a reason why he was employed. On the cross-examination of Sheldon by Foote, he was so worsted by contradictions and the appearance of falsehood, that the perspiration rolled profusely from his brow. The jury acquitted Soutwick, and the people who demonstrated their approbation of the verdict, believed that Sheldon had played false: and such was its political effect, that he never again became a candidate for office, the trial having "taken his spurs off." Thus ended, all things considered, the most exciting and interesting trial that ever came off in the Johnstown court house.

The Johnstown Court House, and its Centennial Celebration. -After the waning of a century the Centennial erection of this edifice-the only colonial one now remaining in the State-was celebrated with commemorable zeal by an immense gathering of people, on Wednesday, June 26, 1872. The occasion was marred by a copious fall of rain, which delayed the exercises until after dinner; but at half past two, the deluge having subsided, Col. Simeon Sammons, as Marshal of of the day, formed a procession, which, with the music of the Johnstown and Gloversville bands, brought up in the court house yard, where the very appropriate ceremonies took place. An admirable report of all the proceedings by the Utica Herald Reporter, was served in that paper the next day; in which also appeared the able address of Hon. Horatio Seymour, the distinguished orator of the day. Ever happy in his theme on such occasions, he was exceedingly so at this time.

As this address is one calculated to aid the student in a knowledge of the event which followed the erection of this edifice shortly after; I could wish, were it practicable, to give it to the reader, but must be content to give a faint outline of its truthful research. Taking his hearers back an hundred years to the time and surroundings of the erection of this edifice, with a glance at the various groups then assembled and the varied interests they represented; instead of presenting the thrilling scenes which so soon followed the death of Sir William Johnson, who stood in the foreground in the picture of the building's erection; he chose to go back another hundred years and show the character of the varied population which settled the frontiers of New York, and which, to a great extent, decided the problem of a century, whether the American Continent should be French or English. Said he: "From this great and bewildering mass of facts, I select for my topic, the influence which this region and its people have exerted over the destinies of our country." After alluding to the probable destiny of our land from impending circumstances, he observes: "The enquiry leads us to that chapter in the history of the country, that had much to do in shaping the destiny and coloring the civilization of this continent. The principal scene of its events was that region which fell under the jurisdiction of this ancient court house."

The zealous Jesuit missionaries were one of the principal agencies relied upon by the French to win over the Iroquois to their interest, while they were extending their claims to territory along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; the English claiming the same territory through diplomacy with the Six Nations, whose title to the same country was by conquest. Said Mr. Seymour, "That part of our State, watered by the Hudson and the Mohawk, was, in the main, the theatre of the varied and romantic events of the war and diplomacy. * * * The county of Tryon, of which this court house was to be the judicial and political centre, has been the great battle. field of French and savage war."

After alluding to the influence that went out for good from the little hamlet of Johnstown-not only to the homes of the Indians, but to the British crown-and showing the character of pioneer life, the humane doctrine taught by the Low Dutch against religious persecution, he added: "New York became the place of refuge to those from all parts of the world who fled from persecution. The Waldenses from Italy, the Huguenots from France, the Walloons from Flanders, the New Englanders flying from persecution at home, the Germans from the Palatinate, the Swedes and Hollanders, all lived around the harbor of New York under Dutch influence, in peaceful accord and the full enjoyment of their faith and rights. As I have said on another occasion, nine names, prominent in the early history of New York, represent the same number of nationalities. Schuyler was of Holland, Herkimer of German, Jay of French, Livingston of Scotch, Clinton of Irish, Morris of Welsh, and Hoffman of Swedish descent. Hamilton was born in one of the English West India Islands, and Baron Steuben, who became a citizen of New York, and is buried in our State, was a Prussian. When I read the call for this celebration, and the names of those who took part in its ceremonies, I find those of at least eight nationalities, although they were selected without regard to that fact, and with sole reference to their personal standing as representative men of this section of the State." At this point, said Mr. Seymour, in substance, "The position I have assumed with regard to the different nationalities in the original population of Tryon county, has been proven to me to be correct, since I came to Johnstown, by Mr. S." The writer had exhibited to him on the morning of that day, a record of the first Courts of Sessions held in the edifice; and the names of grand jurors and others, appearing in the records, showed the names of the different nationalities alluded to. As printed copies of the speech were furnished reporters to prevent misrepresentation in advance of its delivery, this little deviation, with several others, did not appear in the printed reports, the reporters having an easy time during its delivery.

"It was this intercourse among men of different lineages, which gave to your fathers broader and more liberal views than were held elsewhere. Each nationality brought to the common intelligence a wealth of history and traditions that taught toleration, and the best maxims of government. While this country owes much to all European races, and to all religious creeds, we should never cease to be grateful that the Hudson and Mohawk were first colonized by the Hollanders, and thus these great portals to the interior of our country were thrown open to all lineages and all forms of religious faith and political opinion. It is the glory of our land that almost every European language is spoken at its firesides, and used on each Sabbath in prayer and praise to the God of all languages and climes. Men of the valley of the Mohawk, you have grown rich on the land which your fathers made free at the cost of blood and trials. Your villages and farm-houses show your wealth. Do you bear in mind what you owe to your fathers? Do you show to the world that you honor them? Do you put up monuments to tell the great crowd which passes through your valley that the hills which rise from the banks of your river, and the streams which pour their waters into it, should be looked upon with reverence by every American? "

After a proper allusion to the destruction of the Caughnawaga church, and the course of Albany (with its noble history) in changing the names of its streets, etc., he adds: "No wealth can give the joy that we feel when we fill our minds with a sense of the fact that we live and breathe and act on the spots around the scenes where great men have moved and acted. For [this we go to other countries. "We visit Europe, Egypt, the Holy Land; and we do well in all this. But why not feel the same kind of joy at home, if it can be gained by a knowledge of what has happened upon our own soil?" He closed with the following noble sentence:

"I trust that this celebration will be followed by others in New York, held with a view to the erection of monuments, or to bringing out the local histories which shall keep fresh in the mind of our people those events in the past which have shaped its destinies. We owe it to ourselves, and to those who come after us, to keep the record clear. We owe it to our country to kindle the patriotism of our people, by giving proof of the reverence in which we hold the memories of aU who have made sacrifices for its welfare. The duty of honoring our fathers is not only enjoined as one of a religious character, or as a bond which strengthens family ties, but is also one which upholds and strengthens States."

John Wells, Esq., presided at the stand, gave the programme of exercises, and introduced the speaker; the exercises, besides the oration, being a prayer by Rev. C. H. Baldwin, the singing of two. original odes by the village Glee Club led by James Heagle, Esq., the closing exercises consisting of the singing of "Old Hundred," with a doxology, and a benediction by Rev. Peter Feltes. At the close of the formula mentioned, the Knights Templar, of Gloversville and Utica, under the direction of Rev. James B. Murray, of Rondout, N. Y., Worthy Grand Master of the State, performed the interesting ceremony of laying a corner-stone (one of centennial date having been sought for in vain), an iron chest being then deposited. Mr. Murray had been a former Episcopal clergyman at Johnstown, and gave quite an interesting unreported address at the close of the ceremony. In the corner-stone ceremony, Mr. Murray was assisted by Right Worthy Deputy Grand Master J. M. Dudley, Junior Grand Warden George Yost, and the order. A grand display of fire-works took place in the evening. From 6,000 to 8,000 people must have been gathered in Johnstown, on the occasion of these ceremonies.

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