History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume II, Page 327
The Visscher Family.-Among the early settlers in the Mohawk valley, was Harman Visscher, who died before the Revolution, leaving an aged widow, three sons, Frederick, a Colonel* of militia, John, a Captain, and Harman; and two sisters, Margaret, and Rebecca. Frederick, the elder brother, who was born on the 22d of February, 1741 ; was married and resided a little distance below the paternal dwelling, which stood nearly on the site of the present residence of Mr. Alfred
* Some of the family write this name Visscher, and others Fisher. The original Dutch name was Visger. Harman Vischer's son Frederick, the Colonel, wrote his name Fisher until just befoie his death, at which time he desired his children to spel the name us in the context. Fisher isthe English of Visscher, and I have in this work written it Visscher. John, a brother of the Colonel wrote his name Fisher, and so do his descendants.
De Graft. The other Visscher brothers were unmarried, and, with their mother and sisters, lived at the homestead. The Visscher family was one of much influence, and warmly advocated the popular cause. The following anecdote will show the position of the elder brother, at an early period of the contest. Soon after the difficulties commenced at Boston, a meeting of the citizens along the Mohawk valley was called at Tribes' Hill, on which occasion Col. John Butler was present, and harrangued the multitude on the duties of subjects to their sovereign, etc., and then proposed a test for his hearers, some 300 in number. Having formed a line, he desired those who were willing to oppose the king, to remain standing, and those who favored royal pretensions to advance a few paces forward. The result was, Frederick Visscher stood alone, as the only avowed opposer of the British government.--Daniel, his son. A few days before the invasion of Johnson, a bateau from Sehenectada was seen opposite Col. Visscher's, taking in his most valuable effects ; and his neighbors, living along the south side of the river, among whom was "Nicholas Quackenboss, crossed over to learn the cause of his removal. On his arrival, the neighbor enquired of Col. Visscher if an enemy was expected, that he was thus preparing to move his family and effects? The Colonel replied that he knew of no hostile movement unknown to his neighbors. After a little conversation of the kind, and when about to recross the river, said Quackenboss, clenching his fist in-a threatening manner and addressing him playfully in Low Dutch, "Ah, Colonel ! if you know something of the enemy and don't let us know it, I hope you'll be the first one scalped ! " Having sent his family to Sehenectada, Col. Visscher went to the homestead, thinking himself and brothers would be the better able to defend themselves, if attacked by an enemy.
On Sunday evening, about eight o'clock, Captain Walter Vrooman, of Guilderland, arrived at the Visscher homestead with a company of 80 men, on his way to the Johnstown fort. He had intended to quarter his men over night at Visscher's, for their own comfort and the safety of the family ; but the Colonel, observing that himself and brothers could probably defend the house if attacked, forwarded the troops to Johnstown, knowing that that place was feebly garrisoned. What a, pity those troops had not remained !
After the murder of Gault and Plateau, the enemy proceeded up the river to the dwelling of Capt. Henry Hansen, which stood where John Visscher resided in 1845.* On reaching the dwelling of Hansen, who was an American Captain, the enemy forced an entrance, and, taking him from his bed, they murdered and scalped him. His sons, Victor- and John I., then at home, were captured. Margaret, a daughter, was hurried out of the house by an Indian, who told her it was on fire. She asked him to aid her in carrying out the bed on which she had been sleeping, and he did so. Depositing it in an old Indian hut near by, and learning that her mother was still in the burning building, finding access through the door too dangerous, she broke a window in her room and called to her. As may be supposed, the old lady was greatly terrified and bewildered at first; but recovering, she groped her way to the window, and was helped out by her daughter, who assisted her to the hut-from whence, after day-light, she was conveyed to a place of safety. The enemy made no female scalps or captives at this time, and offered indignities tu but few of the sex. In the garret of Hansen's dwelling was a keg of powder, which exploded with terrific effect.
Proceeding west along the river, the enemy next halted at the dwelling of Barney Hansen, which stood where Benj. R. Jenkins once lived. Hansen, who chanced to be from home, had a son about 10 years of age, who was going to school at Fort Hunter. On Saturday evening preceding the invasion, Peter, a son of Cornelius Potman, of Ca-daugh-ri ta, +about the same age as young Hansen, went home with the latter, crossing the river in a boat, to tarry with him over Sunday. The lads slept in a bunk, which, on retiring to rest on Sunday night, was
* Henry Hansen was a son of Nicholas Hansen, who, with his brother Hendrick, took a patent lor two thousand acres of land along the north side of the Mohawk, above Tribes' Hill. The patent was executed by Gov. Hunter, and dated July 12, 1713. The brothers settled on those lands aoon after, and Henry Hansen was the first white child born on the north side of the Mohawk west of Fort Hunter, and east of the German settlements, many miles above.
+ Ca-daugh-ri-ta, is an Indian word, and signifies" The Steep Bank-back or perpendicular wall." ln the southeast part of Glen is a high bank on the Schoharie, a mile or two from its mouth, occasioned by an extensive slide, long, long ago, the Indian name for which originated at the time. In 1845, I terminated this word with the letter y, but am satisfied it should end with an a, and have so written It.
drawn before the outside door ; and the first intimation the family had of the enemy's proximity, owas their heavy blows upon the door with an axe, just before day-light, sending the splinters upon the boys' bed, causing them to burry their heads beneath tlie bedding. An entrance was quickly forced, and the house plundered. The two boys were led out by two Indians, and claimed as prisoners, but owing to the earnest entreaties of Mrs. Hansen that they might be left, a British oofficer interfered, saying that they were too young to endure the journey ; they were then liberated. This house was built and owned by Joseph Clement, a tory, who was supposed to have been present; consequently, it was not burned.
From the house of Barney Hansen, the enemy proceeded to that of Col. Visscher, where Adam Zielie once resided, and where, too, they were disappointed in not finding any of the family ; plundering and setting it on fire, they hastened onward to the Visscher homestead, where they arrived just at day-light. Among the plunder mode at Hansen's, was the clothing of young Putman, and as the Indians threw away such articles as they considered useless, he followed them at a distance, recovering and putting on his apparel as fast as rejected. He obtained the last of it near the dwelling of Col. Visscher-entering which, he discovered it to be on fire. Looking for pails he found several which the enemy had broken, but a further search discovered a tub of sour milk ; this he drew near the fire, and throwing it on the flames with his hands, extinguished them-not, however, until a large hole had been burned entirely through the floor. This house was consumed in October following.
About 20 of the enemy first arrived at the old Visscher place, and attempted to force an entrance by cutting in the door, but being fired upon from a window by the intrepid inmates, they retreated round a corner of the house, where they were less exposed. The main body of the enemy, nearly 300 in number, arrived soon after and joined in the attack. The brothers defended the house for some length of time after the enemy gained entrance below, and a melee followed in the stairway, on their attempting to ascend. Several balls were fired up through the floor-the lower room not being plasterd over head, which the brothers avoided by standing over the large timbers which supported it. At this period the sisters escaped from the cellar-kitchen and fled to the woods not far distant. They were met in their flight by a party of savages, who snatched from the head of one, a bonnet ; and from the bosom of the other a neckerchief-but were allowed to escape unhurt. Mrs. Visscher, about to follow her daughters from the house, was stricken down at the door by a blow on the head from the but of a musket, and left without being scalped.
The brothers returned the fire of their assailants for a while with spirit, but getting out of ammunition their castle was no longer tenable ; and Harman, jumping from a back chamber window, attempted to escape by flight. In the act of leaping a garden fence, near the house, he was shot, and there killed and scalped. As the enemy ascended the stairs, Col. Visscher discharged a pistol he held in his hand, and calling for quarters, threw it behind him in token of submission. An Indian running up, struck him a blow on the head with a tomahawk, which brought him to the floor. He fell upon his face, and the Indian took two crown scalps from his head, which, no doubt, entitled him to a double reward, then giving him a gash in the back of the neck, he turned him and attempted to cut his throat, which was only prevented by his cravat, the knife penetrating just through the skin. His brother, Capt. John Visscher, as the enemy ascended the stairs, retreated to one corner of the room, in which was a quantity of peas, that he might there repel his assailants. An Indian seeing him armed with a sword, hurled a tomahawk at his head, which brought him down. He was then killed outright, scalped as he lay upon the grain, and there left. The house was plundered, and set on fire (as stated by William Bowen, who returned after the war), with a chemical match, conveyed upon the roof by an arrow.
Leaving the progress of the destructives for a time, let us follow the fortunes of Col. Visscher. After the enemy had left, his consciousness returned, and as soon as strength would allow, he ascertained that his brother John was dead. From a window he discovered that the house was on fire, which, no doubt, quickened his exertions. Descending, he found his mother near the door, faint from the blow upon her head, and too weak to render him any assistance. With no little effort the Colonel succeeded in removing the body of his brother out of the house, and then assisted his mother, who was seated in a chair,* the bottom of which had already caught fire, to a place of safety ; and having carried out a bed, he laid down upon it, at a little distance from the house, quite exhausted. Tom, a black slave, belonging to Adam Zielie, was the first neighbor to arrive at Visscher's. lie enquired of the Colonel what he should do for him? Visscher could not speak, but signified by signs his desire for water. Tom ran down to the Da-de-nos ca-ra, +a brook running through a ravine a little distance east of the house, and filling his old hat, the only substitute for a vessel at hand, he soon returned with it; a drink of which restored the wounded patriot to conciousness and speech. His neighbor, Joseph Clement", arrived at Visscher's while the Colonel lay upon the bed, and on being asked by Tom Zielie what they should do for him, unblushingly replied in Low Dutch, "Laat de vervlukten rabble starven ! " Let the cursed rebel die !
This Clement returned after the war, as did many ingrates, not repentant, but to justify their acts of murder and plunder. At tlie raising of a barn on the Conyne place, below Caughnawaga, a few years after the return of peace, Clement was there and got into a quarrel with several patriots, by whom he was " roughly handled," and possibly might not have survived the fracas, again to have boasted of his deeds of infamy, but for the timely interference of Benjamin Smith.
Tom, who possessed a feeling heart, was not to be suaded from his Samaritan kindness, by the icy coldness of his tory neighbor, and instantly set about relieving the suffering man's condition. Uriah-Bowen arrived about the time Tom returned witli tlie water, and assisted in removing the dead and wounded farther from the burning building. Col. Visscher directed Tom to harness a span of black colts, then in a pasture near (which, as the morning was very foggy, had escaped the notice of the enemy), before a wagon, and take him to the river at David Putman's. The colts were soon harnessed, when the bodies of the murdered brothers, and those of Col. Visscher and his mother, were put into the wagon (the two latter upon a bed),
* This chair ia preserved as a sacred relic by the De Draff family, at the Visscher house.
+ Da-ile-nos-ca.ra, means literally, " bearded trees, or trees with excrescences or tulls on tliem "-Oiles P. Yates, Esq. Lands adjoining this stream were originally ttnibtred with hemlock and black ash, which originated the significant name.
and it moved forward. The noise of the wagon was heard by the girls who came from their concealment to learn the fate of the family, and join the mournful group. When the wagon arrived near the bank of the river, several lories were present, who refused to assist to carry the Visschers down the bank to a canoe, whereupon Tom took the colts by their heads and led them down the bank ; and what was then considered remarkable, they went as steadily as old horses, although never before harnessed. Said -David Zielie, in 1849, " Tom carried Col. Visscher and his mother from the wagon, on his back, to a boat, in which the Colonel's sisters also found a place and were taken across the river to Ephraim Wemple's, where every attention was paid them. When a person is scalped, the skin falls upon the face so as to disfigure the countenance ; but on its being drawn up on the crown of the head, the face resumes its natural look ; such was the case with Col. Visscber, as stated by an eye witness.
Seeing the necessity of his having proper medical attention, the Colonel's friends on the south side of the river, sent him in the canoe to Schenectada, where he arrived just at dark the same day of his misfortune. There he received the medical attendance of Doctors Mead of that place, Stringer of Albany, and two Surgeons, belonging to the U. S, army. His case was for some time a critical one, and he did not recover as was anticipated ; but on turning him over, the reason why he did not was obvious. The wound inflicted by the scalping knife in the back of the neck, had escaped the observation of his attendants, and the flies getting into it, and depositing their larva, had rendered it an offensive sore, but on its being properly dressed, the patient recovered rapidly. On the return of Wemple and Tom with the boat, they found the colts still standing where they had been left three days before, not having been fed or watered. At the time Col. Visscher received his wounds, Nicholas Quackenboss previously mentioned, happened to be at Albany, purchasing fish and other necessaries, and on learning that his neighbor was at Schenectada, called, on his way home, to see him. On enquiring of Visscher how he did, the latter, placing his hand on his wounded head, replied in Dutch, " Well, Nicholas, you've had your wish !" The reader must not suppose, from what took place between Visscher and Quackenboss, at the two interviews named, that the former, at the time of removing his family, was in possession of any intelligence of the enemy unknown to his neighbors. It was then notorious in the valley that an invasion was to be apprehended.
David Zielie also assured the writer that he assisted in burying John and Harmon Visscher the day after they were killed. They were buried in two army chests, found on the bank of the river. Harmon liad fallen so near the house that he was badly burned ; indeed, one leg had been removed at the knee by dogs, but Tom found it, or a part of it, a week or two after, and buried it. In crowding the other foot into the box, the toes were so burned as to fall off.
Several attempts were made to capture Col. Visscher during the war, which proved abortive. After he recovered, he gave the faithful negro,* who had treated him so kindly when suffering under the wounds of the enemy, a valuable horse. Gov. George Clinton, as a partial reward for the sufferings and losses in the war, appointed Col. Visscher a Brigadier-General; but refusing to equip himself, his commission, which was dated February 6, 1787, was succeeded on the 7th of March following, by his appointment of first judge of the Montgomery county common pleas, which office he satisfactorily filled.
After the war was over, say about the year 1790, a parly of Indians, on their way to Albany, halted a day or two at Caughnawaga, among whom was the one who had tomahawked and scalped Col. Visscher, in 1780, leaving him for dead. This Indian could not credit the fact of his being still alive, as he said he had himself cut his throat; and was desirous of having occular demonstration of his existence, and possibly would have been gratified by Mrs. Visscher, but information having reached the ears of the Colonel that his tormentor was in the valley, a spirit of revenge fired his breast, and himself and John Stoner, then living with him, who, in the murder of his father had reason for not kindly greeting those sons of the forest; having prepared several loaded guns, the friends of the family very properly warned the Indian and his fellows, not pass the house within rifle shot distance ; but he ventured to the door, as is
* Tom afterwards lived In Schoharie County, where he was much respected for his industrious habits, and where, at a good old age he died. After his removal to Schoharie, he usually paid Col. Visscher a visit fcvery year, when he received substantial evidence of that patriol's gratitude.
herafter shown. Judge Visscher, a living monument of savage warfare, was an active and useful citizen of the Mohawk valley for many years, and died of a complaint in the head ; caused, as was supposed, by the loss of his scalp, on the 9th day of June, 1809. His widow, whose maiden name was Gazena De Graff, died in 1815.
I have before me a certificate, printed and written, which was executed at Albany, Dec. 28, 1786, by Generals Ab'm Ten Broeck and Peter Gansevoort, Jr., to whom he was well known, the former of whom was a General of Albany Co. militia early in the war, and the other the Colonel who 80 gallantly defended Port Stanwix in 1777, when invested by St. Ledger, and promoted to a Brig.-General in 1781. They certified that under a law passed April 22, 1786, Col. Frederick Visscher, then 45 years old, from having been disabled in the service of his country, by having been wounded and scalped by the Indians, was entitled to a pension of $25 per month ; which we suppose he obtained.
After the preceding account was published in 1845, I learned from John Fisher, a son of the Colonel, the following circumstance : On the morning the Indian put in an appearance at the Visscher mansion to see the object of his torture, Stoner had been sent by Mrs. Visscher from the house on an errand, to get him out of the way, and the Colonel was in the kitchen. His wife was boiling soap, and seeing the Indian approaching near the door, she purposely upset a kettle of lye on the floor between her husband and the door, to get him to lie down on a bed in a recess of the room which he did. Said John to his mother on the sly : " Is that so that daddy shant see the Indian ?" She boxed his ears tor asking the question, as he said, so as to warm the wax for the remembrance of a lifetime. In the next moment she stepped to the door and met the Indian, who asked to see her husband. She said : " Yon can't see him with safety;" and pointing significantly to the guns and bayonet fastened to a pole standing in sight, she added : " Those were prepared for you, and you had better leave at once." He did so, and John who had followed his mother out of the door and heard what she had said, saw the Indian pass up the valley of the creek near, accompanied by two boys who were rolling hoops. Thus beyond a doubt, by the forethought and action of Mrs. Visscher, a serious collision was turned aside.
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