Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

From Forts & Firesides of the Mohawk Country
by John J. Vrooman, 1951
Published by Baronet Litho Co., Inc., Johnstown, NY



THE old Dutch town of Caughnawaga stood on the flats toward the eastern end of the present Fonda, and was first settled by Douw Fonda whose house was erected just east of the highway bridge on the north bank of the river.

The site is now marked by the State and is a part of the grounds of the Montgomery County Fair Association. When this tract was graded for the race course, some very interesting relics were found, among them the graves of persons buried in the old cemetery. Several well curbs were also found and parts of the foundations of various homes, including that of Douw Fonda.

The original Fonda in the Colony was Jelles Douwse, a Hollander, who came here in 1642. His occupation seems to have been that of a whaler. He is mentioned at Beverwyck as early as 1654. He married a Hester (family name uncertain), and died about 1662. His son, Douw Jelles (1640-1700), owne land near Lansingburg (Troy). He married Rebecca Conyn in 1666. They had a son named Jelles Adam, born in 1670, and it was he who went to Schenectady, the first of this name in the Mohawk Valley. He was a gunsmith by trade and continued this work in Schenectady from 1700 to 1720. His wife wasRebecca Winne whom he married in 1694. He died on September 8th, 1737, having had eleven children, eight of whom survived him.

Douw, the son of Jelles Adam, was born August 22nd, 1700. He moved to Caughnawaga in 17 5 1, where he conducted a flourishing trading business. He was buried in the Dutch Church Cemetery on the flat close by his home. His wife was Maritje Vrooman, a daughter of Adam Vrooman of Schenectady. Her tombstone and that of her husband (the inscriptions they bear being in Dutch) have both been removed to the new cemetery overlooking the Valley from the hill-top just behind the old townsite. Here also are the stones of the son Jelles and his wife.Jannetje Vrooman.

Jelles (Gillis or Giles) born in 1727 was one of three sons of Douw of Caughnawaga. He was an extensive landholder and a trader as his father had been, dealing largely with the Indians as well as contracting for the supplies for the forts along this part of the Mohawk and westward as far as Niagara. Many of his papers were in the possession of his great grandson, Major Giles H. F. Van Horne. His ledger is an interesting old book and unfortunately shows accounts due him in excess of $ 10,000. The following is an entry charged to Sir William Johnson, but beyond doubt this one was paid:

"To burying Sacorias (Zachariah) a Mohawk Indian, 1 large bfanket, 1 large shirt, 17 lbs. pork, 2 galings rum, 17 lbs. flower. The sachem spoke to me and said he was very poor and that it was useful at the funeral of a grown person to have provisions."

This early trade was carried on from the large stone store which stood near the residence. He was a Major of militia and served under Sir William Johnson against the French and Indians in the Battle of Lake George. Later, probably because of his being physically incapacitated by an injured leg, he became associated with the home guards.

Jelles built a home and an "ashery" six miles west of Caughnawaga on the north side of the river along Canagara Creek. This site is now the location of the Montgomery County Home and its historical significance is explained by suitable markets. It was part of a great tract of 6,000 acres of land given by the Mohawks about 1/16 to Captain Harmanus Van Slyke, whose grandmother was half French, half Mohawk. The deed of gift was confirmed to Captain Harmanus by King Charles I in 1723. The land runs along the Mohawk for six miles. The eastern half Van Slyke sold to Colonel DePeyster, treasurer of the Province of New York, who owned it at his death. The trustees of his estate sold it to Jelles Fonda in 1768. It included what is known as "The Nose," a conspicuous landmark near this spot. Major Fonda, soon after acquiring the property, began the erection of his mills and "ashery," wood ashes being the source of potash.

This complete set of buildings was destroyed in the first raid of Sir John Johnson, along with nearly every other building on the north side of the river from "The Nose," just east of Canajoharie down to Tribes Hill. Fortunately Major Jelles was not at home at the time. His wife and their son Douw were warned of the coming of the raiders and escaped across the river. The house was completely demolished and, it is said, while burning, a music box began to play. The Indians ascribed its music to "spirits."

Following the war, in 1791, the Major built the present house on Montgomery Terrace in Fonda, overlooking the Valley from its sightly location, but unfortunately he never lived to occupy it. His slaves brought his body down the river from the home in which he was then living, doubtless a more or less temporary one on the site of the house destroyed by Sir John in 1780, and he was buried from the all but completed building. Following the funeral, the family occupied the new home.

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