Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Mohawk Valley
Its Legends and its History
by Max Reid
New York and London G. P. Putman's Sons
The Knickerbocker Press, 1901
with illustrations from photographs by J. Arthur Maney

Chapter X, In the Old Town of Amsterdam

In order to ascertain the names of the first purchasers of land in the city and town of Amsterdam I have found it necessary to go back to the township of Schenectady and its first patent. This patent granted sixteen miles (on both sides of the river above and below the present city) of the Great Flats or Mohawk Flats as the lowlands were then called. These flats, being cleared and free from timber and of very rich soil, were all ready for the plow and eagerly sought for by the settlers. At the time of the first settlement the land immediately surrounding the stockade was divided into house lots and bouwlands, which were apportioned to each of the fourteen settlers. Later the hindmost lands were taken up as farms, and about 1680 and subsequent to that date the great flats were disposed of to others who wished to locate near the settlement. Gradually the settlers crept up along the river until they reached the limit of the Schenectady patent. At this extreme limit on the north side we found the twenty acres granted Geraldus Cambefort or Comfort April 22, 1703. Only twenty acres of flat land was conveyed by this grant, but it was generally understood that the settler could take as much woodland in the rear as he cared to appropriate. Next came the lands of Philip Groot at Cranesville, formerly called Claas Gravenshoek, or, by the natives, Adriucha. This included all the flats and islands between Lewis Creek and Eva's-kill about one mile, and as far north as he should choose to take.

This patent was issued by Governor Dongan in 1687 to Hendrick Cuyler for flatlands and uplands at "Claas Grevenshoek." After Cuyler's death, Ann Cuyler, his widow, and John his eldest son, sold the same to Carel Hanson Toll for 180 pounds ($360 in those days).

Philip Groot bought this land in 1715 of Toll and was succeeded by his son Lewis. It remained in the Groot family until within a few years. It is now in possession of Francis Morris.

Lewis Groot, about 1798, in his testimony before the commission appointed to settle the dispute between the proprietors of the Schenectady and Kayaderosseras Patents, said that Comfort's patent extended west to the creek on which Groot's mill stood (Lewis Creek). Comfort was living as late as 1720.

Lord Cornbury, governor of the province, in 1703 granted Comfortor Cambefort, a patent for twenty acres of land and the "hindermost woodland," as the land back of flat was then called.

In 1707 Comfort conveyed this land to Carel Hanson Toll, who conveyed it to his son-in-law, Johannes Van Eps. It is said that at this time Toll owned all of the flats on the north side of the Mohawk west of Schenectady and east of Philip Groot's place, Adriucha.

On the south side of the river the same method was pursued until we came to the Willegen Vlachte (Willow Flats).

Pieter Danielse Van O'Linda's name is found on the petition for the Schenectady charter in 1663, and is one of the few who wrote his own name. Cornelius Antonisse Van Slyke, alias Broer Cornelius, is said to have married a Mohawk Indian woman, by whom he had several children,--three sons, Jacques, Marten, and Cornelius, and two daughters, Hilletie and Lea. He died in 1676. Jacques received grants from the Indians as his right from his mother, the Mohawk woman. Pieter Van Olinda, spoken of above, married Hillletie Cornelise Van Slyke, the Mohawk half-breed, through whom he received valuable grants of land, among which was half of the Willow Flats below Port Jackson, which was occupied by their descendants until within a few years. This land was east of and adjoining the old Phillips place at the two locks about opposite Cranesville. He died in 1715, leaving the Willows to Jacob Van Olinda, who married Eva, daughter of Claus DeGraaf.

Hilletie, though born and brought up among the Mohawks near Canajoharie, (Indian Castle) was soon separated from them and received the rudiments of a Christian education in Albany and Schenectady. She made an excellent use of her advantages, and is spoken of as an estimable woman. Her story is very interesting.

"She was born of a Christian father (Van Slyke) and an Indian mother of the Mohawk tribes. Her mother remained in the country and lived among the Mohawks, and she lived with her the same as Indians live together. Her mother would never listen to anything about Christians, as it was against her heart from an inward unfounded hate. As Hilletie sometimes went among the whites to trade, some of the Christians took a fancy to the girl, discovering more resemblance to the Christians than the Indians, and wished to take her and bring her up, but her mother would not let her go. The little daughter had no disposition to go at first, but she felt a great inclination and love in her heart to those who spoke to her about Christ and the Christian religion. Her mother observed it and grew to hate her and finally drove her from her forest home. She went to those who had solicited her to come so long. She had a particular desire to learn to read and finally made her profession and was baptized."

Philip Phillipse de Moer married Elizabeth, daughter of Harmon Ganzevoort, of Albany about 1685, and soon after took up his residence in the township of Schenectady. He owned or leased a portion of the sixth flat on the north side of the river next east of the Comfort Flat. In 1689 he exchanged with Claus Willemse Van Coppernoll for the west half of the Willegen Vlaghte, lying on the south side of the river about one mile above Philip Groot's farm, which lay on the north side. This was the other half of the Willow Flats occupied by Pieter Van Olinda.

It is said of Philip Phillipse that when the news of the massacre of Schenectady reached the settlers along the river, he fled with his family to the woods and lay concealed until the French and Indians, fearing retaliation from the aroused Dutchmen and their friends, the Mohawks, fled to Canada, with the settlers in hot pursuit.

With Phillips during this season of horrors was his baby boy, Lewis, who, when a man and engaged as a farmer and Indian trader, sold Catherine Weisenburg to Wm. Johnson. The true story as handed down in the traditions of the Phillips family is interesting, even though stripped of the usual embellishment of the stories of J. R. Simms.

It is said that about 1738, during one of Lewis Phillips's periodical visits to New York for the purpose of replenishing his supplies, he met among other emigrants who had lately arrived by the slow-sailing vessels of those early days, a young German girl, who importuned him to purchase her for service in the usual manner, by paying the captain of the vessel for her passage,which in this instance amounted to sixteen pounds. After considering the matter some time, he concluded to pay the sixteen pounds required and take the girl home with him.

This he did, and upon arrived she was duly installed as servant for this little family on the frontier. This servant girl was Catherine Weisenburg, who in a short time attracted the attention of William Johnson. It seems that Johnson was willing to pay the amount Phillips had paid for her, sixteen pounds, and Phillips was willing that he should, and "he got the gal."

Mr. John Hubbs, a respected farmer in the town of Florida, whose ancestors bought the farm he now occupies of William Johnson, being part of the Sir Peter Warren estate, tells the following story about Sir William and his propensity for practical joking. One day while yet he was living at Fort Johnson, an Irishman, presuming on the fact of being of the same nationality, allied to him for a job. The were standing under the trees in the yard at Fort Johnson, through which ran the Kayaderos Creek. "What kind of a job do you want?" asked Sir William. "What can you do?" "Anything, sur," said the Celt. Sir William looked at him a moment with a twinkle in his eye, and then said, pointing to the rippling stream at their feet, "Do you see that creek?" "Yes sur." "Well, I want you to follow that stream up through the forest until you come to an Indian fishing. If you find that he has caught any fish, bring them to me." "All right, sur," said the Irishman, and straightway started up the creek through the forest. After following the stream for some distance he came in sight of an Indian fishing in a little pool in the Hell Hollow ravine, with a good-sized string of fish by his side.

Obeying the order of Sir William the Irishman approached the Indian, picked up the fish, and started to return. As soon as the red man recovered from his surprise he spring to his feet and seized the string of speckled beauties also. Then came a war of words that neither could understand, which finally led to blows and rough and tumble fight, which resulted in the Irishman being badly beaten and the Indian marching home with the fish.

It is said that he concluded to look elsewhere for employment.

It would seem that Adam Vrooman, who made such a strong defence of his house at the burning of Schenectady, and is said to be an ancestor of the late Mrs. Isaac Morris, the mother of Abram Vrooman, John F. and Charles H. C. Morris, of this city, and Isaac Morris, of Johnstown, was granted land on both sides of the Mohawk River at this place, as follows:

"Whereas, Rode ye Maquaase (Mohawk), sachem for divers considerations, hath about three years agoe (1685) granted him (Adam Vrooman) two flats or plains upon both sides of ye Maquaase river above Hendrick Cuylers' land (Claas Graven hoek--Cranesville) containing eleven mogens wh: said land doth lie near ye stone house [Juchtanunda] so called by ye Indians, as ye go to the Maquaase country and forty acres of woodland adjoining them."

The grant is further described as: "being on both sides of the Mohawk river west of claas graven hoek (as Cranesville was then called) on the south side ten morgens (20 acres) opposite a place called by Indians Juchtanunda (?) that is ye stone house being a hollow rock on ye river bank where ye Indians generally lie under when they travill to and from their country. The other pieces on the north side of the river, on a little higher than ye said hollow rock or stone house at a place called by ye natives Syejodenawadde (?) and so eastward down the river so as to comprehend twelve morgens (24 acres). The other just above the marked tree of Hendrick Cuyler (the owner of Claas Graven hoek) one morgen and three or four little islands."

In trying to locate the grant of the Mohawk Indian Rode, to Adam Vrooman, I have taken the trouble to examine the banks of the Mohawk from Claas Graven hoek up to Fort Johnson, and the only place where cliffs or overhanging rocks are to be found is at a point by the N. Y. C. R. R. freight house, and from the Chuctanunda Creek up to the Atlas mill. Back of the old Bronson mansion and the site of W. U. Chase's blacksmith shop are to be found the only shelving rocks, and also large masses of rock that have fallen from the cliff above, indicating that at some previous period this point has been a "juchtanunda," a stone house or hollow or overhanging rock" where ye Indians generally lie under when they travill to and from their country."

Now, in regard to the flats spoken of in this grant, an examination of the south side of the river discloses the fact that the first flat west of Willow Flats is the ground no occupied by the fifth ward; the only islands not otherwise accounted for are the four or five small "Bronson Islands" and the twelve morgens (twenty-four acres) must have been the Bronson Flats in the western part of the city of Amsterdam, together with forty acres of woodland, and undoubtedly covered the site of the village of Amsterdam.

Winter on the Eva's-Kill Road, Cranesville

Interior of the Old Groot Mill, Cranesville

This leads to another thought.

We have been taught that the meaning of Chuctanunda was "twin sisters" and that is was applied to the north and south Chuctanunda because they entered the Mohawk nearly opposite each other. It is said to mean stone-in-the-water.

Assuming that the definition of Juchtanunda (stone houses, hollow rocks, or overhanging cliffs is correct (and from my authority I do not question it), it gives a different significance to the name Chuctanunda as applied to our creeks. That word is the name of the creek only secondarily, as, the creeks near the Juchtanunds, the Juchtanunda creeks; the resting-place or stone houses being paramount in the minds of the Indians and the creeks of secondary importance except as connected with their Juchtanunda, the only overhanging rocks on the Mohawk this side of Fort Hunter, until you reach the conglomerate cliffs near Hoffman's Ferry.

The discovery of the old Vrooman grant is valuable in two ways. It establishes a fact that has not been recorded in local history, which is, that land was taken up in what is now the city of Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, and brings to light an important rendezvous of the Indians that had not been suspected; that is, the Juchtanunda (Chuctanunda). It establishes the fact that our two creeks have never been named by the Indians other than to call the creeks near the Juchtanunda the creeks of the Juchtanunda, although the name applied by the white man, the Twin Sisters, is truly beautiful and appropriate.

About one hundred feet from the culvert you will come to a mass of rock that is familiar to every boy who has played on the river bank for the last half-century. It seems to have been originally a piece of rock perhaps twenty feet square, which, from its texture, must have been the upper course or ledge of the cliff on which formerly stood the Welcome U. Chase blacksmith shop and the first Masonic lodge in Amsterdam. This immense rock is broken in five pieces and remains where it fell years ago. About two hundred feet farther up the stream is the cliff on which stands the old Bronson mansion, the upper ledge of which projects so far that twenty men could lie under its shadow and be protected from the weather. This tone house is divided into two parts, the farthermost part being hid from sight by a projecting rock. Passing this rock you find a spacious open room, in the center of which, from under twenty feet of solid rock, runs a bubbling spring of water. Under these rocks, for ages, the storm-tossed savage found shelter from the tempest, or a temporary home on his fishing or warlike expeditions. Later it undoubtedly sheltered the white and red boatmen overtaken by night with their cargoes of merchandise or produce from the farms.

Abram Vrooman Morris, spoken of above, may well be called a self-made man, and his life is closely woven with the rise and progress of the city of Amsterdam. He never was a poor boy, in comparison to the waif described in one of John B. Gough's stories, who, when asked what kind of food he liked best, replied, "A raw turnip, or a potato with a heart in it, because it is more fillin' and stays in the stomach longer"; still, he had his own struggles, and learned early to take care of himself, and by his pluck and energy secured a competence in early manhood. He likes to tell of his life as a clerk for William Reid, who kept a general store formerly situated on the land at the southeast corner of Main and Bridge Streets. In those early days a country store was expected to keep everything, from a paper of pins to a barrel of flour, and from a box of pills to a barrel of whiskey. As Mr. Reid's store was no different from every country store, a barrel of whiskey, a cask of wine, and a keg of brandy were always in evidence in the rear of the store. Storekeepers were allowed to sell spirits by measure, but not by the glass.

One day a worthless bummer sport came in and asked for a quart of whiskey, at the same time producing a bottle to put it in. The proprietor filled the same with whiskey, and handed it to the W. B. X., who placed it in his pocket, saying he would "pay for it tomorrow"; but on Mr. Reid's refusing to trust him, he took another bottle, like the first, out of his pocket, filled with water, which the proprietor, supposing it to be the bottle he had just filled, took and emptied into the barrel of whiskey, while the W. B. S. went off with his bottle of whiskey without paying for it. Query: Was anyone a loser in the transaction? An attempt to work the same scheme a few days later, resulted in the discovery of the game, and a rapid exit of the schemer.

Isaac Morris, the father of Abram Vrooman Morris, formerly kept quite an extensive shoe factory, for that period, situated on the old Baptist Church lot, on Market Street, employing as many as twelve workmen. This building was subsequently removed to a vacant lot on Spring Street, and was known as the "Sandy Maginess house," which was afterward torn down to make room for the Dersch Block, next to the Pythian Temple. Mrs. Isaac Morris's maiden name was Jane Vrooman. Like Van Corlear and Wemple, the name of Vrooman is prominent in the history of the Mohawk Valley; but it is only today, with the aid of Pearson's Schenectady Patent and Simms's Frontiersmen of New York, together with valuable information from Abram Vrooman Morris, that I feel able to trace the lineage of the Vrooman family back to Holland.

Doorway of Old St. Mary's

Curious Window, Old Ehle House, Nelliston 1752

On the Chuctanunda, West Galway

It is recorded that in the early part of the seventeenth century three brothers named Pieter, Jacob, and Hendrick Meese Vrooman came to New Netherland from Holland. Pieter and Jacob settled in Albany and left no male descendants. Hendrick, after living at Kinderhook and Steene Raby (Lansingburg), removed to Schenectady in 1677. At the Massacre of Schenectady, February 9, 1690, Hendrick and his son Bartholomew and his two Negro slaves were killed and burned, leaving two sons, Adam and Jan, to inherit his estate. Adam was born in Holland in 1649, and in 1670 bound himself for two years to Cornelius Van den Bergh, of Albany County, to learn the millwright's trade. In 1683 he built a mill on the Sand-kil, east of Schenectady, where the Brandywine mill now stands. In 1690, when Schenectady was destroyed, he saved his life by his bravery in defending his house, although his first wife, Engeltje, with her infant child, was killed, and his two sons, Wouter and Barent, were carried away to Canada. He married three times, his second wife being the widow of Jacquest Cornelius Van Slyde, and the third, Greitje Takelse Hemstraat. He had nine sons and four daughters He seems to have been a large land owner, for besides numerous lots in Schenectady he was granted a patent for six hundred acres of land in Schoharie, in 1714, which was occupied by his son Pieter and his descendants. On March 30, 1726, he obtained a new Indian title for fourteen hundred acres of flats known as Vrooman's Land, in the Schoharie Valley.

On a previous page I stated that in 1688 he was granted an Indian title for land comprising the present fifth ward of Amsterdam, and the Bronson Flats and woodlands in this vicinity. It would seem as though Pieter was the only one of his sons who followed his father to the Schoharie, some of them living in Albany, others in Schenectady. Pieter died in 1771, leaving twelve children, one of whom was Abraham Vrooman, who persisted in writing his name Abram. He was the father of Mrs. Isaac Morris, Sr., and the grandfather of Abram Vrooman Morris, who is his namesake.

J. R. Simms writes at considerable length of the ravages of the Indians in what is known in history as the Massacre of Schoharie, in August, 1780. He says in one place:

The invaders, consisting of 73 Indians, almost naked, and five Tories--Benj. Beacraft, Frederick Sager, Walter Allet, one Thompson, and a mulatto, commanded by Capt. Brant, approached Vrooman's land, in the vicinity of the upper fort, about 10 o'clock in the morning. They entered the valley on the west side of the river, above Onistagrawa, in three places; one party coming down from the mountain near the late residence of Charles Watson; another near the Jacob Haines place, then the residence of Capt. Tunis Vrooman; and the third near the dwelling of the late Harmanus Vrooman, at that time the residence of Col. Peter Vrooman, at that time the residence of Col. Peter Vrooman, who chanced to be with his family in the middle fort. Capt. Hager being absent, the command of the upper fort devolved on Capt. Tunis Vrooman. Capt. Crooman, on the morning in questions, having returned home to secure some wheat, and Lieut. Ephraim Vrooman, to whom the command next belonged having gone to his farm soon after Capt. Vrooman left, he left Lieut. Harper with less than a dozen men, to defend the post. Mrs. Ephraim Vrooman also returned to her home to do her washing.

It is said that on that morning Capt. Tunis Vrooman and his sons drew two loads of wheat to the barracks. The grain had not all been pitched from the wagon when he behold approaching a party of hostile savages. He descended from the barrack, not far from which he was tomahawked and scalped, and had his throat cut by a Schoharie Indian named John, who stood upon his shoulders while tearing off his scalp. His wife, while washing in the farmhouse, was surprised and stricken down. After the first blow from the tomahawk she remained erect, but a second blow laid her dead at the feet of the Indian, who scalped her, and three of the oldest boys, with the blacks, were made captives. His son, Peter would probably have escaped had not one of the blacks made known his place of concealment. Trying to escape, he was pursued by the Tory Beacraft, who caught him, and, placing his legs between his own, bent his had back and cut his throat, after which he scaled him and hung his body across a fence.

Above I have told of Lieutenant Ephraim Vrooman and his wife leaving the fort early in the morning for their farmhouse. An Indian called Seth's Henry led a part of enemy to this dwelling. On hearing the alarm Vrooman ran to the house, caught up his infant child, and fled into a cornfield, followed by his wife leading her little daughter. He seated himself against the trunk of a large apple-tree, with his wife concealed a few rods from him in the thrifty corn. His family would no doubt have remained undiscovered, had not Mrs. Vrooman became alarmed, and risen up with a cry, in low Dutch, "Ephraim, Ephraim, where are you? Have you got the child?" Instantly, almost, a bullet from Seth's Henry's rifle pierced her body, and as she lay on the ground he tomahawked and scalped her, and the Tory Beacraft killed her little daughter with a stone and drew off her scalp. It is said that when the body of Mrs. Vrooman was found, it was evident that she had partially revived and tried to staunch the flow of blood from her breast, first with her camp, afterwards with earth, having dug quite a hole in the ground. Adam A. Vrooman fled from the Indians to the upper fort, keeping the enemy at bay with his pistol, when they came too near him. On his arrival at the fort he was asked how he escaped, when he answered, "I pulled foot." After that, to the day of his death, he was called "Pull Foot Vrooman." His wife was made a prisoner. Simon Vrooman, his wife and three-year-old son, were taken prisoners also.

Abraham or Abram Vrooman, the grandfather of Abram V. Morris, had a narrow escape from death or capture. Being in Vrooman's land with a wagon, on which was a hay rack, he drove down through the valley and picked up several citizens. At Judge Swart's he shouted to Mrs. Swart, "Cornelia, jump into my wagon, the Indians are upon us." She ran to the house, snatched her infant child from its cradle, and reached the wagon with her husband just as the Indians appeared at the dwelling. Vrooman, who had a powerful team, did not stop to open the gates, but drove the horses directly against and over them, and was fortunate enough to outstrip the red savages, and escape to the middle fort.

At the time Seth's Henry killed Mrs. Ephraim Vrooman, another powerful Indians, who was directed by her call to her husband's place of concealment, approached him and thrust a spear at his body, which he parried, and the infant in his arms smiled. Another pass was made and parried, and the child again smiled. At the third blow of the spear, which was also warded off, the little innocent laughed aloud at the supposed sport, which awakened the sympathy of the savage, and he made Vrooman a prisoner, also his sons and German workmen. John Vrooman, his wife, and five children were also captured.

The destroyers of Vrooman's land proceeded in the afternoon about fifteen miles and encamped for the night. The scalps of the slain were stretched upon hoops and dried in the presence of the relative prisoners. After traveling about six miles Brant, who was in charge, permitted the wife of John Vrooman, with her infant and one taken from Ephraim to return to the settlement. Col. Peter Vrooman, by his energetic defense of the middle fort, saved it from capture by Sir John Johnson and his savages.

Of course, Simms has many tales to tell of other families of Schoharie, who suffered death or capture by the savages; but my purpose at this time is to follow the fortunes of the descendants of Adam and Peter Vrooman, and to trace the lineage of the mother of Abram V. Morris; as follows:

Hendrick Meese Vrooman.
Adam Vrooman.
Peter Vrooman.
Abram or Abraham Vrooman.
Jane Vrooman, the wife of Isaac Morris, Sr.
Isaac Morris' children were as follows: Lewis, Abram V., Margaret, Tunis, Charles H. C., John F., James Stewart, and Isaac Morris, Jr.

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