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 IV

Schonowe or Schenectady

Mohawk River practically ends at Cohoes, al though its juncture with the Hudson, through its various deltas, is made at Cohoes, Waterford, and West Troy. The Mohawk Valley of the tourist, however, begins at Schenectady and ends at Rome, N. Y.

It is supposed that Henry Hudson ascended the Hudson as far as the mouth of the Mohawk in the small boats of the Half Moon, and that the falls prevented further exploration in that direction. The Cohoes Falls at that period must have appeared grand and beautiful. At that point the Mohawk is more than one hundred yards wide and perfectly rock-ribbed on both sides. The fall is nearly seventy feet perpendicular

Before entering the Hudson the river is divided into four mouths by three rocky islands, Peobles, Van Schaicks, and Green Islands, and in those early days formed a scene both beautiful and picturesque.

The earliest maps of the valley, made previous to the settlement of Schenectady in 1661-69, shows an Indian village (at a bend in the Mohawk, about half-way between Schenectady and the Hudson River, called Nsarcane (Niskayuna) while Schenectady is designated by the word Schoo, and also by the term Flack-landt; the word Schoo being undoubtedly a contraction of the word Schonowe, "the gate."

In Professor Pearson's very excellent article on the origin of the word Schenectady we find that it was probably derived from the Indian word Schonowe or S'Gaun-ho-ha, meaning door or gate, and was first applied to the Indian village formerly on the site of Albany, meaning the door or gate to the long house (Iroquois) or the Mohawk country. Afterwards it was applied to Schenectady as the Schonowe, or gate. Later, as the Indians retired westward before the advance of the white man, the same name was given to Tiononderoga (Fort Hunter) as being the gate or door to their country, and from it we have undoubtedly the name of Schoharie, being the real door or gate to the Mohawk country.

This name, " Schonowe," becomes poetical when we reflect upon a broader, grander application of the term, the Gate. "

The Hudson and Mohawk valleys taken together are the avenue to the great West, although the early settlers did not realize it.

First the Indian trail and canoes, then the bateaux and the stage-coach, and then, after long years of waiting, the Erie Canal, reaching from tidewater to the Great Lakes. Then the primitive railroad from Albany to Schenectady, Schenectady to Utica, and then on to Buffalo, Chicago, and so on and on until now the iron rails passing through our beautiful valley reach from ocean to ocean.

And now we hear of the building of a ship canal in the bed of the Mohawk, and of ocean steamers and possibly vessels of war passing through the Mohawk Valley to the Great Lakes, in the near future.

In the fifteenth century it was the desire of navigators of the then known world to reach India by sailing west, and it was with this object in view that the expeditions of Christopher Columbus, John and Sebastian Cabot, and others were fitted out. After the discovery of America, even up to the voyage of Henry Hudson, the desire of navigators was to discover the " northwest passage to India."

When Henry Hudson entered the bay of New York and sailed up the broad river that bears his name, with its tide, he fondly hoped that he had at last found the " northwest passage," little dreaming that a great continent three thousand miles wide lay between him and the Pacific Ocean.

The Indians, with their limited knowledge, call the Mohawk Valley " Schonowe," the Gate. They little knew how truly it was named.

Henry Hudson was right, however. With its two great railways, its Erie Canal, and the promise of a second Suez, with its millions of tons of merchandise, and myriads of tourists streaming across the continent to meet the steamers of the Pacific to Asia, the Mohawk Valley may well be called the northwest passage," the Gate to India.

Every history of Schenectady begins with a quotation from the letter of Arent Van Curler to the Patroon, Killian Van Rensselaer, when, in 1642, he returned from his unsuccessful journey to Osseruenon to rescue Father Jogues: "dat Schoonste landt " that the eye of man ever beheld.

Then we read of Van Curler's efforts to organize a small colony, and of the purchase of the "great flats from the Mohawks in 1661, and its settlement in 1662, also of their troubles with the authorities at Fort Orange, who declined to survey their lands or to give them the right to trade with the Indians, and the final adjustment of the difficulty in 1664.

We find that the settlement was successful from the beginning, and that in 1670 additional land was purchased from the Mohawks, making the township up and down the river, sixteen miles long, and eight miles wide, the western limit being the Kinaquarone, or Towereune hill at Hoffmans. The land west of the "great flats " was divided into five flats or farms, on the south side of the river, and eight flats on the north side, reaching up to and adjoining the present townships of Amsterdam and Florida.

It is quite interesting to read the names of the original owners, as the names of their descendants may be found in nearly every town in the Mohawk Valley.

South side of the river:

Flats on the north side:

The hardy first settlers saw perilous times from the very beginning, and must have been endowed with an abundance of Dutch grit and persistency to withstand and overcome the dangers and vicissitudes of the early years of their struggle for existence. For more than half a century the frontier town of the great West, and surrounded by the most warlike and aggressive of the aborigines of America, who were continually at war with their savage kindred and the French of Canada, this little band of frontiersmen lived in continual alarm, from their dusky neighbors and their neighbor's foes. Protected by a stockade of posts, built after the manner of the castles of the Mohawks, which we would think inadequate protection against the wild beasts of the forests, they lived and thrived, and in time made firm friends of the fierce Mohawks, and thereby raised a human barrier against the white and red savages of New France.

We can imagine the consternation of these " Dutch Boers (as Governor Courcelle called them) when one morning in February, 1666, a few Mohawk warriors appeared at the gate of their little palisaded village with the heads of four Frenchmen, and the information that an army of six hundred men, on snowshoes, was at their gates. This alarming news was sent in haste to Albany, and "the next day three of the principal inhabitants were sent to the commander of the troops, Governor Courcelle, to inquire of his intention to bring a body of armed men into the dominions of his Majesty of Great Britain without acquainting the Governor of these parts with his designs."

Governor Courcelle replied that he had come to seek and destroy his enemies, the Mohawks, without the intention of visiting the plantations, and that, indeed, this was the first that he had heard that the English were rulers instead of the Dutch.

This expedition seems to have been the most foolhardy and abortive of the many raids of the French in the Mohawk Valley.

Having suffered from recent incursions of the Mohawks, Governor Courcelle and M. de Tracey organized an expedition of retaliation, consisting of six hundred French and Canadian soldiers, and began their march to the Mohawks' country in mid-winter. Their route was through the Lake Champlain Valley, over the frozen lake, and with snow on the ground four feet deep. The soldiers were all provided with snowshoes and the provisions were loaded on light sleds, drawn by dogs. The soldiers suffered greatly from cold, and through a mistake of the guides found themselves, on February 9th, within two miles of Schenectady instead of the Mohawk castles. A party of Mohawk warriors appearing, Courcelle dispatched sixty of his best fusileers after them. These soldiers were drawn into an ambush and eleven killed, a large number wounded, and the balance forced to retreat to the main body.

Although the Canadian Governor did not dare allow his soldiers inside of the stockade of the poor village, or, as he said, " within the smell of a chimney corner," he did not hesitate to ask that care be given to his wounded, half-starved soldiers, and that he be supplied with provisions for pay.

The next day seven wounded Frenchmen were taken to the village, and after their wounds were carefully dressed, were sent on to Albany; while the " Dutch Boers " carried to their camps provisions, such as they had, and were well paid for them.

The French, being refreshed and having a supply of provisions, put on a bold front and marched away in the direction of the Mohawk castles; but when well out of sight of the village, "with faces about and great silence and diligence returned towards Canada."

In October of the same year Governor Courcelle and Tracey, with twelve hundred soldiers, again visited the Mohawks' country, and destroyed their castles and their crops, but did not succeed in killing any of the Indians, who, with their families had fled to the wooded hills.

The Frontenac expedition of 1690, which resulted in the burning of Schenectady, February 9th, of that year, was organized at Montreal for the purpose of attacking Fort Orange, and consisted of two hundred and ten men, eighty of whom were Caughnawaga, or Praying Indians, under Kryn, a noted Mohawk convert to the Catholic religion. As in the expedition of Courcelle, just twenty-four years before, they suffered severely from cold and lack of provisions. After having marched five or six days, the Indians demanded of the French their intentions, and were told by the commanders, Sieurs La Moyne and De Mantet, that they were going to attack Fort. Orange. Kryn, having in mind the disaster of the last year, inquired, " Since when have you become so desperate?" It was finally decided, however, to take the route leading to Corlear, or Schenectady, instead of Fort Orange.

After a further journey of seventeen days they arrived within two leagues of Corlear at four o'clock P.M., and were harangued by the great Mohawk chief. Shortly after, four squaws were discovered in a wigwam, who gave the necessary information for the attack on the town. At eleven o'clock that night they came within sight of the place and resolved to defer the assault until two o'clock in the morning, but the excessive cold admitted of no further delay. The French account says:

The town of Corlear forms a sort of oblong, with only two gates -one opposite the road we had taken, the other leading to Orange, six leagues distant. Messieurs de Sainte Helene and de Mantet were to enter the first, which the squaws pointed out, and which in fact was found wide open. Messieurs d'Iberville and de Montesson took the left with another detachment in order to make themselves masters of that leading to Orange. But they could not discover it, and returned to join the remainder of the party. A profound silence was observed until the two commanders, who separated at their entrance of the town for the purpose of encircling it, had met at the other extremity.

Within the stockade were about fifty houses, and a small fort or block house with a garrison of ten or twelve men, while the total population is supposed to have been about two hundred. Weary with the festivities of the early evening, the villagers were slumbering peacefully, unconscious of danger.

Suddenly, and seemingly from every point, on earth and sky, arose the fearful war cry of the savages, mingled with the explosion of firearms, the hoarse shouts of command in a strange language, the crash of timber and the agonizing cries of women and children under the fatal blows of tomahawk and knife. Soon the fitful flames cast a lurid glow on the snow-covered streets, already stained with scarlet splashes and the dark still forms of the unfortunate Hollanders, while the howling, painted warriors dashed hither and thither, plying blazing torch and reeking scalping knife with the zeal of the fanatic and the barbarity of the savage.

It is said every house was destroyed but four or five; sixty men, women, and children were killed, about the same number of old men, women, and children spared, thirty men and boys taken prisoners, while many hid themselves in the forests, or fled through the snow to Fort Orange.

Adam Vrooman, one of the villagers, saw his wife shot and his child brained against the door-post, but he fought so desperately that his assailants promised him his life and liberty if he would surrender. His son and Negro servant were carried away captives.

The Old Glen-Sanders House, Scotia, 1713

In the morning a small party crossed the river to the house of Glen. It was loopholed and palisaded, and Captain Glen was prepared to defend it. The French told him they owed him a debt for kindness shown to French prisoners in the hands of the Mohawks, and that no harm should come to him or his kindred. Even two or three houses inside the palisade were saved from the flames because he requested it.

The alarm having been given at Orange, fifty young men, under Peter Schuyler, proposed to follow the French in their retreat. Reinforced by a troop of Mohawk warriors, they followed them nearly to Montreal, when they fell upon the rearguard, killing and capturing fifteen or more.

After a period of heartrending grief and depression, with true Dutch grit, the pioneers set to work to rebuild their ruined village; and with the help of their neighbors at Orange, and the friendly Mohawks, they again assumed the title of the frontier town of the West, and became the port of entry and departure of produce and supplies by the bateaux and canoes of the Inland Lock and Navigation Company, until the building of the Erie Canal.

In 1819 occurred the " great fire," by which disaster the vil]age-then a city-was again nearly wiped out of existence. The whole west end and business portion was destroyed, in all one hundred and sixty-nine houses. There was little, or no insurance, and it was a long time before Schenectady recovered from the effects of the great fire.

It is said that Arent Van Curler, when in 1642 he returned from an errand of mercy in behalf of some French prisoners in the hands of the Mohawks at Osseruenon, wrote that he had seen " the most beautiful land the eye of man ever beheld," just one hundred and six years later this " beautiful land

was the scene of a typical Indian fight.

Travellers on the New York Central going east, if they sit on the left-hand side of the coach, probably have seen one of the oldest houses in the Mohawk Valley and the scene of the Beukendaal massacre without being conscious of it. About midway between Hoffman's Ferry and Schenectady and about forty rods from the railroad, with nothing to intercept the sight except a thin fringe of trees in front of the building, stands the Toll mansion. In the spring and autumn its dull yellow color shows plainly through the trees which in summer time nearly hide the dwelling from view. We have nothing to do with this dwelling except to use it as a landmark to point out the humble historic building at the east of it and known as the DeGraaf house.

The De Graaf House, Beukendaal

Near the railroad at this point is a substantial brick country schoolhouse, to the west of which is the road that leads past the DeGraaf house and the hollow to the right of the road in which the fight took place.

It ought not to be called a massacre, as it was a square stand-up fight with the whites as the attacking party, who on that account suffered more severely than the savages.

The following account published in the Schenectady Democrat and Reflector, April 22, 1836, was gathered from traditions then floating about among the aged people at that date.

In the beginning of the month of July, 1747, Mr. Daniel Toll and his favorite servant, Ryckert, and Dirck Van Vorst went in search of some stray horses at Beukendaal, a locality about three miles from Schenectady. They soon heard what they supposed was the trampling of horses; but the sound they mistook for that made by horses' hoofs on the clayey ground proceeded from the quoits which the Indians were playing.

Mr. Toll discovered his danger too late and fell pierced by bullets of the French savages, for such they were. Ryckert, more fortunate, took to his heels and fled. He reached Schenectady in safety and told the dreadful news of the death of his master and the presence of the enemy.

In less than an hour about sixty volunteers were on the march to Beukendaal. The greater part of these were young men, and such was their zeal that they would not wait until the proper authorities had called out the militia. Without discipline or experience and even without a leader they hastened to the Indian camps.

Those in advance of the main body before they reached the enemy were attracted by a singular sight. They saw a man resembling Mr. Toll sitting near a fence in an adjoining field and crow flying up and down before him. On coming nearer they discovered it to be the corpse of Mr. Toll with a crow attached to it by a string.

This proved to be a stratagem of the Indians to decoy their adversaries. The Schenectadians fell, alas! too easily into the share laid for them, and were in a few moments surrounded by the Indians, who had been lying in ambush. Thus taken by surprise they lost many of their number and some were taken prisoners before they could make good their retreat.

They, however, succeeded in reaching the house of Mr. DeGraaf in the neighborhood, which had been for some time deserted. But while retreating they continued to fire upon the enemy. On reaching the DeGraaf house they entered, bolted the doors and ascended to the second floor. Here they tore off the boards near the eaves and through the opening thus made fired with success at the savages and succeeded in keeping them at bay. In the meantime Dirck Van Vorst, who had been left in charge of two young Indians, effected his escape.

The two youngsters were anxious to see the fight and secured their prisoner by tying him to a tree and left him alone. He succeeded in getting his knife from his pocket and cutting the cord with which he was bound. On the approach of the Schenectady militia under Col. Jacob Glen the party in Mr. DeGraaf's house were relieved from their perilous situation and the enemy took up their line of march for Canada, probably along the Sacandaga trail.

In this engagement twenty whites were killed and thirteen or fourteen taken prisoners and a number wounded. The bodies of Nicholas A. DeGraaf and Jacob Glen, Jr., were found lying in close contact with their savage antagonists, with whom they had wrestled in deadly strife.

The corpses were taken to Schenectady the evening of the massacre and deposited in a large barn of Abraham Mabee, being the identical one now standing on the premises (1883) of Mrs. Benjamin in Church Street.

The above account is interesting because it shows what perils the settlers had to undergo before they could establish a peaceful home for their families.

The DeGraaf house, as seen from the cars, does not appear any different from many unpainted weather-worn houses to be seen by driving a few miles on any of the country roads that lead from the city except, perhaps, that the roof is higher and more pointed than those erected at a later date.

In 1706 a new fort was erected near the site of the old fort, and called the Queen's Fort, and from that time until the commencement of the Revolution was garrisoned by British troops.

From a Paris document we find the following description of Schenectady in 1757:

Chenectedi, or Corlar, situated on the bank of the Mohawk River, is a village of about three hundred houses. It is surrounded by upright pickets, flanked from distance to distance. Entering the village by the gate on the Fort Hunter side, there is a fort to the right which forms a species of citadel in the interior of the village itself. It is a square flanked with four bastions, or demi-bastions, and is constructed half of masonry and half of timbers, piled one over the other above the masonry. It is capable of holding two hundred men. There are some pieces of cannon as a battery on the ramparts. It is not encircled by a ditch. The entrance is through a large swing gate, raised like a draw-bridge. By penetrating the village in attacking it at another point, the fire from the fort can be avoided. The greatest portion of the inhabitants of Chenectedi are Dutch.

The presence of English soldiers probably suggested the occasional holding of the services of the Church of England for the English-speaking residents, as the Rev. Thomas Barclay, an English clergyman and missionary to the Mohawks from 1708-1712 says in 1710:" There is a convenient and well built church at Schenectady, which they freely give me the use of." (The second building of the Dutch Church.)

St. George's Church, Schenectady, 1759

The natural increase of the English population as the years rolled by, called for a church of their own, but the comparatively small number of English-speaking people, and the lack of means, delayed this for years, although the foundation was begun as early as 1759. It was not completed, however, until about 1767, and named St. George's Episcopal Church. It is said that the Presbyterians subscribed to its erection with the understanding that it should be used in common by both denominations. Sir William Johnson is known to have contributed liberally, and also obtained subscriptions from his friends-at one time sixty-one pounds and ten shillings from the Governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

This old stone church is still standing near the site of the Queen's Fort, beautiful and picturesque in its timeworn stone walls and quaint interior decorations.

Eight miles above the city of Schenectady, on the south side of the Mohawk River and situated on the easterly half of what was termed the third flat in the original division of land under the Schenectady patent, is seen today an old brick house known as the Bradt house, erected in 1736.

This house was built of brick, front and sides, and wood in the rear. In 1883 it presented the forlorn appearance of a vacant dwelling with its rotten roof, toppling chimneys, and broken windows, but today it presents a scene of rural beauty with its dormer windows and frame additions and general renovation, with the aid of paint and putty, together with its setting of foliage and flowers. I do not know that it is noted for anything but its antiquity.

On the same flat, about a mile to the west of the eastern border of the little but old village of Rotterdam, is another dwelling, called the Mabie house, which holds itself remarkably strait and prim in spite of its age.

It is situated on a bluff on the edge of the Mohawk and at the concave side of a bend commanding a view of the river for a considerable distance in either direction. It is built of stone, with steep roof, which gives it the appearance of being one story on its sides and two stories and attic on its gable front.

It still retains its windows with small panes of glass, the heavy exposed timbers in the lower story, and its outside doors in two parts.

It is supposed to have been erected about 1680, making it the oldest house in the valley. On its south side, but detached from the main building, is a structure built of brick, also bearing the impress of antiquity.

From its large brick ovens and appearance of general utility it is probable that it was used as a kitchen and servants' quarters.

Professor Pearson says: " In view of the fact that a brick or stone wing across the end would connect the detached building and afford increased space with all modern conveniences and yet preserve unaltered this old 'hofstede' to the Mabie family, and a time-honored landmark in the Mohawk Valley, its destruction would be regretted."

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