History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Forts & Firesides of the Mohawk Country
by John J. Vrooman, 1951
Published by Baronet Litho Co., Inc., Johnstown, NY
THIS old Colonial farmhouse and fort built in 1750 stands on the upper side of the highway a little less than two miles west of Nelliston. An historical marker points the way up a lane lined with stately old elms directly to the house. The old and the new are easily identified in this instance as the original building is of stone, the addition which is of wood being an elongation of the original structure.
The pioneer settler was Johan Peter Wagner, who with his wife, Margaretha Laucs (Loucks), both Palatines, came to settle in West Camp, a Palatine settlement on the west bank of the Hudson River, just north of where Saugerties is now situated. From there they soon moved to the Schoharie Valley; here they remained some ten years and in 1722 moved to the Mohawk Valley along with some three hundred others, to land given them by Governor Hunter. These Palatines had experienced difficulty in securing land titles in the Schoharle Valley, their attempted settlement being on land already patented to others.
Johan Peter and his wife lived until about 17 5 0 and are buried in the Wagner plot southeast of the house, on the near side of a hill called the "Steilerberg" or "Steep Hill." There were some five or six children but apparently only one son, a second Johan Peter, born about the time or just prior to the move to the Mohawk Valley. Johan Peter 2nd was a Lieutenant Colonel and fought at the Battle of Oriskany with three of his sons, Lieutenant Peter, George and John. His wife was Barbara "Waggener," according to the records of the Stone Arabia Church. There were in all twelve children to this marriage; five sons and seven daughters. Barbara, the wife, outlived Colonel Peter, both of them passing on after a long and useful life, victims of nothing more than old age. But even so, Colonel Peter was on his death bed but nine days. Funeral services were held in the Palatine Church and his burial was in the Fort Plain Cemetery. Colonel Peter's will, signed in 1806 and probated in 1813, leaves the farm to his son Peter and in providing for his wife Barbara he does "bequeath during her natural lifetime a competent and decent maintenance from my estate and in my house and all the household furniture; also for her own use and disposal a Negro woman slave named Rebecca and a Negro boy slave named George." Also directing that his son "Peter shall keep two good milk cows and two sheep for the sole use of his mother, provide her yearly with a sufficiency of good wheat flour, fatten for her yearly two hogs and provide her yearly with five gallons of good rum or spirits."
The following story is told by a Frederick Manheim, a Palatine settler who located near the Wagners. It is repeated here to illustrate the danger to which these early settlers were constantly exposed. The occurrence took place on October 19th, 1777, when a raiding band consisting of some fifty Indians captured twenty-three of the inhabitants of the neighborhood, among them being Manheim and his 16-year-old twin daughters Maria and Christina. Manheim was captured in a field where he was working. Following the raid the Indians made a speedy retreat which lasted four days, allowing scarce time for rest and during this entire time no fire was kindled for fear of capture. A camp was finally made in a
"thick pine swamp which rendered the darkness of an uncommon gloomy night still more dreadful. The Indians ate by themselves. After supper the appalled captives observed their enemies, instead of retiring to rest, busying themselves in operations which boded no good. Two saplings were pruned clear of branches, up to the very top, and all the brush cleared away for several rods around them. While this was doing, others were splitting pitch pine billets into small splinters about five inches in length and as small as one's little finger, sharpening one end and dipping the other in melted turpentine.
"At length with countenances distracted by internal fury and hideous yells the two savages who had captured the hapless maidens, Maria and Christina, leaped into the midst of the circle of prisoners and dragged those ill-fated maidens, shrieking, from the embraces of their companions. These warriors had disagreed about whose property the girls should be, as they had jointly seized them, and to determine the dispute agreeable to the abominable custom of the savages, it was determined by the Chiefs of the party that the prisoners who had given rise to the contention should be destroyed, and that their captors should be the principal agents in the execrable business.
"These furies, assisted by their comrades, stripped the forlorn girls, convulsed with apprehensions, and tied each to a sapling with their hands extended as high above their heads as possible, and then 'pitched' them from their knees to their shoulder, with upwards of 600 of the sharpened splinters above described which at every puncture were attended with screams of distress that echoed through the wilderness. And then to complete the infernal tragedy, the splinters, all standing erect on the bleeding victims, were put on fire and exhibited a scene of extreme misery beyond the power of speech to describe, or even the imagination to conceive. It was not until nearly three hours had elapsed from the commencement of their torments and that they had lost almost every resemblance of the human form, that these helpless virgins sank down in the arms of their deliverer -death."
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