History From America's Most Famous Valleys
History of The OLD FORT HERKIMER CHURCH
German Flatts Reformed Church, 1723
By W. N. P. Dailey, D. D.
Published by the
St. Johnsville Enterprise and News
Lou D. MacWethy, editor
St. Johnsville, NY (Price 35 cents)
Old Fort Herkimer Church. You can clearly see on the side of the church where another story was added.
Thanks to Betty Hoagey for sending this for the web site!
Organized in 1723. Land given 1730 and 1773. Present edifice begun about 1730. A story of the Palatine people and their early struggles. Many names of first settlers. By Rev. W. N. P. Dailey, DD. Author of History of the Montgomery Classis, R.C.A.
Fort Herkimer Notes
<- Pulpit with sounding board of the Fort Herkimer Church.
The Burnetsfield settlement was on the extreme western frontier of the Province of New York. Gov. Burnet's idea in placing the Palatines there was to form a human barrier against the incursions of the French. He wanted them to go further into the Indian country but the Palatines strongly demurred so the governor compromised on the upper valley of the Mohawk. There is not very much documentary evidence regarding the locality after the people had taken up the land. Excepting missionary work among the Indians at Fort Hunter and in some degree, perhaps, at the other two castles, the German Lutherans and the Dutch were the only religious bodies working in the valley. Rev. John Jacob Ehle, though an ordained Episcopal clergyman frequently preached in the other churches and in his reports to the English Society (1730) refers to his work among the Palatines in their two settlements on the Mohawks for which he received thirty pounds a year, which, by the way, in comparison, was much better support than the London society gave him and his family. His headquarters was at Nellison, opposite Fort Plain, and the old stone house is till standing, Ehle's original dwelling being erected in 1729. The earliest reference to a church building at Herkimer is in the will of Nicholas Feller, dated May 28, 1734, in which he bequeaths his seat in the church to Han Nicholas Crisman (his son-in-law). The will does not show which church was meant on the north of south side of the river. Nicholas Feller had lot No. 7 on the north side but his wife, Mary Feller, had lot No. 16 on the south side. There is no "Chrisman" among the original patentees. Nicholas Welleven, who sold the acre of land to the church on the south side, married a daughter of Nicholas Feller. The name of Chrisman appears later among the pew holders in the church on the south side. We do not know which church the Nicholas Feller will refers to. There was not likely any substantial church edifice on either side of the river by 1734.
About the time that Rev. Spinner came to German Flatts the Rev. Caleb Alexander, a Congregational Missionary made a trip through this part of the valley. In the latter part of the year 1801 he was in Norway, Fairfield and Salisbury, ministering to the people there. He quotes the population in these towns as 3,606 and says that the County of Herkimer had a population of 14,503. He writes that there were no ministers in Herkimer "excepting illiterate Baptist preachers." This is an error since Domine Spinner began his work on Herkimer on July 4, 1801. He visited the village on the south side and also Little Falls and refers to the new octagonal church in the latter place. He said that the Dutch minister at the stone church (Fort Herkimer) preaches in it every other Sunday. It was this Rev. Caleb Alexander who founded Fairfield Academy and remained there until 1812.
Rev. Mr. Spinner brought to the Montgomery Classis, Sept. 30, 1818 from Fort Herkimer a third call for its approval. It's recorded in the Records of Incorporation of Herkimer County. The salary was to be $750, of which Herkimer was to pay $400. There was a vacation of six Sundays. There seems to have been some misunderstanding about the obligations involved in this call on the part of the consistories and it was nearly two years before Classis and the churches were able to adjust matters satisfactorily to both parties. But the ghost of trouble would not down, and what which the land problems on the south side, and the increasing burden of debt there, and the north side the persistent agitation over the German and English services, the domine was overwhelmed with financial and congregational trials. To ease the burden somewhat he turned toward Manheim, and became the first Reformed Church pastor in the "old Yellow church", alternating with Rev. Domier, who preached for the Lutherans. This Reformed-Lutheran Union Church continued until about 1861 when the Lutherans entirely controlled. During the years 1827 and 1828 Mr. Spinner was forced to engage in extra work in order to "make ends meet."
The bill finally presented for salary arrears was $1325.10. We remember seeing a paper among the old documents of German Flatts which showed that the minister offered to cut it in two if the churches would settle for half. The clerk of the consistory then recorded the debt as but half.---$661.05. Mr. Spinner taught languages in the Utica High School for upwards of two years, the services being conducted in the meantime by a Rev. F. Snyder, (nephew of Gov. Snyder of Pennsylvania) but (Mr. Spinner writes) with decreasing audiences. Montgomery Classis (Mar. 6, 1829) called the domine to account for leaving his pulpit but in later conference they decided he was justified in so doing and by counsel with the churches smoothed the way for his return, Rev. Mr. Snyder, cooperating in the English services to which the minister had to yield in some degree.
There is an interesting map data of these two Palatine villages, Herkimer and Fort Herkimer. Mitchell's 1755 map shows German Flatts on the north and "Fort Harkemar" on the south; the Johnson map of 1768 has the same markings except it is "Harkemar" on the south; the "Crown" map of Albany County (no date but supposed to be about 1756) shows "Burnets Field or German Flatts" on the north, and a church mark, and "Fort Herhermans" on the south; Pfister's map of NY Province, same as above but no church (destroyed in 1758); Abercrombie's map (1758) has a German Flatts on north and "Fort Herhemans" on south and nothing on north (this was a road map and the road was on the south side); "Crown" Albany-Oswego map show German Flatts on the west side of Canada Creek, "Bruits Field Precinct" on the east side of Canada Creek, the "Hercheimer House," separate from the Fort, on the south side and a little west of the Hercheimer house is shown the "Col. Vrank" house and still further west "Tolmer's Kill," and west of this but across the river, "End of Burnetsfield;" Montressor's map (1775) shows Burnets Field or German Flatts" on the north and the mark of a church, and on the south, "Fort Herchimers Flatts is shown marked clear across the Mohawk; Otten's map (1755) shows only Schenectady and Burnetsfield in the whole valley.
In the years 1788 Elkanah Watson, who was interested in the water development of the State and was, perhaps, the moving genius of the Erie Canal, made a tour of this part of the country. He describes it as a "beautiful land, surrounded by majestic hills, a rich agricultural region, and land flowing with milk and honey." He says that German Flatts had long been settled but the people have suffered terribly from the ravages of the Tories and the Indians, evidences of which could be seen everywhere. Many block houses, built for protection were still standing. Wherever he went he had to listen to tales of barbarism for the enemy spared not even the women and children, let alone the helpless old men. He was shown over the Oriskany battlefield and saw the tree from which Gen. Herkimer, though mortally wounded, directed the conflict. He writes that the ground was still covered with the bones of the fallen. It is a well known fact that the killed in the battle of Oriskany were interred.
It was to this place, Fort Herkimer that Walter Butler, most infamous of the infamous of the enemy, came after the Battle of Oriskany to urge the people to take sides with the British. He portrayed the union of the forces of St. Leger with those of Burgoyne and Clinton and the sure defeat of the Independents. And there were those in the valley who were weary with the continuous savagery of the enemy and ready to compromise with the enemy for the sake of peace. Butler was arrested, convicted as a spy, and sentenced to death. Through certain influences he was confined at Albany from which imprisonment he soon escaped to wreak his diabolic vengeance on the men, women and children of the Mohawk Valley. What a saving of life and of untold sorrow and suffering, let alone loss of property is Sir John Johnson had been made a prisoner at Johnstown instead of being allowed to break his parole, if Brant had been summarily dealt with at Unadilla when he decided on rapine and bloodshed, if Walter Butler had been held at Fort Herkimer until the execution of his sentence! But that's the backward glance at these fiends incarnate, with the foreground agleam with the hope and patience and mercy of the Palatines.
Considering the murderous raids in the valley under the direction of Sir John Johnson here is a most remarkable evidence either of full forgiveness or of utter forgetfulness. In the consistory records under date of May 23, 1825 is the following minute:
"Resolved, that our heartfelt thanks Shall be Sent in the Name of our Congregation to his Lordship the free Baronet Sir John Johnson of Lower Canada for his great & Liberal Donation to our Church in our present pecuniary embarrassment and that our Minister shall and is hereby requested to Communicate our thankful feelings to his Lordship as Likewise to make the same Donation known to the Congregation at Large from one pulpit in order that our Members may take and keep his Lordship & noble family in their prayerful Remembrance." The amount given by Sir John Johnson is not stated. Lossing says that the "German Flatts church was erected under the auspices and by the liberal contributions of Sir William Johnson." Others, also, think that most of the churches built in the valley before the baronet's death were erected in part or in whole by him. But Lossing is mistaken for Sir William aided only the churches erected by the Church of England. The only exception we know of is that of the First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady and the reason for this subscription may be due to the fact that the Presbyterians used the Episcopal church for a while for services.
Numerous raids were made against German Flatts and the surrounding territory after the devastation of the village on the north side, Nov. 12, 1757. In 1758 Nicholas Herkimer was made a lieutenant in the Schenectady (Mohawk Valley) Militia and as such led a company in repulsing an attack by a French and Indian was party. In July, 1776 he was instrumental in the formation of the Tryon County Militia, and was made the "chief colonel" in the same year of the militia. Herkimer and Brant were friends when the latter lived at Canajoharie in the Upper Mohawk Castle. At the Unadilla conference in 1777 Gen. Herkimer was most patient with the Indian chieftain and hoped to gain his influence in the interest of peace, but in vain. The raids began to be very bitter after that conference. The August, 1778, raid on German Flatts had usually been ascribed to Brant's leadership, yet the Canadian archives say it was directed by Captain Garnett, who, with forty men destroyed the place. There was no resistance on the part of the people. But the Canadian records are wrong in saying the place was destroyed. Brant led the raid of 1780, accompanied by 150 Indians and 300 Tories and he also led the raid against this settlement in 1782. The escape of the people in both villages in the September, 1778, raid was due to the timely warning of John Adam Helmer. One does not have to go to New England and listen to the story of Paul Revere's pleasant April morning ride to save a few army stores (which he did not save) for a tale of heroism. Here in the upper valley of the Mohawk occurred the midnight ride and footrace of John Adam Helmer in September, 1778, warning the settlers and dwellers all along the way of the approach of the bloodthirsty Tories and demoniac savages, arriving half hour ahead of them with torn garments and bloodshot eyes and bleeding hands and feet, but he saved hundreds of lives from the tomahawk and the torch. Or go to the other end of the valley and read the story of the midnight ride of Simon Schermerhorn, his family killed and himself wounded by the "praying Indians" of the Jesuits, when Schenectady was burned February 9, 1690, to Albany by the longer road, past Niskayuna, that he might warm the settlers there, to arrive at the Albany gates of Fort Orange exhausted, his charge dropping dead. And the militia, essaying to aid the people and punish the French and Indians, could not reach Schenectady because of the depth of the snow through which Schermerhorn rode.
On Feb. 7, 1816, the German Flatts Consistory resolved to ask the Chancellor's Court at Albany to allow them to sell certain church lands in order to meet their indebtedness, then amounting to $1,500. Court convened Feb. 23, 1816, and permission was granted. Another Chancery Court case was that of the church at Warren, filed April 29, 1825, in which that consistory sought a revisionary interest in the German Flatts glebe. The petition was denied on May 13, 1826. The Warren church is now called Columbia and was formerly called, Coenradstown. In the answer of the German Flatts consistory it is said that the "church, Congregation & Society. . .was first organized in the year 1753, at which time a building was erected and dedicated at or near the spot where the present church now stands." there is nothing in their statement to prove that there was no religious society prior to 1753. The consistory was referring to an organization that they could prove in court. The present stone church might well have been built far enough for use,and dedicated, to be completed in 1767. The Herkimers, John Jost and his son, Nicholas, had built substantial stone and brick houses, the former in 1740 and the letter in 1764, and it seems reasonable to believe that the congregation would not have gone out into all the surrounding country seeking funds wherewith to build either a log church or one that would last but a decade, if the present structure was begun, say about 1764. Again, it does not seem possible that the large and increasing population on the south side, to which was added the soldiers at the fort, would have waited thirty years before either organizing a church or beginning to erect a substantial one, especially since they had been interested enough to buy the land as early as 1730, on which was already erected a school house wherein their first worship undoubtedly began.
A third case in the Court of Chancery, was a complaint filed by the German Flatts consistory, June 18, 1833, wherein they sought to recover for the church surplus monies due from the sale of lots which were held by John Frank. Rudolph Steel and Michael Ittig. The consistory exhibited nineteen Quit Claim deeds, original documents, signed by the heirs of the original Patentees, then surviving. Heirs of these Patentees might well examine these papers as not a few names are of those who moved to other parts of the State and Country. The Chancellor decided that the persons signing these deeds had no legal right to these surplus monies. On April 30, 1835, the German Flatts Church was a defendant in a case in the Court of Chancery brought by Michael Ittick, Henry Harter, Bethel Palmer, Frederick Ohrendorff, Frederick Bellinger, Conrad Hess, Samuel Meecker and Henry Steel who sought to have a receiver appointed for the church glebe in the Staley Patent because Rev. J. P. Spinner insisted on the use of the German language in conducting worship, and the consistory refused to allow the church to be used by an English speaking minister. The answer was filed April 12, 1836, in which the church claimed they had always obtained the rents for the minister and that they had sold only such lands as the Chancellor had permitted them to sell. The decision of the Court made permanent an injunction restraining the Church from selling further lands except on permission of the Court, but allowed the proceeds from glebe rentals to continue to go to the minister's support.
An inventory of the property of the church was made Jan. 25, 1799, and received Jan. 29, 1799, for recording by the County Clerk (but not recorded). The property is listed as follows: 1. One acre of land. . . . whereon is a Stone Church. 2. A Communion Table 3. Two white cloths to cover same. 4. Two bags for collecting Alms in church. 5. A pewter Bason for baptizing. 6. A brass chalice for administering the Lord's Supper. 7. A black Pall, old. 8. A Book of Sermons by Dr. Mell. 9. A large book for recording the minutes of the consistory. 10. A small Alms book. 11. A common Seal of the corporation. 12. A chest belonging to the church. 13. Three Lots of Land in a Patent granted to Hans D. Steel and others, distinguished by Lots No. 45, 46, 47, containing 1500 acres. . . which land was granted and conveyed to Peter Remsen and to his heirs in trust for the support of the Ministers of the Gospel, in conformity to the provisions contained in a certain Indenture, bearing date the 18th day of September, 1765, made between the said Steel and the said Peter Remsen, etc. In an inventory recorded 14 years later the land is mentioned as 1377 acres and 13 rods leased out and rent 95 pounds, 17 shillings,and 7 1/2 pence. Other items in the list are a table cloth, sermon book, pall, pewter bason, "calice", chair and chest, total value three pounds and 19 shillings. The consistory at this time were Rev. J. P. Spinner, minister and Geor. Rosencrantz, Thos. F. Shoemaker, Daniel C. Fox, elders and Robert Shoemaker, Geo. A Clapsattle, Frederick Bellinger, Jr., deacons.
On Nov. 5, 1923, the committee who had charge of the repairs of the church in 1812 and 1813 were discharged. Christopher Casler having deceased, his accounts were placed in the hands of Judge Rosencrantz and General bellinger to settle with the heirs. Colonel Clapsattle, Wm. Dygert, Esq., Geo. Wiederigh, Peter J. Bellinger, Thomas Shoemaker and Nicholas Shoemaker were directed to collect all the arrearages on their lists and if necessary to sue for the same. Judge Rosencrantz and Robert Shoemaker were asked to settle the differences about church lands with Jacob and Werner Folts and Thomas Pierce. Michael F. Myers' bill for church fence was ordered paid at once.
Phonetic or Simplified Spelling of names was prevalent in the valley in the early days. Among papers extant there are at least forty varieties of the name of Herkimer. The earliest is Johan Jost Erghemar found on the Burnetsfield Patent of April 30, 1725. Major John Frey, a brother-in-law of General Herkimer, said that the original spelling was "Herchmer." However the use of "Herkimer" can be found as early as 1728, which form was officially given the town in 1788 and the county in 1791, and ought to be good enough now; examples of spelling names in records and on church registers and on other documents are seen in these forms: Stahl, Steahl, Steal and Steel; Duisler and Dussler; Deichert and Deigert; Kaiser and Kayser; Wohleber and Woleben; Pell and Bell; Pellinger and Bellinger; Ittid and Edick; Harder, Harter and Herter; Loux and Lauchs; Wemp, Wamp and Wemple; Peiper and Piper; Volz and Folts. In this brochure we have printed the names as they appear in the various documents.
(The Bibliography follows in the book but is not included on this site. )
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