Three Rivers
Hudson~Mohawk~Schoharie
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume I, Page 95

First Settling of the Whites in Central New York.--Only here and there a white man, it is believed, had the temerity to plant his family in the Mohawk valley very distant from Schenectada, until the German colonists came hither under the patronage of the British crown. Here and there an Indian trader may have taken a squaw to wife, and dwelt among the Mohawks, and now and then a Dutchman or an Englishman may have pitched his tent among them; but such cases were rare any distance above Schenectada as early as the year 1700. The earliest settlers generally went in and squatted upon desired lands, without any title at first, except a verbal or written one from the Indian proprietors. A map, (Doc. His., Vol. 1) drawn by the Surveyor-General of the State, Simeon De Witt, and published in 1790, marking the land patents upon the south side of the Mohawk, gives no date west of Schoharie creek earlier than that of Capt. John Scott, who, soon after its erection, commanded Fort Hunter, and that was for lands on the west side of Aries' kill in 1722, if we except the Oriskany Patent, which granted 27, 527 acres to Peter Schuyler and others, of Albany, April 18, 1705. This was evidently secured as a matter of speculation, for no sane white man would have thought of going to reside there then. The Gov. Tryon map, (Doc. Hist., vol. 1.) prepared by Claude Joseph Sauthier, and published in London in 1779, gave the names of patentees in this territory but no dates. John Peterson Meebee, July 20, 1705, took a patent for 160 acres of land on the south side of Schoharie creek, a couple of miles above its mouth, at a place now known as Cadaughrita, spelled on the patents Ka-da-ro-de, and pronounced as though written Ka-daugh-ro-de. The patent of Hendrick and Hans Hansen for lands below Fonda, was dated July 17, 1713, and it is believed they went upon the tract about that time.

The first European family to locate as far west, of which I have satisfactory evidence, was that of Hendrick-Henry Frey, a native of Zurich, Switzerland, who came to the colony of New York in 1689, and is said to have located a little distance west of Palatine Bridge some few years later, and prior to 1700, where he erected a log dwelling, and lived on terms of friendship with his Indian neighbors. Some interesting facts in the history of this pioneer family were communicated to the writer by an antiquarian member of it, under date of July 30, 1876. (Samuel Chollet Frey who, in 1870, published a record of the Frey family. Samuel C. was a son of Philip R. Frey, who, in his day, was a surveyor of no little repute. The former was born at St. Johnsville, NY., February 7, 1799. He attained a fondness for reading in early life; and served a seven years' apprenticeship at the silversmith's trade. He married Susan C. Calhoun, whose father, mother and six brothers, William, Andrew, Henry, Howard, John and James, with herself and a younger sister, constituted one of the most intelligent families that ever dwelt in the town of Canajoharie, whither they came from Massachusetts about the beginning of this century. From 1831 to 1837, Mr. Frey resided at Brockville, Canada, and became acquainted with many men of mark in the "Old Dominion," for whose companionship his intelligence and manners fitted him. He had two sons, George H. and Andrew, and one daughter Mary Ann. In 1870 he removed to Dacatur, Alabama, with his family, except George, who resides in Springfield, Ohio; and after living there a few years he sent me a glowing description of the soil; climate and productions of his new home. He died there February 24, 1877, aged 78 years.) In 1739 the log tenement gave place to a stone dwelling now standing in good condition; which is said to have been prepared for defense in the early Canadian wars. The first Frey settler was drowned in the river whither he had gone to water his horses, and was supposed to have had a fit, as he was found in water scarcely a foot deep. His age is unknown. He left a son, a namesake who died intestate at Schenectada, where he had gone upon business, at the age of about forty years, leaving three sons, Henry, John and Bernard; and three daughters, Elizabeth, Catharine and Maria, who married respectively Henry Deihl, (A son and name sake of this man went to Canada with the enemy, and is known to have been among the fire and blood fiends at Cherry Valley.) John Loucks and Christopher P. Yates. (A custom prevailed in the Colony of New York at an early day of obtaining marriage licenses from the secretary of the colony, who, for a fee, received a bond, granted the license, and recorded the proceedings in a book. A bond in the sum of £500 was lodged with the secretary, asserting that there was no legal impediment to hinder the parties from being united. Those records fill 40 volumes; and Dr. O'Callaghan arranged them for publication, which took place in 1860. Those records commence with 1736 and end with 1783, when the custom fell into disrepute. The records are given in single lines, but would average some 40 to a page, and filling 480 pages, making a record of over 19,000 licenses. That granted for the nuptials of Richard Montgomery, of the outward of New York, Gentleman, and Jennet Livingston, of Duchess county, Spinster, is inserted in the introduction to the published document, to show the usual form of the bond and obligation. This Richard Montgomery was Gen. Montgomery, who fell at Quebec. It was granted to Henry B. Livingston, of Duchess county, and John Livingston, of New York, and was dated August 4, 1773. In this book of licenses are the following records: October 19, 1761, Elizabeth Fry and Thomas North; January 31, 1774, Maria Fry and Christopher P. Yates; December 11, 1775, Catharine fry and David Cox. We may reasonably suppose, therefore (unless there was a slip between the cup and lip), that those Fry sisters, Elizabeth and Catharine, had been married and were widows when they married Deihl and Loucks, who are remembered as their husbands by the aged of our day. Nor is this all: this book of records discloses the further fact that, June 12, 1770, Christopher P. Yates was licensed to marry Rebeccah Van Santford. Hence, we may infer that Miss Fry was his second wife.) Henry Frey, by the English law of primogeniture, inherited all his father's real estate, being 3,200 acres in Freysbush, 300 acres at the Palatine homestead, and a Canajoharie mill site with 800 acres of land adjoining, etc. Of his estate he gave his brothers the homestead, and to each of his brothers-in-law a good farm of 100 acres, still retaining a large property. He was an officer in the French war, some say a Colonel, under Sir William Johnson: certainly a Colonel of militia before the Revolution. On the Tryon map, the Frey place is marked Capt. Frey; intended, no doubt, for his brother John, as the Colonel was then living in his stone dwelling at the upper Canajoharie mills. At the commencement of the Revolution the Colonel warmly espoused the cause of the mother country; and although he did not take up arms in her defense, his position gave him a world of trouble, for he was arrested, imprisoned, and finally freed on parole, but his estate was not confiscated.

Col. Henry Frey married Elizabeth, a daughter of John Jost (Joseph) Herkimer, sister of Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, by whom he had one son, Philip Rockel, and one daughter, Margaret, who married Edward Cox, who was killed in the war, while defending the Colonel's gristmill against the depredation of his Whig neighbors; leaving one son Henry Frey Cox, who inherited the mill site and several hundred acres of land adjoining, from his grandfather Frey. Mr. Cox married a Miss Nazro, and raised one of the best families Canajoharie has produced. Mrs. Cox, Col. Frey's daughter, afterward married Capt. Cockburn, a half pay officer in the British army, who died from an accident in jumping from a horse. Capt. C. left a daughter Eliza, who married Alfred Conkling, Esq., father of Hon. Roscoe Conkling.

Maj. John Frey, brother of Col. Henry, was a staunch Whig, and zealous patriot through the Revolutionary contest. He, too, although young, is said to have seen service in the French war, was an efficient member of the Tryon county Committee of Safety, was a Brigade Major at Oriskany, from whence he was taken a wounded prisoner to Canada. He filled many active positions in life. He married Gertrude Shoemaker, a niece of Gen. Herkimer, then the widow of Lieut. Matthew Wormuth, who was shot from his horse near Cherry Valley, in the summer of 1778, while bearing dispatches from thence to Fort Plain. (Lieut. Wormuth (not Wormwood) was a son of Peter Wormuth, an early German settler and trusty Whig, who resided in a stone house now demolished, which stood over a mile westward of the Fort Plain railroad depot. Speaking of this soldier's death, Mr. Campbell says, when he fell from his horse: "Brant, rushing up, tomahawked him with his own hand. They had been personal friends before the war, and Brant is said to have lamented his death; at the time, he supposed him to be a Continental officer." This statement is true, except the tomahawking, to which some other writers have added scalping. Reliable tradition says that when the Lieutenant fell from his horse, Brant, from his concealment, ran to him, and recognizing him as a warm personal friend, expressed his sincere regret at his misfortune, and asked him if he thought he could survive his wounds, in which case he would have him tenderly cared for.. No, replied the dying man, there is no hope for me; my wounds are mortal. That he was then dispatched and scalped is no doubt true, but not by Brant in person. I know that he has been presented a a human fiend by persons who could have known little of his true character; and, although a successful and crafty leader, I have been unable to fasten upon his person such atrocities as the Butlers, and many of his white coadjutors were guilty of. He certainly was not the monster some writers have represented him to have been; and although he was literally a captain of demons, yet, because himself an Indians, I am not disposed to misrepresent his true character: he certainly gave repeated evidences, during the war, of possessing a generous nature. As a writer I would fain do justice to either friend or foe, whether white, red or black his skin. Lieut. Wormuth was born in August, 1744, making him about 33 years of age at his death. He was buried from the residence of his father, Peter Wormuth, near Palatine stone church. His memory is very properly commemorated on the Leander Fox monument, in the Fort Plain cemetery.) He died without issue. Maj. Frey was a prominent citizen in the community, and at an advanced age he died in 1833, at the present Frey mansion, from which he was buried on a pleasant Sabbath day, as the writer remembers. This mansion was erected by his only son, Henry I. Frey, Esq., in 1808. The last gentleman dying not many years after, left several children, of which number his son John still survives. S. Ludlow Frey, a son of John Frey is the present proprietor of the homestead.

Capt. Bernard Frey, youngest of the three Palatine brothers, and his nephew Philip R., only son of Col. Henry Frey, then a young man in his teens, joined the Tories and went to Canada (not together however), and how much they were influenced to do so by the senior Frey, can only be conjectured; but it is said that the mother of Philip furnished him an outfit to flee to Canada, and sent him with Tom, an Indian guide, who at Onondaga gave him in charge of another party. On arriving in Canada, Bernard Frey received a captain's commission in the regiment known as Butler's Rangers, a corps celebrated for its cruelty, and his nephew became a cadet in the 8th or King's Regiment; and at the end of a year he was given an ensign's commission, in which capacities they were at the siege of Fort Stanwix. Bernard Frey on the approach of hostilities, sold his interest in the homestead to his brother John, before he went to Canada. Having well married in Canada, at the close of the war, he became a permanent settler there, receiving from the British government a landed estate in the town of Whitby, below Toronto, of 3000 acres. He was also retired from the army as a half pay captain. Thus was he liberally rewarded for imbruing his hand in the blood of his countrymen. He had an only daughter, Margaret, who married John C. Ball, and at her father's death she and her husband each received 200 acres of land as the children of a loyalist captain. Mrs. Ball, a widow, was still living at the age of 86, at Therold, on the Welland canal, as late as 1879. Capt. Frey was yet residing in Canada with all his strong political prejudices against the American government, until the war of 1812 was inaugurated; when he met a tragic fate. Some time in 1814, the Americans and British were cannonading each other in a long range across the St. Lawrence, the former from Fort Niagara, when Frey observed a ball plow up the ground and roll some distance beyond; and picking it up he tossed it to a British gunner near, with the exclamation; "send it back and perhaps it may kill a d-d rebel!" He had scarcely uttered the sentence, when another American shot had severed his own body. (My informant of this incident, Nicholas Steller, a native of Palatine, now an octogenarian, was a boy standing by, when Archibald Anderson, P.M. at Palatine Bridge, with a letter for Maj. John Frey, found his sitting upon the stoop of the public house kept by Jacob Hees, at the corner of the turnpike and Stone Arabia road. "Please open the letter and read it to me," said the old patriot. Anderson did so, reading the tragic fate of his kinsman. He patiently heard the letter read, when firing with the zeal of his early manhood the Maj. exclaimed: "Just good enough for the d-- rascal, he had no business there!"

Philip R. Frey, not many years after the war, at the urgent solicitation of his father, forfeited a good position in the surveying department with other flattering prospects in Canada, and returned to Canajoharie. He had married Maria Louisa St. Martin in Canada, and brought to his father's two children, Henry and Elizabeth; and tow daughters, Mary Ann and Catharine were born at Canajoharie, after which his wife died. In 1798, he married Mrs. Elizabeth Howe, daughter of William Tyrrill, by whom he also had two sons and six daughters, Samuel C. Frey being the oldest of those children. Col. Frey designed his son Philip for a farmer, but as the occupation was distasteful to him, they soon disagreed, and the son left the paternal homestead never to return. Cast upon his own resources, the latter became a good practical surveyor. The colonel still entertained a kindly feeling toward his son's children by the first wife, took them to his own home, a large two story stone house erected just before the Revolution by the Failing family, and standing between Canajoharie and Fort Plain, and cared tenderly for them. This old building which I well remember, took fire from ashes in a nail keg about the year 1833, and burned down. Col. Frey took no little pains to educate the four grandchildren and fit them for usefulness. Henry, or Harry as called, a clever man and squint-eyed, was placed with a merchant named Tomlinson, at Schenectada, and afterwards went into business at Canajoharie; but did not make a successful merchant, and afterward went to Watertown. His sister Elizabeth married Henry N. Bleecker, an early merchant at Fort Plain, and at his death she married John Cumming, Esq., a counsellor-at-law; who undertook to manage a large estate left his wife by her grandfather Frey; but knowing nothing about farming or lumbering, in which he engaged, the property consisting of some 500 acres of good land, in tow or three years was scattered tot he winds;: and about this time Mrs. C. and an infant child died, leaving no issue.

Three octogenarians have sent to the writer: "Betsey Frey (as Elizabeth was called) was the handsomest girl I ever saw." So we may suppose she was indeed in her day, the belle of the Mohawk valley. Mary Ann Frey married Adam I. Roof, a son of Col. John Roof, and died young, leaving two children, Henry and John. Catharine frey married Thomas Bones, leaving four children, Susana, James, Thomas and Benjamin. Thus have we made the reader somewhat familiar with one of the earliest white families that ventured into the Mohawk valley, then the wilderness of Central New York.

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