A Story of the Watson Family

From the Journal of Rev. Sylvanus Palmer and Dr. Sylvanus Palmer

Contributed by His Ggg-granddaughter Isabel Prescott


I notice that you might be interested in a little history of Tribes Hill. My great great great grandfather Sylvanus Palmer was the minister of the Dutch Reformed Church of Tribes Hill in the early 1820's. (I believe it's the building still standing but in a rather decrepit state.) He became the minister there, after a rather stormy career in two churches in Broadalbin; a separatist movement resulted in he and others leaving and forming their own church, thereafter calling themselves Palmerites. It was subsequent to all of this that he started to preach, in his older years, in Tribes Hill.

I have a journal handed down in my family which spans about 100 years starting in the late 1700's, written by both this man and his son, Dr. Sylvanus Palmer, (well-known author, pen name Peter Paradox), and my great grandmother, Ann Elizabeth Palmer Steers, as well as some possible notations by other people. On the inside cover of the hard-covered journal (well-fallen apart) is a short story about Tribes Hill. Although both father and son were well educated and excellent writers, this story is of a completely different style. It is referenced briefly in one part of the journal during a sermon, but otherwise seems to stand apart. Since Sylvanus Palmer transcribed his sermons in the journal, I have wondered if it could have been a story he learned from another and then used as an illustration for the congregation. Otherwise, I assume an unnamed person wrote it within, why, I have no idea.

I'm including the story below for your interest. Where ever I have used brackets, I am not able to decipher what the document says. Most of what has been obliterated occurred at a ragged edge of the cover and has been lost forever. Where I have included a line, that line has actually been written into the journal at that point.

What remains of this story, I find has a rather fascinating "ring" to it, and I hope that you, too, will find it engaging.

Isabel Prescott
November 2002

"On the Mohawk river a few miles above Tribe's hill, on the north side, at a curve in the course of the stream once lived a farmer of the name of Watson; who having entered while the country was as yet unreclaimed from its wilderness state, and remained till it was sufficiently cleared, to be noted as a white settlement, was looked on by his neighbors with that degree of respect to which previous exertions and steady habits usually entitle a man. He had purchased a tract of land of the Indians at their own offer, and remained on it unmolested by them in consequence.


And hurried forward, pursuing the flying horde, and searching as he ran for his murdered offspring. But he pursued not far. He returned to renew his search. But the light was more intense than day, he could only find his eldest son and beloved daughter. He clasped their lifeless bodies, in his arms, and leaned their bleeding heads upon his bosom. His revenge had flown, tears, and deep, deep grief came over his soul and he sobbed aloud. Oh heavenly Father said he, take me to my children's spirits, why should I live any longer? Yet not my will but thine, be done. As he spoke, he felt a motion on his bosom, and a stifled sob but doubled all his agony. He had hoped their pains were over. It was [Clarissa] sighted. A few minutes all was still, but the roaring and crackling of the fire. Then came a crash, as the [] fell, and sent a broad flame into the very clouds Alas! thought he, such is the grave my family must lie in! Another, another, and a louder sob from [Clarissa] to him there still was life. Next a convulsion, after which she breathed! He stripped himself of his mantle, and wrapped her in its ample folds! laying her by his side, while he watched, in agony of hope and fear, the progress of returning life. The convulsions were in strength tho' farther apart, and tho' her frame was violently racked she was evidently resuscitating. Next Adrian's body was laid down and he carried the insensible sufferer to an outhouse which had escaped the flames, where she would repose under the care of his wakeful dog, which had now returned from the pursuit with a broken leg. Anxious to be gone from the terrific scene, where he was consigned his presence could do no more good, he searched for implements and dug a grave for his lamented son. Parental affection served his arm, and the task was soon accomplished. He proceeded towards the body, which with estatic surprise he found breathing. Him too he took in his arms wrapped in his own coat, and laid him beside his sister. There, with a hope, which for a while abated all his griefs, he watched the symptoms of returning animation until the dawn of day, when his neighbors from the settlement below, having seen the fire during the night came to ascertain what had happened. (How he was interrupted by a [] ["Lago!"] and Indian he had entertained a day before stood beside him. [] him that he had skulked away from the [main    ] under pretence of an attack of a malady with which he was known to be habitually afflicted. He had pretended to stray away in search of a root with which he usually cured himself, and by a circuitous route endeavored to reach the devoted family before in time to assist them in their escape. But having in the darkness fallen over a precipice and severely bruised himself, he had been detained until it was too late, and the only consolation left him was to relieve and comfort the survivors, if any there were. He assisted Mr. in dressing, as well as circumstances would permit the wounds of the insensible sufferers; and assured the afflicted father that they would recover. Their skulls were neither of them broken, and their scalps, tho' partially detached, were not so much so, but by [apidarity ?] they might be [heated] in their place again. The [] of the burning timbers were now and then falling into the cellar, sending up sparks and flame: and by their light the Indian washed the wounds of the children in water from the family spring."

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