PROFILE AND HISTORY OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, NY
From the Gazetteer and Business Directory of Montgomery County, N.Y. 1869-70
THIS COUNTY was formed from Albany, March 12, 1772. It was first called Tryon County, in honor of William Tryon, the Colonial Governor, and embraced all that part of the State west of the Delaware River and a line extending north through Schoharie County, and along the east lines of Montgomery, Fulton and Hamilton Counties, to Canada. Its name was changed to Montgomery, in honor of Gen. Richard Montgomery, April 2, 1784. Ontario was taken off in 1780; Herkimer, Otsego and Tioga in 1791; Hamilton in 1816, and Fulton in 1838. It lies on both sides of the Mohawk, is centrally distant thirty-nine miles from Albany, and contains 436 square miles.
The general system of highlands which forms the connecting link between the northern spurs of the Allegheny Mountains on the south, and the Adirondacks on the north, extends through this County in a north-east and south-west direction. Mohawk River cuts through these highlands and forms a valley from one to two miles wide, and from 200 to 500 feet below the summits of the hills. The valleys of some of the tributaries of the Mohawk extend several miles into the highland district at nearly right angles to the river valley. The hills bordering upon the river generally rise in gradual slopes, and from their summits the country spreads out into undulating uplands, with a general inclination towards the river, into which the whole surface of the County is drained. The principal tributaries of the Mohawk are the East Canada, Garoga, Cayadutta, Chuctenunda Creeks and Evas Kil on the north, and Cowilliga, Chuctenunda, Schoharie, Auries, Flat, Canajoharie and Otsaquage Creeks on the south. The highest point in the County is Bean Hill, in Florida, which is estimated at 700 feet above tide; and the lowest point is the bed of the Mohawk on the east line of the County, 260 feet above tide.
The lowest rocks of the County are primary, consisting of the various kinds of gneiss, granite, &c., and appear chiefly at "The Noses," on the Mohawk. Next above these, and appearing on the north bank of the river, is the calciferous sandstone group. This rock often contains in its cavities quartz and small pieces of anthracite coal, leading some to suppose that it may be found in quantities that will pay for mining. Traces of lead have been found near Spraker's Basin. Next in order are the Black River and Trenton limestone, which furnish valuable quarries of building stone. The slate and shales of the Hudson River group extend along the south border of the county, and are found in a few places north of the river. Drift and bowlders abound in some parts. The soil along the river consists of alluvial deposits and a deep, rich, vegetable mold, and upon the uplands it is mostly a highly productive sandy and gravelly loam. The productions are chiefly grass and spring grains. The uplands are well adapted to pasturage, and dairying forms the leading pursuit. Immense quantities of broom corn are raised along the Mohawk flats. Manufacturing is carried on at various points and will be noticed under the various towns. Important quarries are worked at several points.
The principal public works are the Erie Canal, extending along the south bank of the Mohawk, and the New York Central R.R., on the north bank. A wire suspension bridge crosses the Mohawk at Fort Hunter, and iron bridges at fort Plain and at Canajoharie also span the river while wood structures still afford the means of crossing at Amsterdam, Fonda and St. Johnsville.
The County Seat was located at Fonda, the site of the ancient Dutch Settlement of Caughnawaga, in 1836, on its removal from Johnstown, The conditions of removal were that a subscription of $4,500 should be raised, and a site of not less than three acres donated to the County. The Court House is a fine brick structure, surmounted by a dome and containing the usual County offices. It has undergone extensive repairs during the past year, and is now well adapted to the purposes for which it was designed. The Jail is a stone building in the rear of the Court House. A tablet with the following inscription is in the front wall of the Court House: "This building was erected in the year 1836, by Lawrence Marcellus, carpenter, and Henry Holmes, mason, under the charge of Aaron C. Wheelock, Henry Adams and Howland Fish, Commissioners charged with its erection."
The Montgomery Poor House is located in the town of Glen, about one and a quarter miles east of Fultonville. The following is taken from the Report of the State Commissioners of Public Charities:
At the time of the advent of the whites to this County it was the chief seat of the Mohawks, one of the most powerful tribes of Indians in the State. The first settlers were German Palatinates, and the policy which they adopted towards the natives strongly attached a majority of them to the interests of the settlers. During the subsequent wars between the English and French, the Five Nations were faithful allies of the English and in many instances shielded them from hostile attacks. In 1665-6 a French expedition consisting of 600 men under De Courcelles and De Tracy, was sent against the Indians. It proceeded as far as Schenectady, but after much suffering and the loss of many men the army returned to Canada without accomplishing anything. Several expeditions were sent against the western tribes during the next few years, and by way of retaliation the Indians made a descent against Montreal in 1689 and laid waste a large tract of country and destroyed many lives. In retaliation several expeditions were sent against the Indians and English by Count Frontenace, one of which destroyed Schenectady in 1690. The Indians had three castles in the Mohawk Valley, one of which was at the mouth of Schoharie Creek, another at the mouth of Otsqaga, and a third at the mouth of the Nowadaga, in Herkimer County. In the winter of 1692-2 the French invaded this region and destroyed two of the castles and took about three hundred prisoners. In one engagement the French lost thirty of their number, and in their retreat were followed by Major Peter Schuyler, at the head of two hundred regulars and militia, who succeeded in killing about thirty and in rescuing about fifty prisoners. The remainder escaped and fled to Canada through the great northern wilderness. As early as 1642 the French Jesuits sent their missionaries among the Mohawks, and through their exertions some were induced to embrace the Roman Catholic religion and subsequently removed to Canada.
In 1711 a military post known as Fort Hunter was established near the mouth of Schoharie Creek, and about the same time a large number of German Palatinates, sent out by Queen Anne, settled on the Hudson, and soon after removed to the Mohawk Valley and settled on lands belonging to the Government. A considerable number of the Holland Dutch also settled in the County about the same time.
The land grants were issued on comparatively small tracts. In 1714 a tract of 2,000 acres was granted to John and Margaret Collins; in 1722, 6,000 acres to Lewis Morris & Co.; in 1723 a tract of 12,700 acres was granted to John Christian Garlock and others, for the benefit of the Palatinates, and called Stone Arabia. In 1737 a tract of 1 0,000 acres, south of the Mohawk, and 5,426 acres, north of the same stream, was grated to James De Lancey and others called De Lanceys Patent. Other grants were made, so that in 1760 but little remained in the County that had not been granted to some party.
About the year 1735, Sir Peter Warren, an Admiral in the British Navy, acquired the title to a large tract of land lying on the south side of the Mohawk, in the present town of Florida, and known as Warren's Bush. He sent his nephew, afterwards known as Sir William Johnson, to take the charge of it. Johnson at first located at the mouth of Schoharie Creek, but after obtaining the title to a tract of land north of the river, he erected a stone house, about three miles west of the village of Amsterdam, and made that his residence until his removal to Johnstown about 1762. This place was fortified and known as Fort Johnson, a name which it still bears. Through the influence of his uncle he obtained the appointment of Indian Agent, and by learning the language and adopting the dress and habits of the Indians whenever it appeared expedient, he acquired a greater influence over them than any other white man had ever before obtained. He died July 11, 1774. His son, Sir John Johnson, and his sons-in-law, Guy Johnson and Daniel Claus, were among the most influential of those who adhered to the King when the struggle for Independence began. The German Palatinates generally united with the Colonies, and the other settlers entertained similar sentiments, but for some time they were overawed by the Johnsons, and their efforts to organize were thwarted by the activity of the Tory leaders.
Tryon County was divided into six districts and for the purpose of a more thorough organization, delegates were appointed in each by the Patriots to form a Committee of Public Safety. These districts were Mohawk, adjoining Albany; Canajoharie, in the south side of the Mohawk; and Palatine on the north, extending up the river to Little Falls; German Flats and Kingsland, still further up the river; and Old England District, west of the Susquehanna. The first five of these districts were formed March 24, 1772. On the 8th of March, 1773, the original name, Stone Arabia, was changed to Palatine, German Flats was changed to Kingsland, and Kingsland to German Flats. Old England District was formed April 3, 1775. Col. Guy Johnson had succeeded to the office of Indian Agent, and his acts were so aggressive and partisan that the Committee addressed a remonstrance. In June, 1775, he withdrew to Cosby's Manor, under pretense of holding a council with the Indians in the west part of the County, and shortly after fled to Montreal by way of Oswego, accompanied by a large number of dependents and followers. He continued to act as Indian Agent during the war, and by liberal rewards and more liberal promises incited the Indians to active hostilities. In Canada he was joined by Joseph Brant, a distinguished and educated Mohawk Chief, and by John and Walter N. Butler, two Tories who gained an infamous notoriety for their barbarity, which surpassed that of the Indians. These persons had all resided in Tryon County and were well qualified by their knowledge of the settlements to lead marauding parties of Tories and Indians on their work of desolation. Sir John remained at the Hall, and though he could still count among his relatives and neighbors many adherents, yet he was not ignorant of the fact that the leaven of civil liberty was working among the Colonists to a greater extent than was desired by him. He therefore began to fortify Johnson Hall and to arm his attendants and make preparations to support actively the cause of the Crown whenever an opportunity should offer. The Committee of Safety suspecting that he was meditating hostilities and that he was in correspondence with Guy Johnson, determined to ascertain his intentions. For this purpose they addressed him the following letter:
To this Sir John replied, that as to embodying his tenants, he never did or should forbid them; but they might save themselves further trouble as he knew his tenants would not consent. Concerning himself, sooner than lift his hand against his King, or sign any association, he would suffer his head to be cut off. As to the Court House and Jail, he would not deny the use of them for the purpose for which they were built, but that they were his property until he should be refunded seven hundred pounds. He further said he had been informed that two-thirds of the Canajoharie and German Flats people had been forced to sign the association.
Johnson continued his defensive works about the Hall, and it was currently reported that, in addition to his tenants and adherents, three hundred Indians were to garrison the works, to be let loose upon the settlement as occasion might offer.
Having become convinced of his hostile intentions, General Schuyler, who had charge of the Northern Department, wrote to him in January, 1776, stating that he had been informed that "designs of the most dangerous tendency to the lives and liberties of those who are opposed to the unconstitutional measures of the ministry, have been formed in a part of Tryon County," he was ordered to march a body of men into that County to contravene those dangerous designs. Influenced by motives of humanity, he declared that he wished to comply with his orders in a manner the most peaceable, that no blood might be shed, and; therefore requested that Sir John would meet him the next day at any place on his way to Johnstown. To this letter Sir John returned an unsatisfactory reply. A correspondence ensued which resulted in an agreement on the part of Sir John to disarm his Scotch tenants and to refrain from any and all acts hostile to the Colonies. For some reason this agreement was violated, and he resumed his intrigues, secretly instigating the Indians to hostilities. Under these circumstances it was thought best to secure the person of Sir John, and Col.Dayton was dispatched with a force to arrest him. Being warned of their approach, Sir John and his followers escaped to the woods, and after nineteen days of great hardship and suffering reached Canada by way of Sacondaga and Racket Rivers. Sir John received a commission of Colonel in the British service, and raised a regiment of Tories known as "Johnson's Greens," and was active and bitter in his hostility to the Colonists throughout the war. Through the influence of the Johnsons all of the Six Nations, except a portion of the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, united their fortunes with the British and were liberally aided by arms and provisions in their incursions into the frontier settlements. Several efforts were made on the part of the Americans to attach the Indians to their cause, or at least to induce them to remain neutral, but with the exceptions named, all to no purpose. (original long paragraph being broken here)
During the summer and fall of 1777 this Country, in common with other portions of the northern and western frontier, was the scene of great alarm and stirring events caused by the expedition of Burgoyne. General Barry St.Leger had been dispatched with an army of Tories and Indians, by the way of Oswego, to reduce the forts and settlements on the Mohawk and join the main army of Burgoyne at Albany. Fort Schuyler, where Rome is now situated, was besieged on the third day of August. The militia of Montgomery County were called out, and under the command of General Herkimer, marched to the relief of the fort. At Oriskany they were surprised by a body of Tories and Indians, and a bloody battle was fought in which two hundred of the patriots of the county were killed and as many more taken prisoners. There was scarcely a hamlet in the valley that did not lose one or more of its inhabitants. A few weeks after this, General Arnold, at the head of about 900 troops, marched to the relief of the Fort, and St. Leger hastily retreated. During the fall and the following year Indian scouts prowled around the settlements upon the western border, murdering or carrying into captivity small parties of settlers and soldiers when the opportunity offered. Sir John Johnson was present at the siege of Fort Schuyler, but as this proved a failure he made two other incursions into the County. On the 21st of May, 1780, he suddenly appeared at Johnson Hall at the head of 500 Indians and Tories. He arrived about sunset on Sunday, and dividing his force into two parties, at daylight the next morning he made an attack simultaneously upon Tribes Hill and Caughnawaga, (Fonda), killing several persons and taking others prisoners. and burning every building upon the route except those belonging to Tories. The militia collected in considerable numbers, and towards night Sir John retreated to Canada by way of the wilderness west of the Adirondack Mountains. The principal object of his incursion was to obtain the silver plate which had been buried on his hasty retreat from the Hall.(original long paragraph being broken here)
Near the last of July of the same year, the militia of the County were sent to guard a provision train sent to the relief of Fort Schuyler. On the 2d of August, while they were absent, Brant, at the head of 500 Indians and Tories, made an attack upon the settlements in the vicinity of Fort Plain. Fifty-three dwellings were burned, sixteen persons were slain and sixty women and children carried into captivity The party retreated on the approach of the militia from Johnstown and Schenectady. In October a large body of Tories, Indians and Canadians, under Sir John Johnson, Brant and Cornplanter, made their appearance at the mouth of Schoharie Creek after having laid waste the settlements above. The troops of Sir John were chiefly collected near Montreal from which point they ascended the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario and Oswego, from this point to Oneida Lake, where they left their boats and proceeded over land to join the Tories and Indians collected at Tioga Point. They had with them two small mortars and a three-pound brass cannon, called a grasshopper, from the circumstance of its being mounted on legs instead of wheels; these pieces were carried through the woods on pack horses. These troops, to the number of 2,000, were all provided with eighty rounds of cartridges. They passed along the east bank of the Susquehanna to its source, thence across to the Schoharie Creek and down that to the Mohawk, spreading destruction and desolation in their course. From the mouth of Schoharie Creek the main body passed up the Mohawk on the south side, while Captain Duncan, with three companies of the "Greens" and some Indians, crossed to the north side, and proceeding up the river, destroyed all that was left of Caughnawaga in the preceding raid, and all that had been rebuilt. The march upon both sides of the river was one of the most complete devastation; rapine and plunder were carried to the fullest extent, and every thing combustible was given to the flames. The inhabitants, panic stricken, escaped death or captivity only by flight. (original long paragraph being broken here)
On the night of the 18th Sir John encamped a short distance above The Noses, and the next morning crossed the river at Keeder's Rifts. Most of the army continued up the river, but a detachment of one hundred and fifty men was dispatched against a small stockade fort in Stone Arabia called Fort Paris. This was in command of Colonel Brown with one hundred and thirty men. As soon as the news of Johnson's incursion reached Albany, General Robert Van Rensselaer, at the head of a party of militia, started in pursuit. He arrived at Caughnawaga on the 18th, and having learned that Fort Paris was to be attacked the next day, dispatched orders to Col. Brown to march out and attack the enemy while he would fall upon his rear. Brown promptly sallied forth to the attack, but Rennselaer had been so impeded in his march as to be unable to create any diversion in Brown's favor, whose force was too weak to withstand the enemy or check his progress. Col. Brown and about forty of his men fell in the attack, the remainder sought safety in flight. Johnson now dispersed his troops in small bands in all directions to plunder or destroy. Towards evening these marauders were collected together and marched back to the river road east of Garoga Creek. Avoiding a small defense near the mouth of the Creek, Sir John moved west, continuing his course to Klock's Field, where, from the fatigue of the troops and the burden of the plunder, it became necessary to halt.
General Van Rensselaer was now in close pursuit with a strong force. He had encamped the previous night at Van Epps, on the south side of the river, not more than three miles from Johnson, whose troops must have been weary from their long marches and heavy knapsacks, while VanRensselaer's were fresh in the field. Captain McKean, with about eighty volunteers and a strong body of Oneida warriors, had also joined him, making his force superior to that of Johnson. Sir John had placed a guard of forty men at the ford to dispute the passage. On approaching this point Van Rensselaer halted and did not again advance until the guard had withdrawn. He continued on the south side while Johnson was continuing his work of death up on the north. He arrived opposite the battle ground where Col. Brown had fallen before the firing ceased and while the Indian war-whoop was still resounding. While halting about three miles below Garoga Creek, some of the fugitives from Brown's regiment arrived, fording the river without difficulty. General Van Rensselaer made an excuse for not crossing that he was not acquainted with the fording place. Being informed that there was no difficulty in crossing, Capt. McKean and the Oneida Chief led their commands through the river, expecting the main army to follow. General Van Rensselaer, however, immediately mounted his horse and rode away to Fort Plain to dine with Gov. Clinton. Meantime the baggage wagons were driven into the stream to serve in part as a bridge for the army, which commenced crossing in single files. In this way the passage was not effected until four o'clock P. M., at which time the General returned. Col. Louis, as the Oneida Chief was called, shook his sword at him and denounced him as a Tory. Col. William Harper also remonstrated with him on account of the unnecessary delay, attended as it had been by a needless loss of life and property. From this time the troops advanced without unnecessary delay, in three divisions, the advance led by Col. Morgan Lewis. Sir John, anticipating an attack, had disposed of his force upon a small alluvial plain, partly surrounded by a bend in the river. A slight breastwork had been thrown up across the neck of the little peninsula, and the Indians under Brant were secreted among the thick scrub oaks that covered the land a little to the north and a few feet higher. Here a spirited engagement took place in which Sir John and his troops were routed, and had he been followed up as he should have been, the whole force might have been destroyed or captured. General Van Rensselaer has been severely censured for his course and denounced by many as a Tory at heart. (original long paragraph being broken here)
The prospects of the Mohawk Valley were now shrouded in gloom. Nearly every settlement had been desolated and nearly every family had lost some of its members. The Supervisors of Tryon County prepared a statement dated December 20, 1780, and presented to the Legislature, giving some idea of the resolution made throughout this region. This statement declares that 700 buildings had bee burned in the County; 354 families had abandoned their habitations and removed; 613 persons had deserted to the enemy; 197 had been killed; 121 taken prisoners, and 1,200 farms lay uncultivated by reason of the enemy. This statement did not include Cherry Valley, Newtown, Martin, Middlefield, Springfield, Harpersfield, ad Old England District, which had been utterly destroyed and abandoned. The population at the beginning of the war was about 10,000. Though the sufferings of the colonists were great the Indian loss was much greater. Their whole country had been ravaged, their crops destroyed and many of their number had died in battle or by starvation. At the close of the war a miserable remnant of the once powerful nations returned to sue for peace.
In the spring of 1781, Colonel Marinus Willett assumed commander of the American forces on the Mohawk, and by his military skill, daring and knowledge of Indian warfare, repelled all the attacks made upon the Mohawk settlements and carried the war into the enemy's own country. On the 9th of July, 1781, about 300 Indians, under a Tory named Doxtader, made a sudden attack upon the settlement of Currytown in the town of Root, burning the buildings and collecting a large amount of booty. Col. Willett, with 150 militia, immediately pursued and overtook them at Dorlach, a few miles over the line of Schoharie County. By stratagem he succeeded in drawing the Indians into an ambuscade and defeated them, killing forty of their number and retaking all their plunder. Some of their prisoners were murdered to prevent their escape. The last incursion of the Indians into the Mohawk Valley was made October 24, 1781, by a party of 600 British and Indians, under Major Ross and the notorious Walter N. Butler. They made their first appearance in the vicinity of Warren Bush, and proceeded to Johnstown, engaging in their usual work of plunder and murder. Here they were attacked by Colonels Willett, Rowley and Harper. A severe engagement ensued in which the enemy were defeated and forced to retreat. Col. Willett pursued, and coming up with the rear guard at West Canada Creek, a skirmish ensued in which Butler was killed. History has handed down his name as one of the most inhuman wretches that ever disgraced humanity. He surpassed the savages in barbarity, appearing to revel with delight at the spectacle of human suffering. Many a victim was saved from his clutches by Brant, the Mohawk Chief. This affair practically ended the war in Tryon County, and the remaining citizens who had so often suffered from savage incursions, were permitted to resume in peace their accustomed employments, though stripped of almost everything except the soil.
At the close of the war, and when peace once more smiled upon the land, emigrants from New England and other parts settled in the Mohawk Valley, and the fertile fields so recently made desolate by the torch of the savage and the Tory, began to bud and blossom, and in a few years almost every trace of the war had become obliterated.
In closing this sketch of Montgomery County we would gladly give a record of the deeds of the brave men who fought to preserve the Government from disintegration at the hands of traitors. As the necessary statistics are not at hand, we must be content to say that those who volunteered in their country's defense, fought worthy of their illustrious sires of the Revolution . If our fathers who founded the Republic are worthy of all commendation for the sacrifices which they made to found so glorious a structure, of not less praise are those worthy, who gave their lives that the Republic might be preserved and transmitted unimpaired to our posterity.
This account of Montgomery County's early history was typed by Joan Veeder, Montgomery GenWeb's A-1 Blue Ribbon Champion Typing Volunteer back in 1997. Many of our most useful items would not have gone online so soon without her help in the first year of this website. Amongst Joan's many generous contributations are the Revolutionary War loss-claim of her ggg-grandfather, Johannes Veeder, who suffered devastating losses under the plundering of Sir John and his minions. Joan passed away in 1998.
Last Updated: 1/25/98
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