HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF MOHAWK
The passages below were transcribed by volunteerThomas MacEntee from the classic "The History of Montgomery County and Fulton Counties, N.Y." by F.W. Beers & Co., 1878.
THE TOWN OF MOHAWK
The small town of Mohawk has perhaps been the scene of more events worthy of historic record than any other in the county. Armies have repeatedly marched over its territory, marking their course with blood and conflagration. This neighborhood was early settled, and all over the present town live the descendants of the pioneers, among whom are represented probably a greater number of families prominent in the Revolution than in any other town of the county. Such events in the history of Mohawk as were connected with general movements through the county have already been narrated, leaving to be given herein the minor occurences and stiking individual experiences with which the annals of the town abound.
Mohawk was formed from the southern part of Johnstown, April 4, 1837. The reader hardly need be cautioned against confounding it with the original town of Mohawk, which was on.... The earliest dwellers, of whom there is any record, on the soil of this town were the clan of Mohawk Indians inhabiting a village called by them Cahaniaga, or Gandaogue; by their successors, the Dutch, Kaghnewage, and later Caughnawaga. It stood on the fair-ground of Montgomery County Agricultrual Society on the eastern edge of the village of Fonda. The Indian name is interpreted "Stone-in-the-water."
It was here that the Jesuit Jogues* was held captive and suffered such tortures in 1642, and here that he met martyrdom in 1646. "On a hill apart," wrote Bancroft, "he carved a long cross on a tree, and there, in the solitude, he meditated on the imitation of Christ. Roaming through the stately shades of the Mohawk valley, he wrote the name of Jesus on the bark of the trees, engraved the cross, and entered into possession of those countries in the name of God, often lifting up his voice in solitary chant." "This living martyr," says Parkman, "half clad in shaggy furs, kneeling on the snow among the icicled rocks, and beneath the gloomy pines, bowing in adoration before the emblem of the faith in which was his only consolation and his only hope, is alike a theme for the pen and a subject for the pencil." Unterrified by the fate of Jogues, three other Jesuit missionaries, one of whom was Father Fremin, came to Caughnawaga in 1667, and the noted De Lamberville in 1675. The last named remained three years. Tehgahkwita, the daughter of a chief, was converted through his ministrations, and baptized by the name of Catherine. Being subjected to persecution among her people, she fled to Canada, where she died in 1680, aged twenty-four. A little before this time the labors of the priests had resulted in the conversion of numbers of the Caughnawaga, who were enticed by them from their homes and kindred to settle on the St. Lawrence. They afterward rendered valuable service to the French as allies and guides in expeditions against the Iroquois. Brodhead gives the following account of their conversion and exodus:
"Bruyas, at Tionnontoguen, or St. Mary's, and Boniface, at Caughnawaga, or St. Peter's, labored among the Mohawks. Although the smallest of the Iroquois villages, Caughnawaga was esteemed by the Jesuits, like ancient Judah by the Israelites, as the greatest of all their stations. Prayer was offered there as constantly 'as in the best regulated families of France.' Yet, while zealous Mohawk converts paraded their chaplets in the Dutch church, at Albany, the Jesuit missionaries mistrusted their frequent visits to the 'heretics,' lamented their 'wretched peace' with the Mahicans, which, by making the paths safe, enabled the Iroquois accessions from Oneida, whose chief, Garonhiague, or 'La cendre chaude,' became a catechist. While on a visit there, Kryn, or 'the great Mohawk,' had become converted by Fremin, and, on his return to Caughnawaga, so moved the village that forty Mohawks, with their squaws and children, went back with him to the Prarie. Their brethren at Tionnontoguen, 'who were not yet disposed to embrace the faith,' complained to Bruyas of the 'black robes, who seemed to wish to make their country a desert, and ruin their villages.' The health of Boniface, however, soon failed, and he returned to Quebec to die, conducting 'a great party' of converts, and leaving Bruyas alone, in charge of both the Mohawk stations. The intervals of missionary labor were employed by the Iroquois superior in preparing his immortal dictionary of the Indian tongue."
the south side of the river, and was abolished in 1793. From that time there was no territory called by this name, until it was applied to the present town. Mohawk has an areas of 20,222 acres, sloping rapidly and irregularly from the Johnstown line, which is some four hundred feet above the valley, to the river flats. The Mayfield mountain sweeps down through the western border, and forms at the river one of the bold declivities called the Noses. The land is highly productive and well cultivated. Several picturesque streems flow into the Mohawk, or into Caydutta creek, which is the principal watercourse in the town. The next in size is Danoscara creek, or Dadanskarie, as it is given in the well spelled and wll written parchment title to Hansen's patent, 2,000 acres, executed by Gov. Robert Hunter in 1713. The whole of this patent was included in the present town; almost all of the Caughnawaga (Collins) patent, 2,000 acres, granted Nov. 14, 1714, adjoining it on the west; and o the Alexander patent, lying next west, and consisting of 8,000 acres, granted May 6, 1725. Part of the Stone Arabia patent formed the north-west corner of the town, and portions of Butler's, the Sacondaga and the Chatsandackie (Wilson and Abeel) patents completed its outlines on the north and east.
The allusion to the converts' "visits to the 'herectics'" is explained in the following passage from another page of Mr. Brodhead's work:
"Many converts were made, and even the worship of Aireskoue, their great demon, was renounced when Pierron threatened to leave them, after witnessing one of their solemn 'feasts of the dead' at Caghnawaga. So zealous were some of the proselytes that they took pride in displaying their crucifixes at Albany, and in arguing with the 'heretics.' A converted squaw went into the church while Dominie Schaats was preaching, and recited her chaplet during the whole of divine service."
At Caughnawaga was held in 1659 the first formal council with the Mohawks on their own ground. On the 18th of August, 1669, the village was attacked by the Mahicans, who were repulsed and pursued. It consisted when visited by Wentworth Greenhalgh in 1677 of twenty-four houses. It was destroyed by the forces of Count Frontenac, governor of Canada, in 1693.
No history of this section would be complete without mention of the famous Hendrick or Soi-en-ga-rab-ta, who for many years stood at the head of the Mohawk canton. As he lived some time on the north bank of the river a little below the Nose (though generally at the upper castle) he may appropriately be referred to here. His father was a Mahican chief, who married a Mohawk princess and united with her people. Hendrick was born about 1680, and was one of the Iroquois chiefs who accompanied Col. Schuyler to England in 1710. He was a man of remarkable energy, sagacity and bravery, representing his people in council with eloquence, and in battle with undaunted courage. His best known speech was made at a council with the six Nations held at Albany in 1754. Holding up the chain belt that typified the alliance of the English and the Iroquois, he began by saying: "Brethren, we return you all our grateful acknowledgments for renewing and brightening the covenant chain. This chain belt is of very great importance to our united nations and all our allies; we will therefore take it to Onondaga, where our council fire always burns, and keep it so securely that neither thunder nor lightning shall break it." In regard to the defenceless condition of the frontier to meet French invasion, he spoke sharply and reproachfully, telling the English that it was their own fault that they were not strengthened by conquest, and that the Indians would have taken Crown Point had not their white brethren prevented it. "You burnt your own fort at Saratoga," said the sachem, "and ran away from it, which was a shame and a scandal to you. Look about your country and see; you have no fortifications about you, no, not even this city. 'Tis but one step from Canada hither, and the French may easily come and turn you out of doors." Hendrick was always the trusty lieutenant of Sir William Johnson, and fought under him at the battle of Lake George in 1755. On learning of the approach of the French, it was proposed to send out a small party to meet them. Hendrick's opinion being asked, he replied, "If they are to fight, they are too few; if they are to be killed, they are too many." The detachment was ordered forward, however, with the white-haired chief and his warriors at the head. At the opening of the action Hendrick was killed. He had been held in the utmost veneration by his tribe, and his fate was correspondingly lamented.
THE MOHAWK PIONEERS
In July, 1713, a patent was granted to two men named Hansen for two thousand acres of land on the north bank of the Mohawk above Tribes hill. They soon after settled on the tract, and there is no record of any earlier settlers in the town of Mohawk. A patent for the same amount just west was granted in the next year to John, Edward and Margaret Collins, but they sold to Myndert Wemple, Douw Fonda, and Hendrick A. Vrooman, without, so far as is known, making any settlements. The purchasers, however, settled, and founded some of the famous old families still represented in the town.
Captain Henry Hansen, a son of one of the patenters, was killed and scalped at the time of Johnson's raid in 1780, by an Indian whom he had befriended, and who had expressed great gratitude; his house was burned and the women of the household left homeless. Several of Hansen's neighbors were murdered at the same time. Two others named Bowen are said to have guided the invaders in their attack on the Tribes Hill settlement, being tories who had gone to Canada with the Johnsons. Their father had settled in the neighborhood shortly after the original Hansens.
One of the early settlers in the town, and in this part of it, was Harmen Visscher, the founder of the Visscher family whose eventful history is elsewhere given. On the Hansen patent, the same tract with the Visschers, and adjoining that place on the north, William H. Brower bought one hundred and fifty acres for $1 per acre from his father, who was one of the earliest settlers in the town of Palatine. The purchaser did not occupy this place until after the Revolutionary war, through which he served. One of the actions in which he participated was Montgomery's ill-starred attack on Quebec. On the retreat of the Americans from Canada, Brower had charge of one of the cannon as far as Springfield, Mass., where he was taken with the small-pox. At the close of the war he settled on the land he had bought, and built a log house. He was much troubled by wolves, which killed his sheep and even a colt. In course of time he built another house, which is still standing, being used as a tenement, and is represented on another page in a view of the home of his grandson, H.T.E. Brower. The latter has in his possession a Spanish dollar of the date of 1772, which was the first money his grandfather made on the new place. He got it by burning a tree, and taking the ashes to the potash factory which had been established at Johnstown by Sir. William Johnson.
Another Revolutionary veteran, once resident in this town, to which he came in 1784, was Ralph Schenck. He took part in the battle of Monmouth, shooting a British trooper who charged on him and riding away with his horse. In his eighty-first year he went to New Jersey, to obtain support for his claim to a pension, which he was enabled to do by accidentally meeting with the captain under whom he served.
One of the original German inhabitants was Michael Stollers, who, on coming to this country, settled on the farm now occupied by his grandson, John R. Stollers, who was born on the place in 1812.
Henry Coolman, grandfather of Peter Coolman, was another German immigrant, and was also a patriot solder in the Revolution. At the disastrous Stone Arabia fight, in which Col. Brown was killed, Mr. Coolman shot one of the Indians who pursued the retreating provincials, and his grandson has the musket with which it was done. Another of the German pioneers was Richard Schuyler, who settled in 1817 on the farm where his son, Thomas, who was born in the town of Florida in 1815, has lived since the former date. John and Victor Putman were early settlers at Tribes Hill, where the latter died at the age of ninety-seven, a veteran of the Revolution. There Fisher Putman was born in 1793. Learning the harnessmakers' trade, he went, while a young man, to Sackett's Harbor to sell some of his product. He arrived there in time to be drafted for the defence of the port, then threatened by the British. He died at Tribes Hill in 1870 where he had been postmaster since 1831. He had collected many valuable relics of the Revolutionary period, which were unfortunately lost by the burning of the house the year after his death. His son, G.F. Putman, now a resident of Fonda, has a cannon used on a hill near that place at a gathering in 1776, which celebrated the Declaration of Independence.
This town was the theatre of many stirring events during the war for independence, but some of them were so connected with movements of a more general character that it has been necessary to mention them in the history of the county at large, while others are inseparably associated with the family histories given herewith. The affair in which Jacob Sammons received the first wounds in the great struggle in the Mohawk valley, when the Johnson party resisted the raising of a liberty pole at Caughnawaga, has thus been related elsewhere, but the exact scene of the encounter was not there given and may here be pointed out. It was for a long time forgotten and unknown, but has recently been identified by Mrs. Elizabeth Foster, a daughter of Jacob Sammons, and grand-daughter of Johannes Veeder. It was at the latter's mill that the patriot gathering occurred. The building was a heavily-timbered structure, and served during the war as a block-house. It stood on ground now partly covered by the Central Railroad tracks, and about opposite the carriage shop of Wood & Peek. The water that worked it was taken from the creek on its western side, some distance above the bridge, and conveyed in a covered raceway along the base of the hill, partly on the line of the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad, passing under the wagon road where the carriage shop referred to stands, and reappearing in an open flume below. This was, doubtless, the building referred to in the following "order for Flour on Mr. Veader, block House."
"FORT HUNTER, Octr 16th, 1781"
"SIR: Yesterday, when I was at your house, you mentioned that I might have some more Flour, but I neglected to enquire whether it was bolted or not, let it be done as soon as possible, to the amount of four barrels if you can spare so much, which I shall send barrels to put it in, or if you can send it in baggs, you would much oblige
"Send me an answer as soon as possible if not the Flour
The skirmish that grew out of the pole-raising occurred in the spring of 1775. In the autumn of that year, Frederick Visscher, who had been commissioned colonel by Congress, assembled his regiment for training near Peggy Wemple's taven at Caughnawaga. Sir John and Lady Johnson, riding through the village, found what was going on, and the Baronet had his carriage driven to the spot. On reaching it, he alighted and inquired of the colonel why he had called the regiment together. Being told that they were gathered for parade and review, he directed them to disperse. The colonel ordered them to keep their ranks, and Sir John, enraged at this contempt for his assumed authority, raised a heavy sword-cane to strike him. Visscher grasped the cane, and a struggle ensured, in which the sword was drawn, the colonel holding the scabard. Johnson threatened to stab him, and was told to act his pleasure. Gaining nothing by this attempt at intimidation, he stepped to his carriage, and procuring his pistols, demanded the dismissal of the rebel regiment, threatening to shoot the colonel if he did not so order. The latter again told the irate Baronet to act his pleasure. He might have executed his threat had not a young Irishman in Visscher's command sung out: "If ye offer to lift a finger against my master, I'll blow ye through!" The tory, wrathy but helpless, could only mount his carriage and ride away. Incidents like this, occurring before assemblies of citizens and soldiers, taught them to defy the representatives of British power, and nerved them for endurance and achievement not surpassed in the thirteen colonies by an equal population.
Col. Visscher was at Albany in 1777 when a boat load of American soldiers, wounded at Bemis Heights, arrived from Stillwater. With them were the drummer boy Nicholas Stoner, afterward the famous trapper, and Peter Coyne, who lived near Caugnawaga. The latter and Peter Graff, from the same town, were teamsters with Gates' army, but followed Arnold in his impetuous attack on the enemy's camp, in which Coyne was wounded. The colonel being on his way home, took young Stoner with him, and thence to Johnstown. Stoner lived with the Visschers during part of the war, when about fourteen or fifteen.
Among the early settlers of the town was John Butler, who, with his son Walter, the former as colonel and the latter as captain in the British service, won such an infamous notoriety in the guerilla warfare waged against the noncombatants of the Mohawk valley during the Revolution. The Butler house is still standing, being now owned by Mr. Henry Wilson, and is believed to be the oldest building in town, having been erected, it is thought, about the same time as Johnson Hall and the Caughnawaga church. Its site is a commanding position about a mile northeast of Fonda. Though rather rudely, it is, as might be supposed, very strongly built, being heavily timbered with oak. The walls, instead of being plastered, were ceiled with pine. The chimney bricks were imported. Butler was at the beginning of the war lieutenant-colonel of the battalion of Tryon county militia, of which Jelles Fonda was major. The disreputable character of his military operations during the Revolution made him always unpopular with the British regular officers, but he received from the crown a pension of $1,000 after the war, and the Indian superintendency, which had been held by Guy Johnson, and to which appertained a salary of $2,000. He spent his last years in Canada, where he died in 1800.
There was at Tribes Hill, during the Revolution, says G. F. Putman, a family of Indians, including five brothers. They took no active part in the war, but two of them were killed. The survivors, believing that Victor Putman was the slayer, resolved to have revenge on him. Meeting him at an ancient tavern a mile and a half west of Tribes Hill, they challenged him to wrestle, as he was famous at that sport. Fearing treachery, he refused, and they set upon him openly. He fled up stairs and hid behind a large chimney. One of the Indians followed, and while he was searching for Putman in the darkness, the latter escaped by a window. The Indian who had followed him was killed when descending, by one of his brothers, who mistook him for Putman. On the following day, when the two warriors were about burying their dead brother, they seated themselves on a log, in which position they were both shot dead, and all three were buried in one grave.
Foremost among the heroines of the Revolution in this region was the widow Margaret (commonly called Peggy) Wemple. She was a Fonda, and the patriots of that name had no reason to be ashamed of her. Deprived of her husband, Barney Wemple, in 1771, she was left with unusual cares and responsibilities, which she met with remarkable energy and heroism. She kept an inn beside the creek on the old road to Johnstown, and opposite the site of Geo. F. Miller's house in Fonda, and also managed a grist-mill, with the held of her boy Mina. Having occasion to go to the mill one winter evening during the Revolution, she was a little startled at finding herself confronted by an Indian, but was soon relieve by discovering that it was a dead one, cold and stiff, placed in her way by some mischievious person to test her nerves.
Like all the patriots of the neighborhood, she suffered by the foray of Sir John Johnson in May, 1780. The Indians captured her boy, and shutting her up in her taverm, set fire to it. Her cries brought help and she was rescured. The boy Mina was released at Johnstown, and allowed to find his way back to Caughnawaga. Mrs. Wemple's house was destroyed, and probably her mill, but undismayed she built again, and in the winter of 17802, she ground and bolted 2,7000 skipples (2,025 bushels) of wheat at the order of the Tryon county committee, for the use of the colonial soldiers at Forts Ticonderoga, Hunter, Plank, and Stanwix.
Before the Revolution a Dutch village had succeeded the Indian hamlet of Caughnawaga. It stood chiefly in the site of that part of Fonda east of the street leading to Fultonville, and extended in a rambling way from the hills at the foot of which stood the church and parsonage, down to the river. Douw Fonda, the founder of the branch of the Fonda family so prominent in this neighborhood from his day to the present, may be considered the founder of this village also. The fair ground of the Montgomery County Agricultural Society, covers part of the site of old Caughnawaga, and when the ground was fenced and the race course was laid out and graded, some interesting relics of the old village were discovered. Among them were the remains of persons buried in the ancient graveyard, which were removed to the modern one on the neighboring hills. Some, not interfered with by the necessary excavation and building, were left undisturbed. Several wells, partly filled up, were found on the premises, and traces of the cellars of a number of the old Dutch houses, including that of Douw Fonda. This house is spoken of as "a large stone dwelling with wings," and served as an inn.
Douw Fonda came from Schenectady and settled at this point in the middle of the 18th century. The tombstone of his wife (which, with those of other members of the family, Major Giles Van Horne had removed from the old graveyard on the fair ground) bears the date 1756, and an epitaph in Dutch, and is believed to have been made in Holland. Douw Fonda is thus referred to in a letter from Colonel Glen to Sir William Johnson, dated "Schonectady, 23rd March, 1765:"
"Sir I have Received your favor last Night. I haue this Morning Sent by Charley Breeson in Two Battoos seventeen Barrills of Pork and four Do of Flowir, for the use of the Indians. I haue directed it to be Left at Mr. Dow Fonda at Cognawage as Soon as they Return I shall Send Them again, If you think four Battoo Load will not do I beg Please To let me know and I will Immedietly Send you more. I have acquainted Mr. Duncan of the Battoos Sent and will let him know when I send the others."
The death of this venerable pioneer at the hand of one of Johnson's savages in 1780, has been mentioned. The details of the butchery have been preserved from oblivion by Mr. Simms, who makes the following statement:
"When the alarm first reached the family, Penelope Grant, a Scotch girl living with him, to whom the old gentleman was much attached, urged him to accompany her to the hill whither the Romeyn family were fleeing; but the old patriot had become childish, and seizing his gun, he exclaimed, `Penelope, do stay here with me - I will fight for you to the last drop of blood!' Finding persuasion of no avail, she left him to his fate, which was indeed a lamentable one; for soon the enemy arrived, and he was led out by a Mohawk Indian known as One-armed Peter (he having lost an arm) toward the bank of the river, where he was tomahawked and scalped. As he was led from the house he was observed by John Hansen, a prisoner, to have some kind of book and a cane in his hand. His murderer had often partaken of his hospitality, having lived for many years in his neighborhood. When afterward reproved for this murder, he replied that as it was the intention of the enemy to kill him, he thought he might as well get the bounty for his scalp as anyone else. Mr. Fonda had long been a warm personal friend of Sir William Johnson, and it is said that Sir John much regretted his death and censured the murderer. * * * with the plunder made at Douw Fonda's, were four male salves and one female, who were all taken to Canada."
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