Part 2

The most prominent of the early members of the Fonda family was Jelles (Gelles or Giles) born in 1727, one of the three sons of Douw Fonda, who, with their venerable father, vigorously espoused the cause of landholder and trader, dealing chiefly with the Indians, but also supplying Forts Schuyler, Stanwix, Niagara and Schlosser, and the post at Oswego. To the savages he sold blankets, ammunition, trinkets and rum; and his purchases consisted of flour, ginseng and potash. Many of his papers are in the possession of his great-grandson, Major Giles H. F. Van Horne. Among these are faded and antique ledgers, displaying in a clear manner his business transactions. Before the Revolution his books showed debts in his favor equal to more than $10,000 in the Indian country. In one of them may be found the following debit against Sir William Johnson, as the party responsible for the payment:

"To burying Sacorias [Zachariah], a Mohawk Indian, 1 large blanket, 1 large shirt, 17 lbs. pork, 2 galings of rum, 17 lbs. flower. The sachem spoke to me and said he was very poor, and that it was yuseful at a funnel of a grown person to have provisions."

This distinguished merchant's trade was carried on at the edge of the flats, a little below Caughnawaga, where he had a large store and residence. At the opening of the Revolution he was building a house, ashery, and other structures, on the river, six miles farther west, which were finished in time to be burned, with nearly all the other buildings on the north bank of the river from the Nose to Tribes Hill, at the time of Sir John Johnson's first descent on the valley. Fonda amassed great wealth by his mercantile operations, and possessed a corresponding influence in the community. His capital was to a considerable extent invested in lands. Part of his large estate is now in the possesion of the Van Hornes of Fonda. Jelles Fonda was a lieutenant under General Johnson in the French war. A picture of him in this connection is afforded by the following report to his superior, which is more amusing to the reader than it could have been to the writer:

"A Report of the Scout under my Command being in number 1 Sergint and 12 Men--Agreeable to orders Camp op first with the party Commanded by Lut: Van Shaick who was on the return back to this Camp and asked the Reason why they returned so soon or why they had not proceeded as an accident had happened to one of their men he sayd he was sick and unfit to proced on which I left him and Came up with the party Commanded by Captn Syms, who was waiting for orders on which I then gave him the orders I Received from Genr Johnson Aid De Camp to March forward upon which all Excepting ____ Refused to proced and then I asked my party to go and take their Blankets and provisions which they Denied Except with their own Officers and I then Called and said all you that are Cowards Come and Ile take ye ames Down and they Come so thick I Could see But 10 or 12 Left of the whole party & they mostly Consisting of New Yorkers and then I asked the Commander what he woud do or whether he understood me that he was to go forward he said he believed he would Come back and so we returned to this Camp.


At the opening of the Revolution, Lieut. Fonda, rejecting attractive offers of service in the British army, promptly took up arms for the Colonial cause, and during the war served as captain and afterward major of militia, having since been commonly spoken of by the latter title. In the autumn of 1779, he was in charge of Fort Paris during the temporary absence of Col. Visscher, who commanded the post. A part of the garrison took this opportunity to mutiny and desert. Ignoring Capt. Fonda's order to remain, they left the fort, when that officer ordered the garrison to fire on them. This was done, and one of the mutineers, named Jacob Valentine, was mortally wounded. Capt. Fonda was court martialed for this affair, but was honorably acquitted.

In the darkest days of the war, when all the men in the valley liable to military service under ordinary circumstances were defending the outposts, and hardly hoping, with all they could do, to keep the savage enemy from their homes, the old men, who in any other state of things would have been spared the toils and alarms of war, were formed into companies to defend the women and children at points where they gathered for safety. One of the companies of exempts performing this highly important service was commaned by Capt. Fonda, himself now over fifty years of age. A record of the number of days each man served at various points in 1778 is still preserved, and is appended:

(Note: because of the time involved if attempting to code the original bracketed format for the web, the following chart is not an exact facsimile of that in the book.)

Chas. H. VanEpps, ensign 3 days with Lieut. Hansen

3 days at Bowman's Hill
Crownidge Kinkead 6 days at Caughnawaga

3 days at Caughnawaga

3 days at Johnstown

4 days at Cherry Valley

9 days at Johnstown
Henry Boshart 5 days at Johnstown

6 days at Johnstown 1779
George Shank 6 days (1779) at Johnstown, with Lieut. Hansen
Cornelius A. Van Alstine 7 days at Johnstown

4 days at Johnstown
Stephen Manibout 4 days at Johnstown

7 days at Johnstown

4 days at Cherry Valley
John Hall7 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen
Richard Collins 7 days at Johnstown
Matthew Van Dusen 9 days at Johnstown

1 days at Waring

3 days at Cherry Valley
John Wilson 7 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen

9 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hanson

4 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hanson
Barent B. Wemple 5 days at Johnstown

3 days at Johnstown

4 days at Johnstown
Hendrick Fluperd 7 days at Johnstown

6 days at Johnstown

4 days at Johnstown
Jacob Kits 4 days at Johnstown

5 days at Johnstown

6 days at Johnstown
Evert Van Eps 5 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen
Sampson Sammons, ensign 7 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen

7 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen
Adam Rupert 7 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen

7 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen
Cornelius Smith 2 days at Johnstown

4 days at Sacondaga

4 days at Bowman's Hill

2 days at Bowman's Hill

3 days at Cherry Valley
"Hendrick Wampil, 30 days at different times, at sundry places, agreeable to the account."
"Johannes Nare, corporal at three different times, 14 days, Johnstown."
Cornelius Putman 7 days at Johnstown
"John McDoual, says has has Bin out att all times."
"Jacob Shew, 13 days at Fort Plank in Jolinger's place."
Jeremiah Crowley 7 days at Johnstown, with Lieut. Hansen
John Vechte days at Johnstown with, Lieut. Hansen
Conrad Cratsenberg 7 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen

6 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen

7 days at Johnstown with Lieut. Hansen

3 days at Cherry Valley, with Capt. Fonda
John Huber 7 days at Johnstown, with Lieut. Hansen

7 days at Johnstown, with Lieut. Hansen

3 days at Cherry Valley, with Capt. Fonda

Major Fonda, having become wealthy in trade, furnished his house more elegantly than was the rule of the day. It supplied all the richer plunder to the Indians of Johnson's command, when they swept up from Tribes Hill on that May morning which saw such deeds of blood and rapine along this part of the valley. The owner was fortunately absent from home, and his wife and his son Douw had warning in time to escape across the river. The house was fired, and it is said that while it was burning, a music box, connected with a clock in the building, began to play a tune. The savages took the sound for the voice of a spirit, with more reason than the modern spiritists have for so interpreting a monotonous series of raps. Like the latter, the Indians put a favorable construction upon the ghostly communication. A mirror was the most prized of the booty here obtained, at least the most fought for among the plunderers.

Major Fonda built, after the war, on the high ground in what is now the village of Fonda, the house at present occupied by Mr. Peter Lasher. He was a judge of old Tryon county, and was a member of the Assembly at the time of his death, which occurred June 23, 1791. His sword is the hands of one of his great grand-children, Mr. Edward Schenck, of New York city.

Although the old village lay mainly to the eastward of what is now Fonda, there were buildings also on the site of the modern town. The Veeder mill, on the Cayadutta, has been referred to. Alexander White, the last sheriff under the crown, who so hastily vacated his office through the persuasions of a mob at Johnstown, lived on the site of the court-house, and John Fonda occupied the house after the White's removal. Adam Fonda also lived near the creek. Jacob Graff came from Hanover about 1760, and settled as a farmer in what is now the village of Fonda. Here Peter Graff was born about 1763. He saw service during the Revolution, being present at the surrender of Burgoyne. He was afterward a farmer and gunsmith. His brother Phillip belonged to the rangers mentioned in Stone's Life of Joseph Brant. Cornelius Smith and Johannes Veeder lived a little west of the creel and near the river.


The most interesting feature of old Caugnawaga remained up to 1868, namely, the Reformed Dutch church, the first built in the town and one of the first in the valley, it having been erected in 1763. We are enabled by the courtesy of Harper Brothers to present an engraving of the old church, which appeared in Lossing's "Field Book of the Revolution," published by that eminent house. It stood on the western side of the lot on which stands the house of James Lansing Veeder, Esq., which was built about the beginning of this century, and was the parsonage up to 1842, succeeding the original one, which stood further back on the same lot. The church was a massive stone building, about square, with a curb roof. On the north end stood a graceful little open belfry, with a bell-shaped canopy, supported by a circle of posts, and sending up from its apex a slender spire. This structure was added to the building in 1795, and it was suspended what had been Sir William Johnson's dinner-bell, which weighed over one hundred pounds, and was among the confiscated property of Sir John. Two windows, arched at the top, admitted the light on each side. In the gable toward the road, close to the ridge of the roof, was a little circular opening in the wall, while half way down from this to the tops of the windows, were two oval ones, a trifle larger, inclined toward each other at about the same angle as the sides of the roof opposite them, after the fashion common in the ecclesiastical architecture of the age. The entrance was a double door in the middle of the eastern side, rounded-arched like the windows, but having the part within the arch closed up, the doors not extending up to the keystone. Over the latter, and just below the eaves, was an oval tablet of stone, bearing, in Dutch, the inscription, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths." The pulpit stood against the western wall, and a gallery ran around the other three. The church was seated with the square pews of the period, excepting a space at the north end where were placed benches for Indians and negroes. The pew at the left in entering is said to have been sometimes occupied by Sir William Johonson, who contributed liberally toward the erection of the building. In 1842 the church and parsonage, with the glebe of thirty acres, were turned over to the pastor, Rev. Jacob D. Fonda, in payment of $1,300 arrearage of salary. Two years later he sold the property to Rev. Douw Van O'Linda, with the condition that the society might redeem it for $1,300. The church was old-fashioned by this time, however; the star of population was taking its way westward, toward where the courthouse, the depot, and the great hotel had been built; and the members of the society, who had built a new church in the fashionable quarter, never availed themselves of the privilege of recovering their ancient house of worship. Rev. Mr. Van O'Linda opened an academy in it in the latter part of 1844, with Jacob A. Hardenberg, a Rutgers graduate, as principal; but it was kept up only a year or two, and after it had been given up, the building was used as a dwelling. About 1860, it was bought by Henry Veeder, and in 1868 the old church, which Sir John Johnson's barbarians had spared, "was taken down, the stones being used for ordinary building purposes." "It is said that people wept as they beheld the demolition of this sacred edifice, but as they had nothing better than tears to give, tears could not purchase back the property, and therefore it was gone forever."

Hon. Francis Granger, Gen. Harrison's appointee for Postmaster-General, it is said, used to speak pleasantly of attending service at the old Caughnawaga church. One Sunday found him at Caughnawaga, on a journey to the West, with his private conveyance. It was at a time when people did not usually travel on the Sabbath, and having the day before him, Mr. Granger started for the church as the hour of meeting drew nigh. He was in time to take observations of the sacred edifice, and the Sabbath-day customs of the Mohawk valley Christians, about all of which there was to the traveler and agreeable novelty. While he was considering the phenomenon of a church with its rear gable (as seemed, from the steeple being at the farther end), but no door, toward the road, and speculating on the purport of the little eyelet-like windows near the roof, loads of the worshipers were coming in from the country. As fast as the women alighted from the sheepskin-bottom chairs which formed their seats in the wagons, the men, after providing for their teams, repaired to a neighboring bar-room, whither, not to miss any part of the exercises, Mr. Granger followed them. Gravely, as befitting the day, each ordered a drink. Having drained his glass, the thirsty Christian thrust his hand deep in his pocket, and drew forth a long, narrow, leathern wallet, with a string woven in at the neck, rolled up around the coin which it contained. Taking the purse by the bottom, and emptying the cash into his left hand, he selected a sixpence, and, laying it before the landlord, poured back the remainder into the depths of the wallet, folded it carefully up, restored it to his pocket and returned to the church. Thither Mr. Granger also betook himself. An officious usher took him in charge, and, shutting him up in one of the high-partitioned box-pews which occupied most of the floor, left him to pursue his observations. The most noticeable feature of the odd interior of the building was the pulpit, which has a little five-sided coop, perched aloft on a slender support, reached by the narrowest of stairways, and canopied by a sounding-board that completely roofed it over. On the wall, on either side of the pulpit, hung a pole several feet in length, suspended by an iron hoop or ring, from which also depended a little bag with a bell at the bottom. In due time the clergyman entered, and, mounting the slender stairway, seated himself in his little domain, which barely contained him. From his fresh and rubicund face, it would almost seem that his parishioners were contenanced by him in the matter of their Sunday morning dram. Here, thought the visitor, observent of his glowing features, was a light of the church, set in a Dutch candlestick, and covered with an umbrella, to prevent any untimely extinguishment. The congregation entered heartily into the singing, and Mr. Granger thought it might be good worship, though sad music. At the proper stage, the ushers, taking down the scoop-nets from beside the pulpit, went fishing expertly among the worshipers for the collection, tinkling the little bells appended, as if to warn them to be ready with their change. There was need of notice, for getting at the coin was the same deliberate operation as at the tavern. There were the diving for the purse, the unrolling and emptying of the contents; but the observer noted that the burgher's eye scanned his palm for a penny instead of a sixpence. When they had gone the round of the church, the collectors took their turn at the performance, seeming to hear the Head of the Church saying, as of old, "Bring me a penny." The dominie had got well into his sermon, in a commonplace way before he saw Mr. Granger. Then, at the sight of a well-dressed and intelligent stranger in the house, he perceptibly roused himself, and became really eloquent. At the close of the service he had an interview with the visitor, who assured him, in all sincerity, that he was never more interested in a sermon in his life. Learning that the latter was the son of Hon. Gideon Granger, who was Postmaster-General under Jefferson, the clergyman felt the more honored by his presence and compliments, and invited him to the parsonage. Mr. Granger declined, returned to his lodging, and next morning proceeded to Johnstown, where he wished to see Daniel Cady.

When he was in the Cabinet, Mr. Stephen Sammons, who was personally acquainted with him, made application for the establishment of a post office at an unnamed hamlet, three or four miles northwest of Caughnawaga. The Postmaster-General immediately recognized it as a place where he had sad experience of a corduroy road, on his way to Johnstown, one Monday morning, and where he saw a distillery and a store on the corner, which the applicant assured him were there. "We'll call it Sammonsville," said he, and Sammonsville it is. The historian Simms was a regular attendant at the old church about 1838, and played a flute in the choir, of which Dr. Stewart (who played the bass viol) was the leader, and Mrs. Stewart also a member.

Continue on to Part 3

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