Charles B. Knox Gelatine Co. Inc.
Edition of
The Old Mohawk-Turnpike Book

Education Building.
Formerly the Schenectady county court house,
erected in 1808 on the formation of
Schenectady county.


From Schenectady to Rome.

continued, part II


Meaning of Schenectady - Indian Trails.

Ska-nek-ta-de was the Mohawk name of the Iroquois trail which ran over the pine plains of the plateau extending between Schenectady, on the Mohawk river, to Albany, on the Hudson river. The meaning of the name is given as "the place beyond the open pines," or the place at the end of the trail through the pine flatlands. The name was thus applied, by the Mohawks, both to the sites of Albany and Schenectady and to the trail itself.

The Dutch fur traders located Fort Nassau (which was later to become Albany) on the Hudson river terminus of this great Iroquois trail which ran through the Mohawk valley, westward to present Buffalo.

In savage days, a great Indian trail ran northward, from near Schenectady, to Canada, skirting Lake George and Lake Champlain. Another trail ran eastward into the New England country, called today "The Mohawk Trail", although THE Mohawk Trails ran along the Mohawk river, the north shore one closely approximating the New York Central R.R. Among other trails one ran southwest into the Schoharie valley. The name Schenectady was applied to the neighborhood as well as to the original settlement here of Hollanders in the the Mohawk valley.


Mohawk - Lake Ontario Waterway.

The site of Schenectady, in the days of the red man, was the eastern end of the great Indian waterway, running westward through the Mohawk river, thence by portage to Wood creek (at present Rome), through Oneida lake and present Oswego river to Lake Ontario at present Oswego. This is the route today of an important section of the Erie and the Oswego section of the New York State Barge canal, which promises to become the world's greatest artificial waterway. The Cohoes falls, near the mouth of the Mohawk, interrupted continuous passage to the Hudson.

The Skanektade trail, between present Schenectady and Albany, was in reality a portage made necessary by the Cohoes falls and the rapids of the lower Mohawk river.

The total length of the present Mohawk river- Oneida lake-Oswego river route of the State Barge canal is 185 miles, somewhat shorter than the old route. The Barge canal distance from Waterford to Rome is 116 miles and from Schenectady to Rome, 94 miles - almost exactly that of the Old Mohawk Turnpike, 95 miles.

The lower Mohawk. from Schenectady to the Hudson, is 22 miles long.


Canada (1604), Albany (1614), and Schenectady (1658).

When the Mohawks entered the valley before 1600, the Mohican tribe was resident in the eastern valley. The Mohawks drove out the Mohicans after bloody warfare and made themselves the masters of the Mohawk valley.

From Schenectady to Amsterdam several Mohican sites have been uncovered, one close to Turnpike and railroad.

Schenectady's history is closely connected with that of Albany and Canada. Canada was settled in 1604 and Quebec in 1608. In the same year (1609) that the men of the Half Moon anchored off Albany, a French and Indian raiding party under Champlain met and defeated a Mohawk war party near Crown Point, on the shores of Lake Champlain. This made the Mohawks forever enemies of the French and forever allies of the Dutch and their English successors at Albany.

French fur traders, in 1540, located for a season at Ta-wa-sen-tha, or present Albany, and there built a post on Castle Island, now part of the mainland. In 1614 Holland soldiers and fur traders of the West Indies Company of Holland erected Fort Nassau on the site of the old French post. This Albany settlement with others by the Holland Dutch at present New York city and Kingston, in the year 1614, constitute the three oldest present cities in the thirteen original states. The history of Schenectady and the Mohawk valley is closely connected with that of the parent city of Albany.

For two centuries Albany was the civic and military center for the upper Hudson and the Mohawk valleys. Its history has had a great effect on that of America. Schenectady is the "mother" settlement of the Mohawk valley but Albany is its "grandmother."

Traders or soldiers probably visited the Mohawk at Schenectady soon after the establishment of Fort Nassau in 1614. The first record we have of the Holland Dutch exploring our river is that of two Hollanders who went (1614) along the Mohawk (probably to Canajoharie) and thence to the Susquehanna, where they were captured by Delaware Indians who mistook them for the hated French. They were ransomed by the Fort Nassau authorities. Father LeCarnon, a French Franciscan monk from Canada is reputed to have come to the Mohawk river in 1616. In 1634 Dutch explorers from Fort Orange (present Albany) passed west along the Mohawk to the Oneida country and left an interesting record of their journey.


The Mohawk Club.
At the corner of Union and Church streets, on the
site of the house of Arent Van Curler, Founder of
Schenectady, (in the center of the 1662 stockade).
A tablet, seen at he corner commemorates Van
Curler. The present building was erected by the
Mohawk Bank about 1815.

Schenectady Settled 1658-1662.

The fur traders of Fort Orange noted the advantageous location of Skanektade and Rensselaerwyck farmers envied its rich flatlands. Van Curler visited Schenectady in 1642. In 1658, it is said, three families of settlers located in Schenectady and vicinity.

In 1661 the Mohawks sold to Arent Van Curler and thirteen associates the land known as the Schenectady Patent, eight miles wide and extending for sixteen miles along the Mohawk, comprising in part the river section of present Schenectady county. The deed was signed, for the Mohawk tribe, by Cantuquo, of the Bear Clan, Aiadane of the Tortoise Clan, and Sonareetsie of the Wolf Clan. Lands were alloted to fourteen proprietors by the names of Arent Van Curler, Philip Hendrickse Brouwer, Simon Volckertse Veeder, Peter Adrianse Van Wogelum, Tuenis Cornelisse Swart, Martin Cornelisse Van Isselsteyn, William Teller, Gerrit Bancker, Bastian de Winter, Pieter Jacobse Bosboom, Pieter Danielse Van Olinda, Jan Barentse Wemp, Jacques Cornelisse Van Slyck, Alexander Linsay Glen. Of the foregoing, only Van Curler, Brouwer, Swart, DeWinter, Bosboom, Van Olinda and Van Slyke settled in present Schenectady, although, in several instances, sons of absent proprietors took up the lands.

Van Slyck was a half-breed, the son of Cornelisse Antonsen Van Slyck, who traded among the Mohawks, probably near present Canajoharie, about 1640, and married the daughter of a Mohawk chieftain. Van Slyck's island in the Mohawk at Schenectady, was named for Jacques Van Slyck.


The Schenectady Patent, 1664.

Van Slyck's two sisters, Illetje (married Van Olinda) and Leah (married Stevens) were handsome, intelligent girls who acted as Indian interpreters and whose signatures, on that account, are on many old deeds. The Stevens house at Alplaus, said to have been built in 1693, was erected by Leah's husband, both girls having married white settlers. The elder Van Slyck had great influence over the Mohawks and probably was instrumental in securing their consent to the sale of their valuable Schenectady lands. Martin, his son, was an interpreter and witness to the 1661 Schenectady deed of sale.

The Schenectady purchase from the Mohawks was confirmed by court in Albany in July, 1661, and the settlement and building of the town was probably begun at once, although 1662 is the generally accepted date of settlement. High water in the Mohawk, in the spring of 1662, destroyed a great part of the settlers' crops on the flats. The first patent for Schenectady lands was that issued to Jan Barentsen Wemp (Wemple) and Jacques Cornelisse (Van Slyck) for the Great Island in the Mohawk, known now generally as Van Slyck's Island. This was granted in 1662 by Governor Stuyvesant, and the original patent hangs today in the office of the president of Union College. In 1664 the Indian grant of the Schenectady tract was confirmed by the patent issued by Governor Petrus Stuyvesant to Arent Van Curler and his associates, the patent thus being granted in the last consecutive year of Hollander rule of New Netherlands (New York).

The Schenectady patent of 1664 was the source of endless suits and bickering until the place became a city in 1798.

The new town was laid out in a rectangle 660 feet on each side, in four subdivided blocks, walled and stockaded with posts of pine and earth embankments, with blockhouses at the gates and angles and a passageway inside for the patrol of troops. Each family was alloted a farm on the flats, with a pasture and garden and a home lot inside the town stockade. The place was plotted or surveyed in 1664. The town was called Schenectady. To the Mohawks and French it was known as Corlaer, from its founder, Van Curler.

The original (1662) stockade embraced the blocks now bounded by Front, Ferry and State streets and Washington avenue. After the 1690 massacre it was rebuilt on the same lines. Enlarged in 1705 (when Queen's Fort was built), fell into decay after the French war (1754-60). See Pearson's "Schenectady Patent" for early city history.


Arent Van Curler, Founder of Schenectady.

Arent Van Curler came (1637) from Holland to superintend the vast estate of his cousin, Van Rensselaer, patroon of the 700,000 acre "colonie" of Rensselaerwyck, comprising a large part of present Albany and Rensselaer counties. He is one of the leading figures of the early history of New York State. A man of great intelligence, tact and ability, his services were frequently used on missions to the Iroquois and to the French in Canada. In 1642 Van Curler went to Ossuerenon (present Auriesville) and tried, without success, to secure the release of the unfortunate Jesuit Father Jogues, then being there hideously tortured by his Mohawk captors. Van Curler secured the Schenectady patent from Gov. Stuyvesant and, through his efforts the city was founded in 1662.

Van Curler's house was at the corner of Union and Church streets, where the Mohawk Club stands. Gov. DeTracy of Canada invited Van Curler to visit him and, on his way to Quebec in 1667, Van Curler was drowned in Lake Champlain.

A year later his widow opened a tavern in Schenectady on the site of the present Mohawk club. So great was Van Curler's name with the Iroquois that they called Schenectady "Corlaer" and the Mohawk they designated as "Corlaer's river." Lake Champlain became "Lake Corlaer." While not an official of Fort Orange, the Indians regarded Van Curler as the ruler of the province and successively called the colonial governors by the title of "Corlaer."

The Schenectady settlement was a protest against the inauguration of a feudal tenantry system in America. While Van Curler was employed by the greatest of the Dutch patroons he realized the evils of such a great landed aristocracy. Although Holland born Van Curler became imbued with the spirit of the new land and he is one of our foremost early Americans.

The Colonial and Revolutionary battlefields of aristocracy and democracy lie thickly on your westward Turnpike course.

In 1642, following Van Curler's visit to Schenectady, he wrote: "A half day's journey from the colonie, on the Mohawk river, there lies the most beautiful land that the eye of man ever beheld."

A statue of Van Curler will doubtless some day adorn the city he founded.


1640-1672 - Settlement of Lower Mohawk River.

Cornelisse Antonsen Van Slyck located near Cohoes Falls on or before 1640 and the lower Mohawk valley was settled at other points. Lands at Niskayuna were deeded to the Dutch-Mohawk half-breed woman, Illetje Van Olinda, in 1667, and Cohoes, Waterford and Half Moon were settled at about the same time. In 1672 the Mohawks sold, to Schenectady pioneers, lands westward to "Hinquariones, where the Last Battell Wass between the Mohowks and the North Indians," as the old deed reads. This reference is to the Mohawk-Mohican battle of Touereuna in 1669. In 1672 the lands along the lower Mohawk river, in the Schenectady section from Cohoes to present Hoffman's Ferry (a distance of twenty-five miles) were largely in the hands of Holland Dutch pioneer farmers.


First Mohawk Valley Roads.

The first road into the Mohawk valley was the road from Fort Orange (Albany), called the Fort Orange road or the Orange road. This followed the Schenectady trail and was in existence long before the settlement of Schenectady. With the location of Hollander farmers along the Mohawk westward of Schenectady, came the beginnings of the valley highways, and these wagon roads extended westward, at least four or five miles, on both the north and south shores by 1672. At that time a rough road ran eastward, on the Mohawk south shore, through Niskayuna to the river's outlet into the Hudson, which was known as the River road.

In 1664 England conquered New Netherland (present New York) and the settlers on the Hudson and Mohawk rivers soon became involved in the terrific wars between France and England for the mastery of North America, which lasted for a century and cruelly ravaged this section.


Schenectady, 1658-1711.

For fifty years Schenectady was the outpost of civilization and Dutch-English rule in the Mohawk valley- until the building of Fort Hunter, at the mouth of the Schoharie. For that time, the little settlement grew rapidly. Courts were ordered held here in 1675 and in 1684 a Dutch Reformed church was built and a school opened. By 1690 the town had grown to one of fifty houses with 300 people. The half-century mentioned was a critical time for Schenectady and the provincial frontier. The blows of France against England fell viciously in and about Schenectady among both the red and the white people of the valley. This was also the period of French Jesuit activity (1642-1684) along the Mohawk at present Auriesville and Fonda.

During the Winter of 1665, De Courcelles, French governor of Canada, led an expedition against Albany. Cold and starvation weakened the raiders and, on arriving at Schenectady, these invaders asked aid. The burghers gave food and shelter to their enemies, only to be repaid later (in 1690) by massacre and destruction at the hands of the French and Indians.


First Mohawk Valley Mill, 1666.

In 1666, the first mill was built on Mill Lane Kill, and this was the beginning of the important industries of the Mohawk valley. Part of the old mill forms (1924) a portion of a barn back of Burger's store on State street.

In 1689 Hendrick Frey, an intrepid Swiss, went up the Mohawk and located in an unbroken wilderness (at present Palatine Bridge) 39 miles west of Schenectady.

From 1600 to 1650 the Iroquois (including the Mohawks) had conquered a great part of the India tribes of northeastern North America and they constantly raided and ravished Canada. In 1666 French and Indians retaliated by attacking and destroying all the Mohawk Indian villages. The Mohicans attacked the Mohawks at Caughnawaga castle in 1669 and in a later battle were terribly defeated at Touereuna (Hoffman's Ferry). In 1689 began the French-English-American war (1689-1697), known as King William's war. In that year the Mohawks raided Canada, attacked Montreal and tortured and ate their captives before the walls of the French stronghold. The Iroquois war party numbered 1,000, with 300 canoes.


Schenectady Massacre, Feb. 8, 1690.

In retaliation for the Mohawk attack, a French-Indian war party of 200 started, in the Winter of 1690, to attack Albany. With them were 80 "converted" Mohawks, formerly of the Caughnawaga castle and known as "praying Indians," led by their chief, the "Great Kryn." Although the Schenectady burghers knew there was danger of attack, the open gates of the town were guarded only by the snow men the village boys had made at the portals.

Because of exhaustion from their long winter march and the strength of Albany, the raiders changed their objective to Schenectady.

About midnight on February 8th, 1690, the raiders entered the river gate of the town and, with wild yells, began the burning and destruction of the village and the massacre of its people. Sixty men, women and children were murdered, 27 were made captive and many escaped into the woods. Some made the terrible journey on foot over the snow-covered roads to Albany and were frozen and nearly killed by the journey. Laden with booty and drunk with the liquor of their victims the raiders moved back the next morning, northward on the Canadian trail.


Schermerhoorn's Ride.

A heroic episode of this tragic night was the midnight ride of Symon Schermerhoorn over the river road, warning the settlers on the way to Albany. Schermerhoorn fought his way through the Indians, his son and three negro slaves being then killed. He jumped on his horse and fled through a hail of bullets, one of which wounded him in the thigh. Through two feet of snow and great drifts Symon rode, rousing the settlers of Niskayuna and reaching the North Gate of Albany, after a six-hour ride through the snow and the bitter cold. It is said that Schermerhoorn fainted and his horse fell dead after the hardships of this Winter night's ride. Relief parties sent out from Albany over this road could not reach Schenectady the next day. Another heroic and tragic episode was that of Adam Vrooman, whose wife and babe were killed in the Indian attack, but who fought off all further assaults on his burning home. The Bradt and Glen houses were the only ones left standing. Two of the enemy were killed and several wounded by the town's defenders.

Capt. Glen of Scotia, prepared his house for defense. Because of his friendliness to former French captives the invaders spared his house, and going to Schenectady, his pleadings saved many lives.

It is said that even Mohawk warriors blanched at the hideous view of smoking ruins, and charred and bloody victims. Such sacrifices made America.

Vrooman's house stood at what is now the southwest corner of Union and Front streets, just within the stockade and near the gate entered by the savages. This house stood until 1820, when it was torn down and a new one erected on the site, using the original timbers and the original Dutch double door, still here in use.


The Squaw Who Didn't Warn - Because

It is said that Capt. Glen of Scotia sent a Mohawk squaw into Schenectady, the afternoon before the massacre, to warn its people of the approaching Canadian war party. The red woman stopped at the home of Dominie Tassenmaker, whose housekeeper was having tea with a neighbor. The squaw entered the room without stopping to wipe her moccasins and received a tongue-lashing from the mistress of the house for tracking snow upon her spotless floors. The Mohawk woman left the doomed house, in anger at her reception, without warning of the approaching danger.


Schenectady, 1690-1775.

The survivors of the massacre immediately set to work to rebuild the town around the three houses left standing.

By May 13, 1690, a new fort had been completed at the foot of present State St. on the site of the Freeman house. Another blockhouse was constructed 100 feet north of St. George's church and a guard house at the corner of State and Ferry streets. The settlement slowly recovered from the effects of the massacre. By 1695 there were 28 houses in the stockade and in 1698 there were only 215 people in the Schenectady district - Niskayuna to Hoffman's. After 1700 the town and neighborhood grew more rapidly.

Originally fur trading was prohibited at Schenectady by the Albany authorities in order to protect the monopoly in skins there flourishing. Nevertheless it existed, "on the sly," and was finally authorized, after which Schenectady became a rival of Albany as a fur-trading center. It is said that as many as 200 canoes, manned by savage red trappers, came down the Mohawk and unloaded their pelts at Schenectady. The town became and important outfitting place for river and Indian trade.

"Schenectady rose from her ashes and, by the early years of the next century, was second in importance only to Albany. A busy little place it was, with its manufactures of Sewant, and its boat building and its boys and girls acting as interpreters, the canoes at 'handel tyde' - June, July and August - resting on the quiet waters, and the young men in the Winter setting off with trinkets, blankets and firewater to deal in the Indian trade.

"The streets of the Martyrs and of the Traders, of Front, Ferry, Church and Niskayuna were then in existence, and along them stood neat little houses patterned after the Albany style, a story or a story and a half in height, gable end to the street, adorned with sheet iron weather cocks, dates often inscribed in iron anchors upon the baked 'steenen.' Here on the porches, as as Albany, the families often gathered at the eventide. Here were the swelling ovens at the kitchen rear and the double doors shut at the bottom so the toddlers couldn't get out and the light could get in. A scow ran from the foot of Ferry street, State street was 'Souder Hook,' and 'Launt Hauck' was the Land Gate, while 'Calvyres Wastyea' (Calves'Pasture) lay between Front street and the river.

The Dutch life of this American frontier town of that far-off day was kindly and pleasant. The speech of Holland was the language of the Dutch settlements of the lower Mohawk and of its farmsteads. The Schenectady Holland Dutch dames of that day were picturesque figures "in their best homespun or it might be silk, and in high heeled slippers and blue and white gored hose. They wore short skirts, high caps and bodices with work bags fastened to their belts and scissors also suspended therefrom."

In 1693 the four Mohawk castles were destroyed by a French-Indian war party and 300 Mohawks made prisoners. In this raid a terrible battle was fought at the upper Mohawk castle (See Palatine Church.).

In 1705 Queen's fort was built, where the present Indian monument marks the site. Batteaux and flatboats supplanted the canoes on the river about 1710 and Schenectady, for the period, became a place of importance and a rival of Albany.

Boatbuilding and boating were industries of importance, as well as cartage over the Albany road. Warehouses grew up along the Binnekill and for over a century Schenectady was an important river port of America, a condition ended by the building of the Erie canal in 1825.

In 1711 Gov. Hunter built Fort Hunter, at the mouth of the Schoharie (20 m. west), and Schenectady ceased to be the western New York provincial outpost, 53 years after the founding of the city. Holland settlers were located along the Mohawk from its source, 45 miles westward to Fort Hunter. In 1711 Palatine Germans located on the Schoharie and later at Stone Arabia, 54 years after the first settlement of Hollanders in the Mohawk valley at Schenectady, which was then (!711) a city of probably three or four hundred people; township (1714) 591.

In 1738 William Johnson, a vigorous young man from the north of Ireland (County Down), stopped at Schenectady and then went westward along the Mohawk and settled at present Amsterdam (south side). He later became Major General and Sir William Johnson. His advent in the Mohawk valley marked an epoch in American history.


Schenectady Military, 1661-1760.

The history of the Schenectady and Mohawk valley militia covers a period of over a century up to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1775. In Queen Anne's war (1701-1713) Schenectady district had two companies of militia, 120 men in all. Queen's fort was rebuilt in 1735. In the Old French war (1744-1748) all able-bodied men did guard duty. In that war the Schenectady militia fought the battle of Beukendaal (1748). Up to the last French war(1754-1760) the Mohawk valley militia formed the Schenectady battalion of the Albany County Militia. It did guard duty and fought, under Sir William Johnson, in many actions of that conflict, being commended by Sir William for its bravery.

During the four French wars, Schenectady formed an important river mobilization and embarkation point for British-American expeditions against Canada, through the Mohawk valley, by way of the river highway and the river route.


Gen. Amherst's British-American Army at Schenectady, 1760.

In the great French-Indian war, the British-American expeditions which took Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.) and Fort Niagara from the French, assembled at Schenectady and went westward by the valley roads and river.

On June 12, 1760, Gen. Amherst's Provincial and British-American army of 10,000 men, left Schenectady for the investment of Montreal, which was eventually surrendered by the French and the French empire in North America became British-America, ensuring an English speaking race and its dominance over the entire North American continent. Gen. Amherst's army went to Montreal by way of the Mohawk (his supplies and heavy arms going west on the river batteaux) to present Rome, thence to Oneida lake and the Oswego river to Fort Oswego, a most difficult journey. From Fort Oswego the British-American army, including 1,300 Iroquois Indians (under Sir William Johnson) went by boats to Montreal, which capitulated after a siege of a few days, on Sept. 8, 1760.

In your mind's eye you can see the picturesque army ascending the valley of the Mohawk. With it were many men later prominent in the Revolution on both the American and British sides.


Schenectady in the Revolution, 1775-1783.

In 1765, Schenectady was created a borough. Present Schenectady county was known as the Schenectady district of Albany county. When the Revolution broke out Schenectady was (at that time) an ancient American city- over 110 years old.

During the Revolution, Schenectady was the river starting point for several American military expeditions. The most important was that which left Schenectady for Canajoharie, about May 1, 1779, under the command of Gen. James Clinton (See Canajoharie). This expedition made an overland journey from Canajoharie to Otsego lake, went down the Susquehanna and joined Gen. Sullivan's army and together successfully invaded the Seneca country.

At the outbreak of the Revolution the inhabitants of the town of Schenectady were mainly Dutch, with a sprinkling of English, Irish and Scotch. The Dutch, almost to a man, were Whigs, and early espoused the cause of the Colonies. The English and Scotch were mostly Tories, and the Irish, who were all north of Ireland men, or Protestants, were firm in their adherence to the cause of the colonies.

As early as 1775 a Committee of Safety and Correspondence was formed and troops were raised for the defense of Ticonderoga. The Schenectady and Albany committees frequently cooperated with the Tryon County committee. Later, when the Continental Line was organized, the men from Schenectady who enlisted for the war were assigned to the First New York Line, Col. Van Schaick's regiment. This regiment was recruited entirely from Albany county, of which the borough of Schenectady then formed a part. It served with Washington during the entire war with credit and distinction. Cornelius Van Dyck of Schenectady, was its Lieut.-Colonel.

Considering its population, the Schenectady district furnished a large number of soldiers to the State militia and line (regular) Revolutionary armies. See "Schenectady During the Revolution," by Willis T. Hanson.

The town was fortified and garrisoned during the war, a stockade enclosing the village, with block houses at the angles, and a fort at the junction of Ferry and Front streets. The General Hospital for the Northern District was located here, at the junction of Union street and what is now known as Lafayette street, and near this point was also the barracks for the troops.

Numbers of American soldiers, who were wounded in the Revolutionary valley fighting westward, were brought to Schenectady by river for treatment.

Many of the Revolutionary soldiers of Schenectady and elsewhere are buried in the Vale cemetery, where a monument records their services to the cause of American liberty.

Schenectady was a haven of refuge, during the Revolution, for the people of the Mohawk valley farther west who fled before the British-Indian raids along the river. Patriot Oneida Indians lived here during the Revolution and fought as scouts with American armies. Washington visited Schenectady in 1775, 1782 and 1783 (See Fort Plain and Canajoharie).

The most important event closely following the Revolution, was the founding of Union college here in 1795. In 1798 Schenectady became a city. In 1808 Schenectady county was set off from Albany and Schenectady city became the county seat. An important event of the same year, 1808, was the building of the famous wooden suspension bridge across the Mohawk.


Continued, on to Schenectady, part III




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