History of Fishkill, NY (part 1)
From: General History of Dutchess County
From 1609 to 1876, Inclusive.
By Philip H. Smith
Published by the author 1877

POPULATION, 15,785. - SQUARE ACRES, 59,848.

FISHKILL was formed as a town March 7th, 1788. A part of Philipstown was annexed March 14th, 1806. A part of "Freedom" (now Lagrange) was taken off in 1821. November 29th, 1849, East Fishkill was taken from it and erected into a separate township; and May 10th, 1875, the town of "Wappinger" was constituted from its remaining northern portion. As few or no events of historic interest have transpired since its division into separate townships, the facts recorded in this chapter will be considered as relating to the whole territory comprised in the original town of Fishkill. The early inhabitants called it Vis-Kill, that is, Fish-Creek, kill being the name for creek; hence its present name.

The surface is mountainous in the south, and hilly in the north. The Fishkill Mountains, extending along the southern border, are high, rocky, and precipitous. Old Beacon and Grand Sachem, the highest summits, are respectively 1471 and 1685 feet above tide: These are commemorable from the fact that bale fires were kindled on their tops in Revolutionary clays, to alarm the inhabitants of the surrounding country in. case of sudden invasion.

A break in these mountains is known as the Wiccopee Pass. This was carefully guarded during the Revolution, to prevent the British from turning the American works at West Point. A considerable American force was stationed at its upper extremity during the campaign of 1777.

The Fishkill skirts the foot of the mountains, separating them from the hilly region in the northwest. Wappingers Creek forms the west boundary. A high rolling ridge lies between these two streams; the highest point is Mt. Hope 1000 feet above tide. A series of bluffs, 150 to 250 feet high, extends along the river, broken by the valleys of the streams. The soil is a clay and gravelly loam.

Prior to the advent of the English this vicinity was the favorite home of the Red Man. Here the priests performed their incantations, and ministered at their altars. Until recently, there were evidences of their occupation of this territory in the traces of their burial grounds, and in the many apple and pear trees, .planted by Indian hands, that were standing. But the memory of the ancient inhabitants is rendered more permanent by the beautiful Indian names yet applied to streams and localities - Matteawan, Wiccôpee, Shenandoah, etc. We subjoin a deposition made by David Ninham, a Wappinger Indian, touching the boundaries of tribes etc.:

DAVID NINHAM, aged thirty six years, being duly sworn, maketh oath that he is a River Indian, of tribe of the Wappingers which tribe were the ancient inhabitants of the east shore of Hudson River, from the city of New York to about the middle of Beekmans Patent; that another of River Indians, called Mohegans, were the remaining inhabitants of the east shore of Hudson River; that these two tribes constituted one nation. That the deponent well understands the language of the Mohegans. It is very little different from the language of the Wappinger tribe. That the Indian word Pattenock signifies, in the language of the Mohegans, a "fall of water," and has no other siniflcation. And this deponent says that he is a Christian, and has resided some years with the Mohegans at Stockbridge.

DAVID NINHAM. (his mark)
Sworn the second day of August, 1762, before me.

As late as 1700, a powerful tribe, numbering more than a thousand warriors, lived in the vicinity of Fishkill Hook. They erected a palisade on Fort Hill, for retreat when hard pressed by the foe; their village was located in the valley north of this hill. It is but a few years since that this tribe became extinct.

The first land purchased in DUCHESS County was in the town of Fishkill. February 8th, 1682, a license was given by Thomas Dongan, Commander in Chief of the Province of New York, to Francis Rombout and Gulian Ver Planck, to purchase a tract of land from the Indians. Under this license they bought on the 8th day of August, 1683, of the Wappinger Indians, all their right to a large tract afterwards known as the Rombout Patent. Gulian Ver Planck died before the English patent was issued by Dongan. Stephanus Van Cortland was then joined in it with Rombout, and Jacobus Kipp substituted as the representative of the children of Gulian Ver Planck. On the 17th day of October, 1685, letters patent were granted by King James the Second. There were 85,000 acres included in the patent. Besides paying the natives, they were to pay the Commander in Chief, Thomas Dongan, six bushels of good and merchantable winter wheat every year.

This Indian deeds is couched in the formal language common to all old instruments of that class. The names of the Indian granters are:- Sackoraghkigh, Megriskar, Queghsjehapieuw, Niessjawejhos, Queghout, Asotewes, Wappegereck, Nathindaew, Wappape, Ketaghkanns, Mekaghoghkan, Mierham, Peapightapaeuw, Queghhitaeuw, Memesawogh, Katariogh, Kightapinkog, Rearawogh, Meggiech, Sejay, Wienangeck, Maenemaeuw, and Guighstierm. The following is a schedule of articles paid in the purchase of the land:

One hund Royalls, One hund Pound Powder, Two hund fathom of White Wampum, one hund Bans of Lead, One hundred fathom of black Wampum, thirty tobacco boxes, ten boll adges, thirty Gunns, twenty Blankets, forty fathom of Duffils, twenty fathom of stroudwater Cloth, thirty Kitties, forty Hatchets, forty horns, forty shirts, forty p stockins, twelve coates of R. B. & b. C., ten Drawing Knives, forty earthen Juggs, forty Bottles, forty Knives, fouer ankers rum, ten halfe fatts Beere, two hunt' tobacco Pipes, &c., Eighty Pound Tobaco.

As already observed, the patentees came in full possession of their purchase in the autumn of 1685. No positive dates of occupancy can be determined from authentic records previous to 1708, when a partition by writ of the Supreme Court was made of all lands between the Fishkill and Wappingers Creek; the remainder, north and south of these streams remaining in common to the several owners. Settlement was begun on the Verplanck portion of this division subsequent to the Rombout and Van Courtland sections. One third of the Verplanck allotment was afterward apportioned to Andrew Teller, son and only child of Henrietta Verplanck.

January 10th, 1709, Roger Brett - son in law of Francis Rombout, one of the original patentees and Catherine his wife, gave their joint bond to Capt. Gylob Shelly, of New York, for the sum of £399, 6s. This bond soon falling due, they in June, 1713, gave a mortgage deed to the executors of Gylob Shelly, covering their part of the division between the two streams (their allotment covering mainly the Fishkill settlement), "excepting and reserving always out of said premises, one tenement, grist mill and water course thereunto belonging, together with 300 acres of land adjoining said mill, now in possession of said Roger Brett; also certain parcels of land now in possession of John Terboss, John Buys, Casper Prime, Peter DeBoys, and Yowreb Springstead; also 5,000 acres lying and being in any part of the reserved premises."

Without doubt the persons named in this mortgage were the only persons occupying lands on the patent; and the borrowed money was probably used by Roger Brett and wife in erecting a house and grist mill the following year. A gristmill has now no especial interest; its charms would be greater were we depending on one single mill for our daily bread. This was the first mill built in DUCHESS County; and for a long: time Orange County paid tribute to Madam Brett's mill, for by this name it was known far and wide. Roads terminated there.- "From iccopee to Madam Brett's Mill;" "From Hackensack to Madam Brett's Mill." An old gentleman in Orange County stated the following:- His grandfather used to tell him that when he was a boy he was accustomed to go to Madam Brett's Mill, that being the only mill to which they then had access. The neighbors and settlers for miles would come with a bag of grain fastened securely upon the back of a horse. When they had all arrived, the horses were tied to each other's tails, and mounting the foremost one he wended his was to the river. With an Indian canoe he would carry over the grain. returning again in the same manner.

Early in 1742, a company was formed of eighteen persons for the purpose of engaging in the freighting business. This was probably the first organized freighting concern in the county.

The first settlement of the original town of .Fishkill dates back as far as the year 1682. Nicholas Emigh was the first settler. He embarked for America with Robert Livingston about 1672. On shipboard he became acquainted with a. pretty Dutch girl from Holstein, and they were married before they touched American shores. Unwilling to be a mere retainer of Livingston, he and his young wife went to Fort Orange (now Albany), intending to settle upon an island in the Hudson, near that place, within the manor of Van Rensselaer. But the free spirit of Emigh could not succumb to feudal authority, and in 1682 he started for the unbroken wilderness of DUCHESS County. He settled at the mouth of the Fishkill, purchased a tract of land extending from that creek to Poughkeepsie, and eastward to the Connecticut line. The Rombout Patent, however, granted some three years later, to Francis Rombout and others, by King James the Second, and the Beekman Patent, granted still later to Colonel Henry Beekman, covered the whole territory purchased by Emigh, who, having only an Indian deed, was dispossessed by the later purchasers holding their authority from the Crown. He afterwards purchased a large tract in the Clove, froth the charter proprietors, some of which is in possession of his descendants at the present time.

While at Fishkill a daughter was born to them, the first white child born within the limits of DUCHESS County. About the year 1700, a young man from Holstein, named Peter Iasinck (Bossing), came to DUCHESS County. The little Fishkill maiden had grown up to rosy womanhood, and young Iasinck and Katrina Emigh wedded and settled in the present domain of East Fishkill. They had four sons and four daughters; and it is said that when the oldest of the eight died, the other seven were still living, the youngest being 75 years old. William, the first born, was the King's collector of taxes in 1726. The historian, Lossing, is a descendant of this family.

Until 1712, the nearest blacksmith to the Fishkill settlers was at Esopus, then called Wiltwyck. One of Peter Lasinck's boys was sent there with a plowshare lashed to the saddle, which he was to have sharpened. Having traveled an Indian trail homeward for a dozen miles, the fastenings gave way, and the plowshare fell to the ground. In the fall the point was broken, and the poor lad was obliged to turn back and have his work done the second time. Altogether he traveled a hundred miles to have a plowshare prepared for use.

The next permanent settler was Peche Dewall, who located at Fishkill Landing. He came there in the spring of 1688. His wife assisted him in clearing up his land. The following winter he went to New York with a hand sled; made some purchases, and drew the articles home, though the road most of the way was but an Indian trail. In the spring he bought a horse for £3, which was considered a fair price for a horse in those days.

Emigh and Dewall were almost the only settlers here for many years. Situated in the midst of a wilderness, remote from any settlement; surrounded by savage Indians and still more savage beasts; provisions scarce and hard to be obtained and the long winters cold and severe - their situation was by no means enviable. A sloop would come up the river occasionally, when the captain and some of the crew would come ashore, and then all would be solitary again; and months would transpire before they would again learn what events were taking place in the outside world.

From 1700 to 1715, settlement progressed slowly, the pioneers locating mostly along the river. The Indians were numerous, their village lying near the present site of Fishkill Hook. There they had set out apple orchards; a few of the apple trees may yet be seen on the faun of William Waldo. They had a little clearing on the farm of Theodore VanWyck. where they raised their Indian corn.

Theodoris VanWyck was one of the first settlers at Fishkill Hook. One of his boys, a lad of twelve summers, used to go to the Indian village occasionally, and the squaws would give him something to eat. Happening there one day when nearly the whole village was absent, he ventured to look into a dinner vessel swung over one of their fires, and there saw a piece of old horse with the hair on it, seasoned with some beans. From that time he declined to eat with the Indians.

"Where Johnsville is located once stood a dense forest. The small streams were much obstructed by fallen trees, so that the water collected in stagnant pools, and rendered the locality unhealthy. These pools were the habitations of venomous serpents and various animals, such as the beaver, otter and muskrat. The early settlers were careful about venturing out after dark, for fear of the bite of some venomous snake. They were obliged to drive their stock into enclosures every night as a protection against beasts of prey, and often the wolves and panthers would break through and carry away some of the sheep and lambs to their dens in the mountains."

The first settlers of the village of Johnsville, the ancient name of which was Wiccopee, was Johannes Swartwout. He leased a farm of Madam Brett for three fat fowls a year. He made a clearing, erected a log house near an excellent spring, and in 1750 set out an apple orchard. Many of the trees still stand. One taken down some fourteen years ago was twelve feet around at its base, and fifty feet high. This farm afterward came in possession of Rombout Brett, a grandson of Madam Brett, who located on it in the year 1770. He sold six acres to a blacksmith named Cushman, the first mechanic in Johnsville. The barracks of the American army near Fishkill were given to the inhabitants after they were vacated. Cushman, with the help of his neighbors, went to the barracks and hauled upthe material for his house and blacksmith shop.

The next settler in Johnsville was Joseph Wood. Like most of the dwellings of the first settlers, the house was built one story high, with a long stoop in front. The roof of the house extended over so as to cover the stoop. The house had very small windows; there was no wall overhead, the large beams being uncovered; and the fire places large enough to take in the wood cord lengths. The house was covered with cypress and white wood, unpainted, and the floors were laid with white oak. Mr. Wood, being located near the mountain, was very much annoyed by beasts of prey. The cattle yard was so situated as to be commanded by his garret window. Often the noise of bears and other wild beasts awoke him in the night, when he would repair to the garret window. and fire upon them. He would frequently find the carcass of a wolf or panther on his going out of a morning, brought down by his rifle during the night.

The first settler near Johnsville was Rodolphus Swartwout, from Long Island. His house was built of stone, one story high, and existed as late as 1809. One day his son and a negro slave were at work near the house. when they saw a collection of Indians near the present highway. They hastened to the spot, and to their surprise they saw a dead Indian, and the others were rejoicing over him. Swartwout asked the Indians who killed him, when they all cried out in broken English, "I, I. I." It appeared that the dead Indian belonged to a tribe below the mountains, with which they were at war; they had overtaken him there and stoned him to death, and each claimed that he had thrown the stone that killed him. His scalp was taken off and given to Ninham. for which the latter rewarded them.

Two Englishmen named Ogden called on Swartwout one day to make inquiries as to where they would better locate. Swartwout showed them through the woods to where is now the residence of James VanWyck. The Ogdens thought it rather low and wet, and the labor of clearing and draining the land too great an undertaking; they therefore went through the woods in an easterly direction until they reached the top of a hill near what is now Farmer's Mills. Here they located and a portion of the land yet remains in possession of their descendants.

East of Swartwout's an Englishman settled. by the name of John Wood. He built a house where C. Delevan now lives, and kept tavern there until his death. which occurred in 1791. The Ways, Brinckerhoffs, Depuysters, Algarks, Woods, and others, were from Long Island, and settled in and about Fishkill Hook. At this place is a farm of three hundred acres, adjoining Putnam county, which was sold in 1796 by the heirs of Madam Brett to William Beesley. The Indians who sold the tract remained here long after the sale. They claimed this farm as a reservation, until they finally removed West. This was the last tract of land given up by them. Their villages and apple orchards were mostly on this farm. Some of them lingered in Fishkill long after the French and Indian war, and then all left. A few of the tribe came back at different times, and pretended to claim the farm, averring that they had never signed away their right and title. Sometimes they would remain a month or more, begging provisions and shooting game, and then return to their homes.

The first settler in Shenandoah was Peter Rickey; he built the first house, and kept the first tavern and store in Shenandoah. In early times a single elephant would cause as much excitement as a great menagerie at the present day. A show once stopped at Rickey's. The showman advertised a recently imported animal from Africa, heretofore unknown to natural history, called a "Dodo." This drew out a large crowd, but the dodo proved to be an imposture. The people thereupon tore down the tents. carried the dodo and a Shetland pony into the tavern, and told the showman he must refund the money or they would not deliver up his property. Finally a compromise was effected, by Which the showman was .allowed to proceed on his way on condition of his treating the .crowd.

The first settler at Gayhead was Aaron VanVlack, who came from Holland and purchased 600 acres of land of Madam Brett, when this County was a wilderness. He built a log house just south of the residence of his great grandson, Abram VanVlack. A son of Aaron, named Tunis, settled at the village of Gayhead, and built the mill. The building used as a tavern and store is an ancient structure; by whom built, and when. is uncertain.

New Hackensack* was settled by emigrants from Hackensack, New Jersey, after which it was named. The VanBunschotens, Snadikers and Vanderbilts were among the first settlers.
* India name, Ackkinkashacky.

The Montforts were the first settlers on Fishkill Plains. They came from the Flatlands, Long Island, about the year 1740. There were two or three by the name of Peter. One settled on lands bordering on Sprout Creek; he went by the name of Sprout Peter.

The first settler in Glenham was Simmerton. He kept tavern, in which the first town meeting was held in 1724, when the following business was transacted:

"At a meeting of Sundry Freeholders and Tenements of DUCHESS County, assembled this, the first Tuesday in April, in the South Ward, the following persons were chosen by majority of votes to serve for the Ward, viz: Jacobus Swartwout, Supervisor; James Hussey, Francis De Langdon, Assessors. It is agreed in the South Ward on the day of Election by majority of votes that all the fences in that ward are to be in height upward to the uppermost part of the rail, or log, or rider, four feet four inches, English measure. Every inhabitor within the ward aforesaid shall be obliged to keep good fences around their corn burrows and stacks, which fence is to be so close that hogs nor shoats cannot get through the same where they run at large, which if neglected shall not recover damage."

Francis De Langdon settled on the road east of Fishkill village, on what is now called the Sherwood place. Near the house stands a large pine tree, on which a cow-boy was hung: in the Revolution. He was captured near Johnsville, and immediately taken to this tree and hung. The rope was. fastened to a large limb that projects out over the highway.

The Brinckerhoffs settled at Brinckerhoffville. They, in 1721, purchased of Madame Brett, a tract of about 1,700 acres. Abram kept a store here during the Revolution, He also built the mills now known as Dudley's Mills They were destroyed by fire in the time of the Revolution, and the soldiers of the American army, encamped near by, were set to work at re-building them; in a short time the present mills were ready for business.

About this time, tea being very scarce, and having a considerable quantity on hand, Abram Brinckerhoff charged an exorbitant price. The women of the neighborhood were very much exasperated, as the price was beyond their means. Mustering a large company under the command of one Catherine Schutt, they marched in military order in front of his store. The sequel is told in the following extract from a newspaper published at that time:

AUGUST 28th, 1776. - A few days since about 100 women, inhabitants of DUCHESS county, went to the house of Colonel Brinckerhoff, at Fishkill, and insisted upon having tea at the lawful price of six shillings per pound, and obliged that gentleman to accommodate them with one chest from his store for that purpose. Shortly after he sold his cargo to some Yorkers, who, for fear of another female attack, forwarded the nefarious stuff to the North river precipitately, where it is now afloat, but the women have placed their guard on each side.

The first settlers in Fishkill Village were Henry Terboss, and Rosekrance. The first tailor in town was named Clump. He came direct from Holland, and settled in Glenham.

Fishkill Village, in the time of the Revolution, was the largest village in the county. It could boast of an academy; two churches, one school house, a hotel, and a printing press. It was the theatre of many thrilling events of the war, although no battle was ever fought in the vicinity. In 1789, there were but seven post offices in the State, and Fishkill was one of the number. After the Revolution it progressed very slowly in population. It is situated upon a beautiful plain, in the midst of a fertile country, and surrounded by magnificent scenery. Lossing thus describes a visit here in 1848: "The air was a little frosty, but as soon as the sun appeared above the hills, the warm breath and soft light of the Indian Summer spread their genial influence over the face of Nature, and awakened corresponding delight in the heart and mind of the traveler. The country through which the highway passes is exceedingly picturesque. It skirts the deep, rich valleys of Matteawan and Glenham, where flows a clear stream* from a distant mountain lake and bubbling spring, turning in its course many mill wheels and thousands of spindles, set up along its banks. On the south, the lofty range of the eastern Highlands, rocky and abrupt near their summits, come down with gentle declivities and mingle their rugged forms with the green undulations of the valley. Up their slopes cultivated fields have crept like ivy upon some grey old tower; and there tinted with all the glories of autumn, they seemed to hang in the soft morning sunlight like rich gobelins in the chamber of royalty." Irving in his narrative of the renowned Stuyvesant up the Hudson, thus speaks of the Highlands:

Thus happily did they pursue their course, until they entered upon those awful defiles denominated the Highlands, where it would seem that the gigantic Titans had erst waged their impious war with heaven, piling up cliffs on cliffs, and hurling vast masses of rock in wild confusion. But in sooth, very different is the history of these cloud - capt mountains. - These in ancient days, before the Hudson poured his waters from the lakes, formed one vast prison, within whose rocky bosom the omnipotent Manetho confined the rebellious spirits who repined at his control. Here bound in adamantine chains or jammed in rifted pines, or crushed by ponderous rocks, they groaned for many an age. At length the conquering Hudson, in his irresistible career towards the ocean, burst open their prison house, rolling his tide triumphantly through its stupendous ruins. Still, however, do many of them lurk about their old abodes; and these it is, according to venerable legends, that cause the echoes which resound throughout these awful solitudes, which are nothing but their angry clamors, when any noise disturbs the profoundness of their repose. For when the elements are agitated by tempest, when the winds are up and the thunder rolls, then horrible is the yelling and howling of these troubled spirits, making the mountains to re-bellow with their hideous uproar; for at such times, it is said, they think the great Manetho is returning, once more to plunge them in gloomy caverns, and renew their intolerable captivity." This fanciful idea, so beautifully portrayed by the historian of Knickerbocker, is quite in accord with modern science, it being asserted that there are evidences that the bed of the river at this point has been changed from the location it occupied in some far off period of the world's history.

Fishkill is a place of much interest to the student of our history. Surrounded by a fertile country, and secured from invasion from below by high mountains, it was chosen during the Revolution as a place of deposit for military stores. Here were confined the British and Tory prisoners, captured upon the Neutral Ground in Westchester; and here for a while was the encampment of a part of the American army, and also the place of deliberation of the State Legislature.

Matteawan is a beautiful manufacturing village upon the Fishkill, about a mile from the landing, at the foot of Matteawan Mountain. It was founded in 1814 by Messrs. Schenck and Leonard, at which time the Matteawan Company was formed. There are several large factories here of various descriptions. In 1840 no intoxicating liquors were permitted to be sold within it, and almost the whole population pledged themselves to abstain from its use.

Near the village is situated the mansion built by Roger Brett about the year 1710, - one of the first built in this town, and now more generally known as the "Teller House." The. building is one story in height, 87 x 36 feet. Its sides and roof were originally covered with cedar shingles. It was often filled with officers and soldiers during the War of Independence, and a large quantity of salt was at one time stored in the cellar for the use of the army.

As the reader is already aware, at the opening of the war, the Provincial Congress convened at New York, and began at once to devise means to insure the general safety. County Committees were organized, which carried the instructions they received to the Town or Precinct Committees. Of the Fishkill Committee, Dirck G. Brinckerhoff was Chairman, Capt. Jacobus Swartwout, Dept. Chairman, and John H. Sleight, Clerk. Their first meeting was held on the 13th of July, at Capt. Jacob Griffin's, who then kept a tavern on the Hopewell road, just beyond Swartwoutville. The committee; called the "Committee of Observation," at once set about the performance of its duty. The "Pledge" was circulated for signatures, orders being issued that no coercive measure be taken to induce persons to sign it; and a list was taken of persons who refused to sign. They were also to attend to the work of collecting arms for the Militia - buying them of their owners whenever practicable, and taking them by force when necessary. They were to keep a close watch over the movements of disaffected persons within their jurisdiction, besides attending to other matters which rendered their office anything but a sinecure.

In the Autumn of 1776, after the evacuation of New York, and the immediate loss of the seaboard, the operations of the army were carried farther into the interior of the country. Fishkill then became, from its safe position north of the Highlands, and from its proximity to the fortifications at %Vest Point, a place of much consideration. The town was at once crowded with refugees, who fled from their homes on Long Island_ and in New York, and sought safety here. One interior army route to Boston passed through this place. Army stores were deposited here, and workshops established, for the manufacture of articles needed by the troops. The Marquis de Chastellux. a French officer who traveled quite extensively in North America about the time of the Revolution, says:- "This town, in which there are not more than fifty houses in the space of two miles, has been long the principal depot of the American army. It is here they have placed their magazines, their hospitals, their workshops, &c., but all of these form a town in themselves, composed of handsome, large barracks, built in the woods at the foot of the mountains; for the American army, like the Romans in many respects, have hardly any other Winter quarters than wooden towns, or barricaded camps, which may be compared to the hiemali a of the Romans."

The headquarters of the officers was at the "Wharton House," now the residence of Sidney E. VanWyck; the barracks commenced about thirty rods north of this dwelling, and extended near the line of the road to the base of the mountain, where the road turns east from the turnpike. Says a writer of this vicinity: "Near the residence of Sidney E. VanWyck, by the large black walnut trees, and east of the road near the base of the mountain. was the soldiers' burial ground. Many a poor patriot soldier's bones lie mouldering there. This almost unknown and unnoticed burial place holds hundreds of those who gave their lives for the cause American Independence. Some twenty five years ago an old lady who was then living at an advanced age, told the writer that after the battle of White Plains, she went with her father through the streets of Fishkill, and in places between the Dutch and Episcopal churches, the dead were piled up by the side of the road as high as cord wood. These were interred in the soldiers' burial ground. The wounded of the battle who afterwards died were buried there. The constant streams of death from the hospitals were buried there. The small pox, which broke out in camp and prevailed very malignantly, added many more. Many of these were State Militia, and it seems no more than just that the State should make an appropriation to erect a suitable monument over this spot. Rather than that it should thus remain for another century, if a rough granite boulder were rolled down the mountain side and inscribed - 'To the unknown and unnumbered dead if the American Revolution,' that rough, - unhewn stone would tell, to the strangers and the passerby, more to the praise and fame of the town than the living can add to it by works of their own. It is doubtful whether any other place in the State has as many of the buried dead of the Revolution as this quiet spot in the old town of Fishkill."

This vicinity, says Lossing, is the scene of many of the most thrilling events portrayed by Cooper in his "Spy, a Tale of the Neutral Ground" In the Wharton House, Enoch Crosby, the alleged reality of the novelist's fictitious Harvey Birch, was subjected to a mock trial by the Committee of Safety, and then confined in the old Dutch Church in the village. Crosby engaged in the secret service" of his country in the Autumn of 1776, and eminent were his achievements in making revelations to his Whig friends of the plans and movements of the Tories. At that period secret enemies were more to be feared than open foes: among these in Westchester and the southern portions of DUCHESS. Crosby mingled freely, for a long time, without incurring their distrust.

While on one of these excursions. he solicited lodgings for the night at the house of a woman who proved to be a Tory. From her he learned that a company of loyalists were forming in the neighborhood, to march to New York and join the British army. He became excessively loyal; and, agreeing to enlist with them, he obtained the unbounded confidence of the Captain, who revealed to him all his plans. That night, after all was quiet, Crosby stealthily left his bed, hastened to White Plains, where the Committee of Safety resided, communicated the secrets of the expedition to them, and was back to his lodgings, unobserved, before daylight. At Crosby's suggestion, a meeting was held the following evening, and while in session, the house was surrounded by a band of Whigs, sent for that purpose by the Committee of Safety, and the inmates were all made prisoners. They were conveyed to Fishkill, manacled, and confned in the Old Stone Church, one of the relics of the Revolution yet remaining. The Committee of Safety, who had come up to try them, were at the Wharton House. After the examination, the prisoners were all remanded to prison, Crosby among the rest. By apparent accident he was left alone with the Committee a few minutes, and a plan of escape was devised. He effected it through a window at the northwest corner of the church, which was hidden by a willow. On reaching the ground he was divested of his loose manacles; and with the speed of a deer he rushed by the sentinels, and escaped unhurt to a swamp, followed by three or four bullets fired at random in the gloom. He was made a prisoner twice afterward, but managed to escape.

The Wharton House has been owned by the Van Wyck family ever since its erection. It presents the same appearance, as far as may be, that it did in the time of the Revolution, its proprietors taking pains to keep it so. The writer visited it in June 1875, and was shown through it by the gentlemanly proprietor, Sidney E. Van Wyck, Esq. There was the large square room - in which the courts martial were held, and in which the marriage mentioned in the "Spy" is represented to have taken place - with its large windows and high mantels, and tall eight day clock ticking away in the corner, none the worse for its century's wear. Mr. Van Wyck exhibited a tea cup of ancient pattern, such as were in use when the traditional lump of sugar was suspended from the ceiling, and swung around to the guests. Near the house, at the time of the Revolution, was a large orchard, some of the trees of which are still standing. One of the trees, cut down some ten years since, showed one hundred and forty distinct rings in the wood - denoting as many years of life. One old black walnut near the house serves as a lightning rod, it being struck by the fluid nearly every year. It stands the ordeal well; but the seams and scars visible all over the tree testify to the severe blows it has received.

Another black walnut, also bearing the marks of age, stands on the opposite side of the road from the house, and is said to have been set out by a slave at work on the farm named Kame. During the Revolution the toll gate was hung on this tree - this being the turnpike running from Albany to New York. The head of the staple driven into the tree disappeared only a year or two since. A dwelling house in the vicinity is built, in part, from material taken from the army barracks. Mr. VanWyck is one of the very few who properly appreciate the historic interest attached to the buildings and scenes that are so closely associated with the momentous events of our country's history. Would that other of the many relics of the Revolution, now neglected and forgotten, had fallen into the keeping of such hands as have the Wharton House, and its surroundings.

Of the places of public interest, the site of the residence of Mrs. John C. VanWyck may justly claim attention, as there the first printing press was set up in this county. Samuel Loudon, who had published a paper in New York up to the time of its evacuation, removed his press and material to Fishkill. It was for a time the only paper that could be found to publish the news of public interest. Says Lossing, "An interesting bibliographical fact was communicated to me, connected with Fishkill, by Gulian C. Verplanck, Esq. I have already noticed the harassing circumstances under which the first Republican Constitution of the State of New York was elaborated, discussed, and adopted; the Legislature retiring before the approach of the British bayonets, first to Harlem, then to King's Bridge, Yonkers, White Plains, Fishkill, and Kingston.

The Constitution of the State of New York was printed in 1777, and was the first as well as the most important book ever printed in the State. The people could find but one press in their domain with which to print this work of their representatives. It was done by Samuel Louden, who had been a Whig editor and printer in the city of New York and who had retired with his press to Fishkill, where was the chief deposit of stores, hospitals, etc., of the northern army of the United States."

Perhaps the reader may recollect having seen, at the Centennial Exhibition, in the Government Building, the sword of Washington, bearing the maker's name, J. Bailey, Fishkill. Bailey's workshop was standing a few years ago in the village of Fishkill, in which the sword was wrought, as Other evidences beside the maker's name prove beyond a doubt.

At one time while Washington was in the town he was a guest of John Brinckerhoff, who lived in the store house near Swartwoutville. He was a very ardent, out spoken Whig, and was pressing zealously his point to learn of certain movements which were then going on in the army. Washington interrupted, "Can you keep a secret, Mr. Brinckerhoff ?" "Oh yes, certainly," he replied, expecting to hear an important revelation. "So can I," replied Washington. On another occasion, when it was time to retire, "General," said Mr. B., "You are Commander in Chief of the forces of the United States." "Yes sir, I believe that I am," answered Washington. "General," said Mr. B., "I am Commander in Chief, too, of my own household, and you are my guest. I am in the habit of closing the duties of the day by calling my family and the servants together, reading the Scriptures and offering family worship. The reading and the prayer will be in the Low Dutch language; but I would be glad to have you join in spirit in the worship." To which Washington assented, when all bowed together in prayer.

Once when Washington passed through the town, the people eager to see him, had assembled at a place where the roads crossed each other. As Washington rode up and halted they all at once uncovered their heads before him. Observing this, he said, "Gentlemen, put your hats on; I am but a man like yourselves, and wish no such deference shown me."

At the time of Arnold's treason, Washington was going through here to West Point. The notorious Joshua H. Smith was arrested here shortly afterward on charge of complicity. Smith afterward published a work in England in which he says of the affair:

"I mentioned to General Arnold the distance I accompanied Mr. Anderson, which gave him apparently much satisfaction. His dinner being ready, I partook of it, refreshed my horses, and in the evening proceeded to Fishkill to my family. Here I found General Washington had arrived in the course of the afternoon, on his return from visiting Count Rochambeau, and I supped in his company, with a large retinue at Gen. Scott's. The next day I went on business to Poughkeepsie. and returned to Fishkill the ensuing evening. About midnight the door of my room was burst open with great violence, and instantly the chamber was filled with soldiers who approached my bed with fixed bayonets. I was then without ceremony drawn out of bed by a French officer named Grovion, whom I recollected to have entertained at my house not long before, in the suite of the Marquis de Lafayette. He commanded me instantly to dress myself, and to accompany him to General Washington, having an order from him, he said, to arrest me. I then desired of him the privilege of having my servant and one of my horses to go with him to General Washington, which was refused, and I was marched off on foot a distance of eighteen miles."

"There is a little fountain bubbling up by the side of the road running between Peekskill and Verplanck's Point named the Soldier's Spring, from the circumstance that an American soldier, while retreating from the enemy. stopped at the fountain to quench his thirst. While so doing, a cannon ball that struck the hill above him, glanced obliquely, hit and shattered his thigh, and left him mortally wounded by the side of the fountain. He was conveyed in a wagon that passed soon afterward, to Fishkill, where he expired."

[Continued in History of Fishkill, NY Part 2]

Return to [ NY History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ]

NY Counties - Albany - Allegany - Broome - Cayuga - Chatauqua - Chenango - Clinton - Columbia - Cortland - Dutchess - Erie - Essex - Franklin - Fulton - Genesee - Herkimer - Jefferson - Lewis - Livingston - Madison - Montgomery - Niagara - Oneida - Onondaga - Ontario - Orange - Orleans - Oswego - Putnam - Queens - Rensselaer - Richmond - Rockland - St. Lawrence - Saratoga - Schenectady - Steuben - Suffolk - Tioga - Tompkins - Tryone - Ulster - Washington - Wayne - Yates

All pages copyright 2003-2012. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy