History of Schenectady County, New York


THIS COUNTY was formed from Albany, March 7, 1809. It is centrally distant twenty miles from Albany and contains 221 square miles. The greater part lies between Schoharie Creek and Mohawk River, only one town lying north of the Mohawk. The surface consists of the flats along the Mohawk, and an upland, generally broken by ridges and isolated hills from 200 to 350 feet above the river. The highlands are the northern continuation of the Helberbergh and Schoharie Mountains. The shales of the Hudson River group constitute the principal underlying rocks which crop out in the valleys and in the bottom of the ravines. In portions of Glenville and Duanesburgh this rock is underlaid by birdseye limestone, from which are obtained lime and building stone. The greater part of the surface is covered with a thick deposit of drift, consisting chiefly of clay in the west part, and sand in the east. The rocks crop out on the banks of the streams and form, the declivities of the steeper hills. The soil in the west part is a tenacious clayey loam, underlaid by hardpan on the hills, and in the east it is light, sandy and of poor quality. The valley of the Mohawk consists of a deep rich alluvium, well adapted to tillage and extensively devoted to the cultivation of broomcorn. It is said that one-half of the entire broomcorn crop of the State is raised in this County. A large part of the broomeorn land is annually overflowed, rendering it very fertile. Many tracts have produced this crop for many years in succession.

The principal streams are Mohawk River, Schoharie Creek and Norman's Kil, and their tributaries. The valleys of these streams are generally bordered by the steep declivities of the uplands, rising to the hight of about 300 feet. Many of the smaller streams have worn deep gulleys in the loose drift deposits, giving the surface a very broken character. Many of these streams are dry in summer. The alluvial flats near Schenectady, and extending west about five miles on the south side of the river, were called by the first settlers "The Bouwland," or arable land. A tract two miles in extent, north of the river, was called the: "Maalwyck," meaning Whirlback, from the tortuous course of the Mohawk. A tract on both sides of the river, about four miles west of the City, was called "Woestina," meaning Wilderness. A region in the immediate vicinity of Schenectady was called "Oron-nygh-wurrie-gughre," and the hills were known as the "Yau-ta-puch-a-berg," which is a mixture of Indian and Dutch, meaning "John-ear-of-corn-hill." The hills on both sides of the river, above the City, were called "Tou-ar-e-u-ne." The streams of" Woestina," were "Werf Kil," or Paint Creek, "Zantzee Kil," or Sea Sand Creek, and "Righelbrigh Kil," or Railbridge Creek.

The valleys are well adapted to tillage, but the hills are better for pasturage. The Mohawk Valley was formerly noted for its large wheat crops, but there is much less raised now than formerly. The manufactures of' the County are confined chiefly to the City of Schenectady.

The County Seat is located at Schenectady. The Court House is a substantial brick edifice, located on Union Street, and contains the court room, jail, Sheriff's office and Supervisors' room. The County Clerk's office is a small fire proof building, a short distance from the Court House, on the same street. The Surrogate's office is in the same building. The work of preparing the foundation of an enlargement to this building has already commenced, and when completed according to the present plan, the building will be one of the most commodious and convenient of any in the State, considering the size of the County, and highly creditable to the enterprising portion of the County, through whose efforts the improvement has been accomplished. The building when completed will be 60 by 36 feet, and two stories high. On the first floor will be the Clerk's office, 30 by 33 feet, and the Surrogate's office. On the second floor will be the Surrogate's court room, Supervisors' room and a room for the Library. The lower rooms will be fire-proof and all warmed by a heater in the cellar. The extreme hight of the building above the side-walk will be forty-five feet, and. its value when completed will be about $25,000.

The Alms House is located on a farm in the east part of the City. The greatest number of inmates at anyone time during the last year was 78, and the least number 64. There were five deaths and one birth during the year. The whole expense of supporting the poor of. the County during the last year was $10,291.10, and the weekly expense of supporting each was $2.22. The rent of the farm is estimated at $400.

The County have a Fair and Parade Ground of about thirty acres, surrounded by a high, substantial and tight board fence, a short distance from the business portion of the City. The County laid out about $10,000, and the County Agricultural Society about $1,500. Sheds and other buildings have been erected, and a drive of a half a mile laid out upon the grounds. When the improvements are completed according to the present plan, Schenectady will have one of the finest grounds for fairs and. military parades in the State.

The first newspaper published in the County was

The Western Spectator, issued previous to 1807.

The Schenectady Cabinet was commenced in January 1809, by Isaac Riggs. In 1850 it passed into the hands of' S. S. Riggs, who continued it until 1857.

The Western Budget was published a short time in 1809.

The Mohawk Advertiser was published in 1810 by R. Schermerhorn.

The Floriad, a monthly, octavo, was published in 1811.

The Schenectady Gazette was published in 1812, by Ryer Schermerhorn.

The Schenectady County Whig was issued. in 1830 by C. G. & A. Palmer, and was continued until 1834.

The Schenectady Standard was published in 1831 by T. J. Sutherland.

The Schenectady Democrat was begun in 1828 by C. G. & A. Palmer. T. W. Flagg became the publisher in 1837, and the same year the name was changed to

The Reflector and Schenectady Democrat. It was successively published by U. Yates, E. H. Kincaid, A. A. Keyser and Fred. W. Hoffman, and others, until May 1867, when it was purchased by J. J. Marlett and its name changed to

THE SCHENECTADY REFLECTOR, under which title it is still published by Mr. Marlett.

The Censor was published in 1834 by the students of Union College.

The Parthenon was published monthly by the students of the College in 1846-7.

The Mohawker was published in 1835 by Riggs & Norris.

The Protestant Sentinel was commenced in 1835 by Rev. John Maxson, and continued two years.

The Wreath was started in. 1835 by W. H. Burleigh, and continued one year.

Freedom's Sentinel was issued during the campaign of 1840, by Stephen S. Riggs.

The Antiquarian and General Review was a monthly, started in 1845 by Rev. W. Arthur, and continued two years.

The Scroll was published a short time in 1849.

The Schenectady Morning Star was started February 24, 1854, by W. M. Chadbourne and W. N. Clark. It was soon after changed to

THE SCHENECTADY EVENING STAR In. September 1865 it passed into the hands of J. J. Marlett, the present publisher.

The Schenectady Daily Newa was started April 1859 and discontinued soon after.

The Schenectady Republican was started in 1857 by Colbourne & Landon. In 1867 it was merged in the Reflector.

THE SCHENECTADY DAILY UNION was started in the fall of 1865 by Charles Stanford, the present publisher.

THE SCHENECTADY WEEKLY UNION is issued from the same office.

THE WEEKLY GAZETTE was started May 13, 1869, by Walter N. Thayer. In January 1870 it passed into the hands of James H. Wiseman, the present publisher.

The public works of the County are the Erie Canal, which crosses the Mohawk in the north part of the town of Niskayuna, and thence extends along the valley, through Schenectady and Rotterdam; the New York Central Railroad, including the Troy and Schenectady Branch, the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad, the Saratoga and Hudson. and the Albany and Susquehanna Railroads, all extend through some part of the County. A railroad from Schenectady, connecting with the Albany and Susquehanna, in the town of Duanesburgh, is soon to be built, forming a direct communication with Binghamton and the great coal region of Pennsylvania. A survey of a route from Schenectady to Ogdensburgh has already been made, and a favorable report rendered as to its feasibility. This, when built, will open a large extent of country that has not hitherto had. any communication by rail with the rest part of the State.

The settlement of this County was commenced in 1661. The great flat upon the Mohawk, embracing the present site of Schenectady, was purchased of the natives in 1661, by Arent Van Corlear. The grantors of this tract were four Mohawk chiefs, named Cantuque, Sonareetsie, Aiadane and Sodackdrasse. The grant was confirmed the next year, and in 1664 the tract was surveyed. The inhabitants of Fort Orange, wishing to monopolize the trade with the Indians, required from the settlers a written pledge to abstain from trading with them, before the land was received from the Surveyor. A remonstrance against this was signed by the following early settlers, viz: A. Van Corlear, Philip Hendrickson, Sanders Lendertsen Glen, Simon Volcrertsen, Pieter Soghmaekelyk, Tennis Cornelissen, Marte Cornelise, William Teller, Bastiaen De Winter for Oatalyn, widow of Arent Andries de Voss, Pieter Jacobse Borsboom, Pieter Danielse Van Olinda, Jan Barentse Wemp and Jaques Cornelise. It was under the charge of five Commissioners until November 1, 1684, when Governor Dongan granted a patent confirming previous rights and extending the territory so that it embraced Schenectady, Glenville, Rotterdam and a part of Niskayuna. William Teller, Ryer Schermerhorn, Sweer Tunison, Jan Van. Eps and Myndert Wemp were appointed Trustees under this grant. In 1702 R. Schermerhorn became sole trustee, and in 1705 a new patent was issued, confirming certain township privileges. On the 23d, of October, 1765, the place was created a borough with the rights and privileges incident to those corporations.

In 1690 a party of between 200 and 300 French and Indians left Montreal for the purpose of making an attack upon Fort Orange. The weather was very cold and the party experienced extreme hardships, being compelled sometimes to "march up to their knees in water and to break the ice with their feet in order to find solid footing." About four o'clock in the afternoon of February 8th, after a march of 17 days, they arrived within about six miles of Schenectady, where they made a halt and were harangued by the great Mohawk. Chief of the Iroquois. At eleven o'clock they came in sight of the town and resolved to defer the assault until. two o'clock in the morning, but the intense cold admitted of no further, delay.

"The town of Corlear (Schenectady) forms a sort of oblong with only two gates, one opposite the road we had taken, the other leading to Orange, which is only six leagues distant. Messieurs de Sainte Helene and de Mantet were to enter at the first which the squaws pointed out, and which in fact was found wide open. Messieurs d'Therville and de Montesson took the left, with another detachment, in order to make themselves masters of that leading to Orange. But they could not discover it and returned to join the remainder of the party. A profound silence was everywhere preserved until the two commanders who separated at their entrance into the town for the purpose of encircling it, had met at the other extremity. The signal of, attack was given Indian fashion and the entire force rushed on simultaneously. M. de Mantet placed himself at the head of a detachmant, and reached a small fort where the garrison was under arms. The gate was burst in after a good deal of difficulty, the whole set on fire and all who defended the place slaughtered. The sack of the town, began a moment before the attack on the fort. Few houses made any resistance. M. de Montigny discovered some which he attempted to carry sword in hand having tried the musket in 'vain. He received two thrusts of a spear, one in the body and one in the arm. But M. de Sainte Helene having come to his aid, effected an entrance and put every one who defended the place to the sword. The massacre lasted two hours. The remainder of the night was spent in placing sentinels and in taking some repose. The house belonging to the minister was ordered to be saved, so as to take him alive to obtain in formation from him, but as it was not known it was not spared any more than the others. He was slain and his papers burnt before he could be recognized. At daybreak the same men were sent to the dwelling of Mr. Coudre (Sanders), who was Major of the place and who lived at the other side of the river. He was not willing to surrender and began to put himself on the defensive with his servants and some Indians, but it was resolved not to do him any harm, in consequence of the good treatment that the French had formerly experienced at his hands. M. d'Ibervillw and the great Mohawk proceeded thither alone, promised him quarter for himself, his people and his property, whereupon he laid down his arms, on parole, entertaining them in his fort and returning with them to see the commandants of the town."

The houses had already been set on fire, and, none were spared except one belonging to Ooudre, and that of a widow who had six childien, whither Montigny had been carried when wounded. Sixty men, women and children were put to death, some of them in the most barbarous manner. Twentyseven were taken prisoners and fifty or sixty escaped. The loss in houses, cattle and grain, was estimated at more than four hundred thousand livres. The enemy took away with them fifty horses, only sixteen of which reached Montreal, the remainder having been killed for food on the road.

The settlement at this time consisted of about eighty houses, nearly all of which were burned. A few of the inhabitants escaped to Albany, the nearest place of refuge, and gave the alarm. The fear of an attack upon that place prevented as vigorous a pursuit of the enemy as would otherwise have been made. A small force sent in pursuit were compelled to return on account, of the, deep snow and the excessive cold.

The place was never visited by a hostile enemy after 1690, but the Fort was kept up, provision having been frequently made for rebuilding and. repairing the same. During the Revolution the place was garrisoned at the public expense, and many families from the upper Mohawk sought protection from the incursions of Tories and. Indians. A large number of friendly Oneida and Tuscarora Indians, driven from their homes, were supported in this vicinity at the public expense, for several years succeeding 1779.

After the return of peace the settlement shared in the general prosperity. The improvements of the Western Inland Navigation Company gave a new impulse to trade by enabling larger boats to navigate the Mohawk. The Company cleared. the river of impediments as much as possible, built a lock at Little Falls, and in 1796 constructed a canal between the Mohawk and Wood Creek, leading into Oneida Lake, thus opening communication by water with the chain of lakes in the interior of the State, and with Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence. The boats were propelled up stream by setting poles, and were floated down by the current. The navigation of the Mohawk was entirely abanded on the completion of the Erie Canal. The railroads centering in Schenectady afford unusual facilities for communicating with all parts of the State.

The following account of an expedition of the French "into ye terrytoryes of His Royal Highnesse the Duke of Yorke in America," is taken from "Decumentary History," the principal change being in the orthography:

"On the 29th of December Mousier Coarsell the Governor of Canada, in New France, began his march with nearly six hundred men, to seek out their inveterate enemies called the Mohawk Indians in their own country and, forts, there to take revenge upon them for the several murders and spoils which the barbarians had for many years exercised in Canada upon the French, and the Indians of those parts even to the ruin of most, but to the insufferable discouragement of all those inhabitants, who being taken alive were-usually tortured and eaten, or burnt by the Mohawks. If not taken they lived in perpetual alarms to see their dwelling houses burnt, their cattle and corn destroyed. All which powerful arguraents furnished the French with heat enough to march over the frozen lake of Canada, and taking their time that the snow upon the ground was hard frozen (though in most places four feet deep,) made use of Inthan snow shoes which have the form of a racket tied to each foot, whereby the body and feet are kept from sinking into the snow, and. because it was not possible for horses to pass or subsist in the snow, or for the soldiers to carry their necessary provisions on their backs, and had less expectation to meet with any relief in the vast wilderness, the Governor caused slight sledges to be made in good number, laying provisions upon them, drew them over the snow with dogs, all these difficulties put together impeded his march, and by the mistake of his guides happened to fall short of the castles of the Mohawks, and to take up his quarters, or rather encamp upon the 9th of February within two miles of a small village called Schonectade, lying within the woods beyond Fort Albany in. the territories of his Royal Highness, and. three days march from the first castle of the Mohawks."

The French supposed they had arrived at their place of destination, and. encountering a party of Mohawks who, under the appearance of retreating, drew, a party of sixty French fusileers into an ambuscade of about two hundred Mohawks stationed behind the trees. At the first fire eleven Frenchmen were killed, one of whom was a lieutenant, and several others wounded. The French party immediately fell back upon the main body, giving the Mohawks an opportunity to escape with three killed and six wounded. The Indians immediately reported this encounter to the Commissary of the village,' bringing with them as trophies the heads of four Frenchmen. The news was immediately sent to Albany, and the next day three of the prinôipal inhabitants were sent to the Governor of Canada to inquire as to his intention in bringing such a body of armed men into the d,ominions of His Majesty of Great Britain, without acquainting the Governor of these parts of his designs. Governor Coursell replied that he came to seek out and destroy his enemies, the Mohawks, without the intention of visiting their plantations or of molesting any of His Majesty's subjects, and that he had not heard of these -parts being reduced to his Majesty's subjection. He desired that he and. his soldiers might be supplied with provisions for their money, and that his wounded men might be taken to Albany and cared for. To all of this the Embassy sent from Albany assented, and made him a small present of wine and provisions, and offered him the best accommodations afforfted. These he declined, as there were not accommodations for his soldiers, with whom he had marched and camped. for six weeks. He could more easily keep his soldiers from straggling, as they feared the Indians on every side. The next day the wounded were sent to Albany. The Dutch inhabitants of Schenectady supplied the French with peas, bread and. such other provisions as they could spare. The Mohawks had gone to their castles, and the French, with a show of marching against them, in reality directed their course to Canada.

"Upon the 12th of February, whether a panic fear, mutiny or the probability of the thawing of the lake caused this sudden retreat which the Indians called dishonorable, I cannot learn, but surely so bold and hardy an attempt, all things considered, has not happened in any age. All which vanished like false fire and gave new courage to their old enemies, the Mohawks, who by their spies, hearing of the retreat of the French pursued them to the lake, but the French making greater speed, did not suffer serious damage from the pursuit, losing only three prisoners, one of whom the Mohawks put to death at his own request, as he was unable to march. Five others who perished by cold. and hunger were scalped and left where they fell. Those who observed the 'words and countenance of Monsieur Coursell, saw him disturbe4 in mind that the King was master of these parts of the country where he expected. to find the Dutch interest the uppermost, saying that the King of England did grasp at all America, but he did, not believe to see the Dutch the masters ore long. He inquired what garrison or what fort was at Albany, and was told that a captain and sixty English soldiers with nine pieces of ordnance in a small fort of four bastions, and that the captain thereof, Captain Baker had sent twenty men from another garrison of the King at Sopes, who probably might be in Albany at the same time, thus finding his men tired, the Mohawks resolute and something doubtful without trial of the good will of the English garrison because the reports were strong that the French King and, the States of Holland were united against his Majesty of England. Monsieur Coursell found it reasonable to return home, nothing effected, the two prisoners taken by the Mohawks in the retreat tell them that this summer another attempt will be made upon their country with a greater force and supplies of men, the truth or success of which I shall not now discourse upon, having given the true relation of what passed from the 29th of December to the 12th of February."

Though one of the smallest counties in the State, Schenectady has steadily progressed in population and in all the enterprises of the age. The first railroad in the State connected Albany and Schenectady, and 'was built about 1830. In 1832 a railroad was built to Saratoga; in 1835 to Utica; in 1843 to Troy; and in 1868 to Athens. Other roads are projected and will be built in due time. The plank road mania, that prevailed to such an extent about twenty years ago, was participated in by the inhabitants of this County, but, as in other parts, the roads have been abandoned.

The call of President Lincoln, April 15, 1861, for 75,000 volunteers, was responded to by the citizens of Schenectady, who held a meeting on the evening of the 19th, when forty-seven men enrolled their names to an application to be organized into a company. The Company was organized. the next day with William Seward Gridley, Captain; and Daniel Daley, First Lieutenant. It was attached to the Eighteenth Regiment upon its organization, May 11th, and designated. as Company A. It numbered 74 besides the officers, 60 of whom were from the City. The Regiment was commanded by Col. Wm. A. Jackson. The Company was in the first battle of Bull Run, and in several other engagements, remaining in the service two years. About the first of May another company was organized and officered by Capt. Stephen Truax and First Lieutenant William Horsfall. It numbered 78 men and was attached to the Eighteenth Regiment as Co. E. Captain Truax resigned soon after on account of ill health, and Lieutenant Uorsfall was promoted to the command. He led the Company in the various battles fought by the Army of the Potomac, and was killed at South Mountain, while cheering his men on to the conflict. Another company was organized about the same time as those already mentioned, and officereci. by Captain B. M. Van Voast and Lieutenants M. V. V. Smith and E. B. Van Voast. It was attached to the Thirtieth Regiment. These three companies were organized in answer to the first call, and previous to the battle of Bull Run. Many persons belonging to this County attached themselves to other organizations. We have no means of determining the number of men who enlisted from this County during the war, but the several calls were responded to with a readiness that showed that Schenectady was not behind the other counties in furnishing men and means to crush out the most gigantic rebellion the world ever saw.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

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

NY Counties - Albany - Allegany - Broome - Cayuga - Chatauqua - Chenango - Clinton - Columbia - Cortland - 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