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Brief Palatine History
from "The Mohawk Valley and Its People by Barth Lefferts
Along the beautiful Rhine in Europe, at the time of the Schenectady massacre, was a district known as the Palatinate (Pa lat' i-nat). It was naturally a fertile land, but it had the misfortune to be a border region. Over it swept the bloody disputes of the rulers who from time to time tried to settle their contests by the sword. As at Schenectady, these Palatinate dwellers saw their homes burned, their property stolen, their farms laid waste; and if stray bullet or cannonball took the life of some peaceful person -- well, that was a "fortune of war."
At last many of the Palatinate dwellers could stand no more of such dreadful happenings. Their ruler had forbidden them to emmigrate, but suffering breaks a multitude of laws, and a number of them, peasants and merchants, farm-dwellers and town-dwellers, managed over a period of a few years to leave their country. The first to leave found kind treatment in Holland and England; a considerable party reached America and settled along the Hudson where Newburgh stands today.
Encouraged by the friendship which had been shown, an army of the "Palatines" set out, group after group, in the spring of 1709. As they reached the city of Rotterdam in Holland, the people there sent them across the North Sea to London, and by autumn there were thirteen thousand of these refugees. Many found homes in England, four thousand were shipped to Ireland, and the rest were given passage to various places in America.
While these German Palatines were sheltered at various places in and about London, Peter Schuyler, mayor of Albany, came to England on business. He brought with him five Indian chiefs. One of them died on the voyage, but the others attracted much attention, as they liked to walk about the streets. Seeing the "poor Palatines" in such numbers, one chief, a Mohawk, declared that these people, who were akin to the Dutch whom he liked, could find new homes along the Schoharie creek, west of Schenectady. From that time, the Palatines thought of "Schoharie" and Paradise as the same.
A new governor was being sent out to the colony of New York, a man of kind feeling and high character. Governor Hunter proposed that three thousand Palatines should be sent to New York when he went, and that they should be employed in making pitch and tar for English ships from the pines that abounded there. This was done, but Schoharie seemed so far away that they were placed north of Esopus Creek, on both sides of the Hudson. Those on the west side, where Saugerties stands today, were soon left to their own devices to clear the land and to make homes. On the east side there were about twelve hundred Germans who were supposed to begin tarmaking early in the spring.
The Germans did not like the prospect. True, they were being fed and provided for by Governor Hunter, but they had intended to be farmers in the New World, not tarmakers. As honest people, they expected to labor for a while in order to repay the favors which they had received but around the evening fire they never ceased to talk among themselves of the promised land of "Schorie."
Governor Hunter had expected great things from his Palatine experiment. After his first grant of money from the English government he had used his own private fortune, hoping to be repaid some day. If he had really known trees, however, he would have been saved money and disappointment, for the so-called "pitch-pine" of our Northern States, while its sap is sticky enough, produces little pitch. It is the "Georgia pine" of the Southern States which is valuable for that purpose.
Two winters on the Hudson served to exhaust the Governor's purse and the Germans' patience.
At last Hunter had to tell the Palatines that they must shift for themselves. Now they felt free to set out for their land of Canaan. Seven of their leading men traveled to get permission from the Indians. From Albany, guided by an Indian, they crossed the Helderberg heights until Fox Creek led them down into the deep, broad, and beautiful valley which they had longed to see.
The Indians received them and gave consent. In the autumn of the year of 1712 fifty familes set out, and though a road had to be cut into the valley, they built cabins before winter began. The redmen gave them corn from their own scanty stock, but inside the cabins there was much hunger. The following March a hundred more families arrived, driving their sledges on a two weeks' journey through snow which lay on the highlands a yard deep.
The Palatines then left behind never removed to Schoharie. They left the manor of Patroon Livingston, where the settlement of "Germantown" is their memorial, and took up land a little south. Today we find their traces in the names of Rhinecliff and Rhinebeck. The Schoharie emigrants settled in seven villages along the Schoharie, each one kindly named after one of the leaders who had explored the road.
Times continued to be hard with the Palatines. Until their first crop of corn ripened, their hunger "was scarcely to be endured,'' and a few of the boys went to live in the wigwams of their red friends. When the corn at last was harvested, there was no mill in the valley to grind it. The strongest of the women would carry on their backs heavy sacks of corn all the way to Schenectady, have it ground, and bear the meal back again, all in the same day.
Though the Germans had settled and cultivated the valley, they had no title to the land, and Governor Hunter, indignant that the Government would not pay him back for his heavy expenses, would not grant the runaways any title. Troubles with those who did receive grants bothered the Palatines for nearly ten years. At last, out of the eight hundred Schoharie settlers, about three hundred decided to pay rent to the legal owners, unjust as they thought it was. Many others turned their steps to Pennsylvania, where one of them, Conrad Weiser, became a prominent man.
About sixty families received leave to settle along the Mohawk, west of Fort Hunter, which stood at the mouth of the Schoharie, where was located the Mohawk castle which saw the martyrdom of Father Jogues. The governor who succeeded Hunter said, "These will be a barrier against sudden incursions (attacks) of the French, who made the Mohawk their road when they last attacked and burned the frontier town called Schenectady."
These Mohawk pioneers thus continued settlement to the westward. They were supposed to take up land for twenty-four miles west of Little Falls (the big falls were those called Cohoes), but today the region east and west of Little Falls, for about thirty miles, is rich with German names. There are Palatine church and Palatine Bridge, Newkirk (originally Neukirch), Mannheim, and Oppenheim. The town of Herkimer is named after a Palatine family which came to America a dozen years after the original band, while at Herkimer the fertile meadows came to be called "the German Flatts."
Map of Mid-Hudson Region
#11 - Vedder Library
Bronck House Museum
#1 - West Camp
#3 - Katsbaan Church
#4 - John Burroughs
#5 - Woodstock
#7 - Huguenot Museum
#2 - East Camp, Germantown, Clermont
#6 - County Historical Society
#8 - Mount Gulian
#10 - Roosevelt Museums
#12 - Rhinebeck Museum
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West Camp Palatine Monument
Compiled and edited by Richard Frisbie of
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