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Early Schoharie County History
- To but few of the counties of New York were the names given of those who first inhabited the State. Schoharie is one of the exceptions, being titled after one of the tribes of the Mohawks who were the first owners of its acres. The same name is applied to a county, township and a stream, but what it means is still in doubt. It is usually explained as meaning "Driftwood" or "Drift" because near the present village of Middleburgh two rivulets pour into the creek, creating a swirl which makes the driftwood accumulate until at times it is continuous from bank to bank. Others explain the word as meaning simply "to cross over," or "to meet"; it is also said to be a corrupted form of the Indian for "The Great Jampile" a natural bridge formed by drift wood. Whatever the name in the Iroquois, Schoharie was designated as a "Bear" village, the Bear family of the Mohawks having their castle near Canajoharie. The word Schoharie is spelled seventeen different ways in early documents so there is some excuse for doubt as to its meaning.
Just what tribe of Indians inhabited the Schoharie Valley before white families located here is a matter of conjecture, but there is evidence that the district was the hunting and fishing ground of the aborigines long before there was any definite settlement. Some Indian trails have been traced through the county, coming from such distant points as the Hudson by way of Catskill Creek, from Albany, from Schenectady, and extending on through the Genesee Valley to Niagara. These trails were of great assistance to the white races who followed the Indian, for the Germans used them to reach their promised land, and to get to other settlements to the north and east; Johnson and Brant availed themselves of these routes in their raids; and the great warway of the Indians in the Revolution was by the Niagara trail. One of the reasons for Sullivan's expedition against the tribes of the Genesee Valley was to make difficult or impossible the use of these routes for attack on the white settlements.
The Dutch as the first settlers of the State are thought rightly, no doubt, to be responsible for the settlement of Schoharie. They had pushed their way as far as Schenectady at a very early date; their English successors also sought to get possession of these Indian lands. The first one reads of Schoharie is in petitions sent to Governor Dongan from 1682 to 1688, when permission was desired to purchase from the Indians 500 acres in a tract called Schoharie. In 1694 Colonel Nicholas Bayard obtained a license to buy 4,000 acres in the valley of Schoharie Creek in the Indian fields called Teaondaroga near the mouth of the stream. Bayard did not like the land he bought, neither did the Indians like the sale, with the result that Bayard lost both his lands and the ninety-six dollars he had paid.
Meanwhile those who were to be the first pioneers of the district had arrived in this country. While there were several nationalities represented among the early settlers of Schoharie, the German, Dutch, and the New Englander, it was by the first that this region was first occupied in numbers. The Dutch had been purchasers of Indian land rather than developers of it; the "Yankee" came only just before, and in larger numbers, after the Revolution. As a result of the King William and Queen Anne's wars abroad there was a great migration from the palatinate on the banks of the Rhine to other countries including, indirectly, this. In 171O the first of these Palatinates arrived in New York, followed by other groups of them in the next few years. They had been given to understand that they were to receive lands and help in the settlement of them, but were disagreeably disappointed when they were made to work out their passage and other expenses by making tar, pitch and turpentine from the northern pine, which was a rather impossible task since it is poor in resinous material.
The plan was a failure from the standpoint of both parties, for the Palatines were disheartened and wanted to escape from what was only a new bondage, and the experiment was expensive to the State since there was no probability of their ever being able to pay for their sustenance, and no possibility of ever paying for the things which had gone before. Finally they were told that they might, and must, shift for themselves. With gladness they promptly sent a deputation of their men to the "Schorie" of which they had been told. Upon a favorable report being made, and well it might, for the committee had seen the Schoharie in the early fall, when the gentle slopes and the fertile lowlands were clothed with rich verdure, the Indians too, receiving them graciously and promptly giving them permission to come and settle, plans were made to go to this new land at once. One group of fifty went that winter; another followed in the spring of 1713.
Where these and the other Palatines located in Schoharie will be shown in the accounts of the settlement of the various towns. They were ill-fitted to pioneer, being without cattle, horses, tools or experience. They had to imitate the Indian in the making of tools, and even the seed they planted had to be secured from the Aborigines. Splitting into sections which gathered around their leading man, they established seven "dorfs" or small villages along the Schoharie from the present site of Little Schoharie to Cobleskill Creek on the north.
The Palatines had been careless in not securing legal patents to the land they settled and trouble followed when those holding grants from the Governor came to take permanent possession of their fields. In 1722 there were 800 Germans in the valley, but a third of these in that year left with Garlock their leader and moved higher up the Mohawk Valley; other leaders took another third and went south to Pennsylvania.
The colonists of the valley had always managed to retain amicable relations with the Indians, even during the French and Indian War. This in a measure pleased those in authority; for one of the reasons for being so willing to send the Palatines to the frontier was that they might act as a buffer between them and the tribes. But a change was taking place among the Aborigines. They saw that the whites were crowding them out of their hunting grounds and homes. The other tribes were aligning themselves with the English who were getting at odds with the colonies; certain Englishmen had great influence with them, such as William Johns Johnson and Brant, the half-breed brother of the wife of Sir William. And they wanted the wealth they had failed to secure by the selling of their lands. All these things conspired to arouse their enmity against those with whom they had so long been friends.
In preparation for the trouble which seemed inevitable, a committee was appointed, the citizens armed, and a series of forts, three in the valley, were erected. During the Revolution raid after raid was made on the valley, some of these reaching the importance of battles. And while these did not settle anything, except the unprotected condition of those who peopled the frontiers of the land, they so depleted the Schoharie Valley that only when the war was over and the hosts of the ex-soldiers of New England and New York came and located, could it be said that the district was populated. What, after all, was there about this one of the many valleys of New York that so persistently drew settlers in the face of hardship and war? The committee of the Palatines were agreed as to its desirability, the reports of Sullivan's men were approving, even the hardheaded Yankees left their more finished towns and hewed out for themselves newer ones.
Schoharie is a hilly country; its ridges seeming to be part of the Catskills, reaching a height of 2,000 feet in certain localities, the land being higher to the west. There are many streams, flowing in so many different directions that the waters of the county reach the Mohawk, Hudson, Delaware and the Susquehanna. Lakes of any size are few, Summit and Utsyantha being those of the most importance. The natural curiosities of the county, such as caves, falls, hidden rivers, mineral springs, are a source of wonder and interest to the visitor. Probably it was just the inhabitableness of the region that brought to it so many of the pioneers of the State. The flats along the streams are rich, the hillsides are productive, and even the tops of the hills are softly rounded and easily tilled; there is little waste land in Schoharie County.
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- Native American
- Trains & Steamboats
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