Town of Herkimer
Herkimer County, NY
Contributed by BetteJo Caldwell
Alexis L. Johnson, a venerable resident of East Schuyler, Town of Herkimer, contributed historical
articles to the newspaper "Ilion Citizen," many of them written when he was in his late 80s and early 90s. His keen remembrances from childhood and young adulthood, and intimate first-hand acquaintance with
people mentioned or their close family, provide anecdotal information about early 19th century residents not found in conventional history books. Local residents
mentioned in his articles have turned out to be ancestors of many of our regular site visitors. Readers of other of Mr. Johnson's articles posted on this site are well aware of his
occasional idiosyncratic sentence structure, punctuation and spelling. Thank you again to
BetteJo Caldwell for this latest generous donation from her clippings collection.
From East to West as Remembered by the Venerable Alexis L. Johnson,
Who Cast his first Presidential Vote for Andrew Jackson in 1832.
Ilion Citizen, Ilion, N.Y. Friday, January 29, 1904
The writer will tell of Schells Bush as he knew it in his youth. There some of his first days work for wages were done, there he answered "here" to the "roll call" the first time at the company training when he had just passed his eighteenth birthday. These training's were held on the first Monday in September of each year, and every male person who was over 18 and under 45 years of age was liable to do military service unless he had some legal exemption. The company met at the house of Mr. Devendorf at the four corners of Schells Bush, and was commanded by Capt. Peter C. Helmer; John A. Rasbach was lieutenant; the name of the ensign is not remembered. Later Abraham Witherstine was captain. Young recruits were not armed and equipped at their first call.
Here in 1832 my first ballot was cast at the presidential election at which Adnrew Jackson was elected to his second term. Elections were then held three days and in several places in the town. This time it was held at the house of John G. Hilts. My sister Marion taught the district school there many years, and some of the grandfathers and grandmothers of today may remember her as their teacher. In the meadow near the house of Christian Schell, the lads of Eaton Bush went to dig sweet flag and to the ___ of his brother Peter, to get good apples. All these incidents and memories find a pleasant place in my mind.
Schells Bush was connected with Eatons Bush in many ways. Here the people often came to trade at the country store of Horace Munson. Joseph Young's grist mill ground the grain and Daniel H. Eastman shed their horses and sharpened the shares of their bull plows. Their homemade woolen cloth was dressed and their logs sawed by Cephus Johnson. Occasionally some of the young people would go to the meetings here on a pleasant Sunday, but most of the elder ones went to Herkimer to hear Dominie Spinner hold forth in the German Language. In our account of the families of this place we will begin at the four corners at the southeast part of the place.
On the right hand corner on the road from Eatons bush to the river, was the farm and buildings of
John D. Petrie; Squire Petrie he was usually called, as he had at some time held the office of justice
of peace. Esq. Petrie had a good farm and was noted for the care and skill with which he managed it.
He probably was not the first occupant of the farm, but the name is not known of the first settler.
The writer when a lad worked for Esq. Petrie some during haying and harvesting before the advent of
mowing machines, wheel rakes and Harvesters. The old gentleman was sociable and would tell me some of
his early history. When a young man he worked near the home of Baron Steuben and assisted at his
burial. The place for the grave had been selected by the Baron prior to his death, near some "water
beech" trees, and at the time of the burial the grave was full of water and the coffin was sunk by
having flat stones place upon it. The remains were removed some years ago. Mr. Petrie married Miss
Damute and soon after worked a farm near the village of Utica on which later was built the unique
semicircular schoolhouse by M. R. Bartlett. Mr. Petrie's life was spent on the farm in Schells Bush,
and a family of seven sons and three daughter were born there. The sons were Jost, Richard, George,
David, John, Adam and Aaron. There was some military blood in the family. Jost rose to be general of
the 21st brigade of militia of New York. Richard was a merchant at Little Falls. George was captain of
a rifle company that he raised at Little Falls, later he organized a regiment of riflemen of which he
was chosen colonel. From this he rose to be major general of a division. He was member of congress in
1847, 49. David, the third son, never worked much on the farm; he taught a district school at some
time. John was a farmer and but little is known of his family. Adam never married; he managed the farm
as his father was old and feeble a few years, but died on the farm. Aaron the youngest son, had the
same military spirit that his brothers had. When quite young he organized a company of volunteers that
was named "The Grenadiers" of which he was elected captain. Later he was instrumental in forming a
company of light infantry and was elected colonel, but this company was soon disbanded. Col. Aaron
went to California but on his return voyage he died at sea. He had married Miss Brown and a daughter
was born to them who died young. Esq. Petrie had three daughters, the eldest married Nicholas Harter.
One son survives her, Aaron Harter, near Herkimer village, considerably past 80 years old. The second
married Jacob M. Small of Smalls Bush. The youngest, Charity, never married. She was well educated and
was the idol of the family and was much loved by her friends. When she waited on the table of the
workmen her kind words and smiles were like bursts of sunshine. But consumption claimed her for its
victim and she was universally regretted. Her worth and beauty deserve this tribute to her memory from
one who remembers her. In the times of which we write, Esq. Petrie was noted for his good care and
management of his farm and his ways of handling his hired help. He was very particular how his work
was done and wished his workmen to follow his directions and example. He never liked to have any men go
ahead or work faster than he did and in giving directions he never liked to have any "back talk" or
advice how to do work. About 1821-2 a large commodious two story house was built by Esq. Petrie and
finished and furnished well for those times. It is in use yet though the farm has passed into other
hands. Much space has been given to this family as the writer in his youth knew them better than most
of the others in Schell Bush.
The farm and building diagonally across the road are now owned and occupied by the family of the late Sanford Eysaman. the first owner known was Nicholas Thumb; but little is known of him or his family by the writer, except that he was one of the trustees who built the Octagon church at Little Falls in 1796. The other trustees were Pertius and Abraham Neely. Thumb also had an interest with Jacob Weaver (King Weaver) of Herkimer, in a saw mill that was built on the North Creek, near its entrance into the West Canada Creek. This was probably the first saw mill built on that stream. How long Mr. Thumb lived there is not known, but in 1826-9 Mr. Diefendorf lived there. He may have lived there earlier, but whether or when he succeeded Mr. Thumb is not known. The house was painted red, and a story and half high, a two storied house rarely succeeded the log house of the first settlers. This farm was later owned by Reuben Churchill. In 1858-9 Sandford Eysaman bought the farm and soon afterwards built new buildings and resided there until his death, and his heirs now occupy the farm. His wife was a daughter of Peter Schell, jr.
Westerly and on the opposite side of the road many years ago was the farm and house of John Witherstine. In some of the old army records the name was spelled different ways, though substantially the same in sound, as Wiederstine, Watherstine, Etc. John Witherstine (I use the present spelling) was born in the town of Herkimer in 1762. His parents were German emigrants who came here in 1722 and suffered much from the French and Indian depredations. His mother was attacked while at work in the fields. She was scalped, rendered unconscious and left for dead, but recovered and lived ten years. John Witherstine shared with others the trials of frontier life. In his youth he entered the American army and served to the close of the war. He was at the siege of Yorktown, and used to tell that as he and others were engaged in cutting and carrying facines (which he called fashons) and when they heard that Cornwallis had surrendered, "they threw down their fashons, and they are there to this day." His wife was Margaret Casler and the mother of five sons and five daughters. Many of these sons and daughters and their children were members of the church at Herkimer, and useful members of society. Christopher C., the son of Melchert, learned the printer's trade and for many years was editor and proprietor of the Herkimer Democrat. William, a son of David, is at present a practicing and prosperous lawyer in the village of Herkimer. Many of the names and dates in this record of John Witherstine's family were kindly furnished the writer by him. It appears that Henrick Witherstine, the father of John, was in the war of this revolution and served under Capt. Harter in Col. Bellinger's regiment of New York militia in 1779-80, perhaps some time in company with his young son John.
On the road nearly opposite the house of Mr. Witherstine were several families whose names were Hilts. The house of John G. Hilts was near the road, and when elections were held those days, they were sometime held in Mr. Hilts' house. When Jacob, his oldest son, was captain of the Schells Bush company, the campany sometimes held their trainings at this house. The other sons were Solomon, Adam and Thomas; the names or number of his daughters are not known by the writer. One married Alexander Hall, another married Wm. Haile.
A family of four Hilts brothers lived here, though not so near the road. Not knowing the ages of the brothers they perhaps may not be named in order. There were Godfrey, Jacob, George and John N. One of these was a drummer and at training's of the light infantry corps, of which he was a member, he wore a red coat. John N. is remembered as something of a horse fancier. Another George N. Hilts, a shoemaker, lived on the same side of the road nearer the corner, opposite the school house. They had no children except an adopted son.
Schells Bush II
From East to West as Remembered by the Venerable Alexis L. Johnson,
Who Cast his first Presidential Vote for Andrew Jackson in 1832.
Ilion Citizen, Ilion, N.Y. Friday, February 5, 1904
The farm and house of Philip Hilts was a little distance from the road and accross a small brook. He had two sons, Philip and Aaron. Of his four daughters, one married Mr. Piper, after his death married Adam Smith. The others married three brothers, Peter, George and Henry Harter, sons of George Harter who lived on the flat land near the West Creek. Of their descendants, little is known by the writer.
West of the school house was the farm and buildings of Jacob Fulmer, his father, Jacob Fulmer, sr., and two brothers lived in the town of Columbia, and a brother, Conrad, lived in the town of Fairfield, near the mouth of North Creek. Jacob's wife was Margaret Rasbach, a daughter of John Rasbach. He was a carpenter, and the writer remembers when he was a boy of being at the raising of a barn that Mr. Fulmer had built for a neighbor, John Schell. The old custom of naming the building was practiced and Boss Fulmer, when the raising was completed, paraded the men in two rows, of men, the end man on the plate then named the building, three cheers were given and the bottle was thrown to the ground. The name of the barn is not remembered. Such raising of buildings and naming them are rarely seen now. A few years ago the writer was along that road and looked for the barn, but it had either been moved away or taken down. Mr. Fulmer sold to David Folts and he to Benjamin Willard. The place was sold by Willard to Jacob P. Schell, the present owner. Jacob Fulmer, after selling his farm moved to Steuben, Oneida county. A great granddaughter is the wife of Minott Becker of Herkimer village. Below the hill on the west side of the road was the farm of John Schell, the house, like those of his brothers, Christian, Peter and Marks, stood some distance from the road. He was the son of Christian Schell of revolutionary fame, and was lame, walking with two canes. He had five sons, Jacob, Marks, Peter, Adam, the name of the other is not remembered as he moved to Steuben. Jacob married a Miss Moyers. Mark's wife was Elizabeth Fulmer. Peter married his cousin Mary, a daughter of Peter Schell, after her death he married Fanny Fulmer. Adam moved to Jefferson county, N.Y.
Next westward, was the farm and home of Adam Smith. He was a grandson of Martin Smith, one of the Palatines who came here about 1711 and bought 350 acres of land, which some of his descendants occupy now. His father's name was Jacob and he had a brother Jacob. Adam was accidentally drowned at Herkimer in 1857. He had two sons; one was killed when young by a team running away. Melchert the other son occupied the homestead during his life. A daughter married Thomas Kast of Kasts Bridge. His son Morgan lives on the farm now. He had several daughters who, with their mother, are living with Morgan. Frederick, another son of Martin had two sons, Col. Nicholas of Utica; Nicholas was a popular politician. The writer remembers when young, hearing him make a political address on the eve of election. He was a democrat. The other son was George, whose farm was near the West Creek. George had two sons, Nicholas(Honnical) and Joseph. The sons of these brothers survive. George, the son of Nicholas occupied the homestead, Hobart H., a son of Joseph, a member of the grad army, lives at Herkimer village. Martin had several sons and they may not be named in the order of their ages. George a son born 1744, married Maria Bellinger; one son, Peter, was the fruit of this marriage. His wife was Dorothy Steel. Their children were two sons and for daughters. David moved to Minnesota in 1858; the other son, Peter P., lived and died on the homestead that is now owned and managed by his son Wm. U. Smith. Peter P. Smith's wife was the only daughter of Capt. Peter E. Helmer, and survives, just ninety years old. She had three brothers but none survive, Capt. Helmer was the son of Conrad Helmer, one of the first settlers. He had one brother Conrad and two sisters. Another son of Martin was John Smith, who had sons John, George and Nicholas. George never married. John had one son, Wm. Smith of Herkimer, who was a banker; he died childless. Nicholas I believe had four sons, but the writer knew little of them except that one owned a large farm and lived at Herkimer village. Jacob jr., a grandson of Martin, lived and died on a portion of the 350 acres. He had four sons, Adam, Benjamin, Joseph and Jacob. Joseph the youngest, is still living on the homestead, about 80 years old. Three families of Smith's still own and occupy portions of the original tract bought by their forefather Martin. One of the grandsons of Adam is a lawyer at Herkimer. The only son of Joseph is Levi who lives on the farm with his father.
Conrad Hatman lived farther west on the opposite site of the road. He was the son of John Adam, who was a soldier of the revolution and had some notoriety from being in someway connected with the accidental (?) death of a boasting Indian. Conrad married Delia a daugher of Peter Schell, sr. He had two sons. David lived on the farm some years, but later moved to Herkimer and died there. The other son Peter, moved to Cortland county. David married Sopronia Eastman of Eatonville.
On the road leading south from the school house, the first house was a brick one, built and owned by John C. Petrie. He was a shoemaker by trade. His wife was Phoebe Small. His father was Christian Petrie who lived near his son Willis J. Petrie, a grandson of John C. now owns these premises.
Some account of the Rasbach families will be given. John Rasbach was one of the early settlers of this place and he lived near or where the present residence of his grandson, Marcus is now. The father of Marcus was known by the shorter name of Marke. Marcus married a daughter of Peter Schell, jr. He is a prosperous farmer and has built a fine farm house on the old homestead. Adam Rasbach who lived on the road south of the main road and partial with it, was a farmer. He had sons, John A., Col., George and David. John A. was justice of the peace in the ___ of Herkimer, later he moved, to Ilion. He died there. Some of his sons survive. George was a military man and colonel of the 40th regiment some years before the militia law was repealed. He occupied the homestead. David was merchant at Herkimer. One of Adam Rasbach's daughters married Peter Schell, jr., and the other married Christian Shaver. Marks Rasbach, a brother Adam and John lived on the turnpike east of the Canada Creek and kept a tavern there. He at one time owned a farm in the town of Fairfield. There was a negro slave who lived with Adam Rasbach, known as Piperan, his right name was Peter Dygert. Piperan had a brother George who lived with John Rasbach. Both were slaves. There were no slaves in this state after July 5th 1827.
The writer has spent some time in gathering dates and names and is especially indebted to Wm U. Smith for reliable facts. Mr. Marcus Rasbach has helped us about the Rasbach families, for which we thank him. There may be some errors or omissions in the sketch, which if they should meet the eye of any reader who has access dates, names or incidents that should have had place here, he will confer favor on the writer or reader by noticing them. Wm. Witherstine Esq., has given me help about his ancestors for which he has my thanks. Some account of the brothers, Christian, Peter and Marke Schell was written in a former sketch.