Read Before The
HERKIMER COUNTY HISTORICAL
During The Years
1896, 1897, AND 1898
Compiled by Arthur T. Smith
Secretary of the Society.
Herkimer and Ilion, N. Y.
Citizen Publishing Company, Publishers
REMINISCENCES CONCERNING SEVERAL PERSONS
CONNECTED WITH IMPORTANT HISTORICAL
An Address by Hon. Robert Earl, of Herkimer,
Delivered before the Herkimer County Historical Society, November 10, 1896.
I have met several interesting people who had relation to important historical events of whom I will write a brief paper that may have some interest to the members of this society.
Mrs. Katharine Myers.
The war between the two European powers, England and France, in the middle of the last century, commonly called the seven years war, was in large part fought out upon this continent. Here the question involved was, whether the French or the English should dominate this country. The English guided and stimulated by the great talents, inspiring enthusiasm and wise statesmanship of the elder Pitt finally put an end in that war to the dominion of France on this side of the Atlantic. Quebec was taken under the heroic leadership of general Wolf in 1759; and in 1760 the whole of Canada came under the British crown. The inhabitants of this country fought and suffered for the English cause.
The Palatines came here about 1723, and in thirty-five years had grown to about three hundred. They were hardy and industrious. They had comfortable homes, good farms, plenty of horses, cattle and other live stock, and their houses were abundantly furnished with plain but useful and substantial furniture. Indeed they were considered rich and were in better condition than they ever before had been in this country or in their European home.
While the inhabitants were slumbering in peace, unconscious of danger, at three o'clock in the morning of November 12, 1757, the French and Indians coming from Canada, by way of the Black River country, came upon the village here, and with a wild war whoop entered upon their savage work of destruction. When the inhabitants were aroused, they found their cruel enemy applying the torch to their houses and reaping the harvest of death. The entire village was destroyed. Twenty or more of the inhabitants were killed.' At least one hundred men, women and children were taken captives, and the remainder escaped to Fort Herkimer on the south side of the river. Among the captives were Capt. Henry Harter and his wife Abelone and they with the others were taken on their long journey to Canada. While Mrs. Harter was in captivity, at Prescott, in Canada, May 4, 1758, she gave birth to a little girl. She and her husband and their child after about one year of captivity, were returned to their home here; and that child grew up to maturity a beautiful woman. She subsequently became the wife of General Michael Myers, the most prominent and important person in the Mohawk valley; and she became the mother of sons and daughters who were distinguished for their beauty and the elegance of their manners. Long years after the death of General Myers, I knew his widow well. She died September 4th, 1839, aged eight-one years and four months, and for several years before her death I lived near her upon an adjoining lot in this village. She lived where Mr. Avery now lives and I lived upon the lot where the family of my deceased brother now loves. She was a slender woman of medium stature and delicate and handsome features, and refined and attractive in mind and manners. She, like most of the old Palatines talked Mohawk Dutch better than English. Her descendants living in this county are quite numerous. From one daughter are descended Mrs. E. A. Brown, of Dolgeville, and her brothers, Mr. Giles Griswold and Mrs C. R. Snell and their brother and sisters; Mr. Frank Barry and his brothers, all of Herkimer; Mrs. Mason Van Slyke and the children of the late Mrs. Charles Dorr, of Little Falls. From a son, Matthew Myers, is descended Mrs. Margaret F. Rawdon, of Little Falls. From her son, Peter M. Myers, are descended Mrs. Dr. Casey and her brother Henry M. Bellinger, of Mohawk. From another son, Henry Myers is descended Mrs. Henry Bellinger; and there are many descendants elsewhere in this and other states
Thus my memory carries me back through five generation of descendants, from grandchildren of great grandchildren to one whose romantic history has relation to a great war, and to a historic event of great importance in the early annals of this region of country.
In 1764 Peter Hassenclever, a German by birth, of great intelligence, enterprise and more enthusiasm than good judgment, came to this country in the interest of a London company of which he was a member, to engage in the production of pig iron, hemp and pot and pearl ashes; and in that year he imported from Germany a large number of Germans with their wives and children to work for him as miners, carpenters and in other capacities. By the end of the year 1766, he had in operation in New Jersey and on the Hudson river furnaces and forges for the manufacture of iron, and in Schuyler, in this county, a pot and pearl ash manufactory. The place where he located in Schuyler, was called New Petersburg, and there he built two frame houses and thirty-five log houses. He placed upon this settlement some of the people whom he had imported from Germany, and began the cultivation of hemp, flax, madder and the production of pot and pearl ashes. In 1769 he, with his associates, obtained a patent for 18,000 acres of lad, commonly called Hassenclever patent located in the towns of Herkimer, Newport and Schuyler. He also purchased 6755 acres of land in and about New Petersburg, in Cosby's Manor, where his farming and other operations were carried on. He also purchased 50,00 acres of land in New Jersey, 11,500 acres near Crown Point, on Lake Champlain, and 40,000 acres in Nova Scotia. He had intimate relations with Sir William Johnson and was a frequent visitor at Johnson Hall. His was among the earliest efforts to introduce the manufacture of iron into this country. The conditions were unfavorable and through various misfortunes and misadventure, all his enterprises in this country came to grief, and he became a bankrupt. He returned to Germany and there engaged in the linen manufacture and died in 1792 much lamented. New Petersburg was at the place now known as East Schuyler. Hassenclever established a store there, the first within the present limits of this county, which was managed for him by my mother's grandfather, John Wolf.
Among the persons brought over from Germany by Hassenclever, were Frederick Oyer and his stepson, John Finster, then about five years old. Oyer built and lived in a log house near where the Oyer cheese factory now is. That house was burned down by the Indians, and his son George was killed by them. He was killed in the battle of Oriskany, and his step-son Finster was also in the same battle. Finster came from Germany in the same vessel with my grandfather, and in my boyhood he frequently came to my home. He was then an old man, but he lived until 1855, when he died nearly ninety-six years old. He left many descendants in this county, one of whom, a grand-daughter married Alexis L. Johnson, a venerable member of this society. His name is associated with the early settlement of Schuyler and with interesting historical events of the revolutionary war.
If Benedict Arnold had died at the battle of Saratoga, in which he was seriously wounded, his death would have been mourned by all the patriots of the country and he would have been remembered in history as one of the most gallant and heroic soldiers of the Revolution. But his subsequent treason blotted out his merits, blackened his character and ever since has caused his name to be justly execrated.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary war the patriotic statesman and soldiers contemplated the conquest of Canada and her union with the colonies in resistance to the British Dominion on this side of the Atlantic. One of the earliest to suggest this project was Arnold, and it received the hearty approval of General Washington. In the summer of 1775 the British forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point had been taken; and thus the road to Canada by way of Lakes George and Champlain was opened. The final plan of the campain against Canada was to send two armies, one under the command of General Schuyler by way of these lakes, and other under Arnold by the way of the Kennebec river through the wilderness and over the mountains of Main to Quebec. The forces under Schuyler were expected to take Montreal and then go down the St. Lawrence and meet Arnold before Quebec for an assault upon that stronghold. Washington in his letter of instructions to Arnold said: "You are entrusted with a command of the utmost importance to the liberties of America. On your conduct and courage and that of the officers and soldiers detached on this expedition, not only the success of your present enterprise and your own honor, but the safety and welfare of the whole country may depend."
Eleven hundred men were place under his command at Cambridge, Massachusets, then the head quarters of Washington. From that place this little army started on the 11th of September, 1775, for Newburyport; and reaching that place, they embarked in transports and were conveyed to the mouth of the Kennebec river. Then they started upon their fearful journey, surrounded by every difficulty which could apall the stoutest hearts. The way was unknown. There were rugged mountains, dismal swamps, rapid rivers and tangled, unbroken forests to overcome. The weather became cold and they had to contend with the frost and snow. Their provisions became exhausted and they had to subsist on short rations. They even ate roots, the flesh of dogs and some of them boiled and broiled their old moose hide breeches and ate them. During the whole journey, Arnold shared the hardships of his soldiers and every danger to which they were exposed. His heroism and fortitude inspired them with confidence and there was little murmuring, although many of the soldiers died and some, in a body under Lieutenant Colonel Enos, deserted. Finally after a march of six hundred miles, in November he reached Quebec with about six hundred and seventy-five men. In the meantime General Schuyler having become ill, General Montgomery had succeeded him in the command of the army which went by the way of the lakes. He had taken Montreal and went down the St. Lawrence river to Quebec and there, early in December, with three hundred men, effected a junction with Arnold, Montgomery and Arnold were both young, the former thirty-seven and the latter thirty-four years of age. The city was defended by two hundred cannon and by soldiers twice the number of the assailants; and yet these heroic leaders, with their brave soldiers, were unappaled and undaunted. It was arranged that on the last day of the year the forces should be divided between the two leaders and that they should lead the attack on two different quarters of the city. The soldiers were put in motion at two o'clock A. M., and the carpenters with Montgomery, sawed off some of pickets protecting the city in that quarter.' Through the opening thus made, Montgomery with his aids entered, and he found himself in advance of his troops. He paused until about sixty of his men joined him, then shouting "Men of New York, you will not fear to follow where your General leads, come on my brave boys, and Quebec is ours." He rushed forward with his men towards a battery in his front; and the cannon loaded with grape shot were discharged into their breasts; and Montgomery and several of his officers and men were killed and wounded. Some were taken prisoners and the others being without their leader fled. And so the British garrison was left free to concentrate all its force upon the quarter attacked by Arnold. Many of the assailants under him were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Arnold was among the wounded but was not taken prisoner. He, with the remnant of his army retreated and reached Montreal; and from there went up Lake Champlain, Lake George and so on to Albany, reaching the latter place in November, 1776. Arnold, for his skill and heroism in this campaign, was made a Brigadier General.
It is an interesting incident that Montgomery was with General Wolf sixteen years before when the English, under his command took Quebec from the French, their gallant leader dying heroically in the moment of victory. Now Montgomery lost his life in the attempt of the Americans under his command to take the same city from the English. He probably heard General Wolf the night before his death repeat those pathetic lines form Gray's Elegy in a Church Yard, saying to his men that he "Would rather be the author of that poem than take Quebec."
"The boast of heraldy, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth ere gave,
Await like the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
The mournful sentiment of these lines were signally illustrated in lives and deaths of both these heroes.
I have made this brief sketch of Arnold's campaign for the purpose of introducing David Pettes. He was with Arnold in his Canadian campaign, and I had from his own lips, his account of his experiences. When I knew him he was a pensioner and lived in my home. He marched with Arnold through Maine to Quebec and when the forces were there divided between Montgomery and Arnold, he was among those assigned to the former. He was with the few soldiers who entered with Montgomery through the opening made by sawing off the pickets as above related, and was beside him when the cannon of enemy were discharged and caught him in his arms as he fell mortally wounded. He was taken prisoner and remained such until August 11, 1776, when he was released upon his parole; and in 1777 he was exchanged. He subsequently took part in the battles of Bemis Heights and Saratoga which resulted in the defeat and capture of the army of General Burgoyne. Thus I knew one of the heroes of the Revolutionary War, who was engaged in a campaign which has never in the world's history been surpassed for the hardships and sufferings endured and fortitude and courage displayed by the solders.
It is hard to realize now the difficulties of transportation in the early part of this century. Transportation upon water along the sea-coast, and upon the navigable rivers was comparatively cheap and easy. But inland the roads were so poor that the cost of moving products to distant points was enormous, and frequently consumed their entire value. At first the difficulties of transportation were sought to be overcome by the building of turnpikes. In this state alone, by the year 1811, one hundred and thirty-seven turnpike companies had been organized. About 1811 the freight from New York to Lewiston, at the mouth of the Niagara river nearly all the way by water, was $40 per ton besides tolls. It cost $2.50 to move a bushel of salt and $5.00 to move one hundred pounds of sugar over and road three hundred miles. The average cost of land transportation of a ton was $10 per hundred miles. In 1816 the fare for one person upon a stage from Boston to Washington, was $30. In 1817 the freight from Philadelphia to Pittsburg was $9.50 per hundred pounds, and in 1818 from New York to Pittsburg $6.00 per hundred pounds, and $4.50 per hundred pounds to Sandusky or Detroit. When the Atlantic coast navigation was interrupted by the war of 1812, all the commerce between the North and South was carried on by land; and it was estimated that four thousand wagons and twenty thousand horses and oxen were used for that purpose. It took two months for a wagon to go from Boston to Augusta, Georgia, and fifty days to go there from New York.
Early in the century, enterprising and inventive men began to consider other means of transportation than those before used.' The steam boat was invented by Fulton and the first steamboat, the Cleremont, went upon the Hudson river from New York to Albany in 1809, in thirty-two hours which was considered a great achievement. Soon there was a great furor for navigation by steam, and enterprising men and capitalists in the North and South formed companies for placing steam vessels upon the principal navigable waters, and the Ohio and Mississippi were among the first rivers to attract their attention. The first steamboat that passed down the Ohio and Mississippi was built at Pittsburg and went down those rivers to New Orleans in 1811; and I knew a man who went down those rivers upon that boat on her first trip. His name was Henry Freeman, an intelligent man living on the boarders of Schuyler lake, in Richfield, Otsego county. I knew him about 1853, and for some time after that. He lived to see steamboats upon nearly all the navigable streams and lakes of our country and upon the ocean, passing to and fro like the shuttles of a loom, weaving together the commerce of the world.' We are living in a time when freight is transported upon the railroads of the country at an average cost of less than six mills (.576) for a ton per mile, and passengers at average cost of less that two cents (1.995) per mile. And yet there is great clamor in some parts of the country for cheaper transportation.
Thus I write of Henry Freeman, as one who had relation to a great historic event.
Thomas Allen Clarke.
It is impossible to say now who first suggested the construction of a canal connecting the waters of Lake Erie with the Hudson river at Albany. General Phillip Schuyler was among the earliest projectors of canals in this state. The plan of building a canal from Lake Erie to the Hudson was agitated as early as 1808. Subsequently surveys and estimates were from time to time made. Efforts were made to procure the assistance of the general government and of other states in building the canal, but they failed.' Prominent among those engaged in the project was DeWitt Clinton, who by voice and pen and personal influence and efforts did more to forward the work than anyone else; and hence he has justly been called the "Father of the Erie Canal." Two canal projects went hand in hand; one to build the Erie canal and the other to build Champlain canal connecting the Hudson river with Lake Champlain. In 1816 an act of the Legislature was passed entitled. "An act to provide for the improvement of the internal navigation of this State," in which DeWitt Clinton and four others were appointed commissioners to consider, devise and adopt measures for the construction of canals to connect the Hudson river with Lake Erie and also with Lake Champlain. They were authorized and required to make applications on behalf of the state to Congress and to such states and territories as might be benefited by the canals or either of them, to the proprietors of land through or near which the canals might pass, to all bodies politic and corporate, public or private, and to all citizens of this or any other of the United States, for cessions, grants or donations of land or money for the purpose of aiding in the construction of the canals. In February 1817, the commissioners made to the Legislature their report, giving the surveys, plans and estimates, and other valuable information and showing the feasibility of the canals. William D. Ford, then a member of the Assembly from this county, who had also been a member the previous year, moved in the Assembly that the report be refered to a joint committee of both houses; and his motion was adopted. He and four others were appointed the joint committee, and he was made chairman of the committee. This committee examined the report of the canal Commissioners and drew up a report to the Legislature recommending the construction of the Erie and Champlain canals, and containing the outlines of the canal fund. On the 19th day of March 1817, Mr. Ford brought in a bill for the construction of the two canals which passed on the 15th of April, 1817. The bill was entitled "An act respecting navigable communication between the great Western and Northern lakes and the Atlantic ocean;" and the following was its preamble showing the broad enlightened views entertained by the men who framed it: "Whereas navigable communications between Lakes Erie and Champlain, and the Atlantic ocean, by means of canals connected with the Hudson river will promote agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, mitigate the calamities of war, and enhance the blessings of peace, consolidate the Union and advance the prosperity and elevate the character of the United States: and Whereas it is the incumbent duty of the people of this state to avail themselves of the means which the Almighty has placed in their hands for the production of such signal extensive and lasting benefits to the human race; Now therefore, in the full confidence that the Congress of the United States, and the states equally interested with this state in commencement, prosecution and completion of these important works, will contribute their full portion of the expense; and in order that adequate funds may be procured and properly arranged and managed for the prosecution and completion of all the navigable communications contemplated by this act, Be it enacted" &c.
The act provided that there should be a canal fund to be managed by the commissioners of the canal fund, which fund should consist of all such appropriations, grants and donations as might be made for that purpose by the Legislature, by Congress, by other states and by corporations, companies and individuals. The commissioners of the canal fund were authorized to borrow money not exceeding four hundred thousand dollars in any year and the canal commissioners named in the act of 1816 were to proceed with the construction of the canals. They were to acquire for the state the title to the property of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, and to the necessary lands for the canals. For the payment of the principal and interest of the canal debt, there was appropriated and pledged "A duty or tax of twelve and half cents per bushel upon all salt to be manufactured in the western district of the state; a tax of one dollar upon steam-boat passengers for each and every trip or voyage such passenger may be conveyed upon the Hudson river on board of any steam-boat over one hundred miles, and half that sum for any distance less than one hundred miles and over thirty miles; the proceeds of all lotteries which shall be drawn in this state after the sums now granted upon them shall be paid; all the net proceeds of this state from the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company; all the net proceeds of the said canals and each part thereof when made; all grants and donations made or to be made for the purpose of making the said canals; all duties upon sales at auction after deducting thereout twenty-three thousand five hundred dollars annually appropriated to the hospital, the economical school and the orphan asylum society, and ten thousand dollars hereby appropriated annually for the support of foreign poor in the city of New York." And it was made the duty of the canal commissioners to raise the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for canal purposes by causing the same to be assessed upon the lands lying along the routes of canals on both sides and within twenty-five miles thereof.
Who was William D. Ford, member of Assembly from this county, who was so prominent in the legislation inaugurating the construction of the Erie canal? He was born in this county or came here early. He was educated at the Fairfield academy. He studied law with Gaylord Griswold and Simeon Ford, and was admitted to the bar in 1809. In 1817 he moved from this county to Watertown, in Jefferson county and there entered upon the practice of his profession. Such were his standing and ability that the next year, 1818, he was elected, as a Democrat, to Congress from the Eighteenth District, composed of Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties. He continued to live in Watertown until his death.
In pursuance of the legislative act of 1817 the commissioners proceeded with the construction of the canals and made the first contract for that purpose upon the Erie canal on the 27th day of June, 1817. The first ground was broken on the 4th day of July thereafter at Rome, in the presence of the canal commissioners and a large concourse of citizens. The middle section of the Erie canal extending from Utica to the Montezuma marches, a distance of ninety-four miles was completed by October 15, 1819; and on the 23rd and 24th days of the same month, the commissioners navigated the canal in a boat from Utica to Rome; and thereafter boats navigated the canal seventy-five miles west of Utica. In 1821 boats descended the canal as far as Little Falls and the whole canal was completed about the middle of October, 1825. It was about three hundred sixty three miles long, forty feet wide at the top and twenty-eight at the bottom and four feet deep. The first boat that ever passed from Lake Erie to the Hudson was called the Seneca Chief; and it went down the canal the latter part of October, 1825. DeWitt Clinton, the Governor of the state, with several other gentlemen was on board. Another boat followed with the Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Tallmadge, Canal Commissioner Henry Seymour and others on board. Cannon were placed at intervals along the canal to be fired in succession so as to convey to the city of New York the news that the boats had started, and thus in one hour and twenty minutes the news reached New York. When the Seneca Chief started from Buffalo a keg of water from Lake Erie was put on board in the presence of a vast concourse of people and all along the canal great interest and enthusiasm were manifested. At each of the successive villages there were the firing of cannon and other demonstration. Leading officials and citizens would go on board the boats and go along from one village to another. When the boats reached Utica, Mr. Clarke, then president of the village, went on board of the Seneca Chief and took with him his son, Thomas Allen Clarke, a young lad. They remained on board during the remainder of the trip to New York. On the way down the Hudson river the Seneca Chief was followed by large number of boats and steamers with flags flying. Cannon were fired and during the night bonfires were lighted on the shores of the river. When they reached New York there was a vast concourse of people to witness the great event. The boats proceeded through the narrows to Sandy Hook and there Governor Clinton knocked in the head of the keg and emptied the Lake Erie water into the ocean, making suitable remarks, and there was again the booming of cannon and other demonstrations; and thus was inaugurated the navigation of the Erie canal which made the city of New York the great metropolis of this country. More than sixty years afterwards I became acquainted with the young lad above mentioned, and found him one of the most interesting men I ever met; and he gave me the principal facts above related as to that first trip through the canal. He studied law and was admitted to the bar at Utica. Afterward he went to New Orleans and became one of the leaders of the bar there and a very successful and influential citizen. During the War of the Rebellion, at the time General Butler captured the city he was president of a bank there and for disobedience of some command issued by Butler, which I have forgotten, he was imprisoned, bail being refused. He was soon released and sometime after the war came North and he resided in Albany where I knew him until his death. Thus he was connected with one of the greatest events in the history of our state --- an event even of national importance.' His life spanned many years and few persons have ever witnessed greater changes than those which came under his eyes, and of which he was the graphic delineator.
Prior to 1836, Texas was a province of Mexico. But for sometime before that year the country had been in insurrection against the Mexican government. On the 2nd of March, 1836, a convention representing the people of Texas adopted a Declaration of Independence, and Sam Houston was appointed commander-in-chief of the Texan forces. Then the Mexican under General Santa-Anna, five thousand strong, invaded Texas. A portion of these forces on the 6th of March took fort Alamo and put to death 185 soldier who defended it, among whom was Bowie, after whom the bowie knife was named, and David Crockett whose coon has furnished the staple of many a jest. A few days later, Goliad was captured and five hundred men were put to death by the Mexicans. On the 21st of April, General Houston, with seven hundred and fifty men met eighteen hundred Mexicans on the borders of the San Jacinto under Santa Anna. The Texas battle cry was "Remember the Alamo." The fight lasted less than an hour and the Mexicans were completely routed, losing six hundred and thirty killed and seven hundred thirty prisoners including Santa Anna. The result of this battle was a treaty with Santa Anna by which the independence of Texas was acknowledged. Texas remained an independent republic until December 29, 1845, when she was annexed to the United States; and war thereafter ensued between this country and Mexico. I knew Phillip Dixon, who was the father-in-law of Mr. Charles Pierce of this village. He was a soldier in the war for Texan independence and fought in the battle of San Jacinto. He aided in the capture of Santa Anna and I think he said he was in a tree when was captured. He lived many years in this village and died in 1871, aged sixty-four years. He, too, was related to a great historic event. Sam Houston was one of the most interesting men that ever appeared on this continent. His life was full of romance and strange and interesting incidents. He was a United States Senator from 1845 to 1859. I saw him in Washington in the spring of 1853. He was tall of stature and cordial and dignified in his manners. He was a type of man that modern conditions and civilizations will never reproduce.
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