This county was formed from Montgomery, February 16, 1791. The name was originally Erghemar and was variously written for many years, but its orthography appears to be settled at last. Onondaga was taken off in 1794, Oneida and a part of Chenango in 1798; the present territory of Hamilton County was taken off and annexed to Montgomery in 1797; parts of Montgomery County were annexed April 7, 1817, and parts of Richfield and Plainfield, Otsego County, were annexed in forming Winfield in 1816. The County is centrally distant eighty miles from Albany and contains 1,745 square miles.
The surface is a hilly upland with a series of ridges extending in a general north and south direction. Mohawk River flows east through the County in a deep valley that cuts the ridges at right angles and separates the highlands into two distinct parts. A broad ridge extends from the south border to the Mohawk, then north of that river, along the west bank of East Canada Creek, to the north line of the County. The Hasenclever Mountains, another broad ridge, lie along the west border of the County, north of the Mohawk. From the Mohawk the highlands rise towards the south in a series of hills, the declivities of which are steep and their summits from 500 to 1,000 feet, where it spreads out into a rocky and broken plateau region, the highest summits of which are from 2,500 to 3,000 feet above tide. Mohawk River breaks through the mountain ridge at Little Falls, the valley forming a natural channel of communication between Lake Ontario and Hudson River. At this place the mountains on each side of the river are masses of naked rock, rising nearly perpendicular to a hight (spelling taken directly from the record) of 500 to 600 feet. A valley, with an average width of two miles, extends along the river west of the pass, and from this intervale the land slopes gradually on each side. East of this point the Mohawk flows for some distance through a valley bordered by steep and nearly perpendicular hills. The river receives from the north, Sterling, West Canada, Cathatachua and East Canada Creeks; and from the south, Furnace, Brown's Hollow and Nowadaga Creeks. East Canada Creek forms a portion of the east boundary of the County and receives as tributaries, Trammel, Spruce and several other small streams. West Canada Creek flows south-west through Wilmurt, Ohio and Russia, thence southeast, along the west border of Russia, then south, through Newport, Fairfield and Herkimer, to the Mohawk. It receives from the east, Black, White and North Creeks, and from the west, several small streams. West Canada Creek was called by the Indians Teugh-tagh-ra-row, and the East Creek, Ci-o-ha-na. Several small streams rise in the south part of the County and form branches of the Unadilla. The north part of the County is yet an unbroken wilderness. It is a wild mountainous region with very little land susceptible of cultivation. The streams usually flow in deep rocky ravines and form the head waters of Black, Moose, Beaver and Oswegatchie Rivers.
A large part of the County is covered by primary rocks, consisting of granite, gneiss, feldspar and hornblende. These rocks occupy the north part and extend as far south as a line running west from Brockett's Bridge. This formation also outcrops at Little Falls, on the Mohawk. Above the primary rocks lie successively the Trenton limestone, which appears in Norway and Russia; the Utica slate, which appears upon the summits of all the hills immediately north of the Mohawk; the Frankfort slate appears immediately south of the river; the Oneida conglomerate and Clinton group extend in a belt through the County, near the center of the south half. Next south appear the Onondaga salt group, water-lime, Onondaga and corniferous limestones, and the Marcellus shales and limestones of the Helderbergh Range, covering the summits of the southern hills. These rocks yield an abundance of lime, water-lime and building material in nearly every part of the County, and are extensively quarried for these purposes. Drift is found in deep deposits in many parts of the County. The useful minerals are found in small quantities in a few localities. Gypsum is found in small quantities, and this County is said to be the most easterly point in the State where that mineral is found. The discovery of small particles of anthracite, found associated with sandstone, near Little Falls, has led to the erroneous supposition that coal might be obtained in the vicinity. Crystals of quartz suitable for optical instruments, iron sand, iron and copper pyrites, lead ore, heavy spar, graphite, alum, and alum slate, are among the minerals found in the County.
Agriculture forms the leading pursuit of the inhabitants. The County is specially adapted to pasturage, and dairying has for a long time been the leading branch of industry, more cheese being produced here than in any other County in the State. Hops are extensively cultivated, and at Little Falls, Ilion and a few other places, considerable manufacturing is carried on.
The County Seat is located at the village of Herkimer. The first Court House of the County was located at Whitesboro, now Oneida County. In 1804 the Clerk's Office was destroyed by fire and all the records consumed. January 25th, 1834, the old Court House and Jail were destroyed by fire. Previous to this the Legislature of the State had authorized the Supervisors of the County to negotiate loans to the amount of $10,300, to erect a new Jail and purchase a site for it. In 1834 the Supervisors were authorized to borrow from the school fund $4,600, with which to build a new Court House and to levy a tax of $500 a year to pay the same. F. E. Spinner, Arphaxad Loomis and Prentice Yeomans, were appointed Commissioners to superintend the erection of the building. The Court House is a substantial brick structure, fronting on Main Street, near the center of the village. The Jail is of stone and located nearly opposite, on the same street. The County Clerk's Office was erected in 1847, and is a fire-proof brick building upon the Court House lot, fronting on Court Street.
The first County officers were: Henry Staring, First Judge; Michael Myers, Hugh White and Abraham Hardenburgh, Judges; Jonas Platt, Clerk; William Colbraith, Sheriff; and Moses DeWitt, Surrogate.
The works of internal improvement in the County are the Erie Canal and the New York Central Railroad, extending along the valley of the Mohawk River.
The greater part of the lands embraced in this County were granted by the King, previous to the Revolution. The north part remained in the possession of the State Government until conveyed to McComb and other; and small tracts in other parts of the County were also conveyed by the State after the Revolution. The following list of patents embraced wholly or in part in Herkimer County is taken from Benton's History: (The patent table is on line at http://www.rootsweb.com/~nyherkim/history/patents.html)
The Indian title to Glen's purchase was extinguished in 1734. The whole tract was subdivided into thirty nine large lots, of unequal quantities. In 1738 five of these lots were granted to Patrick McClaughry and Andrew McDowell, and eight to James DeLancey, John Lindsay and Abraham Glen. In 1739 three were granted to Lendert Helmer, two to Jacob Glen, three to Archibald Kennedy, three to John Schuyler, Jr., three to Arent Brant and three to Philip Schuyler. In 1761 three were granted to Samuel Auchmuty, three to William Mitchell and three to William Ogilvie.
The patent for the Royal Grant was never recorded in this State. The grant was made by the King in Council, and not by the Colonial authorities, consequently the date and number of acres cannot be given from any entries in the Secretary's Office at Albany.
The Guy Johnson Tract was conveyed by Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, Jacob G. Klock and Henry Oothoudt, Commissioners of Forfeitures of the Western District of New York, to Benjamin Tallmadge, Major in the army of the United States, June 7th, 1784, and by Tallmadge to Caleb Brewster, July 9th, 1794.
The County Poor House is located upon a farm about six miles north of the village of Herkimer. From the report of the inspector we learn that, "The inmates are well cared for, the farm has been well cultivated, the stock is in splendid condition, the buildings and fences are in good repair, and your worthy Superintendent has performed his duties with fidelity to the interests of this county."
Poor House Accounting (November 1, 1867 - October 31, 1868)
The first settlements of the County were made along the river flats above Little Falls, by Palatinates, from Germany, about 1822. Some of them had previously settled upon the Hudson. Accessions were made from time to time, and up to the close of the Revolution they consisted the chief part of the inhabitants. During the French War of 1756 the settlements were twice invaded by French and Indians, many of the inhabitants were killed, a large amount of property was destroyed and numbers of the inhabitants were carried away prisoners. The first attack was made on the 12th of November, 1757, upon the settlement on the north side of the river. Most of the inhabitants took refuge in the Fort on the south side. A grist mill and saw mill were burned, and about thirty houses abandoned for a time. In the spring of 1758 another attack was made upon the settlements on the south side of the river, near the Fort. The inhabitants as far as possible were collected into the Fort and made a spirited resistance. Several teamsters who were engaged in hauling baggage to the Fort were attacked in one of the houses and defended themselves until the enemy were driven away by the rangers. Most of those who failed to reach the Fort were killed and scalped. The next morning a woman came into the Fort, scalped, her nose nearly cut off, and severely wounded in other ways. From the close of the French War to the stirring events that preceded the breaking out of the Revolution, nothing of special importance has been handed down to us.
The state of affairs in Tryon County was such as to induce the Committee of Safety to organize the militia into four battalions, one in each district. The return was made through the chairman, Nicholas Herkimer, Aug. 26th, 1775, to the General Committee of Safety in session in New York City. Fort Herkimer was a stockaded work on the south side of the river, erected during the French War. Fort Dayton was erected on the north side of the river, where the village of Herkimer now stands, in 1775. There were several block houses in other parts of the County used as places of refuge in case of attacks by Indians and Tories, whose weapons were never more formidable that the musket and rifle. The first liberty pole erected in the Mohawk Valley was at Fort Herkimer, in 1775, and was cut down by White, the Sheriff of Tryon County, who came with a body of militia for that purpose. Accounts state that at this time there were about seventy dwelling houses on both sides of the river in the neighborhood of the Forts, besides barns, mills and other out-buildings. The population was large for the number of dwellings. The earth had yielded an abundant harvest to reward the labor of the husbandman, and prosperity seemed smiling upon the whole region, when Brant, at the head of 300 Tories and about half that number of Indians made an attack upon the settlement, setting the whole valley in a blaze with burning building, stacks of hay and grain, and everything combustible. The people had little warning of the approach of this band and escaped to the Forts, only two persons being killed. A large amount of stock was driven off, leaving the inhabitants to witness the destruction of all the fruits of their season's labor. Early accounts state that 63 dwellings, 57 barns, three grist mills, two saw mills, with most of the grain and furniture therein; 235 horses, 229 head of horned cattle, 269 sheep and 93 oxen were carried away. This occurred in September, 1778. A party of militia pursued the invaders but to no purpose. Attacks were made upon various settlements during the war and not a hamlet escaped the tomahawk and torch of the Indian or the more savage Tory.
The County suffered severely in the battle at Oriskany; scarcely a family that did not contribute some member to that fatal conflict. Among the most distinguished of these was General Herkimer. Though the Oriskany battle was not fought within the limits of Herkimer County, so many of those who fought and fell there were from this County it seems appropriate to give some account of the conflict.
Congress had ordered Gen. Schuyler, who was in command of the Northern Department, to repair and strengthen Fort Stanwix, at Rome, which was done and the name changed to Fort Schuyler. This fort was garrisoned by about 750 when it was besieged by a party of British and Indians under command of St. Leger, who had invaded the State via Oswego, with the intention of passing down the Mohawk and uniting with Burgoyne, who was coming in via Lake Champlain. The force of St. Leger was estimated at 2,000, and the garrison of Fort Schuyler not being prepared to sustain a long siege, Gen. Herkimer, then in command of the Tryon County Militia, ordered his brigade to assemble at Fort Dayton, located in the western part of Herkimer village, for the purpose of marching to the relief of the fort besieged by St. Leger. In a short time Gen. Herkimer found himself at the head of about 900 men, composed of the militia regiments commanded by Cols. Klock, Cox and Vischer, with other volunteer officers and men from other parts. Gen. Herkimer left Fort Dayton on the 4th of August, 1777, and encamped near Oriskany on the 5th, having crossed the Mohawk near the present site of Utica. At this point the General expressed doubts as to the expediency of advancing further until reinforcements should arrive or the signal should be given from the Fort. Adam Helmer and two other men had been despatched (spelling is directly from account) to the Fort to inform the Commandant, Col. Gansevoort, of his approach, and to arrange measures of co-operation. Three successive discharges of heavy ordinance was to be the signal announcing their arrival. It was nearly 11 o'clock. A. M., of the 6th, before the express arrived. (Note: the original long paragraph is being broken here.)
In the meantime the hesitation to advance, on the part of Gen. Herkimer, caused great dissatisfaction among his subordinates, some of whom denounced him as a coward and Tory. Smarting under the unjust accusation he gave the order to march, at the same time telling some of his subordinates who were so anxious for an advance that they would be the first to run in case of attack. About 10 o'clock on the 6th the main body of troops passed over a causeway in a marshy ravine, and the advance were ascending the western slope, when they were attacked in front and on both flanks by a well directed fire from the enemy. Retreat was impossible, and the suddenness of the attack and the severity of the enemy's fire threw the troops into confusion, and for some time threatened their utter destruction. At length the Americans formed themselves into circular squads and thus more effectually repelled the attacks of the enemy who were approaching on all sides. The battle raged for several hours; at length firing was heard in the direction of the Fort, and the enemy soon after retreated, leaving their dead and wounded on the battle-field. Col. Willet had made a sortie from the Fort for the purpose of drawing the attention of St. Leger to the preservation of his camp. This proved successful and ended the battle, leaving the Provincial troops upon the field. In the early part of the action Gen. Herkimer's horse was killed and he was severely wounded in the leg. In this condition he directed his saddle to be placed upon a little hillock, and here he issued his orders to his troops during the remainder of the engagement, with a coolness that utterly annihilated the charges of cowardice previously made. After the battle he was carried home where his leg was amputated. It was so unskillfully performed that he soon after died from its effects. The siege of Fort Schuyler was continued, and about the 20th of August General Arnold arrived at Fort Dayton with troops for the relief of Fort Schuyler. On the 23rd he commenced his march from this point, but had proceeded only half a day's march when he was met by a messenger from Col. Gansevoort informing him that the siege had been raised and St. Leger and his force of British, Indians and Tories were on their way to Canada.
The subsequent attacks by Tories and Indians, and the massacres and conflagrations attending them, have been already mentioned. The Legislature passed an act October 22d, 1779, confiscating the estates, real and personal, of the Johnsons, Butler and a few others, and declaring the title to the same vested in the people of the State. The Royal Grant, so called from the fact that it was granted to Sir William Johnson by the King, was included in the land forfeited. That tract compromises the part of the County lying between the East and West Canada Creek, and extending from the Mohawk River on the south, to the south line of Jerseyfield on the north, which runs from the village of Devereaux, at the north-east corner of the Grant, on East Canada Creek, in a north-westerly direction, intersecting West Canada Creek a short distance north of Prospect in Oneida County, except a few lots in Burnetsfield and a few patents in Manheim. The tract of 2,000 acres granted to Guy Johnson in 1765 and situated in the present towns of German Flats and Little Falls, was forfeited under the same law. In May, 1784, the Legislature passed an act directing the speedy sale of confiscated estates, requiring the proceeds to be applied to the discharge of certain public securities created for the purpose of carrying on the war. These securities were greatly depreciated and a large amount of public indebtedness was discharged with a very small sum of money, most of the purchasers buying these securities at their market value and investing them in some of the best lands in the State.
During the Revolutionary War and previous to that, the Mohawk River was navigated by bateaux of light draught. The main traveled road between East and West Canada Creeks was on the south side of the river until 1793, when the Legislature appointed Commissioners to construct "a bridge across East Canada Creek, nearly opposite Canajoharie Castle, on the public road leading from Tribes Hill to the Little Falls; the building and erecting a bridge over the West Canada Creek, on the public road or highway leading from the Little Falls aforesaid, to Fort Stanwix."
The Little Falls presented a formidable obstacle to the navigation of the Mohawk, and in March, 1792, the "Western Inland Lock Navigation Company" was incorporated. The object of the Company was to open and improve the navigation of the Mohawk and other streams from the Hudson to Seneca Lake and Lake Ontario. The improvements in this county consisted in opening a short canal on the river flats and the construction of a lock to avoid a rapid in the river near old Fort Herkimer, in the town of German Flats, and the construction of the canal and locks at Little Falls. The locks were at first constructed of wood and the work was completed in 1795. In 1804 the locks were rebuilt of stone and were in good repair in 1825, when the Erie Canal was opened. After the completion of these works the river was navigable for Durham boats from Schenectady to Rome, and by means of the canal at that place, extending to Wood Creek, there was water communication to Lake Ontario. A light passenger boat was upon the river in 1817, and the trip from Utica to Schenectady was rapid and pleasant, but the return trip was so slow and tedious that the travelers did not seem inclined to patronize it. The cost of the company's improvements was about $450,000. A charter for a turnpike was granted in 1800, to extend from Schenectady to Utica, on the north side of the river. Although it was not constructed in the most substantial manner, it was the great thoroughfare for travel for many years. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825, and the Utica and Schenectady Railroad in 1836, each adding increased facilities for travel and the transportation of freight. The original capital of the Railroad Company was 2,000,000 of dollars. The road was completed and put in running order for something less than that sum, and in 1851, when it was consolidated with the New York Central, the stock capital of the Company was $4,500,000. In 1847-8 the mania for plank roads attacked the people of this County and several lines were constructed.
The Herkimer County Agricultural Society was organized in 1841 and has held Fairs annually since that time. The Fair Ground embraces sixteen acres, upon which are suitable buildings for the officers and for the general purposes of the Society. From the reports published we infer that the Fairs of the Society have generally been successful and that the Society is in a prosperous condition.
The Herkimer County Medical Society was organized August 5th, 1806, at a general meeting of the physicians of the County. Dr. Westel Willoughby, Jr., was chosen President; George Rogers, Vice President; Andrew Farrell, Secretary; and Amos Haile, Treasurer. The following are the names of the physicians present at this meeting in addition to the officers already names: Abijah Tombling, David Perry, Jonathan Sherwood, John Eastman and Samuel Redfield. Dr. Willoughby was re-elected President annually until 1816, when Rufus Crain was elected to that office, which he held for one year and was succeeded by James Hadley, Dr. Willoughby was again elected to the office of President in 1818 and continued to hold it until 1837. For many years the Society held its meetings, accumulated quite a library and had a successful career.
During the recent Rebellion the loyal sons of Herkimer County acted a part not unworthy of their illustrious sires of the Revolution. At the outbreak of the war there was only one military organization in the County, that was the Thirty-eighth Regiment New York State Militia. The officers of this regiment immediately commenced filling up their companies, and by the first of May a number of companies were on their way to Albany to be mustered into service. On the 15th of June the Thirty-fourth Regiment of Volunteers was mustered into service, several of the officers of the Thirty-eighth Militia taking corresponding places in the Thirty-fourth. Five of the companies were recruited in this County. A large number of Herkimer county men enlisted in the Fourteenth and Twenty-sixth regiments, making in all about 1,000 men who went into the army before the first Bull Run battle. The Herkimer County companies of the Thirty-fourth Regiment were Co. B, recruited at Little Falls, Captain Wells Sponable; Co. C, Captain Thomas Corcoran; Co. F, Captain Byron Laflin; Co. G, Captain Charles L. Brown. The officers of the regiment were William LaDue, Colonel; James A. Suitor, Lieutenant Colonel, and Byron Laflin, Major. The regiment left Albany for Washington, July 3d, and arrived on the 5th. It remained in the service two years, participating in the seven days' battles on the peninsula and in most of the campaigns of Virginia during the first two years of the war. We have no data at hand from which we can determine the number of soldiers who enlisted from Herkimer, but it is safe to say that no county responded more promptly to the several calls or made a record more honorable. The quotas under the various calls were promptly filled, and those who remained at home contributed liberally to the various enterprises inaugurated to mitigate in some measure the hardships incident to a soldier's life.
The profile of Herkimer County was typed by Beverly Crim, Town of German Flats section editor. Spelling and punctuation are maintained from the original text.
Last Updated: 10/22/97
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